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Editorial: Breaking the silence

By Juan Cole
Salon
Apr. 18, 2006

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government have put their hands into a hornet's nest with their paper in the London Review of Books, titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." As political scientists who routinely analyze U.S. foreign policy, they have gained a reputation for lucid and principled argument, but outside the halls of academia are not exactly household names. In daring to simply describe the well-known operations of the Israel lobby, however, they have made themselves targets of a massive smear campaign. Ironically, this reaction is just what their paper predicted.

Fair and gentlemanly to a fault, and widely respected in their discipline, the two professors are impossible to imagine as fire-breathing racial bigots, devious purveyors of blatant falsehoods or wild-eyed conspiracy theorists prone to ignore obvious evidence, but these are the sort of epithets being hurled at them by their critics.

In "The Israel Lobby," Mearsheimer and Walt argue that U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been dangerously skewed by a powerful pro-Israel lobby, which inhibits free discussion of the issues and has made the pro-Israeli position a political sacred cow. Congress, they point out, virtually never criticizes Israel: It is an untouchable subject. And this taboo has had enormous consequences, which are themselves off limits for discussion. Because America's blank-check support for Israel arouses enormous Arab and Muslim rage, Israel is a strategic liability, not an asset.

Nor, Mearsheimer and Walt argue, is there any moral reason for America to act against its own interests by supporting Israel come what may. Citing distinguished Israeli historians and journalists, they demythologize Israel's history, demonstrating that the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the historical fact that "the creation of Israel entailed a moral crime against the Palestinian people" -- a crime that Israel's founders explicitly acknowledged, and that has never been rectified. They discuss Israel's illegal, almost 40-year-old occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, and its flawed democracy, which explicitly discriminates against Arabs.

They do not raise these points to smear Israel or single it out for special criticism -- as political realists, they are well aware that no state is perfect -- but simply to argue that it is not entitled to special treatment. America's self-interest dictates that the Jewish state should be approached like any other nation, which it manifestly is not.

Mearsheimer and Walt are at pains to point out that there is nothing sinister or conspiratorial about the Israel lobby: Lobbying is a legitimate political practice and Israel is entitled to be defended by interest groups as much as any other nation. What they do argue is that the Israel lobby has extraordinary power, and that some of the policies it espouses are inimical to America's national interests. Above all, they seek to end the taboo, enforced by knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism, that has prevented a full and open discussion of these issues.

The paper is not without its flaws. The authors' use of the term "Israel lobby" is at times too broad, simultaneously trying to encompass classic pressure politics and much fuzzier belief systems and taboos. Their tendency to use the term in this slightly elastic, one-size-fits-all way explains the caveats of even some outspoken critics of the Israel lobby, like the Nation's Eric Alterman. Their insistence that America's Middle East policies are centered on Israel ignores the importance of oil. Nor do they explore the history of the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S. and the way that Israel has become a myth in the American mind, to the point where it is perceived by many as being actually part of America. The belief in the "special relationship," which is a powerful force, is not entirely the product of the Israel lobby. And on pressure politics, they could have been more specific in detailing examples of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's clout in Congress and the executive branch. (Journalist Michael Massing has documented this clout in pieces in the New York Review of Books and the Nation, among other places.) But these weaknesses are comparatively minor, and certainly do not justify the vitriol that has been directed against them.

That a powerful pro-Israel lobby exists and plays a significant role in determining America's Middle East policies may be controversial here, but everywhere else in the world, it is taken as virtually axiomatic. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft noted in a piece on the controversy over the paper in the Boston Globe, "On the eastern side of the Atlantic, it has long been recognized that there is an intimate connection between the United States and Israel, in which AIPAC clearly plays a major role. The degree to which this has affected American policy, up to and including the war in Iraq, has been discussed calmly by sane British commentators -- though also, to be sure, played up maliciously by bigots. In America, by contrast, there has been an unmistakable tendency to shy away from this subject." Wheatcroft quotes Michael Kinsley, who noted in Slate in 2002 that "the connection between the invasion of Iraq and Israeli interests had become 'the proverbial elephant in the room. Everybody sees it, no one mentions it.'"

Predictably, most of paper's harshest critics have avoided engaging its key arguments. Instead, they have raised straw men, attempted to shift the debate to the question of whether it is even acceptable to raise the subject, and either hinted or outright alleged that Mearsheimer and Walt are bigots. These tactics allow critics to sidestep all the crucial questions raised by the paper, while at the same time signaling to others tempted to comment that if they stick their heads up, they will be cut off.

The logical fallacy of guilt by association characterizes many of the more strident responses. For example, the staunchly pro-Israel paper the New York Sun gleefully pounced on white supremacist David Duke's endorsement of "The Israel Lobby." But in 1989, Duke ran as a Republican for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Would it be fair to tar the Republican Party with Duke? It isn't important with whom Duke agrees -- he is a crank. It is important who agrees with him. No one in his or her right mind would accuse Walt and Mearsheimer of doing so.

Other critics have accused the authors of anti-Semitism, which is to say, of racial bigotry. Eliot A. Cohen of the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University published an emotional attack on the authors in the Washington Post, saying "yes, it's anti-Semitic." Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz also accused Mearsheimer and Walt of bigotry. The Harvard Crimson reported that "Dershowitz, who is one of Israel's most prominent defenders, vehemently disputed the article's assertions, repeatedly calling it 'one-sided' and its authors 'liars' and 'bigots.'" Dershowitz went so far as to allege that the paper paralleled texts at neo-Nazi sites. No one who actually knows either Mearsheimer or Walt, as this author does, could possibly find Dershowitz's charges plausible. Again, such arguments are red herrings, implying guilt by association. Because he cannot refute the substance of the paper, Dershowitz must compare his academic colleagues to neo-Nazis. (And he has the gall to actually deny that critics of Israel tend to be smeared as anti-Semites.)

The charge of anti-Semitism (where what is really meant is any criticism of Israeli policy and/or the Israel lobby) is unacceptable and antidemocratic. I have suffered from it a fair amount because I have written critically about Israel, in particular its creeping colonization of the West Bank -- a U.S.-backed policy that is largely responsible, along with George W. Bush's Iraq war, for America's record-low popularity in the Arab and Muslim world.

Dershowitz penned a quick response, which he elbowed onto the Web page of the Kennedy School at Harvard. No other working paper has been treated this way, with instant rebuttals being posted to it. Both Dershowitz's attempt to impugn the characters of the authors and the fact that he was given privileges not granted others only confirm some of the main allegations of the original paper. (In contrast, Harvard has not rushed to put up a response from, say, a pro-Palestinian academic.)

After clearly implying that Mearsheimer and Walt are driven by anti-Semitic motives, he attempts to impugn their scholarship. Dershowitz identifies a few minor errors, but he cannot obscure the actual history of Palestinian displacement and dispossession at the hands of Israelis.

For example, Dershowitz makes much of the fact that the authors quote Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion misleadingly, creating the impression that in the late 1930s he was advocating the violent expulsion of the Palestinians. In fact, as Dershowitz points out, in the quote Ben-Gurion was not calling for expulsion, but expressing a bizarre conviction that the small Zionist state he then envisaged would persuade the Palestinians to relinquish their claim on an independent state in the rest of Palestine. What Dershowitz does not mention is that Ben-Gurion's "plan" was so fantastic as to bring into question his sincerity in stating it as he did. Israeli historian Benny Morris noted, Ben-Gurion "always refrained from issuing clear or written expulsion orders; he preferred that his generals 'understand' what he wanted done. He wished to avoid going down in history as the 'great expeller.'" And in fact, when push came to shove in 1947 and 1948, Ben-Gurion did explicitly order expulsions, as at Lydda and Ramla, and was implicated in others by virtue of being in command at the time. Ben-Gurion also kept the 700,000 expelled Palestinian refugees from ever returning or being given reparations: Their villages were razed, their houses bulldozed or taken over, their orchards seized.

Dershowitz insists that, contra Mearsheimer and Walt's assertions, the mainstream American media offers full and critical coverage of Israel. This is a laughable contention to anyone who has compared American press coverage of Israel with that offered by the rest of the world. Even some American officials have noted the extremely limited nature of U.S. coverage of Israel. In an April 9 Op-Ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled "Of Course There Is an Israel Lobby," ambassador Edward Peck wrote, "Knowing the fiercely negative reactions to accurate, detailed reporting of controversies surrounding Israel, the media fail to cover Israel's violations of every principle for which the United States -- and Israel -- loudly proclaim they stand. There is only rare, skimpy coverage of the ongoing Israeli mass punishments, house demolitions, illegal settlements, assassinations, settler brutality, curfews and beatings. On the other hand, the blind Palestinian rage generated by decades of receiving humiliating, savage suppression in their homeland is reported in lurid, bloody detail."

Above all, Dershowitz sets up the straw man that the authors claim that a central "cabal" of "Jews" tightly controls the U.S. press and the U.S. government and prevents them from criticizing Israel. Like other critics, including noted warmonger Max Boot, Dershowitz charges that Mearsheimer and Walt are conspiracy theorists who subscribe to what Dershowitz calls "a paranoid worldview" shared by the likes of David Duke and Pat Buchanan.

This charge -- with its obvious implications that Mearsheimer and Walt are anti-Semites in the Henry Ford/Protocols of the Elders of Zion tradition -- is refuted by every word they have written. In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt are at pains to make clear that there is no "cabal," and that the pro-Israel lobby is a lobby like any other (although more powerful and sacrosanct than most.)

Here's their definition: "We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel.

"Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies. Many of the key organizations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups -- such as Jewish Voice for Peace -- strongly advocate such steps. Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favor giving steadfast support to Israel."

It should be noted that it was Mearsheimer and Walt's publisher who capitalized the word "Lobby." But in any case, they make numerous distinctions. They are not talking about Jews as a whole or about a unified phenomenon. They acknowledge that Christian Zionists are a key element of the lobby. They depict no conspiracy. Insofar as they talk about the lobby's "manipulation," its "influence" and its "stranglehold" over American policy -- words that Dershowitz cites as indicating their conspiratorial and unsavory bent -- well, that is what powerful lobbies do. They manipulate, influence and, in best-case scenarios, achieve a stranglehold over policy.

The storm over the authors' characterization of the lobby has shifted attention from the most unassailable part of their paper: Their contention that America's unqualified support for Israel has enraged the Arab and Muslim world, served as an important source of anti-American terrorism and hurt America's ability to pursue the war on terror.

Anyone who has spent any time in the Arab or Muslim world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and America's support for Israel's unjust treatment of the Palestinians, are the main sources of anger at America and have been for decades. In a recent Zogby poll, one question that was asked of Arab publics was whether their dislike of the United States was because of its values or its policies. Here are the percentages that said it was because of U.S. policies in the region: Jordan, 76; Morocco, 79; Lebanon, 80; Saudi Arabia, 86; United Arab Emirates, 75; Egypt, 90. Another question was why people thought the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq. Here are the percentages for those who believed it was to "protect Israel": Jordan, 64; Morocco, 82; Lebanon, 82; Saudi Arabia, 44; Egypt, 92. That is, not only are Americans disliked for their invasion of an Arab country, but the Arab public generally attributes the assault to a desire to protect Israel. All those instances when the Americans vetoed U.N. Security Council censures of Israel for its predations against Palestinians or neighbors, all those tens of billions of dollars in aid the U.S. gave Israel, all the times it winked at atrocities such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and indiscriminate shelling of Beirut have added up over time.

Arabs and Muslims like Americans and democracy just fine in principle. What they don't like is U.S. foreign policy. Their main grievance before 2003 was of U.S. complicity in the dispossession of the Palestinians. Now they have another major objection, the U.S. occupation of Iraq -- and they clearly see the two as related. I am not arguing that the Arab public is correct, only that critics are blind if they cannot see that it is knee-jerk U.S. support for the worst Israeli policies that has soured Arabs and Muslims on the United States. To avoid accepting this conclusion, we would have to believe that they have consistently lied to pollsters for decades, and we would have to take it upon ourselves to represent the Arabs and Muslims, since they cannot represent themselves.

None of this is hard to understand. The United States is not generally hated by, say, Thais, or Paraguayans, or Cameroonians. This is because we have not done anything to them. We have, however, abetted an epochal wrong against the Palestinian people, with whom Arabs and Muslims feel a similar kinship to that felt by mid-19th century Americans with the Texans trapped at the Alamo. For obvious reasons, an open discussion of the causes and consequences of their anger against us is vital for our national security.

The outraged and dismissive reaction to Mearsheimer and Walt's paper illustrates their thesis. The United States faces severe challenges in the Middle East, including issues having to do with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, al-Qaida and what to do about the Israeli-Palestinian situation now that Hamas has won the Palestinian elections. A debate about the best policies to achieve American interests is being made difficult or impossible by the tactics of intimidation deployed on both sides of the Atlantic. With a possible war against Iran being floated by the Bush administration, the stakes are far too high not to have the full and open discussion we never had before Iraq. When Ben Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what kind of government the United States would have. "A republic, if you can keep it," he is said to have replied. If we cannot even discuss the shape of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East without a lynch mob forming, we won't be able to keep it.
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Editorial: The Really Real "Long War"

Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Savvy players in the military-industrial racket know that the "War on Terror" is just short-end money: fat and sweet, sure, but it doesn't really have legs. "Islamofacism" is too empty a concept to sustain the kind of decades-long looting of the public treasury that the dear old Cold War used to provide the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world just aren't interested in dressing up in Nazi drag and playing their assigned roles in the Pentagon-Neocon-Theocon war game. I mean, Jesus Herbert Walker Christ, you can even walk your army right into the heartland of Islam and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and they still won't take the bait. Not a single Muslim nation has gone jihad over Iraq; they haven't all turned into a nice, big monolithic evil empire set on the utter destruction of America. It's like they're all just ordinary people or something, good, bad and indifferent, largely occupied with their own concerns personal, economic, social, religious, national.

Of course, the war has inflamed the extremist fringes, empowered forces of intolerance and hatred to a degree they could never have dreamed of before; yes, its given sectarian terror a major boost, nicely priming the pump for more war profits. And boy howdy, the next go-round, in Iran, will goose the military market to even greater heights. So we're not saying this Terror War gambit is a bad thing, you understand; no, it's been boffo box office all the way. But still, since there actually is no such thing as "Islamofacism," as opposed to a few virulent and violent outlaw gangs, and a number of authoritarian regimes that have no interest whatsoever in attacking America you're just not going to get that Cold War mileage you need.

No, when it comes to terrorizing your own people into forking over their money and the blood of their children to keep you in clover, there's just no substitute for the real thing: Commies. Hordes of 'em. A billion of 'em, by God! That's right, we're talking China. Now there's a long-term proposition for you. There's the whole ball of wax: nukes, missiles, vast standing armies, territorial tensions, government suppression it's vintage Kremlin, baby, circa Cuban Missile Crisis, anytime you need it. And here's the beauty part: you can literally make money coming and going. You can dive into the Chinese market, get in bed with businesses backed by Commie brass, like Neil Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have done, give 'em Google and Microsoft and Starbucks even the Rolling Stones, for Christ's sake then turn around and bag even more billions in gargantuan weapons programs to act as "prudent hedges against the possibility that cooperative approaches by themselves may fail to preclude future conflict" with them sneaky yellow devils, as the Pentagon's "long-term strategy review" put it recently.

Of course, that's what the "War on Terror" is all about anyway: gaining control of the Muslim oil lands in order to throttle China and eventually knock it on the head if it gets too uppity. If Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khamanei had simply handed over their oil fields to the protection of American overseers, then they could have repressed their own people till the cows come home, with the grateful blessing of Washington. (Equatorial Guinea's rapacious dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema has it down pat. He's opened his vast oil reserves to American companies; in return, he's free to torture, loot and starve his people, and still be lauded by those champions of democracy in the Bush White House.) The war in Iraq and the next war in Iran have nothing to do with Islam or liberation or terrorism or any of that katzenjammer. It wouldn't matter if they were all Southern Baptists or acolytes of Ishtar, if they cared tenderly for their citizens or turned them into soylent green. They've got oil, they wouldn't play ball, so they're going down.

Control of these resources and strategic areas in order to box in China (and eventually India) and prevent the rise of any potential rival to American domination of global affairs or rather, the domination of global affairs by a small American elite quite willing to see their own country sink into corruption, ruin, tyranny and fear is now and has been since the end of the Cold War the driving force of the political faction led by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others brought into power by the rigged election of runner-up George W. Bush in 2000. It is for this and no other reason that thousands of Americans have been killed, and tens of thousands maimed in Iraq; it is for this that up to 300,000 innocent Iraqis have been slaughtered; it is for this that the war plans for Iran are going forward. The only way that the pathetic, stunted intellects of this political faction know how to interpret reality is through the paranoid prism of the Cold War, with its hidebound abstractions, its cartoonish exaggerations, its perverted morality (willing to destroy a village, a region, a nation even the whole world to "save" it from the enemy) and, more than anything else, the vast power and privilege it accorded to the national security elite.

And so they -- and the generations of younger disciples they have spawned -- are trying to re-order the world, through violence, threat and terror, to make reality fit the blinkered template in their heads. And they will keep on trying, even if the flame of Islamic extremism flickers out, even if the Chinese lay down their arms, even if Iran turns its nuclear plants into Wal-Marts and Pottery Barns. There will always be a new Big Enemy to justify their militarist obsessions.

Read Original Here
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Editorial: The U.S. Nuclear Bunker Buster: 3 Million will die

Union of Concerned Scientists
20/04/2006

Click this link to view a 'Flash' animation on the likely effects of the use of a nuclear "bunker buster" against underground facilities in Iran by the U.S government and military.

Please note that the US government appears determined to use such devices, in full awareness of the fact that millions of innocent people would probably die as a result. It would appear that, in terms of the current U.S. administration and the general global ruling "elite", we are not dealing with men and women but monsters.


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Softening US Up for War on Iran


"New urgency" to curb Iran - US

By Christian Lowe
Reuters
Wed Apr 19, 3:41 PM ET

MOSCOW - Russia said on Wednesday it wanted no action against Iran before an April 28 U.N. deadline set for it to halt uranium enrichment, but a top U.S. official said other countries were inching toward sanctions.

Tensions remained high, with oil prices hitting a high above $73, partly driven by fears the dispute could disrupt shipments from the world's fourth-largest oil exporter.

"What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing," UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.

"Now we need to go beyond that and agree on the specifics of what measures we need to put that into operation," he said.
He said Iran's shock announcement last week that it had enriched uranium to a low level and planned to produce it on an industrial scale had focused the minds of the international community.

The United States and its European allies say Tehran could divert highly enriched uranium to make bombs.

"What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week ... Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is a new development. We heard last night and again today that all of those that spoke are looking at sanctions," Burns said.

In a surprise development, an Iranian delegation appeared later in the day in Moscow for talks with officials from the so-called EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- although a spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow said there were no major breakthroughs.

"The Iranians set out their position and we listened carefully but there were no significant breakthroughs," the embassy spokesman said.

The U.N. Security Council on March 29 gave Iran a month to halt enrichment and answer questions from the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear program.

VETO POWER

Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council, say they are not convinced sanctions would work. U.S. officials had hoped to use the talks to persuade them to take a tougher line on Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some countries, including Russia, wanted to wait until the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on Iranian compliance on April 28 before acting.

"We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month," Lavrov told reporters.

An Iranian delegation headed to Moscow for talks on the dispute, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told state radio.

He said officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council would "discuss possible solutions which could pave the way to reach a comprehensive understanding based on a recognition of Iran's right to nuclear technology."

Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use, but Russia said Tehran was not responding to international demands.

One diplomat from a country that opposes Iran's nuclear ambitions, said Iran could suggest a "pause."

"This is to prepare the ground for renewing negotiations with the Europeans," the diplomat, said about the proposal. It was unclear how long the pause would be.

A senior EU3 diplomat said the Iranians were welcome to present such an initiative and halt their enrichment research work. But it would have to be more than a brief technical pause in order for the Europeans to revive negotiations with Tehran.

Burns said Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran's negotiating positions "a ruse."

"One of the core points that I made, supported by a great number of people in the room is, we are not going to agree to any pause by Iran," Burns said.

"All of us made that point, that we are not going to fall for the ruse of a temporary pause, knowing that the Iranians, President Ahmadinejad said, they will not be stopped on their route to enrichment."

Tuesday's meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Germany, France and Britain underlined international differences over punitive action against Iran.

All the powers have said they are determined to solve the problem through diplomatic means, but the United States is alone among them in not ruling out military action.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Tuesday's meeting had been "totally fruitless."

President Bush planning to raise the issue with his visiting Chinese counterpart,
Hu Jintao.



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Iranian defense minister dismisses U.S. threat

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-20 19:13:52

MOSCOW, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Iran does not fear U.S. President George W. Bush's threat about a possible nuclear strike on nuclear facilities, Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said in Baku on Thursday.

"The United States has been threatening Iran for 27 straight years and this is no news for us. For this reason we do not fear the threats," Najjar told reporters during a visit to Azerbaijan.
Najjar said his country was going to discuss its nuclear issue with the world community. "We are ready to settle all questions through negotiations. At the same time, if a menace appears, Iran is ready to stop it."

When asked about possible mediation by Azerbaijan between Iran and the United States during Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev's visit to Washington in late April, Najjar said: "We have not asked anybody for mediation so far."

Aliyev could "make our stance clear, but the main thing is thatit is understood rightly," he added.



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Does Iran's President Want Israel Wiped Off The Map - Does He Deny The Holocaust?

By Anneliese Fikentscher and Andreas Neumann
Translation to English: Erik Appleby
Kein Krieg!
04/19/06

"But now that I'm on Iran, the threat to Iran, of course -- (applause) -- the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel, and -- (applause.)"
- George W. Bush, US-President, 2006-03-20 in Cleveland (Ohio) in an off-the-cuff speech (source: www.whitehouse.gov)
But why does Bush speak of Iran's objective to destroy Israel?

Does Iran's President wants Israel wiped off the map?

To raze Israel to the ground, to batter down, to destroy, to annihilate, to liquidate, to erase Israel, to wipe it off the map - this is what Iran's President demanded - at least this is what we read about or heard of at the end of October 2005. Spreading the news was very effective. This is a declaration of war they said. Obviously government and media were at one with their indignation. It goes around the world.

But let's take a closer look at what Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. It is a merit of the 'New York Times' that they placed the complete speech at our disposal. Here's an excerpt from the publication dated 2005-10-30:
"They say it is not possible to have a world without the United States and Zionism. But you know that this is a possible goal and slogan. Let's take a step back. [[[We had a hostile regime in this country which was undemocratic, armed to the teeth and, with SAVAK, its security apparatus of SAVAK [the intelligence bureau of the Shah of Iran's government] watched everyone. An environment of terror existed.]]] When our dear Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian revolution] said that the regime must be removed, many of those who claimed to be politically well-informed said it was not possible. All the corrupt governments were in support of the regime when Imam Khomeini started his movement. [[[All the Western and Eastern countries supported the regime even after the massacre of September 7 [1978] ]]] and said the removal of the regime was not possible. But our people resisted and it is 27 years now that we have survived without a regime dependent on the United States. The tyranny of the East and the West over the world should have to end, but weak people who can see only what lies in front of them cannot believe this. Who would believe that one day we could witness the collapse of the Eastern Empire? But we could watch its fall in our lifetime. And it collapsed in a way that we have to refer to libraries because no trace of it is left. Imam [Khomeini] said Saddam must go and he said he would grow weaker than anyone could imagine. Now you see the man who spoke with such arrogance ten years ago that one would have thought he was immortal, is being tried in his own country in handcuffs and shackles [[[by those who he believed supported him and with whose backing he committed his crimes]]]. Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world."
(source: www.nytimes.com, based on a publication of 'Iranian Students News Agency' (ISNA) -- insertions by the New York Times in squared brackets -- passages in triple squared brackets will be left blank in the MEMRI version printed below)

It's becoming clear. The statements of the Iranian President have been reflected by the media in a manipulated way. Iran's President betokens the removal of the regimes, that are in power in Israel and in the USA, to be possible aim for the future. This is correct. But he never demands the elimination or annihilation of Israel. He reveals that changes are potential. The Shah-Regime being supported by the USA in its own country has been vanquished. The eastern governance of the Soviet Union collapsed. Saddam Hussein's dominion drew to a close. Referring to this he voices his aspiration that changes will also be feasible in Israel respectively in Palestine. He adduces Ayatollah Khomeini referring to the Shah-Regime who in this context said that the regime (meaning the Shah-Regime) should be removed.

Certainly, Ahmadinejad translates this quotation about a change of regime into the occupied Palestine. This has to be legitimate. To long for modified political conditions in a country is a world-wide day-to-day business by all means. But to commute a demand for removal of a 'regime' into a demand for removal of a state is serious deception and dangerous demagogy.

This is one chapter of the war against Iran that has already begun with the words of Georg Meggle, professor of philosophy at the university of Leipzig - namely with the probably most important phase, the phase of propaganda.

Marginally we want to mention that it was the former US Vice-Minister of Defence and current President of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz, who in Sept. 2001 talked about ending states in public and without any kind of awe. And it was the father of George W. Bush who started the discussion about a winnable nuclear war if only the survival of an elite is assured.

Let's pick an example: the German online-news-magazine tagesschau.de writes the following about Iran's president on 2005-10-27: "There is no doubt: the new wave of assaults in Palestine will erase the stigma in countenance of the Islamic world." Instead of using the original word 'wave' they write 'wave of assaults'. This replacement of the original text is what we call disinformation. E.g. it would be correct to say: "The new movement in Palestine will erase the stain of disgrace from the Islamic world." Additionally this statement refers to the occupation regime mentioned in the previous sentence.

As a precaution we will examine a different translation of the speech - a version prepared by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), located in Washington:

"They [ask]: 'Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?' But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved. [[[...]]] "'When the dear Imam [Khomeini] said that [the Shah's] regime must go, and that we demand a world without dependent governments, many people who claimed to have political and other knowledge [asked], 'Is it possible [that the Shah's regime can be toppled]?' That day, when Imam [Khomeini] began his movement, all the powers supported [the Shah's] corrupt regime [[[...]]] and said it was not possible. However, our nation stood firm, and by now we have, for 27 years, been living without a government dependent on America. Imam [Khomeni] said: 'The rule of the East [U.S.S.R.] and of the West [U.S.] should be ended.' But the weak people who saw only the tiny world near them did not believe it. Nobody believed that we would one day witness the collapse of the Eastern Imperialism [i.e. the U.S.S.R], and said it was an iron regime. But in our short lifetime we have witnessed how this regime collapsed in such a way that we must look for it in libraries, and we can find no literature about it. Imam [Khomeini] said that Saddam [Hussein] must go, and that he would be humiliated in a way that was unprecedented. And what do you see today? A man who, 10 years ago, spoke as proudly as if he would live for eternity is today chained by the feet, and is now being tried in his own country [[[...]]] Imam [Khomeini] said: 'This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.' This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise. Is it possible that an [Islamic] front allows another front [i.e. country] to arise in its [own] heart? This means defeat, and he who accepts the existence of this regime [i.e. Israel] in fact signs the defeat of the Islamic world. In his battle against the World of Arrogance, our dear Imam [Khomeini] set the regime occupying Qods [Jerusalem] as the target of his fight. I do not doubt that the new wave which has begun in our dear Palestine and which today we are also witnessing in the Islamic world is a wave of morality which has spread all over the Islamic world. Very soon, this stain of disgrace [i.e. Israel] will vanish from the center of the Islamic world - and this is attainable."

(source: http://memri.org, based on the publication of 'Iranian Students News Agency' (ISNA) -- insertions by MEMRI in squared brackets -- missing passages compared to the 'New York Times' in triple squared brackets)

The term 'map' to which the media refer at length does not even appear. Whereas the 'New York Times' said: "Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map" the version by MEMRI is: "Imam [Khomeini] said: This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history."

MEMRI added the following prefixed formulation to their translation as a kind of title: "Very Soon, This Stain of Disgrace [i.e. Israel] Will Be Purged From the Center of the Islamic World - and This is Attainable". Thereby they take it out of context by using the insertion 'i.e. Israel' they distort the meaning on purpose. The temporal tapering 'very soon' does not appear in the NY-Times-translation either. Besides it is striking that MEMRI deleted all passages in their translation which characterize the US-supported Shah-Regime as a regime of terror and at the same time show the true character of US-American policy.

An independent translation of the original (like the version published by ISNA) yields that Ahmadinejad does not use the term 'map'. He quotes Ayatollah Khomeini's assertion that the occupation regime must vanish from this world - literally translated: from the arena of times. Correspondingly: there is no space for an occupation regime in this world respectively in this time. The formulation 'wipe off the map' used by the 'New York Times' is a very free and aggravating interpretation which is equivalent to 'razing something to the ground' or 'annihilating something'. The downwelling translation, first into English ('wipe off the map'), then from English to German - and all literally ('von der Landkarte lschen') - makes us stride away from the original more and more. The perfidious thing about this translation is that the expression 'map' can only be used in one (intentional) way: a state can be removed from a map but not a regime, about which Ahmadinejad is actually speaking.

Again following the independent translation: "I have no doubt that the new movement taking place in our dear Palestine is a spiritual movement which is spanning the entire Islamic world and which will soon remove this stain of disgrace from the Islamic world".

It must be allowed to ask how it is possible that 'spirtual movement' resp. 'wave of morality' (as translated by MEMRI) and 'wave of assaults' can be equated and translated (like e.g tagesschau.de published it).

Does Iran's President deny the Holocaust?

"The German government condemned the repetitive offending anti-Israel statements by Ahmadinejad to be shocking. Such behaviour is not tolerable, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated. [...] Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed Ahmadinejad's statements to be 'inconceivable'" (published by tagesschau.de 2005-12-14.

But not only the German Foreign Minister Steinmeier and the Federal Chancellor Merkel allege this, but the Bild-Zeitung, tagesschau.de, parts of the peace movement, US-President George W. Bush, the 'Papers for German and international politics', CNN, the Heinrich-Bll-Foundation, almost the entire world does so, too: Iran's President Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust.

What is this assertion based on? In substance it is based on dispatches of 2 days - 2005-12-14 and 2006-02-11.

"The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stepped up his verbal attacks against Israel and the Western states and has denied the Holocaust. Instead of making Israel's attacks against Palestine a subject of discussion 'the Western states devote their energy to the fairy-tale of the massacre against the Jews', Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday in a speech at Zahedan in the south-east of Iran which was broadcasted directly by the news-channel Khabar. That day he stated that if the Western states really believe in the assassination of six million Jews in W.W. II they should put a piece of land in Europe, in the USA, Canada or Alaska at Israel's disposal." - dispatch of the German press agency DPA, 2005-12-14.

The German TV-station n24 spreads the following on 2006-12-14 using the title 'Iran's President calls the Holocaust a myth': "The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stepped up his verbal attacks against Israel and called the Holocaust a 'myth' used as a pretext by the Europeans to found a Jewish state in the center of the Islamic world . 'In the name of the Holocaust they have created a myth and regard it to be worthier than God, religion and the prophets' the Iranian head of state said."

The Iranian press agency IRNA renders Ahmadinejad on 2005-12-14 as follows: "'If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II - which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why the Palestinian nation should pay for the crime. Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions.' [...] 'If you have committed the crimes so give a piece of your land somewhere in Europe or America and Canada or Alaska to them to set up their own state there.' [...] Ahmadinejad said some have created a myth on holocaust and hold it even higher than the very belief in religion and prophets [...] The president further said, 'If your civilization consists of aggression, displacing the oppressed nations, suppressing justice-seeking voices and spreading injustice and poverty for the majority of people on the earth, then we say it out loud that we despise your hollow civilization.'"

There again we find the quotation already rendered by n24: "In the name of the Holocaust they created a myth." We can see that this is completely different from what is published by e.g. the DPA - the massacre against the Jews is a fairy-tale. What Ahmadinejad does is not denying the Holocaust. No! It is dealing out criticism against the mendacity of the imperialistic powers who use the Holocaust to muzzle critical voices and to achieve advantages concerning the legitimization of a planned war. This is criticism against the exploitation of the Holocaust.

CNN (2005-12-15) renders as follows: "If you have burned the Jews why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel. Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?"

The Washingtonian ''Middle East Media Research Institute' (MEMRI) renders Ahmadinejad's statements from 2005-12-14 as follows: "...we ask you: if you indeed committed this great crime, why should the oppressed people of Palestine be punished for it? * [...] If you committed a crime, you yourselves should pay for it. Our offer was and remains as follows: If you committed a crime, it is only appropriate that you place a piece of your land at their disposal - a piece of Europe, of America, of Canada, or of Alaska - so they can establish their own state. Rest assured that if you do so, the Iranian people will voice no objection."

The MEMRI-rendering uses the relieving translation 'great crime' and misappropriates the following sentence at the * marked passage: "Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions." This sentence has obviously been left out deliberately because it would intimate why the Israeli state could have forfeited the right to establish itself in Palestine - videlicet because of its aggressive expansionist policy against the people of Palestine, ignoring any law of nations and disobeying all UN-resolutions.

In spite of the variability referring to the rendering of the statements of Iran's President we should nevertheless note down: the reproach of denying the Holocaust cannot be sustained if Ahmadinejad speaks of a great and huge crime that has been done to the Jews.

In another IRNA-dispatch (2005-12-14) the Arabian author Ghazi Abu Daqa writes about Ahmadinejad: "The Iranian president has nothing against the followers of Judaism [...] Ahmadinejad is against Zionism as well as its expansionist and occupying policy. That is why he managed to declare to the world with courage that there is no place for the Zionist regime in the world civilized community."

It's no wonder that such opinions do not go down particularly well with the ideas of the centers of power in the Western world. But for this reason they are not wrong right away. Dealing out criticism against the aggressive policy of the Western world, to which Israel belongs as well, is not yet anti-Semitism. We should at least to give audience to this kind of criticism - even if it is a problematic field for us.

2006-02-11 Ahmadinejad said according to IRNA: "[...] the real holocaust should be sought in Palestine, where the blood of the oppressed nation is shed every day and Iraq, where the defenceless Muslim people are killed daily. [...] 'Some western governments, in particular the US, approve of the sacrilege on the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), while denial of the >Myth of Holocaust<, based on which the Zionists have been exerting pressure upon other countries for the past 60 years and kill the innocent Palestinians, is considered as a crime' [...]"

The assertion that Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust thus is wrong in more than one aspect. He does not deny the Holocaust, but speaks of denial itself. And he does not speak of denial of the Holocaust, but of denial of the Myth of Holocaust. This is something totally different. All in all he speaks of the exploitation of the Holocaust. The Myth of Holocaust, like it is made a subject of discussion by Ahmadinejad, is a myth that has been built up in conjunction with the Holocaust to - as he says - put pressure onto somebody. We might follow this train of thoughts or we might not. But we cannot equalize his thoughts with denial of the Holocaust.

If Ahmadinejad according to this 2006-02-11 condemns the fact that it is forbidden and treated as a crime to do research into the Myth of Holocaust, as we find it quoted in the MEMRI translation, this acquires a meaning much different from the common and wide-spread one. If the myth related to the Holocaust is commuted to a 'Fairy Tale of the Massacre' - like the DPA did - this can only be understood as a malicious misinterpretation.

By the use of misrepresentation and adulteration it apparently succeeded to constitute the statements of the Iranian President to be part and parcel of the currently fought propaganda battle. It is our responsibility to counter this.

Concluding:

A dispatch by Reuters confirms 2006-02-21: "The Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki has [...] repudiated that his state would want the Jewish state Israel 'wiped off the map'. [...] Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood. 'Nobody can erase a country from the map.' Ahmadinejad was not thinking of the state of Israel but of their regime [...]. 'We do not accredit this regime to be legitimate.' [...] Mottaki also accepted that the Holocaust really took place in a way that six million Jews were murdered during the era of National Socialism."

The next step is to connect the Iranian President with Hitler. 2006-02-20 the Chairman of the Counsil of Jews in France (Crif) says in Paris: "The Iranian President's assertions do not rank behind Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'". Paul Spiegel, President of the Central Counsil of Jews in Germany, 2005-12-10 in the 'Welt' qualifies the statements of Ahmadinejad to be "the worst comment on this subject that he has ever heard of a statesman since A. Hitler". At the White House the Iranian President is even named Hitler. And the German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel as well moves over Iran's President towards Hitler and National Socialism by saying 2006-02-04 in Munich: "Already in the early 1930's many people said that it is only rhetoric. One could have prevented a lot in time if one had acted... Germany is in the debt to resist the incipiencies and to do anything to make clear where the limit of tolerance is. Iran remains in control of the situation, it is still in their hands."

All this indicates war. Slobodan Milosevic became Hitler. The result was the war of the Nato against Yugoslavia. Saddam Hussein became Hitler. What followed was the war the USA and their coalition of compliant partners waged against Iraq. Now the Iranian President becomes Hitler.

And someone who is Hitler-like can assure a hundred times that he only wants to use nuclear energy in a peaceful way. Nobody will believe him. Somebody like Hitler can act within the scope of all contracts. Acting contrary to contract will nevertheless be imputed to him. "Virtually none of the Western states recognize that uranium enrichment is absolutely legal. There is no restriction by contract or by the law of nations. Quite the contrary: Actually the Western countries would have the duty to assist Iran with these activities, according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As long as a state renounces the bomb it is eligible for technical support by the nuclear powers." (Jrg Pfuhl, ARD radio studio Istanbul 2006-01-11) But - all this does not count if the Head of a state is stigmatized as Hitler.



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Most Americans Do Not Trust Bush on Iran

Angus Reid
Global Scan
April 19, 2006

Many adults in the United States no longer have confidence in their president to deal with a potential crisis, according to a poll by Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times. 54 per cent of respondents say they do not trust George W. Bush to make the right decision about whether the country should go to war with Iran or not.

After being branded as part of an "axis of evil" by Bush in January 2002, Iran has contended that its nuclear program aims to produce energy, not weapons. 61 per cent of respondents in the U.S. believe the Islamic country will eventually get nuclear weapons.

In November 2004, the Iranian government announced a voluntary suspension of its uranium enrichment program following international pressure. In August 2005, Iran resumed uranium conversion activities at the Isfahan facility. In January, Iran removed the international seals from the Natanz site. 48 per cent of American respondents would support taking military action against Iran if it continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, while 40 per cent disagree.
Yesterday, Bush discussed the current state of affairs in Iran, declaring, "All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so. The best way to do so is, therefore, to be a united effort with countries who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. And that's why we're working very closely with countries like France and Germany and Great Britain. I intend, of course, to bring the subject of Iranian ambitions to have a nuclear weapon with (Chinese president) Hu Jintao this Thursday. And we'll continue to work diplomatically to get this problem solved."

Polling Data

Generally speaking, do you trust George W. Bush to make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran, or not?

Do not trust him

54%

Trust him

42%

Don't know

4%

Overall, taking into consideration everything you have heard or read about the situation with Iran, do you think Iran will be stopped from getting nuclear weapons through diplomatic solutions, or only through military action, or do you think Iran will eventually get nuclear weapons?

Iran stopped through diplomatic solutions

15%

Iran stopped only through military action

12%

Iran will eventually get nuclear weapons

61%

Don't know

12%

If Iran continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose the U.S. taking military action against Iran?

Support strongly

28%

Support somewhat

20%

Oppose somewhat

17%

Oppose strongly

23%

Don't know

12%



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Iranian official's presence in U.S. queried

By Nicholas Kralev
The Washington Times
April 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration yesterday was at a loss to explain the rare presence in Washington of an Iranian government official who slipped into the United States under mysterious circumstances, apparently to attend a scholarly conference.

The State Department said that Mohammad Nahavandian, an economics and technology aide to Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, "is not here for meetings with U.S. government officials."

However, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said yesterday Mr. Nahavandian had received "an invitation to participate in a conference in America, being organized by U.S. scholars."

"I heard reports that he held official talks in Washington but Iran has denied such reports," he said at a press conference in Kuwait but did not elaborate.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said last night: "We are aware of the case and continue to look thoroughly into it"


State Department spokesman Sean McCormack could not explain how Mr. Nahavandian entered the country, saying only, "We have no record of issuing a visa to a person with this name."

"There are two other ways" for a foreigner to enter the United States without a visa, Mr. McCormack said. "One is to be a legal permanent resident and have a green card. The other way is to have a passport from a visa-waiver program country."

Currently, 27 countries, mostly from Western Europe, participate in the program.

Mr. McCormack did not provide details but promised to look into the issue.

Most officials yesterday were working on the assumption that Mr. Nahavandian has a green card that was obtained years ago, possibly when he was a student here, as sources in Iran were quoted as saying by wire reports.

But even if Mr. Nahavandian was granted legal permanent residency back then, it was not clear that he still maintains that status today.

Green card holders must spend at least half of the year in the United States to preserve their legal status. However, one official said that there are ways to keep a green card without fulfilling that requirement.

It is also possible, another official noted, that Mr. Nahavandian's green card was never canceled in spite of his apparent long absence from the United States, and the immigration officer who processed him upon arrival almost two weeks ago did not establish when the visitor was last in the country.

A third official suggested that, even if Mr. Nahavandian has a green card, it could be revoked.

A visit by a fairly senior Iranian official in Washington is very uncommon, given that the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 444-day hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Iranian diplomats are accredited to the United Nations in New York, but their movements are limited to a 25-mile radius around the city.

The Bush administration and the regime of the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been exchanging sharp rhetoric while the West has been trying to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Nahavandian, whose visit was first reported by the Financial Times, is also president of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Tehran and head of the National Center for Globalization Studies.

The White House has authorized the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to hold direct talks with Iran but those talks would be limited to the situation in Iraq, leaving the nuclear issue to the Europeans to negotiate.

Influential members of Congress, including the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard G. Lugar, have suggested that the administration engage directly with the Iranians.



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Russian Military Will Not Intervene In Iran

AFP
Apr 20, 2006

Moscow - Russia's military will not intervene on one side or the other should the current Iran crisis lead to an armed conflict, the chief of the Russian general staff said Wednesday.

"You are asking which side Russia will take. Of course Russia will not, at least I as head of the general staff, suggest the use of force on one side or the other. Just as was the case in Afghanistan," General Yury Baluevsky told reporters, referring to the 2001 US-led intervention to oust the Taliban.
The general, who heads the Russian armed forces, stressed that he did not think a military scenario was likely in relation to Iran and said that diplomacy was "the proper course".

"In my view a military solution to the Iranian problem would be a political and military mistake," Baluevsky said.

He also confirmed that Russia planned to go ahead with fulfilling an order by Iran for a consignment of Tor-M1 mobile air defence systems -- despite US concerns about the deal.

"I am absolutely sure that it will be delivered, in accordance with international norms on non-proliferation," he said.

Baluevsky is known for his hawkish position with regard to the United States. In December he accused Washington of "double standards" in its policies towards Iran and North Korea, saying it had closed its eyes to Israel's nuclear arsenal.

His comments on Wednesday came as the Iran issue continued to overshadow talks in Moscow among leaders of the Group of Eight rich nations.

Iran also sent a high-ranking delegation to Moscow for talks amid renewed efforts to resolve the mounting international crisis.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely for civilian energy generation, but the West, led by the United States, suspects the programme is a cover for developing nuclear weapons.



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Stop Us Before We Kill Again!

By Bernard Weiner
crisispapaers.org


So, if you're wondering whether the U.S. will back off from attacking Iran, or whether corporations will no longer be given the ability to dictate Administration environmental policy, or whether domestic spying on U.S. citizens will cease, or whether Scalia might recuse himself on cases he's already pre-judged -- if you still harbor any or all of those illusions, forget about it.
The essence of Bush&Co. strategy, from January 2001 to today, can be boiled down to this: We'll continue doing whatever we want to do until someone stops us.

So, if you're wondering whether the U.S. will back off from attacking Iran, or whether corporations will no longer be given the ability to dictate Administration environmental policy, or whether domestic spying on U.S. citizens will cease, or whether Scalia might recuse himself on cases he's already pre-judged -- if you still harbor any or all of those illusions, forget about it.

Since Bush&Co. openly carry out the most reprehensible crimes, with nobody being able to prevent them from moving on to even worse atrocities, it's almost as if their unconscious is screaming out for a political intervention, reminiscent of that old plea from a tormented serial-killer: "Stop Me Before I Kill Again!"

But consciously, as they sense their time in power may be coming to an inglorious end and as they read their quickly-sinking poll numbers, they can't help themselves from issuing their traditional, in-your-face dare: "Stop me if you can, losers!"

This big-A "Attitude" started long before Inauguration Day, when Karl Rove & Dick Cheney were devising their strategy and theory of governance. It goes something like this: We need only one vote more than the other guys -- on the Supreme Court, in the Senate, in the popular vote totals in key states. Once we get our victory by whatever means necessary, we are then the "legitimate" rulers. We can claim The People Have Spoken and that we have a "mandate" for action and can do whatever we want. If you don't like it, tough. If you're foolhardy enough, you can try again at the next election and see where that gets you, suckers -- our side counts the votes!

THE POSITIVES & NEGATIVES

The Bushistas look around and, though not happy with how their policies have fallen out of favor, they can be somewhat sanguine. After all, their fundamentalist base of about 33% is still hanging in there with them. The mainstream media -- most newspapers, Fox News, radio talk-shows, cable pundits -- are still more or less in their pockets. The bothersome Democrats remain in the minority, marginalized in Congress and far away from the levers of power. The votes are still tabulated by a few Republican companies, many from e-voting machines that are easily manipulatable by company technicians, even from remote distances. Another major catastrophe -- a new war, a huge natural disaster, a major terrorist attack -- can re-focus the headlines away from Bush&Co.'s current and ever-growing scandals.

On the other hand, a determined prosecutor Fitzgerald is still out there, deeply knowledgeable about what really went down in the manipulation of pre-Iraq War intelligence. The military establishment is rebelling against Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war policies, openly in the case of those generals who resigned to speak their minds, and covertly in the case of those actively serving who are leaking their opposition to Jack Murtha, Sy Hersh and others. More and more conservative and moderate Republicans are backing away from too-close association with BushCheney, and there have been a number of embarrassing defeats for the Administration in Congress. Revelations of one Bush&Co. scandal after another keep coming (Katrina, Abramoff, domestic spying, WMD lies, torture, Plamegate, Unitary Executive dictatorship, and on and on).

Given all that -- and one suspects that is just the tip of the criminality iceberg -- one would expect that Bush and Cheney would be approaching the impeachment dock shortly. But while a majority of the public is willing to consider or support making Bush and Cheney accountable for their lies and corruption and incompetency, the weak-kneed politicians simply refuse to even consider a censure resolution, let alone to pass one authorizing impeachment hearings. In short, the Democrats have chosen not to put up a real fight for either the future well-being of the Constitution or their own political survival, preferring instead to watch from the sidelines as the Republicans implode in corruption, scandal and disarray.

And so, with no effective opposition in their way, Bush&Co. simply keep moving forward. Next stop: Iran.

THIS IS NOT JUST SABER-RATTLING

Though there is some speculation that all this talk about Bush attacking Iran is so much saber-rattling to get the Iranians to back away from pursuing their nuclear ambitions, I don't buy it.

Bush&Co. want this war for a variety of reasons: to further their deeply-held goal (and Bush's sense of "legacy") of altering the geopolitical makeup of the greater Middle East; to control the vast oil reserves in the region; to provide yet another demonstration model to Muslim rulers in the area not to mess with U.S. desires and demands; and, of course, to wrap Bush in the warrior flag yet again as a way of deflecting attention away from his domestic and foreign scandals by counting on the public's fascination with footage of laser-guided "precision" bombs striking the "enemy's" buildings and radar batteries.

("Precision" is in quotation marks because by now we know to anticipate thousands of dead and wounded civilians when the missiles and bombs go off-target. And, let us not forget, we haven't even brought up the subject of the radiation effects that might ensue if, as is being planned, Bush uses "tactical" atomic bombs, the so-called mini-nuke "bunker busters," to get at Iran's deep-underground labs. If such WMD are employed by the U.S., hundreds of thousands could be killed or badly damaged by radiation, and the area contaminated into the far future.)

The propaganda barrage being laid down by Administration spokesmen these days is so utterly identical to the fog of lies that preceded the attack on Iraq that it seems all Rumsfeld and Rice have to do is simply re-use the original press releases and change the last letter of the target country, "n" instead of "q." We even get ye olde "mushroom cloud" image hauled out again, supposedly warning us about Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons; this time, that mushroom cloud could well be one effected by the U.S. bombers and missiles.

Even the fantastical expectations are as out of whack as what we were told would happen in Iraq. There, we were promised, the American forces, in a "cakewalk," would be greeted as "liberators," with kisses and flowers. In Iran, we're told, much the same will occur, and the oppressed Iranians, chafing at the harsh rule of the fundamentalist mullahs running the country, will rise up and topple their repressive government. Seymour Hersh writes: "One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that 'a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.' He added: 'I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'")

NUCLEAR BUNKER-BUSTERS?

These predictions of a popular Iranian uprising, which arise out of neo-con ignorance and desire, simply ignore the realities on the ground. Imagine, for example, how U.S. citizens would feel -- even those opposed to the Bush Administration -- if a bullying foreign power bombed the hell out of our country's scientific and industrial laboratories, killing a lot of our citizens in the process, and badly hampering our economic progress for decades to come. If the attack included nuclear bombs, multiply those angry reactions (and the resulting radiation deaths) by a thousand per cent. How would the citizens react? Of course: The American people would unite behind their leaders, beloved or despised, in resisting the attackers. Much the same reactions should be anticipated from Iran's citizens.

In Iran's case, given that it's the major Muslim military and political power in the region, that resistance might well lead to retaliation where it hurts. Israel, America's one surefire ally in the region, probably would be attacked, thus widening the already red-hot conflict; U.S. warships in the area would be targeted by Iranian missiles; oil sales to the West would be greatly reduced or cut off entirely, and perhaps other oil fields in the region might be bombed; the Straits of Hormuz, which control entry into the Persian Gulf, might be blocked to sea traffic; Iranian assault troops might enter Iraq to support the insurgency, which would have redoubled its attacks on U.S. forces; Iran-sponsored terrorists would hit American targets both in the region and perhaps even inside the United States. Plus, the Law of Unintended Consequences would lead to even more ruinous events not even contemplated here as other Islamic nations become involved.

Surely, Iran knows how much the U.S. military is stressed these days in Iraq and Afghanistan, how thin the troop strength is around the globe, how so many U.S. troops are going AWOL or are not re-upping, how National Guard troops and commanders are reacting negatively to their overuse outside America's boundaries, how many in the Pentagon brass are opposed to Bush policy, etc. The aim of the Iranians, in this scenario, would be to get the U.S. bogged down in yet another land war in the region.

In short, it's not just the ineptly-managed quagmire in Iraq that is behind much of the opposition from high-ranking officers and retired brass in America's military command. Clearly, they are speaking out now because of the prospect of another disaster about to unfold in Iran, which will get young American troops slaughtered and tied-down in yet another military adventure.

(Let us be clear. The military brass currently in revolt against Rumsfeld and his superiors -- the unnamed Cheney and Bush -- are not liberal activists energized by the issues of whether these wars are moral or legal or even well-advised; they are arguing, for the most part, on how best to properly manage such conflicts, how to more effectively conduct such imperial adventures while keeping their troops safe. But, whatever their motives, progressives should welcome any dissent that weakens the hold of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triad on the levers of uncriticized power.)

WHY IRAN WANTS NUKES

Do I believe that Iran's rulers are nice, progressive guys who deserve our active support? Of course not. Ahmadinejad mirrors Bush as a close-minded, backward-looking, religiously-influenced fundamentalist leader, and Iran's senior mullahs likewise. Do I believe Iran wants uranium-enrichment purely to build nuclear power plants? Of course not. They desire to be the big power in the neighborhood, plus they've seen how defenseless Iraq and Afghanistan were treated, and how this differs from how the U.S. behaves toward North Korea, Pakistan and India, all recent members of the nuclear-weapons club.

If for no reason other than their own protection against the two atomic powers in the region (the U.S. and Israel), the Iranian government's goal is to possess some nuclear-tipped missiles. Their atomic program is taking its first babysteps these days. America's own intelligence analysts believe it would take anywhere from five to ten years to get to the point of Iran having a nuclear arsenal. And, if both sides possess nuclear weapons, the world may return to the days of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, as a brake on rash action.

The Bush doctrine of "preventive" or "pre-emptive" war is to hit potential enemies before they can even get on the track of building up their weaponry. Hit 'em while they're weak and vulnerable, even if they have no plan of attacking anybody (such was the case with Iraq) -- that's the operating principle. The Islamic states are weak and vulnerable right now; hit 'em. Iraq is weak and vulnerable; take it. Iran doesn't yet have a fully developed nuclear program; blast it.

THE APRIL 29TH ANTI-WAR TEST

Nobody is sure when the U.S. attack on Iran will come. Given the resistance inside the American military to launching such an attack, the Bush propaganda machine may feel it needs a few more months to soften the public's attitude to the "inevitability" of the move on Iran. (And to obtain the international fig-leaf of a vaguely-worded U.N. Security Council authorization vote for war.) Or they could judge that the situation requires a "the-sooner-the-better" approach, before too much opposition develops in the American body politic and around the globe. Since this will not be a ground invasion, the air assault could happen at any moment. I'm guessing we have maybe a month in which to head this madness off at the pass.

Before the attack on Iraq in 2003, more than ten million people worldwide marched in opposition to that imminent invasion. Three years later, there seems very little organized resistance to the impending war on Iran. Only now is the possibility of such a U.S. attack coming onto most folks' radar screens. The peace movement seems puny in its ability to organize masses of demonstrators these days, whereas the march of immigrants across the country brought out millions.

We'll have a better sense of the strength of the peace movement on April 29, when the big anti-war march (the war being opposed is the one in Iraq) will happen in New York City, this one organized by United for Justice & Peace. Will those in the anti-war movement see the larger picture and alter their approach and rhetoric and actions accordingly? We shall see.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international , has taught at various universities, worked as a writer-editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).



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US to call for freeze on Iran assets and visa curbs

April 19, 2006
Sydney Morning Herald

MOSCOW: The US is pressing other world powers to consider what it called targeted sanctions against Iran as an April 30 United Nations deadline looms for Tehran over its nuclear program.

World crude oil prices topped $US70 ($95.50) a barrel on Monday, the highest level for nearly eight months, as Iran's pursuit of its nuclear program heightened market fears that Washington might take military action against the oil-producing Islamic republic.

But American talk of laying the groundwork for possible force was widely expected to be dismissed overnight, when the UN Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members and Germany meet.

The US, which already has a broad range of sanctions in place against Iran, said on Tuesday that it wanted the Security Council to be ready to take strong diplomatic action, including targeted measures, such as a freeze on assets and visa curbs.

"We're kind of sanctioned out at this point. We're down to pistachios and rugs," a US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said.

The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned yesterday that Iran would "cut the hand of any aggressor," and insisted the country's military had to be equipped with the most modern technology.

"Today, you are among the world's most powerful armies because you rely on God," Mr Ahmadinejad told a parade to commemorate Army Day.



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Life in the Americas


U.S. Records Drastic Decline in Death Rate

By MIKE STOBBE
Associated Press
April 19, 2006

ATLANTA -- In what appears to be an amazing success for American medicine, preliminary government figures released Wednesday showed that the annual number of deaths in the U.S. dropped by nearly 50,000 in 2004 - the biggest decline in nearly 70 years.

The 2 percent decrease, reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, came as a shock to many, because the U.S. is aging, growing in population and getting fatter. In fact, some experts said they suspect the numbers may not hold up when a final report is released later this year.
Nevertheless, center officials said the statistics, based on a review of about 90 percent of death records reported in all 50 states in 2004, were consistent across the country and were deemed solid enough to report.

The center said drops in the death rates for heart disease, cancer and stroke accounted for most of the decline.

"We were surprised by the sharpness of the decrease. It's kind of historical," said statistician Arialdi Minino, lead author of the report.

The government also said that U.S. life expectancy has inched up again to 77.9 years, a record high but still behind that of about two dozen other countries.

The preliminary number of U.S. deaths recorded for 2004 was 2,398,343. That represents a decline of 49,945 from the 2,448,288 recorded in 2003.

U.S. deaths ordinarily rise slightly each year. The last decline in annual deaths occurred in 1997, a modest drop of 445 deaths from 1996, Minino said.

The number of deaths has not dropped this steeply since 1938, when there were about 69,000 fewer than in 1937. A drop in 1944 came close - about 48,000 fewer deaths than the previous year. Health officials could not immediately say why the number of deaths fell so sharply in either of those years.

"These are preliminary data," said Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Atlanta's Emory University. "But if it holds up, it's obviously very good news."

To see such a giant drop after years of annual increases was a little hard to swallow for some.

"We will not make much of this until the final data come out," said Elizabeth Ward, director of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society.

Overall, age-adjusted death rates fell to a record low of 801 deaths per 100,000 population in 2004, down from almost 833 deaths per 100,000 in 2003.

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, accounting for 27 percent of the nation's deaths in 2004. Cancer was second, at about 23 percent, and strokes were third, at 6 percent.

The good news: The age-adjusted death rate for all three killers dropped. The heart disease rate declined more than 6 percent, the cancer rate about 3 percent, and the stroke rate about 6.5 percent.

Improvements in medical care, particularly in medications aimed at preventing heart disease, at least partly explain the improvements in the heart disease death rate, said Ken Thorpe, an Emory professor of health policy.

Also, the flu season for 2004 was milder than 2003, which helped explain the more than 7 percent drop in the influenza death rate, Minino noted.

The death rates for 11 of the 13 other leading causes of death also declined, with only Alzheimer's disease (the No. 7 killer) and high blood pressure and kidney disease related to high blood pressure (No. 13) inching up.

Even officials at the National Center for Health Statistics were "really kind of concerned" when they first saw their own numbers, said Bob Anderson, the agency's chief of mortality statistics. But the fact that decreases in the death rate were found nationwide gives them confidence that the findings are legitimate, and not the result of something like changes in data collection.

The government also reported that a baby born in 2004 could expect to live to nearly 78 - an increase of almost half a year from 2003. Women now have a life expectancy of 80.4, up from 80.1. Male life expectancy is 75.2, up from 74.8.

The life expectancy for whites - 78.3 - was up only slightly from the previous year. The increase for blacks was larger, with a rise from 72.7 to 73.3.

The government also reported that the infant mortality rate has dropped to 6.76 deaths per 1,000 births, down from 6.85 the year before. But a huge racial disparity persists. The rate for whites was 5.65 per 1,000 births, for blacks, 13.65.

Japan, Monaco and San Marino had the highest life expectancy, 82 years, in 2004, according to World Health Organization statistics. Australia, Iceland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland have a life expectancy of 81. Canada, France, Israel, Norway, Spain and Britain are among the other countries with life expectancies above 78.



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Vegas Attack Likely Part Of 2-Day Terror Spree

Local6.com
April 19, 2006

Authorities in Las Vegas believe the brutal beating of a 22-year-old casino worker caught on surveillance tape may have been part of two days of terror inflicted by the same thugs throughout the Las Vegas metro area.

Investigators believe there is a strong likelihood that the group could be linked to as many as six crimes and attacks in the area.
"It now appears that we might have six of these incidents around Las Vegas and one of the other jurisdictions too," Las Vegas police Lt. Ted Snodgrass said.

Police believe the first incident happened after midnight at an unnamed location, according to a KLAS-TV report.

After the first beating, authorities said that the group moved on to the MGM parking lot.

Local 6 News video showed a group of about 15 men punching, whipping and kicking an MGM Grand worker for his cell phone.

An hour later, police believe the same group popped up at a Travelodge, where they beat a motel guest.

Then, the following night, surveillance video shows a group of men stealing drinks and snacks from a store in the northwest part of the city.

Police said the group then apparently traveled to a nearby park and roughed up and robbed a victim. At another park, a man was shot and beaten by what may have been the same group of men.

"I think at this time, based on a couple things, that those (incidents) are related and I'll go over why we think they're related; One, the time frame being over the weekend-the Friday, Saturday connection, or early Saturday, early Sunday morning," Snodgrass said. "Also the number of suspects. We just don't get this many suspects at one time. The other thing is the descriptions of them being younger, African American males that are involved in it."

Daryl Williams, 18, was arrested in connection with the latest attack and police expect to nab at least a dozen more suspects, according to the report.



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City of Montgomery apologizes to Rosa Parks, five decades later

Last Updated Wed, 19 Apr 2006 12:48:31 EDT
CBC News

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks has received a belated apology from the city council of Montgomery, Ala., for the way she and other black citizens were treated during the 1950s.

Parks died in October 2005, 50 years after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white male passenger.
On Tuesday night, councillors in Montgomery voted unanimously to offer a formal apology to Parks, as well as "all others who suffered the same indignities."

The apology also applies to four women who filed a federal lawsuit at the time of Park's arrest to have the city's bus system made colour-blind.

The Montgomery bus system was segregated by race at the time Parks, then a 42-year-old seamstress, was arrested. That meant blacks could take a seat only if no white passenger wanted one.

"I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger," Parks told a reporter years after she took a stand by refusing to stand in compliance with the bus driver's order. "We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."

Parks' act of civil disobedience is credited with accelerating the American civil rights movement, as blacks across the South expressed outrage at her arrest.

Most of the current councillors in Montgomery are white.

Comment: We wonder where are the Rosa Parks' of today? People who by a small act of standing up for the truth, are capable of igniting change. Cindy Sheehan was becoming such a figure last summer.

It is through small acts of creation, and the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat was just such an act, that real change becomes possible. If there were millions of such small gestures each day in the United States, the regime couldn't remain in place. But the fear of the consequences for such actions must be overcome. Yes, there will be opposition, but there are also millions of people who think and feel as you do about the crimes of the Bush Reich. But they have been isolated. They worry that they will stick out if they raise their voices, or even innocently express disagreement with the Commander-in-Chief.

By discussing Bush's crimes and lies openly, people can change the perceptions that they are alone.


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Rove Relinquishes Some Control, McClellan Resigns in Shake-Up

By TERENCE HUNT
AP White House Correspondent
Wed Apr 19, 6:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON - White House political mastermind Karl Rove surrendered a key policy role Wednesday and press secretary Scott McClellan resigned in an escalation of a Bush administration shake-up driven by Republican anxieties.

Rove gave up his responsibilities as chief policy coordinator, a position he assumed just over a year ago that strengthened his influence over matters ranging from homeland security and domestic policy to the economy and national security. The promotion had left him stretched too thin in the eyes of some officials, as the White House grappled with mounting problems.

With Wednesday's change, Rove will be able to focus more on politics, fundraising and big-picture thinking with the approach of the November congressional elections, officials said.
A major force in the administration from the start, Rove still is expected to have a big voice in policy but not the day-to-day oversight. Those responsibilities will shift to Joel Kaplan, who was promoted to deputy chief of staff from the No. 2 job in the White House budget office where he had served as Joshua Bolten's lieutenant.

Bolten took over Friday as chief of staff with authority to do whatever he deemed necessary to stabilize Bush's presidency, and he has moved quickly with changes.

With the
Iraq war hanging over Bush, the White House has been rocked by mistakes and missteps - from an ill-fated Supreme Court nomination to a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina - that have resulted in the president's plunge in the polls to the lowest point since he took office. Nervous Republicans told Bush he needed fresh people with new ideas.

McClellan, the press secretary for nearly three years, was the public face of the White House and a vulnerable target in an administration trying to show off new people. He had been bloodied by contentious press briefings and media criticism about an administration loath to give up information.

"The White House is going through a period of transition. Change can be helpful, and this is a good time and good position to help bring about change," McClellan said, his voice choked with emotion as he stood alongside Bush outside the White House. "I am ready to move on."

In recent months, McClellan had told people he enjoyed his job and wanted to stay for the long term. He said Wednesday he started to think about leaving in the past few weeks and concluded, with a new chief of staff, that it was a good time to go. He and Bush came to a decision in a meeting Monday in the Oval Office.

"I have given it my all, sir, and I have given you my all, sir, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary," McClellan said.

"It's going to be hard to replace Scott," Bush said. "But, nevertheless, he's made the decision and I accept it. ... Job well done."

Bush patted McClellan on the back and they walked together across the South Lawn to the president's helicopter to begin a trip to Alabama. But the aircraft couldn't get off the ground because its radio failed, and they had to take a motorcade.

McClellan will remain until a successor is named.

Possibilities mentioned include Tony Snow, host of a program on Fox News Radio, Dan Senor, former coalition spokesman in Iraq, Trent Duffy, former White House deputy press secretary and former Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols.

More changes are expected. White House officials have done nothing to discourage speculation that Treasury Secretary
John Snow is leaving. Bush's communications chief, Nicolle Wallace, also is expected to depart because her husband has taken a new job in New York. Changes also are expected in the White House lobbying shop run by Candida Wolff.

The shake-up began with the March 28 resignation of Andy Card, Bush's longtime chief of staff, and his replacement by Bolten. Just this week, Bush has named a new budget chief and a new trade representative and is moving toward choosing a new domestic policy adviser

Kaplan, the new deputy chief of staff, will take over from Rove as coordinator of policy developed within the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. A trusted aide to Bolten, he will be the new chief's right-hand man.

"Joel Kaplan is a man of great talent, intellect and experience who possesses a deep knowledge of policy and budget processes," Bush said in a written statement.

Rove and Joe Hagin, who oversees White House administration, intelligence and national security, will remain as deputy chiefs of staff.

Rove still is under investigation by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald for his role in the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identity.

The episode also brought problems for McClellan. He at first denied Rove had played any part in the leak, saying he based his account on Rove himself. But later it was revealed that Rove had been a source for at least two reporters.

McClellan said Kaplan would focus on the day-to-day management of the policy process. "And so this really frees Karl up to focus on bigger strategic issues," the spokesman said. "He will continue to be a crucial voice and trusted adviser on policy ... as he has since the beginning of this administration."

Comment: It's not surprising that Rove will apparently be focusing on the upcoming elections. It is well-known that he built his reputation by employing dirty tricks in previous elections.

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Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay sign natural gas pipeline accord

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-20 13:20:28

BUENOS AIRES, April 19 (Xinhua) -- The presidents of Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay agreed on Wednesday to study a project for a natural gas pipeline linking the three South American nations, according to reports from Asuncion.

The initiative was proposed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at a one-day energy summit among the four nations in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion, where he joined Evo Morales of Bolivia, Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay and Nicanor Duarte of Paraguay to discuss energy cooperation.
The proposed pipeline would carry gas from Tarija in Bolivia, to Uruguay, passing through Casado in Paraguay. It would be 6,000-km long and would cost around 450 million U.S. dollars.

The Presidents of Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay agreed at the meeting to "form a three-nation commission to start the feasibility and cost study straight away" and said that they would make the results of the study known by the end of the year, according to the reports.

Chavez said that his nation was willing to offer technical and financial support for the study and the construction of the pipeline.

The project is the second gas pipeline promoted by Chavez. Last year, he agreed with Brazil and Argentina to explore the idea of building a so-called "Great Southern Gas Pipeline," an 8,000-km line designed to link Venezuela to Argentina, passing through Brazil, at a projected cost of 20 billion dollars.

Chavez said that there would be a second phase under which the two projects would "converge under the South American energy cone concept."

At the same meeting Paraguay and Bolivia signed an agreement to work together on industrializing natural gas projects and building a pipeline between their two countries.

The three nations also said in their agreements that the projects had to get underway quickly, as the governments were obliged to seek multilateral financing within 120 days, according to the reports.



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Venezuelan, Uruguayan leaders call for reform of Mercosur

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-20 14:33:31

BUENOS AIRES, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Uruguayan counterpart Tabare Vazquez on Wednesday stressed the necessity of reforming the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), said reports from Paraguay's capital Asuncion.

Chavez said that Mercosur need reform to ensure its continued function.
Uruguayan President Vazquez said that Paraguay and Uruguay had severe problems within Mercosur, adding that integration of the bloc and the region were important.

"We have to improve things because this is not the Mercosur that either Uruguay or Paraguay wants," he said.

The two presidents were in Asuncion to meet their counterparts Nicanor Duarte Frutos of Paraguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia at the Energy Summit which would end on Thursday.

Mercosur consists of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Bolivia is an associate member of Mercosur and Venezuela is on track to a full membership of the trade bloc.



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Pentagon releases list of Guantanamo detainees

AFP
Thu Apr 20, 2:38 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon released for the first time a list of names and nationalities of 558 "war on terror" detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The list was posted on a Pentagon website with no accompanying announcement in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Associated Press.

The list contains the names, identification numbers and nationalities of 558 detainees whose status as enemy combatants was reviewed by special military tribunals, according to a heading on the list.
Scores of the detainees listed have been released or transferred to their home country since the reviews, but about 490 remain imprisoned at the detention center at a US naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

The Pentagon maintains the list is comprehensive and that there are no other detainees currently in Guantanamo who are not on the list. The list however does not include an estimated 140 or so who were reportedly brought to the Cuba base and subsequently released before the Pentagon began the tribunal reviews.

Those on the list released Wednesday came from 40 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Europe.

The largest number was from Saudi Arabia, the nationality given for more than 130 detainees on the list.

Afghans accounted for 125 detainees, followed by Yemenis who numbered more than 100.

The list showed that 25 were Algerians, 22 were Chinese and 13 Pakistanis.

Smaller but still sizeable numbers of Libyans, Tunisians, Kuwaitis and Sudanese were among the detainees, and they came in ones and twos from as far away as Uganda, Azerbaijan, Russia and the Maldives.

Others came from Britain, France and Belgium, though they have since been released.

Among the detainees on the list is Canadian teenager, Omar Ahmed Khadr, who stands accused of killing a US soldier in
Afghanistan.

At the top of the list was David Hicks, the Australian who was captured fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is one of 10 detainees who face trial by a special military commission.

The Pentagon had fought for four years to keep secret the names and nationalities of the detainees, refusing to confirm the identifies of even those who had been released.

But a federal court earlier this year ordered it to release transcripts of detainee hearings without taking out their names and nationalities.

The Pentagon began releasing thousands of pages of transcripts and case summaries on March 3, following up with an additional batch of documents on earlier this month.

But the documents contained only the names and nationalities of some of the detainees, and until now the Pentagon had provided no comprehensive list.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman contended that the Pentagon had withheld their identities and other personal information out of concern that their release could result in reprisals against the detainees.

He said in some cases detainees have made incriminating statements about third parties in their home countries, or about other detainees, or made statements that could be considered disloyal by enemy forces.

Human rights activists, however, have accused the administration of withholding the names to prevent lawyers from contacting detainees to defend them.

Comment: The only reason the Pentagon has finally released these names is so that it looks like they aren't hiding anything. What about the prisoners in the "secret" detention facilities? You know: rendition, secret CIA flights that stopped in various countries, etc.

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'Real 20th hijacker' is being held at Guantanamo

By Jenny Booth and agencies

The man alleged to be the real 20th hijacker of the September 11 terror attacks is imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, it has emerged.

Muhammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi, was arrested after US immigration authorities refused to allow him to enter the country at Orlando airport in Florida, before the suicide hijackings.
Testimony in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui quoted Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks who has been in US custody for several years, describing al-Qahtani as the last hijacker for the mission who would "complete the group".

Nineteen hijackers boarded four planes on the morning of September 11, 2001. Three planes each with five terrorists on board struck their intended targets, but the fourth, United Airlines flight 93, only had four hijackers. They were forced to dive the aircraft into the ground short of their target - probably the White House - after a counter-attack by the passengers.

Claims by Moussaoui himself at his trial that he was intended to be one of the 9/11 hijackers have been discounted by intelligence sources, although he may still be condemned to death for failing to tell the security services what he knew about the plot.

Although al-Qahtani's presence at the prison camp in Cuba had been reported, the military had previously declined to confirm it.

News of his whereabouts emerged on a Pentagon list of the hundreds of detainees who have been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, published in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the US-based Associated Press news agency. Al-Qahtani appears as number 50 on a list of 558 names.

The list is the first official roster of Guantanamo detainees who passed through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process in 2004 and 2005 to determine whether they should be deemed "enemy combatants." Nearly all the men were ruled to be enemy fighters, but only a handful have so far faced formal charges, despite four years or more in custody.

In all, 558 people were named in the list provided by the Pentagon, some of whom have already been released. Some names are familiar, such as David Hicks, a Muslim from Australia charged with fighting US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, who is seeking to get a British passport after his own government refused to request his release.

Hicks is one of 10 detainees selected to be tried by a military tribunal on charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to commit terrorism. He allegedly fought for the Taleban, and according to reports has admitted training with British Islamic extremists, including the would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner in 2001.

The list also includes top former Taleban officials, such as Mullah Mohammed Fazil, the ousted regime's former Defence Ministry chief of staff; Abdul Haq Wasiq and Gholam Ruhani, Taleban intelligence officials who are believed to still be in custody; and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taleban's former ambassador to Pakistan, who was released in late 2005.

Others on the list, such as an Afghan identified only as "Commander Chaman," remain mysterious.

In all, the detainees on the list came from 41 countries. The largest number - 132 - come from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan follows with 125, and Yemen is next with 107.

An independent Afghan commission working to free Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay praised the release of the list.
"This is very good news and it helps us because now it is easy for us to identify the Afghans in Guantanamo, learn how many there are and from which provinces they come from," said Sayeed Sharif Youssefi, a senior official in Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission.

The list had been previously accessible by the International Committee for the Red Cross, but the Defence Department had determined it was now "prudent" to release the list to the public, said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman. The US Government had previously declined to release any list of names except the 10 who have been formally charged.

Even with the latest release, the Pentagon has not provided a full list of all the more than 750 prisoners that the military says have passed through Guantanamo. Colonel Vician said he had no information on the roughly 200 people whose names did not appear.

The release of the list, ordered by a federal judge, came amid wide criticism of the almost total secrecy surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, where the United States now holds about 490 detainees.

"This is information that should have been released a long time ago, and it's a scandal that it hasn't been," said Bill Goodman, legal director of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which has helped coordinate legal efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.

The combatant status hearings at Guantanamo Bay were held from July 2004 to January 2005. All detainees at the prison during that period had such a hearing. Of the 558 detainees who received one, the panels classified 38 as "no longer enemy combatants" and the military later released 29 of them from Guantanamo.

The remaining nine include an undisclosed number of Uighurs who can't be sent back to their native China because of the possibility they could face persecution over their campaign for an independent homeland, often called East Turkestan. They are being held in a part of the detention centre with extra privileges known as Camp Iguana, a military spokesman said.

Today China - whose President, Hu Jintao, is visiting Washington - urged the United States to return the Chinese nationals held as part of the "War on Terror". Washington should "repatriate Chinese-nationality terror suspects held at Guantanamo as quickly as possible", the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"East Turkestan forces are part of international terrorist forces and pose a grave threat to the international community, including China and the United States," Qin Gang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Beijing.

Beijing's renewed call to take back the detainees came after two of the Uighurs at Guantanamo, Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim, failed to persuade the US Supreme Court earlier this week to review a lower court decision that a federal court has no power to order their release, even though it has ruled they are not being lawfully held.



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Mother Nature's Revenge


Storm Evacuees Are Straining Texas Hosts

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
The New York Times
April 20, 2006

HOUSTON - To the long list of adjectives used to describe Texans since last summer's hurricanes - munificent, intrepid, scrappy - add one more: fed up.

Seven months after two powerful hurricanes blew through the Gulf Coast, elected officials, law enforcement agencies and many residents say Texas is nearing the end of its ability to play good neighbor without compensation.

Houston is straining along its municipal seams from the 150,000 new residents from New Orleans, officials say. Crime was already on the rise there before the hurricane, but the Houston police say that evacuees were victims or suspects in two-thirds of the 30 percent increase in murders since September. The schools are also struggling to educate thousands of new children.
To the east of here, Texans argue that Hurricane Rita, which took an unexpected turn away from Houston shortly after Hurricane Katrina last fall to wreak havoc from Jasper to the northeast to Sabine Pass near the Louisiana border, has been forgotten in the swirl of attention given to the devastation in New Orleans.

In fact, they say, the nation never really took notice of the 77,000 homes made uninhabitable by Hurricane Rita's force, 40,000 of which were not insured, or the piles of debris and garbage that still fester along the roads. "Personally I am sick of hearing about Katrina," said Ronda Authement, standing outside her trailer in Sabine Pass, where she will live until she can get the money and the workers to put her three-bedroom house back on its foundation. "I would like to throw up, frankly, hearing about Katrina."

In its frustration, Texas has thrown its hat in the great Congressional money game, arguing vociferously for federal money to help pay for new police officers in Houston, where the force has dwindled in recent years, and to repair homes in East Texas, where many poor residents lack the means and the insurance to do it on their own.

Though the state has requested $2 billion in federal aid to pay for law enforcement, education and housing, state officials say they have received only $22 million so far.

"We were told we would be taken care of by everybody on the federal level," said Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, who recently helped get $380 million in aid added to President Bush's latest supplemental request for Texas. "But clearly that isn't the case. Texas opened its doors and hearts, and that is something we will continue to do today. However, we need to be reimbursed."

Houston's relationship with its added population is subtle and at times ambivalent. Residents, atomized over a broad swath of land with few interneighborhood connections, seem at one level to be dedicated to helping their neighbors, and are quick to cite numerous examples of continued volunteerism and the improved lives of children who they say are getting a better education than they received in New Orleans.

But they are also keenly aware of spikes in crime, especially in Southwest Houston, where the majority of the poorest New Orleanians settled.

"The city of Houston bent over backwards for these people, and I am glad we did it," said Scott Wilson, 43, who lives in the Montrose section. "But now we are absorbing some of their problems."

Evacuees have been victims of or accused of committing 39 of the 235 murders in Houston since last September, said Houston's police chief, Harold Hurtt. In January alone, there was a 34 percent rise in felonies over the previous year in the city.

"I can't tell you what percentage of that group is evacuees," Chief Hurtt said. "But I am sure they are really represented in that group."

Chief Hurtt said that some of the gangs that once operated in New Orleans housing projects had relocated to Houston, a city plagued with its own gang problems.

In response, the city moved 100 officers working in city jails to high-crime areas, and greatly increased overtime, a tall order for a department that has lost 800 officers to retirement over the last two years.

The city has asked the federal government for $77 million to hire 560 officers over five years. At Senator Hutchison's request, the Department of Justice recently sent the Police Department $20 million to help pay for patrolling high-crime areas.

The Houston public school system, with about 208,000 students, also wants money to pay for more teachers, additional facilities and tutoring help for its roughly 30,000 evacuee children. The New Orleans schools, surrounded by far greater poverty than Houston, are among the nation's most troubled.

Houston's school system has also experienced fighting between local and New Orleans students in its schools - 27 students from the two sides were arrested in one melee - but school crime is down over all.

"It has been a challenge," said Terry Abbott, a spokesman for Houston Independent School District, "but generally the vast majority of the children are well behaved and many are grateful to be here."

But results on standardized tests suggest that "the students from Louisiana were substantially behind the Texas kids," Mr. Abbott said.

"We have asked the state government for resources to get them up to speed," said Mr. Abbott, with an eye toward regulations of the federal No Child Left Behind law. "That will be a concern, but these children are ours now, and we don't look at them in any other way."

In East Texas, state officials are seeking roughly $1 billion in new federal block-grant money to house people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Rita.

Texas officials concede that their coast was not pummeled nearly as badly as their neighbors in Louisiana, but they argue that their residents did not evacuate and were now trying to live in squalid, mold-infested conditions.

"I have been to the Ninth Ward," said Mark Viator, chairman of the Recovery Coalition of Southeast Texas, speaking of the most devastated neighborhood in New Orleans. "There is debris in the Ninth Ward, but you don't have people. We say, send the money where the people are."

Henry Bowie, who lives in Port Arthur, a city with high unemployment and many poor residents, is the sort of person Mr. Viator thinks should get federal housing money. His house is a patchwork of broken roofing, and light is visible through the floorboards because the house is off its foundation. Black mold grows up the sides of the walls, but Mr. Bowie, who undergoes dialysis three times a week, remains there with his wife and teenage son.

Not everyone is sympathetic to the needs of Texas, where oil refinery businesses continue to take in millions of dollars in profits monthly, even though state officials say they do not have enough workers because of a housing shortage. In testimony at a recent appropriations hearing, Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said he did not believe Texans needed housing money.

"Texas, in the best role of traditional Judeo-Christian charity, provided benefits," Mr. Bond said. "I think it's time we get back to being a good neighbor and not a paid companion."

Senator Hutchison, who spoke next, was not amused.

Mayor Guy N. Goodson of Beaumont, where thousands of homes were damaged, said he would like to see federal reimbursements for debris removal there rise to 90 percent of costs from 75 percent, equaling what it was in Louisiana. Mayor Goodson said his area suffered inattention because its residents had done the right thing: evacuating and rebuilding without complaint after Hurricane Rita cut its path.

"There is a great disjoinder in people's minds about disaster," he said. "You see wildfires, you see a tornado, and who can forget the pictures of the Ninth Ward. A vast majority of our area is wind damage. And unfortunately from a sensory standpoint, people just don't coordinate these two very similar disasters."

Comment: Poor Babs Bush. She must be on the verge of a brain aneurysm.

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Mumps Hits Midwest, More Vaccine Promised

By MIKE WILSON and MIKE STOBBE
Associated Press Writers
Apr 19, 9:17 PM EDT

DES MOINES, Iowa -- In the worst outbreak in nearly 20 years, mumps cases are spilling out of Iowa, popping up in at least seven other Midwestern states and perhaps seven more - leading to promises of extra vaccine from the U.S. stockpile.

There are no deaths and few hospitalizations being reported from the disease, which health officials say might have been helped by air travel.

But the nation's federal health agency said Wednesday it's the largest outbreak in almost two decades with more than 1,000 cases and it's expected to keep growing.
It's a "cascade of transmission that's going to take a while to curtail and stop," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

More than 800 of the cases are in Iowa. The CDC has pledged to provide 25,000 doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to the state from the agency's stockpile. And Merck & Co., the vaccine maker, is giving another 25,000 doses to the CDC for distribution to other states, Gerberding said in a briefing in Atlanta.

Iowa, the mumps hot spot, is feeling the pain in some unexpected ways.

When the track and field team from Loras College in Dubuque made the six-hour drive to St. Louis for a Washington University track meet, the runners were sent right back home.

"Washington decided that because of the mumps they didn't want schools from Dubuque competing," said Tim Calderwood, Loras' sports information director. Dubuque is in northeast Iowa, one of the areas of the state hit hardest by the mumps.

"We always have the health and safety of our athletes and of our competitors as our top priority," Calderwood said. He said none of the Loras athletes had mumps, and "we ask our opponents to trust our coaches and know that they would not bring a student who is showing symptoms of mumps to their school."

Just 37 of the college's 1,700 students have caught mumps since the first case surfaced in February, according to the school's health clinic.

Iowa public health officials say the outbreak of the annoying but rarely serious disease is no reason to cancel events or start widespread immunization clinics.

"College graduation, high school proms, we're not recommending any be canceled," said Kevin Teale, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Health. "We just want to ensure that people are aware of the risk."

The source of the Iowa epidemic is unknown, but Britain experienced a mumps epidemic that peaked last year with about 56,000 cases. The Iowa mumps virus is the same variety, but health officials are still evaluating whether there's a connection.

As to its spread in the United States, Iowa health officials last week noted that two infected Iowa airline passengers carried the disease on nine different flights.

Mumps is a virus spread by coughing and sneezing. The most common symptoms are fever, headache and swollen salivary glands under the jaw. But it can lead to more severe problems, such as hearing loss, meningitis and fertility-diminishing swollen testicles.

No deaths and few complications have been reported from the current epidemic. Just one person in Iowa developed encephalitis but has recovered, said Teale.

Once a childhood rite of passage, mumps has been on the wane since a vaccine came along in the late 1960s. A two-dose shot is recommended for all children, and is considered very effective - but not completely - at preventing it. About 10 percent of people who get both doses are still susceptible, Gerberding said.

That's why there are hundreds of people in Iowa - a state of nearly 3 million - who are turning up with the disease, Gerberding said.

So far cases are reported in Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Kansas confirmed more than 140 cases, Nebraska reported more than 100, and Illinois had more than 80 - numbers that dwarf mumps reports in typical years. Most other states affected by the outbreak were still reporting fewer than 50 cases.

However, the CDC said it was investigating cases in seven other states.

Iowa and Wisconsin officials were seeing cases more often in universities than elementary schools. However, Iowa's Waterloo public school district reported 10 cases of mumps - seven students and three adults.

Spokeswoman Sharon Miller said the district is focused on alerting parents.

"We send a letter home to parents explaining the situation and facts about mumps so they can be on the watch," Miller said. "School nurses also review immunization records to look for situations where there may be a gap."

Meanwhile, Teale said health officials are not urging event cancellations.

"On one hand, given the 800-plus cases we have, this is a serious situation," Teale said. "On the same token, we have 2.8 million people in Iowa, so the relative risk of any single visitor getting mumps is extremely low."



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Midwest Snowstorm Leaves 4 Dead, Power Out

By BLAKE NICHOLSON
Associated Press Writer
Apr 19 7:07 PM US/Eastern

BISMARCK, N.D. - A powerful spring storm swept through the northwestern Plains on Wednesday, dumping up to 2 feet of snow that closed major highways, cut power to hundreds and was blamed for at least four deaths.

More than 2,000 homes and businesses lost power in South Dakota's Black Hills, and many schools were closed. Some customers in North Dakota could be without electricity until Friday, said the Mountrail- Williams County Electric Cooperative.

The heaviest snow was reported in the Black Hills, with 24 inches at Lead and Rochford, the weather service said. Sundance, Wyo., reported 13 inches of snow by midmorning with wind gusting to 60 mph. A foot had fallen at Bowman, in North Dakota's southwest corner, which was under a blizzard warning in the afternoon, the weather service said.
"I wish I was in Hawaii," said Bowman County Sheriff Rory Teigen.

Bowman school business manager James Miller said the snow was mostly slush. "It's hard to move in it because it's so wet, heavy and slippery."

North Dakota ranchers in the middle of calving season worked long hours to help their calves survive the storm.

"(Workers) were out all day yesterday, taking out a lot of straw, getting (calves) in sheltered areas," Faye Burke said Wednesday from her farm in the western part of the state. "I guess we're happy for the moisture, but we're a little nervous about our new calves."

Authorities closed about 100 miles of Interstate 94 Tuesday night from Glendive, Mont., to Dickinson, N.D., but had reopened it by midday Wednesday. A stretch of about 140 miles of I-90 was shut down from Gillette, Wyo., to Rapid City, S.D.

I-90 had icy pavement, zero visibility and trucks blocking parts of the road, said South Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Greg Ingemunson.

Three people died Tuesday in a crash on an icy North Dakota highway amid blowing sleet and snow, state police said. Authorities said a tractor-trailer collided head-on with a U-Haul truck towing a car, pushing it into an SUV.

A utility worker died Tuesday night in an apparent weather-related accident in northwestern North Dakota. Bill Schell, general manager of Medicine Lake, Mont.-based Sheridan Electric Co-op, declined to release more information about the death, saying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had not yet finished its investigation.

Wind gusting to 84 mph overturned a mobile home in the Nebraska Panhandle, and gusts to 71 mph were reported in eastern Montana, officials said.

Spring storms with heavy snow aren't unusual in North Dakota, said weather service meteorologist Jim Fors in Bismarck.

"We don't get them every year, but every five to 10 years, we usually get a big dump," Fors said.

Some parts of the region got rain, the weather service said.

"(Winter) seems like it has to have its last hurrah," Burke said.



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Days of rain wash away homes in N.L.

Last Updated Thu, 20 Apr 2006 06:58:23 EDT
CBC News

Several communities along the northeast coast of Newfoundland are still coping with flood waters Thursday morning, and people in the area are coming to terms with the damage done to their homes.
"My house is a total loss as far as I'm concerned, the basement part of it," said Dale Nobles, whose home in Middle Arm was flooded with raw sewage.

"And it's all done, you know, done just as good as upstairs. You know, the upstairs is just a place to sleep as far as I'm concerned. Downstairs is where we live," he said.

Two days of near constant rain have washed away roads, isolating communities and leaving towns without basic services.

Communities on the Baie Verte Peninsula were under a state of emergency on Wednesday after severe flooding closed nearby roads The main road into the town of Baie Verte was still washed out on Thursday, but is expected to reopen Friday.

The town of Middle Arm has been hit especially hard, with closed roads and damage to the sewer and water lines. About 50 houses in the community of 600 people, have been flooded and at least one person had to be transported to hospital.

Tammy Richards might have lost her new bungalow in the town when the flood sent tons of rock crashing down on top of the house.

"The water flooded my whole entire house, ruining everything on floor level...Now we're just worried about removing the rock and debris from the back of the house and maybe even losing the house totally," she said.

Burlington, Smith's Harbour and Middle Arm were all put under states of emergency Tuesday morning after they were cut off from the rest of the peninsula, located about 150 kilometres northwest of Gander in central Newfoundland, Tuesday morning.

The communities of Lumsden and Peterview are under boil-water orders.

Residents are bracing for more wet weather - the forecast calls for up to 10 millimetres of rain for much of the Baie Verte Peninsula and freezing rain and snow is in the forecast for Thursday night.



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Cyclone Monica Batters Northeast Australia

AFP
Apr 20, 2006

Sydney - Tropical Cyclone Monica battered northeastern Australia's Cape York peninsula Wednesday after making landfall near the remote Aboriginal community of Lockhart River, the weather bureau said.

The storm brought torrential rain and strong winds to the area 1,875 kilometres (1,163 miles) north of Brisbane and forced residents to take shelter in secure buildings.
Weather forecaster Manfred Greitschus said the storm was about 35 kilometres southeast of Lockhart River and moving west at about 18 kilometres an hour.

"It's just crossing the coast at the moment," he told AFP.

"We've had wind gusts to date of about 100 kilometres an hour near Lockhart River," he said, adding that winds were expected to reach more than 200 kilometres an hour.

Greitschus said the storm, rated a category three on a scale where five is the maximum, was expected to abate during the evening.

"It's still a category three but it's expected to weaken over the next 12 hours," he said.

Peter Buckland, head of the local council, said it was too early to say whether the storm had caused much damage but it had flattened trees like a bulldozer.

"My house backed onto bush, or it used to, and it just looks like a D9 (bulldozer) has gone through the bush," he told ABC radio.



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Tokyo jolted by moderate earthquake

04.20.2006, 02:12 AM

TOKYO (AFX) - A moderate earthquake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale was felt here, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The quake occurred at 12.40 pm (0340 GMT) in the central prefecture of Tochigi, 100 kilometers north of here, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The temblor was 60 kilometers deep, the agency said, adding that there was no risk of tsunami waves.




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Strong earthquake off west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra

04.20.2006, 01:24 AM

JAKARTA (AFX) - A strong earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale struck off the western coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia, the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency here said.
The quake, centered 33 kilometers under the floor of the Indian Ocean some 300 kilometers west of Simeulue, was only moderately felt on the island, said Hardiyanto of the agency's office in the capital Jakarta.

There were no reports of injuries or damage from the quake, which struck at 2.36 am local time.

The US Geological Survey said that the quake occurred not far from the epicenter of the devastating Dec 26, 2004 earthquake which triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 in the region.



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Peru Volcano Ash Sickens 1,000 People, Kills Llamas

PERU: April 20, 2006

AREQUIPA, Peru - At least 1,000 people have suffered respiratory problems from a tower of ash spewing from the Ubinas volcano in southern Peru, and 20 llamas have died after eating poisoned grass, a local official said on Wednesday.
Ubinas, in the Moquegua region 550 miles (900 km) south of Lima, has been belching for much of the month and this week sent smoke and ash 2,600 feet (800 meters) into the air, spreading a thick carpet of ash on areas north of the volcano.

Officials said the volcano continued to spit out ash and smoke on Wednesday, and the wind was carrying it north.

"Approximately 1,000 people from several small towns north of the volcano have had breathing problems and itching eyes from the sulfur in the rain of ash," Agustin Quispe, mayor of the town of San Juan de Tarucani de Arequipa, one of the towns north of the volcano affected by ash, told reporters.

In recorded history, Ubinas has never had a lava eruption, according to experts at the university of Arequipa in southern Peru.

Quispe said ash carried north by the wind had affected five towns that are within six miles (10 km) of the volcano. He also said 20 llamas in his village died from eating "contaminated grasses."

In the hamlet of Querapi, home to 42 farming families three miles (4.5 km) from the 18,700 foot (5,670 meter)-high volcano, Civil Defense authorities distributed gas masks and recommended evacuation earlier this week.

But the people of Querapi were reluctant to leave despite the yellow alert declared by Civil Defense.



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War Crimes on Terror


Death warrants - Saddam 148, Bush 152

Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY, Pravda.ru
April 19, 2006


The difference between Saddam Hussein and George Bush is that both signed death warrants but only one of them is in the dock. Let us draw some parallels between these two men and reach some conclusions.

Saddam Hussein, we now hear, signed the death warrants of 148 Shiite villagers who had risen up against him in Dujail in 1982, for which Saddam Hussein sits in the dock and could face the death penalty. George Bush, in his six-year tenure as Governor of Texas, signed 152 death warrants, a record for any governor of any state in the history of the USA. An example of what George Bush is capable of is provided by the signing of the death warrant of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of 33 with the brain of a seven-year-old. Pleas of clemency were denied after a hearing which lasted barely half an hour.
Saddam Hussein was derided because he invaded a sovereign nation - in the event, Kuwait, which was stealing Iraq's oil by cross-drilling, and which had been warned against this practice. George Bush invaded a sovereign nation - Iraq, based on lies and deception.

George Bush accused Saddam Hussein of lying when he claimed he did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction. "This man stiffed the world," he said. "We know where they are," the Bush regime said. Rumsfeld said they were "In Baghdad and Tikrit and north, south, east and west of there". Powell said, "They are being driven around the desert, in vehicles".

But the one who was telling the truth was Saddam Hussein and the one who stiffed the world was George Bush. Where are the WMD?

Saddam Hussein was derided for his terrible prisons in which prisoners were tortured. Yet what happened in Abu Ghraib under the legions of George Bush defies logic, such was the shock and awe of the horrific scenes of human suffering and sexual depravity meted out on prisoners by American guards.

The US Armed Forces, of which George Bush is Commander-in-Chief, attacked civilian targets with military hardware, something Saddam Hussein never did. The USAF strafed civilian areas with missiles, dropped cluster bombs in residential complexes, committed acts of terrorism against women and children. Schools were destroyed, hospitals were strafed, hotels were targeted, infra-structures were razed so that billionaire contracts could be meted out for the reconstruction campaign.

Yet Saddam Hussein sits in the dock and George Bush sits in the White House. What a telling statement in the injustice of today's world, what a perfect comment on the hypocrisy of the USA, a country which likes to brag about how egalitarian it is, about how concerned it is for equal human rights yet in practice perverts every course of justice and breaks every law in the book.




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Iraq Police Deny Report of Teachers Killed

The Associated Press
April 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Militants killed two people at elementary schools in a mainly Shiite district of Baghdad on Wednesday, the government said. But police in the neighborhood denied any attack occurred.

The contradictory accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

The National Security Ministry initially said in a statement that militants broke into the Amna and Shaheed Hamdi schools and "slaughtered" a teacher in each one in front of students in the Shaab neighborhood of the capital.

But the ministry later said the dead were a school guard and a teacher. It said the guard was stabbed to death by militants in front of students, while the teacher was shot outside the school as he arrived in the morning for classes.
The ministry said it was still working to establish details in the attack.

Ali al-Obeidi, the director of the police in the Shaab district, said there was no attack against any school in the area.

Pupils at elementary schools in Iraq range in age from 6 to 12 years.



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Taliban In Control Of Much Of Afghanistan

WND
20/04/2006

While the Bush administration is on the defensive for its conduct of the war in Iraq, the real setback in the U.S. war effort is coming in Afghanistan where the Taliban is alive, well and thriving throughout the countryside and even in much of neighboring Pakistan, according to an exclusive report in Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin.


In a report by Paul L. Williams, author of the new book, "Dunces of Doomsday," and David Dastych, one-eyed Mullah Omar and his army of radical Islamic students are currently in control of all of the rural and mountain areas of Afghanistan, including Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Zabul, Helmand, and Oruzgan, as well as a vast expanse of eastern and southern provinces including sections of Kandahar. They also have become the central governing body in South and North Qaziristan and other tribal territories of Pakistan.

The news comes in part from an interview with Hamid Mir, the only journalist to conduct face-to-face interviews with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the wake of 9-11.


Journalist Hamid Mir

Mir, who has just completed an extensive tour of both countries, says that Pakistanis in government vehicles are no longer permitted to enter Waziristan, Baluchistan, and other tribal areas without the permission of local Taliban commanders. Muslim men who wander into this area without beards are routinely cast into prison as apostates. Kafirs (non-Muslims) are assumed to be enemy agents; most are put to death. Women are only permitted to appear in public in full burqa. And Shariah has become the rule of the land with regular occurrences of stoning, crucifixion and decapitation.

Over 1,500 Pakistanis in recent months, according to Mir, have been publicly executed for saying something in support of the regime of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the coalition forces. Most were beheaded. The victims, Mir says, were "not ordinary people but very prominent people."

Regarding the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mir contends that Afghan police are "weak"; that the coalition forces "limited in number"; and that the Pashtun people remain fiercely dedicated to Osama bin Laden and his jihad against the West.



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The U.S. War in Afghanistan

The Canadian
20/04/2006

As hundreds of millions of people in Central Asia and the Middle East watch their oil and natural gas being extracted and transported for the profit of Western companies, the prospects for a massive, violent backlash against the U.S. and its client regimes are likely to grow. As horrific as the September 11 attacks were, they may only be the beginning.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush declared that the United States would launch a "War on Terrorism." In early October, U.S. airplanes began bombing Afghanistan and providing assistance to the Northern Alliance and other groups opposed to the Taliban regime. Within a few months, U.S. troops and their Afghan allies had succeeded in ousting the Taliban and installing a new regime. Although Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants apparently escaped, U.S. officials proclaimed that a significant blow had been dealt to the al-Qa'ida network.

Traumatized and outraged by the horrific events of September 11, the majority of Americans supported the war in Afghanistan. Most people believed the U.S. Commander-in-Chief when he said that the replacement of the Taliban regime was required to safeguard our country against another catastrophic attack by al-Qa'ida forces. Even Princeton Professor Richard Falk, a longtime anti-war activist, wrote in The Nation ("Defining a Just War," Oct. 29, 2001) that the war in Afghanistan was "the first truly just war since World War II." But was it?

Since last October, thousands of people have participated in anti-war rallies, marches, and teach-ins in New York City, Washington, San Francisco, Houston, and other cities. People opposed to the war have made clear that they condemn the atrocity of September 11. But they also condemn the U.S. role in the deaths of thousands of Afghan people who had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In the British Guardian ("The innocent dead in a coward's war," Dec. 20, 2001), journalist Seumas Milne estimated that about ten thousand Afghan soldiers may have died in the war and cited University of New Hampshire Professor Marc Herold's estimate that about four thousand civilians have also died.

Moreover, anti-war activists and progressive writers argue that the war in Afghanistan has been, in large part, another "oil war." The September 11 attacks provided a compelling pretext for military action against the al-Qa'ida forces in Afghanistan. But a growing body of research by journalists and scholars reveals that the Bush Administration's decision in favour of a regime change and all-out war in Afghanistan was significantly influenced by the desire to install a new government that would be more sympathetic to U.S. economic interests in Central Asia.

Although Afghanistan itself has no significant oil or natural gas reserves, it is strategically located in a region which does. As Eric Margolis observed in the Toronto Sun ("The U.S. is Determined to Dominate the World's Richest New Source," Jan. 13, 2002), Central Asia's Caspian Basin, over which sit the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, is the world's "richest new source of oil." In the Jurist ("The Deadly Pipeline War," Dec. 8, 2001), Marjorie Cohn noted that some analysts have estimated the potential value of Caspian oil and natural gas reserves at four trillion dollars. Phil Gasper recalled in the Socialist Worker ("The Politics of Oil," Jan. 25, 2002) that the Middle East Economic Digest editors have described Central Asia as "the Middle East of the twenty-first century."

Even if this latter projection proves overly optimistic, Martha Hamilton concluded in a Washington Post article ("The Last Great Race For Oil Reserves," April 26, 1998) that the "largely untapped subterranean treasure" in the Caspian Basin may be "the third-largest reserve in the world, after the Persian Gulf and Siberia."

As Hamilton wrote, "The possibility of bringing those huge energy reserves to market has touched off a scramble by international oil and gas companies to get in on what may be one of the world's last great energy plays." As Cohn pointed out in "The Deadly Pipeline War," Dick Cheney, then chief executive officer of the energy company Halliburton, told a meeting of oil industry leaders in 1998: "I can't think of a time when we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian."

U.S. government officials and energy company executives have been anxious to exploit what Daniel Yergin, renowned energy expert and author of The Prize (1993), has called "the number-one prize in world oil." However, the transportation of oil and natural gas extracted from the region has posed a serious challenge for them. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium, led by the Chevron Corporation, opened a new oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to Russia in October, 2001. But, as George Monbiot reported in the Guardian ("America's pipe dream," Oct. 23, 2001), policymakers in Washington have generally opposed the construction of pipelines through Russia or Iran. This is why U.S. energy companies and government officials have been so interested in Afghanistan. As Ahmed Rashid explained in his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2001), U.S. policy toward Afghanistan during the past decade has been largely driven by corporate interests in the region's resources. Rashid noted that in 1995, the California-based UNOCAL Corporation began negotiating with the government of Turkmenistan to build oil and gas pipelines from that country through Afghanistan to Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea. Soon after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, UNOCAL executives initiated discussions with them in order to secure the pipeline agreement.

According to Rashid, the Taliban's religious fundamentalism and harsh repression precluded normal diplomatic relations at the time but did not pose an insurmountable obstacle to a potential business deal. Strikingly, neither did the relocation of Osama bin Laden and numerous al-Qa'ida fighters to Afghanistan in 1996 and 1997. As Rashid recounted, UNOCAL Vice President Marty Miller and other company executives even wined and dined Taliban representatives in Houston in November 1997. Mullah Mohammed Ghaus and his Afghan colleagues stayed at an expensive hotel and visited the Houston Zoo and the NASA Space Center during their visit. Miller offered the Taliban representatives a lucrative contract and thought a formal agreement was imminent.

The Clinton Administration quietly supported UNOCAL's efforts, but these negotiations eventually failed. Taliban leaders finally decided against the pipeline deal, and Washington's willingness to do business with them ended after the al-Qa'ida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on al-Qa'ida training camps in Afghanistan and even authorized efforts to assassinate bin Laden. At the same time, the U.S. tried to persuade Taliban officials to surrender bin Laden. As Monbiot has noted, notwithstanding these developments, U.S. business executives and government officials remained deeply interested in the potential of oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan.

In May 2001, the mainstream media widely reported that the new U.S. Bush Administration had awarded the Taliban regime forty-two million dollars to support the eradication of opium production in Afghanistan. Less well known is the fact that, shortly after taking office, the Bush Administration had quietly resumed negotiations with the Taliban. In an important new book, Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth (2001), French authors Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie have revealed that the Bush Administration worked long and hard to "decouple" bin Laden from the Taliban and lay the foundations for U.S. diplomatic recognition and pipelines for oil and natural gas.

Brisard and Dasquie have drawn on numerous sources, including discussions with John O'Neill, the former FBI Deputy Director who retired in July 2001. Ironically, O'Neill then became security director for the World Trade Center, where he died in the September 11 attacks. According to the authors, O'Neill resigned from the FBI because the State Department had continually blocked his investigation into al-Qa'ida's roots in Saudi Arabia. The authors report that O'Neill bitterly complained about the ability of the U.S. oil companies and their State Department allies to thwart an investigation that might offend the Saudi royal family and jeopardize U.S. economic interests in that country.

Brisard and Dasquie's account of the negotiations between the Bush Administration and the Taliban between February and August 2001, provides a helpful framework for understanding the eventual U.S. decision to topple the Afghan regime after the tragedy of September 11. The authors have explained that Washington saw the Taliban as a potential partner who could provide stability in Afghanistan and benefit from the construction of pipelines by U.S. corporations. But, in a series of meetings in Washington, Islamabad, and Berlin, U.S. officials demanded that the Taliban surrender bin Laden and invite other Afghan political forces to join their government.

When the Taliban equivocated over and eventually refused these demands, U.S. officials threatened to take military action against them. As Brisard revealed in an interview in Paris, at one point in the negotiations, these officials told the Taliban, "Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs." As Jonathan Steele and his colleagues reported in the Guardian ("Threat of US strikes passed to Taliban weeks before NY attack," Sept. 22, 2001), U.S. representatives told Russian, Iranian, and Pakistani diplomats at a mid-July meeting in Berlin that Washington was seriously contemplating this option. Although these U.S. officials have since denied making such a threat, former Pakistan Foreign Minister Niaz Naik, who was present at the meeting, confirmed their remarks in an interview with the Guardian reporters. Is it a coincidence that the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history occurred just several weeks after negotiations with the Taliban broke down? Perhaps. But Brisard and Dasquie have speculated that the prospect of U.S. military action against Afghanistan may have led bin Laden to approve the massive assault on New York City and Washington. Similarly, Steele and his colleagues have raised the possibility that bin Laden "was launching a preemptive strike in response to what he saw as U.S. threats." Other analysts have suggested that bin Laden may have authorized such a "preemptive strike" because he feared that the Taliban might finally accede to Washington's demands and try to force him to leave Afghanistan.

Although such speculation cannot be confirmed, it seems clear that long-standing U.S. economic interests in pipeline construction played a major role in the U.S. government's decision in favor of a regime change and all-out war in Afghanistan. Notably, as Shaun Casey emphasized in the Boston Globe ("Ethics of This War Have Yet to be Spelled Out," Oct. 11, 2001) and Stephen Zunes pointed out in the San Jose Mercury News (" U.S. Military Response is Wrong -- And It Won't Work," Oct. 12, 2001), there has never been any evidence of the Taliban regime's involvement in the attacks on the U.S. As John Pilger remarked in the British Daily Mirror ("Hidden Agenda Behind War on Terror," Oct. 29, 2001), the Bush Administration knew well before the Pentagon's first bombs began falling on Afghanistan that the attacks of September 11 were planned in Britain and the United States, and that none of the actual perpetrators were Afghan nationals.



As Howard Zinn observed in The Progressive ("A Just Cause, Not a Just War," December 2001), the U.S. government rejected the alternative of turning to international law, diplomacy, and limited multinational military action in order to bring al-Qa'ida forces to justice. As Zinn has noted, the U.S. government also rejected the Taliban regime's offer to surrender bin Laden for trial in a third country after receiving evidence of his involvement in the September 11 atrocity. As Phil Gasper wrote in the International Socialist Review ("Afghanistan, the CIA, bin Laden, and the Taliban," November-December 2001), the Bush Administration's refusal to seriously consider these options revealed that the overthrow of the Taliban and the installation of a new, more business-friendly regime had already been designated as primary objectives of the impending war. In his book Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (2002), Professor Michael Klare of Hampshire College has acknowledged that one purpose of "Operation Enduring Freedom" was to "capture and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks." But Klare has explained that a second objective was "to consolidate U.S. power in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea area, and to ensure continued flow of oil." As Klare has emphasized, while this latter objective "may get far less public attention than the first, this does not mean it is any less important."


In a report released just days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. Energy Information Administration described Afghanistan as a significant "potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea." However, the report noted that the potential construction of oil and natural gas pipelines has "been undermined by Afghanistan's instability." As Monbiot has written, "Given that the U.S. government is dominated by former oil industry executives, we would be foolish to suppose that such plans no longer figure in its strategic thinking." Indeed, the way in which the Bush Administration sought to "capture and punish" the al-Qa'ida forces in Afghanistan was significantly influenced by its commitment to promoting U.S. economic interests and power in the region.

Gore Vidal argues in his book entitled, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (2002), that the drive for profits and power are central to the Bush Administration's so-called "War on Terrorism." Vidal writes, "We need Afghanistan because it's the gateway to Central Asia, which is full of oil and natural gas... That's what it's all about. We are establishing our control over Central Asia."

Many Americans may not want to believe that such economic motives could play so important a role in U.S. foreign policy. But developments in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan make it difficult to deny journalists Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer's observation that "War is politics by other means, and politics is business, and oil is very big business."

As Hightower and Frazer concluded in their book The Hightower Lowdown (January, 2002), the tragedy of September 11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan "put the U.S. pipeline plans back on track." Hightower and Frazer cited a remarkable article in the Pakistani Frontier Post (Oct. 10, 2001). This article reported that, though the U.S. war against the Taliban had barely begun, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain had already informed the Pakistan government that, "in view of recent geopolitical developments," the negotiations for a pipeline through Afghanistan would be revived.

After the Taliban regime collapsed, the Bush Administration hand-picked Hamid Karzai to head the new Afghan government and named Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American, as its new special envoy to the Karzai government. As Richard Neville pointed out in the Australian Sydney Morning Herald ("Beyond Good and Evil," April 15, 2002), both Karzai and Khalilzad are former consultants to UNOCAL. Eric Margolis has disclosed in the Toronto Sun ("America's New War: A Progress Report," Dec. 9, 2001) that Karzai is also a former "asset" for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. As Salim Muwakkil wrote in the Chicago Tribune ("Pipeline Politics Taint U.S. War," March 18, 2002), the "rise to power" of these two former UNOCAL employees will "make things even smoother" for the resumption of the pipeline project in Afghanistan. As Daniel Fisher reported in Forbes Magazine (Feb. 4, 2002), "It has been called the pipeline from hell, to hell, through hell" but "now, with the collapse of the Taliban, oil executives are suddenly talking again about building it." To be sure, the giant U.S. energy corporations are unlikely to make major investments in the project until the new Afghan regime proves able to suppress the outbreaks of violence among the various warlords' forces and any military challenge from resurgent Taliban fighters. This is certainly one reason why U.S. and British troops in Afghanistan are struggling to piece together a viable Afghan national army that can defend the new regime.

In the meantime, Karzai has already made clear that his government fully intends to work closely with neighboring countries and U.S. oil companies to reap the immense profits from the transport of Caspian Basin oil and natural gas. On Feb. 8, 2002, Karzai visited Pakistan and joined with General Pervez Musharraf in pledging "mutual brotherly relations" and cooperation "in all spheres of activity." As the Irish Times reported on Feb. 11, 2002, Karzai announced that he and Musharraf had discussed the proposed Central Asian pipeline project "and agreed that it was in the interest of both countries."

The mounting U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries may enable Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, UNOCAL, and other giant corporations to lay claim to "the number-one prize in world oil." But the extension of U.S. military power and economic domination into this region comes with very grave risks. As hundreds of millions of people in Central Asia and the Middle East watch their oil and natural gas being extracted and transported for the profit of Western companies, the prospects for a massive, violent backlash against the U.S. and its client regimes are likely to grow. As horrific as the September 11 attacks were, they may only be the beginning.



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16 Afghan civilians killed or wounded by U.S. troops

Int. Herald Tribune
20/04/2006

More than 16 Afghan civilians have been reported killed or wounded this week by U.S. soldiers as troops battled an outbreak of insurgent activity in warmer spring weather, according to Afghan officials.




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Global Chaos


Italian court says Prodi won election

Reuters
April 19, 2006

ROME - Italy's supreme court said on Wednesday center-left leader Romano Prodi won last week's general election, dismissing complaints by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the vote was marred by irregularities.

The ruling opens the way for Prodi to start work on forming a new government which, because of constitutional complications, is not expected to take office before the end of May.
Berlusconi refused to concede defeat after the closest Italian election in modern history, saying he hoped checks on disputed ballots would show he won the April 9-10 vote.

At one point he said the election had been rigged, but later rowed back on his comments.

After a week of checks across Italy, the supreme court said in a statement that Prodi won the election in the lower house by 24,755 votes. Provisional results last week said the winning margin was a slightly higher 25,224 votes.

Despite his tight victory, Prodi's coalition will have almost 70 more seats than the center-right in the 630-seat lower chamber, thanks to new rules introduced by Berlusconi last year. In the Senate, however, it will have a two-seat majority.

Under the Italian constitution, the head of state formally gives the election winner the mandate to govern.

But the transition process is complicated this year because President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's term expires on May 18 and he wants his successor to nominate the new prime minister.

The new parliament, together with regional representatives, will pick a successor to Ciampi on May 12-13.



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Berlusconi Refuses to Concede, Undermining Prodi's Election Win

April 20 (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who lost elections by a few thousand votes, failed to concede even after authorities confirmed the outcome, challenging Prime Minister-elect Romano Prodi's ability to govern Italy.

Italy's highest appeals court yesterday certified final election results, confirming Prodi's victory 10 days after the vote. Citing ''irregularities'' and ''cheating,'' Berlusconi has refused to concede, and constitutional formalities prevent Prodi from taking office until at least the end of May.
''Berlusconi's aim is to shorten the life of Prodi's government,'' said Maurizio Pessato, chief executive officer of polling company SWG Srl in Trieste, Italy. ''Berlusconi is playing a political game without thinking about the consequences for the country.''

Berlusconi lost control of the Chamber of Deputies by just 24,755 votes, a margin of less than 0.1 percent, and he's just two seats shy of a majority in the Senate. It was the closest ever Italian election. When Prodi, 66, does take office, he'll face the double challenge of reviving growth and keeping his nine-party coalition together.

Berlusconi, 69, has yet to respond to the final results. Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who is also deputy premier and a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said after the court announcement that there were still ''things that need to be clarified.''

Allies Waver

Still, some of Berlusconi's allies have acknowledged the defeat, putting pressure on Berlusconi to back down. The Christian Democrats, the third-biggest party in Berlusconi's coalition yesterday accepted to court's decision, while Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance said the party has ''taken into account'' the outcome of the recount.

The benchmark S&P/MIB index has fallen 1.2 percent since the April 10 vote, compared with an advance in the Dow Jones STOXX 50 index in the period. The difference in the yield, or risk premium, to buy Italy's benchmark 10-year government bond instead of a similar German bond widened to 32 basis points, the most in four years, from 29 before the vote. A basis point is 0.01 percent.

Berlusconi's intransigence coupled with Prodi's narrow majority may hamper the prime minister-elect's ability to form a government. The new parliament meets for the first time on April 28 to choose the parliamentary leaders and then a new president to replace Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. The new president is then expected to ask Prodi, as the winner of the vote, to try to form a government.

Defections

Any defections or even absences among Prodi's forces in the Senate, where he has a two-seat margin, could lead to a stalemate. Last night Mirko Tremaglia, minister for Italians abroad, said he had convinced one of Prodi's senators elected by voters living outside Italy to switch sides. Prodi's Union coalition denied the defection.

''Berlusconi is trying to delegitimize Prodi before he even takes office,'' said Massimo Bordignon, professor of public economics at Milan's Catholic University. ''Berlusconi is showing his muscles and promising to lead a difficult opposition in parliament.''

The threat of a parliamentary deadlock contributed to Berlusconi proposing that he and Prodi form a ''grand coalition'' to jointly govern a country he said was divided in two.

'Stalemate Situation'

''We are faced with a stalemate situation, one in which, at least on the basis of the popular vote, there are no winners or losers,'' Berlusconi wrote in a letter in Corriere della Sera, Italy's biggest newspaper, on April 15.

Prodi rejected the idea and he has urged Berlusconi to accept defeat.

''The election issue is finally resolved,'' Prodi said yesterday at a press conference in Rome. ''The Italians now have no doubt about our victory.''

Even if he can form a government, Prodi's narrow majority will hamper his bid to revitalize Europe's least-competitive economy by slashing payroll taxes in his first year. He's promised to cut 10 billion euros ($12 billion) from what companies and employees contribute to pensions and other welfare benefits.

''The risk is that we will see politicians spending more time negotiating than acting,'' said Massimo Lucco Borlera, chief investment officer at Sella Gestioni Sgr in Milan, which manages the equivalent of $4.1 billion.

Berlusconi's reasoning in not recognizing Prodi's victory is in part strategic, aimed at destabilizing his successor, and in part personal, said James Walston, chief professor of Italian politics at the American University in Rome.

''Berlusconi's a bad loser,'' Walston said.



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Police fire on 1000s of protesters on outskirts of Nepal's capital, killing 3

06:28:16 EDT Apr 20, 2006
BINAJ GURUBACHARYA

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) - Nepalese police opened fire on thousands of protesters on Thursday who were marching toward the capital, killing at least three and wounding several more, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Doctors at Model hospital in Kathmandu said two people had died and more than 40 were in serious condition, mostly with head injuries, after police fired rubber and live bullets at protesters.

Among the wounded, at least 10 were in critical condition, a doctor at the hospital said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Thousands of people were marching in the Kalanki area on the western edge of Kathmandu when police first fired tear gas and then began shooting with rubber and live bullets, said Kunjan Aryal of INSEC-Nepal, a Kathmandu-based rights group.

"Our volunteers have already picked up two wounded people and there are reports of many more wounded waiting for rescue," said Aryal, whose office is in the same neighbourhood.

A reporter for Nepal FM, a private news station, said from the scene that many people were wounded.

An estimated 30,000 people had walked from surrounding villages and were marching toward Kathmandu on the Thankok road, the main route into the capital city. A line of armed policemen blocking the entry point fired tear gas, followed by rubber bullets and live ammunition, witnesses said.

There was no immediate comment on the shooting from government officials, who imposed a 2 a.m.-8 p.m. curfew on Thursday in an attempt to block plans for a mass protest by opposition political parties against King Gyanendra's rule.



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Chinese Embassy in PNG aids Chinese in Solomon Islands

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-20 13:31:15

WELLINGTON, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Embassy in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been taking urgent measures to provide assistance to the overseas Chinese in Solomon Islands, the riot-torn South Pacific state.

Zhao Yanbo, Political Counsellor of Chinese Embassy in PNG, told Xinhua Thursday that the Solomon Islands Police were contacted by the Chinese Embassy to secure the life and property safety of the Chinese people.
"The Police have moved about 400 Chinese to a camp in the Police headquarters, and they are currently quite well protected," said Zhao.

The protests had erupted in Honiara, the capital, on Tuesday night, reportedly triggered by the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister by 50 lawmakers chosen at an April 5 parliamentary election.

Reports said dozens of Chinese-owned shops in the Chinatown in Honiara were looted.

There are over 400 Chinese living in Honiara, amongst whom, over 180 are Chinese nationals, including five Hong Kong people.

Zhao said, "there were injuries but no death" to the local Chinese following the two-day looting.

"We have called all the relative organizations, including the Australian and New Zealand forces stationed there to rein in the riot," said Zhao.

He said PNG Chinese Embassy is trying to send staff to Solomon Islands for further assistance to the Chinese there.

According to Radio New Zealand, a tense calm has settled Thursday over the Solomon Islands after 180 Australian soldiers and police arrived in the capital Honiara to quell violent protests.

A curfew was called across the city on Wednesday and police were given the power to arrest people on suspicion of inciting violence and hold them without charge for up to a week.



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'Home-made' bomb found on high speed rail line in France

PARIS, April 19, 2006 (AFP)

A bomb with a timing system was discovered on a major French railway line Wednesday, sparking an investigation by anti-terrorist police, law enforcement officials said.
The device was found beside the Paris-Nantes line used by high-speed trains near the western village of Saint-Sylvain-d'Anjou by a railway worker making a regular inspection of the track.

The plastic tube containing nitrate fuel and wired to a timer with a battery appeared home-made, the state prosecutor's office said, adding that the bomb could have been placed there any time in the past 10 days.

Authorities said they had received no claim of responsibility or demand from the person or group that
placed the bomb.

If it had gone off, "it could have damaged the track and caused a derailment," an official in the prosecutor's office said.



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Bomb was for major attack, say police

Owen Bowcott
Thursday April 20, 2006
The Guardian

Dissident republicans had been preparing a major attack, police warned yesterday after finding a partially assembled 250lb fertiliser bomb in a breakers' yard in Northern Ireland.

The discovery of such a large device comes after a warning from the Independent Monitoring Commission that small breakaway groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA continue to pose a threat to the security forces.
Four men, aged between 22 and 46, were arrested under the Terrorism Act, three in the scrapyard near the Antrim Road in Lurgan, County Armagh. Officers spent most of the day searching the site, which was close to a railway line. Army bomb disposal experts were called in.

Police in riot gear later clashed with local youths hurling bricks and paint bombs. There were reports that petrol bombs had been thrown and masked men spotted in the area. There were also reports of fires being started near the yard where the components were found. No one was injured, although police vehicles were damaged. Railways services were halted during the disturbance.

It is thought the explosives were being prepared for a car bomb. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed that "suspected bomb making materials" and "a quantity of fertiliser" - the main ingredient of home-made explosives - had been discovered.

Superintendent Alan Todd said he did not know what the target was, but expressed alarm that the bomb was being made so close to the Kilwilkee housing estate. "Material of that sort is by its nature unstable," he said. "The device was being constructed for immediate use. We believe it's linked to dissident republican organisations. It's a very worrying escalation, at a time when the community is trying to move forward, that there is still a small number of individuals intent on swimming against the tide of public opinion."

Residents at a private housing development metres from where the bomb components were seized were stunned that a device was being constructed so near to them.

Liam Thompson, 24, who lives in Belvedere Manor, described as one of Lurgan's most sought-after locations, said: "If it had gone off around there, God only knows what sort of damage it could have caused.

"It's especially frightening considering all the schoolchildren around here."

There have been a series of poorly coordinated attacks by dissident republicans in recent months. Most have been aimed at army barracks or police stations. The dissident groups, opposed to the peace process, have denounced the Provisional IRA's decision to dispose of its weapons.

Last week an attempt to damage Strand Road police station in Derry was blamed on dissidents. Armed men hijacked a van and ordered the driver to take the vehicle, which contained an incendiary device, to the station. He abandoned the van and raised the alarm.

Sinn Fin condemned those responsible for the Lurgan bomb. "These groups have little or no support within this community and they do not have a strategy to deliver Irish unity and independence," said local assembly member John O'Dowd. "The discovery of this device has ensured disruption and inconvenience for local people and has caused anger within the community."

Dolores Kelly, the Social Democratic and Labour party assembly member for Upper Bann, said: "The people of Lurgan are horrified that dissident republicans have been plotting and planning a major attack. Four men have been arrested while making what is believed to be a 200lb bomb in the middle of a built-up area.

"There is no doubt that these dissident republicans were intent on causing major trauma and damage. They were playing with the lives of the people of Lurgan by making such a sophisticated device in the heart of the community.

"The good people of the north of Ireland want to move away from the shadows of the conflict and dissident republicans must come on board and realise the days of guns and bombs are over."

The concerns raised by the Independent Monitoring Commission are shared by some officers at Scotland Yard, who fear that a small hard core of dissidents disaffected with the peace process still pose a threat.

Last month's IMC review warned that dissident republicans were a "continuing threat to the security forces", training members and acquiring equipment. "Their capacity for sustained campaigns is limited but they are prepared to resort to extreme violence."

It said the threat was greater in some areas, such as South Armagh. "They are heavily engaged in organised crime," the commission noted.

In February, the Continuity IRA said there would be "no decommissioning, no ceasefires and no surrender". It claimed responsibility for leaving explosive devices outside police stations in Belfast and East Tyrone.

The last major bomb attack in Northern Ireland was in August 1998, when the Real IRA planted a 500lb bomb in the market town of Omagh, killing 29 people and injuring 200. It was the single worst attack in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Since then, the peace ushered in by the Good Friday agreement has largely held.

Comment: It is no coincidence that this alleged "bomb plot" by "dissident republicans" occurrs at the precise time when plans are in motion to re-establish the devolved power sharing executive in Northern Ireland. The executive has been repeatedly brought down in the past by Unionist organisations through the use of various dirty tricks. In league with the unionist groupings is British intelligence agency MI5 and its agents who, in the past, have not stopped at carrying out bomb attacks on the civilian population in an attempt to discredit the Republican movement and prevent them from pursuing their goal via a legitimate political process. It is in this light then that this recent "bomb plot" should be seen.

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Disputed islands stir tensions between South Korea, Japan

Last Updated Wed, 19 Apr 2006 18:29:47 EDT
CBC News

Tensions are rising between South Korea and Japan over disputed islands on their sea border.

South Korea has mobilized its coast guard after Japan announced plans to conduct ocean bed surveys near the disputed islands.
South Korea claims the islands and calls them Dokdo.

Seoul has threatened to repel by force any unauthorized Japanese ships trying to enter its economic zone.

It says Japan would be responsible for any consequences.

Coast guard vessels and a surveillance plane have been sent to monitor the area.

Japan calls the islands Takeshima and announced earlier this week it intends to conduct an oceanographic survey in the area.

South Korea says Japan is trying to formalize a claim that dates back to its colonial occupation of Korea that ran from 1910 until the end of the Second World War.



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War Crimes in Palestine


Israeli forces arresting wives and mothers of "wanted" Palestinian men to force them to "surrender"

Amin Abu Wardeh
19 April 06
Palestine News Network

Israeli forces escalated their brutality in the streets of Nablus City at dawn Wednesday. Israeli soldiers are now taking mothers and wives of men the Israelis have on their "wanted" list to detention centers. The purpose is to force the men to "surrender."

Throughout the morning dozens of Nablus women have disappeared. Several elderly and young women are included in the list of the arrested.

Eyewitnesses told PNN that Israeli soldiers broke into several mosques under the pretext of searching for those "wanted." Israelis soldiers also forced families out of their houses in order to search them and broke into the Al Shashtri Building, forcing the apartment building's residents into the streets.

The northern West Bank city remains under closure today as well.




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Hamas: Jordan fabricated arms story

Wednesday 19 April 2006
Al-Jazeerah

Hamas says Amman has wrongly accused the group of arms smuggling because it is being influenced by the US to boycott the new Palestinian government

The Palestinian government spokesman, Ghazi Hamed, said on Wednesday: "I think the Jordanians themselves know more than anybody else the total mendacity and falsehood of these charges. They know that Hamas doesn't indulge in such activities."

Hamed also told Al Jazeera.net he hoped that some Arab states would refrain from resorting to "twisted tactics".

"We are under a sinister Israeli military occupation. And our brotherly Arab states should not increase our burden by indulging in such cheap and stupid disinformation."
Al-Zahar visit cancelled

A day earlier, a Jordanian government spokesman said security forces had seized rocket launchers and other weapons from a Hamas arms cache.

The Islamist faction, which does not recognise Israel and took over the Palestinian government on March 29 after winning January elections, was also accused of using Jordan to engage in anti-Israeli activities.

A visit by the new Palestinian foreign minister and senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, was scrapped as a result.

A Hamas minister said Jordan had made up the accusations to enforce a boycott against the Palestinian government. The United States and Israel are boycotting the government.

"I advise our brothers in Jordan to stop making cheap lies to justify their disgraceful subservience to Israel and the United States," said the minister, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Brotherhood comment

A leader of Jordan's largest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, denounced Amman's decision.

Jamil Abu Bakr accused the kingdom of having caved in to "American and Zionist pressures on Arabs to isolate the Palestinian Hamas-led government".

Al-Zahar himself was more conciliatory, saying: "Our relation with Jordan does not stop [because] of cancelling or postponing a visit."

But challenged by reporters on a visit to Saudi Arabia, he said: "Hamas does not stash weapons in any Arab country."

Dire straits

Al-Zahar is touring Arab states to try to raise funds after the US and several countries, mostly Western, suspended direct aid, saying Hamas must renounce violence and recognise Israel and past interim peace deals.



Al-Zahar's visit to Jordan would have been the first by a Hamas leader since the nation expelled the group's leadership in 1999.

Hamas's politburo now has its headquarters in Damascus.

Hamas has a large following in Palestinian refugee camps across Jordan. Much of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin.

The Palestinian foreign minister had kicked off his tour of the region in Cairo last Friday but his counterpart, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said he was too busy for meeting.

Egypt is the only other Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel and the biggest recipient of US aid after the Jewish State.

Arab banks' boycott

Amman's accusations of arms smuggling came less than two weeks after the Jordan-based Arab Bank stopped all financial dealings with the Palestinian government, Palestinian banking officials said

A banking official in the West Bank told Al Jazeera.net that the Arab Bank was afraid of possible US retributions.

"They [the US] consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, and if we deal with the movement and its government, we would be subject to an open war by the Americans.

"They would hold us responsible for every single Israeli casualty for the past 20 years," he said, asking to remain anonymous.

"We are not ready for this disaster on behalf of the Arab world."

Branches of the bank operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been instructed to forbid their clients from making inter-branch transactions except when the beneficiary is a first-degree relative of the depositor.

The measures angered the Palestinian government, with one official at the ministry of finance saying: "We didn't know that our banks are also controlled by the United States."

The Israeli English-language daily newspaper Haaretz reported earlier this month that Arab-owned banks holding Palestinian Authority accounts had begun trying to persuade the PA to withdraw its money.

It said the measure had apparently come out of fear that the US and Western European countries will impose sanctions against them for holding terrorist funds.



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British Euro-MP condemns Israel's apartheid policies London

April 19, 2006
IRNA

A British member of the European parliament has returned for a visit to the occupied territories, calling for Israel's apartheid treatment of the Palestinians to be condemned.

"We should be honest. These are the racist policies of apartheid, yet Israel continues to pose as a victim," Liberal Democrat MEP for northwest England Chris Davies said.
Any hope of creating a viable, independent Palestinian state is being destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, barbed wire and concrete walls, Davies was quoted saying by the local Oldham Evening Chronicle.

The Lib Dem MEP was part of an all-party delegation from the Strasbourg-based European Parliament which visited occupied West Bank last week.

"Palestinian land is being carved up and communities isolated. The people liken themselves to hamsters kept in cages connected by tubes that are opened and shut at the whim of their Israeli masters.

Economic progress is impossible," he said.

"Towns are being physically divided and people denied the right to travel between them. Israel continues to steal land to expand illegal settlements served by roads which Palestinians are forbidden to use," Davies said about his findings.

During the visit, MEPs held meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and newly elected members of the legislative council, including supporters of both Fatah and Hamas.

The Lib Dem member for northwest England warned about the recent EU decision to suspend payments to the Palestinian Authority, following the election victory of Hamas.

He said that after visiting Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany last year, he found it 'very difficult to understand why those whose history is one of such terrible oppression appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors'.

Davies also revealed that during his visit to the West Bank, he was asked repeatedly about EU double standards -- why Palestinians are penalized while no action is taken to stop Israel flouting international law.



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France rules out cutting off Palestinian relief aid

Wed Apr 19, 2006
Reuters

PARIS - France said on Wednesday it flatly opposed cutting off humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Territories but again urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to reject violence, recognise Israel and embrace peace.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told French radio that while the European Union had cut funding to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority it had no plans to end relief aid.

"It is absolutely out of the question ... to cut off humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Territories," he told RMC radio. "That would be a major political mistake."
"If we don't help the Palestinian Territories, others like Iran will do so. And, on the other hand, we risk pushing the Palestinian people towards radicalism and that's not what we want and that's why we should continue to help them."

President Jacques Chirac said Hamas must see violence had no future and also urged Israel to resist unilateral action, targeted assassinations of Palestinian figures and to halt colonisation of Palestinian territories.

"We call on Hamas to understand that violence leads to a dead end and (urge it) to continue its transition towards political action," Chirac told Egypt's al-Ahram newspaper in an interview published ahead a two-day visit to Egypt on Wednesday.

"It agreed to take part in elections, now it must go through with this logic," he said. "There is no alternative."

When they meet later on Wednesday Chirac will press his host Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to try to convince Hamas to commit to the Middle East peace process.

The United States and European Union have cut direct aid to the Hamas-led government for failing to meet their demands that Hamas recognise Israel, abandon violence and respect existing Palestinian peace agreements with Israel.

Hamas, the militant Islamic group that won Palestinian elections in January, has refused to amend its charter calling for destruction of Israel. It also angered Israel and the West by describing as "self defence" Monday's suicide bombing by another group that killed nine people in Tel Aviv.




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Hamas finance minister says he has no assurances he can cover payroll

04:55:01 EDT Apr 20, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - The Hamas-led government has still not found a way to pay its 165,000 employees, whose salaries are already three weeks overdue, and there is no guarantee money pledged by Arab countries will reach the empty Palestinian treasury, the Hamas finance minister said in an interview Thursday.
"For sure, the salaries are my main priority, but it is a problem," the minister, Omar Abdel Razek, told The Associated Press. "It's a puzzling problem. You can't do anything. You can only wait. So I have a strange feeling. For the first time, I find myself in such a dilemma. But I hope that God will provide a solution."

The government employees are the backbone of the Palestinian labour force, and their salaries sustain about one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abdel Razek said that between Hamas' election victory in January and its assumption of power in late March, the outgoing Fatah government inflated the already bloated public work force further, adding another 9,000 employees. He said the number of security officers was actually 80,000, rather than the 60,000 listed by the Fatah government.



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The Coming Economic Crisis


Oil hits record $74 on Iran, US gasoline stocks

By Simon Webb
Reuters
Wed Apr 19, 2006 3:50pm

LONDON - Oil hit a record $74 a barrel Wednesday on fears Iran's intensifying dispute with the West may hit oil supplies and after U.S. gasoline stocks dropped.

London's Brent crude settled $1.22 higher at $73.73 a barrel after peaking at a record $74.

U.S. gasoline stocks slumped more than 5 million barrels last week, government data released Wednesday showed. It was a larger fall than analysts polled by Reuters expected, and supplies are now nearly 5 percent below last year's level.
"The EIA (inventory) data are bullish in light of expectations," said Kyle Cooper, analyst at IAF Advisors in Houston. "There is nothing in this report that can put a damper on the current rally."

Gasoline prices have soared faster than crude since the start of April as inventories dwindle, while refiners run down stocks ahead of changes to more environmentally-friendly fuels in May.

Refinery maintenance has also eaten into stocks.

Brent has hit fresh records in each of the last seven sessions as the loss of a quarter of Nigerian oil supply has tightened European markets more than the United States., where crude stocks are at their highest level for nearly eight years.

U.S. May crude oil futures, which expire Thursday, settled 82 cents higher at $72.17 a barrel, the first time U.S. futures settled above $72. The soon-to-be front month June contract settled $1.03 higher at $74.12.

Tensions over Iran have fueled a $13 rally on Brent so far this year.

WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO BLINK

"It's like the Cuban Missile Crisis, we are just waiting for someone to blink," said Michael Coleman, managing director of Singapore-based hedge fund Aisling Analytics.

Tuesday, the United States failed to secure international support for targeted sanctions against Iran and President George W. Bush refused to rule out nuclear strikes if diplomacy failed to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic program.

"All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so," Bush said.

The United States, which already enforces its own sweeping sanctions on Iran, wants the Security Council to be ready for strong diplomatic action.

The price of oil has trebled since the start of 2002 and is nearing the inflation-adjusted peaks above $80 a barrel reached in the early 1980s, just after the Iranian Revolution.

The high prices have sounded alarm bells in consuming nations fearful of an economic hit.

The International Monetary Fund said Wednesday the impact of higher oil prices on the global economy was a growing concern. The IMF said in its semiannual World Economic Outlook that it was worried the full effects of the surge in energy prices had yet to be felt.

It called on U.S. officials to consider higher gasoline taxes to curb oil consumption in the world's largest energy consumer. The U.S. burns a quarter of the world's oil
, but raising taxes is political anathema in Washington.

An election year gridlock will likely keep the U.S. Congress from moving forward with any meaningful energy legislation this year, according to industry experts.

"They have no magic wand. They can talk about conservation and driving less. But it the end it's about the individual consumer," said Robert Ebel, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will consult informally next week on the sidelines of an energy forum in Qatar, OPEC sources said.

Several OPEC ministers have said there is nothing more that the group can do to bring down oil prices, as it is already pumping near full tilt.



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Alternative investments pay off for the very rich

By Deborah Brewster in New York
Financial Times
April 19 2006

The number of very rich people in the US grew last year at the fastest pace in at least a decade as their moves into international stockmarkets, real estate and alternative investments paid off.

The number of households with $5m (4m) or more in investable assets - excluding the family home - rose by 26 per cent to a record 930,000, according to a study by Spectrem Group. That is the biggest jump since Spectrem began its survey in 1996. The number of millionaires rose by 11 per cent, to a record 8.3m - the second biggest jump in the decade since they were surveyed.

The overall affluent market - households with $500,000 or more - rose by 7 per cent to a record 14m.
This group fared the worst in the wake of the stockmarket collapse, with their numbers falling sharply from 2000. Last year was the first time their total passed that of their peak in 1999. Catherine McBreen, a managing director at Spectrem, said: "It's been a great couple of years for America's millionaires ... the stockmarket, which posted solid improvement in 2005, was one reason for the advance. However, for the wealthiest Americans it appears the increased use of international markets and alternative investments were key drivers of their improvement."

George Walper, president of Sprectrem, said the group had questioned respondents on their investments and returns, and also examined the returns of international markets and alternative investments to ensure the veracity of the results. In a sudden reversal of their longstanding affinity for their domestic market, US investors last year put more than $130bn into international mutual funds, more than three times the amount they put into US funds.

Most overseas markets performed better than the US market, so their switch paid off.

Hedge funds returned on average only slightly more than the US stockmarket last year, but investable real estate and some private equity investments returned more than this.

Affluent households, on average, held close to half their money in assets - stocks, bonds and alternative investments - and a larger than usual amount of cash, Spectrem said.

The affluent reported a greater satisfaction with their financial advisers than in recent years, but this was still short of the highest level previously reported. Those who used advisers were shifting back to use full-service brokers as their main advisers.



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FCC Launches Payola Probes of 4 Radio Giants

By Charles Duhigg
LA Times
April 20, 2006

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday launched formal investigations into pay-for-play practices at four of the nation's largest radio corporations, the biggest federal inquiry into radio bribery since the congressional payola hearings of 1960.

Two FCC officials with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed that the agency had requested documents from Clear Channel Communications Inc., CBS Radio Inc., Entercom Communications Corp. and Citadel Broadcasting Corp. over allegations that radio programmers had received cash, checks, clothing and other gifts in exchange for playing certain songs without revealing the deals to listeners, a violation of federal rules.

The FCC requests, known formally as "letters of inquiry," are the first step in investigations that could result in sanctions ranging from financial penalties to the revocation of stations' licenses.
An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment. Representatives of the four radio companies could not be reached for comment.

In the past, radio executives at firms including Clear Channel, the nation's largest station owner, have said that company policies prohibit accepting gifts for airplay and that internal probes have not revealed widespread wrongdoing.

The four broadcasters have been negotiating with the FCC for weeks to forestall a federal inquiry by offering to discontinue certain practices and pay limited fines. But those talks stalled last month over the issue of how much the broadcasters should pay.

Clear Channel proposed a fine of about $1 million, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. Some commissioners were pushing for as much as $10 million, those sources said.

"We were in the process of trying to reach settlements, but when talks were inconclusive, we decided we needed more information," said an FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. "We will continue to speak with the parties and to hold those who have violated commission rules accountable."

The FCC requires that radio listeners be informed anytime there is an exchange of items of value for airplay of specific songs.

The FCC's action comes amid New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer's pay-for-play probe, launched in 2004, which has alleged wrongdoing by both music and radio companies. In February, Spitzer sued Entercom, alleging that high-ranking executives had implemented scams to trade cash for airplay of songs by such artists as Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair and Jessica Simpson.

Entercom has denied the allegations.

The other three radio companies are also under investigation by Spitzer, who has shared his evidence with the FCC.

Radio programmers at stations around the country say that fear of regulatory scrutiny has scared them into airing fewer new songs. Instead, many stations are sticking to less diverse playlists.

Bryan Tramont, who served as chief of staff to former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell and is now an attorney in private practice, said the inquiry appeared to be more than a fishing expedition.

"The FCC would only launch a formal investigation if they had information leading them to believe possible violations have occurred," he said.

Other FCC insiders said this new stage of investigation could put broadcasters more at risk of previously undiscovered evidence of wrongdoing being found. The investigation could give the FCC access to millions of previously unexamined documents. It could also expand to include stations and radio executives across the nation.

"Until now, we've been limited to the evidence Spitzer gave us, but a formal investigation will compel the radio companies to answer certain questions, which are usually pretty exhaustive," said another current FCC official familiar with the inquiry. "It will all be on the record now, and once we start demanding documents, we can keep on going until we're convinced we've found everything."

Spitzer has been critical of the FCC's negotiations with radio companies, saying that if the federal government allowed stations to settle it would undercut his efforts to force tougher sanctions and rules on the industry.

"Unfortunately the FCC, contrary to good public policy, has not pursued an investigation of the underlying facts," Spitzer said in April. His representative could not be reached for comment.

The last time the FCC took action on pay-for-play allegations was in 2000, when it fined two stations in Texas and Michigan $4,000 each for not disclosing payments received from A&M Records in exchange for playing songs by Bryan Adams.

But the investigation launched Wednesday was evidence of the FCC's vigilance, said federal officials.

"The chairman has always taken these allegations seriously," said one FCC official, referring to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin. "We're not worried about criticisms."

The FCC's new investigation is the largest federal radio bribery inquiry since Congress opened hearings on pay-for-play in 1960. Those inquiries resulted in the first federal "payola" laws and killed the career of famed disc jockey Alan Freed, who pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial bribery and was fined $300.



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Missing Bin Ladens puzzle Spain

Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Thursday April 20, 2006
The Guardian


Spain's government said yesterday it had ordered an investigation into how the country was soaking up a quarter of one of the world's largest denomination bank notes, the 500 (345) bill.

With tax officials and the Bank of Spain unable to explain where all the notes were going to, the country's ample black market and many money-launderers became the chief suspects.

The 500 notes are popularly known in Spain as "Bin Ladens" because like the al-Qaida leader, everybody knows they are around but hardly anyone has seen them.


The Bank of Spain said the notes were increasingly being drawn from high street banks and then disappearing. Last month 100m more notes were issued to high street banks than were handed in by them. That accounted for 26% of the total issued in all 12 eurozone countries, according to El Pas newspaper.

A booming building industry is thought to account for much of the high-denomination cash that has disappeared. Some 60% of real estate companies reportedly accept cash payments, while some are even said to demand them.

The deputy mayor of the southern town of Marbella, Isabel Garca, was found to have 378,000 in 500 notes in her safe when police arrested her in a corruption investigation earlier this month.

Spaniards have a tradition of squirreling savings away in cash hoards. "We had the same thing with 10,000 peseta notes," a central bank source said. "For some it is a way of laundering money. For others it is just a way of keeping their savings."



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The China Card


Why the Chinese love Seattle

Asia Times
By Todd Crowell
19/04/2006

It is no coincidence that Chinese President Hu Jintao is to make Seattle the maiden stop on his first visit to the United States as president. Every Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping has made it a point to spend some time in that pleasant city of half a million people in the contiguous United States' northwestern corner.

Deng toured the famous Boeing airplane-assembly plant during his stopover in 1979. Former president Jiang Zemin added a folksy touch by paying a call on the family of a "typical" Boeing worker in their home.

Hu, by contrast, was due to dine on Tuesday at the lakeside mansion of Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates. He was to be the guest of honor at a dinner at the Gates mansion, though officially hosted by Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire. Local corporations are paying US$20,000 per seat to attend the dinner.
Hu was scheduled to spend two days in the Seattle region, touring the Boeing aircraft plant and Microsoft campus and giving a major speech on US-China business relations before flying on to Washington, DC, to meet President George W Bush.

Among the dignitaries set to greet the Chinese president was former Washington governor Gary Locke, the only Chinese-American to become governor of a US state. He helped organize the visit.

Said Locke: "Seattle is his first stop, and what he says here will be watched closely. His speech will have significance to the entire country, not just in Washington state."

Locke's will be a familiar face. He met with the Chinese president on two previous occasions while he was governor, the first when Hu visited San Francisco as vice president in 2002 and later in Beijing.

Why do the Chinese love Seattle so much? Washington is probably the most free-trade-friendly and China-friendly state in America. Hu will hope to build on that sentiment as he moves east and has to deal with more contentious issues such as China's enormous trade surplus with the US.

Hu will probably hear very little while in Seattle about the usual US complaints: the undervalued yuan or the burgeoning trade deficit. Seattle's big beef is Washington's restrictive visa policy, which sometimes makes it difficult for Chinese pilots to come to the US to pick up an aircraft China has just paid $165 million to buy.

Probably the love affair can best be summed up in two words: Boeing and Microsoft. Both corporations were founded and headquartered in Seattle (Boeing's corporate headquarters moved to Chicago, but Seattle is still the base for its extensive commercial airplane industry) and are well known in China.

It is possible Gates is the most famous American in China, possibly even better known (certainly better liked) than Bush. Add to the mix the giant Starbucks coffee chain. Its original coffee shop is still open on the Seattle waterfront, although Hu's entourage would not fit in it.

Said Joe Borich, executive director of the Washington state China Relations Council, "On a per capita basis, Washington does more trade with China than any other state." The official figure is about $5 billion annually in exports, mostly aircraft.

One local complaint is about intellectual-property protection. It has been estimated that 90% of the computer operating systems in China are pirated. Nevertheless, Microsoft has been remarkably tolerant about this, apparently taking the long view that the China market would pay off some day.

Last year Microsoft fought a fierce court battle over breach of contract to prevent its China head from jumping ship to run Google's operations there. Hu was expected to make a major pronouncement on intellectual-property protection during his visit.

Indeed, Starbucks in January won a trademark lawsuit against a Chinese company that had used its name and logo, translated into Chinese, without the Seattle company's permission. A court ordered the Shanghai Xing-Bake Coffee shop to pay Starbucks 500,000 yuan ($62,500) in damages (see A victory for Starbucks in trademark war, January 20).

While in Washington state Hu will tour the mammoth Boeing aircraft-assembly plant north of Seattle. Boeing's fortunes were buoyed at the beginning of last year when Beijing, on behalf of six Chinese airlines, ordered 60 of the company's latest-model jetliners at a cost of more than $7 billion.

In gratitude Boeing said it had officially named the series the Boeing 787, adding the numeral 8 because of its significance in Asia as a symbol of prosperity. (However, the 787 was the next number in the Boeing series, the last aircraft being a 777.) The first Chinese Boeing 787s should be in service by the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

The company is hoping the visit will help it regain its former dominance in the Chinese aircraft market. At one time Boeing made eight out of every 10 new jetliners in Chinese service. In recent years the European Airbus has been making serious inroads, and Boeing now sells roughly six of every 10 airplanes in China.

Washington was among the first states to take advantage of China's historic market opening. As far back as 1980, one year after Deng's first moves toward opening the market, Seattle interests snared COSCO, the Chinese shipping line. The first Chinese merchant ship to visit the US since the beginning of communist rule in 1949 stopped at Seattle that year. Chinese ships continue to disgorge roughly $20 billion in Chinese exports to the US through the busy Port of Seattle.



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Greeting Hu with a 21-Gun "Salute"

TomDispatch.com
19/04/2006

On Tuesday April 18, Chinese President Hu Jintao landed in the United States
and, after a tour of a Boeing plant, made his official way, with all due pomp
and ceremony, to the expectable "state
banquet"
in Washington… no, not at the White House but at the
Washington State home of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. In fact, the Chinese
leader came to Seattle, Washington, ready to toss money at Microsoft goodies
and Boeing jets in an atmosphere as celebratory as money can make things.


Thursday, Hu will arrive in the "other" Washington in a less celebratory
mood -- at a time when Chinese relations with the Bush administration are in
a state of heightening tension and likely to get worse. He will arrive for
a… Well, what is it?


The Chinese insist that Hu is coming on an official "state visit" and
point to the traditional presidential greeting on the White House lawn and
the 21-gun salute for a state leader as evidence of that. The White House,
which is offering neither
a state dinner
, nor a cabinet meeting for the Chinese president to attend
but a simple working lunch, begs to differ. What's happening is only a visit-type
visit, nothing more. ("'It's
an official visit
, it's a visit, is the way I would describe it,' said
White House spokesman Scott McClellan. We have ‘one visit, different
interpretations.'") At the micro-level of protocol, this catches much
about our East Asian moment.


China lies at the heart of many Bush conundrums and the Bush administration
lies athwart numerous Chinese desires. To the extent that the Bush administration
still floats above the waves, it does so significantly on borrowed dollars
from China; just as the Chinese leadership -- with their recently announced 10.2%
first-quarter growth rate
and their expanding bubble of an export economy
-- lives off the American market. Without Chinese help, the administration's
ability to deal with the other two axes of the Axis of Evil, Iran and North
Korea, seems problematic at best. Yet, when it comes to Iran, China has just
signaled that it's in a less than receptive mood. The weak Chinese-Russian
strategic alliance against the U.S. that goes by the name of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization has just granted Iran full
membership
, a quiet political statement of the first order.


China's recent economic surge into Southeast Asia threatens U.S. hegemony
in the region; from the Sudan to Venezuela, its oil envoys are already drilling
into America's imperial energy future (even as the price of a barrel of oil
soars over
$70 a barrel
). The Americans are sunk deep in the Iraq morass; the Chinese
are desperate for a little space and peace to deal with the endless problems
spinning off from their overheated economy. You might think it was a moment
to draw on some well-worn term like "peaceful coexistence"; but,
as Michael Klare, author of the indispensable Blood
and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported
Petroleum
, makes clear below, the Bush administration is instead ramping
up its military might in the Pacific and, after two years trapped in Baghdad's
Green Zone, once again putting China in its strategic gun sights as America's
future imperial competitor and enemy of choice.



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Containing China

20/04/2006
By Michael T. Klare

Slowly but surely, the grand strategy of the Bush administration is being
revealed. It is not aimed primarily at the defeat of global terrorism, the
incapacitation of rogue states, or the spread of democracy in the Middle East.
These may dominate the rhetorical arena and be the focus of immediate concern,
but they do not govern key decisions regarding the allocation of long-term
military resources. The truly commanding objective -- the underlying basis
for budgets and troop deployments -- is the containment of China. This objective
governed White House planning during the administration's first seven months
in office, only to be set aside by the perceived obligation to highlight anti-terrorism
after 9/11; but now, despite Bush's preoccupation with Iraq and Iran, the White
House is also reemphasizing its paramount focus on China, risking a new Asian
arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences.
President Bush and his top aides entered the White House in early 2001 with
a clear strategic objective: to resurrect the permanent-dominance doctrine
spelled out in the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for fiscal years 1994-99,
the first formal statement of U.S. strategic goals in the post-Soviet era.
According to the initial official draft of this document, as leaked to the
press in early 1992, the primary aim of U.S. strategy would be to bar the rise
of any future competitor that might challenge America's overwhelming military
superiority.


"Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new
rival... that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet
Union," the document stated. Accordingly, "we [must] endeavor to
prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under
consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power."

When initially made public, this doctrine was condemned by America's allies
and many domestic leaders as being unacceptably imperial as well as imperious,
forcing the first President Bush to water it down; but the goal of perpetuating
America's sole-superpower status has never been rejected by administration
strategists. In fact, it initially became the overarching principle for U.S.
military policy when the younger Bush assumed the presidency in February 2001.


Target: China


When first enunciated in 1992, the permanent-dominancy doctrine was non-specific
as to the identity of the future challengers whose rise was to be prevented
through coercive action. At that time, U.S. strategists worried about a medley
of potential rivals, including Russia, Germany, India, Japan, and China; any
of these, it was thought, might emerge in decades to come as would-be superpowers,
and so all would have to be deterred from moving in this direction. By the
time the second Bush administration came into office, however, the pool of
potential rivals had been narrowed in elite thinking to just one: the People's
Republic of China. Only China, it was claimed, possessed the economic and military
capacity to challenge the United States as an aspiring superpower; and so perpetuating
U.S. global predominance meant containing Chinese power.


The imperative of containing China was first spelled out in a systematic
way by Condoleezza Rice while serving as a foreign policy adviser to then Governor
George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. In a much-cited article
in Foreign Affairs, she suggested that the PRC, as an ambitious rising power,
would inevitably challenge vital U.S. interests. "China is a great power
with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan," she
wrote. "China also resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific
region."


For these reasons, she stated, "China is not a ‘status quo' power
but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor.
That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the ‘strategic partner'
the Clinton administration once called it." It was essential, she argued,
to adopt a strategy that would prevent China's rise as regional power. In particular, "The
United States must deepen its cooperation with Japan and South Korea and maintain
its commitment to a robust military presence in the region." Washington
should also "pay closer attention to India's role in the regional balance," and
bring that country into an anti-Chinese alliance system.


Looking back, it is striking how this article developed the allow-no-competitors
doctrine of the 1992 DPG into the very strategy now being implemented by the
Bush administration in the Pacific and South Asia. Many of the specific policies
advocated in her piece, from strengthened ties with Japan to making overtures
to India, are being carried out today.


In the spring and summer of 2001, however, the most significant effect of
this strategic focus was to distract Rice and other senior administration officials
from the growing threat posed by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. During her first
months in office as the president's senior adviser for national security affairs,
Rice devoted herself to implementing the plan she had spelled out in Foreign
Affairs. By all accounts, her top priorities in that early period were dissolving
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia and linking Japan, South Korea,
and Taiwan into a joint missile defense system, which, it was hoped, would
ultimately evolve into a Pentagon-anchored anti-Chinese alliance.


Richard A. Clarke, the senior White House adviser on counter-terrorism, later
charged that, because of her preoccupation with Russia, China, and great power
politics, Rice overlooked warnings of a possible Al Qaeda attack on the United
States and thus failed to initiate defensive actions that might have prevented
9/11. Although Rice survived tough questioning on this matter by the 9/11 Commission
without acknowledging the accuracy of Clarke's charges, any careful historian,
seeking answers for the Bush administration's inexcusable failure to heed warnings
of a potential terrorist strike on this country, must begin with its overarching
focus on containing China during this critical period.


China on the Back Burner


After September 11th, it would have been unseemly for Bush, Rice, and other
top administration officials to push their China agenda -- and in any case
they quickly shifted focus to a long-term neocon objective, the overthrow of
Saddam Hussein and the projection of American power throughout the Middle East.
So the "global war on terror" (or GWOT, in Pentagon-speak) became
their major talking point and the invasion of Iraq their major focus. But the
administration never completely lost sight of its strategic focus on China,
even when it could do little on the subject. Indeed, the lightning war on Iraq
and the further projection of American power into the Middle East was intended,
at least in part, as a warning to China of the overwhelming might of the American
military and the futility of challenging U.S. supremacy.


For the next two years, when so much effort was devoted to rebuilding Iraq
in America's image and crushing an unexpected and potent Iraqi insurgency,
China was distinctly on the back-burner. In the meantime, however, China's
increased investment in modern military capabilities and its growing economic
reach in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America -- much of it tied to the
procurement of oil and other vital commodities -- could not be ignored.


By the spring of 2005, the White House was already turning back to Rice's
global grand strategy. On June 4, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
gave a much-publicized
speech
at a conference in Singapore, signaling what was to be a new emphasis
in White House policymaking, in which he decried China's ongoing military buildup
and warned of the threat it posed to regional peace and stability.


China, he claimed, was "expanding its missile forces, allowing them
to reach targets in many areas of the world" and "improving its ability
to project power" in the Asia-Pacific region. Then, with sublime disingenuousness,
he added, "Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this
growing investment? Why these continuing and expanding arms purchases? Why
these continuing robust deployments?" Although Rumsfeld did not answer
his questions, the implication was obvious: China was now embarked on a course
that would make it a regional power, thus threatening one day to present a
challenge to the United States in Asia on unacceptably equal terms.


This early sign of the ratcheting up of anti-Chinese rhetoric was accompanied
by acts of a more concrete nature. In February 2005, Rice and Rumsfeld hosted
a meeting in Washington with top Japanese officials at which an agreement was
signed to improve cooperation in military affairs between the two countries.
Known as the "Joint Statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative
Committee," the agreement called for greater collaboration between American
and Japanese forces in the conduct of military operations in an area stretching
from Northeast Asia to the South China Sea. It also called for close consultation
on policies regarding Taiwan, an implicit hint that Japan was prepared to assist
the United States in the event of a military clash with China precipitated
by Taiwan's declaring its independence.


This came at a time when Beijing was already expressing considerable alarm
over pro-independence moves in Taiwan and what the Chinese saw as a revival
of militarism in Japan -- thus evoking painful memories of World War II, when
Japan invaded China and committed massive atrocities against Chinese civilians.
Understandably then, the agreement could only be interpreted by the Chinese
leadership as an expression of the Bush administration's determination to bolster
an anti-Chinese alliance system.


The New Grand Chessboard


Why did the White House choose this particular moment to revive its drive
to contain China? Many factors no doubt contributed to this turnaround, but
surely the most significant was a perception that China had finally emerged
as a major regional power in its own right and was beginning to contest America's
long-term dominance of the Asia-Pacific region. To some degree this was manifested
-- so the Pentagon claimed -- in military terms, as Beijing began to replace
Soviet-type, Korean War-vintage weapons with more modern (though hardly cutting-edge)
Russian designs.


It was not China's military moves, however, that truly alarmed American policymakers
-- most professional analysts are well aware of the continuing inferiority
of Chinese weaponry -- but rather Beijing's success in using its enormous purchasing
power and hunger for resources to establish friendly ties with such long-standing
U.S. allies as Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. Because the Bush administration
had done little to contest this trend while focusing on the war in Iraq, China's
rapid gains in Southeast Asia finally began to ring alarm bells in Washington.


At the same time, Republican strategists were becoming increasingly concerned
by growing Chinese involvement in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia -- areas
considered of vital geopolitical importance to the United States because of
the vast reserves of oil and natural gas buried there. Much influenced by Zbigniew
Brzezinski, whose 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geostrategic
Imperatives first highlighted the critical importance of Central Asia, these
strategists sought to counter Chinese inroads. Although Brzezinski himself
has largely been excluded from elite Republican circles because of his association
with the much-despised Carter administration, his call for a coordinated U.S.
drive to dominate both the eastern and western rimlands of China has been embraced
by senior administration strategists.


In this way, Washington's concern over growing Chinese influence in Southeast
Asia has come to be intertwined with the U.S. drive for hegemony in the Persian
Gulf and Central Asia. This has given China policy an even more elevated significance
in Washington -- and helps explain its return with a passion despite the seemingly
all-consuming preoccupations of the war in Iraq.


Whatever the exact balance of factors, the Bush administration is now clearly
engaged in a coordinated, systematic effort to contain Chinese power and influence
in Asia. This effort appears to have three broad objectives: to convert existing
relations with Japan, Australia, and South Korea into a robust, integrated
anti-Chinese alliance system; to bring other nations, especially India, into
this system; and to expand U.S. military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.


Since the administration's campaign to bolster ties with Japan commenced
a year ago, the two countries have been meeting continuously to devise protocols
for the implementation of their 2005 strategic agreement. In October, Washington
and Tokyo released the Alliance Transformation and Realignment Report, which
is to guide the further integration of U.S. and Japanese forces in the Pacific
and the simultaneous restructuring of the U.S. basing system in Japan. (Some
of these bases, especially those on Okinawa, have become a source of friction
in U.S.-Japanese relations and so the Pentagon is now considering ways to downsize
the most objectionable installations.) Japanese and American officers are also
engaged in a joint "interoperability" study, aimed at smoothing the "interface" between
U.S. and Japanese combat and communications systems. "Close collaboration
is also ongoing for cooperative missile defense," reports Admiral William
J. Fallon, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).


Steps have also been taken in this ongoing campaign to weld South Korea and
Australia more tightly to the U.S.-Japanese alliance system. South Korea has
long been reluctant to work closely with Japan because of that country's brutal
occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and lingering fears of
Japanese militarism; now, however, the Bush administration is promoting what
it calls "trilateral military cooperation" between Seoul, Tokyo,
and Washington. As indicated
by Admiral Fallon
, this initiative has an explicitly anti-Chinese dimension.
America's ties with South Korea must adapt to "the changing security environment" represented
by "China's military modernization," Fallon told the Senate Armed
Services Committee on March 7. By cooperating with the U.S. and Japan, he continued,
South Korea will move from an overwhelming focus on North Korea to "a
more regional view of security and stability."


Bringing Australia into this emerging anti-Chinese network has been a major
priority of Condoleezza Rice, who spent several days there in mid-March. Although
designed in part to bolster U.S.-Australian ties (largely neglected by Washington
over the past few years), the main purpose of her visit was to host a meeting
of top officials from Australia, the U.S., and Japan to develop a common strategy
for curbing China's rising influence in Asia. No formal results were announced,
but Steven Weisman of the New York Times reported on March 19 that Rice convened
the meeting "to deepen a three-way regional alliance aimed in part at
balancing the spreading presence of China."


An even bigger prize, in Washington's view, would be the integration of India
into this emerging alliance system, a possibility first suggested in Rice's
Foreign Affairs article. Such a move was long frustrated by congressional objections
to India's nuclear weapons program and its refusal to sign on to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under U.S. law, nations like India that refuse
to cooperate in non-proliferation measures can be excluded from various forms
of aid and cooperation. To overcome this problem, President
Bush
met with Indian officials in New Delhi in March and negotiated a nuclear
accord that will open India's civilian reactors to International Atomic Energy
Agency inspection, thus providing a thin gloss of non-proliferation cooperation
to India's robust nuclear weapons program. If Congress approves Bush's plan,
the United States will be free to provide nuclear assistance to India and,
in the process, significantly expand already growing military-to-military ties.


In signing the nuclear pact with India, Bush did not allude to the administration's
anti-Chinese agenda, saying only that it would lay the foundation for a "durable
defense relationship." But few have been fooled by this vague characterization.
According to Weisman
of the Times
, most U.S. lawmakers view the nuclear accord as an expression
of the administration's desire to convert India into "a counterweight
to China."


The China Build-up Begins


Accompanying all these diplomatic initiatives has been a vigorous, if largely
unheralded, effort by the Department of Defense (DoD) to bolster U.S. military
capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.


The broad sweep of American strategy was first spelled out in the Pentagon's
most recent policy assessment, the
Quadrennial Defense Review
(QDR), released on February 5, 2006. In discussing
long-term threats to U.S. security, the QDR begins with a reaffirmation of
the overarching precept first articulated in the DPG of 1992: that the United
States will not allow the rise of a competing superpower. This country "will
attempt to dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive or other
capabilities that could enable regional hegemony or hostile action against
the United States," the document states. It then identifies China as the
most likely and dangerous competitor of this sort. "Of the major and emerging
powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United
States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset
traditional U.S. military advantages" -- then adding the kicker, "absent
U.S. counter strategies."


According to the Pentagon, the task of countering future Chinese military
capabilities largely entails the development, and then procurement, of major
weapons systems that would ensure U.S. success in any full-scale military confrontation. "The
United States will develop capabilities that would present any adversary with
complex and multidimensional challenges and complicate its offensive planning
efforts," the QDR explains. These include the steady enhancement of such "enduring
U.S. advantages" as "long-range strike, stealth, operational maneuver
and sustainment of air, sea, and ground forces at strategic distances, air
dominance, and undersea warfare."


Preparing for war with China, in other words, is to be the future cash cow
for the giant U.S. weapons-making corporations in the military-industrial complex.
It will, for instance, be the primary justification for the acquisition of
costly new weapons systems such as the F-22A Raptor air-superiority fighter,
the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, the DDX destroyer, the Virginia-class
nuclear attack submarine, and a new, intercontinental penetrating bomber --
weapons that would just have utility in an all-out encounter with another great-power
adversary of a sort that only China might someday become.


In addition to these weapons programs, the QDR also calls for a stiffening
of present U.S. combat forces in Asia and the Pacific, with a particular emphasis
on the Navy (the arm of the military least utilized in the ongoing occupation
of and war in Iraq). "The fleet will have greater presence in the Pacific
Ocean," the document notes. To achieve this, "The Navy plans to adjust
its force posture and basing to provide at least six operationally available
and sustainable [aircraft] carriers and 60% of its submarines in the Pacific
to support engagement, presence and deterrence." Since each of these carriers
is, in fact, but the core of a large array of support ships and protective
aircraft, this move is sure to entail a truly vast buildup of U.S. naval capabilities
in the Western Pacific and will certainly necessitate a substantial expansion
of the American basing complex in the region -- a requirement that is already
receiving close attention from Admiral Fallon and his staff at PACOM. To assess
the operational demands of this buildup, moreover, this summer the U.S. Navy
will conduct its most extensive military maneuvers in the Western Pacific since
the end of the Vietnam War, with four
aircraft carrier battle groups
and many support ships expected to participate.


Add all of this together, and the resulting strategy cannot be viewed as
anything but a systematic campaign of containment. No high administration official
may say this in so many words, but it is impossible to interpret the recent
moves of Rice and Rumsfeld in any other manner. From Beijing's perspective,
the reality must be unmistakable: a steady buildup of American military power
along China's eastern, southern, and western boundaries.


How will China respond to this threat? For now, it appears to be relying on
charm and the conspicuous blandishment of economic benefits to loosen Australian,
South Korean, and even Indian ties with the United States. To a certain extent,
this strategy is meeting with success, as these countries seek to profit from
the extraordinary economic boom now under way in China – fueled to a
considerable extent by oil, gas, iron, timber, and other materials supplied
by China's neighbors in Asia. A version of this strategy is also being employed
by President Hu Jintao during his current visit to the United States. As China's
money is sprinkled liberally among influential firms like Boeing and Microsoft,
Hu is reminding the corporate wing of the Republican Party that there are vast
economic benefits still to be had by pursuing a non-threatening stance toward
China.


China, however, has always responded to perceived threats of encirclement
in a vigorous and muscular fashion as well, and so we should assume that Beijing
will balance all that charm with a military buildup of its own. Such a drive
will not bring China to the brink of military equality with the United States
-- that is not a condition it can realistically aspire to over the next few
decades. But it will provide further justification for those in the United
States who seek to accelerate the containment of China, and so will produce
a self-fulfilling loop of distrust, competition, and crisis. This will make
the amicable long-term settlement of the Taiwan problem and of North Korea's
nuclear program that much more difficult, and increase the risk of unintended
escalation to full-scale war in Asia. There can be no victors from such a conflagration.


Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire
College and the author of Blood
and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported
Petroleum




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Odds 'n Ends


China Reports New Human Case Of Avian Flu

by Kate Walker
UPI
Apr 20, 2006

Oxford, England - China's Health Ministry Tuesday reported that a 21-year-old man from central Hubei province had been infected with avian influenza. While the man's status has not yet been announced by the World Health Organization, a ministry official said that the confirmation of his infection had been done in accordance with WHO standards.

The man, a migrant worker from Wuhan with the surname Lai, is the 17th person in China to have been infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. Eleven have perished.
After showing signs of fever and pneumonia, Lai was hospitalized in critical condition on April 1. Those who had close contact with him have been put under observation, but none have so far shown any signs of infection.

Meanwhile:

-- Sudan has reported its first incidents of avian influenza infection in poultry, the country's Ministry of Animal Resources announced Tuesday.

Ahammed Mustafa, under secretary at the ministry, told reporters: "Laboratorial tests have confirmed the existence of bird flu cases in Khartoum and Jazeera.

"Until now, the health authorities have culled more than 100,000 chickens at 15 farms in Khartoum."

-- Workers at a Pakistani poultry farm where avian influenza was discovered have been tested for the disease and appear to be uninfected.

Khaleej Times Online quoted Dr. Muhammad Afzal, commissioner of livestock and animal husbandry, as saying: "Medical reports of all the four men at the affected farm are negative but they are still under observation."

-- Nigerian authorities reported a fresh case of avian influenza in the country's poultry Monday.

The official News Agency of Nigeria reported Monday that there had been an outbreak of bird flu in Bakori and Jargaba towns in the northern state of Katsina, killing 200 birds.

Alhaji Halliru Atiku, head of agriculture in local government, said the local authorities had supplied disinfectant and special chemicals to the region's poultry farms in response to the outbreak.

-- In England, a dead duck and sick swan found in Merseyside, in the northwest of the country, on Sunday afternoon, have sparked the country's first avian flu alert.

Tests on the birds are currently being conducted, with results expected Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs said the tests were being conducted as a matter of course, and as the only other case of avian influenza in the British Isles had been far to the north, in Scotland, there was no need for concern.

Defra tests suspicious birds as a matter of course, the spokesman said, and only reports positive diagnoses to the public.

-- McDonald's has asked its European suppliers to bring free-range birds indoors to guard against consumer concerns of contracting avian influenza, although there is no risk of contracting bird flu from cooked poultry or eggs.

Catherine Adams, vice-president of worldwide quality at McDonald's, was quoted by Australia's The Age as saying: "We are now imposing standards which require that those free-range chickens that are producing free-range eggs be brought into houses because of the threat of the spread of avian influenza."

While the move is designed to inspire consumer confidence, there are concerns that when multinational corporations such as McDonald's begin such maneuvers, customers may incorrectly assume that there are risks to be had in consuming cooked eggs and poultry that have been reared outdoors, which is not the case at all.



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Stone blocks may be part of Europe's first step pyramid

Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina
19 April 2006 03:39

Researchers said on Wednesday they have found geometrically cut stone blocks covering a central Bosnian hill that a hobby archaeologist claims is a pyramid.

Archaeologists and other experts began digging on the sides of the mysterious hill near the central Bosnian town of Visoko last week. On Wednesday, the hill revealed geometrical stone blocks on one side that Semir Osmanagic, the leader of the team, claims are the outer layer of the pyramid.
"These are the first uncovered walls of the pyramid," said Osmanagic, who studied Latin-American pyramids for 15 years and who proposed the theory that the 650m mound rising above the small town of Visoko is actually a step pyramid -- the first such found in Europe.

"We can see the surface is perfectly flat. This is the crucial material proof that we are talking pyramids," he said.

The huge stone blocks appear to be cut in cubes and polished.

"It is so obvious that the top of the blocks, the surface is man-made," Osmanagic said. He plans to continue the works throughout the summer, "after which the pyramid will be visible", he said.

The research on the hill, known as Visocica, found that it has perfectly shaped, 45-degree slopes pointing toward the cardinal points, and a flat top. Under layers of dirt, workers discovered a paved entrance plateau, entrances to tunnels and large stone blocks that might be part of a pyramid's outer surface.

Satellite photographs and thermal imaging revealed two other, smaller pyramid-shaped hills in the Visoko valley.

Last week's excavations began with a team of rescue workers from a nearby coal mine being sent into a tunnel believed to be part of an underground network connecting three pyramidal-shaped hills.

They were followed by archaeologists, geologists and other experts who emerged from the tunnel later to declare that it was certainly man-made.

The work will continue for about six months at the site just outside Visoko, about 30km north-west of the capital, Sarajevo. Two experts from Egypt are due to join the team in mid-May.

"It will be a very exciting archaeological spring and summer," Osmanagic said. -- Sapa-AP



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The TV-advert enforcer

18 April 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Barry Fox

For over 30 years, Barry Fox has trawled through the world's weird and wonderful patent applications, uncovering the most exciting, bizarre or even terrifying new ideas. His column, Invention, is exclusively online. Scroll down for a roundup of previous Invention articles.

If a new idea from Philips catches on, the company may not be very popular with TV viewers. The company's labs in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has been cooking up a way to stop people changing channels to avoid adverts or fast forwarding through ads they have recorded along with their target programme.

The secret, according to a new patent filing, is to take advantage of Multimedia Home Platform - the technology behind interactive television in many countries around the world. MHP software now comes built into most modern digital TV receivers and recorders. It looks for digital flags buried in a broadcast, and displays messages on screen that let the viewer call up extra features, such as additional footage or information about a programme.

Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.

Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers" who could initially think their equipment has gone wrong. So it suggests the new system could throw up a warning on screen when it is enforcing advert viewing. The patent also suggests that the system could offer viewers the chance to pay a fee interactively to go back to skipping adverts.




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