- Signs of the Times for Mon, 24 Apr 2006 -

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Editorial: The 'Ponerization' of Humanity

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times

Surprise Surprise! Yet another "Bin Laden tape" has surfaced wherein the Harry Houdini of the Islamic terror world and eternal straw man for American and Israeli demagogues reiterates his call to arms for the destruction of Western civilisation.

What is shocking in all of this is the unbelievable mendacity and wilfulness of the mainstream press in furthering this most vile and dangerous of myths that "Islamic terror" threatens Western countries and their populations. As with every previous such tape, we are told that the "authenticity could not be verified" but that unnamed "U.S. intelligence officials believe it to be from Bin Laden". Even the BBC, once a responsible news outlet (before its evisceration by the Blair government after the David Kelly "suicide" affair), irresponsibly parroted the details of the unverifable recording as if there was no doubt about its origin or authenticity. In a sane world, it would not be standard policy for allegedly objective media corporations to publish such unverified claims as if they were fact. But there is nothing sane about global power politics and if a story involves “Bin Laden tapes" or otherwise supports American and Israeli war mongering and vicious anti-Islamic/Arab propaganda, then no questions are asked.

From the unreported details of events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11th 2001 that point to a U.S. and Israeli government involvement in the attacks, to historical facts about the role of the CIA in the Russian/Afghan war in the 1980's that resulted in the creation of the modern-day al-Qaeda, to clear evidence of Israeli, American and British government campaigns of 'false flag' terrorist attacks, there is a wealth of evidence, freely available to all mainstream media outlets, that leads to one conclusion: the War on Terror, the idea of organised Islamic terror groups and the claim that Iran's nuclear program threatens the world, is one big, fat, collective lie. It is a Punch and Judy show with Israeli, British and American government hands on the puppet strings.

Am I the only one who finds it utterly incredible that Osama could have evaded capture for so long? That the entire intelligence and military apparati of America, Israel, Britain, Pakistan, Egypt, India and Indonesia are unable to find one man? For the past few years this phantom has allegedly been flitting from cave to cave in the mountainous area of the Pakistan side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Confined to this desolate area, we are asked to believe (by U.S. ambassador in (not to) Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad) that this modern day Scarlet Pimpernel, despite being cut off and hemmed in, still maintains the considerable infrastructure, connections, manpower and organisational capacity to mount a serious attack on Western countries, and all the while, the combined intelligence agencies of several world powers are unable to get a whiff of it, let alone pinpoint the turbaned devil himself. If there is one thing I would ask of the U.S. government, on behalf of the sane people of the world, it is for a little credit.

Thankfully, the cracks that are inherent in the fabric of such a dodgy production are not only beginning to show, but widen. In the most recent audio recording, "Osama's" calls for Islamic holy war in Sudan and other Muslim states have already been publicly disowned by the Sudanese government and Hamas. Not even Arab client states of the American government, it seems, are prepared to associate themselves with the 'B movie' that is the Osama and al-Qaeda dog and pony show. This public rejection of al-Qaeda's ideology of a 'clash of civilisations' (coincidentally also the ideology of the Neocons) by two of the U.S. government's most valuable whipping boys in the bogus War on Terror presents a serious problem for American foreign policy think tankers. How will they continue to justify the "War on Islamic Terror" when the core of the threat is an aging veteran of the Russian Afghan war, alone, isolated and hiding behind his dialysis machine in a cave in the Hindu-Kush mountains? Of course, I do not doubt that they will try their very best.

Any future "terror attacks on Western or Israeli targets notwithstanding; the simple and logical fact is that Bin Laden is today no more capable of waging a war on Western civilisation than he was capable of overcoming the American intelligence and military apparati with 19 Arab men armed with box cutters on 9/11. But things have progressed quite a bit since 9/11. While American and Israeli intelligence will probably continue to drag Osama onto the stage from time to time to provide the equivalent of a little emotional electroshock to Western populations, the real focus these days is the next stage in the conquest of the Middle East under the equally unbelievable banner of spreading 'Freedom and Democracy'.

It is no surprise therefore that, today, Israel has moved to capitalise on the Osama tape and the memories of 'that fateful day' that it provoked by ramping up the nonsensical rhetoric over Iran. As in a report today on that bastion of lies and disinformation, Fox News, Prime Minister Olmert stated: "Tehran's ambitions threaten not only Israel but all of Western civilization." To understand the ridiculous of this statement it is important to understand a few things about Iran's nuclear program. Both IAEA and American nuclear proliferation experts have asserted that it will take at least 10 years for Iran to develop one nuclear bomb. Despite this, we are being asked to believe that, today, right now, Iran poses a threat to all of Western civilisation!! Is one nuke in 10 years time sufficient to threaten all of Western civilisation today?! Such a pronouncement is therefore an obvious attempt to manipulate the world into accepting an attack on Iran that is in no way justified.

In a normal, sane world, the Osama tape would be laughed at, and Olmert's statement would be thoroughly exposed for the dangerous manipulation that it is. But we do not live in a normal, sane world it seems. We live in a world where murderous psychopaths in suits (for we can call them nothing else) have risen to positions of unchecked power in government and the media and are determined to subject the planet's population to a constant barrage of hate-filled, war-mongering propaganda in the hope of 'pyschopathising' every last one of us into supporting their genocidal plans. 'Bird Flu' is not the biggest pathological threat to the world today, it is the pathology espoused by the world's political elite and which is carried to the four corners of the earth and into every living room by the mainstream media. The only antidote to this disease, this infestation that is spreading through our minds like a cancer, is for every one of us, at every turn, to fully recognise and reject it for what it is:

Manipulation, Lies, Murder, Psychopathy, Genocide.
Comment on this Editorial

Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
Signs of the Times
April 24, 2006

Gold closed at 638.50 dollars an ounce on Friday, up 6.0% from $602.10 the week before. The dollar closed at 0.8103 euros, down 1.9% from 0.8258 at the close of the previous Friday. That put the euro at 1.2341 dollars, compared to 1.2110 dollars the week before. Gold in euros, then, would be 517.38 euros an ounce, up 4.1% from 497.19 at the previous week's close. Oil closed at 75.12 dollars a barrel on Friday, up 8.2% from $69.45 the week before. Oil in euros would be 60.87 euros a barrel, up 6.1% from 57.35  euros at the end of the previous week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.50 on Friday, down 2.0% from 8.67 the week before. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow closed at 11,347.45 on Friday, up 1.9% from 11,137.65 the Friday before. The NASDAQ closed at 2,342.86 Friday, up 0.7% from 2,326.11 for the week. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 5.01% down two basis points from 5.04 the week before.

The mainstream media discovered gold and precious metals last week, having to explain the sharp rise in the last two weeks. Unfortunately for the media, the causes are hard to avoid: massive triple deficits in the United States and the apparently serious threat of an attack on Iran, or maybe Venezuela. Many analysts see no way around war in Iran short of  an overthrow of the Bush/Neocon presidency, something that would also be bad for the dollar and good for gold.

The visit to the United States by Chinese president Hu this past week, had implications for all of the issues outlined above.  China owns a great deal of U.S. government debt, and China's patience with the United States is one of the main reasons the dollar hasn't collapsed already. Maybe China, with a seat on the U.N. Security Council and a hold of the U.S. dollar by the throat, can be the one who can get a message through Bush's thick skull not to attack Iran.

While we can only speculate on what was said about Iran and Venezuela during the meetings between Bush and Hu, the debate within the U.S. military is becoming unusually public, a fact that signifies strong opposition to further Bush/neocon wars in the military.

Could the following scenario, leaked to TBR News, be playing out?

April 17, 2006: "One of my best sources for Asian/PRC information is the bureau chief of a major international news service, now stationed in Beijing.  He sent me. this morning. a thirty page email containing his views on the current Sino/US relations, both economic, political and military...

The Chinese PRC has grown tired of trying to make any sense of the weird Bush foreign policies, let alone try to come to reasonable grips with them. These two countries do an enormous amount of profitable business with each other. The PRC holds billions of dollars of U.S. Treasury notes and if they became angry and disposed of them at cheap prices on the world bourses, the result would be an economic catastrophe. China has a huge population and an enormous military establishment. China has atomic weaponry and the means to deliver them. China has no oil and needs it badly for its burgeoning economy.  China buys oil from Venezuela and Iran. The Bush Administration has clearly indicated their strong desire to oust both governments by internal (read CIA) subversion or, as a final resort, threats of military action. The US has interfered with PRC/Taiwan relations, threatening the PRC with vague military action in the event of hostilities between the two entities.  Now, China has determined to draw a line in the sand between themselves and the unstable Bush people. They are going to say, in public, that the PRC will certainly offer support to any other country (read Iran and Venezuela) who feel themselves physically threatened by the Bush people. Beijing has told Bush to butt out of their economic business or China will consider this continued mindless nonsense as a threat to China and act accordingly.

Egged on by the powerful Israeli political lobby and the violently pro-Israel neo cons (who basically influence Bush's foreign policy in the Middle East to the point of absolute control) Bush has leaked information that the United States "may well" resort to nuclear attacks on Iran because of their alleged building of atomic weapons (that can only threaten nearby Israel and not the United States.) There is no doubt that such military plans exist. They were drawn up before the 9/11 disaster by the American military, at the request of Secretary Rumsfeld and the Vice President with the full concurrence of Bush. Staff talks between the IDF representatives and American military planners were instituted and the final plans were put into a safe in the Pentagon in the event that they were needed.

Bush's growing fury with the government of Iran, for ignoring his bluster and threats, caused him to order the leakage to the US media of the Iranian Solution. There is no doubt this is a genuine plan but there is serious doubt if it will ever be implemented. From a strictly military logistical point of view, it is impossible of effective implementation. From a domestic, and foreign, political view, it has proven to be a public relations disaster.

Bush is seen by an increasing number of domestic and foreign leaders as mad as Caligula and someone who will lead this country into a hecatomb from which it might never recover.

The Italian prime minister is now afraid to leave office because there is a very probable criminal indictment waiting for him once his immunity has been lifted. A number of the Bush people, viz Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Rove  and the leadership of the neo cons strongly fear that some such public vengeance will be wreaked on them if and when Bush leaves the scene. This is the main reason why ultra-right Republicans introduced a measure in Congress to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution that limits a president to two terms. This failed to loud laughter but the idea is still there.

Bush, who is a terrible physical and moral coward, has similar fears of retribution for the enormous death tolls he has become responsible for plus the incredible looting of the public treasury and embezzlement of public funds by his loyal, and greedy, supporters.

Men afraid of retribution can be very dangerous and now that China is calling Bush's bluff, it will be interesting to see what he and his poison dwarves will do next."

According to George Ure,

The visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao with Bill Gates up in Seattle is important.  What's being said publicly is that US-China ties must be strengthened. But there's a lot more to it than that.

China is in the position of being a shoemaker for poor people, when it comes to US trade.  Right now, China has been lending the poor people (the US) money (buying our debt) in order that the shoemaker can keep making shoes.

But at some juncture - and we think it's close at hand - the shoemaker will say "we have other people who want to buy our shoes, so we won't lend you poor people are much money to buy shoes.

Then the roof falls in on the poor people and the dollar collapses as ever bigger piles of paper are printed.  you don't want to see what happens when the music stops.

The other warning likely delivered by Hu is that Condi and the neoCON's better watch their step in trying to whip up/create a frenzy to bomb Iran.  China is strengthening ties with Iran by pushing for their membership in the Asian Bloc, and I wouldn't be surprised to see China sign mutual defense pacts with Iran, Venezuela, and any other resource rich country the neoCON's are drooling over.  Peg that somewhere between a guess and prediction.

Events taking place right now in Nepal can only add to the impression that China is on the rise and the U.S. empire is falling. According to Wayne Madsen,

A real "themed" revolution now taking place in Nepal. Pro-democracy and leftist forces in Nepal are poised to oust Nepal's King Gyanendra in a bona fide "people's revolution". This is not a neocon-engineered public relations stunt like the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and the "Orange Revolution"" in Ukraine, but an actual grass roots revolution to oust a royal dictator who took power after a U.S. and Indian engineered coup saw the mass regicide of the former royal family in June 2001. The genocide was automatically blamed on a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra. However, as WMR has reported, the coup was actually engineered by Gyanendra and Pentagon and Indian intelligence agents who did not like the policies of the murdered King Birendra (presumably supported by his heir Dipendra) in pursuing a power sharing arrangement with Maoist guerrillas. The course of action taken was to eliminate Birendra's entire line of succession to the throne. Although the international media bought the "Crown Prince kills family" story, many papers and wire services are now using the words "alleged" and "purported" in referring to the "official story" of the regicide.

Although the Bush administration has rushed military equipment and mercenary advisers to bail out Gyanendra, who is an old friend of arch-war criminal Henry Kissinger, the United States, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in no position to save the "God King" of Nepal. Soon, the Bush administration will have to contend with a new "people's republic" on the Indian subcontinent.

The fact that Bush chose this point of weakness to insult and snub the Chinese president boggles the mind.  Bush seems to be trying as hard as he can to crash the economy, insulting an increasingly powerful lender and business partner and scaring the daylights out of the world with war talk that will only send oil and gold skyrocketing. Xymphora thinks that is the point:

The oil reason for Iran talk

Oil companies pump oil out of the ground, refine it, and move it.  They pay a pittance to the countries they lift it from (Chavez is on the hot seat, mainly because he is trying to change this), and a relatively small amount on their other costs, which are pretty much fixed.  The supply is always about the same, and the demand is always about the same.  Oil is an addictive substance, and people seem prepared to pay whatever they can be fooled into paying, until they are literally incapable of paying more and the economy collapses.  If oil is $10 a barrel, oil companies lose money;  if it is $60 or $70 a barrel, they make hundreds of billions of dollars a year.  The job of oil company executives is to arrange for people to pay the higher amount, which they do through various kinds of advertising and spin, largely based on raising questions of possible future supply problems.  The actual day-to-day amounts of oil available on the market varies very little, due to the fact that enormous amounts of it are always available in storage, but the executives have to find varied ways to make people think there is an upcoming crisis.  This scam works until they cause a recession.  During the recession they sell much less oil at a much lower price, thus keeping the oil in the ground for when they can sell it at a higher price.

Oil prices were sagging, so we recently heard, out of the blue, that the Kuwaiti oil fields were failing.  There was no evidence for this, but it succeeded in keeping the price up for a while.  Keeping the price per barrel as high as possible is the single most important reason for all the talk about Iran.  All the talk about the United States wanting to control the oil fields of Iraq or Iran is more spin;  the key is to control the oil market.

Meanwhile average families are feeling the squeeze of trying to fund record profits for the oil industry and nine figure payouts for their CEO's.

The very rich in America: "The kind of money you cannot comprehend"

By David Walsh
19 April 2006

 "Let me tell you about the very rich," F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote in a 1926 story, "They are different from you and me." But even Fitzgerald could not have imagined how different "from you and me" the very rich would become in America eight decades later.

The sums that the very wealthy have at their disposal in the US are almost unimaginable: Oil executive Lee Raymond receiving some $400 million in a retirement package; the 2005 compensation of bank chairman Richard Fairbank totaling some $280 million; Omid Korestani, head of Google's global sales, exercising stock options providing him with $288 million last year.

The accumulation is brazen. What once would have been considered a somewhat discreditable fact of social life, the proliferation of billionaires, is now hailed as a sign of America's success. The demise of the Soviet Union and the supposed absence of any alternative to capitalism, the putrefaction of the AFL-CIO trade unions, the ignominious collapse of American liberalism and the lack to this point of broad-based, organized political opposition to the ruling elite and its two parties have rendered the American financial aristocracy "dizzy with success." These people have lost their heads.

In the face of public outrage over oil company profits and soaring gasoline prices, Exxon arrogantly defended Raymond's hundreds of millions, arguing that they were rewarding the executive's "outstanding leadership of the business, continued strengthening of our worldwide competitive position, and continuing progress toward achieving long-range strategic goals." The company added that it considered Raymond's compensation package "appropriately positioned."

In a study published in October 2005, three accounting professors reported that negative, even occasionally scathing press coverage, "does not substantively change corporate behaviour with regard to pay packages." The American establishment is all but impervious to the sentiments of the broad masses of the population. In response to a recent report detailing the immense and growing social gap, a spokesman for New York state's Business Council told a reporter that the incomes earned by his state's rich were "something that everybody who cares about New York should be pleased about."

An insulated world of immense wealth exists as never before, at least in modern US history. The number of Americans with assets of $1 million or more reached 7.5 million in 2004, according to a survey conducted by the Spectrem Group. Beyond that, however, are those who possess "Ultra High Net Worth" (a mellifluous term invented by Merrill Lynch circa 2001): individuals in households with $5 million or more in net worth. In a country of 300 million people, the UHNW form a very small percentage of the population, but a not insignificant number in absolute terms. Economic, political and cultural life in America is to an enormous extent organized for their benefit.

This is not simply obscene or unjust, it is socially irrational and immensely destructive. How is it possible to allocate resources, repair and renew the infrastructure, carry out any type of long-term economic planning, cure any social ills, when the official guiding principle is the ability of an oligarchic elite to accumulate ever-greater personal wealth? The gravitational pull of such wealth asserts itself in every aspect of life.

...So we learn that Microsoft's Paul Allen owns a $250-million, 414-foot "gigayacht," with seven decks, two helicopter landing pads, a swimming pool, a basketball court, an infirmary, a garage for Land Rovers, a movie theater, a concert space for 260 and a recording studio. Not to be outdone, Larry Ellison of software giant Oracle had his giant yacht built 452 feet long. Ellison's vessel has five stories, 82 rooms, "a wine cellar the size of most beach bungalows, a dozen yacht-length tenders, and a generator capable of providing enough electricity for a small town in Idaho or Maine... Final cost: $377 million." (Associated Press)

The wealthy elite are also purchasing their own widebody airplanes, reports Business Week - Airbus A340s and Boeing 777s, which list for over $100 million - as "airborne penthouses." Customized outfitting may add $25 to $30 million to the cost.

The "supercar" business is also thriving. Ocean Drive, one of the new magazines aimed at the affluent, carries a piece on Michael Fux, whose Sleep Innovations manufactures Memory Foam products. Fux has collected some 50 luxury cars. He recently took possession of a $2 million Ferrari FXX, one of only 20 in the world.

USA Today, in a piece describing the new "super-rich supercar fanatics" who collect Ferraris and Maseratis and Bugattis, cites the comments of one auto broker in southern California, "There's a whole new breed of collector that has emerged in the last three-four years. Almost all make the kind of money you cannot comprehend."

Yet great unease persists in these circles. A yacht broker told Associated Press that "a sea change in attitude among America's superrich" has taken place in the wake of September 11. "Clients are telling me, 'Hey, I could have been in the Twin Towers. That could have been me jumping out a window.' The thinking among wealthy people now is, you can die anytime. Nobody can protect you. So you might as well spend your money now and enjoy it."

...The term "conspicuous consumption," coined by Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), hardly does justice to the current situation. There is a considerable element of recklessness, even desperation, in the obsessive spending. Throwing money to the wind hardly speaks to a sense of historic optimism or confidence among the elite in its own future or the general health of the American social order.

At the height of US global economic hegemony, in the 1950s, corporate directors were expected to lead rather sedate lives, modestly tending to the nation's economy. Of course they lined their pockets, but they were not expected to live like pharaohs.

In 1957, Fortune magazine reported that some 250 or so individuals in the US were worth $50 million or more. The wealthiest of them, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, stood all alone in the $700 million to $1 billion category. The equivalent of $50 million today - some $350 million - would not place an individual anywhere near the richest 400 people in the US, according to Forbes's 2005 list (which begins at $900 million). Getty would find himself somewhere between 31st and 42nd on the list.

The roll call of the wealthiest Americans a half-century ago included famous names - Rockefeller, Harriman, Mellon, duPont, Astor, Whitney and Ford, along with a quartet associated with General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., Charles F. Kettering, John L. Pratt and Charles S. Mott. These were all ruthless capitalists, but their fortunes were based, directly or indirectly, on the growth of the productive forces.

Today, the list of the super-rich reveals an extraordinary growth of parasitism. One indication is Forbes'listing of the "400," which includes an extraordinary number of people whose wealth, according to the publication, is derived from "Investments," "Hedge Funds," "Leveraged buyouts," "Real estate," "Fashion," etc. The "captains of industry" of old are few and far between.

If trends continue there will be only owners and the owned.  How does it feel to be a comfortable wage slave in the United States? Julian Edney shows how a small but significant number of pathological people in key positions in the workplace can sap the energy and creativity of the normal majority:

Slaves to Debt: Can Our Economy Run Without Fear?

By Julian Edney
April 22 / 23, 2006

A survey question that is becoming increasingly popular asks people if they like their jobs. Depending on which survey you read, somewhere between 40% and 50% of American workers say they don't like their work (1,2).

What is it exactly people don't like at work? We get a clue from the survey that asked what people liked best about their jobs (3). The one aspect respondents liked was not being there. Funny perhaps, but apparently it is something to be found at the job site that makes work so bad. We find out from other sources (4,5) that it's the people.

Fear comes in varieties. Humans can experience a whole botany of these feelings, varying from flicks of worry to cross-eyed terror, but stresses on the job are now so serious, according to a New York Times report by John Schwartz titled "Sick Of Work," that 53% of people keep going back to the job, that "echo chamber of angst," despite feeling overwhelmed (6). We do it so regularly that eight hours of loathing is an everyday routine. CNN now offers how-to-cope tips for workers who hate their jobs in the same dandy, colorful format as the weather and entertainment (7).

Fear on the job? Of course there are other difficulties, the eyestrain, the hurried meals when meeting deadlines. But frequent descriptions of supervisors and coworkers at some job sites are frightful, in fact they sometimes sound like a tribe of mutants. In her book Red Ink Behaviors, Jean Hollands gives illustrations. The Intimidator (loud, domineering, abusive, throws tantrums), the Stressor (spills her chronic frustration over coworkers in sarcasm and unending interruptions), the Micromanager (requires written reports at every turn) the Withholder (has data necessary for operations which she will not share), the Inconsistent (high drama, unpredictable hysteric, lapses into stream-of-consciousness communications) and the brilliant but hostile Techno-specialist (8).

These personalities can be extremely judgmental and may turn rabid when confronted, sending waves of anxiety across the office. Ranting supervisors and other rageaholics are so frequently listed that "the office bully" is now a cliché (9,10). This is what many workers fear, and they begin to sprout everyday symptoms: chronic fatigue, suspiciousness, depression (11). These bullies are devastating to company morale. (We may try the nice middle-class term, anxiety. But anxiety is fear about the future.) Cubicle workers patch their emotions together to get through the day.

In their book Driving Fear Out of the Workplace, Ryan and Oestreich further explain this is difficult to change because the perpetrators are often hard-to-replace specialists. They are often extremely competitive personalities, interpreting every successful intimidation as a personal win (12).

So why do workers go back?

The simple answer is, we owe.

It turns out that the average American is also about $8,500 in debt (aside from mortgage--mostly on credit cards), and if payments are late, interest charges up to 30% are common, but many states have no usury laws, so credit card companies can charge what the market will bear. A debt can grow by leaps. Bankruptcy laws have recently been changed, so now there is little or no escape; lenders can pursue debtors for life. Many credit card holders get on a financial treadmill that requires them to make ever larger monthly payments to keep themselves solvent. Eventually we are up to our nostrils in obligation.

If you fall behind on your debt payments, you'll meet another bully, the debt collector. From distant phones which nobody can trace, these unblinking intimidators wait until you get home and then call you persistently to make sure you never forget about the money you owe. Legally or illegally, they threaten criminal charges, garnishment, property confiscation, or revealing your purchases to your boss and relatives (13). About half of Americans say they worry about debt, and 2 in 10 say they worry about debt most or all of the time (14).

Debt payments are a scourge.

Back at work, the manager understands. In 1960 Douglas McGregor wrote a book The Human Side of Enterprise detailing two different management styles. The more common (especially in bigger companies) he dubbed "Theory X," a theory managers carry around in their heads: that humans inherently dislike work, and they have to be threatened and coerced. These managers openly use a hard, punishing style to get people to produce; they also believe people like being controlled. (Theory Y bosses are convinced people are naturally happy and creative, and that job satisfaction is a motivator)(15). Theory X supervisors are very common. They can induce saturnine hopelessness in the easiest of jobs.

From intimidation at work, to debt fears at home, and back again. People bear these fears in an ancient silence born of shame, believing they are failures in a system which otherwise seems free and open because everybody else on TV looks like they're having a good time.

Some Americans are making good money on the job, but at the other end, according to a Pew Survey, roughly 20% of people say they have insufficient funds to buy needed clothing and food (16). Many people are worried about losing their jobs (60% see a job scarcity, with so many jobs going overseas (17)).

So we can add to the catalog of fears another type, the fear of consequences. "What would happen if?" I'm guessing most people in debt have let their minds stray over the changes of scenery that would ensue if they lost their jobs, lost their credit, lost the car, wound up in court, lost the house, etc. - all the more possible if they have divorce stresses, support payments, large medical costs, or are in a legal suit.

The manager understands. Which is why he can act with impunity.

If the stress is temporary, we may feel temporarily ill, but people who bear this for years develop other signs: a few drinks each lunch, the inaudible voice of the seriously depressed, the trembling hands. The effects of stressful events add up. Later, the praying on the way to work, the paranoia, road rage, alcoholism, the sobbing in the toilets, and domestic violence. An astonishing 30 million Americans are now swallowing prescription antidepressants. The same New York Times report says "Workplace stress costs the nation $300 billion each year in health care, missed work, and the stress reduction industry that has grown up to soothe workers and keep production high"(18).

Most of us work because we have no other choice (19). It is economic coercion. The less money you have the less liberty you have. Millions of people lead torn up lives in which pursuit of a personal ideal, or dream, or self-actualization, is a grim joke. Instead, as Studs Terkel reported after interviewing hundreds of people for his book Working, "To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us"(20).

But few writers have stopped to make the broader point, that this large proportion of the population living in degrees of coercion and fear is incompatible with enlightened democracy. Barbara Ehrenreich did, in her book Nickle and Dimed: "We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship"(21).

Despite the staggering losses in production revenues and the emotional and medical costs, it doesn't look as if all this is going to change soon. Rather than taking the steps to change these toxic personalities, we rationalize. We lurch forward another year under the banner, business is business.

It is fear. If workers had no fear of the consequences, they would not work.

Could our economy run without fear? It is a practical question. What if all people living in this quiet desperation stopped working? True, our economy is not entirely composed of fear, indeed it is not entirely composed of workers. But if you removed fear of consequences, we don't need calculators to figure that the system would come to a collapsing halt.
There is a powerful resistance to change. From the point of view of employers, of course, fear is useful. It is a goad. It keeps workers pulling at the oars.

The science of economics will not truck with this, of course. Fear is not a rational factor. They call it an "externality," because it will not fit into their dry formulas.

Perhaps we can try this image. We have been talking about 40% to 50% of the population, so perhaps the economy floats on fear like a boat half in, half out of the water. Technically the water is 'external' to it. Then, like a boat, the economy doesn't need fear to exist; but it works much better with it.

Julian Edney is the author of Greed: a Treatise in Two Essays. Born in Uganda, he now teaches college in southern California and can be contacted through his website.

1. Many employees dislike their job and employers. (2005, May 17). Wall Street Journal.com This is a report and summary of a Harris Poll.
2. Only half of Americans like their jobs. (2002, August 21) FoxNews: Reuters report of survey conducted by the Conference Board.
3. Ibid
4. Ryan, K and Oestreich, D. Driving fear out of the workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998.
5. Hollands, J.A. Red ink behaviors: Measuring the surprisingly high cost of problem behaviors in valuable employees. Mountain View, CA: Blake/Madsen Publishers, 1997.
6. Schwartz, J. Sick of work.(2004, September 5). New York Times, Health section. A series of three articles about the enormous costs of stress at work.
7. Lorenz, K. Hate your job? 10 ways to cope. (2005, July 15). CNN.com.
8. Hollands, Ibid.
9. Workplace stress self assessment.(2006, April 11). MayoClinic.com
10. Getting along with your co-workers. (2004 September 17). CNN.com.
11. Neils, H. 13 signs of burnout and how to help you avoid it. (Undated). Assessment.com.
12. Ryan, K and Oestreich, D. Ibid.
13. Lazaroni, l. Debt collector horror stories. (20054, September 20) Bankrate.com.
14. Lester, W. Half of Americans worry about debts. (Undated). AP report on AP-Ipsos poll.
15. McGregor, D. The human side of enterprise. (1960/2005) New York: McGraw-Hill.
16. Economic concerns fueled by many woes.(2005, June 1). Pew Research Center survey reports on economy-related sources of worry for Americans.
17. Ibid
18 Schwartz, J. Ibid.
19. Curry, A. Why we work. ( 2004, February 3) US News and World Report.com.
20. Terkel, S. Working. New York: The New Press, 1972.
21. Ehrenreich, B. Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Author: Julian Edney teaches college. His recent book Greed: A Treatise in Two Essays picks up these arguments in 'Greed II'. He can be contacted through his website.

What Edney has described is the result of a process of ponerization, a term coined by Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology.  Edney in fact succumbs to the hopelessness engendered by ponerization (the careful takeover of organizations by psychopaths who can cooperate with each other) by failing to conceive of an economy of confident creativity.  The economy we have now may need fear, but we can imagine one that doesn't.

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Editorial: Helping George

Artie Shaw & Tom Hat

Helping George Comic Book

A group of George's Texas cronies decide to help out their friend....

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Editorial: Who's the dog? Who's the tail?

by Uri Avnery
Saturday April 22 2006

"The findings of the two professors are right to the last detail. Every Senator and Congressman knows that criticizing the Israeli government is political suicide. Two of them, a Senator and a Congressman, tried - and were politically executed. The Jewish lobby was fully mobilized against them and hounded them out of office. This was done openly, to set a public example. If the Israeli government wanted a law tomorrow annulling the Ten Commandments, 95 Senators (at least) would sign the bill forthwith."

I don't usually tell these stories, because they might give rise to the suspicion that I am paranoid.

For example: 27 years ago, I was invited to give a lecture-tour in 30 American universities, including all the most prestigious ones - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Berkeley and so on. My host was the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a respected non-Jewish organization, but the lectures themselves were to be held under the auspices of the Jewish Bet-Hillel chaplains.

On arrival at the airport in New York I was met by one of the organizers. "There is a slight hitch," he told me, "29 of the Rabbis have cancelled your lecture."

In the end, all the lectures did take place, under the auspices of Christian chaplains. When we came to the lone Rabbi who had not cancelled my lecture, he told me the secret: the lectures had been forbidden in a confidential letter from the Anti-Defamation League, the thought-police of the Jewish establishment. The salient phrase has stuck to my memory: "While it cannot be said that Member of the Knesset Avnery is a traitor, yet..."

And another story from real life: a year later I went to Washington DC in order to "sell" the Two-State solution, which at the time was considered an outlandish, not to say crazy, idea. In the course of the visit, the Quakers were so kind as to arrange a press conference for me.

When I arrived, I was amazed. The hall was crammed full, practically all the important American media were represented. Many had come straight from a press conference held by Golda Meir, who was also in town. The event was to last an hour, as is usual, but the journalists did not let go. They bombarded me with questions for another two hours. Clearly, what I had to say was quite new to them and they were interested.

I was curious how this would be reported in the media. And indeed, the reaction was stunning: not a word appeared in any of the newspapers, on radio or TV. Not one single word.

By the way, three years ago I again held a press conference, this time on Capitol Hill in Washington. It was an exact replica of the last time: the crowd of reporters, their obvious interest, the continuation of the conference well beyond the appointed time - and not a single word in the media.

I could tell some more stories like these, but the point is made. I recount them only in connection with the scandal recently caused by two American professors, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. They published a research paper on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United States.

In 80 pages, 40 of them footnotes and sources, the two show how the pro-Israel lobby exercises unbridled power in the US capital, how it terrorizes the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, how the White House dances to its tune (if indeed a house can dance), how the important media obey its orders and how the universities, too, live in fear of it.

The paper caused a storm. And I don't mean the predictable wild attacks by the "friends of Israel" - which means almost all politicians, journalists and professors. These pelted the authors with all the usual accusations: that they were anti-Semites, that they were resurrecting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and so forth. There was something paradoxical in these attacks, since they only illustrated the authors' case.

But the debate that fascinates me is of a different nature. It broke out between senior intellectuals, from the legendary Noam Chomsky, the guru of the Left throughout the world (including Israel), to progressive websites everywhere. The bone of contention: the conclusion of the paper that the Jewish-Israeli lobby dominates US foreign policy and subjugates it to Israeli interests - in glaring contradiction to the national interest of the US itself. A case in point: the American assault on Iraq.

Chomsky and others rose up against this assertion. They do not deny the factual findings of the two professors, but object to their conclusions. In their view, it is not the Israel lobby that directs American policy, but the interests of the big corporations that dominate the American empire and exploit Israel for their own selfish aims.

Simply put: does the dog wag its tail, or does the tail wag its dog?

I am nervous about sticking my head into a debate between such illustrious intellectuals, but I feel obliged to express my view nevertheless.

I'll start with the Jew, who went to the Rabbi and complained about his neighbor. "You are right'" the Rabbi declared. Then came the neighbor and denounced the complainant. "You are right'" the Rabbi announced. "But how can that be," exclaimed the Rabbi's wife, "Only one of the two can be right!" "You are right, too," the Rabbi said.

I find myself in a similar situation. I think that both sides are right (and hope to be right, myself, too).

The findings of the two professors are right to the last detail. Every Senator and Congressman knows that criticizing the Israeli government is political suicide. Two of them, a Senator and a Congressman, tried - and were politically executed. The Jewish lobby was fully mobilized against them and hounded them out of office. This was done openly, to set a public example. If the Israeli government wanted a law tomorrow annulling the Ten Commandments, 95 Senators (at least) would sign the bill forthwith.

President Bush, for example, has withdrawn from all the established American positions regarding our conflict. He accepts automatically the positions of our government, be they as they may. Almost all the American media are closed to Palestinians and Israeli peace activists. As to professors - almost all of them know which side of their bread is peanut-buttered. If, in spite of that, somebody dares to open their mouth against the Israeli policy - as happens once every few years - they are smothered under a volley of denunciations: anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, neo-Nazi.

By the way, American guests in Israel, who know that at home it is forbidden to mention the influence of the Jewish-Israeli lobby, are dumbfounded to see that here the lobby does not hide its power in Washington but openly boasts of it.

The question, therefore, is not whether the two professors are right in their findings. The question is what conclusions can be drawn from them.

Let's take the Iraq affair. Who is the dog? Who the tail?

The Israeli government prayed for this attack, which has eliminated the strategic threat posed by Iraq. America was pushed into the war by a group of Neo-Conservatives, almost all of them Jews, who had a huge influence on the White House. In the past, some of them had acted as advisers to Binyamin Netanyahu.

On the face of it, a clear case. The pro-Israeli lobby pushed for the war, Israel is its main beneficiary. If the war ends in a disaster for America, Israel will undoubtedly be blamed.

Really? What about the American aim of getting their hands on the main oil reserves of the world, in order to dominate the world economy? What about the aim of placing an American garrison in the center of the main oil-producing area, on top of the Iraqi oil, between the oil of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Caspian Sea? What about the immense influence of the big oil companies on the Bush family? What about the big multinational corporations, whose outstanding representative is Dick Cheney, that hoped to make hundreds of billions from the "reconstruction of Iraq"?

The lesson of the Iraq affair is that the American-Israeli connection is strongest when it seems that American interests and Israeli Interests are one (irrespective of whether that is really the case in the long run). The US uses Israel to dominate the Middle East, Israel uses the US to dominate Palestine.

But if something exceptional happens, such as the Jonathan Pollard espionage affair or the sale of an Israeli spy plane to China, and a gap opens between the interests of the two sides, America is quite capable of slapping Israel in the face.

American-Israeli relations are indeed unique. It seems that they have no precedent in history. It is as if King Herod had given orders to Augustus Caesar and appointed the members of the Roman senate.

I don't think that this phenomenon can be wholly explained by economic interests. Even the most orthodox Marxist must recognize that it also has a spiritual dimension. It is no accident that American (as well as British) fundamentalist Christians invented the Zionist idea well before Theodor Herzl hit upon it. The evangelical lobby is no less important in today's Washington than the Zionist one. According to its ideology, the Jews must take possession of all the Holy Land in order to make the Second Coming of Christ possible (and then - the part they don't shout about - some Jews will become Christians and the rest will be annihilated at Armaggedon, today's Meggido in Northern Israel).

At the basis of the phenomenon lies the uncanny similarity between the two national-religious stories, the American myth and the Israeli. In both, pioneers persecuted for their religion reached the shores of the Promised Land. They were forced to defend themselves against the "savage" natives, who were out to destroy them. They redeemed the land, made the desert bloom, created, with God's help, a flourishing, democratic and moral society.

Both societies live in a state of denial and unconscious guilt feelings - over there because of the genocide committed against the Native Americans and the horrifying slavery of the blacks, here because of the uprooting of half the Palestinian people and the oppression of the other half. Both here and there, people believe in an eternal war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.

Anyhow, The American-Israeli symbiosis is unique and far too complex a phenomenon to be described as a simple conspiracy. I am sure that the two professors did not mean to do so.

The dog wags the tail and the tail wags the dog. They wag each other.
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A Really Bad Idea

A Silly Pretext

Democracy and Socialism

No Arab or Islamic country armed even with the smallest of atomic bombs will be ready to hit Israel. And that, is because Israel is a small country interwoven and surrounded by Palestinian and Arab nations.

The explosion of an atomic bomb will kill the Palestinians and Arabs too. The radio-active fallout will reach the entire Middle-East including Iran itself.
Thus the brawl surrounding the danger of the atomic Iran against Israel is silly and is only a pretext to attack that country, similar to the lies about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq before colonizing it.

Iran is an oil and gas rich giant that connects the Caspian Sea oil and gas resources to the huge Persian Gulf petroleum fields.

The most rabid think-tanks of the US imperialism insist that who ever controls this area will retain its supremacy over other imperialists or future emerging powers.

That is why before boiling so much ado about Iran, the US Government planned to attack this country even before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

According to an article by William Arkin - a former US intelligence analyst -which was published in the Washington Post, on April 16th, 2006, there was a plan named TIRANNT, an acronym for "Theatre Iran Near Term".

In September 2000, one year before the 9-11, a document written by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) , a think-tank staffed by some of the Bush Presidency leading figures, said: America needed a blueprint for maintaining US global pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power-rival, and shaping the international security order, in line with American principles and interests - namely the big companies and not the people's interests.

The same idea was headlined by the Wall Street Journal, just before the start of the war on Iraq, as "President's Dream: Changing Not Just Regime But A Region, A Pro-US, Democratic Area Is A Goal That Has Israeli And Neo-Conservative Roots." (March 21st, 2003).

In other words, the region must be divided into small protectorate states, hostile to each other, policed by atomic holder Israel, ready to be exploited to the end.

But the events in Iraq turned otherwise. People do not want to be enslaved!

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Eminent physicists warn US against nuclear option

NewScientist.com news service
21 April 2006

Call it a pre-emptive strike. Thirteen high-profile physicists, including five Nobel laureates, have written to President Bush warning him not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

To do so would threaten life on this planet says Jorge Hirsch, a solid-state physicist at the University of California, San Diego, and lead author of the letter. "Once the US uses a nuclear weapon again, it will heighten the probability that others will too," he writes.

The letter was prompted by reports earlier this month that the Bush administration had not ruled out using tactical nuclear weapons against nuclear facilities in Iran. "As members of the profession that brought nuclear weapons into existence, we urge you to refrain from such an action," say the physicists.
From issue 2548 of New Scientist magazine, 21 April 2006, page 7

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Been there, done that: Talk of a U.S. strike on Iran is eerily reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq war

By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security advisor to President Carter from 1977 to 1981.
April 23, 2006

IRAN'S ANNOUNCEMENT that it has enriched a minute amount of uranium has unleashed urgent calls for a preventive U.S. airstrike from the same sources that earlier urged war on Iraq. If there is another terrorist attack in the United States, you can bet your bottom dollar that there also will be immediate charges that Iran was responsible in order to generate public hysteria in favor of military action.
But there are four compelling reasons against a preventive air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities:

First, in the absence of an imminent threat (and the Iranians are at least several years away from having a nuclear arsenal), the attack would be a unilateral act of war. If undertaken without a formal congressional declaration of war, an attack would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the president. Similarly, if undertaken without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, either alone by the United States or in complicity with Israel, it would stamp the perpetrator(s) as an international outlaw(s).

Second, likely Iranian reactions would significantly compound ongoing U.S. difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps precipitate new violence by Hezbollah in Lebanon and possibly elsewhere, and in all probability bog down the United States in regional violence for a decade or more. Iran is a country of about 70 million people, and a conflict with it would make the misadventure in Iraq look trivial.

Third, oil prices would climb steeply, especially if the Iranians were to cut their production or seek to disrupt the flow of oil from the nearby Saudi oil fields. The world economy would be severely affected, and the United States would be blamed for it. Note that oil prices have already shot above $70 per barrel, in part because of fears of a U.S.-Iran clash.

Finally, the United States, in the wake of the attack, would become an even more likely target of terrorism while reinforcing global suspicions that U.S. support for Israel is in itself a major cause of the rise of Islamic terrorism. The United States would become more isolated and thus more vulnerable while prospects for an eventual regional accommodation between Israel and its neighbors would be ever more remote.

In short, an attack on Iran would be an act of political folly, setting in motion a progressive upheaval in world affairs. With the U.S. increasingly the object of widespread hostility, the era of American preponderance could even come to a premature end. Although the United States is clearly dominant in the world at the moment, it has neither the power nor the domestic inclination to impose and then to sustain its will in the face of protracted and costly resistance. That certainly is the lesson taught by its experiences in Vietnam and Iraq.

Even if the United States is not planning an imminent military strike on Iran, persistent hints by official spokesmen that "the military option is on the table" impede the kind of negotiations that could make that option unnecessary. Such threats are likely to unite Iranian nationalists and Shiite fundamentalists because most Iranians are proud of their nuclear program.

Military threats also reinforce growing international suspicions that the U.S. might be deliberately encouraging greater Iranian intransigence. Sadly, one has to wonder whether, in fact, such suspicions may not be partly justified. How else to explain the current U.S. "negotiating" stance: refusing to participate in the ongoing negotiations with Iran and insisting on dealing only through proxies. (That stands in sharp contrast with the simultaneous U.S. negotiations with North Korea.)

The U.S. is already allocating funds for the destabilization of the Iranian regime and reportedly sending Special Forces teams into Iran to stir up non-Iranian ethnic minorities in order to fragment the Iranian state (in the name of democratization!). And there are clearly people in the Bush administration who do not wish for any negotiated solution, abetted by outside drum-beaters for military action and egged on by full-page ads hyping the Iranian threat.

There is unintended irony in a situation in which the outrageous language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (whose powers are much more limited than his title implies) helps to justify threats by administration figures, which in turn help Ahmadinejad to exploit his intransigence further, gaining more fervent domestic support for himself as well as for the Iranian nuclear program.

It is therefore high time for the administration to sober up and think strategically, with a historic perspective and the U.S.

national interest primarily in mind. It's time to cool the rhetoric. The United States should not be guided by emotions or a sense of a religiously inspired mission. Nor should it lose sight of the fact that deterrence has worked in U.S.-Soviet relations, in U.S.-Chinese relations and in Indo-Pakistani relations.

Moreover, the notion floated by some who favor military action that Tehran might someday just hand over the bomb to some terrorist conveniently ignores the fact that doing so would be tantamount to suicide for all of Iran because it would be a prime suspect, and nuclear forensics would make it difficult to disguise the point of origin.

It is true, however, that an eventual Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would heighten tensions in the region and perhaps prompt imitation by such countries as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Israel, despite its large nuclear arsenal, would feel less secure. Preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons is, therefore, justified, but in seeking that goal, the U.S. must bear in mind longer-run prospects for Iran's political and social development.

Iran has the objective preconditions in terms of education, the place of women in social affairs, and in social aspirations (especially of the youth) to emulate in the foreseeable future the evolution of Turkey. The mullahs are Iran's past, not its future; it is not in our interest to engage in acts that help to reverse that sequence.

Serious negotiations require not only a patient engagement but also a constructive atmosphere. Artificial deadlines, propounded most often by those who do not wish the U.S. to negotiate in earnest, are counterproductive. Name-calling and saber rattling, as well as a refusal to even consider the other side's security concerns, can be useful tactics only if the goal is to derail the negotiating process.

The United States should join Britain, France and Germany, as well as perhaps Russia and China (both veto-casting U.N. Security Council members), in direct negotiations with Iran, using the model of the concurrent multilateral talks with North Korea. As it does with North Korea, the U.S. also should simultaneously engage in bilateral talks with Iran about security and financial issues of mutual concern.

It follows that the U.S. should be a signatory party to any quid pro quo arrangements in the event of a satisfactory resolution of the Iranian nuclear program and of regional security issues. At some point, such talks could lead to a regional agreement for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East - especially after the conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement - endorsed also by all the Arab states of the region. At this stage, however, it would be premature to inject that complicated issue into the negotiating process with Iran.

For now, our choice is either to be stampeded into a reckless adventure profoundly damaging to long-term U.S. national interests or to become serious about giving negotiations with Iran a genuine chance. The mullahs were on the skids several years ago but were given a new burst of life by the intensifying confrontation with the United States. Our strategic goal, pursued by real negotiations and not by posturing, should be to separate Iranian nationalism from religious fundamentalism.

Treating Iran with respect and within a historical perspective would help to advance that objective. American policy should not be swayed by the current contrived atmosphere of urgency ominously reminiscent of what preceded the misguided intervention in Iraq.

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Russian split with US on Iran widens

Afp, Moscow

Anxious to be treated as a major world power, Russia now faces a stark cost-benefit dilemma as it weighs consequences of a widening split with the United States over how to confront Iran's nuclear ambition, analysts say.

The United States raised the ante last week, signalling that it intends to exact a price if Russia persists in its refusal to jump aboard an accelerating US diplomatic bandwagon for quick and tough international steps to isolate Iran.

A top US diplomat, Nicholas Burns, emerged from talks here on Iran with Russia and other UN Security Council powers -- talks in which Russia did not budge in opposing US calls for Iran sanctions -- demanding that Moscow drop lucrative nuclear energy and weapons contracts with Tehran.

To hammer the point home, Burns also said the United States now wanted to see "problems" in ex-Soviet republics on the agenda of the Group of Eight (G8) powerful states -- highly sensitive issues for Russia with the potential to seriously tarnish its first-ever G8 chairmanship this year.
And despite backing membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for Russia's ex-Soviet neighbours and China, the United States continues to withhold its critical support for Russia to join that body, a long-cherished objective of President Vladimir Putin.

Putin accused Washington of changing the WTO rules late in the game, and many observers say all of these issues have some linkage to Kremlin policy on Iran in particular and its newly-assertive foreign policy in general.

"US pressure on Russia is growing," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, analyst with the Moscow-based Panorama policy think tank.

Publicly, Russia has put a proud face on its rejection of US demands, vowing to continue helping Iran build a nuclear power plant, to sell Iran an air defence system as planned and saying it will not even discuss sanctions without proof of US allegations that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

But behind the Kremlin walls, Putin and aides face a quandary over how far -- and how concretely -- to take their tactical opposition to the United States on Iran, knowing that setbacks in the G8, WTO and other forums could have long-term negative economic consequences for Russia, say experts.

Their tactics will be tested further starting later this week when the head of the UN nuclear watchdog delivers a report to the Security Council on Iran's nuclear programme, a report expected to be followed quickly by an intensified US push for strong international steps to isolate Tehran.

The United States accuses Iran of hiding a nuclear weapons programme behind its atomic energy drive, a charge Tehran denies, that Russia says is worrisome but unproven and that no one expects to be proven conclusively in the report from the UN nuclear agency to be delivered Friday.

"Russia has veto power at the UN Security Council and it will have to decide if it is prepared to use it to block strong action now against Iran" as sought by Washington, Pribylovski said.

"If there is a UN vote on something that would open the way to military action against Iran then Russia will definitely veto it. If there is a vote on sanctions against Iran, Russia may well veto this too," he said.

The rising stakes in the diplomatic tension between Washington and Moscow over how to deal with Iran were highlighted by the British economic weekly The Economist, which said in its latest issue that as US attention to Iran grows so too do the implications of Russian opposition to Washington.

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Bin Laden's Back!

Bin Laden Says U.S. Waging War on Islam

Associated Press
Mon Apr 24, 2:44 AM ET

CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden issued new threats in an audiotape broadcast on Arab television Sunday and accused the United States and Europe of supporting a "Zionist" war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

He also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

His words, the first new message by the al-Qaida leader in three months, seemed designed to justify potential attacks on civilians - something al-Qaida has been criticized for even by its Arab supporters.
He also appeared to be trying to drum up support among Arabs by accusing the West of targeting Hamas, a militant group that fights against Israel and now heads the Palestinian government.

Citing the West's decision to cut off aid to the Hamas-led government because it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, bin Laden said Washington and Europe were waging war on Islam.

"The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist, crusaders' war on Islam," bin Laden said. [...]

Al-Qaida is not believed to have direct links to Hamas, which is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quick to distance the group from bin Laden, declaring that "the ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheik bin Laden."

The groups do, however, share an anti-Israel ideology that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. And recent reports in Middle East media have said al-Qaida is trying to build cells in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon and Sudan. Israel has indicted two West Bank militants for al-Qaida membership.

Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said it appeared bin Laden decided to issue the verbal assault to deflect growing Arab animosity toward al-Qaida.

That criticism peaked in December when the leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq group, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the bombings of Jordan hotels that killed many Arabs.

"This is something the Arab world can agree upon," Gissin said.

Bin Laden "has been criticized for the destruction and carnage he's causing the Muslim nation. He's looking for another justification," Gissin said. "Criticizing Israel sounds more politically correct."

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad - a former ambassador to Afghanistan - said the tape was another attempt by bin Laden to gain attention for his cause.

"He wants to be relevant to the situation, wants to get attention that he still is a player," Khalilzad said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The voice on the tape sounded strong and resembled that on other recordings attributed to bin Laden, but its authenticity could not be verified independently.

Al-Jazeera television appeared to have had the tape long enough to make significant edits, with its news reader providing background comments. The network broadcast about five minutes of the tape in all.

Bin Laden's remarks touched on the full range of issues that anger militant Arabs and other Muslims. Many of them see a renewal of a Christian- and Jewish-inspired Western "crusade" to dominate the Islamic world and to confiscate Muslim lands and resources - particularly oil.

Bob Ayers, a security expert with the Chatham House think tank in London, said the tape may be bin Laden's way of playing cat-and-mouse with those hunting him.

"It's when people have kind of forgotten about him, when he's not been on the news, that the tapes emerge," Ayers said. "It's kind of his way of thumbing his nose at the U.S. and saying, 'Hey, I'm still out here, and you haven't caught me and you can't.' That's what he's saying."

Comment: The other possibility is that the tapes are released at just the right moment to drum up support for Bush's war on terror. Time and again, Bush and the gang have clearly benefitted far more from these tapes than has Bin Laden.

Concerning Sudan, bin Laden called on "mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for long war again the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan. Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people."

"I urge holy warriors to be acquainted with the land and the tribes in Darfur," he said, adding they should be aware that the rainy season approaches and that will hamper their movement.

Al-Qaida has targeted Western forces in Africa before - including its attacks against U.S. troops trying to bring peace to Somalia in 1993.

The fighting in Darfur began when rebels from black African tribes took up arms in February 2003, complaining of discrimination and oppression by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

The government has been accused of unleashing Arab tribal militia known as the Janjaweed against civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson - a charge it denies. At least 180,000 people have died - many from hunger and disease - and 2 million people have been displaced in the vast, arid region of western Sudan and as refugees in neighboring Chad.

The United Nations has described the conflict as the world's gravest humanitarian crisis. The United States has described it as genocide.

Negotiators are trying to broker a peace deal between warring factions by an April 30 deadline. Members of the African Union have agreed in principle to hand over peacekeeping duties to the United Nations this fall.

The Saudi-born bin Laden set up headquarters in Sudan after he was forced to leave his homeland, but Khartoum expelled him under threats from the United States. He moved to Afghanistan, where he trained fighters and organized the Sept. 11 attacks.

He is believed hiding in the rugged mountains on the Pakistani side of that country's long border with Afghanistan.

In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials said bin Laden was living separately from top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and, in a sign he has to be careful about whom he trusts, surrounded by fellow Arabs.

The al-Qaida chieftain, who last issued a message broadcast by Al-Jazeera on Jan. 19, also made a point of trying to justify attacks on civilians. He said citizens of Western countries were equally responsible with their governments for what he termed the "war on Islam."

"I say that this war is the joint responsibility of the people and the governments. While the war continues, the people renew their allegiance to their rulers and politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us," bin Laden said.

Comment: In other words, get ready for more false flag attacks in Western nations if things don't go the pathocrats' way...

In his last message, bin Laden offered the United States a long-term truce but warned that al-Qaida soon would launch a fresh attack on American soil. But no new attacks on the United States have occurred.

In the Sunday broadcast, bin Laden called for a global Muslim boycott of American goods similar to the recent ban on Danish products after the publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that outraged the Muslim world.

The Al-Jazeera news reader said bin Laden, in a portion of the tape not aired by the Qatar-based broadcaster, also scoffed at Saudi King Abdullah for his calls for a "dialogue among civilizations" and blasted liberal Arab writers for participating in the Western cultural invasion of Muslim lands.

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Prophet cartoon offenders must be killed - bin Laden

April 24, 2006

DUBAI - Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has called for people who ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad to be killed, weighing into the furor that erupted after a Danish newspaper ran cartoons lampooning Islam's holy messenger.

"Heretics and atheists, who denigrate religion and transgress against God and His Prophet, will not stop their enmity toward Islam except by being killed," the Saudi-born militant said.
Bin Laden's remarks were part of an audio tape which Al Jazeera television aired excerpts from on Sunday. The television station later published a full transcript on its Web site.

The Doha-based satellite television channel had aired excerpts of the tape in which bin Laden accused the West of waging a "Crusader-Zionist" war against Islam, citing the isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region as examples.

Anger over the cartoons, which a Danish newspaper first published last year, outraged Muslims who consider drawings of the Prophet to be blasphemous.

The caricatures, which were reprinted in several Arab and European newspapers, sparked violent protests in which more than 50 people were killed. Consumers in Muslim countries have also boycotted Danish goods.

Denmark's government has refused to apologize for the cartoons, saying it cannot say sorry on behalf of a free and independent media and that freedom of speech is sacred.

"The insistence of the Danish government to refrain from apologizing and its refusal to punish the criminals and take action to prevent this crime from being repeated... shows that the notions of freedom of speech have no roots, especially when it comes to Muslims," bin Laden said in the tape.

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U.S. says bin Laden's tape genuine

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-24 10:16:00

WASHINGTON, April 23 (Xinhua) -- U.S. intelligence authorities have informed the White House that the audiotape attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was authentic, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Sunday.

"The al-Qaida leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure," McClellan said at a Marine base in Twentynine Palms, California, where Bush was having lunch with military families.

"We are on the advance. They are on the run," he said.
The remarks were made in response to bin Laden's new threats onan audiotape broadcast on the pan-Arab television al-Jazeera, in which he accused the United States and Europe of supporting a "Zionist" war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

In the tape, bin Laden also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed UN peacekeeping force.

It was the first message by the al-Qaida leader for three months. The voice on the tape sounded strong and resembled that onother recordings attributed to bin Laden.

Reports here said al-Jazeera appeared to have had the tape long enough to make significant edits, with its news reader providing background comments. The network broadcast about five minutes of the tape in all.

In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials said bin Laden was living separately from his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri.

The al-Qaida chieftain, who last issued a message broadcast by al-Jazeera on January 19, also made a point of trying to justify attacks on civilians.

He said citizens of Western countries were equally responsible with their governments for what he termed the "war on Islam."

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Tinfoil Hats Amplify Mind Control Signals (not a joke!)

15 April 06

TINFOIL hats may protect the brain from dangerous radio frequencies and mind-control rays. Or they may not, according to a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who tested three standard designs with equipment costing $250,000. They found the foil actually amplified some radio signals - especially those on frequencies used by the US government - by a factor of up to 100. In summing up, they say: "It requires no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC [Federal Communications Commission]. We hope this report will encourage the paranoid community to develop improved helmet designs to avoid falling prey to these shortcomings."
Of course the real problem with the classic tinfoil hat is that wearing one makes you look like a nut. Now Less EMF, a company in Albany, New York, allows you to play safe with more style. It makes a line of clothing woven from thread with a core of copper-silver wire that provides electromagnetic shielding (www.lessemf.com/personal.html).

With a baseball-style cap woven from the fabric, you can "provide your brain a quiet place without interference to your mental processes from RF radiation", the company's website says. At $29.95, it costs much more than a roll of aluminium foil, but wins hands down for style. For protection at work you can buy a shirt woven from metal-core thread for $89.95. If your budget is tight, Less EMF also offers shielded undergarments - best worn over standard cotton ones to keep the conductive fabric from touching your skin. A camisole is $38, boxer shorts and T-shirts are $64. And for a worry-free night's sleep, you can shield yourself and your bed with a $499.95 canopy woven from silver/nylon thread.

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Air Force One Subject of Internet Hoax

Associated Press
Sat Apr 22, 1:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON - A startling Internet video that shows someone spraying graffiti on President Bush's jet looked so authentic that the Air Force wasn't immediately certain whether the plane had been targeted.

It was all a hoax. No one actually sprayed the slogan "Still Free" on the cowling of Air Force One.

The pranksters responsible for the grainy, two-minute Web video - employed by a New York fashion company - revealed Friday how they pulled it off: a rented 747 in California painted to look almost exactly like Air Force One.
"I wanted to do something culturally significant, wanted to create a real pop-culture moment," said Marc Ecko of Marc Ecko Enterprises. "It's this completely irreverent, over-the-top thing that could really never happen: this five-dollar can of paint putting a pimple on this Goliath."

The video shows hooded graffiti artists climbing barbed-wire fences and sneaking past guards with dogs to approach the jumbo jet. They spray-paint a slogan associated with free expression.

After the video began circulating on the Web on Tuesday, the Air Force checked to see whether the plane had been vandalized.

"We're looking at it, too," said Lt. Col. Bruce Alexander, a spokesman for the Air Mobility Command's 89th Airlift Wing, which operates Air Force One. "It looks very real."

Alexander later confirmed that no such spray-painting had occurred.

Ecko acknowledged Friday that his company had rented a 747 cargo jet at San Bernardino's airport and covertly painted one side to look like Air Force One. Employees signed secrecy agreements and worked inside a giant hangar until the night the video was made. Ecko declined to say how much the stunt cost.

"It's not cheap," he said. "You have to be rich."

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Chimpanzees injure Canadian, kill African driver in Sierra Leone

Last Updated Sun, 23 Apr 2006 17:08:46 EDT
CBC News

A troop of chimpanzees seriously injured a Canadian and two Americans at a wildlife sanctuary in Sierra Leone on Sunday, while a local driver was killed.

Police did not identify the Canadian. Reuters said the man as well as the two Americans are believed to be employees of a construction company in Sierra Leone.
"The driver was killed on the spot while the three surviving victims, the Americans and the Canadian, sustained serious wounds," said Sgt. John Kamara of the Regent Police Post near the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is on the outskirts of Freetown, the capital of the West African nation.

The driver was employed by the reserve.

Police said the chimpanzees suddenly turned on the visitors to the sanctuary, biting and tearing at their clothes. Police did not know what precipitated the attack.

Paramilitary police and forest rangers searched the surrounding jungle to see whether they could capture the chimpanzees before they attacked local villagers or motorists.

The sanctuary was set up in 1995 to shelter abandoned chimpanzees. It houses nearly 70 apes living in a semi-wild environment.

They have access to fenced enclosures of rainforest as well as large cages where they spend the night.

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Advertiser Counts on Sheep to Pull Eyes Over the Wool

International Herald Tribune
April 24, 2006

The latest low-technology billboards along highways in the Netherlands are startling enough to prompt motorists to indulge in U-turns.

Or make that ewe-turns. These ads are walking, woolly flocks of bleating sheep. Early this month, Hotels.nl, a Dutch online reservations company, began displaying its corporate logo on royal blue waterproof blankets worn by sheep.

The company spends 1 euro, or about $1.23 a day, per sheep and sponsors about 144 sheep in flocks throughout the Netherlands. But commercially branded sheep roaming the bucolic meadows of the northern Netherlands have prompted a reaction.

On Saturday, the town of Skarsterlan began fining Hotels.nl 1,000 euros a day for putting branded blankets on sheep. Advertising on livestock violates the town's ban on advertising along the highways.
"My first reaction was a smile; it is very creative," said Bert Kuiper, the town's mayor. "My second reaction is that we have to stop this. If we start with sheep, then next it's the cows and horses."

Hotels.nl said that it would pay the fines, but that it planned to fight the ban in court. Since the advertising strategy started, sales by Hotels.nl have been up 15 percent, and so have visits to the company's Web site, said Miechel Nagel, chief executive of Hotels.nl, a four-year-old company based in Groningen. He plans to increase the number of sheep sporting the company's logo and is searching for locations where there are frequent traffic jams.

"As a company in modern times, you have to take some risks," Mr. Nagel said. "You cannot be everybody's friend. Let's say 25 percent are against this. But we can't have all the Dutch people as customers."

Hotels.nl did not originate the idea of sheep as billboards, but it was the first company here to use the technique. A Dutch horse breeder, André Groen, dreamed up the concept, and Easy Green Promotions, based in Leiden, created what it called "Lease a Sheep Shirt-Sponsoring."

With a goal of expanding to 25,000 branded sheep in the Netherlands, Jozef Mazereeuw runs the project for Easy Green Promotions, which is trying to strike deals with more farmers. He is promising the farmers a share of the fees paid by Hotels.nl.

Easy Green designed and owns the blankets, which include a layer of insulation washed in citronella to repel insects, and Velcro strips that allow the logos to be changed.

In the next few months, Mr. Mazereeuw said, Easy Green Promotions hoped to offer blankets for horses and cows - just as the mayor of Skarsterlan feared. But Mr. Mazereeuw has broader ambitions, too: he says he is negotiating with potential partners in France and Britain.

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Ark's Quantum Quirks

Signs of the Times
April 24, 2006


I hate Mondays!

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Another fundamental constant accused of changing

Amarendra Swarup
NewScientist.com news service
21 April 2006

Cosmologists claim to have found evidence that yet another fundamental constant of nature, called mu, may have changed over the last 12 billion years. If confirmed, the result could force some physicists to radically rethink their theories. It would also provide support for string theory, which predicts extra spatial dimensions.
This is not the first time fundamental constants have been accused of changing over the lifetime of the universe. Most famously, there was controversy over the fine structure constant, alpha (α), which governs how light and electrons interact. Some physicists claimed it is changing while others said it was not (see "Speed of light may have changed recently").

The ratio of a proton's mass to that of an electron, known as mu, is among the most mysterious of constants. There is no explanation for why the proton's mass should be 1836 times that of the electron.

The constant governs the strong nuclear force, which holds protons and neutrons together in atomic nuclei, and is also responsible for binding the quarks - the building blocks which make up protons - neutrons and most other fundamental particles.
Distant quasars

Researchers at the Free University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the European Southern Observatory in Chile discovered the variation in mu. They did it by comparing the spectrum of molecular hydrogen gas in the laboratory to what it was in quasars 12 billion light years away. The spectrum depends on the relative masses of protons and electrons in the molecule.

"We concluded that the proton-electron mass ratio may have decreased by 0.002% in the past 12 billion years," says team member Wim Ubachs.

"This claimed result is very interesting if true," says Thibault Damour at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies (IHES) in Bures-sur-Yvette in France, who co-authored a 1996 paper that found no change in the fine structure constant, alpha.

Any change in mu, would support theories that posit extra dimensions. As these dimensions evolve, in a manner similar to our expanding 3D universe, the so-called constants would vary over both space and time. Or it may be that we still do not fully understand the proton: it may itself evolve through the universe's lifetime, leading to the observed variation.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and this evidence does not exist yet," says Victor Flambaum at the University of New South Wales, Australia. "This result must be confirmed by other groups before a revolution in cosmology is needed."

Journal reference: Physical Review Letters (vol 96, p 151101)

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The myth of 'mood stabilising' drugs

David Healy
NewScientist.com news service
15 April 2006

IT STARTS with a vibrant woman dancing late into the night. "Your doctor never sees you like this," a voice-over says. The screen cuts to a shrunken, glum figure: "This is who your doctor sees." Next we see the woman in active shopping mode. "That is why so many people with bipolar disorder are being treated for depression and aren't getting any better - because depression is only half the story." We see the woman again depressed, looking at bills that have arrived in the post, then cut to her energetically painting her apartment. "That fast-talking, energetic, quick-tempered, up-all-night you," says the voice-over, "probably never shows up in the doctor's office."
This advertisement was screened on US television in 2002. It encouraged viewers to log onto bipolarawareness.com, which takes you to a website called the Bipolar Help Center. Scroll down and you see the site belongs to pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Here you will find a "mood disorder questionnaire". In the TV ad, we see our heroine filling in this questionnaire, and the ad encourages viewers to follow her example: "Take the test you can take to your doctor, it can change your life... Getting a correct diagnosis is the first step in treating bipolar disorder. Help your doctor to help you."

This ad markets bipolar disorder. It can be seen as a genuine attempt to alert people who are unaware that they are suffering from one of the most debilitating and serious psychiatric diseases: manic-depressive illness, in which people undergo periods of extreme emotional lows and periods of extreme highs that can wreck lives.

The ad can also be seen as an example of disease mongering: selling a disease so you can sell treatments for it. It encourages people to view any variations from an even emotional keel as signs of an illness that requires treatment. While it does not mention any drugs, the website stresses the importance of long-term medication. At the time the ad was aired, Eli Lilly's drug olanzapine (Zyprexa) had just been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating periods of mania, and the company was running trials aimed at establishing olanzapine as a "mood stabiliser".

Before 1995, the term "mood stabilisers" had barely been heard of. So what exactly are these drugs, and how effective and safe are they?

From the 1950s on, the depressions of manic-depressive illness were treated with antidepressants, and the manias with the drugs known as antipsychotics. Because doctors did not rush to take people off these drugs after episodes of illness, many patients remained on them for years. However, the only agent thought to prevent episodes of manic-depressive illness if taken on a permanent basis was lithium, a cheap trace element, though it was not originally referred to as a "mood stabiliser".

The drugs first described as "mood stabilisers" were anticonvulsants, a group used for treating epilepsy. Epileptic fits can cause changes in the brain that make future fits more likely - an effect called "kindling" - and it was once widely believed that anticonvulsants reduce or "quench" these changes. In the 1980s, Robert Post of the US National Institute of Mental Health suggested that anticonvulsants might stabilise moods by a comparable "quenching" effect - in other words, that long-term treatment with anticonvulsants might prevent an episode of mood disorder "kindling" future episodes.

Although anticonvulsants had occasionally been used for treating bipolar disorders, there was at the time little evidence of a preventive effect to support this analogy. Nevertheless, the idea that some drugs might stabilise moods appealed to doctors and their patients. It was also very attractive to pharmaceutical companies, which were starting to take an interest in the market for bipolar drugs.

Bipolar disorders entered the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. The criteria for bipolar I disorder (classic manic-depressive illness) included an episode of hospitalisation for mania. Since then, mood disorders that do not require hospitalisation have been described, such as bipolar II disorder, bipolar disorders NOS (not otherwise specified) and cyclothymia. With the emergence of these so-called "community" disorders, estimates for the prevalence of bipolar disorders have risen from 0.1 per cent of the population to 5 per cent or more. Along with this expansion in estimated prevalence - and in the market for drugs - have come new journals and a slew of bipolar societies and annual conferences, many heavily funded by drug companies.

In the industry's hands, the growth of awareness of "mood stabilisation" has been sensational. It started in 1995, the year the FDA granted Abbott Laboratories a licence to use the anticonvulsant sodium valproate (Depakote) to treat periods of mania. In the US, approval allows companies to advertise drugs for the licensed purpose, and in its ads for doctors Abbott described valproate as a "mood stabiliser" - a label that may have encouraged many to think it could do more than treat manias.

By 2001, this term featured in the titles or abstracts of more than 100 scientific papers a year (see Graph), and it has started to be applied to some antipsychotic drugs as well as to anticonvulsants like sodium valproate. Yet until 2000 no companies making antipsychotics had sought a licence for using these drugs as a "maintenance" treatment. What's more, academic review articles make it clear that there is still no consensus among psychiatrists on what a "mood stabiliser" is.

There has always been a rationale to using antipsychotics to treat the periods of mania that people with bipolar disorder go through. There is, however, no consensus on a theoretical rationale for the use of antipsychotics as a long-term treatment for bipolar disorder, and scant evidence of their effectiveness. Nevertheless, from 2000 onwards, Eli Lilly, Janssen and AstraZeneca, the makers of the antipsychotics olanzapine, risperidone (Risperdal) and quetiapine (Seroquel) respectively, marched in on this new territory and began the process of getting approval for using these drugs not just to treat mania but as long-term "mood stabilisers".

The result of these trends is that people with a bipolar disorder are now routinely prescribed a cocktail of expensive drugs on a permanent basis. Drug companies, often with the enthusiastic support of psychiatrists, have managed to firmly establish the idea that these disorders require lifelong preventive medication, not merely treatment for episodes of mania or depression.

For instance, Eli Lilly's Bipolar Help Center website states: "Staying on medication over the long haul is critical. Without it, symptoms will reappear and the illness will get worse." Similarly, information available from Janssen, the maker of Risperdal, states: "Medicines are crucially important in the treatment of bipolar disorders. Studies over the past twenty years have shown beyond the shadow of doubt that people who receive the appropriate drugs are better off in the long term than those who receive no medicine."

There is, however, much less evidence than many might think to support these claims. In the case of the community disorders now being pulled into the manic-depressive net, there is almost none at all, as drug trials have mostly involved people diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.

In fact, with the possible exception of lithium for bipolar I disorder, no randomised controlled trials show that patients with bipolar disorders who receive drugs do better in the long term than those who receive no medicine. Eli Lilly's olanzapine was approved by the FDA for the long-term treatment of bipolar I disorder in January 2004 on the basis of a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. But this trial essentially lasted only a year, and most apparent relapses occurred just after patients stopped taking olanzapine, which suggests that they were in fact suffering withdrawal symptoms. Even in the case of lithium, there is some dispute over what has been demonstrated.

It is true that this lack of evidence may stem in part from difficulties in conducting trials that last more than a few weeks for conditions as complex as manic-depressive illness. However, the existing evidence of benefit for one agent (lithium) and possible benefit for one more (olanzapine) must be weighed against the dangers. The potential toxicity of lithium is well known, and a consistent body of evidence shows that people undergoing regular, long-term treatment with antipsychotics have an increased risk of death. This and other known side effects of antipsychotics do not show up in the relatively short-term trials aimed at demonstrating treatment effects in psychiatry. There is also evidence from trials of antipsychotics for schizophrenia that there are significantly more suicides among those receiving the active drug than those on placebo.

There are also grounds for questioning whether the benefits supposedly demonstrated in clinical trials translate into therapeutic efficacy. In north Wales a century ago, patients with bipolar I disorder had on average four hospital admissions every 10 years. Today, despite dramatic improvements in services and treatment with the very latest drugs, bipolar I patients are admitted four times as often (History of Psychiatry, vol 16, p 423). This is not ordinarily what happens when treatments "work", but quite often is what happens when treatments have side effects.
Fearsome toll

Those selling bipolar disorder stress the disorder's fearsome toll in terms of suicides. Indeed, controversy over the role of antidepressants in triggering suicide has been recast by some as a result of mistaken diagnosis: if the doctor had only realised the patient was bipolar, the argument goes, they would not have mistakenly prescribed an antidepressant. Because of this suicide risk, most psychiatrists would find it difficult not to prescribe drugs for any person with bipolar disorder. Yet as real as this risk is, the best available evidence shows that medication does not help.

Jitschak Storosum of the Medicines Evaluation Board of the Netherlands and colleagues analysed all four placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomised trials of "mood stabilisers" for the prevention of manic-depressive episodes submitted to the board between 1997 and 2003 (The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol 162, p 799). They compared the suicide risk in patients on various drugs with those on placebo. Two suicides (equivalent to 493 per 100,000 person-years of drug exposure) and eight suicide attempts (1969 per 100,000 person-years of exposure) occurred in the 943 patients given an active drug. No suicides and two suicide attempts (1467 per 100,000 person-years of exposure) occurred in 418 patients on placebo. Based on these figures, I calculate that suicidal acts are 2.2 times as likely in those taking "mood stabilisers" compared with those on placebo.

If the efficacy of "mood stabilisers" is questionable while their dangers might include an increased risk of suicide, we should surely be very cautious about expanding their use. Yet in the US there is now a surge of diagnoses of bipolar disorder in children despite the facts that these children do not meet the usual criteria for bipolar I disorder and that until recently the general wisdom was that it was very rare for manic-depressive illness to start in the pre-teen years.

This trend is exemplified by the book The Bipolar Child by Demitri and Janice Papolos. Published in 2000, it sold 70,000 hardback copies in six months in the US. As the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas, reported in July 2000, The Bipolar Child made all the difference to a local girl, Heather Norris, then aged 2. Heather had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), treatment of which seemed to be making her worse. After reading The Bipolar Child, her mother challenged her doctor to change the diagnosis - and the medication.

The book's authors have senior positions in a charity called the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation, whose sponsors include drug company Novartis. The charity's FAQ on what it calls "early onset" bipolar disorder states: "Adults seem to experience abnormally intense moods for weeks or months at a time, but children appear to experience such rapid shifts of mood that they commonly cycle many times within the day."

If we consider adults alone for a moment, there is already potential for creating an "epidemic" of bipolar disorder because people are being diagnosed based on criteria that depend upon subjective judgements rather than any objective criterion of disability, such as hospitalisation or being off work for a month. With children, the risk is even greater because diagnosis is based mainly on the reports of parents, with little scope in most clinical practice for critical scrutiny of the social forces influencing parenting. For instance, in an age in which both parents often have to work long hours and childcare centres reject "difficult" children, medication may be the easiest way to deal with behavioural problems.

Experts who appear willing to go so far as to accept the possibility that the first signs of bipolar disorder may be patterns of overactivity in utero can only compound these problems. If bipolar diagnoses in children were solely for research purposes, there might be little problem. However, drugs such as olanzapine and risperidone are now being given to preschoolers in the US.

Some research on the subject is adding fuel to the fire. What might once have been thought of as sober institutions, such as Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, have run trials of olanzapine and risperidone on children with an average age of 4. The hospital recruited participants by running TV ads stating that difficult and aggressive behaviour in children aged 4 and up can stem from bipolar disorder. The ad does more than recruit children with a clear disorder: it suggests that everyday behavioural difficulties may be better seen in terms of a disorder. Given that bipolar disorder in children is all but unrecognised outside the US, it seems likely that a significant proportion of these children will not meet the conventional criteria for bipolar I disorder.

It is all but impossible for a short-term trial of sedative agents for treating any sort of state that involves periods of overactivity not to show some rating-scale changes that can be regarded as beneficial. This research thus appears predestined to validate the diagnosis and thus increase the pressure for treatment.

Several years after Heather Norris was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the original rationale for mood stabilisation was greatly weakened by the results of the largest ever randomised trial of immediate versus deferred anticonvulsant therapy for people who had experienced a single seizure. The trial found that although immediate anti-epileptic drug treatment reduces the occurrence of seizures in the next one to two years, such treatment does not affect long-term remission in individuals with single or infrequent seizures. Yet the entire concept of "mood stabilisation" was based on an analogy with epilepsy, not on any demonstrations of long-term benefit of any particular drug.

The use of "mood stabilisers" as a long-term maintenance treatment for bipolar disorders is based more on wishful thinking than on a solid theoretical or empirical basis. There is good evidence that these drugs threaten the health and lives of adults taking them - who knows what lies in store for the growing number of young children given these complex agents? Only the health of drug companies' profit margins appears assured.

David Healy is a psychiatrist at the North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine, Cardiff University, UK. This is an edited version of an essay in PloS Medicine, one of a series of articles on disease mongering available here.
From issue 2547 of New Scientist magazine, 15 April 2006, page 38

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Kennewick Man Skeletal Find May Revolutionalize Continent's History

Thu 20-Apr-2006, 16:30 ET

A forensic anthropologist at Middle Tennessee State University is one of a select number of scientists to participate in the examination of a skeleton that could force historians to rewrite the story of the entire North American continent.
Dr. Hugh Berryman, research professor, was one of only 11 experts from across the United States to scrutinize the bones of Kennewick Man, a 9,300-year-old skeleton found 10 years ago along the Columbia River at Kennewick, Wash.

"It's one of the oldest skeletons, one of the earliest individuals that populated this continent," Berryman says. "And we have a chance to look at those remains and learn from them what they tell us about the past and who these people were."

The 380 bones are being preserved at the University of Washington's Burke Museum under an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the land on which Kennewick was discovered. Berryman says he was between two and three feet deep in the ground. The burial miraculously saved the bones from the elements, the animals, machinery and man for centuries, and ancient deposits of calcium carbonate on the bones allowed the researchers to determine the positioning of the bones in the ground.

"We have evidence that the bones were still in anatomic order," Berryman says. "He was still articulated, and he appears to have been a burial. So once something is buried, that moves it at a depth that perhaps the coyotes, the wolves, scavengers could not get to it."

The July 2005 research was very nearly derailed when the Corps initially decided to turn Kennewick over to a coalition of Native American tribes. Eight scientists filed a federal lawsuit to gain permission to study the skeleton. A federal judge, whose ruling later was upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, decided in favor of the scientists after determining that the tribes could not prove a direct cultural affiliation with Kennewick.

Berryman says the information that can be gleaned from Kennewick came close to being lost forever.

"Since 1990, we've lost most of the skeletal remains from groups," Berryman says. "It's a shame that a lot of these groups are already gone. We have no way of knowing what kind of movements there were in prehistoric times, where these people came from, who they were related to, what other tribal groups they might be related to."

What the experts were able to ascertain from their brief encounter with Kennewick is that he did not look like a Native American. In fact, Berryman says Kennewick's facial features are most similar to those of a Japanese group called the Ainu, who have a different physical makeup and cultural background from the ethnic Japanese.

Some Ainu's facial features appear European. Their eyes may lack the Asian almond-shaped appearance, and their hair may be light and curly in color. However, this does not mean that Kennewick Man necessarily was European in origin. His features more closely resemble those of the natives of the Pacific Rim than those of Native Americans.

Berryman, a fracture expert who was trained in the fine art of picking apart dead people at the University of Tennessee's "Body Farm," also documented three types of bone breaks in Kennewick-fractures that were suffered in his lifetime and then healed, fractures that happened after his burial, and fractures that occurred when the skeleton was eroded from the riverbank.

Part of a spear had remained lodged in Kennewick's right hip bone at a 77-degree angle, but, remarkably, the spear did not cause his death. The cause of his demise remains a mystery. What is known is that this athletic, rugged hunter suffered many physical traumas before finally expiring in his mid-to-late 30s.

"The muscle markings are pretty pronounced," Berryman says."He was probably a well-built individual. The bones of the right arm were larger than the left."

The bigger right arm can be explained by the 18-to-24-inch-long atlatl, or spear thrower, that gave him and his contemporaries the ability to propel a spear up to the length of a football field in order to kill their food. Kennewick died long before the invention of the bow and arrow.

Berryman says Kennewick has only begun to reveal the story of his life and times, and it would be tremendous to have other scientists examine his bones.

"It was a lot slower process than we thought," Berryman says. "The first day, all day, we looked at one bone, one femur. And then we realized at the end of the day that we were going to be lucky to be able to cover this the way that it should be in a week-and-a-half."

Age, ancestry, sex, height, pathologies, types of trauma, even whether a woman has given birth-all can be determined just from examining a skeleton, says Berryman, who often is called upon to give expert testimony on bones in criminal trials.

"Bone is great at recording its own history," he says."Throughout your life, there are different things that you do, and they may leave little signs in the bone. If you can read those signs, it's almost like interviewing a person."'

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Earth escapes gamma-ray-burst disaster

Eugenie Samuel Reich
New Scientist Print Edition
19 April 2006

OF ALL the threats to life on Earth, gamma-ray bursts are probably not uppermost on anyone's mind. However, those of us who were worried can at last rest easy. It seems that the very nature of the Milky Way precludes these dangerous explosions from going off in our galaxy, let alone anywhere near enough to obliterate us.

A long gamma-ray burst within 6500 light years of Earth could produce enough radiation to strip away the ozone layer and cause a mass, or even total, extinction.
But studying the precise risk has been hard because most long GRBs occur in very distant, barely visible galaxies. Only four have been spotted within 2 billion light years of Earth. Kris Stanek of Ohio State University in Columbus presented data on the latest of these, GRB 060218, which occurred on 18 February in the constellation Aries, to his colleagues. "I was surprised that people were more interested in the host galaxies than the burst itself," he says.

This sparked a discussion that led the team to compare the host galaxies of the four GRBs with 70,000 nearby galaxies studied by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. They found that the galaxies housing the bursts had levels of heavy elements that were only 10 per cent of the average, and 20 per cent that of the Milky Way (www.arxiv.org/astro-ph/0604113). "This is very unlikely to be a coincidence," says Stanek.

Theorist Stan Woosely of the University of California at Santa Cruz has an explanation. Long GRBs are thought to be caused by the collapse of gigantic fast-rotating "Wolf-Rayet" stars that have lost their outer layer of hydrogen. In metal-rich galaxies, heavy elements on the star's surface should absorb the momentum of the light coming from inside the star, pushing off the outer layers. This would reduce the star's spin, making the eventual collapse less violent and a GRB less likely.

Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas in Lawrence and Brian Thomas of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas - who warned of the dangers of GRBs - are not convinced that our galaxy is safe. Thomas points out that the Milky Way could merge with or swallow smaller, metal-poor galaxies suitable for GRBs.

Also, a study by Armen Atoyan of the University of Montreal in Canada and his colleagues, due to be published in The Astrophysical Journal, claims that a source of gamma rays in our galaxy, about 40,000 light years away, is a remnant of a GRB that went off about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Luckily it wasn't pointed at us, says Atoyan. "If he is right, it provides a counter argument," says Melott.

Stanek, however, argues that the source seen by Atoyan is more likely the leftovers of an unusually energetic supernova.
From issue 2548 of New Scientist magazine, 19 April 2006, page 12

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Space weapons could make orbit a no-fly zone

Paul Marks
New Scientist Print Edition
13 April 2006

FORTY-FIVE years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, giving the Soviet Union a crucial lead in the space race (see "This week 45 years ago"), a worrying new struggle for dominance is looming. The Pentagon's budget plans for 2007 include thinly disguised funding for the development of anti-satellite weapons that could lead to an arms race in space and the sullying of near-Earth space with dangerous clouds of debris.

Such a move has been on the cards for some time. In 2001, a committee headed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that the US faces a potential "Pearl Harbor in space" unless it develops weapons to protect its space hardware. And the US air force has incorporated "fighting in space" into its mission statement, and speaks openly of achieving "space superiority".
Last month, analysts at two Washington-based think tanks, the Center for Defense Information (CDI) and the Henry L. Stimson Center, reported that the Pentagon's convoluted $439 billion budget plans for 2007 include almost a billion dollars for developing and testing space weapons systems. While these have not been explicitly listed as such, they are "hidden in plain sight" within Missile Defense Agency and air force projects, says CDI's director Theresa Hitchens.

At least three types of space weapon are in the Pentagon pipeline. The Multiple Kill Vehicles project will look at using spacecraft to launch missiles that would carry a clutch of impacting projectiles designed to damage other spacecraft. The Missile Defense Agency's MicroSat project will investigate whether a satellite could sense the position of an enemy satellite and ram it. Finally, part of air force's laser weapons programme will be aimed at using ground-based lasers to knock out a spacecraft.

The CDI fears that the Pentagon might surreptitiously build up a weapons infrastructure by sending systems like these into space, ostensibly as prototypes for testing, and simply leaving them there. This would allow space weapons to become a fait accompli without congressional or public debate. "Space weapons are extremely destabilising politically so the DoD is getting around any debate by developing systems it says are just designed to test their capabilities," says CDI analyst Victoria Samson. "The Pentagon simply finds it easier to ask for forgiveness later rather than for permission now."

It is not just the political aspect of weaponising space that is causing concern. Near-Earth space could suffer serious pollution if anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are used. An international relations conference in San Diego, California, heard on 25 March that destroying satellites would create large amounts of orbiting debris that could have a devastating effect on other spacecraft. "The potential for debris due to space weapons use was a big issue," says David Webb of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. "Even some in the American military were against using anti-satellite weapons owing to the debris issue."

The risk of damage to spacecraft by conventional debris is considerable. On 29 March a piece of space junk slammed into a Russian broadcasting satellite, puncturing it and venting a jet of liquid coolant that sent it spinning. The crippled craft had to be pushed into high orbit and deactivated. Incidents like this could become increasingly common if satellites become targets for attack, rendering near-Earth space almost a no-go area for spacecraft, Webb says.

Despite such risks, the economic and strategic importance of communications, surveillance and navigation satellites is now so great that the US considers it imperative to develop weapons to defend them. Much everyday technology, such as multi-channel TV and in-car satellite navigation, relies on satellite links, so attacks on commercial spacecraft could have severe economic consequences. The military importance of satellites was seen during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for instance, when high-resolution imaging satellites showed where Iraqi troops were, while GPS was used to guide munitions and robotic aircraft towards them. As a result, the US military now believes it needs space weapons to deter other countries from attacking its satellites.

According to the Deparment of Defense, the US is not the only country developing space weapons. In its report to Congress on China's military power last year, it states: "China is working on, and plans to field, ASAT systems." These are thought to include ground-based lasers, including low-power systems to blind or dazzle spy satellites and higher-power lasers to destroy spacecraft. In 2004, the DoD reported that China had developed a micro-satellite ASAT weapon that attaches itself to larger spacecraft and destroys them. Webb, however, says the information came from an "unreliable" military enthusiast's website in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last year urged its government to develop ASAT technology. The country is already an enthusiastic partner in the US National Missile Defense (NMD) system, which uses surface-based radar to detect incoming missile-launched warheads, with a view to launching more missiles to intercept them out in space.
Death rays for real

The development of anti-satellite weapons is being stimulated by advances in powerful laser and microwave beams, which would form the basis of so-called "directed energy" weapons. "Advances in power density from chemical and free-electron lasers have been possible in the lab for a decade," says Doug Beason, a directed energy specialist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a science adviser to presidents George Bush senior and Bill Clinton. "Being able to do it in a portable way, so it can be used on the battlefield, is now becoming possible."

It was a lack of portable lasers that pulled the rug from under the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") proposed in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan. Now improvements in technologies such as supercapacitors, which can discharge large quantities of energy into a free-electron laser, have made them possible.

A key advance is the chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) that will form the heart of the Missile Defence Agency's huge Airborne Laser - a Boeing 747 designed to shoot down nuclear missiles as they launch hundreds of kilometres away. The chemical components that produce the excited oxygen atoms which donate energy to iodine molecules, causing them to generate laser light, have been shrunk enough to make the idea workable. Yet despite the $7 billion spent on it so far, the Airborne Laser has yet to be fired.

The UN's 1967 Outer Space Treaty forbids the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space. There is no treaty preventing other weapons being stationed there, however, and a proposed treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space (PAROS) has been consistently blocked by the US and Israel. PAROS has been on the agenda of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland, since 1998, but no framework for considering the issue has yet been agreed, despite attempts by Russia and China to promote debate.

Even without a ban on space weapons, it is not clear why the Pentagon's ASAT research is needed. Technologies already in development could do the job just as well, many analysts say. For example, steerable mirrors in space could be used together with a ground-based or airborne laser to knock out spacecraft, Beason says in E-Bomb, his recent book on directed energy weapons. And Michael O'Hanlon, a strategic arms analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, says the interceptor missiles used by the NMD could be adapted to attack satellites.

According to O'Hanlon, the political cost of testing new ASAT weapons in peacetime ought to rule them out. "To develop new ASATs now would reinforce the image of an America out of control," he says.
From issue 2547 of New Scientist magazine, 13 April 2006, page 30

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Life Thought Unlikely On Mars - Now

Peter N. Spotts
Christian Science Monitor
April 21, 2006

For more than a decade, orbiters and landers have assaulted Mars, their handlers driven by the mantra "follow the water."

Now, scientists have pulled the results together in the most comprehensive look yet at what the rocks and minerals on the red planet are saying about its climate history and the potential that life may have briefly appeared there.

Their conclusion: If the red planet ever raised a "life welcome" sign, it would have been during its first billion years.
After that, the planet's environment grew increasingly hostile. By 3.5 billion years ago, Mars had devolved into the frigid, arid orb humans are exploring today - "not a pleasant place for any form of life, even a microbe," notes John Mustard, a Brown University scientist and a member of the team conducting the analysis.

That said, the team also concludes that if life ever gained a foothold, the best places to look for evidence would be in three clay-rich regions on the planet's surface.

The analysis, which appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science, comes from an international team of planetary scientists. The team is led by Jean-Pierre Bibring, with the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Orlay, France, and drew heavily on data gathered by the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter. The orbiter arrived Christmas Day in 2003.

Its initial mission length has been extended, and the orbiter has mapped the distribution of minerals over some 90 percent of the planet's surface.

The study also draws on information from US orbiters and the two Mars Exploration Rovers currently hunting for winter hibernation spots on Mars. Geologically speaking, the planet's watery period was brief, the team found.

For Mars' first 600 million years, it had plenty of water, hospitable temperatures, and low acid levels. The team gleaned this from glimpses of the planet's oldest rocks, laid bare through erosion, cratering, and large temblors.

Of particular interest are the clays they found. Yet some uncertainty remains about how the clays formed.

The team leaves open the possibility that the Martian surface may never have had large amounts of water. The exposed clays may have formed beneath the surface - which would imply that the planet has always been cold and dry.

For the next 500 million years, the team found, the planet's mighty volcanoes erupted in a series of events that filled the atmosphere with sulfur. This sulfur fell back to the surface as sulfuric acid. At the same time, it began to lose its atmosphere - either blasted free by collisions with large leftovers from planet formation, or perhaps when the planet's internal dynamo finally gave out and its magnetic field vanished.

Over the next 300 million years, the planet arrived at the frigid, rust-red configuration that holds today. Dr. Mustard notes that the clay deposits in particular should be tempting targets for the US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which currently is working its way into its final science-gathering orbit around the planet.

Ultimately, these may be the best locations to send landers hunting for signs that Mars might have once harbored simple life-forms.

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AFRL Proves Feasibility Of Plasma Actuators

Apr 24, 2006

Wright-Patterson OH - The Air Force Research Laboratory is laying the groundwork to develop revolutionary hypersonic aerospace vehicles. AFRL is examining the feasibility of replacing traditional mechanical actuators, which move to control an air vehicle's flight control surfaces like wing flaps, with plasma actuators that require no moving parts and are more reliable.

As part of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Boundary Layers and Hypersonics program, AFRL conducted a wind tunnel test to evaluate the feasibility of using plasma actuators for airframe flight control. In AFRL's Mach 5 plasma channel wind tunnel, engineers used a strong electric field to ionize air around an air vehicle model to create plasma.
Air diverted by plasma heating successfully exerted force on the model and demonstrated that the plasma actuator concept is a viable area for further study and development.

AFRL's Mach 5 plasma channel wind tunnel relies upon a vacuum system to generate low-density air flows. A high electrical voltage placed between metal electrodes on a model in the plasma channel ionizes the air between them and creates plasma, a state of matter where electrons are stripped from molecules. While usually occurring at extreme temperatures and pressures such as the conditions experienced within a star or by a hypersonic vehicle during flight, man-made plasma is found in items like fluorescent light bulbs and computer screen plasma displays.

The Boundary Layers and Hypersonics program is developing knowledge of fluid physics to facilitate future aerospace vehicle designs. The program focuses on characterizing, predicting and controlling high-speed fluid dynamic phenomena including boundary layer transition, shock/boundary layer, shock/shock interactions and other airframe propulsion integration phenomena including real-gas effects, plasma aerodynamics, magnetohydrodynamics and high-speed flow heat transfer.

Comment: Gosh, what a brilliant idea! See our podcast "Top Secret Military Projects (Parts 1 and 2)" for more information.

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Nanogenerators Allow Self-Powered Nanoscale Devices

Zhong Lin Wang
Apr 24, 2006

Atlanta GA - Researchers have developed a new technique for powering nanometer-scale devices without the need for bulky energy sources such as batteries.

By converting mechanical energy from body movement, muscle stretching or water flow into electricity, these "nanogenerators" could make possible a new class of self-powered implantable medical devices, sensors and portable electronics.
Described in the April 14th issue of the journal Science, the nanogenerators produce current by bending and then releasing zinc oxide nanowires - which are both piezoelectric and semiconducting. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the NASA Vehicle Systems Program and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

"There is a lot of mechanical energy available in our environment," said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "Our nanogenerators can convert this mechanical energy to electrical energy. This could potentially open up a lot of possibilities for the future of nanotechnology."

Nanotechnology researchers have proposed and developed a broad range of nanoscale devices, but their use has been limited by the sources of energy available to power them. Conventional batteries make the nanoscale systems too large, and the toxic contents of batteries limit their use in the body. Other potential power sources also suffer from significant drawbacks.

"We can build nanodevices that are very small, but if the complete integrated system must include a large power source, that defeats the purpose," added Wang, who also holds affiliated faculty positions at Peking University and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of China.

The nanogenerators developed by Wang and graduate student Jinhui Song use the very small piezoelectric discharges created when zinc oxide nanowires are bent and then released. By building interconnected arrays containing millions of such wires, Wang believes he can produce enough current to power nanoscale devices.

To study the effect, the researchers grew arrays of zinc oxide nanowires, then used an atomic-force microscope tip to deflect individual wires. As a wire was contacted and deflected by the tip, stretching on one side of the structure and compression on the other side created a charge separation - positive on the stretched side and negative on the compressed side - due to the piezoelectric effect.

The charges were preserved in the nanowire because a Schottky barrier was formed between the AFM tip and the nanowire. The coupling between semiconducting and piezoelectric properties resulted in the charging and discharging process when the tip scanned across the nanowire, Wang explained.

When the tip lost contact with the wire, the strain was released - and the researchers measured an electrical current. After the strain release, the nanowire vibrated through many cycles, but the electrical discharge was measured only at the instant when the strain was released.

To rule out other potential sources of the current, the researchers conducted similar tests using structures that were not piezoelectric or semiconducting. "After a variety of tests, we are confident that what we are seeing is a piezoelectric-induced discharge process," Wang said.

The researchers grew the nanowire arrays using a standard vapor-liquid-solid process in a small tube furnace. First, gold nanoparticles were deposited onto a sapphire substrate placed in one end of the furnace. An argon carrier gas was then flowed into the furnace as zinc oxide powder was heated. The nanowires grew beneath the gold nanoparticles, which serve as catalysts.

The resulting arrays contained vertically-aligned nanowires that ranged from 200 to 500 nanometers in length and 20 to 40 nanometers in diameter. The wires grew approximately 100 nanometers apart, as determined by the placement of the gold nanoparticles.

A film of zinc oxide also grew between the wires on the substrate surface, creating an electrical connection between the wires. To that conductive substrate, the researchers attached an electrode for measuring current flow.

Though attractive for use inside the body because zinc oxide is non-toxic, the nanogenerators could also be used wherever mechanical energy - hydraulic motion of seawater, wind or the motion of a foot inside a shoe - is available. The nanowires can be grown not only on crystal substrates, but also on polymer-based films. Use of flexible polymer substrates could one day allow portable devices to be powered by the movement of their users.

"You could envision having these nanogenerators in your shoes to produce electricity as you walk," Wang said. "This could be beneficial to soldiers in the field, who now depend on batteries to power their electrical equipment. As long as the soldiers were moving, they could generate electricity."

Current could also be produced by placing the nanowire arrays into fields of acoustic or ultrasonic energy. Though they are ceramic materials, the nanowires can bend as much as 50 degrees without breaking.

The next step in the research will be to maximize the power produced by an array of the new nanogenerators. Wang estimates that they can convert as much as 30 percent of the input mechanical energy into electrical energy for a single cycle of vibration. That could allow a nanowire array just 10 microns square to power a single nanoscale device - if all the power generated by the nanowire array can be successfully collected.

"Our bodies are good at converting chemical energy from glucose into the mechanical energy of our muscles," Wang noted. "These nanogenerators can take that mechanical energy and convert it to electrical energy for powering devices inside the body. This could open up tremendous possibilities for self-powered implantable medical devices."

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Scientists Probe the Use of the Tongue

Associated Press
Mon Apr 24, 3:43 AM ET

PENSACOLA, Fla. - In their quest to create the super warrior of the future, some military researchers aren't focusing on organs like muscles or hearts. They're looking at tongues.

By routing signals from helmet-mounted cameras, sonar and other equipment through the tongue to the brain, they hope to give elite soldiers superhuman senses similar to owls, snakes and fish.
Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition envision their work giving Army Rangers 360-degree unobstructed vision at night and allowing Navy SEALs to sense sonar in their heads while maintaining normal vision underwater - turning sci-fi into reality.

The device, known as "Brain Port," was pioneered more than 30 years ago by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist. Bach-y-Rita began routing images from a camera through electrodes taped to people's backs and later discovered the tongue was a superior transmitter.

A narrow strip of red plastic connects the Brain Port to the tongue where 144 microelectrodes transmit information through nerve fibers to the brain. Instead of holding and looking at compasses and bulky-hand-held sonar devices, the divers can processes the information through their tongues, said Dr. Anil Raj, the project's lead scientist.

In testing, blind people found doorways, noticed people walking in front of them and caught balls. A version of the device, expected to be commercially marketed soon, has restored balance to those whose vestibular systems in the inner ear were destroyed by antibiotics.

Michael Zinszer, a veteran Navy diver and director of Florida State University's Underwater Crime Scene Investigation School, took part in testing using the tongue to transmit an electronic compass and an electronic depth sensor while in a swimming pool.

He likened the feeling on his tongue to Pop Rocks candies.

"You are feeling the outline of this image," he said. "I was in the pool, they were directing me to a very small object and I was able to locate everything very easily."

Underwater crime scene investigators might use the device to identify search patterns, signal each other and "see through our tongues, as odd as that sounds," Zinszer said.

Raj said the objective for the military is to keep Navy divers' hands and eyes free. "It will free up their eyes to do what those guys really want to, which is to look for those mines and see shapes that are coming out of the murk."

Sonar is the next step. A lot depends on technological developments to make sonar smaller - hand-held sonar is now about the size of a lunch box.

"If they could get it small enough, it could be mounted on a helmet, then they could pan around on their heads and they could feel the sonar on their tongues with good registration to what they are seeing visually," Raj said.

The research at the Florida institute, the first to research military uses of sensory augmentation, is funded by the Defense Department. The exact amount of the expenditure is unavailable.

Raj and his research assistants spend hours at the University of West Florida's athletic complex testing the equipment at an indoor pool. Raj does the diving himself.

They plan to officially demonstrate the system to Navy and Marine Corps divers in May. If the military screeners like what they see, it could be put on a "rapid response" to quickly get in the hands of military users within the next three to six months.

Work on the infrared-tongue vision for Army Rangers isn't as far along. But Raj said the potential usefulness of the night vision technology is tremendous. It would allow soldiers to work in the dark without cumbersome night-vision goggles and to "see out the back of their heads," he said.

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Bush Impeachment - The Illinois State Legislature is Preparing to Drop a Bombshell

by Steven Leser

Utilizing a little known rule of the US House to bring Impeachment charges.

The Illinois General Assembly is about to rock the nation. Members of state legislatures are normally not considered as having the ability to decide issues with a massive impact to the nation as a whole. Representative Karen A. Yarbrough of Illinois' 7th District is about to shatter that perception forever. Representative Yarbrough stumbled on a little known and never utlitized rule of the US House of Representatives, Section 603 of Jefferson's Manual of the Rules of the United States House of Representatives, which allows federal impeachment proceedings to be initiated by joint resolution of a state legislature. From there, Illinois House Joint Resolution 125 (hereafter to be referred to as HJR0125) was born.

Detailing five specific charges against President Bush including one that is specified to be a felony, the complete text of HJR0125 is copied below at the end of this article. One of the interesting points is that one of the items, the one specified as a felony, that the NSA was directed by the President to spy on American citizens without warrant, is not in dispute. That fact should prove an interesting dilemma for a Republican controlled US House that clearly is not only loathe to initiate impeachment proceedings, but does not even want to thoroughly investigate any of the five items brought up by the Illinois Assembly as high crimes and/or misdemeanors. Should HJR0125 be passed by the Illinois General Assembly, the US House will be forced by House Rules to take up the issue of impeachment as a privileged bill, meaning it will take precedence over other House business.

The Illinois General Assembly joins a growing chorus of voices calling for censure or impeachment of President Bush including Democratic state committees in Vermont, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina as well as the residents themselves of seven towns in Vermont, seventy Vermont state legislators and Congressman John Conyers. The call for impeachment is starting to grow well beyond what could be considered a fringe movement. An ABC News/Washington Post Poll Conducted April 6-9 showed that 33% of Americans currently support Impeaching President Bush, coincidentally, only a similar amount supported impeaching Nixon at the start of the Watergate investigation.

If and when Illinois HJR0125 hits the capitol and the individual charges are publicly investigated, that number is likely to grow rapidly. Combined with the very real likelihood that Rove is about to be indicted in the LeakGate investigation, and Bush is in real trouble beyond his plummeting poll numbers. His cronies in the Republican dominated congress will probably save him from the embarassment of an impeachment conviction, for now, but his Presidency will be all but finished.

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Bush Brandishes Jail Time at Critics

By Robert Parry
April 23, 2006

Over the past five-plus years, the American people have gotten a taste of what a triumphant George W. Bush is like, as he basked in high approval ratings and asserted virtually unlimited powers as Commander in Chief. Now, the question is: How will Bush and his inner circle behave when cornered?
So far, the answer should send chills through today's weakened American Republic. Bush and his team - faced with plunging poll numbers and cascading disclosures of wrongdoing - appear determined to punish and criminalize resistance to their regime.

That is the significance of recent threats from the administration and its supporters who bandy about terms like sedition, espionage and treason when referring to investigative journalists, government whistle-blowers and even retired military generals - critics who have exposed Executive Branch illegalities, incompetence and deceptions.

CIA Director Porter Goss, a former Republican congressman long regarded as a political partisan, has escalated pressure on intelligence officials suspected of leaking secrets about Bush's warrantless wiretapping of Americans and the torture of detainees held in clandestine prisons in Asia and Eastern Europe.

On April 20, Goss fired a career intelligence officer (identified as Mary O. McCarthy) for allegedly discussing with reporters the CIA's network of secret prisons where terrorism suspects were interrogated and allegedly tortured in defiance of international law and often the laws of the countries involved.

Goss had said the disclosure of these clandestine prisons had caused "very severe" damage to "our capabilities to carry out our mission," referring to complaints from foreign officials who had let the CIA use their territory for the so-called "black sites" and faced legal trouble from the torture revelations.

"This was a very aggressive internal investigation" to find who leaked the information about the secret prisons, one former CIA officer told the New York Times. [NYT, April 22, 2006]

WMD Fight

Goss was recruited to the task of putting the CIA back in its place by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Cheney had banged heads with intelligence analysts who doubted White House claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Though many senior CIA bureaucrats bent to Cheney's pressure on the WMD intelligence, some analysts resisted. After the Iraq invasion failed to find WMD, some of the CIA's suppressed doubts began surfacing in the press and causing Bush political embarrassment during the presidential election campaign.

After the November 2004 election, Bush and his allies sought retribution against these out-of-step CIA officials. The powerful conservative news media joined the drumbeat against analysts who were seen as a threat to Bush's goals in Iraq and elsewhere.

Conservative columnists, including Robert Novak and David Brooks, argued the CIA's rightful role was to do the president's bidding.

"Now that he's been returned to office, President Bush is going to have to differentiate between his opponents and his enemies," wrote Brooks in the New York Times on Nov. 13, 2004. "His opponents are found in the Democratic Party. His enemies are in certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency."

Brooks justified a purge at the CIA because the spy agency had made Bush look bad.

"At the height of the campaign, CIA officials, who are supposed to serve the president and stay out of politics and policy, served up leak after leak to discredit the president's Iraq policy," Brooks wrote. "Somebody leaked a CIA report predicting a gloomy or apocalyptic future for the region. ... A senior CIA official, Paul Pillar, reportedly made comments saying he had long felt the decision to go to war would heighten anti-American animosity in the Arab world."

In other words, conservative commentators saw what sounded like reasonable CIA analyses as threats to Bush's authority.

New Disclosures

In 2005, as conditions in Iraq indeed worsened and anti-U.S. sentiment in the Islamic world swelled, the Bush administration lashed out at other disclosures - about the network of secret prisons (by the Washington Post) and Bush's decision to ignore legal requirements for court warrants before spying on communications by American citizens (reported by the New York Times).

Bush, his aides and their media allies claimed the news articles inflicted severe damage on U.S. national security, but presented no precise evidence to support those claims. What was clear, however, was that Bush was facing a steep decline in public assessments about his judgment and honesty.

By March 2006, Bush's favorable poll numbers were sinking into the mid-30 percentiles with his negatives nearing 60 percent and his strong negatives in the high-40s.

SurveyUSA.com, which compiles state-by-state poll numbers, reported in March that Bush had net favorable ratings in only seven states (Nebraska, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Idaho, Alabama, Wyoming, and Utah). By April, Bush's net favorable states had declined to four (Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah).

In April, too, the Bush administration was stunned when a half dozen retired generals criticized the conduct of the Iraq War and called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. Bush's defenders struck back, warning that letting retired generals criticize Rumsfeld - and by implication, Bush - threatened the principle of civilian control of the military.

The announcement of the Pulitzer prizes was more bad news for the White House, with awards going to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest for her articles on the secret prisons and to New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau for their disclosure of Bush's warrantless wiretaps.

Facing Bush's growing unpopularity and the increased resistance from influential power centers - including the military, the intelligence community and the mainstream press - administration supporters escalated their rhetoric with intimations of legal retaliation against the critics.


On April 18, Tony Blankley, editorial-page editor of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's staunchly pro-Bush Washington Times, raised the prospect of sedition charges against active-duty military officers who - in collusion with the retired generals - might be considering resignations in protest of Bush's war policies.

"Can a series of lawful resignations turn into a mutiny?" Blankley wrote. "And if they are agreed upon in advance, have the agreeing generals formed a felonious conspiracy to make a mutiny?"

Blankley wrote that this possible "revolt" by the generals "comes dangerously close to violating three articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice," including "mutiny and sedition." Blankley thus raised the specter of courts martial against officers who resign rather than carry out orders from Bush.

Administration supporters also have suggested imprisonment for journalists who disobey Bush's edicts against writing critical stories about the War on Terror that contain classified information.

Former Education Secretary (and now right-wing pundit) Bill Bennett used his national radio program on April 18 to condemn the three Pulitzer-winning journalists - Priest, Risen and Lichtblau - as not "worthy of an award" but rather "worthy of jail."

According to a transcript of the remarks published by Editor & Publisher's Web site, Bennett said the reporters "took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the requests of the president and others, that they not release it. They not only released it, they publicized it - they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.

"How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program, so people are going to stop making calls. Since they are now aware of this, they're going to adjust their behavior. ... On the secret [prison] sites, the CIA sites, we embarrassed our allies. ... So it hurt us there.

"As a result are they [the reporters] punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer prizes - they win Pulitzer prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did is worthy of jail, and I think this [Espionage Act] investigation needs to go forward."

Right-wing bloggers also began dubbing the awards to the three journalists "the Pulitzer Prize for Treason."

Damage Doubtful

However, neither right-wing commentators nor Bush administration officials have ever explained exactly how national security interests were hurt by the disclosures. As even Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has acknowledged, al-Qaeda operatives already were aware of the U.S. capability to intercept their electronic communications.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 6, 2006, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, asked Gonzales, "How has this revelation damaged the program" since the administration's attack on the disclosure "seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated al-Qaeda folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls?"

Gonzales responded, "I think, based on my experience, it is true - you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance. But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget" - a response that drew laughter from the citizens in the hearing room.

As for the secret prisons, the fallout appears to be largely political, causing embarrassment for countries that collaborated in what appears to be a clear violation of international law by granting space for "black sites" where torture allegedly was practiced.

The most likely consequence is that the Bush administration will find it harder in the future to set up secret prisons outside the scrutiny of the International Red Cross, the United Nations and human rights organizations.

But that may help U.S. national security - rather than hurt it - by discouraging the Bush administration from engaging in torture that has damaged America's reputation around the world and fueled Muslim rage at the United States.

Instead, what appears most keenly at stake in the escalating political rhetoric is the Bush administration's determination to stop its political fall by branding its critics - even U.S. generals and CIA officers - as unpatriotic and then silencing them with threats of imprisonment.

Bush is trying to mark the boundaries of permissible political debate. He also wants total control of classified information so he can leak the information that helps him - as he did in summer 2003 to shore up his claims about Iraq's WMD - while keeping a lid on secrets that might make him look bad.

The firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy and the threats of criminal charges against various dissenters are just the latest skirmishes in the political war over who will decide what Americans get to see and hear.

The other signal to Bush's critics, however, is this: If they ever thought he and his administration would accept accountability for their alleged abuses of power without a nasty fight, those critics are very mistaken.

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CIA Officer Is Fired for Media Leaks

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2006; A01

The CIA fired a long-serving intelligence officer for sharing classified information with The Washington Post and other news organizations, officials said yesterday, as the agency continued an aggressive internal search for anyone who may have discussed intelligence with the news media.

CIA officials said the career intelligence officer failed more than one polygraph test and acknowledged unauthorized contacts with reporters. The "officer knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence, including operational information" with journalists, the agency said in a statement yesterday.
The CIA did not reveal the identity of the employee, who was dismissed Thursday, but NBC News reported last night she is Mary McCarthy. An intelligence source confirmed that the report was accurate.

McCarthy began her career in government as an analyst at the CIA in 1984, public documents show. She served as special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs at the White House during the Clinton administration and the first few months of the Bush administration. She later returned to the CIA. Attempts to reach her last night were unsuccessful.

The CIA's statement did not name the reporters it believes were involved, but several intelligence officials said The Post's Dana Priest was among them. This week, Priest won the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting for articles about the agency, including one that revealed the existence of secret, CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate intelligence committee in February that the agency was determined to get to the bottom of recent leaks, and wanted journalists brought before a federal grand jury to reveal their sources. Regarding disclosures about CIA detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects at secret sites abroad, Goss, the former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that "the damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission."

The CIA has filed several reports to the Justice Department since last fall regarding the publication of classified information and has launched its own internal inquiries which include administering polygraphs to dozens of employees. The intelligence agency is sharing its findings with the Justice Department but is continuing to pursue some avenues of investigation on its own.

"It's up to the Justice Department to decide whether they want to pursue investigations separately," an intelligence source said.

The Justice Department is conducting several leak inquiries, including one into reports last December in the New York Times about a secret domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency. Officials said it is possible the department could file criminal charges in connection with that investigation and others, but it is unclear whether the department is also investigating the disclosures about CIA-run prisons.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse declined to comment yesterday. "We do not confirm investigations on intelligence-related matters," he said, because of the information's sensitivity.

Intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the dismissed officer identified by others as McCarthy has not been charged with any crime and is not believed to be the subject of a Justice Department investigation.

The officer's employment was terminated for violating a secrecy agreement all employees are required to sign when they join the agency. The agreement prohibits them from sharing classified information with unauthorized individuals.

The CIA said the firing was the result of an internal investigation initiated in late January of all "officers who were involved in or exposed to certain intelligence programs."

"Through the course of these investigations a CIA official acknowledged having unauthorized discussion with the media" and was terminated, the CIA statement said.

Priest, who also won the George Polk Award and a prize from the Overseas Press Club this week for her articles, declined to comment yesterday.

Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said people who provide citizens the information they need to hold their government accountable should not "come to harm for that."

"The reporting that Dana did was very important accountability reporting about how the CIA and the rest of the U.S. government have been conducting the war on terror," Downie said. "Whether or not the actions of the CIA or other agencies have interfered with anyone's civil liberties is important information for Americans to know and is an important part of our jobs."

In an effort to stem leaks, the Bush administration launched several initiatives earlier this year targeting journalists and national security employees. They include FBI probes, extensive polygraphing inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

The effort has been widely seen among members of the media, and some legal experts, as the most extensive and overt campaign against leaks in a generation, and has worsened the already-tense relationship between mainstream news organizations and the White House.

Dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office. Others have been prohibited, in writing, from discussing even unclassified issues related to the domestic surveillance program. Some GOP lawmakers are also considering tougher penalties for leaking.

Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate intelligence panel, welcomed the CIA's actions. In a statement, he said leaks had "hindered our efforts in the war against al Qaeda," although he did not say how.

"I am pleased that the Central Intelligence Agency has identified the source of certain unauthorized disclosures, and I hope that the agency, and the [intelligence] community as a whole, will continue to vigorously investigate other outstanding leak cases," Roberts said.

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Gonzales calls for mandatory Web labeling law

By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: April 20, 2006, 11:35 PM PDT

Web site operators posting sexually explicit information must place official government warning labels on their pages or risk being imprisoned for up to five years, the Bush administration proposed Thursday.
A mandatory rating system will "prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at an event in Alexandria, Va.

The Bush administration's proposal would require commercial Web sites to place "marks and notices" to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission on each sexually explicit page. The definition of sexually explicit broadly covers depictions of everything from sexual intercourse and masturbation to "sadistic abuse" and close-ups of fully clothed genital regions.

"I hope that Congress will take up this legislation promptly," said Gonzales, who gave a speech about child exploitation and the Internet to the federally funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The proposed law is called the Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006.

A second new crime would threaten with imprisonment Web site operators who mislead visitors about sex with deceptive "words or digital images" in their source code--for instance, a site that might pop up in searches for Barbie dolls or Teletubbies but actually features sexually explicit photographs. A third new crime appears to require that commercial Web sites not post sexually explicit material on their home page if it can be seen "absent any further actions by the viewer."

A critic of the proposal said that its requirements amount to an unreasonable imposition on Americans' rights to free expression. In particular, a mandatory rating system backed by criminal penalties is "antithetical to the First Amendment," said Marv Johnson, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union.

During his speech, Gonzales also warned that Internet service providers must begin to retain records of their customers' activities to aid in future criminal prosecutions--a position first reported by CNET News.com--and indicated that legislation might be necessary there as well. Internet service providers say they already cooperate with police and appear to be girding for a political battle on Capitol Hill over new regulations they view as intrusive.

An idea once proposed by Democrats
The Bush administration's embrace of a rating system backed by criminal penalties is uncannily reminiscent of where the Clinton administration and a Democratic member of Congress were a decade ago.

In the mid-1990s, the then-nascent Internet industry began backing the Platform for Internet Content Selection, or PICS. The idea was simple: let Web sites self-rate, or let a third-party service offer ratings, and permit parents to set their browsers to never show certain types of content. Netscape and Microsoft soon agreed to support it in their browsers.

At a White House summit in July 1997 hosted by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the head of the Lycos search engine proposed that only rated pages would be indexed. (Bob Davis, the president of Lycos at the time, said: "I threw a gauntlet to other search engines in today's meeting saying that collectively we should require a rating before we index pages.") Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, suggested that misrating a Web site should be a federal crime. And Australian government officials began talking about making self-rating mandatory.

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United Airlines Flight Diverted to Denver

Sat Apr 22, 12:42 AM ET

DENVER - A passenger who claimed to have a bomb aboard a United Airlines flight was subdued by passengers as the California-bound plane was diverted to Denver International Airport, airport officials said.

Two F-16 fighter jets from Buckley Air Force Base scrambled to escort the plane as it flew into Denver Friday, according to Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a spokesman for NORAD.

"They followed to make sure nothing untoward was going to happen," he said.

Jose Manuel Pelayo-Ortega was arrested after the plane landed around 4:30 p.m., FBI spokeswoman Monique Kelso said.
Secret Service agents traveling between assignments who happened to be on the plane helped detain the passenger, said Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren.

After the A-320 Airbus landed, it taxied to a remote part of the airport where the passengers got off and were bused to the terminal.

None of the 138 passengers or six crew members was injured, airport spokesman Chuck Cannon said. The flight was headed to Sacramento, Calif., from Chicago.

Authorities searched the aircraft for explosives and re-screened luggage and passengers before they reboarded the plane, which took off for its original destination around 7:30 p.m., Kelso said.

Comment: So, was a bomb found or not? It's curious that amidst all the immigration hoopla, passengers with Mexican-sounding names will now be associated with terrorism.

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Your War Channel-all war-all the time-24/7-25/8-round the clock-breaking only for commercials for Halliburton and Bechtel

The Anti-Empire Report
Some things you need to know before the world ends
April 22, 2006
by William Blum

The recent paper by two prominent academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, on "The Israel Lobby", has spurred considerable discussion both in the mainstream media and on the Internet about the significance of the role played by this lobby in instigating the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The answer to this question may reside ultimately, and solely, in the minds of the neo-conservatives, in or close to official government positions, who lobbied for years to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein; an early instance of this being their now-famous letter to President Clinton in January 1998, which, in no uncertain terms, called for an American strategy that "should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power". Warning of Saddam's potential for acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the neo-cons, in language at times sounding frenzied, insisted that his removal was absolutely vital to "the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century" and for "the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil."
This of course was a gross exaggeration. In 1998, after seven years of relentless US bombing and draconian sanctions, Iraq was but a pitiful shell of its former self and no longer a threat even to its neighbors, much less "the world". There were those who hated Saddam, but the only country that had any good reason to fear Iraq, then or later, was Israel, as retaliation for Israel's unprovoked bombing of Iraq in 1981. The letter to Clinton was signed by Elliott Abrams, Richard L. Armitage, William J. Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Peter W. Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr., Vin Weber, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, and Robert B. Zoellick(1), most of whom, if not all, could be categorized as allies of Israel; most of whom were soon to join the Busheviks. What could have prompted these individuals to write such a letter to the president other than a desire to eliminate a threat to the safety of Israel? And when they came into power some began immediately to campaign for regime change in Iraq.

There are those who argue that the United States has invaded numerous countries without requiring instigation by Israel. This is of course true, it's what the empire does for a living. But to say that the Israel lobby played a vital role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is not to suggest an explanation for the whole history of US foreign interventions.

To the role of the Israel lobby we must add two other factors carrying unknown degrees of weight in the decision to invade Iraq: controlling vast amounts of oil, and saving the dollar from the euro by reversing Saddam Hussein's decision to use the latter in Iraq's oil transactions (and this reversal was one of the first edicts of the occupation).

Whatever ambiguity may remain about the role of the Israel lobby in the invasion of Iraq, it's clear that if and when the sociopaths who call themselves our leaders attack Iran, Israeli security will be the main reason, with the euro in second place because Iran has been taking -- or at least threatening to take -- serious steps to replace the dollar with the euro in oil transactions. Iran of course also has lots of oil, but unless the United States aims at conquest and occupation of the country -- and where will Los Socios find a few hundred thousand more clueless American bodies -- access to and control of the oil would not be very feasible. The Israel lobby appears to be the only major organized force that is actively pushing the United States toward crisis in Iran. Along with the lobby's leading member, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), there's the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has taken out full-page ads in major US newspapers with the less-than-subtle heading: "A Nuclear Iran Threatens All", depicting radiating circles on an Iran-centered map to show where its missiles could strike.

"The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel," declared George W. last month. "That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace. I made it clear, and I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel."(2)

Chutzpah of an imperial size

Do you remember the classic example of "chutzpah"? It's the young man who kills his parents and then asks the court for mercy on the grounds that he's an orphan.

The Bush administration's updated version of that is starting a wholly illegal, immoral, and devastating war and then dismissing all kinds of criticism of its action on the grounds that "We're at war."

They use this excuse to defend warrantless spying, to defend the imprisonment of people for years without charging them with a crime, to abuse and torture them, to ignore the Geneva Convention and other international treaties; they use it against Democrats, accusing them of partisanship during "a time of war"; they use it to justify the expansion of presidential powers and the weakening of checks and balances. In short, they claim "We can do whatever we want about anything at all related to this war, because we're at war."

"War is war," says Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. Give me a break."(3) Scalia, in his public talks, implies that prisoners held in the far-flung American gulag were all "captured on the battlefield".(4) But this is simply false. Very few of the poor souls were captured on any kind of battlefield, few had even a gun in their hand; most were just in the wrong place at the wrong time or were turned in by an informer for an American bounty or a personal grudge.

The American public, like all publics, requires only sufficient repetition from "respectable" sources to learn how to play the game: Earlier this month many cities of Wisconsin held referendums on bringing the troops home from Iraq. Here's Jim Martin, 48, a handyman in Evansville. He thinks that his city shouldn't waste taxpayers' money running a referendum that means nothing. "The fact of the matter remains, we're at war," he said as he ate his lunch at the Night Owl bar.(5)

And here now is Chris Simcox a leader in the Minuteman movement that patrols the Mexican border: "If I catch you breaking into my country in the middle of the night and we're at war ... you're a potential enemy. I don't care if you're a busboy coming to wash dishes."(6)

One observer has summed up the legal arguments put forth by the Bush administration thusly: "The existing laws do not apply because this is a different kind of war. It's a different kind of war because the president says so. The president gets to say so because he is president. ... We follow the laws of war except to the extent that they do not apply to us. These prisoners have all the rights to which they are entitled by law, except to the extent that we have changed the law to limit their rights."(7)

Yet, George W. has cut taxes tremendously, something probably unprecedented while at war.

Facing calls for impeachment, plummeting popularity, a looming Republican electoral disaster, and massive failure in Mesopotamia, Georgie looks toward Persia. He and the other gang members will be able to get away with almost anything they can think of if they can say "We're in two wars!"

A tale of two terrorists

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged to date in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks, testifying at his trial in Alexandria, Virginia:

The sobbing September 11 survivors and family members who testified against him were "disgusting" ... He and other Muslims want to "exterminate" American Jews ... executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was "the greatest American"(8) He expressed his willingness to kill Americans "any time, anywhere" ... "I wish it had happened not only on the 11th, but the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th."(9)

Orlando Bosch, one of the masterminds behind the October 6, 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, blown out of the sky with 73 people on board, including the entire young Cuban fencing team, interviewed April 8 by Juan Manuel Cao of Channel 41 in Miami:

Cao: Did you down that plane in 1976?

Bosch: If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself ... and if I tell you that I did not participate in that action, you would say that I am lying. I am therefore not going to answer one thing or the other.

Cao: In that action 73 persons were killed ...

Bosch: No chico, in a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.

Cao: But don't you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?

Bosch: Who was on board that plane? Four members of the Communist Party, five north Koreans, five Guyanese ... Who was there? Our enemies.

Cao: And the fencers? The young people on board?

Bosch: I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant. We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.

Cao: If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn't you think it difficult ... ?

Bosch: No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba.

The main difference between Zacarias Moussaoui and Orlando Bosch is that one of them is on trial for his life while the other walks around Miami a free man, free enough to be interviewed on television.

Bosch had a partner in plotting the bombing of the Cuban airliner, Luis Posada, a Cuban-born citizen of Venezuela. He's being held in custody in the United States on a minor immigration charge. His extradition has been requested by Venezuela for several crimes including the downing of the airliner, part of the plotting having taken place in Venezuela. But the Bush administration refuses to send him to Venezuela because they don't like the Venezuelan government, nor will they try him in the United States for the crime. However, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation (1973), of which the United States is a signatory, gives Washington no discretion. Article 7 says that the state in which "the alleged offender is found shall, if it does not extradite him, be obliged, without exception whatsoever and whether or not the offence was committed in its territory, to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution."(10) Extradite or prosecute. The United States does neither.

This is your mind on anti-communism

Earlier this month, in Miami-Dade County, Florida (where else?) it was reported that the parent of a schoolchild asked the school board to ban a book called "Vamos a Cuba" ("Let's go to Cuba"), a travel book that has smiling kids on the cover and inside depicts happy scenes from a festival held in Cuba. "As a former political prisoner from Cuba, I find the material to be untruthful," Juan Amador, wrote to the school board. "It portrays a life in Cuba that does not exist. I believe it aims to create an illusion and distort reality." Mr. Amador is presumably claiming that no one in Cuba is ever happy or even smiles. The book is currently being reviewed by a school committee.(11)

During his recent election campaign, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared that communists in Mao's China boiled babies to make fertilizer.(12) He defended his remark by citing: "The Black Book of Communism", a "history" of communism published in 1997, a book that is to the study of communism as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zionism" is to Judaism or the collected statements of George W. Bush are to understanding why we are fighting in Iraq. Berlusconi's remark may actually be regarded as progress in the wonderful world of anti-communism, for following the Russian Revolution of 1917 it was widely and long proclaimed that the Bolsheviks killed and ate babies (as the early pagans believed the Christians guilty of devouring their children; the same was believed of Jews in the Middle Ages). It's interesting to note (Well, to me at least) that in 2003, when my book Killing Hope was published in Italy, the publisher gave it the title "Il Libro Nero Degli Stati Uniti" ("The Black Book of The United States").(13)

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McKinney, Delay and distraction

by Margaret Kimberley
April 21, 2006

The corporate media and the American political system have a relationship that can only be described as corrupt. The media long ago rendered themselves incapable of informing the public of anything important or providing any meaningful analysis. They no longer even bother to hide their bias in favor of right wing politics and corporate interests.

The conflict of interest was made obvious when Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney became involved in an incident with a Capitol Hill police officer. At the same time, Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay, indicted for conspiracy and money laundering, announced that he would not run for re-election.
If Cynthia McKinney hadn't gotten into a shoving match with a cop, she would have to have been invented. The media would have had to tell us more about Katie Couric's move to CBS, celebrity gossip, or a runaway bride, anything to distract us from Republican criminality.

DeLay continued his snake-like ways until the very end. He stayed in a race he was likely to lose because campaign funds can also be used to pay for legal fees. Tom will have to pay plenty for his lawyers, hence the eleventh hour announcement that he was bowing out.

He couldn't go out with any class, of course. After whining that he was being picked on for being a Christian, the indicted DeLay said that McKinney should face an ethics charge and called her a racist.

There was worse to come. On the same day that McKinney apologized for pushing, shoving, or slapping, Tom DeLay sent a goon squad to push, shove and slap little old ladies or anyone else who attended a press conference for Nick Lampson, a Democrat running for the vacated seat. DeLay's campaign manager sent an email beseeching supporters, "Let's give Lampson a parting shot that wrecks his press conference."

CNN never aired the footage showing DeLay's goons. They did repeatedly air footage of a confrontation between a McKinney staffer and a reporter.

Cynthia McKinney isn't a crook. You wouldn't know that from the vitriolic press coverage she received. Even liberals took their pot shots. She has passionately spoken against the occupation of Iraq. She didn't lie to Congress or the United Nations about WMD and she hasn't profited from the destruction of a nation and the deaths of its people. She didn't shoot a lawyer with a shotgun and then dispatch a private citizen to make the announcement. Only Vice Presidents get to do that.

The other members of the Congressional Black Caucus were silent while McKinney twisted in the wind by herself. They should have long ago defended her right to retain her seniority in the House. They could have pointed out that unlike Delay, she and her staff won't be modeling orange jump suits. If all else failed, they could have just pointed out the wrong doing of Republicans. Instead they said nothing at all.

It is hard to crawl out on a limb when your party makes itself irrelevant, but silence doesn't help. The limb only gets weaker and weaker.

If there was any doubt that the fix was in, Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, proved that even disgraced, criminal Republicans are the masters and the media are the lackeys. Matthews interviewed DeLay and was caught with his pants down during a commercial break.

MATTHEWS: Hey thank you for calling me. It was a good thing for me, mostly.

DELAY: Oh really.

Share your thoughts on this story on the ChicagoDefender.com message board.

MATTHEWS: Oh of course it was. We got on the air as fast as we could.... [...]

MATTHEWS: Shannon [DeLay aide] told me, she called me, she said 'don't worry -- he's not calling in to complain'...

MATTHEWS: Have you seen this new focus group stuff on the candidates?

DELAY: No I haven't.

MATTHEWS: It's great stuff. I'll send it to you -- it's great -- yeah it's great stuff. Hillary, John Kerry. All these guys, all these Democrats, and how they do. And, uh, Frank Luntz did it...

DELAY: who I like....

MATTHEWS: ...and Hillary did not do well. Kerry did well.

DELAY: You're kidding.

MATTHEWS: I am NOT kidding. They didn't like Edwards -- they thought he was a rich lawyer, pretending to care about poor people...

DELAY: Too slick. Too slick.

MATTHEWS: ...and Hillary was a know-it-all.

DELAY:Nothing worse than a woman know-it-all. [...]

MATTHEWS: Thanks. I owe you one. I owe you two -- today and last night.

DELAY: No you don't.


DELAY: I appreciate it.

Chris Matthews and the rest of his colleagues are whores who go after the best paying clients. Even a Republican on his way out office and possibly into a jail cell is the most sought after john in town.

While Matthews confessed to being in the thrall of Republican pollsters and crooks, McKinney had to apologize when Republicans threatened to bring her before a grand jury. She unintentionally became the media distraction that took Republican corruption off the front page.

Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's indicted former chief of staff, testified under oath that President Bush himself authorized leaks of classified information. That means only one thing. A new media distraction is on its way.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail at margaret.kimberley@blackcommentator.com. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at freedomrider.blogspot.com

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White House Letter: New chief with broom gives staff the jitters

Elisabeth Bumiller
International Herals Tribune
MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2006

PALM SPRINGS, California - There is fear and moaning in the West Wing these days as Andrew Card Jr., the genial father figure who promoted a family- friendly White House, has been replaced as chief of staff by Joshua Bolten, a Goldman Sachs-trained workaholic who is exposing President George W. Bush's aides to market forces.

In other words, after a big set of staff changes last week - Karl Rove gave up his policy portfolio to focus on the midterm elections and Scott McClellan, the press secretary, resigned - no one is sure who is in and who is out. Aides say they are on edge, and Bolten has promised more housecleaning this week, after Bush returns from a four-day trip to California. Treasury Secretary John Snow is possibly the next to go.

The White House has never been a cozy place to work, but under this President Bush, who hates change and who has rarely been able to dismiss anyone, it became something of a sinecure. (Bush had Vice President Dick Cheney fire Snow's predecessor, Paul O'Neill, in 2002.) Aides stayed an unusually long time, and Card was widely liked for his easy manner and tolerance for working mothers who slipped out for school events. People may have come in at 6 or 7 a.m., but they left at 7 p.m., relatively early for Washington.

Bolten, who is single, keeps investment banker hours and is well known for staying at the office until 11 p.m. When he was White House deputy chief of staff in Bush's first term, he was also known for making it to the 7:30 a.m. senior staff meeting with only minutes to spare.
Now he has stretched out his days to match the early mornings of Card, and like him, is there to greet Bush before 7 a.m. each day when the president arrives for work in the Oval Office.

More to the point, Bolten has a sharper management style than Card. "Josh is a little more overtly demanding," said one former member of the administration who asked not to be identified so that he could stay on good terms with White House aides. "He's immediately playing the devil's advocate, and he'll challenge you on a lot of things, mostly to make sure it was well thought through and to see if there are any holes in the argument."

Bolten also likes a clean hierarchy, and is still said to be looking closely at the White House congressional liaison office and the communications operation to see if he can eliminate some people. "Josh doesn't like these floaters," said one Republican close to Bolten who was granted anonymity to talk about internal White House deliberations. "He prefers a structure so that people have line responsibility and real authority to carry it out."

Despite the latitude he's been given by Bush to overhaul a staff that has been criticized by Republicans as slow and ineffective, Bolten has won praise for his low-key style and willingness to confront the administration's troubles. Presiding over his first senior staff meeting last Monday, Bolten made headlines when he asked anyone thinking of leaving in the next year to step forward immediately. But some staff members said they were relieved by his candor.

"It was just so nice for someone to speak to the elephant in the room, which is that we're facing some tough challenges with events in Iraq, the agenda, the political climate," said Nicolle Wallace, the White House communications director, who is herself likely to leave this year and join her husband in New York. "It was nice to cut right to the chase. He set a very honest and direct tone. It was kind of, 'We're going to get though all this together, and we need to step it up.'"

Republicans say that Bush, as much as he dislikes changing staff, recognized the need and was the one who drove the overhaul, and told supporters months ago that if Card were to go, Bolten would replace him. The Republican close to Bolten now says that Bolten may be getting too much media attention for Bush's liking. The Republican said that may be one reason that Bush faced down calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation last week by declaring, "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best."

In the meantime, Bush blew off steam this past weekend in two intense mountain bike rides during his California trip. On Sunday he rode in the desert surrounding Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, where he stayed at a luxury lodge, and on Saturday he rode in a foggy forest high above the Napa Valley wine country.

Bush was accompanied Saturday by a small group that included Scott Lindlaw, a former White House correspondent for The Associated Press who now works for the wire service in San Francisco. Afterward Bush told Lindlaw that he liked both the solitude and social aspect of mountain biking.

"Generally when I ride it is the one time when I feel alone, even though I know people are behind me," Bush told Lindlaw in an interview for The AP. "I ask people a lot of times not to be in my line of vision because all I can see straight ahead is, you know, space."

Bush also told Lindlaw that when he is riding with his usual group near Washington he often plugs headphones into his ears and cranks up his iPod, "and it's like I'm alone."

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Money Matters

A Financial Hit on Iran?

Sunday, Apr. 23, 2006

Ahead of this week's U.N. Security Council deadline for Iran to abandon its nuclear activities and an expected report from nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei, U.S. officials have been mapping a plan to hit the defiant regime. But the attacks will be financial, not military. The U.S. and its European allies will ask the council next month for a resolution that would pave the way for political and economic sanctions. If, as expected, Russia and China threaten a veto or stall, the U.S. intends to work outside the U.N. to isolate Tehran "diplomatically and economically," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said last week. "Countries that trade with Iran ... ought to begin to rethink those commercial trade relationships."

Among the plan's first targets: Iran's accounts and financial institutions in Europe.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met last week with the finance ministers of Britain and Germany, where, according to a U.S. Treasury study, Iranian-government banks operate branches to handle funds generated by the oil trade. The U.S. wants non-Iranian banks to stop facilitating Tehran's money flow. A senior official involved in devising the strategy told TIME, "It's about convincing financial institutions not to deal with bad guys, because they're worried about their own reputations."

Iran has shifted some accounts from Europe to Persian Gulf countries in anticipation of a squeeze. So Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph traveled to seven countries in the Middle East earlier this month to talk with officials about "what we can do together to disrupt the proliferation activities," he said. Financial restrictions "can have an effect on Iran's ability to acquire more technology and expertise from the outside."

Another possible move is a disinvestment campaign similar to that used against apartheid-era South Africa. A study by the Conflict Securities Advisory Group, a Washington consultant hired by the State Department, found that 124 publicly traded European companies have ties to Iran and that European banks are financing significant energy and telecom projects there. A disinvestment campaign could be tough to pull off. But U.S. officials hope that while conscience may not get those firms to quit Iran, the threat of bad p.r. might.

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Brown unveils major IMF shake-up

By Philip Thornton, Economics Correspondent in Washington
The Independent
24 April 2006

Gordon Brown unveiled the biggest reform of the International Monetary Fund in almost four decades at the weekend as countries across the globe faced up to the need to prevent financial instability from triggering a global recession.

The Chancellor, who chairs the IMF's policy committee, said the fund would institute a new surveillance system to highlight the impact one country's policies had on other nations and the global economy.

The move came at the end of a week that saw oil prices hit a new record, world trade talks move closer to collapse, and talks between the presidents of the United States and China end without any solid outcome.

It followed a stern warning by the IMF's economists that world leaders had only a small window of opportunity to tackle threats to the global economy from oil prices, the record US trade deficit and the rise in protectionism.
Speaking at the IMF's Washington headquarters on Saturday night, Mr Brown said the new strategy for the IMF, which was established 60 years ago at the post-war Bretton Woods conference, had won a consensus of all 184 country members.

"This is not simply the IMF accepting responsibility for multilateral surveillance. This is about individual economies of the world ... accepting that we have responsibilities to each other and that they have to be addressed."

He said it was a time of "profound change" thanks to globalisation and of risk from high and volatile oil prices and the dangers of protectionism. "Faced with this challenge members of the committee decided that 2006 would be a year of reform for the global economy and to make the IMF more fit for purpose and address the challenges that are quite different from 1945 when the IMF was created."

The medium-term strategy drawn up by the IMF's managing director, Rodrigo de Rato, and approved by the committee, will lead to a wholesale reform of the institution including; a new focus on surveillance of multilateral issues and the spillovers and linkages between countries or groups; greater independence of the IMF's surveillance work in exchange for more direct accountability; an ad hoc revision of voting shares to give representation to small countries; and the launch of a review of the whole voting structure of the IMF that could see China and other Asia nations vastly increase their voice at the world table at the expense of Europe.

Experts believe one of the first issues to be addressed will be links between record current deficits in the US, massive surpluses in Asia and oil-producing countries, and China's currency peg with the dollar.

Asked how this would work in practice, Mr de Rato said: "This is a system by which ... the authority of the fund and the consultation process are able to discuss and implement analysis and decisions with relevant countries related to spillover and linkages."

There was fresh evidence of a new attitude to global imbalances as China said it was adopting further measures to expand domestic demand, encourage consumption, open its markets and "improve" the exchange rate regime.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China said the reforms meant its currency could "probably" begin to appreciate a bit more quickly. "Chinese economic reform always follows the philosophy of gradualism (but) probably it can be a little bit faster."

Meanwhile, Mr de Rato said the IMFC had given him a clear mandate to propose changes to the voting shares of some countries, including some emerging market economies, by September. His proposal would give ad hoc increases to a small number of countries like China, South Korea and Mexico. Other nations that may also qualify include Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, which will host the annual meetings in September where Mr de Rato said he would publish "concrete proposals".

This could be the most significant change to the IMF since 1971, when the Bretton Woods agreement that obliged countries to fix their exchange rates to gold was abandoned.

Observers noted last week marked the 60th anniversary of the death of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist seen as the architect of Bretton Woods.

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OPEC says powerless to drive down $75 oil

By Peg Mackey and Janet McBride
April 24, 2006

DOHA - OPEC ministers conceded on Monday there was nothing they could do to halt surging oil prices that threaten consumer nations' economies and could trigger a collapse in demand disastrous to producer states.

The group, already pumping as much as refiners can handle, concluded at talks here that raising its 28 million barrels per day output ceiling would not rein in runaway prices.

"The market determines the oil price," Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi, OPEC's most influential voice, told reporters.
"You know and I know that the reason the price is where it is is not from a shortage of (crude oil) supply," he said.

Oil raced to an all-time high above $75 last week as
Iran continued to defy world pressure to halt its nuclear program, a quarter of Nigeria's output lay idle after rebel attacks and Iraq's once considerable oil industry was mired in crisis.

Consuming nations -- from top energy user the United States to poor African nations -- are afraid high energy costs will snuff out economic growth. Producers fear a price collapse.

OPEC ministers, meeting on the final day of global energy talks here, had little enthusiasm for a Kuwait proposal to offer up all the organization's spare capacity of two million bpd as they did in September when oil spiked above $70 a barrel.

Then, as now, a lack of motor fuel in the United States, consumer of over 40 percent of the world's gasoline, was partly to blame for the price surge. At that time hurricanes had damaged U.S. refineries. Now the introduction of new, cleaner U.S. gasoline may disrupt supplies in the short term.

Some OPEC delegates also blame U.S. foreign policy.

Libya's top oil official said fears of a U.S. strike on Iran, the world's fourth biggest crude exporter, had added $15 to the cost of a barrel of oil. Kuwait's oil minister reckoned another $7 had been added by consumers' sense of vulnerability.

Top exporter Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, also spoke of international tension. "There is nothing that can be done about the tension that has been created and until that tension abates the price will continue to be high," Naimi said.

Investors agreed OPEC, supplier of a third of the world's oil, could do nothing to steer oil from its highest level in real terms since 1980, the year after the Iranian revolution.

"OPEC can't do anything about the upside to the market. They don't have much scope left for managing," said Michael Coleman, managing director of hedge fund Aisling Analytics.


Energy consumers and producers here for the International Energy Forum agreed there was an urgent need to bring down prices. But they were split over how to do it.

Consumers want greater access to oil and gas in the Middle East, Russia and Africa. Producers want to be sure investing in new fields will pay off. Both sides criticize major oil firms for failing to build new refineries.

"The objectives are different. Nobody is sharing anything," said a delegate who declined to be named.

The meeting brought together ministers from 59 countries and the chief executives of major oil companies.

OPEC members point out they have raised oil output by over 10 percent since 1999. Saudi Arabia alone will spend $50 billion over the next five years on new fields and refineries.

In contrast, the United States, which uses a quarter of the world's oil, has not built a refinery on its soil for decades.

A conciliatory Bodman said he would not ask OPEC to pump more even though U.S. gasoline has reached $3 a gallon

"We have encouraged producing nations to keep oil markets well supplied -- I think they've done that," he said.

An OPEC statement after Monday's talks said "crude volumes entering the market are currently well in excess of actual demand, as levels of stocks in OECD countries demonstrate."

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Gas Prices Climb Sharply, Survey Finds

Sun Apr 23, 2006

CAMARILLO, Calif. - Retail gas prices across the country jumped an average of nearly a quarter per gallon in the past two weeks, according to a survey released Sunday.

Self-serve regular averaged $2.91 a gallon, up from $2.67 two weeks ago, said Trilby Lundberg, who publishes the nationwide Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations.
Also Sunday, OPEC President Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru predicted that oil prices would fall from their current high of just over $75 a barrel to stabilize in the "upper fifties to lower sixties."

Crude-oil prices hit a new record Friday, fueled by concerns about
Iran's nuclear ambitions and tight U.S. gasoline supplies.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries president said the solution to high prices lies in a calmer international environment and boosting refining capacity - not increasing output which would only clog the market.

"If we do the right things by lowering international tensions, oil prices will definitely stabilize," said OPEC President Edmund Maduabebe Daukoru said in Doha, Qatar.

In the Lundberg Survey, mid-grade hit $3 a gallon, up from $2.76, while premium climbed to an average of $3.10, from $2.86 two weeks ago.

The survey covered the period from April 7 through April 21.

Among the stations surveyed, the lowest average price in the country for regular unleaded was in Boise, Idaho, at $2.54 a gallon.

Drivers in San Diego were paying the most for gas, at an average of $3.12 a gallon for regular.

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FEMA Wants $4.7M Back From Katrina Victims

Associated Press
Fri Apr 21, 10:01 PM ET

JACKSON, Miss. - Thousands of Gulf Coast residents have been told they must repay millions of dollars in federal Hurricane Katrina benefits that were excessive or, in some cases, fraudulent.

In Mississippi alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is seeking $4.7 million from 2,044 people, telling them in a form letter that they have four months to repay or set up a payment plan.

Some storm victims got duplicate or extra benefits because of FEMA errors, FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany said, and others might have received benefits for expenses that later were reimbursed by insurance settlements.
Some others benefited "by intentional misrepresentation" or the mistaken belief that secondary residences qualified for payments, he said.

More people could get repayment notices as more applications are reviewed, Brezany said. Recipients could have received $2,000 to $26,200.

People who get the form letter have 30 days to respond. If they don't meet the four-month deadline, the U.S. Treasury will attempt to collect the money, Brezany said.

James McIntyre, FEMA spokesman for Louisiana, could not immediately provide figures for his state or others hit by Katrina. Aaron Walker, the agency's chief spokesman, said in an e-mail he also could not immediately respond.

The form letter sent to the aid recipients said that they could appeal the charges. Even so, it said, "FEMA strongly encourages" them to pay the debt or set up a repayment plan to avoid being charged penalties or interest in case the appeal fails.

Federal auditors have faulted FEMA for much of the benefit abuse after last fall's hurricanes, citing an inadequate accounting system. The federal Government Accountability Office has said thousands of inappropriate payments were made because people could repeatedly apply for and collect benefits.

In February, audits by the General Accounting Office and the Department of Homeland Security found that as many as 900,000 of the 2.5 million applicants who received aid under FEMA's emergency cash assistance program - which included $2,000 debit cards given to evacuees - were based on duplicate or invalid Social Security numbers, or false addresses and names.

Also in February, the Justice Department said federal prosecutors charged 212 people with fraud, theft and other counts in scams related to Gulf Coast hurricanes.

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Congress Struggles With Pension Bill

Associated Press
Sun Apr 23, 2006

WASHINGTON - Squabbles over special treatment for bankrupt airlines and beleaguered auto companies are delaying final action in Congress on a pension bill that would affect millions of workers, retirees and taxpayers.

Lawmakers trying to merge House and Senate versions already have missed one deadline, April 15, when some companies had to recalculate their pension fund obligations.

Memorial Day, May 29, is the new target for sending to
President Bush a bill to prop up the finances of defined-benefit pension plans covering some 44 million people in the United States.
The Senate passed its bill in November; the House approved its version in December. They opened negotiations last month on a compromise but immediately hit a wall over a Senate plan to make companies with poor credit ratings pay more into their pension plans.

That proposal was part of the overall theme of the legislation: ensuring that companies honor their promises to retirees and restore health to a single-employer pension system now underfunded by an estimated $450 billion.

The idea was opposed by senators with ties to the auto industry, and faces strong resistance in the House.

Also crying foul is General Motors Corp., laboring under a junk bond rating and high health and pension costs.

GM says its pension plan, with $95 billion in assets, is overfunded by $6 billion. To be penalized for its weak credit rating "with more pension obligation is obviously not a favorable situation. We think the two issues should be decoupled," GM spokesman Christopher Preuss said.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, says the provision is needed to prevent massive defaults that would add to the financial woes of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

The federal agency, financed by premiums paid by companies with pension plans, insures employer-based plans worth $2 trillion and covering 44 million workers. It has taken over paying current and future benefits to more than 1 million workers in more than 3,400 terminated defined benefit plans.

Last fall, the agency concluded that GM was $31 billion short of what it would need to fulfill all its pension obligations if its plan was suddenly ended and its assets transferred to the agency. GM objected, saying the agency's calculations did not indicate GM's ability to continue putting money into the plan.

The agency is already running a $22.8 billion deficit. A GM bankruptcy could add up to $20 billion, according to some Senate estimates.

The AFL-CIO and other unions are worried that companies will go broke and renege on their pension obligations. The labor federation has come out against a credit rating link.

That dispute alone played a role in delaying for three months the start of House-Senate talks on a compromise. They did not begin until Republicans bowed to Democrats' demand that both Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, with ties to the auto industry, and Tom Harkin of Iowa, a close ally of unions, join the Senate's negotiating team.

Businesses and unions are balking at tougher funding rules that they say will drive more companies to file for bankruptcy or abandon their pension plans. The White House, on the other side, has threatened to veto any bill that weakens funding requirements and pushes the pension agency closer to a fiscal crisis that might require a taxpayer bailout.

"The focus has shifted a lot of times to what would be good for the PBGC, not what would be good for plan participants," said Lynn Dudley, vice president of the American Benefits Council, which represents companies with pension plans. If companies terminate or freeze plans, she said, "not much else matters."

The White House also opposes a Senate plan to give Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines - both in bankruptcy - 20 years to make up a combined $16.3 billion underfunding in their pension plans.

Senate Democrats say airline relief must be part of the final package and negotiators. In a move that could further displease the White House, they are considering extending industry-specific relief to others, including the auto and steel industries.

The pension agency wants to avoid a repeat of last year's takeover of the pension plans of bankrupt United Airlines, which added $10 billion to the agency's liabilities.

Senate aides say a separate issue - hybrid, or cash balance, plans - could be tougher to resolve than the credit rating dispute. Under cash balance plans, companies set aside money each year for employees and generally make a lump sum payment when a worker retires or leaves the company.

The pension legislation tries to clarify the law in the aftermath of a lawsuit against IBM by employees who said the company committed age discrimination when it switched to a cash balance plan. That case was settled in 2004 but with two pending claims that could push the cost of the settlement to IBM to $1.4 billion.

Businesses are pushing hard for this part of the House bill, including making it retroactive. The House, however, has passed a resolution saying the final bill should use Senate language to protect older workers' pension benefits when their companies switch to cash balance plans.

Congress' Government Accountability Office concluded in a study in November that employees whose companies switch to cash-balance plans generally lose benefits regardless of age.

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Venezuela announces exit from Andean trade bloc

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-24 10:28:41

CARACAS, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Venezuelan Minister of Light Industry and Trade Maria Cristina Iglesias announced on Sunday that her country had decided to withdraw from the Community of Andean Nations (CAN).

The pullout would be "a long process" of about five years, she said, but adding that Venezuela's relationship with other CAN members -- Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia -- would remain unchanged.
According to CAN regulations, if it chooses to exit, Caracas must respect for the next five years all customs and trade agreements signed with other member states.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the nation's decision to leave CAN was irrevocable, and CAN's collapse had been caused by Colombia and Peru, both of which have signed free trade agreements with the United States.

On his Sunday radio and television program Alo Presidente, Chavez said he had made "a strategic decision to safeguard Venezuela's national interests," adding that his country could compete with "subsidized U.S. products."

U.S. products would enter Venezuela through Colombia because of the CAN free trade pact, wrecking Venezuela's domestic development plans, Iglesias said.

Venezuela has been promoting a trade pact called The Bolivarian Alternative, which Caracas says is based on socialist ideals. The country has also been seeking to join the Southern Common Market, which is made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

CAN member nations will meet on Wednesday to discuss the consequences of Venezuela's withdrawal.

CAN was created by Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile in 1969, but Chile left five years later. Venezuela joined the regional trade bloc in 1978.

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Zionism and Israel

The Israel Lobby and Chomsky's Reply

by Gabriel Ash
April 20, 2006

Noam Chomsky responded to the paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (M&W), judging their thesis "not very convincing."

I agree with Chomsky, but for different reasons. Chomsky disputes the inference from the evidence (of the Israel Lobby's influence) to the conclusion (that the Lobby has the power to move U.S. foreign policy away from the U.S. national interest.) I contest the analytical framework of M&W, which includes the concept of "national interest," and the separation between domestic politics and foreign policy. Chomsky's critique, however, shows that he concedes too much of the conceptual framework of M&W. As a result, he is forced to reject too much of their specific claims. Paradoxically, getting rid of M&W's conceptual baggage makes their actual claims more relevant.
Chomsky takes M&W to task for two failures. First, M&W misunderstand the goals and therefore the successes of U.S. policy. Second, and as a result, M&W fail to consider other dominant interests that gained from U.S. policies in the Middle East, for example the oil industry. Both accusations are to the point. Together they form a basic principle of analysis on which I agree with Chomsky: U.S. foreign policy is determined by domestic interests.

Chomsky then frames the debate as an attempt to weigh "the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby."

The main problem is this: are (A) and (B) different factors at work, as Chomsky says, or alternative modes of explanations? One can contrast a leftist mode of explanation, one that analyzes the economic system of domination, to a rightist vision of history as a struggle between nations, races, or civilizations. In the leftist worldview, the state is the executor and protector of economic privilege, whereas in the rightist worldview the state is the embodiment and executor of the unified national identity. These two modes of explanations cannot be combined as "factors". They are holistic and mutually exclusive worldviews. Both, of course, must take account of the same facts. Leftists must explain how nationality, ethnicity and religion manifest themselves as organizing principles of domination and resistance within economic systems. Nationalists must justify the existence of class differences within "unified" identities and separate "productive" from "parasitic", and "organic" from "foreign" elements of society. But there is no coherent way to combine these visions of the world.

In so far as attacks on the Israel Lobby are motivated by and analyzed within a rightist mode of explanation, they should be rejected by the left outright. The issue is not one of weighing specific evidence. It is a political issue rooted in our deepest intuitions about the world and our sense of place in it. Ultimately, this is the problem with M&W. Their "realist" conception of the state as a "black box" is inherently in line with rightist state based nationalism. Their annoyance with the "Israel Lobby" seems motivated as much as anything by the theoretical difficulty of the "black box" model of the state to deal with capitalist globalization. They want to be imperialists in a simple world -- with the U.S. in one black box, Israel in another -- not in the world of globetrotting transnational elites we actually inhabit.

Chomsky rejects M&W's formulation of "the national interest," substituting his own, i.e. the interest of the dominant "concentrations of domestic power." In doing so, he correctly rejects M&W rightist framework. But his formulation is nonetheless based on the state as the fundamental unit of analysis. And that leads him to compare "the Lobby," which is here a guest concept from that other dimension, with his own concept of the dominant "concentrations of domestic power." This is an inherently impossible comparison between two concepts that do not belong to the same universe. Unsurprisingly, the mixing of conceptual frameworks leads to incoherence, and Chomsky concedes that, as soon as the Lobby becomes an important element in Washington "it's hard to distinguish 'national interest' (in the usual perverse sense of the phrase) from the effects of the Lobby."

The way out of this mess is to translate M&W's concept into our own analytical framework before we do the comparison. That would mean collapsing the false distinction between the Lobby and "strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage." But we should also loosen the requirements of Chomsky's "domestic" adjective. Instead, we should look at Washington as a complex web of interlocking and overlapping alliances of (transnational) capital and (domestic) state institutions. The Israel Lobby will then reappear as one such alliance among many. While U.S. capital emerges domestically, and while White Americans predominate in its circles, capital is global and many of the interests represented in Washington lost their "nationality" long ago. There is as little that is "American" in the interests of Citibank and Wal-Mart as in the interests represented by the Israel Lobby.

The capital alliances that make Washington are heterogeneous. Some are clearly defined by an industry, such as healthcare of agribusiness. Others are defined ideologically around a mobilizing issue, such as the gun lobby and the religious right. Yet other are defined by nationality/identity, and of these the most powerful is clearly the Israel Lobby. Each alliance is specific in nature and qualitatively unique. Thus it is easy to show that the Israel Lobby is unique. But it is equally easy to show that the agribusiness lobby is unique. However, they all share one common characteristic -- they all serve a capitalist interest. That is a truism, for the simple reason that you cannot play the Washington game without capital. You cannot offer career opportunities; you cannot dispense campaign funding; you cannot share a meaningful rolodex. And without these, you're not in the game.

Such a conception of the Israel lobby dissolves Chomsky's other complaints.

1. Chomsky raises a major problem in any discussion of the Lobby. Practically everyone in Washington supports Israel. Either the Israel lobby involves everyone, or support for Israel serves so many interests that it is hard to evaluate who is actually behind it.

Thinking in terms of capital alliances, it is clear why all of Washington agrees on so many subjects. There are interests strongly shared by all capitalists, and there is also a common culture with shared beliefs and ideas that circulate together with the money. Beyond that there are interests shared strongly by a few and only loosely by the rest. And further out are the really divergent interests that are the object of intense struggles. The differential importance of various concerns to different segments is the stuff that makes alliances possible. Each alliance has a core that is fully committed to a set of policies, as well as looser associations -- core elements of other alliances -- that join in more sporadically.

The interlocking and overlapping nature of Washington makes analysis difficult, but not impossible. It is both possible and necessary to identify the different interests and the alliances they make. It is also possible to notice when they clash. Once so described, talk of the power of the Lobby to control Washington becomes incoherent. Nobody controls Washington. There are more or less powerful alliances, and they usually do not test their power by engaging in all out war against each other. There is always a background of cooperation. But it is equally incoherent to dismiss the power of the Israel Lobby just because others, such as energy corporations, also supported and gained from the U.S. support for Israel. This is like dismissing the power of Wall Street investment banks because agribusiness also supports "free trade." When Cynthia McKinney was unseated by AIPAC, it was a service the Israel Lobby performed for Washington as a whole, getting rid of Representative who actually had the audacity to represent the poor people of her district. But it was her disrespect for Israel that got AIPAC to lead the charge. This is how cooperation works, and one must not be surprised that other segments of Washington would repay the favor and occasionally support Israel well beyond what their immediate interests dictate.

2. Chomsky notes that the Lobby only came to the fore after Israel became strategically important to the U.S., mostly as a means to combat Arab nationalism. Indeed, each powerful element in Washington derives a significant portion of its power from the very fact of being there and engaging in alliances with other elements. Wall Street wouldn't be so powerful if it couldn't rely occasionally on the U.S. army to collect debt. The Israel Lobby likewise draws its power from Washington, thanks to services performed in the past. But it is the wrong metaphor to imagine it as a kind of a light bulb, one that immediately goes dark when the power source is cut off. The logic of power is to accumulate and nowhere more so than under capitalism. The Israeli elite that served Washington in the last three decades was well compensated, and the same goes for the American intermediaries who facilitated the relations. In the process of serving the U.S., Israeli elites integrated their own wealth within the U.S. capital system and formed lasting alliances with segments of U.S. capital. They also created and endowed a series of institutions that are deeply involved in the culture of Washington. These alliances and institutions now stand on their own, and it would take a lot to disrupt them, even if Israel becomes as strategically useless as M&W claim it has.

Furthermore, most strategic goals can be achieved in more than one way. Israel helps the U.S. control the Middle East by simply being a constant irritant that weakens Arab governments and renders them dependent on Washington. But is it the only way for Washington to insert itself in the Middle East? The Israel Lobby does not need to "coerce" Washington to do its biding; it is enough that it can propose and promote choices of strategies that are consistent with its interests, and block strategies that are not. This is the core of the furor over M&W. M&W do not propose a less imperialist U.S. foreign policy. They merely suggest that the U.S. could achieve its imperialist goals in the Middle East at a lower cost by using an alternative strategy. I am not sure M&W are right. Perhaps the road through Israel is indeed the cheapest and safest for U.S. imperialism. But they could be right. M&W are, after all, leading defense intellectuals whose so-called "offensive realism" is a naked justification for unbridled U.S. imperialism. It should be clear that M&W neither need nor deserve the support of the left for their imperial stratagems. Their paper was explicitly targeted to the world of defense intellectuals and civil servants. But it is wrong to assume that Israel is necessary today for U.S. imperialist goals because it was so in the past or even because it is useful in the present. (Indeed, one way to think of the value of the Iraq War from a neo-conservative perspective is precisely as an attempt by a segment of the elites to commit the U.S. to a specific strategic path at the very moment when other paths could have been at least equally tempting.)

3. Chomsky faults M&W for the failure to notice that the U.S. has adopted similar foreign policies in the past in other areas of the world despite the lack of a relevant lobby. This is a relevant critique of M&W and all those who believe American imperialism is an Israeli import. But once we firmly locate the Lobby within the system of alliances that constitute Washington, it becomes a non-issue. First, it is simply not correct to describe the level of integration between the U.S. and Israel as in any way similar to any other relation the U.S. has with a similar ally. Chomsky himself has written extensively about the so-called "special relation." The key question is not the basic American policy as such, but the capitalist integration of elites. It is precisely because there is no Indonesian or Chilean lobby that the relations between these countries and the U.S. are different, even if the basic contours of U.S. policy, i.e. support for the ruthless suppression of native nationalism, has been the same. The Lobby is not the cause of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. In many ways it is the result. But that result has altered Washington in ways no other imperialist intervention did.

A final question must be asked: practically speaking, what does it matter?

Chomsky cites Stephen Zunes approvingly to the effect that "there are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC." The practical implication of this statement is that it is wrong for anti-imperialists activists to pay too much attention to the Israel lobby. It's a waste of resources and a diversion from the real target -- U.S. imperialism.

The problem is that Zunes and Chomsky are again confusing their own leftist framework with the right wing framework they oppose. It is wrong to focus on identity as such, including the national/ethnic identity of Jews/Israelis who are key figures in the imperialist machinery. It is wrong to see the world as fundamentally a clash of tribal identities. But is in not wrong to strategically focus on the Israel Lobby. The "Israel Lobby" shouldn't be an alternative framework that competes with "U.S. imperialism" as an explanation to world events. The Israel Lobby should rather be a shorthand designation for a segment of the elites that fully participates in making U.S. imperialism happen.

To insist on ignoring the Lobby it is to help it maintain a "safe zone" for U.S. imperialism to hide within. This is indeed one of the many useful services the Lobby provides for the larger Washington power system. The Israel Lobby is today a major purveyor of racist and pro-war propaganda, which is shielded from public criticism by its association with Israel and the sword of fighting anti-Semitism. To ignore it is to create a safe zone for racism and war at the heart of the U.S. public sphere.

The Israel Lobby is an important and active component of U.S. imperialism. To insist that one must only focus on "U.S. imperialism" is to limit the struggle to abstractions. It is as if one were to say, "don't mind Nike, it is just a shoe company. Focus your energies on global capitalism." It is just as counterproductive to insist on fighting U.S. imperialism while giving a free pass to one of its major manifestations.

Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcomes comments at: g.a.evildoer@gmail.com.

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The Israel Lobby from a former insider

Forwarded from Jeff Blankfort

Forwarded with permission of the author, for those who refuse to acknowledge the power of the lobby and the extent of its operations at the grassroots.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: The Israel Lobby
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2006 15:31:18 EDT
From: Hankbrilliant@aol.com
To: Findley1@verizon.net
CC: jblankfort@earthlink.net

Mr. Findley,

I just read your article regarding the existence and influence of an Israel Lobby on the formation and implementation of American foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly in the area of Israeli/Palestinian relations.

As a former member of Congress, your recounting of your experiences with the Lobby is invaluable in clarifying the issue.
I am writing to attest to the existence of the Israel Lobby. From 1967 to 1971, I was Associate Director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council. Following the 1967 war involving Israel and a number of Arab states in the region, I attended numerous meetings in San Francisco which planned to send delegations to Washington in support or Israel, and seeking extensive American aid for Israel. This was part of a nationally coordinated effort of the organized American Jewish community to secure guaranteed and ongoing American governmental support for the "beleaguered" state of Israel.

The recent Mearsheimer/Walt article regarding the Israel Lobby provides an excellent analysis of it's workings and spheres of influence. Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan commented that the intensity of the reaction against the Mearsheimer-Walt article is an indication of it's validity and accuracy. Absolutely true! I have spoken with a number of former colleagues, and they are very pissed off that the article was even printed! Let the truth ring loud! Thank you for your good work!

...Hank Silver
Berkeley, California

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The much wider scope of the Israel lobby

Hasan Abu Nimah
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just how much influence does the Israel lobby have? Sparked by a study published by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, a new debate on this question is raging.

The Mearsheimer-Walt thesis is that the overwhelming political power of a loose network of organisations that they group together as the "Israel Lobby" has exerted such a disproportionate influence that it has consistently steered the US away from pursuing its national interest. The authors offer evidence of how much control this lobby exercises on US policy makers by ruthlessly stifling free discussion about US-Israel relations and, among other tactics, by labelling anyone who dares question the relationship as an anti-Semitic bigot.
Walt and Mearsheimer conclude that the US has placed Israel's interests above its own, with the result that the US plunged into a disastrous misadventure in Iraq, made itself the object of Arab and Muslim anger and the target of terrorism. The financial, political and diplomatic cost of supporting Israel, they argue, cannot be justified on any practical, moral or strategic grounds.

The predictable response to the study is that the authors, among the two most distinguished international relations theorists in the US, have themselves now been labelled as anti-Semites in numerous articles in the mainstream press.

It is a common view in this region that despite decades of American bias and duplicity, US policy would one day be corrected; if it does not become openly supportive of our rights, at least it will not be so blindly supportive of Israel's violations of them. Indeed, I have long argued that the United States does not face a choice between Israel and the Arabs. There is no reason the US cannot support Israel as much as it desires, provided this does not extend to supporting Israel's open aggression against its neighbours, its blatant disregard for international law, and its cruel military rule over millions of Palestinians.

The Walt-Mearsheimer report is significant not because of its content - much of which was already known - but more because of who wrote it and the moment they chose to do it. Its appearance has opened the door to much needed debate. Many Americans get upset that people in this part of the world supposedly believe conspiracy theories and see an Israeli hand behind every US action. But in the absence of free discussion about what role Israel truly plays in US politics, why the US always defends whatever Israel does, and why US leaders seem to be so afraid to criticise Israel, it can be no surprise that people believe the very worst.

What is worrying is that the heavy-handed lobby pressure tactics that have long cowed the US Congress are now apparently being felt in Europe. Until 1967, Israel relied heavily on European support and weapons. But since the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, European attitudes began to evolve. In its 1980 Venice Declaration, the European Community (as the EU was then called) recognised for the first time the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, with all that entails. This was a major policy shift.

Although never straying too far from the US lead, the EU did try to influence Washington to be a little bit more even handed. Because of this, Israel and its lobby painted the EU as openly hostile to Israel and sought to marginalise it from any political role in solving the conflict, as it had done with the UN. The EU, desperate for a role, accepted the only one the US and Israel would permit: financier to the occupation. European money during the Oslo years made a double contribution; by propping up the Palestinian Authority in the context of no pressure on Israel, it helped legitimise the occupation, and by meeting minimal Palestinian needs, it subsidised the occupation, effectively relieving Israel of the burden of paying the costs of repressing the Palestinians. Ironically, the European billions which should have helped Palestinians build their institutions, ended up feeding corruption and financing more Israeli colonisation and consolidation in the occupied territories.

In reality, the ability of the EU to make a coherent policy has been weakened by the ascent of a number of Eastern European states whose foreign policy is particularly close to that of the United States and which are under its influence. This meant that the EU was paralysed by the debate about whether to support the US invasion of Iraq; the UK, Spain and Italy supported it, while France and Germany led the opposition. A similar process has happened with respect to Israel, and the result will be even more damaging to Europe.

Is it insignificant that within the US, it is the major pro-Israel groups that are pushing for the hardest line against Iran, despite European efforts to find a non-military approach? And is it merely a coincidence that the collapse in independent EU policy coincides with strident campaigns by US-based pro-Israel groups to paint European countries as a new hotbed of anti-Semitism and Muslim terrorism? Many in this region see a direct connection between the power of the Israel lobby and Europe's caving in to the Israeli worldview.

The EU is now following Israel and America in punishing the Palestinians for exercising their democratic right and electing Hamas. The EU has every right to urge Hamas to pursue the course of peace and non-violence, but a more balanced approach would require similar calls to Israel to end its occupation and halt the use of violence as well.

Since it was elected to office in January, actually since the election of Mahmoud Abbas as PA president, Hamas neither practised nor called for use of violence. It has been strictly observing the unilaterally declared Palestinian truce while Israeli attacks, incursions and artillery shelling of as much as three hundred rounds daily on Gaza, left 20 dead and enormous property damage and fear. Rather than step in to stop Israel's aggression in an occupied territory, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan did his best to appease Israel's supporters, announcing his own boycott of the Palestinians, with no mandate or authority to do so.

In this region, many will wonder what sort of principled position this is, and ask whether it is not a position merely taken out of fear and political self-preservation.

The scale and scope of the blind support is such that many people believe that something insidious is at work. The debate about the extent of the role of the Israeli lobby will go on. But what needs no debate is that for whatever reason, US policy is too pro-Israeli and as long as this does not change, conflict in the region will only worsen.

Hasan Abu Nimah is a retired Jordanian diplomat. Amongst his several postings was representative to the United Nations.

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The $6.40 a Gallon Question: Is the World Ready to Do What Must Be Done To Stop Ahmadinejad?

Dr. Eran Lerman
Director Israel/Middle East Office
A Weekly Briefing on Israeli and Middle Eastern Affairs
April 17, 2006

It would have been wonderful to get away, just for a few days, from the pressing business of strategic and political affairs and simply bask in the glory that is the Israeli countryside at this time of the year: to be intoxicated by the whiff of honey in the air, as a hot spell, coming after unusually heavy rains in the last days of March, brings to maturity the blooming wisteria and lemon trees in our gardens; as the intense pink and violet of the Judas trees (what a name to be stuck with for a lovely tree, but perhaps not such an insult, now that an old manuscript seemingly clears him of treason!) dot the mountainsides, and fields of yellow flowers are peppered with the red of poppies; as tourists crowd the national parks and the streets of Jerusalem; as festivals of all sorts, from the sublime to the ridiculous, vie for the attention, and pockets, of Israeli families seeking to amuse and inform their offspring. Why turn on the radio or the nightly news at all?
And yet, as the Romans used to say, et in Arcadia ego: The growing presence of a dark shadow on our not-too-distant horizon cannot be ignored or denied, even as these sunny days roll on (and off; winter came back last evening, then went away again-a highly unusual pattern for Passover). Steadily, inexorably, our minds are being focused. There are surely other issues on our doorstep: Islamic Jihad still plots murder, and after many failures and foiled attempts, a suicide bomber got through today, wreaking havoc and killing at least nine in the old Central Bus Station, at the heart of Tel Aviv; Hamas, in power, is already openly saying that unless the world pays its bills, even worse terror will soon resume. The "drip" of Qassam rockets continues, bringing the IDF to the edge of large-scale action on the ground, to put the residents of the Negev out of harm's way. An Arab man from Jerusalem was executed, gangster-style, in Jericho for selling land to Jews-a crime equivalent to high treason, under Palestinian and Jordanian law. All the while, despite the lull imposed by Passover, Israeli party politics are flowing in their convoluted course toward coalition-building. None of this, however, opens up existential questions, at least not at this stage. Iran does.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again challenges the world, telling the West it can no longer do anything about Iran's nuclear program, while repeating his assertions of Holocaust denial. In a major conference in Tehran, he offered aid and guidance to the new Hamas government, as well as to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizballah; in fact, it seems that Iran's constant goading is the key factor behind the new campaign of murder launched against us. What drives this Iranian confrontational course?
One of the first questions that need to be asked has to do with the roots of Ahmadinejad's breathtakingly, almost childishly aggressive posture. ("Those who are angry with us-let them die of anger.") What gives him, in his mind-unless he is truly demented, and it would be unsafe to proceed on that assumption-the capacity to defy the "powers that be" in this fashion? A number of scholars and experienced Israeli observers of Iranian affairs have tried to account for his outlook by delving into aspects of his faith-specifically, the peculiar convergence between Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's modernist totalitarian perversion of Shi'a beliefs, as reflected in the political structure of today's Iranian Islamist revolutionary state, and the older, mystical traditions within the same denomination, which bring him into communion with the "Hidden Imam," a belief reflecting a touch of the ancient Manichean polarity, typical of Iran in its pre-Islamic era. In his world there is absolute good, namely, all that the Islamic Revolution stands for, and there is absolute evil-i.e., the infidels who rule America and "the rotten tree which would be destroyed by the storm," namely the Zionist entity.

Perhaps we need not delve quite so far into the darker corners of what the some Muslim traditions call ghulat, Shi'a extremists, who slip over the unseen line and pretend to become prophets and saviors-although Muslim history has known many such over the years, some peaceful and benign, others less so. There are less mysterious reasons for Ahmadinejad's defiant posture, and they have to do with the perceived failure of the West as a whole to deal with an underlying challenge to its ability to act against Iran. A few years ago, when the oil markets were glutted and Saudi Arabia could offer surge capacities to respond to any major crisis, Iran would have been reckless to test the West's resolve. But things have changed, and the risk of confrontation could become a double-edged sword-unless important measures are taken soon to alter this aspect of the strategic equation.

At least five major developments have changed the dynamics of the "oil weapon"-an old and rusty threat when used by a disunited Arab world and aimed at Israel, but a potent factor in Iran's game of brinkmanship:

1. The surge in Chinese and Indian consumption of oil, as well as the collapse of self-restraint in the U.S. and elsewhere, have given a new edge to the sellers' market;
2. Saudi Arabia, stretched for funds to keep its pampered and restive population happy, is cruising much closer to its top capacity and can barely provide cover if a key producer should drop out of the market;
3. Iraq has yet a long way to go if it is ever to regain its position as a stable and reliable supplier;
4. Political and social instability, from Nigeria to the Caspian basin, further adds to the uncertainty and to the costs it entails;
5. Finally, in Hugo Chávez the radicals may find, if they choose to take a confrontational course, an angry ally ready to constrain and inconvenience the "North Americans" even further.

A prominent Israeli energy economist, Dr. Amit Mor, now warns, against this troubling background, that unless major preparations are made, and made now, any future crisis with Iran-over the imposition of sanctions, let alone the use of force-could quickly lead to a test of wills, with Iran taking some 3 million barrels a day off the market. This could easily send oil prices soaring, for the first time ever, well beyond the frightening threshold of $100 a barrel, perhaps as high as $150, ten times (!) or more the prices of the mid-nineties. Sooner rather than later, this would mean $6.40 at the pump. And what happens then?

Mor firmly believes that a resolute leadership in the U.S. and Europe can forestall the crisis, but only if some measures are taken immediately. The strategic reserves, mainly in America, should be replenished now, with plans made for tapping into them in a measured and well thought-out fashion, when the time comes to do so; a million barrels a day can thus come downstream. An equivalent amount, or more, could be saved by changing the consumption habits of American (and, to a lesser extent, European) drivers: Today, Americans at their wheels consume a huge proportion of the world's fossil fuels. Finally, the Saudis-who are, in all likelihood, as eager as anyone to see Ahmadinejad's power curtailed-can be prevailed upon to push the limits and use their residual surge capacity to further mitigate the threat.

Raising this question-and the equally cogent prospect that the revolutionary regime and its proxies may unleash a wave of terrorist attacks, including a barrage of rockets against northern Israel and a broad effort against U.S. and allied targets-must not, in other words, be construed as a politicized argument against taking action. (Much grief came from falling into this mental trap and discarding valuable analysis in the run-up to the removal of Saddam from power.) Quite the contrary: This may be the best reason for acting sooner rather than later, in time rather than too late, so as to deny to this kind of regime the tools of regional domination and exterminatory design. There are strong reasons to believe that this is what most leaders in the Arab world (and the military establishment in Turkey) are saying, sotto voce, to their Western interlocutors. But what it does mean, and should mean, is a new kind of preparedness-and readiness to make some short-term sacrifices, such as carless days and other major changes in public consumption habits. As the terror masters vie with one another in Tehran, pledging to ensure that Iran will not stand alone at the moment of crisis, the need to counter this by resolute action-belying their assumption that the hedonistic West is impotent-will involve not only governments but society at large.

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Israel in midst of terror wave: official

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-23 21:39:48

JERUSALEM, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Sunday that Israel was in the midst of a "growing terror wave", Jerusalem Post reported.

Mofaz told the cabinet that the recent terror attack in Tel Aviv as well as the thwarted attacks indicated that Israel was currently in the midst of a "growing terror wave."
The minister was quoted as saying that there were currently some 70 warnings of terrorist attacks, of which 15 were "localized alerts."

Israeli security forces have had a number of successes, said Mofaz, adding that 10 suicide attacks have been thwarted and more than 160 terrorist suspects have been arrested since the beginning of the year.

Israel holds the Hamas-led cabinet of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) responsible for the terrorist attacks and the overall deterioration in the security situation, Mofaz added.

On April 17, a suicide bombing attack killed nine people and wounded another 40 near the old central bus station in southern Tel Aviv. The Islamic Jihad (holy war) and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed ring of Fatah, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hamas failed to condemn the attack, saying it was an act of self-defense against the Israeli aggression.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also briefed the cabinet, saying that international community remained committed to the three conditions it has set for granting the Hamas-led government legitimacy: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.

Livni said that the Hamas decision to appoint Jamal Abu Samhadanah, a top wanted militant who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2004, as head of a new security force had further eroded the PNA's position in international community.

Hamas announced last Thursday that it was forming an executive security force to help end chaos in the Palestinian territories. PNA chairman Mahmoud Abbas vetoed this decision, saying that establishment of a new security force was "illegal and unconstitutional."

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Israels Next ABM Shield

by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Apr 24, 2006

Washington - Most international attention on Israel's ballistic missile defense programs has focused on the Arrow interceptor system, the U.S.-bought Patriot PAC-3 and their capabilities for intercepting Shehab intermediate-range missiles from Iran or Scuds that would be fired from Syria.

But now, with little fanfare, Israeli is also energetically pushing ahead with some of its traditional major U.S. high-tech corporate partners with a radically new design to protect the Jewish State from extremely short-range Palestinian missiles. This decision also has revealing strategic implications for the policies of the new government currently being formed by Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.
The U.S. missile systems maker Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, has joined the Boeing and Israel Aircraft Industries consortium that is participating in Israel's Ministry of Defense Israeli Short-Range Ballistic Missile Defense tender worth $50-100 million, Globes-Israel Business News reported on April 4. A consortium of Raytheon and the Israeli Rafael Armament Development Authority is also participating in the tender, Globes said.

The tender is part of the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Homa project and it is intended develop an anti-ballistic missile defense for the short-range Qassem rockets that Palestinian guerrilla groups like Islamic Jihad have fired into Israeli territory. The Qassems give Palestinian guerrilla groups the tactical capability to threaten major Israeli industrial infrastructure installations in the Ashkelon port area. Israel has huge oil and chemical facilities there.

The threat is wider: Qassem rockets are little more than low-tech simple knock-offs of old World War II Soviet technology rocket mortars or Katyushas. They are easily and widely produced currently in Gaza and they also have the capability of threatening Israel's main airport, Ben-Gurion Airport, from the West Bank across the security barrier built by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Olmert's predecessor, to defeat the bloody Second Palestinian Intifada.

The so-called fence, or barrier, has proven highly effective in dramatically curtailing the slaughter of Israeli civilians including women and children caused by suicide bombers. Over a four-year period, at least, 1,100 of them died. But the barrier effectively confirms that Israel has ceded security control of much of the West Bank as well as Gaza to Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. And Hamas has so far shown no desire to restrain attacks on Israel from its territory.

Sharon had no hesitation in sending the Israeli army in full force to carry out bloody retaliatory attacks in Gaza, the West Bank capital Ramallah and Jenin during his five years as prime minister. But Olmert may prove more reluctant to take such ruthless and drastic action, especially under pressure to exercise restraint from President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Further, Olmert has already publicly indicated that he would like have Israel's permanent borders with the West Bank and Gaza stabilized by 2010 at the latest and possibly by as early as the end of 2008.

The plans to develop a new BMD system to defend Israel against very short range missile attacks such as it is already suffering from must be seen in the context of this strategy. They appear serious. And it is striking that they are being developed with major corporations that have long enjoyed very close ties to Israel and its own main defense contractors.

The IAI-Boeing proposal is based on their collaboration on the Arrow anti-ballistic missile. They plan to adapt Arrow technology to intercept short-range rockets, Globes said.

Alliant is based in Minnesota and has a factory in Mississippi. It already builds rocket engines for Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor that is produced by IAI and Boeing. If IAI and Boeing win the SRBMD tender, Alliant will manufacture engine components for the rocket, which is based on the Arrow, and which forms the core of the defense system, Globes reported.

"The Boeing-ATK partnership has been a success story for the Arrow program," Boeing Integrated Missile Defense Vice President Debra Rub-Zenko told Globes. "Our exclusive teaming agreement for SRBMD will build upon that vital relationship, ensuring an advanced solution for Israel's short-range missile defense needs."

As with previous Israeli tenders, the U.S.-Israeli consortia participating in the SRBMD tender want their systems to be eligible for U.S. government funding for the proposed project, Globes said.

The U.S. Congress has already approved $133 million for the Arrow program in the coming fiscal year, including $10 million for defense against short-range missiles. Bringing in Alliant into the SRBDM project could ensure that a large congressional bloc will support budget appropriations for short-range missile defense, provided that IAI and Boeing win the tender," Globes said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be expected to enthusiastically support the new program: He has always been a leading enthusiast for every kind of new BMD program and has green-lighted every kind of close Department of Defense cooperation with Israel too.

The on going U.S, struggle with the Sunni Muslim insurgency in central Iraq has also brought home to U.S. defense chiefs the value of having some kind of very short-range BMD system that could provide at least partial protection from such attacks.

However, the key point in the Globes report is the fact that Israeli top military planners are now wrestling to reconcile two conflicting realities: They recognize that Hamas may rule Gaza and much of the West Bank with undisguised enmity towards them for years to come, leaving many of Israel's main population centers and strategic targets within range of attack by very short range missiles. Yet they do not want to reoccupy the territories needed to prevent such attacks as that would render them vulnerable again to more suicide bomber attacks from the Palestinian population they had re-conquered. The new very short range BMD program may offer a way to at least partially escape these twin dilemmas.

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Gaia Gets Even

Climate change: The great Atlantic shutdown

Stephen Battersby
New Scientist Print Edition
15 April 2006

IS EUROPE'S central-heating system about to break down, causing climate chaos around the world? Late last year, oceanographers reported a sudden and shocking slowdown in the currents of the North Atlantic, a critical part of the vast system of ocean circulation that influences temperatures and weather around the world. A shutdown could cause famine in south Asia, kill off the Amazon rainforest and plunge western Europe into a mini ice age.
However, if you live in Europe, don't order that snowcat just yet. The conclusions reported last year have been dismissed by many climate scientists, who say their models show the current will keep going for at least another hundred years or so. So what is really going on? Are changes in ocean circulation about to turn our lives upside down, or is this something only our grandchildren will have to cope with?

This vital question is in doubt because the behaviour of ocean currents is still remarkably obscure. On a crude level, the oceans of the world are linked together by a network of currents sometimes called the global conveyor, with warm surface flows connecting to cold deep currents. The conveyor is driven by winds and by a more complicated process called thermohaline circulation - and this is the process that has climatologists worried.

As its name implies, thermohaline circulation depends on heat and salt. An offshoot of the Gulf Stream called the North Atlantic Drift flows all the way to the seas off Greenland and Norway. Evaporation makes the water saltier, so as it is chilled by Arctic winds it becomes denser than the waters underneath it and sinks. It then spills back southward over the undersea ledges between Greenland and Scotland to form a slow, cold, undersea river called the North Atlantic Deep Water. This flows all the way to the Southern Ocean, with some water going as far the Indian Ocean, where it gradually wells up again, perhaps a millennium after it sank.

The weak link is the sinking process. Climate change is injecting ever more fresh water into the Arctic by increasing river flows and accelerating the calving of icebergs from Greenland. This fresh water dilutes the North Atlantic Drift, reducing its density and making it more buoyant. If the fresh water input reaches a critical rate, around 100,000 tonnes per second, sinking could stop entirely. The northern branch of the conveyor would stop, and warm tropical waters would no longer flow past the west coast of Europe.

With that million-gigawatt heat supply switched off, climate models suggest that air temperatures in the region could fall by between 5 and 10 °C, and parts of the US and Canada would suffer too. A switch-off like this is blamed for a cold snap 12,000 years ago called the Younger Dryas, which turned the forests of Scandinavia into tundra.

Could it be happening again? That spectre was raised in December by Harry Bryden of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK. His team took a ship from Florida to the coast of North Africa, stopping at 120 points en route to lower a bundle of instruments all the way to the sea floor. The researchers compared their results with similar measurements made at irregular intervals since 1957. According to their analysis, the deep, cold return leg of the circulation has weakened by 30 per cent (New Scientist, 3 December 2005, p 6). If that has slowed, they reasoned, then the northward branch of warm water must have slowed too.

In fact, the slowdown seems to have started nearly a decade ago. When the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration made a similar survey of the Atlantic in 1998 it was interested in carbon dioxide levels and did not calculate the flow rate. When Bryden's team did the sums, they found the flow had been relatively steady between 1957 and 1992, dropped off by 1998 and remained low.

Bryden's paper prompted some nervous press coverage. "There were alarming stories saying that the sky is falling," says Carl Wunsch, a physical oceanographer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's a complicated story reduced to a fairytale". In fact, Bryden's measurements are not proof of imminent cataclysm.

One question mark is whether his team has simply seen short-term fluctuations in the ocean. "The ocean is a very turbulent beast. We tend to assume that at great depth it is quiet, but that's not necessarily so," says Stefan Rahmstorf of the University of Potsdam in Germany. Wunsch likens it to the vagaries of the weather: "It might get colder for a few days in England, but you don't necessarily say we're entering a new ice age." Bryden, however, thinks his team has found more than a stutter. "If we just had the 1998 data we'd be nervous, but 2004 is similar to 1998," he says.
Are the models wrong?

There are other reasons to be cautious. Climate models do not predict any substantial slowdown in Atlantic currents until near the end of this century. "It would mean all our models are wrong," says Rahmstorf. Bryden thinks they might well be: "I think if we measure a slowdown, the models will follow."

The trouble for Bryden is that not all observations fit in with his conclusions. If less warm water is flowing north, the seas off western Europe ought to be cooler than normal. They are not. In fact, these waters are slightly warmer than a decade ago. And direct measurements of the cold, deep currents that spill southwards over the ledges joining Scotland, Iceland and Greenland do not show a downward trend. Although these currents did slow between 1995 and 2000, they have picked up again. "We are faced with conflicting evidence," says Rahmstorf.

How to resolve this conflict? It is possible that Bryden's group has got its physics wrong. Like other groups, the team did not measure flow rates directly, but instead calculated them from measurements of temperature and salinity. Rahmstorf and Wunsch both point out that these calculations rely on assumptions that are far from proven.

Or it could be that the currents are changing in ways that no one has anticipated. There is a vast stretch of ocean between Bryden's measurements at 25° north and the overspill at around 65°. In between, the warm surface current becomes meandering and unstable, and difficult to measure, says oceanographer Tore Furevik of the University of Bergen in Norway. "There are certainly large changes going on beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, but we are still missing too many pieces in the puzzle to get the picture clear," he says.

For the moment, this rather unsatisfactory answer is the best we have. Oceanographers and climate scientists agree that thermohaline circulation will slow as the world warms, but most think it will happen later rather than sooner. In its report due next year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is likely to predict a slowdown of at most 50 per cent by the end of this century.

This prediction, however, relies on estimates of the freshwater input. While the discharge from Siberian rivers is being monitored, that from Canadian rivers is not. The input from the Greenland ice cap could change too. The glaciers that drain the ice cap are accelerating, and in the past decade the amount of ice they spit into the ocean has doubled. Nobody can predict with confidence what they will do in the coming decades. "At the moment models don't represent the dynamics of Greenland glaciers, which may or may not start moving faster," says Richard Wood of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, UK. What all this means is that even if Bryden is wrong and Atlantic circulation is not yet slowing, a shutdown could still happen sooner than most models predict.
Farming hit hard

For Europe, the timing of any slowdown or shutdown is critical. If it does happen soon, the weather will certainly get chilly. Average temperatures would be about 5 °C lower, and winters could be as harsh as those in Newfoundland. In bad years the Thames might freeze over, and even in good years farming will be hit hard.

On the other hand, if currents hold fairly steady until the late 21st century, the cooling effect of a shutdown would help to mitigate warming. There might be drastic changes in other aspects of the climate - not to mention a relatively rapid rise in sea level around the northern Atlantic (see "Rising waters") - but Europeans might escape much of the warming that occurs elsewhere.

Their distant descendants might need those snowcats, though. If greenhouse gases do eventually fall to pre-industrial levels and the world cools down again, there could be a lag of a thousand years before ocean circulation restarts. So Europe still faces the big freeze - just not for a few hundred years.

Coming back to this century, other parts of the world face even more serious consequences than Europe. A slowdown in the thermohaline circulation would reduce the transfer of heat from the southern to the northern hemisphere, shifting the Earth's "thermal equator" to the south. "One of the things that really struck us is that rainfall patterns over the whole world change dramatically," says Wood.

When he tried artificially switching off thermohaline circulation in one climate model, he found that monsoon rains weaken over India, and parts of central and south America lose half their rainfall. "It would have a huge impact on the climate of those regions," says Wood. He estimates that agricultural productivity in parts of India could fall by 30 per cent. And in the Americas? "If you lose the rain then the rainforest tends to die out." Although all of this is based on an imminent shutdown, which climatologists think very unlikely, even a delayed slowdown could seriously disturb rainfall patterns.

Wood's model also predicts that a shutdown would warm the southern hemisphere by 0.2 °C on average - not much, but against a background of rising global temperatures any extra warming will hardly be welcome. In 2004, Brazil was hit by the first ever hurricane recorded in the South Atlantic, perhaps a consequence of rising sea-surface temperatures. Could a slowdown in circulation have contributed? "Theoretically, this is possible," says Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in Philadelphia, "but I think it would be a leap to tie any observed change to thermohaline circulation. It could just be fluke."

While the precise effects on the climate remain uncertain, there is little doubt that a shutdown will wreak serious damage beneath the waves, since upwelling waters supply vital nutrients to the phytoplankton that are the basis of ocean food chains. A study last year predicted that the productivity of the world's oceans would fall by a fifth if the Atlantic thermohaline circulation shuts down.

There's more. At the moment, the oceans are soaking up a lot of the excess carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere. Without the thermohaline circulation, however, surface waters will soon become saturated and greenhouse gases will build up faster still. Any reduction in carbon fixing as forests and ocean ecosystems fail would only compound the effect.

A lot therefore depends on what is really happening in the Atlantic. To find out, the UK has launched a project called RAPID, an unprecedented effort to monitor North Atlantic currents. In 2004, on the same voyage that found the controversial signs of a slowdown, Bryden's team planted a series of 22 moorings along a line from Africa to America (see Diagram). Cables fixed to the seafloor tether instrument packages that are constantly measuring ocean properties such temperature and salinity.

With continuous measurements now coming in from the Atlantic, it should be possible to distinguish between short-term fluctuations and a longer-term trend. "Soon we'll find what seasonal variability there is and know whether what we said was a 30 per cent slowdown was above the noise level. I'm hoping we'll eventually be able to get 10 years' worth of measurements."

Then again, monitoring a single cross section of one ocean might not be enough. "People are obsessed with the North Atlantic and it's only 10 per cent of the ocean," Wunsch says. "There is a danger we're neglecting the rest." For example, there are areas of sinking ocean water around Antarctica that also help to drive the global ocean circulation. "Recent papers have started to suggest there are changes happening in the Southern Ocean," says oceanographer Steve Rintoul, based in Hobart, Australia.

Some studies show that the water in some Antarctic seas is getting less salty, for instance, but the picture in the Southern Ocean is even less clear than it is in the Atlantic. "We have to observe this system globally and indefinitely," says Wunsch. "But how the devil do you get governments to do that?"
From issue 2547 of New Scientist magazine, 15 April 2006, page 42

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Cyclone Monica Bears Down On Remote Australian Communities

Apr 24, 2006

Sydney - Residents of remote communities in northern Australia took shelter Sunday as a massive cyclone packing destructive winds of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour bore down on them.

The sparsely-populated islands off northeast Arnhem Land were expected to bear the brunt of Tropical Cyclone Monica but gales, high tides and floods could hit a huge area, including the town of Darwin, the weather bureau warned.
Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, was devastated in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people and left 20,000 homeless.

Monica is ranked as the most powerful of cyclones -- category five, the same as Cyclone Larry, which smashed into the eastern Queensland coast less than a month ago, causing more than one billion dollars in damage.

Hundreds of people gathered in cyclone shelters or buildings designed to withstand a pounding from extreme weather in towns such as Nhulunbuy in the Gove Peninsula mining area, while evacuations were underway on some islands.

"They've taken people from the lower area overnight in case there was flooding and they have taken them to the school -- there's one of the buildings there built to cyclone codes," a resident of Elcho Island told national radio.

Northern Territories Emergency Services Minister Paul Henderson said people needed to prepare a cyclone kit including medicines, food and water, a torch and a radio. Nhulunbuy, the most populated area of Arnhem Land with about 4,000 residents, would miss the worst of the storm, said weather bureau spokesman Mike Bergin.

Monica caused widespread flooding as it passed over the far north of eastern Queensland state last week before picking up power as it crossed the Gulf of Carpenteria.

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Three Hundred People Evacuated As Dyke Breaks

Apr 24, 2006

Bucharest - Three hundred people were evacuated after the swollen Danube breached a dyke near Constanta in southeast Romania, local authorities announced on Sunday. Around 20 metres (65 feet) of the dyke at Oltina, in Constanta province, gave way on Saturday night, Realitatea TV cited the local authorities as saying.

The waters have been pouring into a nearby lake, but are threatening homes in the area, along with 130 farms.
A further 80 families in Oltina "have packed their bags but preferred to stay at home this Sunday" for traditional Orthodox Easter celebrations and mass in the village church, the television station reported.

A total of 13 dykes have been broken or damaged along the Danube and its tributaries in Romania, with authorities carrying out "controlled flooding" of some 21,000 hectares (52,000 acres) to reduce the pressure on inhabited areas.

The floods have affected 13 Romanian provinces and forced the evacuation of 5,500 people, authorities said on Sunday.

In eastern Hungary thousands of volunteers, firemen, soldiers and experts have been working round the clock to shore up and repair dykes on the Koros and Tisza rivers, tributaries of the Danube.

A breach in the Koros dyke that forced the evacuation of three villages on Saturday was repaired during the night, the interior ministry's disaster management services said on Sunday.

Bulgaria and Serbia have also been hit by flooding.

In Ruse, in northeastern Bulgaria, the floodwaters from the Danube rose to nearly nine metres (30 feet), their highest level since 1970.

Serbia's Agriculture Minister Ivan Dulic-Markovic said a new line of defence had been erected along the river Tisza.

But the waters have begun to subside. In eastern Hungary on Sunday the Tisza's level had fallen by between one and two centimetres (0.4-0.78 inches) depending on the location, while the Koros's level at Szarvas fell by 10 centimetres (four inches).

In Romania, rescue workers spoke of a "slight fall in the water level".

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday appealed for aid for the victims of the flooding.

"My thoughts go out to our brothers of the eastern (Orthodox) churches who are celebrating Easter today, he told thousands of faithful gathered to hear his Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City.

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Indonesia Prepares Evacuation As Volcano Rumbles

Apr 24, 2006

Jakarta - Residents living near Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano will be evacuated starting next week amid fears of a new eruption, an official said Saturday. On Friday about 100 people from the village closest to Merapi were moved two kilometres (about one mile) away after the volcano started rumbling and spewing smoke.

"We have prepared everything," said district chief Sukarno, who only uses one name.

He said next week officials will send children, women and the elderly to a relocation center built in 1995 some six kilometres away.
At least 64 people in the village were killed by a cloud of heat when Merapi erupted in 1994, the official said. The eruption also forced 6,000 others to evacuate.

The mountain last emitted smoke and lava in 2001 but there was no major eruption. About 12,000 people live in the area.

A vulcanologist monitoring Merapi, Dewi Sri, said a code red, the highest volcanic alert level which would trigger a mandatory evacuation, was only a matter of time.

"The status will increase to a code red," she was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency.

Sukarno said the first phase of evacuation would also include moving cattle and poultry to safer places.

"We don't want cattle to keep people from relocating," he said.

Vulcanologists placed a "standby" alert on Merapi last week, one level below the highest alert status.

Many people living in the slopes of the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) volcano have refused to evacuate their villages despite warnings.

Traditional beliefs hold that Merapi will only erupt after certain omens, some of which appear in dreams.

Authorities have prepared for an eruption by staging evacuation drills, setting up relief teams, making shelters and stockpiling food and medicine.

Merapi, which has been rumbling intermittently over the past four years, looms above a plain located in the southern area of Central Java province, north of the cultural city of Yogyakarta.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" noted for its volcanic and seismic activity. The country has more than 100 active volcanoes.

In August 1883, the biggest natural phenomenon ever seen on earth took place when after lying dormant for 300 years Krakatoa volcano burst to life, showering debris on Java and Sumatra islands and killing about 36,000 people.

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Peru Declares Emergency in Towns Near Volcano

April 24, 2006

LIMA, Peru - The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency on Saturday in southern towns that have been showered by ash from the Ubinas volcano and asked the military to help evacuate poor farming families from the area.

Ubinas, which had been inactive for almost 40 years, has been spitting out ash, smoke and toxic gases for most of the month, alarming thousands of people living in nearby rural areas, killing livestock and polluting water sources.

The government recommended evacuation early in the week, but it was not until Friday that dozens of people began reluctantly to leave farming towns in the area covered in a thick carpet of ash.

"The head of state asked for the armed forces to help evacuate 42 families from the town of Querapi, in the Ubinas district, the town nearest the volcano," the government said in a news release.

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Quake Destroys Three Russian Villages

Apr 24, 2006

Moscow - One of three earthquakes that hit Russia's remote northeastern Kamchatka peninsula almost completely destroyed three small villages, local authorities were quoted as saying early Saturday by Interfax news agency.

Inhabitants called the Koryakiya region's administration on a satellite phone to report that "the villages are practically entirely destroyed, even brick stoves fell apart," officials said, adding that rescuers flown in by helicopter were assessing the situation.
Up to 180 people were evacuated Saturday from the villages of Korf and Tilichiki, including more than 70 children and seven pregnant women, the region's chief federal inspector, Vladimir Ilyukhin, said as quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency.

A total of some 300 people asked for a chance to leave their villages, mostly children, the sick, invalids and the elderly, Ilyukhin said, while ruling out a total evacuation of the villages' 4,000-strong population.

The temblor measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale struck at 1114 GMT, at a depth of 40 kilometers (25 miles). It was located in Koryakiya, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Il'pyrskiy and 6,300 kilometers (3,910 miles) north-northeast of Moscow.

The quake was the third that rocked the peninsula on Friday, according to the Kamchatka seismological service, the first measuring a massive 7.9 degrees and the second 6.2.

Thousands of people in Koryakiya, a sparsely populated district, were affected by the earlier quakes, but only four required medical attention, with about 50 more believed to have only minor injuries, the emergency situations ministry said.

The Kamchatka peninsula, which is roughly the same size as Japan, is one of Russia's wildest regions, known for hot springs, 29 active volcanos and a large population of brown bears.

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Penguins Get Norway's First Bird Flu Shots

Fri Apr 21, 4:57 PM ET

OSLO, Norway - Eight penguins became the first birds in Norway vaccinated against bird flu Friday after an aquarium won an eight-month battle with health authorities, a newspaper reported.

"The safest birds in the Nordic region," declared a headline in Bergen's Tidende newspaper. The paper said the birds were among the first in northern Europe to get the vaccine.
The Bergen Aquarium, in western Norway's main city, had been trying since October to get government authorization for the vaccinations.

The Norwegian Food Protection Authority, which must approve such cases, refused since no outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain have been found in Norway and it frowns on overuse use of vaccines.

On Friday, the authority relented and granted approval. But after two of the eight birds were vaccinated, it withdrew the permit, only to give the final go ahead a few hours later.

"When we had already vaccinated two, they said go ahead and do the rest," Aquarium director Kees Ekeli was quoted as saying. He said the agency was changing its rules so that "zoos and aquariums are not treated the same as farmers with 25,000 hens."

The vaccine does not guarantee the birds won't contract H5N1 but helps protect against influenza.

According to the Norwegian news agency NTB, the first bird vaccinated was 9-month-old Pingrid Alexandra, whose name plays on that of Norway's future queen, Ingrid Alexandra.

Pingrid Alexandra promptly threw up, while the other birds did not appear to have an adverse reaction.

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The Big Lie(s)

CIA Warned Bush Of No WMD In Iraq

by Maxim Kniazkov
Apr 24, 2006

Washington - The Central Intelligence Agency warned US President George W. Bush before the Iraq war that it had reliable information the government of Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, a retired CIA operative disclosed.

But the operative, Tyler Drumheller, said top White House officials simply brushed off the warning, saying they were "no longer interested" in intelligence and that the policy toward Iraq had been already set.
The disclosure, made in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" program due to be broadcast late Sunday, adds to earlier accusations that the Bush administration used intelligence selectively as it built its case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam's regime. The administration claimed in the run-up to the war that Baghdad had extensive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was working clandestinely to build a nuclear arsenal, therefore, presenting a threat to the world.

An extensive CIA-led probe undertaken after the US military took control of Iraq failed to turn up any such weapons. But Bush and other members of his administration have blamed the fiasco on a massive intelligence failure and vehemently denied manipulating information they had been provided.

However, Drumheller, who was a top CIA liaison officer in Europe before the war, insisted Bush had been explicitly warned well before an invasion order was given that the United States may not find the suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The information about the absence of the suspected weapons in Iraq, according to excerpts of Drumheller's remarks, was clandestinely provided to the United States by former Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri, who doubled as a covert intelligence agent for Western services. Then-CIA director George Tenet immediately delivered this report to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking administration officials, but the information was dismissed, Drumheller said.

"The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested," the former CIA official recalled. "And we said 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'" Drumheller said the White House did not want any additional data from Sabri because, as he pointed out, "the policy was set."

"The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy," he argued.

The CIA declined to comment on the disclosure.

Drumheller admitted that Sabri was just one source, but pointed out that the administration would not shy away from other single-source information if it suited its policy goals. "They certainly took information that came from single sources on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all," he complained.

The White House had embraced a British report that Iraq had purchased 500 tons of uranium from the African nation of Niger, allegedly to restart its nuclear weapons program. A special CIA envoy Joseph Wilson, who made a secret trip to Niger in late 2002 to verify the report, dismissed it as unfounded -- much to the displeasure of the White House.

Drumheller, who retired from the agency last year, is the second high-ranking ex-CIA official to criticize the administration's use of intelligence in months leading up to the war. Paul Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, wrote in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that the White House was "cherry-picking" information and that "intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made."

There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the latest charges.

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Abuse of prisoners in Iraqi jails continues: report

Mon Apr 24, 2:32 AM ET

WASHINGTON - U.S. and Iraqi inspectors have discovered abuse of prisoners in detention centers run by Iraq's Interior Ministry that were visited as recently as February, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Citing U.S. and Iraqi sources involved with the inspections, the Post said U.S. troops did not respond by transferring all of the detainees to safety, as they did after finding 173 prisoners, some of whom showed signs of torture, in a secret Baghdad bunker in November.

Only a small number of the most severely abused detainees at one of six detention centers inspected since November were moved for medical treatment, while prisoners at two others were transferred to ease overcrowding, the Post said.

Leaving some of prisoners in centers where their abusive treatment was discovered has prompted inspectors to ask whether the military is following a pledge made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace in November that U.S. troops would try to stop any inhumane treatment they saw, the Post said.
"They tell us, 'If you leave us here, they will kill us,"' the Post quoted an anonymous Iraqi official as saying.

U.S. military authorities confirmed that there were signs of severe abuse, including separated shoulders and strap marks, at two of the centers, the Post said.

"I was not in charge of the team who went to the sites. If so, I would have taken them out," the Post quoted a U.S. official as having written in an e-mail.

But Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner, the commander of U.S. detention operations in Iraq, told the Post, "I would strongly disagree with the statement that Americans are seeing cases of abuse and not doing anything."

Pace's directive to U.S. troops to stop any inhumane treatment they see followed the discovery November 13 of 173 prisoners in a compound run by Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry, which also runs most of the detention centers that have been inspected since then.

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Hundreds of Iraqi girls are being sold for sex - Situation far worse than under Saddam

Sunday, Apr. 23, 2006

The man on the phone with the 14-year-old Iraqi girl called himself Sa'ad. He was calling long distance from Dubai and telling her wonderful things about the place. He was also about to buy her. Safah, the teenager, was well aware of the impending transaction. In the weeks after she was kidnapped and imprisoned in a dark house in Baghdad's middle-class Karada district, Safah heard her captors haggling with Sa'ad over her price. It was finally settled at $10,000. Staring at a floor strewn with empty whiskey bottles, the orphan listened as Sa'ad described the life awaiting her: a beautiful home, expensive clothes, parties with pop stars. Why, she'd be joining two other very happy teenage Iraqi girls living with Sa'ad in his harem. Safah knew that she was running out of time. A fake passport with her photo and assumed name had already been forged for her. But even if she escaped, she had no family who would take her in. She was even likely to end up in prison. What was she to do?
Safah is part of a seldom-discussed aspect of the epidemic of kidnappings in Iraq: sex trafficking. No one knows how many young women have been kidnapped and sold since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, based in Baghdad, estimates from anecdotal evidence that more than 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing in that period. A Western official in Baghdad who monitors the status of women in Iraq thinks that figure may be inflated but admits that sex trafficking, virtually nonexistent under Saddam, has become a serious issue. The collapse of law and order and the absence of a stable government have allowed criminal gangs, alongside terrorists, to run amuck. Meanwhile, some aid workers say, bureaucrats in the ministries have either paralyzed with red tape or frozen the assets of charities that might have provided refuge for these girls. As a result, sex trafficking has been allowed to fester unchecked.

"It is a problem, definitely," says the official, who has heard specific reports from Iraqi aid workers about girls being kidnapped and sold to brothels. "Unfortunately, the security situation doesn't allow us to follow up on this." The U.S. State Department's June 2005 trafficking report says the extent of the problem in Iraq is "difficult to appropriately gauge" but cites an unknown number of Iraqi women and girls being sent to Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Persian Gulf countries for sexual exploitation. Statistics are further made murky by tribal tradition. Families are usually so shamed by the disappearance of a daughter that they do not report kidnappings. And the resulting stigma of compromised chastity is such that even if the girl should resurface, she may never be taken back by her relations.

A visit to the Khadamiyah Women's Prison in the northern part of Baghdad immediately produces several tales of abduction and abandonment. A stunning 18-year-old nicknamed Amna, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, says she was taken from an orphanage by an armed gang just after the U.S. invasion and sent to brothels in Samarra, al-Qaim on the border with Syria, and Mosul in the north before she was taken back to Baghdad, drugged with pills, dressed in a suicide belt and sent to bomb a cleric's office in Khadamiyah, where she turned herself in to the police. A judge gave her a seven-year jail sentence "for her sake" to protect her from the gang, according to the prison director.

Two other girls, Asmah, 14, and Shadah, 15, were taken all the way to the United Arab Emirates before they could escape their kidnappers and report them to a Dubai police station. The sisters were then sent back to Iraq but, like many other girls who have escaped their kidnappers and buyers, were sent to prison because they carried fake passports. There, they wait for the bureaucracy to sort out their innocence. What happened to the gang that took them? The sisters hear rumors that the men paid their way out of jail and are back on the streets. "I don't know what to do if the prison administration decides to release me," says Asmah, pushing back her gray head scarf to adjust her black hair. "We have no one to protect us."

Women's advocates are trying to set up halfway houses for kidnap survivors. The locations are secret to keep the women safe from both trafficking gangs trying to cover their tracks and outraged relatives who may try to kill the women to restore their clans' reputation. But the new Iraqi government has set up several bureaucratic roadblocks. Even organizations that do not receive government money have to secure permission from four ministries and the Baghdad city council for every shelter they hope to operate. Wringing her hands in exasperation, activist Yanar Mohammed says, "They want to close our women's shelter and deny our ability to open more."

That means that for girls like Safah, there are few havens left in Baghdad. In 2003, after Safah's father died, her grandmother took her to House of Children No. 2 orphanage in Adhamiya without the knowledge of most of her family. At the orphanage, she was befriended by an affable nurse who spent hours chatting up Safah, a fresh-faced girl whose fingers are still pudgy with baby fat. The nurse's modest hijab framed a sweet face that made Safah feel that the nurse was a good, spiritual woman, one she could trust. The nurse convinced Safah that she could be killed over the shame her disappearance had brought to her family. The nurse offered to adopt her. But official channels would have taken too long, so the nurse told Safah to hold her lower-right abdomen, scream and writhe on the carpet of the orphanage director's office, pretending to have appendicitis and requiring emergency medical assistance. Once at the hospital, the nurse whisked Safah into a waiting car.

The next three weeks were the worst in Safah's life. "I was tortured and beaten and insulted a lot in that house," Safah says. She wouldn't provide many details about what happened in the whiskey-soaked den in Karada. But she says that when it became apparent to her that she was about to be sold to Sa'ad, the man on the phone from Dubai, she became desperate. She passed word of her confinement to a neighborhood boy, who reported it to the local police station. Officers raided the place and arrested the nurse. Bureaucratic red tape somehow kept Safah and the nurse in the same prison for six months before Safah was finally released back into the custody of the orphanage a month ago.

At the orphanage, nestled behind a 10-ft. wall on the breezy banks of the Tigris, Safah can take computer classes, practice sewing and paint portraits of the family she wishes she had. But she doesn't feel as safe as she used to there. A social worker tells her that the nurse wasn't at the Khadamiyah Women's Prison during her last visit. Suddenly Safah rushes out of the room, crying and beating her head with her hands in the hallway. "If she is released," says Safah, her eyes darting back and forth in a panic, "I'm not staying here." But deep down she knows she has nowhere else to go.

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Bush admits he offered Blair way out of the Iraq conflict

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
The Observer
Sunday April 23, 2006

George Bush yesterday revealed the extent of the political gamble Tony Blair took over Iraq, disclosing that he had spurned the offer of a get-out clause on the war even amid fears that it would cost him his government.

In a rare glimpse inside the so-called special relationship, the US President disclosed how he had offered to release his 'close friend' Blair from the military coalition because he feared that domestic opposition to the war would actually bring him down. But the Prime Minister retorted that he would rather lose his government than retreat.

Article continues Bush's description of the events surrounding what he called a 'confidence vote' - the knife-edge Commons vote in March 2003 over military action - reveal not just the depth of trouble Blair was in, but the extent to which he was willing to gamble.
'I told Tony, I said "rather than lose your government, withdraw from the coalition" - because I felt it was important for him to be the Prime Minister at this point in our relationship,' the President told the journalist Con Coughlin, author of a new book about Blair's relationship with the US. 'I saw his clear view and strength of character. And that's when he told me, "I'm staying, even if it costs me my government".' The account is unlikely to please anti-war Labour MPs, or Labour councillors contesting seats where Labour voters are still angry about Iraq, who would prefer the issue not to be discussed. Some were irritated by Jack Straw's hosting of a visit by Condoleezza Rice in the run-up to the local election campaign, highlighting once again the government's closeness to a White House administration many Labour voters dislike.

In the interview published in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Bush praised Blair's courage, vision and personal qualities, calling him 'an easy guy to be around' who was straightforward with him.

The relationship grew after 11 September 2001 because he admired the way Blair saw 'that the free world has an obligation to defend itself against these killers', he added. However, Bush left open the question of how much influence Blair had over him in return for such unwavering support. Asked what input Blair actually had after 11 September, Bush suggested he did not need any: 'I'm the kind of guy that when I make up my mind - you know, I appreciate advice and counsel - but we were going. And the doctrine, if you harbour a terrorist you are equally as guilty as a terrorist, came right from my soul.' However, he said Blair had 'had a lot of sway' over the decision to pursue, ultimately unsuccessfully, a second UN resolution before invading Iraq.

Downing Street will also breathe a sigh of relief over Bush's denial that he was actually committed to invading Iraq almost a year before it happened. Bush insisted he did not take any final decision until 'after the ultimatum' from Washington for Saddam Hussein to stand down - delivered 48 hours before the invasion.

Comment: And thus the question remains: why was Blair so willing to commit even political suicide just to help his "friend" GW Bush??

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Four UK soldiers tried for Iraqi death by drowning

April 24, 2006

COLCHESTER - A British military court began hearings on Monday in the case of four soldiers accused of manslaughter for forcing an Iraqi prisoner into a canal in Basra where he drowned.

Soldiers James Cooke, 22, Joseph McCleary, 24, Martin McGing, 22, of the Irish Guards and Color Sergeant Carle Selman of the Coldstream Guards, 39, will face a seven-member court martial panel.

Legal arguments began on Monday, with prosecutors due to present their case later this week in a trial expected to last about six weeks.
The soldiers are accused of manslaughter in the death of Ahmed Kareem, a youth who was among a group of four Iraqis captured as suspected looters in Basra in May 2003.

According to charges against the soldiers, they were on a patrol when they caught the Iraqis and forced them to swim in a canal. Kareem could not swim and drowned.

The four soldiers appeared at a specially arranged makeshift court martial hall in a giant open loft at an army barracks in the town of Colchester, eastern England.

The defendants spoke only to confirm their identities.

The makeshift hall, with galleries for spectators and press, has been equipped with large televisions allowing witnesses to give testimony by video link.

The case is the second high profile trial of British troops for the death of an Iraqi.

In the first, also held in Colchester, seven soldiers were cleared last year of murdering an Iraqi hotel receptionist.

That trial collapsed because Iraqi witnesses -- flown to Britain and given large stipends to cover their travel expenses -- were found to be unreliable.

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When GI Joe Says No

Christian Parenti
The Nation
Sun Apr 23, 2006

A young former US Army sniper wearing a desert camo uniform, an Iraqi kaffiyeh and mirrored sunglasses scans a ruined urban landscape of smashed homes, empty streets and garbage heaps. His sand-colored hat bears a small regulation-style military patch, or tab, that instead of reading "Airborne" or "Ranger" or "Special Forces" says "Shitbag"--common military parlance for bad soldier.

This isn't Baghdad or Kabul. It's the Gulf Coast, and the column of young men and women in desert uniforms carrying American flags are with Iraq Veterans Against the War. They are part of a larger peace march that is making its way from Mobile to New Orleans. This is just one of IVAW's ongoing series of actions.
In all, about thirty-five Iraq vets cycled through this weeklong procession of 250. For the young, often very broke, very busy veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, this represents a fairly strong showing. But many casual observers, influenced by memories of Vietnam-era protesting, when veterans mobilized in the thousands, expected that US soldiers in Iraq would turn against the war faster and in greater numbers than they have. An estimated 1 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but so far IVAW has only about 250 members.

For many of the more activist IVAW vets, their political evolution did not follow the simple trajectory one might expect, from idealism at enlistment to postcombat disillusionment. In fact, many of them shipped off to war despite serious political misgivings. "I went to Iraq opposing the war," says Garrett Reppenhagen, the former sniper with the irreverent potty-mouthed patch on his hat. Reppenhagen served a year with the Army's First Infantry Division in and around the very violent city of Baquba. "I was reading Zinn's People's History and John Perkins's Economic Hit Man before I went."

What's that? Someone went off to be killed or maimed or possibly to kill "hajjis" despite being an antiwar leftist? And Reppenhagen is not alone. A recent Zogby poll found that 29 percent of soldiers in Iraq favored immediate withdrawal, which some see as a sign of an imminent crisis in military discipline. But the poll could be read in exactly the opposite fashion. If the Army and Marines can keep the disgruntled soldiers fighting and fighting, even 70 percent of troops could favor immediate withdrawal and it would mean nothing.

The question for peace activists thus becomes: How is it that antiwar soldiers continue to fight? And what does it really take for an antiwar soldier to resist? The answers lie largely in the sociology of "unit cohesion" and the ways the military uses solidarity among soldiers as a form of social control. Similarly, the peace activism of IVAW requires the spread of an oppositional form of loyalty and camaraderie.

Since 1973, when Congress ended the draft, the armed forces have been restructured using unit cohesion as a form of deep discipline. In other words, social control in today's military operates through a system that could be straight from a text by French philosopher Michel Foucault: Soldiers are managed not with coercion but with freedom. Because they join of their own free will, they find it almost impossible to rebel. Volunteering implicates them, effectively stripping them of the victim status that conscription allowed. Soldiers who would resist are guilt-tripped and emotionally blackmailed into serving causes they hate. During my time embedded in Iraq, I met several antiwar soldiers, but none of them considered abandoning their comrades. They said things like "you signed that paper" or "they got that contract"--as if contracts are never broken or annulled.

If veterans are supposed to be at the heart of the peace movement, then it would serve progressives to understand this new military culture. Understanding the world of the military is also important because it is a major force in the socialization of young working-class Americans. If you're 20 or 22 and you're not doing what many rich kids do (like a career-boosting summer internship in New York) or doing what some truly poor kids do (like going to state prison on drug charges), chances are you're learning about responsibility and adulthood, and escaping small-town or inner-city America, courtesy of the US armed forces. One of the key lessons you'll learn there is: Look out for your comrades, because they're looking out for you.

Since World War II military psychologists, sociologists and historians--most notably the army historian S.L.A. Marshall, who interviewed hundreds of combat veterans in the Pacific theater--have agreed that soldiers fight not for justice, democracy or other grand ideas but for the guy next to them. Unit cohesion is the real glue holding the US military together.

"I remember they had this formation to tell us we were going to Iraq," recalls Fernando Braga, a skinny, unassuming 23-year-old Iraq vet who is still enlisted in the New York National Guard. Braga, now a poet and student at CUNY's Hunter College, says he became politicized well before the war, when he helped his immigrant mother clean rich people's homes. "My company is really anti-authoritarian. Guys would regularly skip formations and insult the NCOs. So I thought nobody would go. But, like, everybody went!"

And since everybody went, so did Braga. "I had to go. I wasn't going to leave these guys."

It's worth recalling how badly military discipline broke down during the later stages of the Vietnam War, because those traumas shaped the thinking of today's military leadership and guided a wide array of important military reforms.

At the heart of the matter was the draft, which provoked a massive counterreaction that swelled the ranks of the peace movement but also salted the military with disgruntled troops whose increasingly disobedient ethos spread to many volunteers as well. By 1970 whole companies refused to go into combat, and enlisted men started "fragging"--that is, killing--their officers. Drug use and bad attitudes were rampant (Fort Hood, Texas, became known as Fort Head).

The group Vietnam Veterans Against the War staged dozens of protests. One action was a threatening and theatrical "search and destroy mission" that ran from Morristown, New Jersey, to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. When Nixon invaded Cambodia, the VVAW invaded DC in what the radical vets mockingly called "a limited incursion into the country of Congress." The culmination of it all was the Winter Soldier hearings, in which vets documented US war crimes.

Ending the draft excised much of the disgruntled element from the ranks, and by professionalizing the services, it has helped create a deepening military-civilian divide. Within today's all-volunteer military there is much more intense solidarity than during the Vietnam era. After Vietnam the military also improved its housing, wages, benefits, food and training; it reached out to the families of soldiers and modernized its disciplinary systems and promotions methods, all of which improved morale.

Another key difference between this war and Vietnam is the use of whole-unit rotations as opposed to individual rotations. In Vietnam a soldier was dropped into a unit for 365 days and then, if he survived, plucked out. In Iraq and Afghanistan, battalions (500 to 800 soldiers) train together, deploy together and come home together. During Vietnam the constant flow of men in and out of line companies fighting the war seriously undermined unit cohesion and camaraderie.

"When I showed up in Vietnam we were just parceled out to different platoons as they needed us. I was called the FNG when I showed up--the fucking new guy," remembers David Cline, a legendary activist and driving force within Veterans for Peace. "These kids today face a very different set of pressures."

Is a Vietnam-style collapse of military discipline imminent? Some peace activists think so, pointing to the estimated 400 US military deserters who have made their way to Canada, twenty of whom have applied for asylum, and the roughly 9,000 military personnel who have failed to report for duty since the war began (not all of them have been classified as deserters). Recruiting numbers, meanwhile, have flatlined.

Yet while today's military certainly faces a crisis of quantity, it does not have the Vietnam-era problem with quality.

During the Vietnam War the military had a sufficient number of troops--500,000 in country for much of the war. The problem was qualitative: low morale, rebellion, combat refusal, drug abuse, a crisis of conscience. Today's military is not falling apart Nam-style. Rather, it faces a crisis of size: Though expensive and hardware-heavy, the military is simply too small for the jobs at hand, and it is incapable of growing because too few recruits are joining up and too many veteran soldiers are leaving.

Despite growing cynicism about the Iraq War, indications are that morale, never super-high during prolonged combat, is not particularly low. Likewise, US training and equipment is among the best in the world. But 150,000 soldiers in Iraq, and 16,000 in Afghanistan--many on their second or even third deployment--is simply not enough. When one looks at special categories like translators, civil affairs and intelligence specialists, the staffing shortage becomes even more acute. Thus the small professional army remains disciplined and functional, while the "battle spaces" around it--Anbar province in Iraq or Kunar province in Afghanistan--spin out of control.

We hear often about the "economic draft"--the financial pressures that force young people to join the military. But there is also what could be called an "alienation draft" or, conversely, a "solidarity draft." The military offers not only jobs but also a type of belonging. "The military is like family, for a lot of people," says one vet. In many ways, the US military is a uniquely straightforward institution. Unlike society as a whole, it doesn't pretend to be a democracy--it's a hierarchy and makes no bones about that, but as such, it contains checks and balances, an appeals process and clear paths forward for promotion.

"The US military has one of the best affirmative action programs in the country," says Stan Goff, a twenty-six-year veteran of the US Special Forces, including the ultra-secret Delta Force. On the march to New Orleans, the rugged and compact Goff is playing the role of sergeant major, rallying the sleepyhead vets for the morning briefings, setting the tempo, always moving. "The other thing about the Army is that it's fair. If you know the regs you can work the system." Goff also points out that the highest-paid military general makes only about fourteen times what the lowest-paid grunt earns--compare that with private-sector pay discrepancies that reach ratios of 700 to 1.

Of course, other vets have stories of racism and broken promises. Demond Mullins is a New York National Guardsman, dance teacher and City University of New York college student who returned from Iraq only six months ago and is now active with IVAW. Mullins is embittered not only about losing a close friend in Iraq and seeing twenty-five others from his battalion wounded and almost getting killed himself when his Humvee hit a homemade bomb; he's also angry at being skipped over for promotion because he is black and about being lied to by his recruiter. "They still haven't given me any money for college."

Such stories aside, there are many ways the military avoids the intense racial and class segregation that marks much of American life. And the armed forces mix people of many different backgrounds.

"The military is one of the only places in America where black people routinely boss around white people," says Braga with a mischievous grin. Another white middle-class vet from the rural South once described to me how his "battle buddy," or assigned partner, in basic training was an ex-hoodlum who had been a homeless street kid in Mexico. "The dude was covered with scars from knife fights. I mean, where else would I have spent every waking minute with that guy, or he with me?"

This egalitarian mingling and the intense camaraderie, plus decent pay, housing for family and constant training opportunities, can make military life look a lot better than the atomized, segregated, economically stagnant world outside. And all of this creates a deep-seated sense of loyalty to the military, even among those who oppose its wars.

On the other hand, Cline, Braga and other activist vets all point out that unit cohesion can cut two ways: It works like Kryptonite to stop rebellion, but after a tipping point unit cohesion can serve to make rebellion even more intense.

To illustrate the point, Braga recalls the story of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, from Rock Hill, South Carolina. In October 2004 this Army Reserve unit (Braga worked alongside them at times) refused what they called a "suicide mission" to deliver fuel in a convoy of old, unarmored trucks. Eighteen drivers from the 343rd were arrested, but the media storm that followed--a whole company had openly refused orders!--helped pressure the military into delivering armor and retrofitting its trucks and Humvees. Similarly, when Reppenhagen the sniper joined IVAW, his spotter, the guy he'd spent a year with in Iraq, also joined--they remained a team.

The rebellion of the 343rd also pointed out the pragmatism of resistance. "Hey, protesting could save your life," says Braga. "I've seen it happen. The 343rd and that soldier who asked Rumsfeld that question about the body armor, those two things got the military to pay attention and buy decent armor."

If 1960s activism was fueled by disillusioned outrage, then today's activism is fettered by a type of world-weary cynicism. Braga says most of the guys in his unit assume the war is based on lies and that it's all about oil, but they won't get involved in peace activism because "They say, 'You can't change anything.' But if you read history you see that usually people already have changed things," he says. "Movements have made lots of things happen."

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Around the World

Center-left to govern Italy for full five-year term: Prodi

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-23 22:46:30

ROME, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Italy's premier-elect Romano Prodi said on Sunday his center-left coalition will stay united and try to govern Italy for the full five years of Parliament's term.

"We will stay united, and we will stay so for five years," Prodi told reporters in Bologna, where he lives.
Every parliament has a five-year term in Italy, but early elections have often been called over the past decades because of political crisis.

Prodi said he was working to give Italy "a government with prestige and strength" to be able "to turn the corner" on its problems, which include an economic slump.

Outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who begrudgingly conceded defeat in Italy's April 9-10 election, also predicted the center-left would govern for a full five-year term and even longer, according to La Repubblica which carried his comments on Sunday.

Prodi, who is at the helm of a disparate coalition that includes two mainstream center-left parties and a varied group of smaller formations, ranging from communists to moderate Catholics,won an ultra-slim victory in the general election.

His victory was confirmed on Saturday by the Supreme Court after a review of disputed ballots.

Berlusconi initially refused to recognize the victory of Prodi's coalition and has not yet telephoned Prodi to extend his congratulation. But he tacitly acknowledged defeat on Friday, promising to head a vigorous opposition.

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Socialist-led coalition wins Hungary's general elections

www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-24 10:46:19

BUDAPEST, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Hungary's Socialist-led coalition won the country's general elections with a comfortable majority on Sunday.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and its coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), won 209 seats in the 386-seat parliament with ballots from almost 99 percent of voting districts counted, the National Election Office said.
Opposition conservative Fidesz emerged with only 165 seats, while smaller conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), with which Fidesz failed to form an alliance, won 11.

There is also an independent candidate who appears to have secured a seat in the parliament.

MSZP chairman Istvan Hiller has officially declared victory, the first re-election for a political party in the East European country after 1989.

"With our victory comes the responsibility to make sure the whole of Hungary wins," incumbent Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany told a crowd of supporters.

Gyurcsany said priorities of his new government would be to give citizens peace and security in their everyday lives, while improving Hungary's economic competitiveness.

The new government faces a tough challenge posed by a huge budget deficit and mounting pressure from the European Union to make economic reforms to pave the way for the country to adopt the euro.

Preliminary results showed the turnout was around 63 percent, 5 percent lower than in the first round on April 9.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban Orban called Gyurcsany to congratulate the Socialists on their win.

Trying to remain upbeat in a speech to his supporters, Orban said his party still had as many seats as they had held in the previous parliament, despite MSZP gains.

He also admitted that the party's failure to forge an alliance with the MDF was a key factor resulting in the defeat.

"Those who can unite, win, but those who cannot will always lose," he said.

SZDSZ leader Gabor Kuncze said the election results not only meant a continuation of the coalition government but a "more comfortable" lead over the opposition than the 10-seat margin in the last four years.

MDF leader Ibolya David refused to accept blame for the conservative defeat, adding there was a "difference in principles"between the two parties.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), praised the win secured by Hungary's Socialist-led coalition.

"The Hungarian people have voted for the Social Democratic pathway to renewal and modernization with a well-deserved vote of confidence for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany," said Rasmussen.

A new, modern European left-wing is evolving in the Central European countries, he added.

After the Italian and Hungarian elections, the Social Democratic parties have formed governing coalitions in 13 European Union countries, the PES president said.

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Poles take Russia to court over 1940 Katyn massacre

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
The Independent
24 April 2006

Relatives of Polish soldiers executed by Joseph Stalin's secret police in one of the Second World War's most infamous massacres are to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights to try to make it disclose the full truth about the killings.

In the so-called Katyn atrocities, personally ordered by Stalin in 1940, the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) killed 21,587 Polish Army reservists in cold blood on the grounds that they were "hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority". Russia has refused to prosecute surviving suspects or reveal their names. It is keeping two-thirds of the files on the subject classified, and has classed the murders as an ordinary crime whose statute of limitations has expired.

Relatives of victims say that the killings amounted to genocide and that Russia has a moral obligation to open its archive on them.
The killings took place at three locations but the massacre took its name from just one, the Katyn Forest in modern-day Belarus. The murders killed many of Poland's intelligentsia; among the dead were officers, chaplains, writers, professors, journalists, engineers, lawyers, aristocrats and teachers. All were killed by a single shot to the back of the head.

Some 15,000 bodies have been found and the rest are thought to be still buried in secret mass graves.

The murders have soured Moscow's relations with Poland for six decades, with Warsaw accusing the Kremlin of deceit, a lack of remorse and brutal indifference. It was only in 1989 that the then Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted that the killings had been perpetrated by Stalin's secret police. Before that the USSR blamed the atrocities on the Nazis who occupied the area during the war, even going to the trouble of reburying bodies and bulldozing evidence in an elaborate attempt to deflect blame.

Seventy families related to the murdered soldiers are to lodge a case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the next few weeks. Some want surviving suspects to be prosecuted, while others simply want the killings to be classed as genocide and for Russia to be forced to disclose everything it knows about the atrocity.

"We are not interested in revenge or even in punishing anyone," said one Katyn survivor, Mgr Zdzislaw Peszkowski, aged 85. "We only want the full truth to be universally known. This is not just a Polish issue. Revealing all the circumstances of this atrocity is needed to finally close the chapter known as the Second World War."

Lawyers for the families believe that Russia flouted the European Convention on Human Rights by never properly investigating the atrocities. Russia's "investigation" lasted for more than a decade on and off and was definitively closed in September 2004. Poland's Institute of National Remembrance has said that Russia's position on Katyn was a "humiliation of the memory of the Polish victims and an offence to the feelings of their living family members".

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Police arrest two more in terror probe

By Matt Dickinson, PA
The Independent
24 April 2006

Two men were arrested today as part of an on-going terrorism investigation, police said.

The men, aged 40 and 25, were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 at an address in Alva, Clackmannanshire.

Shopkeeper's son Mohammed Siddique, 20, was arrested in the same town on Thursday April 13, as part of the same investigation.
Central Scotland officers also said they were searching a property today in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire - around seven miles from Alva.

Police said the arrests were part of a continuing "major" inquiry under the Terrorism Act 2000.

A statement said: "The men, aged 40 and 25, were arrested at an address in Alva, Clackmannanshire, earlier today.

"Their arrest follows that of a 20-year-old man in Alva, Clackmannanshire, on Thursday April 13.

"In addition, an address in Bridge of Allan is being searched in connection with the inquiry."

The statement added: "This is a major ongoing inquiry. However, there remains nothing to suggest a direct threat to communities, the threat levels to the UK remain unchanged and an extensive reassurance strategy is in operation."

Amy McEwan, 22, who works at The Coffee Pot cafe in Bridge of Allan, said the police operation in the town centred on an address in Union Street.

She said the house was occupied by an Asian family.

A caretaker at the Allan Community Centre said he saw a police presence in Union Street at 10am today, which included two people in white forensic suits.

He said: "There were flashing lights outside a property.

"I saw two people in white forensic-style suits getting into a car."

A yellow-painted house in Union Street was at the centre of the police operation.

By mid-morning, two uniformed police officers were standing guard outside and police tapes cordoned off the area.

Nearby was a parked police van, with white-clad investigators visible inside it.

BBC Scotland reporter Duncan Kirkhope, who witnessed part of the Bridge of Allan operation, described seeing "a sea of police and vehicles".

He told the BBC Scotland news website he was driving through the town's main street with his son just before 9.30am when he saw police blocking off Union Street.

He said: "I looked down the street and all I could see was a sea of police and vehicles - mainly uniformed officers and marked police cars.

"By the time we got parked and walked round, a number of the marked vehicles drove away and then we saw people being driven away from the semi-detached house in unmarked police cars.

"One unmarked car had three Asian people in the back, possibly two women and a young person, or a woman and two young people."

He said the other car had one Asian male, possibly in his 50s, in the back seat.

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US embassy tells diplomats' families to leave Nepal as violence goes on

Mon Apr 24, 2006

KATHMANDU - The US embassy ordered the families of its diplomats to leave crisis-hit Nepal as opposition leaders planned a huge rally after nearly three weeks of violent protests against the king.

The royal government imposed a fresh daytime curfew but clashes continued on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu Monday and six people died in an attack by Maoist rebels in the country's northeast.

Fifteen protesters were injured when police fired teargas and rubber bullets, and used batons against a group of some 2,000 protesters on the northeastern edge of the capital, a doctor said.
"We have treated around 15 injured who have all been beaten except for one injured from rubber bullets," said doctor Saroj Ojha running a clinic's mobile medical team.

The US embassy told the families and non-essential staff to leave because of concerns over dwindling supplies, shortages in medical expertise, protests and sometimes "violent measures" used by the regime to break them up.

In a statement it warned other American citizens "should also depart Nepal as soon as possible".

Leaders from a seven-party alliance will address a rally at seven points on the 27-kilometre (17-mile) ring road around the capital as senior opposition leaders vowed to take the protest to the royal palace.

"The democratic republic has reached up to the king's ring road and now it moves to the royal palace," protest leader Bamdev Gautam said at a rally on the northern outskirts of the city late Sunday.

But another senior member of his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) said the "peaceful" protest would not head into the city, where soldiers were defending one of the king's palaces.

The parties said they planned 1,000 marches, mass meetings and effigy burnings Monday as a curtain raiser to the main protest throughout the Kathmandu Valley, the area encompassing the capital and home to 1.7 million people, according to reports.

King Gyanendra, in a bid to thwart new protests, set a new curfew in central Kathmandu from 11:00 am (0515 GMT) until 6:00 pm, state television said, warning anyone who violated the order could be shot on sight.

A United Nations human rights expert on Monday urged the government to halt the policy saying it could be a crime against humanity.

"The government is, in effect, instructing its forces to shoot innocent people, in complete disregard for the right to life," said Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in Geneva.

Kathmandu was suffering shortages of fuel, food and other essential goods as piles of festering rubbish littered the streets.

Large sections of the ring road were covered with burnt tyres and roadblocks from nearly three weeks of daily protests as the king has struggled to quell the escalating calls for his removal.

Maoist rebels, meanwhile, launched simultaneous attacks with guns and grenades late Sunday on a telecoms tower and a police station at Chautara, 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, that left five Maoists and a soldier dead, the army said.

"Five bodies of Maoists were recovered from the clash site Monday morning and one of our men also died," said an official from army headquarters on condition of anonymity.

King Gyanendra seized power in February 2005 because he said the government was corrupt and had failed to tackle the bloody Maoist insurgency, which has left more than 12,500 dead over the last decade.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, called Sunday for a rapid restoration of the multi-party system in Nepal to end the unrest gripping the kingdom, which he said has deeply troubled India.

Singh told reporters on a trip to Germany that King Gyanendra's decision to outlaw democratic political parties had led to the crisis, and added that the Indian government had urged the monarch in "several conversations" to back down.

At least 14 people have died and hundreds have been injured in the clashes between pro-democracy activists and the security forces during an upsurge of civil unrest that began on April 6.

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5 Killed As 2 Planes Collide in Alaska

Associated Press
Mon Apr 24, 5:33 AM ET

WASILLA, Alaska - Two small planes collided midair and crashed about 20 miles north of Anchorage on Sunday, killing five people, officials said.

The four people aboard a Cessna 170B and the pilot of a Cessna 172 who was the only aboard, were killed in the wreck just after noon, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. Both were single-engine high wing aircraft.
Both planes were at an altitude between 500 and 800 feet when they collided above the Palmer Hay Flats in a remote area about 10 miles south of Wasilla.

"It appears that the westbound aircraft apparently saw the other aircraft at the last moment, tried to avoid the collision, but unfortunately that didn't work," said Johnson, though he did not identify which plane that was.

Don Grant, who lives near the crash site, said he looked up to see the planes hit each other, then plummet.

"I only recall hearing one sound when they hit the ground, so I'm pretty sure they hit at the same time," he said.

Rescuers found the planes about 500 feet from each other. Getting to the crash required using all-terrain vehicles, said fire chief Jack Krill.

Names of the victims were being withheld until authorities could notify families.

Johnson said arrangements were being made to retrieve the wreckage and continue an investigation into what caused the crash.

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