Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: 9-11, Nukes, Bird Flu, & Monica Lewinsky
Charlie Sheen's revelations about 9-11 being an inside job (i.e. World Trade Center controlled demolition, etc) have now been broadcast on CNN during primetime, while the Scholars for 9-11 Truth have mobilized the forces with renewed energy and purpose. In addition, new 9-11 articles appear in mainstream publications on a weekly basis, while independent researchers keep releasing new information on the Pentagon and Shanksville hoaxes.
Could we be reaching that point of critical mass when the American public - and the world at large - finally sees through all the lies and realizes who was actually behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks? A sense of excitement seems to be growing as more progress is made; and there now exists a very real possibility that the psychopathic monsters responsible for these heinous crimes (and others before it) may be exposed and brought to justice.
Such a scenario should undoubtedly thrill everyone in the patriot movement, but on the other hand we must also be even more vigilant, because the New World Order elite are always most dangerous when their backs are pressed against the wall. That's when they retaliate like rabid dogs, or create diversions that lead people away from the crux of their crimes.
To illustrate this point, let's jump back a few years to the middle of Bill Clinton's second term. His Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, was embroiled in a bitter financial scandal, and as pressure on him was rising, he approached the president and laid an ultimatum in his lap: "I'm too old for jail. If I go down, I'm taking everyone else with me."
Of course a plethora of Clinton crimes were in danger of being exposed, so a few weeks later Ron Brown was conveniently placed on an airplane that mysteriously "crashed" in Bosnia, killing everyone onboard. But even more peculiar was a circular gunshot hole that was found in the top of Brown's skull - the only such one for any of the plane's passengers. I suppose this added little touch guaranteed that dead men told no tales. Regrettably, Ron Brown wasn't the first 'casualty' of the NWO's retaliation, for history is littered with the corpses of those who dared to push the power elite into a corner.
But something strange happened with the murder of Ron Brown - the truth kept coming out in a big way. In fact, coroners, military whistleblowers, journalists, and the black community dug up so much dirt on a continual basis that the whole sordid can of worms was about to be blown wide open.
Then it happened - splattered across the TV sets and front pages of every newspaper in America - was Monica Lewinsky, the perfect diversion. Immediately, while all of us were titillated with details of raunchy cigars, midnight trysts in the Oval Office, and a stained blue dress, interest in Ron Brown's murder was unceremoniously dropped like a hot potato, forever relegated to the dustbin of history.
A couple of years later, as the whole Monica affair was put to bed and a new (even more corrupt, if that's possible) president was 'selected,' revelations began to surface in a dramatic way that the Oklahoma City Bombing wasn't the work of two 'lone nut' mass murderers - Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols - but was instead an inside government job where explosives were used to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, not a jerry-rigged ANFO bomb inside a Ryder truck.
These revelations were fueled by the work of tireless independent researchers, articles in The Spotlight newspaper, and a blockbuster book entitled Final Report which was compiled by the OKBIC (Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee). The entire truth about this ugly act of state-sponsored terrorism was now out in the open, and the lid was about to be blown off.
But then - conveniently once again - the OKC Bombing scandal was buried when - welluh - "19 Arab cave-dwellers led by Osama bin Laden" attacked America on 9-11. Of course we now know the entire affair was planned years earlier by a neo-con cabal that would eventually infest the Bush White House; but just like that a new slew of lies and media hype assumed center stage, pushing everything else into the background.
So, the lesson we should take to heart is as such: keep pushing with all your might to expose the truth about 9-11; but in the same breath, stay alert. The NWO elite is at its most dangerous when the bright light of truth is shining on them. Furthermore, with plummeting poll numbers for George W. Bush, a disastrous war in Iraq, and 9-11 reality bursting into the public consciousness; we can't put anything past the bloodthirsty killers whose finger on the trigger is getting real itchy.
Nobody can be certain what lurks inside their demented minds, but could we see a dirty bomb in L.A., nukes and/or an invasion of Iran, the outbreak of a man-made bird flu pandemic, a Monica-like Wag-the-Dog distraction, or another 'lone nut' act of terror that debilitates society like the JFK assassination?
Each of these possibilities is very real, so keep your eyes open. Right now, those who sit atop the control pyramid are more skittish than long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, and needless to say, that should make all of us more than a little nervous.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Corporate Congress Critters Kill Net Neutrality
Thursday April 27th 2006, 8:43 am
Another Day in the Empire
Corporate whores in Congress have officially inaugurated the process of turning the internet into another platform for ephemeral junk culture, an interactive version of television where there are 500 channels and nothing on. "Internet carriers, including AT&T Inc., have been strident supporters of upending the Internet's tradition of network neutrality and have lobbied Congress to make it happen. They argue that Web sites, particularly those featuring video and audio that require significant bandwidth, should be able to pay extra so that users don't have to wait as long for downloads," reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "Internet carriers say they would use the money they earn to expand the Internet's capacity." I suppose this would operate the same way multinational oil corporations use their massive profits to search for new oil reserves or expand refining capacity. "By a 34-22 vote, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected a Democratic-backed Net neutrality amendment that also enjoyed support from Internet and software companies including Microsoft, Amazon.com and Google," writes Declan McCullagh for CNET News.
In the early 90s, I was drawn to the internet primarily because it was a decentralized communication medium born as a "neutral network," that is to say no one interest or body controlled the entire network or even large chunks. "When Tim Berners-Lee started to sell the idea of a 'World Wide Web', he did not need to seek the approval of network owners to allow the protocols that built the internet to run," writes Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society. "Likewise, when eBay launched its auction service, or Amazon its bookselling service, neither needed the permission of the telephone companies before those services could take off. Because the internet was 'end-to-end', innovators and users were free to offer new content, new applications or even new protocols for communication without any permission from the network. So long as these new applications obeyed simple internet protocols ('TCP/IP'), the internet was open to their ideas. The network did not pick and choose the applications or content it would support; it was neutral, leaving that choice to the users."
Congress, as a craven and slavish handmaid to corporate interests and domination, is in the process of squashing internet neutrality. It's all about control and corporate centralization, not innovation and expanding capacity. It's about making sure the internet serves the commercial and political purposes of large corporations. It's also about locking the alternative media out of the only effective medium it has at its disposal. If you doubt this, see if you can find a truth movement channel on one of your 500 cable television channels.
Once upon a time, television was considered part of the public commons and its signal was transmitted over airwaves owned by the people. It was stolen and hopes dashed in short order by private and corporate interests many decades ago. Even the charade of noblesse oblige-or corporate broadcasters pretending to be trustees obliged to protect what the people own, or think they own-is long gone and the Fairness Doctrine is dead as well, killed by "deregulation" (an excuse for theft by corporate leviathans) under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
In fact, the airwaves have become, like virtually everything else of value, a "raw commodity for financial speculation," as David Bollier writes.
Public access television-an arrangement made between mega-corporations and the public when the medium was handed over by thieves and charlatans operating out of the whorehouse on the Potomac-is now an endangered species. Senate Bill 1349 and House Bill 3146 endeavored to eliminate local cable television franchises, long considered an "obstacle" by massive telecoms. If you don't believe there will be a repeat of this in regard to the internet, I have a bridge to sell you.
"Broadband providers now have the same authority as cable providers to act as gatekeepers: the network owner can choose which services and equipment consumers may use," explains John Windhausen, Jr. "Network operators can adopt conflicting and proprietary standards for the attachment of consumer equipment, can steer consumers to certain web sites over others, can block whatever Internet services or applications they like, and make their preferred applications perform better than others.... open broadband networks are vitally important to our society, our future economic growth, our high-tech manufacturing sector, and our First Amendment rights to information free of censorship or control. Even if an openness policy imposes some slight burden on network operators, these microeconomic concerns pale in comparison to the macroeconomic benefits to the society and economy at large of maintaining an open Internet."
In the future, we may be relegated to the "slow lane" (no video or audio), or locked out entirely if a telecom disagrees with our content. Free expression of ideas, especially ideas contrary to those of the neolib global elite and transnational corporations, are now at risk more than ever.
It should be remembered that corporatism is essentially fascism, as the grand daddy of fascism, Benito Mussolini, long ago explained. Fascists not only favor and enforce censorship-ultimately they violently suppress all opposition.
In the not too distant future, as the internet becomes yet another tawdry and dumbed-down consumerist venue surrounded by lawyers and gun turrets, we may be reduced to handing out our content via DVD on street corners.
Of course, this will be defined as terrorism and we will be punished accordingly.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Who's accountable?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The irreplacable Digby dug up an interesting exchange the other day between a student [edited] and President Bush:
- Q Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to have you here. I'm a first-year student in South Asia studies. My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.
THE PRESIDENT: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)
Q I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against -- over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding -- (laughter.) I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (laughter.) I really will -- I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm -- thanks. (Laughter.)
A classic Bush non-answer: "I'll ask about that." Digby goes on to explain how this is emblematic of an administration out of control and unanswerable to anyone, which really is the larger problem here.
But this instance also raises a very specific issue that likewise strikes at the very real dangers posed by the Bush regime -- namely, the way government, and particularly the Pentagon, is using private contractors as a way to avoid accountability.
In the case of the Iraqi contractors, the lack of accountability runs the gamut from outright embezzlement of government funds to abuse of Iraqi citizens.
But even more pernicious is the Pentagon's hiring of private contractors for gathering domestic intelligence:
- Lockheed Martin Corp. is seeking a counterintelligence analyst to work for the Pentagon's newest intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), in its Colorado Springs facility to "create and deliver briefings, write reports, and represent Counterintelligence Field Activity," according to a Web classified ad.
These positions and thousands like them are part of a growing trend at the Pentagon to contract out intelligence jobs that were formerly done primarily by service personnel and civil service employees.
But, by using contract employees, government agencies lose control over those doing this sensitive work and an element of profit is inserted into what is being done. Also, as investigations have revealed, politics and corruption may be introduced into the process.
The office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte has quietly begun to study the contracting issue because "it already is a problem," a senior intelligence official said in a recent interview.
A related concern for intelligence agencies inside and outside the Pentagon is that the government is training people and getting them security clearances, but they then leave for better pay offered by contractors, sometimes to do the same work.
This is all part of a Pentagon push to expand its domestic surveillance:
- The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The real burning question, as Kurt Nimmo suggests, is one of accountability:
--If these private contractors decide to break the law in pursuit of this intelligence, who is there above them to prevent that from happening?
-- And if they do break the law, who in the chain of governmental command would face any consequences?
Tim Shorrock, writing for Mother Jones,, explained awhile back that in fact there is no accountability anywhere in the system for these contractors:
- Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, believes that the kind of military intelligence work contracted to CACI, Titan Corp., and other companies is particularly ripe for problems because intelligence agencies "operate under unusual authority." He adds: "I don't think the current oversight system is equipped to monitor the activities of contractors. That is one of the central lessons of the Abu Ghraib affair."
Like the defense industry, the intelligence business is driven by a network of lobbyists and a web of close connections between government and the private sector. But unlike the arms industry, intelligence contractors operate in a world where budgets are classified and many activities -- from covert operations to foreign eavesdropping -- are conducted in secret. Even the bidding for intelligence contracts is often classified. As a result, there is virtually no oversight of the intelligence community and its corporate partners. That was one of the central findings of the 9/11 commission, which called congressional supervision of intelligence and counterterrorism "dysfunctional."
However, this administration is nothing if not predictable. Were a reporter to ask anyone in the administration about this surveillance, it's a near certainty they'd be told that it was a good question that would be looked into. Next! [Laughter]
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: The Confusion of Tongues
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Do I understand your question, man,
Is it hopeless and forlorn? - Bob Dylan
Yesterday morning I was watching a streaming English-language news broadcast from Russia. (And I expect that's enough cause right there for the telecommunication giants to seek the end of the Internet as we know it.) The lead story was the press conference of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the main points hit by the Russia Today correspondent were Ahmadinejad's renouncing nuclear weapons as contrary to Islam and his reiteration of Iran's 30-year commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, though Iran reserved the right to revisit its commitment if adherence to the treaty imperiled its sovereignty.
It was an unexpectedly optimistic piece. Ahmadinejad was allowed to speak at length and appeared relaxed and informed while fielding questions. If the excerpts were representative and the translation accurate, he appeared to be credibly attempting to defuse the crisis.
Naturally we need to compensate for spin whatever the source, and Russian news tailored for a foreign audience has a spin no less than Wolf Blitzer's Panic Room. Knowing that, I was still taken aback by the absolute unfamiliarity of the same press conference when soon after I started reading accounts of it in the Western media. The accent was almost entirely upon provocation, not concilation: the UN "lacks guts" to impose sanctions; "Defiant Iran in threat to quit nuclear treaty"; and "Iranian President insists 'Israel can not continue to live.'"
There's a Central Casting-like quality to Ahmadinejad's villainy. If he didn't exist the Pentagon would have had to create him to justify moving the goalpost to Tehren. And perhaps they did. (The election fraud, rule by crisis and religious fascism are certainly familiar enough. A reformist Iranian government was the war party's nightmare.) But did he really say that? Did he insist that Israel must die? The headline is drawn from this quote, provided without context: "We say that this fake regime cannot logically continue to live." To arrive at the headline, the government has to be conflated with the nation. Likewise we could say about the Bush administration, and with considerable accuracy, that "this fake regime cannot logically continue to survive." (Without knowing Farsi I'll presume that the original could be translated as either "to live" or "to survive.") And is that the same as saying America must die?
Ahmadinejad says the darnedest things, but perhaps, when translated, his rhetoric is subject to overinflation by parties interested in conflict.
But perhaps it doesn't matter. Does it matter that we've barely learned how to pronounce his name before he's become This Year's Hitler? It doesn't matter what anyone says at this suddenly late stage, past the fail safe point of arrested anticipation. Iran and the United States do not see the need to talk to each other, and the go-between media appears only to egg them on like a pack of jumpy kids itching for the stimulus of a good after-school fight. (How's June sound?)
All things being equal, a chorus of just one wise word, something like "Enough," should be sufficient now to deter the Bush regime which, judging by the politics alone, ought to be the most vulnerable since Nixon's circa 1974. But nothing's equal anymore, and American politics is putting on an ever-more piss-poor pantomime of representative government. The old vocabularies have expired. Throw their lexicons on the Lexus, and burn the Lexus. We need to learn a new language before we can speak this truth to that power.
Comment on this Editorial
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
What's it like to live in the 21st century? Can we see it as it really is? Can we make out the wood for the trees?
Or do we need dreams to make sense of it?
In 1924 Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou set about creating the silent film Metropolis. Several million Marks later, the film was released in 1927 - to mixed reviews. Visually stunning, even today, it was perhaps too much for many people to grasp. The storyline, too, seems somehow distant and otherworldly: evocative of something vaguely other, and yet rooted in the world of today, the world we know. Or think we know.
A world of dreams - and making the same sort of sense that dreams do.
Metropolis was speculative cinema, speaking in archetypes straight through the eyes to the heart with its dystopian vision of the future - the future of the early 21st century.
Fritz Lang had been impressed by the visual spectacle of the Manhattan skyline, and incorporated a Raygun Gothic version of this into his sets for the film. That's the same skyline that speaks to us too - but in a different way. For us, it's a scarred skyline, marked as it is by the absence of something. Where are those ugly 60's twin towers?
Metropolis - the city that never sleeps, the city that does not need to lose itself in dreams. Because it's living the dream, isn't it?
But who actually is asleep, and who is awake?
The plot of Metropolis involves the creation of a robot woman - a gynoid - who mirrors the human character Maria, and creates mayhem amongst the upper-class men through her exotic dancing - an inversion of the way in which the human Maria is consolidating a worker's movement amongst the serfs in the lower levels of the city, and encouraging peace.
As a fictional device, though, robots weren't new. A few years before Lang and von Harbou set about creating Metropolis, in 1921, Karel Capek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) was premiered in Prague. It created quite a sensation, being translated into English shortly after, and put on the stage in London in 1923, with Basil Rathbone playing the part of Harry Domin, the General Manager of the robotics plant.
Except that these are not the normal robots we think we know. These robots are fully fleshed - more the result of biological research than research into electronics. One of the characters in the play, Helena, burns the formula for making the robots, and when the robots have revolted against their human masters and killed all but one of them, they cannot make more of their kind; all they can turn out on the robotics factory line are bloody chunks of meat.
Aldous Huxley (a Kropotkinesque Anarchist, as he mentions in the foreword to a later reprint of Brave New World, and thus an enemy of the State), envisaged a more satisfying scenario of foetuses grown in a factory to specific requirements - for example, for the production of epsilon semi-morons, the lowest class of human, who would do the menial work for the society in which they lived, without having the perspicacity to see that they were being used.
Capek's robots are highly intelligent, but they have a specific limitation. They remember everything, but have no real creativity; they can see the past very well, but cannot envisage the future. As Harry Domin says at one point, they would make excellent university professors.
Karel Capek always pointed out, though, that it was not he who had come up with the term 'robot'. That had been the suggestion of his brother Josef. Josef had also been a writer, and the word 'robot' was taken from the Czech for drudgery; 'robotnik' means 'peasant' or 'serf'.
Years later Josef entered Belsen concentration camp as a guest of the Nazis. The motto for this system of Arbeitslager, or 'work camps' was of course 'Arbeit macht frei' - 'Work makes us free'. Josef himself did not survive this kind of work, this extreme form of serfdom.
But even before Capek's play, G. I. Gurdjieff had been promoting and exploring the idea that people were not necessarily who they thought they were. People were really machines, he said - and had to learn how not to be machine-like. They had to develop their free will in order to become truly human, and lose their robotic nature. They had to wake up.
The Ukrainian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who studied under Freud in Vienna, also worked along similar lines. In the 1920's he came to understand humans as constrained by something he called 'Character Armour': sets of personality characteristics which would protect the individual, not just from the blows of life, but from one's own desires and instincts - desires of which the individual is actually afraid.
Further experience in the Soviet Union, and then in Berlin, indicated to him that the State could use this weakness in the human individual for its own ends. Fascism, he suggested, is the "basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilisation and its mechanical-mystical conception of life".
In this political model, reinforcing a person's Character Armour through enforced self-control, and encouraging him or her to find a deranged fulfilment in 'purity', has a specific purpose: the paralysis of the will to rebel. Not only would the individual be unable to rebel, they would not even know that there was something which ought to be rebelled against.
Unable to properly anticipate the future, freedom would become their greatest fear - though a fear so locked in the depths of their subconscious that they would not even be able to properly identify it as a fear. Instead, they would tend to characterise the future as always at the mercy of some unholy 'anarchy', i.e. the end of their world - the end of 'purity' - and the fulfilment of their real, subconscious, desires. It would mean the Triumph of the Heart, and thus the loss of all the tiny controls in life which allow the individual to feel secure.
Thus the good citizen of a fascist state and economy would become unimaginative, controlling, intentionally dumbed down, fractured to the depths of his psyche, overconfident, unable to see where the State was taking him, and a natural bully.
Naturally, such a situation could never happen today, since fascism has been abolished by our enlightened leaders.
Seeking a free place to pursue his work, Reich was ironically sent to prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on technical charges brought by the US Food and Drug Administration. Copies of his books were burned by government officials at the Gansevoort Incinerator in New York on 23rd August 1956. The books burned included perhaps his most important work, the Mass Psychology of Fascism, which outlined how and why people fell for the lies of authoritarian states, becoming robotised in the process.
But of course that book-burning can't have actually happened, because only the Nazis did that sort of thing, and America is the land of the free - isn't it?
People tend to think, "I cannot be a robot, because I am flesh". But isn't that part of the lie? Robots aren't necessarily like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. They might be made of flesh like Capek's robots were - or like the citizens of Huxley's Brave New World (1932). All it takes is to stop asking questions, and to identify ourselves with the bland culture presented to us every day on television - the manufacturer of consent.
Who is awake, and who is asleep?
As the astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit says: "Sleep, the Principal Investigator of my Heart".
But the Heart can be suborned by the State, because, as Reich said, the social order will create character forms that support the social order in a closed cycle.
And thus the Hive is born, the type of society most useful for an authoritarian leadership - where freedom and free will are celebrated, but only as a part of the general lie. Where books are freely available - and yet seldom, if ever, read. And those who do read widely are discreetly marginalised as eccentrics - or even feared as subtle enemies of the social order. Where robots imagine they are free when they have been conditioned to be nothing of the sort - and are thus the more easily controlled.
So even our dreams can be controlled by the State, here in the Hive of Metropolis.
Maria, and her robotic double, were the fictional creations of Fritz Lang and of Thea von Harbou. And in a sense these two Marias stood for Thea von Harbou herself. She could develop into one or the other: the gentle Maria who serves others, and becomes human in the process - or the manipulative gynoid Maria, who serves herself by controlling others, and masks her true nature as a robot.
Thea chose the second of these options. In 1931 she separated from her husband, Fritz Lang, and they were soon divorced. The split was perhaps as much an ideological one as anything else. In 1932 Thea joined the Nazi party, one year before Hitler came to power. Fritz, however, was forced to flee Germany after his 1934 film, The Testament of Dr Mabuse, was banned by the Nazis because of the film's criticisms of Nazi thinking.
In 1937 Thea wrote the screenplay for Der Herrscher (The Ruler or Director), a film which celebrated complete submission to absolute authority, eventually finding reward in total victory. Detained by the British after the end of the War, Thea found work clearing rubble from the bombing of Berlin. She died in 1954.
Der Herrscher centres on the character of Clausen, the wealthy director of a munitions firm. This family-owned company has been running for more than a century, and is clearly based on the Krupp dynasty, which owned the largest industrial concern in Europe at the time. Metropolis, because it had run so far over budget, had put its film studio (Universum-Film AG or Ufa) into financial difficulties. In 1927, Ufa was taken over by Alfred Hugenberg, himself a close friend of Gustav Krupp. Eventually, in 1937, the Nazi party bought up most of Ufa's shares, making it a vehicle for their propaganda.
Gustav Krupp had opposed the Nazis until 1930, when they had convinced him that the party was good for business: the trade unions would be robbed of power, and the growth of the armed forces would bring Krupps more revenue. At this, Gustav threw in his lot with them, becoming chairman of the Adolf Hitler Spende, a political fundraising organisation for the NSDAP.
The Corporation, a recent Canadian documentary, details how large companies assume the same characteristics as human psychopaths. Devoid of any significant degree of empathy, the aim always is control of larger market share, at minimal cost. That constitutes profit for the company; and nothing else - not even worker happiness - is allowed to get in the way of that. The conditioning of our culture is such that possibly most people would say that this is obvious, because you can't run a company any other way. That's profit, which is intrinsically good.
Robots can only think this way, and that is their tragedy. They can see the past, but cannot creatively understand the final outcome, what the future promises to deliver to us if we carry on thinking and working in this way.
In Capek's play R.U.R., Harry Domin asks Helena what she thinks would be the perfect employee. She answers that it would be the one who is most honest and dedicated. Domin replies: "No, it's the one that's the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs... [Young Rossum] chucked out everything not directly related to work, and, [in] doing that, he virtually rejected the human being, and created the Robot."
Krupp evidently felt the same way. Seventy thousand concentration camp victims died working for Krupps in their forced labour programme, for example at their fuse factory near Auschwitz. In 1947, when a U.S. Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was trying Gustav's son Alfried (Gustav himself being too senile at this stage to stand trial), it was found by the judges that the Krupps factories were marked by a brutality exceptional even under Nazism.
Alfried denied any guilt. He stated: "The economy needed a steady or growing development. Because of the rivalries between the many political parties in Germany and the general disorder, there was no opportunity for prosperity. ... We thought that Hitler would give us such a healthy environment. Indeed he did do that. ... We Krupps never cared much about [political] ideas. We only wanted a system that worked well and allowed us to work unhindered. Politics is not our business."
Convicted of slave labour, Alfried was sentenced to twelve years in prison. However, it was not long before he was free (being released to applause in 1951), and had resumed control of the firm.
Before Der Herrscher, Thea von Harbou had written another influential screenplay: Frau im Mond (Girl in the Moon). This film, released in 1929, dealt with the launching of a rocket to the Moon. Hermann Oberth, the rocket pioneer who played such an important part in the development of the V2, was involved in creating a rocket for the special effects department at Ufa. His involvement with the film studio didn't last long, but the film probably had a lasting effect on German militarists, who became conditioned to the idea of long-range rockets as a workable idea. The engineers working on the V2 project were highly enthusiastic about the film, one of the first V2's even having Frau im Mond painted on its tail. However, Frau im Mond was at last withdrawn by the Nazis, as being too close to the truth of research then underway.
There was something undeniably dramatic about the V2, especially at launch. It was a weapon, not just of Vergeltung or vengeance (which is what the V in V2 stands for), but of shock and awe. It was also a stealth weapon, undetectable through its supersonic ballistic flight, until it hit its target. And the primary targets were significant too: it was the metropolis of London and the city of Antwerp. This was a weapon of terror, designed to strike at the densest concentration of civilians.
Of course, only the Nazis do this sort of thing. Allied bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Berlin was designed to destroy only munitions production - and when Churchill declared that the purpose was really to strike terror into the heart of German workers, he must obviously have meant something else; after all, the British unfailingly believe in fair play. Naturally, the same goes for the bombing of Baghdad and Fallujah in more recent days. The shock and awe involved were only ever directed at Baathist cadres and Islamist terrorists. Civilian casualties are regarded as regrettable - even though civilians are the ones who bear the brunt of such assaults, and their after-effects. Still, can't be helped, can it?
Work on the V2 (and on the V1, an early cruise missile) was carried out by slave workers at Peenemunde on the German Baltic coast. Development of the technology for the V2 was done by possibly one third of Germany's research scientists, most of them knowing nothing of where their research was heading. Today, scientific research is only carried out to improve our living standards, and the work done by scientists and engineers working for defence companies and government research agencies is really only directed towards refining existing technologies, like ruggedising laptops for desert use, or something. Pioneering new weapons and technologies like the V2 are now over and done with - because only the Nazis did crazy off-the-wall things like that.
Eventually, after a heavy Allied bombing raid in 1943, research and production shifted to other sites in Germany - including underground facilities. Again, such facilities - obviously - do not exist today, because scientific research now is an open book, with the general welfare of everyone its prime concern.
No longer do governments hide the results of their research. The Northrop B2 Spirit bomber, for instance, though a secret plane, is nevertheless actually flown at air shows for the admiration of the general public. Which of course makes it anything but secret. Rumours that in fact such aircraft are only pale copies of the real B2 - capable of flying at speeds of Mach 10, and giving the United States a strike capability of within two hours to any point on the earth from their base in Minnesota - well, this is just pie-in-the-sky. The fact that they cost $2 billion each is only another instance of military overspend. And anyway, any sort of magneto-hydrodynamic technology would allow passenger aircraft also to travel at such speeds - and where are they? It's hardly likely that our governments would conspire to keep such things secret, when they might have such useful civilian applications.
Because of course there is no such thing as conspiracy. Only the Nazis did that sort of thing, when they conspired in the Final Solution, for instance. Or when they put together their secret plans for world domination. Only James Bond villains in their cavernous underground lairs do that sort of thing today - and that, of course, is fiction: technothriller, the diet of teenage boys and other immature individuals.
The Nazis are gone. We know this because no one wears jackboots or goose-steps any more - unless, of course, they're a bunch of sad losers meeting in some secluded semi in Beckenham, to drink schnapps, watch a rerun of Triumph of the Will on the video, and dream of a Fourth Reich. That a military coup was in the process of happening against Harold Wilson in the 70's, with lorry-loads of paratroopers on the road from Aldershot to take over the Houses of Parliament - again, such things don't happen. This is a stable democracy. It always has been - and therefore, by extension, it always will be.
Our world depends on us being complicit in the lies told to us by the State. We must be complicit in their official narratives, to maintain the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. The State implies that each of us has little worth, other than as members of the societal form that the State has provided for us.
This societal form is the Metropolis.
Metropolis is a Greek compound. It means the mother-city, the mother-state. And we, poor souls, feel we need a parent in order to feel secure. That's why we buy into the lies - so that we can feel secure in the protection afforded us by our parent.
But what security do we really have under the State's protection? Is this security real, or just another of the State's illusions?
In 1984, George Orwell's vision of a society founded on lies to the disintegration of all forms of mutual aid and true love, rockets are landing daily on London. Julia, the girlfriend of the chief character in the novel, Winston Smith, recognises what is happening. These rockets are being fired by their own government, as a means of maintaining support for the war against whoever is the enemy of the day.
In New York, on 9/11 2001, two airliners crashed into the Twin Towers. They collapsed, and though the death-toll was tiny compared with the ongoing massacre of the innocents in Iraq, the effect as a televised spectacle was probably unique in the history of humanity. It was a new Pearl Harbour, which ensured the beginning of a war without end, and an excuse for the government of possibly the most moronic of presidents to assume unprecedented powers over its people. The citizens had been frightened into the ever-closer embrace of the Metropolis.
Fear stops thought. The State knows this. Fear means that people will no longer ask questions, but will instead accept whatever baby-food the State feeds it with. These are the official narratives, the acme of impudence. No longer can people see what happened to World Trade Center Building 7, which collapsed despite being hit by no aircraft - the dust raised by the Twin Towers' collapse being nothing compared to the clouded thinking of our frightened and bewildered infant selves.
Likewise, few of us can question the strike against the Pentagon. There is no trace of an airliner there, for there never was one there. There never was one there, for the simple reason that it's too difficult to fly by remote control a whopping great 757 into the side, rather than the roof, of such a building - and thus minimise the damage caused. It is the Pentagon, after all - the place where they plan their stupid wars.
And so another sort of aircraft had to be used. The State knows that the populace will never enquire further, because the Lie is too big to be questioned. Only Nazis would use a pimped-up modern equivalent of the V1 flying bomb - i.e. a missile-bearing Global Hawk drone - to create their own Reichstag fire. And the Nazis, of course, are now safely in the dustbin of history.
The plentiful CCTV footage of the incident, naturally, has never been released.
There are no government conspiracies, for the simple reason that if there were, then our Metropolis would be seen to be nothing but a sham, and we would have lost our parent. Nobody wants to be an orphan - which is why there is no conspiracy.
The Metropolis makes robots out of otherwise sincere individuals - individuals who possess such astonishing potential for growth into love of others, and knowledge. This is the social and psychological order that opposes the Triumph of the Heart. They want to make serfs out of us all, and their means for doing this are fear and lies.
And when another false-flag terror attack occurs here in the West, it will be done to reinforce the power of the State over us - as will the rain of bombs on Teheran and Damascus from the city-killer B2's.
But though cities are destroyed, the Metropolis remains.
For the real target is us.
[Peter Straughan's radio play, Metropolis, an adaptation of Thea von Harbou's novel and screenplay, provided a good deal of inspiration for this essay. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 24th March 2006 - and, like the first ever television science fiction presentation, a version of Capek's R.U.R., aired in 1938 on the BBC, is now sadly unavailable.]
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Tony Snow Job
Wednesday April 26th 2006, 7:00 pm
Another Day in the Empire
Ask me why I am not surprised. "President Bush on Wednesday named Tony Snow, a conservative pundit who has nonetheless been critical of the administration, as his press secretary-the latest move in Bush's effort to remake his troubled White House," reports MSNBC. "Snow, a Fox News commentator and speech-writer in the White House under Bush's father, has written and spoken frequently about the current president-not always in a complimentary way. While Snow is an experienced Washington hand, he is an outsider when it comes to Bush's tight core of advisers."
Give me a break.
Snow is part of the neocon network and as a smooth talking head over at the Bush Ministry of Disinformation-call it Fox News if you must-he is a natural as "press secretary," or a front man designated to field softball questions from his buddies in the corporate media.
It is interesting MSNBC would claim Snow has criticized Bush-if anything, Snow has criticized other Republicans, most notably Pat Buchanan (an object of hate for neocons far and wide), calling them "members of the bed-wetting right" who "aided and abetted... the political left" when they jumped all over Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, Katrina served as an excuse to further gut the Posse Comitatus Act, characterized as "very archaic" by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita. For the Straussian neocons, the Constitution itself is "archaic" and little more than a "goddamned piece of paper." In the future, the genteel Tony Snow will do a fine job selling Straussian treason.
Of course, the corporate media is tickled pink over the fact Tony Snow was selected to replace Scott McClellan. Now they can all laugh it up and slap backs in the White House press room as Bush-a marionette for the neocons-continues to foist the Straussian nightmare on the nation.
Comment on this Editorial
Palestinians Die, Israeli's Lie
Israeli air strike kills one Palestinian militant, critically wounds another
04:42:23 EDT Apr 27, 2006
DEIR EL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) - Israeli aircraft fired three missiles at targets in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing one Palestinian militant and critically wounding another, Palestinian health officials said.
The army said the air strikes were aimed at a cell preparing to carry out an attack. It said two vehicles were targeted, and one was hit. Pillars of smoke billowed from the destroyed vehicle as rescue workers removed burned and dismembered bodies. Palestinian officials initially said both men were dead after they were taken to the morgue by an ambulance.
But a doctor at the morgue found them to be alive and sent them to the operating room. The injuries included lost legs, severe chest wounds and head injuries.
Later, Dr. Baker Abu Safia confirmed that Wael Nassar, of Islamic Jihad had died of his wounds.
Ahmad Abu Najam, another Islamic Jihad militant, remained in critical condition.
Islamic Jihad vowed to take revenge for the Israeli missile strike.
"God willing, our reprisal is coming and it is going to be like air shaking," said spokesman Abu Ahmad. "We are going to shake the air under their feet. They had experienced us in Tel Aviv and more is coming."
Islamic Jihad, a small group with ties to Iran and Syria, claimed responsibility for last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed nine and wounded dozens.
During more than five years of fighting, Israel has killed dozens of militants in targeted air strikes. The attacks also have killed or wounded dozens of civilians.
Comment on this Article
Israel: Swedish boycott may encourage terror
Still reeling from Sweden's announcement Wednesday that they would not participate in an international military training exercise due to Israel's part in it, the Swedish ambassador was invited Thursday to the Foreign Ministry to clarify the situation.
During their Jerusalem meeting Director-General Ron Prosor expressed his grievance to Swedish envoy Robert Rydberg that his nation rejected Israel as a colleague in the European exercise.
"Whoever rejects Israel rejects itself as a player in the peace process," Prosor emphasized to Rydberg. He added that Stockholm's move "could be interpreted as support for those in the international community who call for the de-legitimization of Israel."
'Israel not doing anything to achieve peace'
The Foreign Ministry Director General expressed his concern regarding reports that Sweden was planning to breach the West's boycott of Hamas, and offer entry permits to areas of Hamas activity. Prosor noted that this could be a precedential step by a European country, which could be interpreted as approval of terrorism and terror organization.
The military exercise in question, part of the "Spring Flag" series, is slated to take place in Sardinia, Italy, on May 25-28. The exercise is supposed to aid in the joint training and coordination and create possibilities for further cooperation between international peace forces. Nine European nations were supposed to participate, including Sweden and Israel.
Sweden, however, pulled out citing Israel's participation in it. "Israel is not doing anything to achieve peace now," Stockholm communicated to Jerusalem.
An official spokesperson for the Scandinavian country explained yesterday during an interview with a local radio station: "Our analysis is that, at the moment, Israel's participation in this type of peacekeeping effort is unreasonable, considering the political situation in the Middle East."
Comment on this Article
Mixed Palestinian views rocket fire
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza
Palestinians look at the remains of a house hit by Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya
The Israeli army's response to militant rocket attacks is heavy shelling
Away in the distance one of the Israeli army's big guns boomed, and then a shell whistled overhead before crashing down just beyond an orchard in northern Gaza.
Two labourers came running out of the trees and took cover next to a shop on al-Nuzha street, on the edge of the town of Beit Lahiya.
"We were irrigating the orchard," one of them said. "And then there were these shells, and we lay in a ditch.
"I'm asking the Israeli government," the labourer said, "What do you want from this? What do you want from us?"
The answer is that Israel wants an end to the firing of rockets from Gaza by Palestinian militants.
It's not right to fire rockets. It's for nothing. It should be stopped. What do we get from it? My whole family was injured. And the rockets won't win back Jerusalem for us
Mohammad Abu Rhabi
Every day for months now the army's heavy artillery has been pounding the launch sites.
For hours, northern Gaza echoes and shudders to the blast of the guns.
But still the militants launch their rockets.
Most days, two or three go streaking off towards the Israeli farms and villages that lie just beyond Gaza's perimeter fence.
Over the last three or four years, several Israelis - including children - have been killed.
But the rockets are crudely made in workshops in Gaza, and most have minimal impact.
Israelis stand next to a rocket fired by Palestinians which landed in Kibbutz Karmiya in southern Israel
Israel says it will not accept the random targeting of its civilians
Hundreds have been fired this year but they have caused little damage.
But this is random targeting of civilian areas, and Israel says that no country would tolerate it.
And so it pounds away at the open areas from which the militants launch their rockets.
Sometimes, 200 or more shells are poured into the fields and orchards in a day.
Around 5,000 have come down in the past month alone.I am 47 years old, and all my life the Israelis have been attacking us and taking our rights. How long do you want our people to keep sleeping?
The Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem says this is a disproportionate response, and that it breaches the laws of conflict by endangering civilians.
An eight-year-old girl died recently when a shell crashed into a room in her home where she was watching television.
And a few days later a teenager was killed while he was playing football.
In both cases, the army said militant rocket fire had come from these neighbourhoods some hours earlier.
Among those sheltering from the shelling by the orchard on al-Nuzha Street was a student with his arm in a sling.
Mohammad Abu Rhabi had been hurt when a shell landed in his garden and shrapnel blasted through the walls of his home.
The Israeli barrage had begun a few minutes after a rocket was launched from the area.
Like many people in Gaza's northern frontline zone, Mr Abu Rhabi sees the missile fire from the militants as pointless and dangerous.
"It's not right to fire rockets," he said. "It's for nothing. It should be stopped. What do we get from it? My whole family was injured. And the rockets won't win back Jerusalem for us."
There have been cases of local people driving militants away from areas close to their homes - fearing that a rocket launch will provoke an Israeli counter strike.
But there are also people who back the militants and say the missile attacks should continue - whatever danger they bring.
Another of those on al-Nuzha Street as the Israeli shells went fizzing overhead was Fathi Hawajri, an employee in the clinic across the road.
"These people (the militants) are hitting back for Israel's crimes," he said.
"I am 47 years old, and all my life the Israelis have been attacking us and taking our rights. How long do you want our people to keep sleeping?"
For many people like Mr Hawajri the militants are doing something by way of retaliation for the oppression of the occupation, with its army raids and arrests and killings and seizure of land.
Not far from al-Nuzha Street, a young man called Abdel Aziz was sipping tea with friends outside a garage. He said it did not matter to him that the vast majority of the rockets unleashed by the militants had little impact.
"It's true that they don't do much damage," he said. "But they frighten the Israelis. They're afraid of the noise. They're afraid that the rocket will land on their houses."
Comment: It seems likely that this report of a "mixed" response from Palestinians towards the firing of rockets at Israel is more of the Israeli-orientated propaganda that we have become used to over the years. It is highly unlikely that any Palestinian who is aware of the reality of the situation would support the continued firing of 'Qassam' rockets into Israel. The simple reason for this is, as the above story points out, the Qassam rockets are entirely ineffective and 90% of the time do not explode or completely miss their target or, more often, both. In response, the IDF pounds innocent Gazan's with 200 highly accurate and deadly IDF rockets. Despite this, "Palestinian militants" continue to endanger the lives of the people they are meant to protect. Does it make sense to you?
The question that needs to be answered is who are the people that are firing the wholly ineffective qassam rockets into Israel and who do they really work for.
Comment on this Article
Israel steals over 80 percent of Palestinian water
April 25 2006
Kuwait News Agency
DAMASCUS -- Head of the Palestinian water resources management Ahmad Al-Yaqoubi said Israel is stealing more than 80 percent of the Palestinian water and that the separation wall will give Israel the control on water resources.
Al-Yaqoubi said in a report presented at a forum organized by the Arab League here that Israel is also stealing water sources in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
An individual's consumption of water in Israel is three to four times more than it is in Palestine where people pay five times the price paid by Israelis, he said.
Israel is controlling 500 million cubic meters of water reserves in the West Bank, which equals to one third of consumption in Israel, Al-Yaqoubi added.
Comment on this Article
Hamas says it could adopt Arab peace plan
Wed Apr 26 2004
RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian Hamas-led government said it was debating adopting a 2002 Arab peace plan which calls for the recognition of Israel in return for a restoration of pre-1967 borders.
The guarded statement by deputy prime minister Nasseridin al-Shaer posted on Hamas's website said the radical Islamic group was willing to end the Middle East conflict and considered the Arab League plan, adopted at its 2002 Beirut summit, a viable option.
"We are not afraid to pay a political price for it (peace), but this must be done in coordination collectively with all Arab countries and on a legal basis," Shaer said.
"The point of departure is perhaps the decisions of the Arab summit, in particular the summit in Beirut, but these scenarios must be debated internally," he said, stressing "nothing had been decided yet."
The Arab League plan calls for full diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states, in return for Israel's full withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, consisting of east Jerusalem,
West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.
Shaer said for Hamas to accept the plan Israel must recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government, which upset Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's more moderate
Fatah party in a January parliamentary election.
Asked about Shaer's comments on the Arab plan, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad confirmed the Islamic movement was studying the idea.
"There are discussions and proposals," Hamad said, but he made clear Hamas was not thinking about recognising Israel. "The question of recognising Israel is rejected. We are for solutions which do not renounce Palestinian principles."
Hamas is under heavy international pressure to renounce violence and accept Israel's existence.
The group's refusal to buckle under pressure has resulted in the slashing of direct aid to the
Palestinian Authority from the United States and
The massive curtailment of aid is aggravating an already desperate situation in the Palestinian territories, which have been battered by a half-decade of war.
The Arab peace plan, promoted by Saudi ruler King Abdullah, was endorsed by the Arab League to great fanfare in March 2002, but was dismissed by Israel.
Comment: Sounds fair. Will Israel accept? Ha!
Comment on this Article
Hungry and Shell-Shocked
By Amira Hass
GAZA - Where will the next blow land? That is the question. Not if it will come, but rather when, and on whom will it land, and what kind will it be?
Five-year-old L. believes the solution is to sleep every night in his parents' bed, and in that way to be protected from the shelling. But even there he is not able to fall asleep because he is so worried and afraid. In the kindergarten in the yard outside the house, the children speak all the time about the "booms" that fill their day. Booms from the sea and booms from the land. Day and night. Sometimes three per minute, sometimes three per hour. Sometimes simultaneously from the land and from the sea. The air quivers, a flock of birds takes off in fear, and for a minute the silence of terror reigns. Are there casualties? Who, where, how many? If the parents succeed in hiding from their children pictures of the other children who have been killed or wounded by the shells, the older children fill in the gory details from what they saw on TV or read in the papers. They strengthen each other's fears.
In an agricultural neighborhood near the border in the northern Gaza Strip, north of Beit Lahiyeh, the fears are made concrete by the shrapnel that has fallen countless times on the asbestos roofs. The parents have sent the children to relatives in Gaza city, so they may go to school far away from the shells. "In our neighborhood, people have not yet been killed," Z. says cynically. But the shells have taken their toll: two donkeys, a few sheep and a handful of chickens.
In the northern Gaza Strip, thousands of farming families are due to return to work their lands which were destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers over the past five years. Immediately after the Israeli army pulled out of the Gaza Strip, government and non-government bodies joined forces to rehabilitate the scorched earth. They howed and they plowed and they distributed seeds and saplings. But the farmers are afraid to go out to their lands.
Z. spent many years in jail, as did his brother. Another brother was a wanted man until he was killed in an assassination. Z. says he has several times prevented armed groups from firing rockets from their area. Because of his family history, he was able to stand in front of them and say that they have "had enough of destruction and bloodshed, we are not afraid of you. No benefit comes from fighting the occupation with the homemade rockets you are firing."
In places where large and strong families live, such as Beit Hanoun, they have succeeded several times in chasing away those who fire the rockets. They move to more open spaces or to areas where the families are less strong, such as Beit Lahiyeh.
During a meeting of pupils, angry voices were heard saying, two weeks ago: "Let them fire the rockets from where they are, in [the refugee neighborhood of] Sheikh Radwan." But people do not vent their anger in public against those who fire the rockets. "Anyway, whether there are rockets or not, the Israelis fire shells," is the unequivocal conclusion in Gaza. Z. says: "There are no rockets in our area now, only Israeli shellings. I act as a guard protecting the Israelis, preventing rockets from being fired here by armed groups, but nevertheless the shells fall in our area."
"There is a law in Israel that every soldier must fire a shell every hour," says B. He lives in a new housing development in the northern Gaza Strip, in which mainly Palestinian policemen who returned home from abroad reside. Three shells have already fallen on this development but by some miracle no one has been killed. One time, a shell fell on an iron banister, another time in the yard, and another time it did not explode. They are so close to the Erez checkpoint, to the border, that they can hear when the shells are fired; they hear them whistling above and landing and exploding. This Wednesday morning was strange, he said. By nine o'clock there had been no shells.
B.'s wife gave birth two weeks ago and is staying with her parents in Gaza city. But she is due to return home today (Friday). "Where will we go? We are like all those who live in Gaza. If there is no shell from the sea or land, we will be hit by a missile from a plane or drone. In the beginning, the children who fired the rockets from among us would move around next to us. As a policeman, I have instructions to prevent firing. We chased them away several times. But I too, as a policeman, have become a target for the shelling. With or without rockets, you shell us. Everyone here is walking around dazed, without sleep, because of fear of the booming noises. We sit in our homes, waiting to see who will die first."
The disaster of the shelling near his home has made the disaster of the economic situation seem easier for B. As a policeman, he has not received a salary, like the other workers in the public and security sectors of the Palestinian Administration. Israel does not transfer to the Palestinian Authority the money which comes from collecting taxes on goods imported via its ports. The United States and Europe have cancelled their assistance to the PA. The salaries of 140,000 families in the West Bank and Gaza, amounting to some NIS 1,000 - NIS 2,000 per month per family, are already three weeks overdue.
"My situation is good. My wages did not get to the bank but I can buy from the shop on credit," says B. "What can the unemployed do? No one sells them anything, even on credit."
L's father is currently unemployed. He is an engineer and was promised a new job in one of the infrastructure projects being supported by DIASU, an American aid fund. But now the fund has cancelled its donations to the projects that were due to be carried out through the PA and its government offices. The contractors he knows do not even answer the tenders that are published in the newspapers. What is the point, one of them says, we can't take on any commitments - we don't know when the raw materials will arrive, when Israel will open and close the checkpoints. We have no estimate when the work will be finished because this depends on the raw materials. I can't make an obligation to pay the workers because I don't know when those ordering the work will be able to pay me. Even the shopkeepers are unemployed: There are no buyers, no goods, there is no point in keeping them or in paying for them from an income that does not exist.
The supermarket in the teachers' neighborhood in Tel el-Hawa in Gaza was closed for two days and its workers sent home on forced leave. There were no shoppers in the el-Kishawi supermarket in the Rimal quarter on Wednesday afternoon and its shelves were half empty. Worried parents said: We won't be able to pay registration for the universities next month.
The roads are also empty: The center of Gaza city is no longer blocked with traffic as it used to be. The emptiness is particularly felt after 2.30 in the afternoon when the school children and clerks go home. The roads are empty because people are saving: They do not shop, they do not want to pay for transportation, they do not want to pay for gas. Although vegetables are very cheap, even the markets are empty. The vegetables cannot be marketed in the West Bank and they have flooded Gaza and Rafah. A suggestion was even made that they be distributed free, through some non-governmental agencies. The roads are empty, also, from fear - fear that a shell or missile could explode at any moment.
"I am not surprised that Israel is shelling us like that," says H., a Hamas activist. "That is its nature; that is what it has always done. I am surprised at those of us who are doing everything to trip up the government." In the streets, people do not point an accusatory finger at the Palestinian rocket launchers "because everyone is busy with the missing salaries, with trying to save money, with being afraid of the shells Israel is firing, and with anxiety about the future," says M. who is opposed to firing the rockets. S. who is also opposed, complains that people are stuck in a mentality of "reaction and revenge" and therefore they approve of the firing.
But accusatory voices have been raised in Hamas; they say that senior Fatah officers are behind those who are firing the rockets, that they send them out to fire the rockets so that there will be greater political and security chaos and more pressure on the new government to resign. One side makes accusations and the other rebuffs them.
A field worker for an NGO who does not have ties with either side, says this appears to be a baseless allegation. "Official Fatah opposes firing rockets. The groups that are continuing to fire the rockets are those who are close to Islamic armed groups," he says, quoting informed sources of his own.
But, he confirms, senior Fatah officers are behind the verbal incitement campaign being waged against the new government: They are behind the complaints that the government does not pay salaries and therefore is not fulfilling its duties - as if this is the first time that a Palestinian government is late with salaries, as if it alone is responsible. They are also behind complaints that its ministers are funding advisers and senior officials known for their support of Hamas, while most of the public sector in the past consisted of people known for their support of Fatah, as well as complaints that the Hamas ministers are not as competent and talented as expected.
There are two opposing points of view among the population. There are those who complain that the Hamas movement should have taken the Israeli and international response into account when it ran in elections for a parliament with limited authority and when it agreed to set up a government that was limited in advance. In other words, it should have taken different decisions in accordance with its political ability - not to form a government, or to agree to Abu Mazen's terms and to have a platform that would not make it possible for the entire world to boycott the Palestinian people and impose another economic and political sanction. Every day another country announces that it is canceling the economic aid that over the past five years has become the Palestinian nation's oxygen. The latest one, for the time being, was Japan. Israeli banks do not transfer money to Palestinian banks. The Arab Bank is not prepared to give the government loans. Even if Iran and Qatar send money to the PA, how will it reach them? It has to go through Israel's central bank which, of course, will refuse.
The other school of thought represents people like Z., who does not support Hamas. He is convinced that the pressure will have the opposite effect: It will merely serve to strengthen the public's support for the government.
But everyone is afraid that, in addition to the security blow - in the form of shells - and in addition to the economic blow, there will be yet another blow, and it will be felt as an explosion when the tensions between Hamas and Fatah become even greater. About ten days ago, Fatah supporters blocked the way of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. He did not make a fuss about it. Last Tuesday, people in Gaza said, members of Izzadin el-Kassam opened fire at the person they consider responsible for blocking "their" prime minister's way - the preventive security officer in Jabaliyeh. The more the Fatah people and their armed supporters complain and demonstrate about the failure of the new government, the more the armed Hamas members feel obliged to defend its honor.
There are mixed and confusing messages. Official Fatah is opposed to military escalation and Abu Mazen condemned the terror attack in Tel Aviv in no uncertain terms. But for their part, the Al-Aksa Martyrs' Bigade, which Abu Mazen and the security forces are not able to rein in, condemned his condemnation. Hamas still officially holds on to the theory that the Palestinian nation has the right "to defend itself." In a video conference with Palestinian foreign ministry officials, the foreign minister, Mahmoud a-Zahar, said that the platform of the new government remains loyal to the right of armed resistance. One of the officials in Ramallah asked him whether this meant he should go and blow himself up with an explosives belt. This was the opening shot in the tense relations.
On the other hand, Interior Minister Said Seyam held a secret meeting with the mukhtars of the large and important families in Gaza. Sources in Fatah and Hamas say that he proposed they sign a petition calling for an end to the rocket firing from Gaza to Israel. "Sign it yourself," the mukhtars replied, "You are the minister." But the Hamas is afraid to make public any position that can be seen as retreating from an armed struggle for fear that the Fatah will use it in propaganda against it.
Hamas is busy trying to quell false rumors that abound in the streets. One such rumor is that salaries were paid but only to those who support Hamas. Another is that Haniyeh participated in a heavy meal immediately after delivering his "hyssop and oil" speech a week ago in which he stated that the Palestinian people could exist on those two items rather than surrendering. Hamas is also accused of behaving in ways typical of Fatah during its rule.
Z. agrees with Haniyeh and educates his children in this way: "I was born in a refugee tent, I studied with the light of a candle, we ate hyssop and oil and we received clothes from UNRWA. My children can also live like that." S. laughs bitterly: "Which oil? And which hyssop? People have found out how expensive they are. You pay 20 shekels for a liter of oil and seven shekels for half a kilo of hyssop. People no longer speak about oil and hyssop. They eat a cheaper substitute, 'duka,' derived from the sumac spice.''
Comment on this Article
Turkey beefs up border with 30,000 extra troops
Turkey has deployed more than 30,000 additional troops in its predominantly Kurdish south-east and along its rugged border with Iraq and Iran to fight Kurdish guerrillas and stop them from infiltrating across the Iraqi border.
Kurdish rebels yesterday killed two Turkish soldiers and injured a third in a grenade attack on a military outpost, the Anatolia news agency reported, raising the number of Turkish troops killed this year to at least 17.
More than 40 Kurdish guerrillas have also been killed in the same period in a series of clashes.
The Turkish deployment, which has been going on for several weeks, boosts an already large garrison in the region that by some estimates tops 250,000 soldiers.
While Turkey has not ruled out a major incursion into Iraq, military officers have privately said that such a move was not being considered.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Turkey on Tuesday and appeared to warn against any possible major Turkish move into Iraq.
"We want anything we do to contribute to stability in Iraq and not to threaten that stability or to make a difficult situation worse and that is why a co-operative approach to this problem, co-operation between Iraq, Turkey and the coalition is very important," she said.
Guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, have bases in northern Iraq but also have substantial forces in the mountains of south-eastern Turkey. They typically step up their attacks in the spring, when winter snow melts, clearing mountain passes in the region. Turkey often increases its military activities in response.
"The deployment is only aimed to prevent infiltrations of the terrorist organisation into Turkey," said Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Turkey regards the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
This weekend, the commander of Turkey's land forces, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said that "as long as the PKK exists our operations will continue in ever-increasing intensity".
But he also stressed there was nothing unusual in the troop deployment in the region.
Iran also reportedly has moved forces to the border, and last week shelled a mountainous region inside Iraq used by anti-Iranian Kurdish fighters believed to be linked to the PKK.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, has expressed concern over reported Iranian and Turkish troop concentrations on his country's borders.
Gul said that since Iraq doesn't "have the capability to fight terrorism, they should be pleased with the measures we have taken and they should help us".
Turkish soldiers have been pursuing Kurdish guerrillas across the border into Iraq, penetrating up to six miles.
Turkey already has an estimated 2,000 soldiers stationed inside Iraq and limited incursions inside Iraq in pursuit of rebels have not been uncommon in the past.
The PKK took up arms against the Turkish government in 1984 and the fighting has so far claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Comment on this Article
Belarus Police Detain Opposition Leader Milinkevich
Belarus police have detained the opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich.
The detention came a day after Milinkevich led a protest rally in the capital of Minsk that attracted around 10,000 people, one of the largest turnouts in six weeks of demonstrations against the President Alexander Lukashenko, AP reminded.
Milinkevich was put into a car by the riot police and driven away to a police station, his aide Pavel Mozheiko was quoted by Reuters as saying.
According to official information, provided by Belarus' Central Electoral Commission, Milinkevich received six percent of the vote, whereas Lukashenko received 83 percent. The opposition candidate said after the elections he would not recognize the results and called for a repeat vote.
In the beginning of April, the European Union welcomed the defeated opposition candidate to Strasbourg. Milinkevich asked the European Parliament for tougher sanctions against Belarus officials and stronger support for students and the independent media. He vowed to continue his campaign to unseat the man often described as Europe's last dictator, although he admitted it could take months or even years.
Comment on this Article
Sweden pulls out of air exercise
Sweden has withdrawn its aircraft from an international air exercise after finding out Israel was taking part.
Sweden had been due to send six fighter jets to the Volcanex 2006 exercise in Italy as part of preparations for international peacekeeping operations.
The government strongly denies Israeli media speculation that there was a political reason for pulling out or that it is boycotting Israel.
The foreign ministry says it is down to appropriate use of limited resources.
The Israeli press ran headlines of a "Swedish boycott" and the National Religious Party described the move as "anti-Semitic".
Sweden traditionally sticks to a policy of neutrality, but is involved in UN peacekeeping and Nato's Partnership for Peace programme.
Swedish Defence Minister Leni Bjoerklund said the scenario for the exercise in May, involving 10 European countries, had initially been international peacekeeping missions.
Not mentioning Israel by name, she said the armed forces were told at a late stage "that a state not belonging to the Partnership for Peace, and with which Sweden did not previously have bilateral military co-operation and which does not take part in international peacekeeping missions", was to take part.
She said the government advised the armed forces that "Sweden's participation was no longer regarded as appropriate".
Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson said due to the high cost of taking part and limited resources, Sweden had to focus on exercises that involved its immediate partners.
"We don't see Israel as a country that we will in all probability co-operate with in peacekeeping operations for the time being," he said.
He said it was in no way a boycott and was "purely practical".
Mr Eliasson said his ministry would talk to the Israeli government to reassure them of their position.
Comment on this Article
MI6 ad for 'operational officers'
Thursday, 27 April 2006, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Britain's Secret Intelligence Service - popularly known as MI6 - has launched its first public recruitment campaign.
A half-page advert in the Times careers supplement offers jobs for "operational officers", technology experts and "thoroughly efficient administrators".
It also features a montage of images including a gun, desert, jungle, plane, and the service's headquarters on the Thames at Vauxhall in central London.
MI6 has been shrouded in secrecy for most of its 97-year history.
The organisation was not even officially acknowledged to exist until just over a decade ago.
But MI6 is now keen to emphasise it is no longer a place where promising Oxford and Cambridge graduates get a tap on the shoulder to join, but instead somewhere where people with a broader diversity of skills and backgrounds can feel comfortable about applying.
The advert is also due to run in the Economist magazine.
It says the agency operates around the world to make Britain "safer and more prosperous" and hires "people we can depend on because everyone in the UK depends on them".
The MI6 website gives further details outlining the different types of jobs performed and providing profiles of people's work understood to be based on real individuals.
All applicants must be British, resourceful, in good health and able to keep a secret.
"Operational officers" also need a university degree, strong intellectual skills, an interest in foreign cultures and an "outstanding ability to persuade and to influence".
But there is also the need for people with IT skills to deal with the complex forms of data analysis involved in counter-terrorism, as well as expertise in areas like human resources, accountancy and management to support the organisation's work.
However, opening up recruitment does create some dangers for the secret services. Unscrupulous individuals, journalists, or even al-Qaeda sympathisers could try and sign up but there will continue to be tight security checks to spot any unwanted attention.
Those applying are also warned that they should not tell anyone other than a spouse or closer partner that they are putting their name in.
In the frequently asked questions section, there is even an acknowledgement of the Service's most famous member of staff.
In answering the question of how close the depiction of the Bond films to real life might be, the website says that the gap between truth and fiction had widened even further from the books in which "glamour and excitement" had been injected.
It adds that "nevertheless, staff who join MI6 can look forward to a career that will have moments when the gap narrows just a little and the certainty of a stimulating and rewarding career which, like Bond's, will be in the service of their country".
Comment on this Article
'Russia has left the western orbit'
Thursday April 27, 2006
Moscow could be on the verge of clinching an arms deal with Syria or Iran that would send the US and Israel into pop-eyed rage.
A few days ago a Russian arms manufacturer let slip at an arms fair in Kuala Lumpur that his state-run weapons design bureau was close to sealing a foreign sale of Iskander-E missiles. The destination of the hardware was secret, he said, but the most obvious market is clear: the Middle East.
Last year, Israel was furious when it emerged that Moscow was planning to sell the Iskander to Damascus. The Iskander is like the Scuds that Iraq used during the Gulf war but many times more accurate and better equipped to avoid defensive weapons such as the Patriot missile. Syria - part of George Bush's "axis of evil" - would love to be able to trundle some of these short-range ballistic missiles (range: 180 miles) down to its southern border to point at Israel in the event of a conflict.
No doubt the Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also itching to get its hands on some of these weapons - whose sale is not restricted by any treaty. Earlier this month Iran tested an underwater missile that looked suspiciously like a Russian Shkval.
President Vladimir Putin, under pressure from the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was forced to step in and reverse the Syrian missile deal. These days, one might surmise, he would not give a fig.
Everything about Russia's stance in the international arena suggests a new confidence that radiates "don't bully me". I is still possible the Iskanders will go to a less threatening client than the Middle Eastern bad boys - China, say, or India or Algeria. But the point is, they will go to whomever Moscow wants.
Russia has shown in recent months that western condemnation will not shake its resolve to play on the world stage as it likes.
Welcoming a Hamas delegation to Moscow last month - described by a minister in Jerusalem as "stabbing Israel in the back" - was one example. A second was the decision a few weeks later to give financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, against the wishes of the US and the EU.
In another robust move, the Russians have refused to back down on a recent $700m (£380m) deal to sell 29 Tor M1 mobile surface-to-air missile defence systems to Iran despite pressure from Washington.
"We hope and we trust that that deal will not go forward because this is not the time for business as usual with the Iranian government," grumbled the US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns last week, as the UN geared up for its crucial report tomorrow on Iran's nuclear enrichment programme. But the complaint fell on deaf ears at the Kremlin.
While Russia's arms industry is growing fast, its new brassiness relies mostly on the billions of dollars it is raking in from hydrocarbon exports, on the back of high oil prices.
As an emerging energy superpower, Moscow is increasingly seeking to play off potential buyers of its oil and gas.
Last week Alexei Miller, the head of the Russian state gas monopoly, Gazprom, warned that attempts to limit his company's expansion in Europe would "not lead to good results". The company caused alarm at the British gas supplier Centrica when it emerged that the Russian firm saw it as a potential takeover target - Gazprom had turned off the taps to its neighbour Ukraine in January, in a politically charged dispute. Miller also said: "It should not be forgotten we are actively seeking new markets, such as North America and China."
President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the theme yesterday. "Despite the great demand for energy resources, any excuses are being used to limit us in the north, in the south, in the west," he said.
"We must look for markets, fit into the processes of global development. I have in mind the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, which are developing at great speed and need to cooperate with us."
Dmitry Trenin, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, says Russia - fed up with pandering to the US and Europe - is undergoing a fundamental shift in foreign relations. Now it will focus on ties with countries, such as Brazil, India and China, that it sees as being on a similar path of development to itself.
"Russia has left the western orbit," Mr Trenin said. "It was circling it distantly for about a decade, Pluto-like. But now it's gone."
Comment on this Article
Blair's embarrassing day goes from bad to worse
April 28, 2006
TONY BLAIR'S Government is in turmoil after scandal and crisis have left three of his most senior cabinet ministers fighting to save their careers.
On the most chaotic day since Labour came to power, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, became an object of ridicule over a two-year affair with a civil servant; the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, was under intense pressure to resign over a scandal involving foreign prisoners; and the Australian-born Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, was heckled and slow-handclapped by nurses.
The Prime Minister was said to be exasperated by the incompetence of the Home Office, bewildered by the ingratitude of the nurses, and "quizzical" at the failure of his deputy to inform him of his affair. With only a week to go before local elections in England, the timing could not have been worse.
On what inevitably was described as "triple whammy Wednesday", Mr Prescott, 67, cancelled his engagements and was missing from his usual place in the House of Commons for Prime Minister's Questions as he tried to save his marriage. Mr Prescott said he regretted the relationship with one of his secretaries, Tracey Temple, 43, which had ended "some time ago". In a statement, he said: "I have discussed this fully with my wife, Pauline, who is devastated. I would be grateful if we can get on with our lives together."
The question of Mr Prescott's survival may depend on whether or not further damaging revelations appear in the newspapers.
It is thought that Mr Prescott sent Ms Temple several explicit text messages by mobile phone, but these have not so far been published. Many saw the hand of the publicist Max Clifford, a veteran placer of kiss-and-tell tales, in Wednesday's revelations but he denied involvement and offered a positive spin on the events.
"It is great PR for Prescott," he said. "Twenty years ago this would have ended a career, these days nobody minds. It is almost a relief these days when a male MP goes to bed with a woman."
No. 10 said the affair was a "private matter". But some Labour MPs said that Mr Prescott, who has often joked about Tory sex scandals, could become a laughing-stock and no longer able to act as broker between Mr Blair and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, over a leadership handover.
Downing Street sought to distance Mr Blair from the scandal and later gave lukewarm support for Mr Clarke after the Tory leader, David Cameron, said he should resign as he had misled the public and could no longer give proper leadership to the Home Office.
Mr Clarke had earlier admitted to the Commons that he still did not know the whereabouts of most of 1000 foreign prisoners released without being considered for deportation.
On a day that drew comparisons with the disarray of the dying days of John Major's government, Ms Hewitt was heckled for the second time in a week by health service workers over National Health Service reforms and hospital job cuts.
Mr Blair is reported to be preparing to relaunch his Government after the local elections next Thursday with a much-delayed cabinet reshuffle.
Comment on this Article
Only drugs and vaccines will deflect bird flu pandemic
18:00 26 April 2006
NewScientist.com news service
One of the world's most powerful pandemic models has reached a stark conclusion: only combining a pre-pandemic vaccine with larger stocks of antiviral drugs than currently planned would really prevent mass disease. Closing borders and restricting travel will do very little.
The conclusions mirror those reached earlier this month by a separate group working with a different model in the US. But the new study has looked in detail at the effect of travel, and for the first time models the pandemic as it spreads (avi format in a zipped file, 31MB) across Britain and the US.
Neil Ferguson and colleagues at Imperial College in London, UK, used a detailed population model and a super-computer to predict the effects of different responses to a pandemic. Combined responses worked best, they found.
If most people are treated the day after symptoms appear with antiviral drugs, schools are closed as soon as a case appears, and households of cases are quarantined, the number of cases might fall by about one-fifth.
But when the household members, schoolmates and colleagues of each case are treated with preventative antiviral drugs as well, and one-fifth of the population has already received a pre-pandemic vaccine - starting with children - the number of cases fall by about 90%.
Beyond our means
What will not work well, relative to cost, is shutting borders and stopping travel, Ferguson told New Scientist. Even a border closure that is 99.9% effective slowed the pandemic by a few weeks at the most. "That doesn't buy you much time to make vaccine," says Ferguson.
And that is what matters. The model shows that if you could start giving people a vaccine based on the exact the pandemic strain 30 days after it emerges, hitting 1% of the population a day - the maximum vaccine production rate - you might cut the number of cases by 97%.
"But this is beyond what we can do," says Ferguson. It will take several months to start pandemic vaccine production, and the model shows that will be too late.
Better than nothing
More to the point might be a vaccine based on the H5N1 bird flu now circulating, rather than an actual pandemic H5N1. Governments have made little such vaccine, because it will not exactly match the pandemic strain, so will not prevent infection completely.
But even if it cut susceptibility to the pandemic virus by only one-third, says Ferguson, it could help enormously. "If we gave that to everyone, and stockpiled 40 to 50 million antiviral treatments in Britain, we might cut the number of cases as much as 80%."
But that is twice as much drug as the UK plans to stockpile. The planned stockpile will be enough to treat cases, but not to give every case's contacts preventative treatment - which, the model says, could make a big difference.
Journal reference: Nature (DOI: 10.1038/nature04795)
Comment on this Article
How 'They' See 'Us'
US privacy campaigners fear mark of the beast
Wednesday April 26, 2006
A decision by the Bush administration to proceed with what is believed to be the largest radio frequency tagging programme in history has triggered protests from US privacy campaigners.
The US department of agriculture (USDA) wants to keep track of all livestock production and movements in what it claims is an attempt to improve the traceability of disease outbreaks.
By 2009, 40m cattle will have been tagged, and the scheme is to be extended to include the billions of chickens and other animals farmed every year in the US.
But campaigners are outraged that all agricultural producers, including smallholder farmers, are being pressured into registering their details when the national animal identification system (Nais) becomes fully operational in 2009. They also fear that the technology earmarked for the scheme could be used on people.
"This is the biggest scheme of its kind," said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer privacy expert. "They say it is aimed at tracking animal disease outbreaks, but I have had conversations with public health officials where they have been looking forward to a time when the spread of human diseases could also be monitored in this way."
Although the USDA insists the programme is "technology neutral", and various schemes, such as retina scans and DNA testing, could be used in it, campaigners believe radio frequency identification (RFID) will predominate. RFID involves a chip that is scanned by a reader in a way similar to the operation of the Oyster card ticket system on the London underground. Firms tracking components and stock as they move around the world are increasingly using the technology, but it has caused alarm among civil liberty campaigners, who believe it will also enable organisations to monitor the movement of people.
"It raises issues not just about the movement of products but about watching people's lives," Ms Albrecht said. "We are not a long way off from people beginning to demand publicly that systems be used on humans."
"I know that many people believe this is the best way to trace animal diseases. However, there are other people with alternative agendas. They are not talking or thinking enough about the long-term impact or the bigger picture: if you do it to animal diseases, the next step is humans. I believe we are on the verge of the next step." She cited as evidence the decision last year by a former US health secretary, Tommy Thompson, to join the board of Verichip, a Florida-based firm that makes human RFID tags.
Soon after taking the job, Mr Thompson announced he would have a rice-sized VeriChip RFID tag implanted under his skin. The firm's website states that the technology could have medical applications, with paramedics instantly able to call up the records of unconscious, but tagged patients. Earlier this month, the US agriculture secretary, Mike Johanns, announced the Nais implementation plan.
"Developing an effective animal identification system has been a high priority for USDA, and we've made significant strides towards achieving a comprehensive US system," he said. He announced that the plan "set an aggressive timeline for ensuring full implementation of the Nais by 2009".
The animal-tracking databases will record and store animal movements, providing animal health officials with data they will use in fighting outbreaks of livestock disease. Their aim is to identify the origins of an outbreak within 48 hours.
The plan involves registering properties where farm animals are kept, initially on a voluntary basis. However, the USDA says it "may move toward a requirement for mandatory premises and animal identification for all species included in the system". Plans are currently being developed for cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, llamas and alpacas, among other animals, to be tagged.
Around 35m cattle and 8bn poultry are slaughtered in the US every year. Under the scheme, some animals would need individual tags while others would be tagged as a group. The plans have triggered protests from small farmers across the US, who have used a website to voice their fears of invasions of privacy, increased food prices and concentration of power in the hands of large producers.
Comment: First they came for the cows and the chickens...
Comment on this Article
U.S.: More Than 600 Implicated in Detainee Abuse
April 26, 2006
Human Rights News
Investigations Lag Two Years After Abu Ghraib Photos
Two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, new research shows that abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay has been widespread, and that the United States has taken only limited steps to investigate and punish implicated personnel.
A briefing paper issued today, "By the Numbers," presents findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, a joint project of New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First. The project is the first comprehensive accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo.
"Two years ago, U.S. officials said the abuses at Abu Ghraib were aberrations and that people who abused detainees would be brought to justice," said Professor Meg Satterthwaite, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School. "Yet our research shows that detainee abuses were widespread, and few people have truly been brought to justice."
The project has collected hundreds of allegations of detainee abuse and torture occurring since late 2001 - allegations implicating more than 600 U.S. military and civilian personnel and involving more than 460 detainees.
The project found that many abuses were never investigated, and investigations that did occur often closed prematurely, or stalled without resolution. In cases where abuses were substantiated and perpetrators identified by military investigators, military commanders often chose to use weak non-judicial disciplinary measures as punishment, instead of pursuing criminal courts-martial. Of the courts-martial that did take place, the majority resulted in either prison sentences of less than a year, or punishments that did not involve jail time (such as discharge or rank-reduction).
"We've seen a series of half-hearted investigations and slaps on the wrist," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The government seems more interested in managing the detainee abuse scandal than in addressing the underlying problems that caused it."
The project found that the vast majority of those who were investigated for abuse were enlisted military personnel, not officers. Under military law, officers can be held accountable for the abuses of their subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility. The project did not find a single case in which an officer was held accountable under that doctrine.
"There's been a failure of accountability for detainee abuse at the command level," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director for Human Rights First. "Without accountability up the chain of command, there won't be deterrence, and the torture and abuses we've documented likely will continue."
The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA) was initiated in March 2005 as a joint research effort to collect and analyze credible allegations of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and to assess what actions, if any, the U.S. government has taken in response to these allegations. The project has also recorded investigations, disciplinary measures, or criminal prosecutions that are linked to abuse allegations.
Among the key findings released today:
- Detainee abuse has been widespread. The DAA Project has documented more than 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel are credibly alleged to have abused, tortured or killed detainees. These cases implicate more than 600 U.S. personnel and involve more than 460 detainees.
- Only a fraction of the more than 600 U.S. personnel implicated in these cases - 40 people - have been sentenced to prison time.
- Of the hundreds of allegations of abuse collected by the DAA Project, only about half appear to have been adequately investigated.
- In cases where courts-martial - the military's equivalent of criminal trials - have convened, the majority of prison sentences have been for less than a year, even in cases involving serious abuse. Only 10 U.S. personnel have been sentenced to a year or more in prison.
- No U.S. military officer has been held accountable for criminal acts committed by subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility. Only three officers have been convicted by court-martial for detainee abuse.
- Although approximately 20 civilians, including CIA agents, have been referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution for detainee abuse, the Department of Justice has shown minimal initiative in moving forward in abuse cases. The Department of Justice has not indicted a single CIA agent for abusing detainees; it has indicted only one civilian contractor.
In order to remedy the serious failures of accountability that the DAA Project research documents, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First recommend that:
- Congress should appoint an independent commission to review U.S. detention and interrogation policy and operations worldwide.
- The secretary of defense and the attorney general should order their departments: (1) to move forward promptly with investigations of allegations of torture and other abuse of detainees in U.S. custody abroad; (2) to initiate prosecutions where the evidence warrants; and (3) to instruct relevant authorities to ensure that appropriate criminal action is taken against all persons implicated in killings, torture, and other abuse, whatever their rank or position.
- The secretary of defense should appoint a single, high-level, centralized authority who can convene and prosecute courts-martial across the branches of the military to investigate all U.S. military personnel - no matter their rank - who participated in, ordered, or bear command responsibility for war crimes or torture, or other prohibited mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
- Congress should implement a check on officer promotions, by requiring that each branch of the military certify, for any officer whose promotion requires Senate confirmation, that the officer is not implicated in any case of detainee torture, abuse, or other mistreatment, including through the doctrine of command responsibility.
Comment on this Article
1,000 secret CIA flights In EU Revealed
Thursday April 27, 2006
· MEPs' report says member states knew of abductions
· Documents show 'strange routes' and stopovers
The CIA has operated more than 1,000 secret flights over EU territory in the past five years, some to transfer terror suspects in a practice known as "extraordinary rendition", an investigation by the European parliament said yesterday.
The figure is significantly higher than previously thought. EU parliamentarians who conducted the investigation concluded that incidents when terror suspects were handed over to US agents did not appear to be isolated. They said the suspects were often transported around Europe on the same planes by agents whose names repeatedly came up in their investigation.
They accused the CIA of kidnapping terror suspects and said those responsible for monitoring air safety regulations revealed unusual flight paths to and from European airports. The report's author, Italian MEP Claudio Fava, suggested some EU governments knew about the flights.
He suggested flight plans and airport logs made it hard to believe that many of the stopovers were refuelling missions. "The CIA has, on several occasions, clearly been responsible for kidnapping and illegally detaining alleged terrorists on the territory of [EU] member states, as well as for extraordinary renditions," said Mr Fava, a member of the European parliament's socialist group.
His report, the first interim report by EU parliamentarians on rendition, obtained data from Eurocontrol, the European air safety agency, and gathered information during three months of hearings and more than 50 hours of testimony by individuals who said they were kidnapped and tortured by American agents, as well as EU officials and human rights groups.
"After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time, but rather a widespread regular practice in which the majority of European countries were involved," said Mr Fava.
Data showed that CIA planes made numerous secret stopovers on European territory, violating an international air treaty that requires airlines to declare the route and stopovers for planes with a police mission, he said. "The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect. ... They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel."
Mr Fava referred to the alleged abduction of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar by CIA agents in a Milan street in 2003, to Khalid al-Masri, who was transferred from Macedonia to Afghanistan, and the transfer of a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, from New York to Syria, among other incidents.
Documents provided by Eurocontrol showed that Mr Masri was transported to Afghanistan in 2004 by a plane that originated in Algeria and flew via Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Skopje in Macedonia, and Baghdad before landing in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Mr Fava's committee did not report on secret prisons, but he said EU parliamentarians intended to visit Romania and Poland where, it is suspected, the CIA had secret interrogation camps.
The Bush administration has admitted to secret rendition flights but says it does not condone torture. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, says he has no evidence that the US used British airspace or airports to transfer detainees and that he believes Washington would have told the government if it had plans to do so.
Extraordinary renditions would breach European human rights legislation and British domestic law.
Comment on this Article
Is Our Democracy Sleepwalking Into a Nightmare?
By Gene Lyons
We hear a lot about "madmen" taking power in far-off lands, most often lands with large oil reserves. A few pertinent questions:
Has the White House lost its collective mind?
Do the president and his minions believe that Americans can be stampeded into another needless war to save his party from the consequences of the catastrophe in Iraq?
Is the Bush administration seriously thinking of bombing Iran for political purposes? Of a nuclear strike?
Is it actually possible, as has been said, that George W. Bush believes himself to be on a divine, messianic mission?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then our democracy may be sleepwalking into its worst crisis since the Civil War. A pre-emptive strike on Iran, because it might hypothetically develop nuclear weapons five or 10 years hence, would be a naked act of aggression. Not to mention an offense against the U. S. Constitution. On what authority would Bush make war on a nation that played no role in 9 / 11, bears enmity toward al-Qa'ida and has never seriously threatened to attack the United States? His own God's?
So far, Iran hasn't even violated the non-proliferation treaty giving signatories the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use. It boasts of purifying a small amount of uranium ore to the standard needed to generate electricity. Experts say Iran would need roughly 100 times its present refining capacity over several years to accumulate enough weapons-grade uranium to make a bomb. Despite the absurd and offensive posturing of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a demagogic politician playing to his own base, no immediate danger exists.
Yet many of the same keyboard commandoes who orchestrated the propaganda campaign that drove the U. S. into Iraq are beating war drums. Scary "intelligence" claims again proliferate. The same geniuses who claimed to know the precise location of Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction now warn us of Iran's double-secret arms programs. Full-page ads have appeared in newspapers in the U. S. and Europe conjuring the prospect of Iranian nuclear attacks against Israel and the West, an entirely imaginary scenario.
The other day Bush, sounding like a Valley Girl, told a California audience he'd tried to avoid war with Iraq "diplomatically to the max," a falsehood so brazen that it's almost tempting to fear he believes it. Given that British government documents portray Bush discussing with Prime Minister Tony Blair how to justify an attack against Saddam Hussein in early 2003, it's reasonable to wonder what schemes he's conjuring now. He also credited "the Almighty" as the inspiration for his foreign policy.
At times like these, it's worthwhile recalling George Orwell's distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Orwell wrote the essay "Notes on Nationalism" in 1945, just as the most cataclysmic war in human history was ending in Europe.
"By patriotism," he wrote, "I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world, but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally."
Nationalism, as Orwell defined it, "is inseparable from the desire for power.... A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.... His thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations." To Orwell, it was "power hunger tempered by self-deception," a kind of moral insanity.
Presaging his masterpiece "1984," Orwell was most alarmed by the fervid nationalist's indifference to reality: "Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians-which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side."
An interesting list under present circumstances, don't you think ?
More recently, the eminent Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has cautioned that hysterical warnings about this or that country-Russia, China, Pakistan, India-developing nuclear weapons have occurred regularly since Hiroshima. Yet the taboo against their actual use has held, partly because rational actors know that even the "tactical" weapons which Bush administration toughs fantasize about are upward of 10 times more powerful than the A-bombs dropped on Japan. Also because, van Creveld makes clear, deterrence works. Israel, he writes, "can quickly turn Tehran into a radioactive desert-a fact of which Iranians are fully aware." To violate that taboo would justifiably turn the U. S. into a pariah state. It would all but guarantee eventual retaliation in kind. Even a conventional bombing campaign against Iran would, at minimum, send world oil prices skyrocketing, with disastrous economic consequences. Real patriots must prevent this madness from happening. The generals are speaking out. Where are the Democrats and the sane Republicans ?
Comment on this Article
War privatisation talks in Warsaw
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw
Thursday, 27 April 2006, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
The increasing privatisation of war is being discussed at a Warsaw conference.
Specialists from around the world will discuss the growth of private military firms in conflict zones including Iraq.
The firms are increasingly taking over roles traditionally carried out by the military during war, in a booming industry worth $100bn (£178bn) a year.
The conference has been organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which fears some firms do not respect international humanitarian law.
Mercenaries are still the image in many people's minds of private warfare, but private companies now provide services ranging from personal security and weapons maintenance to the interrogation of prisoners.
They have operated in more than 50 countries and been hired by everyone from the Pentagon to dictators.
In Iraq they are essential to the war effort, making up for troop shortages and doing the jobs the US military doesn't want to do.
Still largely unregulated, they have also been involved in some of the more controversial aspects of the war.
In the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, US army investigators discovered that contractors were involved in more than a third of the proven incidents.
None of them has been prosecuted. Not quite civilians nor soldiers, they fall under a legal grey area.
Leading specialists, academics and private company representatives will attend the Warsaw conference to discuss the growth of the industry and its worrying consequences.
Comment on this Article
GAO Says Government Pesters Wounded Soldiers Over Debts
By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006; Page A18
Nearly 900 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have been saddled with government debts as they have recovered from war, according to a report that describes collection notices going out to veterans with brain damage, paralysis, lost limbs and shrapnel wounds.
The report from the Government Accountability Office, to be released at a hearing today, details how long-recognized problems with military computer systems led to the soldiers being dunned for an array of debts related to everything from errors in paychecks to equipment left behind on the battlefield.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who lost a leg in a roadside bombing, received a letter in 2004 saying he was in debt to the government and was in jeopardy of being referred to a collection agency.
The problem came to light last year, as soldiers' complaints began to surface and several lawmakers became involved. The GAO had been investigating other pay problems caused by the defense accounting system and was asked by Congress to investigate debts among the battle-wounded.
The new report shows a problem more widespread than previously known.
"We found that hundreds of separated battle-injured soldiers were pursued for collection of military debts incurred through no fault of their own," the report said.
Last fall, the Army said 331 soldiers had been hit with military debt after being wounded at war. The latest figures show that a larger group of 900 battle-wounded troops has been tagged with debts.
"It's unconscionable," said Ryan Kelly, 25, a retired staff sergeant who lost a leg to a roadside bomb and then spent more than a year trying to fend off a debt of $2,231. "It's sad that we'd let that happen."
Kelly recalled the day in 2004 when, months after learning to walk on a prosthesis, he opened his mailbox to find a letter saying he was in debt to the government -- and in jeopardy of referral to a collection agency. "It hits you in the gut," he said. "It's like, 'Thanks for your service, and now you owe us.' "
The underlying problem is an antiquated computer system for paying and tracking members of the military. Pay records are not integrated with personnel records, creating numerous errors. When soldiers leave the battlefield, for example, they lose a pay differential, but the system can take time to lower their pay.
The government then tries to recoup overpayments, docking pay for active-duty troops and sending debt notices to those who have left the military. Eventually, the government sends private agencies to collect debts and notifies credit bureaus.
The computer system is so broken that 400 soldiers killed in action were listed as owing money to the government, although no debt notices were sent, the report said.
A total of $1.5 million in debts has been linked to the 400 fallen soldiers and 900 wounded troops. Of the total, $124,000 has been repaid. The government has waived $959,000, and the remainder of $420,000 is still owed.
Michael Hurst, a former Army finance officer in Arlington who has studied the issue, said the military should have taken action years ago to prevent the debts from being created.
"It's a complete leadership failure," he said. "We can't expect the soldiers to notice mistakes in their pay that the paid professionals have failed to notice and correct."
Although the GAO report focuses on battle-wounded soldiers who have separated from the military, there are probably others who were still on active duty when their debts caught up with them, Hurst said. Factoring those in, "I would say thousands" are affected by the problem, he said.
The GAO report said that 73 percent of the debts were caused by pay problems, including overpayments, calculation errors and mistakes in leave. Other debts were created when soldiers were billed for enlistment bonuses, medical services, travel and lost equipment.
House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who is holding the hearing, has called the phenomenon "financial friendly fire." Yesterday, his spokesman, Robert White, reacted to the report, saying: "Literally adding insult to injury, the systems that are supposed to nurture and support returning warriors too often inflict additional wounds to their financial health."
In one case cited in the GAO report, the debts meant that a soldier's family had no money to pay bills and had to send an 11-year-old daughter to live out of state.
At today's hearing, Army and Defense Department officials are expected to testify about what is being done to correct the problem. A database of soldiers wounded in action has been created, but the GAO suggested that more needs to be done, including congressional action to forgive more soldiers' debts and provide refunds in certain cases.
Previously the GAO had issued 80 recommendations for improving the Army payroll processes. Army officials have said they are at work on those recommendations. An Army spokesman did not return calls yesterday requesting comment.
Comment: For all their talk about "our brave boys in uniform", this is how the pathocrats really see their soldiers: cannon fodder to be expended as necessary to impose their force.
Comment on this Article
An Intel Story Finally Told
By Robert Scheer, AlterNet. Posted April 26, 2006.
The shocking account of Tyler Drumheller, former top CIA spy in Europe, aired Sunday on '60 Minutes.' So why isn't anyone talking about it?
"The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy." --Tyler Drumheller, formerly CIA's top spy in Europe
Confession time: In fall 2004, during a crucial presidential election campaign, I made the mistake of playing by corporate media rules that amount to self-censorship.
Specifically, I joined other journalists in denying the public the right to learn of a definitive investigative report by CBS' "60 Minutes" on President Bush's disregard for the truth concerning the weapons-of-mass-destruction threat allegedly posed to the United States by Iraq. Having received an advance copy of the devastating segment, I honored CBS' proprietary request not to write about the news it carried until after it aired.
Only, it never aired. CBS got cold feet, probably because of Dan Rather's troubles over an unrelated story critical of the president. The suppressed story was solidly reported and, by exposing the Bush administration's utter disregard for the truth concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, should have been made available to the public before the November election. Now, no one seems to care.
The segment finally aired this past Sunday, in a more robust form. Unfortunately, the response has been tepid; it seems the media, at least, have become jaded with all the endless examples of the president's perfidy. But the CBS story remains very important as further evidence of the depths of the Bush administration's deception.
Perhaps most damning is an interview, added for the broadcast version, with Tyler Drumheller, a CIA veteran of 26 years' service who was the agency's top spy in Europe until his retirement a year ago.
According to him, before the war Hussein's foreign minister had been "turned" and was talking secretly to U.S. intelligence. At first excited by this rare inside look at Hussein's regime, the top dogs at the White House dropped the issue like a hot rock as soon as his information contradicted their overheated rationale for "preemptive" war.
"The policy was set," Drumheller told CBS correspondent Ed Bradley. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."
That's how more than three years later, after at least two major governmental investigations into prewar intelligence on Iraq and countless journalistic post-mortems, we are only just now finding out that a highly placed double agent in Iraq was poking a huge hole in the Hussein-as-WMD-bogeyman story.
"They were enthusiastic" at first, said Drumheller, "that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis." CIA Director George Tenet reported the news that Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, was working covertly for the United States to a White House meeting attended by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their initial enthusiasm, Drumheller says, quickly turned to cold indifference when Sabri told them the opposite of what they wanted to hear.
"He told us that they had no active weapons-of-mass-destruction program," said the ex-CIA official. "The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.' "
The White House refused to comment for the "60 Minutes" report, but CBS noted that Rice has said Sabri was just one source, and therefore not reliable. It was ironic, considering how heavily the Bush administration relied on the now infamous Iraqi defector "Curveball," whose statements so informed the main administration allegations concerning Iraq's biochemical weapons.
Drumheller was in contact with the German intelligence agency CIS, which had detained the man with the apt code name, and says he himself informed the top CIA officials that Curveball was an outright fraud.
"They certainly took information that came from single sources on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all," Drumheller said.
No wonder this man, who risked his life gathering intelligence for our country, has become a critic of the Bush administration. He is clearly unwilling to allow what the president has described as a permanent war to destroy our democracy. True patriotism is not the blind acceptance of presidential deceit.
Imperial ambition turns truth-tellers into enemies, by default, because their goal is not the exaltation of the leader's power. No wonder so many national security professionals, be they top generals or intelligence officials, have gone public recently to denounce how the Iraq war has been sold and fought: The Bush administration's willful ignorance and buck-passing mock their dedicated service to the nation.
"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure," Drumheller said. "This was a policy failure."
Comment: Blah blah blah. "Oh, sorry folks, I participated in a cover-up two years ago, and even though I knew it was wrong, that YOU needed this information, I kept my mouth shut. But now you're ignoring me..."
Throw the bums out, all of them, the ones in Congress, in the White House, in the Supreme Court, and in the media. All of them. They are all crooks and criminals.
Of course these people know what is really going on! Of course, they know the truth about Iraq. They knew it before the war started, only they were afraid of making waves, of losing their jobs. They are spineless mouthpieces for fascism. They do not deserve or respect, our support, or our aid.
Get rid of them all! Put them on the unemployment lines, living on nothing. Educate them to the facts of life, to what it is like to have to go out and hold down two jobs just to make ends meet.
Comment on this Article
US military sees Iraq edging away from civil war
Thu Apr 27, 2006 10:58 AM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Thursday Iraq was moving away from the risk of civil war and insurgent and sectarian bloodshed would fall dramatically when a new government of national unity is formed.
Attacks on civilians had jumped 90 percent across Iraq since a Shi'ite shrine was bombed in February, but "ethno-sectarian" bloodshed had more than halved in Baghdad in the past week, U.S. spokesman Major General Rick Lynch told a news conference.
"We are not seeing widespread militia operations across Iraq. We are not seeing widespread movement of displaced personnel," he said. "So we do not see us moving toward a civil war in Iraq. In fact we see us moving away from it."
The Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces and the mounting sectarian violence against civilians after the shrine attack raised fears Iraq was sliding into civil war.
Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki hopes to form a new government uniting majority Shi'ites with Sunni Arabs and Kurds next week, a move widely seen as critical to ending the bloodshed.
"We believe that the people of Iraq ... have grown tired of the insurgency, have grown tired of these casualties and indeed are going stop this cycle of violence," Lynch said.
"And when the government is formed and truly reaches out to the people, we believe you'll see a great decline in violent activities in Iraq."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ended a two-day visit on Thursday designed to show support for Maliki, a tough-talking Shi'ite, and at the same time press him to choose his cabinet wisely.
Lynch said the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Sunni Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was trying to foment sectarian violence to prevent a new government, saying the group killed the brother and sister of new Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.
"Because now you have got a Sunni politician who is standing up for the people of Iraq and saying let's do the right thing for the people of Iraq and not worry about Sunnis versus Shias versus Kurds," he said.
Hashemi's sister was killed as she drove to work on Thursday and his brother was killed two weeks ago.
Last October, the brother of the other vice president, Shi'ite Adel Abdul Mahdi, was also killed.
Comment on this Article
New Iraqi Vice President's Sister Killed
By THOMAS WAGNER, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A sister of Iraq's new Sunni Arab vice president was killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad, a day after the politician called for the Sunni-dominated insurgency to be crushed by force.
In southern Iraq, a bomb hit an Italian military convoy, killing four soldiers - three Italians and a Romanian - and seriously injuring another passenger, officials in Rome said. The bomb struck the convoy near an Italian military base in Nasiriyah, a heavily Shiite city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, said local Iraqi government spokesman Haidr Radhi.
Elsewhere, a U.S. jet fired two missiles at insurgent positions in Ramadi, U.S. officers said. Fighting also broke out northeast of Baghdad between Iraqi forces and insurgents, killing several Iraqi policemen and civilians.
The violence came as Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Baghdad to meet with officials in Iraq's new government. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite hard-liner recently tapped as Iraq's prime minister, is trying to form a national unity government aimed at stopping a wave of sectarian violence.
Al-Maliki has 30 days to assemble a Cabinet from divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties. The most contentious question will be filling key ministries that control security forces amid demands to purge them of militias blamed for the rise in bloodshed.
Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi, 60, whose brother, Tariq al-Hashimi, was appointed by parliament as vice president Saturday, was killed by gunmen in a sedan as she left her southwestern Baghdad home with her bodyguard, said police Capt. Jamel Hussein. The bodyguard also died.
It was the second recent killing in Tariq al-Hashimi's immediate family. On April 13, his brother, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, was shot while driving in a mostly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.
Mayson al-Hashimi had worked on the government's audit commission and was married with two grown children. The television station Baghdad, owned by the vice president's Iraqi Islamic Party, showed family photos of her wearing an orange headscarf and footage of her bullet-riddled white SUV, while playing mournful music.
"What astonished us is that they targeted a woman. This shows how wicked the attackers are," Ziyad al-Ani, a senior official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, told The Associated Press. He said the killings "by the enemies of Iraq" will fail in their goal of driving al-Hashimi and his party from government.
The party is one of three major Sunni political groups in the Iraqi Accordance Front, which won 44 seats in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election.
On Wednesday, Tariq al-Hashimi called for Iraq's insurgency to be put down by force. Shiites had demanded that Sunni officials make such a statement to demonstrate their commitment to building a democratic system.
Al-Hashimi also shrugged off a video released this week by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, during which the al-Qaida in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunnis to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as "agents" of the Americans.
"I say, yes, we're agents. We're agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people," al-Hashimi said at a news conference with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his fellow vice president, Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
All three Iraqi leaders met with Rice and Rumsfeld on Wednesday.
On Thursday, al-Maliki met with Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. Al-Sistani has played a big role in restraining Shiite anger in the face of Sunni insurgent attacks that have pushed Iraq toward civil war. Top politicians, especially Shiite ones, often seek al-Sistani's advice.
Afterward, the cleric said he urged the prime minister to form a government with politicians who put Iraq's national needs ahead of "their personal, party or sectarian interests."
More important, al-Sistani said, the government must improve security by ending widespread bombings, drive-by shootings and kidnappings, reduce government corruption, and restore electricity and clean drinking water to many people.
After the meeting, al-Maliki said he was determined to form a government that includes Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and to disarm militias aligned with Iraq's political parties.
Al-Maliki also met in Najaf with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who praised the new government and urged it to set a withdrawal timetable for U.S. forces.
Al-Sadr denounced the Rice-Rumsfeld visit as "a clear interference in Iraqi affairs."
The clashes northeast of Baghdad occurred when insurgents attacked four Iraqi police checkpoints in Baqouba, a Sunni-Shiite city 35 miles northeast of the capital, police and residents said. Five Iraqis were killed - five policemen and two civilians - said Dr. Ahmed Foad, director of a local morgue. U.S. forces have been gradually turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqis in Baqouba.
In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, U.S. forces exchanged fire with insurgents who attacked with small arms and shoulder-fired rockets from a former train station and a nearby building.
Lt. Col. Ronald Clark, commander of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, said a U.S. jet fired two laser-guided missiles at the buildings and U.S. forces returned fire with mortars and rockets, killing eight of the attackers.
In a separate incident in Ramadi, one Iraqi soldier was killed during a fire fight with insurgents, army officers said.
A roadside bomb in Baghdad hit an Iraqi army patrol, killing a soldier, police said.
The bodies of 16 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found Thursday in Baghdad and other cities, police said.
At least 141 Iraqis have been killed in insurgency- or sectarian-related violence since al-Maliki was tapped as prime minister Saturday and asked to form a new government.
Insurgents have targeted prominent men and women politicians in the past. On April 17, the brother of another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was found dead after he was kidnapped.
Comment on this Article
Rice, Rumsfeld Impressed by Iraq Leaders
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq -
President Bush's top defense and diplomatic aides were encouraged by the grit of
Iraq's newly elected leader but the Americans' itinerary on their second day of an unannounced visit underscored the difficulties ahead for U.S. forces and the emerging government.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld began his day Thursday with a briefing on the latest programs and technologies to counter increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs that are a prime killer of U.S. forces.
He and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later heard from U.S. diplomats advising Iraq's troubled Interior Ministry, which oversees security and police forces that are hobbled by corruption and riven by sectarian loyalties.
The double-barreled show of support from Rumsfeld and Rice for Iraq's first permanent democratic government was meant to resonate in Iraq and among Americans, whose frustration with the war effort has helped drive Bush's poll numbers to new lows.
Rumsfeld said the first step in regaining momentum after a four-month political deadlock in Iraq will be setting up and staffing competent government ministries and continuing to build stronger Iraqi security forces.
"The impression that the people of this country will have of the government will be the impression that Secretary Rice and I garnered from our meetings," Rumsfeld said Thursday.
"They are serious people and they recognize the difficulties of the task they are facing. They intend to get about the task of governing this country in a responsible way."
Rice called the new leadership determined and focused.
At a session with Rumsfeld on Thursday, Iraq's national security adviser, Muwaffak Rubaie, thanked the American public for sacrificing "money, sweat and treasure and blood" to help Iraq and spoke optimistically of substantial U.S. troop reductions this year and beyond.
"Certainly at the end of this year there should be a sizable gross reduction in the troops," Rubaie said.
"At the end of next year we would hope, or the next couple of years, we would hope that most of the coalition forces would go back home safely," he said. There are now about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
U.S. officials have insisted there is no specific plan yet to reduce the size of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The Pentagon plans to gradually withdraw as Iraqi security forces become more competent and capable of fighting the insurgency.
Rubaie also spoke of U.S. troop reductions beyond this year.
Rumsfeld, who addressed the meeting after Rubaie spoke, did not mention the subject of U.S. troop reductions, although he also spoke hopefully of the Iraqis taking more responsibility for their own security.
Rice and Rumsfeld held back-to-back sessions with Iraq's seven newly selected leaders Wednesday, capped by a dinner of Middle Eastern mezze, fish and fattoush salad at the residence of the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad had pushed hard on the country's squabbling factions to resolve a four-month political stalemate that sapped Iraqi and American confidence following the emotional high of successful Iraqi elections in December.
The centerpiece of the unprecedented Rice-Rumsfeld joint visit was their first meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, selected last week as a compromise candidate for prime minister to break the sectarian logjam. He has a month to form a new government that the United States hopes will pave the way for eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Al-Maliki was largely unknown outside Iraq before his selection, but both Rice and Rumsfeld said they found him impressive and focused on fixing Iraq's grinding problems.
Al-Maliki opposed both Saddam Hussein and the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the dictator more than three years ago. He has been described as a hardline Shiite partisan and by U.S. officials as an Iraqi patriot who stood up to attempted political meddling by neighboring
"We know that he's not always agreed with us, or we with him," Rice said. "But he is somebody who has always had the interests of the Iraqis at heart and who has worked hard on their behalf."
Comment on this Article
How Much is the War in Iraq Costing?
By WINSLOW T. WHEELER
April 27, 2006
The Congressional Research Service has just released a new report on the past and possible future costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pending Congress' action on the new emergency supplemental, which should complete fiscal year 2006 expenses, the costs will be up to $439 billion by the end of this year. But that's just the tip of the iceberg; details follow. The full report is available at www.cdi.org/smrp.
If Congress approves the $71 billion emergency supplemental to pay for the ongoing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new total for the war expenses will be $439 billion, according to a new report released on April 24 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). For the war in Iraq, $320 billion will have been spent; $89 billion for Afghanistan, and $26 billion will have gone toward enhanced security, including combat air patrols, in and over the United Sates.
The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates its "burn rate" of monthly expenses at $6.4 billion in Iraq and $1.3 billion in Afghanistan. CRS points out that DOD did not include the cost of replacing worn out equipment and upgrades to facilities in theater. Adding those and a few other costs calculates to a monthly "burn rate" of $8.1 billion in Iraq; $1.6 billion in Afghanistan, and a total burn rate of $9.9 billion per month.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has made projections for possible future costs. That agency projects total additional costs of $371 billion for the years 2007 to 2016, making a grand total of $811 billion. (This CBO estimate assumes an almost immediate downturn in annual war costs; however, it is questionable whether we have crossed that peak.)
DOD's accounting methods continue to be problematic. The $7.1 billion that CRS reported earlier it could "not track" continues to go untracked. It appears that CRS found another $4 billion that it could "not track" .
Furthermore, DOD's reports on war costs are incomplete and "understate expenses by over $20 billion because DOD's financial system for tracking war costs has excluded certain types of expenses".
DOD also refuses to provide any comprehensive estimate for the costs to replace and repair all worn out equipment.
There has been discussion of an "in-house" Army estimate of its "reset" costs at $36 billion; the Marine Corps has estimated $11.7 billion for themselves. However, these estimates do not appear to be comprehensive.
Public estimates of the number of troops deployed for Iraq do not always include those performing support in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region. CRS estimates total troop deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom in September 2005 to be 260,000.
Average per troop costs for Iraq are between $355,000 and $360,000 per individual, per year; this dollar amount has been increasing since 2003.
Comment on this Article
Bom-Bom-Bom Bomb Bomb Iran
Israel: Iran now has missiles that put Europe within firing range
11:02:55 EDT Apr 27, 2006
JERUSALEM (AP) - Iran has received a first batch of BM-25 surface-to-surface missiles that put some central European countries within firing range, Israel's military intelligence chief was quoted as saying Thursday.
The missiles, purchased from North Korea, have a range of 2,500 kilometres and are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Other Israeli security officials said the new missiles would put eastern and parts of central Europe within firing range, including the Czech Republic, Italy and Romania. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the news media.
The report comes as UN members consider slapping sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. The United States, Israel and other western countries say Iran is trying to get nuclear arms, but the Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
The UN Security Council has given Iran until Friday to stop enriching uranium, a necessary step for developing nuclear fuel which, if taken far enough, can also be used in nuclear weapons.
Should Iran refuse to comply, which it has indicated it will do, the Security Council is likely to consider taking punitive measures.
Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of the Israeli army's intelligence unit, has warned of the new Iranian missiles in several recent interviews.
Iran already has missiles capable of reaching Israel, but the BM-25 missiles are a significant upgrade over its existing the Shihab-4 and Shihab-3 missiles.
Those missiles spurred Israel to develop its Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile system, which is can intercept the Iranian missiles.
Israeli concerns have been heightened in recent months by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel "off the map."
Iran has also tested several long-range missiles in recent weeks, including a "top secret" missile capable of being fired from all military helicopters and jet fighters, the Iranian state-run television reported.
Iran also tested the Fajr-3, a missile it said can avoid radar and hit several targets simultaneously using multiple warheads. Iran also has tested what it calls two new torpedoes.
American intelligence officials have said that Iran is at an advanced stage of developing a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead. The United States has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the details of the Iranian missile program.
On Tuesday, Israel launched a satellite meant to spy on Iran's nuclear program. The satellite, launched from Russia, is designed to spot images on the ground as small as 70 centimetres and would allow Israel to monitor Iran's nuclear program and long-range missiles, an Israel defence official said.
Comment: From the same intelligence services that brought you Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, we are now hearing that Iran can attack Europe. Of course, these "sources" can't be identified because then one day, much later, comeone might actually hold them accountable for their lies.
Well, not really. Imagine what would have to change in the world for the war criminals in Israel and the US to be held accountable for their lies....
Comment on this Article
Iran nuclear standoff looms large as NATO ministers meet in Bulgaria
06:58:15 EDT Apr 27, 2006
SOFIA, Bulgaria (CP) - Iran's nuclear standoff with the West is expected to dominate talks Thursday between foreign ministers from NATO and European Union countries on the eve of a UN deadline for Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.
The Iran question is not on NATO's official agenda and the alliance's spokesman, James Appathurai, stressed "NATO does not have a formal role to play" in the debate. However the issue will be discussed at an informal dinner bringing together NATO and EU countries on the sidelines of the regular spring gathering of NATO foreign ministers. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay will take part in the meeting.
Iran has refused to comply with UN Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or material for warheads.
The United States, France and Britain say if Iran does not meet the April 28 deadline, they will seek to make the demand compulsory - despite opposition from Russia and China, the other two veto-wielding council members. The three Western countries have also warned that noncompliance could lead to sanctions, but other allies are wary.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to join the NATO talks Friday, ahead of the scheduled presentation to the Security Council by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Iran's compliance with its demands.
The opening session of the NATO meeting Thursday will focus on bids by Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia and Macedonia to join the alliance. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Tuesday said NATO leaders would "send a signal" on the countries' membership aspirations at a summit in November, but a final decision was unlikely before 2008.
Pro-Western parties in Ukraine and Georgia are hoping NATO will open "membership action plans" with them this year, but further expansion of the Western alliance in the former Soviet empire would face Russian opposition.
"The alliance is moving forward in support of Ukraine's membership aspirations," Appathurai told reporters before the meeting, but he declined to predict any timeline for membership talks.
Thursday's meeting is also expected to discuss proposals for NATO to develop closer ties with other democracies including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to co-ordinate political positions and peacekeeping operations.
Appathurai stressed the outreach to the Pacific nations did not mean that NATO aspires "to be a global policeman or a global alliance, but said new partnerships were needed to deal with global threats.
On Friday, Rice is expected to push NATO allies for more robust support for African peacekeepers struggling to end political and ethnic strife in Sudan's Darfur region. Ministers will also discuss the expanding NATO mission in Afghanistan which is moving into the country's volatile southern region in the face of mounting attacks blamed on remnants of the ousted Taliban regime.
Appathurai said the allies were prepared for mounting casualties in Afghanistan and insisted "the alliance is completely united in its determination to take this mission forward."
Comment on this Article
Iran has right to develop civil nuclear industry: Putin
www.chinaview.cn 2006-04-27 21:53:33
MOSCOW, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Iran has the right to develop its civil nuclear technologies and industry, Russia's President Vladimir Putin said at a joint press conference in the Siberian city of Tomsk on Thursday.
"Our position is clear and well-known. We are against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and this applies to Iran, but we believe that Iran must have an opportunity to develop advanced technologies and the nuclear power industry for civil purposes," Putin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying, after talks with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
As for the current standoff over Iran's nuclear program, Putin said: "A solution will be found in the course of negotiations."
"The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must play the key role in dealing with the Iranian nuclear problem, and this issue [must not be] put on the shoulders of the UN Security Council," the Russian president said.
Russia also believed the IAEA board was the best forum to debate the Iran issue, but Merkel disagreed with Putin on this.
"It is a discussion in the IAEA, but also in the Security Council," she said.
Merkel said diplomats from the council's five permanent members plus Germany would discuss Iran in early May. Foreign ministers of those countries were also likely to meet, she said.
Their comments came on the eve of a crucial UN meeting where the IAEA is expected to report that Iran has ignored a UN deadline, which expires Friday, to stop its uranium enrichment activities.
Tehran says it needs the enriched fuel for its civilian reactor project.
Comment on this Article
Iran's oil stock exchange, next week
April 26 2006
Tehran - Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said on Wednesday that the establishment of Oil Stock Exchange is in its final stage and the bourse will be launched in Iran in the next week.
He told reporters, upon arrival from Qatar where he attended the 10th General Assembly of International Energy Agency and consultations with OPEC member states, that registration of the Oil Stock Exchange is underway and the entity will operate after being approved by by Council of Stock Exchange.
He rejected a statement attributed to him saying that Oil Stock Exchange will bring to the ground the US economy and said, "I don't know who has speculated that I've not talked about US economy." Asked about conference on energy in Doha, he said that more than 60 countries and 30 oil companies and consultants took part in the conference.
Vaziri Hamaneh said that serious discussions were held including security of supply and demand, security of investment in energy and environment issues.
"The best method for security of demand in the oil sector is that consumers should be given opportunity to enter into partnership with the suppliers in investment in oil industry." He said that the conference called for diversifying energy resources and cooperation of the developed states with the countries possessing oil and gas resources.
Asked about the oil price rise, Vaziri-Hamaneh said that oil price is being influenced by political situation, whereas it should be freed from political impacts and economic and technical fundamentals should determine the oil prices.
"As long as political impacts dominate the oil market, price hike will continue," he concluded.
Comment on this Article
Russia walking fine line in Iran nuclear dispute
Asian giant trying not to anger U.S., maintain business tie to neighbor
MOSCOW - Russia is standing on a small and shrinking patch of middle ground as it tries to protect its huge business relationship with Iran while seeking a diplomatic resolution for U.S. and European concerns that Iran has a secret nuclear-weapons program.
Russia opposes the spread of nuclear weapons, but it's building Iran its first nuclear-power plant and this year plans to deliver 29 short-range antiaircraft missiles to the Iranian government, all over U.S. objections.
The Kremlin sees no harm in its delicate and, some say, dangerous position of cooperating with Iran on civilian nuclear energy and supplying it with defensive weapons.
But tougher choices face Russia if no negotiated breakthrough is found to ease concerns that an increasingly defiant Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons under cover of its nuclear energy program.
Russian diplomacy has failed so far to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium in compliance with Friday's deadline, set by the U.N. Security Council, for the Islamic republic to suspend enrichment and answer all questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran, something the United States supports. But Iranian leaders effectively have spurned the offer.
"Russia is torn. It is not playing some kind of game. They'd actually like to defuse the crisis," said Victor Mizin, a Russian arms-control expert. "More and more in the Russian leadership are concerned about Iran going nuclear. They understand where the nuclear potential will be targeted: against U.S. military assets and U.S. allies. They don't want this hotbed."
Before considering the American push for economic sanctions, however, Russia wants proof from the IAEA, which will issue a report Friday, that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. The IAEA has said it hasn't seen any diversion of nuclear material for a weapons program, but adds that after three years of inspections Iran still hasn't answered all the agency's questions.
Iranian leaders say they're mastering the uranium-enrichment process to produce fuel for nuclear-generated electricity. The same process can be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.
Comment on this Article
Jewish lobby? What Jewish lobby?
There is No "Israel Lobby"
By Kim Petersen
Notable writer William Blum Blum hinted acknowledgement of the power
of an “Israeli lobby” in a 2004 article.  In his most recent Anti-Empire
Report, Blum discusses again the entity that doesn’t exist: the “Israel
Lobby” or the permutations of that wording, “Israeli Lobby” and “pro-Israel
The paper entitled “The
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by professors John Mearsheimer
Stephen Walt has pushed the topic of the “Israel lobby” and its
influence over US foreign policy into a more prominent spotlight. 
Prominent scholar Noam Chomsky is a steadfast denier of the efficacy of such
a lobby -- so much so that he entitled his rejoinder to Marsheimer and Walt: “The
Israel Lobby?”  Chomsky circumspectly stays away from defining “the
lobby” and refers to it as such throughout his article.
In his book, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians,
Chomsky devotes a section of a chapter to “Domestic Pressure Groups
and their Interests,” but only by way of quoting Seth Tillman does he
use the wording: “Israeli Lobby.” 
Chomsky discusses ‘Jewish interests’ being ‘Israel’s
interests’ but only through quoting others. 
One is hard-pressed to find instances of Chomsky, himself, using the wording “Israeli
lobby.” In a personal communication to Jeff Blankfort, a staunch critic
of the lobby, Chomsky does, however, acknowledge such a lobby by name. 
Skirting the issue of whether the state designated “Israel” is
legitimate or not (is there a legal or moral basis for one group of people
to claim another people's homeland based on spurious historical rights? The
present author maintains there is not), there is still the matter of what “Israel” is.
Conventionally, a state is constituted as a geographic entity and its population.
Disregarding the fact that the state of “Israel” has
refused to define its borders, it must be noted that the population of “Israel” is
heterogeneous. Although it defines itself as a Jewish state, approximately
20 percent of its population is Arab and practices mainly Islam.
Given that most of Palestine has been annexed to the state of “Israel” through
violent force and that the Palestinians who were not ethnically cleansed had “Israeli” citizenship
bestowed upon them, it seems rather a leap of folly to refer to an “Israel
Lobby.” No one will argue that the “Israel Lobby” is
representing the interests of “Arab-Israelis.” As well as being
inaccurate, to refer to an “Israel Lobby” is disingenuous or worse.
“Israel” has been declared a Jewish state by its Zionist rulers.
But Jews are not a monolith and neither are “Israelis.”
Since the “Israel Lobby” does not represent “Arab-Israeli” interests,
and since it represents Jewish interests worldwide, the label “Jewish
lobby” (there is no need to capitalize the “l”) would be
much more accurate. Also, “Zionist lobby” would seem to be less
accurate because the lobby’s goals are not limited to Zionism but include
policies dedicated to the interests of certain Jewish “elites.” So
long as it is not implied that all Jews (since modern Jews never formed a coherent
ethnic or national group, but are peoples who have shared somewhat the
same religion, how can one address them as a homogenous group? For
instance, if a Ukrainian Jew renounces Judaism and declares atheism, then why
should he be treated as Jew that he is no longer?) are included as lobby members,
then there is no reason not to label the “Jewish lobby” for what
it is. Most people would not, after all, object to the label “Catholic
lobby” or “Arab lobby,” so why should the label “Jewish
lobby” be controversial?
Regarding the labeling, Blum responds, “I used ‘Israel Lobby’ because
that’s what the authors of the report I referred to used. And the purpose
of the lobby is to help Israel, not Jews per se.”
With all due respect to the incisive anti-imperialist Blum, he is remarkably
off base when he says: “the purpose of the lobby is to help Israel.” Since,
as stated, approximately one-fifth of “Israelis” are Arabs, and
since the lobby has no intention of helping them whatsoever, the purpose as
stated by Blum is, intentionally or not, fallacious. To be factually accurate,
one should state that the intention is to help the “Jews of Israel” and
not “Israel” per se. Blum, however, does see merit in changing
the designation of the “Israel lobby.”
Why the reluctance to clearly and accurately apply labels to crime-sanctioning
entities? In the case of “Israel,” Chomsky noted the “general
and often effective” Zionist use of ad hominem to silence dissent. 
Those people of conscience who dare to rebuke the crimes committed by the Zionists
must not cower at the insidious Zionist tactic of smearing its critics as “anti-Semites.”
Caving in on a more accurate wording of a lobby that, among its positions,
advocates ethnic cleansing and killing of an indigenous people, and practices
racism against those indigenous remaining in their homeland, is complicity
 William Blum, “The
Anti-Empire Report: What Would Royko Write?” CounterPunch,
6 April 2004.
 William Blum, “All
War, All the Time,” Anti-Empire Report, 22 April 2006.
 John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” KSG Faculty Research Working
Paper Number: RWP06-011, 13 March 2006
 Noam Chomsky, “The
Israel Lobby?” ZNet, 28 March 2006. James Petras wrote a compelling
refutation to Chomsky on this topic. See “Noam
Chomsky and the Pro-Israel Lobby: Fourteen Erroneous Theses,” uruknet.info,
3 April 2006.
 Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians
(Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1983, 1999), 13.
 Ibid., 15.
 Jeffrey Blankfort, “Damage
Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict,” Dissident
Voice, 25 May 2005.
 Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, op. cit., 15.
Comment on this Article
The United States of Israel?
By ROBERT FISK
April 27, 2006
Stephen Walt towers over me as we walk in the Harvard sunshine past Eliot Street, a big man who needs to be big right now (he's one of two authors of an academic paper on the influence of America's Jewish lobby) but whose fame, or notoriety, depending on your point of view, is of no interest to him. "John and I have deliberately avoided the television shows because we don't think we can discuss these important issues in 10 minutes. It would become 'J' and 'S', the personalities who wrote about the lobby - and we want to open the way to serious discussion about this, to encourage a broader discussion of the forces shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East."
"John" is John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Walt is a 50-year-old tenured professor at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The two men have caused one of the most extraordinary political storms over the Middle East in recent American history by stating what to many non-Americans is obvious: that the US has been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of Israel, that Israel is a liability in the "war on terror", that the biggest Israeli lobby group, Aipac (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is in fact the agent of a foreign government and has a stranglehold on Congress - so much so that US policy towards Israel is not debated there - and that the lobby monitors and condemns academics who are critical of Israel.
"Anyone who criticises Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy," the authors have written, "...stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-Semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israeli lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism ... Anti-Semitism is something no-one wants to be accused of." This is strong stuff in a country where - to quote the late Edward Said - the "last taboo" (now that anyone can talk about blacks, gays and lesbians) is any serious discussion of America's relationship with Israel.
Walt is already the author of an elegantly written account of the resistance to US world political dominance, a work that includes more than 50 pages of references. Indeed, those who have read his Taming Political Power: The Global Response to US Primacy will note that the Israeli lobby gets a thumping in this earlier volume because Aipac "has repeatedly targeted members of Congress whom it deemed insufficiently friendly to Israel and helped drive them from office, often by channelling money to their opponents."
But how many people in America are putting their own heads above the parapet, now that Mearsheimer and Walt have launched a missile that would fall to the ground unexploded in any other country but which is detonating here at high speed? Not a lot. For a while, the mainstream US press and television - as pro-Israeli, biased and gutless as the two academics infer them to be - did not know whether to report on their conclusions (originally written for The Atlantic Monthly, whose editors apparently took fright, and subsequently reprinted in the London Review of Books in slightly truncated form) or to remain submissively silent. The New York Times, for example, only got round to covering the affair in depth well over two weeks after the report's publication, and then buried its article in the education section on page 19. The academic essay, according to the paper's headline, had created a "debate" about the lobby's influence.
They can say that again. Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, who now heads an Israeli lobby group, kicked off by unwittingly proving that the Mearsheimer-Walt theory of "anti-Semitism" abuse is correct. "I believe," he said, "that anti-Semitism may be partly defined as asserting a Jewish conspiracy for doing the same thing non-Jews engage in." Congressman Eliot Engel of New York said that the study itself was "anti-Semitic" and deserved the American public's contempt.
Walt has no time for this argument. "We are not saying there is a conspiracy, or a cabal. The Israeli lobby has every right to carry on its work - all Americans like to lobby. What we are saying is that this lobby has a negative influence on US national interests and that this should be discussed. There are vexing problems out in the Middle East and we need to be able to discuss them openly. The Hamas government, for example - how do we deal with this? There may not be complete solutions, but we have to try and have all the information available."
Walt doesn't exactly admit to being shocked by some of the responses to his work - it's all part of his desire to keep "discourse" in the academic arena, I suspect, though it probably won't work. But no-one could be anything but angered by his Harvard colleague, Alan Dershowitz, who announced that the two scholars recycled accusations that "would be seized on by bigots to promote their anti-Semitic agendas". The two are preparing a reply to Dershowitz's 45-page attack, but could probably have done without praise from the white supremacist and ex-Ku Klux Klan head David Duke - adulation which allowed newspapers to lump the name of Duke with the names of Mearsheimer and Walt. "Of Israel, Harvard and David Duke," ran the Washington Post's reprehensible headline.
The Wall Street Journal, ever Israel's friend in the American press, took an even weirder line on the case. "As Ex-Lobbyists of Pro-Israel Group Face Court, Article Queries Sway on Mideast Policy" its headline proclaimed to astonished readers. Neither Mearsheimer nor Walt had mentioned the trial of two Aipac lobbyists - due to begin next month - who are charged under the Espionage Act with receiving and disseminating classified information provided by a former Pentagon Middle East analyst. The defence team for Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman has indicated that it may call Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to the stand.
Almost a third of the Journal's report is taken up with the Rosen-Weissman trial, adding that the indictment details how the two men "allegedly sought to promote a hawkish US policy toward Iran by trading favours with a number of senior US officials. Lawrence Franklin, the former Pentagon official, has pleaded guilty to misusing classified information. Mr Franklin was charged with orally passing on information about a draft National Security Council paper on Iran to the two lobbyists... as well as other classified information. Mr Franklin was sentenced in December to nearly 13 years in prison..."
The Wall Street Journal report goes on to say that lawyers and "many Jewish leaders" - who are not identified - "say the actions of the former Aipac employees were no different from how thousands of Washington lobbyists work. They say the indictment marks the first time in US history that American citizens... have been charged with receiving and disseminating state secrets in conversations." The paper goes on to say that "several members of Congress have expressed concern about the case since it broke in 2004, fearing that the Justice Department may be targeting pro-Israel lobbying groups, such as Aipac. These officials (sic) say they're eager to see the legal process run its course, but are concerned about the lack of transparency in the case."
As far as Dershowitz is concerned, it isn't hard for me to sympathise with the terrible pair. He it was who shouted abuse at me during an Irish radio interview when I said that we had to ask the question "Why?" after the 11 September 2001 international crimes against humanity. I was a "dangerous man", Dershowitz shouted over the air, adding that to be "anti-American" - my thought-crime for asking the "Why?" question - was the same as being anti-Semitic. I must, however, also acknowledge another interest. Twelve years ago, one of the Israeli lobby groups that Mearsheimer and Walt fingers prevented any second showing of a film series on Muslims in which I participated for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel - by stating that my "claim" that Israel was building large Jewish settlements on Arab land was "an egregious falsehood". I was, according to another Israeli support group, "a Henry Higgins with fangs", who was "drooling venom into the living rooms of America."
Such nonsense continues to this day. In Australia to launch my new book on the Middle East, for instance, I repeatedly stated that Israel - contrary to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists - was not responsible for the crimes of 11 September 2001. Yet the Australian Jewish News claimed that I "stopped just millimetres short of suggesting that Israel was the cause of the 9/11 attacks. The audience reportedly (and predictably) showered him in accolades."
This was untrue. There was no applause and no accolades and I never stopped "millimetres" short of accusing Israel of these crimes against humanity. The story in the Australian Jewish News is a lie.
So I have to say that - from my own humble experience - Mearsheimer and Walt have a point. And for a man who says he has not been to Israel for 20 years - or Egypt, though he says he had a "great time" in both countries - Walt rightly doesn't claim any on-the-ground expertise. "I've never flown into Afghanistan on a rickety plane, or stood at a checkpoint and seen a bus coming and not known if there is a suicide bomber aboard," he says.
Noam Chomsky, America's foremost moral philosopher and linguistics academic - so critical of Israel that he does not even have a regular newspaper column - does travel widely in the region and acknowledges the ruthlessness of the Israeli lobby. But he suggests that American corporate business has more to do with US policy in the Middle East than Israel's supporters - proving, I suppose, that the Left in the United States has an infinite capacity for fratricide. Walt doesn't say he's on the left, but he and Mearsheimer objected to the invasion of Iraq, a once lonely stand that now appears to be as politically acceptable as they hope - rather forlornly - that discussion of the Israeli lobby will become.
Walt sits in a Malaysian restaurant with me, patiently (though I can hear the irritation in his voice) explaining that the conspiracy theories about him are nonsense. His stepping down as dean of the Kennedy School was a decision taken before the publication of his report, he says. No one is throwing him out. The much-publicised Harvard disclaimer of ownership to the essay - far from being a gesture of fear and criticism by the university as his would-be supporters have claimed - was mainly drafted by Walt himself, since Mearsheimer, a friend as well as colleague, was a Chicago scholar, not a Harvard don.
But something surely has to give.
Across the United States, there is growing evidence that the Israeli and neo-conservative lobbies are acquiring ever greater power. The cancellation by a New York theatre company of My Name is Rachel Corrie - a play based on the writings of the young American girl crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 - has deeply shocked liberal Jewish Americans, not least because it was Jewish American complaints that got the performance pulled.
"How can the West condemn the Islamic world for not accepting Mohamed cartoons," Philip Weiss asked in The Nation, "when a Western writer who speaks out on behalf of Palestinians is silenced? And why is it that Europe and Israel itself have a healthier debate over Palestinian human rights than we can have here?" Corrie died trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. Enemies of the play falsely claim that she was trying to stop the Israelis from collapsing a tunnel used to smuggle weapons. Hateful e-mails were written about Corrie. Weiss quotes one that reads: "Rachel Corrie won't get 72 virgins but she got what she wanted."
Saree Makdisi - a close relative of the late Edward Said - has revealed how a right-wing website is offering cash for University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) students who report on the political leanings of their professors, especially their views on the Middle East. Those in need of dirty money at UCLA should be aware that class notes, handouts and illicit recordings of lectures will now receive a bounty of $100. "I earned my own inaccurate and defamatory 'profile'," Makdisi says, "...not for what I have said in my classes on English poets such as Wordsworth and Blake - my academic speciality, which the website avoids mentioning - but rather for what I have written in newspapers about Middle Eastern politics."
Mearsheimer and Walt include a study of such tactics in their report. "In September 2002," they write, "Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website (www.campus-watch.org) that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel... the website still invites students to report 'anti-Israel' activity."
Perhaps the most incendiary paragraph in the essay - albeit one whose contents have been confirmed in the Israeli press - discusses Israel's pressure on the United States to invade Iraq. "Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq's WMD programmes," the two academics write, quoting a retired Israeli general as saying: "Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional capabilities."
Walt says he might take a year's sabbatical - though he doesn't want to get typecast as a "lobby" critic - because he needs a rest after his recent administrative post. There will be Israeli lobbyists, no doubt, who would he happy if he made that sabbatical a permanent one. I somehow doubt he will.
Comment on this Article
The meaning of Tony Snow
There is something profoundly disturbing about the appointment
of Fox News's Tony Snow as spokesman for the White House. It goes well beyond
merely the laugh-out-loud quality of a President of the United States turning
to a Guy-Smiley-ish fringe-right-wing
talk show host to fix a pathetically inept White House. It even goes beyond the
ridiculousness of the President appointing as his spokesman a guy who said he
was an "embarrassment." It
goes to what has become the new definition of "business as usual" in
America's political system.
Here you have Fox News - a network that bludgeons viewers with Orwellian
pledges of being "fair and balanced." The network employed Snow
for 7 years
as its purportedly "objective" host of "Fox News Sunday" -
it's supposedly most "objective" show. And now, with the seamless
appointment of Snow as the chief spokesman for America's right-wing government,
the public is just supposed to accept it as mundane. Washington reporters
barely bat an eye at the elimination of the boundary between media and
government - god forbid they should look skeptically on the whole affair
lest they may not be invited to the next White House Christmas party. In
fact, many seem downright giddy that one of their friends on the D.C. cocktail
party circuit got the job.
Meanwhile, Fox News continues to pledge a devotion to objectivity. Worse,
instead of raising objections to one of its leading "objective" voices
now becoming the President's spokesman, Fox
is trumpeting the move on its website (even more ridiculous - it was
the early speculation of Snow's move before he took the job). As for
Democrats - you remember them, they are supposed to be the opposition party
- Fox News loudly tells us that "they say that aside from Tony being
a good journalist, he's
also a fair guy, who they think will be a welcome face in the room
with the blue curtain."
This is "business as usual" in Washington. It is a place where
Democratic and Republican politicians bloviate about supposedly wanting
to clean up government - all while working
feverishly to kill any serious reform legislation, all while they and
their staffs happily sell off their government experience to the highest
corporate bidder. It is a place where the few remaining hard-working journalists
focusing on real issues in the nation's capital are shoved to the side
in favor of the coiffed, ill-informed political pundit corps that sees
nothing even vaguely problematic about the Soviet-state-run-media quality
of trading in media badges for federal ID badges. It is a place where many
major media organizations' leading voices are more interested in being
mouthpieces for power, rather than challenging it. It is a place where
the most blatant lies, myths, half-truths and hypocrisy is buried under
a sea of government and media propaganda designed to make us believe nothing
But no matter how many Tony Snows tell us everything is A.O.K. - either
from behind an anchor's desk or from behind a White House podium - the
public isn't stupid. We know what's going on. And at some point - whether
that's November 2006, November 2008 or some other point - we're going to
take our government back.
Comment on this Article
Where Is The Outrage?
By Nick Clifford
When an award winning play is prevented from being staged in New York due to pressure, some might to call it intimidation, from a section of the community that has determined it has the right to determine what all New Yorkers should or should not see -we have to ask which is worse - the suppression of legitimate theatre or the lack of outrage among Americans at large? Is the First Amendment off limits to theatrical productions that deal with the Middle East? I refer of course to the decision made by the New York Theatre Workshop in March to "postpone" the British production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" out of concern to the sensitivities of unnamed Jewish groups unsettled by the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.
The muted response in the US media to this development contrasts sharply with the deluge of reportage and opinion that accompanied the outraged response in the Islamic World to the publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Sure nobody was killed in New York over this - but in a country where 1st Amendment protection of free speech is supposed to be hallowed ground, the difference in the treatment of the two episodes by mainstream US media speaks volumes about how far media outlets will go to avoid even the appearance of offending the sensitivities of the pro Israel lobby.
Other examples of media appeasement of this lobby are not hard to find and the irony is that some newspapers in the country that is being "protected" by this lobby - Israel, are far bolder and outspoken in their reportage and critical opinion of Israeli excesses than US media. For example Haaretz reported in its March 23rd edition results from an annual poll "The Index of Racism Towards Arab Palestinian Citizens" that revealed 68% of Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab and 63% of Jewish Israelis maintain that their fellow Arab citizens are a "security and demographic threat to the state". 40% believe that "the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens". Not a mention of this poll could be found in any major US publication. Nor would any US publication dare to reprint a Haaretz columnist that described foreign policy advisors Richard Perle and Douglas Feith as "walking a fine line between their loyalty to American Governments....and Israeli interests."
Uri Avnery, a one time Knesset(Israeli Parliament) member, a persistent critic of Israeli policy, was surprised on visits to the US by the presence of large number of mainstream media representatives at the press conferences he held in the US. Curious to see how his views would be reported he was "stunned" that "not a single word" appeared in any US news outlet. Unsuccessful attempts were made by the Anti Defamation League(ADL), described by Mr. Avnery as the "thought police of the Jewish establishment " to cancel his lectures in the US.
It seems that the mainstream media will even ignore an ex US President if he dares to criticize Israel. President Jimmy Carter commented recently on how "Israel's occupation of Palestine has obstructed a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land". No national media outlet reprinted or made reference to what he wrote.
Counterspin, a Public Radio show revealed last week the results of a media analysis of national newspaper op-ed pieces on the Middle East that demonstrated a clear two to one (and for some newspapers like the New York Times, a four to one) ratio of pro Israel contributions.
Haaretz journalists such as Amira Hass and Gideon Levy are well known in Israel for writing about Israeli abuses of Palestinians under occupation, yet they are largely unknown to American readers. Why? Because to reprint their articles in major US newspapers would breach the silent code of self censorship imposed by editors in the US and incur the wrath of the ever watchful pro Israel lobby.
Intimidation of writers, academics, media takes many forms. Recently two senior American academics, Professor John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a detailed study of the growing influence of the Israeli lobby. The piece was submitted to the Atlantic Monthly who refused to touch it despite the academic pedigree of the authors. Stephen Walt is a Dean at Harvard who insisted that their logo be removed from the title page. Not one US publication would publish it, so the authors were forced to approach the London Review of Books who decided to publish it. Predictably the LRB (whose editor, Mary Kay Wilmer, is Jewish) and the study's authors, have been inundated with accusations of anti Semitism by among others, Congressman Eliot Engel and have been accused of being "liars" and "bigots" by Alan Dershowitz. One can legitimately criticize the study for over-stating the power of the Israel lobby, as Noam Chomsky has: for example the energy and arms lobby both arguably have more political clout than Israel.. However it is hard to deny the assertion that Israel's influence on successive US Governments is totally disproportionate to its size. It has no oil or other energy clout and yet no other foreign lobby seems to come close to matching its power in Congress. To prove the point that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Indian Americans, according to the NY Times, openly model their attempts to influence US-India policy on the extremely effective tactics used by AIPAC.
Many of those who have found themselves on the receiving end of intimidation from pro Israel Jews are, in many cases Jewish. Jews for Peace, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finklestein and other Jewish writers and activists who have spoken out against Israel's occupation and US support for it, have all experienced pressure and personal attacks. The classic accusation is that Jews who criticize Israel are "self hating Jews" - an allegation that perhaps says more about the accusers than the accused.
Celebrities have also felt the unwelcome attentions of the Pro Israel lobby. Tony Kushner, a well know playwright and screenwriter in an interview with "The Nation" (3/16/06) spoke about his experience with the pro Israel lobby over the film "Munich" for which he was the screenwriter: "there is a very, very highly organized attack machinery that will come after you if you express any kind of dissent about Israel's policies, and it's a very unpleasant to be caught in the cross hairs."
The question has to be asked: how long can America's First Amendment be held to ransom and how long can Americans be kept in the dark by well organized zealots determined to preserve the status quo.
Comment on this Article
No Outcry About Lobby Scandal, Lawmakers Say
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 27, 2006; Page A06
The scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been a Washington obsession for months, but Republican lawmakers who returned from a two-week recess this week said they felt free to pass a relatively tepid ethics bill because their constituents rarely mention the issue.
The House is scheduled to vote today on ethics legislation to increase lobbyists' disclosures and require lawmakers to own up to the earmarks, or narrow projects, that they insert into appropriations bills. But the measure would not restrict the gifts or meals provided by lobbyists as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had proposed in January, nor would it expand the number of enforcers of lobbying rules and laws.
Lawmakers acknowledge that the bill is more limited in its scope and impact than the provisions promised by congressional leaders immediately after Abramoff's guilty plea to federal charges of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud nearly four months ago. But they say they do not feel compelled to push more stringent measures partly because voters do not appear to be demanding them. "We're all being rushed into a bill," said Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio). "We panicked, and we let the media get us panicked."
Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), a former ethics committee chairwoman, said passage of the bill will have no political consequences because "people are quite convinced that the rhetoric of reform is just political."
Some Republican leaders assert that lawmakers are hearing little from constituents about the congressional corruption scandal, even though it has received considerable media attention. Jo Maney, spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), a chief architect of the House ethics bill, said: "Many members have told him [Dreier] that they are not hearing about corruption and lobbying reform at home. They hear more about immigration, gas prices." Still, Dreier and Hastert "feel strongly" that the ethics bill "is the right thing to do" and that it will "improve the public's perception of the integrity of the House of Representatives," Maney added.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month showed that 63 percent of Americans called "corruption in Washington" important to their vote. Democrats are eager to use the lobbying controversy as part of their campaign to win back control of Congress this year, and they contend that the corruption issue can be a powerful Election Day weapon.
A poll this month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed the public giving Democrats an edge on the ethics issue. Twenty-eight percent of Americans said they think the Republican Party governs in an honest and ethical way, compared with 36 percent who said the Democrats are more ethical, according to the survey. By a ratio of 45 percent to 28 percent, respondents said that Republicans are influenced more by lobbyists and special interests than are Democrats.
Democratic strategists say that the ethics issue does not carry a lot of weight by itself. They say that, to win over voters, they must link Republicans' alleged coziness with lobbyists to failures in Washington to address specific public needs, such as health-care coverage and economic security. "It is up to us to show the public what this means to them," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). For example, she said: "If [we] want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and therefore improve our national security situation, you can't do it if you are a Republican because you are too wedded to the oil companies."
Republicans won back control of the House and the Senate in 1994 after making Democratic political corruption part of the larger issue of arrogance of power and poor performance in government, according to Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. The Democrats' burden now, he said, is to make that larger connection to voters.
Republicans counter that Democrats have ethical problems of their own that blunt their effort to portray the GOP as the party of corruption. Two Democratic congressmen are facing separate, official inquiries about their connections to private pleaders: Reps. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.) and William J. Jefferson (La.). Both say they have done nothing wrong.
"The Democrat party runs a real risk here of being the pot that calls the kettle black," said Tracey Schmitt, press secretary of the Republican National Committee.
Some lawmakers and political analysts believe that voters could punish incumbents during the November elections if Congress passes a minimalist ethics bill. The chances of such a backlash could rise, these critics say, if there are more indictments or guilty pleas later this year. Abramoff and two former aides to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are cooperating with federal authorities in a wide-ranging investigation of political favors done in return for gifts, trips, payments and campaign contributions. DeLay, a once-powerful House majority leader, is fighting a criminal indictment in Texas on charges of political money laundering.
Some congressional historians assert that GOP leaders would be taking a risk in assuming that the lobbying bill is of such low voter priority that they could push through a modest plan without paying a political cost. "When you combine [the ethics issue] with the general dissatisfaction with the way in which we are governed," said L. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College, "I think the breaking point might be near."
Today, the House plans to vote on a bill that would require lobbyists to file quarterly instead of semiannual disclosures and to include in those reports the donations they give to federal candidates and political action committees. Lobbyists would also have to make public the amount of any gift that they give to lawmakers or congressional aides. In addition, appropriations bills would have to list any earmarks that they contain, as well as the sponsors of those projects. Ethics training would become mandatory in the House under the legislation.
Government watchdog groups have complained that the legislation would not change much about how lawmakers and lobbyists interact. "It's a reform bill in name only, and they're hoping no one will notice," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest organization, said one reason for the bill's weakness is that the public is not riled up about lobbying abuses. "The American people take the view that both parties are involved and there's not much surprising about it," he said.
Comment on this Article
Bucks and Oil
The Biggest Gas Station on Earth
By Mike Whitney
Oil finished at $72.35 at the close of the market on Tuesday.
The current price per barrel is just one more damning bit of evidence that the Iraq war was waged on a mountain of lies. The oil industry is built on projections; they pride themselves on knowing where every drop of petroleum is located across the planet. They knew this day was coming. They knew that the world was facing shortages and that they'd have to hoodwink the American people into a war.
They also knew they could count on Bush to mobilize public opinion behind a smokescreen of fabrications about "mushroom clouds" and Niger uranium.
Here's something to think about while President Buffoon goes through his "conservation" gyrations on national TV.
In 2001, Bush family consigliore, James Baker, presented a report to the powerful Council on Foreign Relations which found that "a new era of energy scarcity was upon the world...presenting fundamental obstacles to continued growth and prosperity." (Lawrence Shoup "The CFR Debates Torture" Z Magazine March 2006)
Baker's conclusions resulted in the formation of the White House Energy Policy Development Group headed by Dick Cheney. This was the secretive group of oil executives which divided up Iraq's enormous oil reserves before the first bomb was dropped. The plan was clearly endorsed by American elites at the CFR who must have known the WMD-scare was a ruse from the very beginning.
The plan to steal Iraq's oil puts Bush's farcical "on-air" burlesque into perspective. US foreign policy is driven by the oil industry, just as the decision to invade was decided on the basis of peak oil, not WMD.
Now that gas is topping $3 per gallon, we should consider the heavy price the American people have paid to ensure that profits continue to soar for the oil giants.
In 2002, before the war, Saddam was producing 2.6 million barrels of oil per day even with the debilitating sanctions still in place. Currently, (given the success of Iraqi resistance attacks on pipelines) Iraqi oil production has dropped to a meager 1.1 million barrels per day. In other words, Bush's war has taken 1.5 million barrels a day "off line"; the precise amount the global market requires to reduce prices to the $45 per barrel range.
Consider this: the United States has spent roughly $300 billion on the war so far. At 1.1 million barrels per day (396 million barrels per year) we are currently spending $274 per barrel which translates into $12 per gallon at the pump.
$12 per gallon!!!
This represents the greatest surcharge on petroleum the world has ever seen. Think of it as the Bush Gas Tax, a boondoggle that quadruples the price of gas while killing 2,400 American servicemen and 100,000 Iraqis in the process.
Bush's ruminations on "price gouging" are ludicrous. It was Bush who spearheaded this monstrous rip-off, now he's pretending to defend the common man by playing "consumer-advocate".
His record on conservation is nearly as abysmal as his guru Dick Cheney who said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound comprehensive energy policy." (April 30, 2001)
Cheney is wrong. He saw the Baker report; if he had America's interests in mind, he would have initiated an massive restructuring of the economy focusing attention on conservation, rapid-transit, hybrid cars, and green technologies. Instead, 5 years later the American public is still lumbering around in their coal-powered SUVs choking the atmosphere, depleting the ozone, killing the ecosystem and scalding the planet. The administration's inaction has put the country on the path to catastrophe.
The Bush-Cheney plan is predicated on the belief that we can steal enough oil to keep the economy chugging along while the other, weaker countries flounder. It must be shocking for him to see that the Iraqi resistance has other plans.
But, Cheney isn't alone in his shortsightedness or his intransigence. The main contenders in the Democratic Party (Clinton, Kerry, Dodd, Biden, and Lieberman) still support the ongoing occupation; defending America's free access to dwindling oil supplies to the bitter end.
Presidential elections will not resolve this issue, the system is broken. There are no political solutions. We should be looking at developments in Nepal to understand how this dilemma will eventually be decided.
In Iraq, we see a nation that has been utterly destroyed to service the energy needs of a foreign economy. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed, maimed, displaced or traumatized. The water and soil has been poisoned with depleted uranium, malnutrition has grown to epidemic levels, academics and intellectuals have been assassinated by death squads; museums, graveyards, war memorials and mosques have been looted or demolished in a wanton act of cultural genocide. The entire civilization is being decimated to fill the coffers of oil magnates, plutocrats, and corrupt politicians.
Presently, the finishing touches are being put on an $800 million American embassy in Baghdad, a "fortress-like compound the size of Vatican City". It symbolizes America's determination to subjugate the Iraqi people and pilfer their resources. It will be the biggest gas station on earth; a fitting testimonial to George Bush and the Washington war-mongers.
Comment on this Article
Don't Believe the Oilman-In-Chief
By Frank O'Donnell, TomPaine.com. Posted April 27, 2006.
You know President George W. Bush's ratings are in the toilet when he starts bashing oil companies in the name of protecting what he repeatedly called "our consumers," as he did yesterday.
And you know the Party in Power -- just back from getting an earful from angry constituents about rising gasoline prices -- is shaking in its shoes at the prospect of tomorrow's profit announcement by ExxonMobil.
So the president did what a floundering politician does: he tried to change the subject.
In this case, the president made the environment a scapegoat for rising gasoline prices. He suggested a false choice -- lower prices at the pump, or dirtier air.
It was ironic that the president made his gas-price speech before the Renewable Fuels Association, since the president was citing the association's main product, ethanol, as one of the many reasons that gasoline prices have gone up. Actually, most of the price of gasoline is determined by world crude oil prices, and the presidential saber rattling over Iran hasn't helped that. But it's unlikely the president will make a speech in Tehran anytime soon.
Regarding clean air requirements, the president noted that some state officials are requesting temporary waivers of clean-gasoline standards as a means of reducing price pressure. (Pennsylvania requested a waiver earlier this week for gasoline sold in the Philadelphia area.)
A short-term waiver isn't the worst possible outcome, as long as it is extremely limited. But health and environmental groups should and will protest any effort to make long-term weakening changes to gasoline standards.
The real truth is that oil companies could have anticipated this problem and planned for it better. Instead, they are taking advantage of a situation they helped create.
Compare the following presidential myths to the reality:
Myth #1: Clean air standards must be relaxed.
Under federal quality -- air quality laws, some areas of the country are required to use fuel blend called reformulated gasoline. Now, as you well know, this year we're going -- undergoing a rapid transition in the primary ingredient in reformulated gas -- from MTBE to ethanol...
Yet state and local officials in some parts of our country worry about supply disruption for the short term. They worry about the sudden change from MTBE to ethanol -- the ethanol producers won't be able to meet the demand. And that's causing the price of gasoline to go up some amount in their jurisdictions.
And some have contacted us to determine whether or not they can ask the EPA to waive local fuel requirements on a temporary basis ... So I'm directing EPA Administrator Johnson to use all his available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel supply shortages. And I do that for the sake of our consumers.
The reality is:
In last year's energy bill, Congress actually eliminated the requirement that cleaner reformulated gasoline contain MTBE or ethanol. MTBE makers -- including ExxonMobil -- decided to stop shipping its product after Congress refused to give them a deal absolving these big water polluters from product liability lawsuits. But the companies have known about that congressional decision for nearly a year. They could have arranged a smoother transition to new gasoline blends. But scarcity drives up prices -- and oil profits.
Myth #2: Environmental requirements have blocked oil companies from building new refineries.
There has not been a new refinery built in America in 30 years.
The reality is:
In declaring that part of the problem is that we haven't built new refineries in the U.S. in decades, the president is being simply disingenuous. As he well knows from his days in the business, the big oil companies decided for economic reasons that it was more cost-effective to expand existing refineries than build new ones. In fact, they have managed those expansions to avoid a gasoline glut that could lead to lower prices.
Myth #3: Some mythical entity has created "boutique fuels" around the nation.
The number of boutique fuels has expanded rapidly over the years, and America now has an uncoordinated and overly complex set of fuel rules ... I want to simplify the process for the sake of our consumers.
The reality is:
Some states have adopted specialized fuels -- usually at the request of the oil industry, which has frequently argued in favor of such fuels instead of cleaner gasoline. The oil industry has frequently profited by this seeming confusion.
In last year's energy bill, Congress limited the number of future blends. But the oil industry has not offered to return any of the associated profits to consumers.
The president and Republican-led Congress could have seen the rising gas prices coming miles away. The time to worry about it was last year when they were writing the monster energy bill, loaded with subsidies to energy companies. That's when concrete steps could have been taken to wean America from its oil addiction. Instead, the president is exploiting the public's anxiety over gas prices to advance his own oil-driven energy agenda.
Comment on this Article
Oil Prices Drive Up Exxon Mobil 1Q Profit
By STEVE QUINN
DALLAS - Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company, said Thursday that higher oil prices drove first-quarter profit up 7 percent from the prior year.
Net income rose to $8.4 billion, or $1.37 per share, in the January-March period from $7.86 billion, or $1.22 per share, a year ago. Excluding a gain on the sale of an interest in China's Sinopec, the company's year-ago profit was $7.4 billion, or $1.15 per share.
But analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for a higher profit of $1.47 per share for the latest quarter, and shares fell $1.55, or 2.5 percent, to $61.55 in premarket trading.
Revenue grew to $88.98 billion from $82.05 billion a year earlier. Higher crude oil and natural gas prices and improved marketing margins were partly offset by lower chemical margins.
Its worldwide production of oil equivalent in the first quarter of 2006 rose 5 percent.
The earnings report comes amid consumer outcry in the U.S. about soaring gasoline prices. The average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. is now $2.91 a gallon, or 68 cents higher than a year ago.
It also comes as Washington lawmakers are looking to appease consumers with various proposals to make big oil companies pay more taxes.
In January, Exxon posted the highest quarterly and annual profits of any U.S. company in history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the full year.
Exxon said it invested $4.8 billion in capital and exploration projects, a 41 percent increase from 2005.
"In the first quarter of 2006, the results of our continuing long-term investment program contributed to a 5 percent increase in production," Exxon chief executive said in a prepared statement.
Exxon also said it returned $7 billion to shareholders through dividends of $2 billion and buying back $5 billion worth of shares.
Comment on this Article
Dollar Falls, Gold Rises in Europe
LONDON - The U.S. dollar fell against other major currencies in late European trading Thursday. Gold prices rose.
The euro traded at $1.2537, up from $1.2453 late Wednesday in New York. Later, in midday trading in New York, the euro fetched $1.2530.
Other dollar rates in Europe, compared with late Wednesday, included 114.02 Japanese yen, down from 114.70; 1.2585 Swiss francs, down from 1.2692; and 1.1224 Canadian dollars, down from 1.1279.
The British pound closed at $1.8034, up from $1.7851.
In midday New York trading, the dollar bought 114.01 yen and 1.2603 Swiss francs, while the pound was worth $1.8016.
Gold traded in London at $641.25 an ounce, up from $638.90 late Wednesday.
In Zurich, gold traded at $639.15, up from $637.85.
Gold rose $6.60 in Hong Kong to close at $638.20.
Silver closed in London at $12.90, up from $12.70.
Comment on this Article
High Oil Price Driven By Fear: BP Chief
LONDON, April 26 (Xinhua)
LONDON, April 26 (Xinhua) -- British Petroleum (BP) Chief Executive John Browne has warned that fear was driving the price of crude to artificially high levels, Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Turbulence in Iran, Iraq and Nigeria was leading to continual speculation about oil shortages and there were "all sorts of things that suggest it is getting worse," the BP chief executive said on Tuesday.
Guardian said higher oil prices helped BP produce underlying profits of 5.3 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter, an increase of 7 percent, but Browne said global supply and demand for oil was moving towards balance.
I was at Doha at the weekend. Most (energy) people are not happy that the price of oil is so high because it is so unexpected and no one is quite clear what the impact will be," the UK's leading oil man said.
Other BP executives hinted that hedge funds and other speculators were partly responsible for the current record levels of 73 dollars a barrel.
It is said that there had been a massive increase in the number of financial institutions trading in the oil markets.
The oil company privately fears that unusual periods of very high crude prices and huge profits will spark a public backlash and encourage politicians to slap on more taxes.
Browne said that BP's taxes had already risen this year to 35 percent and would rise to 39 percent after a new North Sea tax comes into force.
BP said UK petrol had provided only the smallest financial contribution, but it admitted North Sea oil and gas had been very profitable.
Browne rejected suggestions that British gas consumers were paying for the company's financial success and hotly denied accusations that the company had not landed as much liquefied Natural Gas as it could have done.
The company also came under fire from environmentalists at Friends of the Earth for not spending enough on safety.
Comment on this Article
Life in Occupied America
New York begins to rebuild on 9/11 site
Last Updated Thu, 27 Apr 2006 10:28:36 EDT
Trucks began arriving Thursday to start work on the Freedom Tower, the building that is to replace the World Trade Center in New York City.
The construction had been delayed for months due to bitter controversies about the design of the tower, the finances of the huge project and the form of the memorial to the almost 3,000 people who died when al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center towers and other targets on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Freedom Tower will dominate the site and is to stretch up 1,776 feet - a height chosen to match the date of U.S. independence from Britain.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, state Gov. George Pataki and developer Larry Silverstein welcomed construction workers and heavy equipment to the site of the $2.1-billion US project Thursday morning.
"It will reclaim New York's skyline and establish a new civic icon for our city and our nation," Silverstein Properties said on the company's website.
The site of the tower is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The public body has been in tough negotiations with Silverstein over the financial terms of the project, but the parties finally reached a deal on Tuesday.
As well as the Freedom Tower, the site will eventually include three new office towers and residences, as well as a memorial, museum and cultural centre devoted to those killed in the attacks.
Construction could take six years.
Comment on this Article
Target Letter Drives Rove Back to Grand Jury
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Wednesday 26 April 2006
Karl Rove's appearance before a grand jury in the CIA leak case Wednesday comes on the heels of a "target letter" sent to his attorney recently by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, signaling that the Deputy White House Chief of Staff may face imminent indictment, sources that are knowledgeable about the probe said Wednesday.
It's unclear when Fitzgerald sent the target letter to Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. Sources close to the two-year-old leak investigation said when Rove's attorney received the letter Rove volunteered to appear before the grand jury for an unprecedented fifth time to explain why he did not previously disclose conversations he had with the media about covert CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who criticized the Bush administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence.
A federal grand jury target letter is sent to a person in a criminal investigation who is likely to be indicted. In a prepared statement Wednesday, Luskin said Fitzgerald indicated that Rove is not a "target" of the investigation. A "target" of a grand jury investigation is a person who a prosecutor has substantial evidence to link to a crime.
Last week, Rove was stripped of some of his policy duties in a White House shakeup orchestrated by incoming Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. The White House insisted that Rove was not demoted, but insiders said the executive branch is bracing for a possible indictment against Rove.
Luskin was accompanying Rove to US District Court in Washington, DC, Wednesday morning and unavailable for comment. Rove was told by Fitzgerald's staff that his testimony could last for as long as three hours.
In an interview last week, Luskin confirmed that Rove was a "subject" of Fitzgerald's probe. In a previous interview, Luskin asserted that Rove would not be indicted by Fitzgerald, but he was unwilling to make that same prediction again during an interview last week.
"Mr. Fitzgerald hasn't made any decision on the charges and I can't speculate what the outcome will be," Luskin said in an interview last week. "Mr. Rove has cooperated completely with the investigation."
Luskin said Rove has not been offered any plea deal by Fitzgerald and Rove has cooperated with the probe voluntarily. He said Rove's cooperation is not contingent upon any plea agreement.
People close to the case said that Fitzgerald has presented additional evidence to the grand jury in the past week that shows Rove lied to federal investigators and a grand jury eight out of the nine times he was asked about his knowledge of the leak since October 2003.
Should Wednesday's court appearance by Rove provide the grand jury with answers to lingering questions, Rove may not be charged with obstruction of justice, but will likely be indicted for perjury and lying to investigators, sources close to the case said.
For one, according to the sources close to the investigation, the likelihood that Rove will be charged with perjury centers on the fact that Rove has testified at least three times that he first discovered that Plame worked for the CIA after her name was printed in a July 2003 newspaper report by conservative columnist Robert Novak. Evidence has since surfaced that shows Rove spoke to Novak about Plame prior to Novak's published report in which Novak outed the undercover CIA officer.
Moreover, Rove did not disclose that he had also been a source for a story about Plame written by Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, and Rove testified that he was not involved in a campaign to discredit or attack the credibility of Plame's husband, Ambassador Wilson, when at least two dozen witnesses have testified before the grand jury that Rove was in fact instrumental in the smear campaign on Wilson.
Rove's grand jury appearance Wednesday is crucial in determining whether he will face a charge of obstruction of justice for not turning over an explosive email that was written moments after his July 2003 conversation with Time's Cooper. Rove volunteered to testify before the grand jury Wednesday to explain why he did not disclose and locate the email for more than a year, sources close to the case said.
Luskin said that Rove simply forgot about his conversation with Cooper when he testified before the grand jury because Rove had been dealing with other pressing matters, such as Bush's reelection campaign.
Rove's story began to unravel when Fitzgerald discovered the existence of an email Rove sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley after he spoke with Cooper on July 11, 2003, which Hadley and Rove did not disclose to the special prosecutor or hand over to his probe, sources close to the case said.
"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in the email to Hadley immediately following his conversation with Cooper. "Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming. When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."
In December, desperate to keep his client out of Fitzgerald's crosshairs, Luskin became a witness in the case when he made an explosive revelation to Fitzgerald.
Luskin revealed to Fitzgerald that Viveca Novak - a reporter working for Time magazine who wrote several stories about the Plame Wilson case - inadvertently tipped him off in early 2004 that her colleague at the magazine, Matt Cooper, would be forced to testify that Rove was his source who told him about Plame Wilson's CIA status.
Novak - who bears no relation to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who first published Plame Wilson's name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003, column - met Luskin in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2004, and over drinks, the two discussed Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame Wilson leak.
Luskin assured Novak that Rove learned Plame Wilson's name and CIA status after it was published in news accounts and that only then did he phone other journalists to draw their attention to it. But Novak told Luskin that everyone in the Time newsroom knew Rove was Cooper's source and that he would testify to that in an upcoming grand jury appearance, these sources said.
According to Luskin's account, after he met with Viveca Novak he contacted Rove and told him about his conversation with her. The two of them then began an exhaustive search through White House phone logs and emails for any evidence that proved that Rove had spoken with Cooper. Luskin said that during this search an email was found that Rove sent to Hadley immediately and it was subsequently turned over to Fitzgerald.
Still, Rove's account of his conversation with Cooper went nothing like he described in his email to Hadley, according to an email Cooper sent to his editor at Time magazine following his conversation with Rove in July 2003.
"It was, KR said, [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized [Wilson's] trip," Cooper's July 11, 2003, email to his editor said.
Comment on this Article
Save Family Farms, Save America
By Willie Nelson, AlterNet. Posted April 27, 2006.
It's time to abandon the failed model of industrial agriculture and join the Good Food movement: embrace healthy, delicious food that makes the entire country stronger.
As one of the founders of Farm Aid, I have watched with admiration and a good amount of satisfaction the growth of what many now call the "Good Food Movement" -- the growing interest in and demand for organic, humanely-raised and family farm-identified food that is transforming the way America grows its food and how our food gets to our tables.
While it might seem obvious to many, good food comes from farms with healthy soil and clean water. I've always believed that the most important people on the planet are the ones who plant the seeds and care for the soil where they grow. As the stewards of the land, family farmers are the foundation of this movement, as well as its guarantor.
No one can say they planted the original seed that gave rise to this movement, but many can claim they have helped nurture and cultivate its growth. Farm Aid's vision for America is to have many family farmers on the land -- a vision born out of our strong conviction that who grows our food and who cares for the land and water is of vital national importance; that farmers and their fields are the fabric that holds our country together.
Many have asked me, "What is the Good Food movement?" The Good Food movement isn't just about good and delicious food -- although this is certainly one of its greatest achievements. The Good Food movement is at the center of some of the most important issues and debates that will define American society for years to come: issues like stewardship of our soil and water, local and democratic control of decision making and land use, health and nutrition and a thriving and sustainable food and farm economy needed to feed and fuel America.
While good, healthy, fresh food from family farms is the most visible product of the movement that each of us can enjoy, the movement stands for much more. It represents the interests of all who care about the future of this land, its resources and its people. As members of this movement and as eaters, the food we choose to buy connects us directly to those who produced it and to the multiple reasons why it is in our own interests to see this movement flourish.
The future of safe and sound food production depends on taking care of the most basic resources needed to grow food: soil and water. Family farmers eat the food they grow in their fields and drink the water from their wells. They know that they have to take care of the soil and water in order to pass on the promise of the farm's bounty to the next generation. Sustainable family farms are the alternative to the large-scale industrial farms that erode our soil and pollute our waterways. Excessive chemicals, soil erosion, runoff from hog factories laced with hormones and antibiotics and the growing threats of widespread genetic contamination from genetically engineered crops threaten our capacity to grow the food we need to feed our country. By supporting family farms through the Good Food movement, we are all helping to ensure that our children and our children's children inherit a healthy and resilient environment.
Health and nutrition
Good food leads to good nutrition and good health. There's no comparison between fresh, organic food at the local farmers market and the mass-produced, additive-laden, highly processed stuff that corporations would have us think is real food. The rising epidemics of childhood obesity and diabetes are clearly linked to the highly processed food peddled to kids and served in school cafeterias. The Good Food movement is helping to turn this situation around, bringing farm-fresh food grown by local farmers into school lunch programs. A diet of fresh, wholesome food will improve health outcomes for kids and provide new direct markets for family farmers.
Strong local economies
Family farms are the engines for economic vitality, in both rural communities as well as urban areas that benefit from jobs created by vibrant local and regional food systems. When family farms thrive, so do main street businesses. The Good Food movement is creating new markets and opportunities that help farmers stay on their land and provides hope for new and young farmers to make farming their life. A growing number of those now participating in direct farm-to-consumer marketing are first generation farmers! The more we keep farming local, the stronger the community. Participating in local and regional food and farm markets helps keep food dollars circulating in the local economy -- rather than increasing the profits of distant corporations that suck the dollars and the life out of our communities.
Many Americans are becoming aware of the startling and troubling fact about our food system known as "food miles:" on average, each food item travels 1500 miles before arriving to our tables. It makes little sense to burn fossil fuels that pollute the environment to ship apples across the country and around the world when local growers can provide us with fresh apples, the purchase of which keeps dollars in the local economy. By strengthening local food production, the Good Food movement is reducing the distance food travels and the ecological footprint of American agriculture.
Keeping farmers on their land also enables them to use their know-how and ingenuity to help us achieve more energy independence. Farmers are key to our energy future -- growers and harvesters of renewable energy that will power our vehicles and heat our homes. Farm Aid is working to link The Good Food and Green Energy movements as two sides of the family farm-centered agriculture system we envision.
The Good Food movement increases the demand for humanely-raised beef, pork and poultry products by family farms. As opposed to the factory livestock farms, where thousands of animals are raised under one roof and never see the light of day their entire lives, family farm-raised animals are fed natural diets and allowed to live in healthy conditions with access to open pastures.
I believe keeping family farmers on the land is inextricably linked to a strong and thriving democracy. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens...they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds." Family farmers are the backbone not only of a strong economy; they are also the defenders of local, democratic control of decision making.
In communities across farm country, large and powerful food corporations are working their political connections at the State House and on Capitol Hill to change local and state laws to take local control and decision-making away from communities, stripping local communities of their democratic right of self-determination. In many examples, corporations are working to change state laws so that communities cannot block the construction of hog factories.
We live in a time when all of us must take our responsibility to exercise our democratic rights seriously -- before it's too late. Family farmers are standing up for their rights -- and they're standing up for our rights too. The Good Food movement is about democracy at the grassroots level- building decentralized, sustainable and locally controlled farm and food economies.
Farm Fresh Food
And yes, the Good Food movement is about better food. Growing up in Texas, I learned at an early age the difference between a fresh tomato, a fresh farm egg and the stuff most other people eat and think is food. There is just no way to compare a family-raised ham to a ham from a factory farm, or fresh strawberries to berries shipped thousands of miles. To understand this, you have to taste it yourself. The next time you drive by your local farmers market, stop by and pick up some farm-fresh food. I guarantee you won't regret the flavor and freshness of food from the family farm.
Growing the Movement
If you enjoy good food and care about the issues behind this movement, I invite you to take action today to ensure the future of family farming and your right to choose food from family farms. The most direct and regular action you can take is to search out and buy as much of your food directly from farm families in your area. Our food choices today shape tomorrow's agriculture. Buying organic milk today strengthens tomorrow's outlook for organic dairy farmers. Think about one food item that you can buy from local farmers and commit to buying it. These small and simple actions are building the Good Food movement and changing American agriculture for the better.
The other opportunity we have to further this movement is the upcoming debate over the next Farm Bill. If you value good food from family farms, call your legislator and demand a Farm Bill that strengthens local and regional food economies.
If you care about local and democratic control, demand a Farm Bill that curbs the power of factory farms and the influence of lobbyists for large food corporations. If you care about health and nutrition for children, demand a Farm Bill that puts more fresh, wholesome food in our cities' schools. If you want your children and grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of a clean environment, demand a Farm Bill that increases protection of our natural resources by helping farmers transition to organic and more sustainable growing methods. The future of good food depends on you.
Comment on this Article
More House aides subpoenaed in McKinney case
(Washington-AP) April 26, 2006
More developments in the controversy surrounding US Representative Cynthia McKinney's scuffle with a Capitol Police officer.
Staffers from four congressional offices, in statements read on the House floor Tuesday, announced they will comply with subpoenas issued by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Other congressional aides already have testified about the March 29th confrontation. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported Tuesday that the officer involved, Paul McKenna, testified before the grand jury within the past week.
McKenna has said he asked the Georgia Democrat three times to stop. After she refused, the officer reportedly placed a hand on her and she hit him. McKinney at first said she was the victim of racial profiling but later apologized on the House floor April 6th for what she said was a "misunderstanding."
Comment: Cynthia McKinney is being harrassed because she is standing up to the Bush Reich. If she were a white, male from Texas, she could flip off anyone she wanted and it wouldn't make a scandal. She could lie and cheat and accept bribes, uh, contributions from lobbies, and no one would bat an eye.
Instead she is being hauled before the media and congressional commissions because she got upset with a cop who wouldn't let her into her office building.
God bless America.
Comment on this Article
Does Boortz give cover to terrorists?
April 26, 2006
OK, OK, Neal Adolph Boortz is too easy. Like the cult leader he follows, GWB, he's so busy fibbing that he has a hard time keeping up to date on his own prevarications.
I had some fun with Boortz a few weeks ago. He repeatedly savages critics of DeKalb Peachtree Airport (PDK), where his own plane is based. The critics claim -- and are absolutely correct -- that the airport officials routinely let planes land that exceed the 66,000-pound limitation at the facility. Some of the planes are twice the weight.
There are easily verifiable problems with air and noise pollution, exacerbated by the oversized craft. And, critics fear, there are secret plans to turn PDK into Hartsfield North.
A very savvy reporter at WSB-TV (Boortz bellows forth from WSB 750AM radio), Dale Cardwell, turned up a new and very scary problem. Many flights in and out of PDK are listed on records as "unknown." Pilots flying low, under what are called visual flight rules, avoid FAA detection, and show up as "unknown" -- no aircraft type, no registration number, no info at all. Our Homeland Security is very insecure when it comes to private planes.
So, as he always does, Boortz launched a fusillade at critics, this time at fellow Coxopoly employee Cardwell. Boortz said Cardwell's report was "another sensational scare piece."
I pulled records from PDK and found that on one day alone, about half the flights were "unknown." The last time I'd written about general aviation airports was in Miami -- where private planes formed the Drug Runners Squadron. I've sat on my sailboat in the Keys and watched smugglers toss "square grouper" from their planes as cops chased them.
So, of course, it stands to reason, as Cardwell surmised, that the small planes and willfully ignorant airport officials could be tools of terrorists. Boortz went ballistic, fuming on Feb. 27 that the Congressional Research Service had concluded in a report that trucks were more likely to be a platform for a terrorist attack than the "light GA (general aviation) aircraft." Probably true, but as I noted above, a lot of the planes landing at PDK aren't light aircraft. They're DC-9s and Gulfstream 5s. Since we don't know anything about all of the "unknowns" at PDK, presumably these very big and very heavy planes are landing and taking off with records.
Boortz knows that, of course.
And it gets worse. According to an April 21 Reuters report: "The Transportation Security Administration has warned aircraft owners and airport managers that Muslim extremists may be targeting private American jets and urged them to boost security."
The report further stated: "The TSA urged airplane owners and operators to boost security measures and secure unattended aircraft and verify identification of crew and passengers."
Did you get that -- verification of crew and passengers? But we don't know anything about, as I saw in the records, almost half of the flights at PDK. Osama bin Laden, the Antichrist and Hitler's ghost could be crewing a Gulfsteam 5 (one of the plane types whose presence at PDK angers neighbors), and no one would ever know.
So, if someday you see a mushroom cloud rising out over Dunwoody, or people in your neighborhood start dropping dead from the plague, be sure and call Boortz's radio show and tell him, "Thanks, Neal."
P.S.: The date that Boortz lambasted Cardwell -- Feb. 27 -- is significant. It was during that time that Boortz, according to records I obtained from the airport, was vigorously lobbying DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones to renew a contract for the "Pentagon Club." Boortz and a bunch of drinking flyboys commandeered the old control tower at PDK years ago, and use it to party hearty (and probably do a bit of flying after the cocktails).
The club paid a paltry $250 a month for years for the tower; Jones recently approved a new lease for $300 a month. As I reported, other groups offered several multiples of that for the taxpayer-owned facility. Jones is about the only prominent local black official to escape Boortz's frequent race-baiting venom.
The apparent quid pro quo is that Boortz keeps mum on Jones, and Jones allows the imbibing pilots to keep their taxpayer-subsidized playpen.
The latest contract with the Pentagon Club was pushed through the county in the last two weeks of February. Thus, Boortz's attack on Cardwell can be seen as a bit of public relations work on behalf of the county -- while Boortz's club was sealing its new deal.
Conflict of interest? That's putting it mildly.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon Club's president, Larry King (no, not THAT Larry King) not only confirmed Boortz's lobbying activities for the outfit, but said several DeKalb public officials are members of the club and also lobbied Jones to renew the lease.
Jones has told me that he doesn't recall Boortz lobbying on behalf of the club. Jones also has refused to reveal any public officials -- some perhaps in his own executive office -- who might have spoken to him as members of the club.
Comment on this Article
Odds 'n Ends
She's Bipartisan, But It's Just a Phase
Overheard in New York
Girl: Are you a conservative or a liberal?
Guy: I know all teenagers are supposed to be liberal, but I'm pretty conservative.
Girl: Oh my god, I know exactly what you mean. I was conservative until last week when I saw V for Vendetta. How hot is Natalie Portman?
--Bronx High School of Science
Comment on this Article
Chupacabra the Goatsucker Vampire Sightings Reported in Central Russia
For the first time in history, the mysterious Puerto-Rican Chupacabra vampire has been spotted in Russia.
Reports of a beast that kills animals and sucks on their blood came from a village in Central Russia back in March 2005, when a farm had 32 turkeys killed overnight. The beast left the corpses bloodless, the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said.
Then reports came from neighboring villages, where more than 30 sheep and goats fell victim to the vampire. Again, the blood had been drained from corpses but the flesh remained intact. All the slaughtered animals had similar puncture wounds on their necks, different from the marks that wolves, dogs or lynx leave on their victims.
Finally, eyewitness descriptions match the traditional description of the Chupacabra, said to resemble a kangaroo and a dog with huge teeth.
"I heard the sheep bleating loudly, and when I approached the barn I saw a black shadow, like a big dog standing on its hind legs. It leaped like a kangaroo - when it spotted me it ran away," says Yerbulat Isbasov, 18, who guards sheep in the village of Gavrilovka.
Yerbulat saw the beast again in a few days' time, and described it as a 1.2 meter high animal with a hump on its back.
Alfia Makasheva saw a whole pack of vampires in her yard.
"One was a huge reddish thing, another was dark grey, and they were being followed by a pack of pups. In the middle of the yard the red one turned its head and got up on the hind legs, as if it was thinking."
When Dmitry Madinovsky from Orenburg heard about the beast, he suggested it could be the legendary Chupakabra, and set off to look for it. In the woods near the Sakmara river he discovered two rows of tracks that could belong to an animal of some 35 kilos in weight. The tracks were of five-toed paws with claws and webbed fingers, and a tail that dragged between them. Zoologists could not identify the animal from photos of the prints.
"It is definitely a Chupakabra! Small front and big hind legs," Madinovsky says. "The animal first walked on all fours, near the water it got up on its hind legs, raised its tail and leapt away like a kangaroo."
This May Madinovsky and the Urals Anomaly Monitoring Station experts are determined to track the animal down.
Comment on this Article
Scripps scientists say it traveled over the ocean to desert
By Alex Roth
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 27, 2006
A group of local scientists has uncovered some clues to the source of a mysterious disturbance that rattled San Diego County on the morning of April 4, shaking windows, doors and bookcases from the coast to the mountains.
The scientists, based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, say the disturbance was caused by a sound wave that started over the ocean and petered out over the Imperial County desert. Using data from more than two dozen seismometers, they traced its likely origin to a spot roughly 120 miles off the San Diego coast.
Tracking the boom
That spot is in the general vicinity of Warning Area 291, a huge swath of ocean used for military training exercises. The Navy operates a live-fire range on San Clemente Island, which is within Warning Area 291 and sits about 65 miles from Mission Bay.
The researchers also have charted dozens of similar, if less dramatic, incidents that seem to have originated in the same general area of the ocean. They aren't sure what caused any of them.
Peter Shearer, a Scripps professor involved in the research, has no idea whether the April 4 disturbance was natural or made by humans.
"I would guess it's either an explosion that somebody hasn't told us about or it could have been a meteor coming into the atmosphere," he said. "But it was certainly a big disturbance in the atmosphere."
Steve Fiebing, a Coronado-based Navy spokesman, said the live-fire range on San Clemente Island was inactive April 4. He also said there was no Navy or Marine Corps flight activity in Warning Area 291 on that day that would have caused a sonic boom or a countywide tremor.
The area, also known in military circles as Whiskey 291, covers 1 million square miles and is off-limits to civilian planes and ships, Fiebing said.
"There was no unusual training that would have caused anything close to what people here felt," he said.
Cmdr. William Fenick, another local Navy spokesman, said no San Diego-based warships were conducting operations in Warning Area 291 that day.
"We don't know at this time where this earthquakelike sensation came from," Fenick said.
The April 4 disturbance hit San Diego County shortly before 9 a.m. A quake was quickly eliminated as the cause, leaving a mystery that has been the source of three weeks of speculation from Pacific Beach to Lakeside to the Internet.
The Scripps researchers believe the disturbance was the result of a low-frequency wave that traveled through the air at the speed of sound as it moved from the ocean to the desert. It was picked up by more than two dozen seismometers in San Diego and eastern Riverside counties, the researchers said.
According to data analyzed by the scientists, the wave was felt on San Nicolas Island, northwest of San Clemente Island, at 8:40 a.m. It hit Solana Beach at 8:46 a.m., the western edge of the Cleveland National Forest at 8:47.30 and the eastern side of the Salton Sea at 8:53 a.m. From there, it appears to have dissipated.
Elizabeth Cochran, the lead researcher on the project, said the wave moved at 320 meters per second, roughly the speed that sound travels through the air. Its velocity was too slow to be that of an earthquake, she said.
Cochran, a postdoctoral researcher in the geophysics and planetary physics department, said the only explanation is that the wave was traveling through the atmosphere, not through the ground. At each location, the wave could be felt for roughly 10 seconds, she said.
Several months before the April 4 incident, the team had begun studying other nonquake disturbances that were registering on San Diego County seismometers, including 76 that apparently originated in that same general area of the ocean in 2003. Shearer said he and his colleagues figured that some of those disturbances surely must have come from offshore military exercises.
The researchers haven't been able to determine whether the April 4 wave was more powerful than the earlier ones or whether it simply felt that way because of atmospheric conditions.
If the disturbance was caused by the military, no one has owned up to it. The Navy and Marines say none of their planes were flying at supersonic speeds that morning.
"I'm told that a sonic boom would not cover that distance at all," said Fiebing, the Navy spokesman.
The Navy uses Warning Area 291 for a wide range of training, including large-scale ship maneuvers and battle exercises, but Fiebing and Fenick said they were unaware of any such training April 4 that would have caused such a disturbance.
Authorities have said a meteor probably wasn't the cause because it would have been noticed by the scientific community. The American Meteor Society reported no fireball sightings over Southern California on that day.
Comment: So it wasnt a fireball, wasn't an earthquake, wasn's a sonic boom and wasn't the result of navy training exercises (at least not any that they are willing to admit to). So what was it?
Comment on this Article
Small earthquake rattles Salem area
Apr. 26, 2006
By Teresa Bell, KGW.com
SCOTTS MILLS - A minor earthquake rattled some residents in a small community northeast of Salem Wednesday.
The quake hit just before 7:30 a.m., about six miles south of Scotts Mills, according to the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network.
It was centered almost 12 miles under the earth's surface and measured a magnitude of 3.0, officials said.
There were no reports of damage, but some residents did contact kgw.com to report feeling some serious shaking including "one good jolt and boom," said viewer Karen Bentz.
Comment on this Article
Earthquake In Sofia, Bulgaria
Thu 27 Apr 2006
A light tremor was registered in Sofia at 3.43 pm today.
Residents of several districts felt the earthquake. Its magnitude is 3.7 on the Richter scale, according to Bulgarian Academy of Sciences information.
Comment on this Article
Remember, we need your help to collect information on what is going on in your part of the world!
Send your article suggestions to: sott(at)signs-of-the-times.org