Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary
Signs of the Times
May 1, 2006
Gold closed at 651.60 dollars an ounce on Friday, up 2.1% from $638.50 the Friday before. The dollar closed at 0.7915 euros, down 2.4% from 0.8103 at the end of the previous week. That put the euro at $1.2634, compared to $1.2341 a week earlier. Gold in euros would be 525.75 euros an ounce, up 1.6% from 517.38 for the week. Oil closed at 71.88 dollars a barrel, down 4.5% from $75.12. Oil in euros would be 56.89 a barrel, down 7.0% from 60.87 at the end of the previous week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 9.07, up 6.7% from 8.50 the week before. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11,367.14, up 0.2% from 11,347.45 at the previous Friday's close. The NASDAQ closed at 2,322.57, down 0.9% from 2,342.86. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 5.05%, up four basis points from 5.01 the week before.
The currency and commodity markets, driven by fears of cataclysmic war and criminally insane leadership, seem to be increasing the pressure on the Bush administration. The open squabbling at the highest levels over blame for the Iraq fiasco, the plummeting of Bush's approval ratings and the looming indictment of Karl Rove, taken together with the sharp rise of gold and oil and the drop in the dollar suggest a coming crisis point. One gets the sense that the political and economic tectonic plates are shifting beneath us and that a sort of earthquake in the world power structure is imminent. More and more people are realizing, even in the United States, that the U.S. can no longer be considered a "superpower:"
Wars, Debt and Outsourcing
The World is Uniting Against the Bush Imperium
By Paul Craig Roberts
April 25, 2006
Is the United States a superpower? I think not. Consider these facts:
The financial position of the US has declined dramatically. The US is heavily indebted, both government and consumers. The US trade deficit both in absolute size and as a percentage of GDP is unprecedented, reaching more than $800 billion in 2005 and accumulating to $4.5 trillion since 1990. With US job growth falling behind population growth and with no growth in consumer real incomes, the US economy is driven by expanding consumer debt. Saving rates are low or negative.
The federal budget is deep in the red, adding to America's dependency on debt. The US cannot even go to war unless foreigners are willing to finance it.
Our biggest bankers are China and Japan, both of whom could cause the US serious financial problems if they wished. A country whose financial affairs are in the hands of foreigners is not a superpower.
The US is heavily dependent on imports for manufactured goods, including advanced technology products. In 2005 US dependency (in dollar amounts) on imported manufactured goods was twice as large as US dependency on imported oil. In the 21st century the US has experienced a rapid increase in dependency on imports of advanced technology products. A country dependent on foreigners for manufactures and advanced technology products is not a superpower.
Because of jobs offshoring and illegal immigration, US consumers create jobs for foreigners, not for Americans. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs reports document the loss of manufacturing jobs and the inability of the US economy to create jobs in categories other than domestic "hands on" services. According to a March 2006 report from the Center for Immigration Studies, most of these jobs are going to immigrants: "Between March 2000 and March 2005 only 9 percent of the net increase in jobs for adults (18 to 64) went to natives. This is striking because natives accounted for 61 percent of the net increase in the overall size of the 18 to 64 year old population."
A country that cannot create jobs for its native born population is not a superpower.
In an interview in the April 17 Manufacturing & Technology News, former TCI and Global Crossing CEO Leo Hindery said that the incentives of globalization have disconnected US corporations from US interests. "No economy," Hindery said, "can survive the offshoring of both manufacturing and services concurrently. In fact, no society can even take excessive offshoring of manufacturing alone." According to Hindery, offshoring serves the short-term interests of shareholders and executive pay at the long-term expense of US economic strength.
Hindery notes that in 1981 the Business Roundtable defined its constituency as employees, shareholders, community, customers, and the nation." Today the constituency is quarterly earnings. A country whose business class has no sense of the nation is not a superpower.
By launching a war of aggression on the basis of lies and fabricated "intelligence," the Bush regime violated the Nuremberg standard established by the US and international law. Extensive civilian casualties and infrastructure destruction in Iraq, along with the torture of detainees in concentration camps and an ever-changing excuse for the war have destroyed the soft power and moral leadership that provided the diplomatic foundation for America's superpower status. A country that is no longer respected or trusted and which promises yet more war isolates itself from cooperation from the rest of the world. An isolated country is not a superpower.
A country that fears small, distant countries to such an extent that it utilizes military in place of diplomatic means is not a superpower. The entire world knows that the US is not a superpower when its entire available military force is tied down by a small lightly armed insurgency drawn from a Sunni population of a mere 5 million people.
Neoconservatives think the US is a superpower because of its military weapons and nuclear missiles. However, as the Iraqi resistance has demonstrated, America's superior military firepower is not enough to prevail in fourth generation warfare. The Bush regime has reached this conclusion itself, which is why it increasing speaks of attacking Iran with nuclear weapons.
The US is the only country to have used nuclear weapons against an opponent. If six decades after nuking Japan the US again resorts to the use of nuclear weapons, it will establish itself as a pariah, war criminal state under the control of insane people. Any sympathy that might still exist for the US would immediately disappear, and the world would unite against America.
A country against which the world is united is not a superpower.
The disconnect between corporate leadership and society that Roberts noted is also reflected in market data. In all this mess, stocks are holding steady (at least in dollar terms), consumer spending remains strong, the economic growth rate and employment numbers (propped up, no doubt, by massive deficit military spending) are high enough to give the illusion of economic normalcy in the United States, at least among the elites. Among the general public, though, polls clearly show that people don't believe the happy talk about the economy, no matter how much they are spending and working at the moment. According to the blogger Billmon, reasons for this are easy to find:
Why People Think the Economy Sucks
Many conservatives profess to be puzzled by the fact that many Americans don't appreciate the wonderful economic boom we're enjoying, now that the Cheney administration has led us into the supply side utopia.
And it's true, they don't:
Four in 10 - 40 percent - say Bush is doing a good job with the economy, down eight percentage points in a month.
The latest spike in sour feelings can probably be traced to the return, in many parts of the country, of $3-a-gallon gas. But economic sentiment has been unusually negative throughout this recovery - at least when compared to past relationships between consumer confidence and GDP growth, or confidence and the unemployment rate. Even now, with the unemployment rate below 5%, consumer confidence is still about where it was when the last recession officially ended. Why?
My explanation for our current era of bad feelings is pretty straightforward:
This is what used to be known as the class struggle. It was quite popular back in the day. It could even make a comeback if something isn't done to bring the trends shown above back into better balance. I have no quarrel with corporate profits, particularly if I get to keep some of them, but a situation in which all the benefits of productivity growth flow to capital, and none to labor, not only defies the standard economic textbooks, but probably isn't politically sustainable for long - at least, not without some help from guys like General Pinochet.
Why is this happening? New technologies, skill shortages, outsourcing, downsizing, the decline and fall of the union movement, changing social norms and expectations - or as John Snow might put it, learning to "trust the marketplace." Any of the above, all of the above.
It's sobering to think that what we've seen so far may be just the beginning of our journey back to the good old days of the Robber Barons. The economic effects of integrating China and India into the global labor market - what Laura Tyson describes as the mother of all supply-side shocks - could take decades to play out. And by the time they're done, there's likely to be a host of other low-wage countries lined up outside the factory gates. What Marx called the reserve army of the unemployed has never looked so huge.
Given the current power structure and the elite consensus that globalization can't be stopped, or even slowed, the solution isn't obvious, at least not to me. The New Deal is dead; the New New Deal hasn't been invented yet. But the political effects are easy enough to see. The immigration debate has been saturated by them.
Nativists and racists we will have with us always, but you have to wonder whether the issue would be half as hot right now if middle America was getting a bigger slice of the pie - maybe even with a little whipped cream on top. The millions of undocumented workers who are the current focus of our national angst (and in Michele Malkin's case, our national hysteria) are, at least in part, proxies for the billions of workers back where they came from - the invisible people who tuck the little inspection slips in the box with our Chinese-made DVD players, who sit in call centers in Bangalore and take our hotel reservations, or who debug our software code in Singapore.
...This isn't going to end well, but like I said, I don't know of any viable solutions - other than to encourage the creation of price bubbles in the assets most widely held by the American middle class. It may be a quick fix, but it works. The popular mood no doubt would be even less enthusiastic about the current "boom" if it weren't for this:
But bubbles by their nature are self-limiting, and this one may not last much longer, as even some supply siders are beginning to admit. When it deflates, the corporate conservatives are going to have a job on their hands staving off the kind of populist revolt that would make the rest of the world begin to doubt America's commitment to the global economic order America has created. And if that happens . . . well, even John Snow - the $112 million dollar man - may start to have his doubts about trusting the marketplace.
The ruling elite in the United States is clearly beginning to feel pressure from below and from abroad. The rest of the world, increasingly, may not mourn the end of the "global economic order America has created" as much as Billmon, especially if that economic order requires frequent unprovoked attacks on other countries. If a critical point is reached where the elite in the rest of the world completely lose confidence in the United States, they can do what investors and central banks have always done when a less-developed country's currency starts to look weak: head for the exits. The following article suggests that it is happening already:
The threat to a fistful of petrodollars
By Liam Halligan
From Russia, you might say, with love. This weekend, Alexei Kudrin, Russia's finance minister, dropped a bombshell in Washington.
Attending the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Kudrin caused his American hosts discomfort by openly questioning the dollar's pre-eminence as the world's "absolute" reserve currency.
The greenback's recent volatility and the yawning US trade deficit, "are definitely causing concern with regard to its reserve currency status," he said. "The international community can hardly be satisfied with this instability."
Kudrin's intervention coincided with another meeting, also in Washington, of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven - which doesn't include Russia.
Top of the agenda: the effect of ever-rising oil prices on inflation and interest rates.
G7 countries are worried the spiraling price of crude - which closed at $72.79 a barrel on Friday and which has now trebled in three years - could inflict real economic damage. The US Federal Reserve, in particular, has been forced to take drastic action - raising interest rates 15 times since June 2004 to keep inflation in check.
Given that fragility, it is significant that Kudrin is now wondering aloud if the long-standing dollar hegemony can last. For him to do so is to highlight that America is vulnerable should that status be lost. That's because Russia, with its awesome oil and gas reserves, could kick-start a challenge to the dollar's supremacy.
Most nations stockpile their foreign exchange holdings in dollars. The US currency accounts for more than two thirds of all central bank reserves worldwide.
This reserve status means that the dollar is constantly in demand, whatever the underlying strength of the US economy.
And now, with massive trade and budget deficits to finance, America is increasingly reliant on that status. The unprecedented weight of US liabilities means a threat to the dollar's dominance could result in a currency collapse, plunging the world's largest economy into recession.
That won't happen immediately. The dollar has sat astride the globe for some time now - in fact, for most of the last century. But this statement from Russia - a country of growing financial and strategic significance - still caused the dollar to slide. It also fueled speculation that central banks could increasingly diversify their holdings away from dollars.
Kudrin's statement followed news that Sweden has cut its dollar holdings, from 37 per cent of central bank reserves to 20 per cent, with the euro's share rising to 50 per cent. Central banks in some Gulf states have also lately mooted a shift into the euro. Such sentiments helped push the dollar to a seven-month low against the single currency last week.
But Russia's intervention will have raised eyebrows in Washington because the backbone of the dollar's reserve currency status - the main guarantee that status continues -is the fact that oil is traded in dollars. And that is something the likes of Kudrin can directly affect.
For historic reasons, the dollar remains the world's "petrocurrency" - the only currency for the settlement of oil contracts on world markets. That makes the EU and Russia dependent on it. But with central banks switching to euros, the logical next step would be for fuel-exporting countries to start quoting oil prices in euros too.
The EU is Russia's main trading partner. More than two thirds of Russia's oil and gas is exported to the EU. That makes Russia a strong candidate to become the first major oil exporter to start trading in euros. Such a scenario, in recent years, has become theoretically possible. But now, with these latest comments, Kudrin has thrust that possibility into the open.
The G7 meeting was dominated, of course, by concern over Iran's nuclear programme. The threat of military action against Iran, itself a major crude exporter, is one reason oil prices are now testing record highs.
It is worth noting that Tehran has ongoing plans to set up an oil trading exchange to compete with New York's NYMEX and with London's International Petroleum Exchange. In the light of Kudrin's comments, it is significant that the Iranians want to run their oil bourse in euros, not dollars.
Were the Iranians to establish a Middle-East based euro-only oil exchange, the dollar's unique petrocurrency status could unravel. That, in turn, would threaten its broader dominance - which, given America's groaning twin deficit, could seriously hurt the US economy.
Some cite this as the real reason the US wants to attack Iran: to protect the dollar's unique position. I wouldn't go that far, but the prospect of a non-dollar oil exchange in Tehran is certainly an aggravating factor.
The opening of Iran's new oil exchange has recently been delayed. But, having spoken with numerous officials in Tehran, and western consultants who've been working with the Iranians for several years, I think it will go ahead. The exchange entity has already been legally incorporated in Iran and a site purchased to house administrative and regulatory staff.
The reality is that as long as most of Opec's oil - read Saudi Arabia - is priced in dollars, the US currency will retain its hegemony. But the opening of an oil bourse in Tehran, which now looks likely, will signal at least tacit Saudi consent for euro-based oil trading. The US knows this, which is why it is nervous about the dollar's status being questioned.
From the G7's fringe, Kudrin has now touched this raw nerve. This weekend's meetings have been dominated by questions of global financial imbalance - in particular, America's huge deficits.
Kudrin's missive comes as central bankers, and currency dealers, start to conclude the only way to resolve the massive US external deficit is a somewhat weaker US currency. As the IMF itself warned yesterday, a "substantial" dollar decline may be needed.
One way to bring that about would be for the euro to enter the global oil trading system. This is unlikely to happen soon. It might not happen at all. But the idea is now not only realistic but firmly on the table in Washington. Perhaps not with love, but it was placed there by the Russians.
Is there any hope for the United States and for the world, where both rich and poor suffer, in completely different ways, from capitalism, a system of pure rationality of means and irrationality of ends? Can there be a rebalancing, a new view of work and labor based on empathy, not on an exploitative, means-to-an-end view of workers? Perhaps it was a mistake, early on in capitalism, to separate economics from moral philosophy. Can there be a political economics balanced by an open emotional center? It may be that John Kenneth Galbraith chose a good time to pass away, since the moment appears ripe for such a reappraisal, one which would have made sense to him, and his passing may stimulate such a discussion. And, today is May Day, not only a celebration of spring in the northern hemisphere but also Workers Day and Socialism Day, except in the United States, which moved its workers' holiday to September, at harvest time. Labor became a crop to be harvested, not a source of growth and creativity.
Here is the historian Peter Linebaugh writing about May Day and a heart-based political economy in Counterpunch:
A Strike, a Boycott, a Holiday, a Refusal
May Day with Heart
By Peter Linebaugh
April 29 / 30, 2006
The moon and hours have revolved again, dear hearts, and May Day is upon us. Spring has sprung as usual, though a strike, a boycott, a holiday, a refusal--call it what you will--looms hopefully on Monday morrow, and that is unusual. We'll wear white in solidarity with the immigrant worker against rampant criminalization, against the universal miserablism, the broken levees, the constant enclosures, great walls, razor-wired borders, burning frontiers, and the castrametation of the planet by the USA (as the Romans called the science of military base construction).
I asked Massimo De Angelis, a family man, who went up to Gleneagles last year to protest against the G-8, what to say on May Day. He replied, as is his wont, as if he were a hobgoblin sitting on a mushroom. He likes the mushroom because it is nocturnal, it may cause dreams, and many of the fungi are not yet privatized. As for the hobgoblin it is a country figure of tricks and mischief against the masters. Plus, I know he likes Helen MacFarlane's translation of The Communist Manifesto, "A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe."
"Well," the hobgoblin said to me, says he, "whatever you say, say it with heart."
Very well, but James Green, the splendid labor historian, says that after the terrible events in Chicago beginning on May Day 1886, Americans suffered "a loss of heart." The labor historian tells us we have lost precisely what the hobgoblin asks us to find.
How are we to resolve this dilemma? This year the answer must come from the South. Eduardo Galeano, the historian from Uruguay, reminds us of a simple etymology, that the word "record" as in the record of the past, derives from Latin, to pass again through the heart ("cordis").
We cannot avoid the ache of history; its grief we feel in the gut. In preparation for the May Day general strike (will it be general?) by the undocumented workers we organize our banners (and May poles?), prepare our slogans (open borders, troops home, no enclosures, health care for all), hopefully many will try their hand at a manifesto, and we alert our lawyer friends to prepare defense for the inevitable victims. It is also essential to study our past, and to learn about our May Day. We must study the record. It must pass through our heart again.
So, we take off the classics from the shelf, or make sure our local library has them at hand Martin Duberman's fine novel on Haymarket, Roediger and Rosemont's timeless scrapbook, the late Paul Avrich stirring monograph, or the old CP classic on May Day by Philip Foner. To these we now add James Green's just published Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (Pantheon Books, 2006). Go get it! We need it for Monday and every May Day thereafter. The book is trying to put some freedom back into history telling us that it could have been otherwise. We call this human agency. The theory is something like this. It's human history, we're humans, history is something we make with our deeds and words. This is where free-will rubs up against determinism. As soon as you put class into the theory it begins to make sense: the ruling class is determined to exploit us, so naturally it says that it can't help it - the steam hammer is stronger than John Henry, you can't stand in the way of progress, and so on. That's the determinism. On the other hand, the working-class will be free. We are not cogs in a wheel; we have not forgotten the good old wooden shoe. We do have choices. We will (for instance) wear a white t-shirt on May Day. Human agency thus resolves itself into the struggle between the classes.
It never took any multicultural brilliance to discern that the actual fundaments of the USA are threefold:
a) it was robbed from the indigenous peoples,
b) its swamps were drained, forests felled, and fields prepared by African slaves, or
c) that the railroads, factories, mills, and mines were built and run by immigrants from Europe and Asia.
The ruling class from Madison on forward knew its duty to keep these three, if not fighting one another, then separated. Thus, radical reconstruction came to an end in 1877 in New Orleans beginning that period of Afro-American history called "the Nadir"; the plains Indians were destroyed in 1877 taking the death of Crazy Horse for a symbol of the destruction, and the third, in a word, death at Haymarket.
The Cuban poet, Jose Marti, lived in exile in New York at the time and wrote brilliantly on the Haymarket martyrs. Although "the disagreements and rivalries of the races already arguing about supremacy in this part of the continent, might have stood in the way of the immediate formation of a formidable labor party with identical methods and purposes, the common denominator of pain has accelerated the concerted action of all who suffer." Here is heart as a political principle.
...What happened in 1886? The context was this. The imperialists had divided up Africa the year before. "accumulating mansions and factories on the one hand, and wretched masses of people on the other," is how Marti painted the background. Otherwise, the founding of the American Federation of Labor by the cigar maker Samuel Gompers, riots in Seattle against Chinese laborers, the capture of Geronimo, the gold rush to Witwatersrand in South Africa, Gottlieb Daimler perfected the internal combustion engine, Das Kapital was published in English, the French Impressionist pointillist canvas Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is displayed and was designed to erase thoroughly the visual memories of the Paris Commune and la semaine sanglante.
Despite boom and bust of the trade cycle, despite unemployment, union workers "began to anticipate their own emancipation from the endless workday and growing tyranny of wage labor." The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, they called themselves, mystical and with a moral code of chivalry and generous manhood. The motto of the Knights was One for All, and All for One." From squalor they proposed nobility. An 1877 circular read,
"Working men of Chicago! Have you no rights? No ambition? No Manhood? Will you remain disunited while your masters rob you of your rights and the fruits of your labor? For the sake of our wives and children and our own self-respect, LET US WAIT NO LONGER! ORGANIZE AT ONCE!"
The freight handlers struck, the upholsterers struck, the lumber shovers went on strike. 400 seamstresses left work in joyous mood. A storm of strikes swept Chicago, on the First of May 1886. The great refusal, Jim Green calls it. It was a new kind of labor movement that "pulled in immigrants and common laborers." Irish, Bohemian, German, French, Czech, Scots, English, to name a few. Socialist Sunday Schools, brass bands, choirs, little theatres,' saloons there was a working-class culture in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune (6 May 1886) hated it and compared the immigrants to zoological nightmares. It demanded deportation of "ungrateful hyenas" or "slavic wolves" and "wild beasts" and the Bohemian women who "acted like tigresses."
In the spring of 1886 strikes appeared everywhere in industrial centers; called the Great Upheaval agitating for shorter hours. Of course they were against mechanization of labor, against the exploitation of child labor, opposed to the convict lease system of labor, and opposed to contract labor. The anthem of the Knights of Labor was the "Eight-Hour Song,"
We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We're sure God has willed it.
And we mean to have eight hours.
We're summoning our forces from Shipyard, shop and mill;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, Eight hours for what we will.
Sam Fielden joined the International Working People's Association in 1884 after fifteen years hauling stone and digging ditches. His father was a Lancashire handloom weaver and a ten-hour man. Sam was a Methodist.
Thanksgiving Day of 1884 they had a poor people's march and Parsons quoted from James (the brother of Jesus?) chapter five,
"Next a word to you who have great possessions. Weep and wail over the miserable fate descending on you. Your riches have rotted; your fine clothes are moth-eaten; your silver and gold have rusted away, and the very rust will be evidence against you and consume your flesh like fire. You have piled up wealth in an age that is near its close. The wages you never paid to the men who mowed your fields are loud against you, and the outcry of the reapers has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived on earth in wanton luxury, fattening yourselves like cattle and the day for slaughter has come. You have condemned the innocent and murdered him; he offers no resistance."
What a remarkable prophecy! The Sioux Wars removed the people of the Plains, the U.S. Cavalry thundered up and down, murdering Indians, and lathering the land with blood, while the mechanical reaper shaved the grasses. When historians speak of "the open frontier," it means the Indians were wiped out. This is the genocide which led to the agricultural depression in Europe, produced by the mechanical reaper scalping the prairie. No, the reapers were not paid.
Fast Food Nation perhaps may not yet have been up to speed yet the starting gun had been fired. Swift and Armour were the big meatpackers: they organized the mechanization of death, the machines of mass slaughter of cattle and swine. The Union Stock Yards had just been constructed. The employers threatened to employ "the whole machinery of government," including the army, "to enforce the laws of the market." Mechanization indeed was taking command.
On May Day 1886 as the workers of the USA struck for the eight-hour day, the police shot and killed four strikers at the McCormick works. August Spies issued the flyer, calling the workers to rise, to arms, for revenge. On the 4 May strikes resumed, now joined by union switchmen, laundry girls, even students from some of the schools.
At the Haymarket, tons of hay and bushels of vegetables were brought in from the Dutch truck farms. Transportation was by horse power. Indeed, then horses were part of the working class, as Jason Hribal has provoked us to thinking. Haymarket in Chicago in May 1886 was like Guernica in Spain in 1937 when the Condor Legion wiped it out by bombing: that is to say it was a busy, crowded market, ideal for terrorism.
The weather changed, the moonlit sky suddenly turned dark, as a cloud blew over, just preceding the blast. The police advanced. A bomb was thrown. In the melee a large number of police were wounded by the friendly fire from their own revolvers. Sam Fielden was shot in the leg. Henry Spies took a bullet for his brother. Seven policemen fell. But who threw the bomb? John Swinton, the most influential labor journalist in the land, argued that the police themselves provoked the violence to stop the strike movement for the eight hour day.
A period of police terrorism ensued. There were hundreds of arrests. There were raids at meeting halls, saloons, and newspaper offices. Captain Schaak put suspects into the sweatbox (small pitch dark wooden container) for hours to make them talk. Albert Parsons fled to Mexico, it was rumored, or was "hiding out among the negroes." That summer there was a trial, conducted by passion, judged by bigotry. Green tells the story with verve and drama. Witnesses were paid off. The jury consisted of salesmen, clerks, a high school principal, well-off all.
Nina Van Zandt, the handsome Vassar graduate and heiress, made eyes at August Spies during the trial. In the jailhouse, the love affair developed. Spies told the court, "Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand."
Michael Schwab defended anarchy saying it was the antithesis of violence. Parsons charged the court with "judicial murder." He explained socialism and anarchism. "I am doomed by you to suffer an ignominious death because I am an outspoken enemy of coercion, of privilege, of force, of authority. your every word and act are recorded. You are being weighed in the balance. The people are conscious of your power your stolen power. I, a working man, stand here and to your face, in your stronghold of oppression, denounce your crimes against humanity." Neebe was found guilty but punished with 15 years in the penitentiary. Louis Lingg killed himself. Fielden and Schwab had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Albert Parsons refused alcohol. He sang "La Marseillaise" and songs by Bobbie Burns. August Spies newspaper editor of the Arbeiter Zeitung in 1884. On August Spies had said, "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."
We are finding voice. Cindy Sheehan gives us voice. "Si se puede," gives us voice. The Chicago idea was this: trade unions could take mass action against capital and the state. This idea has been disappeared or throttled. The magical realism of the ruling class proclaims May Day to be Law Day (had they not heard of Ozymandias, or Humpty Dumpty?) None died from a broken neck, all strangled to death, slowly as it appeared to the witnesses, convulsing and twisting on the rope.
That was 11 of November 1887.
James Green tells us that it was a turning point in American history. The killing at the McCormick plant, the bombing at Haymarket, the court proceedings, and the hanging of 11 November 1887 extinguished the Knights of Labor, defeated the eight-hour movement, suppressed the radicals.
...The 151 foot Statue of Liberty was dedicated only two weeks before the hangings in Chicago. Inscribed on its pedestal were the words of Emma Lazarus
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
John Pemberton, a pharmacist, who invented a medicine to relieve headaches and alleviate nausea. It combines coca leaves from the Andes with cola nuts from Africa, mixed with water, caramel, and sugar: Coca-Cola, the Atlantic remedy for the ills of the barbarism of capitalism.
...The urbanocide of Katrina, the castrametation of Iraq, the devaluation of the working class, the absolute rule of the petrolarchs have produced gut-wrenching grief and sorrow. Our head spins and spins in the dizzy search for cause-and-effect, searching the origin of this twisted, agonizing karma.
Half way between the gut and the head lies the heart. The heart and soul of our movement may be found on May Day and it's going to take our arms and legs to find them as well as our brains. So, let us join the hobgoblin.
Take heart with Death in the Haymarket in hand!
All out for May Day!
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: A Lesson In Essential Psychopathy
Signs of the Times
Yesterday, in comments by the new Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, we were provided
with an important lesson in, and example of, essential psychopathy:
says Iran president "psychopath"
BERLIN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a psychopath and
anti-Semite whose declarations resemble those of Adolf Hitler, Israeli acting
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a newspaper interview on Saturday.
"Ahmadinejad speaks today like Hitler before taking power," Olmert
told Germany's Bild newspaper. "He speaks of the complete destruction
and annihilation of the Jewish people."
For starters, the above comment is an outright lie. Don't be shocked, politicians
lie all the time, in the most flagrant and manipulative ways, and the mainstream
press dutifully and obsequiously carry these lies to the world public. As
PM of Israel, Olmert must have paid close attention to the exact wording
of Ahmadinejad's speech several weeks ago, where he made comments about the
'Zionist entity'. If you read those remarks, you will see exactly what the
Iranian PM was saying, and realise that he was NOT calling for the "annihilation of the Jewish
people", although the Israeli PM and the American government would love
the world to believe so.
Ahmadinejad has questioned the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped
off the map." He has also suggested the Jewish state should be moved
to Europe or North America.
Indeed, Ahmadinejad suggested that, since the Holocaust is being exploited
by Israeli politicians to justify the continued oppression and murder of Palestinians,
and since it was European nations and America that facilitated the Holocaust,
a home for the Jewish people should be provided at the expense of these nations
rather than at the expense of a people that had no part in the Holocaust. A
very reasonable proposition in theory and a way to highlight the brutality
and injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
"So you see, we are dealing with a psychopath of the
worst kind, with an anti-Semite," Olmert said. "God forbid that
this man ever gets his hands on nuclear weapons, to carry out his threats.
Having deliberately and incorrectly portrayed Ahmadinejad as an anti-Semite,
Olmert then calls him a psychopath and issues a dire warning about such a person
ever getting his hands on nuclear weapons. What Olmert is now deliberately
ignoring however, is the fact that Iran
has no nuclear program. Of course, this information is also almost
absent from the reports of the mainstream press. By now, we have more than
enough evidence to prove pretty much conclusively that the long-standing "conspiracy
theory" that much of the mainstream media is entirely in thrall to government,
particularly the American and Israeli governments, is not a conspiracy theory
but an actual conspiracy to silence any dissent to the illegal and inhuman
policies of these governments.
Anyone that takes the time to furnish themselves with the truth about Iran,
its president and its 'nuclear program' cannot but be shocked at the criminal
duplicity of the Israeli and Bush administrations. At the same time that we
are regaled with lies about Iran, Israel continues to mercilessly squeeze the
Palestinian people and push forward with plans to annex large parts of Palestinian
territory in the West Bank and reoccupy the Gaza strip, and Bush and Co have
quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since they
took office, asserting that they have the power to set aside any statute passed
by Congress when it conflicts with their interpretation of the Constitution.
Now think about this: Olmert claims that the Iranian PM is "acting like
Hitler before he took power", yet between the Israeli and American administrations,
Massive power being concentrated in the hands of the executive
branch of government
The wide propagandizing of a phony existential threat to the populations of
both countries (worldwide Islamic terrorism).
A beleaguered people (Palestinians) being corralled into what are essentially
ghettos and mercilessly killed when they attempt to revolt.
A concerted campaign to invade and occupy sovereign nations that will likely
lead to a major international war.
And let's not forget the shocking example of IDF troops forcing a Palestinian man to play the violin for them. Of course, this was just a bit of fun, right? The kind of fun that Nazi soldiers had when they forced Warsaw ghetto Jews to dance and play for them.
Now tell us again who is acting like Hitler and the Nazi party in the 1930's?
The simple truth is that, while Olmert accuses the Iranian PM of being a psychopath,
Olmert's rant is typical psychopathic behavior -
accusing someone of being a psychopath for telling the truth. Andrew Lobaczewski's Political
Ponerology has this to say about it:
We need to understand the nature of the macrosocial phenomenon
as well as that basic relationship and controversy between the pathological
system and those areas of science which describe psychological and psychopathological
phenomena. Otherwise, we cannot become fully conscious of the reasons for
such a government’s long published behavior.
A normal person’s actions and reactions, his ideas and moral criteria,
all too often strike abnormal individuals as abnormal. For if a person with
some psychological deviations considers himself normal, which is of course
significantly easier if he possesses authority, then he would consider a normal
person different and therefore abnormal, whether in reality or as a result
of conversive thinking. That explains why such people’s government shall
always have the tendency to treat any dissidents as "mentally abnormal".
Operations such as driving a normal person into psychological illness and
the use of psychiatric institutions for this purpose take place in many countries
in which such institutions exist. Contemporary legislation binding upon normal
man’s countries is not based upon an adequate understanding of the
psychology of such behavior, and thus does not constitute a sufficient preventive
measure against it.
Within the categories of a normal psychological world view, the motivations
for such behavior were variously understood and described: personal and family
accounts, property matters, intent to discredit a witness' testimony,
and even political motivations. Such defamatory suggestions are used particularly
often by individuals who are themselves not entirely normal, whose behavior
has driven someone to a nervous breakdown or to violent protest. Among hysterics,
such behavior tends to be a projection onto other people of one’s own
self-critical associations. A normal person strikes a psychopath as a naive,
smart-alecky believer in barely comprehensible theories; calling him “crazy” is
not all that far away.
Therefore, when we set up a sufficient number of examples of this kind or
collect sufficient experience in this area, another more essential motivational
level for such behavior becomes apparent. What happens as a rule is that the
idea of driving someone into mental illness issues from minds with various
aberrations and psychological defects. Only rarely does the component of pathological
factors take part in the ponerogenesis of such behavior from outside its agents.
Well thought out and carefully framed legislation should therefore require
testing of individuals whose suggestions that someone else is psychologically
abnormal are too insistent or too doubtfully founded.
On the other hand, any system in which the abuse of psychiatry for allegedly
political reasons has become a common phenomenon should be examined in the
light of similar psychological criteria extrapolated onto the macrosocial
scale. Any person rebelling internally against a governmental system, which
shall always strike him as foreign and difficult to understand, and who is
unable to hide this well enough, shall thus easily be designated by the representatives
of said government as “mentally abnormal”, someone who should
submit to psychiatric treatment. A scientifically and morally degenerate
psychiatrist becomes a tool easily used for this purpose.Thus is born the
sole method of terror and human torture unfamiliar even to the secret police
of Czar Alexander II.
The abuse of psychiatry for purposes we already know thus derives from the
very nature of pathocracy as a macrosocial psychopathological phenomenon. After
all, that very area of knowledge and treatment must first be degraded to prevent
it from jeopardizing the system itself by pronouncing a dramatic diagnosis,
and must then be used as an expedient tool in the hands of the authorities.
In every country, however, one meets with people who notice this and act astutely
The pathocracy feels increasingly threatened by this area whenever the medical
and psychological sciences make progress. After all, not only can these sciences
knock the weapon of psychological conquest right out of its hands; they can
even strike at its very nature, and from inside the empire, at that.
A specific perception of these matters therefore bids the pathocracy to
alert” in this area. This also explains why anyone who is both too
knowledgeable in this area and too far outside the immediate reach of such
authorities should be accused of anything that can be trumped up, including
For recent and past examples of just how the psycopaths are, see today's story on the murder of a Palestinian woman in the West Bank by the Israeli Defence (Offence) Forces.
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Editorial: Colbert Transcript: White House Correspondents Dinner
White House Correspondents Dinner
STEPHEN COLBERT: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin, I've been asked to make an announcement. Whoever parked 14 black bulletproof S.U.V.'s out front, could you please move them? They are blocking in 14 other black bulletproof S.U.V.'s and they need to get out.
Wow. Wow, what an honor. The White House correspondents' dinner. To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I'm a pretty sound sleeper -- that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is he really not here tonight? Dammit. The one guy who could have helped.
By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers. Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail. Mark Smith, ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Madame First Lady, Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert and tonight it's my privilege to celebrate this president. We're not so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say I did look it up, and that's not true. That's cause you looked it up in a book.
Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the "No Fact Zone." Fox News, I hold a copyright on that term.
I'm a simple man with a simple mind. I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. And I cannot wait to see how the Washington Post spins that one tomorrow. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out of plastic for three cents a unit.
In fact, Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, welcome. Your great country makes our Happy Meals possible. I said it's a celebration. I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it's yogurt. But I refuse to believe it's not butter. Most of all, I believe in this president.
Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.
So, Mr. President, please, pay no attention to the people that say the glass is half full. 32% means the glass -- it's important to set up your jokes properly, sir. Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash. Okay, look, folks, my point is that I don't believe this is a low point in this presidency. I believe it is just a lull before a comeback.
I mean, it's like the movie "Rocky." All right. The president in this case is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed is -- everything else in the world. It's the tenth round. He's bloodied. His corner man, Mick, who in this case I guess would be the vice president, he's yelling, "Cut me, Dick, cut me!," and every time he falls everyone says, "Stay down! Stay down!" Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.
OK. Doesn't matter. The point is it is the heart-warming story of a man who was repeatedly punched in the face. So don't pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68% of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68% approve of the job he's not doing? Think about it. I haven't.
I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.
Now, there may be an energy crisis. This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite-powered car!
And I just like the guy. He's a good joe. Obviously loves his wife, calls her his better half. And polls show America agrees. She's a true lady and a wonderful woman. But I just have one beef, ma'am.
I'm sorry, but this reading initiative. I'm sorry, I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitist, telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was built in 1914? If I want to say it was built in 1941, that's my right as an American! I'm with the president, let history decide what did or did not happen.
The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will. As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!
Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write, "Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!
Now, it's not all bad guys out there. Some are heroes: Christopher Buckley, Jeff Sacks, Ken Burns, Bob Schieffer. They've all been on my show. By the way, Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to be on my show. I was just as shocked as everyone here is, I promise you. How's Tuesday for you? I've got Frank Rich, but we can bump him. And I mean bump him. I know a guy. Say the word.
See who we've got here tonight. General Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They still support Rumsfeld. Right, you guys aren't retired yet, right? Right, they still support Rumsfeld.
Look, by the way, I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don't let them retire! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys. I've seen Zinni and that crowd on Wolf Blitzer. If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle. Come on.
Jesse Jackson is here, the Reverend. Haven't heard from the Reverend in a little while. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.
Justice Scalia is here. Welcome, sir. May I be the first to say, you look fantastic. How are you? [After each sentence, Colbert makes a hand gesture, an allusion to Scalia's recent use of an obscene Sicilian hand gesture in speaking to a reporter about Scalia's critics. Scalia is seen laughing hysterically.] Just talking some Sicilian with my paisan.
John McCain is here. John McCain, John McCain, what a maverick! Somebody find out what fork he used on his salad, because I guarantee you it wasn't a salad fork. This guy could have used a spoon! There's no predicting him. By the way, Senator McCain, it's so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I have a summer house in South Carolina; look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir.
Mayor Nagin! Mayor Nagin is here from New Orleans, the chocolate city! Yeah, give it up. Mayor Nagin, I'd like to welcome you to Washington, D.C., the chocolate city with a marshmallow center. And a graham cracker crust of corruption. It's a Mallomar, I guess is what I'm describing, a seasonal cookie.
Joe Wilson is here, Joe Wilson right down here in front, the most famous husband since Desi Arnaz. And of course he brought along his lovely wife Valerie Plame. Oh, my god! Oh, what have I said? [looks horrified] I am sorry, Mr. President, I meant to say he brought along his lovely wife Joe Wilson's wife. Patrick Fitzgerald is not here tonight? OK. Dodged a bullet.
And, of course, we can't forget the man of the hour, new press secretary, Tony Snow. Secret Service name, "Snow Job." Toughest job. What a hero! Took the second toughest job in government, next to, of course, the ambassador to Iraq.
Got some big shoes to fill, Tony. Big shoes to fill. Scott McClellan could say nothing like nobody else. McClellan, of course, eager to retire. Really felt like he needed to spend more time with Andrew Card's children. Mr. President, I wish you hadn't made the decision so quickly, sir.
I was vying for the job myself. I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary. I have nothing but contempt for these people. I know how to handle these clowns. In fact, sir, I brought along an audition tape and with your indulgence, I'd like to at least give it a shot. So, ladies and gentlemen, my press conference.
UPDATE: The video summarized below is available here.
[Colbert shows a video of a mock press conference, at which Colbert is completely dismissive of questions he doesn't want to answer, i.e., all of them. He chooses among three buttons -- "Eject," "Gannon" and "Volume" -- to get rid of the offending speaker. But ultimately Helen Thomas causes Colbert to flee in terror from the press conference with her insistence that he answer her question, "Why did you really want to go to war [with Iraq]?" Colbert has difficulty finding a door from which to exit the room, echoing Bush's experience in China. He finally finds a way out, and runs frantically down the street and into a parking lot. Helen Thomas pursues Colbert relentlessly. He calls for help on an emergency phone in the parking lot, but the attendant also wants to know why we invaded Iraq. Colbert screams, "No!!!" Colbert fumbles nervously with his keys, having great difficulty getting into his car. Finally, he gets in, and continues to fumble trying to get the car started. He looks up and sees - Helen Thomas standing in front of the car! He screams, "No!!!" Colbert manages to drive away. He then takes the shuttle from Washington, D.C. to New York. His car is waiting for him at Penn Station. The uniformed man standing alongside the car opens the door and lets Colbert in. He says, "What a terrible trip, Danny. Take me home." The driver locks the doors, turns around, and says, "Buckle up, hon." IT'S HELEN THOMAS!!! "No!!!"]
STEPHEN COLBERT: Helen Thomas, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Smith, members of the White House Correspondents Association, Madame First Lady, Mr. President, it's been a true honor. Thank you very much. Good night!
To watch the original
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Editorial: Ignoring Colbert: A Small Taste of the Media's Power to Choose the News
The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner was televised on C-Span Saturday evening. Featured entertainer Stephen Colbert delivered a biting rebuke of George W. Bush and the lily-livered press corps. He did it to Bush's face, unflinching and unbowed by the audience's muted, humorless response. Democratic Underground members commented in real time (here, here, and here). TMV posted a wrap-up.
On Colbert's gutsy delivery, watertiger writes, "Stephen Colbert displayed more guts in ten minute of performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner than the entire Bush family. He, along with the ever-feisty Helen Thomas, deftly exposed the "truthiness" to the world (or at least those who were watching) that Bush AND the D.C. press corps are indeed a naked emperor and his gutless courtiers."
Mash at dKos says, "Standing at the podium only a few feet from President Bush, Colbert launched an all out assault on the policies of this Administration. It was remarkable, though painful at times, to watch. It may also have been the first time that anyone has been this blunt with this President. By the end of Colbert's routine, Bush was visibly uncomfortable. Colbert ended with a video featuring Helen Thomas repeatedly asking why we invaded Iraq. That is a question President Bush has yet to answer to the American public. I am not sure what kind of review Stephen Colbert's performance will get in the press. One thing is however certain - his performance was important and will reverberate."
It appears Mash's misgivings about press coverage are well-placed. The AP's first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.
This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission. And speaking of a sycophantic media establishment bending over backwards to accommodate this White House and to regurgitate pro-GOP and anti-Dem spin, I urge readers to pick up a copy of Eric Boehlert's new book, Lapdogs. It's a powerful indictment of the media's timidity during the Bush presidency. Boehlert rips away the facade of a "liberal media" and exposes the invertebrates masquerading as journalists who have allowed and enabled the Bush administration's many transgressions to go unchecked, under-reported, or unquestioned.
A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?
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Editorial: Comments On Noam Chomsky's New Book - Failed States
by Stephen Lendman
Noam Chomsky hardly needs an introduction. Throughout his lifetime as an internationally esteemed academic, scholar and activist he's the rarest of individuals I know. He's world renown twice over - in his chosen field of linguistics where he's considered the father of modern linguistics and as a leading voice for equity, justice and peace for over four decades. Although the dominant US corporate media religiously ignore him (especially on air), the New York Times Review of Books said of him a generation ago that "judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today." He still is, and someone should inform the Times he's also still alive, but you'd never know it from the silence today from "the newspaper of record" and the rest of the corporate media as well.
Noam, as his friends call him, is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at MIT where he taught in his chosen field beginning in 1955. He's written many dozens of books, and despite a nonstop schedule that would challenge most anyone half his age, he still travels the world to speak to large enthusiastic audiences where he's in great demand. He also gives many interviews that appear in print and on air and continues his prolific writing producing many articles and a new book about every year or two. I don't know how he does it, and I lost count of the number of books he's written. But I'm proud to say I've read and have on my shelves at home about 45 of them (the political ones) and always look forward to his newest when it's available.
For those who feel as I do and admire him greatly, it's always with anticipation and great expectation of more vintage Chomsky when his latest book arrives. One just did, called Failed States, and I couldn't wait to read it and again immerse myself in the thinking and discourse of this great man. It's a privilege and honor to write about it as I'm about to do while taking a little editorial license to add a few of my own comments.
Noam Chomsky may dislike labels as much as I do. But if forced to choose he's likely to call himself a libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist (a fancy word meaning a political and economic system where workers are in charge). He's engaged in political acitivism all his adult life and was one of the earliest critics of US policies in Southeast Asia in the 60s. He's also probably done more than anyone else to document and expose US imperial crimes abroad as well as be a leading critic of our policies at home in support of corporate and elitist interests at the expense of the great majority - a democracy for the privileged few alone.
The Theme and Issues Covered in the Book
In his latest book, Failed States, Chomsky addresses three issues he says everyone should rank among their highest ones: "the threat of nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's only superpower is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of (causing) these catastrophes." He also raises a fourth issue: "the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for fear....that the 'American system'....is in real trouble....(and) heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values (of) equality, liberty and meaningful democracy."
In Failed States, Chomsky continues the theme he developed in his previous book, Hegemony or Survival. He began that book by citing the work of "one of the great figures of contemporary biology," Ernst Mayr, who speculated that the higher intelligence of the human species was no guarantee of its survival. He noted that beetles and bacteria have been far more successful surviving than we're likely to be. Mayr also ominously observed that "the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years" which is about how long ours has been around. He went on to wonder if we might use our "alloted time" to destroy ourselves and lots more with us. Chomsky then noted we certainly have the means to do it, and should it happen which is quite possible, we likely will become the only species ever to deliberately or otherwise make ourselves extinct. The way we treat ourselves and the planet, that might come as considerable relief to whatever other species remain should we self-destruct.
The US Has the Characteristics of A "Failed State"
Having laid out his premises, Chomsky believes the US today exhibits the very features we cite as characteristics of "failed states" - a term we use for nations seen as potential threats to our security which may require our intervention against in self-defense. But the very notion of what a failed state may be is imprecise at best, he states. It may be their inability to protect their citizens from violence or destruction. It may also be they believe they're beyond the reach of international law and thus free to act as aggressors. Even democracies aren't immune to this problem because they may suffer from a "democratic deficit" that makes their system unable to function properly enough.
Chomsky goes much further saying if we evaluate our own state policies honestly and accurately "we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of 'failed states' right at home." He stresses that should disturb us all, and I would add, as a citizen of this country and now in my eighth decade, it obsesses me. Chomsky then spends the first half of his book documenting how the US crafts its policies and uses its enormous power to threaten other states with isolation or destruction unless they're subservient to our will. He also explains how we react when they go their own way and how routinely and arrogantly we ignore and violate sacred international law and norms in the process.
Chomsky sees the US as an out of control predatory hegemon reserving for itself alone the right to wage permanent war on the world and justify it under a doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" or preventive war. The Bush administration claims justified in doing so against any nation it sees as a threat to our national security. It doesn't matter if it is, just that we say it is. Sacred international law, treaties and other standard and accepted norms observed by most other nations are just seen as "quaint (and) out of date" and can be ignored. It hardly matters to those in Washington that in the wake of WW II, the most destructive war ever, the UN was established primarily "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and possibility of "ultimate doom." Although it was left unstated at the time, it was clear that language meant the devastation that would result from a nuclear holocaust.
The UN Charter became international law binding on all states that are signatories to it as members including the US, of course. Under the Charter, force can only be used under two conditions: when authorized by the Security Council or under Article 51 which allows the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member.....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security." In other words, necessary self-defense is permissible. The Nuremburg Tribunal that tried the Nazis after WW II also set an inviolable standard for the crime of illegal aggression which it called "the supreme international crime." The Nazis found guilty of it were hanged. Chomsky has said at other times that "If the Nuremburg laws were applied today, then every Post War (WW II) American president would have to be hanged." In my judgment, a lot of the pre-WW II ones would as well including some of the ones we most revere.
Chomsky rightly explains the US today operates under the doctrine of a "single standard" so it needn't bother with the laws it chooses to ignore. It's the standard he's noted often in other books that Adam Smith called the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind:....All for ourselves and nothing for other people." It was true in Smith's day and as much so now except for much bigger stakes. Chomsky then gives examples like on the major issue of the day - terror. By it we mean theirs against us, not ours against them which, of course, is far greater and more destructive, but that's never mentioned.
The same standard holds in what weapons are allowed. However one may define WMD (in fact, only nuclear ones qualify), it's unacceptable for anyone to use them against us but quite acceptable for us to use any weapon we have or may develop against any designated enemy. Again, it doesn't matter and is never mentioned that using these weapons may risk "ultimate doom." The standard also holds in the use of torture which is outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention against Torture. Although we're signatories to these binding international laws, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales dismissed them as "quaint" and "obsolete" in a memo he wrote the president when he was White House counsel in 2002. He further advised George Bush to rescind the conventions even though they are "the supreme law of the land."
US History and Current Behavior Offer Proof that This Country Is A "Failed State"
Chomsky devotes much of the book reviewing events, past and more recent, showing how through our actions this country demonstrates the attributes of a failed state. It all began even before the country entered WW II when our high level planners wanted us "to hold unquestioned power" in the post-war global system. They developed "an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy (in the) Grand Area" which was to be the Western Hemisphere and Far East. Before the war ended that was expanded to include as much of Eurasia as possible as well. It seems quite accurate to state today we see our "Grand Area" as the whole planet including our closest allies, at least to the degree we can control and dominate them. This reasoning explains the way we act. The only rules of law we respect are the ones we choose or make up as we go along. So because we flaunt international law and obligations, Chomsky claims rightly we're also an "outlaw (or rogue) state." Only we alone claim the right to decide what's acceptable or not even on matters as serious as life and death or war and peace as well as most everything else. So we've used an ill-defined "war on terror" as a casus belli to select target countries we choose to fight and then declare war on them after properly scaring the public enough to get them to go along with it.
Iraq, of course, is the main example, and Chomsky documents the initial crime of aggression we committed plus all the others since March, 2003 as well as those before that date from the brutal economic sanctions throughout the 1990s. And to satisfy our insatiable appetite for war and conquest, Chomsky reviews our past actions in Southeast Asia, Central America, Serbia/Kosovo and elsewhere and what we may have in mind ahead against Iran, Venezuela or others. The rhetoric has especially intensified against these two countries, and hostilities against one or both could erupt at any time, by any means and using any weapons we choose. Chomsky doubts it will and feels Washington's saber rattling against Iran is intended to try to provoke their leadership to adopt more repressive policies which could foment internal disorder enough to give us more justifiable cause for war at a later time.
An April 29 Update from Noam Chomsky on Prospects for New US Hostile Actions against Iran and Venezuela
I hope Chomsky's assessment in the book is right that a second Middle East war is not imminent. However, I read the signs less optimistically, and from an April 29 email I received from him responding to this review which I sent him he's now more inclined to believe the US plans hostile actions against Iran and Venezuela. He added he "wouldn't be surprised to see (US inspired)secessionist movements in the oil producing areas in Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia, all in areas that are accessible to US military force and alienated from the governments, with the US then moving in to 'defend' them and blasting the rest of the country if necessary."
On April 28, IAEA Director General and Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei showed where his true loyalties lie (to the empire where else) by doing little to defuse the US led inflammatory rhetoric against Iran in his report to the UN Security Council. In it he said Iran is conducting a uranium enrichment program in defiance of the UN Security Council demands to halt it. The report also claimed IAEA inspectors found evidence that Iran may expand its operations and that because there are information gaps, "including the role of the military in Iran's nuclear program, the Agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran."
What the report apparently left out is far more important than what it said: namely that there's no evidence whatever that Iran is not in full compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and thus has every legal right to enrich uranium for its commercial nuclear operations, US and Western hostile rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. As a man honored by the Nobel award he received and now anointed to be an emissary for peace, it must give one pause to wonder how this report on April 28 serves that end.
The US led heated rhetoric and growing pressure against Iran as well as similar tactics being used against Hugo Chavez only adds to my knowledge and information that the US now has plans for the fourth time to oust the Venezuelan president by what means won't be apparent until the fireworks begin. Those plans may even be stepped up in light of the major article published in the Wall Street Journal on April 24 about "Chavez Plans to Take More Control of Oil Away from Foreign Firms." The article claims Chavez is "planning a new assault on Big Oil" that may lead to nationalization of the oil industry and hurt oil company profits. The article had a very hostile tone making inflammatory and unjustifiable claims with no recognition that Venezuela and all other nations have every right to majority ownership of and most of the benefits from their own natural resources. They also have the right to be able to collect a fair and equitable amount of tax revenue from their foreign investors.
In my judgment, the Bush administration clearly is on course toward hostile action of some kind against Iran and Venezuela, but also, by its own admission, has a long list of other potential "rogue countries" on its target list with no plans to run out of them. It's a kind of perverted Pax Americana under the Bush doctrine of "anticipatory self defense" or preventive war making it easy, if they can continue to sell this notion, to get the public to accept the idea of a "permanent" state of war.
The US Has Corrupted the Meaning of Democracy - First How It's Done It Abroad
Chomsky discusses how we try selling the notion of "anticipatory self-defense" to the public and the world by claiming it's part of a democracy project - to bring our democratic system to those who don't have it, or don't have enough of it, as part of Bush's "messianic mission" and "grand strategy." As an old marketing MBA and now retired marketer I can appreciate the techniques they use to sell it. They are indeed clever and slick, but they should be as they're designed by advertising and PR experts who know their craft well and execute with precision - even if it is all baloney or worse. Despite our pious rhetoric, the one thing we most don't want and won't tolerate in the states we target is real democracy - meaning, of course, freely elected governments and leaders who then run them to serve the needs and interests of their own people instead of ours. The reason we choose a target country is because they refuse to become a subservient client state. That's intolerable to us so regime change becomes the chosen method to fix the problem including by war if other less extreme methods fail. That's what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had nothing to do with leaders in either country who oppressed their people or threatened to attack anyone.
Using Iraq as an example, Chomsky shows how allowing real democracy there would undermine every goal the US set out to achieve by invading in the first place. He explains that although Iraqis have no love for Iran, they'd prefer friendly relations to conflict with their neighbor and would cooperate with efforts to integrate Iran into the region. Moreover, the Iraqi Shiite religious and political leadership have close links with Iran, and their success in Iraq is encouraging the Shiite population in Saudi Arabia to want the same freedoms and democracy. The Saudi Shiites just happen to be the majority in the eastern part of the country where most of the Saudi oil is. Should all this happen in a democratic process it would be Washington's worst nightmare - a loose Shiite dominated alliance including Iraq, Iran and the oil rich part of Saudi Arabia.
And if that isn't bad enough, Chomsky then explains it could be still worse. This independent bloc might join with Iran in establishing major energy projects jointly with China and India and do it using a basket of currencies to denominate oil instead of only the dollar as most countries now do. Iran is already beginning to do it, so others doing the same would seem quite sensible and likely. Should all that happen, it would be a potential earthquake to the US economy which then would have major consequences for the global economy. It's fair to assume the US would do everything possible to prevent this scenario from ever happening.
The same Bush commitment to "democracy promotion" has played out in our one-sided relations with Israel which have so adversely affected the Palestinians for nearly 40 years and especially so post 9/11 and now after the election of Hamas as the Palestinians' democratically chosen government. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, there never was a peace process as the US continues to support an illegal Israeli occupation, liberally fund it, and turn a blind eye to the worst abuses committed under it. Those abuses, or more accurately daily war crimes and crimes against humanity, have created the most extreme hardships for a beleaguered people who've been unable to receive any meaningful redress in the UN or world community. They're forced to endure an endless array of daily assaults including targeted and random assassinations, the denial of their most basic rights, and now closed borders and a cutoff of desperately needed funding from the West. Those funds include the tax revenues they pay the Israelis from which they're entitled to receive payments back to provide the means to run their government and provide the essentials of life including food to eat.
If it wished to, the US could easily broker a diplomatic solution guaranteeing Israel the security its people want (but the Israeli government doesn't) and the Palestinians a viable state of its own with fixed borders and other major grievances ameliorated and most basic demands satisfied. It would solve the longest running Middle East conflict and make it much easier for both Israel and the US to have a more normal state-to-state relationship with other countries in the region instead of the strained ones both countries now have. It would also go a long way to ending open conflict in the region. It won't happen because neither the US nor Israel want it to, and they both continue to block every effort toward that end despite their pious rhetoric to the contrary. The result is the most basic Palestinian rights are denied and the notion of a democratic Israel is a myth. So much for "democracy promotion" and conflict resolution in the region.
How the US Has Corrupted the Notion of Democracy at Home
Chomsky devotes the latter part of his book showing how undemocratic, in fact, the US political system really is. He characterizes it as a "corporatized state capitalist democracy" which is little more than a system of legalized private tyrannies. He begins by quoting Robert Dahl whom he calls the most prominent scholar on democratic theory and practice and notes that Dahl's writings explain the "serious undemocratic features of the US political system." He also quotes Robert McChesney (one of my favorite media critics and scholars along with Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky), founder of the Free Press of which I'm a member and supporter. In his important writings, McChesney has done so much to document and explain how the dominant US corporate media controls and corrupts the information we get and does it so effectively. Chomsky notes that McChesney cited the abysmal coverage of the 2000 presidential election calling it a "travesty" which then caused further deterioration of media quality and more disservice to the public interest. This, Chomsky explains, is how concentrated private power corrupts democracy, and even mainstream commentators publicly admit that "business is in complete control of the machinery of government." The public is also aware enough of this to have become apathetic about the political process and not much care which party gains power because neither one will serve its interests. Sadly, that's the case.
Chomsky also quotes "America's leading twentieth-century social philosopher," John Dewey, who believed that "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," and that won't change as long as power is in "business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of publicity and propaganda." Chomsky concludes reform alone won't correct this abusive imbalance. Real, meaningful democracy is only possible through "fundamental social change."
Chomsky goes on to explain that our present political system had its roots with the initial design crafted by our Founding Fathers even though the way things are today would have appalled them. He quotes James Madison who believed power should be in the hands of "the wealth of the nation....of more capable set of men." He might have also quoted John Jay who was even clearer and more brazen (he's done it in his other writings) when he said "Those who own the country ought to govern it." Jay was a Founding Father and our first Supreme Court chief justice. His tradition is well represented on today's High Court. Adam Smith, the ideological godfather of free market capitalism, had a different view that was certainly well known to our framers. Smith, whose teachings have been distorted and corrupted by our modern "free market uber alles" apostles, wrote that "civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor." Smith had a lot more to say in defense of small and local business and his opposition to the transnational variant so dominant today.
Chomsky explains further that our state capitalist system is oppressive enough even in its "stable form," but under the Bush administration it's become so extreme some critics have begun to question its very viability. One such critic compared the disturbing similarities today to Nazi Germany and Hitler's demonic appeal to his "divine mission (as) Germany's savior" and sold his message to the public in (Christian) religious terms. Chomsky makes a dramatic point explaining this descent to barbarism happened rapidly in a country that was "the pride of Western civilization in the sciences (Einstein and others), philosophy (Marx, Freud), and the arts (Goethe, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart and Haydn as well if Austria is included)." It was the very "model of democracy." That history should be a stark message and reminder now of how fragile our sacred civil liberties are and how easily they may be lost when the public slumbers and lets tyrants in sheep's clothing run amuck unchecked and unchallenged.
Chomsky then goes on at length to explain and document how since the 1970s Trilateralists (representatives of the wealth and power structure of North America, Europe and Japan) saw a "crisis of democracy" that led to "an excess of democracy" endangering their privileged status. What followed was over three decades up to the present crafting ways for them to reverse this imbalance in their eyes. Ronald Reagan put their ideas and policies on a fast track, and the first Bush administration maintained a somewhat restrained version of them. Bill Clinton picked up the pace considerably and certainly made the rich and powerful gleeful from all he gave them once he settled into office. But neoliberal nirvana was reached under the current administration with one of their own in power. They now had a man in the White House who never met a corporate tax cut he didn't love or any way he could find to transfer wealth from the poor and diminishing middle class to the rich.
The result, as they say, is history. The rich and powerful have never had it better and the poor and deprived have suffered greatly as has the so-called middle class that keeps shrinking as wages stagnate below the level of inflation and more good, high-paying jobs get exported to developing countries where the same tasks can be done at a far lower labor cost. The widening gap between rich and poor keeps expanding and essential social benefits like health care and education keep eroding in an unending downward cycle that characterizes a society hostile to its people and also one that may be headed for decline. That decline has only intensified under the Bush policy of endless war requiring unsustainable levels of spending and rising debt that one day must be paid for.
Chomsky gives many more examples of how the US has become a nation totally beholden to power and privilege, especially to those who sit in corporate boardrooms and have the ultimate say in how things are run. The result is a serious and growing "democratic deficit" with those holding elitist and extremist views now in charge. The rest of the world has taken notice, and one day an effective majority of our public may as well and decide enough is enough. What's ahead may be growing outrage and real resistance at home and an unraveling of our global dominance abroad. An example of the former may be the mass and continuing historic protests all over the country demanding equity and justice for immigrants that may be a forerunner of other protests to come. And key nations forming alliances outside the US orbit for their mutual benefit and protection is an important example of the latter. It's likely others may decide to do the same.
Solutions Chomsky Proposes
Chomsky ends his book by suggesting some possible solutions to the dismal and dangerous state of our nation, but I doubt he sees any of them being adopted. He lists: (1) accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and World Court; (2) signing and adopting the Kyoto protocols; (3) allowing the UN to lead in international crises; (4) confronting terror by diplomacy and economic measures, not military ones; (5) adhering to the UN Charter; (6) ending the Security Council veto power and practicing real democracy; and (7) cutting military spending sharply and using it for greater social spending. He calls these very conservative suggestions and what the majority of the public wants. Up to now, that majority has been ignored, denied and deprived in a society that only serves the privileged.
Will any of these changes happen? Not likely unless enough people act strongly enough to demand them. Chomsky ends by noting past social gains were never willingly given. They were only gotten by "dedicated day-by-day engagement" to win them. But he believes we have many ways to do so and, in the process, promote the democratic process. His final thought is a call to us to do it collectively. If we don't, it "is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations."
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog address at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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Editorial: Helping George
Artie Shaw & Tom Hat
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A group of George's Texas cronies decide to help out their friend....
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en italiano !
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Can you believe this?!?!
Bush challenges hundreds of laws
By Charlie Savage
The Boston Globe
April 30, 2006
WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government.
The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.
But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.
Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.
Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.
Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.
"There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. "This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."
For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.
Bush administration spokesmen declined to make White House or Justice Department attorneys available to discuss any of Bush's challenges to the laws he has signed.
Instead, they referred a Globe reporter to their response to questions about Bush's position that he could ignore provisions of the Patriot Act. They said at the time that Bush was following a practice that has "been used for several administrations" and that "the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."
But the words "in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.
Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.
Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files "signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.
In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.
"He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.
Many of the laws Bush said he can bypass -- including the torture ban -- involve the military.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to create armies, to declare war, to make rules for captured enemies, and "to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." But, citing his role as commander in chief, Bush says he can ignore any act of Congress that seeks to regulate the military.
On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.
After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief.
Bush has also said he can bypass laws requiring him to tell Congress before diverting money from an authorized program in order to start a secret operation, such as the "black sites" where suspected terrorists are secretly imprisoned.
Congress has also twice passed laws forbidding the military from using intelligence that was not "lawfully collected," including any information on Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.
Congress first passed this provision in August 2004, when Bush's warrantless domestic spying program was still a secret, and passed it again after the program's existence was disclosed in December 2005.
On both occasions, Bush declared in signing statements that only he, as commander in chief, could decide whether such intelligence can be used by the military.
In October 2004, five months after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq came to light, Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations for military prisons. Bush signed the provisions into law, then said he could ignore them all. One provision made clear that military lawyers can give their commanders independent advice on such issues as what would constitute torture. But Bush declared that military lawyers could not contradict his administration's lawyers.
Other provisions required the Pentagon to retrain military prison guards on the requirements for humane treatment of detainees under the Geneva Conventions, to perform background checks on civilian contractors in Iraq, and to ban such contractors from performing "security, intelligence, law enforcement, and criminal justice functions." Bush reserved the right to ignore any of the requirements.
The new law also created the position of inspector general for Iraq. But Bush wrote in his signing statement that the inspector "shall refrain" from investigating any intelligence or national security matter, or any crime the Pentagon says it prefers to investigate for itself.
Bush had placed similar limits on an inspector general position created by Congress in November 2003 for the initial stage of the US occupation of Iraq. The earlier law also empowered the inspector to notify Congress if a US official refused to cooperate. Bush said the inspector could not give any information to Congress without permission from the administration.
Many laws Bush has asserted he can bypass involve requirements to give information about government activity to congressional oversight committees.
In December 2004, Congress passed an intelligence bill requiring the Justice Department to tell them how often, and in what situations, the FBI was using special national security wiretaps on US soil. The law also required the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. And it contained 11 other requirements for reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts.
After signing the bill, Bush issued a signing statement saying he could withhold all the information sought by Congress.
Likewise, when Congress passed the law creating the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it said oversight committees must be given information about vulnerabilities at chemical plants and the screening of checked bags at airports.
It also said Congress must be shown unaltered reports about problems with visa services prepared by a new immigration ombudsman. Bush asserted the right to withhold the information and alter the reports.
On several other occasions, Bush contended he could nullify laws creating "whistle-blower" job protections for federal employees that would stop any attempt to fire them as punishment for telling a member of Congress about possible government wrongdoing.
When Congress passed a massive energy package in August, for example, it strengthened whistle-blower protections for employees at the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The provision was included because lawmakers feared that Bush appointees were intimidating nuclear specialists so they would not testify about safety issues related to a planned nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada -- a facility the administration supported, but both Republicans and Democrats from Nevada opposed.
When Bush signed the energy bill, he issued a signing statement declaring that the executive branch could ignore the whistle-blower protections.
Bush's statement did more than send a threatening message to federal energy specialists inclined to raise concerns with Congress; it also raised the possibility that Bush would not feel bound to obey similar whistle-blower laws that were on the books before he became president. His domestic spying program, for example, violated a surveillance law enacted 23 years before he took office.
David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over "the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.
"Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said.
Defying Supreme Court
Bush has also challenged statutes in which Congress gave certain executive branch officials the power to act independently of the president. The Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed the power of Congress to make such arrangements. For example, the court has upheld laws creating special prosecutors free of Justice Department oversight and insulating the board of the Federal Trade Commission from political interference.
Nonetheless, Bush has said in his signing statements that the Constitution lets him control any executive official, no matter what a statute passed by Congress might say.
In November 2002, for example, Congress, seeking to generate independent statistics about student performance, passed a law setting up an educational research institute to conduct studies and publish reports "without the approval" of the Secretary of Education. Bush, however, decreed that the institute's director would be "subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."
Similarly, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld affirmative-action programs, as long as they do not include quotas. Most recently, in 2003, the court upheld a race-conscious university admissions program over the strong objections of Bush, who argued that such programs should be struck down as unconstitutional.
Yet despite the court's rulings, Bush has taken exception at least nine times to provisions that seek to ensure that minorities are represented among recipients of government jobs, contracts, and grants. Each time, he singled out the provisions, declaring that he would construe them "in a manner consistent with" the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection" to all -- which some legal scholars say amounts to an argument that the affirmative-action provisions represent reverse discrimination against whites.
Golove said that to the extent Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of the Supreme Court's precedents, he threatens to "overturn the existing structures of constitutional law."
A president who ignores the court, backed by a Congress that is unwilling to challenge him, Golove said, can make the Constitution simply "disappear."
Common practice in '80s
Though Bush has gone further than any previous president, his actions are not unprecedented.
Since the early 19th century, American presidents have occasionally signed a large bill while declaring that they would not enforce a specific provision they believed was unconstitutional. On rare occasions, historians say, presidents also issued signing statements interpreting a law and explaining any concerns about it.
But it was not until the mid-1980s, midway through the tenure of President Reagan, that it became common for the president to issue signing statements. The change came about after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese decided that signing statements could be used to increase the power of the president.
When interpreting an ambiguous law, courts often look at the statute's legislative history, debate and testimony, to see what Congress intended it to mean. Meese realized that recording what the president thought the law meant in a signing statement might increase a president's influence over future court rulings.
Under Meese's direction in 1986, a young Justice Department lawyer named Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a strategy memo about signing statements. It came to light in late 2005, after Bush named Alito to the Supreme Court.
In the memo, Alito predicted that Congress would resent the president's attempt to grab some of its power by seizing "the last word on questions of interpretation." He suggested that Reagan's legal team should "concentrate on points of true ambiguity, rather than issuing interpretations that may seem to conflict with those of Congress."
Reagan's successors continued this practice. George H.W. Bush challenged 232 statutes over four years in office, and Bill Clinton objected to 140 laws over his eight years, according to Kelley, the Miami University of Ohio professor.
Many of the challenges involved longstanding legal ambiguities and points of conflict between the president and Congress.
Throughout the past two decades, for example, each president -- including the current one -- has objected to provisions requiring him to get permission from a congressional committee before taking action. The Supreme Court made clear in 1983 that only the full Congress can direct the executive branch to do things, but lawmakers have continued writing laws giving congressional committees such a role.
Still, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton used the presidential veto instead of the signing statement if they had a serious problem with a bill, giving Congress a chance to override their decisions.
But the current President Bush has abandoned the veto entirely, as well as any semblance of the political caution that Alito counseled back in 1986. In just five years, Bush has challenged more than 750 new laws, by far a record for any president, while becoming the first president since Thomas Jefferson to stay so long in office without issuing a veto.
"What we haven't seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House," said Kelley, who has studied presidential signing statements through history. "That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration."
Some administration defenders say that concerns about Bush's signing statements are overblown. Bush's signing statements, they say, should be seen as little more than political chest-thumping by administration lawyers who are dedicated to protecting presidential prerogatives.
Defenders say the fact that Bush is reserving the right to disobey the laws does not necessarily mean he has gone on to disobey them.
Indeed, in some cases, the administration has ended up following laws that Bush said he could bypass. For example, citing his power to "withhold information" in September 2002, Bush declared that he could ignore a law requiring the State Department to list the number of overseas deaths of US citizens in foreign countries. Nevertheless, the department has still put the list on its website.
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who until last year oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for the administration, said the statements do not change the law; they just let people know how the president is interpreting it.
"Nobody reads them," said Goldsmith. "They have no significance. Nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statement. The statements merely serve as public notice about how the administration is interpreting the law. Criticism of this practice is surprising, since the usual complaint is that the administration is too secretive in its legal interpretations."
But Cooper, the Portland State University professor who has studied Bush's first-term signing statements, said the documents are being read closely by one key group of people: the bureaucrats who are charged with implementing new laws.
Lower-level officials will follow the president's instructions even when his understanding of a law conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, crafting policies that may endure long after Bush leaves office, Cooper said.
"Years down the road, people will not understand why the policy doesn't look like the legislation," he said.
And in many cases, critics contend, there is no way to know whether the administration is violating laws -- or merely preserving the right to do so.
Many of the laws Bush has challenged involve national security, where it is almost impossible to verify what the government is doing. And since the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, many people have expressed alarm about his sweeping claims of the authority to violate laws.
In January, after the Globe first wrote about Bush's contention that he could disobey the torture ban, three Republicans who were the bill's principal sponsors in the Senate -- John McCain of Arizona, John W. Warner of Virginia, and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina -- all publicly rebuked the president.
"We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," McCain and Warner said in a joint statement. "The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation."
Added Graham: "I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any ... law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified."
And in March, when the Globe first wrote about Bush's contention that he could ignore the oversight provisions of the Patriot Act, several Democrats lodged complaints.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Bush of trying to "cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow."
And Representatives Jane Harman of California and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan -- the ranking Democrats on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, respectively -- sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales demanding that Bush rescind his claim and abide by the law.
"Many members who supported the final law did so based upon the guarantee of additional reporting and oversight," they wrote. "The administration cannot, after the fact, unilaterally repeal provisions of the law implementing such oversight. ... Once the president signs a bill, he and all of us are bound by it."
Lack of court review
Such political fallout from Congress is likely to be the only check on Bush's claims, legal specialists said.
The courts have little chance of reviewing Bush's assertions, especially in the secret realm of national security matters.
"There can't be judicial review if nobody knows about it," said Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State law professor who was a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. "And if they avoid judicial review, they avoid having their constitutional theories rebuked."
Without court involvement, only Congress can check a president who goes too far. But Bush's fellow Republicans control both chambers, and they have shown limited interest in launching the kind of oversight that could damage their party.
"The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they're not taking action because they don't want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans," said Jack Beermann, a Boston University law professor. "Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party."
Said Golove, the New York University law professor: "Bush has essentially said that 'We're the executive branch and we're going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.' "
Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said the American system of government relies upon the leaders of each branch "to exercise some self-restraint." But Bush has declared himself the sole judge of his own powers, he said, and then ruled for himself every time.
"This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy," Fein said. "There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."
Comment: "Unlimited Executive Power?" Can we say DICTATORSHIP???
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US concerned Guantanamo detainees could be mistreated, if released: NY Times
Sun Apr 30, 2006
NEW YORK, United States - A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, The New York Times reports.
Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said the US administration hopes eventually to transfer or release many of the roughly 490 suspects now held at Guantanamo.
As of February, military officials said, the Pentagon was ready to repatriate more than 150 of the detainees once arrangements could be made with their home countries, according to the report.
But those arrangements have been more difficult to broker than officials in Washington anticipated or have previously acknowledged, raising questions about how quickly the administration can meet its goal of scaling back detention operations at Guantanamo, The Times said.
"The Pentagon has no plans to release any detainees in the immediate future," the paper quotes a Defense Department spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Gordon of the Navy as saying.
He said the negotiations with foreign governments "have proven to be a complex, time-consuming and difficult process."
The military has so far sent home 267 detainees from Guantanamo after finding that they had no further intelligence value and either posed no long-term security threat or would reliably be imprisoned or monitored by their own governments.
Most of those who remain are considered more dangerous militants; many also come from nations with poor human rights records and ineffective justice systems, the report said.
Comment: So the reason that the US has been holding hundreds of prisoners without charge and without trial - and torturing them - is because it's worried that if they returned to their home countries, they will be held without charge and tortured. That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
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US says world safer, despite 11,000 attacks in '05
Fri Apr 28, 2006
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. war on terrorism has made the world safer, the State Department's counterterrorism chief said on Friday, despite more than 11,000 terrorist attacks worldwide last year that killed 14,600 people.
The State Department said the numbers, listed in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism released on Friday, were based on a broader definition of terrorism and could not be compared to the 3,129 international attacks listed the previous year.
But the new 2005 figures, which showed attacks in Iraq jumped and accounted for about a third of the world's total, may fuel criticism of the Bush administration's assertion that it is winning the fight against terrorism.
Asked if the world was safer than the previous year, State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Henry Crumpton told a news conference, "I think so. But I think that (if) you look at the ups and downs of this battle, it's going to take us a long time to win this. You can't measure this month by month or year by year. It's going to take a lot longer."
The report said Iraq, which the U.S. government calls a key battleground in the war on terrorism but critics call a source for violence, was not a terrorist safe haven. But it said militants such as Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq were working hard to make it a refuge for militants.
Russell Travers, a deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center which compiled the numbers, said people killed in incidents involving 10 or more dead soared to about 3,400 in Iraq in 2005 from 1,700 in 2004. The number in the rest of the world dropped to about 1,500 from 3,000.
The report said Iraq accounted for just over 30 percent of worldwide attacks and 55 percent of deaths. Some 56 Americans were killed in militant attacks in 2005, 47 of them in Iraq.
IRAN "MOST ACTIVE" STATE TERRORISM SPONSOR
Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Cuba and North Korea remained on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite significantly better cooperation from Sudan and Libya, the report said.
"Iran remained the most active sponsor of terrorism," Crumpton said, adding Iran provided Hizbollah and Palestinian militants with extensive funding, training and weapons, supported insurgents in Iraq, and provided safe haven to its own operatives and members of Hizbollah.
"Iran presents a particular concern, given its active sponsorship of terrorism and its continued development of a nuclear program," he said.
Al Qaeda remained the most prominent terrorist threat to the United States and its allies, the report said. But Crumpton said al Qaeda's global operational control had weakened since the September 11 attacks, and while the leadership continued to inspire violence, they lacked the direct control of the past.
"I think they are less capable of hitting our homeland. I think they have less global strategic strength right now, but at same time you have got a number of loosely linked networks that are smaller, more diffuse and more difficult for us to detect and to engage," he said.
Crumpton said stronger international cooperation against terrorism was another reason why the world had become safer.
Officials sought to avert any conclusion that the sharply higher statistics on attacks meant the war on terrorism was not working.
"This is not the kind of war where you can measure success with conventional numbers," Crumpton said.
The report said, "This data cannot be meaningfully compared to previous years since it suggests that attacks on civilians may have been occurring at a substantially higher rate than was reflected in previous years' reporting and accounting."
Comment: What more evidence do we need??! Bush and Co are the architects of the majority of modern world terrorism in the last 5 years, and it all began when they carried out 9/11. Is that so hard to believe?
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The media's missing links
Monday May 1, 2006
Balance: it's a lovely thing. It stops us falling over and inspires manufacturers of essential executive toys, and without it Disney-based ice spectaculars would be only a longed-for dream. Balance in the media? More problematic.
TV balancing meant I recently spent an afternoon in New York watching a "scientist" explain that dinosaur eggs are really small. All dinosaur eggs. Which means dinosaurs must have started out being really small. Even the big ones. So Noah could have fitted them into the Ark. Media balance dictates that if one wingnut thinks gravity is caused by a rota of subterranean angels sucking, then he'll get as much air time as all those dull, arrogant physicists.
Media balance leaves apparently helpless reporters reciting conflicting statistics as if they were beyond interpretation. It provides the pseudo-factual white noise between surgical dating makeovers and the soaps. It sets extensive coverage of Condoleezza Rice's vacuous bleatings against non-specific mumbles about protest. It means demonstrations against the occupation of Iraq aren't covered by the BBC, leading to more demonstrations outside BBC premises, which aren't covered. This is the most common form of media balance - balancing reality with silence.
Not that I'd suggest the British, or indeed the US, media is involved in government conspiracies. That's barely necessary - they need only be lazy, broke and scared. Even if media outlets aspire to be something beyond a kind of sophisticated Xeroxing service for PR handouts and spin, they often don't have the money, or the staff, to be effective.
Which is why papers such as the Washington Post hire semi-literate bloggers as columnists. The New York Times still hasn't recovered from Judith Miller; no source that hyped the pre-Iraq invasion bollocks has handed itself over to The Hague as complicit in crimes against humanity (à la Radio Milles Collines in Rwanda). The pre-Iran invasion bollocks is hyping higher; and increasingly weighty suspicions over 9/11 are ignored.
This would be irritating even if our public servants weren't loan-grubbing, lobby-fondling, expensively coiffured sociopaths, and their corruption and stupidity were not so manifest that small children could summarise it in crayon for any newsdesk near you. Sadly, our press faces Whitehall and White House regimes that believe accepting, or even acknowledging, reality is a perilous admission of weakness. So the lies of liars who love lying are propagated by people who can no longer find the truth.
Which is why, for example, real action on global warming in the UK goes way beyond rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic - it's much more like skipping along the deck and claiming you're in Belgium. But at least we can mention it pointlessly in passing - US global-warming researchers can't even do that.
And grown-up discussions about anything nuclear are off limits. So recent UK coverage of the Chernobyl disaster concentrated on how wildlife is thriving in the post-leak wasteland, while skipping the possibility that up to 600,000 people died as a result of the accident. And you won't have heard that amounts of uranium in UK air samples increased in 2003, when we were dumping tonnes of depleted uranium on Iraq, because weather travels. Or too much about the fact that living with DU in Iraq (or Afghanistan, or the former Yugoslavia) can make you very sick, if not dead.
This is because our governments like DU, so they don't want to hear about any unfortunate repercussions. And, according to many reputable sources, death, misery, pain, radiation and the consequences of any action will all go away, perhaps quite quickly, if we only ignore them hard enough.
Comment: More recently, try to find a story in the mainstream media today about Colbert's brilliant monoloque in front of Bush at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. The audience was nervous, the laughter muted, because he was the only one willing to go for the juggler and tell Bush to his face what he really was.
It should be "news", but it isn't.
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Ark's Quantum Quirks
Signs of the Times
May 1, 2006
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Uniquely Human Component Of Language Found In Gregarious Birds
May 01, 2006
Chicago, IL - Although linguists have argued that certain patterns of language organization are the exclusive province of humans -- perhaps the only uniquely human component of language -- researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California San Diego have discovered the same capacity to recognize such patterns and distinguish between them in Sturnus vulgaris, the common European starling.
In the April 27, 2006, issue of Nature, the researchers show that these starlings - long known as virtuoso songbirds and expert mimics - can be trained to reliably discriminate between two different patterns of organizing the sounds they use to communicate.
"Our research is a refutation of the canonical position that what makes human language unique is a singular ability to comprehend these kinds of patterns," said Timothy Gentner, assistant professor of psychology at UCSD and lead author of the study. "If birds can learn these patterning rules, then their use does not explain the uniqueness of human language."
The researchers focused on recursion, or center-embedding, a characteristic, found in all human languages. Recursion is one way of creating of new and grammatically correct meanings by inserting words and clauses within sentences -- theoretically, without limit. So, for example, "The bird sang," can become "The bird the cat chased sang."
Following the lead of language theorist Noam Chomsky, linguists have held that this recursive center-embedding is a universal feature of human language and, moreover, that the ability to process it forms a unique computational ability important for human language.
"Linguists have developed a mathematically rigorous set of definitions, a hierarchy of syntactical complexity, that governs the process of how humans create and understand utterances," said Daniel Margoliash, professor of anatomy and organismal biology at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study. "These rules govern how to properly express yourself - how to structure your phrases and sentences.
Language experts have used properties of these rules, whose complexity is described by the Chomsky hierarchy, "to define the boundaries between humans and other creatures," said Margoliash. "Now we find that we have been joined on this side of that boundary by the starling. It should no longer be considered an insult to be called a bird brain."
Although they are not known for the lilting beauty of their songs, starlings produce an amazing array of complex sounds, combining chirps, warbles, trills and whistles with rattling sounds.
They also have a talent for mimicry. One starling famously copied an unpublished tune that Mozart whistled in a pet store; the composer purchased the bird and kept it as a pet. The starling is mentioned only once in all of Shakespeare, but in that passage an angry warrior, forbidden by the King to speak of a rival, Mortimer, decides he will "have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him to keep his anger still in motion." (Because of this passage, 100 European starlings were first introduced to New York City's Central Park in the 1890s. They flourished. North America now has an estimated 200 million starlings.)
One previous study, however, suggested that even non-human primates are incapable of recognizing anything beyond the simplest syntax. A paper published in Science in 2004 by scientists at Harvard and MIT found that cotton-top tamarin monkeys were not able to master higher-level grammar patterns. "The acquisition of hierarchical processing ability," the authors of that paper conclude, "may have represented a critical juncture in the evolution of the human language faculty." They also noted that vocal learners, such as songbirds, might have produced different results.
"When I saw that study I was not convinced of the significance of the failure of the monkeys," said Howard Nusbaum, chairman and professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and senior author of the Nature study. "There are many ways for an experiment to fail and most failures are not scientifically interesting. I immediately thought: we could do that in starlings."
Nusbaum, Margoliash and psychologist Kimberly Fenn had previously collaborated on studies of the role of sleep in speech perceptual learning. Gentner, a neuropsychologist, expert on starlings and, at the time, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was an essential addition.
To assess the birds' syntactical skills, the research team exploited the diverse sounds in starling songs. They recorded eight different 'rattles' and eight 'warbles' from a single male starling and combined them to construct a total of 16 artificial songs. These songs followed two different grammars, or patterning rules.
Eight songs followed the "finite-state" rule, the simplest sort, thought to account for all non-human communication. A finite-state grammar allows for sounds to be appended only at the beginning or end of a string. These songs were built up from a rattle-warble base by adding rattle-warble pairs at the end. The simplest song (ab) was one rattle followed by one warble. The next simplest a rattle, then a warble, followed by a different Rattle and Warble (abAB).
The other eight songs followed the "context-free" rule, which allows for sounds to be inserted in the middle of an acoustic string, the simplest form of recursive center-embedding. So a context-free sequence also began with rattle-warble base (ab) but built up by inserting new sounds in the middle, such as rattle-Rattle-Warble-warble (aABb).
Eleven adult birds were given lessons on distinguishing between these two sets of songs using classic reinforcement techniques. The birds were rewarded with food when they heard a song from the context-free set and for refraining when they heard one from the finite-state set.
After 10,000 to 50,000 trials over several months, 9 of 11 tested starlings learned to distinguish the patterns. The birds were not simply memorizing particular sequences of rattles and warbles they could distinguish between different patterns even when presented with entirely new sequences of rattles and warbles. They were applying rules to solve the task.
The researchers also checked to see how the birds responded to "ungrammatical" strings, songs that violated the established rules. The starlings treated these differently, as expected if they had learned the patterns.
The experimenters then asked if the birds were capable of a key feature of human grammars. Could the starlings extrapolate these patterning rules to distinguish among longer strings? Remarkably, after learning the patterns with shorter songs made up of two pairs of rattles and warbles, the birds were able to recognize strings containing 6-to-8 song elements (abababab - vs - aaaabbbb).
The finding that starlings can grasp these grammatical rules shows that other animals share basic levels of pattern recognition with humans. "There might be no single property or processing capacity," the authors write, "that marks the many ways in which the complexity and detail of human language differs from non-human communication systems."
"It may be more useful," they add, "to consider species differences as quantitative rather than qualitative distinctions in cognitive mechanisms."
"The more closely we understand what non-human animals are capable of," Gentner said, "the richer our world becomes. Fifty years ago, it was taboo to even talk about animal cognition. Now, no one doubts that animals have complex and vibrant mental lives."
"When I describe our results to linguists and psycholinguists, they are amazed," Nusbaum said. "When I mention them to people who study animal behavior," Margoliash countered, "they are not surprised. They are well aware of the cognitive abilities of many animals."
"These birds are a lot smarter than you might think," Margoliash said. "They have innate abilities. They solve interesting problems and learn difficult tasks. Any number of times during the experiments I said 'they can't possibly do that,' and they did."
"There has long been a temptation," writes cognitive neuroscientist Gary Marcus of New York University in a commentary, "to sum up the differences between human and other species in a neat turn of phrase - but most posited differences turn out to have been overstated."
But these iridescent six-inch, three-ounce singing black birds have known this all their lives. They were only waiting for this moment to arise.
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The Great Powderkeg
Three killed as Egypt sweeps Sinai for bomb suspects
Sun Apr 30, 2006
CAIRO - Three Egyptians were killed in clashes that broke out when police raided northern Sinai to hunt down the group responsible for the deadly bombings in Dahab, security sources said.
State-owned newspapers also reported that one of the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24 had been identified and his brother arrested.
The armed clashes erupted at dawn in the Jabal al-Maghara region in northern Sinai as police encircled an area where they believed suspects were holed up, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Three suspects were killed during the day-long exchanges, security sources said, adding that one of the dead men was believed to be Nasr Khamis al-Milahi, on the wanted list since previous deadly bombings in Sinai in October 2004 and July 2005.
Other suspects were detained in the raid, security sources added.
The Jabal Maghara area is close to Sheikh Zuayed, which is one of the main towns in northern Sinai and the home of at least one of the suicide bombers, the sources said.
Newspapers said one of the bombers, Atallah al-Swerki, concealed the explosives under a load of fruit on a pick-up van which he used to reach the southern Sinai diving resort last Monday.
"Ibrahim, the brother of terrorist Atallah al-Swerki, was arrested by the security services in northern Sinai," the state-owned Al-Gomhuriya daily said.
"He helped his brother take the explosives towards Dahab, before heading back to the Sheikh Zuayed area," the newspaper added, quoting security sources.
The driver of the vehicle, named by newspapers as Mohammed Shehta, was also arrested and questioned as part of the investigation, the official MENA news agency reported.
Investigators suspect all three bombers came from the same area but are still in the process of confirming the identities of two of them.
Interior Minister Habib al-Adly had said that the same north Sinai group was responsible for the Dahab bombings and two other failed suicide attacks on security personnel further north on Wednesday.
According to Attorney General Maher Abdel Wahed, the final toll for the bombings in Dahab -- which struck at a peak holiday season -- stands at 18 killed and 90 wounded.
Twelve Egyptians were killed as well as six foreigners -- two Russians, a German child, a Swiss national, a Yemeni and a Hungarian.
The attacks, the third such bombings on the same tourist-packed coastline in 18 months, also left 58 Egyptians and 32 foreigners wounded.
The Egyptian authorities have charged the same group was also responsible for the July 2005 attacks that killed some 70 people in Sharm el-Sheikh and those further up the coast that left 34 dead in October 2004.
Both previous spates of attacks were followed by major raids in the Sinai, a vast desert and mountainous expanse mainly inhabited by Bedouin tribes.
Intense fighting between police forces and armed Bedouins took place in Jabal Halal, near Jabal al-Maghara, in the aftermath of the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks.
Several suspects and special police forces were killed in the raids, during which thousands of Bedouins were rounded up.
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Egypt renews state of emergency for two years
Sun Apr 30, 2006
CAIRO - Egypt's parliament approved the renewal of the state of emergency for two years, a controversial measure the country's premier justified with a recent wave of bombings and communal clashes.
The opposition Muslim Brotherhood condemned the government request, arguing that emergency laws were ineffective and that its justification was tantamount to "government terror".
"The sectarian incidents and terrorist operations Egypt has witnessed recently have led us to ask for the extension" as of June 1, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told the People's Assembly before the vote.
Three suicide bombers struck the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24, killing 18 other people and wounding 90. Two failed suicide attacks were carried out against security personnel two days later, further north in Sinai.
Violent clashes also broke out earlier this month in Alexandria between Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority after a knife-wielding assailant attacked worshippers in several churches.
Nazif asked for the state of emergency to be renewed for "two years only or until a new anti-terrorist law is passed, which will require constitutional amendments."
Three quarters of the 378 lawmakers present in the 454-strong parliament voted in favour of the two-year extension, while 91 voted against.
The renewal needed a two-thirds majority to be passed and the ruling National Democratic Party controls around three quarters of the chamber.
Muslim Brotherhood MPs shouted slogans as the vote got under way, some of them wearing scarves inscribed with the words "No to the state of emergency."
The state of emergency has been imposed almost continuously since 1967 and been renewed every three years under President Hosni Mubarak's 25-year-old rule.
During his campaign for the September 2005 presidential election, Mubarak promised to abolish the state of emergency.
But the 77-year-old president said in a recent interview that new counter-terrorism legislation would be needed to replace exception laws and that it could take up to two years to draft.
"The state of emergency does not eliminate terrorism but it facilitates the work of the security forces in their attempt to protect our homeland," Nazif told lawmakers Sunday.
"President Mubarak wants stability for the Egyptian people and this will only be possible when total security is achieved in the country, which will require the extension of the state of emergency until anti-terrorist legislation is adopted," he added.
Egyptian security forces are involved in vast security operations in Sinai to hunt down the perpetrators of last Monday's triple suicide bombings.
Similar sweeps, during which thousands of Bedouins were detained, were launched following the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings in July 2005.
The abolition of the emergency laws -- which grant security forces sweeping powers of arrest and restrict non-government political activity -- have been the focal point of opposition parties in Egypt over the past year.
Rights groups and political opponents had warned that the government would seek to use the latest unrest in Egypt to justify extending the state of emergency.
"They are backtracking on promises of removing the law. Now members of parliament are experiencing a government terror after the Dahab terror," Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Issam al-Aryan told AFP.
"If they do extend it, it is a bad sign. They say it is against terrorism and drugs, but this law has been abused," Aryan said.
The Muslim Brothers, who hold a fifth of seats in parliament, have recently launched a major campaign against the state of emergency and argued that it has been unsuccessful in combating terrorism.
Egypt's tourist hub of Sinai has been hit by three deadly spates of bombings in the past 18 months.
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Seen through a Syrian lens
By Robert Fisk
In Syria, the world appears through a glass, darkly. As dark as the smoked windows of the car which takes me to a building on the western side of Damascus where a man I have known for 15 years - we shall call him a "security source", which is the name given by American correspondents to their own powerful intelligence officers - waits with his own ferocious narrative of disaster in Iraq and dangers in the Middle East.
His is a fearful portrait of an America trapped in the bloody sands of Iraq, desperately trying to provoke a civil war around Baghdad in order to reduce its own military casualties. It is a scenario in which Saddam Hussein remains Washington's best friend, in which Syria has struck at the Iraqi insurgents with a ruthlessness that the United States wilfully ignores. And in which Syria's Interior Minister, found shot dead in his office last year, committed suicide because of his own mental instability.
The Americans, my interlocutor suspected, are trying to provoke an Iraqi civil war so that Sunni Muslim insurgents spend their energies killing their Shia co-religionists rather than soldiers of the Western occupation forces. "I swear to you that we have very good information," my source says, finger stabbing the air in front of him. "One young Iraqi man told us that he was trained by the Americans as a policeman in Baghdad and he spent 70 per cent of his time learning to drive and 30 per cent in weapons training. They said to him: 'Come back in a week.' When he went back, they gave him a mobile phone and told him to drive into a crowded area near a mosque and phone them. He waited in the car but couldn't get the right mobile signal. So he got out of the car to where he received a better signal. Then his car blew up."
Impossible, I think to myself. But then I remember how many times Iraqis in Baghdad have told me similar stories. These reports are believed even if they seem unbelievable. And I know where much of the Syrian information is gleaned: from the tens of thousands of Shia Muslim pilgrims who come to pray at the Sayda Zeinab mosque outside Damascus. These men and women come from the slums of Baghdad, Hillah and Iskandariyah as well as the cities of Najaf and Basra. Sunnis from Fallujah and Ramadi also visit Damascus to see friends and relatives and talk freely of American tactics in Iraq.
"There was another man, trained by the Americans for the police. He too was given a mobile and told to drive to an area where there was a crowd - maybe a protest - and to call them and tell them what was happening. Again, his new mobile was not working. So he went to a landline phone and called the Americans and told them: 'Here I am, in the place you sent me and I can tell you what's happening here.' And at that moment there was a big explosion in his car."
Just who these "Americans" might be, my source did not say. In the anarchic and panic-stricken world of Iraq, there are many US groups - including countless outfits supposedly working for the American military and the new Western-backed Iraqi Interior Ministry - who operate outside any laws or rules. No one can account for the murder of 191 university teachers and professors since the 2003 invasion - nor the fact that more than 50 former Iraqi fighter-bomber pilots who attacked Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war have been assassinated in their home towns in Iraq in the past three years.
Amid this chaos, a colleague of my source asked me, how could Syria be expected to lessen the number of attacks on Americans inside Iraq? "It was never safe, our border," he said. "During Saddam's time, criminals and Saddam's terrorists crossed our borders to attack our government. I built a wall of earth and sand along the border at that time. But three car bombs from Saddam's agents exploded in Damascus and Tartous- I was the one who captured the criminals responsible. But we couldn't stop them."
Now, he told me, the rampart running for hundreds of miles along Syria's border with Iraq had been heightened. "I have had barbed wire put on top and up to now we have caught 1,500 non-Syrian and non-Iraqi Arabs trying to cross and we have stopped 2,700 Syrians from crossing ... Our army is there - but the Iraqi army and the Americans are not there on the other side."
Behind these grave suspicions in Damascus lies the memory of Saddam's long friendship with the United States. "Our Hafez el-Assad [the former Syrian president who died in 2000] learnt that Saddam, in his early days, met with American officials 20 times in four weeks. This convinced Assad that, in his words, 'Saddam is with the Americans'. Saddam was the biggest helper of the Americans in the Middle East (when he attacked Iran in 1980) after the fall of the Shah. And he still is! After all, he brought the Americans to Iraq!"
So I turn to a story which is more distressing for my sources: the death by shooting of Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan, former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon - an awesomely powerful position - and Syrian Minister of Interior when his suicide was announced by the Damascus government last year.
Widespread rumours outside Syria suggested that Kenaan was suspected by UN investigators of involvement in the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in a massive car bomb in Beirut last year - and that he had been "suicided" by Syrian government agents to prevent him telling the truth.
Not so, insisted my original interlocutor. "General Ghazi was a man who believed he could give orders and anything he wanted would happen. Something happened that he could not reconcile - something that made him realise he was not all-powerful. On the day of his death, he went to his office at the Interior Ministry and then he left and went home for half an hour. Then he came back with a pistol. He left a message for his wife in which he said goodbye to her and asked her to look after their children and he said that what he was going to do was 'for the good of Syria'. Then he shot himself in the mouth."
Of Hariri's assassination, Syrian officials like to recall his relationship with the former Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Alawi - a self-confessed former agent for the CIA and MI6 - and an alleged $20bn arms deal between the Russians and Saudi Arabia in which they claim Hariri was involved.
Hariri's Lebanese supporters continue to dismiss the Syrian argument on the grounds that Syria had identified Hariri as the joint author with his friend, French President Jacques Chirac, of the UN Security Council resolution which demanded the retreat of the Syrians from Lebanese territory.
But if the Syrians are understandably obsessed with the American occupation of Iraq, their long hatred for Saddam - something which they shared with most Iraqis - is still intact. When I asked my first "security" source what would happen to the former Iraqi dictator, he replied, banging his fist into his hand: "He will be killed. He will be killed. He will be killed."
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Under the Reich
Tens of Thousands in NYC Protest War
By DESMOND BUTLER
Sun Apr 30, 2006
NEW YORK - Tens of thousands of protesters marched Saturday through lower Manhattan to demand an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, just hours after this month's death toll reached 70.
Cindy Sheehan, a vociferous critic of the war whose soldier son also died in Iraq, joined in the march, as did actress Susan Sarandon and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"End this war, bring the troops home," read one sign lifted by marchers on the sunny afternoon, three years after the war in Iraq began. The mother of a Marine killed two years ago in Iraq held a picture of her son, born in 1984 and killed 20 years later.
One group marched under the banner "Veterans for Peace."
The demonstrators stretched for about 10 blocks as they headed down Broadway. Organizers said 300,000 people marched, though a police spokesman declined to give an estimate. There were no reports of arrests.
"We are here today because the war is illegal, immoral and unethical," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "We must bring the troops home."
Organizers said the march was also meant to oppose any military action against Iran, which is facing international criticism over its nuclear program. The event was organized by the group United for Peace and Justice.
"We've been lied to, and they're going to lie to us again to bring us a war in Iran," said Marjori Ramos, 43, of New York. "I'm here because I had a lot of anger, and I had to do something."
Steve Rand, an English teacher from Waterbury, Vt., held a poster announcing, "Vermont Says No to War."
"I'd like to see our troops come home," he said.
The march stepped off shortly after noon from Union Square, with the demonstrators heading for a rally between a U.S. courthouse and a federal office building in lower Manhattan.
The death toll in Iraq for April was the highest for a single month in 2006. At least 2,399 U.S. military members have died since the war began. An Army soldier was the latest victim, killed Saturday in a roadside explosion in Baghdad.
That figure is well below some of the bloodiest months of the Iraq conflict, but is a sharp increase over March, when 31 were killed. January's death toll was 62 and February's 55. In December, 68 Americans died.
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Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner - President Not Amused?
By E&P Staff
April 29, 2006
WASHINGTON - A blistering comedy "tribute" to President Bush by Comedy Central's faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close.
Earlier, the president had delivered his talk to the 2700 attendees, including many celebrities and top officials, with the help of a Bush impersonator.
Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, "and reality has a well-known liberal bias."
He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. "This administration is soaring, not sinking," he said. "If anything, they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg."
Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the "Rocky" movies, always getting punched in the face - "and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world."
Turning to the war, he declared, "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."
He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, just three tables away from Karl Rove, and that he had brought " Valerie Plame." Then, worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, "Uh, I mean... he brought Joseph Wilson's wife." He might have "dodged the bullet," he said, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't there.
Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, "photo ops" on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, melting glaciers and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face. He advised the crowd, "if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. will be right over with a cocktail."
Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, "When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday - no matter what happened Tuesday."
Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was "surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story - the president's side and the vice president's side." In another slap at the news channel, he said: "I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the No Fact Zone. Fox News, I own the copyright on that term."
He also reflected on the alleged good old days for the president, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story.
Addressing the reporters, he said, "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction."
He claimed that the Secret Service name for Bush's new press secretary is "Snow Job."
Colbert closed his routine with a video fantasy where he gets to be White House Press Secretary, complete with a special "Gannon" button on his podium. By the end, he had to run from Helen Thomas and her questions about why the U.S. really invaded Iraq and killed all those people.
As Colbert walked from the podium, when it was over, the president and First Lady gave him quick nods, unsmiling. The president shook his hand and tapped his elbow, and left immediately.
Those seated near Bush told E&P's Joe Strupp, who was elsewhere in the room, that Bush had quickly turned from an amused guest to an obviously offended target as Colbert's comments brought up his low approval ratings and problems in Iraq.
Several veterans of past dinners, who requested anonymity, said the presentation was more directed at attacking the president than in the past. Several said previous hosts, like Jay Leno, equally slammed both the White House and the press corps.
"This was anti-Bush," said one attendee. "Usually they go back and forth between us and him." Another noted that Bush quickly turned unhappy. "You could see he stopped smiling about halfway through Colbert," he reported.
After the gathering, Snow, while nursing a Heineken outside the Chicago Tribune reception, declined to comment on Colbert. "I'm not doing entertainment reviews," he said. "I thought the president was great, though."
Strupp, in the crowd during the Colbert routine, had observed that quite a few sitting near him looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting--or too much speaking "truthiness" to power.
Asked by E&P after it was over if he thought he'd been too harsh, Colbert said, "Not at all." Was he trying to make a point politically or just get laughs? "Just for laughs," he said. He said he did not pull any material for being too strong, just for time reasons. (He later said the president told him "good job" when he walked off.)
Helen Thomas told Strupp her segment with Colbert was "just for fun."
In its report on the affair, USA Today asserted that some in the crowd cracked up over Colbert but others were "bewildered." Wolf Blitzer of CNN said he thought Colbert was funny and "a little on the edge."
Earlier, the president had addressed the crowd with a Bush impersonator alongside, with the faux-Bush speaking precisely and the real Bush deliberately mispronouncing words, such as the inevitable "nuclear." At the close, Bush called the imposter "a fine talent. In fact, he did all my debates with Senator Kerry." The routine went over well with the crowd -- better than did Colbert's, in fact.
Among attendees at the black tie event: Morgan Fairchild, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Justice Antonin Scalia, George Clooney, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of the Doobie Brothers--in a kilt.
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Sarandon: I had death threats for opposing war
30 April 2006
Film actress Susan Sarandon has revealed how she felt isolated and frightened by death threats and verbal attacks after she criticised US policy in Iraq.
The Thelma & Louise actress, a long-time political activist, said that she was branded a "Bin Laden lover" for questioning the US invasion of Iraq. In an interview to be screened today on ITV1 for Jonathan Dimbleby's programme, she said that the way she and her family had been targeted by the media and the public was "horrifying".
Ms Sarandon, 59, said that she believed there should have been more debate before the war, but anyone who questioned US policy was labelled "un-American".
"I don't think that I ever thought someone would ever really kill me, although there were some people who said, 'I'd like someone to knock her off', on the radio and stuff like that," she said.
"And I don't think that I thought that I'd really never work again. But when there is nobody else, when you look out on the field and everybody is quiet and they're all looking away and nobody's saying anything, it's a really scary place to be."
Comment: Moral fortitude - the integrity and courage to stand for the Truth no matter what the odds or who stands with or against you, a central aspect to that which defines an intelligent and humane human being.
Apparently there are very few in America.
When they came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
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"Nothing Prepared Me for Bush"
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri
Friday 28 April 2006
Robert Scheer has reported on every administration since Richard Nixon. But as he says in this interview, he never expected the lies and cynicism of Bush II.
With over 65 percent of Americans disapproving of our current president, why can't we get some credible opposition in Washington? As we head towards midterm elections, and look ahead to those of 2008, it's a question that is weighing heavily on millions of American minds.
Two longtime observers of our increasingly corrupt political system, Robert Scheer and Joe Klein have written books documenting the causes and the consequences. After 30 years covering politics, Scheer and Klein have some startling insights.
In conversation with AlterNet, Scheer explains why he thinks Nixon was one of the great policymakers of our time. Come back Monday to see Klein discuss how we can tell when politicians mean what they say. While Klein and Scheer have a distinctly different set of politics, you'll be surprised at their unified call for reform - and a cause that progressives can rally behind.
Robert Scheer spent over 30 years interviewing American presidents and candidates since Nixon, but it was only in retrospect that he discovered a disturbing pattern. Scheer's new book Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan and Clinton - and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush explores the crippling effects the campaign process had on every candidate he interviewed - and how our presidents have become increasingly out of touch with American voters.
As one of the last print journalists to spend extended periods of time with candidates, Scheer's close examination of our political process, and how the media covers it, points to the flaws that led to the election of George W. Bush. AlterNet spoke with Scheer about what we got right, what we got wrong, and why in the face of such an unpopular president, we still find ourselves "drowning in lesser evildom."
Onnesha Roychoudhuri: How did the idea for this book come about?
Robert Scheer: I teach at USC, and it's obvious to anyone who teaches college students that they don't cover much modern history and certainly not the modern presidency. I start every term in my Media and Society class by showing Oliver Stone's "Nixon," and then I bring in John Dean.
They've never heard of John Dean, they barely know what Watergate was about, and by the end of three hours, they seem quite excited and recognize its importance. This book is in a way an attempt to collect some of the interviews and profiles with a new analysis at the beginning of each - a primer on the American presidency from Nixon to the present.
The big idea that came out of rereading all the stuff that I had done over the years was the process of running for president - that's where the "Playing President" title comes in. The process itself is so debilitating, so controlling, that it really doesn't matter who these guys are or what they start out with.
Even with the best of intentions, even when they're very smart and knowledgeable - as opposed to George W., who is neither - it doesn't seem to matter. All they are proving is their ability to manipulate, to think superficially, and to exploit national security issues rather than deal with them.
OR: Can you explain the title of the book?
RS: "Playing President" is an attempt to capture what it's really all about. Trying out for the role becomes the dominant experience, and by the time you get into office, you've been shaped by it and keep playing out the part. What you've learned to do in the process is to be superficial, to suspend more profound thoughts, to silence your own doubts and your own serious thinking.
OR: Why does that happen?
RS: It's built into our political process, particularly in a mass society with a mass media with a large owning bloc of almost 300 million citizens. What I was able to observe in these campaigns is it really didn't matter that Nixon had a lot of experience and a lot of ideas.
The reason he got to be president is that he was good at presenting himself in certain ways, manipulating information and covering up inadequacies. That's pretty much true of all of them, and that was something that hadn't jumped out at me before I put it all together in this book.
OR: Looking back on these different presidencies, do you think that this concept of "playing president," this artifice, has intensified?
RS: There's no question about that. I was able to do something that people can't do these days, which is to have quality time with the guys who were trying to be president and a number of them who got the job.
For example, I spent a lot of time with Reagan, both before he ran for governor and when he was running for president. As a print reporter without the cameras, I was able to really test the quality of their minds and their knowledge base. I don't think you can do that anymore.
These guys get booked into television. I guess in a sense this is the last broad view from a pre-electronic journalist. Whether I was writing for Playboy or for the L.A. Times, it was still basically one journalist with a tape recorder. There was no crew traveling with me. Also, the candidates were willing - either for nostalgic reasons because [they] still thought print was important, or because their campaign managers thought it was important - to give me a lot of time.
OR: Do you think there are any other components aside from this shift in medium that are contributing to how wooing voters and electioneering has changed over time?
RS: The role of money and the role of manipulation with campaign professionals. Much of what candidates have to do is raise money and appeal to constituencies or interest groups that can provide that money. That means presenting the issues in certain ways that will appeal to those people and then becoming a prisoner of your own language and thought process. That has always happened - it's just been intensified.
For instance, Clinton who was unquestionably the smartest of the bunch I talked to - both the ones who made it and didn't. He had a great interest in policy. When I interviewed him as a candidate he was very sharp on the issues but also very manipulative. That manipulative quality came to dominate his presidency despite his better instincts and his knowledge base.
The issue I highlight in the book is welfare reform. When I interviewed him as a candidate, he was very clear that poverty programs, particularly welfare, had to remain federal in order to keep it accountable. He acknowledged that you had to spend more money, not less - this isn't a way of balancing the budget. He betrayed those principles when he did his welfare reform. He turned it back over to the states, and they didn't spend more money.
What Clinton severed with his welfare reform was the obligation of the federal government to step in when the states failed and to monitor these programs. Maybe Wisconsin did a slightly better job than Texas, but we have no way of knowing this. The hurricane in Louisiana demonstrated this best of all: Suddenly, there are all these poor people, and people are asking, "Where'd they come from?" We assume that if we force them off welfare, they must be better off. We used to have the congressional greenbook which had good federal statistics on where people were in relation to welfare and these programs. We don't have that anymore.
OR: Who is responsible for allowing this kind of manipulation to become more prevalent? Is it the press? The public?
RS: The press doesn't care. The media, because it's been driven much more by market competition and competition with electronic media. They're doing this "gotcha" journalism. What passes for investigative journalism is finding somebody with their pants down - literally or otherwise.
Sometimes they have a good one - like torture and the rendering of prisoners. Those are good stories. But in the main, there's no felt obligation to cover the economy, poverty, or foreign policy in any systematic way. When the print organizations had a more dominant power in their own markets and publishers that cared to excel or readers that demanded they excel, they felt the need to cover even the boring issues. Now there isn't any of that felt obligation at all.
OR: Why is that? You think it has to do with the rise of electronic media?
RS: It's very competitive. When I started out, there was a sense that the story should have substance. While my Jimmy Carter interview got big headlines all over the world for the "lust in his heart" comment, the fact of the matter is that I was exploring some serious issues. Would he get us into another Vietnam? What does it mean, religion into politics? It's a substantive interview, sometimes to the point of boredom.
When I interviewed Reagan, there was some very detailed discussion. I talked to Reagan for about six hours all told. and Reagan was willing to go along with it. He didn't look at his watch, and he didn't allow his campaign aides to cut it off. He said, "Bring it on." They don't do that anymore. They get in trouble that way. They don't think the voters are thoughtful and serious. All they are looking to do is play to their base and to the people who will put up money, and then win. And they always have in the back of their mind that, when they win, they're going to do something wonderful. But by that time, they're deformed by the grueling campaign experience, and they've developed this habit of opportunism.
I'm worried why the policies get so screwed up. Why does an intelligent, reasonable guy like Bill Clinton endorse a welfare reform policy that is an absolute disaster? Why did Jimmy Carter, who turns out to be a really sensitive, pro-peace kind of ex-president, listen to the hawks in his administration, and overrule Cy Vance and get us into a new chapter of the Cold War?
OR: Do you have thoughts on why?
RS: I think only so much can be attributed to campaign handlers. It's what the process demands from the candidate during the trial period in order to make it. When Howard Dean started saying some honest things, they hung him. The leader of a party in a parliamentary system can develop a more coherent view of where they're going to take the country and how they see the nation and the world. In the basic go-round they just have to appeal to their group and show they have their head screwed on right.
The woman who is now head of Germany, whether you like her or not, wasn't elected on her personality. In fact, she was quite often criticized for her personality, but the people in her party thought she had a coherent view of where she wanted the economy and foreign policy to go.
OR: Do you think American voters care enough about the substance of policy?
RS At the end of the day they do. When their taxes are wasted and their sons and daughters are killed in a meaningless war, when fanaticism is unleashed around the world because we follow stupid policies, and when we can't save a city like New Orleans, yeah, I think they care. And when gas prices go up even though they were supposed to have gone down with the conquest of Iraq, I think they care. But the media fails them in not making a connection between the things they care about and the positions that these politicians take.
OR: Do you think it's possible to see what kind of policy decisions they're going to make based on the campaign?
RS: It is, but that would require the journalists and the news organizations being committed to getting that story. It certainly was done better before the electronic media. People traveled around with the candidate, and they could ask serious questions.
OR: Your Carter interviews stand out because it took you such a long time to try to get to the bottom of the his contradictions.
RS: Journalists are not all-knowing and all-seeing. You can have it wrong. What I tell people about the art of the interview is what you tell kids: Keep your listening ears open. You can't go in with a bunch of programmed questions. That's what a lot of this media stuff is now. "Are you going to fire Cheney? Yes? No?" or "Did you get a blow job or not?"
When I went to interview Clinton the first time he was running, I went to the L.A. Times bureau in Little Rock to see what we had on how he'd actually governed as the governor. I said, "Does anybody know what he did here?" There was only interest in whether his mother got some money from some program or sexual scandals. The journalists are no longer committed to a thoughtful examination.
OR: Has it been frustrating for you - to see the same issues that plague our country come up time and again? Are you hopeful, or have you become more cynical?
RS: It is true that the same issues come up, and we don't make as much progress as we could. Immigration is a good example. I've been covering immigration for 40 years now. The truth of the matter is quite simple: If you don't want people coming here, don't have the jobs. The way not to have the jobs is to enforce the labor laws and to go after employers. Politicians aren't going to do that because they're important sectors of the economy that are dependent upon this cheap labor force.
Every four or five years, we get some new hysteria about immigration when the fact is that undocumented workers, illegal immigrants, are contributing much more to society than taking out. Anyone who really studies it knows that, but you can find all kinds of ways of using it to fan the flames of hysteria. It's a sign of progress that there was a recent outpouring of people who know better, particularly people in the immigrant communities. They stopped Congress from doing some terrible mischief.
There's the same old national security hysteria, the call for bigger and bigger defense budgets when we're trying to stop people who use box cutters and primitive knives to capture airplanes. But there are signs of progress: sites like AlterNet, MoveOn, Buzzflash and Truthdig, where you can go to get alternative information.
OR: You say in your book that George W. Bush is the first electronically projected president. Can you explain that?
RS: This administration doesn't feel they need a mindful audience. They don't care about facts, logic or consequences. They are the most cynical people that I've ever encountered in politics. This is the most cynical bunch - just think about that "reality-based community" quote. They create their own reality. I don't think I've ever seen that kind of cynicism before, and I'm the guy who interviewed Richard Nixon.
These guys are, as John Dean keeps pointing out, far worse than the Nixon crowd because they think they can get away with it. Nixon, at the end of the day thought it mattered what the New York Times said. He felt that if there was a big contradiction, a big error, they would catch him and there would be all hell to pay.
There's no longer that feeling. Over the years, I'm not getting cynical - they're cynical. If I were truly cynical I wouldn't be talking to you, and I wouldn't be writing and teaching. Mark Twain said a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on. Well, the fact is the truth does get its pants on, it does catch up, and right now 65 percent of Americans think Bush lied to them.
OR: Between that kind of arrogance seen in your interview with George H.W. Bush, and the showsmanship we see with Reagan, who is a better comparison to George W.?
RS: As we say in the subtitle of the book, none of them prepared me for Bush. Reagan had been on the election circuit on issues. I didn't have to agree with him, but when he was a salesman for G.E. and head of the Actor's Guild, he was talking about issues of foreign policy and domestic policy. He cared about these things and collected anecdotes and information that supported his views. When he was running, he was aware of the issues and what was at stake.
That was true of all of them. They were adults, and this guy, George W., as far as I can figure, is just a spoiled preppy, as he's been described. What he's done is rely on his tutors and he picked, unfortunately for us voters, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
OR: Are Americans capable of recognizing a good president?
RS: I do. I think the problem here was the failure of the democrats. When Kerry was asked by Bush, "Knowing what you know now, would you have gone into Iraq?" he should have said, "No." He should have said, "You lied to Congress, you lied to the American people, it's unconscionable." He would have won the election, but Kerry was not comfortable in his own skin. Here's the boy-scout war hero who seemed to be faking it, and yet in real life, this guy performed every time. And there's George W., who has been faking it his whole life and somehow came across as more genuine.
OR: The book does a good job of showing how presidents have used their foreign policy to manipulate voters. Can you explain this?
RS: When it comes to national security and foreign policy, the public is particularly vulnerable. When you're writing about a local school board race, or whether that traffic light should be moved, readers and voters are very smart because they can figure it all out. They know whether the school is working, and whether the light should be moved.
When you're dealing with foreign policy, the information can be kept from you. You can't tell someone that wants to know about police arrest records that they can't be made public. Everybody knows that we have a right to that information. You can't use the national security argument.
In foreign policy, we have classification and secrecy, and the public comes to believe that maybe it's necessary, that we can't be told everything because lives are at stake. It's much easier for leaders on that level to manipulate and to exploit our fears. What the Bush people are able to do is say that we're in this endless war on terror, so we can torture, lie and distort the facts. Hardly a day goes by that we don't have another credible witness to the lying of this administration, and yet they can get away with it because we're in this permanent war.
OR: How do we reclaim the sanity? How should politicians appeal to the public?
RS: They should have some courage. If you speak honestly to the American people, you can find an audience. Truth does come out. The problem is whether it comes out in time to prevent a great deal of damage in the world. I'm very optimistic about being able to get the word out there. You can't measure our success or failure by a simple standard. We have learned lessons about Iraq. It is more difficult to intervene. Just as we did with the Cold War, we are developing a more complex view of Muslim fundamentalists and what's going on in the world. We are starting to think in more complex terms. The public is getting an education.
I don't want to leave it just on the evil of the Republicans. The fact is that the Democratic leadership bears a great deal of responsibility. That last convention with Kerry was an atrocity - he was trying to out-jingo, out-patriot the Republicans. Look at the leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. She's unwilling to criticize this war. What does that mean? That we're going to have Democratic candidates that don't discuss the most important issue in the country? That's nutty. Fortunately there are a lot of people refusing to accept that.
OR: It seems like many politicians are failing to view themselves as leaders. Rather, they're operating out of a cowardice or fear.
RS: Which is why we can't follow them. We need to develop a countervailing progressive force - that's the great strength of the internet. It's time to put a lot of pressure on Hillary, to ask her, "Why can't you come out against this war? What was wrong with your health plan? What would you do differently this time?" And what about single payer? Why can't we ever talk about it? Everybody recognizes that the medical system is a big mess. Why can't one enlightened progressive state experiment with single payer for once? Why can't some Democrats get behind that? I do think we need some real leadership. But in the absence of such leadership, at least we ought to have healthy, alert centers of media that challenge them.
OR: Did the book come out the way you expected it?
RS: No. I ended up being kind to Nixon and critical of Carter. But, at some point you have to let the facts and logic have their own weight. It was the opportunism of Carter that helped bring about bin Laden. That's just the reality, and I'm not going to muscle that because it's convenient in making a larger argument against George W.
I think, as a journalist and as an active political person, you have to go with the truth. I was really surprised when the book came out and I read it from cover to cover. When you're writing it in these different chunks, you don't know how it's all going to add up. But you've got to let it carry its own weight.
For instance, on Carter, I went back and read all the writing I did at the time, and I quote Bob Dole. Bob Dole nailed Carter on Afghanistan and I thought, damn it, he's right. It's the same with Clinton: Why did he let the right wing attacks on him prevent him from doing what he needed to do about al Qaida. He could have sent in the special force in Afghanistan. He could have taken them out. It was a clear line of responsibility. He could have done it with a lot of international support. He didn't do it. And so he failed.
OR: What do you hope people will take away from your book?
RS: Empowering people is an overworked term, but I still believe in it. One reason I teach is because it's an exercise in humility. If you don't empower your students, you lose them. You can't propagandize or sloganeer them, or their eyes glaze over, and they're out the door.
I've been doing this a long time, and if you want to reach people, you have to be ruthlessly honest about what you don't know, what you do know, and where you're coming from. We need to let people know there are real issues to think about, and that they're interesting and exciting. They affect your life.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an assistant editor at AlterNet.
(Editor's Note: Be sure to read an excerpt from "Playing President," posted today on AlterNet.org.)
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Sentencing Expected Today in Terror Case of Former Fla. Professor
By Mitch Stacy
Monday, May 1, 2006; Page A08
TAMPA, April 30 -- The long terrorism conspiracy case of Sami al-Arian is drawing to a close, and the former Tampa college professor could soon walk out of his jail cell and into the hands of immigration officers to be deported.
Al-Arian, 48, a former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida, is expected to be sentenced Monday morning after pleading guilty April 14 to supporting members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Although a jury did not convict al-Arian of any of the 17 charges against him after five months on trial last year, he took the plea deal, family members said, to get out of jail and end their suffering.
It is still not clear where al-Arian will be sent, said Linda Moreno, one of his lawyers. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugee parents, he was reared mostly in Egypt before coming to the United States 30 years ago. He has been jailed since his arrest in February 2003.
He may spend more time behind bars before leaving the country. The plea deal calls for prison time, but Moreno said she hoped the sentence would end up being "near time served."
As part of the plea agreement, al-Arian admitted to being associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the late 1980s and providing "services" for the group, which included filing for immigration benefits for key members, hiding the identities of those men and lying about his involvement.
Those men included Ramadan Shallah, a colleague at al-Arian's Palestinian think tank in Tampa who later emerged as the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Middle East.
Al-Arian admitted to considerably less guilt than prosecutors tried to prove at trial. They described al-Arian as the leader of a North American cell of the Palestinian group, raising money for suicide bombings and spreading the word in what was described as a "cycle of terror."
In December, al-Arian was acquitted of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and the jury deadlocked on the rest. He pleaded guilty to one count in the indictment that charges him with "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad."
Throughout the trial last year, al-Arian's lawyers argued that although he and his co-defendants were vocal advocates for the Palestinian cause in the United States, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about specific acts of violence. They said the money they raised and sent to the Palestinian territories was for legitimate charities.
Two of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges. The other, Hatem Naji Fariz, was acquitted on 25 counts while the jury deadlocked on eight others. The case against him on the remaining counts is pending.
"We are continuing to negotiate and hope we can resolve the case without going to trial, but until it's done there's always that possibility," said Kevin Beck, one of Fariz's lawyers.
The failure to convict al-Arian was a stinging rebuke for the federal government. His case was once hailed by authorities as a triumph of the USA Patriot Act, which allowed secret wiretaps and other information gathered by intelligence agents to be used in criminal prosecutions.
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Immigrants begin US boycott day
Monday, 1 May 2006
Immigrant workers in the United States are staging a day of nationwide action in another protest against proposed immigration reform.
Millions are expected to stay away from work and school, and avoid spending money, in an effort to show how much immigrants matter to the economy.
Called A Day Without Immigrants, the protest comes as Congress wrestles with reform of immigration laws.
About 11.5m illegal immigrants live in the US, many entering via Mexico.
Some commentators say the emerging immigrant movement - the force of which was evident at nationwide demonstrations last month - can be compared with the civil rights protests of the 1960s and 70s.
Yet Latino leaders are saying that the scale of what will happen is hard to predict.
Some will work but buy nothing. Others will protest at lunch breaks, school walkouts or at rallies after work. There are planned church services, candlelight vigils, picnics and human chains.
But there are fears the action may trigger a backlash and some are questioning how many people will actually participate in the boycott.
The protest is also expected to spread to Mexico and other Latin American countries, where people have been urged to boycott US products for the day.
In some of the protests:
* Supporters in New York will form a human chain at 1216 (1616 GMT) to symbolise 16 December 2005 - the day controversial immigration bill was passed in the House of Representatives - followed later by a rally in Union Square at 1600
* In Chicago up to half a million people are expected to attend a demonstration in Grant Park
* In California, which has more undocumented workers than any other state, mass rallies will be held, the largest expected to be in Los Angeles
* Goya Foods will halt distribution for the day, while Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat producer, will shut nine of its 15 plants.
In California the State Senate approved what lawmakers called "the great American boycott of 2006", describing it as an attempt to educate Americans about "the tremendous contribution immigrants make on a daily basis to our society and economy".
Giev Kashkooli, from the United Farm Workers' Union, told the BBC: "They are people who are working, who share the values that other Americans share. They're farm workers who are feeding the nation."
The protest comes with the US Congress caught up in the divisive business of reforming immigration laws.
Right-wingers believe too much emphasis has been placed on plans for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship and not enough on enforcing current laws.
A bipartisan bill currently stalled in the Senate would bolster border security, but also provide illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship and a guest-worker programme long favoured by President George W Bush.
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Mother Nature's Revenge
Chile Struck by Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake, USGS Says
April 30 (Bloomberg)
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Chile was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, which was followed by aftershocks that rattled coastal areas in the north of the country, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no reports of casualties or damage.
The first quake struck at 3:17 p.m. local time and its epicenter was 60 kilometers (35 miles) northwest of the city of Copiapo, which has a population of 125,000, the USGS said on its Web site. The depth of the quake, described as ''strong'' by USGS, was 7 kilometers. It hit 715 kilometers north of Santiago.
There were nine aftershocks with a minimum magnitude of 5 by 7:04 p.m., the USGS said. The biggest, a little over two hours after the main earthquake, had a magnitude of 6.3 and struck offshore 70 kilometers northwest of Copiapo at a depth of 10 kilometers.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Chile is regularly hit by earthquakes and is situated in the region where the Nazca and South American plates meet. Quakes of magnitude 5 and more can cause considerable damage, depending on their depth.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake left 11 people dead in the north of the country in June last year, the Chile government said at the time. In 1960, 5,000 people died when the nation was hit by a magnitude 9.5 earthquake, the largest recorded in the world, according to the USGS.
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NASA launches climate satellites
By Irene Klotz
Fri Apr 28, 2006
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA on Friday launched two research satellites to help scientists refine computer models that forecast the weather and chart global climate change.
CloudSat and CALIPSO blasted off aboard an unmanned Delta rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 6:02 a.m. EDT (1002 GMT) after a week of delays for weather and technical issues. The Boeing-built booster originally had been slated to fly last year, but a machinists' strike forced several months of delays.
CloudSat has powerful radar instruments to peer deep into the structure of clouds and map their water content. Although only about 1 percent of Earth's water is held in clouds, it plays a crucial role in the planet's weather, scientists working on the mission said.
"CloudSat will answer basic questions about how rain and snow are produced by clouds, how rain and snow are distributed worldwide, and how clouds affect the Earth's climate," principal investigator Graeme Stephens of Colorado State University said.
Using instruments 1,000 times more powerful than common meteorology radar CloudSat was designed to render three-dimensional maps of clouds that will identify the location and form of water molecules.
Complementary and virtually simultaneous studies by sister probe CALIPSO will pinpoint aerosol particles and track how they interact with clouds and move through the atmosphere. CALIPSO is an acronym for Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations.
Aerosols are formed by natural phenomena like forest fires and human activity such as driving cars. Aerosols are considered a key factor in understanding why the planet is growing warmer and if anything can be done to stem or reverse the change.
Computer models predict average surface temperatures on Earth will increase between 3.5 degrees Celsius and 9 degrees F over the next 100 years.
The uncertainty stems from the role clouds play in moderating heat. Aerosols in the clouds can either cool the planet by reflecting solar energy back into space, or increase temperatures by trapping heat in the atmosphere.
"We need to understand the aerosol effect on climate because it counteracts the effects of greenhouse gases," said CALIPSO principal investigator David Winker of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
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Storms Batter Texas With Wind and Hail
April 30, 2006
GAINESVILLE, Texas - Storms battered parts of Texas with wind up to 100 mph and hail the size of baseballs Saturday, damaging buildings and slamming parked airplanes into one another at an airport.
No serious injuries were reported, but two horses were killed when what appeared to be a tornado swept through a Waco ranch and flattened some barns and a two-story home. At least six other horses - all belonging to Baylor University's equestrian program - were injured, the school said.
"When you have winds from 80 to 100 mph it can do damage similar to that of a tornado," said Jesse Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "That can do some very, very big damage."
Just south of the Oklahoma border in Gainesville, wind and hail broke windows and ripped roofs on houses, said city spokeswoman Kay Lunnon. Some areas were still without power late Saturday.
Forecasters said the city has more than 3 inches of rain.
At the Gainesville Municipal Airport, hangars were damaged and private planes that were outside were pushed into each other by the high winds, said airport director Matt Quick. About 15 planes were damaged, he said.
In Waco, Baylor University freshman Shelby White was about to go to bed when the wind began pounding her family's house.
"I dove in the back corner of my room and all the walls collapsed," White said. "When the window shattered, I thought we had a really strong wind. But when the wall started collapsing, I didn't know what to think."
The National Weather Service said that while a tornado was briefly spotted around Waco, straight-line winds of at least 70 mph likely did most of the damage.
Officials also reported wind-damaged homes and felled trees in San Jacinto and Liberty Counties, around Houston. About 4,000 customers in the Houston area lost power during the storm, CenterPoint Energy officials said.
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Cyclone Mala kills one and injures 21 in Myanmar
Sunday April 30, 2006
A woman was killed and 21 people were injured when a cyclone struck a town outside Myanmar's capital Yangon.
At least 200 houses and five factories were also damaged as strong winds and heavy rain from Cyclone Mala hit Yangon and surrounding industrial areas late Friday, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said Sunday.
"Sudden strong winds along with heavy rainfall destroyed roofs on five factories and more than 200 houses in Hlainethaya township," it said.
The injured had been sent to two hospitals and Yangon's military commander had set up relief camps for families whose houses were heavily damaged, it said. It was unclear how the woman died.
Witnesses, however, said the damage was more widespread with about 28 factories destroyed.
Military and police were blocking roads to the affected areas and had started cleaning up, the witnesses said.
Cyclone Mala has been moving up the coast of western Myanmar bringing strong winds and causing some flash floods and power blackouts.
Several buildings in the coastal resort town of Gwa, northwest of Yangon, were destroyed on Saturday but there were no immediate reports of casualties, the Red Cross said.
Mala was downgraded from a category four storm after losing intensity as it made landfall and moved inland through western Rakhine state, a weather official said.
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Hail, rainstorms kill 12, destroy thousands of homes in eastern China
04:27:13 EDT May 1, 2006
BEIJING (AP) - Hail and rainstorms killed 12 people, destroyed thousands of homes and caused millions of dollars damage in China's eastern Shandong province, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday.
The wild weather battered the Shandong cities of Heze, Linyi, Zaozhuang, Jining and Liaocheng from Wednesday to Friday last week, Xinhua reported. The news agency cited Shandong's civil affairs department as saying that 2.18 million people were affected by the storms, without elaborating. Twelve people died and 58 others were seriously injured.
The hail and rainstorms destroyed 3,243 houses and damaged 155,000 hectares of farmland, resulting in an economic loss of 2.2 billion Chinese yuan ($305 Cdn), according to Xinhua.
The provincial government has sent teams to the disaster areas to organize relief efforts, Xinhua said.
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Panama, Costa Rica Shaken by Magnitude-6 Earthquake, USGS Says
May 1 (Bloomberg)
A magnitude-6 earthquake struck early today along the border of Panama and Costa Rica, the U.S. Geological Service said on its Web site.
The quake didn't prompt any tsunami alert by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The epicenter was 40 kilometers (24 miles) west-southwest of the town of David in Panama and 60 kilometers south-southeast of Golfito in Costa Rica, the USGS said. The quake struck 40 kilometers below the surface, at 2:48 a.m. local time.
David has a population of 77,000 and Golfito 10,000, the USGS said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the earthquake, which was classified as ''strong'' by the USGS.
The Central American countries are in a region where the Cocos and Caribbean plates meet and rub against each other.
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Pesticides may affect penis size
By JOHN MINER
FREE PRESS HEALTH REPORTER
Sat, April 29, 2006
A renowned U.S. scientist who has documented fertility and sex changes -- including decreasing penis size -- due to environmental contamination says he wouldn't apply pesticides on his own lawn.
Delivering a special series of lectures this week at the University of Western Ontario, Louis Guillette has been drawn into London's lawn-care debate during question periods and talk-show interviews.
"The use of these compounds just for cosmetic reasons, just because you don't want to make dandelion wine from your yard or whatever, I think is inappropriate," Guillette, who is associate dean for research at the University of Florida, said in a lecture yesterday at UWO's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Based on his own scientific investigations, Guillette said there's enough evidence pesticides put children, wildlife and the ecosystem at risk.
"Just because you can go buy them at the local stores doesn't meant that is appropriate use," he said.
A zoologist, Guillette has spent the last decade studying the influence of environmental contaminants on fetal development and reproductive systems of wildlife and humans, including the differences between alligators living in contaminated Florida lakes and those in cleaner ones.
He found abnormalities in sex organs, dramatic differences in egg-hatching rates and hormone levels.
Penis size of the animals from the polluted lake was smaller than animals from the less-polluted lake.
"This is important because it is not just an alligator story. It is not just a lake story. We know there has been a dramatic increase in penile and genital abnormalities in baby boys," Guillette said.
A followup study by another scientist involving healthy couples with 5,000 healthy babies also found reduced penis size with higher contamination levels.
"Are (their penises) so small they are actually having problems? We don't know. These are baby boys," he said.
But rodent studies have indicated more difficulty with fertility and other aspects later on, he said.
The researchers also found the alligators from contaminated water had abnormal ovaries. Some of the abnormalities were traced to chemical compounds with estrogen, a sex hormone. Estrogenic-type compounds are found in some pesticides, including atrazine, mostly widely used in North America for weed control.
Guillette said he doesn't support a total pesticide ban, saying their use is proper for public health and probably in agriculture. But when people can reduce their exposure they should, he said.
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New powerful earthquake shakes Kamchatka
MOSCOW - Another powerful earthquake was registered at 8:58 p.m. Moscow time in the Olyutor Bay, off the coast of Kamchatka, Interfax as told at the Emergency situations' Ministry.
Its epicenter was at the depth of 40 kilometers and magnitude reached 7 points on the Richter scale.
The underground tremors were felt on the mainland but being much weaker caused no death or destruction.
Comment: As we keep saying, large earthquakes on this far Eastern Russian penninsula has very serious implications for the West coast of America.
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Earthquakes in Mongolia and Japan
Sunday, April 30, 2006
An earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale jolted Mongolia early this morning, sources reported.
The Hong Kong Observatory reported that the earthquake occurred at 08:48 local time and its epidemic located 520 kilometers southwest of the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator, did not result in any causalities.
Japan's Meteorological Agency reported that an earthquake measuring 4.4 on Richter scale occurred at 13:14 local time. The epicenter of the tremor was reported to be the coast of Shizuoka, 100 kilometers southwest of the Japan capital Tokyo.
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Billions wasted in Iraq, says US audit
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Monday May 1, 2006
A US congressional inspection team set up to monitor reconstruction in Iraq today publishes a scathing report of failures by contractors, mainly from the US, to carry out projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
In one case, the inspection team found that three years after the invasion only six of 150 health centres proposed for Iraq had been completed by a US contractor, in spite of 75% of the $186m (£100m) allocated having been spent.
The report says: "Fourteen more will be completed by the contractor, and the remaining facilities, which are partially constructed, will have to be completed by other means." The inspectors blame the failure in this instance on management problems and security concerns.
The danger facing foreigners in Iraq was highlighted yesterday when a roadside bomb 30 miles south of Baghdad killed three private security firm staff and wounded two others. One of the wounded is British, the Foreign Office said.
The detailed and lengthy report on work projects in Iraq has been drawn up by Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (Sigir). Mr Bowen's office was set up after Congress expressed concern about the slow rate of reconstruction and the misuse of funds on a massive scale.
The report says Mr Bowen's inspection team is investigating 72 cases of alleged fraud and corruption, and is pursuing leads not only in the US but in Europe and the Middle East.
In March, investigators conducted a successful sting operation which led to the arrest of a contractor who offered a bribe to one of its undercover agents.
The report says many completed projects "have delivered positive results, but there exists a gap between US project outputs and the delivery of essential services to Iraqis".
While progress has been made in the construction of schools and police stations, many Iraqis still have no access to clean water, and electricity supplies in Baghdad are still below pre-invasion levels. The inspectors say that economic recovery is being hampered by the failure to restore Iraq's oil production to levels before 2003.
The report says that corruption in the oil and gas sector is a continuing problem that could have "devastating effects" on reconstruction in Iraq.
The inspectors audited Task Force Shield, a project established in September 2003 to build Iraq's capacity to protect its oil, gas and electrical infrastructure, and found significant shortcomings. The report concludes the project "failed to meet its goals because it was burdened by a lack of clear management structure and poor accountability. There were also indications of potential fraud, which are now under review by Sigir investigators."
Up to last month, Washington had invested more than $265m to improve the protection of energy infrastructure in Iraq.
Task Force Shield sought to cover 340 key installations, 4,000 miles of oil pipeline, and 8,000 miles of electrical transmission lines.
In a separate section, the report notes that a former contractor and former senior staffer in the now defunct US-led coalition government are facing jail sentences 30 to 40 years on corruption charges.The contractor will have to pay $3.6m in restitution and forfeit $3.6m in assets.
Apart from mismanagement and corruption, the report identifies continuing attacks by Iraqi insurgents as one of the main reasons for the delays and failures. It says: "Insurgent activity continues to impede ongoing reconstruction projects and interrupt their transition to Iraqi control.
"But the attacks remain concentrated in a few areas, leaving daily life in much of the rest of Iraq - particularly the Kurdish north and some areas of the south - in a state of gradual recovery."
The report adds: "Corruption is another form of insurgency. This second insurgency can be defeated only through the development of democratic values and systems, especially the evolution of effective anti-corruption institutions."
Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, said yesterday that he and US officials had met with insurgents and that a deal with some groups to end violence could be reached.
In a statement, Mr Talabani said: "I believe that a deal could be reached with seven armed groups that visited me."
Comment: Have a guess where the "wasted" money went. Have a guess where the "wasted" money came from. Iraq has been economically, structurally and socially raped by the the Bush administration and the international consortium of vultures that support it.
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War Pimp Alert: Powell Forces Rice to Defend Iraq Planning
By LIBBY QUAID
May 1, 2006
WASHINGTON - Just back from Baghdad and eager to discuss promising developments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice found herself knocked off message Sunday, forced to defend prewar planning and troop levels against an unlikely critic - Colin Powell, her predecessor at the State Department.
For the Bush administration, it was a rare instance of in-house dissenter going public.
On Rice's mind was the political breakthrough that had brought her and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to
Iraq last week and cleared the way for formation of a national unity government.
Yet Powell sideswiped her by revisiting the question of whether the U.S. had a large enough force to oust
Saddam Hussein and then secure the peace.
He said he advised Bush before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to send more troops to Iraq, but that the administration did not follow his recommendation.
Rice, Bush's national security adviser during the run-up to the war, neither confirmed nor denied Powell's assertion. But she spent a good part of her appearances on three Sunday talk shows reaching into the past to defend the White House, which is trying to highlight the positive to a public increasingly skeptical in this election year of the president's conduct of the war and concerned about the large U.S. military presence.
"I don't remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission that we went into Iraq," Rice said.
"And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration. But that when it came down to it, the president listens to his military advisers who were to execute the plan," she told CNN's "Late Edition."
Powell, in an interview broadcast Sunday in London, said he gave the advice to now retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who developed and executed the Iraq invasion plan, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld while the president was present.
"I made the case to General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld before the president that I was not sure we had enough troops," Powell said in an interview on Britain's ITV television. "The case was made, it was listened to, it was considered. ... A judgment was made by those responsible that the troop strength was adequate."
Rice said Bush "listened to the advice of his advisers and ultimately, he listened to the advice of his commanders, the people who actually had to execute the war plan. And he listened to them several times," she told ABC's "This Week."
"When the war plan was put together, it was put together, also, with consideration of what would happen after Saddam Hussein was actually overthrown," Rice said.
In January, Pentagon officials acknowledged that Paul Bremer, the senior U.S. official in Iraq during the first year of the war, told Rumsfeld in May 2004 that a far larger number of U.S. troops were needed to effectively fight the insurgency, but his advice was rejected.
Bremer said his memo to Rumsfeld suggested half a million troops were needed - more than three times the number there at the time.
"There will be time to go back and look at those days of the war and, after the war, to examine what went right and what went wrong," Rice said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"But the goal and the purpose now is to make certain that we take advantage of what is now a very good movement forward on the political front to help this Iraqi government," she said.
Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War and is known for his belief in deploying decisive force with a clear exit strategy in any conflict.
"The president's military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate; they may still feel that years later. Some of us don't. I don't," Powell said. "In my perspective, I would have preferred more troops, but you know, this conflict is not over."
"At the time, the president was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him with military advice," Powell said. "They were anticipating a different kind of immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad; it turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated."
Rumsfeld has rejected criticism that he sent too few U.S. troops to Iraq, saying that Franks and generals who oversaw the campaign's planning had determined the overall number of troops, and that he and Bush agreed with them. The recommendation of senior military commanders at the time was about 145,000 troops.
Comment: Powell's move is just yet another distraction. Instead of focusing on the fact that the Bush administration lied to drum up support for the invasion of Iraq, everyone is focused on the "infighting" in the government.
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Powell criticizes Washington for inadequate troop deployment in Iraq
www.chinaview.cn 2006-05-01 16:45:51
LONDON, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized the Bush Administration for not following his advice to deploy enough troops to Iraq before the onset of the war.
In an interview on the UK's ITV on Sunday, Powell said "The president's military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate, they may still feel that years later. Some of us don't, I don't."
"At the time the president was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him with military advice," he said. "They were anticipating a different kind of aftermath of the fall in Baghdad. It turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated."
Powell's remarks comes at a sensitive time for U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has been put on the defensive for his leadership on the war, with a number of retired generals calling for his resignation.
They claimed that Rumsfeld arrogantly ignored the advice of senior military in planning for the Iraq invasion, including General Eric Shinseki, the former army chief of staff who in 2003 told U.S. Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for the invasion and subsequent occupation.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when asked to address her predecessor's remarks, told CNN on Sunday that she didnot remember Powell "specifically" voicing dissent on the issue of whether or not the invasion of Iraq was adequately resourced.
"I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfil the mission that we went into Iraq (to carry out)," she said. "I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration."
Comment: So Powell thinks that the problem was that not enough troops were used. So the question is not over the morality or legality of the war -- obviously it was both immoral and illegal -- but over "winning".
And this is the guy that some folks think will "save America".
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US 'allowed Zarqawi to escape'
By Chris Evans
05/01/06 "The Age"
The United States deliberately passed up repeated opportunities to kill the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before the March 2003 US-led invasion of that country.
The claim, by former US spy Mike Scheuer, was made in an interview to be shown on ABC TV's Four Corners tonight.
Zarqawi is often described as a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, whose supporters masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Mr Scheuer was a CIA agent for 22 years - six of them as head of the agency's Osama bin Laden unit - until he resigned in 2004.
He told Four Corners that during 2002, the Bush Administration received detailed intelligence about Zarqawi's training camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Mr Scheuer claims that a July 2002 plan to destroy the camp lapsed because "it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers".
"Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq," he told Four Corners.
"Almost every day we sent a package to the White House that had overhead imagery of the house he was staying in. It was a terrorist training camp . . . experimenting with ricin and anthrax . . . any collateral damage there would have been terrorists."
During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi's presence in the north of the country was used by US officials to link Saddam Hussein to terrorism.
Zarqawi has twice been sentenced to death by Jordan's state security court.
He was first sentenced in absentia in November 2004 for planning the murder of a US diplomat in Jordan. The second sentence, last December, concerned plans to attack a border post between Iraq and Jordan.
Comment: It's the fault of the French!
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Al Qaeda leader says US hit hard in Iraq
Sat Apr 29, 2006
By Firouz Sedarat
DUBAI - Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said hundreds of suicide bombers had "broken America's back" in three years of war in Iraq, according to a video posted on the Internet on Saturday.
The release of the video came just days after the broadcast of an audio tape from Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a rare video from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the group's leader in Iraq.
Zawahri also called for the overthrow of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has survived several al Qaeda-inspired assassination attempts since allying himself with Washington. Pakistan has captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda members.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq alone has carried out 800 martyrdom operations in three years, besides the victories of the other mujahideen. And this is what has broken the back of America in Iraq," Zawahri said in the video posted on an Islamist Web site.
Many thousands of Iraqis have been killed in a relentless insurgent campaign of suicide and car bombings that mostly target U.S. soldiers and Iraq's fledgling security forces.
Nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, many by roadside bombs, and April has been the bloodiest month of the year so far for U.S. forces.
"America, Britain and their allies have achieved nothing but losses, disasters and misfortunes," the Egyptian Islamic militant leader said in the video.
Zawahri, bespectacled and wearing a black turban and a white robe, sat in front of a curtain. He did not appear to have his customary assault rifle next to him.
A statement accompanying the video said it was made in the latter part of the Muslim month, which ended on Friday.
Zawahri also condemned the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as "traitors" for their close ties to the West and Musharraf as a "treacherous criminal."
Comment: More surprises! Out pops the U.S. and Israeli sock puppet, Mr Magoo, aka "Zawahri", who treats us to a load of complete nonsense about the war on terror, nonsense that, yet again, strangely echoes the Bush administration's claims about the war on terror. Hmmm...
Zawahri claims that "suicide" car bombings in Iraq have broken the back of the U.S. military, yet how can this be when the bombings have been targetting ordinary Iraqi Shia and Sunni civilians and their holy sites? As Robert Fisk suggests, these bombings are clear evidence that somone is trying to foment civil war in Iraq, and if Zawahri is claiming that the bombings are his work, then we have to wonder why he would want civil war in Iraq? Civil war can only help the U.S. mmilitary by reducing the number of attacks that Iraqi fighters are able to mount against it.
All of which makes us wonder who Zawahri actually works for when his goals seem to converge with the goals of Israel and the Bush administration...
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Sen. Biden: Iraq should be divided into 3 regions
Mon May 1, 2006
WASHINGTON - Iraq should be divided into three largely autonomous regions -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- with a weaker central government in Baghdad, Sen. Joseph Biden said on Monday.
In an op-ed article in The New York Times, Biden, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee's top Democrat, said the Bush administration's effort to establish a strong central government in Baghdad had been a failure, doomed by ethnic rivalry that had spawned widespread sectarian violence.
"It is increasingly clear that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. Rather, he hopes to prevent defeat and pass the problem along to his successor," said Biden and co-author Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Iraq's Sunnis, the driving force behind the insurgency, would welcome the partition plan rather than be dominated by a Shiite-controlled central government, Biden said.
He said the division of Iraq would follow the example of Bosnia a decade ago when that war-torn country was partitioned into ethnic federations under the U.S.-brokered Dayton Accords.
Biden billed his plan as a "third option" beyond the "false choice" of continuing the Bush administration policy of nurturing a unity government in Iraq or withdrawing U.S. troops immediately.
As part of the plan, the United States should withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by 2008, except for a small force to combat terrorism, Biden said.
Under Biden's proposal, the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.
Comment: Do you think it is just a conincidence that 3 years ago Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations in a paper entitled "Three-state Solution" said:
"The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct (Iraq's) historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south"
At this time, there was no ethnic strife to justify such a dividing up of Iraq, only the megalomania of members of the CFR and the Bush and Israeli governments. Three years and a plethora of US, British and Israeli intelligence-orchestrated bombings of shrines and mass murders of sunni and shia later however, and Democratic Senator Biden is also calling for the division of Iraq into three statelets.
Again: Coincidence? Or the plan all along?
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Iran Madness Part 3630
Iran 'playing games' with nuclear offer, Rice says
Last Updated Sun, 30 Apr 2006 16:06:35 EDT
The United States has rejected Iran's latest offer in the ongoing diplomatic to-and-fro over the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
Iran offered Saturday to allow UN inspectors to resume inspections of its nuclear facilities as long as the UN's Security Council agrees not to impose sanctions.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would probably still seek a Security Council resolution requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium. That resolution, if passed, could lead to sanctions.
She dismissed the Iranian offer. "They've had plenty of time to co-operate. I think they're playing games."
The Security Council had set a Friday deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium. The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported Friday that Iran had ignored the demand.
While the U.S., Britain and France have taken a tough line against Iran, two other permanent council members - China and Russia - are opposed to sanctions.
Rice said the UN's credibility is on the line with Iran. "We can either mean what we say, when we say that Iran must comply, or we can continue to allow Iran to defy," she told the ABC television news program This Week on Sunday.
Uranium enrichment is at the centre of the dispute because it can be used to generate electricity, which Iran says it wants to do, or make nuclear weapons, as the West fears.
Sanctions too costly for West, Iranian says
An Iranian official said the council will not impose sanctions because that would drive oil prices even higher, hurting Western countries.
Western political leaders are already facing public discontent over high gas prices, and penalizing Iran - a major exporter - would make the problem worse.
"Any action like that will increase oil prices very high. And I believe that the UN or its bodies will not put any sanctions on oil or the oil industry," Iranian deputy oil minister M.H. Nejad Hosseinian said.
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Iran 'attacks Iraq Kurdish area'
Iraq has accused Iranian forces of entering Iraqi territory and shelling Kurdish rebel positions in the north.
Iranian troops bombed border areas near the town of Hajj Umran before crossing into Iraq, the defence ministry in Baghdad said on Sunday.
It said the Iranians targeted the PKK, a Kurdish group that has waged a 15-year insurgency against Turkey.
The PKK is believed to have links with anti-Iranian Kurdish fighters. There are no details on casualties.
The Iraqi defence ministry also says Iran launched a similar attack on Kurdish rebel positions in the same area on 21 April.
There are no reported comments from Tehran on either of the alleged incidents.
Comment: "Those Iranians, now they are going out and attacking the Kurds! They must be killed! All of them!"
The propaganda war against Iran will continue to mount. If their having a programme for nuclear energy isn't dangerous enough, then the Bush Reich will spin other stories, such as this, that they are attacking their neighbours.
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'Don't attack us or else,' Kurdish guerrillas warn Iran
30 April 2006
ANZI, Iraq - While Turkish Kurdish guerrillas based in northeast Iraq continue to wrestle their foes in Turkey, tensions have been brewing with neighbouring Iran. Lodged in northern Iraq in an area flanked by NATO member Turkey and Washington's foe Iran, elements of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have accused Teheran of attacking their encampments.
The separatists, fighting for the creation of a Kurdish state in Turkey's southeast, said Iranian artillery on April 20 bombed their positions in Iraq killing two fighters and wounding 10 others.
"There is an agreement between Turkey and Iran to attack our positions," the commander of the group, Rustom Judi, told AFP in Anzi, a small village in rugged mountains, located near the Iranian border some 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Sulaimaniyah.
"Iranian forces have no reason to do this because the fighting has been between our men and soldiers inside Turkey, far from the Iranian border," he added.
Turkey says some 5,000 armed PKK militants have found refuge in northern Iraq since 1999, when the group declared a unilateral ceasefire after the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The truce was called off in June 2004.
"I warn Iran that their aggression against our party's positions in Iraq will have consequences," Judi said.
A female Kurdish fighter from Syria, Mezkin Jurdit, added: "Iran has attacked our forces for the past year, arresting many of us.
"Recently, the Iranians started reinforcing their military positions on the border," she said. "If they continue their attacks, we will start a merciless guerrilla war within Iran.
"Currently our strategy is defensive, but that can change if the Iranian attacks continue," she said.
In a village near Anzi housing some 50 families, Iraqi Kurdish locals live in fear of being caught in the crossfire between the PKK and Iran.
The rebels have until now kept a low profile, despite establishing checkpoints from which they monitor signs of any possible Iranian attack.
"We live in fear of the presence of nearby Iranian troops. It reminds me of our time under Saddam Hussein," said Haji Mustafa Yunes, referring to Iraq's ousted leader who waged a decade-long war against Iran.
The 56-year-old local returned to the village following Saddam's 1991 loss of control over the region, since when northern Iraq has been under the control of the Iraqi Kurds.
His sentiments were echoed by 20-year-old Amanj Mohammed.
"We're startled by planes because we fear we could be the target of a bombing," he said.
Iran has accused Kurdish rebels of infiltrating its territory.
Teheran and Ankara have agreed to help each other fight both the Kurdish rebels who oppose Turkish rule and the People's Mujaheedeen, an Iraq-based group opposing Iran.
Turkey has long urged the United States and Iraq to root out the PKK from its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, but it has been told that violence in other parts of the conflict-torn country was their priority.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Ankara during a visit last Tuesday to refrain from unilateral action against the Iraq-based Kurdish rebels, calling instead for renewed trilateral cooperation to fight the threat.
Turkey has massed troops along the border to intensify operations against PKK rebels who are sneaking into Turkey in growing numbers with the arrival of spring when snow melts and makes passage through the mountains easier.
The Kurdish conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives since the PKK launched its separatist campaign in 1984.
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Use of Force Against Iran May Lead to Catastrophe - Russian Expert
Use of Force Against Iran May Lead to Catastrophe — Russian Expert
Created: 01.05.2006 13:29 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 13:42 MSK, 5 hours 24 minutes ago
Attempts to use force in solving Iran's nuclear problem may lead to a catastrophe, the chairperson of Russia's Commerce and Industry Chamber said.
Speaking in Tel Aviv at a meeting with Israeli businessmen, Yevgeny Primakov quoted by RIA-Novosti news agency called for political settlement of the crisis around Iran.
Primakov added that Russia is in no way interested in a nuclear state near its borders.
"The questions is how we can prevent it. If someone is proposing use of force, it is counterproductive. It may lead to catastrophic consequences. Therefore, it is necessary to find political solutions. Is it difficult to find them? No doubt. But one must aim at it," Primakov said.
He added that the issue connected with Iran's uranium enrichment at the Russian territory was still open and that negotiations should be continued.
"The main thing is to evade use of force against Iran because (otherwise) it would throw not only the region back, it would throw the whole East back, I think. One should not trifle wth this," Primakov said.
Yevgeny Primakov was Russia's Prime Minister since September 1998 until May 1999. He was regarded as a compromise figure between Yeltsin's government and Communist opposition.
During the Soviet era, Primakov was director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences (1977-1985) and director in the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (until 1989). In 1989, he was appointed chairman of one of two houses of the Soviet parliament. He served as Gorbachev's special envoy to Iraq in the run-up to the Gulf War, in which capacity he held talks with President Saddam Hussein. In 1991, after the coup against Gorbachev failed, he was appointed First Deputy Chairman of the KGB.
In modern Russia, Primakov worked as director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (1991-1996), and as foreign minister (1996-1998). He strongly but pragmatically supported Russia's interests and was an opponent of NATO's expansion into the former Eastern bloc. He promoted Russia, China and India as a "strategic triangle" to counterbalance the United States.
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Turkey Refuses U.S. Request To Allow Attack On Iran From Turkish Base
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Sunday that his country refused a request from the United States to attack Iran from its Air Force base in Incirlik, despite the U.S. offer of a nuclear reactor, according to a report in Al Biyan.
In an interview for the United Arab Emirates newspaper, Gul noted that America's efforts to attack Iran are "imaginary" and that Turkey's stance is "strategic" and refuses the use of its land for any belligerent activity against neighboring countries. (Roee Nahmias)
Comment: If this report is correct, there is more than a little cynicism involved in the US offering a nuclear reactor to Turkey in exchange for attacking Iran...on account of their nuclear programme!
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UN Readies Iran Nuke Resolution
by William M. Reilly
UPI U.N. Correspondent
May 01, 2006
United Nations - Key members of the United Nations Security Council are preparing a resolution to make mandatory Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on Friday sent the 15-member council, as requested last month, an 8-page report on Iraq's continuing nuclear research programs.
"Gaps remain in the agency's knowledge with respect to the scope and content of Iran's (uranium enrichment) centrifuge program," ElBaradei said. "Because of this and other gaps in the agency's knowledge, including the role of the military in Iran's nuclear program, the agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.
"After more than three years of agency efforts to seek clarity about all the aspects of Iran's nuclear program, the existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern," the report continued. "Any progress in that regard requires full transparency and active cooperation by Iran... if the agency is to be able to understand fully the 20 years of undeclared nuclear activity by Iran."
However, the monitoring agency was able to find evidence to back up Tehran's claim of enriching uranium in a cascade of 164 centrifuges.
"On April 13, 2006, Iran declared to the agency that an enrichment level of 3.6 percent had been achieved," the report said, adding five days later... The IAEA "took samples at (the) Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, the results of which tend to confirm as of that date the enrichment level declared by Iran."
Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of Britain said he and the ambassadors of France and Germany were already working on a draft resolution the trio is sponsoring.
"We're consulting the United States very closely," he told reporters outside the council chamber. "I expect that early next week there will be discussions more broadly and by the middle of the week, I am quite confident, introduce into council, at 15 (members), a resolution to respond to this report."
There was no mention of sanctions.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton of the United States said, "Our immediate task here in the council is clear, and that is to produce a resolution under (U.N.) Chapter VII making the IAEA resolutions mandatory."
A council resolution under Chapter VII carries the weight of international law, which is binding on all member states of the United Nations.
"The United States thinks the council is ready to proceed," Bolton said. "We're ready to move expeditiously and what comes after that is largely in Iran's hands."
Meaning, if Iran cooperates it won't have to face sanctions, or worse, down the road.
Ambassador Wang Guangya of China, this month's president of the council said diplomacy was still at work.
"The feeling of almost all the members, including all the major powers (permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) is that this is an important issue and all we want is to work for a diplomatic solution because this region is already complicated," he said. "There are a lot of problems in the region and we should not do anything that would cause the situation (to become) more complicated."
However, Bolton cited Washington's reasons for a tough stance.
"Iran has done nothing to comply with existing IAEA Board (of Governors) resolutions or the request contained in the Security Council Presidential Statement that it suspend all enrichment-related activities, come into full compliance with the additional protocol and take a number of additional steps to show that in fact Iran's nuclear program is for purely civil, peaceful purposes, as they contend," the envoy said.
"I think, if anything, the IAEA report shows that Iran has accelerated its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, although, of course, the report doesn't make any conclusions in that regard," he went on. "We are concerned about the continued work that Iran is doing to acquire nuclear weapons capability. We do think there's a sense of urgency here."
Since a Chapter VII resolution requires there be a threat to peace and security, Bolton was asked how Washington will present such a case.
"Evidence of Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, its extensive program to achieve a ballistic missile capability of longer and longer range and greater accuracy, constitutes a classic threat to international peace and security, especially when combined with Iran's long status as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," he said, echoing U.S. President George W. Bush's charge Tehran was part of an "axis of evil."
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Israel's Olmert wins partners for majority coalition
By Dean Yates
April 30, 2006
JERUSALEM - Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won over enough parties to form a majority coalition on Sunday, clearing the way for his plans to re-shape the West Bank and set final borders with the Palestinians.
Olmert's centrist Kadima party reached its immediate goal when it drafted a deal earlier in the day with Shas, a leading ultra-religious Jewish party. Shas's ruling rabbis approved the agreement at a late-night meeting, a party spokesman said.
"The parties are signing the deal now," the spokesman said.
With Shas on board, Olmert controls 67 of parliament's 120 seats -- a majority crucial to pushing through his proposal to quit isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and strengthen major settlements in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli media have said the cabinet could be unveiled within days and sworn in on Thursday.
Kadima, the party which won the most seats in March 28 elections but not a majority, has already signed up the center-left Labour party and the pensioners' party Gil.
Olmert has pledged to set Israel's borders with the Palestinians by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement. His "convergence plan" includes beefing up major Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Palestinians have said such a move would not bring peace and would annex land they want for a state of their own in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, which Israel quit last year.
Once the government is in place, Olmert plans to visit the United States, Israel's closest ally, to present the outlines of his West Bank proposals at a meeting with
President Bush around May 23, Israeli government sources have said.
Olmert has said he will wait, but not for long, for the Palestinian government led by the militant Islamist movement Hamas to show whether it will moderate its policy of seeking the Jewish state's destruction and become a peace partner.
Peace prospects appear dim as Hamas has defied Israeli and international demands to disarm and recognize Israel.
Kadima won 29 seats in the March elections, which will give it one of the lowest ever tallies for a governing Israeli party.
Labour has 19 seats. Its leader, former trade union chief Amir Peretz, is due to become defense minister, party officials have said. The pensioners party has seven seats, and Shas 12.
Olmert is also courting another ultra-Orthodox party and a Russian-immigrant nationalist faction as he tries to form a broad administration holding some 80 parliamentary seats.
HAMAS OPTIMISTIC ON FUNDS
Israel has cut off tax transfers to the Hamas-led government while Western countries have severed direct aid.
The government has no income and has been unable to pay salaries to its 165,000 employees for a month.
But on Sunday, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he expected the funding crisis to be over "very, very soon."
Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, gave no details. The solution is expected to involve payments being made directly to Palestinian Authority employees from abroad.
The Palestinian government is unable to receive transfers from abroad because local, regional and international banks fear sanctions by the United States, which regards Hamas as a terrorist organization.
"I can say that very, very soon we will have begun ending the crisis of the salaries," Haniyeh told reporters.
Palestinian parliamentary sources say the Cairo-based Arab League is preparing to make direct transfers to the accounts of government employees, bypassing the government.
The monthly wage bill is about $118 million.
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Olmert orders rapid completion of West Bank barrier
Sun Apr 30, 2006
JERUSALEM - The Israeli government moved to speed up the completion of the controversial West Bank barrier as cabinet ministers approved amendments to its route.
"We must go forward as quickly as possible," prime minister designate Ehud Olmert said at the start of the weekly gathering of ministers Sunday who unanimously agreed to the changes.
"The decisions which we are taking will enable us to complete the security barrier as quickly as possible so that we can best prevent terrorist attacks."
As part of the amendments to the route, which come following a number of legal challenges, Palestinian living in villages near the large settlement of Ariel in the northern West Bank and close to east Jerusalem will no longer find themselves encircled by the barrier.
Olmert last week hosted a meeting of top security officials to decide on changes to the route in the wake of an April 14 suicide attack in Tel Aviv carried out by an Islamic Jihad militant who slipped into Israel from the West Bank via east Jerusalem.
The acting premier in particular ordered that gaps in the concrete structure around Jerusalem be filled in before permanent work has been completed.
The Israeli defence ministry announced earlier this month that half of the 670-kilometre (415-mile) barrier had been completed.
Israel justifies the massive barrier of electric fencing, barbed wire and concrete walls by insisting it is vital to stopping potential attackers from infiltrating the country and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The Palestinians denounce the project as a cynical attempt to grab their land and undermine the viability of their promised state.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in
The Hague issued a non-binding ruling that parts of the barrier in the West Bank were illegal and should be demolished.
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Hamas urges Quartet to curb Israel's barrier construction
www.chinaview.cn 2006-05-01 19:20:01
GAZA, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Palestinian Hamas government said on Monday that it would ask the Quartet to intervene in Israel's barrier construction in the West Bank.
"We (the government) will send a letter to the Quartet, which would convene soon, asking for their interference to try to stop building the wall, and we have earlier sent a similar letter to the UN secretary-general," Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad told reporters in Gaza.
"We need an international pressure on Israel to force it to change its positions," said Hamad.
"We need an international pressure on Israel to force it to change its positions," said Hamad.
He criticized the international community for folding their arms after international court of justice ruled that the wall was illegal.
The Quartet would meet on May 9 to confer over some issues,including the Palestinian economical crisis, which worsened after Hamas took office on March 29.
The Quartet, grouping the United Nations, the United States,Russia and the European Union, has been a long-time mediator over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Israel began building the separation barrier in 2001 after suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinian militants killed hundreds of Israelis.
Israel says the barrier, which will be 760 km long after completion, is supposed to provide security by preventing suicide bombers from entering Israel.
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Israel kills woman in West Bank raid
Israeli soldiers have killed a Palestinian woman during a raid in the West Bank town of Tulkarm.
Eitas Zalat, 41, died and her two daughters were slightly wounded as Israeli troops opened fire during the arrest of an alleged militant.
An Israeli army spokesman said that "shooting broke out when a top official of Islamic Jihad" resisted arrest.
The spokesman said the army was very sorry "when innocent people are hurt", and promised a full investigation.
Several people were arrested during the Israeli military operation in the West Bank.
Israeli forces regularly conduct raids into the West Bank. The operations often result in the arrest or killing of alleged Palestinian militants, and the rounding up of Palestinian men.
The Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, estimates that 78 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza so far in 2006.
Approximately 27 of these, B'Tselem says, were civilians. The remainder were Palestinians involved in hostilities at the time they were killed or Palestinians wanted by Israel in connection with alleged militant activity.
These figures are approximate. The precise circumstances of such incidents are often disputed.
'No second term'
In a separate development, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he does not intend to seek a second term in office.
Israeli forces on the operation in Tulkarm, in the West Bank
Several people were arrested during the Israeli military operation
Speaking in a television interview with Saudi Arabian al-Arabiya channel, Mr Abbas said he simply wanted to succeed in completing his current mandate which expires in 2009.
Mr Abbas said it would then be time for a new generation of political leaders.
He became president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005 after the death of the veteran leader Yasser Arafat.
Mr Abbas also took over the leadership of Fatah, the party that dominated Palestinian political life for decades until being ousted by the Islamist movement Hamas in the election in January.
Comment: Sure, they are "very sorry" when innocent people are hurt, that's why deliberately target Palestinian civilians and children and fill them full of bullet holes, because they want to feel sorry afterwards.
girls, two shots to the head
Chris McGreal in Jabaliya refugee camp
Wednesday October 6, 2004
In October 2004, 13-year-old Iman al-Hams was shot and wounded by an Israeli army unit in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, despite being identified as a little girl, and wearing a school uniform. Iman was machine-gunned by the unit's commander. She had 17 bullets in her body, and three in her head.
Palestinian 15-year-olds among growing number of children hit by Israeli snipers
during 'Days of Penitence'
Islam Dwidar's classmates were still taking in her shocking death - the teacher
weeping outside before facing the girls, her closest friend recounting how
they walked to school together each day - when the news arrived about Tahreer
Abu El Jidyan.
The two 15-year-old pupils at Jabaliya's school were both shot in the head
by Israeli soldiers inside their homes just a few blocks and several hours
apart. Islam died almost immediately after the bullet smashed through her forehead
as she baked bread with her mother in their yard on Sunday. Tahreer is still
on life support at a Gaza hospital after an operation to remove shards of shattered
skull from her brain.
She lies motionless, with little to suggest she is alive other than gentle
breathing. Doctors do not expect her to survive.
Tahreer's mother, Intisar, was at her bedside yesterday.
"Oh Tahreer, my heart. I wish I were lying in this bed, not you," she
whispered to her child. "She was sweeping the floor in front of the door," said
Mrs Abu El Jidyan. "I was standing talking to her. We knew the Israeli
soldiers were around, we knew they had snipers in the buildings on our street
but we didn't expect what happened. They just shot her in the head. Her
brains spilled out. She said: 'Mum, I'm hit'. She praised God and she collapsed."
There were two bullets. The first struck Tahreer in the head. As she fell,
the second hit the wall behind her. "I've no doubt a sniper shot her deliberately.
There was no fighting in the area. There were no other shots, only the ones
that hit Tahreer," said her mother.
With her stood Tahreer's 14-year-old brother, Naser, who was wounded by shrapnel
last week. Israeli forces killed their father 11 years ago during the first
Mrs Abu El Jidyan regrets preventing Tahreer from walking to school on Sunday
morning. She thought it would be too dangerous to venture out of their home
in Jabaliya's Sikka neighbourhood because it is on the edge of the area occupied
by Israeli troops and tanks last week. Snipers are posted in buildings overlooking
their street and a tank is less than a block away.
"I wouldn't let her out of the house but it was dangerous at home too.
When there was fighting, bullets came through the walls. We stopped using some
rooms on the side where the Israelis are," she said.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups say that about half
of the nearly 80 people killed by the army over the past week of "Operation Days of
Penitence" are civilians. The military says it has carefully targeted
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters with missile strikes.
But while the numbers are in dispute - in part because it is often hard to
say whether youths in their mid to late teens are bystanders or part of the
Palestinian resistance - there is no doubt that a growing number of children
have been felled by Israeli snipers.
At Islam and Tahreer's school in Jabaliya yesterday morning, the headmistress,
Rukaya Kamal al Budani, fielded calls from parents wanting to know if it was
safe to send their girls. "If they can get here, it's safe," was
her stock reply. But of 1,150 pupils, fewer than 200 turned up.
Before word reached the school about Tahreer, Mrs al Budani was getting to
grips with the death of Islam.
"This is our first casualty at the school," she said. "I
don't know how to deal with the girls. It's going to have a big impact on her
classmates and friends. I'm shocked that no one in the free world condemns
the killing of a child."
Then one of the male teachers tells Mrs al Budani about the shooting of Tahreer
the previous day. The headmistress sits in silence.
Until June, the two young women had been classmates, but then Tahreer failed
her exams and was held back for a year. Asmaa Abu Samaan walked to school with
her each morning.
"I met her in front of my house each morning to walk to school. I did
my homework with her. I keep thinking that if she is brain-dead and not killed
perhaps she is still suffering. I can't stand it," she
Asmaa walked to school yesterday morning without her friend."I walked
against the wall hoping the soldiers can't see me. I want to go to school because
I know the Jews do not want us to study because we need to be educated to build
our country," she said.
But the killing went on as the conflict claimed the life of another teenage
girl in the Gaza strip yesterday. Palestinian medics said Israeli soldiers
fired about 20 bullets into 13- year-old Iman al-Hams, including five into
The military said she had entered a forbidden zone in Rafah refugee camp,
and that she dropped a bag that soldiers feared was a bomb.
The Palestinians said Iman was walking to school when troops entered the camp
and that she dropped her bag as she ran away in fear.
The bag was not found to contain a bomb.
fired on girl 'having identified her as a 10-year-old', military tape shows
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
24 November 2004
Israeli soldiers continued firing at a Palestinian girl killed in Gaza last
month well after she had been identified as a frightened child, a military
communications tape has revealed.
The tape is likely to be crucial in the prosecution case against the men's
company commander, who faces five charges arising from the killing of Iman
al-Hams, 13, in the southern border town of Rafah on 6 October.
It shows that troops firing with light weapons and machine guns on a figure
moving in a "no entry zone" close to an army outpost near the border
with Egypt had swiftly discovered that she was a girl.
In the recorded exchanges someone in the operations room asks: "Are
we talking about a girl under the age of 10?" The observation post, housed
in a watchtower, replies: "It's a little girl. She's running defensively
eastwards, a girl of about 10. She's behind the embankment, scared
Not until four minutes later was it reported that the girl had been hit and
had fallen. The observation post reports: "Receive, I think that one of
the positions took her out." ... Operations room: "What, she fell?" Observation
post: "She's not moving right now."
The tape records the commander as telling his men, after firing at
the girl with an automatic weapon and declaring he has "confirmed" the killing: "Anyone
who's mobile, moving in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be
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New Israel Spy Satellite Beams First Images
May 01, 2006
Jerusalem - An Israeli satellite that can reportedly spy closely on Iran's nuclear programme has sent back its first "high quality" pictures since its launch into space, public radio reported Friday.
Photographs from the D3 Eros B1 satellite with a 70-centimetre (28-inch inch) resolution were taken in orbit, 500 kilometres (310 miles) from earth and were transitted to the control room of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
The first pictures were taken over Europe and did not therefore feature installations in Iran, the radio reported.
Israel's satellite was launched from a military space launch site in Russia on Tuesday and circumnavigates earth every 90 minutes.
Israel considers the Islamic regime in Tehran its chief public enemy and has led international efforts to see Iran slapped with economic sanctions for its alleged nuclear weapons programme.
Security fears have been heightened in Israel by menacing comments from Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
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Eighteen dead in Tiger infighting, says Sri Lankan military
Sun Apr 30, 2006
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka - At least 18 rebels were killed and many wounded when Tamil Tiger guerrillas launched a major attack against a breakaway faction in eastern Sri Lanka, military and rebel sources said.
The battle was one of the bloodiest incidents in an escalation of violence in recent weeks that has severely strained a four-year-old ceasefire between the Tigers and the government.
The main Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) pounded a base of the faction led by V. Muralitharan, better known as Colonel Karuna, in the jungles of Welikanda, a military official in the area said Sunday.
"The fighting is in an 'uncleared' (LTTE-controlled) area. We have not been able to go there and see for ourselves what is going on," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"What we know is what we have gathered from intercepted radio communications. They speak of 10 killed on Karuna's side and eight on the other."
Nine of the wounded were admitted to hospital in Polonnaruwa, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Welikanda, where doctors told AFP they were suffering knife, gunshot and blast wounds.
Lying side-by-side in Ward 7, the victims had bandages on their chests, legs, hands, arms and heads. One had lost his hand.
Speaking haltingly through an interpreter, one -- who could not give his name and who was clearly in great pain -- said they were attacked at 1:00 am Sunday.
"There were many of them. They attacked us with machetes, guns and explosives," he said, confirming he and the other wounded were members of Karuna's faction. He refused to speak further.
Military officials in the area, about three kilometres from the fighting, said they heard automatic rifle fire for about 45 minutes and also rocket-propelled grenades.
The pro-LTTE tamilnet.com website said an LTTE commando unit had launched the assault against Karuna's Kasankulam base, killing "around 20 paramilitary operatives of the Karuna group" and destroying weapons there.
Sri Lankan troops fired mortars at the attacking LTTE commandos, the Tamilnet said, without mentioning whether there had been any casualties.
The defence ministry denied its troops were involved.
"We have not fired a single shot in that area," ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe told AFP. "But we opened fire with small arms and mortars at two other places last night when our defence lines came under attack."
He said troops at the Kokkuthuduvai and Vavunathivu camps elsewhere in the eastern province came under Tiger fire, which was returned. There were no immediate reports of casualties, Samarasinghe said.
Retired brigadier-general Vipul Boteju told AFP the rebel offensive was expected because the LTTE had said it wanted to wipe out Karuna's faction.
"This attack could be the prelude to a bigger attack they may be planning against the military," he said.
The Tigers have dubbed Karuna's faction a "paramilitary force" and wanted it disarmed before entering talks with the government on saving the troubled truce in place since February 2002.
Government forces regard the latest internecine clash as the worst since the main Tiger unit overran Karuna's bases in April 2004, a month after he split from the main rebel group.
The Tigers have accused the military of supporting the Karuna faction, a charge denied by authorities.
During ceasefire review talks in Switzerland in February, the LTTE insisted that government forces disarm Karuna's men before another round of negotiations could take place. Talks have since been postponed.
Scandinavians monitoring Sri Lanka's truce have said paramilitary units were operating in the troubled northeast. On Sunday the government protested another allegation by the monitors, that government forces may have been responsible for extrajudicial killings.
Faced with a recent escalation of violence, peacebroker Norway has been trying to arrange a fresh round of talks amid mounting international pressure on both sides to return to the table.
Nearly 200 people have been killed in the past month.
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Pressure mounts on Blair over sex, sleaze and incompetence
Sun Apr 30, 2006
LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has plummeted in the esteem of the British public as key ministers clung to their jobs at the weekend in the face of personal and political embarassments.
Two Sunday newspaper polls showed the governing Labour Party on the ropes in a week most commentators viewed as the most damaging since Blair came to power in 1997.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted having an affair with his secretary, Home Secretary Charles Clarke apologised for failing to deport some foreign convicts released after serving their sentences and nurses jeered Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.
As the separate rows showed no sign of abating, an ICM poll in the conservative Sunday Times newspaper suggested a majority (57 percent) now viewed Labour as "sleazy and incompetent".
Blair's personal rating also appeared to be at its lowest ebb since he became Labour leader in 1994: 64 percent thought he was doing badly, while just 33 percent said he was doing well.
Most also believed heads should roll: 48 percent thought Prescott should be sacked, 53 percent want Clarke to be axed and 51 percent of the voters want Hewitt to resign.
Hewitt claimed last week that the publicly funded National Health Service had enjoyed "its best year ever", despite cash-strapped hospitals being forced to cut thousands of jobs and frontline services to balance the books.
A separate ICM poll for the conservative Sunday Express showed the main opposition Conservatives had nudged ahead with 29 percent backing, with Labour on 27 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 22 percent.
A majority found the Home Office and NHS rows as "very damaging", but the public viewed Prescott's affair as "not very damaging".
The leader of the main opposition Conservatives David Cameron said Blair had suffered "a terminal loss of authority" while other Tories called for the ministers to quit.
But senior Labour figures have been fighting back as parties geared up for key local elections in England this Thursday.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling told BBC television the government would bounce back while Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell dismissed reports that Labour backbenchers want to force Blair to name a firm date to leave office.
Jowell -- who has herself come under scrutiny because of her estranged husband's business dealings with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi -- said that was "absolutely ridiculous".
The government faced a test of character, she condeded, but it was "not a government of ministers who are on the make, of ministers who are liars".
Prescott himself rounded on attention given to his two-year affair with Tracey Temple, lurid details of which covered nine pages in the Mail on Sunday.
He claimed much of her account was "simply untrue".
Although admitting he "acted stupidly" and appealing for privacy to rebuild bridges with his wife, Pauline, he also said he would take the matter to the Press Complaints Commission, accusing Temple of being motivated by money.
Reports put her fee at between 100,000 pounds (144,500 euros, 182,500 dollars) and 250,000 pounds.
For her part Temple insisted she was not responsible for the story being made public but now wanted to set the record straight as she had been "misrepresented".
Meanwhile, as police continued the search for the most dangerous of the 1,023 foreign criminals overlooked for possible deportation on their release from prison, Blair told the News of the World he could not guarantee Clarke's position.
Clarke has faced a strong backlash since admitting the blunder and said Friday that five of the most serious offenders had gone on to commit drugs and violence offences.
Another two had been accused of rape, with one of the cases occurring after ministers were made aware of the situation.
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Nepal back plans to curb king's power as PM sworn in
Monday May 1, 2006
Nepal's lawmakers unanimously backed the first step towards curbing the powers of the nation's monarch and called on Maoist rebels to renounce violence and end an 10-year insurgency.
The move came at the end of a tumultuous day in Nepal's political life after the 84-year-old premier was sworn in by the monarch whose power he has promised to curb.
Girija Prasad Koirala took the oath in front of King Gyanendra just hours before legislators acted on demands from hundreds of thousands of protesters to call elections for a new body to end the monarch's sweeping powers.
"We have fulfilled the demands of the people," said Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, joint-secretary of the Nepali Congress party, late Sunday.
"Now the government will announce a ceasefire and form a team to negotiate with the Maoist rebels," said Mahat.
"They (Maoists) should renounce violence and be ready to come to the negotiating table."
Elections to a constituent assembly were a key demand for Maoists who began their rebellion in 1996 which has left at least 12,500 people dead.
The Maoists, who control large parts of the countryside, are seen as key to any long-term solution to Nepal's problems.
Events moved quickly after Koirala's morning swearing-in ceremony at the Narayanhiti Royal Palace when the veteran democracy campaigner stood face-to-face with the king during the short ceremony.
He went to parliament later Sunday where he called on the Maoists to renounce violence as he faced the prospect of keeping together an unwieldy seven-party coalition and persuade the Maoists to join talks.
Parliament sat Friday for the first time in four years but Koirala missed it, along with his planned swearing-in ceremony that day, because of bronchitis. He says he is well enough to lead the country.
Gyanendra sacked the government and seized total power in February 2005, accusing the administration of corruption and saying it had done too little to tackle the Maoist insurgency.
But the Maoists and a seven-party opposition alliance joined together to mobilise hundreds of thousands on the streets during 19 days in April in protests which were often countered violently by security forces.
One man died in a New Delhi hospital Saturday from injuries sustained during a protest in Kathmandu nine days earlier, bringing the total killed in the 19 days of clashes to at least 16.
Last week, Gyanendra buckled under the nationwide protests and agreed in a televised address to reinstate parliament dissolved in 2002, after earlier asking the opposition to name a premier.
Maoist rebel forces announced a three-month ceasefire Thursday to "motivate" political leaders to call elections to a constituent assembly -- their key demand for joining mainstream political life.
There was no immediate word from them after Sunday's decision, although no date was set for elections to reframe the 1990 constitution.
The current constitution gives the king powers to dismiss the government and take control of the 90,000-strong military.
Banners at rallies have warned politicians that they are being closely watched to ensure there is no repeat of the king's power grab.
But analysts have warned of months of continued wrangling and potential instability because of the complex constitutional issues. The king's future role remains unclear.
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Poland's ex-president linked with intelligence service: TV report
www.chinaview.cn 2006-05-01 11:31:24
WARSAW, April 30 (Xinhua) -- Poland's public television TVP reported on Sunday that former President Wojciech Jaruzelski once worked for the Polish military's intelligence service.
Newly disclosed documents showed that Jaruzelski had worked for the military intelligence service, the TVP said, citing chief of the national commemoration research institute.
According to the revealed archives, Jaruzelski registered in the intelligence service in 1946, and the registration data also included a nickname, his birth date and information about his father.
The report said some content in the documents on Jaruzelski's cooperation with the intelligence service had been deleted, and only pieces of records on the margins of these papers were left.
Similar reports on Jaruzelski, who was president from 1989 to 1990, first surfaced last June. However, in an interview with the Polish news agency on Sunday, the 83-year-old former president declined to make comments.
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Trapped Tasmanian miners get food
Monday, 1 May 2006
Two Australian miners who have been trapped 3,000 ft (1km) underground for six days in a Tasmanian gold mine have received supplies of food and water.
Rescuers were able to pass biscuits and drinks to the men through a narrow tube after drilling through mounds of fallen rock to try to reach them.
The rescue effort is expected to take another 48 hours.
Contact was made with Todd Russell, 35, and Brant Webb, 36, on Sunday, after rescuers heard them talking.
A small earthquake triggered a rock fall that trapped the men underground at the mine in the town of Beaconsfield.
Rescuers had been digging slowly towards the area but were beginning to lose hope of finding the men alive after the body of a third miner was found on Thursday.
But late on Sunday, they heard the men talking and managed to communicate with them.
"It's cold and cramped in here. Get us out," one of them told rescuers.
"The rescue has reached a very delicate stage," mine manager Matthew Gill told reporters.
"We have established permanent contact with the two men and they have received some food and fresh water and they do remain in good spirits."
The men had been surviving on water running off the rocks inside the mine.
Rescuers managed to pass through biscuits, water, energy drinks and vitamin pills through the four inch (10cm) tube.
Australian Workers' Union national secretary Bill Shorten told the AP news agency that the rescue operation would be a slow process.
"It's going to take a long time. You have to replenish them physically in order that they are able to cope with the next stage of the work," he said.
Prime Minister John Howard praised the resilience of the local community.
"All Australians will share the joy of the families of the two miners found alive at Beaconsfield," he said.
He offered his sympathy over the death of the third miner, Larry Knight. "Our thoughts are very much with his family," he said.
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The Dying Economy
Saudi slashes petrol prices by more than 30 percent
Sun Apr 30, 2006
RIYADH - Saudi King Abdullah ordered petrol prices in the oil-rich kingdom slashed by more than 30 percent, according to a copy of the decree carried by the official SPA news agency.
"In order to improve the living standards of citizens and for the public good, we have ordered that the price of one litre of petrol for the consumer be changed to 0.60 riyals (17 cents) instead of 0.90 riyals (24 cents) until 10/12/1427," the decree said, referring to the last month of the Muslim lunar calendar which would coincide with next January.
The decree, which becomes effective on Monday, also cut the price of one litre (0.26 gallon) of high octane petrol by 25 percent to 0.75 riyals (20 cents) and that of diesel fuel by almost 35 percent to 0.25 riyals (6 cents) per litre.
The move came as Western consumers of the world's leading oil producer and exporter were facing sharply increased prices at the pumps amid record high crude prices.
US President George W. Bush ordered on Tuesday a federal investigation into what has caused fuel prices to rise at least 25 percent in the United States over the past month.
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman warned in an interview with NBC television on Sunday that high fuel prices for consumers were here to stay for the next couple of years citing huge demand from the fast growing economies of China and India.
Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily to increase its production capacity launching a processing plant in March that raised its daily production by 300,000 barrels to 11.3 million barrels. Its goal is to raise its capacity to 12.5 million barrels per day by 2009.
The United States, the world's largest oil consumer, is Saudi Arabia's number one customer and a long-time strategic ally despite the strain to the relationship that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, carried out mostly by Saudi nationals.
But Riyadh, which joined the World Trade Organisation last December, has been increasingly looking east, particularly to China.
The kingdom is studying a proposal to set up a Saudi-fed strategic oil reserve in China and is investing billions of dollars along with Chinese partners to build refineries in the country.
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Your house as a nest egg
By Linda Stern
Sat Apr 29, 2006
WASHINGTON - Do you think your house is your retirement nest egg? Think again, say some financial advisers.
Many, if not most, homeowners do expect to retire "on the house" according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
But at the same time they are reducing their own equity by borrowing against their homes for other expenses. They may be counting on inflated home values that could fall by the time they are ready to sell and move. They may be counting on a resource they never really want to sell.
In other words, they may not be being very realistic.
"We all say people will sell their house and that's how they are going to live," says Bev Moore of MainStay Investments, a division of New York Life Investment Management. "But the bubble might be in the process of bursting."
Only 11 percent of older people who are already retired actually expect to live off of their home's value, she says.
"Baby boomers have to stop going to Home Depot and start doing more planning and saving," Moore said.
Home value is not worth nothing, of course. And some advisers unscrupulously push clients into selling real estate and buying stocks, bonds and mutual funds just because they are more profitable for the adviser.
There are good reasons, however, not to pin too much of your future on the value of your house. And, it's hard to know exactly how much your house can and will contribute to your comfortable retirement.
Here are some points for homeowners to consider.
-- What if housing goes bust? Most homeowners will be able to sell their homes for more than they owe on them, but not everybody is safe.
Those at the biggest risk are the ones who stretched loans to the max to buy inflated homes, those who are using home-equity lines of credit for non-housing expenses, and those paying off equity slowly, or not at all, with interest-only mortgages.
Also at risk are folks who own homes in single-industry towns. When a plant closes or oil prices collapse (hey, it happened in the '80s), lots of people leave town at once and they may not be able to sell for enough money to pay off their mortgages.
If you recognize yourself as being vulnerable to a home price rout, be aggressive about paying down your loans and building equity in your home.
-- Are you diversified? If all of your hopes and funds are in your home, the answer is certainly no. Make sure you feed a 401(k) or IRA or other investment account, and put money into some assets -- like stocks -- that don't correlate much with real estate.
-- Are you sure you will want to move? It's becoming common for retirees who head for Florida or Arizona to "bounce back" home, reports Bob Carlson, a Richmond, Virginia, financial planner and editor of Retirement Watch newsletter (http://www.retirementwatch.com).
Many boomers say they want to stay in big homes so their kids can come visit, says Moore. Others say they'll downsize, but imagine "downsizing" to luxury townhouse communities with granite countertops and high-end recreational facilities. They won't save much money with moves like that!
-- Will you be able to afford to stay in your home? Increases in property taxes and heating costs could make even a paid-off home unaffordable in the long haul. If you want to retire in place, you might have to save even more money in retirement accounts than you would if you were willing to move.
But remember that every plan doesn't have to be put in place on the first day of retirement. You can retire in place for 10 years or so, and then sell your home in your 70s for a second phase of retirement life.
-- Will your mortgage be paid off? It was smart to lock in the low, low mortgage rates of recent years, but it's still an iffy proposition to move into retirement with mortgage payments.
Here's why: You may have to withdraw money from a 401(k) or IRA to make mortgage payments, and that counts as taxable income. That, in turn, can push your income up to levels that will make higher amounts of your Social Security benefits taxable. And that can make those mortgage payments pricey.
On the other hand, if you can invest money that earns 9 percent a year while you slowly pay off a 5 percent mortgage, that can make more sense than prepaying the loan. The only way to figure out what's best for you? Do the math, or find a good adviser or CPA who can do it for you.
-- Have you thought creatively? There are ways to use your home equity without moving, if you want to retire in place. You can take in boarders, sell your home to your kids, take out a reverse mortgage, or use it to run a part time home-based business.
Owning a house should not be your only ticket to retirement, but it will buy you some flexibility, some financial freedom and those comforts of home.
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Asian currencies rise against the dollar, yen soars
Sunday April 30, 2006
Asian currencies rose against the dollar and the Japanese yen shot up to a three-month high after finance chiefs called on China to ease controls on its currency.
JAPANESE YEN: The yen jumped to a three-month high in the past week after G7 finance chiefs urged China to make its currency more flexible to help redress global economic imbalances, dealers said.
The Japanese currency stood at 114.25 to the dollar late Friday, up from 117.61 to the dollar a week earlier.
Yen-buying sentiment emerged during the week after finance chiefs from the Group of Seven industrialised nations ramped up the pressure on China to relax its grip on its currency.
The statement was taken as a call for Asian countries, and especially China, to allow their currencies to appreciate faster and further against the dollar as part of a strategy to tackle global imbalances, most notably the massive US trade and current account deficits.
"It's a very specific statement calling for China to do more on the currency front and the market read it as a signal for the US dollar to move lower," said Thio Chin Loo, a currency strategist with BNP Paribas in Singapore.
The yen extended its strength toward the end of the week as the dollar fell sharply after US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted the US central bank was close to a pause in its string of interest rate hikes.
The greenback was further pressured by news that China's central bank was raising interest rates for the first time since 2004 although dealers said the actual effect of the decision was likely to be muted.
AUSTRALIAN DOLLAR: The Australian dollar was expected to rise further in the coming week after trading at a three-month high Friday amid weakness in the US dollar and expectation of a local interest rate hike, dealers said.
The currency was trading at 75.47 US cents at 5:00 pm (0600 GMT) Friday, well above the previous week's 73.81 US cents. The currency hit a high of 75.70 US cents during Friday, its highest point since January 31.
Dealers said the Aussie was supported by the expectation of a rise in local interest rates.
The Reserve Bank of Australia meets this week to discuss monetary policy and while a hike in interest rates is considered unlikely this month, the expectation of a future rate increase is already being built in, they said.
"Factors favour the Aussie for the week ahead," CMC Markets' Josh Whiting said.
"Unless we see a dramatic pullback in commodity prices... we will continue to see buyers favouring the Aussie."
However, Whiting said the Aussie was likely to see "fairly strong resistance around the 76 US cent mark."
"It hasn't been above the 76 US cent mark for about six months now," he said.
NEW ZEALAND DOLLAR: The New Zealand dollar ended the week at 63.36 US cents, up from 62.79 the previous Friday.
The kiwi benefited from weakness in the US dollar at the start of the week but lost a cent on Tuesday in illiquid trading during a New Zealand holiday. It gained again late in the week as the US dollar again weakened against major currencies.
CHINESE YUAN: The Chinese yuan closed stronger Friday at 8.0140 to the dollar, after a surprise lending rate hike announced by the central bank the day before. This compared with a closing price of 8.0170 on April 22.
The People's Bank of China raised its key one-year benchmark loan rate by 27 basis points to 5.85 percent, and lending rates for loans on other terms were also increased in the bank's first rate hike since October 2004.
Friday's central parity rate was set at 8.0165 to the dollar. The central bank has a yuan-dollar trading band of 0.3 percent on either side of the midpoint.
HONG KONG DOLLAR: The US-dollar pegged Hong Kong dollar closed the week at 7.7548 from the previous week's close of 7.7542.
INDONESIAN RUPIAH: The rupiah ended the week slightly weaker at 8,800-8,810, compared to the previous week's close of 8,875-8,885.
PHILIPPINE PESO: The Philippine peso fell to 51.785 to the dollar on Friday afternoon, compared to 51.69 on April 21.
SINGAPORE DOLLAR: The dollar was at 1.5824 Singapore dollars on Friday from 1.5983 the previous week.
SOUTH KOREAN WON: The won closed at 943.40 won per dollar Friday, down 1.5 won from the previous day and down 5.2 won from 948.60 won a week earlier, reflecting the global depreciation of the US currency.
Finance Economy Minister Han Duck-Soo said the government would stage a hectic battle against speculative investors to secure the stability of the won.
The won has risen more than six percent against the greenback this year alone.
TAIWAN DOLLAR: The Taiwan dollar rose 1.23 percent in the week to April 28 to close at 31.913 against the US dollar. The local currency closed at 32.309 a week earlier.
THAI BAHT: The Thai baht continued to appreciate against the dollar in the past week, in line with rallies by the Japanese yen, even though the Thai central bank governor conceded that the bank has intervened to soften the baht in past four months, dealer said.
The Thai baht closed Friday at a six-year high of 37.49-51 baht to one dollar, compared to last week's close of 37.77-80.
Against the euro Thai unit closed at 47.11-17 baht to one euro compared to previous week's close of 46.60-66.
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Energy secretary Bodman sees up to three years of fuel pain
By Alex Johnson
May 1, 2006
Gasoline prices have soared an average of 60 cents a gallon in less than a month because suppliers are unable to keep up with demand, a situation that could persist up to three more years, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Sunday.
Bodman said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the shortfall was a sign of a stronger economy under President Bush, but he acknowledged that, at least for now, "the suppliers have lost control of the market."
"The oil has gone up because the suppliers are unable to make the flows equal to the demand," he said. "... Clearly, it's going to be a number of years, maybe two to three years, before suppliers are going to be able to keep up with those demands."
Bodman blamed demand from China and India, reduced refining capacity after Hurricane Katrina, and inadequate planning for shifts to cleaner fuels like ethanol and low-sulfur diesel for causing market "dislocations" that led to rising prices, but Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry trade group, said the war in Iraq played a major role, too.
U.S. companies have been unable to provide the Iraqis with technical assistance to revive their oil industry because "we make sure that we don't put our employees in harm's way," he said. "As soon as you can stabilize the situation in Iraq, they can ramp up production, but it's going to take years."
Industry profits defended
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said the price of gasoline had almost doubled since Bush took office. "All of these things were predictable," he said, pointing to provisions of the energy bill Bush signed last year, which did not shield producers of cleaner-fuel additives like MTBE from legal liability, thereby slowing the transition and squeezing gas supplies.
"We've had a failure in our nation's energy policy," Durbin said.
At the same time, U.S. oil companies are reporting record profits even as motorists struggle to deal with the rising prices. Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Ltd. and ExxonMobil Corp. combined to earn more than $15.5 billion in the first three months of the year. But Bodman and Cavaney said they saw no problem with the profit reports.
Bodman said the U.S. companies faced competition primarily from from government-owned and -controlled firms, which can manipulate market forces to their advantage. "A lot of it is controlled by what [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez does, for instance," he said.
U.S. refiners need large cash reserves to compete in research and development, he said, and to drive more exploration and drilling.
Bush said last week that there was no evidence of price gouging, but he called on the Justice Department to open an investigation. Bodman said he, too, saw "we see no evidence of it, but this is one of those situations where I guess I would call it 'trust but verify.'"
Bush last week announced several measures to lower prices, including a suspension of filling the nation's emergency oil stockpile and relaxing environmental regulations.
"This administration is doing everything it can do," Bodman said.
Taxes on oil companies?
The secretary was clear in his opposition to imposition of a "windfall profits" tax on the oil industry, which many Democrats and some prominent Republicans have supported.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week that a windfall profits tax could offer eventual relief to consumers, while Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said on MSNBC's "Hardball" that the Republicans would try at least to repeal some tax credits to oil companies.
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, echoed those calls on "Meet the Press," warning that "if you do not tax these corporations ... they will continue to run up the profits to high heavens."
But Bodman said such presumably "punitive" tax measures would be counterproductive. "That was tried 30 years ago. It did not work," he said. "That proposal does not hold water."
An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found this week that rising gasoline prices were Americans' biggest concern this week, more than the nuclear threat from Iran and illegal immigration. Economists, however, say the impact on the economy will be muted because energy costs were a relatively small part of the $11 trillion U.S. economy.
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, predicted last week that the rising cost of energy would probably likely slow economic growth by only "a couple of tenths" of a percent over the next two years by cutting into consumer spending.
Comment: Only a politician would claim that the fact that average Americans can't afford to fill up their gas tanks is a GOOD sign for the economy.
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China's factories hit an unlikely shortage: labor
By Simon Montlake | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
DONGGUAN, CHINA - One of the defining myths of modern China - that it has a bottomless well of unskilled, low-wage laborers - is coming apart at the seams. And hardest hit are the southern coastal cities that produce much of America's consumer bounty.
What began two years ago as a temporary blip in the steady supply of migrants to China's export hub, where low wages and long hours are the norm, has become a constant problem for factory bosses.
Some are responding with perks to attract job applicants as "Help Wanted" ads go unanswered. Others are subcontracting work to inland cities, chasing the young, single workers that once came knocking on their factory gates but are now in shorter supply.
"There's a fixation that China has an abundant, unlimited supply of labor ... so people initially said this was a temporary phenomenon. But now [they] realize it's a general trend," says Hong Liang, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, who studies China's labor market. "In the central provinces, we're seeing more manufacturers moving there to absorb the local labor."
Those workers that remain in coastal cities like Dongguan, whose sprawl of tile-roof factories belch into a jaundiced sky, are demanding higher wages - and getting their voices heard. Minimum wages are on the rise, as authorities respond to the labor shortage, setting a new floor for private employers. This pressure on factory payrolls, coupled with rising cost of materials and energy, is starting to bite. Retail buyers warn that textile factories in Bangladesh and India are undercutting China and blame double-digit wage hikes here for inflating costs.
None of this means that China's export engine is running out of gas. Even as some factories struggle to stay competitive, other industries are ramping up production. If anything, the economy could be in danger of overheating at its current clip, which officials say is more than 10 percent - a risk that prompted China's central bank to raise interest rates last week for the first time in 18 months.
Why 1.7 million workers went home
But while China's labor shortage may not have dampened the economy, it has factories here in the Pearl River Delta - its export powerhouse - scrambling to adjust.
Around 1.7 million migrant workers in the region who took annual leave in January during the Chinese New Year holiday didn't return afterward, preferring to look for jobs closer to home or in other coastal cities says Liu Kaiming, who runs a labor-rights group in Shenzhen.
In an effort to retain workers at her small shoe factory, Maria Ma raised salaries last year by 10 percent and added more vacation time, but she still worries about losing out to rivals elsewhere in China offering better wages.
She's not alone. A survey of members by the Asia Footwear Association in Hong Kong found earlier this year that many Chinese shoemakers were understaffed, some by as much as 60 percent. Newly built plants in Dongguan are idle for lack of workers, says Percy Lan, an entrepreneur who publishes a footwear industry magazine. He says the industry employs around 1 million laborers in Dongguan, but needs 100,000 more.
While workers once flocked to cities like Dongguan, rising rural incomes and rapid growth in inland cities have diminished the appeal of migration to coastal boomtowns - particularly among young, single women, whom factory bosses prefer to men as easier to manage. Staying close to home means access to healthcare and other benefits that migrants don't always receive. So job seekers are playing harder to get.
"Girls are asking, 'Do we get overtime? What are the benefits?'" says Kathy Deng, who owns a recruitment company in Guangzhou. "Guangdong needs workers. Zhejiang and Shanghai need workers. They have more choices. So it's difficult to find workers."
Growing affluence in Pearl River cities also means new job alternatives. Away from Dongguan's grimy factory belt, SUVs stream along highways to upscale neighborhoods that are hungry for manpower. "No matter how much you pay [in factories where wages average $100 per month], the service industry pays more. People want to work in stores, or be waiters in five-star hotels," says Mr.Lan, the shoe industry publisher. Some footwear plants are responding by upgrading worker dormitories, cafeterias, and bathrooms.
But the improvements aren't enough to keep migrant worker Xiong Kejing around. He's spent the last nine years working factory and construction jobs, trying to save money, and is ready to head home with his wife and baby daughter to Chongqing, a 36-hour journey by bus.
He's heard stories of higher wages in Shanghai, but is skeptical about another stint as a migrant, either in Dongguan or another coastal city. "You can't stay out here forever. There's probably more opportunities back home now; we can open our own business," he says.
It's not only factories that are feeling pinched by the departure of migrants like Xiong.Affluent cities in the Pearl River Delta have come to rely on migrant workers to wash dishes, cut hair, and take care of the young and elderly.
Wages for nannies triple
Down a narrow side street in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, dozens of women sit inside a yellow-walled job agency for domestic servants swapping stories and waiting for offers. Liu Bin, who runs the place, says the tight labor market is forcing employers to pay more and be less picky about whom they hire.
As she finishes speaking, a trio of middle-aged women enquire about finding a replacement nurse for their octogenarian parents. Braced for a pay raise, they're ready to pay nearly double the monthly 450 yuan ($55) a caregiver cost three years ago. "It's really hard to hire someone from Guangzhou," sighs Cai Rongqiu, one of the three women. "They don't want to be nurses; they want a job with good pay, fixed hours, and an easy life."
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Blast at Texas Plant Leads to Evacuations
Sat Apr 29, 2006
PORT ARTHUR, Texas - An explosion and fire at a chemical plant produced dense clouds of smoke Saturday and forced some residents of the area to spend hours indoors with their doors and windows closed.
No injuries were reported.
Roads around the Huntsman Chemical Plant were closed after the 7 a.m. explosion. At one point flames billowed an estimated 100 feet high and heavy, black smoke poured out of one unit at the plant.
Clark T. Colvin, a spokesman for Huntsman, said all plant personnel were safely evacuated.
The cause of the blast was not immediately determined.
The evacuation request was issued to residents of the city's El Vista area. "It's a precautionary measure," said police Sgt. Janice Marshall.
The request was lifted just before 4 p.m.
Officials said the blaze was under control, but it was unknown Saturday afternoon whether the fire had been extinguished.
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Typed too fast? Google profits from your typo
By Leslie Walker and Brian Krebs
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Google, which runs the largest ad network on the Internet, is making millions of dollars a year by filling otherwise unused Web sites with ads. In many instances, these ad-filled pages appear when users mistype an Internet address, such as "BistBuy.com."
This new form of advertising is turning into a booming business that some say is cluttering the Internet and could be violating trademark rules. It also triggered a speculative frenzy of investment in domain names, pushing the value of some beyond $1 million.
Google specifically bars Web addresses that infringe on trademarks from using its ad network, but a review of placeholder Web sites that result from misspelled domain names of well-known companies found many of the ads on those pages come directly from Google.
"It seems very hard to reconcile Google's support of this activity with their 'Do No Evil' motto," said Ben Edelman, a Harvard University researcher who has looked extensively into advertising on unused domains.
Google is defending its business practices, saying it removes participating sites from its ad network if a trademark owner complains those sites are confusingly similar.
"Unless it is confusing to somebody, trademark law doesn't apply," said Rose Hagan, Google's chief trademark lawyer.
The Silicon Valley search giant is the largest but not the only ad network showing ads on placeholder Web pages. Yahoo! and Australian firm Dark Blue Sea run similar services.
This form of online advertising relies on "type-in traffic": users who type the information they're looking for into the Web browser's address bar instead of using a search engine. Industry analysts estimate 15 percent of Web traffic originates this way.
That has created a demand for domain parking, which involves owners of a domain name "parking" that name with a firm that creates placeholder pages and then inviting Google or other Internet ad networks to fill them with ads.
When Web surfers arrive at those sites and click on those ads, Google and Yahoo! get paid by advertisers for that click and share their revenue with the owners of the domain names.
Opinion about these ad pages is divided. Some say they are frustrating junk pages. Others, including those who speculate on potential traffic of a specific domain name, say they help people find information related to what they're looking for.
"We want those pages to function as alternatives to search engines," said Matthew Bentley, chief strategy officer for Sedo, a parking service that manages more than 1 million unused addresses placed with the Google ad network.
The parked ad pages are mostly unattractive, but Sedo, Google and Yahoo! said they are working to improve them by adding more information. The parking service usually handles the creation of the ad sites.
"It's such an easy process," said Ron Jackson, publisher of DNJournal.com, an online publication that covers the industry. "In two minutes, I can set up a thousand domain names."
The practice has sparked a speculative scramble to register unused names and test their ad potential. Because purchasers can change their minds within five days and avoid paying the $6 registration fee for the name, many investors enter the names in Google's ad program for a quick test and quickly drop those that don't yield enough clicks to cover the domain registration fee.
Of the 30 million dot-com names registered worldwide last month, more than 90 percent were dropped, according to domain name registrar GoDaddy.com. As a whole, the Internet has 54 million active .com and .net addresses, according to VeriSign.
Jackson said he has bought 6,600 domains and uses several ad services to earn revenue on them. "I know quite a few guys making over a million dollars a year from advertising on their domains," he said. "It's like a 24-hour money-printing machine."
David Steele, an intellectual-property lawyer at Christie, Parker & Hale and a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the practice amounts to someone making money off someone else's trademark without permission.
"Trademark law is designed to protect consumers so they can quickly identify what they want and get it," Steele said. "If everyone has to spend a whole bunch of time wading through all this look-alike crap online, then the value for Internet consumers is going to be seriously reduced."
John Meyers, general manager of Yahoo!'s ad service for parked domains, said Yahoo! is strict about weeding out addresses that violate its guidelines, which prohibit celebrity names, typos of trademarks and references to illegal activity.
Yahoo! developed a software filter to identify domain names in its network that violate those rules so they can be removed.
But Hagan, Google's trademark lawyer, said software formulas aren't smart enough to identify trademark infringements.
"It's subjective when you look at domain names to decide how many letters off does it have to be to form a trademark or conjure up that trademark," she said.
Google won't disclose how much it is earning from ads on these types of sites, but Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said last week, "It's a lot of money."
The company also doesn't break out how much it earns from ads on its own sites compared with partner sites, which include rival search engines such as Ask.com, thousands of news sites and blogs, and millions of vacant domains.
Wall Street analysts, however, estimate slightly less than half of Google's $6 billion in revenue last year came from ads shown on partner sites.
The Washington Post found hundreds of active Web sites showing Google ads at addresses that appear to be misspelled variations of well-known company names, known as "typo-domains." Their owners are known as "typosquatters."
The Post generated roughly 100 random misspellings of "www.earthlink.net" and found 38 sites using variations of the Earthlink name "parked" at a Google-owned service called Oingo.com. All 38, which includes "dearthlink.net" and "rearthlink.net," serve Google ads.
Likewise, nearly a dozen sites with variations of "Verizon Wireless" were showing Google ads, with some linked to the company's official VerizonWireless.com. That suggests Verizon Wireless may be paying Google for ads on typosquatter-owned sites.
Verizon Wireless spokesman John Johnson said the company has a successful track record of getting such sites shut down and takes "a particularly dim view of typosquatters."
"Do we think any traffic is good traffic as long as it ends up at our site? Clearly many of these sites are siphoning off traffic by tricking people ... This is never a good thing for our trademark or our company," he said.
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Los Alamos To Test Space-Based Supercomputer
May 1, 2006
Los Alamos NM - Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory said they are preparing to test a new computing technology that could dramatically increase the capabilities of spacecraft.
The project - jointly sponsored by the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration's Office of Nonproliferation Research and Development - involves orbiting an experimental payload this fall that is capable of performing more than 1 trillion operations per second.
That much capability would match the power of the best supercomputers from a decade ago - except those machines occupied as much as 50,000 cubic feet and required up to 50,000 watts of electrical power. The new technology - driven by a 90-nanometer Virtex-4 microprocessor developed by Xilinx Inc. of San Jose, Calif. - weighs only 40 pounds and requires only 80 watts of power.
"Our sensors on the Global Positioning System and Defense Satellite Program platforms have been severely constrained by the data downlinks available," said Mark Hodgson, NNSA's manager for space nuclear explosion monitoring. "This new reprogrammable supercomputing-payload technology enables our science staff to use in space the algorithms and methods previously only possible in ground-based mainframe computers, and to continually modify those methods in-situ, for better performance as science knowledge improves."
The new payload project "will be a path-breaker for our Space Nuclear Explosion Monitoring program," said W. Randy Bell, another NNSA manager, "enabling us to meet stringent new requirements for less weight and power, while growing our ability to discriminate nuclear-explosion-related signals versus natural and man-made background signals."
The test will be conducted aboard the Cibola Flight Experiment, due to be launched aboard a U.S. Air Force Atlas-V rocket in September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Cibola, developed by SSTL of Surrey, England, comprises a reconfigurable processor payload intended for low-Earth orbit. It will survey portions of the VHF and UHF radio spectra.
The experiment will use a network of reprogrammable and field programmable gate arrays to process the received signals for ionospheric and lightning studies. The objective is to detect and measure impulsive events that occur in a complex background and would overload existing space-based computer systems.
The research partners said the technology also is aimed at boosting the power of Software-Defined Radio functions, a critical element of the military's tactical communications, and the system could be of great value to commercial television and radio broadcasting.
Along with the Virtex-4, the technology also draws on the AT697 RadHard SPARC processor by Atmel Corp., also of San Jose, Calif., and on the chalcogenide C-RAM by BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) of Farnborough, England.
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Submarine sonar suspected in mystery death of 400 dolphins
By Ali Sultan
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 30, 2006
Summary: HUNDREDS of dead dolphins have been washed up along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists have ruled out poisoning. [...]
In the United States, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from US submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Florida, where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March last year.
HUNDREDS of dead dolphins have been washed up along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists have ruled out poisoning.
It was not immediately clear what killed the 400 dolphins, whose carcasses were strewn along a four-kilometre stretch of Nungwi, said Narriman Jidawi, a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine Science in Zanzibar.
The public were warned against eating the dolphins' meat.
The bottleneck dolphins, which live in deep offshore waters, had empty stomachs, meaning they could have been disoriented and were swimming for some time to reoriente themselves. They did not starve to death and were not poisoned, Mr Jidawi said.
In the United States, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from US submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Florida, where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March last year.
A US Navy taskforce patrols the East Africa coast as part of counter-terrorism operations.
The deaths are a blow to tourism in Zanzibar, where thousands of visitors go to watch and swim with dolphins.
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10 States Sue US To Regulate Greenhouse Gases
May 01, 2006
Washington - Ten US states and two cities sued the US government on Thursday to force it to regulate gases blamed for global climate change, said environmental groups who joined the suit.
The suit demands the Environmental Protection Agency regulate so-called greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which the EPA under President George W. Bush has so far avoided, the groups said in a statement.
"The administration has insisted it's not their job to fight global warming," said David Bookbinder, attorney for Sierra Club, which was joined in the suit by Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"In fact they have both the legal and moral responsibility to tackle global warming pollution," he said.
The states of California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin are parties to the suit filed in US District Court in Washington, as were the District of Columbia and New York City.
EPA does not regulate carbon dioxide, the most plentiful of the greenhouse gases, because the agency, on direction from the White House, does not consider it pollution, the groups said.
While carbon dioxide is not toxic -- humans exhale it in large quantities -- it does contribute to the so-called greenhouse effect, where certain gases in the upper atmosphere allow sunlight in, without allowing the heat to escape Earth, not unlike a greenhouse.
The greenhouse effect has always been with us, but scientists say that as cars and power plants release increasing amounts of gases like carbon dioxide, temperatures rise faster and have already begun to disrupt weather patterns.
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