Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: New Doctored Video of Pentagon Attack Release - Confirms Boeing Was Not Involved
Signs of the Times
It only took four and a half years, but finally the U.S. government has seen fit to confirm what so many of us have been saying all along - Pentagon security cameras recorded no evidence of a Boeing 757 hitting the Pentagon.
The videos comprise the footage from each of the two security cameras stationed close to each other at one end of the Pentagon. The first video contains nothing new given that it is simply the footage from which 5 stills were taken and released in early 2002 by the Pentagon, the extra footage merely being the scene after the impact. The second video comprises previously unseen footage from the security camera that is slightly closer to the impact point. The Pentagon alleges that in this video the "nose cone" of a plane can be seen in one frame. It should be noted that the security cameras appear to be the standard type installed in train stations and airports around the world. Most people will have seen footage from such cameras showing people walking in "jumps", which is due to the fact that the camera records a still image every 2 seconds or so.
Basically then, while the mainstream press is trumpeting the line that "the Defence Department has released "the video of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon", nothing could be further from the truth because there is still no evidence of a Boeing 757 in the security camera footage. If mainstream press reporters were to be honest (for once in their lives) the most they could state would be that: "the DOD has released a video of the attack on the Pentagon in which something appears in one frame of the footage and the U.S. government claims that this 'something' is the nose cone of Flight 77."
Let's take a look at this "nose cone":
This, ladies and gentlemen, is "Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon". This, is supposed to "finally put to rest" the "conspiracy theory" (backed up by massive evidence) that Flight 77 didn't hit the Pentagon. This, is apparently the best the DOD can do, or is prepared to do, to convince the world that they are telling the truth about what happened on 9/11. It doesn't say much for their confidence in their own story, does it.
Below is a zoom of the same "nose cone". Is it more clear now? Can you see Flight 77 in all its glory? All we can see is an amorphous white blob that looks more like a car than the nose cone of any aircraft. Obviously the images are too grainy to be of any use to anyone. At this point then, the most we can say is that an amorphous white blob with definite Islamic terrorists leanings hit the Pentagon on 9/11.
The above image comprises one frame and 2 seconds (7 and 8) of the footage, the next and subsequent frames show the explosion, there is nothing in between, at least not on this camera footage. On the footage from the second camera, from which the original five stills were cut, an image of "Flight 77" moving between the right most edge of the camera angle and the Pentagon facade is visible. Perhaps you remember it. For old times' sake, let's have a look:
As you can see, this image, along with the new image of the "nose cone" appears to back up the idea that it was indeed an amorphous white blob that hit the Pentagon. Case closed? Well there is still the problem of where the hell the plane is in the above still. If, as the government claims, this image shows Flight 77 a few dozen feet the Pentagon, we are still left with the question of, "where the hell is the plane!?"
The side of the Pentagon is 971 feet long and the "blob" or smoke trail in the above image is no more than 750 feet (250yards) from the camera. Remember the indelible images of those huge planes flying into the World Trade Center towers? The WTC planes were approximately the same distance from the observers on the ground as the "blob" in the above image was from the camera. So why can't we see a large 757 in the above image?
To sum up: At this stage, absent any new future video from the DOD, the U.S. government's "evidence" that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon consists of:
the "nose cone" frame
the white smoke trail or "blob" frame
the explosion at the Pentagon frames.
Convincing stuff, eh? This evidence is all the more suspect given the fact that the FBI confiscated tapes from at least two other video cameras in the area that would surely provide a more complete picture, but they refuse to release them.
The release of the DOD video footage comes at a very interesting time. Some readers may be aware that the pre-eminent Cannes film festival is just starting. Fewer however will be aware that the "Pentagon Strike" Flash animation is being shown at this year's festival. While we are not paranoid per se, we couldn't help but feel it was a little strange that the DOD would release their videos on the very day that our team set off to Cannes to promote the Pentagon strike flash. If we were "paranoid", we might say that the release of these videos is an attempt at pre-emptive damage control over potential exposure at Cannes. Of course, it will also simply help to raise the profile of all things 'Pentagonian', which can only help our team in Cannes.
A word on the response from alternative new pundits and 9/11 researchers about the new videos: Most appear to agree that there is nothing new in the videos that in any way discredits the sound allegations that a Boeing 757 did not hit the Pentagon. A few notable editorialists however are attempting to revive the dead horse that is the claim that the "no Boeing at the pentagon" theory is one big government-sponsored Psyops. The theory goes that government spooks are deliberately fuelling the "no Boeing" theories in an attempt to draw in as many researchers as possible - a honey trap for conspiracy theorists if you will - and then, when enough have been lured in, destroy their reputations by releasing a definitive video that shows clearly that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
While possible, in a remote sort of way, I seriously doubt that if the U.S. government has had access to a tape for four and a half years that could prove categorically that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, that they would have put up with so much rabble rousing from the "fringe" rather than simply quashing their claims from the outset. The simple truth is that the U.S. government has NO recourse to any evidence that can disprove the claims of serious 9/11 researchers because no such evidence exists.
Serious 9/11 researchers claim that a section of the U.S. government and military helped to orchestrate the 9/11 attacks, that the WTC towers were deliberately demolished, and that Flight 77 was very obviously not the plane that hit the Pentagon. The U.S government, and the agencies that are tasked with preserving its hold on power, have been actively running interference over the threat of exposure of the truth about 9/11 by the alternative media for the past four years.
The decades-old tactic of the CIA's Counter Intelligence Programs where their agents infiltrate "movements" in an attempt to sow discord from within is a major part of this "running interference". It is noticeable therefore that the only area of discord among 9/11 "truth seekers" is the Pentagon attack and whether or not Flight 77 was involved. Let me put it bluntly: The success of government Psyops on 9/11 is measured not by how many people can be made to believe the "no Boeing at the Pentagon" claim but rather by how many 9/11 researchers can be convinced that the "no Boeing at the Pentagon" claim is a government Psyop and should be avoided.
The attack on the Pentagon is the real Achilles heel of the official 9/11 story.
Let me explain:
Even in the event that evidence for the obvious controlled demolition of the WTC towers were to be publicly revealed and accepted, the U.S government could plausibly claim that 'al-Qaeda' somehow managed to plant explosives in the buildings, that this evidence had somehow been overlooked due to "incompetence" in the 9/11 investigation. The incompetence angle could be used, as it has been already, as a plausible explanation for many other areas that would ordinarily point to government complicity. The Pentagon attack, however, is a very different matter. If it were ever to be publicly revealed that it was not Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, there is simply no way that the U.S government continue to claim that "al-Qaeda did it" or lie its way out of it, because they would have to explain what happened to Flight 77 and its passengers. It is for this reason that the "no Boeing at the Pentagon" theory has been thoroughly attacked and maligned by government shills and many alleged 9/11 investigators.
The Pentagon attack holds the key to the entire 9/11 mystery, it presents the best opportunity to blow the lid completely off the entire sordid deal and reveal the very, very disturbing reality of the nature of the U.S. government and that other Middle Eastern agency and the roles they both played in wantonly murdering almost 3,000 American citizens on September 11th 2001.
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Editorial: Propaganda of Fear: Another War for Israel, Oil and Partisan Politics?
May 15, 2006
"History shows that ... (people) can be deflected from their natural tendencies by artful propaganda, bogus crises, or other political trickery."
"The enormous gap between what US leaders do...and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments..."
The simmering conflict with Iran offers a good example of how a crisis can be fabricated from scratch through the always potent propaganda tool of fear. Because Iran wants what the U. S., Russia, China, France, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Israel and many other countries have, i.e. the capability of enriching uranium as a means of generating energy, it is being singled out as a deadly menace to humanity, dangerous enough to warrant launching a preventive war of aggression, possibly a nuclear one, against it. Paradoxically, as recently as last April, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed Iran's right to develop nuclear energy, in conformity with the Non Proliferation Treaty: "The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of States Party, in conformity with articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination."
Iran has denied that its nuclear program has any military purpose. In any case, why shouldn't Iran have nuclear technology, or even nuclear bombs for that matter, when countries such as Pakistan, India, Israel and even Brazil have them? On top of that, international nuclear experts say that even if Iran wanted to produce nuclear warheads, it would need 5 to 10 years to do it. So, why is the Bush-Cheney administration in a rush and a frenzy to go to war, when obviously Iran is no immediate threat to the United States?
U. S. hypocrisy on this score is worth noting: The Bush-Cheney administration claims that Iran's nuclear program for energy, if it were oriented toward nuclear weapons, could be in violation of international law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What is not said is the fact that the American administration itself just entered into a nuclear agreement with India, which is in violation of the same treaty. No country is supposed to share nuclear technology with other nations when such technology can be used for military purposes, even more so if they are not part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the past, the U. S. also turned down a proposition for a nuclear-free Middle East because it wants Israel to retain its nuclear monopoly in the region. In a similar situation concerning North Korea, the Bush administration has relied on diplomacy, not on war. These contradictions do not escape the attention of people in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc., who see, in these positions, an example of America's double standards, if not of double-talking.
The war fever being created in the U. S. is an illustration of how the tool of propaganda of fear works. -First, it consists in demonizing and slandering a potential enemy through an intensive propaganda campaign of exaggerations and misinformation designed to persuade people that a given country is a potential menace to other countries. -Secondly, through repeated assertions of exaggerated danger and the presentation of distorted facts in the media, it is possible to reach the goal of instilling fear in people's minds, while concealing the real reasons why this is done. -Then, when public opinion has been whipped into a frenzy and people are frightened enough to support a war, politicians can pretend that they are 'forced' by necessity to violate international law and embark upon unilateral military acts of aggression to destroy the targeted enemy.
Just as with the on-going disastrous neocon-inspired Iraq War, which was initiated after an organized campaign of manipulation and deception, the current push to war against Iran is spear-headed in the U. S. by the same militant and hawkish Israel Lobby, and by similar neocon organizations, such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs [JINSA], and by their spokesmen in the media and within the U. S. government. The same scenario is being repeated a second time: Just as the Sharon government did for the Iraq war, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pushing hard on the Bush-Cheney administration to launch an aerial bombing campaign against Iran.To answer this call, the U. S. govedrnment is currently doing its utmost to obtain a U.N. Chapter 7 resolution that would leave the door open to military action and the implementation of the neocon policy of regime change in Iran.
For his part, President George W. Bush has repeated many times that his top rationale for a possible U.S. military attack on Iran is to "pre-emptively" protect Israel. Last March 20 (2006), for example, he declared in a speech in Cleveland: "I made it clear, and I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel."
A good indication that Israel plays an important role in the aggressive U. S. policy toward Iran is revealed in the Bush-Cheney administration's National Security Strategy document of March 16, 2006. There, in black and white, it is clearly stated that the nuclear issue with Iran is a pretext to pressure Iran on other issues. It says that, while the nuclear issue is important, "...the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy."-Those who play down the importance of the pro-Israel lobby in American foreign policy are simply denying reality.
However, pressures originating from the big-money pro-Israel Lobby are not the only rationale for the rash policies adopted by the bellicose and risk-prone Bush-Cheney administration, within its Grand Plan to control the entire Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and reconstitute a new, American-led, Ottoman Empire, even if that means creating chaos in the Middle East and in the world at large.
With the presidency occupied by an Oilman-in-chief and the vice-presidency by a former chairman and CEO of the oil-service company Halliburton, it should be no surprise to anyone that oil might have been on their minds when they planned a military conquest of the oil-rich Middle East. President George W. Bush himself has made it crystal clear: "Access to energy is a mainstay of our national security". In this scheme of things, Iran is not only the fourth largest oil producer
in the world, it is also spearheading a move to switch the international oil market from the dollar to the euro. This makes it a financial threat, much more than a nuclear threat, which can be more easily contained and deterred.
But stealing somebody else's resources at gunpoint, or forcing a country to use one's currency, is not something one announces out loud. The third reason, i.e. the Pentagon's push to build permanent super large military bases all over the place, cannot be swept under the rug either. Thus, the need to present the entire enterprise in a thick cloud of propaganda. In the case of Iraq, 'We want to force them to adopt our democratic ways of life', is a most dubious official rationale given for killing and maiming the Iraqi population, a rationale advanced only after the lies about dangerous weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and links to al-Qaeda had been ripped open. Relentlessly, American helicopters watch 24/7 over the Iraqi oil fields and gas pipelines, to make sure the take-over mission is not a complete failure. The towns may be in Iraqi hands, but the oil fields in Iraq will be managed by American oil companies, just as Vice President Cheney had planned.
The questionable presumption here is that international laws and national sovereignty principles do not apply when some 'chosen' countries are involved. It is also based on the practical assumption that a policy of legal deterrence could not work in the case of Iran, because being a theocracy with an elected parliament, its fanatically religious leaders are deemed not to be logical and pragmatic, and therefore are dangerous to world peace. That such a case could be made by the most religious White House ever, is not without irony.
Indeed, one should not forget that "tricky" Bush Jr. is a political manipulator who has a messianic vision of things. And since he has succeeded in enhancing his executive powers to the point that he alone can decide to launch a war or not, irrespective of any law, domestic or international, that makes him most dangerous and quite unpredictable. Keep in mind that he has already tasted and reaped personally the partisan political rewards of fear and war during the 2002 and 2004 elections, before and after his invasion of Iraq. -That Bush Jr. could be tempted to repeat his ploy should not be entirely unexpected. Personally, I would not be surprised to learn that Bush Jr. plays with the idea that one way out of his current deep unpopularity would be to whip the American public into another war fever, with the help of his friends at Fox News and the far right media, just in time for the coming November mid-term elections.
This only goes to illustrate the danger the world is in when questions of domestic political strategy could get entangled with the possible use of nuclear weapons abroad. Thus, the fundamental questions are: Who can be trusted with nuclear weapons? Is there anyone who can be trusted with such terrible weapons? Shouldn't they be outlawed? Should not the act of threatening another country with nuclear arms be made an automatic crime against humanity?
All the countries among the dozen or so nations having nuclear weapons claim they have them solely for reasons of defensive deterrence and protection. In fact, during the Cold War period (1947 to 1991), nuclear weapons possessed by the main imperial powers did play a central role in reducing the risk that a conflict between them would escalate into a full nuclear exchange, with hundreds of millions killed. This was a consequence of a deterrence policy by each side. Such a policy of deterrence through nuclear armaments presupposes rationality on all sides. But, what would happen if fools or madmen happened to be in charge in a nuclear-armed country which is bent on using its nuclear arms offensively? The world has never tackled this question directly. It may have to do it soon.
In recent months, indeed, a dangerous shift in the rationale for the use of nuclear weapons has taken place: Indeed, the sitting American president refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive war against Iran, while seeking to expand the already huge American. nuclear arsenal by asking Congress to fund research into new types of nuclear weapons. This does not augur well for the future.
We should all support the 1800 American physicists who recently petitioned President George W. Bush in these terms: "...our fellow physicists have joined in a petition opposing new US nuclear weapons policies that open the door to the use of nuclear weapons in situations such as Iran's. These policies represent a "radical departure from the past"... Indeed, since the end of World War II, US policy has considered nuclear weapons "weapons of last resort", to be used only when the very survival of the nation or of an allied nation was at stake, or at most in cases of extreme military necessity.
Instead, the new US nuclear weapons policies have significantly lowered the threshold for the potential use of nuclear weapons, as clearly evidenced by the fact that they are being considered as another tool in the toolbox to destroy underground installations that are "too deep" to be destroyed by conventional weapons. This is a major and dangerous shift in the rationale for nuclear weapons.
... Nuclear weapons are unique among weapons of mass destruction: they unleash the enormous energy stored in the tiny nucleus of an atom, an energy that is a million times larger than that stored in the rest of the atom. The nuclear explosion releases an immense amount of blast energy and thermal and nuclear radiation, with deadly immediate and delayed effects on the human body. Over 100,000 human beings died in the  Hiroshima blast, and nuclear weapons in today's arsenals have a total yield of over 200,000 Hiroshima bombs.
Using or even merely threatening to use a nuclear weapon preemptively against a non-nuclear adversary tells the 182 non-nuclear-weapon countries signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that their adherence to the treaty offers them no protection against a nuclear attack by a nuclear nation."(Read more)
That a contemporary head of state does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in a contemplated war of aggression is a major scandal in itself and is the best indication that the international legal system needs a complete overhaul. The question is whether such reforms will come before or after a major catastrophe.
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Editorial: 'Historical Grievances' for Dummies
By Sean Gonsalves, AlterNet.
Posted May 15, 2006.
Some readers chided me last week for the whimsical percentages I used to describe a few common verbal cues in political debate that signal entrance into the "spin zone."
Because there's no linguistic statistical abstract that keeps track of that kinda stuff (that I'm aware of), here's another rhetorical red flag -- "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Of course, the observation -- first attributed to philosopher George Santayana -- is a truism that bears repeating because Americans -- especially the "yut" -- are historical amnesiacs, for the most part.
But, it's a conversation-stopper when used (in most cases) by the "greatest generation" and their baby-boomer offspring as a sledgehammer to remind and ridicule us Generation Xers (on down to Y and Z) of just how dumb and ungrateful we all are.
As a parent with an insatiable appetite for history and political science, I've come to realize that older folks are rather light in the history department themselves, as evidenced by the glut of ahistorical analyses used in political debate -- whether it's the estate tax, Hurricane Katrina "response," or prayer in public schools.
"When I was a kid they had prayer in school. Kids these days have no morals."
Yeah, and when you were a praying school kid, a black American was being lynched every three days, on average -- oftentimes with thousands of say-cheese-for-the-camera "Christians" gathered around, picnicking and enjoying the family fun.
And, on what miraculous date in history did all of those "good" people have a change of heart to the point where if you bring this recent history up in political debate today you're written off as a sniveling, stuck-in-the-past, reverse racist or guilt-ridden white liberal?
And, how many of those lynch victims were business owners? Could it be that lynching played a critical role in creating a black underclass that the tax-is-theft crowd constantly argues ought to be subject to more "market discipline" so they can "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," even if those same bootstraps were once used as a noose by home-grown terrorists?
And... oh never mind. These are mere "historical grievances."
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Translation: "If you weren't such an idiot when it comes to history you would see there is no alternative to war, in this case. You can't negotiate with terrorists!"
The irony is striking -- war apologists lecturing peaceniks on history, all the while shutting their ears and hearts to the "historical grievances" that brought about the conflict in the first place because exploring "root causes," as Pope John Paul recommended, is to be a "terrorist sympathizer."
So now the hawks, undeterred by being by wrong or misled on every major issue in the run up to the Iraq war, are in a frenzy over Iran and the "terrorists" there. Again.
In his detailed study of "American Presidents and the Middle East," Professor George Leczcowski traces the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, going back to Premier Mossadegh in the 1950s when he nationalized Iran's oil industry to the chagrin of the western gas-guzzlers who have always felt it an inalienable right to not only have access to, but to profit from, the natural resources in a foreign land. What's all of our oil doing under their sand?
Leczcowski notes that despite Mossadegh's propensity to flip-flop "he was perhaps right on one issue: in an earlier conversation with two U.S. officials... he said: 'You have never understood that this is basically a political issue.'"
He later told President Eisenhower something that any red-blooded freedom-loving American understands: "It is better to be independent and produce only one ton of oil a year than to produce 32 million tons and be a slave to Britain."
Self-determination and humanitarian concern be damned. The CIA was "forced" to orchestrate a coup to remove Mossadegh's democratically-elected regime.
Next came Iran's oppressive Islamic Revolution, which didn't bother U.S. planners too much because the Shah was "anti-Communist." The ensuing economic development "brought to Iran dangerously large numbers of foreign technicians and managers, including some 35,000 Americans whose relatively high standard of living provoked the resentment of the Iranian populace."
Fast-forward to the hostage crisis, which led the Reagan administration to negotiate with Iranian "terrorists" to free the hostages and sell weapons to Latin American terrorists ("freedom fighters") who were slaughtering poor people in the name of "anti-communism" - a bit of history conveniently ignored by those who say "you can't negotiate with terrorists."
Of his study of eight presidencies, from Truman to Reagan, Lenczowski notes "the continuity in their basic approaches," which focused on three main themes: "the Soviet challenge, the Arab-Israeli feud, and the role of oil."
What's uncertain, Lenczowski concluded, are the individual "presidential perceptions of...a variety of liberation movements. As Americans, U.S. presidents were expected to believe in the right of nations to self-determination and to endorse the principle of racial equality. But were they prepared to implement these principles in practice with equal justice to all concerned?"
Despite the "lessons of history" allegedly known so well by my parents' and grandparents' generation, Generation X, Y and Z have been condemned to face that same question again.
But you don't have to be Arnold Toynbee to understand the absurdity of the motto: "if it didn't work last time, or the time before that, by all means, let's do it again!"
Of course, you shouldn't take my word for it. Go check it out for yourself.
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Iran, the Nukes, and the Oil
Ecuador moves against US oil giant
By Alonso Soto
Tue May 16, 2006
QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuador began on Tuesday to take over operations of U.S. oil giant Occidental Petroleum Corp, the latest move in Latin America against foreign energy producers after nationalization in Bolivia and growing state intervention in Venezuela.
Ecuador revoked Occidental's contract on Monday after accusing it of transferring part of an oil field without authorization. Occidental says it has complied with its obligations and still hopes to settle.
Occidental share prices fell by 2.35 percent on Tuesday as company executives held talks with Ecuadorean energy officials, who were escorted by police into the company's Quito headquarters.
President Alfredo Palacio has been under pressure from Indian groups in the oil rich Amazon to expel Occidental, who accuse the firm of exploiting natural resources with no benefit for Ecuadoreans. Occidental had also become a lightening rod for criticism of U.S. "imperialism."
The surprise contract cancellation came a little more than two weeks after leftist President Evo Morales of Bolivia, the country's first indigenous president nationalized the industry and ordered the military to occupy natural gas fields.
Bolivia's move sparked Wall Street fears that leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a self-styled revolutionary famous for his anti-U.S. rhetoric, was pushing his neighbors in a campaign to tighten state control over natural resources.
Ecuador's top trade negotiator said the oil field takeover had prevented free trade talks from the United States from going forward.
"We are disappointed by this decision and seeking for clarification with the government of Ecuador," said Kurtis Cooper, spokesperson for State Department when asked about the Occidental case.
Analysts warned against pointing the finger at Chavez as the culprit in Ecuador and said moves against foreign producers were often due to high energy prices worldwide.
"Each country has its own reasons to do what it is doing," said Rob Cordray, director of Houston consulting group PSC Energy. "This is something that is happening everywhere, not only in Latin America. Oil companies are profiting a lot and the governments want to get a bigger part of it."
Ecuador on Tuesday ruled out any nationalization of the oil industry. Officials say the country will receive an extra $100 million per year in oil revenues due to the Occidental contract cancellation.
Energy Minister Ivan Rodriguez said Ecuador is studying the possibility of a joint venture with other Latin American state oil companies to operate Occidental's oil fields.
Occidental is Ecuador's largest investor and extracts 100,000 barrels of oil per day, about 20 percent of Ecuador's total production.
Locked in a growing dispute with the United States, Chavez has promoted his brand of socialism as an alternative to U.S. free-market policies. He has led a campaign to secure more government control over energy revenues and has actively backed Bolivia's Morales in his nationalization move.
Washington has branded the former soldier a negative influence in the region, accusing him of using his oil wealth to undermine democracy. Chavez dismisses the charges as "imperialist" propaganda.
Five months ahead of the next presidential election, Ecuador's government has faced increasing pressure indigenous groups to act over Occidental.
"Ecuadorean politicians believe that Occidental did something illegal," said Leo Goldstein sovereign analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Finisterre Capital.
"Many of them wanted to negotiate a settlement but there were social pressures, increased by what happened in Bolivia, that added to the pressure to cancel the contract," he added.
Ecuador is also seeking more benefits from high oil prices by introducing a law that forces companies to hand over a bigger share of windfall oil profits to the state. Experts say the law may crimp much-needed investment in the energy sector.
"One can expect growing nationalism in the energy sector in Latin America, but this is not a start of a wave of expropriations," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
"You may see a push in Peru, for example, to revise the terms of the bargain with foreign mining companies, in which the government tries to negotiate a greater percent of profits," she said.
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Study: Exxon Valdez Oil Lingers in Alaska
By DAN JOLING
Wed May 17, 2006
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez 17 years ago extends farther into Alaska's tidal waters than previously thought and could be causing long-term harm to wildlife, a study concludes.
Research chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau concluded that oil was found between the high- and low-tide lines where predators such as sea otters and sea ducks may encounter it while disturbing sediment in search of prey.
"This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound," Short said in a statement.
The study is to be published in the June 15 edition of Environmental Science & Technology, the journal of the American Chemical Society.
Exxon Mobil Corp. spokesman Mark Boudreaux said that more than 350 studies done by independent academics have not found significant, lingering impact on species as a result of the spill.
"We believe that the sound has recovered, is healthy and is thriving," he said.
Short and his colleagues focused their research on Knight Island about 40 miles southwest of the spill site and squarely in the path of the heavy ooze that flowed from the damaged oil tanker.
They found Exxon Valdez oil buried in sand and silt that only becomes dry during the lowest tides and is prime feeding ground for sea otters, ducks and other wildlife.
The Exxon Valdez ran aground March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons and soiling more than 1,200 miles of rocky beach. The spill was the largest in U.S. history.
Exxon estimated it paid $3 billion in cleanup costs, government settlements, fines and compensation.
In a 1991 civil settlement, the company agreed to pay $900 million over a 10-year period ending in 2001. However, a "reopener" provision created a window in which the state and federal governments could claim up to an additional $100 million.
Dozens of people have spoken at emotional hearings this year, urging officials to file a claim for additional damages before the June 1 deadline to apply.
"We find the timing interesting, that the study has been released for peer review two weeks before the deadline for the decision to notify Exxon Mobil of an intention to request a reopener of the settlement," Boudreaux said.
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US spells out plan to bomb Iran
By IAN BRUCE
05/16/06 "The Herald"
THE US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran's atomic weapon programme if international diplomacy fails, Pentagon sources have confirmed.
Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
RAF Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK's opposition to military action against Tehran.
The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.
At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs.
Iranian radar networks and air defence bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
The alternative to an all-out campaign is a demonstration strike against one or two high-profile targets such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility or the hexafluoride gas plant at Isfahan.
UK sources say contingency plans have also been drawn up to cope with the inevitable backlash against the Basra garrison in neighbouring Iraq.
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Iran to require oil payments in euros
By United Press International
TEHRAN, May 15 (UPI) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Friday that in July Iran will abandon dollar payments for its oil and natural gas exports in favor of euros.
The move comes amid a standoff between Tehran and Washington over Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program. The Bush administration insists the program is cover for a nuclear weapons program, a charge that Iran denies.
All current international oil transactions on the New York Mercantile Exchange and London's International Petroleum Exchange are priced in dollars.
Middleeastforex.com reported May 13 that Ahmadinejad announced the change Friday during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan.
Many political observers see the decision as an attempt to pressure Washington, which is attempting to line up other U.N. Security Council members to act against Iran for its nuclear policies.
Iran has also proposed establishing a euro-based Iranian oil bourse to compete with NYMEX and the IPE. The proposal was first put forward in the beginning of the Third Development Plan (2000-2005), and began to receive serious attention in 2005.
Some observers speculate that the Iranian switch to euros could negatively affect the dollar, as many central banks from oil importing nations could choose to stock up their currency reserves with euros rather than dollars.
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Putin proposes creation of ruble-denominated oil, gas exchange
05/15/06 -- -MOSCOW, May 10 (RIA Novosti)
President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that a ruble-denominated oil and natural gas stock exchange should be set up in Russia.
Speaking before both chambers of parliament, cabinet members, and reporters, Putin said: "The ruble must become a more widespread means of international transactions. To this end, we need to open a stock exchange in Russia to trade in oil, gas, and other goods to be paid for with rubles."
"Our goods are traded on global markets. Why are not they traded in Russia?" Putin said.
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Israel to open main Gaza crossing in both directions; shows change in policy
02:26:06 EDT May 17, 2006
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz decided Wednesday to reopen the main crossing with the Gaza Strip later in the day, military officials said.
The Karni crossing has been closed for much of the year, largely due to recent attacks there by Palestinian militants. It is the main outlet to the world for Palestinian imports and exports.
The decision by Peretz, the leader of the dovish Labour Party, signified a change in defence ministry policy with an aim to alleviate Israeli restrictions on the Palestinians, the military officials said on condition of anonymity.
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Da Vinci and Other Codes
Reading "Da Vinci Code" does alter beliefs: survey
By Paul Majendie
Tue May 16, 2006
LONDON - "The Da Vinci Code" has undermined faith in the Roman Catholic Church and badly damaged its credibility, a survey of British readers of Dan Brown's bestseller showed on Tuesday.
People are now twice as likely to believe Jesus Christ fathered children after reading the Dan Brown blockbuster and four times as likely to think the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei is a murderous sect.
"An alarming number of people take its spurious claims very seriously indeed," said Austin Ivereigh, press secretary to Britain's top Catholic prelate Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
"Our poll shows that for many, many people the Da Vinci Code is not just entertainment," Ivereigh added.
He heads a prominent group of English Roman Catholic monks, theologians, nuns and members of Opus Dei, who commissioned the survey from leading pollster Opinion Research Business (ORB) and have sought to promote Catholic beliefs at a time when the film's release has provoked a storm of controversy.
ORB interviewed more than 1,000 adults last weekend, finding that 60 percent believed Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene -- a possibility raised by the book -- compared with just 30 percent of those who had not read the book.
The English group demanded that the "Da Vinci Code" movie, being given its world premiere at the Cannes Film festival on Wednesday, should carry a "health warning".
The group, which stopped short of following the Vatican line of calling on Catholics to boycott the film, accused Brown of dishonest marketing based on peddling fiction as fact.
The novel, which has sold over 40 million copies, also depicts Opus Dei as a ruthless Machiavellian organization whose members resort to murder to keep the Church's secrets.
The survey underlined the astonishing popularity of Brown's novel -- it has been read by more than one in five adults of all ages in Britain.
Ivereigh complained that Brown and film studio Sony Pictures "have encouraged people to take it seriously while hiding behind the claim that it is fiction.
"Our poll shows they should take responsibility for their dishonesty and issue a health warning."
In the survey, readers were asked if Opus Dei had ever carried out a murder. Seventeen percent of readers believe it had, compared with just four percent of non-readers.
Opus Dei spokesman Jack Valero said he was astonished.
"Since we were founded in 1928, Opus Dei has promoted the highest moral standards at work, spreading a message of Christian love and understanding," he said.
"Yet the Da Vinci Code has persuaded hundreds of thousands of people that we have blood on our hands."
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'Da Vinci Code' Misses the Mark for Critics
By DAVID GERMAIN
AP Movie Writer
May 16, 2006
CANNES, France - "The Da Vinci Code" drew lukewarm praise, shrugs of indifference, some jeering laughter and a few derisive jabs Tuesday from arguably the world's toughest movie crowd: critics at the Cannes Film Festival.
The year's most anticipated movie, "The Da Vinci Code" was a generally faithful adaptation of Dan Brown's monster best seller, spinning a murder thriller that stems from a cover-up of secrets about Christianity's roots.
While readers worldwide devoured the novel, reaction from Cannes critics ranged from mild endorsement of its potboiler suspense to groans of ridicule over its heavy melodrama.
"It's a movie about whether the greatest story ever told is true or not, and it's not the greatest movie ever screened, is it?" said Baz Bamigboye, a film columnist for London's Daily Mail. "As a thriller, well," he continued, shrugging.
"Maybe the next day I'll forget about it," said Igor Soukmanov of Unistar Radio in Belarus. "But today for two hours it was good entertainment. ... As a Hollywood movie, it's a very nice picture."
Critics got their first look at "The Da Vinci Code" a day before its world premiere at Cannes on Wednesday, when it also debuts at theaters in France and some other countries. The film opens worldwide over the following two days, including the United States on Friday.
Directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Tom Hanks and
Audrey Tautou as strangers hurled together on a frantic quest for the Holy Grail after a series of murders is committed.
The filmmakers add some twists and variations here and there, but the general thrust of the novel remains intact, including its theory that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, which has prompted denouncements from many Christians.
The Cannes audience clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to two and a half hours and spun a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations.
"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical. "Ron Howard makes handsome films. He doesn't make bad ones, but he doesn't make great ones."
One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.
Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.
Critics singled out co-star Ian McKellen, playing a wry Grail enthusiast who joins the search, as the movie's highlight, injecting hearty humor and delivering the most nuanced performance. Paul Bettany added a seething mix of tragic pathos and destructive zealousness as a monk assassin who carries out the slayings.
Bamigboye said all the actors were solid, but enthusiastically added, "I've got to tell you, Ian McKellen steals it. He slices all the crap away."
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Neanderthal yields nuclear DNA
Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
The first sequences of nuclear DNA to be taken from a Neanderthal have been reported at a US science meeting.
Geneticist Svante Paabo and his team say they isolated the long segments of genetic material from a 45,000-year-old Neanderthal fossil from Croatia.
The work should reveal how closely related the Neanderthal species was to modern humans, Homo sapiens.
Details were presented at a conference at New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and reported by News@Nature.
It is a significant advance on previous research that has extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) specimens.
This genetic material is contained in structures that power cells; and although the information it holds is very useful, it is more limited in scope than the DNA bundled up at the cell's centre.
This nuclear DNA is what really drives an organism's biochemistry.
So far, Paabo and colleagues have managed to sequence around a million base-pairs, which comprises 0.03% of the Neanderthal's entire DNA "catalogue", or genome. Base-pairs are the simplest bonded chemical units which hold together the DNA double helix.
The genetic material comes from a 45,000-year-old male Neanderthal specimen found in Vindija Cave outside Zagreb, the News@Nature website reports.
This might suggest that little interbreeding occurred between our own species and the Neanderthals.
Usually, DNA must be cloned in bacteria to produce large enough amounts to study. But Professor Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his team have used a novel sequencing method to decode the genetic material. This involves using tiny wells to directly sequence DNA fragments in an emulsion.
However, the researcher is also working to extract and read Neanderthal DNA by the traditional method. About 75,000 base-pairs have been sequenced this way so far. They show that Neanderthals diverged from the evolutionary line that led to modern humans about 315,000 years ago.
Neanderthals lived across Europe and parts of west and central Asia from approximately 230,000 to 29,000 years ago. It is unclear what factors led to their demise, but climate change and competition from modern humans may have played a role.
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Tattooed mummy discovered in Peru
Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 23:47 GMT 00:47 UK
A tattooed mummy has been found in Peru which archaeologists say is one of the best-ever relics of a civilisation that ended more than 1,300 years ago.
The mummy, herself 1,500 years old, is of a woman in her late 20s believed to be an elite member of the Moche tribe.
The skeleton of an adolescent girl offered in sacrifice was found with a rope still around its neck.
The archaeologists from Peru and the US found the mummy at a site called El Brujo on the north coast near Trujillo.
They have dated the mummy to about 450 AD.
The presence of fine items such as gold jewellery indicates the woman was an important person, anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University in the US said.
But the presence of war clubs surprised the archaeological team.
"Perhaps she was a female warrior, or may be the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men," Mr Verano said.
The archaeologists believe she had given birth at least once, but do not know how she died.
The discovery is reported in the June issue of the National Geographic Magazine.
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Bus topples off bridge into river in Chile; 24 dead, 26 injured
11:52:48 EDT May 17, 2006
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - A bus fell off a bridge and into a river south of the capital of Santiago early Wednesday, killing 24 people - including two children - and injuring 26, authorities said.
Police said 12 of the injured passengers were in serious condition and were taken to hospitals in the nearby cities of Rancagua and San Fernando.
The bus fell into the Tinguiririca River, 140 kilometres south of Santiago at around 2 a.m., police Col. Raul Retamal said.
Retamal said the cause of the accident was being investigated. He said the weather in the area was good and the vehicle was in good condition.
The victims were rescued by firefighters aided by soldiers from a regiment in the area, regional Gov. Hector Leiva said.
The vehicle was headed for Talcahuano, a port city 500 kilometres south of Santiago, police said.
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The Planet Awakens
Utah Campground Closed Because of Plague
May 16, 2006
SALT LAKE CITY -- A campground at Natural Bridges National Monument has been closed because of bubonic plague detected among field mice and chipmunks.
Plague also has been found this spring in rodent populations at Mesa Verde National Park and Colorado National Monument.
National Park Service officials said there never has been a reported human case of bubonic plague originating from the parks or national monuments.
"We come down on the conservative side when it comes to closing campgrounds," said Joe Winkelmaier of the U.S. Public Health Service. "We just like to be sure when it comes to plague."
Several weeks ago, park rangers noticed a large number of dead field mice at Natural Bridges, about 40 miles west of Blanding. Chief Ranger Ralph Jones showed that tests indicated they died from the plague.
Rangers plan to insecticides to kill fleas in the campground area. Humans usually contract bubonic plague after being bitten by fleas that have bitten infected rodents. The campground could be reopened as soon as next week.
Plague occurs throughout the West, but is concentrated in the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. An average of 18 cases involving humans are reported each year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in seven victims die.
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U.S. Has Warmest April on Record
May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON - Last month was the warmest April on record for the United States, offering many Americans a pleasant spring month.
For the 48 contiguous states the average temperature was 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the month, the National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday.
That made it the nation's warmest April since record keeping began in 1895.
Worldwide it was also an above-normal month, but not a record breaker, finishing as the seventh warmest April worldwide, according to the Data Center, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The warmth led to below normal home energy demand for the month, the agency added.
The warmth was particularly noted in Texas and Oklahoma which had their warmest April on record.
For New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee it was the second warmest April.
None of the 48 contiguous states was cooler than average, but it was below normal for the month in Alaska.
Drought persisted across large portions of the southern and southwestern United States, the Center said, but nationwide rainfall was near normal for the month.
And it noted there was a series of tornado outbreaks during the first half of the month affecting parts of the Midwest and central Plains as well as the Deep South.
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Quakes rock region as Pacific tests tsunami alert system
Wed May 17, 2006
SYDNEY - Dozens of countries across the Pacific took part in a test of a regional tsunami warning system as a series of earthquakes hit the region for real.
The exercise, code-named Pacific Wave '06, was declared a success by officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, who said the earthquakes had not disrupted the test.
"If those events were large enough to cause a tsunami warning to be issued then we would have terminated the test at that point," duty geophysicist Stuart Koyanagi told AFP.
A magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck off the coast of New Zealand's Kermadec Islands late Tuesday, just hours before the test began, the US Geological Survey reported.
A 6.8 magnitude earthquake then struck near Indonesia's Nias island at 1528 GMT Tuesday and two temblors of magnitude 5.8 and 6.0 struck Tonga after the exercise began at 1900 GMT with a mock 9.2 quake off Chile, the USGS said.
The warning centre in Hawaii, which launched the test exercise for more than 30 countries, said none of the earthquakes triggered genuine Pacific-wide tsunami warnings, but the two biggest could cause small local tsunamis.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the earthquake zones.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS) test was part of an effort to strengthen defences following the December 26, 2004 killer waves that swept across countries in the northern Indian Ocean, killing around 220,000 people.
"All went very well," Koyanagi said, while there were some areas where communications would need to be improved.
This mainly involved small island nations in the South Pacific, where communication systems were not well developed.
"I think for the first test there may have been a few that we had difficulty getting through to.
"The fact that the test ran for a pretty long period of time allowed us to backtrack and eventually get hold of just about everybody," he said.
The exercise began with a mock alert about the quake off the coast of Chile, which theoretically sparked a tsunami across the eastern Pacific. The second phase of the test involved a fake quake north of the Philippines.
Koyanagi said the test focused on communications and "certainly this is a huge improvement over what would have occurred if we did not conduct the test.
"This forced people in these countries and our centre to look at ways in which to cooperate and pass on information between agencies."
It was hoped that the test would become an annual event, he said.
Some countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia, staged partial evacuations as part of the exercise.
In the Philippines, civil defense officials evacuated the coastal village of Buhatan in the Bicol peninsula, 340 kilometers (212 miles) southeast of Manila, early Wednesday, taking all 1,143 residents to higher ground.
The drill took place before the simulated tsunami from the Chile quake was due to reach the shores of the western Pacific, the government seismology office said.
The alert message was successfully passed from regional to provincial to local officials, seismologist Esmeralda Banganan of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology told AFP.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning System has been in existence for more than 40 years, but exercises have until now only been conducted at national or local level.
The PTWS comes under the aegis of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which last year also set down the foundations for a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean.
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Indonesia's bird flu toll jumps to 30 with five more deaths
Wednesday May 17, 2006
Indonesia's bird flu toll jumped to 30 on Wednesday after the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed five more people had died of the virus in the world's fourth most populous nation.
The WHO said four of the confirmed deaths came from a cluster in North Sumatra: a 19 and 17-year-old male, a 29-year-old female and an 18-month old baby. A fifth person, a 25-year-old male, was infected but alive, the agency said.
"WHO is carefully investigating these cases, as any possible cluster case raises increased suspicions that human-to-human transmission may have occurred," spokeswoman Sari Setiogi told AFP.
"However the current investigation that we have has no evidence of further spread beyond the cluster, so that's quite good news for us because it tells that the virus is not spreading further," she said, warning however that the investigation was still ongoing.
She said two more people were possibly involved in the cluster: a 37-year-old woman from whom samples were not taken was considered the first person to have shown symptoms while results on a 10-year-old male who had also died were still being awaited.
The fifth death reported Wednesday was from Surabaya in East Java, she said.
I Nyoman Kandun, director for the health ministry's communicable disease control centre, told AFP earlier that the five deaths had come from a related family.
"They were apparently infected at a family event," he said. Kandun said earlier this week that the five had died within days of each other over the past three weeks.
A doctor at the Adam Malik hospital in Medan said the bird flu patient, Jones Ginting, was recovering, the state-run Antara news agency reported.
Doctor Alwinsyan Abidin told Antara that Ginting was no longer suffering a high fever or breathing difficulties and was eating and walking.
The vast majority of deaths in Indonesia have so far occurred in the capital Jakarta and its surroundings, where many people live close to poultry despite the urban environment.
Indonesia has witnessed more bird flu deaths than any other country this year. It has the world's second highest number of fatalities since 2003, after Vietnam.
Bird flu has now killed at least 120 people since late 2003, mostly in Asia. Experts fear the virus may mutate into a form that can pass easily between humans, sparking a pandemic.
An expert from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said this week that public ignorance about the dangers of bird flu as well as poor co-ordination between various levels of government were the biggest obstacles Indonesia faces in its fight against the virus.
While other Southeast Asian nations like Thailand and Vietnam have had considerable success controlling the spread of the virus, Indonesia has one of the region's highest rates of infections among poultry, Laurence Gleeson said.
He said its epidemic was threatening to spread to Pacific nations after poultry in the easternmost province of Papua was recently found to be infected.
The WHO's Asia chief Shigeru Omi this month urged Indonesia to work harder at grassroots level to combat the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
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7.6 earthquake rattles North Island overnight
Posted at 3:27pm on 17 May 2006
An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale was recorded at 10.39pm Tuesday.
The Geological & Nuclear Sciences website said the quake was at a depth of 150km and centred 800km north east of Auckland, near the Kermadec Islands. It was felt widely in the North Island and as far south as Ashburton.
GNS duty seismologist, Ken Gledhill, says the quake would have been felt as a strong rolling motion which lasted for at least half a minute.
A seismologist at Victoria University says the depth of the earthquake mitigated its impact. Professor Ewan Smith told Morning Report that the quake did not cause damage because it was so deep and so far away. He said there was also little chance of a tsunami.
Quake rocks western Indonesia
An undersea earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale rocked Indonesia's remote Nias Island on Tuesday.
The Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics said the epicentre of the quake lay in the Indian Ocean at a depth of 33km, about 110km southwest of the town of Teluk Dalam town.
Earthquakes are frequent in Indonesia: its 17,000 islands are part of what is called the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.8 quake struck at 1528 GMT. It said there was no risk of a major tsunami.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the earthquake was not expected to trigger a major tsunami.
Previous quake damage
In March, 2005, a powerful earthquake devastated Nias Island, killing some 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
It was three months after a powerful undersea quake off the northern tip of Sumatra caused a devastating tsunami and wrought widespread destruction on December 26, 2004.
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Indonesia's Mount Merapi Erupts Violently
By CHRIS BRUMMITT
May 17, 2006
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia - Mount Merapi shot a large cloud of searing hot ash and gas into the sky Wednesday, ending two days of relative calm and underscoring the dangers still facing thousands of people living on the volcano's slopes.
Witnesses said the eruption appeared to be smaller than the mountain's most violent sputterings Monday, when ash and gas clouds surged around 2 1/2 miles from the peak and triggered panic.
Vulcanologists keeping the mountain on 24-hour watch were not immediately available for comment on the eruption just after 5 p.m. (6 a.m. EDT), which sent debris plunging down its western flanks, but appeared to fell well short of populated areas.
Earlier Wednesday, farmers journeyed high up Merapi's slopes collecting grass for cows and children kicked soccer balls - both within a 3.7-mile zone declared off-limits when the mountain was placed on its highest alert Saturday.
"There is nothing to worry about here," said Warkijho, a 55-year-old farmer who like many in his village deep within the government-ordered evacuation zone has refused to leave. "The scientists may be concerned, but in my heart I know it is safe."
Despite the calm over the last 48 hours, experts had said that Merapi remained dangerous. The mountain has kept spitting out red-hot rocks and lava flows that light the night sky.
A 3 million-cubic-yard lava dome that has built up over the mountain's slow-burn eruption in recent weeks was still perched on the crater and could collapse, triggering a deadly surge in ash and gas, scientists have warned.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday met with some of the more than 5,000 people who have fled the volcano and are staying in temporary housing such as converted schools. Yudhoyono and his wife stayed Tuesday night in a tent among the refugees.
Yudhoyono urged those still refusing to leave the evacuation zone to move to safety.
Most of those refusing to go were farmers, and have crops to tend or animals to feed.
Mount Merapi, which translates as "Fire Mountain," has erupted scores of times over the last 200 years, often with deadly results. It is one of the world's most active volcanoes.
In 1994, 60 people were killed by a searing gas cloud while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were incinerated, leaving 1,300 dead.
The volcano plays a central role in the belief system of villagers living on its fertile land. Many of them believe spirits watching over the volcano will warn them of danger.
An 80-year-old man entrusted by the nearby royal court to be the spiritual guardian of the volcano has been criticized because he has refused to evacuate, along with many people living in villages within a few miles of the crater.
But instead of going down the mountain, mystic Maridjan, hiked up it Tuesday morning to mediate and has not yet returned, his daughter and other villagers said Wednesday.
"I know what Dad is like," said the daughter, Sulami. "He needs to do this, and God willing, things will now be calm."
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Back in the USA
Survey: Miami Worst Road Rage City
Tue May 16, 2006
A new survey found Miami to be the worst of the worst cities when it comes to road rage.
The "In The Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey," commissioned by the national auto club AutoVantage, found Miami drivers to be the least courteous in the country.
According to the survey, some of the common road rage triggers in Miami include speeding, tailgating, cutting into traffic and having parking places stolen. Drivers in Miami are often angered by tailgating, with 63 percent of drivers saying they see the behavior daily.
The survey found that half of the drivers in Miami will have the experience of having a parking place stolen from them. One-fourth of all drivers surveyed said that they see drivers run red lights every day.
The other cities cited as the worst for road rage were Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
The city with the most courteous drivers in the country, according to the survey, is Minneapolis. Other cities that fared well were Nashville, Tenn., St. Louis, Seattle and Atlanta.
More than 2,000 adult drivers who regularly commute in 20 major metropolitan areas were asked to rate road rage and rude driving in telephone surveys between January and March.
The survey conducted by Prince Market Research has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
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Teen creates disturbance at Buffalo airport
May 16, 2006
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. - He shouted "It's time to die" before ripping off his backpack and reaching inside it at an upstate airport.
Now, a teenager faces disorderly conduct charges after causing a disturbance at Buffalo Niagara International Airport last night.
Authorities say the 16-year-old boy (Alif Chowdhury) from Garden City, Long Island was with his father (Ehsan Chowdhury) waiting outside a terminal prior to their flight to J-F-K Airport.
Passers-by became suspicious of the youth's behavior and alerted airport police. The teen -- who was dressed in a white robe-like garment -- became agitated while officers questioned his father.
Officials say he said he wasn't afraid to die and tried to pull something out of his backpack.
The officers subdued the youth, who was carrying cell phones in the backpack but nothing dangerous.
The teen was taken to a Buffalo hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
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Study: Only One in Four Teens Can Name Broadcast Networks
By Abbey Klaassen
May 15, 2006
NEW YORK -- For the week of the broadcast network upfront presentations, Bolt Media hopes this stat delivers a bullet to TV: Only one in four 12- to 34-year-olds can name all four major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
The finding comes via an online poll conducted by Bolt Media, a 10-year-old Web site that six weeks ago relaunched itself as a place for users to upload videos and photos. About 400 members responded to the questions, including one that asked how respondents spent their free time.
The top networks
The most popular activity? That would be surfing the Internet, which 84% said they did during their idle periods. Hanging out with friends came in second at 76%, watching movies third at 71% and TV viewing fourth at 69%. The five most-watched TV networks were Fox, Comedy Central, ABC, MTV and Cartoon Network.
"There's a massive movement going on in people under 30 and how they spend their media time," said Bolt President Lou Kerner, who once upon a time was a cable analyst on Wall Street before leaving to run TV.com and then Bolt. "Our audience spends lots of time on net, creating their own media."
He shrugs off the idea that the poll, because it was based on Bolt members who tend to be heavy online users, wasn't of value. He charges the results are representative of teens who go on sites like Bolt or YouTube -- exactly the kinds of rabid media consumers sophisticated marketers are interested in reaching.
"We're finally at an inflection point where advertisers are tired of spending more and more and getting less and less, particularly as it relates to youth," he said. "You're going to see a much broader embracement of the Internet as a distribution mechanism to get their shows out there."
He criticized NBC's decision to pull the "Saturday Night Live" "Lazy Sunday" clip off of YouTube and praised Fox for its viral marketing of "Family Guy," which went on to be a cash cow in DVD sales. Mr. Kerner's advice to the networks as they look to build buzz for the new fall season?
"Take your clips and put them out there on these different sites. Let the kids take the codes and put them into their social media profiles so they can show their friends and their friends can collect that as well," he said. "That viral marketing is best possible thing they can do to drive more people to the broadcast channel or their own dot-com site."
"The five most-watched TV networks were Fox, Comedy Central, ABC, MTV and Cartoon Network." Well, that explains a lot...
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Power Shut Off After Woman Owes a Penny
Tue May 16, 2006
FLINT, Mich. - It was just a penny, but to Consumers Energy it was enough to cut off power in a local home. Jacqueline Williams, 41, of Flint had an electricity bill of $1,662.08 and paid all of it, except for one cent. That wasn't enough for the power company, which blacked her out for seven hours Wednesday.
The CMS Energy Corp. subsidiary told Williams the power would not be turned on until the penny was received.
"I went down there, paid my penny and got a receipt," Williams told The Flint Journal.
Shortly after, the electricity was turned back on.
"All of this for one penny," said Williams, who went to the state Department of Human Services for help in April and was told the agency would pay most of the bill.
But she was still short more than $500.
Williams, a Social Security recipient, went to the Salvation Army, where she received $430.67, and Consumers agreed to match $430.66 toward the bill.
However, she was still one cent short.
A Consumers Energy spokesman said that the utility had no choice in the matter, though he was not aware of any similar incidents where service was stopped for one cent.
"This was the first one I've heard about," said Terry DeDoes. He said the company has many programs to help people who fall behind in their utility bills.
Williams said she doesn't want to find herself in the same situation again.
"I'm praying to God I stay on top of my bills," she said.
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NWA Warns Flight Attendants Pay Cut Talks Are Over
By JOSHUA FREED
AP Business Writer
Tue May 16, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS - Northwest Airlines Corp. is warning flight attendants that they won't get a better deal if they reject the wage-cutting pact they're voting on now.
Flight attendants are voting through June 6 on whether to accept a tentative agreement that would cut their pay 21 percent and require them to work longer hours. It would save Northwest $195 million a year.
Baggage handlers and ramp workers rejected their own pay-cut offer from Northwest, forcing the Eagan-based airline back to the bargaining table. And flight attendants will vote later this summer on whether to switch unions. Those two events may have some flight attendants hoping they can get a better deal.
The airline said that won't happen.
Northwest "does not have the luxury of returning to the bargaining table" if the contract is rejected, the airline wrote in a letter to flight attendants on Friday. "The implementation of labor cost reductions must begin immediately."
If flight attendants reject the contract, Northwest said it would assign 30 percent of international flying to foreigners - an idea that enraged flight attendants when Northwest proposed it last year. The airline also said it would drop an offer to pay severance of up to $27,000 and reduce or eliminate labor protections in case of a merger.
Northwest said in its letter that it was trying to provide "complete and accurate information as you carefully consider the alternatives."
But Guy Meek, president of the Professional Flight Attendants Association, wrote his own letter, blasting Northwest's letter as "a blatant scare tactic meant to intimidate our members."
"Be confident that PFAA will not stand by and allow you to break the law by way of a unilateral abrogation," he wrote.
PFAA leaders have made no recommendation on how members should vote.
The contract vote comes at a tumultuous time for Northwest flight attendants. They will vote June 8 through July 6 on whether to drop the independent PFAA and join the larger Association of Flight Attendants. And they are also due to vote this summer on whether to have PFAA become a local of the Transport Workers Union.
Bankruptcy law requires a trial to decide whether a debtor can reject a union contract. For flight attendants, that trial took place earlier this year, but the judge never ruled because the tentative agreement was reached instead.
But baggage handlers and ramp workers agreed to vote on Northwest's offer, forestalling their trial. They rejected it on March 7, prompting Northwest to return to court so it could reject their contract with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The IAM represents the 5,600 workers who rejected Northwest's offer as well as several thousand other Northwest workers.
Testimony continued in New York on Tuesday for the second day of that trial.
Northwest remains at odds with the IAM over three main issues: pension plans, severance payments and higher compensation, either in a wage increase or lump-sum payment.
The union has authorized a strike if Northwest is allowed to impose its terms. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Allan Gropper said he is hopeful the two sides reach an agreement on their own.
On Tuesday, an expert witness for the union provided more details about talks with the airline and held out hope that a settlement could be reached.
"There are continuing efforts to close the gap on those points" that separate the company and the union, said Tom Roth, president of a labor consulting firm called Labor Bureau Inc. "There is room for a consensual deal here."
The trial recessed until Friday morning, when final arguments are expected. Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon said no more "formal discussions" are scheduled until then.
"Northwest continues to prefer a consensual agreement to potential abrogation of its unratified IAM agreements; however, it must also ensure that the necessary labor cost reductions are achieved as expeditiously as possible," he said.
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Bush's Big Eye
Bush reverses stand on spy program oversight
By David Morgan
May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON - The White House, in an abrupt reversal, has agreed to let the full Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees review President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, lawmakers said on Tuesday.
The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House panels disclosed the shift two days before a Senate confirmation hearing for Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as the new CIA director, which is expected to be dominated by concern over the program.
The chairmen said separately that Bush had agreed to full committee oversight of his Terrorist Surveillance Program rather than the more limited briefings allowed up to now.
The White House, under political pressure, did agree to conduct a set of briefings for the two full committees earlier this year, but those sessions did not disclose operational details about the eavesdropping.
Initiated after the September 11 attacks, the program lets the National Security Agency eavesdrop without a court warrant on international phone calls and e-mails made by U.S. citizens if one party is suspected to have links with terrorism.
It has stirred an outcry among rights groups and lawmakers who believe Bush overstepped his constitutional authority.
The White House has sought to avoid full committee oversight by limiting briefings to subcommittees from each panel. Initially, the administration shared program details only with the chairmen and vice chairmen of the committees and party leaders in the House and Senate.
"It became apparent that in order to have a fully informed confirmation hearing, all members of my committee needed to know the full width and breadth of the president's program," Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who heads the 15-member Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.
Democrats, who have long pushed for full hearings, said the change would bring the White House into compliance with the National Security Act of 1947, which requires the executive branch to keep Congress informed on intelligence matters.
"The White House, for the first time, is showing signs that they are serious about oversight," said Democrat Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the Senate panel's vice chairman.
A full Senate committee briefing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Full oversight was expected to replace subcommittee reviews that have been in place since earlier this year, said committee staff members from both chambers.
Hayden, who was the program's architect as NSA director from 1999 to 2005, was expected to face a blizzard of questions on NSA spying at a Thursday confirmation hearing before Roberts' committee. Republicans and Democrats have said Hayden's confirmation would depend on his answers would be.
A congressional aide who deals with intelligence matters said the change in policy on NSA oversight would allow Hayden to speak about the program during the classified segment of his confirmation hearing.
The aide predicted that broader oversight could also pave the way for bringing the program under federal law. Hayden has signaled possible support for this during meetings with members of Congress.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said full oversight would eliminate what he called politically driven rumors.
Bush has defended the program by saying the intelligence activities he authored are lawful and necessary to protect Americans from further harm.
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Probes into CIA flights "stonewalled": UN official
By Mark John
Tue May 16, 2006
BRUSSELS - Inquiries into allegations that CIA flights through Europe carried people to countries where they faced possible torture are encountering a stonewall by officials, a U.N. official said on Tuesday.
Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights issues related to the fight against terrorism, said it could be decades before the full truth about the allegations emerged.
"There is a stonewall," he said of the lack of firm evidence turned up by European investigators to support allegations that the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe and flew suspects to states where they would have been tortured.
"There is a huge degree of ambiguity and secrecy and I seriously believe it will take several years or even decades before we have enough to make an assessment of the magnitude of the phenomenon," Scheinin told a news briefing.
A European Parliament probe concluded last month that more than 1,000 CIA flights had transited the EU and that the CIA had been responsible for kidnapping several people and illegally detaining them on EU soil.
However the inquiry, launched in January with no legal powers, has attracted little testimony from top-level officials. Lawmakers have accused national EU governments and institutions of wanting to sweep the affair under the carpet.
European rights watchdog the Council of Europe has said at least one European state admitted to its investigators that it had handed over terrorism suspects to foreign agents, but the body has so far been given no further details.
Washington denies any wrongdoing. State Department lawyer John Bellinger said this month there had been "very few" cases of what he called extraordinary renditions -- the transfer of terrorism suspects from one country to another.
A Washington Post report last year said the CIA had run secret prisons in Europe and flown suspects to states where they would have been tortured.
Human rights group Amnesty International said this month torture and inhumane treatment were "widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere despite Washington's denials.
Comment: Here's a crazy idea: start an inquiry WITH legal powers.
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Big Brother's Little Brother
Tue May 16, 2006
Six months ago, The Nation published The Dictionary of Republicanisms, a guide to the Orwellian phrases the Republicans have introduced into American politics. And it seems like every week since then they keep adding new ones. This week's winner is The Terrorist Surveillance Act. Last week's was trolling.
Yes, last Thursday the country experienced an uncomfortable moment when the President of the United States reassured us that the government was not "trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." Apparently W's speech writing staff doesn't know that trolling is slang for an older gay man cruising for anonymous sex with younger men.
The White House defense for the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Act, its defense for coercing the phone companies into giving up millions of Americans phone records is that they are trolling the "logs," not listening to the content. If you believe that I suggest you pepper your telephone conversations with the Arabic phrase for "Allah is great" and see how you're treated at airport security.
The Senate has the opportunity to rebuke the president for this warrantless wiretapping by rejecting the man who oversaw the program, General Michael Hayden. If they do not, they will see how much luck they have trolling for votes next November.
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NSA Spying the Tip of the Iceberg
by Allen L Roland
May 15, 2006
"The voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in and keep step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command. Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent." - Charles Eliot Norton
NSA domestic spying is the tip of the iceberg pursuant to the data that is being accumulated by this government on its citizens.
And this extensive information is being gathered by people with strong right wing Republican affiliations.
Greg Palast, Buzzflash, indentifies the culprit CHOICE POINT as well as the alarming concerns.
NSA JUST WANTS YOUR TELEPHONE RECORDS; CHOICE POINT WANTS YOUR DNA
The leader in the field of what is called "data mining," is a company, formed in 1997, called, Choice Point which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.
Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration.
Five years ago, I discovered that Choice Point had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans -- and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.
They are paid to keep an eye on you -- because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.)
But Choice Point can collect if for "commercial" purchases -- and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act ~ our domestic spying apparatchiks can then buy the info from Choice Point.
Choice Point's board has more Republicans than a Palm Beach country club. It was funded, and its board stocked, by such Republican sugar daddies as billionaires Bernie Marcus and Ken Langone -- even after Langone was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission with abuse of inside information...
Choice Point, a sickened executive of the company told us in confidence, "hope[s] to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States ...linked to all the other information held by CP" from medical to voting records. . .
The company publicly denied they gave DNA to the Feds -- but then told our investigator, pretending to seek work, that Choice Point was "the number one" provider of DNA info to the FBI.
"And that scares the hell out of me," said the executive (who has since left the company), because Choice Point gets it wrong so often. We are not contracting out our Homeland Security to James Bond here. It's more like Austin Powers, Inc.
Besides the 97% error rate in finding Florida "felons," Illinois State Police fired the company after discovering Choice Point had produced test results on rape case evidence ... that didn't exist.
And Choice Point just got hit with the largest fine in Federal Trade Commission history for letting identity thieves purchase 145,000 credit card records.
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Is Bush a Lunatic?
By Molly Ivins, AlterNet. Posted May 17, 2006.
I hate to raise such an ugly possibility, but have you considered lunacy as an explanation? Craziness would make a certain amount of sense.
I mean, you announce you are going to militarize the Mexican border, but you assure the president of Mexico you are not militarizing the border. You announce you are sending the National Guard, but then you assure everyone it's not very many soldiers and just for a little while.
Militarizing the border is a totally terrible idea. Do we have a State Department? Are they sentient? How much do you want to infuriate Mexico when it's sitting on quite a bit of oil? Bush knows what the most likely outcome of this move will be. He was governor during the political firestorm that ensued when a Marine taking part in anti-drug patrols on the border shot and killed Esequiel Hernandez, an innocent goat-herder from Redford, Texas.
That's the definition of crazy -- repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
I suppose politics could explain it, too. It's quite possible that lunacy and politics are closely related. It's still damned hard cheese for the Guard, though. The Guard is heavily deployed in Iraq, currently 20 percent of those serving, down from 40 percent last year. Some soldiers are sent back for multiple tours. Lt. Gen. James Helmly, head of the Army Reserve, said the Reserve is rapidly degenerating into "a broken force" and is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements."
Happy hurricane season to you, too. The Guard is also short on equipment and falling short on recruiting goals. But right-wingers are very unhappy with Bush right now, and this is a strong, red-meat gesture that will make them happy, even if it does nothing to shut down the border.
You want to shut down illegal immigration? You want to use the military as police? Make it illegal to hire undocumented workers and put the National Guard into enforcing that. Then rewrite NAFTA and invest in Mexico.
Meanwhile, further proof that the entire party is cuckoo comes to us with the passage of another $70 billion tax cut for the rich. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the average middle-income household will get a $20 tax cut, while those making more than $1 million a year will get nearly $42,000.
The Washington Post editorialized, "Budgetary dishonesty, distributional unfairness, fiscal irresponsibility -- by now the words are so familiar, it can be hard to appreciate how damaging this fiscal course will be."
Both President Bush and Veep Cheney are still going around claiming if you cut taxes, your tax revenues increase. No, they don't. Now we're just in whackoville. It's not true. Their own economists tell them it's not true, but they go about claiming it is with the same desperate tenacity they clung to false tales of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How pathetic.
Speaking of lunacy, the saddest report from Iraq is that American soldiers showing signs of psychological distress and depression are being kept on active duty, increasing the risk of suicide. The Hartford Courant reports that even soldiers who have already been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome are kept on duty. This has led to an increase in the suicide rate -- 22 soldiers in 2005. And as I have reported before, the military is unprepared to deal with the flood of head cases coming back from Iraq. How many ways can we mistreat our own soldiers, while the right makes this elaborate show of devotion to "the troops"?
The consistent pattern that runs through all these problems is the failure to distinguish fantasy from reality. Mexican immigrants keep crossing the border because they can get jobs here -- and most of those jobs are provided by companies whose CEOs support George W. Bush. That's where he can have an impact on the problem, should he choose to do so.
The $70 billion tax cut is part of a continuing right-wing fantasy going back to the Laffer Curve. Of course, clinging to demonstrably false economic precepts is understandable when you benefit from them, but at some point reality does intervene.
As for the Iraq fantasy and those who pushed it on a reluctant country through lies, disinformation and bending intelligence -- isn't there a law against that?
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The Color Barrier
Senate defeats bid to water down immigration bill
By Donna Smith
Tue May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON - The Senate on Tuesday blocked efforts to water down a sweeping immigration bill coupling tougher border controls with a guest worker program similar to proposals spelled out by President George W. Bush.
The bill's backers said they were encouraged about its prospects. But they said it faced an uncertain future in eventual negotiations with the House of Representatives, which earlier passed a tough bill that would turn illegal immigrants into felons and erect a big border fence.
"The signals we are getting are very good," said Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat.
The Senate bill includes border security and enforcement measures but adds a guest worker program and a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
In a 69-28 procedural vote, the Senate killed an amendment proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, that would have eliminated the guest worker program for future immigrants. It would have limited the program to illegal immigrants who have lived in America for at least two years.
The Senate also rejected a measure offered by Sen. Johnny Isakson that would have required the Department of Homeland Security to certify that U.S. borders were sealed and secure before the guest worker program could go forward.
Opponents said the measure from the Georgia Republican would have gutted the bill. "If there were ever a killer amendment, it was the Isakson amendment," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He urged Bush to do more to line up support among Republicans.
But the Senate did agree to cap the number of temporary worker visas that would be available under the guest worker program to 200,000 a year, instead of a proposed 325,000.
In a televised speech on Monday Bush spelled out his vision for immigration reform that closely resembles the Senate bill.
But in an effort to address concerns of conservative Republicans, who are focusing on stopping immigrants from coming in, he said he would deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Bush and other backers of a guest worker program say it is needed to fill jobs that Americans do not want.
But Dorgan argued it would be used to provide cheap labor for jobs in construction, manufacturing, transportation and food preparations which are now mostly filled by Americans. "This is about low-wage replacement workers," Dorgan said.
The bill still faces an uncertain future in a congressional election year when immigration is likely to be a major issue and would have to be melded with the tough House bill.
"I think we've got good prospects of getting something through the Senate," said Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. "Can we get that reconciled with the House, I don't know. I think it would be a major accomplishment if we could."
Opposition to the House bill, which could lead to millions of people being deported from the country, prompted protests across the country by Hispanic groups and their supporters.
Bush on Tuesday said only comprehensive legislation would work to stop illegal immigration.
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Making Coffee on Front Lines Gets Easier
By DENISE LAVOIE
Tue May 16, 2006
NATICK, Mass. - Soldiers thirsting for a cup of coffee on the front lines of World War II could quickly heat up the beverage inside their "steel pot" helmets that served as both head protection and a handy container for campfire cooking.
That isn't an option for modern-day soldiers, whose Kevlar-fiber helmets can defend against bullets but don't work so well for fixing food.
So researchers at the Defense Department's Combat Feeding program in Natick cooked up another way for troops to make a hot cup of joe: A thick, resealable polyethelyene bag that can be used anywhere.
Soldiers mix instant coffee with water in the bag, then slide it into the flameless ration heater bags troops use to warm their meals. A magnesium and iron oxide pad within the flameless ration bag transfers heat to the water in the hot beverage bag. Within minutes, the coffee is steaming hot.
Soldiers slip the bag into an envelope-like cardboard carton, which can be used like a cup to drink the coffee and protect their hands from the heat.
Barbara Daley, a food technologist at the Combat Feeding program, said many soldiers on the front lines were going without coffee because there was no easy way to make it. The researchers at the program based at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center spent about two years developing the Hot Beverage Bag, or HBB, as it is known in military speak.
"There are coffee lovers out there and they wanted a way to make a hot cup of coffee. We found a simple, dependable, inexpensive way to do it," said Daley, who helped develop the bag.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Rick Haddad, who spent two months in
Afghanistan last year, said the lightweight, easy-to-use bag was a big hit with the soldiers in his platoon, who previously often went without coffee.
"It's a morale thing," Haddad said. "Any time in a cold weather environment, if you can have something hot once a day, that definitely improves morale, especially if you are pulling guard duty for 12 hours a night with no sunlight."
Still, the instant coffee won't be mistaken for Starbucks.
The bags were first introduced to troops last year and are now being included in every meal pack, known as Meal, Ready-to-Eat, or MRE. They cost about 6 cents each to produce.
World War II veteran Tom Blakey said the hot beverage bag would have come in handy while he was serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. Although helmets were a popular way to cook coffee or meals for a group of soldiers, that could only be done when they were sure the enemy wasn't close enough to see or smell smoke from the campfire.
"You had to have the proper circumstances ... because of the fire situation and the proximity of the Germans," he said. "When we found a fire they were building, we bombed it, just like they did to us."
David Stieghan, U.S. Army Infantry Branch historian at Fort Benning, Ga., said soldiers have used a variety of military-issued utensils as well as their own ingenuity to find ways to make coffee during wartime.
In the Civil War, Union soldiers were issued unroasted and ungrounded coffee beans, along with a one-quart tin-plated steel cup. Soldiers would roast a few coffee beans at the bottom of their cups or in a small frying pan, then use their bayonet socket to crush the beans. They would then pour water into the cup and boil it on a campfire, Stieghan said.
In recent years, front-line soldiers have used gelatinous fuel tabs to heat up coffee in their canteen cups, but that system wasn't always practical. Neither the fuel tabs nor canteen cups were always readily available, and soldiers had to use matches to light the tabs, so making coffee or other hot beverages that way could be messy.
"When it comes to coffee, soldiers have always done whatever it takes," Stieghan said, "just for the pick-me-up or the feeling of having something warm in their hands."
Comment: The bag was introduced to troops over a year ago, and we're just hearing about the story now. Do you think that might have something to do with Bush's low ratings and the calls to bring the troops home? In any case, it's pretty sad that at a time when soldiers had to buy their own body armor, the Pentagon was hard at work getting them coffee...
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U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia
By Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; Page A01
More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.
The latest clashes, last week and over the weekend, were some of the most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded. Leaders of the interim government blamed U.S. support of the militias for provoking the clashes.
U.S. officials have declined to directly address on the record the question of backing Somali warlords, who have styled themselves as a counterterrorism coalition in an open bid for American support. Speaking to reporters recently, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would "work with responsible individuals . . . in fighting terror. It's a real concern of ours -- terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another safe haven for terrorists created. Our interest is purely in seeing Somalia achieve a better day."
U.S. officials have long feared that Somalia, which has had no effective government since 1991, is a desirable place for al-Qaeda members to hide and plan attacks. The country is strategically located on the Horn of Africa, which is only a boat ride away from Yemen and a longtime gateway to Africa from the Middle East. No visas are needed to enter Somalia, there is no police force and no effective central authority.
The country has a weak transitional government operating largely out of neighboring Kenya and the southern city of Baidoa. Most of Somalia is in anarchy, ruled by a patchwork of competing warlords; the capital is too unsafe for even Somalia's acting prime minister to visit.
Leaders of the transitional government said they have warned U.S. officials that working with the warlords is shortsighted and dangerous.
"We would prefer that the U.S. work with the transitional government and not with criminals," the prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, said in an interview. "This is a dangerous game. Somalia is not a stable place and we want the U.S. in Somalia. But in a more constructive way. Clearly we have a common objective to stabilize Somalia, but the U.S. is using the wrong channels."
Many of the warlords have their own agendas, Somali officials said, and some reportedly fought against the United States in 1993 during street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead.
"The U.S. government funded the warlords in the recent battle in Mogadishu, there is no doubt about that," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told journalists by telephone from Baidoa. "This cooperation . . . only fuels further civil war."
U.S. officials have refused repeated requests to provide details about the nature and extent of their support for the coalition of warlords, which calls itself the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism in what some Somalis say is a marketing ploy to get U.S. support.
But some U.S. officials, who declined to be identified by name because of the sensitivity of the issue, have said they are generally talking to these leaders to prevent people with suspected ties to al-Qaeda from being given safe haven in the lawless country.
"There are complicated issues in Somalia in that the government does not control Mogadishu and it has the potential for becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists," said one senior administration official in Washington. "We've got very clear interests in trying to ensure that al-Qaeda members are not using it to hide and to plan attacks." He said it was "a very difficult issue" trying to show support for the fledgling interim government while also working to prevent Somalia from becoming an al-Qaeda base.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was a "Hobbesian" situation -- that the transitional government operating from Kenya was in its "fifteenth iteration" and that it, too, was a "collection of warlords" that played both sides of the fence. The official said that it presented a classic "enemy of our enemy" situation.
The source said Somalia was "not an al-Qaeda safe haven" yet, adding, "There are some there, but it's so dysfunctional." U.S. officials specifically believe that a small number of al-Qaeda operatives who were involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania are now residing in Somalia.
Analysts said they were convinced the Bush administration was backing the warlords as part of its global war against terrorism.
"The U.S. relies on buying intelligence from warlords and other participants in the Somali conflict, and hoping that the strongest of the warlords can snatch a live suspect or two if the intelligence identifies their whereabouts," said John Prendergast, the director for African affairs in the Clinton administration and now a senior adviser at the nongovernmental International Crisis Group. "This strategy might reduce the short-term threat of another terrorist attack in East Africa, but in the long term the conditions which allow terrorist cells to take hold along the Indian Ocean coastline go unaddressed. We ignore these conditions at our peril."
"Are we talking to them and doing some of that? Yes," said Ted Dagne, the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service. "We fought some of these warlords in 1993 and now we are dealing with some of them again, perhaps supporting some of them against other groups. Somalia is still considered by some as an attractive location for terrorist groups."
The issue of U.S. backing came to the forefront this winter when warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism after a fundamentalist Islamic group began asserting itself in the capital, setting up courts of Islamic law and building schools and hospitals.
Soon after, the coalition of warlords were well-equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and antiaircraft guns, which were used in heavy fighting in the capital last week. It was the second round of fighting this year, following clashes in March that killed more than 90 people, mostly civilians, and emptied neighborhoods around the capital.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council this month, the world body's monitoring group on Somalia said it was investigating an unnamed country's secret support for an anti-terrorism alliance in apparent violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
The experts said they were told in January and February of this year that "financial support was being provided to help organize and structure a militia force created to counter the threat posed by the growing militant fundamentalist movement in central and southern Somalia."
In March, the State Department said in its terrorism report that the U.S. government was concerned about al-Qaeda fugitives "responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the November 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel and attack on a civilian airliner in Kenya, who are believed to be operating in and around Somalia."
The United States relies on Ethiopia and Kenya for information about Somalia. Both countries have complex interests and long-standing ties and animosities in the country. In December 2002, the United States also established an anti-terrorism task force in neighboring Djibouti, with up to 1,600 U.S. troops stationed in the country.
Africa researchers said they were concerned that while the Bush administration was focused on the potential terrorist threat, little was being done to support economic development initiatives that could provide alternative livelihoods to picking up a gun or following extremist ideologies in Somalia. Somalia watchers and Somalis themselves said there has not been enough substantial backing for building a new government after 15 years of collapsed statehood.
"If the real problem is Somalia, then what have we done to change the situation inside Somalia? Are we funding schools, health care or helping establish an effective government?" Dagne said. "We have a generation of Somali kids growing up without education and only knowing violence and poverty. Unless there is a change, these could become the next warlords out of necessity for survival. That's perhaps the greatest threat we have yet to address."
Somalis far from the factional fighting in Mogadishu said they were waiting for anyone to help ease their destitute lives during the worst drought in a decade.
In Waajid, a dusty town about 200 miles northwest of the capital, thousands of villagers have left their farms for squalid camps, searching for water and living in open, rocky fields under low-lying, fragile shelters of sticks and rags that look like bird's nests.
Many people here say they feel that the United States has ignored Somalia since the failed 1993 military intervention. Today many Somalis said they regret that chapter in their history and thank the United States, the largest donor of food and funding for water trucks during this season's drought.
However, they said that news that the U.S. government was talking with warlords has awakened feelings of resentment.
"George W. Bush, we welcome the Americans. But not to back warlords. We need the U.S.A. to help the young government," said Isak Nur Isak, the district commissioner in Waajid. "We won't drag any Americans through the street like in 1993. We want to be clear: We don't want only food aid, but we do want political support for the new government, which is all we have right now to put our hopes in. We can't eat if everyone is dead."
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Lynching Resolution Rejected in Waco
Wed May 17, 1:08 AM ET
WACO, Texas - A resolution denouncing lynchings in the 1800s and early 1900s was rejected Tuesday by county commissioners, while the City Council agreed to try to draft a document both bodies can accept.
McLennan County commissioners decided against adopting a community group's measure apologizing for the lynchings by a 4-to-1 vote, but then said they would work on a resolution all could accept.
In a separate meeting Tuesday, the Waco City Council agreed to meet in June to draft its own resolution. Members said they hoped to work with county commissioners to draft an acceptable document.
Both bodies had been urged by the Community Race Relations Coalition to apologize for the "failure of past leadership to uphold and defend lynching victims' most basic rights to life, liberty, and due process." Of the more than 4,700 lynchings nationwide during the 1800s and early 1900s, about 500 were in Texas.
"My hope at the end is some resolution, some statement that can bring about healing, recognizing how far we've come, who we are and who we hope to be," Mayor Virginia DuPuy said.
At least two county commissioners had said they opposed an apology because the lynchings happened before current leaders and residents were born. But they also said the victims should not be forgotten.
Lester Gibson, the only black county commissioner, vowed to keep placing the matter on the agenda until the group reaches a consensus. He voted against the motion rejecting the resolution.
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World on Fire
Europeans Embrace Stepped-Up Surveillance
By JOHN LEICESTER
May 16, 2006
PARIS - Europeans are no strangers to eavesdropping: East Germans endured the all-pervasive Stasi secret police, a French president had a penchant for wiretaps and Britain had "Camillagate" - with Prince Charles taped making a steamy call to his lover.
Perhaps little wonder, then, that many Europeans barely shrug at news that the Bush administration has collected telephone records on millions of Americans.
Although experts and officials say Europe does not centrally collect telephone data on a massive scale, government surveillance has been increasing since the Sept. 11 attacks. Some say European nations could further boost surveillance if terrorism becomes an even bigger threat.
"If we had a Sept. 11 every year, then citizens, regardless of the country, would doubtless be ready to abdicate a good portion of their rights in this area," said French lawmaker Alain Marsaud, a former anti-terror investigator.
Marsaud, other experts and European Union officials said they were not aware of a European equivalent of the secret telephone database put together by the National Security Agency. The program was disclosed last week by USA Today newspaper, which said the NSA has records of all calls made by customers of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
"German legislation does not allow for this," said Andreas Middel of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, Europe's largest phone operator. While the company does - with a court order - turn over to law enforcement agencies data such as numbers called and the length of calls, it does not provide billing information for more general purposes, he said.
Jan Sjoberg of TeliaSonera, the Nordic region's largest telecommunications operator, said: "There is nothing today that indicates that this kind of thing is going on, either in Sweden or elsewhere in Europe."
The Bush administration has declined to specify how the data is being used; President Bush reiterated Tuesday the government was not eavesdropping on Americans.
Sandra Bell, who spent two decades working on counterterrorism technology for Britain's Ministry of Defense, said she suspects the NSA is building a detailed picture of what constitutes normal phone traffic. That way, spikes in calls to places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, for example, could be easier to spot, perhaps flagging terrorist activity, she said.
Bell likened it to a bank's ability to track credit card use, enabling them to follow up any unusual purchase to ask if a card had been stolen.
"Technology is going at such a pace ... we have to give up a little bit of privacy in order to provide security," said Bell, who now works for a British security think tank.
"If they are doing what I think they are doing, then I guess my answer is: 'Why on earth wasn't this done a long time ago?'" Bell said. "If it is something more sinister then, no, I wouldn't like it."
The pendulum swung toward more extensive electronic surveillance in Europe after deadly transit bombings in Madrid and London.
EU governments and the EU parliament this year approved legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone data and Internet logs for a minimum of six months for possible use in terrorism and serious crime investigations.
The Dutch secret service has gained vast powers. In 2004, the government passed measures that lowered the threshold for bugging and surveillance. A turning point in Dutch public attitudes came with the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist.
France also has expanded the possible use of videosurveillance and phone and Internet data, despite previous wiretapping abuses. President Francois Mitterrand eavesdropped in the 1980s on lawyers, politicians, journalists and celebrities. A Paris court last November convicted seven people of invasion of privacy for their role in the operation.
In Italy, a Justice Ministry report said the number of authorized wiretaps more than tripled from 32,000 in 2001 to 106,000 last year. Italian phone companies are obliged to keep phone records for at least five years and Internet records for at least one year - the longest of any of the EU's 25 member nations, according to Italy's privacy authority.
That is not a problem for Carolina Lio, a university student from Bologna. "As long as there isn't a CCTV camera in my house, I am not worried," she said. "I know the surveillance is not directed against me, but rather to protect me."
But others warn the delicate balance between security and freedom is being lost.
"Politicians have tapped into this mood of fear," said British expert Ian Leigh.
"A lot of the safeguards that were erected, first of all in the U.S. in the 1970s, and then in other countries in the '80s and '90s following well-documented abuses have been taken down to some degree to fight the war on terror," he said. "It's likely that this will store up problems for the future."
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Sao Paulo gang violence toll hits 133 dead
by Uncas Fernandez
Wed May 17, 2006
SAO PAULO - The death toll in a criminal gang offensive that has terrorized Sao Paulo soared to 133 after a fourth night of attacks and the discovery of bodies at a prison.
Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city and Brazil's business center, has been gripped by fear since Friday as the gang attacked police, burned banks and buses, and set off widespread rioting in prisons.
Commerce dropped by 90 percent in Sao Paulo on Monday, according to a business group. Bus service ground to a halt.
Since Friday, at least 40 police officers, 71 suspected assailants and four passersby have been killed in some 250 reported attacks. In addition, bodies of 18 inmates were found in a prison.
Residents cautiously began returning to work Tuesday and bus service was restored, albeit with police protection.
Two more buses were attacked Tuesday, although police were not clear whether gang members were responsible.
The rest of the violence has been blamed on First Capital Command, known by its Portuguese initials PCC, the largest criminal gang in Sao Paulo state. It has a massive base in prisons.
The PCC launched the attacks on police Friday in retaliation for the transfer of its members to maximum-security prisons, authorities said.
Police said gang leaders used cell phones from inside the prisons to direct the unrest.
Order was restored in 73 prisons hit by gang-launched uprisings late Monday, after prison officials negotiated the release of 195 hostages late Monday.
Local media reported that jailed PCC leader Marcos Cacho, known as "Marcola," had met government officials in prison to reach a negotiated settlement, but officials denied negotiations had taken place.
"There has been no dialogue with the (gang) leaders to find an accord," state Governor Claudio Lembo said.
The head of the prison system, Nagashi Furukawa, told reporters Tuesday that he had allowed a lawyer to visit Marcola on Sunday and report that the gang leader had not been harmed.
In return the criminals on the street "sought to stop what they were doing," he said.
Police chief Marco Desgualdo also denied that an agreement was reached with the gang.
"You can't have agreements with criminals," he said, assuring that the bloody offensive was moving toward "stabilization" and "neutralization".
Sao Paulo residents cautiously returned to work Tuesday, although the megalopolis lacked its usual bustle.
Offices were deserted Monday when workers left early fearing rumors spread via e-mail of an imminent gang attack. Several schools and universities remained closed Tuesday.
On Monday, bus service ground to a halt and restaurants and shops also shut down after the gang attacked civilian targets, torching scores of buses and hurling Molotov cocktails at banks.
"People are scared, and those who could avoid work did not go," said a bus company employee.
"The gangsters do what they want, you would think this is
Iraq," said Bety, an east Sao Paulo resident. "It's terrifying."
The PCC first emerged in prisons in the 1990s and was responsible for uprisings in 20 penitentiaries in February 2001. In November 2003, it launched attacks on security forces that left 11 officers and seven gang members dead.
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Car bomb attack kills seven in southern Russia
by Christopher Boian
Wed May 17, 2006
MOSCOW - A senior law enforcement official and six other people were killed in a car bomb attack in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region, officials said, as attention turned quickly to Chechen rebels' possible involvement.
Dzhabrail Kostoyev, the deputy interior minister in the province of Ingushetia, died when a powerful car bomb exploded at the moment his own car passed by outside Nazran, the main town in the province, where he was on his way to work, officials said.
Two bodyguards and four bystanders were also reported killed.
A local interior ministry spokesman, Akhmed Aushev, and initial Russian media reports said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, but officials later backed away from that hypothesis and said the car bomb may have been detonated by remote control.
"In all probability, there was no one inside the car that exploded," Dmitry Guruliyov, the deputy prosecutor for Ingushetia, told AFP by telephone.
The explosion had a force equivalent to around 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of TNT, Guruliyov said.
Police said a manhunt was under way in Ingushetia to catch the perpetrators of the attack, but did not specify what leads they were pursuing.
The independent Russian radio station Echo Moscow evoked the possibility that Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev may have been directly involved in the planning of Wednesday's attack, which coincided with the slaying of a prison official in another Russian Caucasus republic.
An Internet website regularly used by Chechen rebels gave an account of a meeting earlier this week in one of Russia's provinces in the North Caucasus among several people it described as rebel commanders, and said Basayev also took part in the meeting.
"Shamil Basayev may have had a role in today's terrorist attack in Ingushetia," Echo Moscow said.
The Chechen rebel website, www.kavkazcenter.com, said the "commander" of the pro-Chechen rebels in Ingushetia, Yevloyev Magomed, was among those who participated in the meeting with Basayev. Magomed has been linked to other attacks on Russian officials in Ingushetia.
Attacks targeting Russian law enforcement officials are a frequent occurrence in Ingushetia, which borders
Chechnya and where clashes between police and pro-Chechen fighters take place regularly.
In June 2004, several hundred rebels led by Basayev launched a large-scale assault on Russian government installations in Nazran, leaving dozens of people dead, most of them police officers, and seizing an arsenal of weapons.
Since then, there has been a steady stream of attacks against Russian officials and security forces in Ingushetia, Dagestan and other provinces in the North Caucasus near Chechnya.
Clashes between rebels and Russian forces in Chechnya itself continue to claim lives on a near-daily basis.
Russian forces are also regularly shown on state television in confrontations with "fighters" who usually number no more than two or three people holed up in an apartment building that is surrounded by special forces and blasted until the fighters are killed.
The prison official killed Wednesday in the Russian Caucasus province of Karachai-Cherkessia was identified by Russian news agencies as Khasan Zhanakayev. He died on the scene after gunmen opened fire on him from a car, the reports said.
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Lawyer shoots judges in Turkish court
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
ANKARA, Turkey -- At least five judges were wounded when an attorney opened fire in Turkey's top administrative court, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.
The judges were holding a daily meeting on Wednesday morning when the gunman burst into court's second chamber and fired his weapon.
Police captured him as he tried to escape. The incident took place in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
According to witnesses, the lawyer shouted, "Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest). His anger will be upon you!"
At least one of the judges received life-threatening wounds and was in surgery, according to Ugur Erdener, the Director of Hacettepe Hospital.
The court had come under widespread criticism for a recent ruling that said public employees and teachers cannot wear headscarves while at work.
Tansel Colasan, deputy head of the administrative court, the Council of State, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the attacker shouted, "I am the soldier of God," and said he was carrying out the attack to protest the court decision on headscarves.
"This attack will go into the history of the republic as a dark stain," President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said in a statement condemning the attack, according to AP.
"These attacks will never reach their goal," Sezer said, adding that the justice system would not be intimidated and would fulfill its duty with "loyalty to the secular and democratic republic."
The country's staunchly secular military also denounced the shooting. "We condemn this vile attack with hate," the General Staff said in a statement.
Turkey, a Muslim country, is a largely secular society and many citizens have long been suspicious of fundamentalist Islam.
However, there are many traditional Muslims in the country, and many women don traditional religious attire.
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European Nations May Give Iran a Reactor
By GEORGE JAHN
May 16, 2006
VIENNA, Austria - Key European nations are considering offering Iran a light-water nuclear reactor as part of incentives meant to persuade Tehran to give up its uranium enrichment program, a senior diplomat said Tuesday.
But a U.S. official said Washington would likely oppose the plan.
A senior diplomat familiar with international attempts to dissuade Iran from enrichment said the tentative plans still were being discussed among France, Britain and Germany as part of a possible package to be presented Friday to senior representatives of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members.
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Bush administration to meet lawmakers to push Indian nuclear deal
Wednesday May 17, 2006
US President George W. Bush's administration will lobby lawmakers to push through a civilian nuclear deal with India which lacks crucial support in Congress, a senior official said.
"We have great respect for the leadership and role of Congress and separation of powers and we are happy to talk to Congress about the various ideas about how to arrive at a satisfactory positive vote in the House and Senate to approve the deal the administration has put forward," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.
He will kick off a series of meetings with key lawmakers Wednesday, beginning with Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.
Lantos unveiled a proposal last week to give new momentum in Congress to the landmark nuclear deal clinched on March 2 by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The deal would allow India, which is not a signatory of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing a majority of its atomic reactors under international safeguards.
But it does not have the wide and bipartisan backing in the legislature amid fears by some in the Bush administration that a crowded Congressional year and mid-term legislative elections in November could stymie the deal.
Republican and Democratic legislators want to first have a look at a set of safeguards under which India and the United States would implement the nuclear agreement as well as a bilateral agreement that would capture all the key ingredients of the deal.
The safeguards are still being negotiated between India and the global atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) while moves to frame the bilateral agreement reportedly hit a snag after India refused to accept a provision barring it from conducting atomic tests.
Under compromise legislation proposed by Lantos, US lawmakers would explicitly welcome the deal but would not immediately make amendments to US law to implement the agreement until all details were worked out.
"With so few legislative days left in this crowded Congressional year, there is not enough time to develop the consensus necessary to accomplish all the administrations objectives," Lantos said.
"We need to come up with a legislative compromise that will keep the momentum for this important agreement moving forward," he added.
Burns refused to divulge any counterproposals by the administration to legislators.
"We think we have put our best foot forward and now it is up to Congress and we will be meeting with members of Congress to try to gain as much support as we possibly can," he said.
Burns said he spoke to Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran over the phone on Tuesday and that they had scheduled a meeting in London next week to further discuss the deal.
"We agreed to meet, to go over all aspects of the US-India agreement so that we can move this along on both sides," he said.
The Bush administration says the deal offers a crucial energy alternative to rapidly-growing India and would elevate relations between the world's largest and oldest democracies to a new strategic height.
But several American weapons experts have warned that forging a civilian nuclear agreement with non-NPT member India would not only make it harder to enforce rules against nuclear renegades Iran and North Korea, but also set a dangerous precedent to other countries with nuclear ambitions.
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Iran Rejects Potential European Incentives
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
May 17, 2006
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday rejected a possible European offer for incentives, including a light-water nuclear reactor, in return for allaying fears about his country's nuclear program by giving up uranium enrichment.
"Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give some walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in a speech in central Iran.
European nations have weighed adding a light-water reactor to a package of incentives meant to persuade Tehran to permanently give up uranium enrichment - or face the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Senior diplomats and EU government officials said Tuesday that the tentative plans were being discussed among France, Britain and Germany as part of a possible package to be presented to representatives of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany at a meeting in London. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the information.
The London talks were postponed Wednesday until next week to allow more time for phone discussions of what should be included in the package of incentives and penalties to be offered to Tehran, said a diplomat, requesting anonymity for the same reason.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to say Tuesday whether a light-water reactor would be offered in the package. But he insisted that Iran would be required to halt its program of enriching and reprocessing uranium on Iranian soil, saying the United States and others "do not want the Iranian regime to have the ability to master those critical pathways to a nuclear weapon."
In his speech broadcast live on state television Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said Iran "won't accept any suspension or end" to its uranium enrichment activities.
He said Iran trusted the European Union in 2003 and suspended its nuclear activities as a gesture to boost negotiations over its nuclear program, only to have the Europeans eventually demand Iran permanently halt its uranium enrichment program.
The 2003 deal called for guarantees that Iran's nuclear program wouldn't diverge from civilian ends toward producing weapons. Iran agreed to the request, but negotiations collapsed in August 2005 when the Europeans said the best guarantee was for Iran to permanently give up its uranium enrichment program.
Iran responded by resuming uranium reprocessing activities at its uranium conversion facility in Isfahan.
"We won't be bitten twice," Ahmadinejad said.
"We recommend that you not sacrifice your interests for the sake of others," he said in an apparent warning to the European Union about supporting the position advocated by the United States.
Ahmadinejad reiterated his threat to pull out of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if international pressure to give up uranium enrichment continued.
"Don't force governments and nations to renounce their membership in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," he said asserting that Iran had the right to a civilian nuclear power program.
With Iran's nuclear program now before the Security Council, the Americans are at the forefront of efforts to introduce a council resolution that would demand Iran give up enrichment or else face the threat of sanctions. Washington seeks to make such a resolution militarily enforceable, something opposed by Russia and China, which continue instead to favor talks meant to persuade Tehran to compromise.
In the latest sign of persisting differences, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Beijing and Moscow will not vote for the use of force in resolving the nuclear dispute.
In a gesture to Tehran, Lavrov also said Ahmadinejad will attend a summit next month in Shanghai, China, of leaders from Russia, China and four Central Asian nations.
"We cannot isolate Iran or exert pressure on it," Lavrov told reporters. "Far from resolving this issue of proliferation, it will make it more urgent."
A light-water reactor is considered less likely to be misused for nuclear proliferation than the heavy water facility Iran is building at the city of Arak, which - once completed by early 2009 - will produce plutonium waste.
Still, light-water reactors are not proliferation-proof, because they are fueled by enriched uranium, which can be processed to make highly enriched "weapons-grade" material for nuclear warheads.
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Water Water Everywhere?
Tough curbs on water use as drought hits Britain
By Valerie Elliott and Lewis Smith
The Sunday Times
May 16, 2006
MILLIONS of people face queueing for water at standpipes within months as the Environment Agency gave warning yesterday of the worst drought in a century.
Thames Water, which supplies eight million people in and around London, was told by the agency to apply for a drought order immediately. Southern Water and Mid Kent Water, which between them serve 1.24 million customers, have already applied for drought orders and are ex- pected to get them within a fortnight.
Anyone flouting drought orders can face a fine of up to £5,000 in magistrates' courts or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court. Seven water companies, all in the South East where shortages are most acute, already have hosepipe bans. An eighth, Essex and Suffolk, was told to impose one by the end of the month.
The drought order ban applies to filling swimming and paddling pools and watering all public parks and spaces, golf courses, cricket pitches and other sports grounds.
Householders may continue for now to use a watering can on their gardens but this will be reviewed if the drought con- tinues and water is not saved.
Rainfall across Britain has been below average for the past six months while London and much of southern England have experienced the driest 18 months in the past 74 years.
Reservoirs are mostly full after recent rainfall but groundwater stocks, which form the bulk of household supplies, are even lower in some parts of the South East than they were before the 1976 drought.
The first drought order banning non-essential use of water was authorised by the Government yesterday for the 270,000 homes and businesses served by the Sutton and East Surrey water company, which supplies about 650,000 people. The order takes effect on May 27, just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend.
The Horticultural Trades Association released figures last night suggesting that the water restrictions would cost the industry £300 million this year. The statistics were based on a reduction in summer bedding plant sales from £400 million to £320 million, a £20 million drop in other plant sales from £200 million to £180 million and a general cutback in spending at garden centres from £2 billion to £1.8 billion.
A spokeswoman said that the association had appealed to ministers because water curbs would cause "extreme hardship to garden centres and growers", especially after two difficult years of trading.
Ian Pearson, the Environment Minister, ordered the water company to impose curbs sensitively and to minimise the threat to any business. Car washing with a bucket and cloth and any other method that is not linked to mains supply continues to be allowed. The exteriors of buses, trains, aircraft and boats may also be cleaned in the same ways.
Commercial car wash firms that recycle water and save 23 litres per vehicle cleaned can apply for an exemption.
Window cleaners have also been given a special exemption provided that they use buckets or a system not attached to the mains supply.
The cleaning of the outsides of offices, factories and public buildings may also continue though this will also be banned if the drought persists.
Similar emergency controls are also expected soon for a million customers of Southern Water and 240,000 customers in Mid-Kent. A spokesman for the Sutton and East Surrey company said that it was doing everything possible to find extra supplies for golf clubs and other sports grounds. One option is to clean up some contaminated water going into the River Eden.
A Thames Water spokesman said that it was urgently assessing the need for emergency conservation measures.
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180,000 evacuated in southern China as Typhoon Chanchu nears
Wednesday May 17, 2006
More than 180,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas of southern China Wednesday as Typhoon Chanchu, the strongest storm to hit the region at this time of year, churned towards the mainland and Hong Kong.
The evacuees, all from Guangdong province, were relocated to safe shelters while the province also recalled more than 25,000 ships at sea, China's offical Xinhua news agency quoted the provincial disaster relief office as saying.
In Hong Kong 26 flights have been cancelled, most of which were heading for mainland China. Eight international flights were delayed. Many ferry services were suspended and beaches closed.
The typhoon, which killed 41 people and left thousands homeless when it tore through the Philippines Saturday, is the strongest on record to have entered the South China Sea in May, the Hong Kong Observatory said.
At 8:00 am (2400 GMT) Wednesday, the storm was located 440 kilometers (273 miles) south of the Guangdong city of Shanwei.
Moving northeastward at 20 to 23 kilometers per hour and packing winds of 162 kph near its center, the eye is expected to pass just east of Hong Kong Wednesday before slamming into Guangdong, local observatories said.
The Guangzhou Meteorological Station forecast the typhoon may land in coastal regions between Shenzhen and Raoping counties Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, according to the China Daily newspaper.
However, it may veer east toward eastern China's Fujian province and the Taiwan Strait instead, state media quoted Huang Zhong, chief weatherman with the Guangzhou station, as saying.
Shantou city in the east of Guangdong could be hardest hit, the China Daily quoted Wang Yongxin, chief forecaster of the province's Marine Observatory, as saying.
In Guangdong's Shenzhen city, local authorities issued landslide warnings at some high-risk places and were ready to evacuate people if necessary, the China Daily said.
Advertisement billboards were either reinforced or removed. The city government has advised people to stay at home, close windows and move flowerpots from balconies.
Nearby Fujian and Hainan provinces were also braced for damage with Hainan ordering a halt to sea and rail transport across the Qiongzhou Strait between the island and Guangdong.
In Hong Kong several trees were felled by high winds.
Winds as high as 74 kph were recorded and there was concern about flooding in low-lying areas, the observatory said. Classes at kindergartens and some other schools were also called off.
Hong Kong authorities warned residents to protect their windows and doors, and advised builders to secure all scaffolding. It also advised fishing vessels to seek shelter immediately.
A man surfing at a Hong Kong beach Wednesday morning was almost swept away by a 20-foot wave there but managed to hang on to the cliff and was rescued later, a witness said.
Hong Kong and Guangdong regularly suffer torrential rain and flooding from typhoons that normally occur between May and November.
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African Remanent Ice Cap All Gone Soon
May 16, 2006
Washington DC - Fabled equatorial icecaps will disappear within two decades, because of global warming, a study British and Ugandan scientists has found. In a paper to be published 17 May in Geophysical Research Letters, they report results from the first survey in a decade of glaciers in the Rwenzori Mountains of East Africa.
An increase in air temperature over the last four decades has contributed to a substantial reduction in glacial cover, they say.
The Rwenzori Mountains--also known as the Mountains of the Moon--straddle the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Uganda. They are home to one of four remaining tropical ice fields outside of the Andes and are renowned for their spectacular and rare flora and fauna.
The mountains' legendary status was set during the second century, when the Greek geographer Ptolemy made a seemingly preposterous but ultimately accurate statement about snow-capped mountains at the equator in Africa: "The Mountains of the Moon whose snows feed the lakes, sources of the Nile."
The glaciers were first surveyed a century ago when glacial cover over the entire range was estimated to be 6.5 square kilometers [2.5 square miles].
Recent field surveys and satellite mapping of glaciers conducted by researchers from University College London, Uganda's Makerere University, and the Ugandan Water Resources Management Department show that some glaciers are receding tens of metres [yards] each year and that the area covered by glaciers halved between 1987 and 2003.
With less than one square kilometer [half a square mile] of glacier ice remaining, the researchers expect these glaciers to disappear within the next 20 years.
Richard Taylor of the University College London Department of Geography, who led the study, says: "Recession of these tropical glaciers sends an unambiguous message of a changing climate in this region of the tropics.
"Considerable scientific debate exists, however, as to whether changes in temperature or precipitation are responsible for the shrinking of glaciers in the East African Highlands that also include Kilimanjaro [in Tanzania] and Mount Kenya."
Taylor and his colleagues found that in the Rwenzori Mountains since the 1960s, there are clear trends toward increased air temperature without significant changes in precipitation.
A key focus of the research is the impact of climate change on water resources in Africa. Glacial recession in Rwenzori Mountains is not expected to affect alpine river flow, the scientists say, due to the small size of the remaining glaciers.
It remains unclear, however, how the projected loss of the glaciers will affect tourism and local traditional belief systems that are based upon the snow and ice, known locally as "Nzururu."
"Considering the continent's negligible contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions, it is a terrible irony that Africa, according to current predictions, will be most affected by climate change," added Taylor.
"Furthermore, the rise in air temperature is consistent with other regional studies that show how dramatic increases in malaria in the East African Highlands may arise, in part, from warmer temperatures, as mosquitoes are able to colonize previously inhospitable highland areas."
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Water industry comes under fire as 3.6 billion litres are lost every day
By Martin Hickman and Geneviève Roberts
17 May 2006
Billions of litres of water are gushing out of Britain's crumbling mains network every day as the country faces its worst drought for 100 years.
Figures from Ofwat, the water regulator, reveal that the privatised water companies are losing 3.6 billion litres a day - up to 500 pints per home per day. The worst offender, Thames Water, loses 915 million litres a day, equivalent to more than 700 swimming pools.
The industry's record on leaks came under attack from business and consumer groups as Thames said there was a "strong possibility" it would apply for a drought order on Friday.
If granted, the emergency powers would halt car washes, ban the watering of public parks and the filling of private swimming pools and threaten the survival of thousands of small businesses such as window cleaners and gardeners.
Following two successive dry winters, the Environment Agency has warned the drought is spreading, with eastern England and the south Midlands judged to be vulnerable in the event of a hot, dry summer. Reservoir levels in Wales and the South-west could drop sharply this summer.
Department for Environment officials have admitted they do not know how many reservoirs have closed in the past 15 years.
MPs said the failure of the department to answer the question indicated they had not been taking water shortages seriously in spite of the rising demands for housing in the South-east.
On Monday this week, ministers granted Sutton and East Surrey Water the first drought order for more than a decade, a dramatic escalation of the hosepipe bans already in force across the South-east. With the Environment Agency warning that having standpipes in streets in the parched South is a "real risk", the Mayor of London yesterday urged people to rethink the way in which they use water. Ken Livingstone said it was inevitable that homes would have to be fitted with water meters.
The Consumer Council for Water, a watchdog, backed the introduction of compulsory metering in the worst-affected areas of the South-east, but a spokesman said the water industry had to improve its performance on leaks to ensure supplies reached customers. According to the latest figures from Ofwat, for 2004-05, the 23 water companies in England and Wales lost between eight million and 915 million litres a day. Two companies, Thames Water and United Utilities - which together cover 11 million people in London, Manchester and Liverpool - failed to hit Ofwat's targets for the number of leaks that can be economically repaired. Thames Water - which loses one-third of its water between the reservoir and the home - has missed its target for five successive years.
Andrew Marsh, of the Consumer Council for Water, said: "We have all got to do our bit but the companies ... have to do theirs as well. The companies - and Thames Water in particular - need to sharpen up their act if we are going to save water resources."
Alan Bradley, a cabinet member at Westminster Council, complained: "It is a bit galling to have hosepipe bans and standpipes when Thames Water are losing that amount ... through leakages. They have been set a target by Ofwat to reduce the amount they lose and they consistently fail to meet those targets."
The Federation of Small Businesses demanded the industry fix the problem. Thames Water defended its leakage record, saying it was hampered by the age of pipes, the region's clay soil and heavy traffic. This week its parent company, RWE, said operating profit rose 17 per cent in the first quarter - a rise likely to irritate consumers and business people hurt by the drought.
Pressure on the industry is expected to increase further as water companies and ministers are accused of failing to heed calls to improve supplies when climate change threatens to bring more drought.
Plans for a national water pipe supplying water from the North to the dry South are still on the drawing board more than 20 years after being suggested.
The Met Office warned there could be heavy rain in the West and South over the next three days, but said it would take a prolonged period of very wet weather to replenish stocks.
* One-third of the water in homes goes on flushing the lavatory - each flush uses about 10 litres (18 pints)
* The average bath uses 80 litres; a shower about 35 litres
* Garden sprinklers use up to 1,000 litres an hour
* The water industry loses 800 million gallons a day in leaks, enough to meet the needs of 24 million people a day
* The worst offender is Thames Water, which loses 200 million gallons daily
* Groundwater, used for 70 per cent of supplies in the South- east, is at record lows
* Standpipes were last used in Britain in 1976
* 2005 was the driest year since 1973
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Dollars and Nonsense
"Shock Therapy" and The Freefalling Dollar
by Mike Whitney
May 14, 2006
The dollar is getting hammered almost daily now. It's like watching the blood ooze from an open wound. In just one month the dollar has tumbled from $1.20 to $1.29 vs. the euro; an astonishing 7% retreat.
Can't the American people see what is happening to their future? In just 6 years Bush has taken the world's strongest currency and chopped it into finally ground hash. By the time people rouse from their stupor, the greenback will be eye to eye with the peso.
Bush has piled up more debt than all the other presidents combined. His tax cuts have fattened the bankrolls of his constituents but they've put the dollar on a downward slide. Since he took office the once-mighty greenback has plummeted a whopping 35%.
Meanwhile, at the Federal Reserve, new Fed-master Bernacke has the printing presses running at warp-speed. The soaring price of oil has soaked up more than a trillion dollars of freshly-minted fiat currency, but it's the only thing that's kept the greenback from slipping beneath the waves. Unfortunately, that trick won't last forever.
Now that Bernacke is hinting that interest hikes may slow down or stop entirely, central banks across the world are stealthily off-loading their dollar-stockpiles. The twin-deficits ($400 billion account deficit and $800 billion trade deficit) have finally come home to roost and are pushing the dollar to new lows.
Dick Cheney's foolish axiom, "Deficits don't matter" has turned into a funereal-dirge for the greenback. Deficits Do matter, and bankers around the world are proving that by hastily moving away from Uncle Sam's washed-out script.
On Thursday the congress added another $70 billion to Washington's mountain of debt, completely ignoring the fact that the dollar lost a full 2% against the euro in the same 24 hour period. Is it possible to be that obtuse?
Is anyone minding the store? The blinkered congress keeps writing bad checks on an overdrawn account and then patting themselves on the back for a hard day's work. It's incredible. What foreign country wants to be yoked to a currency that is underwritten by $8.4 trillion in debt and freefalling by the day?
The currency markets are as jittery as anyone can ever remember. The European Central Bank (ECB) and Japan are not prepared to take over as the world's reserve currency, but they are equally reticent to keep shoring up the flaccid dollar. What they'd like to see is the Bush administration demonstrate that they can still be a responsible steward of the global economic system, a role the US has managed since World War 2.
Don't expect maturity from this crowd.
Bush is simply carrying out a crackpot plan from his globalist friends at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) It is a strategy that Washington has executed many times via its surrogates in the World Bank and IMF. Corrupt politicians (Bush and co) plunge the nation into unsustainable debt, interest rates rise, the economy implodes, and the banks and corporations pick the carcass clean; privatizing what they can while destroying what's left of the social safety net. (John Perkins "Diary of an Economic Hit Man" provides a first rate account of how this method has been used repeatedly throughout Latin America) In fact, it is simply the corporate version of traditional colonialism.
The American public is too blind to see that the trap has now been set for them and that soon they'll be tottering off to the grocery store with wheelbarrows of cash for a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce.
The dollar-slaughter is the biggest part of this whacko scheme. It is the quickest way to crush the middle class by robbing them of their life-savings through hyper-inflation.
We often refer to Tom Friedman in this column as the unofficial spokesman for the Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR is an amalgam of American elites from all professions who are committed to the creation of a "global government". When Friedman preaches his "Flat-earth" theory of economics from his perch at the New York Times, he's really offering his vision of what America will look like after labor laws and trade protections have been removed and workers are forced to compete head-on with the poorest paid workers in China or Guatemala. The falling dollar will trigger this scenario sooner than we think.
This view of unfettered capitalism is the Holy Grail of "free market" globalists. In fact, they invariably refer to it as "democracy". It portends a world where industry overlords dictate policy to their political underlings and where society is entirely shaped to enhance corporate profits.
For the avatars of predatory capitalism, Friedman's Flat-world is a "dreamscape"; the capitalist Valhalla. For the struggling middle class, it is a return to the law of the jungle; the fast-track to widespread destitution.
By collapsing the dollar, Bush can shift the wealth of the American middle class to corporate mandarins in the blink of an eye. Industry profits will soar while working class people drown in an ocean of red ink.
The wheezing housing bubble and the steadily rising interest rates are a warning sign that time is running out on the dollar. America is being readied for economic "shock therapy" and "structural readjustment", the vile remedies for ailing economies. When the bottom drops out, the snoozing American middle class will finally stir from their slumber and get their first look at the new world order.
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U.S. stocks fall as consumer prices jump higher than expected
www.chinaview.cn 2006-05-17 22:53:23
NEW YORK, May 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. stocks opened lower Wednesdayamid concerns of inflation as the consumer price index (CPI) jumped higher than expected.
In the opening exchanges, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down p 33.40 to 11,386.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 3.36 to 1,288.72 and the Nasdaq composite index down 14.31 to2,214.81.
Labor Department reported Wednesday that the CPI jumped by 0.6 percent in April, the biggest gain in three months, pushed higher by rising costs for a wide range of goods and services including gasoline, clothing, rent and medical care.
Excluding energy and food products, the "core" CPI rose 0.3 percent in April for the second month in a row.
Economists expected a 0.5 percent increase in the CPI, based onthe median of 72 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey. Forecasts rangedfrom 0.4 percent to 0.9 percent. "Core" consumer price index were forecast to rise 0.2 percent.
Labor Department said Tuesday that U.S. producer price index jumped 0.9 percent in April, the most in seven months, but the basic rate of increase excluding food and energy rose a mere 0.1 percent.
World crude oil prices rallied Tuesday after Monday's plunge, on the eve of U.S. weekly energy stocks report. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in June, rose 12 cents toclose at 69.53 dollars a barrel.
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Castro denies claims he has $900m fortune: 'Why would I want money?'
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 17 May 2006
Fidel Castro is accustomed to the occasional verbal volley from Washington accusing him of tyranny and oppression. There is, however, a sure way for America to get under the 79-year-old Communist leader's skin - by calling him filthy rich.
This is what Forbes magazine is doing by including Castro in its latest rich list, Fortunes of Kings, Queens and Dictators, due for publication in its 22 May issue. News that he had been ranked number seven out of 10 on the list surfaced earlier this month, but it was only this week that Castro finally reacted.
Appearing on a four-hour programme on state television called Mesa Redonda, the Cuban dictator banged the table and called the claim "repugnant slander". He said: "Why would I want money, especially now that I'm going to be 80 years old? Why would I want money now, if I never wanted it before?"
Forbes puts Castro's fortune at $900m (£480m), nearly twice the $500m for Queen Elizabeth and only a notch below Prince Albert of Monaco, who has $1bn. Number one is the Sultan of Brunei, with $20bn, followed by Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, with $19bn.
More than the figure, what really sent Castro into a spin of indignation was the magazine's simultaneous suggestion that he may also have money in secret Swiss bank accounts. Castro said he would resign if proof of such accounts were ever found.
For its part, Forbes said yesterday it stood by its "statement and valuation", adding that it had not even taken into account possible additional funds in Switzerland. The magazine acknowledges that in assessing the fortunes of some world leaders its "estimates are more art than science".
It offers no evidence of the Swiss accounts, only rumours of their existence. However, it says that it has the word of former officials from the Cuban regime that their leader skimmed profits from state corporations.
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New cases may be linked to Alberta sex-trade killings
Last Updated Wed, 17 May 2006 08:43:38 EDT
Police in Alberta have found the remains of one person and are looking for another body as an investigation into the disappearance and death of nearly two dozen sex-trade workers continues.
A young couple walking in a rural area east of Edmonton stumbled across human remains Tuesday, the RCMP said in a news release late in the day.
That's the same area where the bodies of more than 20 women have been found in the last 23 years. Most of the victims were prostitutes.
The string of killings is being investigated by a special RCMP task force known as Project Kare.
The task force has been asked to take part in the probe of Tuesday's discovery, which appears to be the body of a woman, the RCMP release said.
"While it is currently not certain that this is a death that falls within the Project Kare mandate, they will remain actively involved until the status of the investigation is further known," the statement said.
Officials have scheduled an autopsy for Wednesday.
Officers scour landfill for woman's body
Elsewhere, more than a dozen Calgary police officers continue to search a landfill in the southeastern part of the city for evidence of a possible killing.
The Edmonton-based Project Kare team is also involved in that case, with police calling it routine procedure.
Police say they received a tip that a homicide may have occurred earlier this month involving a woman in her late teens or early twenties.
Staff Sgt. Barry Cochran said investigators dug through 500 tonnes of waste Tuesday without finding either evidence or human remains.
He said the tip directed police to look in one particular part of the landfill site.
The search will continue for the next few days.
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No troops on Canada-U.S. border, U.S. ambassador says
Last Updated Tue, 16 May 2006 08:53:38 EDT
The U.S. government has no plans to post soldiers along the Canadian border, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said Tuesday.
U.S. President George W. Bush says he is determined to regain control of the porous border with Mexico.
Some officials had raised the possibility after U.S. President George W. Bush outlined new border security and immigration measures in a speech on Monday night.
But in a statement released Tuesday, Wilkins said the president's plan "is designed specifically for our southern border. There are no changes for our northern border."
Bush didn't mention Canada in his speech, but administration officials indicated that northern state governors might ask to have National Guard troops sent to the Canadian border, Canadian Press reported.
Tightening security at the Mexican border will take "dramatic improvements in manpower and technology," Bush said in a television address on Monday night. He called for 6,000 troops, new fences, cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles to stem the flood of illegal immigrants.
The National Guard would be deployed while thousands of border guards are trained.
"We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that," Bush said.
"The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration and shut to illegal immigrants as well as criminals, drug dealers and terrorists."
The plan would also create thousands of beds so more illegal immigrants can be detained at the border
Canada and the United States set out their security arrangements shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the "smart border agreement." It aims to co-ordinate security at the border while facilitating trade.
"We value our co-operation with Canada and Canada's commitment to ensuring the security of our shared border, as evidenced by the smart border action plan and the recent proposals to upgrade security at the border," Wilkins said.
Concern has been raised in Ottawa about a U.S. plan to require a passport or special ID card at land crossings by Jan. 1, 2008. There are worries that it would hurt commerce and the tourism industry.
In his speech Monday, Bush also proposed a plan to give some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States a chance at citizenship, without offering them blanket amnesty.
Mexico might protest plan
Reaction to the speech in Mexico was muted.
Late night newscasts buried the story, reporting on the latest drug-trafficking murders, worker protests and the upcoming hurricane season before mentioning Bush's speech.
Mexican President Vicente Fox phoned Bush on the weekend when he heard of the plan, and went public with his concerns about militarizing the border - something Bush explicitly said he didn't plan to do.
Tuesday morning, a Fox spokesman said Mexico might not like Bush's plan, but can do little more than protest.
On Monday night, the Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring its concern about the quick troop deployment on the border, considering the slow pace of immigration legislation in Washington.
The ministry also promised that its consulates in the United States would increase their efforts to protect the rights of Mexican workers, whether they are in the country legally or not.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have taken to the streets across the United States in recent weeks to demand better treatment.
Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Immigrants' Rights said she is appalled by what she heard Monday night.
"We have gone in the millions out in the streets in a peaceful manner. And to have our president respond in a military manner is disgraceful," she said.
But others believe Bush should have sent more troops.
"The intention of the president is to give us the illusion of security by throwing a handful of national guardsmen on the border," said Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen, a Southern California-based group that organizes volunteer border patrols.
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Fireballs and Meterors
NASA to Look into NEO Threat Response Proposals
By Leonard David
16 May 2006
NASA is on the lookout for ways to fend off Earth-threatening Near-Earth Objects. The space agency has issued a call for papers May 15 that, among a range of topics, would help sort out possible alternatives to divert an object if found to be on a likely collision course with Earth.
A U.S. Congress go-ahead on the matter is tied to the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 passed by Congress late last year, and subsequently signed by the President.
"The U.S. Congress has declared that the general welfare and security of the United States require that the unique competence of NASA be directed to detecting, tracking, cataloguing, and characterizing near-Earth asteroids and comets in order to provide warning and mitigation of the potential hazard of such near-Earth objects to the Earth," the Act states.
The Act directs the NASA Administrator to plan, develop, and implement a Near-Earth Object Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth objects (NEOs) equal to or greater than 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter in order to assess the threat of such near-Earth objects to the Earth.
Engaging the experts
NASA's call for papers and selection of best ideas will lead to a NEO Detection, Characterization and Threat Mitigation workshop, to be held in a few months time. This workshop is being organized in support of NASA's Office of Program Analysis & Evaluation study in response to the congressional direction.
The four-day workshop is to engage experts from the NEO scientific and technical communities to identify the fullest possible set of alternatives for meeting congressional direction. Three focus areas of the workshop are:
* Detection, Tracking and Cataloging NEOs
* Characterization of NEOs, and
* Deflection or other forms of NEO Threat Mitigation
An objective of the workshop is to wrestle with a number of issues, such as what are current U.S. and international capabilities to discover and track NEOs? How does warning time vary with object size for an object on a likely collision course?
Additionally, the workshop would delve into possible need for space-based systems-do they provide advantages over ground-based detection and tracking systems? Furthermore, can amateur or other astronomers assist with discovery and tracking? How can they be encouraged to do so...perhaps using cash awards for spotting new objects?
In the area of deflection and threat Mitigation of NEOs, the workshop would scope out key options.
For one, what is the ability of a proposed concept to characterize, either remotely or on-the-spot, a NEO for factors related to mitigation, including the size, composition and structure? Also, how best to mitigate the impact effects of a Near-Earth Object found to be on a likely collision course with Earth during a determined time period in the future?
NASA's call for ideas in abstract submission form is open until May 26. Those selected will be required to submit a full white paper by June 25. The workshop location and dates are yet to be determined, but penciled in for the late June-July time frame.
Comment: You see, there's absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to NEOs potentially colliding with Earth - and that's exactly why NASA is spending so much money, time, and effort in figuring out the best way to track and deflect such objects...
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Mystery surrounds green 'comet'
Wednesday May 17 11:55 AEST
An unidentified green object streaked across the Queensland sky last night, before landing on a property between Toowoomba and Warwick near the Great Dividing Range.
Farmer Don Vernon lives on the property next to where the object hit the ground, and watched it come in to land.
"I was finished on the farm and driving home, and as I came in the gate I faced this enormous green ball of light with a white centre.
"It disappeared behind a ridge and I immediately drove out over the ridge without stopping so I was there in a few minutes.
"When I turned the lights off the car I saw a glowing green ball up on the ridge three-quarters of a mile away and a smaller piece was rolling down the side of the ridge. They were both glowing green," he said.
Mr Vernon, who is in his seventies, said the object landed on a steep section of land that was covered in undergrowth and was not easily accessible.
"It was a brilliant light before it landed," he says. "A bit like a green sun. I rang a neighbour and asked if he had found superman."
Astronomers are uncertain whether the object was a piece of space junk or a meteorite, however Jim Barclay from the Maidenwell Observatory suspects it was part of a satellite or some rocket casing.
"The description that I received from phone calls was that it was of a greeny blue colour which typically suggests something metallic," Mr Barclay said.
"Over 20,000 pieces of space junk are currently hurtling around the earth and they have to come back down. If this had landed on someone's house though it could have killed someone," he said.
The object, which looked like a comet, was spotted by hundreds of people and airport control towers across south-east Queensland at around 6:30pm last night.
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