- Signs of the Times for Thu, 22 Jun 2006 -

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Editorial: The Not So Strange Case of Philip Merrill

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times

Philip Merrill

Philip Merrill was the 71 year old president and CEO of Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc., which publishes Washingtonian magazine, the Annapolis Capital, and five other Maryland newspapers.

On June 10th, Mr Merrill's wife reported him missing when he failed to return from a days sailing in his boat, 'the Merrilly', on Chesapeake bay. The following day, the Merrilly was found floating 25 miles off the coast with its engine running. The first man on the scene reported that the boat was empty and that there was evidence of blood on the deck. Mr Merrill's body was subsequently found floating in Chesapeake bay on June 19th. Police said that he had apparently died of a shotgun blast to the head, and deemed his death a suicide even before an autopsy has returned its findings and despite the fact that Mr Merrill's body was found with an anchor tied to his feet.

While it might seem surprising that the mainstream media would completely ignore the fact that it is highly unlikely that someone would, or could, commit suicide by shooting themselves in the head with a shotgun and tieing an anchor to their feet, we need only remember the long list of politicians, journalists and scientists who 'officially' departed this life in equally impossible ways and whose suspicious deaths were met by the mainstream media with the same lack of journalistic integrity.

I am, however, open to having it explained to me how Mr Merrill could have shot himself in the head while on the boat, as the blood seems to suggest he did, and then flung himself over the side with an anchor attached to his feet. Perhaps he shot himself in the head and then attached the anchor to his feet? Or perhaps he attached the anchor to his feet, jumped into the water and then shot himself in the head? Of course, it is always possible that this was a case of 'assisted suicide', where a dear friend accompanied him on his last voyage and did the dirty work for him and then took off in another boat or swam the 25 miles to shore. Hey, anything is possible if you work for the great American mainstream media - it is, after all, "where wings take dream".

As to the motive: we are told that Mr Merrill's bypass operation last year is the likely cause of his assumed depression and 'suicide'. Mainstream media reports inform us that "experts" have tied depression to such illnesses and operations, but they are careful to add that "the link is complex". (which might be read as 'unlikely'). Family members, while stating that "it is impossible for them to imagine" that Philip Merrill would have committed suicide, appear to have publicly accepted the official verdict. Pictures on the Washingtonian website of a smiling Mr. Merrill holding his newborn grand-daughter on June 8th, just two days before his 'suicide', certainly do not belie a man in the depths of depression.

As is usually the case with such suspicious 'suicides' in the US, many of those who knew the victim express their shock, and in the case of Mr Merrill, many of his friends and colleagues found it difficult to reconcile his premature death with a man they knew to possess an "irrepressible spirit", a man who was brash and loud, a larger than life figure with impressive enthusiam and energy for life. Indeed, Mr Merrill, with a long career that took him to elevated positions within national and international politics, was no ordinary Maryland newspaper publisher.

Born Philip Merrill Levine on April 28, 1934 in Baltimore he grew up in New York City and Norwalk, Conn. His father, who worked in public relations, later encouraged his son to drop "Levine," saying a Jewish surname could limit his career prospects. Having graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Business School, he served as counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1981 to 1983; as a member of the Defense Policy Board from 1983 to 1990; and as assistant Secretary General of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992 under President George H. W. Bush. In 1988, Merrill received the Medal for Distinguished Service from the Secretary of Defense and was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Merrill was a rich man, but it seems he gave his money away as easily as he made it, albeit that it was his two apparent passions, journalism and politics, that were the main benefactors. In 2001, he donated $10 million to the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, which now bears his name. He also donated $4 million in 2003 to create the Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, aka a high-profile Neocon "thinktank", headed by arch Neocon Eliot Cohen. Cohen remembers Merrill as "a guy you could argue with" and a man with "a voracious intellect ... tremendous curiosity, a penetrating voice, a wonderful laugh. [He was] someone you would go to for advice - a font of hardheaded wisdom." Which makes us wonder how many arguments Merrill night have had with Neocons like Cohen ... and about what. Indeed, it seems that Merrill, why mixing with the political elite, had no love for the predations of modern day Capitalist America. In remembering their ostentatious boss, staff writers at his own newspaper 'The Capital' recently wrote:

"He made a lot of people mad - his ear-splitting battles with politicians, businesspeople and even his own editors were legendary. He used the opinion pages of The Capital to take stands against slot machines and what he saw as pension giveaways and other government waste."


"Right up to the end, Mr. Merrill remained engaged, still pecking out occasional editorials on the manual Royal typewriter in his office at the newspaper or the Washingtonian. In one in April on the BGE rate hikes, he blasted the governor's vetoes and fondly remembered Republicans who stood up for "Main St." and small business, not "Wall St. manipulators."

Vice President Dick Cheney's wife Lynne worked at Merrill's Washingtonian magazine for several years and it was the Vice President, who Merrill counted among his personal friends, who swore him in as chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in 2002. A post that he held until 2005.

As you might have guessed, this is where it gets interesting.

Officially, the Export-Import Bank is a US institution that has been providing 'insurance' to the tune of (at least initially) $500 million to U.S. companies that are 'investing' in Iraq. But that's just officially.

Over the period of the first two months of the Iraq invasion in 2003, then Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Paul Bremner, on behalf of the Bush administration and with the blessing of the UN, established a 'Development Fund for Iraq' that was to be held by the Central Bank of Iraq. The fund was to comprise the proceeds from the sale of 95% of "all export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas from Iraq and the money used "in a transparent manner to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq's infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, and for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration", although the funds were actually held in a new account in the Federal Reserve bank in New york. To start the fund off, there was $6bn in Iraqi money left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and at least $10bn from Iraqi oil exports that had already resumed. At the same time, the US Congress voted to spend $18.4bn of US taxpayers' money on the redevelopment of Iraq.

During the summer of 2003, Bremner, taking his orders from members of the Bush administration, came up with plan of how best to spend Iraq's billions.

To start, he signed various orders that established the CPA as exercising sole power over how to spend Iraq's oil money, and indemnified its corporate cronies from liability in their theft of that oil. In essence, they took complete control of the Development Fund for Iraq and how it would be spent. Added to this were orders that allowed US corporations to own 100% of any Iraqi land and resources and the mass privatisation, into the hands of these same corporations, of state enterprises previously owned by the Iraqi government.

Vast sums were awarded in no-bid contracts to companies like Haliburton and vast sums of money simply went missing. In essence, it was the complete and utter corporate pillaging of ALL of Iraq's wealth. To add insult to injury, the war that is being waged against the Iraqi resistance and the Iraqi people that they represent, including the US-trained and directed death squads working out of the Iraqi interior ministry which is swarming with CIA personnel, is being financed from the same stolen Iraqi oil and resource money. Basically, the US government put its hand into the pocket of the ordinary Iraqi citizen, used the money to buy a gun, and then shot him in the head with it.

Z Magazine of Jan 2004 continues:

"On June 8th 2003, Bremer issued CPA Order 12 , which lifts "All tariffs, custom duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq. The order unleashed a flood of imported goods that left Iraq's worn-out manufacturers unable to compete, pushing them to the brink of insolvency.

On June 19 2003 the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) of the United States announced it is "prepared to immediately start processing applications for exports to Iraq," including "subcontractors providing goods and services to Iraq under USAID contracts." The Ex-Im Bank (as it's called) went on to explain "support may be available for transactions where...the primary source of repayment is the Development Fund for Iraq, or another entity established under the auspices of the Coalition Provisional Authority."

The sole purpose of the Ex-Im Bank is to help "finance the sales of U.S. exports, primarily to developing markets, by providing guarantees, export credit insurance, and loans." Thus, in the case of Iraq, the Bank will provide credit for purchases for goods and services authorized by Bremer-including all of Bechtel and Halliburton's contracts.

This is amplified by CPA Order 20 from July 17 2003 establishing the Trade Bank of Iraq. Its purpose is to provide "financial and related services to facilitate the importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq."

Take note of the entity called the "Trade Bank of Iraq".

While the facilitating of "importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq" might sound reasonable, in reality, the "goods and services" being 'imported' to Iraq consist of:

the American military and its hardware

the infamous 'security contractors' like Blackwater

hardware to equip US-run death squads in the Iraqi interior ministry

the 'services' of US corporations like Haliburton etc.

The good and services that are being 'exported' back to the U.S. (to US companies) is, chiefly, Iraq's wealth in the form of massively overpriced no-bid contracts to US corporations and payments to death squads and security contractors to kill civilians.

The official government website for the Ex-Im Bank of America informs us that "the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), the Iraqi Ministry of Finance, and the Trade Bank of Iraq have signed a framework agreement that enables Ex-Im Bank to continue to support U.S. exports for Iraqi reconstruction."

The Trade Bank of Iraq was established in July 2003 and is led by a consortium of about a dozen private [mainly America] banks led by J.P. Morgan. Initially, this consortium was awarded a contract to provide letters of credit to companies looking to do business in Iraq via the newly formed Trade Bank of Iraq, but it seems that the Trade Bank of Iraq and the consortium of private banks are in fact one and the same.

Remember that the development Fund for Iraq was started with at least $16 billion of Iraqi money and that congress pledged $18 billion of US taxpayers money? Well, by the end of Paul Bremner's tenure in July 2004, his CPA had spent up to $20bn of Iraqi money, compared with $300m of US funds.

What does it all mean?

Basically, it would appear that, between them, the Trade Bank of Iraq and the Ex-Im Bank of America are two ends of a massive international theft operation run by the American government in cahoots with its corporate cronies, and where the Trade Bank of Iraq processes the stolen billion as they leave Iraq and head westwards, while the Ex-Im Bank of America receives it and funnels it to American corporations and god know who else.

Of course, you could claim that the money is not being stolen per se, and while American corporations are certainly charging far more for their services than is reasonable, and even charging for service they do not provide, most of the money is being paid for services that were rendered, at least to some extent. Sadly, to hold such an opinion, you would have to overlook the approximately $21 billion of Iraqi money that somehow "went missing", money that was very possibly funneled through the Ex-IM bank of America.

Philip Merrill presided over all of this as President of the Ex-Im Bank of America from 2003-2005, and while a political high-flyer he still held to a quaint notion that journalists should have integrity - a dangerous mix if there ever was one. How much he knew of what was, and is, happening to Iraq's wealth and its people is hard to know. What we do know is that, now that he is dead, he certainly can't write one of his fiery editorials. In any case, we shouldn't waste time on crazy conspiracy theories about his death, the mainstream media has spoken - he shot himself in the head with a shotgun and then tied an anchor to his feet and jumped off his yacht into the cold Chesapeake bay.

There's nothing to see here.

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Editorial: Spiritual Predator: Prem Rawat AKA Maharaji

Henry See
22 June 2006
Signs of the Times

Prem Rawat, the spiritual predator known as Guru Maharaj Ji, Maharaji, the Lord the the Universe, and the Perfect Master, has been feeding off of the ignorance and gullibility of spiritual seekers for forty years. This article looks at how Prem Rawat twists the real meaning of esoteric concepts such as "Knowledge", combines it with four yoga techniques that are able of inducing "ecstatic" states in certain people, and uses the experience to reinforce a subjective view of oneself and the world that he passes off as "Knowledge", all the while binding the individuals to the "Master" by claiming that he alone can offer this experience.

The distortions of Prem Rawat are typical of many gurus of the New Age. They serve to keep the genuine seeker trapped in a spiritual dead end.


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Editorial: Iraq - A Laboratory of Civil War?

Max Fuller
Deconstructing Iraq

In November last year Sunni members of the Diyala provincial council began to boycott meetings in protest at a 13 November raid on the provincial capital Baquba and surrounding towns, according to a report by UPI's Pentagon correspondent, Pamela Hess. According to a US military official, the boycotting council members sent a letter to the chairman of the council in which they alleged that that raid had been orchestrated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) as part of a plan to disenfranchise Sunnis during the upcoming elections.

Such accusations chime with almost every commentator it seems both inside and outside Iraq, who have lavished criticism on SCIRI and the paramilitary militia known as the Badr Brigade associated with it. Whilst anti-occupation sources tend to regard SCIRI and Badr as US allies, the Western media have chosen to focus on their relationship with Iran, where they were primarily based since their foundation in 1982. In either case, commentators charge that SCIRI's militiamen have infiltrated or been amalgamated into Iraq's nascent security forces. Many reports make little or no distinction between the Badr Brigade and the security forces. In the Western media lens, this depiction tends to function as apologia for human rights abuses attributed to the security forces (for examples of this in action, see Soloman Moore writing in the Los Angeles Times or Jonathan Steele writing in the London Guardian).

Hess agrees with the media consensus, stating that 'anecdotal evidence of targeted and unsanctioned violence against Sunnis from cities across Iraq suggests Badr or other rogue elements have a presence throughout the ministry'. In the case of the Baquba raid which had prompted the walkout by Sunni councilors, Hess informs us that in this instance it was the Wolf Brigade, an 'Iraqi special police unit of some 2,000', that 'swept into Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, and arrested some 300 people'. As if to clarify matters, she then tells us, citing a US military source, that 'The operation came in the wake of the appointment by the Shiite governor of Diyala of a new police chief for the province ... The new police chief has no law enforcement experience ... but he is associated with the SCIRI, the political arm of the Badr brigade'.

But in fact what initially appears to be an open and shut case is not so straightforward. While, according to the same military spokesperson, the governor may have requested the raid 'to show that he's got muscle to flex', 'US police assistance teams worked with the Wolf Brigade to plan the operation and American assets - including a surveillance drone, medical team and a quick reaction force - were assigned to support it'. Nonetheless, the spokesperson goes on to imply that support was reluctant, adding, 'We put forces with each of their units so that we could watch them work'.

In the case of the 13 November raid, outside observers are fortunate that, unlike Pamela Hess, they do not have to rely solely on one military spokesperson feeding a line to the press. The raid in question was called Operation Knockout and was the first time that the Iraqi Special Police Forces of the Ministry of the Interior had planned, prepared and executed a division-size raid 'designed to destroy or disrupt all of their [ie insurgents'] cells in a large locality in a single night'. For a far more in-depth depiction of the action, we can be grateful to US Army Col James K Greer, who was so impressed by the whole operation that he wrote an account of it for the November-December issue of Military Review.

The following passages are taken from Greer's account.

In late October, the minister of the interior [Bayan Jabr] told the Operations Directorate to study options for a large-scale, simultaneous strike in Diyala against a large number of suspected insurgents and their support and information networks ...

[On 5 November] the Operations Directorate provided a list of insurgent and terrorist targets to the Public Order Division commander with a warning to be prepared to move to Ba'qubah and conduct operations to detain those targets.

The Public Order Division immediately began planning, focusing on developing target folders for the hundreds of discrete targets forces would have to secure. Simultaneously, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) was notified through its cell in the MOI National Command Center. Planning and coordination continued with an MOI/Multinational Command-Iraq (MNC-I) meeting on 9 November ...

Throughout the planning and coordination stage of Operation Knockout, Special Police Transition Teams (SPTTs) under Colonel Gordon B. 'Skip' Davis and Colonel Jeffrey Buchanan advised the Iraqis and planned and coordinated their own support to the operation. These teams of 10 to 12 soldiers lived, trained, and fought alongside the Iraqi Special Police 24 hours a day and contributed significantly to the Iraqi's development ...

At execution, Public Order Division elements, reinforced by a brigade of Iraqi Special Police commandos, moved along three separate routes to their objectives in and around Ba'qubah, conducting clean-up operations in small towns along the way ...

Operation Knockout demonstrated the necessity for and effectiveness of intelligence-based COIN [counterinsurgency] operations. The MOI Intelligence Office of the Operations Directorate spent several weeks developing the targets that would eventually be raided. Local informants confirmed potential targets, and the Intelligence Office produced one- to three-page papers detailing why each individual was targeted ... Special Police units developed a target folder for each individual. Surreptitious eyes-on provided last-minute updates to target sets.

In the rare case of Operation Knockout, we even have a third, official military account of proceedings given at a press briefing. This description adds one further important detail, which is that 70 per cent of the 377 detainees were Sunni, 30 per cent were Shia and 10 were Kurds. While these proportions may not accurately reflect the ethno-confessional makeup of Diyala province (exact figures are hard to come by), they do indicate that the raid was far from exclusively directed against Sunni targets, despite popular impression.

Implications of the reports

This illustration of an intelligence-based counterinsurgency operation undertaken by US-trained proxy forces, which could have been written just as well about Vietnam, the Philippines, El Salvador or present-day Colombia, reveals a number of important points about the conflict in Iraq.

(i) SCIRI had no part in orchestrating Operation Knockout

One of the most important conclusions to be drawn is that we can be certain SCIRI had absolutely nothing to do with the 13 November raid on Baquba and its environs. This simple fact discredits 99% of what has been written in the mainstream media about the role of SCIRI and Badr within the new Interior Ministry.

(ii) Even within Iraq it is very difficult to accurately assess security operations

It is striking in this case that, if we are to believe Hess's sources, even public representatives on the ground in Iraq are unable to distinguish between what they perceive to be sectarian paramilitaries and the forces operating directly on behalf of the Occupation. This is in no way intended to represent a criticism of those on the ground, but only highlights the duplicity of the US Imperial war machine, whose goal is to cover its own tracks and spread discord amongst its enemies.

(iii) The Wolf Brigade continues to be used by the media as a fob-off It is extremely revealing of the mainstream media position that even in Hess's relatively detailed and informative report, the responsibility for a joint MOI/MNF-I operation was subtly shifted towards SCIRI and that it was the Wolf Brigade which was reported to have carried out the raid. While Hess does not underline the point in this piece, the reference is unlikely to be missed altogether. The significance of the attribution is that in many media analyses of human rights abuses related to the Ministry of the Interior, the Wolf Brigade has been singled out for blame. Rather than seeking to analyze its structure, most commentators have been content to describe it as a police commando unit attached to the Interior Ministry with a specifically Shiite leaning (for instance, see the Knight Ridder report by Hannah Allam, now very hard to find on the Internet). In this UPI report, the US military spokesperson describes the Wolf Brigade as a 'public order Brigade' rather than as police commandos. In fact, the MOI special police forces are made up of both police commandos and public order brigades, all of them trained and supported by embedded advisors from MNF-I. According to Greer's account, the 13 November raid was planned by a Public Order Division and was conducted by Public Order Division elements, reinforced by a brigade of Special Police Commandos, probably the Wolf Brigade. The effect of the UPI report is once again to divert attention from structure and organization and frame discourse within narrow sectarian lines that exclude US responsibility.

(iv) Counterinsurgency operations are not in the remit of backroom militias

In view of the persistent reports that the majority of extrajudicial killings can be attributed to members of the security forces following the detention of the victims (eg UN Human Rights Mission, Iraqi Organization for Follow-up and Monitoring), it is beholden on all interested parties to take any insight into the workings of those forces and the processes by which 'targets' are selected for arrest with the utmost seriousness. Yet no journalist has so much as mentioned the existence of an Operations Directorate, still less MNF-I's cell within the MOI National Command Center, while the one journalist that seems to have written about Operation Knockout has fallen back into the familiar groove of 'allegiance to Shiite groups' etc. The reason that I have quoted from Greer's account at such length is to demonstrate the enormous behind-the-scenes effort required to conduct counterinsurgency warfare.

To reiterate the stages by which targets were selected:

1) Two months before the operation the intelligence section of the Operations Directorate began preparing a list of suspects based on intelligence gleaned from local informers;

2) The intelligence section produced dossiers on individual suspects;

3) One week before the operation the intelligence section passed the list of suspects to the Public Order Division commander;

4) The Public Order Division prepared folders on the individual suspects, making use of an airborne mapping capability;

5) Before commencement of the operation, last minute visual checks were made of individual suspects.In the case of Operation Knockout, which seems to have half-served as PR exercise, Greer et al are falling over themselves to persuade their audience that the police behaved in exemplary fashion and that detainees were treated humanely. So how far is it possible to regard this operation as representative and how should we evaluate such operations in human rights terms?

Beyond Knockout

By far the most important aspect of this operation from an analytical perspective is that it was 'Intelligence Based'. It is quite clear from Greer's description that what that means in layman's terms is that lists of targets were put together in some sort of centralized planning hub before being passed to individual police units responsible for seizing them in the middle of the night.

Whilst nothing like the level of detail offered in Greer's report is available for most of the cases of arrest and extrajudicial killing by the security forces, in a few accounts we do have evidence that the victims have been selected based on lists of suspects (eg see Sydney Morning Herald, 11 March 2006, Reuters, 17 November 2005), These details are the hallmarks of 'intelligence based' counterinsurgency operations and strongly indicate that most or all of the campaigns of mass arrests taking place nightly across Iraq emanate from the intelligence offices of the Interior Ministry. This impression is further reinforced by another UPI account of an earlier raid that took place in Baghdad in June 2004. Once again, we are told that the lists of suspects (in this case ordinary criminals) had been meticulously prepared in advance through the use of informers by the intelligence branch at the Ministry of the Interior, incidentally under the command of a Sunni Kurd.

Such operations simply cannot be conceived and carried out from some backroom at Badr or Mahdi HQ. If we were still to persist in advocating that SCIRI, or some such party, was behind these operations, against all of the available evidence, we would also be forced to conclude that the US had ceased to have influence inside the Interior Ministry, unless of course they were acting in tandem. In fact, we know that Iraq's entire new intelligence apparatus was built by the CIA (see Washington Post, 11 December 2003, Knight Ridder, 8 May 2005) and we can be certain that the intelligence offices at the Interior Ministry and elsewhere remain saturated with US intelligence agents/advisors (New York Times, 14 December 2005).

And despite reassurances from the US military that Knockout represents the new style of 'humane' Interior Ministry operation, the empirical evidence keeps mounting up , day upon day, week upon week and month upon month, that death squads are continuing their genocidal campaign without stint. The latest figures from Baghdad suggest that an average of 70 new victims of extrajudicial execution appear in the Morgue every single day and these are now starting to be backed up in Basra, where we told that on average one person is killed per hour.

Let us pray that in this case the more than 300 detainees taken during Operation Knockout have indeed been treated humanely. In this case it is beholden not just on the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior but on Multi Nation Force-Iraq to demonstrate that every one of the people seized from the Baquba vicinity on 13 November has either been released or continues to be held in 'humane conditions'. If MNF-I really wants to prove that it is not responsible for the death squads, it must publicly release the names of all 377 supposed suspects so that the world can see who it is arresting and tell us where they are today. It needs to prove to its critics that the human rights of its detainees have been respected and that they have not been hung by their wrists until their arms are dislocated or beaten until it is impossible to tell the color of their skin, or burnt with cigarettes, or had their eyes gouged out or their fingernails removed. MNF-I needs to prove that one of its proxy policemen hasn't tortured a single one of them with an electric drill and thrown their body onto the street like the other thousand that appear every month in Baghdad. It needs to prove it, because otherwise we'll know for sure that this time it ordered it!

Part 2:

Out for the count? Interpreting conflicting narratives

Operation Knockout proved to be no final engagement for the security forces either in Diyala province or just around Baquba. Since then the social and political space has been dominated by at least five forms of violence. The following analysis is drawn from a trawl of mainstream Western media sources on the Internet and from a day by day examination of Iraqi Resistance reports compiled by Free Arab Voice between 13 November and the middle of May. It is not intended to be seen as comprehensive.

(i)Police/army raids Resistance reports make reference to around a dozen supplemental raids since Operation Knockout in which hundreds more Iraqis have been detained. No information is available about the fate of the detainees and detailed reports of the raids themselves are absent. The raids are variously described as having been undertaken by 'troops', 'Interior Ministry Shock Troops', 'US occupation forces backed up by Iraqi puppet army troops', 'Interior Ministry troops', 'militiamen with official government documents issued by the Ministry of the Interior', etc. From such descriptions it is difficult to know which units were responsible, although in most cases one suspects units of the Special Police. Western media sources do not make identification any easier and fewer raids have been reported.

(ii) Resistance attacks against US/Iraqi security forces, including killings of alleged collaborators and members of Shiite militias Most of these attacks took the form of roadside bombs, but well-orchestrated assaults on police/army bases and checkpoints were also frequently reported. A handful of alleged 'collaborators' are also reported to have been executed by Resistance fighters.

(iii) 'Mysterious' bombings Several bombs which exploded in civilian areas were described in Resistance reports as mysterious. Mosques seem to have been the intended targets in several instances; one is reported to have been Sunni, one Shiite, and two others are not attributed. Other targets included a girls' school and a crowded market. According to a report for Middle East Online, dated 1 May 2006, the police chief of Baquba claimed that 70 bombs had been planted on the city streets in the preceding two weeks alone, of which 40 had gone off, killing 12 people.

(iv) Extrajudical killings and assassinations

Several instances of extrajudicial killings bearing the hallmarks of death squads have been reported. On 23 December 2005 three bodies were found with multiple gunshot wounds in Southern Baquba; the bodies were found blindfolded with their hands and legs bound. On 23 February gunmen pulled factory workers off buses and killed 47 of them; the bullet-riddled bodies were found behind a brick factory. On 25 February 2006 13 members of a Shia family were killed in their home by gunmen. On the same day, 12 farm laborers, both Sunnis and Shiites, were found shot dead in an orchard; the victims had been shot in the head and face. On 26 February two boys were killed when gunmen opened fire on a group of teenagers playing football. On 28 February nine bodies were found in wasteland around Tarfiya; the victims had been shot in the head. On 27 March at least 18 bodies of males were found in a deserted brush area around Tarfiya; the victims are variously described as having been decapitated or having been shot in the head. On 8 April 10 bodies were found in black body bags in Balad Rooz; the victims had been shot in the head. On 19 April three professors were killed when gunmen opened fire at Diyala University. On 10 May 11 workers at an electrical plant were killed by gunmen on their way from or to work. On 13 May four unidentified bodies with bullet holes in their heads and chests were dumped in a stream in Khan Bani Saad; according to one report they were Shiites. It should be noted that the spike in reports after 23 February may well represent increased media attention following the bombing of the Askari mosque in Samarra, rather than any quantifiable surge in attacks.

(v) Ethnic cleansing According to Quds Press, quoted in a Resistance report for 8 March, around 1000 Sunni families have fled their homes in the Madain area after receiving death threats from members of the police and special police.

While these accounts of various forms of violence and intimidation undoubtedly reflect a climate of pervasive and widespread violence, including an ongoing struggle between the forces of occupation and an organic resistance, it is extremely difficult to make objective comments about their significance. The following passages drawn from four separate accounts underline this point.

a) 'If the insurgency stays at this level, I expect to free up combat power before the end of our deployment,' [US Col] Salazar says.

The Nation, 9 April 2006 b) In this confessionally divided provincial capital [Baquba] just north of Baghdad, the mounting sectarian tensions that have gripped the new Iraq have spelled a spate of tit-for-tat killings of civilians as Shiite militiamen avenge attacks by Sunni insurgents, sparking a vicious circle of violence ... "Drive-by shootings and other gun attacks have proved deadlier, killing nearly 40 people in the past two weeks," Bawi said ...
The apparent impotence of Iraq's fledgling security forces in the face of the worsening bloodshed has sparked anger among residents. Middle East Online, 1 May 2006 c) rebels spread control over most of Diyala Province of which the city of Baquba is the capital. The city's nearly 350,000 live in a state of terror as the security forces charged with keeping law and order can hardly protect themselves. Azzaman, 11 May 2006 d) Mrs Mohammed is a Kurd and a Shia in Baquba, which has a majority of Sunni Arabs. Her husband, Ahmed, who traded fruit in the local market, said: 'They threatend the Kurds and the Shia and told them to get out ... It was impossible to travel to Baquba, the capital of Diyala, from Baghdad without extreme danger Independent, 20 May 2006 It should be noted that the US assessment referred to here predated a major increase in attacks against occupation forces that began towards the end of April, which might well invalidate the opinion expressed by US Col Salazar. Nonetheless, even comparing these descriptions of the overall situation with the various accounts of violence that are available is far from straightforward. The account in Middle East Online indicates a level of violence against civilians that is not adequately reflected in either the mainstream media nor the Resistance reports. However, it remains credible because we know the same relationship would hold in areas where we have a better overall impression of the extent of the violence. Uniting the narratives

The accounts offered in the Independent and Azzaman appear to stand in total opposition to one another. If the Resistance has spread control over Diyala, surely a communitarian civil war of the kind alluded to in the Independent is extremely unlikely to be taking place. That is, unless we are prepared to entertain a very special definition of 'civil war'. Such a definition would require us to accept that the Resistance represents an exclusively Sunni faction (not even borne out in the US military's statistics for detained suspects, see above) and that the security forces, especially the counterinsurgency brigades, represent an exclusively Shiite faction (not borne out in any credible analysis of their composition, nor in their relationship to the occupying powers, including the presence of special police transition teams). Thus, with a fierce conflict taking place between the Occupation and the Resistance, it might indeed be possible to conclude that a 'sectarian civil war' was underway. This seems to be the preferred definition for the Western media establishment.

But what of Mrs Mohammed? It is possilbe that angry Sunnis have responded to perceived sectarian assaults in kind, but, assuming that this story is real, it seems much more likely that she and her family are the victims of a cruel deception designed to fracture the country along ethno-confessional lines. More and more evidence of such a pattern is starting to emerge, including a recent account published by the Brussells Tribunal anonymously from within Iraq, which refers to evidence that the same special covert units are employed to fabricate sectarian attacks against both Sunni and Shiite Iraqis. In addition, there are indications that other killings are being carried out by death squads operating from within the paramilitary Facilities Protection Service.

If we want to make sense of what is happening in Iraq we need to recognize that words like SCIRI, Badr and Mahdi, together with phrases like civil war, sectarian violence, revenge killings and tit-for-tat murders all serve to deemphasize the centrality of the occupation and mystify what is a very real and deadly counterinsurgency war.

From an external perspective, it is extremely difficult to discern whether the Resistance has seized control of Diyala or whether a genuine civil war along sectarian lines has broken out. What we must suspect, though, based on concrete reasoning, is that the security forces trained, armed and guided by the British and Americans will be committing terrible crimes against humanity in their role as attack dogs for the occupation. This is not to try to say that every single killing is carried out by the security forces, but it is to say that the security forces are so obviously involved in a great many cases that the Western media and other apologists for the occupation and abettors of genocide have been forced to resort to claiming that the security forces have been infiltrated by various militias. If there are militias in the Ministry of Interior, you can be sure that they are militias that stand to attention whenever a US colonel enters the room. And if there are masked gunmen claiming to be from Badr of Mahdi or anywhere else, the first question we should all be asking is where did they get their lists of victims from? For my money, they will have come straight out of the Intelligence Office of the Operations Directorate at the US-run Ministry of the Interior.

Appendix: The Memory Vortex

Communities fight back against raids

Two reports in May seem to indicate that communities are seeking ways to fight back against nighttime raids. According to an Iraqi Resistance report dated 1 May 2006, citing Mafkarat al-Islam, fierce fighting erupted around the areas of al-Hadid and Abu Zayd when a raid by 'Iraqi puppet police and puppet army troops' was opposed by armed residents. According to the report, nine of the assailants and dozens of locals were killed in the fighting. Following the battle, US troops joined the Iraqi forces in carrying out massive and indiscriminate arrests.

On 11 May, international press sources reported that village leaders and clerics alerted police and US soldiers when gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, raided two 'Sunni' villages near Khan Bani Saad. According to these reports, US and Iraqi forces were able to rescue seven of 10 men that were being abducted. Thirty people were arrested, including an unknown number of the gunmen. According to the reports, some gunmen told police they belonged to the Shiite militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. This attribution was supported by the Interior Minister at the time, Bayan Jabr, who claimed that the gunmen were carrying badges identifying them as belonging to the Force Protection Service (FPS) of the Ministry of Health, which has been reported to be under the control of Muqtada al-Sadr. A spokesman for al-Sadr subsequently claimed that that the FPS members had gone to help, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

It is difficult to believe that these two account are not related despite the time gap, although I can find no evidence that this is the case. It is also difficult not to credit the Mafkarat al-Islam as being a far more plausible general depiction of events. Clearly, if Sadr militiamen had formed a secret death squad to attack villages around Khan Bani Saad, we should be hearing about it all over the press. Unfortunately, this is yet another case 'under investigation' that is likely to be consigned to the dustbin of history and blacked out by the Western media.

Diyala police linked to death squads

On 27 March, in what was described as 'an unusual admission', Reuters reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry had arrested a police major, Arkan al-Bawi, in Diyala province for operating death squads in Baquba. According to the Interior Ministry, Bawi confessed that his gang members wore police uniforms stolen during attacks on police checkpoints and that they had killed many people. On 28 March, Reuters reported that the police chief in Diyala, major-general Ghassan al-Bawi, the brother of Arkan, had been arrested for 'corruption and threatening security'. Unbelievably, even this bombshell of a story died instantly [in fact, the story now seems to have been removed from the Internet; the version offered here is copied from a printed extract of the original]. Even more remarkably, on 28 April, provincial police chief Maj. Ghassan al-Bawi was reported to have stated that troops and police were on the streets of Baquba and roads to the city were closed because of fears the insurgents might regroup [This story too is now extremely hard to come by, with only two examples still available through Google; the only other evidence that Ghassan al-Bawi has retained his post is a cached BBC page which refers to an Interview with al-Bawi in June 2006]. It appeared that the arrest of two senior police officers linked to death squads in Diyala had simply not taken place at all. Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps it was another major-general Ghassan al-Bawi that had been arrested for 'threatening security'!

If we go right back to Hess's UPI report of the November 13 raid, we will recall that the new police chief 'is associated with the SCIRI, the political arm of the Badr brigade'. Is that not then newsworthy either! Mahdi militiamen in death squad arrested in act and SCIRI police appointee linked to death squads! Apparently not. One can only assume that any detailed independent investigation would rapidly be forced to conclude that neither Mahdi nor SCIRI were responsible, but the US-installed police force were.


Max Fuller has worked for some years as a member of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign in the UK and has read extensively on US policy and Latin America. He is the author of several reports published in the 'Bulletin of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign'. Max Fuller is the author of 'For Iraq, the Salvador Option Becomes Reality' and 'Crying Wolf: Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq', both published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation. He is a member of the Brussels Tribunal Advisory Committee and he is an authority in the field of "Death Squads" and "the Salvador Option". He can be contacted via the website www.cryingwolf.deconstructingiraq.org.uk

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Editorial: Am I a Member of the "Crypto-Jew" Criminal Network?

Wednesday June 21st 2006, 9:05 pm
Kurt Nimmo
Another Day in the Empire

In April, Daryl Bradford Smith, former GCN radio talk show host, tossed this blogger's name in his paranoid stew, a dizzy fermentation he calls the "criminal network." Now, when I post videos to YouTube, people ask if I am a Jew, or as Daryl would call me, a crypto-Jew, whatever that is exactly.

According to Smith and his sidekick, Eric Hufschmid, the entire "911 Truth Movement" needs to be investigated, in order to out the Zionists, crypto-Jews, shills, scammers, and criminals.

"Many businesses do background checks on prospective employees," writes Hufschmid. "The managers of some apartment buildings do a 'background check' on a person before they allow that person to rent an apartment.... Some jobs require a security clearance from the government, and those people are given a much more thorough investigation.... Since background checks are considered acceptable for businesses, why are we not allowed to investigate people in the 9/11 movement?"

Of course, this would be a large and expensive undertaking because there are thousands of people in the "911 Truth Movement," and no doubt Mr. Hufschmid and his mentor, the expatriate "patriot" Smith, who lives in France, or so we are led to believe, where he has vowed to protect the Constitution long distance, would be hard pressed to come up with the cash to hire private investigators, run credit checks, spend countless hours performing Google searches, and visiting city halls and sifting through public records.

Even so, in any such investigative role, Laura Knight Jadczyk's moniker, Agent Smith, would fit Bradford Smith like a well-worn shoe (see Knight Jadczyk's How to Spot COINTELPRO Agents).

"We especially need to keep our eye on the following people because are almost certain to be part of the criminal network," writes Agent Smith (actually Hufschmid, as it appears Smith has problems writing, as his specialty is verbally weaving conspiracy theories over the "air," or rather over podcast). "Phil Berg, Mike Berger (and everybody else in 911truth.org), Bob Bowman, Gabriel Day, Professor James Fetzer and other founding members of Scholars For 9/11 Truth, Jim Hoffman and his girlfriend Victoria Ashley, Gerard Holmgren, Phil Jayhan, Alex Jones, Jeff King (aka plaguepuppy), Nicholas Levis, Wayne Madsen, Scott Makufka (aka Victor Thorn), Kurt Nimmo, Jenna Orkin, Lisa Pease, Eric John Phelps, Jeff Rense, Mike Ruppert, Karl Schwarz, Rick Siegel (911eyewitness.com), Greg Szymanski, Webster Tarpley, Frank Whalen (RBN radio host)."

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, defines "network" as follows: "A complex, interconnected group or system: an espionage network" and "An extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support."

Although I have no idea if the folks listed above comprise an "interconnected group or system," people who "interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support," I can say with absolute certainty I am not part of their network, if indeed they have one, and thus I am dumbfounded by Smith's assertion.

Maybe Smith regards the fact Alex Jones' Prison Planet website, edited by Paul Joseph Watson, regularly posts my blog entries as evidence I am part of the "criminal network," or that on rare occasion Jeff Rense's site does the same. I do not submit articles to sites on the web, and haven't since I wrote for Counterpunch nearly two years ago.

It is interesting to note Smith's claim is similar to one made by certain neocon crackpots, one who writes for David Horowitz's Frontpage Magazine, that I am the "spokesman" for the Italian antiwar site Uruknet, and I support the "terrorists" and Saddam Hussein. As well, I have never submitted an article to Uruknet-they simply harvest articles they agree with from this blog.

I don't encourage or discourage this behavior.

Prior to Smith's baseless (and slanderous) accusation that I am part and parcel of a "crypto-Jew" criminal network, Irish podcaster Fintan Dunne accused me of working for the CIA, an accusation so absurd and off-the-wall I really didn't bother to respond. Like Smith, Dunne did not bother to provide evidence, he simply went off the deep end, casting wildly about, probably in an effort to drive traffic to his site. I "retaliated" by removing his link from my blogroll.

As for Smith, I never added him to my blogroll, as our "relationship" (he called me twice from "France," or maybe Des Moines) was extremely short lived-he wasted precious time accusing me of criminal behavior, taking issue with a blog entry or two posted here (thus his "evidence" of my complicity in the "crypto-Jew criminal network").

I didn't jump on Smith's Vast Jewish Conspiracy bandwagon-going back several thousand years-and pay homage to his wisdom, or rather simplistic crackpot theories, and thus I became a suspect, a member of the criminal network.

According to Smith, the former Zionist Benjamin Freedman is a saint, no matter his theory about the Vast Jewish Conspiracy finds a welcome home over on the National Vanguard website (the National Vanguard is a white nationalist, or white separatist organization, so magnanimous they only assisted white people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina).

On his podcast, a carry-over from his radio program (GCN pulled the plug after Smith attacked other hosts at the network, in particular Alex Jones), Smith spends an inordinate amount of time telling his circle of listeners (supposedly numbering around 10,000) he is no antisemite, even though he is obsessed with Jews, the Kabbalah, the Talmud, and all things Rabbinic. Smith calls the Vast Jewish Conspiracy "Zionist," even though Zionism arose in the late 19th century. Smith does not let history get in the way, probably because he believes it was written by Zionists, that is to say Jews.

Indeed, there are Jews involved in the real criminal network, emanating from corporate suites and neoliberal criminal organizations, and the neocons are primarily Jewish, as the neocons are Israel Firsters first and traditional neoliberals second. However, these organizations and bankster mafia organizations (World Bank, IMF, WTO, CFR, Trilateral Commission, etc.) also have Catholic, Protestant, Irish, German, French, British, maybe even Buddhist members, although the strings are pulled by the ruling elite, monarchs and inbred old families, going back before Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who was indeed Jewish. Rothschild's war profiteering is more important than the possibility he did or did not practice Judaism or did or didn't keep a menorah on his mantle.

At any rate, I will spare Smith and his Boy Friday Hufschmid the trouble of investigating your humble blogger. As previously noted, I am not "interconnected" in any significant way with the above enumerated people. I receive about ten or twenty pieces of email a day, mostly from people who believe I should be on their email lists, although I have yet to ask to be included on any such lists. I do not attend local political meetings, although I marched, some may declare futilely, on the federal building here, protesting Bush's illegal invasions and current occupation (and, indeed, although it made me feel better, the effort was futile, as such events are studiously ignored by the corporate media and deemed a "focus group" by our appointed unitary decider).

I should probably mention here that I was an antiwar activist in 1970 and this behavior, equally an exercise in futility, caused me a lot of trouble, as I became a "person of interest" (in the day, they simply called us commies) for the FBI and the Michigan State Police, or its infamous "Red Squad" division, although I don't care to go into details.

Suffice it to say I had hands-on experience with COINTELPRO-the real McCoy, not the current lukewarm iteration. Back in the day they went around assassinating civil rights leaders, Black Panthers, AIM activists, and wrecking the lives of countless lessers, such as myself. From this experience, I learned to keep my distance, not trust leaders, or even "spokespersons," self-declared or otherwise, and that includes the megalomaniac Daryl Bradford Smith.

"We can easily figure who to investigate," Smith-Hufschmid continue. "They have names, addresses, and telephone numbers. We can deal with these criminals whenever we get enough people to stand up to them. We outnumber them a million to one."

Indeed, they can investigate me, but they are not going to find much of anything except a guy with a high school education, who was active in the 1960s antiwar movement, who worked in a factory for twenty years, wrote an unpublished novel and dozens of short stories, was married twice and divorced once, and who now works in yet another low-paying "professional" job, lives in the desert with his second wife and three cats, and writes a daily blog on politics.

For Smith-Hufschmid, it is apparently a crime to not buy into their reductionist, crackpot theory about conniving Jews reaching back into antiquity, fomenting a long-term conspiracy to reduce us all to exploitable cattle over the span of many thousands of years. Rabbi Mendel Schneerson, one of the Lubavitchers that gets Smith worked up into a lather, may believe the Jews are a Master Race, and Yeshiva students in Israel may chant "death to Arabs," but it does not mean they have the power and resources to reduce goyim to slaves.

Hitler tried this with non-Aryans and got his ass kicked.

I'm more worried about the New World Order, what I prefer to call the Neoliberal Order, rabid and predatory mercantilism, a global "Washington Consensus" as practiced by the WTO, the United Nations, and the World Bank. I am more worried about traditional neoliberals masquerading under the so-called "Third Way," a term first popularized by Benito Mussolini in the 1920s to describe fascism. Smith complains when people talk about the "New World Order" because the term is so general and amorphous and he believes the perpetrators remain nameless.

I got some names for you, Daryl.

John Rockefeller, George Bush, Alan Greenspan, all the neocons, Gerhard Schröder, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, everybody who attends the Bilderberger meetings, including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Tony Blair, Angela Merkel, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Henry Kissinger, Lord Browne of Madingley, Jürgen E. Schrempp, Denis Healey, Lord Black of Crossharbour, all of the European Union Commissioners, Bill Clinton and his wife, John Kerry and his wife, Natan Sharansky, everybody at the Council on Foreign Relations, everybody at the Brookings Institution, everybody at the Rand Corporation, everybody at the Trilateral Commission, especially Zbigniew Brzezinski and Bush Senior, Frank Carlucci and all the criminals at the Carlyle Group, Dick Cheney (especially Dick Cheney, and his wife too), Dianne Feinstein, Hank Greenberg (and everybody in the upper echelon of the American International Group), Paul Volcker, Jeb Bush and the September criminals, etc. In fact, it's a good idea to raid Wall Street, sweep out all the financiers, and put all the owners and upper management in a line-up. And while we're at it, clean up the corporate media, especially Fox News.

I missed a few hundred, but you get the picture.

Start with them. Otherwise, with all this nebulous Lubavitcher nonsense, people are going to think you're taking people down the wrong road.

Or they will write you off as an antisemitic crank.

In fact, many of them already have.

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Editorial: Tip Of The Week

Signs of the Times

If, for whatever reason, you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, on the run and in need of a secure place to 'lie low' for a while, - do not delay! Head straight for "the mountainous area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border". If the U.S. government's track record on finding bin Laden or his "second in command" al-Zawahiri, is anything to go by, it is virtually impossible to find anyone that might be hiding there, no matter how many soldiers or how many high-tech satellites your possess.
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Insane In The Brain

O'Reilly longs for Saddam

Jennifer Fox
June 21, 2006

Bill O'Reilly suggests that the new Iraq government should take a page or two out of Saddam's book.

O'Reilly's transformation from garden-variety right-winger to unwitting satirist is nearly complete. Were Iraq not in shambles, our Constitution in crisis, and soldiers still in harm's way, his latest screed would actually be hilarious.

A recent Talking Points Memo included condemnations of the ACLU, the BBC, Air America and two American ministers for 'helping' the enemy. O'Reilly was particularly peeved at the ministers for speaking out against torture. (How dare they?) These allegations, coupled with his policy suggestions, are sure to make us A Light Unto Nations:

"At this point the new Iraqi Government should declare martial law in areas controlled by insurgents. That means, anyone can be arrested, and shoot on sight curfews."

"Saddam was able to control Iraq, as you know, and defeat insurgencies against him. The new Iraqi government can do the same, but it needs to get much tougher."

You heard it from O'Reilly first, folks. All we need to do is get the new Iraq government to mimic some of Saddam Hussein's tips for running the country, and everything will get better. Pure genius. Also, encouraging the Iraq government to impose 'shoot on sight' curfews will do wonders for how the rest of the world perceives the U.S. They love us already, right?

Comment: This is the "logical" end-result of the right-wing thinking. The Bush administration invaded Iraq because, they said, Saddam was a brutal dictator. Now their news pundits are suggesting that the American-controlled Iraqi government should emulate the brutal dictatorship form of government of Saddam.

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George Bush Sanctioned Rape Rooms?

No Quarter Blog
Larry C Johnson

As they say at the Pottery Barn, you break, you buy it. I don't think President George W. Bush has enough in his piggy bank to cover the cost of the horror he is helping perpetuate in Iraq. Today's Washington Post reports that the Shias running Iraqi prisons are engaged in the kinds of abuse last seen when Saddam was in power.

According to the Post:

On Saturday, a group of parliament members paid a surprise visit to a detention facility run by the Interior Ministry in Baqubah, north of Baghdad. "We have found terrible violations of the law," said Muhammed al-Dayni, a Sunni parliament member who said as many as 120 detainees were packed into a 35-by-20-foot cell. "They told us that they've been raped," Dayni said. "Their families were called in and tortured to force the detainees to testify against other people."

"The detention facilities of the ministries of Defense and Interior are places for the most brutal human rights abuse," he added.

Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer also report:

Inmates in another photo clustered around chains hung from the middle of one of the crowded cells. The chains were used to hoist prisoners by their bound hands, Zobaie said. The practice, noted frequently in inspection reports of Interior Ministry detention centers, often results in the dislocation of prisoners' shoulders.

Ninety percent of the men crowded into Interior Ministry detention centers are Sunni Arabs, Zobaie said. He called treatment in the Interior Ministry prisons "inhumane" and indicated it still was less than certain whether the Defense and Interior ministries would follow through on their agreement to turn over the inmates to the Justice Ministry. "Hopefully, they will," he said.

As I have said in previous posts, the civil war underway in Iraq is breaking the way of the Shia. Moqtada al Sadr's Mehdi Army and the Badr militia are the big boys on the block with the muscle and means to enforce their will. Both are backed by Iran. Most of our troops are attacking Sunni insurgents and terrorists. The Shias generally avoid attacking us because, why antagonize us when we're doing their dirty work for them.

I cannot wait to watch how George and Condi will square this circle. We're helping a group of Shia religious extremists who have close ties to Iran consolidate power in Iraq. Meanwhile, we're threatening Iran with dire consequences if they don't surrender their nuclear program. This Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde policy is getting our kids killed and putting our security at risk. And now, worst of all, on top of the abuses of Abu Ghraib, we are perceived as tolerating, if not sanctioning, the torture and rape of Sunni prisoners.

Will George and Rummy wind up at the Hague some day and be asked to answer for Saddam style rape rooms? Just a thought.

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Bush tries to repair battered US image

By Daniel Dombey and Edward Alden in Vienna
Financial Times
June 21 2006

George W. Bush, US president, sought to repair America's battered image in Europe on Wednesday by promising action on closing Guantánamo Bay and indicating a willingness to make trade concessions.

But he also responded angrily to European public fears that the US poses the greatest threat to global peace, dismissing opinion polls - including this week's FT/Harris poll - as "absurd".
In an emollient bridge-building performance at a summit with the European Union in Vienna's Hofburg castle, Mr Bush underlined his recently stated goal of closing the US's controversial detention centre in Guantánamo.

"I'd like to end Guantánamo; I'd like it to be over with," he said, adding that he had shared with European leaders "my deep desire to end this programme".

EU leaders extracted a White House pledge to accelerate the conclusion of a deal to free up transatlantic air travel, which has been blocked by the US Congress. "I hope we will reach finalisation of the air transport agreement . . .by the end of the year," said José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president.

The summit capped a transformation in US-European relations that has seen Washington move closer to the EU on issues such as Iran and aid to the Palestinians, but which has left European public opinion unmoved - partly because of concerns over the mistreatment of detainees in the fight against terrorism.

European diplomats said they were favourably impressed by Mr Bush's decision to bring up the issue of Guantánamo before it was raised by the Europeans. He said he faced a dilemma because of "international pressure" that made it difficult to repatriate prisoners, and because US courts have blocked plans to try some detainees before military commissions.

The US recently had to convince Albania to give asylum to five Chinese Muslims after their release from Guantánamo. The men feared persecution as an ethnic minority in China.

In spite of the warm mood at the summit, Mr Bush angrily dismissed polls in Europe on the threat posed by the US, saying "it's absurd for people to think we're more dangerous than Iran". The FT/Harris poll conducted last week said 36 per cent of people in five European countries considered the US the biggest threat to world stability, ahead of Iran and China.

Mr Bush made conciliatory gestures on trade, indicating he would try to find a compromise to prevent failure of the "Doha round" world trade talks.

US farm lobby groups and their congressional allies have been urging the administration to let the talks fail rather than accept a deal that does not offer big new export opportunities for US farmers, which would require significant additional concessions by the EU. But Mr Bush said the leaders had "very frank discussions" that acknowledged problems on both sides.

"My view is we can't let the round fail," he added in a comment that contrasted with that of Susan Schwab, his new trade representative, who said failure was better than a bad deal.

Mr Barroso also stressed bilateral co-operation on issues such as developing a common energy security agenda, steps to protect intellectual property rights and a dialogue on climate change.

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Europe should help close Guantanamo: UN envoy

Last Updated Thu, 22 Jun 2006 11:54:26 EDT
CBC News

European countries could help close down the U.S. military detention centre at Guantanamo by taking in some of the prisoners, the UN special envoy for torture suggested Thursday.

Manfred Nowak said the facility should be shut down as soon as possible but that European nations should take an active role in making that happen.

"We as European Union states have criticized the United States... You can't only criticize without then assisting them in solving the problem," Manfred Nowak told Austrian radio station FM4.
"It should be a joint solution where Europe and other parts of the world should play an active part," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush was criticized about the detention centre during his European trip this week.

Following Wednesday's summit with EU officials in Vienna, Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo and send detainees back to their home countries, but that some of the prisoners were dangerous and "cold-blooded killers."

"They will murder somebody if they are let out on the street," he said.

Arrangements would have to be made, he said, to ensure the detainees wouldn't pose a public threat after their release.

But Nowak said he believes only a "very very small" percentage of detainees pose a threat.

Bush said 200 detainees had been sent home, and that of the 460 remaining, most were from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The U.S. has used the prison to hold hundreds of people believed to have links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Last month, the UN released a report saying the United States should stop using the prison and either release all the prisoners there or put them on trial.

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'The dangers caused by a policy of preemption'

Ash Pulcifer

Soon after September 11, the Bush administration labeled North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil." Then, in September of 2002, the Bush administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In this policy paper, the administration wrote, "To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." Due to this policy, North Korea became concerned over the increasing militarism of the Bush administration. The strategy that North Korea devised to counter this perceived threat highlights the danger of preemption.
Kim Jong-il's government in Pyongyang, after learning that they were being targeted due to the American accusation that they were "evil," decided that the most effective way to keep the United States at bay was to create a military force powerful enough to deter the United States from aggression. After all, the Bush administration showed their respect for treaties by abrogating them one by one; it was not surprising that Pyongyang was nervous that the U.S. might also act in defiance of the 1953 armistice. In order to combat this perceived threat, the North released information that it was attempting to create more nuclear weapons, implying that it already had a few ready to launch.

Their nuclear weapons admission, or bluff, sent fear through the United States and caused a public relations calamity for the Bush White House. In the middle of planning an attack on Iraq, under the pretense of eliminating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, suddenly North Korea came out actually admitting they had nuclear weapons! This statement by the North was smartly released only after the U.S. was becoming bogged down in the Middle East.

The crisis worked effectively, as the United States began to have to consider the grievances of North Korea. More importantly, North Korea was able to bring its political issues to the forefront of the world press at a time when the United States could only wave a threatening stick at Pyongyang.

Furthermore, North Korea jabbed the sword even deeper into the heart of White House rhetoric when they claimed that Pyongyang reserved the right to preemptively attack hostile nations! Pyongyang's clever strategy turned Washington's preemption policy on its head and left the Bush administration without an adequate response.

Since then, the administration has offered some economic incentives to the North, in exchange for Pyongyang's disarmament. So far, the North has refused to budge and continues to head down the path of creating nuclear weapons. Because the United States is preoccupied with Iraq, Pyongyang seems to be holding out for the best deal possible. Through their nuclear weapon bargaining piece, they are trying to squeeze lucrative concessions out of the United States in exchange for Pyongyang's silence. In fact, this is such a concern to the administration that it has caused Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to constantly reassure that the United States is capable of fighting a war in Korea and Iraq at the same time; however, as we have seen through history, tough words such as Rumsfeld's are usually used to cover up falsities.

This is where the danger lies in the Bush administration's policy of arm bending diplomacy. North Korea, knowing that the Bush administration is trying to keep the North's issues on the backburner right now, will attempt to pressure the White House into giving up great concessions to Pyongyang. If the Bush administration refuses to meet the North's demands, then the North will probably just continue to work on building their nuclear arsenal. The North figures it is a no-lose situation. Either Pyongyang will secure large economic concessions from the United States, or they will increase their nuclear forces.

In the case that North Korea creates or increases their nuclear arsenal, it will simply provide them with even more bargaining chips for the future. It is more difficult for a powerful nation like the United States to manhandle a nuclear capable country, especially when 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed on its border. Even in the case of a conventional war, the North would not only be able to cause massive U.S. casualties, but would be able to decimate the South Korean capital of Seoul within hours since it lies so close to the border, well within the range of North Korean firepower. The South is well aware of this and is no doubt putting pressure on the United States to refrain from creating another crisis on the Korean peninsula.

So, while to the outside observer it may look as if North Korea is following an irrational policy, it is actually coherent and follows the model set forth by the Bush administration. That policy is the theory of power politics, where states use threats to coerce other states into diplomatic concessions. The simple danger is that the threat of preemption, intertwined in the general theory of power politics, can often lead to unexpected conflicts that quickly spiral out of control.

[Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives.]


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Kicking Open the Gates of Hell

By Mike Whitney
06/22/06 "Information Clearing House"

"We have begun shredding documents that show local staff surnames. In March, a few members approached us to ask what provisions we would make for them if we evacuate." Zalmay Khalizad "Baghdad-memo leaked to Washington Post"

The prospect of an American defeat in Iraq grows greater with every passing day. A memo which was leaked to the Washington Post depicts a situation on the ground which is steadily deteriorating into chaos. The memo, which was written by Iraqi ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, contrasts dramatically with the confident "happy talk" of high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. It offers a bleak "insiders-view" of a society that is progressively crumbling from the nonstop violence and lack of security.
President Bush's surprise appearance in Baghdad was supposed to shore up support for the flagging mission in Iraq, but according to the memo, even the Green Zone, that one safe-haven in an ocean of resistance, could come under attack in the very near future.

Clearly, if the militia violence and infighting increase much more, American troops will be forced to withdraw quicker than planned. In practical terms, the country is already ungovernable and the newly-elected regime is merely a face to show-off to the anxious American public.

There's considerable disagreement among critics of the war about how we got to this point. Some believe that Iraq was never going to submit to occupation regardless of how it was carried out. Others argue that the resistance only emerged in reaction to a poorly planned occupation that was unable to provide even minimal security for Iraqi civilians. Most of the criticism has been directed at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a man of limited abilities who is incapable of learning from his mistakes. The most scathing rebuke of Rumsfeld came from his own Major General John Batiste in his article "Root Causes of Haditha" which outlines the many grievous tactical and strategic errors Rumsfeld made following the fall of Baghdad. Batiste says:

"America went to war in Iraq with the secretary of defense's plan. He ignored the U.S. Central Command's deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build his plan, which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency....Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and grow to where it is today. Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and the decision to stand down the Iraqi security forces."

Most of what Batiste says squares with the facts as we now know them. There was no plan for occupation and Dick Cheney later admitted on FOX TV that they were frankly surprised at the amount of violence they encountered. The fantasists in the White House expected that the Saddam regime would fall like a house of cards and that the people would greet them as liberators. Contingency plans from the Pentagon and the State Dept were ignored in a breathtaking display of hubris. Even so, Iraqis seemed to take a "wait and see" attitude and it was almost a full year before the resistance was up and running at full speed. If the civilian leadership at the Pentagon had taken the mounting attacks on coalition troops seriously, they may have reversed their strategy and not brushed aside the perpetrators as "dead-enders and ex-Ba'athists".

Falluja; the turning point

Then there was Falluja. After the killing and desecrating of the 4 Blackwater agents in Falluja, Rumsfeld decided to exact punishment by reducing a city of 250,000 to rubble. Nearly two years later, independent photographers and journalists are still banned from photographing the wreckage.

Many believe that Falluja and Abu Ghraib made the war "unwinnable"; that the "hearts and minds" part of occupation was no longer feasible. Now, American forces must depend on brute force and counterinsurgency operations to pacify an increasingly suspicious and hostile public. That project is failing and mayhem is spreading across the Sunni heartland making occupation more and more untenable.

But the Bush administration faces another dilemma that is even more basic than beating the resistance. They desperately need a strategy for victory and they have no idea of what that might be. There's no way that Bush can achieve his goals without knowing what those goals are. It seems obvious, but the administration is utterly clueless. Up to now, the strategy has been to simply ensure that "we kill more of them then they do of us", but that, of course, does not provide a political solution and an end to the conflict.

Representative John Murtha keeps harping away at this one point but, no one in the congress seems to grasp what he's talking about. They look at him like a madman while they continue to dawdle on meaningless resolutions that merely extend the war into perpetuity.

"There's no plan!" Murtha said on Meet the Press. "You open up this plan for victory. There's no plan there. It's just, 'Stay the course.' That doesn't solve the problem. It's worse today than it was six months ago when I spoke out initially. When I spoke out, the garbage wasn't being collected, oil production below pre-War level -- all those things indicated to me we weren't winning this, and it's the same today, if not worse."

Murtha's frustration is palpable. He's the only man in congress who seems to have a grip on the calamity that looms ahead. The rest don't understand that the United States is losing this war and that a defeat in Iraq will precipitate a seismic shift in the lives of every American.

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised" Murtha said. "It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion....It is time for a change in direction.... Our military has done its duty. They've been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years and now the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won 'militarily.'.... We can not continue on the present course. The future of our country is at risk."

"Iraq can not be won 'militarily'".

Murtha's pleas have had little effect on the political landscape. Bush still totters from one photo-op to the next, the media keeps fear-mongering on Al Qaida, and the Congress continues to regurgitate Rove's silly "cut and run" mantra.

In 3 years of unrelenting bloodshed, the Bush administration has never pursued a political solution. No dialogue, no diplomacy, no negotiations. There's still the naïve belief that violence alone can achieve their objectives and that America will prevail in any conflict. The administration's arrogance has set them up for a crushing defeat.

Author Sidney Blumenthal says this about the administration's approach,

"The Bush way of war has been ahistorical and apolitical, and therefore warped strategically, putting absolute pressure on the military to provide an outcome it cannot provide - 'victory.'"

As the situation in Iraq continues to worsen, Bush refuses to make any adjustments to his approach; insisting that success is just a matter of "staying the course". But "victory" is not achievable by perseverance alone; there must intelligence and concrete objectives. An army of 130,000 will not overcome a population of 25 million without tangible goals and a realistic plan for providing security.

Bush ignores military strategist Carl von Clausewitz axiom that "War is politics by other means" Von Clausewitz added, "Subordinating the political point of view to the military would be absurd; for it is policy that creates war. Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa." (Thomas Barton)

Bush confuses missiles with foresight, and tanks with political acumen. The results are predictably disastrous.

For Bush, war is a self-ennobling activity that demonstrates the grandiose power of the aggressor but precludes any final resolution. It is merely mindless, indiscriminate violence directed outwards.

After 3 years, the administration still knows next to nothing about its adversary. So far, the resistance has succeeded in all its main aims; frustrating every attempt to establish security, rebuild infrastructure, or to transport oil. The administration has strengthened the resistances' resolve and swelled their ranks by torturing prisoners, killing civilians, and decimating towns and cities. The vast majority of Iraqis now want the occupation to end and 46% believe that fighters are justified in killing American soldiers.

The United States is now fighting battle-hardened Iraqi nationalists who will not give up or give in until America is compelled to withdraw its troops. But, that is only a small part of the problem. As Khalizad's memo indicates, the society has broken down into tribal units forming vast, fully-armed militias which have stepped up to fill the security vacuum. The militias have wormed there way into every area of Iraqi society and, now, are active even in the Green Zone; creating a viable threat to the American stronghold.

No wonder Khalizad is alarmed.

In a USA Today article about the memo, the editor says, (The memo) "underscores the uphill battle faced by the fledgling Iraqi government and US forces, the limited time they have to assert control, and even whether that is still possible. ...The fundamentalists and militias are fast obtaining the kind of power that destroys governments. To whit: 'The central government, our staff says, is not relevant.'"

The country is controlled by the militias and the resistance. The United States controls nothing beyond the block-walls and gun-towers of the besieged Green Zone, and now, even that may be in jeopardy. As Patrick Cockburn presciently noted, the memo "portrays a society in the state of collapse."

Fisk's Crystal Ball

Months ago, author Robert Fisk said that he could foresee a dramatic event taking place in Iraq that would reshape the public's attitude towards the war; something comparable to the TET Offensive in Vietnam, which was the turning point for America's fortunes in that war.

Could the disparate Iraqi resistance actually mount an attack on the Green Zone, the last refuge for America's puppet regime?

Here's what Fisk says:

"Sometimes I wonder if there will be a moment when reality and myth, truth and lies, will actually collide. When will the detonation come? When the insurgents wipe out an entire US base? When they pour over the walls of the Green Zone and turn it into the same trashed blocks as the rest of Baghdad? Or will we then be told-as we have been in the past-that this just shows the "desperation" of the insurgents, that these terrible acts only prove that the "terrorist" know they are losing?" (Robert Fisk, "What does Democracy really mean in the Middle East" Aug, 2005)

Khalizad's frantic memo seems to indicate that such an assault is possible and that the occupants should prepare accordingly.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak anticipated the Iraqi debacle nearly two years ago when he cautioned Dick Cheney, "There's no way to win an occupation. It's just a matter of choosing the size of your humiliation."

That was good advice, but it was ignored.

Bush was also warned strenuously before he began his Iraqi crusade. He was told that if he invaded he would be "kicking open the gates of hell".

We'll soon find out whether he's prepared to deal with the trouble inside.

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US Policy Becoming Confused Over Iran Says Russia

Jun 20, 2006

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser in the United States as encouraging news comes from Tehran in response to the latest six-party nuclear offer.

The Bush administration seems to have been taken totally by surprise by new political advice that negotiations should be promoted and even that Iran, in fact, has some right to a local version of the nuclear cycle.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Shanghai meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has ended in a declaration of Iran's readiness for talks -- which certainly adds weight to Russia's long-time calls for commitment to prudent and unbiased enforcement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and respect for all other commitments stemming from it; the Europeans and the Americans have suddenly emerged with surprisingly bright ideas on something they had earlier denied even thinking of.

The Iranian leader's Shanghai promises are highly likely to broaden the divide in the U.S. political community. The hawkish faction will probably have to back down a little under pressure from "talks" people who have really big cards to play with. First, with the U.S. forces stuck in Iraq, the nation simply cannot afford another unpredictable military adventure.

Second, they might add, some of Iran's new decision-makers seem savory enough for India-like negotiating with the possible outcome of Russians and Europeans being, slowly but surely, squeezed out of what will then turn into a new promising playground.

True, the old "you can never trust the Russians, better try the West" approach is already circulating across Iranian society, especially among people who have relatives in the United States. This is what they call a true intrigue, one that makes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's dream come true -- finally the Russians are being labeled as "undependable partners" by Iranian ayatollahs, who used to be so loyal to them.

But these subtleties are also exactly what diehard Republican conservatives despise Rice for, putting on her all the blame for "sluggish progress" on Iran.

Although the gap between neocons and moderates is so narrow that any inconvenience with Iran -- for example, a single Ahmadinejad offensive remark on Israel -- might prompt most moderates to suddenly turn hawkish, some of the turns and twists of the U.S.-Iran nuclear debate are truly remarkable.

There seems to be a consensus on describing the ideology-driven President Ahmadinejad as the greatest obstacle to a possible Washington-Tehran deal. Ahmadinejad is popular with the Iranian youth -- not the urban yuppies craving for Western mass culture but the poor rural Muslim people who appreciate his youth development programs.

So the U.S. intelligence people, well aware that the president is foreign to the narrow group of nuclear decision-makers, wonder how then he managed to win the election against the rich and powerful Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The obvious American question here is "where's the money?" To some, the answer is very easy and simple: it's the Russians again. If anyone sees a "Russian oil money propelled Ahmadinejad to power" headline in a U.S. newspaper tomorrow, they should look no further than this essay. Ridiculous? We have seen more ridiculous things, thank you very much, that were printed and sold as perfectly true.

Meanwhile, United States Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte and Rice are setting up their own Iran think tanks, including a special office on Iran at the State Department. While this is a sign of hope that the military option is currently not the first on the table, and what Ahmadinejad told Putin in Shanghai sounds plausible enough, everyone needs to do more.

Iran, for its part, should move faster to walk the walk on its deliberations with the "Iranian Six." Dragging out the issue would clearly not be in its best interests as it would play straight into the hands of the hawks over the Atlantic.

(Lt. Gen. Gennady Yevstafyev, Ret., is a former senior officer of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as the SVR. He is now a senior adviser at the Center for Policy Studies in Russia or PIR Center. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti)

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Russian, American Public Hold Opposite Views on Punishment to Iran - Poll

Created: 22.06.2006 15:17 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 15:33 MSK

Russians and Americans have nearly polar opposite opinions on whether, and how, to punish Iran if it continues to produce nuclear fuel despite international pressure to stop, a released poll, which questioned more that 1000 respondents in April, shows.
According to the poll, quoted by Iran News Internet daily, only 23% of Russians favor economic sanctions, whereas 68% of Americans think some form of trade or sales embargo against Tehran is appropriate.

On the flip side, when asked whether the United Nations Security Council should still negotiate even "if Iran continues to produce nuclear fuel that could be developed for use in nuclear weapons," 62% of respondents in Russia said "yes," while 26% of Americans opined that there was nothing more to talk about, according to the poll.

The poll was jointly carried out by the independent Yuri Levada Institute in Russia, and the World Public Opinion Institute in the United States.

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Venezuela's Ambassador to Russia Says His Nation Will Set Oil Fields on Fire in Case of Aggression

Created: 21.06.2006 18:03 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 18:03 MSK

Venezuela will set fire to its oil deposits in the event of a U.S. military operation, Venezuelan Ambassador to Russia Navarro Alexis Rojas said at a news conference in Moscow on Wednesday.

"Such an invasion would be aimed at gaining control over oil. We will set our oil fields on fire in the event of any invasion. It will be our first response to it," the Interfax news agency quoted the diplomat as saying.

Oil prices would skyrocket if reports claiming any imminent aggression appeared, the ambassador said. Venezuela would also take advantage of Latin America's solidarity agreements, he said.

Venezuela has raised worries in the United States by purchasing a large batch of assault rifles from Russia and reportedly being in talks to buy several Russian combat aircraft.

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Cannon Fodder

7 Marines, sailor charged in Iraqi's death

Associated Press
June 22, 2006

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

All eight also were charged with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements.
Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, announced the charges at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where the eight are being held. The troops are members of the Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Regiment.

The case is separate from the alleged killing by other Marines of 24 Iraqi civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November. A pair of investigations related to that case are still under way, and no criminal charges have been filed.

Some or all of the troops being held at Camp Pendleton could face the death penalty, though Navarre said "it's far too early to speculate on that right now."

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the senior commander at Pendleton, will decide whether and how to proceed with preliminary hearings known in the military justice system as Article 32 proceedings. That in turn could lead to courts-martial for some or all of the men.

All eight have hired private attorneys and also have been given military defense lawyers.

The Pentagon began investigating shortly after an Iraqi man identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad was killed April 26 in Hamdania, west of Baghdad. A charging document provided to The Associated Press by Jane Siegel, an attorney for Marine Pfc. John J. Jodka, alleges that the Iraqi was shot by five of the Marines and that an AK-47 assault rifle were placed in the victim's hands, apparently to make it appear he was an insurgent.

A senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, has said a shovel was also planted at the scene to make it appear the man was trying to plant an explosive device.

Besides Jodka, charged were Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Marine Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Marine Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, and Marine Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda.

According to the charging document, the troops were staking out an intersection to see whether anyone appeared to place explosives in holes along the road. When no one came, Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos went into a nearby home, stole a shovel and an AK-47 and went looking for an insurgent named Saleh Gowad.

When they couldn't find Gowad, they went into a house belonging to Awad and kidnapped him, prosecutors assert. Magincalda, Thomas, Pennington and Bacos forced Awad to the ground and bound his feet, then took him to their hideout and placed him in a hole.

Hutchins, Thomas and Shumate fired M-16 rifles at Awad while Jackson and Jodka fired M-249 automatic weapons, killing him, according to the document.

Bacos then fired the AK-47 into the air to expend some shell casings. Magincalda collected the casings and put them by the body, the paper said. Pennington cleaned prints off the AK-47 and put it in Awad's hands.

Hutchins, the top-ranking Marine, told his men to make false statements and on April 28 submitted "a false written report regarding the factors and circumstances related to Awad's death," according to the document.

The larceny charge relates to the theft of the AK-47 and the shovel.

Siegel, Jodka's lawyer, said the Pentagon's decision to hold a news conference to announce the charges turned the event into a media circus.

"There is nothing more serious that they could be charged with - these could be capital murder charges - so this is literally a life-and- death situation. And I am just stunned that the government would decide to handle a case that is this serious in the way that they have," she said.

Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents Bacos, said, "These allegations are shocking, but my client is innocent. Believe me, there are two sides to this story."

Separately, the U.S. military in Iraq announced that murder charges were filed against a fourth Army soldier in the shooting deaths May 9 of three civilians who had been detained by U.S. troops. Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20, of the 101st Airborne Division was charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of attempted premeditated murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and making a false official statement.

On Monday the military announced that three soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division had been charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the May 9 killings. It was not clear why charges against the fourth soldier were not announced until Wednesday.

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Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq

FOX News
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.
Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

He added that the report warns about the hazards that the chemical weapons could still pose to coalition troops in Iraq.

"The purity of the agents inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal," Santorum read from the document.

"This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions.

Hoekstra said the report, completed in April but only declassified now, shows that "there is still a lot about Iraq that we don't fully understand."

Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn't advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."

The official said the findings did raise questions about the years of weapons inspections that had not resulted in locating the fairly sizeable stash of chemical weapons. And he noted that it may say something about Hussein's intent and desire. The report does suggest that some of the weapons were likely put on the black market and may have been used outside Iraq.

He also said that the Defense Department statement shortly after the March 2003 invasion saying that "we had all known weapons facilities secured," has proven itself to be untrue.

"It turned out the whole country was an ammo dump," he said, adding that on more than one occasion, a conventional weapons site has been uncovered and chemical weapons have been discovered mixed within them.

Hoekstra and Santorum lamented that Americans were given the impression after a 16-month search conducted by the Iraq Survey Group that the evidence of continuing research and development of weapons of mass destruction was insignificant. But the National Ground Intelligence Center took up where the ISG left off when it completed its report in November 2004, and in the process of collecting intelligence for the purpose of force protection for soldiers and sailors still on the ground in Iraq, has shown that the weapons inspections were incomplete, they and others have said.

"We know it was there, in place, it just wasn't operative when inspectors got there after the war, but we know what the inspectors found from talking with the scientists in Iraq that it could have been cranked up immediately, and that's what Saddam had planned to do if the sanctions against Iraq had halted and they were certainly headed in that direction," said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard and a FOX News contributor.

"It is significant. Perhaps, the administration just, they think they weathered the debate over WMD being found there immediately and don't want to return to it again because things are otherwise going better for them, and then, I think, there's mindless resistance to releasing any classified documents from Iraq," Barnes said.

The release of the declassified materials comes as the Senate debates Democratic proposals to create a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. The debate has had the effect of creating disunity among Democrats, a majority of whom shrunk Wednesday from an amendment proposed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to have troops to be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next year.

At the same time, congressional Republicans have stayed highly united, rallying around a White House that has seen successes in the last couple weeks, first with the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the completion of the formation of Iraq's Cabinet and then the announcement Tuesday that another key Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, "religious emir" Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, was also killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Santorum pointed out that during Wednesday's debate, several Senate Democrats said that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, a claim, he said, that the declassified document proves is untrue.

"This is an incredibly - in my mind - significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false," he said.

As a result of this new information, under the aegis of his chairmanship, Hoekstra said he is going to ask for more reporting by the various intelligence agencies about weapons of mass destruction.

"We are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war," Hoekstra said.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.
Ah, FOX News... Let's review: If the US had found WMD in Iraq, don't you think the Bush administration would have had the news plastered everywhere to prove they were right? Instead, the Bush gang had to change their motive for invading Iraq every other day.

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Army takes older recruits

By Will Dunham
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army, aiming to make its recruiting goals amid the Iraq war, raised its maximum enlistment age by another two years on Wednesday, while the Army Reserve predicted it will miss its recruiting target for a second straight year.

People can now volunteer to serve in the active-duty Army or the part-time Army Reserve and National Guard up to their 42nd birthday after the move aimed at increasing the number of people eligible to sign up, officials said.

It marked the second time this year the Army has boosted the maximum age for new volunteers, raising the ceiling from age 35 to 40 in January before now adding two more years.
More than three years into the war, the Army continues to provide the bulk of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. Army officials have acknowledged the war has made some recruits and their families wary about volunteering.

The Army Reserve, along with the regular Army and Army National Guard, missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal, and it currently lags its fiscal 2006 year-to-date goal by 4 percent.

Army Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the new Army Reserve chief, said he does not expect the Reserve to reach its goal of 36,000 recruits for fiscal 2006, which ends September 30.

"We think we'll come in right around that 96 (percent), 97 percent range," Stultz told reporters.

The Army Reserve is a part-time force of federal troops who can be summoned to active duty by the Pentagon in times of need. The Army National Guard is another part-time force whose soldiers are under the command of state governors for use in emergencies such as natural disasters, but also can be mobilized to active duty by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon has made extensive use of these part-time soldiers in Iraq, although the number deployed has been cut significantly.

Stultz said his recruiting numbers were hurt by regular Army personnel opting to stay on active duty and reservists moving from part-time service to active duty with the Army.


Julia Bobick, an Army Recruiting Command spokeswoman, said the decision to raise the maximum enlistment age "is not an act of desperation," but rather the latest prudent step intended to attract qualified recruits.

These older recruits must pass the same physical standards and medical examination as younger ones, the Army said. However, those between 40 and 42 will face additional cardiovascular screening, Bobick said.

"Of course, not everyone is going to be (physically able to serve). But those older recruits who can meet the physical demands of Army service make excellent soldiers because they bring with them a maturity and a skill level that some of our young recruits don't have yet," Bobick said.

The Army has taken numerous steps to help recruiting, including offering various financial incentives, adding recruiters and hiring a new advertising agency. It even relaxed its ban on certain types of tattoos to attract recruits who otherwise would have been disqualified from serving.

The U.S. military moved to an all-volunteer force in 1973, during the tumult of the Vietnam War era. Some analysts have said if the military cannot attract enough recruits, the United States might have to consider reinstating the draft.

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21,000 Troops Notified for Iraq Deployment

Associated Press
Tuesday June 20, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has notified about 21,000 Army soldiers and Marines that they are scheduled to be sent to Iraq late this year.

Four combat brigades from Texas, Alaska and Colorado are the latest scheduled to replace troops returning home from the war, a senior defense official said.

The official, who requested anonymity because the announcement has not yet been made, said the planned deployment could change depending on the conditions in Iraq. The Bush administration is under increasing pressure to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

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Senate Votes Against Iraq Deadline

Published: June 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, June 22 - The Senate voted today, after a long and emotional debate, against measures calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
The votes, 87 to 13 on one measure and 60 to 39 on the second, reflected not only deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats but within the Democratic ranks as well.

The first measure was an amendment to a military-spending bill offered by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, both Democrats. It would have set a July 2007 withdrawal date. But with a majority of Democrats voting "no," its lopsided defeat was assured.
The second, more generally worded measure was also intended to scale down the American commitment in Iraq. It declared that it was "the sense of the Senate" that redeployment of United States troops from Iraq begin by the end of this year.

The votes on both measures were preceded by hours of debate that blended high emotion and the courtly courtesy that is a Senate tradition. Emotions ran so high on Wednesday that senators from both sides urged restraint so that the debate would not be "dragged down into political muck," as Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, put it.

But today, the Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he appreciated the "civil nature" of the debate over all. He thanked Senators John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel's ranking Democrat. "Two of the finest the Senate has ever seen," Mr. Reid called them.

In urging defeat of the Kerry-Feingold measure, Mr. Warner said that to set a withdrawal date would tell American troops and the Iraqi people "we're going to possibly pull the rug out from under you." "It would be impossible to imagine a worse time than now" to set a timetable for withdrawal, said Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader.

But Senator Feingold said it was time to tell the Iraqi people that "we have done what we can do militarily" and let them run their own country.

And Senator Reid said it was wrong to blindly follow President Bush's course in Iraq. To put loyalty to a president above loyalty to one's conscience was not only "unpatriotic and servile but morally treasonable," Mr. Reid said.

But Mr. Reid voted against the Kerry-Feingold amendment, choosing instead the more generally worded measure offered by Senators Levin and Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.

Mr. Levin said the message to the Iraqis embedded in his proposal was, "You must take over your own nation and make it work and make it happen."

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Accidental shooting causes diplomatic row

PM - Thursday, 22 June , 2006 18:14:00
Reporter: Brendan Trembath

MARK COLVIN: The situation has been complicated because the army unit which guards Australian diplomats in Iraq has provoked a big diplomatic row by shooting dead an Iraqi minister's bodyguard.

Australia's Defence Department says the shooting was a mistake, that it deeply regrets the loss of life and that it's conducting an inquiry.
That may not be enough for Iraq's Trade Minister Abdul Falah Al-Sudani. Furious that one of his guards was killed, he says it was a criminal act and wants Australia to pay compensation to the dead man's family.

If not, the minister's threatened to review Iraq's trade with Australia.

Brendan Trembath reports.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: For the military unit which guards Australian diplomats in Iraq, this should have been a routine job - escorting an Australian trade delegation from a government building in the Masour district in the West of Baghdad.

(Man speaking in Iraqi in the background)

This man is a bodyguard for Iraq's Trade Minister and says he saw the Australians leave.

VOX POP (translated): The convoy left the ministry. They were visiting the ministry of trade. Our convoy left directly after them. They knew that this convoy was the convoy of the Trade Ministry. The driver was not trying to pass them, but they shot and killed him and wounded three guards and two civilians. Yes, they killed one man and wounded three others.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In a short statement Australia's Defence Department has expressed deep regret for the injuries and the loss of life.

Brigadier Gus Gilmore.

GUS GILMORE: Yesterday afternoon an Australian security attachment on patrol in Baghdad was involved in the shooting incident. Iraq remains a dangerous place and we all need to remember that explosive attacks are targeted against coalition forces and Iraqi nationals every day.

These attacks can take the form of individuals or vehicles carrying explosive devices. Our servicemen and women deployed on these operations are well equipped and trained to deal with these contingencies.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: But the Australian Government may need to do a lot more to satisfy Iraqi officials.

A Government spokesman says Iraq's Trade Minister Abdul Falah Al-Sudani holds the Australian Government responsible for the shooting of the bodyguard. The minister has demanded an apology and compensation for the dead man's family.

If the official does not get what he wants he has threatened to review trade deals with Australia. Trade has been a sensitive issue for the two countries since accusations were made that Australia's wheat exporter AWB was paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime.

It's likely the Australian troops mistook the occupants of the other vehicle for local insurgents, the sort of people responsible for a string of abductions and murders.

Neil James, the Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association, says that sort of confusion is not so unusual in a war zone.

NEIL JAMES: This type of friendly fire incident is reasonably common in wars. I mean, you could actually argue that it's strange in such a crowded and complex urban combat environment as Baghdad that these type of things don't happen more often.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley, a former defence minister, says the shooting is a tragedy.

KIM BEAZLEY: I'm afraid that in a difficult, complex, civil conflict like that, the possibility of what they describe as "blue on blue" or "friendly fire" deaths is always a possibility and it has the most terrible effects, both on the people who, of course and their families, who are killed or injured, and on the people who inadvertently have triggered the situation. And so, there's sadness and grief to go round.

The point is this: we shouldn't be there. We made a mistake going to Iraq in the first place. We should not be there now.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Australian unit responsible is known as the Security Detachment, the same unit with which Private Jake Kovco was serving. His death in Iraq in April is the subject of another Defence Department inquiry.

Neil James from the Defence Association says the Security Detachment has a dangerous job and Australian diplomats depend on it.

NEIL JAMES: It's basically there to help our diplomats do their job in Baghdad, because obviously they can't drive around the city just in normal cars because they'd be kidnapped or murdered or blown up.

MARK COLVIN: Neil James talking to Brendan Trembath.

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Shooting threatens Iraq-Australia trade ties

By Aseel Kami and Ross Colvin
June 22, 2006

BAGHDAD - Iraq's trade minister threatened on Thursday to reconsider trade deals with wheat supplier Australia after Australian troops killed one of his bodyguards in a shooting mishap in the capital.

The Australian government is trying to negotiate new wheat deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Iraq, one of the world's biggest wheat buyers.
The U.S. military said four Marines were killed on Tuesday in two attacks in Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni insurgency, and a soldier died on Wednesday in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad.

There was confusion surrounding the reported abduction of 80 factory workers north of Baghdad on Wednesday by gunmen who commandeered their buses as they returned home.

An official in the office of the industry minister said police reports were inaccurate and that 30 had been abducted, of whom 25 had been freed. The fate of the other five was unknown.

The Australian defense force confirmed on Thursday that its soldiers had mistakenly opened fire on bodyguards of Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudany in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing one and wounding three people.

"The minister holds the Australian government responsible and demands an apology and payment of compensation. If this does not happen he will reconsider trade agreements between the two countries," his spokesman Muhammed Hanoun told Reuters.

"Iraqi blood is more important than anything else," he said.


Australia said it was proceeding with wheat shipments to Iraq from a recent sale and had not been informed of Baghdad's threat to reconsider trade.

Australia's ambassador telephoned the trade minister to offer his apology and condolences for the shooting. Australia's defense force said the incident was under investigation.

"The ADF deeply regrets the injuries and loss of life that has occurred. As with all ADF incidents of this nature the matter will be formally and fully investigated," Vice Chief of the Australian Defense Force (ADF), Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, said in a statement.

The shooting took place outside the trade minister's offices. Police said it appeared the Australians mistook the minister's bodyguards, dressed in civilian clothes and armed with AK-47 rifles, for insurgents and opened fire.

They said the soldiers had been protecting a visiting trade delegation, but Hanoun said they were at the office to arrange a meeting with the Australian ambassador.

He said one bodyguard was killed, two wounded and a civilian passerby hurt in the incident, which he called "provocative."

Iraq imports around 3 million tonnes of wheat a year to help feed its 27 million people.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government has extended an inquiry into allegations the country's monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd. paid $222 million in kickbacks to
Saddam Hussein's former government.

AWB was the biggest wheat seller to Iraq under the U.N. "oil-for-food" scheme, selling around $2.2 billion worth of grain.

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Terrorism Myth: Muslims Look for Responsible Journalism

By Mahboob A. Khawaja, Ph.D.
06/22/06 "Information Clearing House"

The "War on Terrorism" is flourishing business for the corporate world - a 21st century fantasy on its own, where facts live in denials and predetermined dogmas cover all aspects of Muslims and Islam. When facts are not available, the mainstream media would construct dark illusions to assert the corporate-political agenda to encroach human rights, freedom and dignity. The media games are not played by any definable rules. After the 9/11 attacks in the US, the sole victims are Muslims and Islamic civilization and nobody else. The recent arrests of the17 youngsters in Toronto, including five underage boys are a clear case in point. Immediately after their arrests, the synchronized statement issued by the new Canadian PM could be conveniently compared to the words of President Bush in thought and spirit. The media quickly eluded to the crimes unknown and unsubstantiated and identified them " Muslim Terrorists." As if Muslims were born in the eye of storm and the religion of Islam was the basis of this ephemeral judgment. If the individuals or ethnic groups other than Muslims were involved, the mass media would not have jumped to such hasty and irrelevant ethnically biased conclusions. The reasoning could be that Muslim communities lack political presence or affiliation with an influential political party. Facts are the foundation of truth, and truth and justice are inseparable. Facts are pertinent to reach fair conclusion. End cannot be assumed to play with the facts and be based on dogmas to explain the facts of human life. In a systematic modern society, are there any ethical values and professional standards to be followed by the journalists in North America and Europe? Is there any accountability mechanism for those whose overwhelming motives poison the public perceptions and carve-up malicious propaganda against Muslims and Islam?
Stewart Nusbaumer ("Terror to Empire": 07/2003), asked the same question, " can American stop this madness?" And added: "The Bush Administration hawks are lumping together all kinds of reasons and excuses under the rubric of terrorism and exploiting the horror of 9/11 for political and corporate gain - the war against terrorism has become, in fact, a war for empire." Belatedly, Canada is enlisted when American led adventures are under global scrutiny and appears to be falling apart with public calls for "war crimes" and "impeachment". In all probabilities, the arrest of 17 individuals involve important legal issues and the opportunities to prove innocence or guilt but in a court of law. How come the mass media has assumed the role of law and justice? Is that is what the Canadian justice is about? Not so, I believe. But what about those 17 people and their families whose life has been destroyed by the false media created perceptions and biased imagery? The media appears to be spearheading the animosity psyche more for public consumption than the role of a fair agent of information and public awareness.

Gwynne Dyer ("The International Terrorist Conspiracy", 06/2006), London-based prominent journalist, points out: "there is no shadowy but powerful network waging a terrorist war against the West: the whole thing is a fantasy." Europeans are well aware, of Baader-Meinhof Gang (German), Red Brigades (Italy), and Red Army (Japan), but no one calls them Christian or Buddhist terrorists. Why? Simply, because there are Christian or Buddhist, not Muslim. The "War on Terrorism" is a war against Muslims and to control their natural resources under the American Empire, and nothing else. Ethnically conscientious and politically infuriated, the Dutch lady Minister of Immigration (CBC TV Night News documentary: 8-9 June), has a quick solution for the "hijab" - "abaya" - black cover dressed ladies, do as the Romans do or 100,000-150,000 Muslims get out of here." Was that an incentive to the North American politicians to think and act likewise?

Some media outlets have readily available phony Islamic experts or officially subsidized gatekeepers of approved truth to allege that Islam teaches radicalism and the issue of "youth extremism." Nobody knows where such an intellectual nuisance comes from? Islam is a religion of peace and it shares all its values and belief, as do the other branches of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths such as the Christianity and Judaism. Islamic religious teaching-learning do not include nor envision hatred against other fellow human beings. Indeed, Islam professes deep respect and dignity for the People of the Book. Muslims are an integral part of the Canadian multicultural mosaic. If the societal relationship is weak, it does not mean it is harmful. It should not be misinterpreted in a naïve context to generate alarming images when an individual commits crime; it is not the ethnicity of the individual involved, group or the religion to be blamed.

The timing of the major accusations against the 17 people arrested could be put in a proper context. In one statement, the accused was going to "behead the PM." Another, someone was going to "attack the Parliament" and so on. These are highly charged allegations with serious long and short terms consequences. Often, media strategists manufacture such accusations to maximize the propaganda stunt and create public fear and confusion. Mr. Batasar or other defense lawyers can only offer its true explanation. In reality, such claims are outcome of big political thinking and seem more relevant to the on-going war horrors in Iraq, than the minds of the accused youngsters. Many civilian massacres are daily being reported in Iraq and the blames rests on the American and British military forces. Was the arrest of the 17 youngsters an attempt to distract the public attention from the real-world issues?

Since 9/11, there has been no major terrorist attack in the West. What happened in London in July 2005, is reportedly a homegrown individual extremism, not linked to any global network. Gwynne Dyer offers commonsense insight: "Most people in the West believe the official narrative rather than the evidence of their own eyes. There must be a major terrorist threat; otherwise, the government is wrong or lying, the intelligence are wrong or self-serving, the media are fools or cowards, and the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with fighting terrorism."

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), vehemently claimed by the US Administration, were one of the major reasons for warmongering in Iraq. It backfired at the political deception and stupidity forged by the American and British decision makers. Hal Crowther called it "Weapons of Mass Stupidity", (06/2003), and elaborated: when Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken were alive, they never imagined Fox News and Bill O'Reilly to serve as "crash dummies." He goes on to illustrate, how O'Reilly cursed a boy whose father had died in the 9/11 but he refused to support the Iraq war. He cites Fox TV anchorman Neil Cavuto, who celebrated the fall of Baghdad by informing all of us who opposed the war in March; "you were sickening then, you are sickening now." Crowther pinpoints the rationale: "these troubled men are neither bad journalists nor even bad actors portraying journalists- they 're mentally unbalanced individuals whose partisan belligerence is pressing them to the brink of psychosis."

At this juncture, cautious and responsible journalism is missing to support the dictates of law, justice and social harmony. There is no excuse for the mass media to make the end assumptions and sponsor the guilty portrayal of Muslims and Islam when no such evidence exists. If the motives and activities of the suspected 17 terrorists were of criminal nature, let the judge decide about it, not the news media. There is an urgent need for the authorities, the mass media and Muslims to be courageous and active participants to bridge the gaps, cross-over the varied cultural time zones and enter people's real life to enhance understanding and social harmony. The terrorism myth is a political gimmick and a fraudulent policy objective to exploit feelings and mislead the softhearted North American and European pubic against Muslims - a people - a community - a civilization, intimately respectable as are the Christian, Jewish and others.

Mahboob A. Khawaja is an academic who specializes in strategic studies with an interest in comparative civilizations. He is the author of Muslims and the West: Quest for Change and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at: kmahboob@yahoo.com

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Is There Intelligent Life Down Here?

Southern San Andreas fault waiting to explode: report


LONDON (Reuters) - The southern end of the San Andreas fault near Los Angeles, which has been still for more than two centuries, is under immense stress and could produce a massive earthquake at any moment, a scientist said on Wednesday.

Yuri Fialko, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla, California, said that given average annual movement rates in other areas of the fault, there could be enough pent-up energy in the southern end to trigger a cataclysmic jolt of up to 10 meters (32 ft).

"The observed strain rates confirm that the southern section of the San Andreas fault may be approaching the end of the interseismic phase of the earthquake cycle," he wrote in the science journal Nature.

A sudden lateral movement of 7 to 10 meters would be among the largest ever recorded.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake that destroyed San Francisco in 1906 was produced by a sudden movement of the northern end of the fault of up to 21 ft.

Fialko said there had been no recorded movement at the southern end of the fault - the 800-mile long geological meeting point of the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates - since the dawn of European settlement in the area.

He said this lack of movement for 250 years correlated with the predicted gaps between major earthquakes at the southern end of the fault of between 200 and 300 years.

Elsewhere on the fault, there were average slippage rates up to a couple of centimeters a year that prevented the build-up of explosive pressure deep underground.

When these became blocked and then suddenly broke free they produced tremors or earthquakes of varying intensity depending on the movement that had taken place before and the duration of the blockage.

USGS says the most recent major earthquakes in the northern and central zones of the San Andreas fault were in 1857 and 1906.

Fialko said there were three possible explanations for the lack of observed movement in the southern section

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Pluto's Newest Moons Named Hydra and Nix

By Ker Than
21 June 2006

The International Astronomical Union has officially christened Pluto's two newest moons Nix and Hydra.

The tiny satellites were discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope last May and are believed to have been formed from the same giant impact that carved out Charon, Pluto's larger satellite, discovered in 1978.
The names were proposed this spring by the team that discovered the satellites. Before the satellites received their official names, they were called P1 and P2.

In Greek mythology, Nyx was the goddess of the night and the mother of Charon, the boatsman who ferried souls across the River Styx into the underworld ruled by Pluto. The IAU changed the spelling to "Nix" after the Egyptian spelling of the goddess to avoid confusion with two asteroids that had already been named "Nyx."

The outermost of Pluto's two new satellites is named after Hydra, the nine-headed mythological serpent that guarded Pluto's realm.

"We thought it was an appropriately scary image to be the guard at the gate," said Alan Stern, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Arizona who led the team that initially discovered the satellites

In addition to their relation to Pluto, the names were chosen because their first initials, "N" and "H," are also the first letters of New Horizons, the NASA spacecraft launched in January towards the Pluto system. The Hubble Space Telescope was providing support for the New Horizons mission when it spotted the tiny satellites.

"The 'P' and the 'L' in Pluto are in honor of the Percival Lowell, who instigated the search that resulted in the discovery of Pluto," Stern told SPACE.com. "The 'N' and the 'H' are exactly parallel to honor New Horizons which instigated the search that led us to [the new satellites]."

Stern said that the team also considered the name "Cerberus," the three-headed hound who also guarded the gates to Hades, but rejected it because many people associate Pluto with the Disney cartoon character, and having one object in the system associated with a dog was enough.

The new names were reported yesterday on ScienceNow.com, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A formal announcement will be issued June 23.

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Headless Bodies Discovered Near U.S. Border

Wed Jun 21, 2006

Four decapitated bodies were found Wednesday on an empty lot 15 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, 10News reported.

The bodies were wrapped in blankets and bound with tape.

Three of the dead have been identified as police officers from Rosarito, Mexico. The fourth body is a civilian.

An anonymous caller told police where in Tijuana they could find the victims' heads.

The police officers disappeared Tuesday night after being sent to investigate a kidnapping.

Unconfirmed reports said the fourth victim was a U.S. resident who had been kidnapped.

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UFO Research: Findings vs. Facts

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 22 June 2006
06:01 am ET

For decades now, eyes and sky have met to witness the buzzing of our world by Unidentified Flying Objects, termed UFOs or simply flying saucers. Extraterrestrials have come a long way to purportedly share the friendly skies with us.
For decades now, eyes and sky have met to witness the buzzing of our world by Unidentified Flying Objects, termed UFOs or simply flying saucers. Extraterrestrials have come a long way to purportedly share the friendly skies with us.

UFOs and alien visitors are part of our culture-a far-out phenomenon when judged against those "low life" wonders Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

And after all those years, as the saying goes, UFOs remain a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Why so? For one, the field is fraught with hucksterism. It's also replete with blurry photos and awful video. But then there are also well-intentioned and puzzled witnesses [See Top 10 Alien Encounters Debunked].

Scientifically speaking, are UFOs worth keeping an eye on?

Unusual properties

There have been advances in the field of UFO research, said Ted Roe, Executive Director of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), based in Vallejo, California.

"The capture of optical spectra from mobile, unpredictable luminosities is one of those innovations. More work to be done here but [there are] some good results already."

NARCAP was established in 2000 and is dedicated to the advancement of aviation safety issues as they apply to, what they term Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).

Roe said that a decade from now, researchers should have even better instrumentation at their disposal and better data on UAP of several varieties. His forecast is that scientific rigor will prevail, demonstrating that there are "stable, mobile, unusual, poorly documented phenomena with quite unusual properties manifesting within our atmosphere," he told SPACE.com.

Paradigm shifting

NARCAP has made the case that some of these phenomena have unusual electromagnetic properties. Therefore, they could disrupt microprocessors and adversely effect avionic systems, Roe explained, and that for those reasons and others UAP should be considered a hazard to safe aviation.

"It is likely that either conclusion will fly in the face of the general assertion that UAP are not real and that there are no undocumented phenomena in our atmosphere," Roe continued. That should open the door, he said, to the realization that there's no good reason to discard outright the possibility that extraterrestrial visitation has occurred and may be occurring.

"Physics is leading to new and potentially paradigm shifting understandings about the nature of our universe and its physical properties," Roe said. "These understandings may point the way towards an acceptance of the probability of interstellar travel and communication by spacefaring races."

Sacred cows to the slaughter

As UFO debunker Robert Sheaffer's web site proclaims, he's "skeptical to the max." He is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a well-known writer on the UFO scene.

Being an equal-opportunity debunker, Sheaffer notes that he refutes whatever nonsense, in his judgment, "stands in the greatest need of refuting, no matter from what source it may come, no matter how privileged, esteemed, or sacrosanct ... sacred cows, after all, make the best hamburger."

Sheaffer told SPACE.com, in regards to the cottage industry of UFO promoters, there's a reason there are still so many snake-oil sellers.

"It's because nobody, anywhere, has any actual facts concerning alleged UFOs, just claims. That allows con-men to thrive peddling their yarns," Sheaffer said. "UFO believers are convinced that the existence of UFOs will be revealed 'any day now'. But it's like Charlie Brown and the football: No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away-or the promised 'disclosure' fails to happen-they're dead-certain that the next time will be their moment of glory."

Trash from the past

"I would have to say that we're stuck in neutral," said Kevin Randle, a leading expert and writer on UFOs and is known as a dogged researcher of the phenomena. There's no real new research, he said, and that's "because we have to revisit the trash of the past."

Randle points to yesteryear stories, one stretching back in time to a supposed 1897 airship crash in Aurora, Texas, long proven to be a hoax by two con men-yet continues to surface in UFO circles. 

Then there's the celebrated Thomas Mantell saga, a pilot that lost his life chasing a UFO in 1948. There are those that contend he was killed by a blue beam from a UFO, Randle said "even though we have known for years that the UFO was a balloon and he violated regulations by climbing above 14,000 feet without oxygen equipment. I mean, we know this, and yet there are those who believe that Mantell was killed by aliens."

Randle's advice is to the point: "We need to begin to apply rigorous standards of research ... stop accepting what we wish to believe even when the evidence is poor, and begin thinking ahead."

Paucity of physical evidence

"I've no doubt that UFOs are here to stay," said Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. "I'm just not convinced that alien craft are here to stay ... or for that matter, even here for brief visits.

"First, despite a torrent of sightings for more than a half-century, I can't think of a single, major science museum that has alien artifacts on display," Shostak said. "Contrast this paucity of physical evidence with what the American Indians could have shown you fifty years after Christopher Columbus first violated their sea-space. They could have shown you all sorts of stuff-including lots of smallpox-infested brethren-as proof that they were being 'visited,'" he said.

When it comes to extraterrestrial visitors in the 21st century, the evidence is anecdotal, ambiguous, or, in some cases, artifice, Shostak suggested.
Calling it "argument from ignorance", Shostak pointed to the claim that aliens must have careened out of control above the New Mexico desert simply because some classified government documents sport a bunch of blacked-out text. "How does the latter prove the former?"

Sure, the missing verbiage is consistent with a government cover-up of an alien crash landing, Shostak said. "But it's also consistent with an infinitude of other scenarios...not all of them involving sloppy alien pilots," he added.

Shostak said that it is not impossible that we could be visited. It doesn't violate physics to travel between the stars, although that's not easy to do.

"But really, if you're going to claim-or for that matter, believe-that extraterrestrials are strafing the cities, or occasionally assaulting the neighbors with an aggression inappropriate for a first date, then I urge you to find evidence that leaves little doubt among the professionally skeptical community known as the world of science."

Residue of sightings

Why is there precious little to show that world of science that UFOs merit attention?

"Obviously there is not a simple answer, but part of it is reluctance of the scientific community to support such research," explained Bruce Maccabee, regarded as a meticulous researcher and an optical physicist using those talents to study photographs and video of unexplained phenomena.

Why this reluctance? 

"In my humble opinion it is largely a result of 'tradition'...tradition set by the U.S. Air Force in the early years when they publicly stated that everything was under control, they were investigating...and finding nothing that couldn't be explained," Maccabee said.  

Nevertheless, Maccabee observed, work on the phenomenon will carry on.

"UFO studies will continue until all the old cases have either been explained or admitted to being unexplainable-meaning a residue of sightings that could be ET related-and/or until people stop seeing unexplainable UFO-like events throughout the world," Maccabee concluded.

Comment: For an in-depth and scrupulously researched account of what the US government really thinks about UFOs, see Richard Dolan's landmark study UFOs and the National Security State.

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Heat Bursts Occur Across South-Central Nebraska

June 20, 2006

Heat bursts are caused by decaying thunderstorms and only develop in an extremely unique environment. The rare setup for a heat burst is dry air directly beneath a weakening elevated thunderstorm. When a thunderstorm is weakening air within the thunderstorm begins to sink. If this sinking air is very dry and high enough it will begin to accelerate toward the ground since it is more dense. Any remaining precipitation will fall through this dry air and quickly evaporate. As the air continues downward, it warms rapidly due to compression.

A heat burst is noted by a rapid increase in temperature, a drop in the dew point temperature and an increase in winds. [...]

The greatest temperature change was at Kearney, where readings went from 70 degrees to 93 degrees between 4 and 5 am. The highest wind gust was 52 mph at both the Hastings and Kearney airports.

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Ancient grains going into modern diet

Associated Press
Wed Jun 21, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. - Amid the aisles of spaghetti and canned peas, cereals and breads made with mysterious-sounding grains like amaranth and quinoa are sprouting up at major supermarkets.

Wheat is still king of this country's whole grains, but the appearance of such alternatives indicates consumers are beginning to expand a niche market once relegated to the obscure corners of health food stores.

"People are realizing there's a benefit to eating a diversity of grains - and these grains have some incredible nutritional properties," said Carole Fenster, an author of numerous cookbooks that incorporate wheat-free grains.
New federal guidelines recommending three servings of whole grains a day have put a spotlight on wheat, but exposure to barley, brown rice and other options has also grown, said Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the nutrition committee at the
American Heart Association.

According to the marketing information company ACNielsen, sales of products with whole grain claims on their packages for the year ending April 22 increased 9.5 percent from the previous year.

NuWorld Amaranth, one of the country's main buyers of amaranth, reported a 300 percent increase in sales in the past three years. Bob's Red Mill, which sells alternative wheat-free grains, saw a 25 percent increase in sales in the past year, with quinoa driving the bulk of the growth.

Amaranth, grown for millennia by the Aztecs, has twice as much iron as wheat and is higher in protein and fiber. Quinoa, an ancient Andean crop, has less fiber but more protein and iron than wheat.

It may take some time for the unfamiliar grains to find broad acceptance. The American palate is still adjusting to whole wheat, and amaranth's distinct, slightly nutty taste could take some getting used to.

One reason for the fledgling demand is a growing awareness of celiac disease, which is triggered by gluten, the protein found in wheat. Symptoms range from severe cramping to chronic fatigue and even organ disorders. The condition is believed to affect about 2 million Americans, with others sensitive to the protein.

There is also a growing crossover market of health-conscious shoppers in search of the most nutritious grains, said Diane Walters, spokeswoman for NuWorld.

ConAgra Mills is working with farmers to expand the supply of sustagrain, a type of barley with a 30 percent fiber content, said Don Brown, vice president of business development at the company.

While products made entirely of amaranth and quinoa may not hit the mainstream anytime soon, the demand for such grains as ingredients will likely get a boost as multigrain products proliferate, said Robert Myers, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, a research center in Columbus, Mo.

"Once they get past corn, wheat and oats, they'll eventually get around to picking up grains like amaranth," he said.

Alternative grains also benefit from the popularity of organic goods, Fenster said - Whole Foods even has a line of bakery goods devoted to gluten-free diets.

"As people go into those stores, they can't help but notice those products," she said.

Supply of some alternative grains is still limited, however. Estimates of U.S. farmland devoted to amaranth, for example, range from 1,000 acres to 3,000 acres - compared with 50 million acres for wheat, according to the Thomas Jefferson Institute.

But the supply of white wheat in the country was also limited until Sara Lee recently launched its white wheat bread, said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition at the Whole Grains Council. To ensure adequate supply, ConAgra began contracting with farmers about five years before the product launch.

The same thing could happen for other grains that are easy and inexpensive to grow, Myers said.

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Beagle to be awarded for saving owner

Mon Jun 19, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. - A 17-pound beagle named Belle is more than man's best friend. She's a lifesaver. Belle was in Washington, D.C., on Monday to receive an award for biting onto owner Kevin Weaver's cell phone to call 911 after the diabetic Ocoee man had a seizure and collapsed.

"There is no doubt in my mind that I'd be dead if I didn't have Belle," said Weaver, 34, whose blood sugar had dropped dangerously low. Belle had been trained to summon help in just those circumstances.
She was the first canine recipient to win the VITA Wireless Samaritan Award, given to someone who used a cell phone to save a life, prevent a crime or help in an emergency, the Orlando Sentinel reported Monday.

Weaver first heard about service dogs while he was working as a flight attendant after befriending a frequent passenger who taught dogs to help diabetic patients. Using their keen sense of smell, the animals can detect abnormalities in a person's blood-sugar levels.

The dog periodically licks Weaver's nose to take her own reading of his blood-sugar level. If something seems off to her, she will paw and whine at him.

"Every time she paws at me like that I grab my meter and test myself," Weaver said. "She's never been wrong."

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A Cabal Of Psychos

World Powers Join US In Seeking Prompt Iran Answer

June 21, 2006

Washington - World powers joined US President George W. Bush on Wednesday in pressing Iran to respond within weeks rather than months as proposed by Tehran to a call to end its controversial nuclear research. The new round of diplomatic jostling came after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said for the first time Wednesday that Tehran would respond to the international plan on the nuclear row within two months.
"We will study the offer and, God willing, will give our opinion at the end of the Mordad," Ahmadinejad said in a speech, referring to the Iranian month that ends on August 22.

The statement prompted immediate telephone consultations between the foreign ministries of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States - the UN Security Council permanent members - plus Germany over a unified stance to the delay.

Bush reacted first by saying after an EU-US summit in Vienna that Iran was dragging its feet over a "reasonable deal" and that global powers believed an answer should come within weeks."

"It seems like an awful long time for a reasonable proposal," Bush told a press conference after the talks.

"It shouldn't take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable deal," Bush said. "I said weeks, not months, and I believe that is the view of our partners."

Washington and the European Union further warned in a joint statement that the issue could again return to the UN Security Council - despite Iranian objections - should Tehran fail to join direct talks.

"We have agreed that if Iran does not engage in negotiations, further steps would be taken in the Security Council," the EU-US joint statement said. "We urge Iran to take this positive path."

Meanwhile Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said in his capacity as EU president that "time is limited. We should not play with time."

Diplomats say Iran was originally asked to reply by June 29.

The offer, presented to Iran on June 6, involves incentives and multilateral talks if Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment - at the center of fears it could acquire nuclear weapons - and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But Iran has so far only said it wants fresh negotiations without preconditions, indicating it will not stop enriching uranium.

A joint stance on Iran remains critical amid earlier refusal by Russia and China - who both have strong trade and military ties with Tehran - to use either economic sanctions or force to prompt Iran to halt nuclear research.

The US State Department said the six foreign ministers agreed in phone talks that Iran must accept the "very good offer" quickly because patience from the global powers "isn't unlimited."

"They discussed this latest development," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said of the six foreign ministry officials. "They all agreed that the P5-plus-Germany has made a very good offer to Iran, and we all urge Iran to accept that proposal."

Ereli said the six foreign ministry officials "reiterated the common view that we said on June 1, we expect a response within weeks, not months. And that was reaffirmed today in the call."

He said world powers expected Iran to respond through European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, who originally made the international offer to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

"We look forward to hearing back from Larijani to Solana, in weeks, not months, about our response," he said.

"Now is the time for Iran to accept this offer. It's not - our patience isn't unlimited," Ereli said.

Iran replied by telling Bush not to rush it into providing an answer to the offer by major world powers over its uranium enrichment programme.

"President Bush cannot and must not be in a rush," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on a visit to Rome.

"When (European Union foreign policy chief) Javier Solana gave us his suggestions on June 6 no time limit was set", he told Italian television.

Iran Still Undecided On Nuclear Offer

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Tuesday said Tehran had yet to make up its mind over a deal offered by Western governments aimed at defusing the standoff over its nuclear program.

"It is not decided yet," Mottaki told reporters on the sidelines of a pan-Islamic conference in the capital of Azerbaijan, as US President George W. Bush upped the pressure on the Islamic republic ahead of a US-European Union summit.

Mottaki said Iran still had "doubts" over a carrot-and-stick plan to coax Iran into negotiations over its nuclear program, which the United States and Europe fear could be hiding atomic weapons development.

"I can't say for the time being when the answer will be finalized. There can be some questions and doubts which should be clarified," he said, speaking in English.

The United States and its partners - Britain, France, Germany, as well as Russia and China - have made Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities a condition for talks on Tehran's atomic program.

So far Tehran has indicated it rejects that pre-condition.

International negotiators have set a June 29 deadline for Iran to respond but Mottaki said Iran was "working on the proposal of the six countries" and denied there was any time limit.

"When this package was offered no deadline was given for our answer."

Bush leaves Tuesday for a US-EU summit in Vienna that will examine, among other issues, the package offer to Iran.

On Monday, he warned of "progressively stronger political and economic sanctions" if it refuses to freeze sensitive nuclear activities in return for talks.

Mottaki called Bush's comments a "threat" and "unacceptable."

"It's as though some have forgotten that the time of threats is over. Threats are unacceptable in today's world," he said, adding that "the political rights of Iran must be respected."

With Iran suggesting that it will soon unveil its own proposal for ending the crisis over its atomic programs, Bush signalled that the suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing was not negotiable.

"If Iran's leaders want peace, and prosperity, and a more hopeful future for their people, they should accept our offer, abandon any ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, and come into compliance with their international obligations," Bush said in a speech to the graduating class at the US Merchant Marine Academy in King's Point, New York.

Mottaki is due to visit Italy on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Massimo D'Alema, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Mottaki also attacked what Tehran perceives as Western-sponsored ethnic unrest in Iran after members of the ethnic-Azeri minority in the country rioted in May in protest over the publication of an offensive cartoon in an Iranian newspaper.

"Any plan to make divisions among Iranian people was always defeated," Mottaki said, adding: "We do not let a third party to interfere in our relationship."

Mottaki said all of Iran's minorities had a place in its society.

"Iranian, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Baluchistani, Kurdish: All have important roles in running the country," he added.

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EU, US leaders meet on trade, energy, Iran

www.chinaview.cn 2006-06-22 08:24:18

VIENNA, June 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President George W. Bush started talks with leaders of the European Union (EU) here on Wednesday, which will focus on energy security, trade, Iran and other bilateral and global issues.

The one-day summit began with a half-hour meeting between Bush and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
They will be joined later by European Commission President Jose Barroso and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana for another 15-minute session. The meeting took place in the Hofburg conference center, a former royal palace in downtown Vienna.

Outside the conference center, a group of demonstrators decked out in football kits with the words "U.S." and "EU" on their back protested against unfair global trade which they said should be mainly blamed on Western countries.

Four people, wearing headgear resembling giant puppets of Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkeland French President Jacques Chirac, were given a yellow card by a "referee" from Oxfam, an international agency aiming to eliminate poverty and injustice worldwide.

"The Doha round of trade talks has been put in jeopardy because the EU and the U.S. do not want to make concessions in farm subsidies and other areas," said Louis Belanger, spokesman for Oxfam in Europe.

"We gave them a yellow card this time and if they do not act we will give them another next week in Geneva," he said, referring to the meeting of ministers from some key countries in Switzerland next week on how to advance the WTO negotiations.

The world trade talks are on Wednesday's agenda as Brussels and Washington are trying to seek more concessions -- mainly on farm subsidies and agricultural market access -- from the other side. Members of the World Trade Organization are struggling to meet a year-end deadline for completion of the current round of trade talks.

Iran's nuclear program, the Middle East, climate change and energy security will also feature prominently at the annual trans-Atlantic meeting.

The EU will also urge Washington to take measures on its detention center in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of people are held without charge or access to a lawyer for years. Brussels sees the prison as a source of major human rights violations and has repeatedly called for its closure.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik will sign an agreement on the renewal of the cooperation program in high school and professional education.

The program seeks to encourage U.S. and European students to study at the other side of the Atlantic by organizing various exchange projects.

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Specter to grill officials on Bush ignoring laws

By Andy Sullivan
Wed Jun 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will have to explain why it thinks it can ignore or overrule laws passed by Congress in a hearing next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on Wednesday.

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he hoped to force the Bush administration to reduce its use of "signing statements" -- memos that reserve the right to ignore laws if the president thinks they impinge on his authority.

"Our legislation doesn't amount to anything if the president can say, 'My constitutional authority supersedes the statute.' And I think we've got to lay down the gauntlet and challenge him on it," Specter said in a telephone interview.
A Justice Department official is scheduled to testify at a hearing on signing statements next Tuesday, Specter said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had lunch with Specter on Wednesday, will face questions about the presidential memos when he appears before the committee on July 18 to discuss the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.

Bush has signed at least 750 such memos since taking office in 2001, according to the Boston Globe, more than previous presidential administrations combined.

Bush has used signing statements to signal that he might bypass a ban on the torture of U.S.-held prisoners and ignore new provisions in an anti-terrorism law that call for increased congressional oversight.

Specter said the heavy use of signing statements fits in with a larger pattern of overreaching by the Bush administration, from the NSA's surveillance program to a first-ever raid on a congressman's office as part of a bribery probe.

Trying to legislate against signing statements probably would not work, Specter said, but there might be other ways to force the administration to curb their use.

"Maybe we can find some pressure point on the budget or appropriations or confirmations or something of that sort," he said. "I'm thinking about all the alternatives."

A White House official said signing statements help the public understand how a given law will be enforced and can provide guidance to courts as they interpret it.

"They are used appropriately and the content is consistent with that of past presidents," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Specter has clashed with the White House in recent months about the spying program and recently accused Vice President
Dick Cheney of meddling in his committee's affairs.

Specter has been trying to reach a compromise with Cheney and other officials on legislation that would allow a special court to review the surveillance program.

"We've made some progress on it but I'm not prepared to give you the details," he said. "This is a major matter for them that they have not yet finished."

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N.Korea talks bid nixed; Japan sends ships

Associated Press
June 22, 2006

SEOUL, South Korea -
North Korea called Wednesday for direct talks with the United States over a potential missile test, but the Bush administration rejected the overture, saying threats aren't the way to seek dialogue.

"You don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles," U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said. "It's not a way to produce a conversation because if you acquiesce in aberrant behavior you simply encourage the repetition of it, which we're obviously not going to do."

Meanwhile, Japan said Thursday it had deployed naval ships and patrol planes to monitor developments in North Korea as the country apparently prepares to test a long-range missile believed capable of reaching the United States.
President Bush, meeting with European leaders in Austria, said North Korea faced further isolation if it went ahead with any launch.

"It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear warheads, fire missiles," he said. "This is not the way you conduct business in the world."

Earlier Wednesday, Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, said Pyongyang was seeking to resolve the missile test concerns through direct talks with the United States.

"North Korea as a sovereign state has the right to develop, deploy, test fire and export a missile," he told
South Korea's Yonhap news agency. "We are aware of the U.S. concerns about our missile test-launch. So our position is that we should resolve the issue through negotiations."

Pyongyang has consistently pressed for direct dialogue with the United States, while Washington insists it will only speak to the North at six-nation nuclear talks. The North has refused to return to the nuclear talks since November, in anger over a U.S. crackdown on the country's alleged illicit financial activity.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli reiterated the U.S. position Wednesday, saying direct talks with North Korea are "not in the cards."

"The issue of North Korea's nuclear program is not a U.S.-North Korea issue. It is an issue that concerns the entire region," he told reporters in Washington.

"If North Korea wants to talk to the United States about its missile-launch programs or its nuclear program or about security and stability on the peninsula in general, then we should do it through the six-party process," Ereli said. "It's a multilateral approach which provides for, within it, bilateral engagement."

The missile crisis led former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to cancel a trip next week to the North that could have offered a rare chance for talks. In addition, South Korea said a missile test could affect Seoul's humanitarian aid to Pyongyang.

Washington was weighing responses to a potential test that could include attempting to shoot down the missile, U.S. officials have said.

Bolton said he was continuing discussions with U.N. Security Council members on possible action, and had met with Russia's U.N. ambassador.

"Obviously the priority remains trying to persuade North Korea not to conduct the launch," Bolton said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

After North Korea surprised the world in 1998 by firing a missile that flew over Japan into the Pacific, the Security Council issued a press statement - its mildest comment. But Bolton said there would be stronger council reaction this time.

"There's no question about it," Bolton said. "We're seeing broad support for something stronger but we don't want to be in a position where we're predicting the future or doing anything other than making it clear we don't think the launch ought to take place."

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Scheiffer said the United States has means of responding to a North Korean missile test that it didn't have in 1998, and is considering "all options."

In comments published Wednesday, North Korea said its self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range missiles no longer applies because it's not in direct dialogue with Washington, suggesting it would hold off on any launch if Washington agreed to new talks.

North Korea imposed its missile moratorium in 1999 amid friendlier relations with the U.S. during the Clinton administration. During a 2002 summit with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed an agreement to extend the moratorium until at least 2003 - and reaffirmed the launch ban at another summit in 2004.

Charles Kartman, a State Department Asia expert during the Clinton administration, said that the United States failed to follow up on talks that secured an agreement with North Korea to suspend its long-range missile tests.

Kartman, who represented the United States in talks with North Korea in the late 1990s, said the Bush administration had little interest in dealing directly with Pyongyang.

"I never understood why they didn't pick up that negotiation," he said Wednesday. "This moratorium was not intended to be the final deal."

Intelligence reports say the North is possibly fueling a Taepodong-2 missile with a range experts estimate could be up to 9,300 miles.

There are diverging expert opinions on whether fueling would mean a launch was imminent - due to the highly corrosive nature of the fuel - or whether the North could wait a month or more.

Victoria Samson, a research analyst with the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said that if the missile were loaded, it would probably have to be fired "within days."

"That sort of fuel combination ... starts eating away at the missile," she said.

The key question is, however, whether it was indeed loaded or whether the North Koreans just wanted to make it appear that way for the benefit of satellites.

North Korea claims it has nuclear weapons, but isn't believed to have a design that would be small and light enough to top a missile.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told opposition lawmakers Wednesday a missile test could affect Seoul's humanitarian aid to the North.

"If North Korea test fires a missile, it might have an impact on aid of rice and fertilizer to North Korea," Lee said, according to his spokesman Yang Chang-seok.

South Korea has shipped 150,000 tons of fertilizer this year and had planned to send 200,000 tons more. Pyongyang has asked for 500,000 tons of rice this year, but Seoul has yet to agree.

The European Union appealed Wednesday to the North to cancel any plans for a launch.

"We must say that what they are trying to do ... will have consequences," EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana said on the sidelines of the European meeting with Bush.

Comment: Threats aren't the way to seek dialogue... Well, Bolton and the other members of the Bush administration certainly would know!

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Big Surprises At Bilderberg

By James P. Tucker Jr.
Issue #26, June 26, 2006
American Free Press

Bilderberg expects interest rates to rise and many Americans to lose their homes in the months ahead. Meanwhile, they hope they can pressure President Bush to refrain from an all-out invasion of Iran while maintaining oil prices at their current record-high levels of about $70 a barrel.
Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, predicted rising interest rates and difficulties for families that have obtained adjustable rate mortgages, or "variable" interest rates. Many are likely to lose their homes as rising home mortgage rates add hundreds of dollars to their monthly payments, he said. While most listened solemnly and some expressed concern, one was heard to say, "stupid Americans deserve their fate."

Many Americans, especially young families, have been buying expensive homes at low but "variable" interest rates. Others have been paying just the interest owed on their homes and not the principal. They are the most vulnerable, Geithner said. Some have paid little or nothing down. Some institutions "lend" buyers the down payment.

When home construction peaks and prices start downward, many will find they owe more on their home than it is worth in the marketplace. They will also find their mortgage-even "interest-only" payments-are unaffordable. The banks will get the homes back and sell them again.

Again, the term "stupid Americans" was heard among clucks of sympathy or silent indifference. According to one source, no concern was expressed by Allan Hubbard, assistant to President Bush for economic policy.

European Bilderbergers said they would have no part in an invasion of Iran, something Bush says is an "option on the table." Although NATO is helping by adding 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, expect no help if Iran is invaded, they said. "We will not help you fight a war for Israel," one said.

Several noted that Israel has had nuclear weapons since at least 1963 and has never signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, so no international inspections are conducted. It was the late George Ball, a charter member of Bilderberg who was No. 2 man in the State Department under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who first revealed that Israel has nuclear weapons.

"Is it not reasonable that Iran would need such a deterrence against Israel?" an unidentified Bilderberger was heard saying. "If you invade Iran, Israel is your only ally and good luck." One suggested that "surgical strikes"-but no land invasion-may be tolerated but others said they would be ineffective.

Listeners to this dialogue included Eival Gildy of Israel, head of "coordination and strategy in the office of the prime minister," and Ziad Abu Amr, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, president of the Palestinian Council on Foreign Relations and professor of political science at Birzeit University. Ahmad Chalabi, former deputy prime minister of Iraq and one of the key sources of disinformation about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, was also present.

William Luti, special assistant to Bush for defense policy, and Richard Perle, former high Defense Department official and still a close adviser to Bush, responded that the United States is simply trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and make the world "safe." But, said one European: "How 'safe' do you think the world will be if you invade Iran and Iran responds by firing missiles on your ally, Israel? Israel will nuke Iran in response and you will have your 'proliferation.'"

Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, said it would be necessary to keep the invasion "option" to pressure Iran into agreeing to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

"You're wrong," the European answered. "Iran simply refuses to be bullied by the United States. Save us a lot of trouble and forget about invading Iran." The Americans remained silent.

Bilderberg's mood was described as "uneasy" when it came to the issue of oil, a discussion followed closely by such oil-rich participants as banker David Rockefeller, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Franco Bernabe, vice chairman of Rothschild Europe.

The "Latin American problem" mixed the issue of oil with Bilderberg's scheme to expand NAFTA throughout the Western Hemisphere and have it evolve into an "American Union" patterned after the European Union. Hugo Chavez, head of Venezuela, is not only raising taxes on the extraction of oil from his country, he is trying to establish a trade coalition with neighboring nations that would block the expansion of NAFTA by creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Bilderberg's consensus seemed to be to not force higher oil prices at the moment, but be content with the immense profits enjoyed now.

Chavez's barrier to NAFTA expansion leaves them moody because establishing an "American Union" is a critical step toward Bilderberg's goal of establishing the United Nations as a world government.

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"Orange" parties sign Ukraine coalition deal

June 22, 2006 - 1:37 PM
By Ron Popeski

KIEV (Reuters) - Parties backing the "Orange Revolution" agreed on Thursday to form a coalition government to keep the pro-Western administration on course for bringing Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and into the European mainstream.

Yulia Tymoshenko, due to be reinstated as prime minister after three months of divisive negotiations, immediately served notice she would defend national interests. She called for a review of a deal sharply increasing the price of Russian gas.
The deputy chief executive of Russian gas giant Gazprom, which is seeking new price increases, responded in kind, telling a magazine in Germany that Ukraine was taking gas illegally and this could lead to supply shortages in Western Europe.

Tymoshenko, whose glamour and passion fired protesters during the 2004 mass upheavals, was sacked as premier eight months ago by President Viktor Yushchenko. He has since repeatedly accused her of pursuing personal ambitions.

Addressing the chamber, she pledged judicial reform to eliminate corruption still rampant in the ex-Soviet state.

"Today we begin our fight to make our country democratic and free of corruption," Tymoshenko said, breaking the news of the deal bringing together Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, her own bloc and the Socialist Party.

Business magnates, she said, would no longer escape the law.

"The first reform we will conduct will be judicial to enable us to say that it is not the mafia who decides what is right or wrong or who gets a factory for nothing," she said. "This will be decided by the law, by legal procedures."

Speaking to reporters during a later break, she called for a review on all gas deals with giant neighbour Russia.

"I think all issues on gas supplies to Ukraine now require further deep revision and review," Tymoshenko said.


Accused throughout her first term in office of impulsive actions that frightened investors, Tymoshenko pledged her economic policies would be "reasonable and predictable".

Tymoshenko was likely to be presented as the coalition's choice for premier next week.

Parliament adjourned until Tuesday.

Yushchenko simply noted that the coalition was now formed and called for patience in assessing it. "For the first time in 15 years, we have the test of forming a workable majority," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted him as saying outside Kiev.

The accord, clinched nearly three months after an election, ended weeks of talks which all but shut down the assembly.

In Brussels, European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped the coalition would secure approval of laws to enable Ukraine to join the World Trade Organisation -- one of Yushchenko's unfulfilled policy goals. That would pave the way for talks on a free trade agreement.

The EU backed the Revolution and gave Kiev "market economy" status last December, making it easier to trade with the EU.

Parties behind the revolution that brought Yushchenko to power had been at odds since the president, committed to nudging Ukraine towards EU and NATO membership, fired Tymoshenko less than eight months into her mandate as premier.

The opposition said the new government was doomed to fail, with the traditional split between the nationalist west and Russian-speaking east of the country bound to widen.

Under new constitutional rules, the president has ceded many powers to parliament, which was required to form a majority within a 30-day deadline expiring this week. The chamber chooses the premier and has 30 more days to produce a cabinet line-up.

The three parties won 243 of 450 assembly seats, though only 239 were registered in the coalition.

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Yahweh's Stormtroopers

Gaza: IDF misses - sister, brother killed

Ali Waked
June 21, 2006

An Israeli Air Force strike targeting terrorists in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening killed two people and wounded eight more, members of a family who were eating dinner in their home. In addition, eight people suffered from shock.

Moments after the strike, Defense Minister Amir Peretz took the podium at the Caesarea Conference in Jerusalem, and during his speech he was informed of the tragic incident. Holding his head, Peretz continued his speech but noted, "I am in difficult times. Regretfully the report is about innocents paying a heavy price in this difficult conflict," he told the audience.
According to Palestinian reports, an IAF aircraft fired a missile towards a car driving through the city, but it missed the vehicle and struck a building.

The victims were Fatma Ahmad, 35, and her brother Zakariya Ahmad, 46. Fatma was declared dead on the scene, and Ahmad died shortly afterwards in hospital from the fatal wounds he suffering in the strike. The wounded, members of a family who had sat down to dinner in their home when the missile struck, were identified as Abed al-Kader Ahmad, his wife, mother and three children - two of them less than five years old.

Security officials said the air strike targeted a Popular Resistance Committee terror cell. Palestinian sources, however, said it appeared the missile was aiming at a Magnum van in which Muhammed Sinuar, a commander of the Hamas military wing in south Gaza, was driving.

Hamas has not confirmed the report. Following the strike, all the Palestinian factions threatened to escalate attacks against Israel.

More innocent victims

On Tuesday three Palestinian children - 6-year-old Muhammad Roka, his 5-year-old sister Nida and 16-year-old Bilal al-Hizi, were killed Tuesday evening as the Israel Air Force attempted to assassinate a group belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, the al-Shifa Hospital Director Dr. Jumaa al-Saka told Ynet.

The Israel Defense Forces expressed its regret "if civilians not involved in terror activities were hurt in the operation," adding that "responsibility lays on the terror organizations and on the Hamas government."

Another 15 people were wounded in the strike, including two group activists who were in the car and sustained serious wounds.

Comment: How long must the killing continue before someone in the international community has the courage to say something? Israeli politicians are out of control, and need to be anesthetized.

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A Week of Israeli Restraint*

Tanya Reinhart
Yediot Aharonot Saturday Supplement, June 16, 2006
Translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall (Footnotes added)

In Israeli discourse, Israel is always the side exercising restraint in its conflict with the Palestinians. This was true again for the events of the past week: As the Qassam rockets were falling on the Southern Israeli town of Sderot, it was "leaked" that the Israeli Minister of Defense had directed the army to show restraint.1
During the week of Israeli restraint, the army killed a Palestinian family who went on a picnic on the Beit Lahya beach in the Gaza Strip; after that, the army killed nine people in order to liquidate a Katyusha rocket. But in the discourse of restraint, the first killing does not count, because the army denied its involvement, and the second was deemed a necessary act of self-defense. After all, Israel is caught in the midst of Qassam attacks, and must defend its citizens. In this narrative, the fact that Israel is content merely to bombard the Gaza Strip from air, sea and land is a model of restraint and humanity that not many states could match.

But what is driving the Qassam attacks on Israel? For 17 months, since it declared a cease fire, Hamas has not been involved in firing Qassams. The other organizations have generally succeeded in launching only a few isolated Qassams. How did this evolve into an attack of something like 70 Qassams in three days?

The Israeli army has a long tradition of "inviting" salvoes of Qassams. In April of last year, Sharon took off to a meeting with Bush in which his central message was that Abbas is not to be trusted, has no control of the ground, and cannot be a partner for negotiations. The army took care to provide an appropriate backdrop for the meeting. On the eve of Sharon's departure, on 9 April 2005, the Israeli army killed three youths on the Rafah border, who according to Palestinian sources were playing soccer there. This arbitrary killing inflamed a wave of anger in the Gaza Strip, which had been relatively quiet until then. Hamas responded to the anger on the street, and permitted its people to participate in the firing of Qassams. On the following two days, about 80 Qassams were fired, until Hamas restored calm. Thus, during the Sharon-Bush meeting, the world received a perfect illustration of the untrustworthiness of Abbas.2

At the beginning of last week (11 June), Olmert set out on a campaign of persuasion in Europe to convince European leaders that now, with Hamas in power, Israel definitely has no partner. The USA does not appear to need any convincing at the moment, but in Europe there is more reservation about unilateral measures. The Israeli army began to prepare the backdrop on the night of the previous Thursday (8 June 2006), when it "liquidated" Jamal Abu Samhanada, who had recently been appointed head of the security forces of the Interior Ministry by the Hamas government. It was entirely predictable that the action may lead to Qassam attacks on Sderot. Nevertheless, the army proceeded the following day to shell the Gaza coast (killing the Ghalya family and wounding tens of people), and succeeded in igniting the required conflagration, until Hamas again ordered its people, on 14 June, to cease firing.

This time, the show orchestrated by the army got a bit messed up. Pictures of the child Huda Ghalya succeeded in breaching the wall of Western indifference to Palestinian suffering. Even if Israel still has enough power to force Kofi Annan to apologize for casting doubt on Israel's denial, the message that Hamas is the aggressive side in the conflict did not go unchallenged in the world this time. But the army has not given up. It appears determined to continue to provoke attacks that would justify bringing down the Hamas government by force, with Sderot paying the price.

Even though it is impossible to compare the sufferings of the residents of Sderot with the sufferings of the residents of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya in the North of the Gaza Strip, on which 5,000 shells fell in the past month alone3, my heart also goes out to the residents of Sderot. It is their destiny to live in fear and agony, because in the eyes of the army their suffering is necessary so that the world may understand that Israel is the restrained side in a war for its very existence.


* This op-ed went to press an hour before the Israeli air force killed three more children in a crowded street in North Gaza, on Tuesday, June 20.

1. On Monday, June 12, the headlines announced that the Defence Minister Peretz blocked an initiative of the army to launch a massive land offensive in Gaza (e.g. Amos Har'el and Avi Issacharoff, Ha'aretz, June 12, 2006). In the inside pages of the weekend papers, it turned out that this was a "media spin" produced by Peretz bureau "based on a security consultation held the previous night" (Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Lost innocents, Ha'aretz, June 16-17, 2006).

2. This sequence of events is documented in detail in my book The Road Map to Nowhere, to appear in July, 2006 (Verso).

3. Alex Fishman, Senior security analyst of Yediot Aharonot reports that at the beginning "the artillery shelling of the Gaza strip was debated", but then, "what started ten months ago with dozens of shells a month that were fired at open areas today reached astronomical numbers of shells. The battery that fired the six shells on Friday [June 9] fire an average of more than a thousand shells a week towards the north of the Strip. This means that the battery which has been placed there for four weeks has already fired about 5000 (!) shells".

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Sephardim? Not in this neighborhood

Haim Levinson

Reception committee at ultra-Orthodox town decides to ban additional families of Middle Eastern descent from entering some of its streets, buildings in order to 'maintain community's high spiritual level'
Meet Rav and Shmuel Street in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Sefer in central Israel: A corner street, a great view, and lots of children with side curls playing around. But there is something else this street has: It is the only street in Israel where Jews of Middle Eastern descent are not allowed to move to.

The Brachfeld neighborhood's reception committee decided to ban additional Sephardic families from entering streets and buildings in which 35 percent of the tenants are Sephardic.

In order to live in the Barchfeld neighborhood, yeshiva student's prestigious neighborhood, one must be inspected by the neighborhood's reception committee. In addition, the children of people who sell or buy an apartment without the committee's approval will not be able to register to the local school.

The candidates who arrive at the committee are required to meet demands of modesty, personality, religious background, and more. Television is obviously prohibited and internet is considered serious obstacle in the eyes of the committee. In addition, the apartment can only be sold with an approval of the reception committee.

The reception committee is aimed at "maintaining a high spiritual level at the community" and preventing unwanted ultra-Orthodox elements from infiltrating the place.

The reception committee recently decided that there are too many residents of Middle Eastern descent in some of Brachfeld's streets and buildings. Therefore, Sephardic Jews wishing to live in the town cannot live on Rav and Shmuel Street and are directed to other streets.

'It's not that we are racist'

In the other streets, however, they also encounter difficulties, as there are buildings there in which 35 percent of the tenants are already Sephardic and are thus closed to additional Sephardim.

"The rate of people becoming newly religious is higher among the Sephardim, and the spiritual risk in letting such families enter the neighborhood is higher," a top go-getter at Kiryat Sefer said.

"It's not that we are racist, but we worry for our children's future. This scattering is also in favor of the Spehardim," he added.

It should be mentioned that newly religious Jews of East European or Western origin are considered problematic by the ultra-Orthodox community as they sometimes bring with them behaviors from their secular past, such as watching television.

"I am trying to sell my apartment, and if a Sephardic client comes along, I'll have a problem because I'll be surpassing the percentage in my building," one of Brachfeld's residents said.

"It's an economic issue. People don't want Sephardim to live in the neighborhood, because then Ashkenazim will not buy apartments and the value of the apartments will decrease," the resident added.

The Kiryat Sefer Council said in response: "The council does not populate and market apartments but only provides its residents with services. The marketing and populating activities are performed by private elements. The council has nothing to do, and never had anything to do, with the different populating committees."

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Olmert, Abbas hold informal meeting in Jordan

www.chinaview.cn 2006-06-22 16:24:49

PETRA, Jordan, June 22 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jordan's Petra Thursday at a breakfast hosted by Jordanian King Abdullah II.

The Olmert-Abbas meeting was the first time since Olmert took office in January.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency,told reporters that Thursday's meeting between Abbas and Olmert "is a protocol meeting".

The two leaders were not supposed to have any official talks at the breakfast, officials concerned said, adding that a formal meeting between them was expected to be held in the coming two weeks.

A much-delayed formal meeting "supposedly will be in the coming two weeks, but the place has not been decided yet," Abu Rudeina said.

King Abdullah hosted the breakfast on Thursday at a five-star hotel in Petra, on the sidelines of a forum attended by 25 Nobel laureates and some 30 international figures.

A conference gathering Nobel Prize winners opened in Jordan's southern ancient city of Petra on Wednesday with pressing world and regional issues to discussed.

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PM Olmert's 20.6.06 Speech at the 35th Zionist Congress

Israel Government Press Office 20 June, 2006

Today, the State of Israel is already closer to being the place in which the majority of Jews in the world live. I would like this fact to be determined solely by an increasing stream of Aliyah, but unfortunately, this is not to be at this time. Demographics point to processes of shrinking Jewish communities in the Diaspora due to low birth rates, assimilation, mixed marriages or unintentional alienation from their Jewish identity.

This fact intensifies the responsibility for the future of the Jewish people on the State of Israel and the world Zionist movement. The first lesson is that the State of Israel must forever contain a solid and guaranteed Jewish majority.

It is our duty to prevent any danger of losing this Jewish majority or creating an inseparable bi-national reality in the Land of Israel. We aspire to reach a peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, based on division of the land and "two countries for two peoples".
Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, my friend
Ze'ev Bielsky,
President of the 35th Congress, MK Yoel Hasson,
Ms. Marilyn Post,
Ms. Jane Schechter,
The Honorable Rabbi Vernon Kurtz,
Members of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Agency,
Congress Presidency,
Congress Delegates,
Distinguished Guests,

On behalf of the State and Government of Israel, I warmly welcome this gathering of the 35th Zionist Congress, here in Jerusalem, which is Zion, the beating heart, and the object of yearning and prayers of the Jewish people for generations.

Not long ago, we marked a century since the death of the founder of the Zionist movement and visionary of the State, Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl.

There is a straight line between Basel and Jerusalem, the line of political Zionism, whose aim was the return of the Jewish people to the stage of history as an independent and sovereign nation, which takes its fate into its own hands, in the Land of Israel, the heritage of our forefathers.

The responsibility for the destiny of the Zionist enterprise and the future of the Jewish people is now in our hands, and based on this, we will mold our decisions and moves here in Israel and in the world Zionist movement.

In Altneuland, Herzl envisioned a utopian state. The State of Israel is not one, because in our world there is no utopian reality.

In many ways, the State of Israel has exceeded Herzl's vision, in other ways it is still remote.

Herzl believed that the Land of Israel could be given to the Jewish people by international charter, on a silver platter (literally). He hoped that the Arabs in the Land of Israel would favorably accept the return to Zion, which would bring with it progress and development.

The Zionist movement was, at first, completely free of any thoughts of struggle and military strength. At Basel, Herzl declared: "On the day when there is a plow in the hands of a courageous Jewish farmer, the Jewish question will find its solution."

Herzl did indeed create the movement which realized the great vision, but the path to realization was not strewn with roses. It was paved with blood, sweat and tears. It demanded sacrifice, dedication and supreme heroism. The entire time, it needed an "iron wall" in the form of our wonderful defensive shield, the Israel Defense Forces.

No, "the Jewish question" has still not been resolved, and now, more than 100 hundred years after Herzl, we are still dealing with it, in Israel and in the Diaspora.

It would be good if every Jew in the world would make Aliyah to Israel, and it would be good if all the peoples of the region would accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, and live in full peace with us.

If this were the situation, it would, perhaps, be possible to say that the "Jewish question" had been resolved.

Since such is not the situation - a large portion of the Jewish people still live in the Diaspora, and the State of Israel is still threatened and mired in a struggle to achieve security and peace - we must gather to discuss the "Jewish question" here at the 35th Zionist Congress as well.

The fundamental issues on the table at the Congress are, as always:

A. First, ensuring the future of Jewish existence overseas, through Zionist activity, encouraging Aliyah, providing Jewish and Zionist education to the young generation, and deepening the identity, solidarity with and affinity to Israel.

B. Second, assistance to Jews in distress and waging war against anti-Semitism anywhere in the world.

And finally, unification of the Jewish people with the State of Israel, and providing moral and political support to Israel's struggle for security and peace.

For these goals, the Zionist movement must renew and strengthen, cooperate and gather together under its wing more and more Jewish communities, frameworks, institutions and organizations, and find additional means of mobilizing resources to expand its activities.

One subject was always with us, and in my opinion, will always be at the heart of the Zionist idea and experience as long as there is a Jewish Diaspora in the world. I speak of Aliyah. This phrase - "Aliyah [literally ascension] to Israel" - has long since eroded and become rusty. It is not said at the level it once was, but rather in a weak voice, as if one were speaking of a good-for-nothing, old fashioned, politically incorrect demand.

Aliyah, which is the essence of Zionism and the pinnacle of Zionist accomplishment, has been shoved from the center, and abandoned, ashamed, on the side of the road. We must return it to its rightful place, return its glory and place it as our primary goal.

The 35th Congress must raise the banner of Aliyah anew as a challenge to the young generation in the Diaspora.

Today, the State of Israel marches at the forefront of advanced global science and technology, the Israeli economy is prosperous and promising, and the opportunities the State of Israel is offering its immigrants, especially Olim with higher education, are vast.

Only in the State of Israel is Jewish continuity ensured from generation to generation. Only here, in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, can the Jew return to the sovereign history of his people in order to create new and glorious chapters.

I call on all delegates to the 35th Congress to join together around our common goals, rise above partisan and organizational disagreements, and lead the entire Zionist movement forward.

The challenges we face today in the State of Israel and the Diaspora are immense, and demand the full mobilization of all our forces.

Ladies and Gentlemen, delegates of the Congress,

Today, the State of Israel is already closer to being the place in which the majority of Jews in the world live. I would like this fact to be determined solely by an increasing stream of Aliyah, but unfortunately, this is not to be at this time. Demographics point to processes of shrinking Jewish communities in the Diaspora due to low birth rates, assimilation, mixed marriages or unintentional alienation from their Jewish identity.

This fact intensifies the responsibility for the future of the Jewish people on the State of Israel and the world Zionist movement. The first lesson is that the State of Israel must forever contain a solid and guaranteed Jewish majority.

It is our duty to prevent any danger of losing this Jewish majority or creating an inseparable bi-national reality in the Land of Israel. We aspire to reach a peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, based on division of the land and "two countries for two peoples".

Division of the land is not our heart's desire, it is simply a reality. I was raised and educated in total Zionism, and the entire Land of Israel is precious to me. I wholeheartedly believe in the right of the Jewish people to the entire Land of Israel. However, as one who carries the supreme responsibility in the State of Israel, I see reality as it is, with my eyes wide open.

The demographic balance between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel is not static. Time is not neutral in this case - it is acting against us.

If we wish to ensure the existence and future of a Jewish and democratic Israel, we must act now, in the next few years, and shape the permanent borders of the State of Israel. I intend to seriously and thoroughly examine whether there is a possibility of doing so through negotiation and agreement with the Palestinians, since this possibility is preferable under all circumstances.

However, I do not intend to wait forever. If this possibility proves to be impractical within a certain space of time, we will have to make decisions which will serve Zionist goals, and the most vital interests of the State of Israel. This is my duty. This is my responsibility.

Under no circumstances is ongoing deadlock an option. On the basis of serious talks with President George Bush and important leaders in Europe and the Middle East, I believe that if our willingness to negotiate and make far-reaching concessions is met by Palestinian dissension such as that of Hamas - the steps Israel will take will receive international backing.

I have absolutely no doubt that the majority of citizens of Israel will give me their support.

In the meantime, we will of course continue our fight against terror. Terrorist organizations gain inspiration from fundamentalist, anti-Semitic and murderous ideologies, which call for the blood of all Jews and Israelis. The heads of terror, who cry for our destruction after every unfortunate accidental and unintended injury to innocents due to IDF fire, are the ones who will send murderers to blow up buses full of passengers, families innocently dining, teenagers at entertainment venues, and women and children at busy shopping centers.

They are the ones shooting, in these very days, at civilian population in the south of the country, in cities like Sderot and in villages and Kibbutzim in the southern part of the State of Israel. I want to take this opportunity, here and now, to tell the residents of the south, to the people of Sderot, to Kibbutzim such as Yad-Mordechai and Nahal Oz and Kfar Aza and other communities: no one is more familiar with the level of the pain, anxiety and uncertainty which you are experiencing these days. Here, in this city, in the capital of Israel, the very heart of the State of Israel, we have, for many years, undergone the most difficult, painful, heart-wrenching experiences, with countless victims and families shattered. We are familiar with this reality. I am familiar with your painful reality, in Sderot and in the south of the country. I know how difficult it is. I know it is scary. I know the feeling of every parent whose child goes to school and he does not know where the next rocket will land or where the bomb - dispatched by these murderers to the heart of the State of Israel for the purpose of harming innocent civilians - will fall. And you also know well that despite the hardship and the pain, we cannot find a comprehensive, overall and permanent solution to instantly remove this threat, once and for all. We have been living - and you have been living - with this hardship for quite a long time, and I am filled with admiration and appreciation to you for your stamina, patience and courage. I fully understand the fears, insecurity, pain and uncertainty that many of you feel.

From here I say to those who are trying to hurt you - we will take harsh measures, more harsh and more painful than the ones taken before. We will reach every place, we will reach every one, there will be no immunity to anyone involved in terrorism, regardless of what they do or who they belong to. We will not relent in this war and we will defeat terrorism and bring security to all the parts of the State of Israel, in the south of the country and in other areas.

Despite the fact that the terrorists act in and fire from densely populated areas, the IDF is mostly successful in isolating the murderers, and targeting them and them only.

Under these fighting conditions, unfortunately, sometimes innocent citizens are injured, despite all the efforts to avoid it. However, we must remember that the fight against terror was forced on us.

The Palestinian Authority never upheld their commitment to stop terror attacks and dismantle terrorist organizations. When it happens, there will, of course, be no need to continue fighting. Regrettably, I do not see this happening in the near future.

The terrorist organizations would not be able to continue to act if they did not receive encouragement, funding, training and guidance from regimes and organizations which support terror on the axis of evil which runs through Tehran, Damascus, Al Qaeda, global Jihad and Hizbollah.

The shameful statements made by the President of Iran were heard by the entire world, and it is inconceivable that such a fanatical dictatorial regime will have the weapons to realize his insane visions.

We must not forget the lessons of history. We, the Jews, certainly cannot forget.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I again welcome all the participants in the 35th Zionist Congress - the elected delegates from Israel, other delegates, representatives of the Zionist women's movements Hadassah and Wizo, Ne'amat and Emunah, the delegates representing various organizations: the World Federation of Sephardic Communities, world B'nai B'rith, World Maccabi Federation, the World Assembly of Synagogues and Orthodox Communities, the World Conservative Union of Synagogues, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Reform Movement, representatives of student organizations, the Zionist Council of Israel, and at the end of the list, although I already mentioned it, World Emunah.

May all your discussions at this Congress and decisions made strengthen the World Zionist Federation, advance the goals of the World Zionist movement, and transform the 35th Congress into a milestone and starting point towards a new Zionist drive.

Welcome and good luck!

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Playing Games

House panel would ask Bush for surveillance records

June 21, 2006

The U.S. Justice Department would have to turn over records of the National Security Agency's telephone surveillance program to Congress under a resolution passed by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The resolution, which passed on a voice vote, must be approved by the full House of Representatives before it is sent to the Bush administration. However, the administration would not be required to comply because a resolution does not carry the force of law.
But it's a step by House lawmakers to investigate a USA Today report that telephone companies turned over millions of call records without a court warrant to the National Security Agency to help track terrorist plots.

The Bush administration has not confirmed the report, which if true would indicate that a controversial program that monitors international phone calls without a warrant is much broader than previously known.

The measure, introduced by Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, would direct President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all documents related to the program. The committee rejected another proposal that would have asked for information about an aborted internal Justice Department investigation of the program.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also pressing for more details of the program and is trying to get Gonzales to testify about it at a hearing.

Separate from congressional action, some 20 class-action lawsuits have been filed against Verizon Communications, AT&T and BellSouth about the call records. Five other lawsuits are pending against the Justice Department related to the surveillance program.

On Monday, the Justice Department asked a court to consolidate all of the lawsuits into a single proceeding in the Washington, D.C., federal court.

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Gun owners accuse UN of July 4 conspiracy

By Irwin Arieff
Wed Jun 21, 2006

UNITED NATIONS - Americans mistakenly worried the United Nations is plotting to take away their guns on July 4 -- U.S. Independence Day -- are flooding the world body with angry letters and postcards, the chairman of a U.N. conference on the illegal small arms trade said on Wednesday.

"I myself have received over 100,000 letters from the U.S. public, criticizing me personally, saying, 'You are having this conference on the 4th of July, you are not going to get our guns on that day,"' said Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador.

"That is a total misconception as far as we are concerned," Kariyawasam told reporters ahead of the two-week meeting opening on Monday.

For one, July 4 is a holiday at U.N. headquarters and the world body's staff will be watching a fireworks display from the U.N. lawn rather than attending any meetings, he said.
For another, the U.N. conference will look only at illegal arms and "does not in any way address legal possession," a matter left to national governments to regulate rather than the United Nations, he added.

The campaign is largely the work of the U.S. National Rifle Association, whose executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, warns on an NRA Web site (http://www.stopungunban.org/) of a July 4 plot "to finalize a U.N. treaty that would strip all citizens of all nations of their right to self-protection."

Kariyawasam said, "The U.N. conference will not negotiate any treaty to prohibit citizens of any country from possessing firearms or to interfere with the legal trade in small arms and light weapons."


LaPierre, who also uses the site to pitch his new book, "The Global War on Your Guns," asks NRA members to send letters to Kariyawasam and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that "the American people will never let you take away the rights that our 4th of July holiday represents."

The group also asks members to write to John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urging him to "ensure the defeat of this treaty." Bolton's office confirmed he had received tens of thousands of cards from concerned Americans.

"We understand their concerns and will work during the conference to communicate their concerns," Bolton spokesman Richard Grenell said.

At the same time, 1 million people around the world -- symbolizing the number of people killed by guns since the last U.N. small arms conference in 2001 -- have signed a petition backing stronger controls on arms deals in a campaign organized by Oxfam International, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms.

The June 26-July 7 U.N. conference was called to review a 2001 U.N. action plan aimed at stemming the illegal global trade in small arms, which, as defined by the United Nations, range from pistols and grenades to mortars and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

The action program set out broad guidelines for national and global measures to track arms sales, promote better management of government arms stockpiles and encourage the destruction of illicit arms.

Comment: Apparently, John Bolton's office took American gun owners' concerns regarding the "UN conspiracy" rather seriously. Gee, do you think the anti-UN Bolton had anything to do with the uproar over a ban that doesn't exist??

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GOP-run Senate kills minimum wage increase

Thu Jun 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled Senate smothered a proposed election-year increase in the minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that it was past time to boost the $5.15 hourly pay floor that has been in effect for nearly a decade.

The 52-46 vote was eight short of the 60 needed for approval under budget rules and came one day after House Republican leaders made clear they do not intend to allow a vote on the issue, fearing it might pass.
The Senate vote marked the ninth time since 1997 that Democrats there have proposed - and Republicans have blocked - a stand-alone increase in the minimum wage. The debate fell along predictable lines.

"Americans believe that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He said a worker paid $5.15 an hour would earn $10,700 a year, "almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three."

Kennedy also said lawmakers' annual pay has risen by roughly $30,000 since the last increase in the minimum wage.

Republicans said a minimum wage increase would wind up hurting the low-wage workers that Democrats said they want to help.

"For every increase you make in the minimum wage, you will cost some of them their jobs," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

He described the clash as a "classic debate between two very different philosophies. One philosophy that believes in the marketplace, the competitive system ... and entrepreneurship. And secondly is the argument that says the government knows better and that topdown mandates work."

The measure drew the support of 43 Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent. Four of those eight Republicans are seeking re-election in the fall.

Democrats had conceded in advance that this attempt to raise the minimum wage would fare no better than their previous attempts. At the same time, they have made clear in recent days they hope to gain support in the coming midterm elections by stressing the issue. Organized labor supports the legislation, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said that contrary to some impressions, most minimum wage workers are adults, not teenagers, and many of them are women.

"When the Democrats control the Senate, one of the first pieces of legislation we'll see is an increase in the minimum wage," said Kennedy.

His proposal would have increased the minimum wage to $5.85 beginning 60 days after the legislation was enacted; to $6.55 one year later; and to $7.25 a year after that. He said inflation has eroded the value of the current $5.15 minimum wage by 20 percent.

With the help of a few rebellious Republicans, House Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee succeeded in attaching a minimum wage increase last week to legislation providing funding for federal social programs. Fearing that the House would pass the measure with the increase intact, the GOP leadership swiftly decided to sidetrack the entire bill.

"I am opposed to it, and I think a vast majority of our (rank and file) is opposed to it," House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.

Pressed by reporters, he said, "There are limits to my willingness to just throw anything out on the floor."

On Wednesday, his spokesman, Kevin Madden, said Boehner has told fellow Republicans "the House will have to deal with this some way." He said no decisions had been made.

While Democrats depend on organized labor to win elections, Republicans are closely aligned with business interests that oppose any increase in the federal wage floor or would like changes in the current system.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, offered an alternative that proposed a minimum wage increase of $1.10 over 18 months, in two steps.

The increase was coupled with a variety of provisions offering regulatory or tax relief to small businesses, including one to exempt enterprises with less than $1 million in annual receipts from the federal wage and hour law entirely. The current exemption level is $500,000, and a Republican document noted the amount had "lagged behind inflation."

Additionally, Republicans proposed a system of optional "flextime" for workers, a step that Enzi said would allow employees, at their discretion, to work more than 40 hours one week in exchange for more time off the next. Unions generally oppose such initiatives, and the Republican plan drew 45 votes, with 53 in opposition.

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GOP Halts Extension of Voting Rights Act

By Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer
June 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Voting Rights Act, which has protected minority voters from discrimination since its passage more than 40 years ago, appeared headed for an easy reaffirmation in the House on Wednesday - until conflicts old and new clouded its future.

Amid wide bipartisan support - the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure last month by a 33-1 vote - Republican leaders scheduled a floor debate, hoping to use the bill's passage for an election-year outreach to minority voters. The landmark legislation is due to expire next year, and advocacy groups have been pressing for its renewal for another 25 years.
But in a private morning meeting, Republicans raised objections that forced House leaders to yank the bill from the floor.

One concern had its roots in the bill's origins. The legislation requires nine states with a documented history of discrimination against black voters - such as poll taxes and literacy tests - to get Justice Department approval for their election laws.

Another objection, a spillover from the contentious debate on immigration, had to do with requirements in some states for ballots printed in several languages and the presence of interpreters at polling places where large numbers of citizens speak limited English.

Some members of the Republican caucus also suggested delaying the debate until the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a controversial 2003 Texas redistricting case. That decision, expected in the next two weeks, will examine the issue of whether Latino voters were disenfranchised.

Whatever the fuel, Wednesday's delay set off a series of brush fires on Capitol Hill.

"It was heated," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), who supports an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to end a requirement for bilingual ballots in jurisdictions where at least 5% of the population speaks a language other than English. "I've been in meetings for two hours. There are meetings going on all over the Hill."

Officially, House Republican leaders said in a statement that they were "committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible." Unofficially, some aides said the leadership might schedule the vote again after the July 4 recess.

Although dismayed by the delay, Democrats seized the chance to spotlight the rare public dissension in Republican ranks.

"I hope that the Republicans will be able to quickly resolve their differences and that the Congress will be able to pass this vital legislation," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "It is critical that we do so as soon as possible, because our democracy depends on protecting the right of every American citizen to vote."

"Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party cannot bring its own rank-and-file members into line to support the Voting Rights Act," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who represents Selma and Birmingham - the sites of seminal events in the civil rights movement that produced the bill in 1965. "That ought to be a significant embarrassment as they fan around the country trying to skim off a few black votes in the next four months."

Part of the problem, according to some GOP congressional aides, was that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), was unavailable to answer questions and allay concerns. In addition, they said, he consulted more often with his Senate counterparts than with members of his own party during deliberations over the bill.

In a statement issued later Wednesday, Sensenbrenner defended both the bill and the process. "Some members, whom I believe are misinformed, have expressed concerns about voting on this legislation now," he said.

Noting that the committee has held 12 hearings and amassed more than 12,000 pages of testimony, Sensenbrenner said the bill was one Republicans and Democrats could be "proud of because it ensures that when discriminatory practices of the past resurface, they are quickly put to rest. I hope the House leadership will bring [the bill] to the floor in the near future."

Sensenbrenner thinks opponents "keep moving the goal post," said an aide who asked not to be identified. Some of the issues being raised - such as bilingual ballots - first came up in committee, where efforts to change them were defeated, the aide said.

The House delay could complicate matters in the Senate, where Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had planned to bring up an identical bill next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The effort to amend the requirement that nine states clear election laws with the Justice Department was led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.). The requirement, he argued, unfairly singled out Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Others saw the vote as a vehicle to address the growing language gap in American culture. After waking up to headlines suggesting that House leaders were delaying President Bush's push to overhaul immigration laws, Garrett said he hit the telephones to rouse his constituents.

"I've been on the talk radio circuit in the last 24 hours just to get the message out to let their representatives know how they feel," he said. "If we have until after the Fourth, the issue will resonate with the base."

Minority and advocacy groups will also likely rally in coming weeks.

"The notion that a handful of Republicans from Southern states can rally enough support to hijack reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is a slap in the face," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). "This delay is inexcusable."

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Dollars in Their Pockets

FCC approves new Internet phone taxes

By Anne Broache
CNET News.com
June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON--An estimated 4 million subscribers to Internet phone services like Vonage could see new fees on their bills under a plan approved Wednesday by federal regulators.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously at its monthly meeting here to require all voice over Internet Protocol services that connect to the public-switched telephone network--as opposed to using peer-to-peer technology, like Skype--to contribute to the Universal Service Fund.
The $7.3 billion fund, which has been a feature of U.S. policy for more than 70 years, subsidizes telephone service in rural and low-income areas. It also runs a controversy-plagued program called E-Rate that provides discounted Internet and phone service to schools and libraries.

Right now, only telecommunications services, including wireless, pay-phone, traditional telephone and DSL providers, are required to contribute a fixed percentage of their long-distance revenue to the multibillion-dollar fund. It had been unclear whether VoIP providers must also pay.

The same FCC order would also raise the share that cell phone providers must contribute to the pool, though it was not immediately clear how many consumers would see hikes or how much they would be. That's because the FCC raised the contribution rate for only one of three formulas that can be used by cell phone companies to determine how much they owe. If those companies choose to stick to the two unchanged formulas, their customers would likely see no additional fees.

"Certainly we're concerned whenever consumers are forced to pay higher government taxes or fees, but it depends on the carrier and what their approach is," said Joe Farren, a spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group.

The new contribution scheme takes effect immediately, and any new fees would likely appear on customers' bills later this year, said Thomas Navin, chief of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau. He declined to speculate on the differences customers of each service may see on their bills, saying it would depend on a variety of factors and "there's not one typical scenario for me to paint for you."

Calculating what's fair

Pressured by consumer groups and the telecommunications industry, the FCC has long been contemplating changes to the USF contribution scheme. Critics of the current system say the means of calculating contributions needs sweeping changes. That's because the bulk of the money comes from actual or estimated long-distance revenues, which are steadily dwindling due to changing business models in the wireless and wireline worlds.

The FCC's decision Wednesday drew applause from the U.S. Telecom Association, which represents both large and small telephone companies.

"We applaud today's ruling for ensuring that all voice service providers are treated alike," Walter McCormick, the organization's CEO, said in a statement.

By one VoIP industry estimate, customers could owe as much as $2.12 extra on a $30 monthly bill because of the changes, said Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of the VON Coalition, which represents the Internet phone industry. Traditional wireline users would pay $1.38 on a comparable bill, while wireless users pay an average of $1.21, he said.

Those numbers are based on a "safe harbor" contribution rate, established by the FCC's order, that would require all VoIP providers to calculate what they owe based on the assumption that 64.9 percent of their total revenues represent long-distance calls. The safe harbor option for cell phone providers climbed to 37.1 percent from 28.5 percent under the FCC's order, but it remains far lower than the VoIP share.

The discrepancy has the industry scratching its head, Kohlenberger said. "The FCC's efforts on VoIP are like trying to solve traffic and energy problems by stifling the rollout of energy-efficient hybrid vehicles, while subsidizing SUVs," he said.

Cell phone and Internet phone providers would also have another option for calculating fees. They could do a complex analysis known as a "traffic study" to determine what percentage of their revenues are long distance. If the results prove to be lower than the safe harbor percentage, fees for consumers, in theory, wouldn't be as high.

Some Internet phone companies already contribute to the fund--albeit sometimes indirectly, via the telecommunications companies that provide pipes for their services. Vonage, for instance, already imposes a flat "regulatory recovery fee" for each phone number it issues.

Others urge caution

The VoIP industry wasn't alone in questioning the FCC's move. In a letter sent last week to commissioners, attorneys for the U.S. Small Business Administration urged the agency to postpone its action until it had done a thorough analysis of the economic effect on smaller providers.

Republican FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate said she would "continue to advocate a light regulatory touch on nascent services like VoIP." But she said she believed even more strongly that because the number of VoIP subscribers is growing rapidly, universal service obligations must be introduced early on.

The FCC made its move in its first meeting in months with a full slate of five commissioners. Each official emphasized that the move is merely an "interim step" intended to make up for an expected $350 million annual shortfall in the fund.

The reason for that gap is that, beginning in August, revenue from DSL services will no longer be included in the contribution mechanism. That's the result of an FCC decision last summer to exclude DSL from its definition of telecommunications services.

Some of the commissioners used the meeting to vow to conduct an even broader sweep that would incorporate all broadband providers in the USF contribution plan.

"I don't see with slam-dunk certainty that contributions from interconnected VoIP--which is, for all its impressive growth, still a nascent industry--and from wireless carriers...offset the funds lost by DSL's nonparticipation," Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said.

Broadband's fate

The idea of making broadband providers pay has been proposed in Congress during this session but has not yet gone up for a vote. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters after the meeting that he had no timeline set for additional action but recognized the importance of more-comprehensive USF reform.

He reiterated that he would prefer to pursue a system in which a Universal Service Fund fee would be levied on all phone numbers, regardless of what kind of technology does the calling. In statements released Wednesday, both the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the CTIA urged the commission to go ahead with that approach.

A number of proposals to change the Universal Service Fund remain on the table in Congress. The provisions that are most likely to proceed this year are included in the Senate Commerce Committee's sweeping communications bill.

The latest draft would instruct the FCC to come up with new contribution rules that are as "competitively and technologically neutral as possible," while leaving it up to the regulators to decide how best to meet that aim. It would also set aside up to $500 million per year to subsidize broadband services in "unserved areas." That measure is scheduled for a committee vote on Thursday afternoon.

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Visa says ATM breach may have exposed data

AP Business Writer
Tue Jun 20, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO - Visa USA on Tuesday confirmed an ATM security breakdown has exposed more consumers to potential mischief, the latest in a long line of lapses that have illuminated the often flimsy controls over the personal information entrusted to businesses, schools and government agencies.

The latest breach dates back to February when San Francisco-based Visa began notifying banks of a security problem affecting a U.S.-based contractor that processed automated teller machine transactions.
Visa, one of the nation's largest issuer credit and debit cards, publicly acknowledged the trouble Tuesday in response to media inquiries prompted by Wachovia Bank's decision to replace an untold number of debit cards issued to its customers.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia issued the card replacements last week as an antifraud measure, said bank spokeswoman Mary Beth Navarro. She declined to explain the circumstances that triggered the action after several months.

Visa also gave out few details about the incident. Thousands of banks have issued millions of debit cards bearing the Visa logo.

In a statement, Visa said it is working with its member banks and authorities "to do whatever is necessary to protect cardholders."

Under Visa's policy, consumers aren't held liable for any unauthorized purchases made with their cards.

Visa's security headache is hardly isolated.

In recent years, a wide ranges of businesses and bureaucrats have fumbled away Social Security numbers and other sensitive information that could be used to tap into the finances and credit records of unwitting consumers.

In one of the most far-flung breaches to surface so far, the Social Security numbers and other personal information of 26.5 million U.S. military veterans was stolen last month when an employee took some digital data to review at home.

Visa has encountered security problems with other contractors besides the ATM processor that triggered the February alert.

CardSystems Solutions Inc., a payment processor used by both Visa and rival MasterCard International Inc., suffered a lapse that exposed up to 40 million credit and debit card accounts to potential abuse between August 2004 and May 2005. The thieves are believed to have grabbed data from a small fraction of those accounts.

Visa and Wachovia weren't even the only major financial services companies owning up to security breaches on Tuesday.

Equifax Inc., one of the nation's three major credit bureaus, said a company laptop containing employee names and Social Security numbers was stolen from an employee who was traveling by train near London.

The theft, which could affect as many as 2,500 of the Atlanta-based company's 4,600 employees, happened May 29 and all employees were notified June 7, spokesman David Rubinger said.

Employee names and partial and full Social Security numbers were on the computer's hard drive, though Rubinger said it would be almost impossible for the thief to decipher the information because it was streamed together.

"It would be very difficult to link this information and determine they were actual Social Security numbers in the first place," he said.

No other employee information was on the computer, he said, and there was no customer data on the computer.

Equifax's breach was similar to another one involving a laptop containing the Social Security numbers and other personal data of 13,000 District of Columbia employees and retirees.

That computer was stolen last week from the Washington home of an employee of ING U.S. Financial Services, according to officials with the company, which administers the district's retirement plan.

The laptop was not password-protected and the data were not encrypted, officials have said.

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CEOs earn 262 times pay of average worker

Wed Jun 21, 2006

NEW YORK - Chief executive officers in the United States earned 262 times the pay of an average worker in 2005, the second-highest level in the 40 years for which there is data, a nonprofit think-tank said on Wednesday.

In fact, a CEO earned more in one workday than an average worker earned in 52 weeks, said the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The typical worker's compensation averaged just under $42,000 for the year, while the average CEO brought home almost $11 million, EPI said.
In recent years, compensation has been a hot issue with shareholders who have been bombarded with news stories about chief executives who are given multimillion dollar bonus and pay packages even if shares have declined.

For example, the chief executives of 11 of the largest companies were awarded a total of $865 million in pay in the last two years, even as they presided over a total loss of $640 billion in shareholder value, a recent study from governance firm the Corporate Library, found.

In 1965, U.S. CEOs at major companies earned 24 times a worker's pay. That ratio surged in the 1990s and hit 300 at the end of the recovery in 2000, according to EPI.

CEO pay is defined by the sum of salary, bonus, value of restricted stock at grant and other long-term incentives. Worker pay is hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory works, EPI said.

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New jobless claims up 11,000 last week

By David Lawder Thu Jun 22, 9:04 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. workers claiming an initial week of jobless aid rose 11,000 last week, broadly in line with expectations and signaling a still-healthy job market, a government report showed on Thursday.

First-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 308,000 for the week ended June 17 from an upwardly revised 297,000 claims the previous week, the Labor Department said.
Wall Street economists had forecast initial claims would rise to 310,000 from an initially reported 295,000 the previous week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors to account for last week's increase.

The report did little to shift prices of U.S. Treasury debt prices, which were slightly lower on Thursday. Benchmark 10-year notes traded down 3/32 in price for a yield of 5.17 percent, unchanged from before the report and just above 5.16 percent late on Wednesday.

"I would say this is largely a positive report. With jobless claims now moderating again, it gives us more confidence in the resilience of the economic expansion," said Patrick Fearon, senior economist at A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc. in St. Louis. "It won't necessarily come to a screeching halt."

After claims peaked this year at 344,000 in mid-May, the recent moderation of claims adds to evidence for the
Federal Reserve to justify another interest rate hike next week, Fearon said. The spike in new claims was caused by a partial government shutdown in Puerto Rico.

"We still seem to have a clear downward trend in claims this year. ... We have revised up our payroll figure for June to 175,000 from 160,000," said Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics in Boulder, Colorado.

"The market is pricing in a stronger June (payroll jobs) reading after some lean readings in April and May," he said.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths weekly fluctuations to provide a better picture of labor market trends, fell to 311,250 from an upwardly revised 316,250 the previous week.

The number of people who continued to file for benefits after receiving an initial week of aid rose 18,000 to 2.439 million in the week ended June 10, the latest for which that data is available.

Wall Street economists had expected continued claims to edge downward to 2.415 million from an initially reported 2.425 million the previous week. The June 3 week figure was adjusted downward to 2.421 million.

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Ultra-cheap drugs worry generic makers

AP Business Writer
June 21, 2006

NEW YORK - It's a novel approach in the long battle between brand name drugs and their generic rivals: Merck & Co. is slashing the price of its cholesterol drug Zocor so low for one insurance plan that members will actually pay less for the original pills than for the generic.

That tactic has some consumer advocates fearing the practice will spark a movement among Big Pharma, compounding other pressures they fear will weaken the generic industry and compromise the country's source of low-cost drugs.

Under the deal, members of UnitedHealth Group Inc. will pay around $10 for a month's supply of brand name Zocor and $40 for a generic after the drug loses patent protection on Friday. Both Merck and UnitedHealth say the arrangement demonstrates how market competition drives down costs, and that's good for patients.
Consumer advocates typically cheer lower prices but in this instance they worry that a short term benefit for patients will ultimately result in long term problems. They say moves such as Merck's undermine generic companies' chances to generate the profits that fuel their ability to conduct research and challenge drug company patents - eventually resulting in fewer cheap medicines.

Generic companies make most of their profits when awarded six months of market exclusivity because a lack of competition means they don't have to sell their product at an enormous discount to the brand. If the brand chops its price, the generic may be forced to follow suit.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. was widely expected to have six-months of exclusivity. With Merck's decision, U.S.-traded shares of the Israeli company plunged $3.40, nearly 10 percent, to close at $32.27 Wednesday on the Nasdaq. Shares of New Jersey-based Merck rose 35 cents to $35.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Sales of drugs typically shrivel when they face generic competition because the low cost products are up to 60 percent cheaper than the brand name medicine. Merck's actions won't necessarily change that because of the drug's low price even though Zocor may retain more of its market share. Zocor's sales totaled $4.4 billion last year.

A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. analyst Albert Rauch lowered his revenue projections for Teva's generic Zocor for the second half of this year to $65 million from $385 million and decreased his earnings per share estimate on the company for 2006 to $1.86 from $1.99. However, he also dropped his revenue predictions for Merck's Zocor to $611 million from $664 million in the second half of 2006 and cut his estimate for the company's earnings per share to $2.35 from $2.37.

"Certainly (Merck's action) demonstrates how vulnerable the generic industry is to pricing. This (Merck's action) is another risk for them," Rauch said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., accused Merck of engaging in predatory pricing and called its actions "a legal bribe." He has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the deal between Merck and UnitedHealth.

"Merck is taking an end run around the generic drugs laws to make sure there are no generic drugs," Schumer said.

Merck's vice present of public policy, Ian Spatz, said the arrangement with UnitedHealth is nothing more than typical marketplace price competition.

UnitedHealth spokesman Mark Lindsay wouldn't discuss Schumer's allegations or the larger issues facing the generic industry and said the deal with Merck was part of the company's ongoing efforts to lower prescription drug costs for its customers. Tim Heady, the CEO of UnitedHealth's pharmacy benefit management arm, said this is the first time a generic has ever cost more than a brand but expects more such deals in the future. That is what some consumer advocates fear.

"I'd begin to worry if (similar deals) take off," said Alex Sugerman-Brozan, director of the Prescription Access Litigation Project, a nonprofit that sues drug companies for practices it alleges are illegal. "It puts pressure on the generic companies. Sure there are short-term consumer benefits but what about the long term?"

George Barrett, CEO and president of Teva North America, said other health plans had spurned Merck's offer of low-cost Zocor and that his company is considering legal action over the issue. Still, he expressed optimism about the prospects of Teva's version of Zocor.

Litigation is still pending about whether Teva is entitled to the six months of exclusivity and Barrett declined to say whether it would launch its product on Friday.

Analysts said drug companies are taking a more aggressive stance against generics because the patent suits they file cost brand name makers time and effort. A generic company must challenge the brand's patent to win the 180 days of exclusivity.

Federal agencies are already examining whether other drug company practices are hurting consumers' access to generic drugs. The FTC is examining whether brand name manufacturers are muting competition by authorizing generic versions of their own drugs to coincide with the launch of a rival generic. Authorized generics can cut the profit of the generic company with the 180 day exclusivity by more than 50 percent, analysts said.

FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said in a recent speech that he was concerned about the number of deals where brand name companies pay a generic rival to settle litigation and delay the generic's debut.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is studying whether drug companies file citizen petitions to block a generic approval. Anyone can file a citizen petition to express concern or comment about an issue facing the FDA, which can't approval a generic drug if there's an outstanding petition.

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S.F. unveils universal health care plan

Associated Press
Tue Jun 20, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO - The city would offer health care to any adult resident, regardless of immigration or employment status, under a plan announced Tuesday.

The plan, which still needs be approved by the city's Board of Supervisors, is aimed at 82,000 uninsured residents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, said Mayor Gavin Newsom. San Francisco already provides universal health care for children.

"Rather than lamenting about the fact that we live in a country with 45.8 million Americans that don't have health insurance ... San Francisco is doing something about it," Newsom said. "San Francisco is moving forward to fulfill its moral obligation."
Newsom stressed that the so-called Health Access Plan was not meant to take the place of private health insurance, but rather provide a way to consistently treat people without insurance so they don't end up seeking medical care in hospital emergency rooms.

Unlike health insurance, for example, the city's plan would not cover the cost of any medical services its participants seek outside San Francisco, and it would not be open to people who work, but do not live, in the city.

It would provide comprehensive preventive and catastrophic health care, covering everything from checkups, prescription drugs and X-rays to ambulance rides, blood tests and surgeries.

The city estimates the plan would cost $200 million a year, an expense that would be borne by taxpayers, businesses that don't already insure all their workers, and participants themselves.

Residents would pay both monthly fees and service co-payments on a sliding scale depending on income. A person with annual earnings at the federal poverty line would pay $3 per month, while someone who makes between $19,600 and $40,000 - or up to 400 percent above the poverty line - would pay an average of $35 per month.

Details of how the employer contribution would work were scheduled to be presented Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors. Approval is expected, though the details could change.

The most recent version, sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, would require every business with more than 20 employees to pay $1.60 an hour into the system for all employees not already covered by a health plan, no matter how few hours they work.

Laurie Thomas, owner of three restaurants in San Francisco, said that she already contributes to health insurance for her employees who work more than 28 hours a week, but that the hourly mandate Ammiano is proposing would put her out of business.

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Prices rise for drugs used by elderly: studies

By Susan Heavey
Wed Jun 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - Prices of medicines used by older Americans for chronic conditions such as arthritis and high cholesterol are rising even as new federal drug coverage has been rolled out to help make prescriptions more affordable, two separate studies released on Tuesday showed.

Researchers at Families USA found insurers participating in the Medicare drug benefit program raised overall prices 3.7 percent for the top 20 drugs used by the elderly since enrollment began in November.

Separately, the AARP found prices for nearly 200 of all drugs most used by the elderly -- not just under Medicare -- rose 3.9 percent from January through March. The AARP is the largest group representing older Americans.
The drug benefits program, which began in January, allows insurers to offer Medicare beneficiaries drug coverage with government oversight.

Participants are locked into a plan until annual open enrollment, although plans are allowed to change prices any time. Many patients were automatically transferred into the program, but about 11 million signed up individually.

"At the same time that the Bush administration and congressional leaders are touting the effectiveness of the Medicare drug plans, those plans are quietly raising the prices that they charge," said Ron Pollack, director of Families USA.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and an insurance industry group had no immediate comment on the studies.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, disputed the AARP study, saying data shows drug prices are not rising any more than other medical costs.

Medicare officials have said competition between companies offering the drug benefit would help lower co-payments and annual fees.

According to Families USA, prices for three Pfizer Inc drugs rose at least 6 percent -- painkiller Celebrex, cholesterol drug Lipitor and Alzheimer's disease therapy Aricept.

Drugs in the study that did not have price hikes included the diuretic generic drug furosemide, generic metoprolol tartrate for high blood pressure, and Pfizer's antidepressant Zoloft, which could soon face generic competition.


AARP, which supported the Medicare drug benefit but has continued to rally against higher costs, said manufacturers initially seemed to keep price hikes in line with inflation.

"The first quarter 2006 results represent a disturbing reversal of that trend. It remains to be seen whether this is a one-time change or the beginning of a pattern of an increasing rate of price increase," according to the group, which has been surveying drug costs since 2000.

AARP also found prices rose 6.2 percent for the 12 months ending March 2006 -- an average annual increase of $59.57 compared with general U.S. inflation, which rose 3.5 percent.

For the typical older patient taking four prescriptions each day, medicines cost $238.28 more for those 12 months, compared with $189.72 more the previous year.

"It is simply unsustainable for American consumers to continue footing the bill for large increases in drug prices," AARP Chief Executive Officer Bill Novelli said in a statement.

Among generic drugs, the AARP found prices dropped an average of 0.1 percent for the year ending March 2005.

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Zapper brings hope to migraine sufferers

By Sam Lister
The Sunday Times
June 22, 2006

THE debilitating pain caused by migraines, the splitting headaches suffered by millions of people, can be eliminated using a handheld device that "zaps" the condition as it kicks in, a study suggests.

Patients treated with the experimental device, which is held against the back of the head and emits a quick magnetic pulse, have reported significant improvements.

The pulse has been found to trigger an electric current in neurons in the brain, preventing the initial "electrical storm" from developing into a full-blown migraine.
A team of American scientists, based at Ohio State University Medical Centre, will present findings from their research today at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles. In one study carried out by the group, more than two thirds of patients treated with the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation device reported having either no pain or only mild pain two hours after treatment. Less than half of the placebo group reported similar pain levels.

More than 80 per cent did not experience pain when subjected to noise, and 64 per cent did not have an adverse reaction to bright light. The majority of the group with the device said that they could continue to work with only mild irritation after two hours. Only half of the control group said the same.

The device, which is made by a Californian company called Neuralieve, is designed to interrupt the aura phase of the migraine, the initial period of electrical activity in the brain, before it leads to headaches.

Sufferers of such severe headaches often describe seeing showers of shooting stars, zigzagging lines and flashing lights, and experiencing loss of vision, weakness, tingling or confusion. These initial symptoms are typically followed by an intense throbbing head pain, nausea and vomiting.

About one in eight people in the UK suffers from migraines, which are twice as common in women as they are in men, and are estimated to cost the health service £1 billion annually.

Sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year. An attack can last for between four and 72 hours.

However, up to two thirds of sufferers do not consult their doctor because of the widely held view that nothing can be done to alleviate the discomfort.

The device, which is activated by a switch, sends a strong electric current through a metal coil, creating an intense magnetic field for about one millisecond. When held against a person's head, this magnetic pulse creates an electric current in the neurons that blocks the aura before the onset of a throbbing headache.

Describing the findings as very positive, Yousef Mohammad, a neurologist at Ohio, said that after treatment the patients studied reported a significant reduction in nausea, noise and light sensitivity.

"Perhaps the most significant effect of using the TMS device was on the two-hour symptom assessment, with 84 per cent of the episodes in patients using the TMS occurring without noise sensitivity.

"Work functioning also improved, and there were no side effects reported," he said. "The device's pulses are painless. The patients have felt a little pressure, but that's all. These are very encouraging results."

For Christina Sidebottom, a British woman who has been treated by Dr Mohammad in Ohio, the TMS zapper has transformed her life. "Before, I was pretty much resigned to going to bed with a lot of pain," she said.

Dr Mohammad said that the project, which involved 42 people, 23 of whom had the TMS treatment, would be followed by a much larger study to expand on the research.

Scientists have suggested that migraines start with vascular constriction, a narrowing of blood vessels, resulting in an aura, followed by vascular dilation that causes a throbbing headache. A new theory, which has emerged in the past 10 years, is based on the notion that raised levels of neuronal electrical activity cause the condition and was the basis for the development of the device.

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Tracking Data

Tech creates a bubble for kids

By Sharon Jayson
Tue Jun 20, 2006

Summary: To baby boomers and other adults of a certain age, young people may seem rude, disrespectful and generally clueless about established social mores.

Raised by parents who stressed individualism and informality, these young people grew up in a society that is more open and offers more choices than in their parents' youth, says child and adolescent psychologist Dave Verhaagen of Charlotte.

Unlike their parents, they have never known anything but a world dominated by technology. Even their social lives revolve around the Web, iPods and cellphones. So they dress down, talk loose and reveal their innermost thoughts online.

"Put that all together and you've got a generation that doesn't have the same concept of privacy and personal boundaries as generations before," Verhaagen says.
Julie Beasley looked out her window one morning and saw a teenager changing clothes in the middle of the street.

"She opened a passenger side door and dropped her pants. She took her pants off and reached in the car and pulled out a skirt. Then she put the skirt on and pulled off her sweatshirt. She had on a camisole with spaghetti straps with her midriff showing," says Beasley, 46, of Iowa City.

Living less than two blocks from a high school gives Beasley a bird's-eye view of teenagers - and a startling view, as well.

"I'm not a mother," she says. "All of it surprises me. I think they're oblivious to adults, period."

To baby boomers and other adults of a certain age, young people may seem rude, disrespectful and generally clueless about established social mores.

But to social scientists, the phenomenon is more complicated.

Raised by parents who stressed individualism and informality, these young people grew up in a society that is more open and offers more choices than in their parents' youth, says child and adolescent psychologist Dave Verhaagen of Charlotte.

Unlike their parents, they have never known anything but a world dominated by technology. Even their social lives revolve around the Web, iPods and cellphones. So they dress down, talk loose and reveal their innermost thoughts online.

"Put that all together and you've got a generation that doesn't have the same concept of privacy and personal boundaries as generations before," Verhaagen says.

"They're tuned out in some ways to the social graces around them and the people in their lives, in their physical realm, and tuned in to the people they're with virtually," says psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

On top of that, young people don't care as much about making a good impression as their parents and grandparents did growing up, says Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

She studied 40,745 young people who took surveys from 1958 to 2001 with questions such as "I am always careful in my manner of dress" and "I never forget to say 'please' or 'thank you.' " People who score high on social-approval questions display conventional behavior; those who score low are not as concerned with what others think.

In 1999, 76% of kids ages 8 to 12 (now in high school or college) paid little attention to social approval, up from 57% in 1970. Among college students in 2001, it was 62%, compared with 56% in 1970. The findings are published in Twenge's book, Generation Me.

Turkle, who studies the effects of technology on identity and social interaction, points to young people's "other-directedness" and use of ubiquitous technology to always be in touch with their peers.

If someone's self-identity is fragile, as is the case with many young people, he or she needs to bolster it "by constant contact with others who validate and enable them," she says. "Now you go to your Facebook entry and look at the comments left for you, and your sense of self can be shored up by the 50 people who have commented."

Says Verhaagen, author of Parenting the Millennial Generation: "Their ability to have multiple conversations through multiple technologies is different from previous generations, but in and of itself is not a bad thing.

"This generation uses technology to facilitate relationships and interactions in a way other generations never have. They are talking on a cellphone, IMing somebody, playing
Xbox and having three or four parallel conversations," maybe ignoring someone else sitting in the same room.

Such multitasking "does not fit with the current social mores of adults, but over the years, I think it will not be regarded as rude."

Right now, young people are "not in positions of leadership and power, and they have to play by the rules of other generations." That will change. "Over time, these kids will bring a different attitude and shape the culture of business and adult interactions in a way that we haven't seen before."

But for now, it still drives some adults crazy when they see young people wearing jeans or camisoles with spaghetti straps to church, or talking to parents and teachers the same casual way as friends.

"I'll talk to them a certain way, kidding with them, and they take it disrespectfully," says Danielle Nelson, 15, of Edgewater, Md.

"Our generation just is not raising our kids the way our parents did," says her mother, Beth Nelson, 45.

"I think there's a difference between respect and formality. You can be casual and show appropriate levels of respect."

Adults may believe that young people don't care about social standards, but they do, says syndicated columnist Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, author of the updated Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.

"Young people care deeply about the norms and practices of their contemporaries," she says. They just don't understand "that the standards of adults affect them."

Jacob Krell, 17, of Austin recalls his mother's warning as she helped him dye his hair during a short-lived blue-hair phase in middle school.

"She said, 'You're going to have to work twice as hard now to garner respect,' " says Krell, who will be a freshman in film studies at New York University this fall.

He says he's not sure how much respect he lost with his blue hair, but he acknowledges, "I probably didn't gain much, either."

Respect is something that Cupertino, Calif., high school teacher Arcadia Conrad has thought a lot about. At 33, she is not so far removed in age from her students, but she's eons away in attitude.

As an interviewer of prospective college students for Vassar, her alma mater, Conrad recalls a student showing up in "flip-flops and a miniskirt and her hair still wet."

"I'm one of the people making college decisions," she says. "I told her she was not on her way to the beach: 'Couldn't you have dried your hair?' "

Conrad, who teaches English and theater arts, says she often has to remind students who work as ushers or at concessions for school performances that listening to an iPod or talking with their friends on the job isn't appropriate.

"They seem to have a lot of trouble with the concept of putting your best foot forward," she says.

But technology and the way the young relate to it are creating the most adult consternation, Verhaagen says. He cites as an example a high school senior from an exclusive private school who was an intern at his office and spent a staff meeting text-messaging friends.

He didn't intend to be rude, but "he was clearly not tuned in to the fact that our expectations and cultural mores were different. If you grow up in a culture that says it's all about you, it's hard to think it isn't."

Such thinking isn't limited to the USA. In Great Britain, Prime Minister
Tony Blair is trying to regain some of the decorum that he believes the younger generation has lost.

This year, he outlined a Respect Action Plan that he hopes will reverse what he terms anti-social behavior - everything from neighbors refusing to lower the sound on stereos to teens menacing shop owners and customers. His plan, an updated version of his 1997 Anti-Social Behavior Orders, aims to have parents take more responsibility for children's behavior and shows young people how to live in a society of rules. Those who don't follow rules face fines or other punishments.

Teacher Conrad faults society more than she does young people.

"I don't think we're requiring civic responsibility anymore - the social graces, ceremony and ritual, dress codes, social mores and manners," she says. "My students seem to be saying, 'I can separate myself from whatever experience I'm in and create my own bubble.' "

Turkle, however, believes the infatuation with technology will lessen, and people will be better able to balance the real and the virtual parts of their lives.

"Ultimately, we're going to find a way to live in both ways at the same time - be nicer to each other in real life and not be clueless to the person sitting next to them," she says. "We'll settle down and have greater civility and care."

Comment: Today's teenagers seem to have a more relaxed concept of privacy and personal boundaries at the same time that the government is prying more and more into people's personal lives in the name of "security". Hmm...

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Lawmakers to crack down on data brokers

Associated Press
Wed Jun 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - Even as others cited the Fifth Amendment, a former data broker enthralled Congress on Wednesday with a bizarre, behind-the-scenes lesson on how this shadowy industry covertly gathers Americans' telephone records without subpoenas or warrants.

Some lawmakers gasped and others shook their heads in amazement during testimony from James Rapp, a former data broker run out of the business years ago by Colorado police.
Others identified as active data brokers refused to answer questions about how they conduct business, invoking their constitutional rights against saying anything under oath that might be used by prosecutors.

Rapp described what steps he would use, for example, to locate and steal the credit-card records of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., saying he would first trick a utility operator to reveal her home address. He also boasted that he could uncover the bank password of Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., in one hour.

"It's just playing the game," said Rapp, who told lawmakers he now cares full-time for his elderly mother in Colorado and lives off his family's savings.

Lawmakers were impressed - and troubled - as Rapp explained how easily customer service representatives at America's leading telephone and credit companies can be duped into revealing private account information.

"I don't think we have any privacy at all," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

Brokers have tricked telephone carriers into disclosing private customer information and broken into online accounts, in some cases guessing passwords that were the names of pets, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"She has two pets, one named Rainbow and the other is Max," wrote Donnie Tidmore of Waco, Texas, in September in an e-mail to one such data broker, PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas.

Tidmore, a private detective, also works as police chief in nearby Crawford, Texas, where President Bush owns his ranch. Tidmore wanted lists of cellular calls and the Social Security number of a Virgin Mobile USA subscriber for a case.

Tidmore told the AP on Wednesday the data brokers he used obtained information through legal means, but he acknowledged he has no idea how PDJ could obtain another person's phone records lawfully without a subpoena or warrant.

Tidmore agreed that, in his capacity as police chief, he would have needed a subpoena or warrant to obtain a citizen's phone records.

PDJ's owner, Patrick Baird, was among 11 people identified as data brokers who refused to testify during Wednesday's congressional hearing, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate themselves. They included Jim Welker, a Colorado state lawmaker who operated Universal Communications Co., which advertised it could obtain lists of anyone's telephone calls for $50.

The head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, promised to press for a broader vote in Congress soon on legislation the panel already approved to outlaw efforts to impersonate customers to trick companies into revealing personal records, a practice known as "pretexting."

Another data broker, Michele Yontef, smiled slightly when Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., read excerpts from an e-mail she sent to a colleague in July 2005 in which she complained: "I was shot down four times. ... I keep getting northwestern call center and they just must have had an operator meeting about pretext as every operator is cued in."

Yontef was described as legendary among data-brokers, so skillful in obtaining private phone records that she was known as "Ma Bell." She also declined to answer questions from lawmakers, citing the Fifth Amendment.

The congressional inquiry was expected to resume Thursday, when lawmakers question officials from federal and local police agencies over their use of data brokers to gather personal telephone records without a subpoena or warrant.

Comment: In other words, we're supposed to think that the privacy violations of average Americans by the alphabet soup agencies that happened on Bush's watch aren't as a big a deal as they seem. Now, guess who will come up with the perfect solution to keep as all "safe"??

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Is the NSA spying on U.S. Internet traffic?

By Kim Zetter
Jun. 21, 2006

In a pivotal network operations center in metropolitan St. Louis, AT&T has maintained a secret, highly secured room since 2002 where government work is being conducted, according to two former AT&T workers once employed at the center.

In interviews with Salon, the former AT&T workers said that only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, located inside AT&T's facility in Bridgeton. The room's tight security includes a biometric "mantrap" or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The former workers say company supervisors told them that employees working inside the room were "monitoring network traffic" and that the room was being used by "a government agency."

The details provided by the two former workers about the Bridgeton room bear the distinctive earmarks of an operation run by the National Security Agency, according to two intelligence experts with extensive knowledge of the NSA and its operations. In addition to the room's high-tech security, those intelligence experts told Salon, the exhaustive vetting process AT&T workers were put through before being granted top-secret security clearance points to the NSA, an agency known as much for its intense secrecy as its technological sophistication.

"It was very hush-hush," said one of the former AT&T workers. "We were told there was going to be some government personnel working in that room. We were told, 'Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they're doing.'"

The importance of the Bridgeton facility is its role in managing the "common backbone" for all of AT&T's Internet operations. According to one of the former workers, Bridgeton serves as the technical command center from which the company manages all the routers and circuits carrying the company's domestic and international Internet traffic. Therefore, Bridgeton could be instrumental for conducting surveillance or collecting data.

If the NSA is using the secret room, it would appear to bolster recent allegations that the agency has been conducting broad and possibly illegal domestic surveillance and data collection operations authorized by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. AT&T's Bridgeton location would give the NSA potential access to an enormous amount of Internet data -- currently, the telecom giant controls approximately one-third of all bandwidth carrying Internet traffic to homes and businesses across the United States.

The nature of the government operation using the Bridgeton room remains unknown, and could be legal. Aside from surveillance or data collection, the room could conceivably house a federal law enforcement operation, a classified research project, or some other unknown government operation.

The former workers, both of whom were approached by and spoke separately to Salon, asked to remain anonymous because they still work in the telecommunications industry. They both left the company in good standing. Neither worked inside the secured room or has access to classified information. One worked in AT&T's broadband division until 2003. The other asked to be identified only as a network technician, and worked at Bridgeton for about three years.

The disclosure of the room in Bridgeton follows assertions made earlier this year by a former AT&T worker in California, Mark Klein, who revealed that the company had installed a secret room in a San Francisco facility and reconfigured its circuits, allegedly to help collect data for use by the government. In detailed documents he provided to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Klein also alleged there were other secret rooms at AT&T facilities in other U.S. cities.

NSA expert Matthew Aid, who has spent the last decade researching a forthcoming three-volume history of the agency, said of the Bridgeton room: "I'm not a betting man, but if I had to plunk $100 down, I'd say it's safe that it's NSA." Aid told Salon he believes the secret room is likely part of "what is obviously a much larger operation, or series of interrelated operations" combining foreign intelligence gathering with domestic eavesdropping and data collection.

"You're talking about a backbone for computer communications, and that's NSA," Russ Tice, a former high-level NSA intelligence officer, told Salon. Tice, a 20-year veteran of multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, worked for the NSA until spring 2005. "Whatever is happening there with the security you're talking about is a whole lot more closely held than what's going on with the Klein case" in San Francisco, he said. (The San Francisco room is secured only by a special combination lock, according to the Klein documents.)

Tice added that for an operation requiring access to routers and gateways, "the obvious place to do it is right at the source."

In a statement provided to Salon, NSA spokesman Don Weber said: "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues as it would give those wishing to do harm to the United States insight that could potentially place Americans in danger; therefore, we have no information to provide. However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."

Since last December, news reports have asserted that the NSA has conducted warrantless spying on the phone and e-mail communications of thousands of people inside the U.S., and has been secretly collecting the phone call records of millions of Americans, using data provided by major telecommunications companies, including AT&T. Such operations would represent a fundamental shift in the NSA's secretive mission, which over the last three decades is widely understood to have focused exclusively on collecting signals intelligence from abroad.

The reported operations have sparked fierce protest by lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, and have raised fundamental questions about the legality of Bush administration policies, including their consequences for the privacy rights of Americans. The Bush administration has acknowledged the use of domestic surveillance operations since Sept. 11, 2001, but maintains they are conducted within the legal authority of the presidency. Several cases challenging the legality of the alleged spying operations are now pending in federal court, including suits against the federal government, and AT&T, among other telecom companies.

In a statement provided to Salon, AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp said: "If and when AT&T is asked by government agencies for help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions. Beyond that, we can't comment on matters of national security."

According to the two former AT&T workers and the Klein documents, the room in the pivotal Bridgeton facility was set up several months before the room in San Francisco. According to the Klein documents, the work order for the San Francisco room came from Bridgeton, suggesting that Bridgeton has a more integral role in operations using the secured rooms.

The company's Bridgeton network operations center, where approximately 100 people work, is located inside a one-story brick building with a small two-story addition connected to it. The building shares a parking lot with a commercial business and is near an interstate highway.

According to the two former workers, the secret room is an internal structure measuring roughly 20 feet by 40 feet, and was previously used by employees of the company's WorldNet division. In spring 2002, they said, the company moved WorldNet employees to a different part of the building and sealed up the room, plastering over the window openings and installing steel double doors with no handles for moving equipment in and out of the room. The company then installed the high-tech mantrap, which has opaque Plexiglas-like doors that prevent anyone outside the room from seeing clearly into the mantrap chamber, or the room beyond it. Both former workers say the mantrap drew attention from employees for being so high-tech.

Telecom companies commonly use mantraps to secure data storage facilities, but they are typically less sophisticated, requiring only a swipe card to pass through. The high-tech mantrap in Bridgeton seems unusual because it is located in an otherwise low-key, small office building. Tice said it indicates "something going on that's very important, because you're talking about an awful lot of money" to pay for such security measures.

The vetting process for AT&T workers granted access to the room also points to the NSA, according to Tice and Aid.

The former network technician said he knows at least three AT&T employees who have been working in the room since 2002. "It took them six months to get the top-security clearance for the guys," the network technician said. "Although they work for AT&T, they're actually doing a job for the government." He said that each of them underwent extensive background checks before starting their jobs in the room. The vetting process included multiple polygraph tests, employment history reviews, and interviews with neighbors and school instructors, going as far back as elementary school.

Aid said that type of vetting is precisely the kind NSA personnel who receive top-secret SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) clearance go through. "Everybody who works at NSA has an SCI clearance," said Aid.

It's possible the Bridgeton room is being used for a federal law enforcement operation. According to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, telecom companies are required to assist law enforcement officials who have legal authorization to conduct electronic surveillance, either in pursuit of criminal suspects or for the protection of national security. The companies must design or modify their systems to make such surveillance possible, essentially by making them wiretap-ready.

The FBI is the primary federal agency that tracks and apprehends terrorist suspects within the U.S. Yet, there are several indications that the Bridgeton room does not involve the FBI.

"The FBI, which is probably the least technical agency in the U.S. government, doesn't use mantraps," Aid said. "But virtually every area of the NSA's buildings that contain sensitive operations require you to go through a mantrap with retinal and fingerprint scanners. All of the sensitive offices in NSA buildings have them." The description of the opaque Plexiglas-like doors in Bridgeton, Aid said, indicates that the doors are likely infused with Kevlar for bulletproofing -- another signature measure that he said is used to secure NSA facilities: "You could be inside and you can't kick your way out. You can't shoot your way out. Even if you put plastique explosives, all you could do is blow a very small hole in that opaque glass."

Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national security program, said it is unlikely that the FBI would set up an ongoing technical operation -- in this case, for several years running -- inside a room of a telecommunications company. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed by Congress in 1978, requires law enforcement officials to obtain warrants from a secret federal court for domestic surveillance operations involving the protection of national security. If the FBI (or another federal agency) wanted data, it would more likely be targeting a specific individual or set of individuals suspected of engaging in criminal or terrorist activities. The agency would obtain a warrant and then call AT&T, or show up in person with the warrant and ask for the wiretap to be engaged. According to Jaffer, the FBI, NSA or any other federal agency could also legally tap into communications data under federal guidelines using technical means that would not require technical assistance of a telecom company.

In an e-mail statement to Salon, FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson said: "The FBI does not confirm whether or not we are involved in an alleged ongoing operational activity. In all cases, FBI operations are conducted in strict accordance with established Department of Justice guidelines, FBI policy, and the law."

Rather than specifically targeted surveillance, it is also possible that the Bridgeton room is being used for a classified government project, such as data mining, with which the Pentagon has experimented in the past. Data mining uses automated methods to search through large volumes of data, looking for patterns that might help identify terrorist suspects, for example. According to Tice, private sector employees who work on classified government projects for the NSA are required to undergo the same kind of top-secret security clearance that AT&T workers in the Bridgeton room underwent.

According to the former network technician, all three AT&T employees he knows who work inside the room have network technician and administration backgrounds -- not research backgrounds -- suggesting that those workers are only conducting maintenance or technical operations inside the room.

Furthermore, Tice said it is much more likely that any classified project using data collected via a corporate facility would take place in separate facilities: "The information that you garner from something like a room siphoning information and filtering it would be sent to some place where you'd have people thinking about what to do with that data," he said.

Dave Farber, a respected computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission, also said it is likely that data collected in a facility like the Bridgeton center would be used elsewhere, once the facility is set up to divert the data. "If I own the routers, I can put code in there to have them monitor for certain data. That's not a particularly difficult job," said Farber, who is considered one of the pioneers of Internet architecture. Farber said that "packets" of data can essentially be copied and then sent to some other location for use. "Most of the problems would have to do with keeping your staff from knowing too much about it."

According to the former network technician, workers at Bridgeton, at the direction of government officials, could conceivably collect data using any AT&T router around the country, which he says number between 1,500 and 2,000. To do so, the company would need to install a wiretap-like device at select locations for "sniffing" the desired data. That could explain the purpose of the San Francisco room divulged by Klein, as well as the secret rooms he alleged existed at AT&T facilities in other U.S. cities.

"The network sniffer with the right software can capture anything," the former network technician said. "You can get people's e-mail, VoIP phone calls, [calls made over the Internet] -- even passwords and credit card transactions -- as long as you have the right software to decrypt that."

In theory, surveillance involving Internet communications can be executed legally under federal law. "But with most of these things," Farber said, "the problem is that it just takes one small step to make it illegal."

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