- Signs of the Times for Mon, 06 Nov 2006 -

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Editorial: The Capture, Trial and Conviction of Saddam Hussein - Another US Intelligence Farce

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times

At the time, much was made of the capture of Saddam Hussein. Touted by the US government-controlled American mainstream press as a fatal blow to the insurgency that would lead to rejoicing in the streets of Baghdad, the reality, as we have seen, has turned out to rather different. Iraqis, logically enough, seem to be less concerned about Saddam's capture and trial than about the fact that a brutal US military force of occupation has essentially taken possession of their country and its resources and has caused the deaths of 655,000 of their fellow citizens.

After his initial capture in December 2003, Saddam was paraded in front of the press at his first court appearance in July 2004 where he stood accused of up to 12 crimes, including the alleged gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. But fate (and in Iraq these days "fate" wears the red white and blue ) has decreed that "Saddam" will not suffer the ignominy of answering those particular charges because his first trial for the killing of 148 people in a Shiite town in 1982 was enough, it seems, to convict and sentence him to death. The sense of relief in the White House over the fact that the "gassing" allegation will not have to be dissected is surely palpable, given that, if Saddam gassed anyone, it was with the chemical weapons supplied to him by the US government.

When he first appeared in court in 2004, Saddam was weak and pale and could be hardly heard. Strangely, the US military instituted a severe clampdown on media coverage of the proceedings which were not broadcast live. Frustrated members of the press had to wait until after the event to receive just FOUR minutes of audio and just a few seconds of video of the occasion. Furthermore, Saddam's lawyers claimed that they had been denied access to their client and that they had received death threats from members of the Iraqi government. While no mainstream media outlet at the time offered an explanation of these strange occurrences, logic would suggest that there is something about the man that appeared in court that the US military did not want the Iraqi people and the rest of the world, to see, or hear. It is one thing to present a few seconds of specifically chosen footage of a possibly drugged or mind programmed Saddam lookalike on television and thereby half-convince Iraqis that knew Saddam that the person in court is the real deal. It is a much more difficult task however to make an impostor's voice sound like the real Saddam's. There is also the danger that the impostor might suddenly and unexpectedly reveal his true identity. It seems likely that it was for this reason that the US military had to limit and edit the audio coverage and then "clear" it for broadcast.

Saddam's second "public" appearance came in May 2005 in the form of sensationalist pictures of the former dictator in US custody in his underpants.

In US custody, half-naked Saddam

MAY 20, 2005

LONDON: A British tabloid has run a humiliating, half-naked photo feature on Saddam Hussein, the prisoner firmly in US military custody, sparking fears of an Arab backlash and an investigation into possible human rights abuses.

The US authorities have promised to investigate how and when the intimate photographs of the former Iraqi dictator wound up in The Sun , Britain's best-selling newspaper. The tabloid, frontpaged on Friday a photograph of a bare-chested Saddam standing in white underpants and folding a pair of trousers.

The photograph is headlined 'Tyrant's in his pants' and sets the tone for still more humble ones inside the tabloid. The inside photographs show the man who once had a palace in every part of Iraq meekly washing his clothes by hand. Yet another photograph shows Saddam asleep on his bed. The Sun , which refused on Friday, to reveal where, when and how it came by the sensational photographs of the Butcher of Baghdad, would only quote American military sources to say they handed over the photos in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq.

"Saddam is not superman or God, he is now just an ageing and humble old man. It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth," the American source is quoted to say. The source added, "Maybe, that will kill a bit of the passion in the fanatics who still follow him. It's over, guys. The evil days of Saddam's Baath Party are never coming back - and here's the proof." But a furore has erupted over the release of the photographs, with presumed American logistical support, from Saddam's American-run prison, at a compound near Baghdad since his December 2003 capture.

British military experts pointed out that the photographs, which may or may not be up to one year old, could still be deemed to have contravened Saddam's rights as a prisoner and could have violated the Geneva Convention.

West Asian observers said the photographs of the toppled dictator wearing nothing but white underpants risked re-igniting the Arab sense of burning rage over the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. Under the Geneva Convention, Iraq's invaders, the US-UK-led military alliance, are not allowed release photographs and details about prisoners of war such as Saddam.

Saddam's status as a high-profile prisoner of the West makes the photographs particularly sensitive because Arabs might feel the West is poking fun at it.

Western diplomats said the photographs could spark a new wave of violence against the West.

The photos of Saddam also appeared in the New York Post, which - like the British tabloid 'The Sun' - is owned by die-hard Israeli supporter and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. It was also of note that the release of the pictures was designed to deal a "body blow" to the Iraq insurgency, the clear implication being that the Iraq insurgency is made up of Saddam loyalists, which is of course completely untrue. Since then, the insurgency has gone from strength to strength, despite the attempts by Israeli and US covert intelligence to demonise them through the use of "false flag" operations. Yet it suited the US and Israel very well for the world to believe the lie that the Iraqi insurgents are a fringe group of supporters of an evil tyrant rather than the truth: that they are, in fact, ordinary Iraqis attempting to oust a foreign occupying power.

At his second day in court (his third public appearance), again the world and even his lawyers were denied the opportunity to hear "Saddam" give evidence in his own words, and were provided with only short video segments with the former dictator's words interpreted for us by the US military.

Saddam Back In Court

Tuesday June 14, 2005
The Guardian

Appearing by turns pensive and quizzical, Saddam Hussein returned to public view yesterday when Iraq's special tribunal released video images of the former president being interrogated.

The first official pictures since his court appearance last July were mute but a tribunal statement said he was being questioned about a 1982 massacre at a Shia village north of Baghdad, one of the cases expected to arise at his trial.

Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, said he would have to view the video before commenting. The tribunal said Mr Duleimi was present during the filming.

However, a London-based member of the defence team, Giovanni di Stefano, said the former president was without legal assistance during the video and that it would be inadmissible in the trial.

The defence team has accused the tribunal of denying it proper access to the ousted dictator, withholding documents and leaking information to the press.

Since that time, the trial of "Saddam" has resembled a south American soap opera more than a credible trial, with constant adjournments and outbursts from just about everyone involved in the show, not to mention the untimely and suspicious deaths of several of "Saddam's" lawyers, the murder of the only witness to Saddam's alleged mass graves, and the testimony of one of Saddam's lawyers that he was psychologically disturbed, terrified about his possible execution, urinated on himself several times during the interview and broke into tears without reason. Par for the course, I suppose, in the judicial system of a country that is entirely controlled by the psychopathic leaders of another.

But let's back up a little to the time of the actual capture of "Saddam". You may remember images of the unearthing from a "rat hole" of some old bugger on a farm in the village of al-Dwar near Saddam's home town of Tikrit in December 2004. This, we were told, was "Saddam", finally captured more than 7 months after Bush had bravely declared "Mission Accomplished" from the safety of an American aircraft carrier docked in an American port. Images of the capture scene revealed a hole in the ground and a prone and disheveled santa-claus-type character with a burly American soldier poised over him for the 'money shot'. The money as it happens, was produced soon thereafter, $750,000 in crisp $100 dollar bills in a nice metal box, but it wasn't long before suspicions were raised by the presence of yellow dates on a tree at the entrance to the "rat hole" (below). You see, In Iraq, dates grow and ripen between March and August, with harvesting taking place between August and October. It is unlikely therefore that any variety of date would still be hanging on a tree in mid December in Iraq. At the very least, this information allows us to conclude that in all probability, "Saddam" was not captured in December as alleged by the US government, and that we are dealing with some sort of staged show for the general public.

Indeed, it seems that a planned and staged "capture" of "Saddam" was common knowledge in political circles in Washington in 2004:

McDermott in Hot Water for Saddam Quip

Associated Press Writer
December 15, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who earned headlines across the globe last year for criticizing President Bush while in Baghdad, is enmeshed in a new controversy over remarks he made about the capture of Saddam Hussein.

In an interview Monday with a Seattle radio station, McDermott said the U.S. military could have found the former Iraqi dictator "a long time ago if they wanted."

Asked if he thought the weekend capture was timed to help Bush, McDermott chuckled and said, "Yeah. Oh, yeah."

McDermott went on to say, "There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing."

When interviewer Dave Ross asked again if he meant to imply the Bush administration timed the capture for political reasons, McDermott said: "I don't know that it was definitely planned on this weekend, but I know they've been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was. It was just a matter of time till they'd find him.

"It's funny," McDermott added, "when they're having all this trouble, suddenly they have to roll out something."

State Republicans immediately condemned McDermott's remarks, saying the Seattle Democrat again was engaging in "crazy talk" about the Iraq war. [...]

In these troubled times, the truth is labeled "crazy talk". Remember that Mc Dermott wasn't the only US politician to hint that the was more to the capture of Saddam than the public were being told.

LaHood: Hussein's capture imminent

Pantagraph Staff
Tuesday, December 2, 2003

BLOOMINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood held his thumb and forefinger slightly apart and said, "We're this close" to catching Saddam Hussein." [...]

A member of The Pantagraph editorial board -- not really expecting an answer -- asked LaHood for more details, saying, "Do you know something we don't?"

"Yes I do," replied LaHood. [...]

So on the 2nd December 2003, a full 11 days before "Saddam" was actually "captured" by US troops, LaHood all but admitted that Saddam had already been captured. Are we to believe that he was left lying in his "rat hole" under vegetables for so long? If not, where was he?

Let's pause for a moment and have a closer look at the physical evidence for the claim that the real Saddam was captured almost three years ago. Consider the following images of "Saddam" and Saddam, paying close attention to the teeth of both men:

Is this the same man?

Check out the teeth

Notice anything?

Is this the same man?

While I am not claiming that these images provide conclusive proof that we are dealing with two different men, it does seem reasonable to suggest that there is cause for significant doubt. The source of the problem here is the fact that the US government had only to claim that this man is the real Saddam for the vast majority of people to accept it as fact. In the months prior to his capture, news reports were increasingly informing the public that US troops were searching for Saddam and were "closing in" on him. Then, when anticipation was deemed to be at its height: "Bingo" "We got him!" With such a build up of expectation among the general population that Saddam would "soon be captured" there was no real chance that anyone was going to look closely at the details when the event finally occurred. The fact remains however that when all of the evidence IS scrutinized, we are led to the conclusion that it is highly improbable that the man that was "caught" in a "rat hole" in December 2003, appeared in court in July 2004, was splashed across the British tabloids in May 2005, and yesterday was sentenced to death, is in fact the real Saddam Hussein.

Indeed, is laughable to suggest that Saddam would ever have allowed himself to be demeaned in this way. Indeed, it is laughable that the Americans would have allowed Saddam to be demeaned in this way. While Saddam was a tyrant, and no worse than the many other tyrants that the US placed in power (or those currently in power in the US), he was first and foremost one of the power brokers of this world who controlled on one of the world's largest oil reserves. We should remember that Saddam was placed in power by the US and, for a long time, was flavor of the month in the US even receiving the keys to the city of Detroit in 1980 and serving as a US ally in the Middle East until 1991 when he was baited to invade Kuwait and provide justification for the first Gulf War. After that he was allowed to remain in power until he could be used again, and for the last time, as the boogey man to facilitate a direct US invasion of Iraq.

For such service there are surely some rewards. So if this is not the real Saddam but a useful idiot and stand in, where is the real Saddam? Well, if we are to believe the words of Donald Rumsfeld (for once) just prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the most plausible answer is that, for the last 3 years, the real Saddam has been living it up in Belorussia, having been flown out by the USAF just before Baghdad was "taken".

Iraqi Commander Swears he saw USAF fly Saddam out of Baghdad

Bill Dash
Alamo Christian Ministries Online

Film will soon be made public of an Iraqi Army officer describing how he saw a US Air Force transport fly Saddam Hussein out of Baghdad. The explosive eyewitness testimony was shot by independent filmmaker Patrick Dillon, who recently returned from a risky one-man odyssey in Iraq. In the film, the officer, who told Dillon that he commanded a special combat unit during the battle for Baghdad airport and whose identity is temporarily being withheld, explains in detail how he watched as the Iraqi dictator and members of his inner circle were evacuated from Iraq's capital by what he emphatically insists were United States Air Force cargo planes. [...]

Dillon says his film lends major support to what many have believed for years: that Saddam was little more than an american tool, a stage-managed "evildoer", just one in a long line of useful villains bought and paid for by the United States in order to better manipulate international politics and commerce. [...]

Hussein Given Safe Haven in Belarus?

The World Tribune - 25 April 2003

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has obtained safe haven in Belarus, several intelligence agencies believe.

Western intelligence sources said several intelligence agencies in the Middle East and Europe base this assessment on new information about a March 29 flight from Baghdad to Minsk. They said the flight of a chartered cargo plane could have transported Saddam, his sons and much of his family to Belarus.

"There's no proof that Saddam was on the plane but we have proof that a plane left on that day from Baghdad airport and arrived in Minsk," a senior intelligence source said. "If you can think of anybody else who could obtain permission to fly out of Baghdad in the middle of a war, then please tell me."

U.S. officials and Iraqi opposition sources said Saddam and his sons appear to have escaped two assassination attempts during the war. But they did not confirm the registration of a cargo flight from Baghdad to Minsk on March 29, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said the cargo aircraft took off from an unspecified Baghdad-area airport and entered Iranian air space on the flight toward Minsk. They said Iran did not attempt to interfere with the Iraqi flight.

About two weeks later, a registration of the cargo flight was found by the U.S. military in wake of the capture of the airport and the rest of the Baghdad area. Baghdad International Airport was captured on April 4.

U.S. officials said Saddam had been exploring the prospect of fleeing to Belarus over the last year. They said the Iraqi ruler was in close contact with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and that Minsk became a major military supplier to Baghdad.

Within hours after the departure of the cargo flight to Minsk on March 29, the Saddam regime was awash with rumors that the president had escaped. Intelligence sources said the rumors spread rapidly throughout the military command and among field officers.

"There was a significant decline in Iraqi combat strength starting from around March 31," an intelligence source said. "In interviews with coalition interrogators, Iraqi commanders have attributed the decline in combat to the feeling that Saddam had fled."

While the above article is interesting and informative, it fails to draw one critical conclusion: Given that coalition forces had complete mastery over Iraqi airspace, the US government must have authorised Hussein's flight out of Iraq.

Saddam may find refuge in Belarus Says Rumsfeld

Ottawa Citizen

The former Soviet republic of Belarus has emerged as a possible refuge for Saddam Hussein after American officials hinted that the Iraqi leader might be allowed to flee into exile to avert a U.S. assault on Baghdad.

A visit to Iraq by a presidential delegation from Belarus last week coincided with a suggestion by U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Mr. Saddam and his family could "leave the country."

Mr. Rumsfeld said in a television interview: "If he doesn"t care to give up his weapons of mass destruction, then he"s got the choice of leaving."

As military preparations intensified with the mobilization of two more aircraft carrier battle groups and a 1,000-bed hospital ship, U.S. officials emphasized that no deal had been struck to allow Mr. Saddam to escape.

Mr. Rumsfeld's remark may have been no more than a psychological gambit intended to stir confusion in Baghdad.

Yet the Belarus visit heightened American suspicion that Mr. Saddam might be making contingency plans for a last-minute dash.

While it remains far from certain that the Iraqi dictator would flee, Mr. Rumsfeld recently singled out Belarus as one of the few countries that might offer him sanctuary.

"If Saddam Hussein is in a corner, it is because he has put himself there," he told a congressional committee.

"One choice he has is to take his family and key leaders and seek asylum elsewhere. Surely one of the 180-plus countries would take his regime - possibly Belarus."

The former Soviet republic has become a pariah state under the dictatorial rule of President Alexander Lukashenko and is suspected of violating United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

Saddam in Belarus?


However, according to our information, the deposed ruler and his sons were carried to safety in Minsk in late March aboard two chartered airliners. This week, the Polish news agency PAP sent a team of reporters to the Belarus capital to check on this account. They quote Natalia Pietkiewicz, spokesperson at President Aleksandr Lukashenko's bureau, as evading a direct reply when asked if the former Iraqi ruler was in the country. She said: "We have no information that Saddam Hussein is in Belarus." This is a long way from a flat denial.

The big question is how did the trio and its following of several hundred manage to elude coalition air forces, by then in full command of Iraqi skies, a question which leads to another: How did the men at the pinnacle of enemy power come to survive the two wars the Bush administration fought in less than two years?

This last question is an excellent one and goes right to the heart of the matter. The simple answer is that these "enemies" were not enemies at all, but either useful idiots or actual agents of the US government. As such, when they were no longer useful, they were retired from service, with an excellent pension.

Consider also the testimony of Former Russian Prime Minister Primakov that Saddam had made a "pre-war deal" with the US...

'Saddam, US had pre-war deal'

24/06/2004 - (SA)

Moscow - Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein cut a deal with the United States before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov said in an interview published on Thursday.

"There was an understanding with the Americans, as paradoxical as it may seem," Primakov told the Russian daily Gazeta in a lengthy interview.

"Why weren't the bridges of the Tigris blown up when the American tanks approached Baghdad? Why weren't Iraqi aviation and tanks used, and where are they now?" asked Primakov, a former head of the Russian secret service and a specialist in Arab affairs who was formerly on good terms with Saddam.

"Why was there an immediate ceasefire? Why was there practically no resistance a year ago?" he added.

Primakov, who now heads Russia's chamber of trade and industry, also cast doubt on the authenticity of footage of Saddam's reported capture that circled the world on December 14.

"They showed two soldiers with guns with palm trees in the background near the hole (where Saddam was reportedly hiding). At that time of year, date palms are never in bloom," he said.

"Finally, any man can tell you that such a long beard (as Saddam had when he was reportedly caught) could not grow in seven months," he said.

"All evidence suggests that Saddam surrendered earlier and the story of the hole was invented later," he said.

Primakov, who was also Russian foreign minister, made two secret trips to Iraq at the request of President Vladimir Putin, shortly before the invasion by US and British troops.

Iran then backed up the Russian Prime Minister's story...

Iran Media Leaks Secret US Deal with Saddam

Gulf News Apr 15, 2003

AN Iranian news agency close to top conservative military figures attributed the fall of Baghdad to a secret tripartite agreement between Saddam Hussein, Russia and the US.

According to the Baztab agency, 13 days after the start of the war, Saddam and Russian intelligence allegedly pledged to hand over Baghdad with minimal resistance to allied forces provided they spared the lives of Saddam and a hundred of his close relatives. The US, for its part, promised to safely send Saddam and his entourage to a third country.

Baztab added that Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf, Iraqi Information Minister, was instructed to stay in Baghdad until the very last moments to lend the impression that everything in Saddam's camp was under control. The agency also claimed that Russia gained $5 billion to orchestrate this agreement. [...]

Saddam's wife could not recognize her husband


Last week, American authorities arranged a meeting of the former Iraqi dictator with his wife.

She was the first of Hussein's relatives to meet with the ex-leader of Iraq at a new place, at the American military base in Qatar. Accompanied by Sheikh Hamad Al-Tani, Sajida Heiralla Tuffah has arrived from Syria on his private jet in the end of March.

The outcome of their meeting turned out to be quite scandalous. Sajina claims that the person she encountered was not her husband, but his double. If someone were to say for sure that it was not insinuation, it would have been easy to believe the wife with a 25-year experience. It is also possible to assume that Saddam has simply changed since the day of his sons' deaths, June 24 2003. This however is highly unlikely. In case we believe Hussein's wife, all DNA testing of the ex-Iraqi leader should be considered a mere fake. Overall, today there remain more questions then there are answers.

It is of note that since his capture, and with the exception, or perhaps because, of the above meeting, "Saddam" has not been allowed to see any family members, friends, or lawyers of his choice. Saddam's daughter, also appearing to recognise that something was amiss, stated at the time that the images of "her father" in court led her to believe that he was drugged that he was "not fully conscious". A few days after his capture, ordinary Iraqis reacted skeptically to the news that this was indeed the real Saddam.

Iraqis doubt real Hussein behind bars

Globe and Mail
December 18, 2003

Baghdad - Jassim Abu Ahmed almost spits his disgust at the television set showing yet another image of the dazed and bedraggled Saddam Hussein.

"It's not him," Mr. Ahmed says, waving his hand and looking away from the screen.

In an interview given to Deborah Moore in July 2004, one of Saddam's "lawyers", Giovanni Di Stefano, stated categorically that Saddam would not face execution and would not be handed over to Iranian authorities who are seeking his extradition for alleged war crimes during the Iran/Iraq war. When asked how he knew this he stated that he would not say anymore on the matter.

Interestingly, Di Stefano claims to have "the greatest respect" for Salem Chalabi, nephew of CIA asset and recently appointed Iraqi Deputy PM and "oil minister", Ahmed Chalabi. An article from the Arab-American Institute tell us that, not long after the "fall of Baghdad" (a misnomer if there ever was one):

Salem Chalabi established the Iraq International Law Group (IILG), which describes itself as "your professional gateway to the new Iraq." Assisting Salem in setting up the IILG was a partner Marc Zell (the IILG's website has been registered in Zell's name). Zell is an Israeli settler of the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) stripe. Here the plot thickens.

Zell had for many years been Feith's partner in their Washington-Tel Aviv law firm, Feith and Zell (FANDZ). FANDZ had been set up when Feith left government to pursue the work of a "foreign agent" representing Turkey and some Israeli interests.

Following the Baghdad opening of the IILG, Zell soon opened, in the U.S., an office for Zell, Goldberg & Co., which promises to assist "American companies in their relations with the U.S. government in connection with Iraq's reconstruction projects." It is interesting to note that Zell, Goldberg still uses the website FANDZ, the site of the old Feith and Zell firm. So when Zell boasts his connections to government, businesses know exactly what is meant.

In the relatively short period of time since the fall of the Ba'ath Party regime, IILG and Zell, Goldberg have facilitated contracts in the tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars.

Salem Chalabi incidentally has also been appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority to head the Iraqi tribunal that will investigate and prosecute the crimes Saddam and his cohorts committed against the Iraqi people. His uncle is meanwhile railing against the former regime's corruption and demanding the right to investigate profiteering and kick-backs he alleges occurred in the UN's food for oil program.

Feith and Calabi were at the forefront of the plundering of Iraq's resources in order to fill the coffers of American and Israeli big business. Feith also promised the Israelis and their U.S. supporters that, not only would post-Saddam Iraq trade with Israel, but it would resurrect the Iraq-Israel pipeline for oil export. Given that Chalabi is clearly in bed with the Neocons - the architects of the illegal Iraq war - AND the chief prosecutor of Saddam, it is a little troubling, although not at all surprising that one of Saddam's lawyers would have the "greatest respect" for Chalabi, or that Ahmed Chalabi met with "Saddam" for at least one little chat not long after he was "captured"

Ahmed Chalabi discusses the finer points of acting under the influence with "Saddam"

Even less surprising is the news that Di Stefano is a convicted fraudster with a client list of mostly mass murderers, and with his praise for a liar and thief like Chalabi who could be shocked to learn that Di Stefano may not actually be a lawyer at all.

Such sordid relationships between repugnant reprobates simply add to our suspicions that the entire Saddam capture, trial and now death sentence is nothing more than a carefully planned publicity stunt, employing a fake Saddam periodically pulled out on stage in order to maintain the illusion. The producers of this dodgy drama are, however, extremely careful to limit the exposure of their lead actor lest the truth that he is an imposter should become more apparent than it already is.

Despite the fact that "Saddam" has been sentenced to death, there is a potentially lengthy appeal process to be suffered before it is decided if he will actually face the hangman's noose, so we must wait to see if Di Stefano had some "inside" information in this matter. Perhaps Saddam's appeal will take approximately 2 years, with an execution date just happening to coincide with the next US elections, or, perhaps the US government has decided that, with the intial guilty verdict, there is little more in the way of propaganda to be extracted out of "Saddam", and with the help of the American mainstream media, the "evil dictator" will now fade from our collective awareness, whether we like it or not.
Comment on this Editorial

Editorial: Signs Economic Commentary for November 6, 2006

Donald Hunt
Signs of the Times
November 6, 2006

Gold closed at 629.10 dollars an ounce on Friday, up 4.4% from $602.30 at the close of the previous Friday. The dollar closed at 0.7863 euros Friday, up 0.2% from 0.7848 euros for the week. That put the euro at 1.2718 dollars compared to 1.2742 at the end of the week before. Gold in euros would be 494.65 euros an ounce, up 4.6% from 472.69 for the week. Oil closed at 59.14 dollars a barrel Friday, down 2.7% from $60.75 at the close of the previous week. Oil in euros would be 46.50 euros a barrel, down 2.5% from 47.68 for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 10.64, up 7.4% from 9.91 at the end of the week before. In U.S. stocks the Dow closed at 11,986.04 Friday, down 0.9% from 12,090.26 for the week. The NASDAQ closed at 2,330.79 Friday, down 0.9% from 2,350.62 at the close of the previous Friday. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.71%, up three basis points from 4.68 for the week.

Gold rose sharply last week while oil dropped. Oil is dropping in reaction to a number of reports indicating an economic slowdown. Stock prices may have also begun to reflect that as the Dow dipped below 12,000 last week after six days of losses.

Is a recession looming?

Chad Hudson
November 1, 2006

The economic news took a decidedly negative tone over the past week. The Commerce Department reported that economic growth slowed to 1.6% in the third quarter. This was below the 2.6% pace from the second quarter and lower than the 2.0% growth economists forecasted. Residential construction and the increase in imports were the two largest drags on economic growth. Residential construction dropped 17.4%, the largest drop since December 1991, and imports surged 7.8%. An increase in imports means that consumers purchased more goods produced oversees and not here, and this means that total economic activity was lower than total receipts would indicate. The record level of imports shaved 128 basis points off economic growth, while the drop in residential construction reduced growth by 112 basis points. This was the largest negative impact residential housing has had on economic growth since fourth quarter of 1981. Non-residential construction increased 14%, a deceleration from the 20.3% gain last quarter, and contributed to 88 basis points to the growth rate. While commercial construction has strengthened as residential construction has slumped, it has not been able to offset the full impact of the decline in residential construction.

Personal consumption accelerated in the third quarter, up 3.1%, led by an 8.4% increase in durable goods. A few economists have commented that a portion of this strength is attributed to the accounting treatment of automotive sales. Joe Carson, director of economic research at AllianceBernstein and former economists with the Commerce Department, said that the drop in wholesale prices of SUVs and light trucks as automakers cleared out 2006 inventory made production look stronger than it actually was. Without this distortion, economic growth would have only been 0.9%, and will be reversed this quarter, lowering reported GDP. The other item economists noted was the buildup of inventories. This will likely reduce fourth-quarter GDP as inventories have to be worked off, curtailing production.

Besides the weaker than expected GDP report, the ISM survey also showed that the manufacturing sector has decelerated. The survey of supply mangers fell 1.7 points to 51.2. Economists were expecting a slight increase to 53. The prices paid component was the largest negative factor. Prices paid dropped 14 points to 47, the lowest it has been since February 2002. Obviously the drop in energy prices fueled the plunge. Production and new orders also dropped, but remained over 50. Employment rose by 1.8 points to 50.8.

The tight labor market has supported consumer spending. The unemployment rate has remained low and income growth has accelerated over the past two years. On Monday, the Commerce Department reported that personal income increased 0.5% in September and has gained 6.8% over the past year. The wage & salary component has jumped 7.6% from a year ago. The report also revealed that spending increased only 0.1% in September and has increased by 5.9% over the past year. The string of negative savings rate continued for the eighteenth consecutive month, but is was the highest its been since May 2005.

Last month, the Labor Department reported that only 58,000 jobs were created in September. This was the lowest number of new workers since last October, which was skewed by the hurricanes. The ADP Employment Report showed that 128,000 jobs were added in October. This is close to the 120,000 new jobs economists are expecting. While most indications show that the labor market remains healthy, Friday's reports will be very important considering the September report was much weaker than expected.

While most economic indicators point to a healthy labor market, the latest consumer confidence survey from the Conference Board revealed that consumers have gotten less optimistic. The percentage of respondents that said that jobs were hard to get jumped 1.1 points to 22.0, the highest since December 2005. This was one of main causes of the surprise decline in the survey. Economists were expecting confidence to increase to 108, but instead it dropped half-a-point to 105.4. September was revised higher by 1.4 points. Interestingly, the lower optimism regarding the labor market pulled down the present situation index 3.4 points to 124.7. But, expectations rose 1.6 points to 92.6. This is the highest level since December 2005. The present situation index fell 3.4 points to 124.7. This was the second lowest level this year. The weekly ABC News/Washington Post survey jumped four points to -3, the highest since January 2004. The decline in energy prices has been thought to be a leading reason for the jump in consumer confidence. But this might not be causing consumers to spend more. The buying climate component of the ABC News survey didn't budge this week, but views on the economy and personal finances surged to multi-year highs.

Wal-Mart announced that its same store sales increased 0.5% in October, the smallest gain in six years. Retailers will report October same store sales on Thursday. The International Council of Shopping Centers estimates that October sales increased 3.0%. While this might be achievable, it appears consumers have started to tire. The past two weeks have seen a sharp declaration in same store sales. As energy prices declined since late summer the ICSC has reported that weekly chain store sales accelerated from the 2% level in late July and early August to the 4% level in September. Since topping out at 4.9% in mid-September, chain store sales increased only 2.3% last week. Part of the explanation is the strong sales experienced last year, making for difficult comparisons this year. These comparisons get even more difficult in November. Same store sales increased by more than 4% in three of the four weeks in November last year.

Richard Bernstein, Merrill Lynch's chief economist, published a note this week commenting that according to its recession-risk indicator, which is based on New York Fed's yield curve model that normalizes for the level of interest rates, the chance of a recession is 51% for the next year. The last time it surged past 50% was in 2001. Questions regarding the strength of the economy have heightened over the past few weeks and will likely continue into 2007. If the economy slips into recession that includes a slowdown in consumer spending, the economic downturn will be much more severe than the previous recession.

Thoughts like that led to the faltering of the stock market in the United States:

U.S. Stocks Snap Five-Week Winning Streak; Wal-Mart Declines

By Michael Patterson

Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stocks fell this week, snapping the longest such winning streak since 2005, as reports on manufacturing and consumer spending suggested that the economy may slow enough to curtail profit growth.

Retailers led the decline after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. forecast its worst monthly sales performance in more than 10 years and a gauge of consumer confidence unexpectedly dropped. Telecommunications shares slumped as Verizon Communications Inc. reported earnings that trailed some analysts' estimates.

Data that showed rising labor costs and falling unemployment also damped optimism that the Federal Reserve may cut interest rates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average extended its retreat from a record for a sixth day, sliding below the 12,000 level it had crossed for the first time ever last month.

"The market has priced in a pretty rosy situation," said Alec Young, an equity market strategist at Standard & Poor's in New York. "You've got a situation where growth is slowing, but the Fed is not riding to the rescue right away."

For the week, the Dow industrials dropped 0.9 percent to 11,986.04. The 30-stock gauge has retreated every session since reaching a record on Oct. 26, the longest daily losing streak since June 2005.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index declined 1 percent to 1364.30, its biggest drop in almost three months. Both the Dow average and the S&P 500 fell for the first time in six weeks.

A slump in shares of Whole Foods Market Inc. weighed on the Nasdaq Composite Index, which slid 0.8 percent to 2330.79.

November Retreat

Expectations that better-than-expected earnings and a drop in oil prices will support economic growth without spurring inflation had sent the Dow industrials to a record on Oct. 26, while the S&P 500 reached a level not seen since November 2000.

The gauges have stumbled since then as data showed the economy grew at the lowest rate in more than three years, manufacturing slowed and labor costs increased.

Manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at the slowest pace in more than three years last month, a private report indicated on Nov. 1. The Institute for Supply Management's factory index fell to 51.2 from 52.9 in September. Economists in a Bloomberg News survey expected 53. Readings above 50 signal expansion.

Separate data indicated that consumer spending unexpectedly slowed even as incomes rose.

The Commerce Department said personal spending increased 0.1 percent in September, down from a 0.2 percent gain the previous month. Economists expected a 0.2 percent rise. Incomes increased 0.5 percent in September.

The report, along with a forecast from Wal-Mart, suggested that oil's slide from a July record may do little to bolster household spending in the holiday shopping season.

Wal-Mart fell 6.3 percent to $47.53 for the worst performance in the Dow average. The world's largest retailer forecast that sales at stores open at least a year will be unchanged this month as disappointing clothing sales and disarray from store renovations hurt results. The estimate means Wal-Mart is headed for its worst performance since April 1996.

Whole Foods plunged 29 percent to $46.26 for the biggest slide in the S&P 500. The largest U.S. natural-foods grocer had its biggest one-day plunge ever yesterday after cutting its 2007 sales forecast.

Retailers Slide

The declines in Wal-Mart and Whole Foods helped send a gauge of food and household products merchants down 4.8 percent, the biggest drop among two-dozen S&P 500 industry groups.

A separate measure of retailers, including Gap Inc., slid 2.6 percent. The Conference Board said its index of consumer sentiment fell to 105.4 last month from a revised 105.9 in September. Economists had estimated a reading of 108.

Gap retreated 5.6 percent to $19.57. The largest U.S. clothing chain said that third-quarter profit was about 21 cents to 23 cents a share. Analysts expected 23 cents, the average estimate in a survey by Thomson Financial.

...Reports on labor costs and unemployment suggested that central bankers may have little room to cut interest rates even as profit growth decelerates.

U.S. wage costs increased at a 3.8 percent pace in the third quarter, the Labor Department said, exceeding economists' estimates for a 3.4 percent gain. Costs are up 5.3 percent in the 12 months though September, the biggest gain since 1982.

That data may undermine the Fed's statement last week that inflation is "likely to moderate over time." Policy makers kept their target rate at 5.25 percent the past three meetings, after 17 straight increases.


"The market's kind of spooked, a little bit afraid of inflation right now," said Todd Clark, director of trading at Nollenberger Capital Partners, a San Francisco-based brokerage firm.

The unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 4.4 percent in October, while companies added more workers in previous months than indicated, the Labor Department said.

Before the jobs report, interest-rate futures showed traders saw a 14 percent chance the central bank would cut the Fed funds target rate to 5 percent by the end of January. Following the report's release, the odds of a rate cut in both January and February fell to zero...

The jobs numbers actually came in around 90,000 for October, yet it was announced that unemployment hit a five-year low. There was a lot of skepticism about the unemployment number, coming as it did just in time for Bush to tout a revived economy on the campaign trail. But it seems to me anecdotally that it might well be true that unemployment is at a Bush II era low. You tend to get a lot of people working when the government borrows hundreds of billions and spends it on a disastrous war. You also get a lot of people working when the people themselves have borrowed vast sums and spent it all.

Unemployment rate lowest in 5-1/2 years

Glenn Somerville
Fri Nov 3, 5:10 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 5-1/2 year low in October and hiring in the two prior months was revised up, the government said on Friday, leading financial markets to slash bets on interest-rate cuts.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 5-1/2 year low in October and hiring in the two prior months was revised up, the government said on Friday, leading financial markets to slash bets on interest-rate cuts.

The rosier-than-expected job picture, days before next Tuesday's congressional elections in which ruling Republicans are considered at risk of losing control, caused rejoicing among President George W. Bush's party but Democrats countered that most Americans still say household budgets are under pressure.

The Labor Department said 92,000 jobs were added in October. But it said hiring in each of September and August was far more vigorous than first thought, implying enough economic vigor to keep growing despite a housing-industry slowdown.

September's job-creation total was revised up to 148,000, nearly three times the 51,000 reported a month ago, and there were 230,000 new jobs in August instead of 188,000.

The unemployment rate fell in October to 4.4 percent from 4.6 percent in September. It was the lowest jobless rate since 4.3 percent in May 2001.

...Analysts said the jobs data adds to confusion about the economy's direction, since it comes just a week after the government reported the weakest expansion in more than three years in the third quarter. Gross domestic product slowed to a 1.6 percent annual rate of growth from 2.6 percent in the second quarter.


Notwithstanding softer overall growth, the Labor Department said average hourly earnings in October rose 0.4 percent to $16.91 -- higher than the 0.3 percent that analysts had anticipated -- while the average workweek edged up to 33.9 hours from 33.8. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 3.9 percent, the department said.

The combination of slower growth and rising wages has to be unsettling for economic policy-makers, analysts said.

"The Fed would have liked the unemployment rate to jump 0.2 percentage point and payrolls to have been revised downward," said economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. "They got the worst of all worlds and any thoughts of a near-term rate cut should be out the window."

Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer for Johnson Illington Advisors in Albany, New York, said the report underlined a tightening labor market that could mean future rate hikes instead of reductions.

"There's tightness showing up in the decline in the unemployment rate and in the upward pressure on wages, which were stronger than expected," Johnson said. "This will certainly give hawks on the Federal Open Market Committee some ammunition."

The payroll report is calculated from two separate surveys of households and businesses. The household survey showed that a whopping 437,000 more people were employed in October.

The business survey showed most of the new hiring in October was in service industries, where 152,000 new jobs were created, while goods-producing industries shed 60,000 jobs.

The question is how long will this last? One sign of nervousness in those who can pump up the stock market is the recent announcement by the Securties and Exchange Commission (SEC) of a proposal to drastically reduce margin requirements, the amount a purchaser of securities must put up towards a purchase thus pumping more (borrowed) money into the markets:

Curious Change in Margin Requirements

Bob Hoye
October 31, 2006

Through the SEC, the Fed controls margin requirements and a recent announcement was described by the deputy director of the SEC as "a very significant change". Remember that this is essentially the same Fed and SEC that argued that no increases were needed during the late 1990s' tech mania.

Now they are talking about lowering margin requirements for institutions on stocks, options, and futures. Now ranging from 25% to 50%, the proposal is to drop them to 15%.

...Traditionally, the Fed raised margin requirements as a stock boom matured and then lowered them near the end of the inevitable contraction. Despite the remarkable intensity of the 2000 mania, margin requirements were not increased. Perhaps the Fed rationalized this non-action as not wanting to be seen doing anything that could be construed as breaking the mania - a curious abandonment of touted contra-cyclical genius.

Why then the "significant change" in margin requirements now?

An answer could be found in reviewing the last time a senior central bank lowered margin requirements close to the peak of a boom, and that was in early 1990.

At the peak of the Tokyo mania, the Japan Times headline "Economists Believe The coming Decade Will Be A Golden Era" (December 26, 1989). Our May 1, 1990 edition reviewed the initial decline as follows:

The main problem is that everyone has always expected the Japanese government to support the stock market. With the first break in Tokyo, the authorities lowered margin requirements and margin accounts bought. So far as we can tell, most sharp breaks at the end of a Bull market are caused by the liquidation of speculative positions.

Usually with this, there is a reduction in margin debt. In Tokyo's case, the market sold off 20% with a substantial rise in margin debt. This is a very vulnerable stock market.

That edition pointed out that after such a mania the index could decline to about 18% of the high. The low in 2003 was 19.5% of the high.

Obviously, on the initial break, pain to big players was sufficient to prompt concerned policymakers to lower margin requirements. As noted at the time, this was a grave error and yet another example of naive policymakers exacerbating natural market forces.

In looking at the senior indexes and credit spreads, the conviction is that nothing can go wrong. Essentially, this is based upon the short-lived folly that the last rate hike is a good thing.

Beneath the ebullient veneer is a serious problem in the housing market which, with a huge 50% of their assets committed to mortgages, will feed into commercial banks. The other problem is the threat of more blowups in hedge-fund-land.

Possibly these two threatening conditions have prompted the discussion about reducing margin requirements, which would likely be as impractical as the one at the end of the Tokyo bubble.

The stock market supposedly also likes divided government in the United States, so the political news of the past week, with the Democratic party poised to gain control of the House of Representatives but probably not the Senate, should have boosted the markets. The grave desperation of the political situation in the United States, however, does not bode well for the markets. The leading news organs of the four main branches of the military are all coming out with editorials Monday calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. This, coming the day before an election, is as close to a military coup as the U.S. has had in a long time. Yet Bush last week said that Cheney and Rumsfeld will continue at their posts for the rest of his term. Bush also in his deluded fashion keeps talking about "victory" in Iraq, but serious analysts are now discussing the best way to manage the defeat. The difference between a well-managed defeat and a chaotic, poorly managed one could spell the difference in whether or not the U.S. empire survives the second Bush administration. The scale of the disaster cannot be overstated, yet financial markets in the United States go on as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. :

"The American Era in the Middle East Has Ended"
Baghdad is Surrounded

By Mike Whitney
November 2, 2006

Don Rumsfeld is not a good leader. In fact, he is a very bad leader. Leadership is predicated on three basic factors: Strong moral character, sound judgment, and the ability to learn from one's mistakes. None of these apply to Rumsfeld. As a result, every major decision that has been made in Iraq has been wrong and has cost the lives of countless Iraqis and American servicemen. This pattern will undoubtedly continue as long as Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense.

Here's a simple test: Name one part of the occupation of Iraq which has succeeded?

Security? Reconstruction? De-Ba'athification? Dismantling the Iraqi military? Protecting Saddam's ammo-dumps? Stopping the looting? Body armor? Coalition government? Abu Ghraib? Falluja? Even oil production has been slashed in half.
Every facet of the occupation has been an unmitigated disaster. Nothing has succeeded. Everything has failed.


Never the less, Rumsfeld assures us that "these things are complicated" and that we should just "Back off".

It was Rumsfeld's decision to replace America's first Iraqi Viceroy, General Jay Garner after Garner wisely advised that we maintain the Iraqi military, leave many of the Ba'athists in the government (to maintain civil society) and convene leaders from the three main groups (Sunni, Shia and Kurds) to form a coalition government. This didn't square with Rumsfeld's plans to revolutionize Iraqi society and transform it into a neoliberal Valhalla; so Garner was unceremoniously dumped for Kissinger's protégé, Paul Bremer.

Once Bremer was installed, things started heading downhill fast and have only gotten worse ever since.

Apart from the immense damage to Iraqi society, the enormous human suffering, and the massive loss of life; there is also the astronomical cost of the war which has been purposely concealed by the Defense Dept. Originally, the war was supposed to "pay for itself in oil revenues". (according to neocon Paul Wolfowitz) That, of course, never happened but, the real costs appeared in this week's Washington Post in an article by Jim Wolf called "Pentagon Expands War-funding Push". The article states:

"With the passage of the fiscal 2006 supplemental spending bill, war-related appropriations would total about $436.8 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and enhanced security at military bases, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service said in a Sept 22 report.this is in addition to the more than $500 billion sought by President Bush in his baseline fiscal 2007 national defense request."

That's right; we're spending a whopping $1 trillion a year for a war that we're losing!

Still, don't expect accountability from the Pentagon where taxpayer dollars are carelessly flung into the Mesopotamian black-hole with utter abandon. Heads never role because no one in charge ever accepts responsibility for their mistakes.
So, "Back off"!

...A growing number of establishment-elites are frustrated with Rumsfeld's bungling and are ready for a change. But that doesn't matter because the Sec-Def has the backing of powerful constituents in the banking, corporate and defense industries as well as neoconservative aficionados in many of Washington's preeminent think-tanks. He also has Bush's support, which is a mere formality since Cheney and Rumsfeld run the government anyway. The bottom line is, Rumsfeld is "here to stay".

...Rumsfeld flattened Fallujah nearly 2 years ago thinking that the destruction of the city of 300,000 would "send a message" to the Sunnis; convincing them that it was useless to resist. His action, which was enthusiastically applauded by right-wing pundits and politicians in America, produced exactly the opposite response. The resistance is now stronger than ever, the attacks on American troops have increased dramatically, and al-Anbar province is no longer under U.S. control.

Anyone with even a superficial understanding of psychology could have predicted the outcome, but Rumsfeld blundered on with his iron-fisted tactics regardless of the facts.

Rumsfeld's over-reliance on force has spread turmoil throughout the Sunni-heartland making it virtually ungovernable. The sectarian violence is now so bad that a leaked-Pentagon report prepared by the US Central Command says the country is in a state of "chaos". This is the logical corollary of the Rumsfeld approach and it is unlikely to change.

For American troops in Iraq, there is a worse scenario than chaos; that is defeat. Patrick Cockburn's 11-1-06 article "Baghdad is under Siege" provides the chilling details of an armed Iraqi resistance which has now cut off supply lines to the capital and threatens to make America's ongoing occupation impossible. Cockburn says:

"Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.The country has taken another lurch towards disintegration. Well armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement. The Sunnis insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all approaches to Baghdad."

Baghdad is surrounded and the predicament for American troops is increasingly tenuous. The battle is being lost on all fronts. So, what is Secretary Rumsfeld's response to these new and urgent developments?

Rumsfeld held a press conference in which he blasted his critics for "focusing too much on the bad news coming out of Iraq" and announced the launching of a new public relations campaign which will attempt to elicit greater support for the ongoing occupation. The Pentagon plans to "develop messages" to respond to the negative news-coverage and, as Rumsfeld said, "correct the record."

"Correct the record"? Is the Pentagon planning to "repackage" the war even while the Resistance is tightening its grip around the capital?

What type of madness is this? This is not the behavior of serious men. This is just more of the same "faith-based," public relations hucksterism which leads nowhere. The worsening situation in Iraq will not improve by ramping-up the propaganda-machine, appealing to American chauvinism, or attacking critics of the war. This is real life; not some skit that's been choreographed to dupe the Washington press corps. We need leaders who are capable of grasping the situation in realistic terms and initiating political dialogue with the warring parties. All the cheerleading and yellow ribbons in the world will not create a viable solution for the impending catastrophe.

The American people are way ahead of Rumsfeld on the issue of Iraq. Nearly 70% now believe that the war was a "mistake" and a clear majority is looking for candidates who will support a change in policy. A poll conducted by the New York Times/CBS News on 11-2-06 shows that "a substantial majority of Americans expect Democrats to reduce or end American military involvement in Iraq if they win control of Congress." That tells us in stark terms that the public wants to "get out now". The November 7 midterms will be a referendum on Bush's "war of choice" and a flat rejection of the conflict which Rumsfeld so desperately wants to popularize. So far, the Democrats are showing substantial leads in all the polls.

The media has been a steadfast ally to the Bush troupe and given them a "free pass" throughout the conflict. They successfully drew an Iron Curtain around Iraq and kept the public from knowing about the 650,000 men, women and children were savagely butchered in Bush's Petrol-War. Despite their best-efforts, however, public opinion has shifted away from the present policy and the American people are looking for an end to the fighting.

Rumsfeld's plan for "a new kind of war" that depends on high-tech, laser-guided weaponry, massive counterinsurgency operations, and a submissive "embedded" media has fallen on hard times. The tremors can already be felt from Baghdad to Washington D.C. As Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said in the November issue of Foreign Affairs, "The American era in the Middle East, the fourth in the region's modern history, has ended." All that's left is to sweep up the pieces of a failed policy and head home.

So the President of the Council on Foreign Relations says that "the American era in the Middle East... has ended." Astonishing. It won't be pretty when the markets realize what's happening. And if an insane and desperate Bush decides to roll the dice and widen the war by attacking Iran...

The Worst is Yet to Come
The Third and Final Act: Attacking Iran

By William S. Lind
October 31, 2006

The third and final act in the national tragedy that is the Bush administration may soon play itself out. The Okhrana reports increasing indications of "something big" happening between the election and Christmas. That could be the long-planned attack on Iran.

An attack on Iran will not be an invasion with ground troops. We don't have enough of those left to invade Ruritania. It will be a "package" of air and missile strikes, by U.S. forces or Israel. If Israel does it, there is a possibility of nuclear weapons being employed. But Israel would prefer the U.S. to do the dirty work, and what Israel wants, Israel usually gets, at least in Washington.

That this would constitute folly piled on top of folly is no deterrent to the Bush administration. Like the French Bourbons, it forgets nothing and it learns nothing. It takes pride in not adapting. Or did you somehow miss George W. Bush's declaration of Presidential Infallibility? It followed shortly after the visit to the aircraft carrier with the "Mission Accomplished" sign.

The Democrats taking either or both Houses of Congress, if it happens, will not make any difference. They would rather have the Republicans start and lose another war than prevent a national disaster. Politics comes first and the country second. Nor would they dare cross Israel.

Many of the consequences of a war with Iran are easy to imagine. Oil would soar to at least $200 per barrel if we could get it. Gas shortages would bring back the gas lines of 1973 and 1979. Our European alliances would be stretched to the breaking point if not beyond it. Most people outside the Bushbubble can see all this coming.

What I fear no one foresees is a substantial danger that we could lose the army now deployed in Iraq. I have mentioned this in previous columns, but I want to go into it here in more detail because the scenario may soon go live.

Well before the second Iraq war started, I warned in a piece in The American Conservative that the structure of our position in Iraq could lead to that greatest of military disasters, encirclement. That is precisely the danger if we go to war with Iran.

The danger arises because almost all of the vast quantities of supplies American armies need come into Iraq from one direction, up from Kuwait and other Gulf ports in the south. If that supply line is cut, our forces may not have enough stuff, especially fuel, to get out of Iraq. American armies are incredibly fuel-thirsty, and though Iraq has vast oil reserves, it is short of refined oil products. Unlike Guderian's Panzer army on its way to the Channel coast in 1940, we could not just fuel up at local gas stations.

There are two ways our supply lines from the south could be cut if we attack Iran. The first is by Shiite militias including the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, possibly supported by a general Shiite uprising and, of course, Iran's Revolutionary Guards (the same guys who trained Hezbollah so well).

The second danger is that regular Iranian Army divisions will roll into Iraq, cut our supply lines and attempt to pocket us in and around Baghdad. Washington relies on American air power to prevent this, but bad weather can shut most of that air power down.

Unfortunately, no one in Washington and few people in the U.S. military will even consider this possibility. Why? Because we have fallen victim to our own propaganda. Over and over the U.S. military tells itself, "We're the greatest! We're number one! No one can defeat us. No one can even fight us. We're the greatest military in all of history!"

It's bull. The U.S. armed forces are technically well-trained, lavishly resourced Second Generation militaries. They are being fought and defeated by Fourth Generation opponents in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They can also be defeated by Third Generation enemies who can observe, orient, decide and act more quickly than can America's vast, process-ridden, Powerpoint-enslaved military headquarters. They can be defeated by strategy, by stratagem, by surprise and by preemption. Unbeatable militaries are like unsinkable ships. They are unsinkable until someone or something sinks them.

If the U.S. were to lose the army it has in Iraq, to Iraqi militias, Iranian regular forces, or a combination of both (the most likely event), the world would change. It would be our Adrianople, our Rocroi, our Stalingrad. American power and prestige would never recover.

One of the few people who does see this danger is the doyenne of American foreign policy columnists, Georgie Anne Geyer. In her column of October 28 in The Washington Times, she wrote,

The worst has not, by any means, yet happened. When I think of abandoning a battleground, I think of the 1850s, when thousands of Brits were trying to leave Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass and all were killed by tribesmen except one man, left to tell the story.

Our men and women are in isolated compounds, not easy even to retreat from, were that decision made. Time is truly running out.

What would a catastrophic military defeat do to the economic optimism of the U.S. population, optimism that encourages the debt-driven consumption that has kept the whole world's economy afloat for the past generation? Russia and China, de facto allies in blocking U.S. hegemonic ambitions, have become much more powerful since Bush came to office and accelerated the process of U.S. imperial overreach. What if Europe tilts towards the Russian/Chinese side in the aftermath of the "end of the U.S. era in the Middle East?"

Since Bush is so stubborn, the dilemma the elites face in the United States is that they can only prevent a catastrophic defeat by ripping the political fabric apart. Bush and the Neocons will not go easily. That is why the elite are placing such great hope on James Baker's Iraq Commission recommendations. The Baker Commission is waiting for the election before recommending a soft partition of Iraq and, much worse for Bush, negotiating with Iran and Syria. For that reason, there is no chance that Bush will accept Baker's recommendations unless forced to. But it's their only hope of avoiding a political civil war and of limiting the damage of the United States' defeat in the Middle East wars. A showdown is coming after the election and it has nothing to do with Republican-Democrat.

Whichever side wins will probably feel the need to enact a plan like this:

10-Year U.S. Strategic Plan For Detention Camps Revives Proposals From Oliver North

News Analysis/Commentary, Peter Dale Scott,
New America Media, Feb 21, 2006

Editor's Note: A recently announced contract for a Halliburton subsidiary to build immigrant detention facilities is part of a longer-term Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists." Scott is author of "Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

Detainee at fence

The Halliburton subsidiary KBR (formerly Brown and Root) announced on Jan. 24 that it had been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security to build detention camps. Two weeks later, on Feb. 6, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that the Fiscal Year 2007 federal budget would allocate over $400 million to add 6,700 additional detention beds (an increase of 32 percent over 2006). This $400 million allocation is more than a four-fold increase over the FY 2006 budget, which provided only $90 million for the same purpose.

Both the contract and the budget allocation are in partial fulfillment of an ambitious 10-year Homeland Security strategic plan, code-named ENDGAME, authorized in 2003. According to a 49-page Homeland Security document on the plan, ENDGAME expands "a mission first articulated in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798." Its goal is the capability to "remove all removable aliens," including "illegal economic migrants, aliens who have committed criminal acts, asylum-seekers (required to be retained by law) or potential terrorists."

...Significantly, both the KBR contract and the ENDGAME plan are open-ended. The contract calls for a response to "an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs" in the event of other emergencies, such as "a natural disaster." "New programs" is of course a term with no precise limitation. So, in the current administration, is ENDGAME's goal of removing "potential terrorists."

It is relevant that in 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his desire to see camps for U.S. citizens deemed to be "enemy combatants." On Feb. 17 of this year, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the harm being done to the country's security, not just by the enemy, but also by what he called "news informers" who needed to be combated in "a contest of wills." Two days earlier, citing speeches critical of Bush by Al Gore, John Kerry, and Howard Dean, conservative columnist Ben Shapiro called for "legislation to prosecute such sedition."

Since 9/11 the Bush administration has implemented a number of inter-related programs, which had been planned for secretly in the 1980s under President Reagan. These so-called "Continuity of Government" or COG proposals included vastly expanded detention capabilities, warrantless eavesdropping and detention, and preparations for greater use of martial law.

Prominent among the secret planners of this program in the 1980s were then-Congressman Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who at the time was in private business as CEO of the drug company G.D. Searle.

The principal desk officer for the program was Oliver North, until he was forced to resign in 1986 over Iran-Contra.

When planes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Cheney's response, after consulting President Bush, was to implement a classified "Continuity of Government" plan for the first time, according to the 9/11 Commission report. As the Washington Post later explained, the order "dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating for the first time long-standing plans."

Things may move quickly after the election. No doubt the economic landscape will look very different six months from now.

Comment on this Editorial

Editorial: Beit Hanoun, the testimony of a young Palestinian: "They shoot at anything that moves"

Silvia Cattori
3 November 2006

"Bein Hanoun, with 30,000 inhabitants, has been the target of daily aggressions and air strikes since June 25. It is now besieged by Israeli troops. We have seen the tanks advance and take up their positions. We are now encircled by about 70 tanks and at least 450 soldiers who announce that the city is a "closed military zone". That means that no one can leave. No one can flee. It is an offensive based on those carried out in the West Bank in 2002.

We have no water, no electricity. We hide in the remote corners of our houses. Ambulances are not authorized to enter into this occupied and closed zone. The soldiers have circled the houses they want to invade. They occupied the houses and they shut up the families in one room. Now they are using then as forts. They use explosives to pierce holes in the walls, they blow off doors, and the people are terrified. They shoot anyone that moves.

Yesterday they fired on people that were seeking shelter, who were not armed, who were not in fighting positions. They shot them in the back, and when one was wounded and wanted to flee, they killed him. Those who wanted to collect his body were targets as well. In numerous cases, ambulances couldn't go to the aid of the wounded. Children who slip out from their parent's watch or that look out the windows are killed by Israeli soldiers positioned on the roofs and balconies of the houses they occupy.

They have the green light from Bush to kill us, and those politicians that affirm that Israel "has the right to defend itself". They use arms that transform the dead and wounded into something monstrous. The wounds provoked by the missiles launched from the drones are very impressive. They are like razor cuts; the legs, the feet, the hands all cleanly cut. They are as horrifying as wounds from an M-16. The soldiers have orders to shoot at the upper body. They aim at the chest, near the heart, the head.

The victims are mostly civilians, killed or wounded in the throat, the neck, the chest, the head, even though they were in their houses. They shoot at people running in fear, who are trying to save themselves. We have lost any notion of time; we have no idea how long we have been caught in this war. We feel lost. There are planes that bomb us, drones ready to fire their missiles over our heads. They control the entire zone. With the droning of the drones, we always have the feeling of having a bee buzzing in our ears. It is really disturbing.

There is no one to defend us. We don't have an army. We have only our parents to defend us, knowing that they are going to their deaths and that they cannot defend us. This new aggression is horrible especially for the children who are very numerous here. They are forced to stay couped up inside, they are terrorized, and they cry when there are bombings. At any moment we can learn there are people killed, there are people wounded who are bathed in their own blood, that people don't know how to stop the hemorrhaging, and that the ambulances can't give them any aid without being hampered.

The Israelis say that are waging this offensive to prevent the entry of arms from Egypt. That is false. Nothing can enter. In Gaza, there are only rifles that can do nothing against the Apache helicopters and the Merkawa tanks of the Israeli army. The only arms of war in Gaza are those delivered by Israel and the United States to Dahlan, who is Abu Mazen's man, the most feared man in Gaza. He is at the head of the forces that have, for months now, created the troubles to topple the Hamas government.

Yesterday, through their loud speakers the soldiers summoned all the young men fifteen years and older leave their houses. Then, sector by sector, they searched the houses and brought them out, handcuffed, and took them to a place where they certainly forced them to strip, as they did in Betlaya in June. They leave the men in their underwear. For an Oriential, it is the worst of humiliations. They might as well kill us.

We think that after Beit Hanoun they will attack Betlaya, and then Jabaliya and do what they have done here: search house by house. Beit Hanoun, like Rafah, are very vulnerable zones because they are geographically separated from other inhabited areas. They are therefore easy to isolate from the rest of Gaza.

This morning, the women went out to come to the aid of their sons or husbands threatened by the armored cars that encircled the Mosque. The women defied the Apaches and the armored vehicles. For us, it was a tremendous moment. We felt like we were wrapped up in a veil of humanity. It was very moving to see these women ready to die to save their sons and husbands. They continued on without hesitation, and the soldiers, who hadn't expected this, were disoriented. Because of this effect of surprise, they succeeded, saving the lives of these fighters. They demonstrated that people with empty hands could defeat the largest army in the world. We took it as a message to the men of the Arab countries who remain silent. These women said, by their gesture, "There, in the face of your cowardice, Palestinian women by themselves are in the process of fighting for the release of their men who are besieged by the enemies of the Arabs, Israel." "[End of report.]

They are making war on civilians and the world doesn't know

This young Palestinian who recounted the above in a low voice breaks our heart. He could render no greater homage to these heroic women. I think that everyone who saw the images of these women was shaken. The women threw themselves down the long avenue, uncovered, empty handed, defying the helicopters and the armored vehicles, in order to protect their men. The soldiers fired on them, but the women continued and arrived at their goal. The soldiers who were firing from the armored vehicles on these harmless women are monsters.

"Israel has the right to defend itself" responded the former ambassador Elie Barnavi to a journalist from France Culture this morning when asked about the meaning of the Israeli offensive in the north of Gaza. The right to defend themselves against what? There is no Palestinian army facing them. There is only a people being massacred day after day by the best equipped army in the world. And the Palestinians don't have the right to defend themselves.

It is to the Palestinian people, the victims of the massacres, that we should be asking what it means to live under the Israeli military offensive, and not to ambassadors of the Jewish State of Israel, ambassadors who will never tell you, when it comes to Arab lives, of the suffering and anxiety of children thrown into the dreadful chaos, of the women who have no idea how to protect them, of the elderly who impotently submit, of babies wailing, of pregnant women who fear for their unborn children, of the wounded, the dead, the mothers who cry for their men, who feel humiliated that they cannot defend their children, the doctors who can no longer support the rivers of blood and the wounded added to the wounded in their poorly equipped hospitals.

These "terrorists", these "activists" that Israel is fighting, these are Palestinians, the authentic residents of the nation that Israel wiped off the map. These are women of all ages who brave the tanks to protect their sons. These are children who die in their beds or playing by the front door. These are fathers, brothers, cousins, and spouses summarily executed because Israel has put them on their "wanted" lists. These are desperate young people who, to defend their dignity, have only rifles and rudimentary rockets, and who know full well that they are going to their deaths when they put their nose outside. Like the child Bara' Riyad Fayyad, 4 years old, killed on Thursday in front of the door of her house. These are normal people who voted democratically against the corrupt authorities of Fatah.

"Where are our Arab brothers?", cries a Palestinian in front of a camera.

Yes, where is the world? The "international community" says nothing say shocked people who watch all of this with horror and don't understand the silence. But the "international community", so often invoked, is only an empty word. The UN, ever since the fall of the USSR, is nothing but an instrument in the hands of the US superpower.

In fact, the "international community" is us, all of us. It is the associations that are unfortunately more attached to protecting the Jewish State of Israel than defending the right of existence of the Palestinians and their right to return to their rightful home. It is the political parties of every tendency, too preoccupied by their electoral success. It is our elected officials who don't dare criticize Israel out of fear of being accused of anti-Semitism. It is the journalists who disinform public opinion and cover up the crimes of state.

Silvia Cattori
3 November 2006

Translation: Signs of the Times
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Editorial: The Arms Market and the Arms Race

by Rodrigue Tremblay
The New American Empire
November 6, 2006

"A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he cannot sit on it." William Ralph Inge

"What's the point of having this superb military... if we can't use it?" Madeleine Albright, former American ambassador to the UN and former Sec. of State

"It is not an exaggeration to say that it is clearly in the interests of the world's leading arms exporters to make sure that there is always a war going on somewhere." Marilyn Waring (Counting for Nothing)

As far as nuclear arms proliferation is concerned, we all know about the efforts by a growing number of countries to obtain them. This is happening even though the 1968 Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). was designed to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Far from contracting, the club of countries with nuclear capabilities (USA, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel) is expanding, while the goal of nuclear disarmament has become a dead letter.

Some among the most heavily armed countries, such as the United States, have revealed plans to replace their ageing nuclear weapons stockpiles with more modern and more deadly weapons. The Bush-Cheney Administration, for instance, announced last March 5 (2006), its plan for building as many as 125 new nuclear bombs a year, from 2010 to 2022, while at the same time assuring other nations that it is not seeking a new arms race. - Last June 13 (2006), the Bush-Cheney administration also made it clear that whatever the 1967 U.N. treaty banning weapons of mass destruction from space says, the United States is going ahead with plans to develop weapons for use in Outer Space, with the clear intention of asserting American dominance of this common property of humankind. If needs be, the Bush-Cheney administration will not hesitate to pull out of the 1967 Treaty, just as it pulled out, in 2002, from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. It is obvious that a nuclear arms race is on the way, with very few checks in its path.

In the world of conventional weapons, their production, their spread and their use is even more endemic. Existing international conventions against the use of inhumane weapons against populations, such as the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), are openly violated, as the summer 2006 destruction of Lebanon by Israel vividly illustrated. And, what is more, new efforts to restrict their proliferation, especially in the developing world, such as the proposed Arms Trade Treaty, are being resisted by some of the countries that are the larger producers and exporters of armaments.

On October 27 (2006), for example, the vast majority (139) of countries represented at the United Nations voted an historic resolution to have the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon prepare a global Arms Trade Treaty for 2007. The aim is to introduce some regulation of the wide-open international arms transfers that fuel conflict, poverty and serious human rights violations in many developing countries. However, the main exporter of armaments, the United States, voted against the resolution. -It was the only country to vote no. Twenty-four countries, among them large arms exporters such as Russia and China, abstained. It can be considered a tribute to some European countries that are large arms exporters, such as France, Great Britain and Germany, that they supported the resolution in favor of the coming arms trade control treaty. These European countries, at least, are showing some leadership, even though the U.S. has abdicated any pretense of leadership in this domain. -To be effective, however, the proposed treaty would need to be implemented by all countries that are large producers and exporters of armaments and by most other countries. The reason is simple: a weapons company with its headquarters in a given country with strict export controls can always circumvent national regulations by manufacturing weapons in a non-complying country. Even then, there would remain the hurdle of stopping those underground international arms dealers who do their illegal trade without requesting any export licenses.

The total international arms trade has been increasing rapidly, in 2005 reaching an all-time high in current dollars of $44.2 billion (from $38.9 billion in 2004). The United States is the world's leading conventional arms exporting nation, accounting for about 29 percent of all international arms trade. Last year, in 2005, it exported $12.8 billion of military gear of all sorts, about half of it ($6.2 billion) going to developing nations. The other main arms exporting nations last year were France (second with $7.9 billion in total arms sales) and Russia (the third exporter, with $7.4 billion in total sales). The United Kingdom and China came in behind, with $2.8 and $2.1 billion in arms exports in 2005. Overall, however, the 25 countries of Western Europe surpass the U.S. in trade of armaments, with about 44 percent of total arms exports. The other two non-Western countries, Russia and China, are responsible respectively for about 17 percent and 5 percent of total world arms exports.

Such a large-scale trade in armaments has the expected consequences of fueling regional conflicts, when they are not solidifying undemocratic and abusive regimes. It also has the effect of increasing poverty in countries that are already poor. But is it realistic to want to reduce arms exports without at the same time attempting to reduce military production?

Indeed, the fundamental cause of the flourishing international trade in armaments is the large military establishments that industrial countries subsidize year after year. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has estimated that total world military expenditures, (which had been falling from 1991 to 1996), are on the rise again, especially since 2001, and amounted to $1,118 billion in current dollars, in 2005, or 2.5 per cent of total world production, or again, about $173 per capita. This is big business and it can only be sustained with the threat of oncoming armed conflicts or through arms exports to countries in turmoil.

The USA is responsible for close to half (48% in 2005) of all military expenditures in the world. It is, therefore, not too surprising that it is also the largest arms exporter and that many of its industries are reluctant to loose such a lucrative business. Fourteen other countries account for about 36 per cent of global military expenditures, with such countries as Russia, UK, France, Japan and China, each spending about 4 to 5 per cent of the total. In other words, the five nuclear members of the U.N. Security Council (USA, Russia, China, U.K. and France) are also the world's largest military spenders -Therefore, it is only normal that leadership on this matter should originate from this quarter.

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached at tremblay.rodrigue@yahoo.com

He is the author of the book 'The New American Empire'

Visit his blog site at: www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.

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Editorial: Agitprop Capital of the World (the USA) Exports Its Poison to Venezuela

by Stephen Lendman 6 November 2006

Agitprop, electoral fraud and dirty tricks may not have been invented in the US, but they certainly were perfected in "the land of the free and home of the brave" that no longer is except in the mind's eye of a diminishing number of diehards, true-believers and others still unaware of the real state of things in America. The clearest evidence was the theft of the last two presidential elections through a process of massive voter disenfranchisement, black and Latino intimidation in the inner cities, assorted other dirty tricks and rigged electronic voting machines programmed and operated by major corporations to assure the final count gave their man, George Bush, a manipulated electoral victory both times, with a little help from five corrupted Supreme Court justices who decided their votes counted more than those of the public they annulled.

The same fraud was also rampant in recent congressional elections guaranteeing both houses of Congress stayed in Republican hands allowing the interests of capital their divine right to rule the world with their political partner of choice. On the eve of another US election on November 7, the manipulators of electoral mischief are at it again, and it hardly matters how things turn out. Systemic corruption is so entrenched in Washington, it'll be business as usual on Capital Hill no matter how many end up on either side of the isle. Little will change when members of the 110th Congress are sworn in on January 3, 2007, assuring only disappointment for those believing otherwise.

It's called democracy, American-style that's now a staple at home but doesn't stop at the border. For many years, whatever administration's been in power, the US believes it has a prerogative to decide who holds office anywhere in the developing world where it routinely meddles in the electoral process through intimidation, bribery, black propaganda and direct funding of the candidates of its choice. Those activities are illegal in the US, and it's unimaginable how loud the wails of protest and outrage would be if it was learned another country or foreign corporation funded political candidates at any level here or interfered in any way in this country's electoral process.

Whatever the rules are for others, it doesn't deter what Washington claims as its divine right anywhere in the world. It's done it for decades as it's now been interferring for months in the run-up to the December 3 election in Venezuela when the people of the country will decide who will lead them for another six years. There's no suspense who that will be as the majority of Venezuelans will never allow anyone but Hugo Chavez to be their president as long as he wants the job.

So with US meddling now in high gear, the strategy becomes if you can't beat 'em, first discredit 'em in the run-up to election day, then be ready to roll out whatever scheme is planned to prevent the people's overwhelming choice from serving another six years in office. Observers need only watch and read the daily news reports to follow the scripted made in Washington dirty tricks campaign as it plays out. Here's a sampling of the agitprop poison spewing from Washington.

With the US corporate media as lead agitator and following months of rumors, it was learned the Bush administration is investigating the privately owned Venezuelan Smartmatic Corporation's takeover of a leading US electronic voting machine manufacturer, Sequoia Voting Systems, to learn if the parent company has links to Hugo Chavez and his government. The Venezuelan government contracted with Smartmatic to replace the country's election machinery ahead of the August, 2004 recall referendum but has no ownership stake in it. That was confirmed by its CEO, Antonio Mugica, who called the rumors "baseless allegations and conspiracy (that) will be put to rest" once the investigation is complete, but while it continues and is in the news is part of the black propaganda campaign to attack Hugo Chavez as part of Washington's strategy to delegitimize a Chavez victory in preparation for whatever scheme is planned post-December 3.

The London Independent reports another Bush administration accusation denouncing the Chavez government along with Myanmar (formerly Burma) for "failing demonstrably to make substantial efforts" to meet its international anti-narcotics agreements obligations to eliminate drugs trafficking. It's another made-in-America phony anti-Chavez pre-election smear that holds no water when held to the light. A separate US State Department report shows that from 1998 to 2004, Venezuelan drug seizures rose from 8.6 to 19.1 tons, and Caracas claims in 2005 the number rose to 58.5 tons of cocaine, 18.3 tons of marijuana, 869 pounds of heroin and 1600 pounds of crack cocaine. A little egg on the hegemon's face is noticeable, and it looks like its neocon right hand better check what its State Department left hand is doing and saying before it makes a bloody fool of itself which it did.

Venezuela's Minister of Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacon, slapped down the false accusation and flatly stated his country is neither a major producer or consumer of drugs although it's true Venezuela suspended cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (notorious for being corrupted as exposed by former agents who left for that reason) but not because the Chavez government isn't committed in the "war on drugs." Rather it's because the DEA routinely breached Venezuelan law acting as a front for CIA covert mischief to destabilize the Chavez government - another stunt CIA operatives have been pulling for decades in their role as hired assassins and masters of strong-arm troublemaking.

It's also an open secret the CIA, since its inception in 1947, has actively participated in drugs trafficking worldwide as an important source of its revenue and has now partnered with the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan to turn the country into a narco-state. This year alone it brought to harvest a record 6,100 tons of opium, or 92% of the total world's supply, in contrast to the Taliban who wiped out practically the entire poppy crop and in the process angered Washington for destroying this important revenue source not just for the CIA but also for the major US money center banks.

According to Washington-think, drugs trafficking is fine as long as their operatives control and profit from it, but electoral politics is bad when Hugo Chavez does it in ways like handing out $3 billion in Christmas bonuses to one million public workers 6 weeks in advance. That's the charge, and Chavez opponents spoke of his "spending spree" that included free commuter train rides, a free rock concert and free T-shirts with pro-Chavez slogans. Heavens - send the man to the gallows.

What was left out of the Washington report is that these tactics and much more are routinely done in the US along with improper and illegal electoral activities hidden from public view. They include billions of corporate dollars to buy influence, slush funds for under-the-table handouts, lush jobs for political relatives who needn't even show up for work and plenty more. But most important and unmentioned is that Venezuela doesn't interfere in US or other countries' elections while the US always does it with a heavy hand as it's now doing in Venezuela. It's poured millions of dollars into the country funding the opposition, chose the candidate it wanted to oppose Chavez, and has serious mischief planned ahead to destabilize the country and likely try again to oust Hugo Chavez after his reelection and assassinate him to assure he never runs again.

Imagine how Washington would react if another country meddled in the electoral process here in any way. It would be condemned as an act of terrorism and likely dealt with harshly to include economic sanctions or worse - a little "shock and awe" maybe.

Now the latest Chavez smear is the phony accusation that the PDVSA state oil company president and Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, improperly told company managers to back Hugo Chavez in the December election. A surreptitiously recorded and leaked video suddenly appeared and was presented by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales' spokesperson Gerardo Blyde claiming what Mr. Ramirez said violates the constitutional provision prohibiting state employees from any involvement in political activities.

Mr. Blyde has good reason to spew anti-Chavez vitriol because, as VHeadline.com commentator Patrick O'Donoghue reported on November 4, he was involved in the 2002 US-staged coup d'etat ousting Hugo Chavez for two days and stood to become Venezuela's Attorney General in the Pedro Carmona government had it prevailed. He was also involved in the 2002-03 crippling oil strike that devastated the country's economy and by those actions committed acts of treason against a democratically elected government. Despite that, he's a free man and now has resurfaced as a key player in the opposition's campaign. Like Carmona, he's a criminal and stooge for Washington and the Venezuelan oligarchs who'll resort to any underhanded and illegal tactics to discredit Hugo Chavez and try to prevent his serving another term in office.

It's didn't work before and won't this time either. Mr. Ramirez is a high-level state minister and head of the state-owned oil company. He broke no law and did what anyone loyal to his government and president should do - support them and ask his employees to do the same thing in a show of solidarity and loyalty to him and the "Bolivarian project" the Venezuelan people voted for and rightfully demand. That's how things are supposed to work in a democracy. Hugo Chavez supports Mr. Ramirez and told him "to repeat the same message a hundred times in PDVSA" affirming Venezuela is living a revolution and the state-owned oil company is a revolutionary institution.

Thousands of PDVSA workers feel the same way and rallied to support Mr. Ramirez right after the video's release. Venezuelan parliamentarians in the National Assembly agree and announced they would endorse a resolution supporting the minister, rejecting any Washington and oligarch-directed efforts to destabilize the country's oil industry.

Mr. Blyde feels otherwise and said he'll complain to the country's National Electoral Council (CNE), the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU), and unmentioned, his paymaster in Washington who had to have put him up to this stunt that hasn't worked. Still Mr. Ramirez, in a show of magnanimity, said he'll respect and abide by any ruling of the CNE which is far more than US-oligarch-controlled Blyde and his candidate would do. The only rule of law for them is what they say it is. It's the same way things now work in Washington - the HQ of the Venezuelan branch of the Bush cabal.

Much more is going on besides what's covered above, most of which is sub rosa, unknown so far and very sinister and threatening to the "Bolivarian project." One thing that is known came out in an accusation by the corporate-controlled Inter American Press Association (IAPA) that the Chavez government restricts press freedom. It's a resurfaced echo of many similar past oligarch-directed complaints that are as much bunk now as in the past. Venezuelan Information and Communication Minister William Lara righteously denounced it and rightfully said his country is in the top rankings among the nations of the world with the most press freedom.

The minister got it right, but might have gone further to contrast how free the press is in Venezuela compared to the US where the dominant corporate-controlled media function as a de facto collective state-controlled ministry of information and propaganda suppressing all information vital to the people and reporting only what's friendly to a Bush crime syndicate posing as a legitimate government.

Reports are also emerging of Chavez slipping in the polls - at least the easily fabricated ones run by the oligarch opposition in preparation for one of their likely transparent schemes to be hatched right after Chavez wins big again. An example is one released by Alfredo Keller's AKSA Partners and reported by that most reliable of sources - Bloomberg.com run by the same man who's also mayor of New York. Michael Bloomberg, serving in a dual role as corporate media tycoon and mayor, suppressed the information he had after succeeding former mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 2002 about how contaminated and dangerous many square blocks were around the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attack and likely still are as he's done little to remediate them.

The Keller poll shows Rosales' support miraculously rising (like the mythical phoenix) to 48% (after hovering around half that level) against Hugo Chavez who overnight mysteriously plummeted to just 52%. Anyone believing this also likely thinks the US financial markets Mr. Bloomberg reports on with religious reverence are free from manipulation, there really are WMDs in Iraq not yet found, Saddam brought down the twin towers and the Bush administration supports democracy, human rights and the rest in the Middle East and everywhere else. Incredibly some independent polls in the US still show a substantial percent of the public believes all that which says a lot about how uninformed and misinformed people in the country are and how dangerous that is to their own welfare.

What's really going on with the Keller poll is a set-up plot to cry foul on December 4 when the election results are tabulated showing Hugo Chavez won another convincing victory. He'll probably do it with about the same 60% or so majority he got in 2000 which most independent consensus poll numbers now show him at, but wait for the protest wails to emerge as soon as the results are announced along with whatever scheme Washington has cooked up to prevent another Chavez term in office. This is when the rubber will meet the road and the fate of President Chavez will be decided in the next round of Hugo Chavez vs. the Bush neocon cabal determined to oust him by any means.

And then there's Aleksander Boyd who's built a career out of spewing hate and lies and never found an indisputable fact about the Chavez government and Bolivarianism he didn't denounce and try to discredit. Boyd holds court on his VCrisis web site where any relationship to what he and his fellow-columnists report and the truth is merely in the eyes of his jaded beholders. Take a recent column denouncing an October Zogby poll showing Chavez's approval just below the 60% level and agreeing with other independent poll results reporting about the same number.

VCrisis calls the poll "fatally flawed" and that Zogby's client list includes.......are you seated and ready?......"Islamic fanatics and terrorists who are strategic partners of Chavez - Yassir Arafat (the writer must have forgotten he died in November, 2004), Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, etc. (the "etc." is unidentified)." What is evident is how racist Boyd and his crew are along with spewers of hate, vitriol and lies. With that kind of reporting, we'll breathlessly await VCrisis post-December 3 cries of fraud claiming those organizations interfered to put Hugo Chavez over the top, or something like that.

All of the above adds up to a clear bottom line. With the December election less than a month away, events are building toward a climax when Washington-orchestrated fireworks are sure to erupt. Expect them to be even uglier than the tactics used in the previous three failed attempts to oust Hugo Chavez. Chavez knows it's coming and is likely well insulated and prepared. Proud supporters of his "Bolivarian project" stand with him in a powerful alliance of solidarity, are ready to help him take his revolution to the next level, and will resist any forces trying to undermine him. It won't be long to see how things will play out.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blogsite at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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Crashing Down Around Us

Wikipedia critic finds copied passages

AP Internet Writer
Fri Nov 3, 2006

NEW YORK - A critic of an online encyclopedia written and edited by its users has identified dozens of biographical articles that appear to contain passages lifted from other sites, prompting its administrators to delete several pending a review.
Daniel Brandt found the examples of suspected plagiarism at
Wikipedia using a program he created to run a few sentences from about 12,000 articles against Google Inc.'s search engine. He removed matches in which another site appeared to be copying from Wikipedia, rather than the other way around, and examples in which material is in the public domain and was properly attributed.

Brandt ended with a list of 142 articles, which he brought to Wikipedia's attention.

The site's founder, Jimmy Wales, acknowledged that plagiarized passages do occasionally slip in but he dismissed Brandt's findings as exaggerated.

Wikipedia allows anyone to post, edit and even delete items regardless of expertise and leaves it to other users to catch factual errors and other problems, including plagiarism.

Although plagiarism and copyright infringement are common among sites with user-generated content, Brandt said Wikipedia must be held to a higher standard, a point with which Wales agreed.

"They present it as an encyclopedia," Brandt said Friday. "They go around claiming it's almost as good as Britannica. They are trying to be mainstream respectable."

Brandt, who has long sparred with Wikipedia over an unflattering biography of himself, called on Wikipedia to conduct a throughout review of all its articles. The site currently has nearly 1.5 million in the English language alone.

Wales said plagiarism is always possible in a site that offers "wide-open editing ... but in general we take a very strong anti-plagiarism stance." Any time plagiarism is brought to the site's attention, he said, Wikipedia administrators review all postings made by that author.

Wikipedia editors have been reviewing the 142 articles in question and have declared a handful to be OK because copied passages came from the public domain. Editors found others where Wikipedia appeared to be the one plagiarized.

But editors found extensive problems in several cases, with many still not yet fully checked.

Articles with offending passages have been stripped of most text. An entire paragraph in Alonzo Clark's entry, for instance, was deleted, leaving the article with the bare-bones: "Alonzo M. Clark (August 13, 1868-October 12, 1952) was an American politician who was Governor of Wyoming from 1931 to 1933."

The original article, Brandt said, was copied from a biography on the Wyoming state government site.

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Hospitals, MDs addressing long wait time

AP Medical Writer
Sun Nov 5, 2006

CHICAGO - Beatrice Vance died of a heart attack. The coroner says waiting in the emergency room helped kill her.

The 49-year-old woman's chest was tight with pain when she walked into the ER at Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan last July. A blood clot had lodged in her heart.

It was 10:15 p.m. when Vance checked in, a coroner's report shows. But she was told to wait for a doctor. So she sat and waited. And waited. And then at 12:25 a.m., she collapsed, her heart starved of blood flow.
Doctors rushed to treat her, but she had no pulse. It was too late.

Her wait, the coroner said, lasted two hours and 10 minutes.

Even when the consequences aren't so tragic, time seems to pass at an excruciatingly slow pace when you're waiting for medical care.

Whether it's emergency room treatment, a routine doctor's appointment, or those anxious days between getting poked and prodded for medical tests and receiving the results, waiting happens to just about everyone seeking medical care. It's often one of the most frustrating parts about seeing the doctor.

After years of overcrowding, overbooking, and angry patient complaints, many hospitals and doctors' offices are finally doing something about those waits:

Providing test results quickly onsite or online. Offering same-day exams to patients who call early. Speeding up emergency-room triage to get patients faster treatment. And offering restaurant-style pagers so not-so-sick patients don't feel stuck in a crowded emergency waiting room.

Shortening waiting times is part of a nationwide move toward empowering patients, reducing medical errors and improving health care, said Frank Federico, a director of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The nonprofit group helps doctors and hospitals devise solutions.

When patients are ill, "the longer that they have to wait to get into the system, the greater the chance" their sickness will worsen, too, said Sue Gullo, a nurse and also an IHI director.

"That's a huge problem," Gullo said, because it puts patients' health at risk and costs hospitals more in resources and dollars.

Gullo knows the experience from both sides.

She used to work in a hospital maternity center and often faced the wrath of women who arrived for a scheduled Caesarean section only to learn they'd have to wait so emergency cases could go first.

"It was very frustrating, any one of us knew we could be a patient tomorrow," Gullo said.

And then she was, arriving in the emergency room one day with a broken leg after slipping on ice.

"It was overburdened. I ended up in a hallway without a stretcher" for more than an hour, she said. "I was sick to my stomach, I had to yell to get anything that I needed."



An Institute of Medicine report on the crisis in U.S. emergency care detailed trends that have contributed to long emergency room waits, including increased demand, staff shortages and hospital closings.

Excess demand might have contributed to Beatrice Vance's death because a nearby hospital had recently closed, a coroner's employee said.

In a highly unusual ruling in September, a coroner's jury called the death a homicide, in part because of the long wait for treatment. These juries determine cause of death but don't try cases.

Prosecutors are investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed. A civil suit is almost a certainty. A Vista spokeswoman declined to comment "beyond extending our continued sympathies to the Vance family."

Between 1993-2003, the number of U.S. emergency departments fell by about 425, or about 12 percent, while the number of patients seeking ER care jumped 26 percent to 114 million. They include uninsured or underinsured patients and those who seek emergency care for non-emergencies because they have no regular doctor.

Many hospitals are creating "fast-track" programs for these patients who will not require hospitalization and who tend to wait the longest for emergency care.

Montefiore Medical Center in New York City spent at least $35 million in the past five years on ER improvements, including a fast-track program that has cut average arrival-to-discharge times for less serious cases from about six hours to two.

Changes included hiring about 50 additional emergency room doctors, building a separate area for fast-track cases; and investing in electronic systems to speed up patient registration.

Montefiore's walkout rate, reflecting patients who get fed up with waiting and go home, dropped from about 5 percent to 1.5 percent this year, said Peter Semczuk, the hospital's vice president of clinical services.

That's significant because walkout patients often get sicker and show up later in worse shape.

Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., added a fast-track system as part of an emergency department overhaul three years ago.

Then, three-hour patient waits were typical, and eight hour waits were not unheard of, said Jeanne Roode, Butterworth's emergency services director.

Now the average door-to-doctor time is about 23 minutes for all ER patients.

Improvements include adding 25 nurses, and during busy times having triage begin with a preliminary physician exam. That allows X-rays and other tests to be ordered immediately, with results ready when the patient is assigned to an emergency room bed, Roode said.

Patient satisfaction was the idea behind restaurant-style pagers distributed in the emergency waiting room at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Ill. They allow patients awaiting care to grab a bite in the hospital cafeteria or just get some fresh air.

Anita Uthe gave the new pagers a thumbs-up. The 43-year-old mother from New Lenox, Ill., waited four hours for emergency care with her 11-year-old son last winter after he slipped on ice and suffered a concussion.

She braced for another long wait at Silver Cross last month when her son stepped on a rusty nail. This time she got a pager.

"It helps, because if you want to step outside," you can, she said.

"I think everybody feels the same way going to the emergency room - you just don't know when you'll get called," Uthe said.

But just then, her pager suddenly flashed - it was her turn, after only half an hour.



For Santa Clarita, Calif., college professor David Stevenson, 46, the Wait from Hell involved a procedure he was a little anxious about, a vasectomy. He and his wife took time off work, hired a baby sitter for their three children, checked in at the doctor's office, and then sat. After 15 minutes in a crowded waiting room, they were told he was next. The waiting room emptied, filled, and emptied again "and then it was just me," Stevenson said.

After an hour and a half, the doctor said he had to leave for an emergency. Fuming, Stevenson said he'd just wait some more, but the doctor replied curtly that he wouldn't be returning that day.

"He just said, 'Sorry buddy, you're going to have to reschedule,'" Stevenson said.

For 30-year-old Ihor Andruch of Elmwood Park, N.J., the unbearable waits were just for routine exams. Until he recently switched doctors, Andruch had to take a partial sick day for doctors' visits that would last 10 minutes but required waiting two to three hours.

One time, after checking in, he took a "brunch break" at a nearby bagel shop, returning with plenty of time before he was called.

"I was as patient as I could be, but it was very frustrating," Andruch said.

Such waits often are due to overbooking. That happens partly because under many health insurance reimbursement systems, doctors are paid by volume.

Doctors "are responsive to the same economic pressures that everybody else is," said Dr. Michael Barr of the American College of Physicians.

The group, which represents about 120,000 internists and other doctors, issued a policy statement earlier this year advocating changes that Barr said could help address the waiting problem.

Recommendations include insurance reimbursement for less traditional patient visits, such as telephone and e-mail consultations to give patients speedier access to doctors.

The group also supports "open-access" scheduling, which some doctors already use, reserving up to 70 percent of their daily schedules for patients who call early for same-day appointments.

Patient-friendly scheduling is also a feature in so-called "boutique" medical practices, which offer virtually no waiting but often aren't covered by insurance.



Most patients have experienced playing phone-tag to get test results. That's at least partly because of the traditional paper-based method of relaying information. Test results are transcribed onto paper, then given to the doctor, who then phones or snail-mails them to patients.

At Boston's Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center, patients can get test results electronically the same time as the doctor through a private online account called PatientSite.

"There is no waiting for paper printouts to arrive by mail," said Dr. John Halamka.

All test results show up on the site, except those involving diagnosing cancer or
HIV, "assuming that this news should be delivered in person," he said.

The waiting that goes along with diagnosing and even ruling out cancer can be particularly nerve-racking.

Dr. Marisa Weiss, a Philadelphia-area breast cancer specialist, hears from patients upset about long waits for routine mammograms, then more waiting for the results.

"This is part of the job description" of being a woman today, said Weiss, founder of an online resource center for breast cancer patients.

Weiss, 47, said she dreads her own annual mammogram - especially that windowless waiting room full of women in ill-fitting hospital gowns who are nervously waiting, too.

"Meanwhile, I have a full practice, three kids, I'm text-messaging back and forth - thank God it's only once a year," she said.

In conventional busy mammogram centers, technicians perform dozens of routine screenings daily, piling up X-ray images that a radiologist reads later in bulk. Patients get the results days or weeks later.

Many physicians consider that process the most efficient, although research has shown that having a radiologist read mammograms immediately and give results during the appointment makes women feel much less anxious.

Malpractice concerns and low insurance reimbursements for mammograms have led to radiologist shortages in some places, and not all centers are equipped to offer same-day results for routine exams.

But Faulkner Hospital's breast center in Boston is, with three radiologists reading mammograms full-time and a computer-assisted system that helps identify X-ray abnormalities.

Dr. Norman Sadowsky, a radiologist who helped create the program more than 30 years ago, said he's given talks around the country promoting the same-day service but few centers have followed suit.

"This is the most anxiety-producing routine exam," Sadowsky said. "You come in and you worry, and you worry until you get an answer.

"If we can get the patient an answer before she leaves, that's the way to do it. You get a lot of kisses" instead of complaints, he said.

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O'Reilly abortion report riles Kansas MD

Associated Press
Sat Nov 4, 2006

TOPEKA, Kan. - An abortion doctor plans to ask for an investigation of the state attorney general and Bill O'Reilly over comments by the Fox television host that he got information from Kansas abortion records, the doctor's attorneys said Saturday.

Dr. George Tiller said he will ask the Kansas Supreme Court on Monday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and take possession of the records of 90 patients from two clinics.
Attorney General Phill Kline obtained the records recently after a two-year battle that prompted privacy concerns. He has said he sought the records to review them for evidence of possible crimes including rape and illegal abortions.

During a Friday night broadcast of "The O'Reilly Factor," the conservative host said a "source inside" told the show that Tiller performs late-term abortions when a patient is depressed, which O'Reilly deemed "executing babies."

O'Reilly also said his show has evidence that Tiller's clinic and another unnamed clinic have broken Kansas law by failing to report potential rapes with victims ages 10 to 15.

A spokeswoman for Kline, who received redacted copies of the records Oct. 24, said Saturday he doesn't know how O'Reilly obtained the information.

"We don't know anything about Mr. O'Reilly's inside source," spokeswoman Sherriene Jones said. "I assumed he was talking about somebody on the inside of the abortion clinics."

Kline, an abortion opponent and Republican in a tight race with Democrat Paul Morrison, was interviewed by O'Reilly during the segment.

"Our information says that on almost every medical sheet - and obviously we have a source inside here - it says, 'depression,'" O'Reilly told Kline during the broadcast. "I don't know whether you have that information or not - I don't know - but that's what it says."

Pedro Irigonegaray, who represents Tiller and the clinics, said it was "preposterous" that the information would come from an insider at one of the clinics.

"This has been our concern from the beginning, that if he ended up with these records, that just this type of event would occur. Our worst nightmare has happened," Irigonegaray said. "Women in America deserve better than this."

It wasn't clear Saturday whether O'Reilly's source had broken state or federal laws by divulging patient information or whether O'Reilly or his staff had viewed any records themselves. A request to Fox in Washington to interview O'Reilly or someone associated with his show wasn't answered Saturday.

Kline, one of the nation's foremost abortion opponents, has said the targets of his investigation are rapists, sex offenders with child victims, and doctors involved in illegal abortions. Those could include doctors performing illegal late-term abortions or those failing to report abuse of a child.

The clinics had argued that giving the attorney general access to the records would invade patients' privacy.

Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson subpoenaed the records at Kline's request in September 2004, concluding there was probable cause to believe they contained evidence of crimes. The documents Kline received were edited so that individual patients could not be identified.

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Adult, 3 Scouts killed in Va. car crash

Sun Nov 5, 2006

SEBRELL, Va. - An adult and three boys returning home from a Boy Scout camping trip were killed Sunday when their vehicle ran off a rural highway, crashed into a tree and burst into flames, state police said.
The driver, 43-year-old John Oliver, and three Boy Scouts died at the scene, said state police Sgt. D.S. Carr. The driver's son, Michael Oliver, 12, was able to get out of the car and was taken to a hospital, police said.

The three boys who died were identified as Luke Drewry, 12, and Carter Stephenson, 14, both of Franklin, and Jackson Fox, 13, of Capron, officials said. All were members of Boy Scout Troop 17 in Franklin.

The accident occurred around noon, police said. Another driver with the Boy Scout group looked in her rearview mirror and saw Oliver's vehicle run off "a sweeping curve" on Virginia 35 in Southampton County, Carr said. Carr said there were no skid marks and no evidence the Oliver was exceeding the 55 mph speed limit.

"At this time our primary concern is for the individuals and the families of those individuals involved in the accident, as well as four our scouting family as a whole," the Colonial Virginia Council said in a written statement Sunday night.

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Moderate earthquake jolts north Iranian town, but inflicts no casualties

The Associated Press
Published: November 6, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran: A moderate earthquake of magnitude 5.1 jolted a town in northern Iran overnight, but did not cause casualties because the houses are built of wood, the local governor said Monday.

State television reported no major damage in Rezvanshahr, the town that was the epicenter of the quake, which struck at 11:33 p.m. (2003 GMT) on Sunday.
he town's governor, Hasan Aghajani, put the quake's light impact down to the construction materials.

"Buildings in this area are made of wood," Aghajani told The Associated Press. "Such buildings would not be destroyed during moderate earquakes. That's the reason there weren't any casualties."

The town is 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of Tehran, the Iranian capital.

Magnitude-5 quakes can topple weak buildings and cause roads to crack.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake everyday on average.

In March, three strong earthquakes and several aftershocks struck western Iran, killing at least 66 people.

In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake flattened the historic city of Bam in southern Iran, killing about 26,000 people.

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IAEA inspects Iran's 2nd cascade of centrifuges

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 00:28:40

TEHRAN, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have inspected Iran's second cascade of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment, the official IRNA newsagency reported on Sunday.

Two IAEA inspectors "visited nuclear sites in Isfahan and Natanz and inspected operation of second cascade of centrifuges for enrichment of uranium," IRNA said, quoting an Iranian nuclear official.
The experts arrived in Tehran on Friday and will stay for four days to carry out their inspections in line with Iran's commitment to the safeguards agreement of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the official said.

The inspectors will provide the results of their inspection to IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei, who is expected to deliver a report to a meeting of IAEA Board of Governors scheduled on Nov. 30, according to the IRNA report.

Iran announced in late October that it had fed gas into a second cascade of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility and obtained the product.

The United States has been seeking to impose sanctions on Iran through the UN Security Council on the grounds that Tehran is developing a nuclear-weapons program under the guise of a civilian-use program.

However, Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and voiced hope for talks with Europe, Russia, China and the United States, but the Islamic Republic rejected a prerequisite of suspending nuclear work for such talks.

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Iran to provide Lebanon with anti-aircraft missiles

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 19:20:39

BEIRUT, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Reza Sheibani has said that his country is prepared to provide Lebanon with anti-aircraft missiles, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported on Monday.

"Iran is ready to supply modern anti-aircraft arms to Lebanon," Ambassador Sheibani was quoted as saying after his recent talks with Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman.
However, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office had no comment on the Iranian initiative.

A high-ranking Lebanese Army source confirmed that the statement "was indeed given by the Iranian ambassador and the Lebanese Army has no comments on the matter so far," said the report.

But the source noted that "the Lebanese Army has no problem with the source of weapons as long as they are provided in the context of defending Lebanon."

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of supplying arms and financial support to Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria of being one of the routes by which such weapons are smuggled to Hezbollah. Damascus and Tehran deny the allegations.

Lebanon was subjected to a massive Israeli offensive in July and August that demolished the country's infrastructure, killed over 1,400 citizens, one third of whom were children, and wounded over 4,000 people, mostly women and children, said the Daily Star.

The army has since said it was in market for anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry.

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Intrepid stuck, move scrubbed for day

Associated Press
November 6, 2006

NEW YORK - After 24 years at the same Hudson River pier, the legendary aircraft carrier USS Intrepid was inched out of its berth by powerful tugboats on Monday - but the trip never got under way because it got stuck in the mud as the tide went down.
The mission was scrubbed for the day at around 10:30 a.m., according to Dan Bender, a Coast Guard spokesman.

The Intrepid's giant propellers got stuck in the mud as the tugboats strained to move the behemoth. It eventually began inching backward out of its berth, but moved only a few feet.

"We knew it was not going to come out like a cruise ship," said Matt Woods, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's vice president for operations.

The legendary aircraft carrier was being moved to New Jersey for a $60 million overhaul.

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Bush's Election Woes

In November surprise, top cheerleaders of Iraq war abandon Bush

by Maxim Kniazkov
Sat Nov 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - And now they have had a change of heart. Only three days before a crucial congressional election in which Republicans are poised to suffer heavy losses, top US neoconservatives, who had cheered the US invasion of Iraq, admitted that the operation may not have been that necessary, after all.

In separate interviews with Vanity Fair magazine, former top
Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, White House speechwriter David Frum and Reagan administration arms control negotiator Kenneth Adelman continued to insist that toppling the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein was a noble thing to have done.

But they argued that the execution of the plan by President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others, was nothing short of "incompetent."
Perle, who once chaired the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and in that capacity argued that Iraq was "a very good candidate" for democracy, said bluntly that if he could turn back the clock, he would not recommend invading Iraq now.

"I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies,'" the patriarch of neoconservatives told the magazine's December issue.

He insisted he still believed Saddam Hussein had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction and there had been a threat he could transfer these weapons to terrorists.

But three and a half years and more than 2,820 killed US troops later, Perle asked a rhetorical question: "Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention?"

"Well, maybe we could have," he responded.

He went on to complain, without specifying, that decisions that should have been made in the execution of the war came either late or not at all.

"At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible," concluded the neoconservative ideologue.

Adelman, who once said that liberating Iraq would be "a cakewalk," was less contrite, arguing that policies that served as the foundation for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq were sound, but their execution was fraught with "huge mistakes."

Throwing party loyalty out the window, Adelman said that the Bush administration "turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era."

"Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional," he continued.

Frum, who helped write Bush's famous 2002 "axis of evil" speech, bemoaned what he described as "failure at the center" for the current bloodshed in Iraq.

As opposed to traditional conservatives who have always had a penchant for isolationism, neoconservatives advocate aggressive promotion of US values throughout the world. They have long showcased Iraq as a test case for their approach.

But opinion polls indicate nearly 60 percent of Americans now believe the war is was not worth fighting.

And the Rothenberg Political Report, an independent analytical firm here, predicted Friday that Republicans will most likely lose five to seven Senate seats and 34 to 40 seats in the House of Representatives when voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

When asked about the statements by fellow neoconservatives, Vice President Richard Cheney sought to sidestep the fray, saying he did not see the interviews.

"I think there is no question that it is a tough war, but it is also the right thing to do," he told ABC News Friday.

But Cheney ruled out an early pullout of US troops, insisting it was "very important that we complete the mission" in Iraq.

The message was expected to be reinforced by President Bush this weekend as he continues to campaign for Republican candidates ahead of the November 7 vote.

Comment: Let's think about this: Richard Perle, who is as big a Neocon and Zionist as you will find anywhere, now says that Bush and Rumsfeld are incompetent and that maybe the US should have pursued other means of handling Iraq.

Well, the fact is that unless Perle is a complete idiot, a diplomatic solution to the Iraq problem would most certainly have occurred to him and his gang years ago before Gulf War II. Plus, as we have seen, the invasion of Iraq had nothing at all to do with Saddam's imaginary WMD's, and Perle knows it. Nevertheless, Perle himself was instrumental in pushing for war against Iraq.

Despite the blatant hypocrisy, it is most interesting that he has chosen this particular point in time to come out gunning for Bush and Rummy...

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Iraq war proponents decry administration

AP Diplomatic Writer
Sat Nov 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

"I probably would have said, 'Let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.
Meanwhile, the Military Times Media Group, a Gannett Co. subsidiary that publishes Army Times and other military-oriented periodicals, said Friday it was calling for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. An editorial due to be published Monday says active-duty military leaders are beginning to voice misgivings about the war's planning and execution and dimming prospects for success. It declares that "Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large."

The editorial concludes by saying that regardless of which party wins in next week's election, the time has come "to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."

When asked about the Vanity Fair article and Perle's criticism, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq and we are going forward with it."

Other prominent conservatives criticized the administration's conduct of the war in the article, including Kenneth Adelman, who also served on the Defense Policy Board that informally advised President Bush. Adelman said he was "crushed" by the performance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The critiques in Vanity Fair come as growing numbers of Republicans have criticized Bush's policies on Iraq. The war, unpopular with many Americans, has become a top-tier issue in next week's congressional elections.

Perle said "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He said the White House's National Security Council, then run by now-Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, did not serve Bush properly.

A year before the war, Adelman predicted demolishing Saddam's military power and liberating Iraq would be a "cakewalk." But he told the magazine he was mistaken in his high opinion of Bush's national security .

"They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era," he said. "Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

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Vanity Unfair

November 5, 2006

Editor's Note: On Friday, Vanity Fair issued a press release highlighting excerpts of a piece in their January issue on "neoconservative" supporters of the war in Iraq who today, unsurprisingly, have some negative things to say about how the war is going and how the Bush administration has been handling it.

In the wake of the press release - which has gotten considerable play on the Internet - some of those "neoconservatives" highlighted in the article have responded to the excerpts and its misrepresentations, in some cases, of what they said. We collect some of those reactions - including from Eliot Cohen, David Frum, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and Michael Rubin - below.

N.B. This symposium has been amended since posting (to include additional respondents). - KJL
Eliot A. Cohen

Being neither Republican nor Democrat, and thinking the government's conduct of the Iraq war an entirely appropriate subject of political debate I do not think anyone should have kept mum in an interview of this kind until an election had passed. That said, I had assumed that the interview would not be published until January, and find the timing of this release of excerpts tendentious, to say the least.

I stand by what I said, however, which is no different from what I have said in other venues, including in articles in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal as well a in a variety of print and television interviews over several years. Indeed, insofar as I have any personal regrets as I look back on my public statements about the war, it is for not having spoken up even more often and forcefully than I already have. I believed in 2003 that the war was just and appropriate, and have been deeply distressed at its conduct. There is no public service, however, in misleading ourselves about the situation in which we find ourselves, or in softening critiques which are necessary if we are to do better in the future.

- Eliot A. Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

David Frum

There has been a lot of talk this season about deceptive campaign ads, but the most dishonest document I have seen is this press release from Vanity Fair, highlighted on the Drudge Report . Headlined "Now They Tell Us," it purports to offer an "exclusive" access to "remorseful" former supporters of the Iraq war who will now "play the blame game" with "shocking frankness."

It cites not only myself as one of these remorseful supporters, but also Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, and others.

I can speak only for myself. Obviously I wish the war had gone better. It's true I fear that there is a real danger that the US will lose in Iraq. And yes I do blame a lot that has gone wrong on failures of US policy.

I have made these points literally thousands of times since 2004, beginning in An End to Evil and most recently in my 22-part commentary on Bob Woodward's State of Denial (start here and find the remainder here.) I have argued them on radio and on television and on public lectern, usually in exactly the same words that are quoted in the press release.

"[T]he insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them."

"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

And finally that the errors in Iraq are explained by "failures at the center."

Nothing exclusive there, nothing shocking, and believe me, nothing remorseful.

My most fundamental views on the war in Iraq remain as they were in 2003: The war was right, victory is essential, and defeat would be calamitous.

And that to my knowledge is the view of everybody quoted in the release and the piece: Adelman, Cohen, Ledeen, Perle, Pletka, Rubin, and all the others.

(Not that it matters, but this fight is very personal for many of those people. Cohen and Ledeen have both had children serve in Iraq, Cohen's in the Tenth Mountain Division, Ledeen's daughter in the civil administration and his elder son in the Marines. As a civilian adviser in Iraq, Rubin displayed impressive personal courage living solo for long periods of time in the Shiite zones of east Baghdad.)

Vanity Fair then set my words in its own context in its press release. They added words outside the quote marks to change the plain meaning of quotations.

When I talk in the third quotation above about failures "at the center," for example, I did not mean the president. If I had, I would have said so. At that point in the conversation, I was discussing the National Security Council, whose counter-productive interactions produced bad results.

And when I talked in the second quotation about "persuading the president," I was repeating this point, advanced here last month. In past administrations, the battle for the president's words was a battle for administration policy. But because Bush's National Security Council malfunctioned so badly, the president could say things without action following - because the mechanism for enforcing his words upon the bureaucracy had broken.

In short, Vanity Fair transformed a Washington debate over "how to correct course and win the war" to advance obsessions all their own.

How was this done?

The author of the piece touted by the press release is David Rose, a British journalist well known as a critic of the Saddam Hussein regime and supporter of the Iraq war. (See here and here for just two instances out of a lengthy bibliography.)

Rose has earned a reputation as a truth teller. The same unfortunately cannot be said for the editors and publicists at Vanity Fair. They have repackaged truths that a war-fighting country needs to hear into lies intended to achieve a shabby partisan purpose.

- David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This originally appeared on "David Frum's Diary" on NRO.

Frank Gaffney

In the annals of political dirty tricks, last weekend's bait-and-switch caper perpetrated by Vanity Fair will probably be but a footnote. Still, the magazine deserves contempt for having made promises it had no intention of honoring, promises about facilitating a serious discussion of President Bush's efforts to fight our Islamofascist foes in Iraq and elsewhere by some of the most adamant supporters of those efforts. None of us who responded candidly on the basis of such promises to thoughtful questions posed by reporter David Rose would likely have done so had the magazine's true and nakedly partisan purpose been revealed.

Perhaps we should have known better, given Vanity Fair's generally venal character. We were encouraged to overlook that sordid record, however, on the grounds that the author would be Rose - a journalist who had earned a reputation of late for fair and honest treatment of matters such as this. It is all the more discomfiting that - in the wake of the magazine's misleading press release released last weekend which selectively quotes from an as-yet-uncompleted-and-unpublished article - Rose failed to respond honestly when asked by an NPR reporter on Sunday morning why Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, David Frum, and others had "chosen this time" to criticize President Bush and his war effort. The correct answer was we had not "chosen" this time to do so. Rather, Rose's editors had selected this juncture in the election cycle to publicize our respective views in the worst possible light. Transparently, their hope was that such a premature and selective release would further undermine at the polls both President Bush's party and a war Vanity Fair does not support.

As with others, I find myself being quoted not only out of context but making remarks that have - albeit in more fulsome ways - been said by me many times before. As with their remarks, mine have been part of the texture of the debate about Iraq for years. They do not reflect remorse about effort to help free the long-suffering people of that country, and others under Islamofascist assault, let alone a so-called "neo-culpa."

For the record, I remain convinced that the liberation of Iraq was a necessary and laudable measure to prevent a megalomaniac from handing off to terrorists weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of attacking us and our allies. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government has proof that Saddam Hussein had precisely such plans ready to implement. In fact, such evidence was actually documented in the Iraq Survey Group's final report released last year with much obscuring fanfare about the absence of recovered WMDs.

I am also as committed as ever to the consolidation of the fully justified liberation of Iraq. I have repeatedly urged the president, both in person and through other channels, to make use of the full panoply of economic, financial, political, and military measures - a true War Footing - necessary to achieve it. Those who would have us do otherwise are deceiving us and/or themselves. This is true whether they are a) Democratic politicians so hungry for power that they are willing to compel our defeat in Iraq, without regard for the ultimate costs to the country; or b) Republicans like former Secretary of State James Baker, who insist we must negotiate with enemies like Iran and Syria to "secure their help" in the country that they, among others, are doing so much to destabilize.

Finally, I am persuaded that President Bush wants to do the right thing, just as he says he does. What is mystifying to me and to many of my colleagues is why, then, has he repeatedly allowed subordinates who do not want him successfully to act on his principles to continue to hold senior posts, and to get away with undermining him and his policies. As I have said and written many times in recent years, such tolerance - and the incoherent thinking and irresolute behavior associated with it - confuses the American people, emboldens our enemies and alienates our friends. We hope by pointing out these shortcomings to help sensible, capable people do better, not to encourage their replacement with people who are clueless about this war and/or truly incompetent with respect to its prosecution.

I trust that these convictions, and those of others interviewed by Rose, will be accurately reflected when he finally has his full article published - hopefully, without the subterfuge and spin that characterized the publication of this press release about it.

- Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He currently is president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Michael Ledeen

My experience with Vanity Fair is even more extensive than David Frum 's, having been the subject of a 30,000 word screed that ends with the author's bland confession "there is no evidence for any of this." So I am not at all surprised to see the editors yank words from me, David, and others out of context and totally misdescribe what we think, do and feel. I do not feel "remorseful," since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated - as I still do - support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters.

Readers of NRO know well how disappointed I have been with our failure to address Iran, which was, and remains, the central issue, and it has been particularly maddening to live through extended periods when our children were in battle zones where Iranian-supported terrorists were using Iranian-made weapons against Americans, Iraqis and Afghans. I have been expressing my discontent for more than three years. So much for a change of heart dictated by developments on the ground.

So it is totally misleading for Vanity Fair to suggest that I have had second thoughts about our Iraq policy. But then one shouldn't be surprised. No one ever bothered to check any of the lies in the first screed, and obviously no fact-checker was involved in the latest "promotion." I actually wrote to David Rose, the author of the article-to-come, a person for whom I have considerable respect. He confirmed that words attributed to me in the promo had been taken out of context.

- Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Richard Perle

Vanity Fair has rushed to publish a few sound bites from a lengthy discussion with David Rose. Concerned that anything I might say could be used to influence the public debate on Iraq just prior to Tuesday's election, I had been promised that my remarks would not be published before the election.

I should have known better than to trust the editors at Vanity Fair who lied to me and to others who spoke with Mr. Rose. Moreover, in condensing and characterizing my views for their own partisan political purposes, they have distorted my opinion about the situation in Iraq and what I believe to be in the best interest of our country.

I believe it would be a catastrophic mistake to leave Iraq, as some are demanding, before the Iraqis are able to defend their elected government. As I told Mr. Rose, the terrorist threat to our country, which is real, would be made much worse if we were to make an ignominious withdrawal from Iraq.

I told Mr. Rose that as a nation we had waited too long before dealing with Osama bin Laden. We could have destroyed his operation in Afghanistan before 9/11.

I believed we should not repeat that mistake with Saddam Hussein, that we could not responsibly ignore the threat that he might make weapons of mass destruction available to terrorists who would use them to kill Americans. I favored removing his regime. And despite the current difficulties, I believed, and told Mr. Rose, that "if we had left Saddam in place, and he had shared nerve gas with al Qaeda, or some other terrorist organization, how would we compare what we're experiencing now with that?"

I believe the president is now doing what he can to help the Iraqis get to the point where we can honorably leave. We are on the right path.

- Richard Perle is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He has served as chairman of the Defense Department's Defense Policy Board during this administration.

Michael Rubin

Some people interviewed for the piece are annoyed because they granted interviews on the condition that the article not appear before the election. Vanity Fair is spinning a series of long interviews detailing the introspection and debate that occurs among responsible policymakers every day into a pre-election hit job. Who doesn't constantly question and reassess? Vanity Fair's agenda was a pre-election hit job, and I guess some of us quoted are at fault for believing too much in integrity. What the article seeks to do is push square pegs into round holes. Readers will see that the content of the piece does not match the sensational headlines. Were people gathered around the author gripping about Bush? No. Were people identifying faults in the implementation? Yes. Are people sick of the autodafe whereby pundits demand "neocon" confessions to fit their own silly conspiracy theories? Yes. Have those interviewed changed their mind about the war? I have not, no matter how self-serving partisan pundits or lazy journalists want to spin it. I can't speak for others. Again, despite the punditry out there, the so-called neocons are not Borg.

Now, for my own quote: I absolutely stand by what I said. Too many people in Washington treat foreign policy as a game. Many Washington-types who speak about Iraq care not about the U.S. servicemen or about the Iraqis, but rather focus on U.S. electoral politics. I am a Republican, but whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power, Washington's word must mean something. Leadership is about responsibility, not just politics. We cannot go around the world betraying our allies - in this case Iraqis who believed in us or allied with us - just because of short-term political expediency. This is not just about Iraq: If we abandon Iraq, we will not only prove correct all of Osama Bin Laden's rhetoric about the US being a paper tiger, but we will also demonstrate - as James Baker and George H. W. Bush did in 1991 - that listening to the White House and alliance with the United States is a fool's decision. We can expect no allies anywhere, be they in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, if we continue to sacrifice principles to short-term realist calculations. It's not enough to have an attention span of two years, when the rest of the world thinks in decades if not centuries.

- Michael Rubin is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of The Middle East Quarterly. He served in Iraq as a political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority from 2003-2004. This originally appeared on NRO's The Corner.

Comment: These men were instrumental in bringing about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They understand exactly how to use the media to further their ends. First they claim they were quoted out of context, and then they say they didn't think the interviews would be published until January, after the elections?? Please...

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US military newspapers to demand Rumsfeld's resignation: report

Sat Nov 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - Four US military newspapers catering to all the branches of the US armed forces will reportedly publish an editorial on the eve of the November 7 congressional election, demanding the resignation of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

An advance copy of the article titled "Time for Rumsfeld to Go" was obtained by the NBC News and posed on its website late Friday. It is scheduled for simultaneous publication Monday by the Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times, the network said.
"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large," the advance copy said.

"His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised," the editorial continued. "And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt."

Addressing President George W. Bush, who reaffirmed his confidence in Rumsfeld just this past week, the newspaper assured him they were not trying to influence the elections.

"Regardless of which party wins November 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go," the article said.

There was no immediate comment from either the Pentagon on the White House about the report.

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1999 war games foresaw problems in Iraq even with 400,000 troops

Associated Press
Sat Nov 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government conducted a series of secret war games in 1999 that anticipated an invasion of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, and even then chaos might ensue.

In its "Desert Crossing" games, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence officials assumed the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by the George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.
"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," said Thomas Blanton, the archive's director. "But the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."

There are currently about 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from a peak of about 160,000 in January.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, which sponsored the seminar and declassified the secret report in 2004, declined to comment Saturday because she was not familiar with the documents.

The war games looked at "worst case" and "most likely" scenarios after a war that removed then-Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein from power. Some are similar to what actually occurred after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003:

- "A change in regimes does not guarantee stability," the 1999 seminar briefings said. "A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability."

- "Even when civil order is restored and borders are secured, the replacement regime could be problematic - especially if perceived as weak, a puppet, or out-of-step with prevailing regional governments."

- "Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq," the briefings read. "The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran, as would the installation of a pro-western government in Baghdad."

- "The debate on post-Saddam Iraq also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups. The lack of intelligence concerning their roles hampers U.S. policy development."

- "Also, some participants believe that no Arab government will welcome the kind of lengthy U.S. presence that would be required to install and sustain a democratic government."

- "A long-term, large-scale military intervention may be at odds with many coalition partners."

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Fired evangelist with links to Bush admin asks for forgiveness

Associated Press
November 6, 2006

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Members of the New Life Church were stunned and brought to tears by the Rev. Ted Haggard's confessions of "sexual immorality," then accepted his plea for forgiveness with open arms.

Haggard apologized Sunday in a letter read from the pulpit of the 14,000-member church he founded.
Some in the standing-room-only crowd wiped away tears and embraced each other as they heard Haggard's words read by a member of the board that fired him a day earlier.

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem," Haggard wrote. "I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."

After services, Patty Erwin kneeled near the back of the 8,000-seat auditorium and said a prayer for Haggard.

"We all love him because he's a part of our family. You don't just throw away a sister or a brother," said Erwin, who's been coming to the church for 15 years. "Desperately, we love him, and we wouldn't be here if we didn't."

Haggard, 50, resigned last week as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million evangelical Christians, after a man claimed to have had drug-fueled trysts with him.

He also placed himself on administrative leave from New Life, which he founded in the 1980s. Its independent Overseer Board fired him Saturday.

In his letter, Haggard said "the accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from the ministry."

He did not specify which accusations were true. Haggard had acknowledged Friday that he paid Mike Jones of Denver for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he did not have sex with him and did not take the drug.

The letter was read to the church by the Rev. Larry Stockstill, senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, La., and a member of the board that fired him. Haggard asked for forgiveness for himself and for his accuser.

In a separate letter, Haggard's wife prompted laughter when she promised to remain with her husband and said church members no longer had to worry about her marriage being so perfect she couldn't relate to them.

Neither Haggard nor his wife, Gayle, attended.

Youngsters were sent from the room before elders began discussing the church crisis.

"Worshippers are always challenged by crisis. And when tragedy and crisis strikes it is at that moment that you truly decide if you are a worshipper of the most high God. And today as the worship pastor of this church I am very proud of you," said the Rev. Ross Parsley, who has replaced Haggard.

Ryan Price and his fiancee, Karen Geyer, were impressed. "It seemed genuine - from the heart. It's unfortunate but it happens," said Geyer.

"He's reaching out and asking for forgiveness," said Price.

Jones, who said he is gay, said he came forward because he was upset when he discovered who Haggard was and that New Life opposed same-sex marriage - a key issue in Colorado, with a pair of issues on Tuesday's ballot.

"I wish him well. I wish his family well," Jones said Sunday. "My intent was never to destroy his family. My intent was to expose a hypocrite."

The scandal has disappointed Christian conservatives, whom
President Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to Tuesday's election.

Many were already disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the congressional page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record).

Haggard, who had been NAE president since 2003, has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.

Comment: Some interesting excerpts in light of tomorrow's US elections:
Jones, who said he is gay, said he came forward because he was upset when he discovered who Haggard was and that New Life opposed same-sex marriage - a key issue in Colorado, with a pair of issues on Tuesday's ballot. [...]

The scandal has disappointed Christian conservatives, whom President Bush and other Republicans are courting heavily in the run-up to Tuesday's election.

Many were already disheartened with the president and the Republican-controlled Congress over their failure to deliver big gains on social issues even before the congressional page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley.

Haggard, who had been NAE president since 2003, has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.
It's bad news everywhere for the Bush gang.

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Fla. governor hopeful skips Bush event

Associated Press
Sun Nov 5, 2006

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist decided Sunday to skip an appearance with
President Bush in favor of crisscrossing the state in the final hours before Election Day.
Crist, the state attorney general, is in a close race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Davis to replace the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, who can't seek re-election because of term limits.

Crist's chief of staff, George LeMieux, said the decision to skip the Monday rally with Bush in Pensacola wasn't a snub of the president, but a choice to appear in seven other cities where Crist has a chance of gaining ground.

"It's a big state. We need to be in all the places we need to be," LeMieux said. "It's because of the time and it's because there are some opportunities."

Davis seized on the news, saying the president is one of the Republican's biggest supporters.

"And now that the president is so unpopular, Charlie refuses to stand side by side with him," Davis said. "It says when the going gets tough, Charlie won't stand up."

Crist appeared with the president in September, raising $3.3 million for the Florida election. LeMieux said the decision has nothing to do with Bush's poor approval numbers.

Crist planned to campaign Monday in St. Petersburg, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Miami, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.

A poll released Friday showed Crist with 50 percent of support among likely voters compared to Davis' 43 percent. The poll had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Davis got support Sunday from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is also seeking re-election. Buoyed by a comfortable lead in the polls, Nelson has been able to campaign for fellow Democrats in tighter races instead of focusing only on his own campaign.

He stumped for Davis at three African-American churches in South Florida, then attended a rally in Manatee County with congressional candidate Christine Jennings, who is locked in a tight race with Republican Vern Buchanan in a traditional GOP stronghold.

Meanwhile, Davis' opponent, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, toured solo in the Tampa Bay area trying to turn out Republican votes. Polls have consistently showed Harris trailing.

Top Republicans, including Gov. Bush, initially tried to draft someone to run in her place. Staffers quit in droves. She also has had to answer questions about her dealings with a corrupt defense contractor.

Yet Harris remained optimistic Sunday.

"We've been behind in every single race, and the Republican establishment has never been with us, and we've won every time," she said.

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NY Times endorses no Republicans for U.S. Congress

Sun Nov 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - The New York Times, one of the oldest and most respected U.S. newspapers, said on Sunday that for the first time in memory it was endorsing no Republican U.S. congressional candidates this year.

In an editorial, the Times criticized the Republican-led Congress on matters from tax cuts to energy policy, and charged it has failed to hold President Bush accountable for the unpopular Iraq War.

"This election is indeed about George W. Bush -- and the congressional majority's insistence on protecting him from the consequences of his mistakes and misdeeds," the Times editorialized.
The Bush administration has had a number of clashes in recent years with the Times, particularly for the newspaper's disclosure of its warrantless domestic spying program.

The newspaper, founded in 1851, wrote in its editorial: "On Tuesday, when this page runs the list of people it has endorsed for election, we will include no Republican congressional candidates for the first time in our memory."

"To begin with, the Republican majority that has run the House of Representatives -- and for the most part, the Senate -- during President Bush's tenure, has done a terrible job on the basics," the newspaper wrote.

"It's tax-cutting-above-all-else has wrecked the budget, hobbled the middle class and endangered the long-term economy. It has refused to face global warming and done pathetically little about the country's dependence on foreign oil," the Times added.

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Bush Trumpets Iraq Verdict to Rally Support

The New York Times
November 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Sunday seized on the conviction of Saddam Hussein as a milestone in Iraq, seeking to rally Republican voters with the issue of national security as some polls suggested that his party might be making gains in the final hours of the campaign.

The White House said the timing of the announcement, two days before Election Day, had nothing to do with American politics and had been dictated by the Iraqi court. But Mr. Bush moved quickly to put it to use in what has been his central strategic imperative over the past week, trying to rouse Republican voters to turn out.
"Today we witnessed a landmark event in the history of Iraq: Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal," Mr. Bush said to roars of approval in a hockey auditorium packed with supporters in Grand Island, Neb. "Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law."

The announcement out of Baghdad came as polls suggested some gains for Republicans. A Pew Research Center Survey released on Sunday found that the number of likely voters who said they would vote for the Democrats was now 47 percent compared with 43 percent who said they would vote for Republicans. Two weeks ago, Democrats had an edge of 50 to 39. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found a similar tightening.

These kinds of polls, about the so-called generic ballot, measure national trends and do not necessarily provide an accurate measure of what is happening in individual House and Senate races. Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Center, said the poll nonetheless found that Republicans were becoming more enthusiastic as Election Day approached, a sign that the party was making progress in addressing one of its main problems this year: a dispirited base.

With at least 20 House races and 3 Senate races virtually tied in polls over the past week, Republican officials have looked to the huge voter turnout operation the party has developed over the past six years as its last-stand defense to prevent Democrats from making big gains on Tuesday.

A series of Mason-Dixon polls published on Sunday suggested a tightening in two Senate races, Rhode Island and Maryland, that Democrats had been confident of winning.

Republicans over the past week have spent heavily in Maryland on behalf of Michael Steele, the Republican candidate seeking to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat. In Rhode Island, Senator Lincoln Chafee, the Republican, has spent heavily and banked on his family's long history in the state's politics to help him survive in a heavily Democratic state.

Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, said polls showed that Republicans and conservatives "were coming home," which he said "is what happens when voters focus on the choice before them."

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democrat leading his party's effort to win control of the House, said, "It's inevitable that there would be some tightening in the end."

Still, Mr. Emanuel, who has been careful this campaign to avoid the public expressions of optimism voiced by other Democrats, added, "This is making me nervous."

Across the country, Democrats also hailed the verdict in Baghdad but argued that it would make no difference in delivering stability to Iraq and would have little bearing on Tuesday's vote.

"I think it's a great verdict - I mean, Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he's getting what he deserves," Howard Dean, the Democratic national chairman, said on "This Week" on ABC. "But I don't think it has any impact on the safety of America."

Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has become the face of his party's opposition to the war in Iraq, said the verdict was the right one but predicted it would not make a difference in this campaign. What would matter more, Mr. Murtha said, were editorials in military papers being published Monday calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"When The Army Times, The Navy Times, The Marine Corps Times, they have all said that we're not supporting the troops, that they're losing confidence with the administration, that's what's important," Mr. Murtha said, campaigning in Croydon, Pa., outside Philadelphia, for Patrick Murphy, a Democrat seeking to unseat Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick.

The fact that Mr. Bush was spending this last Sunday before Election Day in two of the most Republican states in the nation was testimony to how bleak a year this has been for the Republican Party and the president. And in Florida, the home state of his brother, Mr. Bush received what appeared to be another reminder of his political unpopularity when Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate for governor, backed out of a planned appearance with Mr. Bush in Pensacola on Monday.

Mr. Crist said that he needed to spend the day in more competitive parts of the state and that he was not joining the list of other Republican candidates who had snubbed Mr. Bush this year.

The White House, however, said this week that the president was heading to Florida specifically to help Mr. Crist, who, according to Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, invited Mr. Bush in the first place.

But an official with Mr. Crist's campaign, who would not talk for attribution, said that Mr. Crist had never confirmed the appearance.

On the final Sunday of the election cycle, the leaders of the four Congressional campaign committees took their seats around the table of "Meet the Press" on NBC, appearing together for the first time in the midterm contest - and promptly diving into a sharp exchange over the war in Iraq.

"To pull out, to withdraw from this war, is losing, there's no question about it," said Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, the chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "The Democrats appear to be content with losing."

Mr. Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, turned sharply toward Mrs. Dole, his face lined with outrage.

"You should take that back, Senator," he said. But Mrs. Dole kept speaking over him, creating a minute of partisan cacophony on the television set.

"I will not sit idly by with an accusation that Democrats are content with losing," Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Bush was unambiguous in hailing the conviction of Mr. Hussein as welcome news from a country where good reports have been in short supply this election season. That said, there have frequently been developments in Iraq over the past two years that Mr. Bush has proclaimed as turning points, only to see them followed by renewed violence and further deterioration.

And while these announcements of Iraqi milestones have at times produced a lift for Mr. Bush in the polls, the gains have tended to be fleeting.

Still, just before an election that is this close, Republicans suggested that the events of Sunday could be politically helpful.

A senior Republican Party official, who insisted on anonymity to speak about the political implications of the announcement, said it would invigorate Republican voters distressed about Iraq but would not have much effect beyond that. And Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is heading the Democratic effort to win back the Senate, said, "People are worried about the future of Iraq, not the past."

Senior aides to Mr. Bush scoffed at suggestions that the announcement of the verdict had somehow been orchestrated by the White House.

"Are you smoking rope?" Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said Saturday in anticipation of the verdict. "Are you telling me that in Iraq, that they're sitting around - I'm sorry, that the Iraqi judicial system is coming up with an October surprise?"

White House officials were clearly prepared for the news, posing Mr. Bush before Air Force One to make a celebratory announcement as he left Waco, Tex., and inserting remarks about it into his speeches. On Sunday morning, Mr. Snow made a round of the talk shows to praise the development, echoed throughout the day by Republican surrogates and candidates.

Representative J. D. Hayworth, a Republican in a close race in Arizona's Fifth Congressional District, used a previously scheduled early morning appearance on the Fox News Channel show "Fox and Friends" to declare the Hussein sentence "a victory for the Iraqi people." Mr. Hayworth said it offered Americans heading to the polls "a chance to take stock" of the war's dividends.

From California to Missouri to Connecticut, candidates put up their final advertisements.

In Pennsylvania, Karen Santorum, Senator Rick Santorum's wife, speaks directly into the camera in a 60-second advertisement, looking almost mournful as she says that she has found attacks on her family for living in Virginia hurtful, explaining that they moved there to be closer to Mr. Santorum when he is working.

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Why do so few people vote in the U.S.?

Associated Press
Sun Nov 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - Government of the people, by the people, will be missing a lot of people Election Day.

It's a persistent riddle in a country that thinks of itself as the beacon of democracy. Why do so few share the light?

Compare U.S. voting with foreign voting and it's not a pretty sight. Americans are less apt to vote than are people in other old democracies, in new ones, in dangerous places, dirt poor ones, freezing cold ones, stinking hot ones and highly dysfunctional ones.

Even that theocratic "axis of evil," Iran, has bragging rights over the United States in this regard. So does chaotic Iraq, where an estimated 70 percent of voters cast ballots in December parliamentary elections.
The pitched battle for control of the House and Senate in Tuesday's election has raised hope that voting will rise above its usual anemic levels. But competitive races are not reliable predictors of turnout and doubts exist about whether Republicans will be as fired up as Democrats and whether independents will vote with their feet or their seat.

As in other aspects of American life, the people who run elections work to make things easier for everyone. Yet they achieve little more than blips in increased turnout, if that.

Participation, paradoxically, is highest in states where making it to a polling station can be misery on a wintry day. Minnesota, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming are among states that lead the nation in getting voters out, and they put the Sunbelt to shame.

About 40 percent of U.S. citizens of voting age population cast ballots in nonpresidential year elections.

Despite the competitive nature of the 2000 presidential race and the certainty of having a new chief executive no matter who won, just more than half turned out. In 2004, a polarized year when everyone remembered the near dead heat four years earlier, turnout climbed over 60 percent - edging a little closer to the likes of Iran, Iceland and Somalia.

Some of the best states for voter turnout have conveniences such as same-day registration. But it is their culture of civic engagement that is most credited for their relative success. The expansion of absentee voting in many states has yet to produce a clear spike in overall participation.

Curtis Gans, who has been studying the riddle for three decades, says making voting easier does little to make people vote. "We know that it isn't procedure because we've constantly made procedure easier and voter turnout has gone down," he said.

Nor is it demographics.

The population today is more educated, older and less mobile than in the past - all things that should steer people to the voting booth. But that does not happen.

Gans' diagnosis: lack of motivation.

Blame the politicians, in part:

- the attack campaigning casting the choice as one between bad and worse;

- the lack of clearly defined choices on issues;

- the string of deviousness or wrong turns over the years - "I am not a crook," "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," "
Saddam Hussein ... continues to develop weapons of mass destruction."

And blame people and their culture, too.

"We've had the fragmenting and atomization of our society," Gans said, driven by the 500-channel TV culture, the interstate, strip malls, abandonment of farms and the rise of the Internet. "All of those things have undermined community."

Gans is director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University.

A recent AP-Pew poll looked at the 45 percent of the population that can be characterized as nonvoters because these people rarely vote even though most are registered.

Most broadly, the poll found that nonvoters are not just disconnected from politics, but also from their communities. Nonvoters were less likely to trust others, to have a strong support network of friends and family or to know their neighbors than regular voters were.

Among those who were unregistered, only 14 percent said it was complicated to register where they live. Most had not done so because they lacked the time, had not gotten around to it, had no confidence in politicians or just did not care.

The United States lags about 130 countries in voter participation. Discount ones that enforce compulsory voting laws - fewer than a dozen - and America's standing hardly improves.

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Hanging Saddam

Curfew planned as Saddam verdict nears

Saturday November 4, 2006
The Guardian

- All army leave cancelled as fear of violence grows
- Death sentence could spark attacks, officials say

Iraqi authorities plan to impose a curfew in Baghdad and all army leave has been cancelled as tensions grow ahead of tomorrow's expected verdict in the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants for crimes against humanity in the town of Dujail 24 years ago.

The real Saddam? Pull the other one!

In a further twist, Saddam's chief defence lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said yesterday he had written to the tribunal requesting a two-month adjournment to allow the defence to complete its presentations. He told Reuters in Amman that the tribunal was being unduly pressured by the US to deliver a verdict tomorrow to aid the US Republican party ahead of the midterm elections.
- All army leave cancelled as fear of violence grows
- Death sentence could spark attacks, officials say

Iraqi authorities plan to impose a curfew in Baghdad and all army leave has been cancelled as tensions grow ahead of tomorrow's expected verdict in the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants for crimes against humanity in the town of Dujail 24 years ago.

With violence raging in the capital and across swaths of central Iraq, a senior Iraqi security official told the Guardian last night that they were "prepared to take every precaution and measure to stop insurgents and terrorists from undermining the rule of law".

If found guilty of ordering the deaths of 148 Shia men and teenage boys in Dujail, and the subsequent destruction of farmland, following an assassination attempt against him in 1982, the former Iraqi dictator could face death by hanging.

The security official, who declined to be named, said there was evidence that former members of Saddam's now banned Ba'ath party, which is reorganising into underground cells, planned to instigate a number of big attacks around the country if Saddam was sentenced to death.

Bracing for violence after the judgment, due to be read out in a fortified courtroom inside Baghdad's green zone, the defence minister, Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi, cancelled army leave. "All vacations will be cancelled and all those who are on vacation must return," he said at a meeting with the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

The official nervousness is an indication of how the US-backed judicial process - intended to unite Iraqis by helping them to gain closure on years of Ba'athist rule - now threatens further division of the troubled country.

The United Nations reported yesterday that nearly 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country every month to Syria and Jordan in the face of increasing instability and sectarian violence.

Although a guilty verdict is likely to be welcomed by Iraq's Shia and Kurdish populations, who suffered disproportionately under Saddam, the once dominant Sunni Arabs who are the mainstay of the insurgency could see the decision as further evidence of their marginalisation.

During the nine-month trial Saddam Hussein faced charges over the mass executions and torturing of Shia villagers in Dujail. Also on trial are Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice-president; Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and a former head of the Mukhabarat secret service; Awad Ahmad al-Bander, a former chief judge; and four Ba'ath party officials from Dujail. The prosecutor has also asked for the death penalty for Mr Tikriti and Mr Ramadan. The other defendants are expected to get less severe sentences.

Officials at the Iraqi high tribunal said the verdict would probably be read out by the chief judge, Rauf Abdel Rahman, but would represent the views of a simple majority among the five-man panel hearing the case. The former president has the right to appeal to a nine-judge panel if convicted. If the panel upholds the decision the punishment must be carried out within 30 days.

Under Iraqi criminal law a death sentence must be carried out by hanging, though Saddam wants to be put before a firing squad. Saddam and six former officials are already standing trial in a second case, alleged genocide against the Kurds during the Anfal campaign of 1988. It is unclear whether those cases would move forward if Saddam is condemned to hang.

The Dujail trial has occasionally verged on anarchy. Three defence lawyers have been murdered; there has been procedural wrangling, political grandstanding by the accused and protestations of illegitimacy and injustice by the defence team. The credibility of the trial has been called into question by human rights organisations and the UN.

In a further twist, Saddam's chief defence lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said yesterday he had written to the tribunal requesting a two-month adjournment to allow the defence to complete its presentations. He told Reuters in Amman that the tribunal was being unduly pressured by the US to deliver a verdict tomorrow to aid the US Republican party ahead of the midterm elections.

Comment: Well! What an amazing coincidence! How likely is it that "Saddam's" long trial would just happen to end one or two days before the US mid-term elections! If we were in any way cynical about the invasion of Iraq and the control that the US government exerts over the "sovereign" Iraqi government we would almost think that the whole trial has just been one long propaganda piece for the benefit of the international community!

Of course, we are not, in any way, cynical about Saddam's trial. Heck, it isn't even the real Saddam on trial!

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EU president Finland says Saddam should not hang

05 Nov 2006

BRUSSELS - The European Union urged Iraq on Sunday not to carry out the death sentence passed on Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein after his conviction for crimes against humanity.

"The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and it should not be carried out in this case either," Finland, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement.
The statement offered no direct comment on the outcome of the trial but did say, however, that the EU had repeatedly condemned "the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein".

The U.S.-backed Iraqi High Tribunal judged Saddam guilty of crimes against humanity for his role in the killing of 148 Shi'ite villagers after a failed assassination bid in 1982.

U.S. White House spokesman Tony Snow said the judgement was a "good day for the Iraqi people", while British interior minister John Reid said the ruling should be respected.

Around the region, the outcome satisfied countries that Saddam invaded, but caused resentment amongst some Arabs who see him as the victim of a U.S.-inspired show trial.

Human rights groups and legal experts have called the year-long trial, during which three defence lawyers were killed, deeply flawed.

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Flashback: Iraqi president will not sign death warrant for Saddam

By Rory Carroll in Baghdad
04/19/06 "The Guardian"

Iraq's new rulers split yesterday over whether to execute Saddam Hussein if he is convicted of war crimes, with President Jalal Talabani facing calls to resign if he refuses to sign a death warrant.

The Kurdish rebel-turned president said he opposed capital punishment on principle.
"Personally, no, I won't sign," he told the BBC. But he hinted he may abstain and pass the decision to the two vice-presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia, and Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Arab, who with him comprise the presidential council. "My two partners in the presidency, the government, the house, all of them are for sentencing Saddam Hussein to death before the court will decide. So, I think I will be alone in this field."

Mr Talabani's stance prompted a sharp rebuke from the Kurdish bloc's main coalition ally, a cleric-backed Shia list.

A parliamentary deputy and spokesman, Ali al-Dabagh, said the United Iraqi Alliance unanimously favoured executing Saddam if so ordered by the special tribunal which is expected to start the trial next year. "If the court says he's a criminal, we will follow it," Mr al-Dabagh said. "[Talabani] is the president, and he should follow the law. If he doesn't want to sign it, he should resign the presidency."

Meanwhile, a hostage crisis evaporated when security forces entered Madaen, a town south of Baghdad, and found no evidence that Arab Sunni gunmen had kidnapped scores of Shias and forced others to flee. Shia politicians were accused of gross exaggerations for having made claims of "sectarian cleansing".

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This was a guilty verdict on America as well

Robert Fisk
6 November 2006 12:52
The Independent

So America's one-time ally has been sentenced to death for war crimes he committed when he was Washington's best friend in the Arab world. America knew all about his atrocities and even supplied the gas - along with the British, of course - yet there we were yesterday declaring it to be, in the White House's words, another "great day for Iraq". That's what Tony Blair announced when Saddam Hussein was pulled from his hole in the ground on 13 December 2003. And now we're going to string him up, and it's another great day.
Of course, it couldn't happen to a better man. Nor a worse. It couldn't be a more just verdict - nor a more hypocritical one. It's difficult to think of a more suitable monster for the gallows, preferably dispatched by his executioner, the equally monstrous hangman of Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Widad, who would strike his victims on the head with an axe if they dared to condemn the leader of the Iraqi Socialist Baath Party before he hanged them. But Abu Widad was himself hanged at Abu Ghraib in 1985 after accepting a bribe to put a reprieved prisoner to death instead of the condemned man. But we can't mention Abu Ghraib these days because we have followed Saddam's trail of shame into the very same institution. And so by hanging this awful man, we hope - don't we? - to look better than him, to remind Iraqis that life is better now than it was under Saddam.

Only so ghastly is the hell-disaster that we have inflicted upon Iraq that we cannot even say that. Life is now worse. Or rather, death is now visited upon even more Iraqis than Saddam was able to inflict on his Shias and Kurds and - yes, in Fallujah of all places - his Sunnis, too. So we cannot even claim moral superiority. For if Saddam's immorality and wickedness are to be the yardstick against which all our iniquities are judged, what does that say about us? We only sexually abused prisoners and killed a few of them and murdered some suspects and carried out a few rapes and illegally invaded a country which cost Iraq a mere 600,000 lives ("more or less", as George Bush Jnr said when he claimed the figure to be only 30,000). Saddam was much worse. We can't be put on trial. We can't be hanged.

"Allahu Akbar," the awful man shouted - God is greater. No surprise there. He it was who insisted these words should be inscribed upon the Iraqi flag, the same flag which now hangs over the palace of the government that has condemned him after a trial at which the former Iraqi mass murderer was formally forbidden from describing his relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, now George Bush's Secretary of Defence. Remember that handshake? Nor, of course, was he permitted to talk about the support he received from George Bush Snr, the current US President's father. Little wonder, then, that Iraqi officials claimed last week the Americans had been urging them to sentence Saddam before the mid-term US elections.

Anyone who said the verdict was designed to help the Republicans, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, blurted out yesterday, must be "smoking rope". Well, Tony, that rather depends on what kind of rope it might be. Snow, after all, claimed yesterday that the Saddam verdict - not the trial itself, please note - was "scrupulous and fair". The judges will publish "everything they used to come to their verdict."

No doubt. Because here are a few of the things that Saddam was not allowed to comment upon: sales of chemicals to his Nazi-style regime so blatant - so appalling - that he has been sentenced to hang on a localised massacre of Shias rather than the wholesale gassing of Kurds over which George W Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara were so exercised when they decided to depose Saddam in 2003 - or was it in 2002? Or 2001? Some of Saddam's pesticides came from Germany (of course). But on 25 May 1994, the US Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs produced a report entitled "United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the Health Consequences (sic) of the Persian Gulf War".

This was the 1991 war which prompted our liberation of Kuwait, and the report informed Congress about US government-approved shipments of biological agents sent by American companies to Iraq from 1985 or earlier. These included Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax; Clostridium botulinum; Histoplasma capsulatum; Brucella melitensis; Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli. The same report stated that the US provided Saddam with "dual use" licensed materials which assisted in the development of chemical, biological and missile-system programmes, including chemical warfare agent production facility plant and technical drawings (provided as pesticide production facility plans).

Yes, well I can well see why Saddam wasn't permitted to talk about this. John Reid, the British Home Secretary, said that Saddam's hanging "was a sovereign decision by a sovereign nation". Thank heavens he didn't mention the £200,000 worth of thiodiglycol, one of two components of mustard gas we exported to Baghdad in 1988, and another £50,000 worth of the same vile substances the following year.

We also sent thionyl chloride to Iraq in 1988 at a price of only £26,000. Yes, I know these could be used to make ballpoint ink and fabric dyes. But this was the same country - Britain - that would, eight years later, prohibit the sale of diphtheria vaccine to Iraqi children on the grounds that it could be used for - you guessed it - "weapons of mass destruction".

Now in theory, I know, the Kurds have a chance for their own trial of Saddam, to hang him high for the thousands of Kurds gassed at Halabja. This would certainly keep him alive beyond the 30-day death sentence review period. But would the Americans and British dare touch a trial in which we would have not only to describe how Saddam got his filthy gas but why the CIA - in the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war crimes against Halabja - told US diplomats in the Middle East to claim that the gas used on the Kurds was dropped by the Iranians rather than the Iraqis (Saddam still being at the time our favourite ally rather than our favourite war criminal). Just as we in the West were silent when Saddam massacred 180,000 Kurds during the great ethnic cleansing of 1987 and 1988.

And - dare we go so deep into this betrayal of the Iraqis we loved so much that we invaded their country? - then we would have to convict Saddam of murdering countless thousands of Shia Muslims as well as Kurds after they staged an uprising against the Baathist regime at our specific request - thousands whom webetrayed by leaving them to fight off Saddam's brutal hordes on their own. "Rioting," is how Lord Blair's meretricious "dodgy dossier" described these atrocities in 2002 - because, of course, to call them an "uprising" (which they were) would invite us to ask ourselves who contrived to provoke this bloodbath. Answer: us.

I and my colleagues watched this tragedy. I travelled on the hospital trains that brought the Iranians back from the 1980-88 war front, their gas wounds bubbling in giant blisters on their arms and faces, giving birth to smaller blisters that wobbled on top of their wounds. The British and Americans didn't want to know. I talked to the victims of Halabja. The Americans didn't want to know. My Associated Press colleague Mohamed Salaam saw the Iranian dead lying gassed in their thousands on the battlefields east of Basra. The Americans and the British didn't care.

But now we are to give the Iraqi people bread and circuses, the final hanging of Saddam, twisting, twisting slowly in the wind. We have won. We have inflicted justice upon the man whose country we invaded and eviscerated and caused to break apart. No, there is no sympathy for this man. "President Saddam Hussein has no fear of being executed," Bouchra Khalil, a Lebanese lawyer on his team, said in Beirut a few days ago. "He will not come out of prison to count his days and years in exile in Qatar or any other place. He will come out of prison to go to the presidency or to his grave." It looks like the grave. Keitel went there. Ceausescu went there. Milosevic escaped sentence.

The odd thing is that Iraq is now swamped with mass murderers, guilty of rape and massacre and throat-slitting and torture in the years since our "liberation" of Iraq. Many of them work for the Iraqi government we are currently supporting, democratically elected, of course. And these war criminals, in some cases, are paid by us, through the ministries we set up under this democratic government. And they will not be tried. Or hanged. That is the extent of our cynicism. And our shame. Have ever justice and hypocrisy been so obscenely joined?

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Europe divided over Saddam death penalty

HELSINKI, Nov 5, 2006 (AFP)

European leaders gave a mixed response to the verdict on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein Sunday, both welcoming the end of the trial and expressing concern about the death sentence imposed on him.

But only Finland, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, explicitly demanded that the murder-by-hanging verdict against Saddam not to be carried out.
"The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances and it should not be carried out in this case either," the Finnish presidency said in a statement.

"Over the years, the European Union repeatedly condemned the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein," it added.

Finland's opposition to the death sentence was echoed by UN human rights chief Louise Arbour, who called for a 'moratorium' on executions in Iraq following Saddam's verdict.

But reactions were more muted elsewhere in the 25-nation European Union, whose members have all abolished the death penalty and regularly condemn executions around the world.

In Italy, Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Saddam's death sentence reflected the international community's judgment of the former Iraqi leader, even as he expressed misgivings about the sentence.

"As much as the crime appalls us, our traditions and our ethics distance us from the use of the death penalty," Prodi said, in remarks quoted by the ANSA news agency.

A similar mix of satisfaction and unease was reflected in statements from Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Ireland

"Like any other political leader, Saddam Hussein should answer for his actions," Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told reporters in Uruguay, where he is attending an Ibero-American summit.

"But the death penalty is not envisaged by any European Union procedure and is not well understood in our country," he added.

And while Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller saluted Iraq for conducting the trial in "an independent manner," he expressed reservations about the special tribunal that judged Saddam.

"In the case of Denmark, we don't support this special tribunal," said Moeller, whose country has 470 soldiers deployed in Iraq, mostly under British command.

In Britain praise for the Saddam verdict was unstinted.

"I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes," Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement after the Baghdad court's decision.

"Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice.

Home Secretary John Reid said that while people might have their views on the death penalty "I am not sure that we have role to play" and called for respect for the "sovereign decision of a sovereign nation".

But in France, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy expressed fears Iraq's bloody sectarian strife could worsen as a result of the death sentence.

"I hope this decision will not lead to new tensions and that the Iraqis will show restraint, whatever community they belong to," Douste-Blazy said.

"This decision belongs to the Iraqi people," Douste-Blazy said of the sentence. But, he added, France and its EU partners would try to make their anti-death penalty stance known to Iraqi authorities.

Abolishing the death penalty is one condition for EU membership and in 1998 the block decided to spearhead the universal abolition of capital punishment and address the issue in its relations with all countries where the death penalty is legal.

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Shahroudi: Saddam's death sentence heals wounds of oppressed

Tehran, Nov 6, IRNA

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said here Monday that the death penalty, issued against former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, healed the wounds of the oppressed and all those whose beloved ones were killed on the Iraqi dictator's order.
"The courageous verdict issued by the judge in Saddam's case healed wounds of both Iranian and Iraqi nations, and is hoped to have positive impact on the two nations," said Ayatollah Shahroudi in an address to a group of judiciary officials.
Shahroudi termed the death sentence as a 'courageous and completely right, being consistent with the court's charter and judicial system of Iraq'.
He said Saddam's fate should serve as an eye-opener for all dictators and idols.
Saddam was sentenced to hang by the Iraqi High Tribunal, which found him guilty of crimes against humanity in the case of 148 Shiite civilians killed in revenge for a 1982 attempt on his life.
On Monday, Saddam's lawyers launched his appeal.
Under Iraqi law, if it fails he must be executed within 30 days.

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Chavez: Opponents unwanted in state jobs

Sat Nov 4, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez defended a top official caught on tape threatening to fire state employees who oppose the Venezuelan leader, suggesting those who do not like his leftist policies should go somewhere else, like Miami.
Television footage released during the week by opposition supporters showed Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez telling workers of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to back Chavez or give up their jobs. The opposition said it was proof of political coercion which violated rules against the use of state bodies as campaign tools.

Chavez, a staunch critic of President Bush and his administration, is running for re-election on Dec. 3.

Meanwhile, opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales led 16-mile march through the capital on Saturday, drawing tens of thousands into the streets to endorse his candidacy. More than 1,000 police were deployed along the route to prevent clashes between Rosales supporters and "Chavistas" who gathered on street corners, shouting "Viva Chavez!" and "Oh, No! Chavez Won't Go!" as marchers passed.

On Friday, Chavez defended Ramirez, saying he agrees workers must be loyal to his Bolivarian Revolution movement.

"Of course PDVSA is revolutionary," Chavez said as he inaugurated a new subway line outside Caracas. "Petroleos de Venezuela workers are with this revolution, and those who aren't should go somewhere else. Go to Miami."

Chavez accused opponents of plotting coups against him and said the military - like the oil firm - must be totally committed.

"Venezuelan soldiers are in this revolution, and I have told them: anyone who isn't had better leave here," he said.

He also accused some private TV channels of fomenting conspiracies against his government and warned in a televised speech: "Don't be surprised if I say there are no more concessions to some TV channels," when their licenses expire in March.

The state oil company, the country's single largest employer with a 40,000-member work force, has been heavily pro-Chavez since the president dismissed nearly half its workers to end an anti-government oil strike in 2003.

But aides to Rosales cite electoral rules that prohibit using the oil company and other branches of the government to further a candidate's campaign.

Already this week, Chavez opponents complained of vote-buying when the government paid early Christmas bonuses to public workers. The opposition also complains that state-funded advertising and TV time are giving the incumbent an illegal edge.

Rosales' campaign says electoral officials can impose a maximum fine of $7,800 on Ramirez if it finds campaign rules have been broken. It also is demanding an investigation by prosecutors.

Ramirez told the Venezuelan daily newspaper Ultimas Noticias that he did nothing to violate campaign rules because there was no explicit call "to vote for one candidate in particular but rather we backed President Chavez as head of state." He said more internal videos would be released to quell any doubts.

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Bush Plans Post-Election Call Up Of National Guard And Reserves

By Brent Budowsky
11/05/06 "BuzzFlash"

American commanders in Iraq have privately told the President that additional troops will be needed in Iraq to maintain the current policy.

Plans are secretly underway for a suprise new call up of National Guard and Reserves to be announced sometime after the election.

The Washington Post has now reported that plamning that is now classified, being kept secret from voters and military families until the election is over, could well include what the Post calls a policy change forcing a new wave of involuntary call ups.
With violence and chaos escalating in Iraq, with Iraqi police infiltrated by murderous pro-Iranian militia, with more than 20% of the Iraqi army on leave at any given time, the fact is: American troops are doing even more of the work that Iraqis should do and more will be sent to Iraq unless the policy changes.

The American people should demand full and complete disclosure, prior to the election, of any plans for new recalls of our Guard and Reserve units.

The American people should demand full and complete disclosure, prior to the election, of any plans for policy changes that will include new waves of involuntary recalls, of our Guard and National Reserve units.

The American people should demand, prior to the election, plans for stop loss policies or any other form of involuntary or surprise troop rotation hardships, about to be imposed on those who serve in the United States Army and Marine Corps.

The American people should demand, prior to the election, the full budget cost of the Iraq war for the coming year, which is being kept secret until after the vote.

The American people should demand, prior to the election, public disclosure of a summary of the pending National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. This estimate undoubtedly descibes the major deterioration into chaos, which is driving the coming wave of involuntary calls ups being kept secret from the American people.

On Monday the Military Times will call for the firing of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in a couragous act that demonstrates the failure of the policy and the urgent need for change.

The Army Times, Marine Corps Times, Navy Times and Air Force Times are the most informed sources of information and truth about what our commanders and troops believe, in fact.

The truth is, to implement the current failed policy, without change, there will be a clear need for more Americans in uniform to serve in Iraq almost immediately. As a pure military judgment, if the policy continues unchanged, more troops will be urgently needed and more rotation abuses and involuntary call ups will be force fed to those who serve and their families.

As the Military Times publicly suggests and our commanders privately believe, there is an urgent need for a new policy that will be more successful and will not require such unacceptable abuses.

Military families and all Americans should consider this:

If the Democrats were in control of Congress, there would be public hearings and an informed discussion about upcoming policy changes regarding involuntary recalls and rotation abuses.

If Democrats were in control of Congress, national intelligence officials would be called to public hearings, and Americans would have a clear and honest understanding of the failures of the policy, and the destructive implications for those who serve.

If the Democrats were in control of Congress, the President, Congress and both parties would sit down and the policy would change.

It is shameful and wrong to have these abuses of troop rotations and these endless policy changes of involuntary recalls which are kept secret from the people, and forced by the failures of the policy.

It is time for the practices of secrecy and deceit to end. They violate the basic notion of American democracy, they violate the most basic rules of common sense, they violate the trust of our troops, their families and the American people.

We should demand full and immediate public disclosure.

We should demand full accounting of what force structures and budgets our military will need and work on a bipartisan basis to meet those needs of the Army, Marine Corps, Guard and Reserves with no further abuses of rotations and recalls.

We should end permanently these constant abuses that have done so much damage to the mission and to those who serve with such bravery and honor, and deserve better from our government.

The truth should be disclosed before the election. The coverup of coming recalls must end.

A Nation of informed voters would then have the chance to elect a Congress in the election, to bring about change after the election.

Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net .

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Ortega Leads Nicaragua Vote

Managua, Nov 6 (Prensa Latina)

Daniel Ortega, candidate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), continues Monday ahead in the Nicaraguan elections after counting 14.65 percent of the 11 274 voting centers.

According to the second preliminary report released this morning by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Ortega had achieved 40.04 percent of the valid votes followed by Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance runner Eduardo Montealegre with 33.29.
Jose Rizo, from the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, remained third with 19.51 percent while Edmundo Jarquin, fielded by the Sandinista Renovator Movement, got 6.98 and Eden Pastora, of Alternative for Change, scarcely 0.27.

CSE data were rejected by Montealegre, who says that parallel vote counts by other entities, whose results are still unknown, take to a runoff.

In Nicaragua a nominee can be elected president with 40 percent of the valid votes or with 35 percent, but in this case the electoral law says that the winner must have five points over the runner-up.

A third CSE report will be ready in the next hours.

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Venezuelan Ties to U.S. Voting Machines? What about the Others?

Sunday, Nov 05, 2006
By: Michael Fox – Venezuelanalysis.com

With just a few days left before the United States November congressional elections, electronic voting machines are back in the news. HBO aired it's new documentary entitled, "Hacking Democracy" last Thursday, which asked the question, "are electronic voting machines safe?" Democracy Now! hosted voting machine investigative journalist and founder of the consumer protection election group, Black BoxVoting.org, Bev Harris, last Tuesday where she stated that "not only are the [voting] machines error-prone, they're also tamper-friendly and that the companies that make them are in cover-up mode." Last week it was also reported that the Dutch government has decided to pull 10% of their machines for lack of security in advance of their presidential elections on November 22.
But probably the biggest news last week regarding electronic voting machines, for US and Venezuelan voters, is the U.S. government's current investigation of Smartmatic and rumors that the voting machine manufacturer may potentially have links to the Venezuelan government. Smartmatic is the privately owned Venezuelan parent company of Sequoia Voter Systems, one of the oldest and top voting machine manufacturers in the United States. Smartmatic itself provided the machines for the 2004 Venezuelan Referendum, and is in charge of providing the voting machines for the Venezuelan Presidential elections, which are set for December 3.

The investigation taking place in the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) stems from allegations that the Venezuelan government once held stake in a software company partially owned by two of the owners of Smartmatic. Rumors take the claims even further, attempting to prove that Smartmatic machines used in the 2004 Referendum against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were rigged, thus leading to the President's "illegitimate" win with 59% of the vote.

There is an understandable growing consensus of citizens on both the right and the left, in the United States and in Venezuela, who believe that electronic voting machines are a bad idea. With "error-prone" and "tamper-friendly" machines, a laundry list of malfunctions, and with close to 90% of the United States now voting on electronic machines, high-profile people such as Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich have even made the call to go back to paper ballots.

With major machine malfunctions and an undeniable conflict of interest between all major voting machine manufacturers and their private interests, it appears that the rumors of possible links between Smartmatic and the Venezuelan government should be the least of U.S. voter's worries.

Regardless of the findings of the Commission, the investigation appears to have been more than welcomed by Smartmatic and Sequoia officials, who announced last Sunday that "contrary to reports... we have voluntarily filed with CFIUS to put to rest the baseless but persistent rumors about our ownership."

"We expect that when the investigation is complete, these questions about ownership and baseless allegations and conspiracy, will be put to rest," said Michelle Shafer, Communications Vice President of Sequoia Voting System last Monday evening.

According to Sequoia, confusion regarding the involvement of the Venezuelan government in Smartmatic's software pseudo-sister company, Bizta, stems from a $150,000 loan the company received in 2003 by the Venezuelan Industrial Credit Fund (Fondo de Credito Industrial) - the equivalent of the U.S. Small Business Administration. "Bizta pledged 28% of its shares as a guarantee for this routine loan. The loan was paid in full in 2004 prior to the Recall Referendum."

Conversly, the Miami Herald reported in 2004 that the Venezuelan government actually owned 28% of the company for a period of time just before the 2004 Referendum, thus apparently proving a conflict of interest between the Venezuelan government and the pair of Smartmatic owners with shares in Bizta.

Of course, Smartmatic officials deny this hypothesis, but it highlights just one of the many points that the Venezuelan opposition has consistently turned to, to claim that the 2004 Referendum was fraudulent, Chavez' victory "illegitimate" and the Smartmatic machines, suspect.

Lou Dobbs, CNN, and 2004 Venezuelan Smartmatic Fraud?

On June 6th, Lou Dobbs, aired on CNN one in a series of elections pieces. Unfortunately, in this particular report, entitled Democracy at Risk, he did an excellent job as a mouthpiece for the Venezuelan opposition, in their attempts to call foul play in the 2004 Referendum and the Smartmatic machines-attempts that have been completely discredited by the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and various international studies and reports.

CNN Correspondent, Kitty Pilgrim, reported on the show, "Many experts say those voting machines were manipulated in Venezuela to give President Hugo Chavez a victory. Exit polls done by the U.S. firm Penn, Schoen & Berland had Chavez losing 41 percent to 59 percent. But the next day, Chavez declared victory, reversing the score, saying he won 59 percent of the vote."

This has been a long-standing hypothesis held by members of the Venezuelan opposition. However, with a further in-depth investigation, the theory simply doesn't hold water.

First off, the elections were certified as legitimate by international observer delegations from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States (who, far from being Chavez supporters, some consider to be influenced by the United States). A week after the referendum and a post-election partial audit of the electronic voting machines-comparing the paper ballots produced at the time of each electronic vote with those same electronic tallies-the Carter Center again declared, "The automated machines worked well and the voting results do reflect the will of the people."

Independent studies where further carried out by experts from the University of California (Berkeley), Johns Hopkins, Stanford University, and the University of Utah, which showed "no statistical evidence of fraud."

As for the Penn, Schoen & Berland (PS&B) poll. It is now fairly widely known that the firm paid members of the opposition to carry out their survey. According to the Associated Press story from August 19, 2004, entitled "U.S. Poll Firm in Hot Water in Venezuela," election observers declared that members of the partially US-funded, Venezuelan opposition group, Súmate, were doing fieldwork for the poll. A Súmate official further verified that PS&B "supervised" the exit poll carried out by Súmate.

This was not the first time that the company had released suspect polling results during a controversial election. Among others, there are claims of PS&B's work in the 2000 Mexican elections and the Serbian elections that same year. The Washington Post reported on September 19, 2000, that as part of a $77 million US campaign to get rid of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic,

"U.S. aid officials and contractors are working to strengthen Serbia's famously fractured democratic opposition. They have helped train its organizers, equipped their offices with computers and fax machines and provided opposition parties with sophisticated voter surveys compiled by the same New York firm that conducts polls for President Clinton [PS&B]."

A report released on August 19, 2004, by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in DC, further took on PS&B's declaration that their Venezuelan Referendum poll carried a percentage of error of 1%. According to CEPR, "The chance of a properly constructed survey resulting in such an error [of 1%] is incomprehensible- far less than 1 chance in 10 to the 490th power."

"Given that international observers found no evidence of fraud, the methodology of this exit poll must be called into question," continued the report. "It is nearly impossible that this result could have been obtained through sampling error."

CEPR director, Mark Weisbrot, who has researched the topic extensively, further challenged the Dobbs report, by highlighting that "the sources that appeared and were cited by the [Dobbs] piece were all part of the Venezuelan opposition and/or paid by the Venezuelan opposition."

"There is as much doubt about the results of the [2004] referendum, as whether Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in 1984," said Weisbrot in an interview this week, "What this Lou Dobbs segment reported on the Venezuelan referendum is akin to a report on the September 11 attacks based only on the research and testimony of conspiracy theorists who claim that the Pentagon was not hit by a plane and the towers were demolished by internal explosions."

While voicing the concerns of many, Dobbs also incorrectly characterized the Venezuelan machines when he said, "Well, let's be clear. It is absolutely demonstrable that with the use of electronic voting machines, in which we do not have verifiable receipts and a way of independently auditing those votes-democracy is at risk anyway as we approach the midterm elections."

Fortunately for Venezuelans, all Smartmatic machines used in Venezuela, including those used during the 2004 Referendum, are required to produce a "verifiable receipt," in order to "independently audit those votes." It was with these paper receipts that international observers where able to carry out the post-election audit of the Referendum. In the United States, however during the 2004 Presidential elections, only one state, Nevada, required its voting machines to produce a paper receipt (known as Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail technology). According to Sequoia officials, who supplied the machines to Nevada in 2004, there are now 27 states in the US that require the verifiable paper receipts.

Voting Machine Troubles

As Bev Harris pointed out on Democracy Now! last week, the voting machines in the U.S. are "error-prone... tamper-friendly and that the companies that make them are in cover-up mode."

Jim March, board member of BlackBoxVoting.org, pointed out last Thursday that in fact, "with in the last thirty days, there have been reports of manipulation of Sequoia machines," referring to the so-called "yellow button problem" where certain Seqoia machines come equipped with yellow button on the back of the machine that, when held down, allows voters to vote more than once. According to March, the only "saving grace" is that there "would be an audible chime with each vote," hopefully coming to the attention of the poll workers. This is just one of a number of various malfunctions which have surfaced in almost every voting machine on the market.

March stated that he and Harris have mainly focused their investigations on voting machines from the manufacturer Diebold Election System because of their lack of security, which allowed 40,000 private company files to be open to the public. Nevertheless, according to March, all of the voting machine companies have problems.

March additionally explained that the failures go further than just the machines and the manufactures. In the United States, he said, there is supposed to be Federal oversight of the voting machines and the companies that manufacture them. However, he has documented several cases involving Diebold, where this oversight process failed.

"If the Federal oversight process failed with Diebold, did it do any better with the others?" March asked. "The latest evidence says no."

Conflict of Interest

Bev Harris says she began investigating electronic voting machines, when she "discovered a Republican senator from Nebraska [Chuck Hagel] who was running for office had ownership in the company that was counting his own votes."

According to Harris, in an Alternet article from October, 2003, the main owner of the company, Election Systems & Software, is a company owned by Senator Chuck Hagel's campaign finance director, Michael McCarthy. Hagel owned shares in both of the companies and "Hagel was the CEO and Chairman of the voting machine company while it built the machines that counted his votes."

According to Jim March, all three of the original founders of Global Election Systems-the Canadian company that was bought out by Diebold in January, 2002-were convicted felons in investment and stock fraud. March hypothesizes that they wanted to use the voting machines as a form of insider trading, since they could potentially rig the election.

Speaking of Diebold, an article by the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on August 28, 2003, that Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc., "told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is 'committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.'"

According to the same article, Republican Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, "said Diebold is not the only company with political connections - noting that lobbyists for voting-machine makers read like a who's who of Columbus' powerful and politically connected."

Harris reported in 2003 that "O'Dell sponsored a $600,000 fund raiser for Dick Cheney in July. Diebold director W.H. Timken is also an avid Bush supporter."

The list goes on, but the picture is clear. Every one of the major voting machine manufacturers has a conflict of interest with the impartial and fair election that they are supposedly attempting to carry out. Furthermore, according to Jim March, there is no oversight committee to regulate who owns what, who is supporting who, and who should or should not be allowed to receive the voting machine contract for a region in which there may be a conflict of interest.

It is good that Smartmatic is under investigation. Regardless of what the results of the commission may turn out to be, the voters have a right to know who is in control of the system they are using to decide the fate of their country. They also deserve to know that their vote is being counted. But it is important to keep in mind that Smartmatic is but one company, and the other major voting machine manufacturers also have their major defects, their owners, and their own potential conflicts of interest, which should also be under Federal investigation by the United States government.

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Democrats Investigate Venezuelan Ties, But Are Inconsistent on Voter Technology

Sunday, Nov 05, 2006By: Nikolas Kozloff

I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.

A few days ago, I read an article in the New York Times about how Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, had successfully lobbied the U.S. government into investigating Smartmatic. The company owns Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of electronic voting machines. Sequoia's voting equipment will be used in the November 7, 2006 Congressional elections in 16 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) a multi-agency panel that approves or rejects foreign takeovers, will handle the investigation.

Could it be, I wondered, that after six long years of Republican rule and electoral shenanigans, the Democrats had finally found their nerve and were going to fight to preserve our electoral democracy?

Then I read the fine print: what really upset Maloney was that Smartmatic might have ties to leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and his government.
Demonizing Chavez has become de riguer ever since the Venezuelan leader called Bush "the devil" while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Chavez was prompted to go on his rhetorical offensive after enduring years of strong-arm U.S. interventionist tactics in his nation's internal politics (for a more detailed explanation of these issues see my recent book, Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S., published by St. Martin's Press).

According to the Miami Herald, Maloney expressed concerns regarding Smartmatic's purchase of Sequoia last year and a possible connection between the Venezuelan government and Smartmatic through the software company, Bizta- which is operated by two of the same people who own Smartmatic.

At one time, the Venezuelan government owned 28% of Bitza. But, Sequoia claims this part "ownership" in Bizta merely added up to collateral for a $150,000 loan that Bizta had received in 2003 from the Venezuelan Industrial Credit Fund, which is the equivalent of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Smartmatic is owned by three Venezuelans; they are being investigated by the Feds in an effort to ascertain whether Caracas has any control or influence over Smartmatic. Company officials strenuously deny any link, as does the Venezuelan government.

By calling for an investigation, Maloney gets to look tough on the issue of voter technology. "The government should know who owns our voting machines -- that is a national security concern," she remarked. "Having a foreign government investing or owning a company in this country that makes voting machines could raise a question about the integrity of the elections," she added.

Maloney, who voted for the Iraq war in 2002 but who now seeks to redeploy the troops "at the earliest practicable date," specializes in fishing for safe issues that make her look strong on national security. She recently sought to outflank the Bush administration by calling for reform of the CFIUS process that allowed Dubai Ports World to acquire a British company that controlled operations in several key U.S. ports.

Now Maloney seeks to enhance her standing on national security matters by suggesting that the Bush administration is failing to protect us from the likes of the Venezuelan government.

"Just as the Dubai ports deal was a priority security issue," she remarked, "any potential foreign influence on our elections system is vital to our national security and deserves at least a look. It doesn't seem that the deal for Sequoia was vetted by our government, and I want to know why."

By raising the red flag on Venezuela Maloney gets into the good graces of the mainstream media, which has been condemning Chavez ever since his inflammatory appearance at the United Nations.

CNN's Lou Dobbs, a nationalist xenophobe, has long been a leading Chavez critic. Not surprisingly he lavished praise on Maloney, remarking on his show that "we have to give just extraordinary credit to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. She focused on this issue, she brought it to the attention of the public, and our hats are off to her."

As the ranking member on the Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over CFIUS, Maloney has the right to call for investigations as she sees fit. The problem, however, is that the Democrats have not been consistent on the issue of voter technology.

Sequoia is actually the smallest of the three top vendors of e-voting machinery; the others are Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and Hart InterCivic.

According to Robert Kennedy Jr., writing in Rolling Stone magazine, ES&S was at one point chaired by Chuck Hagel, a Republican Senator from Nebraska.

Tom Hicks, an investor in Hart InterCivic and a GOP stalwart, bought the Texas Rangers from George Bush in 1998. The purchase made George Bush a millionaire.

Diebold has contributed at least $300,000 to GOP candidates since 1998. Up until recently, Walden O'Dell was Diebold's CEO; prior to the presidential election of 2004 he pledged to deliver Ohio to George Bush.

In Ohio in 2004, observers reported widespread problems and irregularities with ES&S machines. Following the election in Ohio, Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan wrote a report about flawed computer voter technology and raised the issue on the floor of Congress, but received little support from Democrats in the Senate.

The Nation's John Nichols remarked, "the dramatic imperfections in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, as detailed in a new report...circulated by Representative John Conyers Jr.... deserve a more serious response than they received from the majority of Congressional Democrats."

When Congress reviewed the Electoral College result, Conyers objected to the certification of the Ohio result. But in the end, only 31 Democratic House members and one Senator voted against electoral certification.

Going into the November 7th election, voters are uneasy about the security of touch-screen voting machines and other electronic elections systems. According to officials, nearly 40 percent of voters on Election Day next week will be using paperless touch-screen machines which leave no paper trail and are vulnerable to hackers. According to Newsweek magazine, Diebold machines display grave vulnerabilities. Experts say that the software on Diebold machines can be altered very easily. Diebold, unlike Smartmatic, is not owned by Venezuelans but Americans.

The Democrats must systematically address the issue of electronic voting machines and companies across the board. Failure to do so will give the distinct impression that the party is trying to score easy political points by bashing Chavez and lacks the necessary commitment to preserve our electoral democracy.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author, most recently, of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (St. Martin's Press)

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U.S. Democrats' lead narrows

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 13:04:52

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Two days before the U.S. midterm elections, a new poll released on Sunday found that the lead enjoyed by Democrats over Republicans narrowed to 47-43 percent among likely voters, down from 50-39 percent two weeks ago.

The lead was a bit larger among registered voters, 48-40 percent, according to the nationwide Pew Research Center survey.
The poll suggested that the judgment of undecided voters would be crucial to the outcome of many congressional races this year, with as many as 19 percent of voters saying that they now only leant to a candidate or were flatly undecided.

Democrats needed to add 15 seats in the 435-member House and six in the 100-member Senate to regain control of both chambers of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections.

Republicans had made major gains among independent voters, the poll suggested. As recently as mid-October, 47 percent of independent voters said they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, compared with 29 percent who favored the Republican. Currently, Democrats led by 44-33 percent among independent voters.

President George W. Bush's political standing had improved in the final week before the election, with his job approval rating among registered voters rising from 37 percent in early October to41 percent. However, a majority of voters, 53 percent, still disapproved of the president job performance, according to the poll, which was conducted among 2,369 registered voters from Wednesday through Saturday.

Another poll, conducted by ABC News/Washington Post among 1,205 adults from Wednesday to Saturday, also showed a narrowed lead of Democrats over Republicans, 51-45 percent among likely voters.

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Give 'em Europe to Hang Him

Paris airport strike planned over Muslim workers row

Nov 3, 2006

PARIS - Unions at Paris's main airport said Friday they plan to call for a strike over the withdrawal of security badges from scores of airport workers, mostly Muslims, denouncing it as discrimination.
Officials said Thursday that 72 workers at the Charles de Gaulle-Roissy international airport had been stripped of their security clearance since May 2005 for suspected links to Islamic extremists and other fundamentalist groups.

"We are going to call for a strike at the end of November and for a rally outside the prefecture in Roissy," which took the decision to remove the staff badges, said Didier Frassin, the head of the main CGT union at the airport.

Seven unions were to hold a meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to back the strike call and what further action to take.

Unions have already filed a complaint for discrimination and the French anti-discrimination agency HALDE is also investigating the matter.

Jacques Lebrot, the Roissy deputy prefect, said Thursday the workers had been "linked to fundamentalist movements with potentially terrorist aims."

The "great majority" were linked to an "Islamist movement", although badges were also taken away from "just under a dozen" people suspected of links to Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels as well as from one Sikh worker, he said.

One was allegedly in regular contact with an associate of the British "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up an American Airlines Paris to Miami flight in 2001.

But union leaders say many have been unfairly targeted.

"The deputy prefect is just making allegations, not proving anything. We are waiting for proof of the threat these employees represent - not just shock statements," said Philippe Decrulle, CFDT union leader at Air France.

"It is all totally vague, they have nothing to go on, it's a scandal," said Daniel Saadat, a lawyer for a group of workers who have appealed the decision.

But Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said officials were obliged to withdraw the security clearances as a "precaution".

"Each time we withdrew a badge, it was because we had elements that allowed us to do so. Me, I have a duty which is a duty of precaution. In the Roissy zone, you can get close to planes, there are millions of passengers," he said.

"It's quite right that the police services conduct inquiries and only certify those people we are certain about."

He also rejected the argument that ordinary Muslims were being discriminated against purely on the grounds of their faith.

"The Muslims in France have nothing to do with this. Islam can be practised without a problem. Where there is a problem is with extremism," he said.

Lebrot said another 40 employees at the airport were currently being investigated as posing a possible security risk.

Sixty-eight others have been cleared since the start of the investigation in May last year. Five who lost their badges later regained them after "bringing new elements" to the attention of the authorities, he said.

A nationalist French politician, who created a stir in April for publishing a book in which he claimed the airport was infiltrated by Islamic extremists, said his contentions had been borne out by the authorities' decision.

Philippe de Villiers, head of the right-wing Movement for France (MPF) party, said on Friday he believed Islamic extremists could still be working at the airport despite the recent crackdown.

"There are networks of baggage handlers who are Islamic extremists, that's now been shown," he told RTL radio. "There were some, and there probably still are some," he said.

"When I brought my book out, a lot of people told me 'It's probably exaggerated'. Today, we see it's true and that it's scary."

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Cold snap plunges swathes of Europe into blackness

by Marc Burleigh
Sun Nov 5, 2006

PARIS - A sudden weekend surge in demand for electricity in Germany due to freezing weather plunged much of Europe into blackness as France and other power exporting countries found their grids overtapped.

The power outage nearly caused an unprecedented Europe-wide blackout, energy supply companies said.
Authorities said it underscored an urgent need to create a coordinating agency for the entire continent.

Swathes of France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands went dark for up to an hour late Saturday as cold Germans rushing to switch on heaters sucked up electricity from Europe's interconnected networks.

Automated switching protocols meant the grid in France -- a net exporter of electricity to Germany and other countries due to its fleet of nuclear power stations -- was massively called on to meet the shortfall in Germany.

"It all happened in several seconds," said Pierre Bornard, a senior executive at RTE, a subsidiary of the French electricity giant EDF that handles electricity distribution.

In France, more than five million people, or nearly one-tenth of the country, were left without power, especially residents of Paris and its suburbs.

"We weren't very far from a European blackout," Bornard said.

Winter temperatures that fell to below freezing in parts of Germany, Europe's most populous country, triggered the incident.

The west German city of Cologne was the first place to go black as strained power networks failed to shift electricity supplies to German consumers. The failure of two German high-voltage transmission lines compounded the problem.

The Cologne-Bonn airport was affected, but generators were started to prevent disruptions to air traffic.

A spokesman for the private Germany energy company EWE admitted that the German network suffered a "spike" it was unprepared for.

The automatic switching by France's EDF network simply transferred the problem to that country, and beyond.

France's high-speed train services were disrupted, with delays on a dozen lines.

Various parts of Italy were affected, particularly the northwestern Piedmont area, which lost electricity for around 30 minutes.

Several areas of Spain were also hit, including Madrid, and the eastern Catalonia and Valencia regions, according to Spain's REE company.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries as a result of the blackout.

Bornard said that, as the huge imbalance was detected, computers in the power networks simply shut down part of the output. "It was the only way to avoid a complete meltdown," he said.

RTE said 5,200 Megawatts -- nearly 10 percent of the output at the time -- were "immediately interrupted".

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Sunday that a common European authority was needed to oversee electricity distribution.

"We all depend on each other, but we can't help each other without a common authority," he said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

"It's totally contradictory to have several European connections and not have a single European authority," he said.

The reliability of Europe's electricity system has been undermined in recent years as consumption has grown without corresponding investment.

Frequently during periods of extreme cold or heat, the power networks in European countries come under pressure, with transmission companies forced to take special measures.

The last major outage in Europe occurred in September 2003, when virtually all of Italy and part of the Swiss city of Geneva were left without power for up to 20 hours.

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EU calls for coordinated energy plan after blackouts

BRUSSELS, Nov 6, 2006 (AFP)

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs called Monday for European Union countries to harmonise their energy policies following blackouts in western Europe over the weekend.

"These incidents show, once again, that events in one part of Europe impact on other parts and again confirm the need for a proper European energy policy," he said in a statement.
A surge Saturday in electricity demand in Germany due to cold weather triggered blackouts in some parts of the country but also in France, Italy and Spain. A number of the power cuts lasted for around 30 minutes.

Europe's energy grids frequently come under pressure from excessive demand during periods of extreme cold or heat, forcing electricity companies to take special measures.

"Whilst these blackouts lasted for relatively short periods of time, they are unacceptable," Piebalgs said. "Energy security is better delivered through a common European approach rather than 27 different approaches."

He said that he asked Europe's Transmission System Operators (ETSO) to quickly pin-point the cause of the problem and draw up measures to ensure that it does not happen again.

He also said that he wanted to set up a "mechanism" to ensure that these and other energy security standards, to be drawn up by a working group, are made binding on electricity network operators.

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Germany 'not only cause' of Europe blackout

BERLIN, Nov 6, 2006 (AFP)

Germany's biggest power supplier insisted on Monday that it was not the sole cause of the electricity cut that plunged parts of western Europe into darkness at the weekend.

E.ON confirmed it had switched off an electricity line over the river Ems in western Germany on Saturday to allow a cruise ship to pass through without danger, but said the problems on the European electricity grids happened too late for that to have been the only factor.
"That alone cannot explain the problem. The disturbances only occurred half an hour after the shutoff," E.ON spokesman Christian Schneller told Bayerischer Rundfunk radio.

E.ON chairman Klaus-Dieter Maubach rejected suggestions that under-investment in the network in Germany - home to 82 million people - was to blame for the power cut, as suggested by Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

"The networks are in good condition," he said.

The power outage left 10 million people - half of them in France - in the dark and cold.

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World Under A Shadow

Japan lawmakers clash over nuclear weapons debate

Sun Nov 5, 2006

TOKYO - Japanese ruling party lawmakers sparred on Sunday over whether the country should hold a debate on acquiring nuclear weapons in a row triggered by North Korea's test of a nuclear device last month.

The head of policy at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said Japan should at least discuss its self-imposed ban on nuclear weapons, an opinion which is controversial in the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks.
"We should hold a debate, including on what should be done if a nuclear missile comes flying toward us," Shoichi Nakagawa told a discussion programme broadcast by Fuji TV.

Japan watched nervously as North Korea fired off a series of ballistic missiles in July and tested a nuclear device last month.

As the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan is highly sensitive about nuclear issues and even suggestions the country hold a debate about having nuclear weapons has created a controversy.

Nakagawa said he was not suggesting Japan acquire nuclear weapons. "I have never said that we should debate this on the premise that we should have nuclear weapons," he said.

But his comments drew criticism from Toshihiro Nikai, another senior member of the ruling party who opposed any debate over nuclear weapons.

"Of course one has the right to freedom of expression as a member of parliament. But freedom of expression doesn't mean you should just say anything you like," Nikai told reporters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month the country would not lift its decades-old ban on nuclear weapons and denied the topic was up for discussion after his foreign and defense ministers clashed over the issue.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso called for a discussion on nuclear weapons while Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said raising the issue at a time of high regional tension would be unwise.

Nikai said comments by Aso and Nakagawa could prove embarrassing for Abe.

"If they repeatedly issue statements that could be misleading, it may result in calls for the one who appointed them to take responsibility," Nikai told national broadcaster NHK.

Japan, with high technological standards and a stockpile of plutonium from its nuclear power industry, is widely thought capable of producing nuclear weapons relatively quickly, but many analysts say it is highly unlikely to do so, given internal opposition and the risk of raising regional tensions.

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Chrysler's inventory casts long shadow on Detroit

By Jui Chakravorty
Sun Nov 5, 2006

DETROIT - Dusted with an early snow, hundreds of brand-new Jeeps sit parked in neat rows in barbed-wire-fenced lots at Detroit's airport.

All dressed up with plastic on the seats and barcodes on the windshields, the convoy-in-waiting has nowhere to go since Chrysler dealers are balking at taking on even more inventory.

Welcome to Detroit, a nearby sign reads. Welcome, also, to yet another indication of the crisis facing the American auto industry.
Since the mid-1980s, when Japanese automakers began making vehicles in large volumes in the United States, Detroit's automakers have talked of the need to better align production with demand and move to a model of just-in-time manufacturing.

But with the U.S. economy slowing and pressure to return to profitability mounting, DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group now has thousands of vehicles without any clear destination.

Larger rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are grappling with inventory problems of their own even as they shut plants and shed tens of thousands of jobs.

"Things are starting to slow down and particularly for Chrysler trucks," said IRN Inc. analyst Erich Merkle. "And Chrysler has been slow to react to that."

Chrysler executives this week declined to say how many vehicles remain in its "sales bank": previously undisclosed parking lots are full of vehicles unassigned to any dealers.

The number of unsold vehicles swelled to 100,000 this year before dropping to about 50,000 last month, Chrysler has said. It has set a goal of eliminating the surplus by year-end.

But some dealers have pushed back, accusing Chrysler of trying to force too many vehicles into its sales channel when it should have been cutting production.


A lawsuit pending in federal court in New York by Chrysler dealer Boss Motors is seeking $3 million from the automaker, claiming it tried to force the dealership to take cars it never ordered and then gave competing dealers unfair price breaks.

"We've also been hearing that this was a widespread practice," said lawyer Len Weber, who represents the dealership. "A lot of people are watching our case."

Chrysler spokesman Mike Palese said the suit lacked merit. "We normally look to resolve these issues in the normal course of business," he said. "I don't think it's a test case or a poster child. I think it's just one dealer with concerns that couldn't be resolved."

But larger dealership groups are also wary of being burned by financing costs on slow-moving models.

Medford, Oregon-based dealership chain Lithia Motors, which relies on Chrysler for more than 40 percent of its new car sales, said last week that Chrysler had asked it to accept 3,100 vehicles in a promotion earlier this year. The chain, which has 102 outlets, took only 50 vehicles.

"That's the kind of thing that's happening. We're only going to take what we can turn," Sid DeBoer, chief executive of Lithia, told analysts on a conference call.


Meanwhile, Mike Jackson, chief executive of the No. 1 dealership group AutoNation Inc., has called for the Detroit-based car makers to revise their inventory reporting.

Jackson said Detroit's established practice of including fleet sales in inventory numbers "dramatically understates" the problem facing the old Big Three carmakers.

Excluding fleet sales, GM's inventory would have been at a 94-day supply instead of a 76-day supply at the end of the third quarter. He said Ford's inventory would be at 105 days instead of 75 days and Chrysler's at 126 days instead of 82.

By comparison, Toyota Motor Corp. runs lean, with about a 30-day supply of unsold vehicles, while still taking market share from all comers.

Chrysler is not the only U.S. automaker to face scrutiny on its inventory. Some analysts say GM overproduced GMT-900 SUVs in the third quarter at a time of heightened pressure to show improved results.

GM is relying on the GMT-900s such as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Sierra to recover from a $10.6 billion loss in 2005 and slow its slide in sales and market share.

On a call with analysts last week, GM in-house sales analyst Paul Ballew said the No. 1 automaker now needed to reduce its large SUV inventory.

"The problem is that the Detroit automakers have excess capacity," AMR Research analyst Kevin Reale said. "And they have to keep plants running to maintain the cost structure of their vehicles."

IRN's Merkle said the longer-term worry was that a prolonged slowdown could show that the latest round of plant closures have not gone far enough.

"The thing that concerns me is ... if volumes continue to drop, which they likely will, given the economic slowdown, they will still be left with excess capacity," he said.

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Plastic trash vortex menaces Pacific sealife: study

By Deborah Zabarenko
Reuters Environment Correspondent
Sun Nov 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - Old toothbrushes, beach toys and used condoms are part of a vast vortex of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, threatening sea creatures that get tangled in it, eat it or ride on it, a new report says.

Because plastic doesn't break down the way organic material does, ocean currents and tides have carried it thousands of miles (kms) to an area between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, according to the study by the international environmental group Greenpeace.

This swirling vortex, which can grow to be about the size of Texas, is not far from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, designated as a protected U.S. national monument in June by President George W. Bush.
The Greenpeace report, "Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans" said at least 267 species -- including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish -- are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.

Some 80 percent of this debris comes from land and 20 percent from the oceans, the report said, with four main sources: tourism, sewage, fishing and waste from ships and boats.

The new report comes days after the journal Science projected that Earth's stocks of fish and seafood would collapse by 2048 if trends in overfishing and pollution continue.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Institute of Medicine said the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks of toxins detected in the animals.


Plastic pollution is a problem in all the world's oceans, the Greenpeace report said, but underlined the issue in the Pacific by sailing through the floating garbage dump and capturing images of wildlife interacting with plastic.

"It's not necessarily an area that's clearly defined; it's sort of a natural phenomenon ... wind and salt water break down the plastic," said Steve Smith, aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.

The plastic trash, some in large pieces and others broken down to small but recognizable particles, is visible from the ship's deck, about 50 feet above the ocean surface, Smith said by telephone on Friday. Inflatable boats are dispatched from the ship to collect samples.

"We've been unfortunately finding a lot of stuff out here, floating by, which doesn't paint a very good picture, because some of it is from faraway places, has marine life like barnacles and other little creatures living on the plastic," Smith said.

By hitching rides on plastic debris, invasive species can be carried thousands of miles (kms) to interact with native creatures, Smith said. Plastic also poses a hazard to animals that mistake it for prey and eat it, he said.

"Plastics in the oceans act as a toxic sponge, soaking up a lot of the persistent pollutants out here," Smith said. "We've seen photos of albatrosses who eat this plastic ... Even though their stomachs are filled, they end up starving because there's no nutrients in there."

Discarded or lost fishing nets and traps can continue to catch fish when they are no longer in use, the report said.

The report said an international agreement known as MARPOL is aimed at ending the dumping of plastic debris at sea, but noted that since most debris originates on land, even total enforcement of this agreement would not eliminate the problem.

Greenpeace called for a global network of marine reserves, covering 40 percent of the world's oceans, and responsibility by coastal countries to cut down on "excessive consumption" and boost recycling.

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"Legged" dolphin evidence of ocean mammals terrestrial

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 14:01:13

BEIJING, Nov. 6 (Xinhuanet)--A dolphin captured last month has an extra set of fins that could be the remains of hind legs, providing further evidence that ocean-dwelling mammals once lived on land, according to Japanese researchers Sunday.
Fishermen captured the four-finned dolphin alive off the coast of Wakayama prefecture (state) in western Japan on Oct. 28, and alerted the nearby Taiji Whaling Museum, the local museum director Katsuki Hayashi said.

The extra fins are about the size of adult human hands and protrude from the animal's underside, near the tail, Hayashi said.

The five-year-old dolphin, about nine feet long, is believed to be the first found with such well-developed and symmetrical secondary fins though others have had partial protrusions.

"This is an unprecedented discovery," said Seiji Osumi, an adviser at Tokyo's Institute of Cetacean Research. "I believe the fins may be remains from the time when dolphins' ancient ancestors lived on land."

Fossil remains indicate that dolphins and whales were four-footed land animals about 50 million years ago and shared a common ancestor with the hippopotamus and deer. Scientists believe they moved back to the sea and lost their hind limbs.

Dr. Ian Jackson, of Edinburgh University's Human Genetics Unit, said the discovery was significant and surprising. "You get cases of gene mutation that have given rise to things like extra fingers and toes in mammals," he said. "But this is more pronounced. The Japanese are right -- this is probably the mutation of a gene that was important in the evolution of the dolphin."

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Typhoid epidemic outbreaks in central Nepal

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 15:57:01

KATHMANDU, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- The outbreak of typhoid epidemic at Manthali, the headquarters of Ramechhap district in central Nepal is getting increased, the National News Agency RSS reported on Monday.

More than 200 locals suffered from typhoid within last week in the area, the report said.
Around 10-15 typhoid patients are undergoing treatment in the district hospital and Tamakoshi Community hospital each day, according to the report.

"More than 10 new patients are coming to our hospital," an official at Tamakoshi Community hospital was quoted by the RSS as saying, adding that the disease is assumed to spread due to polluted water around the area.

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Brain stimulation shown to boost memory

By Patricia Reaney
November 6, 2006

LONDON - Stimulating the brain with gentle electric currents during sleep boosts memory, German scientists said on Sunday.

When they applied several currents that mimic natural slow oscillating brain waves in sleep they enhanced the memory of medical students who had done a word-learning task.
"It leads to improved memory retention," said Jan Born, a neuroscientist at the University of Luebeck.

The scientists, whose results were published online by the journal Nature, believe brain stimulation could help people with memory problems and
Alzheimer's disease.

"This is an alternative way to intensify or to improve sleep and its memory function," Born told Reuters.

He and his team asked the students to learn a list of paired words in a standard memory test before they fell asleep. The researchers stimulated their brain while they slept. After they woke up, the students had to recall the words they had memorized.

If the currents were applied to the scalp during deep sleep, the first few hours of nocturnal sleep, the students recalled a greater number of words than if they had been given a sham brain stimulation.

"This is proof that this slow oscillation has a real function during sleep -- to build and consolidate memory," said Born.

"It is an eight percent increase overall. This is a striking increase," he added.

The students did not feel any sensation from the currents to the frontal cortex of the brain or any adverse side effects. The currents forced the brain more into the deep slow-wave sleep to improve the memory function, according to the scientists.

Memory function in the medical students was already very good before they received the brain stimulation but the currents managed to improve it.

"There is growing evidence that you can very effectively manipulate brain function by different types of electrical simulation," Born said.

He believes the natural slow oscillations and those induced by the electrical currents affect the hippocampus area of the brain which plays a part in memory.

"The slow oscillations during slow-wave sleep trigger a kind of replay of these memories in the hippocampus," he added.

The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is damaged in patients with Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative illness that robs people of their memory and cognitive ability.

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U.S. seeks silence from CIA prisoners: report

Sat Nov 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is arguing that detainees held in secret CIA prisons shouldn't be allowed to describe in court how they were interrogated, the Washington Post reported in its Saturday edition.

The government believes that interrogation methods used by the CIA are among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets, and that their release "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage," the Post said, citing recent court filings.
Terrorists could incorporate the information into their counter-interrogation training, the government told Judge Reggie Walton.

The government is trying to block access to 14 detainees transferred in September from the secret prisons to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

An attorney for the family of one of those detainees, 26-year-old Majid Khan, responded in a court document that there is no evidence that he has top-secret information, the Post said.

"The executive is attempting to misuse its classification authority ... to conceal illegal or embarrassing executive conduct," lawyer Gitanjali Gutierrez wrote, according to the Post.

The government argues that detainees such as Khan have no right to speak to a lawyer under the new Military Commissions Act, which established separate military trials for terrorism suspects, the Post said.

The government also is concerned that lawyers could pass information back and forth for detainees, the Post said.

Captives who have spent time in CIA prisons have said they were sometimes treated harshly with techniques like "waterboarding," which simulates drowning, the Post said.

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One Soldier Against the Empire

By Elizabeth de la Vega, Tomdispatch.com. Posted November 4, 2006.

"One of the soldiers in the turret of the humvee behind me just opened up fire on the machine gun on the vehicle. As the vehicle was turning away, all I heard above my head was "pop, pop, pop, pop." This was my first deployment, my first combat experience was that moment right then, and just the sound of machine guns going off over my head. He popped about five or six rounds in the side of the vehicle. Myself and two of the other guys ran over to the vehicle, smashed the window, and pulled the guy out to provide first aid on him... I was looking down at this kid who had just been shot in the stomach for no reason really -- he was trying to leave...I was still just standing there in shock, looking down at this kid, and he looked right up at me. And his mouth was foaming. His stomach was falling out in his hands... I was looking down at this kid, this young boy who was just trying to drive around town and took a wrong turn and tried to go the other direction, was shot at and killed, and I'm looking down at him now. And we made eye contact for about five seconds, and he just looked at me with the most empty, terrified look in his face that will never leave me in my whole life I'm sure."
I look forward to the day when Mattel makes a Sgt. Ricky Clousing action figure.

As the mother of sons born eight years apart, I spent nearly half my adult life surrounded by -- and stepping on -- action figures. They were everywhere: a phalanx of tiny knights in shining armor on the windowsill; Batman and Robin frozen in an ice tray; and GI Joe guys in camouflage among the hosta. One Christmas, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo even ended up in the manger scene along with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, two cows, three sheep, and several Ewoks. My kids spent hours and hours in a fantasy world populated by villains and heroes of every description except one; there were no peace heroes.

I met a peace hero at Camp Democracy in Washington, D.C. not too long ago: Sgt. Ricky Clousing. He will not remember me, but I will not forget him. On a brilliant, blessedly unhumid day, Ricky sat on a makeshift platform within shouting distance of the Lincoln Memorial and told a story that was simultaneously agonizing and inspiring to hear.

On September 11, 2001, Ricky was working in an orphanage and "building some roads and stuff" in Thailand. When his stint as a volunteer ended, he made his way to Germany where he met American soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Caught up in the wave of post-9/11 patriotism, he decided he would join the Army rather than return to college in his native Seattle. That way he could serve his country and have money for his education when he got out. Two years later, having completed basic training and intensive language instruction at the Monterey Defense Language Institute, Sgt. Ricky Clousing found himself in Baghdad, an interrogator with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

As a tactical interrogator assigned to question detainees at the scene of infantry raids, Ricky did not witness the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. What he did witness, however, was hardly less horrifying: American soldiers indoctrinated to view Iraqis as less than human, as "ragheads" or worse; American soldiers out on the streets of the Iraqi capital ramming the cars of Iraqi civilians for sport; American soldiers laughing as they slaughtered the livestock of local farmers; and American soldiers shooting an Iraqi teenager who had simply made a wrong turn.

Ricky was on patrol when he saw a boy, "probably 18 years old, a small maybe high-school age kid" turn down a road his unit was attempting to secure. The teenager, Ricky said, was quite visibly terrified at the sight of "a whole bunch of Americans with big weapons" staring him in the face. He started turning the car around, but didn't get very far. This is how Ricky described what happened next:

"One of the soldiers in the turret of the humvee behind me just opened up fire on the machine gun on the vehicle. As the vehicle was turning away, all I heard above my head was "pop, pop, pop, pop." This was my first deployment, my first combat experience was that moment right then, and just the sound of machine guns going off over my head. He popped about five or six rounds in the side of the vehicle. Myself and two of the other guys ran over to the vehicle, smashed the window, and pulled the guy out to provide first aid on him... I was looking down at this kid who had just been shot in the stomach for no reason really -- he was trying to leave...I was still just standing there in shock, looking down at this kid, and he looked right up at me. And his mouth was foaming. His stomach was falling out in his hands... I was looking down at this kid, this young boy who was just trying to drive around town and took a wrong turn and tried to go the other direction, was shot at and killed, and I'm looking down at him now. And we made eye contact for about five seconds, and he just looked at me with the most empty, terrified look in his face that will never leave me in my whole life I'm sure."

That Iraqi boy died on the way to the hospital. I think the boy in Ricky Clousing died that day as well, but what an extraordinary man he has since become. Deciding he would be haunted forever if he kept silent about such an egregious violation of the rules of engagement, Sgt. Clousing notified the unit's Platoon Sergeant, who did not "take kindly" to his advice.

Clousing continued to object to American war crimes for the rest of his time in Iraq, though no one ever took kindly to his objections. When he returned to the U.S., he talked to his commanding officers, to the chaplain, to mental health workers and anyone else who would listen to his problems with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He was told he could get out of the Army -- if he said he was gay. But he couldn't say that because he's not gay. He was told to claim he had post-traumatic stress disorder, but he couldn't do that because he didn't think he had PTSD. He was told to file as a conscientious objector; but he couldn't do that because he wasn't against all war. He was told he could avoid going back to Iraq by taking an assignment in the United States. He couldn't do that either because -- and this is exactly what Ricky Clousing told us on that sunny afternoon in Washington:

"I felt that my involvement in the army, whether it be directly or indirectly, whether in Iraq or training guys to go to Iraq, I was still that piece of machine in the system that was still allowing this war to take place and still supporting that. My actions, whether or not they were on the front line or back safely at home, were still part of the body of the machine that's occupying [Iraq]. So I ultimately felt that the only thing I could do was to leave, so I packed my stuff last June and I went AWOL."

On August 11, 2006, the day he turned himself in, Sgt. Clousing made a simple statement:

"We have found ourselves in a pivotal era where we have traded humanity for patriotism. Where we have traded our civil liberties for a sense of security. I stand here before you sharing the same idea as Henry David Thoreau: as a soldier, as an American, and as a human being, we mustn't lend ourselves to that same evil which we condemn."

Ricky Clousing -- now serving a three-month sentence in a military brig at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina -- is not the only peace hero. Others are making themselves known in growing numbers and you can read about them at the Courage to Resist website. Although we have no way of assessing the numbers from here, I have no doubt that there are also soldiers trying to do the right thing in Iraq.

But when I read about a President who doesn't know the meaning of "outrages upon human dignity" because he so clearly does not consider the very people he claims to have liberated human; when I read about a vice president who does not even have the courage to admit to the meaning of the words he uses ("dunk in the water," "last throes"); when I read about a defense secretary who tells reporters to back off if the questions get too tough, then I think about Ricky Clousing.

Twenty-four years old, Clousing told the world in simple declarative sentences why he had to give up his college money, receive a dishonorable discharge, and go to jail to take a stand against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He'd make a very cool action figure. Come to think of it, Sgt. Ricky Clousing -- tattooed arms, Laguna Beach t-shirt, and all -- would make an awesome shepherd in that manger scene. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are just going to have to move over.

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor. Her pieces have appeared in The Nation, the L.A. Times, Salon, and Mother Jones.

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Helicopter crashes north of Baghdad

Associated Press
November 6, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. helicopter crashed north of the Iraqi capital on Monday, killing two American soldiers on board, and two Marines and a soldier were killed in fighting in the country's restive Anbar province.

The military said no gunfire was reported in the area at the time of the helicopter crash. The incident occurred in Salahuddin province, which includes Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and was under curfew because of Sunday's verdict and sentencing of the former Iraqi leader.
With the helicopter crash and the Anbar deaths, the number of U.S. troops killed this month in Iraq rose to 18 and follow a particularly violent month for the American military in Iraq, which saw 105 deaths in October.

Still missing was a U.S. soldier kidnapped last month in Baghdad, and the man's Iraqi uncle said Monday he believed his nephew's abductors belong to a "well organized" rogue cell from the Shiite Mahdi Army militia of the anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Entifadh Qanbar, the uncle, said he had received a $250,000-ransom demand from the kidnappers, through an intermediary. He had in turn demanded proof that his nephew was alive and well before entering negotiations.

The U.S. military said last week that that there was "an ongoing dialogue" to win the release of Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich. Al-Taayie was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit to the woman's family.

U.S. officials, like Qanbar, said there had been no news of the missing soldier.

"We continue to conduct operations based on actionable intelligence to find our soldier," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Monday. "His safe return is obviously a top priority."

Qanbar, a former spokesman for the National Congress Party of senior Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, said he had contact with the kidnappers through an intermediary in Baghdad, but had not heard from them since Saturday when he demanded that he be shown proof that al-Taayie was alive.

"I want to see him next to the same day newspaper or in a video. I want him to answer certain questions. Any proof that he is still alive," Qanbar told The Associated Press by telephone from Amman, in neighboring Jordan.

Qanbar said he believed a man he identified as Majid al-Qais Omran, also known by his nickname Abu Rami, is responsible for the kidnapping and said he believed he was the leader of an experienced gang.

"It is a very capable gang with a great deal of resources," said Qanbar, "They identified themselves as Mahdi Army members, but I believe they belong to a breakaway cell of the Mahdi Army. Their conduct suggest they have experience in this line of work."

The soldier's wife and two of her siblings have been taken by American troops to the Green Zone, where they were being kept for their safety.

The military was withholding the names of the latest fatalities pending notification of their families, but it identified both Marines as having been assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5. A brief statement from the military said one Marine died on Saturday from wounds received in combat, while the other was wounded in fighting on Saturday and died Monday.

The statement said the soldier had been assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and died on Monday from wounds received in combat. The statement didn't say when he was wounded.

Despite the curfew imposed for the Saddam verdict, the relentless death toll continued among Iraqis as well: The bodies of 50 murder victims were discovered Sunday, the bulk of them in Baghdad, police 1st. Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

Mortars slammed into a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad, although no damage or casualties were immediately reported. Other parts of Baghdad were quiet, with offices and the international airport closed and few cars or pedestrians on the streets.

Among U.S. forces, October was the fourth deadliest month for American troops since the war began in March 2003. The U.S. lost 107 troops in Iraq in January 2005; at least 135 in April 2004, and 137 in November 2004.

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Bush & Blair: The Iraq fantasy

By Patrick Cockburn
11/05/06 "The Independent"

"When does the incompetence end and the crime begin?" asked an appalled German Chancellor in the First World War when the German army commander said he intended to resume his bloody and doomed assaults on the French fortress city of Verdun.

The same could be said of the disastrous policies of George Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq. At least 3,000 Iraqis and 100 American soldiers are dying every month. The failure of the US and Britain at every level in Iraq is obvious to all. But the White House and Downing Street have lived in a state of permanent denial. On the Downing Street website are listed 10 "Big Issues" affecting the Prime Minister, but Iraq is not one of them.
The picture of what is happening in Iraq put out by Messrs Bush and Blair no longer touches reality at any point. They claim US and British troops are present because Iraqis want them there. But a detailed poll of Iraqi attitudes by WorldPublicOpinion.org, published six weeks ago, shows that 71 per of Iraqis want the withdrawal of US-led forces within a year. No less than 74 per cent of Shia and 91 per cent of Sunni say they want American and British troops out. Only in Kurdistan, where there are few foreign troops, does a majority support the occupation.

Hostility to the American and British troops has a direct and lethal consequence for the soldiers on the ground. The same poll shows that 92 per cent of Sunni and 62 per cent of Shia approve of attacks on US-led forces. This is the real explanation for the strength of the insurgency: it is widely popular.

For the past three-and-a-half years in Iraq, one needed to close both eyes very hard or live in Baghdad's Green Zone not to see that the occupation was detested by most Iraqis. At places where US Humvees had been blown up or US soldiers killed or wounded there were usually Iraqis dancing for joy.

Supposedly, the centrepiece of American and British policy is to stay "until the job is done" and hand over to Iraqi army and police who will cope with powerful militias like the Mehdi Army. But in police stations in many parts of southern Iraq, photographs pinned to the wall include one of British armoured vehicles erupting in flames, beside a portrait of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mehdi Army.

In the first year of the occupation it could be argued that Bush and Blair were simply incompetent: they did not understand Iraq, were misinformed by Iraqi exiles, or were simply ignorant and arrogant. But they must know that for two-and-a-half years they have controlled only islands of territory in Iraq. "The Americans haven't even been able to take over Haifa Street [a Sunni insurgent stronghold] though it's only 400 yards from the Green Zone," a senior Iraqi security official exclaimed to me last week.

But the refusal to admit, as the British army commander Sir Richard Dannatt pointed out, that the occupation generates resistance in Iraq, means that no new and more successful policy can be devised. It is this that is criminal. And it is all the worse because the rational explanation for Mr Bush's persistence in bankrupt policies in Iraq is that he has always given priority to domestic politics. Holding power in Washington was more important than real success in Baghdad.
It is easy enough to say that Mr Bush lives in a world of fantasy in Iraq. His aides are notoriously averse to giving him bad news. Officials who do so lose their jobs. But this probably underestimates the man. After 9/11 he successfully presented himself as the security president. For the first time since the 1920s, the Republicans held the presidency and both houses of Congress. The war in Afghanistan was successful at little cost. He thought the same would be true in Iraq.

There was a spurious series of highly publicised turning points in the war, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the return of sovereignty to Iraq and the recapture of Fallujah in 2004, the elections and referendum on the constitution of 2005.

In each case reality was always different. Nobody in Iraq thought Saddam was the leader of the resistance, and his capture had no effect on the insurgency. The return of sovereignty had little meaning: last week the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, admitted that he could not move a company of Iraqi troops without US permission.

Fallujah was very publicly stormed by the US Marines in November 2004, but a few days later the insurgents, in an operation hardly mentioned by the administration, captured the much larger city of Mosul in northern Iraq, seizing arms worth $40m (£21m). The elections and referendum in 2005 deeply divided Iraq's communities along sectarian and ethnic lines, and led directly to civil war in central Iraq.

The US media was under extreme pressure to report the non-existent good news that the White House accused them of ignoring.

I used to think how absurd it was for me to risk my life by visiting the Green Zone, the entrances to which were among the most bombed targets in Iraq, to see diplomats who claimed that the butchery in Iraq was much exaggerated. But when I asked them if they would like to come and have lunch in my hotel outside the zone, they always threw up their hands in horror and said their security men would never allow it.

The fantasy picture of Iraq purveyed by Mr Bush and Mr Blair is now being exposed. The Potemkin village they constructed to divert attention from what was really happening in Iraq is finally going up in flames.

But it is too late for the Iraqis, Americans and British who died because they were unwitting actors in this fiction, carefully concocted by the White House and Downing Street to show progress where there is frustration, and victory where there is only defeat.

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Palestine: Death Camp

27 Palestinians killed in IDF Gaza raids over weekend

By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and News Agencies07:15 05/11/2006

11 civilians, including 12-year-old girl, among the dead

A 12-year-old girl was killed Saturday evening by Israel Defense Forces sniper fire in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, bringing to 27 the Palestinian death toll in Gaza since the start of the weekend.

The IDF said that Isra Nasser, who died of head wounds, had been shot by a sniper targeting an armed militant, and expressed regret at the killing. At least 11 of the dead were civilians, and include two members of rescue crews.
IDF troops have been in Beit Hanun since Wednesday morning, in an operation aimed at halting Qassam rocket attacks on southern Israel. Nevertheless, Palestinian militants have continued to fire the homemade rockets, and seven hit the western Negev on Saturday evening. No injuries were reported, although a building in one of the local kibbutzim was lightly damaged.

Also Saturday, an IDF officer was seriously wounded in clashes with militants in the town, and another soldier was lightly hurt.

Across the Strip, five Hamas militants and three civilians were killed Saturday, bringing to 42 the Palestinian death toll there since the start of the operation. The dead militants include a top Hamas rocket-maker, Louay al-Borno, who was killed in an Israel Air Force strike in his vehicle in Gaza City.

The other two civilians killed Saturday were named as 46-year-old Marwan Abu Arbid, who was killed when the wall of a building collapsed, and Ahmed al-Mad'un, a paramedic.

Witnesses reported on Saturday morning that large military bulldozers began demolishing homes near a mosque that was the scene of a standoff on Friday. Witnesses said residents of the homes received no warning ahead of time and were seen running for safety.

Residents also reported six IAF strikes in Beit Hanun overnight, but said there were no injuries.

Atef Adwan, minister of refugee affairs in the Hamas government, told a local Hamas radio station Saturday that IDF troops had taken over the rooftop of his home in Beit Hanun and posted snipers there. He said he and his family fled to a neighbor's house.

By mid-morning Saturday, the army announced over loudspeakers that women were permitted to leave their homes for two hours to stock up on supplies. However, few shops were open, said resident Samia Adwan, 35, a secretary in the Palestinian Authority and a distant relative of the Hamas minister.

She said she saw outer walls destroyed by bulldozers, streets carved up by tanks, and dangling electricity wires.

Iyad Nasser, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he reached Beit Hanun on Friday evening to deliver supplies to the local hospital. "People stood at the doors [to their homes] and shouted they need water and food," he said.

On Saturday morning, aid groups were permitted to deliver supplies to Beit Hanun, he said.

A senior Israeli military official confirmed that the Beit Hanun sweep was different from previous Israeli incursions into Gaza, which resumed after Shalit's kidnapping by Hamas militants. In the past, he said, troops would largely stay on the outskirts of populated areas instead of operating house-to-house as in Beit Hanun.

The Palestinians appealed for international intervention to pressure Israel to halt the campaign.

19 Palestinians killed in Gaza on Friday

At least 19 Palestinians were killed in IDF operations Friday in the Gaza Strip. Eight were civilians, including a 4-year-old boy and two women, aged 40 and 45.

On Friday night, three IAF strikes around the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and the southern town of Rafah killed seven militants and wounded several more, Palestinian security officials said.

A few hours earlier, an air strike hit a makeshift mosque on the outskirts of Beit Hanun, killing at least one person and injuring three others.

The small building, known as the Abdullah Azzem Mosque, was used for prayer but did not have the outward signs or markings of a mosque.

The IDF said it targeted a group of militants who were planting an explosive device near a road junction. The militants were out in the open, the army said, and no building was targeted in the strike.

Earlier Friday, the 40-year-old woman was killed by IDF fire as women flocked to a Beit Hanun mosque to act as human shields for some 60 gunmen holed up inside.

Mosque standoff

The 19-hour standoff between IDF troops and the gunmen inside the mosque ended after the gunmen fled, the IDF and witnesses said. One woman was killed in the standoff.

The militants escaped under cover of the protest by the women outside, the army said. A military source said some of the gunmen had surrendered to the soldiers.

Still, troops and militants continued to trade fire in two buildings next to the mosque, and the IDF surrounded the Beit Hanun hospital, calling on militants inside to surrender, Israel Radio reported.

A senior Southern Command officer said Friday that troops fired in a selective manner in order to prevent further casualties.

"What happened will be investigated. We will check if something inappropriate happened," he said.

Despite the casualties, the commander described the operation as a success, but said he does not expect the launching of Qassam rockets from Beit Hanun to be diminished immediately.

He said dozens of Palestinians had been detained for questioning in Israel.

The mosque became the focus of the fighting in Beit Hanun after gunmen fled there late Thursday. Most were thought to belong to Hamas' military wing.

IDF tanks and armored personnel carriers quickly surrounded the building, and the two sides began exchanging fire that lasted throughout the night, the military and Palestinian security officials said.

Soldiers trying to pressure the gunmen to surrender also threw stun and smoke grenades, and knocked down an outer wall of the mosque with a bulldozer. The roof of the mosque later collapsed.

A Hamas radio station had broadcast a call to women to go to Beit Hanun to shield the militants. Dozens of women left their homes to hurry to the mosque and came under IDF fire on their way, witnesses and officials said.

The army said that troops had spotted two militants hiding in the crowd of women and opened fire.

As the women rushed away from the scene, at least two men disguised in women's clothes were seen in the crowd. Jubilant bystanders embraced them, celebrating their escape.

"Our fighters made holes through the nearby houses to the mosque. The women entered the mosque as the fighters managed to guide the gunmen out," said Hamas militant commander Abu Ubaida.

Israel had allowed trucks loaded with medical and food supplies to reach hospitals, and for ambulances to evacuate the wounded, said Colonel Nir Press, head of Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas "saluted the women of Palestine ... who led the protest to break the siege of Beit Hanun." Haniyeh urged United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to witness firsthand "the massacres of the Palestinian people," and appealed to the Arab world to "stop the ongoing bloodshed."

Dozens of protesters also took sanctuary in a UN school in Beit Hanun, fearing retribution by troops, said Imad Okal, an official with the UN Relief and Works Agency, who said he was in touch with people at the school.

Loudspeakers across Gaza called on people to come to demonstrations after Friday prayers to express solidarity with Beit Hanun. Tens of thousands representing various Palestinian factions massed in streets throughout the Strip.

Also Friday, a Hamas gunman was killed during clashes in Beit Hanun and four militants from Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing, were killed in an IAF strike in the Gaza City neighborhood of Sajaiya.

Palestinians launched ten Qassam rockets at the Negev on Friday and fired an anti-tank rocket at an IDF post in south Gaza, lightly wounding a soldier. According to the military, 300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Beit Hanun since the start of the year.

Two killed in West Bank

In the West Bank, Palestinians said an elderly woman was killed during an IDF arrest raid in the town of Bethlehem on Friday morning. A Border Police officer was also wounded.

The woman, 65, was caught in a crossfire between militants holed up in a house and IDF soldiers surrounding the building, Palestinian witnesses said. Two other residents were wounded, they said.

The IDF said forces were operating in Bethlehem, but provided no other details.

Also Friday, IDF troops shot dead a Fatah militant in the West Bank who was apparently planning to detonate a car bomb.

Troops opened fire on two Palestinian men pulling barbed wire into a car at the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, killing one and wounding the other. The car was later found filled with tens of kilograms of explosives.

Israel arrested Palestinian Minister Abdel Rahman Zaidan, a Hamas official, at his home in the West Bank town of Ramallah before dawn Friday, Israel Radio quoted Israeli and Palestinian sources as saying. According to the report, Zaidan, the minister of housing and public works, is the tenth Palestinian minister to be arrested since Shalit was abducted.

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Palestinian militants threaten to kill Israeli hostage

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 00:22:01

GAZA, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Three Palestinian military groups, taking an Israeli soldier hostage in Gaza, on Sunday threatened to kill the hostage if Israel does not stop a large-scale operation in the northern Gaza Strip.

"We would tell the state of occupation that if it continues with its crimes against our people in Beit Hanoun and the entire Gaza Strip, the life of the captive soldier would be in danger," a masked spokesmen for the captors read the warning in a news conference held in Gaza on Sunday afternoon.
Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by three militant groups on June 25 during a cross-border attack against an Israeli army post in the southeastern Gaza Strip, sparking a comprehensive offensive against the strip three days later.

Ezzeldine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of the Palestinian ruling Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam had jointly claimed responsibility for the attack and the kidnapping of the soldiers.

Israeli army has intensified its ground and air offensive on the Gaza Strip by launching an operation code-named "Autumn Clouds" since Nov. 1, killing 48 Palestinians and wounding more than 200others so far.

Israeli military said the aim of the offensive is to prevent Palestinian militants from launching homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel.

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Abbas heads to Gaza soon to form national unity gov't

www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-06 20:15:52

RAMALLAH, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Gaza where Prime Minister Ismail Haneya would announce the resignation of the Hamas-led government following a deal to form a new unity one, a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) member said on Monday.

Yasser Abed Rabou, however, did not say exactly when Abbas would arrive in Gaza, but expected this would be soon.
"Prime Minister Haneya will step down according to the agreement," Abed Rabou told the Voice of Palestine radio, adding Abbas would ask "a national independent person to form the new government".

Earlier on Monday, Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for the ruling Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), announced that the movement had agreed in principle with Abbas on forming a national unity government on condition of keeping the right of choosing the prime minister.

Minister of Prisoners Affairs Wassfi Qabha confirmed that the new prime minister would be from the Gaza Strip, adding another agreement on the percentage of every faction in the new government has been made.

The new prime minister has not been selected yet, but Palestinian observers believe he would be an independent person close to Hamas.

It has been agreed that Hamas would choose the prime minister because of its parliamentary majority.

However, Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the current Hamas-led government, revealed that Hamas has already approved the name of the new head of the upcoming government.

"The movement (Hamas) would present the name to the Palestinian president then the formation of the new government would be declared," Hamad said, declining to say who the new prime minister is.

Hamas swept to power after landslide victory in the January parliamentary election. Then the Islamic movement formed the 10th Palestinian government in late March.

Since then, the newborn government has been faced with international pressure to recognize Israel and renounce violence, but Hamas pressed on with rejection.

Consequent sanctions and international boycott have badly affected the Palestinian people, especially their collapsing economy.

International pressure, along with Israeli military operations, forced the Palestinians to look for a new government with a moderate platform in a bid to resume international aid and funds.

Meanwhile, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat implicitly held the Hamas-led government responsible for the recent Israeli military operations in northern Gaza Strip that have killed 53 Palestinians so far.

According to Erekat, Israel was encouraged to go ahead with the offensive because Hamas did not commit itself to the international legitimacy.

"We need a government with political program in order to get back Arab and international support," Erekat urged.

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Department of Homeland Terror

Seattle school bus driver fired for 'flipping off' president


ISSAQUAH, Wash. - An Issaquah school bus driver who was fired for "flipping off" President Bush is trying to get her job back.

The 43-year-old has filed a union grievance against the district, claiming wrongful termination.

Congressman Dave Reichert says the obscene gesture occurred as he was traveling in the president's limo in June on the way to a fund-raiser in Medina.

At a freeway ramp the limo passed several Issaquah school buses. The students waved to the president and Bush waved back. Bush was having a good time until he saw the driver. Bush turned to Reichert and said the driver had flipped him off.

Reichert later called the school district and the driver was fired in September. A spokeswoman, Sara Niegowski, says the gesture was "not at all appropriate modeling for students on the bus."

Comment: And people still think the US is NOT a fascist dictatorship!! Ha!

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Calif. schools to fingerprint elementary school students

Sat Nov 4, 2006

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A plan to fingerprint elementary school students when they buy lunch has some parents worrying that Big Brother has come to the cafeteria.
The Hope Elementary School District has notified parents that, beginning this month, students at Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and Hope elementary schools will press an index finger to a scanner before buying cafeteria food.

The scan will call up the student's name and student ID, teacher's name and how much the student owes, since some receive government assistance for food.

It is meant to speed up cafeteria lines.

"It raises sanitary issues, privacy issues - it is kind of Orwellian," said Tina Dabby, a parent of two at Monte Vista Elementary. "It just sounds kind of creepy."

Currently, the information is written on paper and transferred to computer so reports can be compiled and sent to the state and federal governments, which reimburse school districts for the subsidized lunches served.

"It's so archaic to transfer something from a sheet of paper to a computer day by day," Hope schools Superintendent Gerrie Fausett told the Santa Barbara News-Press.

A similar procedure is already in use in the Santa Barbara School Districts, where students punch a six-digit number into a keypad that calls up their name, photograph and other details, including whether they have any food allergies.

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Mexico City Blasted

Mexico, Nov 6 (Prensa Latina)

Mexico City registered three blasts of great intensity at dawn and a fourth was successfully avoided, reported Joel Ortega Public Security Secretary.

The explosions destroyed part of the building of the Electoral Court Judicial Power Federation (TEPJF) and the fa ade of Plutarco Elias Calles auditorium at the Institutional Revolutionary Party national headquarters.
Almost the entire Scotia Bank branch was damaged as well as some residential buildings.

Neither victims have been reported nor material damage.

The authorities reported blast detection operations in Los Pinos in the areas surrounding the President official residence, the Foreign Relations Secretariat and the Interior Ministry as well as the US and Great Britain embassies.

The perpetrators are still unknown.

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When All Else Fails...

Baghdad Burning
Sunday, November 05, 2006

... Execute the dictator. It's that simple. When American troops are being killed by the dozen, when the country you are occupying is threatening to break up into smaller countries, when you have militias and death squads roaming the streets and you've put a group of Mullahs in power- execute the dictator.

Everyone expected this verdict from the very first day of the trial. There was a brief interlude when, with the first judge, it was thought that it might actually be a coherent trial where Iraqis could hear explanations and see what happened. That was soon over with the prosecution's first false witness. Events that followed were so ridiculous; it's difficult to believe them even now.
The sound would suddenly disappear when the defense or one of the defendants got up to speak. We would hear the witnesses but no one could see them- hidden behind a curtain, their voices were changed. People who were supposed to have been dead in the Dujail incident were found to be very alive.

Judge after judge was brought in because the ones in court were seen as too fair. They didn't instantly condemn the defendants (even if only for the sake of the media). The piece de resistance was the final judge they brought in. His reputation vies only that of Chalabi- a well-known thief and murderer who ran away to Iran to escape not political condemnation, but his father's wrath after he stole from the restaurant his father ran.

So we all knew the outcome upfront (Maliki was on television 24 hours before the verdict telling people not to 'rejoice too much'). I think what surprises me right now is the utter stupidity of the current Iraqi government. The timing is ridiculous- immediately before the congressional elections? How very convenient for Bush. Iraq, today, is at its very worst since the invasion and the beginning occupation. April 2003 is looking like a honeymoon month today. Is it really the time to execute Saddam?

I'm more than a little worried. This is Bush's final card. The elections came and went and a group of extremists and thieves were put into power (no, no- I meant in Baghdad, not Washington). The constitution which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the Puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges, security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the 'Execute the Dictator' card.

Iraq has not been this bad in decades. The occupation is a failure. The various pro-American, pro-Iranian Iraqi governments are failures. The new Iraqi army is a deadly joke. Is it really time to turn Saddam into a martyr? Things are so bad that even pro-occupation Iraqis are going back on their initial 'WE LOVE AMERICA' frenzy. Laith Kubba (a.k.a. Mr. Catfish for his big mouth and constant look of stupidity) was recently on the BBC saying that this was just the beginning of justice, that people responsible for the taking of lives today should also be brought to justice. He seems to have forgotten he was one of the supporters of the war and occupation, and an important member of one of the murderous pro-American governments. But history shall not forget Mr. Kubba.

Iraq saw demonstrations against and for the verdict. The pro-Saddam demonstrators were attacked by the Iraqi army. This is how free our media is today: the channels that were showing the pro-Saddam demonstrations have been shut down. Iraqi security forces promptly raided them.Welcome to the new Iraq. Here are some images from the Salahiddin and Zawra channels:

Zawra channel. The subtitle says: Baghdad: Zawra satellite channel has stopped broadcasting by order of the government.

Salahiddin's green screen which appeared suddenly says: Salahiddin Satellite Channel

Sharqiya channel announcing breaking news: Two channels, Salahiddin and Zawra, shut down. Security forces raid the offices of the channels.

It's not about the man- presidents come and go, governments come and go. It's the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their peoples needs that they don't even feel like it's necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing.

Once again... The timing of all of this is impeccable- two days before congressional elections. And if you don't see it, then I'm sorry, you're stupid. Let's see how many times Bush milks this as a 'success' in his coming speeches.

A final note. I just read somewhere that some of the families of dead American soldiers are visiting the Iraqi north to see 'what their sons and daughters died for'. If that's the goal of the visit, then, "Ladies and gentlemen- to your right is the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, to your left is the Dawry refinery... Each of you get this, a gift bag containing a 3 by 3 color poster of Al Sayid Muqtada Al Sadr (Long May He Live And Prosper), an Ayatollah Sistani t-shirt and a map of Iran, to scale, redrawn with the Islamic Republic of South Iraq. Also... Hey you! You- the female in the back- is that a lock of hair I see? Cover it up or stay home."

And that is what they died for.

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