Sections on today's Signs Page:
Editorial: Sim City and John F. Kennedy
Son of Perdition
When I re-read the words of John F. Kennedy, when I consider
the legislation he sought to enact, when I consider the sheer depth and humanity
of him, and compare him with what is lurking and lurching in
the White House today, I am literally overwhelmed. How far down into the Slough
of Despond we have been sucked since that November day 43 years ago.
I live in France now. France is an interesting place; mostly socialist, you know. Socialism was the very thing that rich Americans dreaded would be brought down upon them if Kennedy had been allowed to live. According to the elitist propaganda, if socialism was allowed to get a toe in the door, communism wasn't far behind. And all they had to do was point at Russia and its bleakness and hunger to make the point. Problem is, Russia wasn't even communist; it was merely State Corporatism which is almost exactly what exists in the U.S. today - with a twist. In Russia, the State was the corporation; in the U.S., the Corporations own the State. Not much difference, actually, except technically.
Getting back to France, which John F. Kennedy very much admired:
yes, it is largely socialist, but not entirely. Yes, the taxes are high and
many things are decided by the state on behalf of all of its citizens,
but the benefits are quite dramatic. I'm not an expert on French politics (or
any politics, for that matter), I only know what I observe and experience.
I can tell you that I had a root planing done on my teeth in the U.S. and it
cost me right at $1,000. I had it done again, here in France, and it was
right around $150. I had a root canal done in the U.S. years ago and it
cost $400 without the crown. I had one done in France a few months ago and
it cost about $70. An overnight hospital stay for minor surgery cost under
$200 - and wine was served with the meal.
Medicines are inexpensive. A bottle of eardrops I paid almost
$100 in the U.S., cost less that $10 here. In the cities, things are certainly
a bit higher, but in most towns, a doctor's visit is still about $20, and
they make house-calls. An MRI that would cost almost $1,000 in the U.S.
costs about $75 here (dollar equivalent). All those things that are necessary
for a population to remain physically healthy are available at very reasonable
cost. And, if a person is hooked up with the National Health program, nearly
all of the costs that are paid out of pocket are reimbursed. I should also
mention that the medical and dental care in France is actually better than
in the U.S. In France, the people who are attracted to those professions are,
generally speaking, those who have a desire to heal, and are not driven by
the thought of getting rich. More than that, because higher education is free,
and places are limited to only the best, students are motivated to make good
grades and do well. After middle school, there are free trade school/high schools
where the students that do not pursue academic careers can graduate with a
trade and probably a good deal of experience through apprenticeships. And there
are a much wider variety of single operator trades in France because the giant,
monopolistic supermarkets have not been allowed to take over. Every town still
has a number and variety of butcher shops, bakeries, patisseries, and so on.
Family farming is totally supported and encouraged by the state. And you have
never seen such beautiful fields. I wonder if many Americans realize what an
agricultural country France actually is. You can drive from Paris to Toulouse
and what you see mostly are endless neat, beautiful farm fields, plowed and/or
planted, all year round. After a couple thousand years experience, the French
have got farming down to a science!
The French have a 35 hour work-week, 2 hour lunches, about 8
weeks of obligatory vacation time each year, job security and good social services.
You could say that France is a blend of moderated capitalism and socialism.
But that is under threat. Thankfully, the French had the good sense to reject the European Constitution last year. I read the entire document and it consisted mainly of setting up a banking system that would impose controls on government the same way the bankers control the U.S. It would have been a big step toward U.S. style greedy, dog-eat-dog capitalism taking over here, and I was glad to see that the French can still read and think!
There are other threats to the French way of life: no one yet knows what Nicolas Sarkozy has in mind for France if he is elected president. Sarko, as he is affectionately called, is an "American-o-phile." That's bad news. All the French need to do is look at the U.S., maybe visit there for a few months and really get out and talk to the people on the street, in order to know that this is not the way France wants to go! Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, allow me to quote Michael Parenti's "Hidden Holocaust":
Conservatives are fond of telling us what a wonderful, happy, prosperous nation this is. The only thing that matches their love of country is the remarkable indifference they show toward the people who live in it. To their ears the anguished cries of the dispossessed sound like the peevish whines of malcontents. They denounce as "bleeding hearts" those of us who criticize existing conditions, who show some concern for our fellow citizens. But the dirty truth is that there exists a startling amount of hardship, abuse, affliction, illness, violence, and pathology in this country. The figures reveal a casualty list that runs into many millions. Consider the following estimates. In any one year:
* 27,000 Americans commit suicide.
* 5,000 attempt suicide; some estimates are higher.
* 26,000 die from fatal accidents in the home.
* 23,000 are murdered.
* 85,000 are wounded by firearms.
* 38,000 of these die, including 2,600 children.
* 13,000,000 are victims of crimes including assault, rape, armed robbery, burglary, larceny, and arson.
* 135,000 children take guns to school.
* 5,500,000 people are arrested for all offenses (not including traffic violations).
* 125,000 die prematurely of alcohol abuse.
* 473,000 die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses; 53,000 of these are nonsmokers.
* 6,500,000 use heroin, crack, speed, PCP, cocaine or some other hard drug on a regular basis.
* 5,000+ die from illicit drug use. Thousands suffer serious debilitations.
* 1,000+ die from sniffing household substances found under the kitchen sink. About 20 percent of all eighth-graders have "huffed" toxic substances. Thousands suffer permanent neurological damage.
* 31,450,000 use marijuana; 3,000,000 of whom are heavy users.
* 37,000,000, or one out of every six Americans, regularly use emotion controlling medical drugs. The users are mostly women. The pushers are doctors; the suppliers are pharmaceutical companies; the profits are stupendous.
* 2,000,000 nonhospitalized persons are given powerful mind-control drugs, sometimes described as "chemical straitjackets."
* 5,000 die from psychoactive drug treatments.
* 200,000 are subjected to electric shock treatments that are injurious to the brain and nervous system.
* 600 to 1,000 are lobotomized, mostly women.
* 25,000,000, or one out of every 10 Americans, seek help from psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, or medical sources for mental and emotional problems, at a cost of over $4 billion annually.
* 6,800,000 turn to nonmedical services, such as ministers, welfare agencies, and social counselors for help with emotional troubles. In all, some 80,000,000 have sought some kind of psychological counseling in their lifetimes.
* 1,300,000 suffer some kind of injury related to treatment at hospitals.
* 2,000,000 undergo unnecessary surgical operations; 10,000 of whom die from the surgery.
* 180,000 die from adverse reactions to all medical treatments, more than are killed by airline and automobile accidents combined.
* 14,000+ die from overdoses of legal prescription drugs.
* 45,000 are killed in auto accidents. Yet more cars and highways are being built while funding for safer forms of mass transportation is reduced.
* 1,800,000 sustain nonfatal injuries from auto accidents; but 150,000 of these auto injury victims suffer permanent impairments.
* 126,000 children are born with a major birth defect, mostly due to insufficient prenatal care, nutritional deficiency, environmental toxicity, or maternal drug addiction.
* 2,900,000 children are reportedly subjected to serious neglect or abuse, including physical torture and deliberate starvation.
* 5,000 children are killed by parents or grandparents.
* 30,000 or more children are left permanently physically disabled from abuse and neglect. Child abuse in the United States afflicts more children each year than leukemia, automobile accidents, and infectious diseases combined. With growing unemployment, incidents of abuse by jobless parents is increasing dramatically.
* 1,000,000 children run away from home, mostly because of abusive treatment, including sexual abuse, from parents and other adults. Of the many sexually abused children among runaways, 83 percent come from white families.
* 150,000 children are reported missing.
* 50,000 of these simply vanish. Their ages range from one year to mid-teens. According to the New York Times, "Some of these are dead, perhaps half of the John and Jane Does annually buried in this country are unidentified kids."
* 900,000 children, some as young as seven years old, are engaged in child labor in the United States, serving as underpaid farm hands, dishwashers, laundry workers, and domestics for as long as ten hours a day in violation of child labor laws.
* 2,000,000 to 4,000,00 women are battered. Domestic violence is the single largest cause of injury and second largest cause of death to U.S. women.
* 700,000 women are raped, one every 45 seconds.
* 5,000,000 workers are injured on the job; 150,000 of whom suffer permanent work-related disabilities, including maiming, paralysis, impaired vision, damaged hearing, and sterility.
* 100,000 become seriously ill from work-related diseases, including black lung, brown lung, cancer, and tuberculosis.
* 14,000 are killed on the job; about 90 percent are men.
* 100,000 die prematurely from work-related diseases.
* 60,000 are killed by toxic environmental pollutants or contaminants in food, water, or air.
* 4,000 die from eating contaminated meat.
* 20,000 others suffer from poisoning by E.coli 0157-H7, the mutant bacteria found in contaminated meat that generally leads to lifelong physical and mental health problems. A more thorough meat inspection with new technologies could eliminate most instances of contamination--so would vegetarianism.
* 5,100,000 are behind bars or on probation or parole; 2,700,000
of these are either locked up in county, state or federal prisons or under
legal supervision. Each week 1,600 more people go to jail than leave. The
prison population has skyrocketed over 200 percent since 1980. Over 40 percent
of inmates are jailed on nonviolent drug related crimes. African Americans
constitute 13 percent of drug users but 35 percent of drug arrests, 55 percent
of drug convictions and 74 percent of prison sentences. For non drug offenses,
African Americans get prison terms that average about 10 percent longer than
Caucasians for similar crimes.
* 15,000+ have tuberculosis, with the numbers growing rapidly; 10,000,000 or more carry the tuberculosis bacilli, with large numbers among the economically deprived or addicted.
* 10,000,000 people have serious drinking problems; alcoholism is on the rise.
* 16,000,000 have diabetes, up from 11,000,000 in 1983 as Americans get more sedentary and sugar addicted. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage.
* 160,000 will die from diabetes this year.
* 280,000 are institutionalized for mental illness or mental retardation. Many of these are forced into taking heavy doses of mind control drugs.
* 255,000 mentally ill or retarded have been summarily released in recent years. Many of the "deinstitutionalized" are now in flophouses or wandering the streets.
* 3,000,000 or more suffer cerebral and physical handicaps including paralysis, deafness, blindness, and lesser disabilities. A disproportionate number of them are poor. Many of these disabilities could have been corrected with early treatment or prevented with better living conditions.
* 2,400,000 million suffer from some variety of seriously incapacitating chronic fatigue syndrome.
* 10,000,000+ suffer from symptomatic asthma, an increase of 145 percent from 1990 to 1995, largely due to the increasingly polluted quality of the air we breathe.
* 40,000,000 or more are without health insurance or protection from catastrophic illness.
* 1,800,000 elderly who live with their families are subjected to serious abuse such as forced confinement, underfeeding, and beatings. The mistreatment of elderly people by their children and other close relatives grows dramatically as economic conditions worsen.
* 1,126,000 of the elderly live in nursing homes. A large but undetermined number endure conditions of extreme neglect, filth, and abuse in homes that are run with an eye to extracting the highest possible profit.
* 1,000,000 or more children are kept in orphanages, reformatories, and adult prisons. Most have been arrested for minor transgressions or have committed no crime at all and are jailed without due process. Most are from impoverished backgrounds. Many are subjected to beatings, sexual assault, prolonged solitary confinement, mind control drugs, and in some cases psychosurgery.
* 1,000,000 are estimated to have AIDS as of 1996; over 250,000 have died of that disease.
* 950,000 school children are treated with powerful mind control drugs for "hyperactivity" every year--with side effects like weight loss, growth retardation and acute psychosis.
* 4,000,000 children are growing up with unattended learning disabilities.
* 4,500,000+ children, or more than half of the 9,000,000 children on welfare, suffer from malnutrition. Many of these suffer brain damage caused by prenatal and infant malnourishment.
* 40,000,000 persons, or one of every four women and more than one of every ten men, are estimated to have been sexually molested as children, most often between the ages of 9 and 12, usually by close relatives or family acquaintances. Such abuse almost always extends into their early teens and is a part of their continual memory and not a product of memory retrieval in therapy.
* 7,000,000 to 12,000,000 are unemployed; numbers vary with the business cycle. Increasing numbers of the chronically unemployed show signs of stress and emotional depression.
* 6,000,000 are in "contingent" jobs, or jobs structured to last only temporarily. About 60 percent of these would prefer permanent employment.
* 15,000,000 or more are part-time or reduced-time "contract" workers who need full-time jobs and who work without benefits.
* 3,000,000 additional workers are unemployed but uncounted because their unemployment benefits have run out, or they never qualified for benefits, or they have given up looking for work, or they joined the armed forces because they were unable to find work.
* 80,000,000 live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor as below a "comfortable adequacy"; 35,000,000 of these live below the poverty level.
* 12,000,000 of those at poverty's rock bottom suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. The majority of the people living at or below the poverty level experience hunger during some portion of the year.
* 2,000,000 or more are homeless, forced to live on the streets or in makeshift shelters.
* 160,000,000+ are members of households that are in debt, a sharp increase from the 100 million of less than a decade ago. A majority indicate they have borrowed money not for luxuries but for necessities. Mounting debts threaten a financial crack-up in more and more families.
A Happy Nation?
Obviously these estimates include massive duplications. Many of the 20 million unemployed are among the 35 million below the poverty level. Many of the malnourished children are also among those listed as growing up with untreated learning disabilities and almost all are among the 35 million poor. Many of the 37 million regular users of mind-control drugs also number among the 25 million who seek psychiatric help.
Some of these deprivations and afflictions are not as serious as others. The 80 million living below the "comfortably adequate" income level may compose too vague and inclusive a category for some observers (who themselves enjoy a greater distance from the poverty line). The 40 million who are without health insurance are not afflicted by an actual catastrophe but face only a potential one (though the absence of health insurance often leads to a lack of care and eventually a serious health crisis). We might not want to consider the 5.5 million arrested as having endured a serious affliction, but what of the 1.5 million who are serving time and what of their victims? We might want to count only the 150,000 who suffer a serious job-related disability rather than the five million on-the-job injuries, only half of the 20 million unemployed and underemployed so as not to duplicate poverty figures, only 10 percent of the 1.1 million institutionalized elderly as mistreated (although the number is probably higher), only 10 per cent of the 37 million regular users of medically prescribed psychogenic drugs as seriously troubled, only 5 per cent of the 160 million living in indebted families as seriously indebted (although the number is probably higher).
If we consider only those who have endured physical or sexual abuse, or have been afflicted with a serious disability, or a serious deprivation such as malnutrition and homelessness, only those who face untimely deaths due to suicide, murder, battering, drug and alcohol abuse, industrial and motor vehicle accidents, medical (mis)treatment, occupational illness, and sexually transmitted diseases, we are still left with a staggering figure of over 19,000,000 victims. To put the matter in some perspective, in the 12 years that saw 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, several million died prematurely within the United States from unnatural and often violent causes.
Official bromides to the contrary, we are faced with a hidden holocaust, a social pathology of staggering dimensions. Furthermore, the above figures do not tell the whole story. In almost every category an unknown number of persons go unreported. For instance, the official tabulation of 35 million living in poverty is based on census data that undercount transients, homeless people, and those living in remote rural and crowded inner-city areas. Also, the designated poverty line is set at an unrealistically low income level and takes insufficient account of how inflation especially affects the basics of food, fuel, housing, and health care that consume such a disproportionate chunk of lower incomes. Some economists estimate that actually as many as 46 million live in conditions of acute economic want.
Left uncounted are the more than two thousand yearly deaths in the U.S. military due to training and transportation accidents, and the many murders and suicides in civilian life that are incorrectly judged as deaths from natural causes, along with the premature deaths from cancer caused by radioactive and other carcinogenic materials in the environment. Almost all cancer deaths are now thought to be from human-made causes.
Fatality figures do not include the people who are incapacitated and sickened from the one thousand potentially toxic additional chemicals that industry releases into the environment each year, and who die years later but still prematurely. At present there are at least 51,000 industrial toxic dump sites across the country that pose potentially serious health hazards to communities, farmlands, water tables, and livestock. One government study has concluded that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are now perhaps the leading causes of death in the United States.
None of these figures include the unhappiness, bereavement, and long term emotional wounds inflicted upon the many millions of loved ones, friends, and family members who are close to the victims.
Getting back to France, sure, I think that there may have to be a compromise on some things in the future because the truth is, the French are losing sight of what is important because they have what so many others do not. It's like playing Sim city. If you raise the taxes on the city you create, nobody wants to move in; if you lower the taxes, you can't give services, and after people move in for the low taxes, they soon move out due to the crime or fires or lack of hospitals, etc. A politician is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. I had to quit playing because no matter how hard I tried to give my citizens a beautiful and well-planned city, I could never please them. Obviously, neither could John Kennedy. But he tried. And for him, it wasn't a game.
But anyway, a society similar to France is what I think John Kennedy had in mind. It's not perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better for the people than what is in the U.S.
Now, let's go to our installment from Farewell
America. Read the story - the words - of the man who could have set
the U.S. well on its way to a good life for all its citizens, rather than
what has happened since that terrible day in November - a widening chasm
between the haves and have-not's, with the haves being a tiny percentage
of the population, and the vast majority of Americans living on the edge
of imminent disaster in all areas of their lives.
All statecraft is founded on the indifference of most of those
concerned. Otherwise, no statecraft is possible. ~ Disraeli
Presidents are not destined to be loved. Virtue does not excite admiration. There is no better way for a President to attract a growing number of enemies than to express himself too explicitly on the multitude of subjects with which he is concerned. It is the little things that divide a nation.
For Kennedy, "power without justice is meaningless." But politics is not concerned with morality or fine sentiments, and it was for his cold logic and his sincerity that Kennedy was contested, and even detested, throughout his lifetime. Resentment surrounded him on all sides. Not only the hate of the Far Right, the big businessmen, the oilmen or the military; not only the fanaticism of the extremists of the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. Organizations and corporations with little in common, be they financial, ideological, or simply mediocre or faint-hearted, joined in a common front against the invader. His adversaries included doctors and lawyers, churchmen and speculators, the American Legion, government officials, professional diplomats, and trade unionists.(1) To maintain the balance, the Far Right even joined forces with the utopian left to oppose him. The civil rights President, this intelligent and compassionate President, even counted Negroes, poor people, and intellectuals among his enemies.
Many anguished intellectuals felt that he had taken advantage of his position to seduce their brothers into betraying their vocation. For them, the professors from Harvard were putty in the hands of the professional politicians. They saw the President's interest in philosophy and the arts as a ruse designed to neutralize their opposition by absorbing it. They thought it a shame to exchange first-class intellectuals like those in the vanguard of the New Frontier for second-class politicians, and for them a politician could only be second-class. They also claimed that Kennedy, like Carl Sandburg, was too progressive for the United States. Others, far above in their ivory towers, considered that the respect of the intellectual had nothing to do with the tragic problems of the times, the practical aspects of which very often eluded them. As for the liberal intellectuals, they criticized Kennedy for not launching an ideological crusade. They found the President too timid. They would have liked to see more lost causes, more big deficits, more lofty designs. They wanted him to eliminate the conservatives. The fact that Kennedy became almost as popular as Eisenhower reinforced their suspicions. They were unable to accept the idea of a popular President. For them, his popularity was enough to disqualify him as a intellectual or a liberal.
The utopian left went even further. It thought that the President should adopt
a policy of strict neutrality in the Cold War. It felt that a really liberal
President should follow in the footsteps of Switzerland, Sweden, or even India.
It was totally opposed to nuclear dissuasion, be it preventive or coercive,
and its creed was "better Red than dead." The lowliest of the intellectuals
accused Kennedy of "subversion, sabotage, corruption, blackmail and treason." Revilo
P. Oliver (2) was later to write in The Conspiracy: "As long as there are Americans,
he will be remembered with disgust. If the United States is saved by the desperate
efforts of her patriots, a grand and glorious future can be ours. But we shall
never forget how close we came to total destruction in the year 1963."
Had Kennedy set out to "destroy" the United States when, on April 27, 1961, he expounded his ideas on government service?
"No responsibility of government is more fundamental than the responsibility of maintaining the highest standards of ethical behavior by those who conduct the public business. There can be no dissent from the principle that all officials must act with unwavering integrity, absolute impartiality and complete devotion to the public interest . . .
"Of course, public officials are not a group apart. They inevitably reflect the moral tone of the society in which they live. And if that moral tone is injured -- by fixed athletic contests or television quiz shows -- by widespread business conspiracies to fix prices -- by collusion of businessmen and unions with organized crime -- by cheating on expense accounts, by the ignoring of traffic laws, or by petty tax evasion -- then the conduct of our government must be affected. Inevitably, the moral standards of a society influence the conduct of all who live within it -the governed and those who govern.
The ultimate answer to ethical problems in government is honest people in a good ethical environment. No web of statute or regulation, however intricately conceived, can hope to deal with the myriad possible challenges to a man's integrity or his devotion to the public interest. Nevertheless formal regulation is required -- regulation which can lay down clear guidelines of policy, punish venality and double-dealing, and set a general ethical tone for the conduct of public business."
At the end of his speech, the President declared that he was issuing an order:
a) prohibiting federal employees from accepting gifts;
b) prohibiting federal employees from using information not available -- to the public for private gain;
c) prohibiting federal employees from using their authority to induce others to provide them with things of value;
d) prohibiting federal employees from accepting outside employment when such employment was considered "incompatible" with their government service.
He added that he intended to issue more detailed regulations concerning the conduct of Presidential appointees. Finally, he announced that a member of the Cabinet would be designated to coordinate all questions concerning morality in government.
Obviously, this exordium was greeted with little enthusiasm by certain federal employees. Still, they had the moral satisfaction of rereading what Kennedy had already said about them on January 30, 1961:
"I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the Cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility and energy in serving the public interest. Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man's rank and reputation in this Administration will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office or his budget. Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring -- that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: 'I served the United States government in that hour of our nation's need.'"
The "initiative," the "sense of responsibility" and the "energy" of the State Department became one of the President's immediate preoccupations when he took office. "Foggy Bottom" was an enigma to Kennedy. "The State Department is a bowl of jelly full of people who are constantly smiling," he told Hugh Sidey of Time. He felt that no one really ran it, and his directives and remonstrances to Dean Rusk had little effect. The only solution was a thorough-going reorganization, and had the White House had the opportunity, it would have undertaken the job. Instead, the President's assistants confined themselves to acid comments like the following: "This is only the latest and worst in a long number of drafts sent here for Presidential signature. Most of the time it does not matter, I suppose, if the prose is tired, the thinking banal and the syntax bureaucratic, and occasionally when it does matter, State's drafts are very good. But sometimes, as in this case, they are not."
Kennedy and his advisers wanted a complete renovation of American foreign
policy -- not only of its style and its methods, but also of its orientation.
The old hands at State considered this activist crusade as totally naive. The "striped-pants
set" at Foggy Bottom had little confidence in this Platonic empire in modern
dress. They regarded the New Frontier as closer to illusion than to hope. They
believed that the wisdom of a policy is less important than its continuity,
and that the mark of an amateur diplomat is his inability, or his refusal,
to see that any change in policy, even for the better, implies a recognition
of past error and is consequently detrimental to the national prestige. The
professional diplomat thrives on routine and avoids making waves. He replaces
a forceful expression with a milder phrase. He dissimulates the realities of
this "seething planet of revolutionary violence, ferocity and hate" with euphemisms
like "this great struggle for freedom," the "free world," and "national sovereignty."(3)
Dean Rusk is certainly a good man, but as Secretary of State he lacked purpose. He bitterly resented the impertinent and welcome interference of the White House in the affairs of the Department of State. Like most of his subordinates, he felt that the capacity of words, phrases and style to dominate the political or economic realities of the modern world should never be underestimated -- that a press conference is no substitute for foreign policy.
President Kennedy wanted to be his own Secretary of State. He had always been interested in foreign affairs, and if he didn't always know where he would end up, at least he always knew where he was heading. At the White House, he was surrounded by a team of advisers known as the "Little White House," the pillars of which were McGeorge Bundy and Robert Kennedy.(4) A British liberal magazine, the New Statesman, wrote in 1963: "America has not one Secretary of State but half a dozen," and added, "American diplomacy as a result has the improvised flavor of a touch football game on the White House lawn." The author might as well have been talking about United States foreign policy in the pre-and post-Kennedy eras. American diplomacy has never been equal to the power of the United States and its international objectives.
In 1962, the State Department was beset by anxiety and apprehension. There was a noticeable thinning in the ranks of the old guard. The rules provided for the annual retirement of 3% of the upper grades. A Presidential directive increased this figure to 5% . Instead of 60 career diplomats, 100 were retired that year. When Kennedy took office, 13 out of the 21 highest positions in the State Department were occupied by career officers. In 1962, only 6 were career men; the other 15 were administrative appointees. He named 80 new ambassadors, 35 of whom were political appointees.(5) Nevertheless, the people at State recalled that Kennedy had declared during his campaign, "The key arm of our foreign policy is our ambassadorial and Foreign Service staff. In my travels to every continent, I have often been impressed with the caliber of the men and women in the Foreign Service."
Kennedy placed men in key ambassadorial positions whom the State Department considered, and continued to consider, as amateurs. He appointed a General as Ambassador to France, university presidents to Chile and the Philippines, lawyers to Denmark, NATO, and the Ivory Coast, a publisher as Ambassador to Guinea, writers to Japan and Brazil, and professors to Egypt and India. In the State Department hierarchy itself, young men found themselves suddenly promoted, and more experienced diplomats were recalled to Washington. At the Geneva conference on Laos, Averell Harriman took the daring step of appointing William H. Sullivan, Grade 3, over the heads of men in Grades 1 and 2 simply because he considered him more capable.(6)
Kennedy ordered all United States Ambassadors to supervise and coordinate the activities of all American agencies in their respective countries (with the exception of the military). This measure was hardly welcomed by the Central Intelligence Agency. With a budget half again as large as that of the State Department, better-paid and better-qualified personnel, political bureaus, military planning groups, naval and air units, landing forces, and the privilege of not having to account for its activities to Congress, the CIA considered the Presidential decision as an attack on its basic prerogatives. In the days of the Dulles brothers, Allen (Chief of the CIA) had always reported directly to his brother Foster (Secretary of State). But by 1961 John Foster Dulles was no more than a distant memory, and after the Bay of Pigs disaster, Allen Dulles fell into disfavor and was replaced by John McCone.
Wishing to inject new blood into the senior ranks of the administration, Kennedy conceived the idea of drafting corporation vice-presidents for a year of government service. But the vice-presidents found it hard to adjust to government ways, and they reacted too often with "That's not the way we do it at Proctor and Gamble." The Kennedy style was no more suited to big business than it was to old-guard diplomacy.
John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy's Ambassador to India, declared, "A dollar or a rupee invested in the intellectual improvement of human beings will regularly bring a greater increase in national income than a dollar or a rupee devoted to railways, dams, machine tools or other tangible goods."
The President gave most high officials and department heads the impression that they were behind the times. He was not preoccupied with the official hierarchy, nor with unanimous decisions. At the highest level, Kennedy had decided to abandon the tradition that all decisions of the Cabinet and the National Security Council be approved by the majority. He abolished the weekly meetings of the Cabinet, the Cabinet Secretaries, the administrative body of the National Security Council, the Coordinating Committee for Operations, and dozens of inter-departmental committees. He called it "doing away with bureaucracy," and he justified his actions by saying that he saw no reason why the Postmaster General should be concerned with problems in Laos.
A few officials resigned, but most decided to stick it out. Administrations pass, but the civil service remains. They were only going through a difficult period. Many members of the American Legion agreed. They had opposed Kennedy ever since he had declared, in 1947, that "the leaders of the American Legion haven't done anything good since 1918."(7)
Kennedy the ex-journalist gave the journalists complexes, and they criticized the way he "managed" the news.(8) Mark S. Watson of the Baltimore Sun complained that "every journalist is a weapon in government hands," and Arthur Krock, the veteran New York Times columnist, wrote in Fortune:
The press had flattered the handsome candidate and the photogenic First Family. The new President's policies were received with less enthusiasm. Journalistic deception is part of politics, but it irritated the President. His staff was also known to blunder, and he made a few mistakes himself, as for example when he canceled the White House subscription to the New York Herald Tribune.
"On the strength of almost 50 years of reporting, executive editing, and editorial commentary on the news, most of it in Washington, I would make two general judgments on the management of the news by the present President and -- on its understanding of his will and attitude -- by his Administration as a whole:
1. A news management policy not only exists but, in the form of direct and deliberate action, has been enforced more cynically and boldly than by any previous Administration in a period when the US was not in a war or without visible means of regression from the verge of war.
2. In the form of indirect but equally deliberate action, the policy has been much more effective than direct action in coloring the several facts of public information, because it has been employed with subtlety and imagination for which there is no historical parallel known to me . . .
Management of the news by indirection, though pursued for the same purpose as active management, requires a far wider definition. One principal form it takes in the present Administration is social flattery of Washington reporters and commentators -- many more than ever got this 'treatment' in the past -- by the President and his high-level subordinates."
Kennedy often displayed more virtue than wisdom in his eighteen months in office. His bungling with regard to the press was typical of the aristocratic and plutocratic conception of the writer and journalist that is one of the dominant traits (although they deny it) of the Kennedy family.
The emissaries of the Lord were hardly more favorable. The churches attacked the diabolical private lives of the President and the First Lady. But that was not all. The Protestant churches had been unhappy at the nomination of a Catholic candidate. The Reverend W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas (with an annual budget of $195,000) declared in 1960: "Kennedy's election would be the death of a free church in a free state." Later, he was to add: "The abolition of segregation is as ridiculous as it is foolhardy," and "The judgment of the Lord will strike down those who court scandal."
When he took his oath of office, Kennedy was attacked for not laying his hand on the Bible. He had (although the Constitution does not require it), but the television cameras missed it, and had he not, no one would have been surprised. The Reverend Norman Vincent Peale spoke for many Protestants when he said, "Kennedy is unfit to hold Presidential office. Our American civilization is at stake. I do not say that we will not survive the election of Kennedy, but we will no longer be the same."
When one of its members was elected to the Presidency, the American Catholic Church was hardly more enthusiastic. Catholics were critical of President Kennedy's "leftist" advisers. Why, the President even bragged that he had attended public schools! The late Cardinal Spellman, spiritual leader of American Catholicism, a comfortable and active Republican and a vehement anti-Communist, lost the influence that he had enjoyed at the White House in the days of John Foster Dulles. He made no secret of the fact that he found it displeasing, not to say scandalous, that the first Catholic elected to the Presidency was also the most secular President the United States had ever known. The Catholic review America wrote in its editorial of January 13, 1962:
"In view of his peculiar position, Mr. Kennedy is not expected to make excessively friendly overtures to anyone connected with his Church. Indeed, he has hewed carefully to a line which enables him to live up to these negative expectations. He rarely finds himself in positions in which he might have to be photographed with Cardinals or other Church dignitaries.
"It is significant, for instance, that there were no photographers present for the relatively little-publicized visit of the Cardinal Secretary of State to the White House early in December.
"Every published photograph of that brief meeting would have cost Mr. Kennedy 10,000 votes in the Bible Belt in 1964, and Mr. Kennedy, who is an experienced politician, can scarcely be asked to overlook such hard facts of public life in America.
"These calculations are not very courageous but, after all, John Kennedy is not the first US President who has had to plot his course by means of opinion polls from the Protestant heartland of this nation.
"Photographs of the President with Protestant spokesmen like Evangelist Bill Graham, on the other hand, are pure 14-karat gold, to be laid away at 5 percent interest till the day of reckoning in 1964."
The leaders of American Catholicism also attacked Kennedy for refusing to
appoint an Ambassador to the Vatican, for rejecting the idea of a "holy war" against
the Soviet Union, and for favoring birth control. They even criticized him
for not holding Mass at the White House. (9) When, in 1961, Kennedy submitted
a Bill to Congress authorizing federal aid to primary and secondary schools
but withholding it from parochial and other church-controlled schools as stipulated
by the Constitution, protests poured in from Jews and Protestants as well as
Catholics. The reaction of the combined churches was so vehement that the bill
was rejected. The following year, the ecclesiastics, returned to the charge
when Kennedy proposed, as part of his tax reform bill, to modify the system
of tax deductions for contributions to charity (which had reached the truly "divine" annual
figure of $7.5 billion annually).
In the camp of hate there were also the wealthy. Not only those, in the majority,
who feared for their privileges, but also those who were irritated by the refinements
of the Kennedy style of living. The American aristocracy had learned that the
Kennedys never discussed money at the table, that they considered it out of
place and of no interest. Instead, they talked about politics, and, when there
were women or guests present, about art. Did these people really imagine that
there was no connection between politics, or art, and money? Or had they left
the money-making to their father, so that they could continue to live for their
ideas alone, in ignorance of the "secret of the governor"? (10) What did these
Kennedys think they were doing, asking their brother-in-law (11) to set up
a system providing legal assistance for the poor?
The poor, too, were often reticent. Thirty million white Americans, (12) half
of them in the South, earn less than $3,000 a year. Under-qualified and under-paid,
many of these have-nots are also incompetent and lazy, and while they are conscious
of being exploited by their southern employers, they also realize that they
could not continue to live without them. "Republicans are good for business
. . ." There were also the twelve thousand Americans who, without their white
skins, would have nothing. These poor whites could always look down on the
Negroes, those nobodies whom Kennedy wanted to turn into somebodies.
No region in the United States could identify completely with John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The average American, and not only in the Middle West, is a man of habit -- one might even say of prejudice. He likes his food plain and his religion straightforward, and he prefers American-made products. He disapproves of short-term love affairs and people who are overly-critical. He regards foreigners as good-for-nothing if not downright inferior, and the American system as the greatest in the world.
The average American probably didn't go as far as those banners in Mississippi that called on the voters to "Knock Out the Kennedys." The Kennedys: not only the President, but his wife, his brothers, his children, and even his ancestors. But he had little in common with the First Family, and he judged the President in terms of the threat to his way of life.
The medical profession provides an interesting example of this phenomenon,
for its hate surpassed all others. Its target was a man who believed that doctors
should still remember Esculapus and devote themselves to healing all the ill.
But the doctors were more anxious about the changes that Kennedy wanted to
make in the Social Security laws, initiatives that would be considered timid
in comparison with the systems already existing in most European nations. (13)
Doctor Fishbein, the official spokesman of the American Medical Association,
had declared in 1939:
"Indeed all forms of security, compulsory security, even against old age and unemployment, represent a beginning invasion by the state into the personal life of the individual, represent a taking away of individual responsibility, a weakening of national caliber, a definite step toward either communism or totalitarianism."
As soon as he entered the White House, Kennedy turned his attention to the
health problems of children, the aged, and the poor. They were the subject
of the speech that he never got to deliver at Austin. He wanted not only to
establish government medical insurance for the aged and the unemployed, but
to outlaw tax deductions for unjustified or exaggerated medical expenses. He
wanted the federal government to care for invalids, feeble-minded and retarded
children, and to cover the cost of exceptionally high surgery bills in low-
income families. He noted also that 40% of all college students came from the
12% of American families with incomes of more than $10,000 a year. He wanted,
if not to reform the medical schools, at least to help the "talented young
people without money who are unable to bear the cost of medical school." (14)
He proposed to create 40 new medical and dental schools. He was already thinking
of the country's needs in 1970. (15) But the AMA dubbed Kennedy's Social Security
proposals the "Cruel Mystification." To which Kennedy replied, in private (but
it was repeated and even appeared in print) that this "mystification" was only "cruel
to some of their ukases, their exclusivities, and their rackets." Their visceral
hate for him is exemplified by the Oklahoma doctor cited in Manchester's book
who, on learning of Kennedy's assassination, cried, "Good, I hope they got
Jackie," and the other doctor who yelled to a colleague, "The joy ride's over.
This is one deal that Papa Joe can't fix."
John Kennedy continued to cherish the dream of that America for which he was responsible. On April 9, 1963, he spoke at length to his fellow-Americans of "Random Village," a hypothetical village of 100 citizens, ten of whom are Negroes and six of whom live alone.
Half the families in Random Village own their own homes. The local newspaper is Republican, but the majority of its reporters are Democrats. When they leave school, the sons of the citizens of Random Village will have twice as much chance of being unemployed as their fathers. The wives of these citizens know that there are six times as many visitors to the country's national parks than there were when they were young (half the village likes to swim in the summer), but every year they see more of their favorite beaches and wilderness spots swallowed up by commercial establishments. Most of the adults never finished high school, but they all want their children to have an education, and would even like to see them go to college so that they can earn higher salaries and have less chance of being unemployed.
Nevertheless, only 16 of their 24 children will finish high school, and only
9 will go to college. For the 7 others, college is too expensive ($1,500 a
year in a state university, and $2,000 in a private institution), or there
is simply no room for them. (16) The large numbers of postwar babies are approaching
college age. There will be twice as many college students in 1970 as there
were in 1960.
The inhabitants of Random Village are mythical, but they are also mortal. One of them will die during the year, but two new babies will be born. Each citizen will see a doctor five times and a dentist once or twice. Eleven will be hospitalized. But many will wonder why there are not enough doctors, dentists, and hospitals. For, as Kennedy noted, "there are no doctors or dentists in Random Village." Fifteen years ago, there were 10 doctors in the region for 10,000 inhabitants. Today, there are only 9. In ten more years, this number will have dropped to 8.
Ten inhabitants of the village will require treatment for mental illness or behavior disorders. Three of them are mentally retarded (if the village were Swedish, only one would be mentally retarded). Many could be cured who will not have the chance to be.
Nine of the villagers are over 65, and one of them is over 80. Ninety percent of them will be hospitalized at least once before they die, and for twice as long as when they were young. Nevertheless, their incomes are now only half as great, and only five of the nine have any kind of private health insurance.
And Kennedy continued his parable by emphasizing that the adoption of his new federal aid programs would in no way affect the independence or the vitality of the people of Random Village. He emphasized the need to continue the housing program for the village, where one house out of five is in poor condition or dilapidated. Welfare payments must also be continued, he said, for one family in eight in the village has a weekly income of less than $35.
A program of vocational retraining was needed because one-third of the unemployed in the village had been out of work for more than 15 weeks this year and would be unable to find work for which they were suited. The government must pursue its efforts in the field of civil rights, for the Negro families in the village were twice as likely to be poorly housed as the whites, and earned only half as much. Their children had only two-thirds thirds as much chance as their white neighbors to finish school, and were twice as likely to be unemployed." "Neither injustice nor crime nor disease nor slums can be confined to one group in the village," Kennedy insisted.
But in 1962 the majority of the citizens were preoccupied less with the pleasures
and difficulties of life in the village than with the stock market trend. The
Black Monday crash was felt throughout the country. Few stockholders were ruined,
but many were hit. The value of the national portfolio diminished by 137 billion
dollars on June 21, 1962. The two million stockholders of the American Telephone
and Telegraph Company lost eight billion dollars. The shareholders of Du Pont
and General Electric, US Steel and General Motors lost more than three billion
dollars per company. Those of Sears Roebuck, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
and the Ford Motor Company lost more than two billion, while the securities
of the Aluminum Company of America, American Home Products, Bethlehem Steel,
Eastman Kodak, General Telephone and Electronics, Reynolds Metal, R. J. Reynolds
Tobacco, Texaco, Union Carbide and Westinghouse dropped more than a billion
As a result of slow inflation and the depreciation of Treasury Bonds and other
fixed-revenue securities, the United States has become a nation of stockholders.
Many Americans had invested in the stock market to cover the cost of a house,
a college education for their children, or a trip to Europe. The average stockholder
was not the only one to be hurt. The employees of firms with profit-sharing
schemes and the retired people who had invested 21 billion dollars in the stock
exchange also saw their investments dissolve. (17)
The statements of the mutual funds and the reports of the security analysts
circulated these figures among the worried stockholders. But eighteen months
later, the computers refrained from reporting with equal clamor that the Dow
Jones average was once again positive. It is true that the President had just
been buried. At that time, the Administration was preoccupied with the farm
problem, (18) and it is probable that most of the shareholders have a clearer
recollection of their great fright of 1962 than of the subsequent recovery
of the market. "We'll vote for Goldwater in 1964, and if Kennedy is re-elected
we'll buy an island in the Indian Ocean," many vowed.
Kennedy was a frail little boy who liked to read in bed. He doted on the tales
of the Knights of the Round Table and the exploits of the Duke of Marlborough.
He chose to follow in their footsteps, and set out on his own Crusade. At each
new dawn, he sounded the trumpet and summoned the nation to arms. "The country
was awakened and restless. But the wicked had risen along with the good, the
idle with the industrious, the heartless with the merciful, the poor with the
rich, the enemies with the friends, the profiteers of the dark night with the
men of the clear morning." (19) It sometimes seemed as though only children
accepted him without reservation. The daughter of Supreme Court Justice Byron
White said to her father on the evening of November 22, "Daddy, when are we
going to be happy again?"
The people, to excuse their egoism, believe that they are right because they are the people, forgetting that they are only a moment of the people. Winston Churchill spoke of the "weakness of the good," but was it weakness to participate fully in the problems of the times, and to assume the responsibility for the people of the moment, but also for the generations to come?
One day, despite all the barriers, despite all the gunmen, will kindness and justice enter Random Village?
The crowd counted a certain number of important people. Roy Cohn, for instance. For those to whom this name is unfamiliar, Roy Cohn is the son of a judge, a graduate of Columbia Law School, who was an assistant to Attorney General James McGranery before joining the staff of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Cohn was long considered one of the most brilliant young men in the United States. "He got more notoriety, more fame, more material success, and more enemies than most men manage to do in all of a lifetime." Others remarked that he had always been fascinated by puzzles, and that he was somewhat of a puzzle himself. An anti-communist investigator, later a financial consultant, he was accused of furnishing false witnesses and using informers.
From the moment they met, Roy Cohn and Robert Kennedy knew that there was
much that separated them. (20)
Robert Kennedy was a Kennedy. Cohn was a Jew and nearly penniless. He set out to make money, fought to get ahead, moved carefully and plotted his revenge. His rash initiatives, McCarthy's miscalculations and his growing vendetta with Bob Kennedy were very nearly the end of him.
Cohn's personal motto is, "It's profitable." It's not a very original idea,
but the man has energy and talent, and he is a remarkable gambler. He would
have liked to have been the head of a large corporation. As his political
career was temporarily in jeopardy, he turned his attention to other things.
A specialist in business promotions, he speculated in some highly diverse
operations that stretched from New York to Central America and even to Hong
Kong, and carried off some remarkable feats. He wanted to transform the Lionel
Corporation, an old-fashioned manufacturer of toy trains, into an electronics
giant. He bought it up for $900,000 and appointed a General (21) to head
it, with the idea that he would prove an ideal negotiator with the Pentagon.
But Roy Cohn, while an excellent speculator, is no businessman, and he soon
tired of the game. He also had a powerful enemy in Washington -- Attorney
General Robert Kennedy -- who was watching his every move, just waiting for
him to make a mistake.
Cohn lost $500,000 in Lionel, and his life began to cave in around him. In 1961, certain companies for which he served as a consultant lost $2.5 million dollars, and $4 million the following year. The Attorney General's crusade against organized crime concerned him indirectly. A lawyer or legal consultant does not always choose his clients, and he has no control over their actions.
An ascetic playboy and unlucky gambler, Cohn was often seen at Las Vegas, where people like Moe Dalitz, who had been one of the targets of the Kefauver Committee, and oilman Sam Garfield were the most innocuous of his acquaintances. It's a long way from the world of crime to the world of oil, but Cohn was consulted on several occasions by the executives of large oil corporations, and in particular by Haroldson Lafayette Hunt (whom he had known when he worked for McCarthy) and by some of Mr. Hunt's acquaintances, who had awkward problems involving complex legal questions.
Roy Cohn was never consulted in vain on a question of financial speculation. His talent lay in analyzing the problems involved, in drawing the ideas together and in proposing solutions. Others were left to carry them out. Speaking of himself, he said, "I am a younger man dealing with older men."
But time was running out for Roy Cohn. In September, 1963, his speculative
activities brought him before the Grand Jury of the State of New York. (22)
Today, five years later, it is doubtful whether Mr. Cohn remembers all of
the matters that he dealt with in 1963. As Life magazine pointed out, "He
deals with so many people that he may get a bit confused about whom he has
seen and whom he has not." Nevertheless, Roy Cohn swung a big deal that year.
1. Although he was pro-labor and a personal friend of trade union leaders like George Meany, the trade unions turned against Kennedy when he tried to put an end to some of their abuses. There was, for example, his conflict with the railroad-workers unions. The Administration wanted to eliminate the firemen on diesel engines and cut down on the number of crews because of automation. The regulations dating back to the time of steam engines were no longer justified now that diesel engines were in use. The train from Chicago to Denver, which covered 1,034 miles in 16.5 hours, changed crews eight times, every 130 miles, and each crew received 1.25 days of pay for each two hours of work.
2. Professor of Classical Languages at the University of Illinois.
3. Arthur Schlesinger.
4. Also known as the "Tuesday group." Other members were George C. McGhee, Paul H. Nitze, and Walt W. Rostow.
5. During Eisenhower's term in office, only twenty United States Ambassadorships were held by non-career diplomats.
6. Unlike the Civil Service, Foreign Service grades begin at 8 and run to 1.
7. In 1964, the American Legion held its annual convention at Dallas. It paraded past the spot at Dealey Plaza where Kennedy had been killed, and no one even stopped.
8. Statistics record that in October, 1961, there were 8,150 people involved in the information activities of the federal government (as opposed to 3,632 in 1952), and that 3,515 of these specialists were working in Washington, obscured behind a variety of official titles.
9. The only mass ever celebrated at the White House was held on November 23, 1963, the day after the President's death.
10. "The poor man thinks he is a friend of the poor, and the rich man knows he is not."
11. Sargent Shriver, dubbed by Time the "anti-poverty Czar."
12. By 1963, this number had dropped to 25 million.
13. In 1962, doctors in Saskatchewan, Canada, went on strike for the same reason.
14. It costs an average of $1,750 a year to send a child to college. Families with an income of less than $6,000 a year have difficulty in meeting these expenses. The average scholarship aid for a medical student is $500, as against $1,600 for a biology major. Medical schools are reluctant to admit women.
15. His proposal for medical care for the aged (Medicare), which would have added an additional 0.25% to the Social Security deductions, was adopted in 1967.
16. 1963 statistics.
17. It has been calculated that a person who invested $ 10,000 in the stock market in January, 1961, at the beginning of the Kennedy era, had only $7,900 left after the 18.8% drop in the Dow Jones average in June, 1962.
18. Farm prices in 1963 had dropped to 86 from the 1960 index of 100, but the portion of the family budget devoted to food had dropped from 26.9% in 1947 to 20% in 1960, and to 18.8% in 1963.
19. Hans Habe.
20. Robert Kennedy also served on Senator McCarthy's staff when Roy Cohn was his chief legal adviser. He wrote later that the Senator's biggest mistake had been his confidence in Roy Cohn and his acolyte G. David Schine.
21. Brigadier General John B. Medaris, former Commander of Redstone Arsenal.
22. Fortunately for him, there is some justice in the world. The matter was straightened out in 1964 after a series of negotiations and interventions.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: Pummeling the victim
3 November 2006
|Palestinian friends and relatives attend the funeral of 14-year-old Ibrahim
Sanaqra, the brother of an activist with the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Balata
refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus, 3 November 2006. (MaanImages/Rami
The terrible imbalance of power between the Israelis and Palestinians makes it impossible for Israel, regardless of which government is in power, to deal with the Palestinians in any way except through a lens of assumed moral, cultural, and racial superiority, as though military prowess equates with civilization and home-made rockets equate with savagery and a sub-human status.
The savagery, though, belongs to Israel and to anyone who has the power to stop a bully in his bloody pummeling of a much weaker opponent but instead stands aside, watching under the cover of the manufactured excuse that the bully is defending himself against his hapless victim.
Europe may be looking askance at Iran's attempt to arm itself, but really, that's a coin Europe understands very well. When the Middle East and North Africa were under the control of the European powers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they certainly loved this notion that there is a hierarchy of races and civilizations and that they belonged to the superior one -- primarily as a result of their military power. As a French writer put it, "The basic legitimation of conquest over native peoples is the conviction of our superiority, not merely our mechanical, economic, and military superiority, but our moral superiority."
|The current savage spectacle of the beating up of Gaza ("conquest" is too fancy a word for what's happening) is rooted in this kind of thinking|
The current savage spectacle of the beating up of Gaza ("conquest" is too fancy a word for what's happening) is rooted in this kind of thinking. It's what makes Moslems cheer for Iran's attempts to arm itself to a point that will move it magically out of the shameful circle of terrorism/evil into the fancy circle of a "power". It seems that's the avenue that will bring it and the Islam it represents moral superiority in the eyes of the US and Europe.
The Israeli exercise of power over its subject people in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) takes on many different shapes. One is military, as in using its powerful arsenal of weapons to go into Palestinians towns and cities on a daily basis and find and slaughter selected people at will -- as in sweeping into Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip and mowing whatever stands in its way, even people taking refuge from its civilized terror in a mosque. When Israel's present campaign in Gaza is all over (is this still "Summer Rain" or have the Israelis moved into "Winter Blues"?), the Palestinians will no doubt crawl out from under the rubble and look for uncivilized ways to take revenge.
Then there are the refined democratic deliberations that Israel exercises through its various cabinets at the same time it has some Palestinian cabinet members under lock and key, the most recent of whom is the Palestinian Minister of Labor, kidnapped on November second.
The Israeli diplomatic-security cabinet (responsible for "strategic-political-defensive issues", naturally, as Israel's armed forces must constantly defend and subdue what they conquered by force) met the other day and voted to keep up the "military pressure" on Hamas in the Gaza Strip; to allow General Keith Dayton, the American security coordinator in the occupied territories, to arm and train forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas; and to grant the request of the US to allow the Badr Brigade, a wing of the Palestine Liberation Army that is currently stationed in Jordan, to relocate to the occupied territories.
And speaking of "relocations", the Israeli diplomatic-security cabinet, which should be called "The Israeli Cabinet for the further Subjugation and Containment of the Palestinian People", gave cursory attention to a tool the Israeli government has long used in order to effect what many justly see as ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the OPT, including Jerusalem. Since Israel controls the population registry of Palestinians in the OPT as well as the borders of the territories with the outside world, it controls who is permitted to have a Palestinian ID; who is permitted to enter the OPT; who is permitted to live there; who is permitted to work there; and who is permitted to live in Jerusalem specifically. Israel gives a very limited number of visas and permits - far, far below the need and the demand.
|This power and control on Israel's part manifests itself in various damaging and isolating ways for Palestinians, but the most egregious manifestation is family break-up|
This power and control on Israel's part manifests itself in various damaging and isolating ways for Palestinians, but the most egregious manifestation is family break-up. Israel is not issuing permits to thousands of spouses and close family members of Palestinians who hold various nationalities to reside in the OPT. This is a policy that Israel has practiced with various refinements since the Oslo Accords. One of these refinements foils the attempts (through the procuring of tourist visas at the border) of Palestinian expatriate nationals as well as regular nationals of every country in the world who are looking to live in the OPT in order to be united with their families or in order to work in the OPT and contribute to its development.
In response to "sharp" criticism from the US and EU for preventing their nationals from procuring residency permits in the OPT, the diplomatic-security cabinet ratified a request by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, according to Haaretz, "to 'launder' the presence in the West Bank of some 5,000 Palestinians who hold American or European passports." Unfortunately, this gesture comprises barely a single underwear from the dirty wash that Israel needs to launder. Furthermore, it is bound to create internal conflict among the Palestinians. How are they supposed to fairly divvy up this gift of 5,000 permits? Perhaps they will organize a lottery.
There are thousands of nationals of less powerful countries than the US and the EU who have a right to live with their families in the occupied territories. Many of these, for example, are Jordanians. Even though Jordan has a so-called peace treaty with Israel, it apparently has no clout to ask the Israeli government to process the thousands of family unification applications that families have already filed on behalf of some of its citizens (Israel is currently sitting on more than 120,000 such applications). Thousands of other nationalities are currently living "illegally" in the OPT with their families afraid to speak up, imprisoned in their homes.
Back to Gaza, the majority of whose captive population is made up of refugees from cities and towns now within Israeli borders. One sadly notes no discussion in Israel's diplomatic-security cabinet, as it was considering the Gaza Strip and Israel's fancy "defensive" attacks on it, of a plan to return these people to their homes or to compensate them - a basic right for those people codified in international law.
Comment on this Editorial
Editorial: September 11, 2001 Revisited - ACT IV: PART I
November 4, 2006
We all know the inspiring story of Flight 93, of the heroic passengers who forced the hijacked plane to the ground, sacrificing themselves to save the lives of others. The only trouble is: it may simply not be true ... The shortage of available facts did not prevent the creation of an instant legend - a legend that the US government and the US media were pleased to propagate, and that the American public have been eager, for the most part, to accept as fact. John Carlin "Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93," The Independent, August 13, 2002
Before the official spin set in and United Airlines Flight 93 became forever known as the "Let's Roll" flight, immortalized in numerous articles, web postings, books and movies, early reports from local journalists on the scene strongly suggested a much different scenario than the one sold to the American people. So too does all the available photographic evidence. And the overwhelming majority of eyewitness accounts also paint a much different picture of the fate of Flight 93 than the story sold by Washington and its media cohorts.
That official story, of course, holds that a Boeing 757 that took off for San Francisco, California out of Newark, New Jersey at 8:42 AM, well past its scheduled liftoff time, was hijacked somewhere over Pennsylvania by four knife-wielding terrorists, all wearing red bandannas, with one sporting a fake bomb strapped around his waist. At about 9:35 AM, the aircraft abruptly turned around somewhere over the Cleveland area and began heading back towards Washington, presumably with the intention of impacting a target of strategic importance. From about 9:30 until just before 10:00 AM, as the aircraft headed east over Ohio and Pennsylvania, numerous passengers and crew members frantically placed calls to loved ones. During some of those calls, passengers learned of the attacks in New York and, quickly deducing what their likely fate would be, decided to attempt to overpower the hijackers and gain control of the aircraft. During the ensuing struggle, control of the plane was lost and it plummeted to the ground, plowing into abandoned coal-mining land near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:06 AM, killing all forty-four people on board (seven crew members, four hijackers and thirty-three passengers).
Needless to say, Hollywood just loves the Flight 93 story, with its iconic images of the heroism and patriotism of ordinary Americans. And there quite likely was heroism exhibited aboard that aircraft that day. But perpetuating a lie does nothing to honor the memory of those who died on September 11, particularly if that lie is brazenly exploited by the very people responsible for the death and destruction that day. If we are to do more than just crassly exploit the dead, we first have to understand how they really died.
Despite the magnitude of the events of September 11, 2001, and despite the monumental changes in our lives that have occurred in the aftermath of those attacks, the vast majority of Americans have never bothered to look at any of the details of what happened that day. Having read the above one-paragraph summary of the saga of Flight 93, you, the reader, probably already know more about what supposedly happened in Shanksville that day than the average American. As a nation, we have accepted that our world must fundamentally change as a result of what happened that day, and yet we can't be bothered with actually taking the time to look at what really did happen that day. We have accepted the notion that torture is now a legitimate tool of the state, and that anyone deemed an enemy of that state can be tried and convicted with 'evidence' that need never be revealed. In doing so, we have sacrificed not only our most basic rights, and not only the lives of our sons and daughters, but, most tragically of all, our very humanity, and we have done so on blind faith, never bothering to look at any evidence beyond the endlessly replayed images of crashing jets and collapsing towers.
To say that this is a pathetic state of affairs would be quite an understatement.
Most Americans probably assume that they saw footage of a crashed airplane in Pennsylvania sometime during the day of September 11, 2001, or shortly thereafter. We were, after all, provided with nonstop coverage of the attacks across the television dial for several weeks, so there was certainly ample time to air some footage of the smoldering wreckage of Flight 93, or at least some eyewitnesses describing the wreckage of Flight 93, or maybe a location interview with a rescue worker describing the harrowing task of recovering bodies. But though we may think that we saw such images amid the chaos of that day, we most certainly did not - just as we did not see any footage of aircraft wreckage at the Pentagon.
And we never will, for the simple reason that images such as those do not exist - and if someone were going to manufacture them using Hollywood wizardry, they would have already done so.
Don't get me wrong here: images of the purported crash site of Flight 93 do exist. Some of those photographs and digital images were taken within minutes of the alleged event, long before any cleanup efforts began. Some of the photographs were even taken by the government's own crash investigators. None of them, however, depict the site of the actual crash of a large passenger plane. We know this because, as a general rule of thumb, aircraft crash sites contain recognizable aircraft wreckage.
Just as one would expect to find some recognizable vehicle wreckage at the scene of even the most horrendous of car crashes, one likewise expects to find aircraft wreckage at the scene of a plane crash. Historically, at least, that is how these things have always worked, as can be seen in the above photos of various Boeing 7X7 aircraft that have crashed over the years. According to all early reports, however, there was no such wreckage to be seen anywhere near the alleged crash site of Flight 93.
An early report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for example, contained several eyewitness accounts, all of which noted a curious lack of recognizable aircraft debris. Co-workers Homer Barron and Jeff Phillips, for example, "drove to the crash scene and found a smoky hole in the ground ... 'It didn't look like a plane crash because there was nothing that looked like a plane,' Barron said. 'There was one part of a seat burning up there,' Phillips said. 'That was something you could recognize.' 'I never seen anything like it,' Barron said. 'Just a big pile of charcoal.'" ("The Crash in Somerset: 'It Dropped Out of the Clouds,'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 12, 2001)
Nina Lensbouer, identified as a former volunteer firefighter, told reporters that her "instinct was to run toward it, to try to help. But I got there and there was nothing, nothing there but charcoal. Instantly, it was charcoal." Similarly, "Charles Sturtz, 53, who lives just over the hillside from the crash site, said a fireball 200 feet high shot up over the hill. He got to the crash scene even before the firefighters. 'The biggest pieces you could find were probably four feet [long]. Most of the pieces you could put into a shopping bag." ("The Crash in Somerset: 'It Dropped Out of the Clouds,'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 12, 2001)
Mark Stahl, digital camera in hand, was one of the first witnesses on the scene, just minutes after the alleged crash. He had an unobstructed view of the crater and surrounding area, which he took the time to photograph. Nevertheless, he had no clue that he was photographing the site of a purported plane crash: "He didn't realize a passenger jet had crashed until a firefighter told him." Ron Delano was another early arrival at the scene; "He was stunned by what he saw. 'If they hadn't told us a plane had wrecked, you wouldn't have known.'" ("Homes, Neighbors Rattled by Crash," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 12, 2001)
Area resident Eric Peterson, according to the Post-Gazette, "rushed to the scene on an all-terrain vehicle and when he arrived he saw bits and pieces of an airliner spread over a large area of an abandoned strip-mine in Stonycreek Township. 'There was a crater in the ground that was really burning,' Peterson said. Strewn about were pieces of clothing hanging from trees and parts of the Boeing 757, but nothing bigger than a couple of feet long, he said. Many of the items were burning. Peterson said he saw no bodies, but there also was no sign of life." (Jonathan D. Silver "Day of Terror: Outside Tiny Shanksville, a Fourth Deadly Stroke," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 12, 2001)
In a similar vein, a Reuters wire report held that the impact "was so powerful that police investigators who cordoned off the site as a crime scene on Tuesday reported finding no pieces of debris larger than a phone book, and no bodies." ("Passengers on Flight 93 May Have Struggled With Hijackers," Reuters, September 12, 2001)
Remarkably enough, the government's own official photographs of the crime scene, introduced as evidence during the hopelessly tainted Zacarias Moussaoui trial earlier this year, confirm those early reports. The three aerial photographs below (which can be enlarged for a better look) reveal that not only was there no significant wreckage visible in the supposed impact crater, there was no significant wreckage visible anywhere near the crater!
According to the official 9-11 narrative, the lack of visible wreckage is attributable to the fact that the plane is actually buried in the ground beneath the crater. Flight 93 impacted with such tremendous force, we are told, that virtually the entire aircraft burrowed into the soil. As we all know, September 11, 2001 was 'the day that everything changed.' Enormous office buildings, for example, suddenly and inexplicably acquired the ability to drop into their own footprints with no assistance from demolitions experts. Five-story masonry buildings suddenly acquired the extraordinary ability to swallow enormous airliners without leaving behind an appropriate entry hole or any trace of aircraft wreckage. And now we find, perhaps most amazingly of all, that the ground itself somehow also acquired the ability to swallow commercial aircraft. On that fateful day, and only on that day, a 100+ ton airplane measuring 155 feet long, 125 feet wide and 45 feet tall disappeared into a crater measuring, at most, "about 30 to 40 feet long, 15 to 20 feet wide and 18 feet deep." ("Crews Begin Investigation Into Somerset County 757 Crash," ThePittsburghChannel.com, September 11, 2001)
Any skilled magician, I suppose, could make an airplane disappear into a building. But making an entire airplane disappear without a trace in an empty field? I have to admit that that is pretty impressive.
The patch of soil that purportedly swallowed United Airlines Flight 93 seems to have had some peculiar physical properties. The photo to the left purports to show one of the aircraft's engines being excavated from the alleged impact crater (other parts were allegedly dug out of the ridiculously small hole as well, including the flight recorder, which reportedly burrowed to a depth of about twenty-five feet). Curiously though, several published reports noted that a "section of engine weighing a ton was located 2,000 yards - over a mile - from the crash site." (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002; some reports place the engine section at about a third that distance from the 'crash' site, or vaguely specify that it was found a "considerable distance" from the alleged impact crater.)
So what appears to have happened in Shanksville, as best I can determine, is that Flight 93 impacted what MSNBC referred to as "the loose, porous soil of a deserted strip mine" in such a way that the engine on one side of the aircraft burrowed deeply into the ground, while the engine on the other side of the plane, encountering the very same loose soil at the exact same moment in time, snapped off and bounced thousands of feet away! If this had happened on any other day, it would obviously beg for a rational explanation. But since it happened on September 11, 2001, and since we have already established that the physical properties of the world were in a strange state of flux that day, no further explanation is necessary.
If a nose-diving plane did in fact impact relatively soft earth at some 580 miles per hour, as the
Warren 9/11 Commission has claimed, then it is conceivable that a portion of the plane could have burrowed into the ground - but certainly not the entire 155-foot-long aircraft. A substantial portion of the plane would surely have been visible jutting out of the alleged impact crater. And if the entire aircraft did somehow plow into the ground, then wouldn't the buried wreckage consist of a 100-ton compacted mass of metal, fabric and human tissue, rather than a few scattered bits and pieces of the airplane?
If you're like me, you're probably wondering right about now what exactly happened to the rest of the airplane. If none of it was visible outside the crater, and only a few pieces were allegedly exhumed from within the crater, then what became of the rest of the plane, along with all its passengers, luggage and cargo?
As it turns out, much of the wreckage was distributed, in tiny bits and pieces, over a debris field of roughly 15 square miles. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, "United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757-200 en route from New Jersey to San Francisco, fell from the sky near Shanksville at 10:06 a.m., about two hours after it took off, leaving a trail of debris five miles long." That trail of debris, it turns out, was later found to extend more than eight miles. (Jonathan D. Silver "Day of Terror: Outside Tiny Shanksville, a Fourth Deadly Stroke," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 12, 2001)
Under normal circumstances, an airplane that nose-dives into the ground and burrows into the soil will not leave a miles-long trail of debris, though an airplane that blows apart in the air certainly will. Flight 93, of course, did not blow apart in the air, so the only explanation for the debris trail, once again, is the mysterious break in the time/space continuum that fateful day.
According to numerous published reports, debris from the aircraft was "found up to 8 miles from the crash site ... Papers and other light objects were carried aloft by the explosion after impact of the plane and they were transported by a nine-knot wind." (Bill Heltzel and Tom Gibb "2 Planes Had No Part in Crash of Flight 93," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 16, 2001) According to my crude calculations, that means that debris allegedly ejected from the plane when it impacted the ground somehow remained aloft for nearly a full hour as it drifted for miles across the local terrain. And this was not, it should be noted, relatively flat terrain that the debris allegedly drifted over. To the contrary, for the detritus to travel the length of the debris field, from the alleged crash site to the town of New Baltimore, it would have had to pass - are you ready for this? - up and over a mountain ridge! "Authorities," understandably enough, "initially insisted crash debris could not have traveled over a mountain ridge more than eight miles from the crash." Those same authorities, however, later came to their senses and insisted that such a scenario was "not only plausible, but probable." (Debra Erdly "Crash Debris Found 8 Miles Away," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 14, 2001)
Much of the debris seems to have landed on the Indian Lake area, roughly two to three miles from the purported 'crash' site. And this was not isolated bits and pieces of debris; what "workers at Indian Lake Marina said they saw [was] a cloud of confetti-like debris descend on the lake and nearby farms." (Tom Gibb, James O'Toole and Cindi Lash "Investigators Locate 'Black Box' From Flight 93; Widen Search Area in Somerset Crash," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 13, 2001) Witness Carol Delasko also spoke of what "looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake." (Debra Erdly "Crash Debris Found 8 Miles Away," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 13, 2001)
These witness accounts would seem to indicate that there had been some kind of explosive event in the air above Indian Lake, rather than on the ground a couple miles away. At least one early report quoted witnesses who claimed that an airplane had literally broken apart in the air over the Indian Lake area: "investigators also are combing a second crime scene in nearby Indian Lake, where residents reported hearing the doomed jetliner flying over at a low altitude before 'falling apart on their homes.' 'People were calling in and reporting pieces of plane falling,' a state trooper said. Jim Stop reported he had seen the hijacked Boeing 757 fly over him as he was fishing. He said he could see parts falling from the plane." (Robin Acton and Richard Gazarik "Human Remains Recovered in Somerset," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 13, 2001)
The 'gopher plane' theory, alas, provides no explanation for these reports and witness accounts. How is it possible, after all, for an airplane to hit the ground intact and burrow underground, and yet simultaneously break up into thousands of pieces that come to rest up to eight miles away, on the other side of a mountain ridge? And while we ponder that question, here is another one that begs for an answer: what became of the aircraft's considerable load of aviation fuel (given that Flight 93 was fueled for a cross-country flight)?
Some of that fuel purportedly burned up in a fireball that arose from the crash site, but if the plane did in fact burrow into the ground, then logic dictates that a substantial amount of the fuel load would have been injected into the loose soil. The reality, however, is that no trace of jet fuel was found in any of the soil excavated from the crater and the surrounding area: "By today, Environmental Resources Management Inc. of Pine, a contractor hired by United, expects to return 5,000 to 6,000 cubic yards of soil to the 50-foot hole dug around the crater left by the crash. The soil is being tested for jet fuel, and at least three test wells have been sunk to monitor groundwater, since three nearby homes are served by wells, Betsy Mallison, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, said. So far, no contamination has been discovered, she said." (Tom Gibb "Latest Somerset Crash Site Findings May Yield Added IDs," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 3, 2001)
Also missing from the crater was any sign of the forty-four humans reportedly on board the plane. You would think that, at the very least, the remains of the flight crew and/or hijackers, who would have been in the nose of the aircraft when it plowed into the ground, would have ended up at the bottom of the Shanksville crater. But there is no indication from any local or national reports that any human remains were exhumed from that crater. As the Washington Post reported, "Immediately after the crash, the seeming absence of human remains led the mind of coroner Wally Miller to a surreal fantasy: that Flight 93 had somehow stopped in mid-flight and discharged all of its passengers before crashing. 'There was just nothing visible,' he says. 'It was the strangest feeling.' It would be nearly an hour before Miller came upon his first trace of a body part." (Peter Perl "Hallowed Ground," Washington Post, May 12, 2002)
Perhaps when the plane stopped to discharge its passengers, it also jettisoned its load of fuel.
Despite extensive recovery efforts, nothing resembling a human corpse was ever found, officially at least, anywhere within the eight-mile-long debris field. According to the official storyline, all that was recovered, "apart from, here and there, a finger, a toe or a tooth ... were small pieces of tissue and bone." (John Carlin "Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93," The Independent, August 13, 2002) The largest piece of human tissue reportedly found was "a section of spine eight inches long." (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002) No torsos, no arms, no legs, no hands, no feet - not even a head, or at least a portion of one of the forty-four skulls.
To briefly recap then, what we have learned thus far is that United Airlines Flight 93, as per the official narrative, nose-dived into some former strip-mining land in rural Pennsylvania. Encountering loosely packed soil, the entire aircraft, or at least a significant portion of it, slipped rather effortlessly into the ground. A small portion of the aircraft, however - the portion containing all the passengers and flight crew, and all the luggage, and all the cargo, and all the fuel, and the vast majority of the airplane itself - exploded on the ground and was reduced to scraps that soared over mountaintops to reach destinations up to eight miles away.
Such a scenario, while laughably absurd, is no harder to believe than most of the other claims that we have been fed concerning the events of September 11, so there is little reason to suspect that we have been lied to about the fate of Flight 93. But just to be sure, we should probably look a little deeper into the 'crash' of Flight 93.
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Abbas, Haneya meeting ends with no agreement
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 08:12:06
GAZA, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- A meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haneya ended on Monday night without declaring an agreement on forming a Palestinian national Unity government.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian presidential spokesman told reporters in the aftermath of the two-hour meeting held at Abbas office in Gaza City that "more issues need more discussion."
"We haven't yet reached an agreement, but there are intensive efforts exerted in this respect, where there are many issues that need more discussion, understanding and agreement," said Abu Rudeineh.
Earlier reports said that both Abbas and Haneya had agreed to form a national unity government that ends the ongoing economical and political crisis the Palestinians have been going through over the past nine months.
"I believe there is a necessity to form a national unity government of Palestinian professionals (technocrats), where there is an agreement in principle to form such kind of a government," said Abu Rudeineh.
However, he said "there are some details and some issues that need more discussion and more understanding. We must agree on these issues and details in order to reach an agreement at the end."
Neither President Mahmoud Abbas nor Prime Minister Haneya spoke to reporters, but mediator between the two, lawmaker Mustafa al-Barghouti told reporters that "the meeting is excellent and positive."
"It was agreed to resume contacts and meetings within the coming few days until all details and issues are agreed upon," said al-Barghouti, adding "the gaps were narrowed, but there are some details need to be discussed."
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Palestinians: Israel army ends Autumn Clouds operation in Gaza
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 05:55:09
GAZA, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- Palestinian security officials said on Monday night that the Israeli army announced that it had ended its Autumn Clouds military operation into northern Gaza Strip that started on Wednesday morning.
Palestinian witnesses in northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun said they saw tanks and armored vehicles moving out of the town, adding that the number of Israeli army vehicles were reduced as well.
Meanwhile, Palestinian hospital sources said on Monday evening that bodies of two militants were found near Gaza-Israel border in eastern Gaza Strip while the Israeli military operation continued.
The two militants were shot dead by the Israeli army in early morning, and the Palestinians only confirmed their death after the Israeli army allowed Palestinian ambulances to the area.
In the Autumn Clouds military operation, the biggest since Israel pulled out from Gaza and focused in northern Gaza, tanks and bulldozers, backed by helicopter gunships, rolled into Beit Hanoun and Palestinian communities near the borders in northern Gaza.
At least 56 Palestinians have so far been killed in the operation, which, starting on Wednesday last week, was part of an offensive unleashed in June following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militant groups.
The captors holding the Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit hostage in Gaza had threatened to kill Shalit if the Jewish state kept on striking the Palestinian territories.
Israeli officials had declared that the operation was aiming at halting Qassam rocket fire on southern Israel.
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Six Palestinians, including one woman, killed in several Gaza Strip areas
IMEMC & Agencies
07 November 2006
Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip reported that six Palestinians, including one woman, were killed in several incidents in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, at least five Palestinians were injured.
Palestinian medical sources reported on Tuesday afternoon that one resident was killed and four were injured when an Israeli fighter jet fired a missile at a group of resistance fighters near the American School in Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
The operation also caused massive destruction to private and public constructions.
The fighter was identified as Nader Abu Al Omaren, member of the Al Aqsa brigades, the armed wing of Fateh movement. Four Palestinians were injured, one seriously.
Earlier on Tuesday morning, three Palestinians were killed and several others were injured when the Israeli army shelled the house of Palestinian legislative Council member Jameela Al Shanti, east of the Jabalia refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip.
Eyewitnesses reported that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at the house of Al Shanti completely destroying it and killing three Palestinians, including one women. Al Shanty was not at home when her house was shelled.
The casualties were identified as Nahla Al Shanty, 40, and members of the Al Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas Mahmoud Abu Jabal, 23, and Abdul-Majeed Al Gharbawi, 40.
Al Shanty was one of the organizers of Last Friday's protest of women when dozens of women marched towards a mosque where dozens of fighters were surrounded by the army; the women managed to smuggle the fighters out of the mosque. Two women were killed and seven were injured when the army opened fire at them during the protest.
Also on Tuesday, two fighters of the Al Quds brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, were killed by Israeli military fire in Beit Lahia, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
Local sources reported that the fighters exchanged fire with under-cover units of the Israeli army who were topping on of the houses in the town.
The two fighters were identified as Hamdi Al Batsh, 21, from Beit Lahia, and Raed Mohammad Al Qarm, 22, from Al Shaty' refugee camp.
On Tuesday at dawn, Israeli forces evacuated from Beit Hanoun but remained stationed around it ending an operation Israeli called "Autumn Clouds". At least 59 Palestinians were killed and 250 - 300 were injured, 40 seriously; among the injured were children, women and elderly.
The operation also caused massive destruction to private and public constructions.
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Israeli Forces Complete Gaza Pullout
IMEMC & Agencies
07 November 2006
Israeli armed forces retreated from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip late Monday night, after a six day military operation aimed at Palestinian rocket launchers that has killed 53 Palestinians. Soldiers are still positioned in other parts of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli objectives were not entirely achieved as the military was unable to stop 36 homemade Qassam shells from making it into Israeli territory, lightly wounding three people.
An Israeli military spokesman commented, "We withdrew our forces from Beit Hanoun after having completed our mission," referring the rockets, anti-tank weapons, explosives and other weapons that had been confiscated during the operation.
The spokesman added, "Nine commandos who were preparing to launch rockets into Israeli territory were attacked by our forces. Dozens of suspects were also arrested for interrogation."
The military issued a statement, emphasizing it will "continue to act with determination in order to destroy terrorist organizations and terrorist infrastructure and in order to prevent and disrupt the launching of rockets at Israel."
Residents confirmed that the army withdrew to the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, close to the Gaza-Israel border late Monday night and into Tuesday morning. The operation destroyed much of Beit Hanoun's infrastructure and has been described as resembling an earthquake.
According to Ali Uda, a doctor at a hospital in Beit Hanoun, twenty-four tanks had been stationed around the hospital.
In a written plea to the UN Security Council Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for a mutual ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip monitored by UN observers.
Israel claimed that the offensive was part of the ongoing operation to recover captured soldier Gilad Shalit. For the life of one Israeli soldier, more than 300 Palestinians have been killed since July this summer. Fifty-two Palestinians, including 16 civilians, have been killed and more than 200 have been injured in six days.
Comment: The argument of "stopping q'assam rockets" could not be more ridiculous given that these primitive weapons have been shown to be almost entirely ineffective. The rockets are merely a plausible reason for the Israeli army to continue its oppression and systematic murder of Palestinian civilians.
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MPs denounce Zionists' crimes in Palestine
Tehran, Nov 6, IRNA
In a statement issued on Monday the members of Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) condemned the latest crimes committed by the Zionist regime in Palestine.
According to IRNA reporter, member of majlis presiding board Jahanbakhsh Mohebinia read the statement signed by 191 MPs in the public session on Monday.
The statement reads in part, "Once again the Zionist regime's brutal and ferocious nature was revealed and in an unbalanced battle field they dastardly assaulted the unsheltered women and children in the exalted and ever-lasting land of Palestine."
"The wicked Zionist regime under the auspices of the U.S.
government commits murder and infringement. The Palestinian innocent women and children along with their brave men will ultimately overthrow the Zionist regime and the world arrogant powers, just it was witnessed in heroic Lebanon," the statement read.
According to the statement, the parliamentarians while pronouncing their hatred toward the inhumane and cruel actions of the Zionists, declared that the future belongs to the oppressed Palestinian nation who will pave the ground to say victory prayers in the lofty occupied lands of Masjed al-Aqssa.
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Israel gearing up for war with Hizbullah
ZARIT, Israel: The Israeli military is preparing for a new conflict with Lebanon's Hizbullah militia if a truce that ended 34 days of war this summer does not hold, a top military commander said on Monday. "We are preparing for a second war," said Lieutenant Colonel Guy Hazoot, chief of the division responsible for the Israeli-Lebanese border.
"We are very optimistic, but on our side we must do everything to prepare for a worst scenario and we are readying for a scenario that Resolution 1701 will not succeed," he said, referring to the UN Security Council resolution that ended the fighting.
Hazoot was speaking to a group of reporters from the spot where Hizbullah seized two soldiers in July 12 cross-border raids that killed eight other servicemen and sparked Israel's massive assault on the Shia militia. "We will not give Hizbullah the opportunity to come back to these positions," he said, gesturing to Lebanese territory across the border. "We will do everything now to prevent Hizbullah from coming back and sitting on the border."
The liberal Haaretz daily on Monday wrote that according to military assessments, Hizbullah and Syria "are likely to start a war against Israel next summer" and "all preparations are being made to ensure maximum preparedness." Israel and the Shia militia fought a 34-day war that ended with a UN-brokered truce on August 14.
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NI: Ex-spy freed in murders probe
A former British agent who spied on the IRA was released without charge tonight after being questioned about two murders in Northern Ireland.
The 46-year-old from Newry, Co Down, who uses the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, had been questioned since last Wednesday about the 1990 murders.
He was detained in east London and flown to Belfast to be interrogated about the murders of Eoin Morley and Ranger Cyril Smith.
Detectives decided to question him after details of the murders were revealed in a new book which claimed Fulton worked undercover as an army agent within the Provisional IRA at the height of their terrorist campaign.
Fulton has been living away from Northern Ireland for several years after claiming he was ditched by his former military handlers.
He is currently seeking High Court compensation after alleging the army reneged on a deal to pay him.
He was quizzed about the murders of:
: Eoin Morley, 23, an ex-IRA man who joined a republican splinter group and who was dragged from his girlfriend's home in Newry in April 1990 and shot in a so-called punishment attack that apparently went wrong. His mother claimed he was the victim of an IRA vendetta against her late husband Davy, which went back to the time he was an IRA leader in the Maze Prison over 20 years previously.
:: Royal Irish Ranger Cyril Smith, 21, who was killed by an IRA bomb six months after Morley. He was blown up as he ran to alert other soldiers at a permanent vehicle checkpoint on the main Belfast-Dublin road close to the border outside Newry.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said the man arrested in South East England last Wednesday had been released without charge.
They did not say whether he had been taken back to England or left to make his own way home.
Comment: A British agent within the IRA murdering British soldiers...hmmm...things are never quite what they seem, it seems.
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Academic 'shocked' by collusion in loyalist murders'
US academic Professor Douglass Cassel today spoke of his shock at the extent of apparent security force collusion in loyalist paramilitary murders in the North.
A US academic today spoke of his shock at the extent of apparent security force collusion in loyalist paramilitary murders in the North.
University of Notre Dame human rights law Professor Douglass Cassel was commenting after an international investigation he headed uncovered considerable and credible evidence of British Army and police collusion in 74 sectarian murders during the 1970s.
Professor Cassel told PA at the Belfast presentation of the report: "Personally I was shocked.
"The British government has a reputation around the world as one of the leading democracies and one of the longest histories of the rule of law.
"To find this extent of collusion in murders in the 25 incidents we investigated was shocking."
The probe of 25 loyalist atrocities, carried out by a panel of human rights experts from around the world, found senior Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were aware and approved of collusion while officials in London had enough information to intervene.
The panel's report also called on the British government to appoint an independent inquiry to examine how high up the chain of command collusion went.
Professor Cassel told PA at the Belfast presentation of the report: "Personally I was shocked.
"The British government has a reputation around the world as one of the leading democracies and one of the longest histories of the rule of law.
"To find this extent of collusion in murders in the 25 incidents we investigated was shocking."
The panel was asked by the Derry-based human rights organisation the Pat Finucane Centre to investigate allegations of collusion in 25 loyalist attacks from October 1972 to February 1977 - most of which are linked to a loyalist gang known as the Glenanne group.
Among the incidents they investigated were the May 1974 Dublin Monaghan bombings which claimed 33 lives, the Miami Showband massacre in July 1975 during which three musicians and two members of the Ulster Volunteer Force gang died and the shooting of Catholic policeman Sergeant Joe Campbell in February 1977.
In only one case, the group was unable to reach a verdict on collusion because of conflicting accounts - the murder of 51-year-old driver James Marks and 78-year-old passenger Joseph Toland in a gun attack in Gilford, Co Armagh, on a minibus returning from bingo.
The panel also met members of three organisations representing republican victims of violence - Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, SAVER/NAVER, both in Markethill, Co Armagh, and the WAVE Trauma Centre in Belfast which caters for the victims of loyalist violence also.
Among the stories they heard were the murder of a woman in an acid and petrol bomb attack on a bus in Armagh in 1972, the shooting of a man pulled from a digger in Mullaghbawn as he cleaned drains on his farm, the killing of three UDR men when a lorry carrying a 1,000lb bomb rolled into their barracks at Glenanne in 1991 and a South Armagh farmer's account of the intimidation of Protestants who were driven from their land.
They also heard allegations by at least one former RUC man that An Garda Siochána was not co-operative in bringing to justice IRA fugitives who fled across the border.
While the panel's remit was to probe collusion in loyalist killings, Professor Cassel confirmed today: "There are some allegations we received of alleged failure of the Garda or the Irish authorities to properly co-operate with law enforcement in cases of violence against loyalists here in Northern Ireland.
"We will certainly be raising that with the Irish Government."
The report called for:
Investigations by an independent team into allegations of collusion in murders and attempted murders by loyalists, capable of identifying those involved, examining how high up the chain of command it went and focusing not just on RUC and UDR involvement but also British Army and intelligence agencies;
Investigations into murders carried out by republican groups;
Full co-operation by paramilitary groups on both sides with credible official investigations into collusion;
The publishing of the findings of all investigations, including those by the Historical Enquiries Team which currently plans only to share its findings with victims' families;
The state to acknowledge publicly its responsibility in sectarian killings where collusion is established, and
Public apologies from senior officials to the families of victims of collusion.
The international panel welcomed reforms introduced by the British government to investigate controversial murders, but they claimed they were still insufficient for getting to the heart of collusion cases.
The North's police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, they said, did not have the powers to investigate collusion involving members of the UDR.
The £30m (€44.75m) Historical Enquiries Team (HET), set up by Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable Hugh Orde, also fell short of international standards for investigations.
Professor Cassel revealed the investigation did not receive police documents which could have assisted the probe despite coming away from a June 2004 meeting with Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde, believing they would receive key documents.
Mr Orde, he said, informed them two months later instead that the documentation was being given to the HET's predecessor, the Serious Crime Review Team.
He said the drawback of the HET's investigation was that the HET was police-based and therefore when witnesses or perpetrators died off, areas of investigation were also closed down.
"The Historical Enquiries Team has been set up to examine all of the 3268 deaths which occurred as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1998," he said.
"To date it has engaged with over 200 families and are dealing with in excess of 750 questions which those families have asked it to answer in the course of investigations. Every case will be looked at thoroughly, impartially and professionally and where there are grounds for further investigation and prosecution appropriate action will be taken.
"I have said from the very beginning that the Historical Enquiries Team is only one part of the solution to the difficult and sensitive issues around Northern Ireland's recent history. I believe that a wider debate has to happen and a wider process is needed, however so far this team is the only piece of concrete work that is ongoing in relation to these issues and whilst I do not say it is the answer to every question it offers real answers to many, many, families who are deciding to engage with it.
"This particular panel did not meet with or consult directly with the Historical Enquiries Team, I would invite them to come and see for themselves how the investigations and work with the families are progressing."
Professor Cassel called on the British government to establish an independent investigation that was sufficiently broad to investigate the depth, strength and extent of collusion across the security forces.
He confirmed the panel would press for meetings with the British government at all levels to ensure the allegations they uncovered were taken seriously.
He also confirmed they had requested a meeting with the Irish government tomorrow after the report is presented in Dublin.
The panel would also request a meeting with the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights and would present the Council of Europe with a copy of the report.
Alan Brecknell, whose 32-year-old father Trevor was one of three people killed in a loyalist gun attack on Donnelly's Bar in Silverbridge Co Armagh in December 1975, welcomed the report.
"What is certainly important for our family is the acknowledgement from people of the standing of Douglass, Susie Kemp, Stephen Sawyer and Piers Pigou - people with a human rights background in South Africa, Guatemela, Sierra Leone, El Salvador - that they were able to take time out and come to listen to the families' stories in a humane, sympathetic way," he said at the launch.
"This report is a pressure point. It's someone else saying the British government really has questions to answer and should answer these questions.
"It is also heartening to hear Douglass saying he's going to the European Council of Ministers with this. That is a big thing for me to hear, to learn that there is not just going to be press launches of this report today and tomorrow.
"It's good to know that while we will be pushing for the truth from here, they will be pushing for it as well."
Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy, who attended the presentation, said the report lifted the lid on security force involvement in the attacks, producing irrefutable evidence.
"For many years Sinn Féin was a lone voice in exposing British state collusion with unionist paramilitaries," the Newry and Armagh MP said.
"We were vilified by the political and media establishment who dismissed claims of collusion as 'republican propaganda'.
"We have now been vindicated and will continue to stand with the families of those killed by the British state in their search for the truth.
"The British state is going to have to face up to its role in the systematic murder of more than 1,100 nationalists and republicans both directly and through their surrogates in the various unionist death squads."
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British "terrorist" planned mass carnage
A British al-Qaida terrorist was jailed for a minimum of 40 years today for plotting death and carnage on a "colossal and unprecedented" scale in massive atrocities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Muslim convert Dhiren Barot, 34, led a conspiracy to murder thousands of "wholly innocent men, women and children" in the United States and the UK and his plot was designed to strike "at the very heart of democracy and the security of the state".
The sentencing judge, Mr Justice Butterfield, added that if successful, Barot's murderous plans for a series of September 11-style synchronised terror attacks would have affected "thousands personally, millions indirectly and ultimately the whole nations of the US and the UK".
He jailed the former north London schoolboy for life at Woolwich Crown Court in London today and said he would have to serve at least 40 years in jail before being considered for release.
Mr Butterfield explained that, had he given Barot a determinate sentence he would have received 80 years, and that therefore his life tariff would be set at half that.
Barot, one of the most senior al Qaida terrorists ever captured by British security agencies in the War on Terror and a key lieutenant of the network's leading figures, sat impassively as the judge announced the massive jail term.
At the end of the sentencing, he simply picked up a bundle of papers before being led away by several court officers to begin his incarceration. The minimum 40-year tariff means Barot will be almost 75 by the time he is released.
His two-day sentencing hearing had heard how he prepared two terror atrocities in meticulous detail for the approval of his al Qaida "overlords". The first was to collapse five key financial institutions in Washington, New York and Newark, using explosives-packed limousines in underground car parks or by ramming oil tankers into them.
His second was aimed at Britain, and involved a repeat of the limousines plan, together with al Qaida's first ever dirty bomb, a gas attack on the Heathrow Express and a plot to blow up a Tube train under the Thames.
Mr Butterfield said it was clear that Barot's "chilling" plans were "no idle plot", but a "determined, sophisticated and deadly design" to murder thousands of innocent people.
Had he not been thwarted by the police and security services his plans would have resulted in a "terrible massacre" and brought "grief, bewilderment, devastation and anger" to those left behind to mourn, the judge said.
Thousands more would have been left "hideously injured", having to live their lives with disabilities, "their hopes and dreams for the future destroyed at your hands".
"This was no noble cause," Mr Butterfield told Barot. "Your plans were to bring indiscriminate carnage, bloodshed and butchery, first in Washington, New York and Newark, and thereafter the UK on a colossal and unprecedented scale.
"Your intention was not simply to cause damage, panic or fear. Your intention was to murder, but it went further. It was designed to strike at the very heart of democracy and the security of the state and if successful, would have affected thousands personally, millions indirectly and ultimately the whole nation of the US and the UK."
Mr Butterfield described Barot as a "dedicated and highly dangerous" individual who was highly intelligent and skilled in the "black arts" of terrorism.
His horrific terror plots were set out like "business plans, as if corporate reports going to head office". However, they were dealing not with a business proposition, the judge said, "they were concerned with murder, with the incalculable loss of blameless life."
The head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, described Barot as a "full time terrorist" whose plans could have killed hundreds, if not thousands.
"He was stopped before he could attack the British and American people," Mr Clarke said.
"As always our concern for public safety was paramount.
"For well over two years we have been unable to show the British public the reality of the threat they faced from this man. Now they can see for themselves the full horror of his plan."
Home Secretary John Reid said the "nature and severity" of Barot's sentence demonstrated that the terrorist threat was "very real and serious".
"His case highlights the extraordinary investigative work that is undertaken and shows the importance of ensuring that the police are provided with all the tools they need to counter the continuing threat," he said.
"We owe a tremendous debt to the police and intelligence agencies."
Comment: Ok, now that you have heard the official BS, read the next story for what this is really all about. That done, you may begin to be very worried about your future.
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British Security (government) links to murder plots revealed
Members of the RUC and UDR colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 74 murders in the 1970s, according to an international panel of legal experts.
The four-strong team examined 76 killings between 1972 and 1977 and said there was evidence of collusion in all but two of the cases.
It said some senior officers knew of the crimes but "failed to act to prevent or punish" those responsible.
The panel urged the British government to set up an independent investigation.
They also urged the authorities in the Irish Republic to investigate the claims made about their police.
In response to the report, Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team was set up to examine all of the 3,268 killings during the Troubles.
"This particular panel did not meet with or consult directly with the Historical Enquiries Team," Sir Hugh said.
"I would invite them to come and see for themselves how the investigations and work with the families are progressing.''
The report said: "Credible evidence indicates that superiors of violent, extremist officers and agents, at least within the RUC, were aware of their sectarian crimes, yet failed to act to prevent, investigate or punish them.
By 1975, senior officials were also informed that some RUC police officers were 'very close' to extremist paramilitaries
Law experts' report
"On the contrary, they allegedly made statements that appeared to condone participation in these crimes."
The panel was convened two years ago at the request of the Londonderry-based Pat Finucane Centre.
It examined 25 incidents on both sides of the Irish border, including:
The murder of 33 people in UVF bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974
The shooting of three members of the Miami Showband - Fran O'Toole, 29, Anthony Geraghty, 23, and Brian McCoy, 33, after a UVF gang posing as an Ulster Defence Regiment patrol flagged their bus down on 31 July 1975.
The killing of Patrick Connolly, 23, on 4 October 1972 in a grenade attack on his Portadown home by the Ulster Volunteer Force
The double murder by the UVF of Catholic Patrick Molloy, 46, and Protestant Jack Wylie, 49, in a bomb attack at Augenlig in County Armagh
The shooting dead of six men in separate UVF gun attacks on two families in County Armagh on 4 January 1976
The panel added: "As early as 1973, senior officials of the United Kingdom were put on notice of the danger - and indeed some of the facts - of sectarian violence by UDR soldiers using stolen UDR weapons and ammunition, and supported by UDR training and information.
"At least by 1975, senior officials were also informed that some RUC police officers were 'very close' to extremist paramilitaries."
The report also said there had been "allegations by at least one former RUC man that the Gardai, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, was not co-operative in bringing fugitives who fled across the border to justice".
The British government told the panel it would be inappropriate to comment as the murders are the subject of inquiries by a number of agencies.
These included the European Court of Human Rights, the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team, and the Police Ombudsman.
Copies of the 108-page report have been given to the British government and the Police Ombudsman's Office.
The independent panel who produced the report were: Professor Douglass Cassel of Notre Dame Law School in the US; Susie Kemp, an international lawyer based in The Hague; Piers Pigou - an investigator for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Stephen Sawyer of Northwestern University School of Law.
Last year, the Irish government said it was giving Tony Blair a final chance to aid an inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Irish premier Bertie Ahern said he may take a case to the European Court of Human Rights if Mr Blair did not hand over British government files on the bombings.
No-one was convicted of the bombings.
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Creating the Clash of Civilizations
Lebanese leaders resume "ice-breaking" talks amid debates
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 20:18:29
BEIRUT, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- Lebanon's top politicians resumed all-party talks on Tuesday to discuss the demand by Hezbollah guerillas and its allies for the formation of a national unity government.
The round-table talks kicked off on Monday amid an abyss between Hezbollah and the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority who threatened to stage mass protests.
After the Monday talks, Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who hosts the talks in central Beirut, said that the atmosphere at the first session had been positive.
The participants had succeeded in "breaking the ice" and agreed on a "media truce" to stop attacking each other by media reports. "It is necessary to reach a solution because we cannot stay in this situation. Everyone is keen to unite in order to resolve issues," Berri added.
All major political leaders attended the Tuesday's dialogue amid tight security, except for Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for safety reasons, who was represented by cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish as well as parliament members Mohammed Raad and Hussein Hajj Hassan.
Hezbollah is calling for the formation of a national unity government to "face up to the challenges with which Lebanon is confronted".
Nasrallah has said he wants his Shiite party, which has two ministers in the cabinet dominated by the ruling anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, and allies to comprise one-third of the cabinet. That effectively means that Hezbollah and its allies could veto key decisions.
A two-thirds vote in the cabinet is needed to pass decisions that are not made by consensus. A resignation of one-third of the cabinet automatically brings down the government. Nasrallah has threatened that if talks fail, Hezbollah would "go to the streets" to demand a unity government and call for early parliamentary elections.
In response to Nasrallah's warning, anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea said his camp was ready to stage counter-protests.
The dialogue, launched in early March, had been scheduled for July 25. But the outbreak of the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah conflict on July 12 has prevented the resumption of the talks. During the previous sessions, the political leaders failed to reach consensus on the future of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, a staunch Syrian supporter, and the disarmament of Hezbollah. Last year, there were bombings to target anti-Syrian figures and commercial centers in Christian areas, killing two prominent anti-Syrian journalists and a politician.
The largest explosion was in Feb. 2005, killing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in central Beirut. Anti-Syrian groups have accused Damascus of backing the bombings, an accusation denied by Syria which later was forced to withdraw its army from Lebanon.
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UN urges states to ban use of cluster bombs
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 18:52:08
GENEVA, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- The UN's top humanitarian official on Tuesday urged all countries to immediately ban the use of cluster bombs, which have had horrible impacts on civilians living in post-conflict areas.
"As a matter of urgency, I call on all states to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions," said Jan Egeland, UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
"This freeze is essential until the international community puts in place effective legal instruments to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use," Egeland said in a statement ahead of the convening of the Third Review Conference on the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva on Tuesday.
He said a protocol to the Convention on explosive remnants of war would take effect during the 10-day conference.
"I call upon all states to ratify and implement it (the protocol) in order to help us in the humanitarian community address the challenges posed by cluster munitions in post-conflict settings," he said.
In November 2003, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which brings together UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Bank and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), called for an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions.
While some progress has been made in the intervening years, these weapons have continued to be used with devastating effect, most recently in Lebanon and Israel by both sides to the conflict, Egeland said.
According to UN reports, the density of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon is higher than in Kosovo and Iraq, and denser in built-up areas.
Unexploded cluster munitions pose a constant threat to the return of some 200,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, to the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have returned to or remained in their homes and villages, and to the lives of humanitarian and reconstruction workers and peacekeeping personnel.
Lebanon is only the most recent of countries to be challenged by the legacy of unexploded cluster munitions.
Countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam continue to bear the burden of unexploded cluster munitions some 30 years after the end of conflict, impeding the safe cultivation of land and the development of infrastructure.
"Ultimately, as long as there is no effective ban, these weapons will continue to disproportionately affect civilians, maiming and killing women, children, and other vulnerable groups," Egeland said.
The states gathered for the Geneva conference should commit to immediately freeze the use of cluster munitions and strengthen existing international humanitarian law, he added.
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Saddam back on trial two days after death sentence
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | 5:15 AM ET
The Associated Press
Saddam Hussein returned to court in Baghdad Tuesday for his genocide trial, two days after another panel convicted him of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang.
Saddam, smiling faintly and dressed in a black suit with white shirt, found his way quietly to his seat among the other six defendants charged in the Operation Anfal crackdown against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.
The chief judge then convened the session and called the first witness, Qahar Khalil Mohammed.
On Sunday, another five-judge panel convicted Saddam in the deaths of nearly 150 Shia Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982.
He and two others were sentenced to death by hanging. Four co-defendants received lesser sentences and one was acquitted.
The Anfal trial will continue while an appeal in the Dujail case is underway. The prosecution says about 180,000 Kurds, most of them civilians, were killed in the crackdown in 1987-88.
On Tuesday, Mohammed told the court that he and other men from his village surrendered to Iraqi soldiers after being promised that Saddam had issued an amnesty for them.
Instead, the 33 men were lined up at the bottom of a hill and soldiers opened fire on them.
"When they fired in our direction, we all fell to the ground," he said.
Mohammed said he was wounded but survived and managed to get away.
"When I went back, I saw my father and two brothers had been killed, as well as 18 of my relatives," he testified.
On Monday, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case said a nine-judge appeals panel was expected to rule on Saddam's guilty verdict and death sentence by the middle of January. That could set in motion a possible execution by mid-February.
Iraqi authorities imposed a lockdown on Baghdad and surrounding provinces in anticipation of the Sunday verdict. Those measures were lifted Monday after a feared surge in violence failed to materialize, although there were pro-Saddam rallies throughout Sunni Muslim areas of the country.
Shias and Kurds, who suffered terribly under Saddam's rule, hailed the sentence as just.
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council - President Jalal Talabani and Vice-Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi - must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Talabani said Monday that although he opposes capital punishment, his signature is not needed to carry out Saddam's death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shia, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam's death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.
Al-Hashimi, the other vice-president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
"We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws - especially those related to Saddam," Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told AP.
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Withdrawal of US, UK forces will bring security to region: Elham
Tehran, Nov 7, IRNA
Security followed by widespread enjoyment of freedoms and a flourishing of cultures and civilizations in the Middle East will be possible only if US and British forces leave the region, said government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham.
Elham was speaking to reporters at his weekly press briefing in response to reports strongly urging the US to hold direct talks with Iran to settle the increasing violence in Iraq.
"The US should (first) settle the problem of its illegal presence in Iraq. Its presence in the country is completely illegal now that a popular government has been established and a constitution approved by the state," he said.
"Iraqis are a civilized people with a rich culture and political tradition," he added.
Alluding to the death sentence handed down Friday by an Iraqi court on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the spokesman recalled the US' support for Saddam Hussein during the decades when he committed the crimes against his people for which he was indicted.
"Washington had a role in Saddam's crimes," Elham said.
He said Iraq had no sophisticated problems which could not be solved.
"If the US withdraws from Iraq, the Iraqi people will manage their affairs."
He said the US needs to observe political and moral rules.
"Washington brought in soldiers to a region who are quite unfamiliar with its environment. These soldiers are at the service of arrogant US military officials."
The spokesman urged the US to compensate for its mistakes in Iraq and leave the country's affairs to its people.
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Britain is determined to protect its right to kill civilians at random
Tuesday November 7, 2006
The central mystery of the modern state is this. The necessary resources, both economic and political, will always be found for the purpose of terminating life. The project of preserving it will always struggle. When did you last see a soldier shaking a tin for a new rifle, or a sponsored marathon raising money for nuclear weapons? But we must beg and cajole each other for funds whenever a hospital wants a new dialysis machine. If the money and determination expended on waging war with Iraq had been used to tackle climate change, our carbon emissions would already be in free fall. If as much money were spent on foreign aid as on fighter planes, no one would ever go hungry.
When the state was run by warrior kings, this was comprehensible: they owed their existence to overwhelming force. Now weapons budgets and foreign wars are, if anything, an electoral liability. But the pattern has never been broken.
In Geneva today, at the new review of the conventional weapons treaty, the British government will be using the full force of its diplomacy to ensure that civilians continue to be killed, by blocking a ban on the use of cluster bombs. Sweden, supported by Austria, Mexico and New Zealand, has proposed a convention making their deployment illegal, like the Ottawa treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. But the UK, working with the US, China and Russia, has spent the past week trying to prevent negotiations from being opened. Perhaps this is unsurprising. Most of the cluster bombs dropped during the past 40 years have been delivered by Britain's two principal allies - the US and Israel - in the "war on terror". And the UK used hundreds of thousands of them during the two Gulf wars.
Cluster munitions are tiny bombs - generally about the size of a drinks can - packed inside bigger bombs or artillery shells. They scatter over several hectares and they are meant to be used to destroy tanks and planes and to wipe out anti-aircraft positions. There are two particular problems.
The first is that the bombs, being widely dispersed, cannot be accurately targeted. The second is that many of them don't detonate when they hit the ground. Officially, cluster bombs have a failure rate of between 5% and 7%. In reality it's much higher. Between 20% and 25% of the cluster munitions Nato forces dropped during the Kosovo conflict failed to go off when they landed. The failure rate of the bombs dropped by the US in Indochina was roughly 30%. Of the cluster bombs that Israel scattered over Lebanon, 40% did not detonate.
The unexploded bombs then sit and wait to be defused - leg by human leg. They are as devastating to civilian populations as landmines, or possibly worse, because far more of them have been dropped. Even 30 years or more after they land - as the people of Vietnam and Laos know - they can still be detonated by the slightest concussion.
A report published last week by the independent organisation Handicap International estimates that around 100,000 people have been killed or wounded by cluster bombs. Of the known casualties, 98% are civilians. Most of them are hit when farming, walking or clearing the rubble where their homes used to be. Many of the victims are children, partly because the bombs look like toys. Handicap's report tells terrible and heartbreaking stories of children finding these munitions and playing catch with them, or using them as boules or marbles. Those who survive are often blinded, lose limbs or suffer horrible abdominal injuries.
Among the case histories in the report is that of a family in Kosovo who went to swim in a lake a few kilometres from their village. One of the children, a six-year-old called Adnan, found a metal can on the bank and showed it to his family. It exploded. His father and older brother were killed and Adnan was gravely wounded. His sister later returned to the lake to collect the family's belongings, stepped on another Nato cluster bomb and was killed.
The economic effects of cluster bombs can also be deadly. Like landmines they put many agricultural areas out of bounds, because of the risk of detonating one while ploughing or harvesting. In some parts of Lebanon the fields have remained unharvested this year. Cluster bombs dropped on to the rubble of Lebanese towns have made reconstruction slow and dangerous.
The numbers of cluster bombs deployed are mind-boggling. The US air force released 19m over Cambodia, 70m in Vietnam and 208m in Laos. Over much shorter periods, the US and the UK dropped some 54m cluster bombs on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war and around 2m during the 2003 Iraq invasion. Israel scattered 4m cluster bombs over Lebanon during its latest invasion earlier this year, almost all of them during the final 72 hours. It looked like revenge, or an attempt (like its deliberate bombing of the Jiyeh power plant, causing a massive oil spill) to cripple Lebanon's economy. Since the invasion, more than two Lebanese civilians have been blown up by cluster bombs each day on average.
The only other nation which has used cluster bombs extensively since the second world war is Russia, which dropped large quantities in Afghanistan, and which scatters them in Chechnya, sometimes deliberately bombing market places and other civilian targets. Apart from that they've been deployed in small numbers by Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Serb forces, Hizbullah and warring factions in Tajikistan. What good company we keep.
These weapons are arguably already illegal. A protocol to the Geneva conventions prohibits attacks which "are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction" and "which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated". I think 98% would be a fair definition of "excessive".
But their deployment will continue until there is a specific treaty banning them. It's clear the US and UK governments know their use is wrong. Handicap International reports that the Coalition Provisional Authority (the administration set up by the US to govern Iraq in 2003) "strongly discouraged casualty data collection, especially in relation to cluster submunitions". During a debate in the House of Lords last month, the Foreign Office minister, Lord Triesman, made such a feeble show of justifying their use that you couldn't help suspecting he was batting for the other side. The only justification he could find was that, unlike landmines, cluster bombs are not intended to lie around undetonated.
Two days ago, a letter sent to the defence minister by the international development secretary, Hilary Benn, was leaked to the press. He argued that "cluster munitions have a very serious humanitarian impact, pushing at the boundaries of international humanitarian law. It is difficult then to see how we can hold so prominent a position against landmines, yet somehow continue to advocate that use of cluster munitions is acceptable."
But Benn appears to be alone. The foreign office maintains that "existing humanitarian law is sufficient for the conduct of military operations, including the use of cluster munitions, and no treaty is required". The government seems unable to break its habit of killing.
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Flashback: Abu Musa al-Hindi: Another Patsy Bites the Dust
October 13th 2006
In order to ramp up the fear and paranoia, we are told Dhiren Barot, also known as Abu Eisa al-Hindi or Abu Musa al-Hindi (noting his Hindu origin) and dozens of other aliases, moved freely between several countries, plotting mayhem and mass murder.
According to the Times of India, Barot is a "British Hindu convert to Islam of ethnic Indian origin" who has apparently admitted "plotting to detonate a radioactive 'dirty' bomb and other explosive devices to commit mass murder in Britain and the US," an unlikely attack designed "to contaminate hundreds of innocent people with radiation sickness and set off nationwide panic."
Barot was convicted "of conspiracy to murder in relation to a terrorist offence" in a British court on Thursday. "The conviction of Barot, who will be sentenced at a later date, is regarded by British police and security services as one of their most significant successes in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism."
Barot was not convicted of actually possessing radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals, explosives, etc., but rather for possessing a notebook describing these things.
"Barot was charged with possession of notebooks containing information on explosives, poisons, chemicals and related matters, and of a reconnaissance plan concerning the New York Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund, and the Citigroup building in New York," the Associated Press reported in August, 2004. "Following the Aug. 1 terror alert involving those buildings and the World Bank in Washington, the U.S. government acknowledged it had no evidence of plans for imminent attacks." Actual evidence, of course, matters not, as the point here is to scare the dickens out of the average idiot tube spectator, long inculcated with the idea villainous Muslims are out to get us because they hate our freedoms.
Once again, the ignored subtext here is that Dhiren Barot is yet another patsy in a long line of patsies.
It is said Barot was nabbed after Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (Abu Talha) was arrested in Pakistan. Khan is described as the "computer specialist" and, amusingly, "al-Qaeda's webmaster" (no doubt writing code in a cave), who, according to the London Times, was "sending messages for Osama bin Laden" (see Michel Chossudovsky, The Pakistani Connection: The London Bombers and "Al Qaeda's Webmaster"). After his arrest in July, 2004, Khan was flipped, that is to say he agreed to participate in a sting operation against his fellows, including Barot.
As it turns out, the data on Khan's computer-originally described as a treasure trove of valuable information detailing nefarious "al-Qaeda" mayhem and murder plans-was "outdated" and thus useless, although this did not stop the Bush administration from declaring a headline-grabbing "terror alert" with all of its attendant hoopla and corporate media generated fear of bad guys lurking in the shadows.
"One federal law enforcement source said his understanding from reviewing the reports was that the material predated Sept. 11 and included photos that can be obtained from brochures and some actual snapshots. There also were some interior diagrams that appear to be publicly available" (see previous link). In addition, according to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for the World Bank confirmed that the information regarding the Bretton Woods buildings on H Street NW in Washington DC was "largely out of date.... 'There was no information to suggest that they entered the building at all or got information from someone who was inside the building.' ... '[A] lot of it was actually public information that anyone from outside the building could have gotten."' In fact, as the New York Times revealed at the time, "the information, which officials said was indicative of preparations for a possible truck- or car-bomb attack, left significant gaps. It did not clearly describe the suspected plot, indicate when an attack was to take place nor did it describe the identities of people involved."
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, writing for Newsweek on January 24, 2005, noted that "departing A.G. took credit for tough actions that disrupted plots, 'significantly damaged' Al Qaeda and 'made it far more difficult' for the terrorists to operate."
Ashcroft's claims may be impossible to prove; some counterterror officials insist the original intel about a Qaeda plot was both hyped and misinterpreted. The real strike, it now appears, was being planned for Great Britain, not the United States. Still, the case of Qaeda sympathizer Mohammed Junaid Babar may have been a key part of the story. A 29-year-old former student at New York's St. John's University, Babar was tracked flying off last winter to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended what some analysts believe was a terror summit that included the notorious Qaeda pilot Adnan Shukrijumah and Dhiren Barot, the operative suspected of casing New York financial institutions a few years earlier. Justice officials say they learned of Babar's activities in part through a highly contentious method: monitoring his Internet use at a New York City public library, where he allegedly exchanged messages with Qaeda confederates abroad.
Thus we may conclude that Dhiren Barot's notebook, containing "outdated" information, "photos that can be obtained from brochures," and "interior diagrams that appear to be publicly available," is also useless and hardly constituted an imminent threat against hapless Americans or Brits.
But never mind. "In the London court on Thursday, Barot was portrayed by government prosecutors as a dangerously volatile person who sought to cause 'injury, fear, terror and chaos'. The prosecutors said Barot's plans for multiple explosions at iconic skyscrapers and key financial buildings in America, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup were 'designed to kill as many innocent people as possible.'"
Ludicrous plots, as usual, make for sensationalistic newspaper copy:
One of Barot's key plans was described as the Gas Limos project, the name actually given it by the accused man. The project envisaged committing mass murder by packing three stretch limousines with propane gas cylinders and explosives and detonating these giant 'car bombs' in office, shopping mall and hotel underground car parks. This project, planned over a four-year period by Barot from 2000, were meant to be a "synchronized" series of attacks across the UK, the court was told.
In the end, Barot will be convicted of "conspiracy to commit public nuisance" and "seven offences of making information records for terrorist purposes and four of possessing a record of information for terrorist purposes."
In other words, Barot will be sent up the river for thinking about terrorism and writing these feverish fantasies down in a notebook, not actually participating in a feasible terrorist plot. But then, since virtually all "al-Qaeda" terrorism is of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale caliber, and the American and British people are not threatened by the actuality of terrorism (short of state-sponsored terrorism), this makes perfect sense.
Finally, to put all of this into perspective, it should be noted that the hapless Barot "was publicly identified as having formerly fought alongside mujahedin forces in J&K and served as an instructor at an Afghan training camp. At the time, unnamed US authorities admitted they had known of his existence and connections to the highest levels of al-qaida for some time. In the past, Pakistani officials have described Barot as 'a veteran of the Islamic militant battle against Indian forces in Kashmir.'"
In other words, he worked for Pakistan's notorious ISI, essentially a CIA subcontractor. Even the usually reserved online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, describes the tight relationship between the two organizations. "A number of officers from the ISI's Covert Action Division received training in the US and many covert action experts of the CIA were attached to the ISI to guide it in its operations against the Soviet troops by using the Afghan Mujahideen, Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan and Arab volunteers."
Of course, these "Islamic fundamentalists" and "Arab volunteers" are now popularly known as "al-Qaeda."
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Science on the March!
White House again accused of distorting science
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
THE Bush administration again finds itself accused of distorting science for political ends. Documents released this week show that a high-ranking political appointee within the US Department of the Interior watered down biologists' reports that called for certain rare species to be given federal protection.
Biologists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prepared a report arguing that Gunnison sage grouse be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald - an engineer by training - edited out much of the scientific evidence supporting the recommendation. The FWS then decided not to list the grouse, in part because of a lack of evidence.
Email records also show that MacDonald instructed FWS biologists to recommend against listing the Gunnison prairie dog. A draft report stating that it faced serious threat from sylvatic plague was then altered to read that there was not sufficient evidence of that threat - though no information was offered to justify this change. The documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by conservation groups.
The Interior Department says MacDonald was simply pointing out where biologists' evidence was weak. However, Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity programme at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists says her actions are part of a culture of suppressing inconvenient scientific results.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 6
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SIDS deaths linked to brain defect
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
STRUCTURAL abnormalities in a baby's brainstem may lie behind around half the cases of sudden infant death syndrome.
Hannah Kinney and David Paterson at the Children's Hospital Boston examined the brains of 31 infants who had died of SIDS and compared them with the brains of 10 infants who had died of other causes. They found abnormalities in the medulla, the part of the brainstem that regulates breathing, blood pressure, body heat and arousal. SIDS babies had more of the neurons that release serotonin, but fewer receptors for the neurotransmitter.
Kinney has previously recorded low numbers of serotonin receptors in around 50 per cent of SIDS babies, while studies in mice have shown that "pacemaker" cells in the medulla, which prompt gasping and recovery, don't fire when serotonin is taken away (New Scientist, 18 March, p 21).
"It might be that a defect in the medulla's serotonin system is inhibiting a baby's ability to gasp," says Paterson. Only further tests will establish whether pacemaker cells are simply not responding to serotonin, or whether the ability of neurons to release it is turned off, he says.
No one yet knows what causes these abnormalities in infants' brains, although Paterson suspects they begin early in fetal development and are down to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as the mother smoking or drinking.
SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants under one year in the US, affecting around 0.67 in every 1000 live births. According to the "triple risk hypothesis", proposed by Kinney in 1994, a baby who is at risk of SIDS has some genetic or inborn susceptibility, is at a vulnerable stage of development at around six months and is exposed to one or more external stress factors such as infection, a lack of oxygen or overheating.
A serotonin defect would fall into the first category, says Kinney, adding that the first six months are risky time for babies because they have to adjust to breathing on their own and maintaining their blood pressure.
"If the baby is then put through additional stresses such as overheating and overbundling and it is unable to meet those challenges then it may die," she says. Around 65 per cent of the SIDS infants in the study had been sleeping on their stomach or side - a known risk factor for SIDS.
George Haycock, scientific director of UK-based research organisation the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, says the new findings are important and unlikely to be due to chance. "However, I doubt that this is the only inherited or non-modifiable risk factor," he says. Other studies have shown differences in genes for immune system signalling molecules and a growth factor critical for lung development in SIDS babies, for example.
Paterson agrees that brainstem abnormalities may be involved in around 50 per cent of SIDS cases, but adds, "There are definitely other factors causing it as well."
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 12
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Elephants recognise their mirror image
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
APES do it, we do it... and so, it seems, do elephants. They can recognise themselves in a mirror, passing a test of self-awareness that is failed even by most of our primate relatives.
Until recently, this ability was thought to be the exclusive preserve of humans and great apes. Then in 2001, Diana Reiss of Columbia University in New York showed that dolphins tended to position themselves to view a mark on their bodies that would not otherwise be visible, showing that they too could recognise their own reflections.
Like humans and apes, dolphins are highly social animals with large brains, and seem to show empathy towards one another. So Reiss turned her attention to another large-brained and apparently empathetic species - the Asian elephant. Teaming up with Frans de Waal and Joshua Plotnik of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Reiss presented three elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York City with a mirror. They began inspecting themselves with their trunks while staring at their reflections, and one repeatedly touched a mark painted onto its head (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0608062103).
A previous attempt to investigate self-recognition failed, apparently because the mirrors used were too small. "Elephants don't have the best eyesight," de Waal says. "It's important that the mirror is the size of an elephant and is accessible."
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 17
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Going to Mars? Don't forget to pack gravity
New Scientist Print Edition
03 November 2006
Floating around in microgravity inside a spacecraft might look like fun, but it can do nasty things to your body. With the current enthusiasm for crewed space flight and particularly NASA's plan to send astronauts to Mars, there is a need to find ways to counteract the damaging effects of a lack of gravity.
Without Earth's gravity, astronauts lose their hand-eye coordination and as the days go by they suffer a steady loss of red blood cells and deterioration of bones and muscle, including the heart.
Back on Earth it can take weeks for an astronaut to re-adapt to terrestrial gravity, and they risk broken bones and torn muscles for much longer. "The body tries to adapt itself to a free-fall environment, and this creates enormous problems on return to gravity," says Kevin Fong of the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College London.
This could be a huge problem if NASA decides to go ahead with its planned trip to Mars. Existing proposals for a "bank robbery" mission, in which a spacecraft would fly there and back as quickly as possible, would take six months each way. After such a spell in microgravity, astronauts could find themselves landing on the Martian surface in dire physical shape. The techniques so far developed to try to limit this deterioration, including subjecting astronauts to rigorous exercise in orbit strapped to a treadmill or cycling machine with elastic bungees, have all proved ineffective.
The answer, space scientists increasingly believe, is to create artificial gravity in orbit. "We'll be taking our own air, food, heat and light to Mars. Why not just take gravity along with us as well?" says Fong.
Gravity can be simulated using a rotating body, which produces a centripetal force. The idea was first proposed in 1911, when space-travel pioneers envisioned a large spinning doughnut-shaped section of a spacecraft that would provide a gravity-equipped habitat for astronauts. Among alternative designs was a large centrifuge created by two rotating crew habitats on each end of a long boom - rather like a spinning baton - jutting out horizontally from the centre of the spacecraft. Work, exercise or recreational time spent in such centrifuges would greatly reduce the physical deterioration of astronauts on a trip to Mars.
The problem is that spinning spacecraft modules are not practical at present. Since the force generated by such a module depends on its radius and how fast it rotates, it would have to be well over 100 metres across, or roughly the size of the London Eye, to create the same gravity as Earth while spinning at a reasonably gentle few rotations per minute. Artificial gravity systems would also generate a number of other disorientating sensations and illusions (see "Light head, heavy feet").
Far more feasible in engineering terms would be to create a small centrifuge that spins at high speed within the main body of the spacecraft. That's what Bill Paloski, a neuroscientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is investigating. He is carrying out a study in which volunteers spend three weeks lying in a bed with their head lower than their feet, to recreate some of the damaging effects of weightlessness. Half of the people are taken to a centrifuge and spun for an hour a day to create an artificial gravity of 2.5 g at their feet, decreasing to about 0.7 g at their head.
"We're seeing what benefits artificial gravity brings to the body as a whole, looking at everything from muscle and bone strength to heart function, levels of stress hormones and aerobic fitness," says Paloski. The early results are encouraging, he says, and he hopes to be able to publish them next year.
Small centrifuges have a major drawback, however. A centrifuge around 6 metres across - small enough to be reasonably accommodated inside a space station or spacecraft - would have to spin at up to 30 rotations per minute to generate Earth gravity at an astronaut's feet. This is enough to cause severe motion sickness. To prevent astronauts being crippled by these effects, teams are concentrating on developing spinning gyms rather than living or working quarters where astronauts would be free to walk around.
Vincent Caiozzo, an orthopaedics specialist at the University of California, Irvine and his team have built a short-arm centrifuge called the Space Cycle. One astronaut sits on a suspended bicycle-like device, opposite which hangs a cage containing another astronaut, and both are attached to a central pole to form a centrifuge. By pedalling the cycle, the astronaut makes the centrifuge spin, swinging the bike and platform outwards. The device not only provides a strenuous cardiovascular workout for the pedal-pusher, but also generates artificial gravity for both. The astronaut in the cage can then exercise and keep their muscles toned. "Squats are particularly good, as they target the large muscles worst hit by weightlessness, in the legs and lower back," says Caiozzo.
The team has also been experimenting with the possibility of boosting the dosage of artificial gravity, spinning faster in order to provide the same physical protection from shorter gym sessions. "We've had some subjects doing squats straining against three times terrestrial gravity," says Caiozzo. Paloski is also interested in the prospect of using hypergravity, but warns that there is a lot of work still to be done on how this might work best.
For a start, hypergravity means spinning the centrifuge at a nausea-inducing 40 rotations per minute. However, Paloski has shown that by keeping their heads still, people can largely avoid motion sickness, even while performing gentle squats.
Also designing an artificial gravity gym is Larry Young at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His gym will have a cycle on one arm and a cage containing a treadmill on the other. He believes astronauts can adapt to artificial gravity. "Virtually anyone can adapt to head movements at very high centrifuge rotations within just a few sessions," he says.
The trick, Young says, is to train the brain by making repeated movements in artificial gravity and progressively increasing the rotation rate. "The brain learns sensory-motor programmes appropriate for each gravity environment and simply loads up the one required at the time," he says. "It is much like the experience with new spectacles as your brain learns how to make head movements without causing motion sickness."
So not only should astronauts be able to move around on the centrifuge without crippling nausea, just as importantly they can also hop off again with no after-effects. This should mean that ultimately living and working quarters might not be out of the question.
So will astronauts be able to cope with a trip to Mars? More work needs to be done on the effects of long-term exposure to centrifuging, Paloski says. To start to address this, Young's team is set to launch the Mars Gravity Biosatellite into near-Earth orbit in 2010. In it, mice will be spun for over a month inside a small centrifuge to recreate the partial gravity of Mars, which is around a third that of Earth.
If the research proves successful, astronauts could take a spin in the gym once a day, and return from Mars as fresh as they went out. "Ultimately, we might prescribe gravity like a drug, with astronauts taking a couple of doses a day," says Paloski.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 03 November 2006, page 30-31
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Tressed to impress: Our love affair with hair
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
"GET back upstairs and brush your hair before you go to school. You look like some kind of caveman!" Is this a familiar refrain from your youth? If so, perhaps you raged at the injustice of being born into a species with such unruly tresses, wondering why we have hair that needs so much cutting and combing to keep it in check Maybe, in those far-off, pre-Google days, you went to the library to find out more. You would have discovered that, with the exception of the musk ox, humans are the only mammals with almost continuously growing hair. You probably would have wondered why, and after a further search of the shelves you would have been frustrated to discover that nobody had an answer. How times have changed.
The past couple of years have seen growing interest in the science of human head hair. It began with the publication of a short article in Evolutionary Anthropology by Arthur Neufeld, a physiologist at Northwestern University in Chicago and anthropologist Glenn Conroy from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri (vol 13, p 89). They pointed out that while the fur of other mammals just grows to the required length and then stops, the hairs on our heads stick around for years getting longer and longer. "Have you ever seen a chimpanzee getting a haircut?" they asked. "For that matter, have you ever seen any furry mammal (aside from certain competitive canine contestants) in need of tonsorial grooming?" Of course not. So why then have humans evolved this unique adaptation of almost continuously growing head hair, was the question they posed in their article. "The response was enormous," recalls Neufeld.
This much we know. Our hair comes in two types: terminal hair, which occurs on the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes, and the usually softer vellus hair, which is found everywhere else. Via complex mechanisms of hormonal control, these two give rise to the nine or ten varieties of hair adults have, from pubic and underarm hair to beards. Whether it's glossy shoulder-swishing locks or the tiniest toe-hair, it all grows at the same rate - about 1 to 1.5 centimetres a month - with only a very short dormant spell before it drops out. What differs is the lifetime of the hair on different parts of the body, and this is what determines its maximum length. Leg hairs, for example, last around two months, armpit hairs left to their own devices make it to six months, but head hairs grow nonstop for six years or more.
Things get more uncertain when it comes to exactly how hair growth is regulated. We have yet to untangle the details, but there are probably hundreds of genes involved and we do know that even a single mutation can have a big effect. Angora mice, for example, owe their long hair to a single mutation in FGF5, a gene that codes for a protein involved in halting growth of the hair shaft. Neufeld and Conroy wondered whether human head hair might also keep growing because it has become insensitive to growth inhibitory factors produced by FGF5 or similar genes.
Another possibly lies with the 10 main genes for the keratin from which our hair is constructed. The duo point out that nine of these are almost identical in humans, chimps and gorillas, but the tenth, phi-hHaA, is notably different. In the other primates it codes for a protein, whereas in humans it is a pseudogene - it is transcribed into RNA but no protein is ever synthesised (Human Genetics, vol 108, p 37). Helmelita Winter of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, who reported this finding in 2001, has also calculated that the mutation responsible for this change occurred some 240,000 years ago. "Is that when humans acquired head hair that continues to grow?" ask Conroy and Neufeld.
Bernard Thierry from the French national research agency CNRS in Paris thinks it could be. He points out that 240,000 years ago is also when our ancestors started burning fires in hearths (Evolutionary Anthropology, vol 14, p 5). "Cultural evolution first provided an environment with new selective pressures, then genetic mutations were sorted out," he says. In other words, he believes the driving force of change was culture. It was only after our ancestors invented ways to keep warm without being covered in fur that their hair could become adapted to serve new functions.
There are several good reasons to become less furry. One is that it would have helped fight disease, since fur is a prime habitat for parasites. Another is that it was important for thermoregulation, allowing our ancestors to sweat more efficiently following their move from a forest habitat onto the hot savannah. Some even believe it was an adaptation to a more aquatic phase in our history. Darwin, of course, had an explanation, suggesting that sexual selection was the key: the least hairy of our ancestors were considered the most attractive and so produced more offspring, making the species progressively less hirsute.
But none of this explains why the hair on our heads should have evolved in the opposite direction - something that would have been very costly in terms of the energy needed to make it and to keep it free of parasites. Surely there must have been a payoff?
The idea now emerging is that, precisely because our head hair needs so much care, it makes a perfect billboard upon which individuals can advertise their social standing. Good grooming is a social enterprise, and so shows you are part of the in-crowd, that you have friends and the social skills to keep them. If this is correct, then the corollary is clear:head hair grows simply to be cut and coiffed.
You scratch my head
"It makes so much sense," says Alison Jolly, a primatologist from the University of Sussex, UK, who was one of the first to respond to the original paper (Evolutionary Anthropology, vol 14, p 5). "Neat hair shows someone likes you enough to do the bits around the back." She takes the idea a step further. "You must not only be good enough and skilled enough literally to have time on your hands, but also dexterous enough not to make a hash of this delicate operation." So good grooming also requires reciprocity - to trust and to be trusted. This might explain why long, lank, unkempt locks are traditionally the mark of the outcast, the lunatic and the social pariah.
That seems like an awful lot to deduce from a few strands of coiled keratin. "Yes, but primates have done this for a long time," says Jolly, pointing out that grooming is the glue of primate societies. "Many primates have quite complex natural hairstyles that show the individual's health and social status, as well as telling everyone what species they are," says Jolly. She reels off a list of the well-groomed that includes African baboons (magnificent manes), Amazonian cotton-top tamarins (near-punk head-tufts), the emperor tamarin (imperial moustaches) and India's lion-tailed macaque (general chic elegance).
Of course, humans do not need hairstyles to distinguish them from closely related species; since the Neanderthals died out around 24,000 years ago, there haven't been any. Nevertheless, throughout the ages and across cultures, we have used hairstyles to signify membership of particular groups:think Roundheads, punks and Rastafarians. Thierry believes that for our prehistoric ancestors, hair care was not simply a matter of individual belonging but was also about group identity. This notion is clearly very important in tribal societies, he says, pointing to the example of 5300-year-old Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Italian Alps in 1991, whose tribal marks included 57 tattoos - although his hairstyle is unknown. Another example reported earlier this year is the 2300-year-old Cloneycavan Man discovered in a bog in County Meath, Ireland, who was apparently wearing gel to make his hair stand on end.
Thierry believes hairdos have acted as gang membership badges since the evolution of modern humans, around 200,000 years ago. That fits broadly with the timing of the phi-hHaA mutation. Unfortunately there are no fossilised topknots to clinch the argument, and the earliest known combs date back barely 8000 years, but some of the most ancient human figurines do have dressed hair. The 23,000-year-old Willendorf Venus is one. Her creator may have given her no facial features, but she did get a complex hairdo. Similarly the oldest known three-dimensional representation of a person, the 25,000-year-old Brassempouy Lady, an ivory statuette from Aquitane in France, has elegant shoulder-length hair.
Undoubtedly it is a big leap back in time from these cultural artefacts to the dawn of our species. Yet despite the lack of older archaeological evidence, many experts believe our ancestors were braiding hair far further back even than this. By looking at genetic variation in the MC1R gene, which is associated with skin coloration, Alan Rogers from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City concludes that we became furless around 1.7 million years ago (Current Anthropology, vol 45, p 105). Around this time Homo erectus was living on the hot savannah, so this fits with the idea that furlessness is an adaptation to allow better thermoregulation. The heads of these bipeds would have been disproportionately exposed to the sun, and long head hair would have been an effective sunshade. While there is no way of knowing whether the crowning glory of Homo erectus was primped and plaited, the fossil evidence does at least suggest that, even this far back, our ancestors had the dexterity for the job.
So where does that leave the grubby, hirsute caveman of popular imagination? The very fact that we have this image is evidence of hair's cultural importance, says New York-based anthropologist Judith Berman-Kohn. It dates from the late 19th century, she says, when the notion of what it was to be human and civilised was threatened on many fronts - by the discovery of the first Neanderthal remains, the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the American civil war and the spread of European imperialism. The hairy, unkempt cavemen depicted by artists such as Charles R. Knight and Fernand Cormon were not based on fact but reflected the influences of their time. "Hair was both a medium and a metaphor," Berman-Kohn says.
Today we know a lot more about how our cave-dwelling ancestors would have lived. They would certainly have had the time to beautify their hair. "Tribal societies are efficient. Hunting and gathering take up only so much time. There are many hours left over for socialisation," says Thierry. They clearly also had a developed aesthetic. "Even the earliest and most mundane artefacts we have seem to have been made with a feeling for style. I see no reason why, even in cultures with few material goods, hair ornamentation should not have been important," he adds.
And if some people were better at it than others, they would surely have been in demand. The unmistakable conclusion is that, along with warrior and prostitute, one of the oldest professions was probably hairdresser.
Adrian Barnett is a primatologist at Roehampton University in London. The name is his own, not a pseudonym adopted for this article
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 39-41
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Born to die?
6 Nov 06
In comments made to the UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said that doctors should debate the use of "active euthanasia" for extremely sick premature babies. This type of "mercy killing", as some have called it, could spare parents great suffering and the financial burdens of raising a severely ill and disabled child.
In at least one European country, the Netherlands, euthanasia is permitted as treatment for gravely ill premature infants. Although this practice is illegal in Britain, the RCOG has recommended a discussion of this option as the Nuffield Council conducts an inquiry into "the ethics of prolonging life in foetuses and the newborn".
The British Council of Disabled People has slammed the RCOG's recommendations. I also wonder: since when was it OK to end the life of a child because of the financial burden that he or she will impose on the family - or the state? And I also am curious why clinicians would end the life of an infant instead of managing its pain as much as humanly possible. I can understand where some parents may not want doctors to resuscitate their dying child. But "active" euthanasia strikes me as going a bit too far.
All this said, though, I am struck most by the nature of this discussion itself. While the British public debates active euthanasia for premature infants, people here in the US argue over the morality of abortion. These discussions on terminating a pregnancy or euthanising the just-born clearly highlight the cultural differences between the two countries. I've yet to see "active euthanasia" for infants listed as a decisive issue in any mid-term election here in the states.
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The Chinese connection
Nov. 4, 2006. 01:00 AM
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
New discoveries from Asia suggest the Dead Sea Scrolls may not be as old as we think
The Dead Sea Scrolls have been guarded for 60 years like crown jewels, the possessions of a scholarly elite who were challenged only in the past decade to bring the scrolls to the public. Now, there is accumulating and compelling evidence that these supposedly ancient texts are medieval at best and have a connection with China.
That connection is raising questions about the manuscripts' true dating, origin and possible authenticity.
The scrolls were first discovered in a cave in Jordan's Qumran region near the Dead Sea in 1947. By 1956, archaeologists and Arab treasure hunters found 10 more caves at Qumran that held mostly fragments of some 800 manuscripts, commonly thought to have been written between 200 BC and AD 25.
Soon after the scrolls' discovery, a scholarly debate broke out over whether the writings were indeed pre-Christian, with many respected scholars arguing that the texts were much more recent.
Today, a growing number of scholars doubt the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect at Qumran but think they actually originated elsewhere. No one, however, has pointed to Asia, where new information has turned up, including a possibly new scroll called the Moshe Leah Scroll from China.
In 1991, I wrote articles for the Washington Post and Boston Herald about the idea that a number of previously undeciphered markings in the margins of two Dead Sea Scrolls were Chinese. Victor Mair, graduate chairman of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that the Chinese character ti, which was found on the Dead Sea Scrolls, meant "god, divine king, deceased king, emperor."
Word of Chinese characters in the scrolls triggered an interesting chain of events.
Early in 1992, Leo Gabow, then president of the Sino-Judaic Institute in California, sent me an August 1987 copy of his institute's journal, Points East, by which I came to know of Moshe Leah.
In the journal, Gabow wrote: "In July of 1983, a curious article appeared in the Israeli newspaper Maariv ... 'A Jew Looking for Correspondents.' His name is Moshe Leah. He is 35 years old. ... His occupation: clerk in a printing company. He lives in Taiwan. ..."
Leah told Gabow his mother had told him that their ancestors "came to China from a land where they were deported to by their enemy. And a King of Babylon defeated our enemy ... and allowed Jews to return to Israel (516 BC), but our ancestor ... came to the Orient for the deal of tea and ivory with the tribes of Hsiung-nu (who dominated Central Asia at the time)."
Gabow also said that Leah "mentioned that his mother previously owned two ancient Hebrew scrolls that had been destroyed by a leaky roof. One scroll dealt with 'Moshe's Law of the Book of Geshayeher,' possibly Isaiah, and the other scroll exalted human 'virtues' in Chinese style (in Hebrew script)."
During the course of their correspondence, Gabow received two photos of Leah looking at the scrolls. The first photo was "of poor quality and the letters ... difficult to identify even with a magnifying glass. Photo number two (shown left) however, had considerably more clarity," Gabow wrote in the Points East article. Speculation immediately arose as to whether the language of the scroll in the photo could be Judeo-Persian or Judeo-Chinese or even Aramaic, Gabow wrote.
Through the years, Gabow contacted other scholars connected with the Sino-Judaic Institute to help unravel the mystery of the Moshe Leah Scroll. According to Gabow's article in Points East, Michael Pollak, vice-president of the Sino-Judaic Institute and a leading expert on Chinese Jewry, was the first to make a breakthrough.
"This I am sure of," Pollak wrote in a report cited by Gabow: "The lettering is Hebrew and is in Chinese calligraphic style. Especially the long, giraffe-like lamed."
Besides finding Aramaic words mixed with the Hebrew on the Moshe Leah Scroll, Rabbi Nathan Bernstein of La Habra, Calif., was also the first to think that the section of the scroll shown in the second Leah photo was from the Book of Isaiah, and other paleographers identified the text as Isaiah 38:8-40.
But interestingly, the Qumran Isaiah Scroll has no Aramaic in those chapters, indicating that the Moshe Leah Scroll was not a copy of a Qumran scroll.
Rabbi Emanual Silver, curator of the Hebrew section of the British Library, department of Oriental Manuscripts, saw the similarities, and Gabow says Silver wrote, "Anybody slightly acquainted with the Dead Sea Scrolls will notice at a glance the overall similarity of the hand that wrote the Moshe Leah Scrolls to that of certain documents of the Dead Sea caves, and anyone a little familiar with the Dead Sea texts will be struck by the resemblances in orthography."
Gabow wrote, "For the first time the Moshe Leah 'Isaiah Scroll' is associated with Dead Sea texts" because of the similar style of writing.
Gabow later sent me the photos of Leah holding the scrolls.
Gabow also sent me texts in Hebrew from China. In one, known as the Genesis Manuscript (1489-1679) from the Kaifeng Synagogue, the mems (Hebrew "m") were also like those in the Dead Sea's Isaiah Scroll and the Moshe Leah Scroll.
More important, Gabow enclosed a copy of the Khotan text, a business letter written on paper that came from Chinese Central Asia and had been dated from the 8th century. It had numerous Hebrew letters matching those in Dead Sea texts: the unique wishbone-shape gimels, diamond-shaped kophs, S-shaped nuns, giraffe-neck lameds and mems.
If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Christ's time and then buried in caves until the 20th century, how could the same script show up in China in the 8th century - or even later?
These paleographic details provide some solid evidence about the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dating them not in antiquity but in the Middle Ages, at the earliest, explains the connection to medieval texts, as well as unusual things like the Chinese symbol for God in the Isaiah Scroll. University of Pennsylvania's Mair dated this character, which also appears in The Order of the Community, another Dead Sea Scroll, no earlier than AD 100 and perhaps 700 years or more later.
Donald Daniel Leslie, an Australian sinologist and leading expert in Kaifeng Jewry, agreed with Mair's dating and wrote in Points East that it's unlikely the Jews and the Chinese knew much, if anything, about each other before the time of Jesus. Leslie wrote that "there is no hint in Western sources of any knowledge of the Chinese language or writing until perhaps a thousand years later."
In later scholarly reports, Bruce Brooks, research professor of Chinese and director of an international group of sinologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, confirmed Mair's findings and other possible Chinese characters on some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
These Chinese connections, especially the symbol for God dating after Christ, and the fact that the characters are native to the Chinese Central Asian area, begin to explain the time frame of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their possible place of origin. Mair identified Chinese Central Asia as the area from which the Chinese symbol for God in the scrolls came.
When a text such as the Moshe Leah scroll shows up in China, the Asian connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls is no longer strange.
This new scroll would have perhaps come to light sooner had Gabow accepted Pollak's assessment that "it would be wiser to conclude that the Moshe Leah scrolls were very old family heirlooms."
Pollak's article on the Moshe Leah Scroll, in a January 1987 addendum in Points East, called for a reassessment of the writing and spelling styles of surviving medieval Hebrew manuscripts from Kaifeng. His conclusion is that "the possibility of a Dead Sea tie-in to these texts seems never to have been suspected in the past. That possibility ... now demands investigation."
Scholars still disagree about the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and research remains to be done, but all the scholars I have contacted have come to the same conclusion, that the Moshe Leah Scroll is not a forgery, nor is it based on Polish scholar Josef Milik's copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It would be in the best interest of the scholars who believe in the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls to discredit the Moshe Leah Scroll because of its striking paleographic similarities to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
If those scholars acknowledge it as authentic, however, the obvious conclusion would be that the Dead Sea Scrolls would have to be dated in the medieval era - after A.D. 500 - at the earliest, and the myth of the Dead Sea Scrolls' antiquity will have run its course.
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Climate change - we have been warned
New Scientist Print Edition
4 November 06
"The language of economics carries a lot more clout than talk of global temperature change and ocean circulation"
CLIMATE change used to be a scientific issue, the preserve of labs and learned conferences. No longer. It has become a major economic and political one, and not before time. Confining discussion about climate change to the language of science has for some time been holding back public debate and political action.
Two recent events have contributed to this shift. Last week, the British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett sought to redefine climate change as a global security issue. She argued that changing weather systems lie behind the conflict in Darfur in Sudan, where they are causing pastoralists and farmers to fight over any land where rain falls. "There will be more Darfurs," she warned. Then this week came the Stern report. A former chief economist at the World Bank, Nicholas Stern has produced the first detailed analysis of the impact of climate change and efforts to address it on the global economy (see "Low carbon now").
Stern makes no claim to be advancing climate science: he takes the scientific background off the shelf. His concern is economics, and this means he talks in terms that politicians - and the public - understand. He sees climate change as threatening an economic crisis that would cut living standards by 20 per cent and plunge the world into a recession worse than that of the 1930s.
This carries a lot more clout than talk of global temperature change, ocean circulation and atmospheric composition. Disappointing as it may be to the many scientists who have done their damnedest to get the case across about the urgency of tackling global warming, the fact is that they have largely failed. Most politicians are more attuned to economics than to science, and Stern has gone for the political jugular.
His report, commissioned by the British government, has also demolished the argument of some economists that it is better to adapt to warming than try to halt it. He points out that the economic damage from climate change in this century alone could be 20 times the cost of solving it for all time. "Economically speaking, mitigation is a very good deal," Stern said when launching the report at the Royal Society in London on Monday. As Michael Grubb of Imperial College London put it: "The Stern review finally closes a chasm that has existed for 15 years between the precautionary concerns of scientists and the cost-benefit views of many economists."
Stern even manages to offer a good-news story to combat those who, with supreme selfishness, characterise his report as a blueprint for higher taxes. While there are undoubtedly short-term costs in halting soaring emissions of greenhouse gases, there are also gains - in new jobs, new technologies and new industries. By pulling the right economic levers, the world can combine the pursuit of a low-carbon economy with the pursuit of profit, something many leaders in the UK and elsewhere have already pointed out (see interview with Tony Blair on "'If I see creationism becoming mainstream ... that's when to worry'").
So if you accept the science, and you accept the economics - and by now, let's face it, everyone should - the question is what should we be doing to prevent the scenario that Stern predicts. This is where it gets tricky. We know that humanity can afford to emit only another hundred billion or so tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere before the global economy suffers serious damage. The crucial question is how to ration those remaining pollution rights.
Everyone, from the richest to the world's poorest, has to be on board, so an equitable approach is imperative - one based ultimately on the size of populations. The average amount of carbon used by each person across the world is 1 tonne a year, and clearly some of us use a lot more than others. The only fair way forward is to share the quota equally among the global population and then reduce it over the coming century by about 90 per cent. Nations, companies and even individuals would then be able to trade their entitlements, which would encourage the very low-carbon technologies we need to introduce.
This is what the world's governments meeting in Kenya next week to resume their negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto protocol should be considering. Having adopted the language of economics, the battle against climate change now needs to find a democratic and an ethical voice.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 3
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No new ice age for western Europe
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
FEARS that a shutdown of ocean currents is about to plunge Europe into a mini ice age receded last week. New measurements have failed to show clear evidence that the current is weakening, and models of the North Atlantic show that a shutdown would not occur in the way oceanographers had expected.
Currents in the North Atlantic, dominated by the Gulf Stream, carry warm water north from the tropics towards Europe. During the winter, this water warms the westerly winds travelling from America, keeping the climate in western Europe milder than it would otherwise be.
The circulation is driven by density differences in the water arising from variations in temperature and salinity. Global warming reduces temperature differences, because higher latitudes warm more than the tropics, and salinity differences could be affected by increased meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet flowing into the sea. Climatologists had feared that together these factors could shut down the North Atlantic circulation altogether.
Last year, Harry Bryden at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), in Southampton, UK, heightened fears that the worst was about to happen when he reported what seemed to be a 30 per cent reduction in these currents (New Scientist, 3 December 2005, p 6). His controversial conclusion drew on very few measurements. "The results were based on just five snapshots of the circulation patterns over the past 50 years," says Meric Srokosz, also at the NOC.
Now an array of ocean sensors set up in the Atlantic in 2004 is allowing more thorough monitoring to take place, and last week at the Rapid Climate Change Conference in Birmingham, UK, Bryden announced the results from the first year's measurements. "We've got a variable signal, but it's too early to detect any trends," he says.
While the measurements are inconclusive on whether ocean circulation is shutting down, climate modellers are emphatic. "The answer is simply no," says Johann Jungclaus at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, who modelled ice sheet effects. "Abrupt climate change initiated by the ice sheet melting is not a realistic scenario for the 21st century."
Though global warming will slow ocean circulation, beyond a certain point it does not get worse, Jungclaus says. His conclusion is echoed by a team led by Thierry Fichefet at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium, who found that additional freshwater would have very little extra effect on the circulation.
"It's a surprising result," says Richard Woods, chief oceanographer at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change in Exeter, UK. "The findings depend strongly on the particular models being used."
Not everyone is convinced. Michael Schlesinger at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says the models haven't allowed for the recent discovery that crevasses in the ice sheet can allow water to flow down to the bedrock, providing extra lubrication. It is believed that this could greatly accelerate the melt-rate.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 13
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Flashback: Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday February 22, 2004
Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
Britain will be 'Siberian' in less than 20 years
Threat to the world is greater than terrorism
Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..
A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.
An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.
Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.
Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.
A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America's public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.
One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President's position on the issue as indefensible.
Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK's leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon's internal fears should prove the 'tipping point' in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.
Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office - and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism - said: 'If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.'
Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.
'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.
'You've got a President who says global warming is a hoax, and across the Potomac river you've got a Pentagon preparing for climate wars. It's pretty scary when Bush starts to ignore his own government on this issue,' said Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace.
Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.
Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.'
Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. 'We don't know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,' he said.
'The consequences for some nations of the climate change are unbelievable. It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.'
So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.
The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.
Symons, who left the EPA in protest at political interference, said that the suppression of the report was a further instance of the White House trying to bury evidence of climate change. 'It is yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.'
Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received sceptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.
The Observer writes: "The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority."
Well, maybe that is disingenuous. Maybe the leaders of the world know that this is the truth and they have all agreed to pretend to be at odds with each other so as to create wars which will eliminate millions - or billions - of "useless eaters."
Or maybe Bush is setting the US up to be the "king of the mountain"? Not only can the US eliminate billions of people, they can then take all their resources for the "chosen people."
It's difficult to tell what the liars do or don't know, the only thing that is certain is that it does not look good for most of humanity. And, as Dave McGowan wrote:
"Perhaps you are thinking that this type of future is not for you. You'd really prefer something a little different. That's unfortunate, because the future holds very few options. Here's Campbell again, concluding his mini version of Mein Kampf:
Another problem is likely to be the residual opposition to population reduction from sentimentalists and/or religious extremists unable to understand that the days of plenty, when criminals and the weak could be cherished at public expense, are over. Acts of violent protest, such as are carried out today by animal rights activists and anti-abortionists, would, in the Darwinian world, attract capital punishment. Population reduction must be single-minded to succeed.
"So it appears as though those who fight back against the agenda will likely be summarily executed, while those who passively go with the flow stand about a 95% chance of being killed off anyway. With odds like that, I would think that fighting back might be a good idea. By any means available. And sooner rather than later."
Better do a quick re-read of Laura's two recent articles: 94% and Political Ponerology.
And again we say: get a copy of The Secret History of The World and How to Get Out Alive.
This ain't just an advertisement, either because you can get all the info that is in the book by reading everything on this site. But if you want to have the info available when the system locks down, and if you want it condensed and explicated clearly, get the book. Save yourself (and those you love) some time and grief in the coming "Hard Times."
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Flashback: Stark warning over climate change
Monday, 30 January 2006, 09:39 GMT
Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts than previously believed, a major new scientific report has said.
The report, published by the UK government, says there is only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below "dangerous" levels.
It fears the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, leading sea levels to rise by seven metres over 1,000 years.
The poorest countries will be most vulnerable to these effects, it adds.
The report, "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change", collates evidence presented by scientists at a conference hosted by the UK Meteorological Office in February 2005.
The conference set two principal objectives: to ask what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is too much, and what are the options for avoiding such levels?
Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said the report's conclusions would be a shock to many people.
"The thing that is perhaps not so familiar to members of the public... is this notion that we could come to a tipping point where change could be irreversible," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"We're not talking about it happening over five minutes, of course, maybe over a thousand years, but it's the irreversibility that I think brings it home to people."
One collection of scientific papers sets out the impacts associated with various levels of temperature increase.
"Above a one degree Celsius increase, risks increase significantly, often rapidly for vulnerable ecosystems and species," concludes Bill Hare from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany, who produced an overview of more than 70 studies of impacts on water resources, agriculture and wildlife.
"In the one to two degree range, risks across the board increase significantly, and at a regional level are often substantial," he writes.
"Above two degrees the risks increase very substantially, involving potentially large numbers of extinctions or even ecosystem collapses, major increases in hunger and water shortage risks as well as socio-economic damages, particularly in developing countries."
The European Union has adopted a target of preventing a rise in global average temperature of more than two Celsius.
That, according to the report, might be too high, with two degrees perhaps being enough to trigger melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
This would have a major impact on sea levels globally, though it would take up to 1,000 years to see the full predicted rise of seven metres.
The western half of the much larger Antarctic ice sheet is also causing concern to the British Antarctic Survey, whose head Chris Rapley describes it as a "sleeping giant".
Previous assessments had concluded the ice here was unlikely to melt in significant amounts in the foreseeable future; but Professor Rapley says that question needs revisiting in the light of new evidence.
A key task undertaken by some scientists contributing to the report was to calculate which greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere would be enough to cause these "dangerous" temperature increases.
Currently, the atmosphere contains about 380 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, compared to levels before the industrial revolution of about 275ppm.
"For achieving the two Celsius target with a probability of more than 60%, greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent or below," conclude Michel den Elzen from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Malte Meinshausen of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.
"A stabilisation at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires global emissions to peak around 2015, followed by substantial overall reductions in the order of 30%-40% compared to 1990 levels in 2050."
But, speaking on Today, the UK government's chief scientific advisor Sir David King said that is unlikely to happen.
"We're going to be at 400 parts per million in 10 years time, I predict that without any delight in saying it," he said.
"But no country is going to turn off a power station which is providing much-desired energy for its population to tackle this problem - we have to accept that.
"To aim for 450 (ppm) would, I am afraid, seem unfeasible."
A rise of two Celsius, researchers conclude, will be enough to cause:
* Decreasing crop yields in the developing and developed world
* Tripling of poor harvests in Europe and Russia
* Large-scale displacement of people in north Africa from desertification
* Up to 2.8bn people at risk of water shortage
* 97% loss of coral reefs
* Total loss of summer Arctic sea ice causing extinction of the polar bear and the walrus
* Spread of malaria in Africa and north America
But Miles Allen, a lecturer on atmospheric physics at Oxford University, said assessing a "safe level" of CO2 in the atmosphere was "a bit like asking a doctor what's a safe number of cigarettes to smoke per day".
"There isn't one but at the same time people do smoke and live until they're 90," he told Today.
"It's one of those difficult areas where we're talking about changing degrees of risk rather than a very definite number after which we can say with absolute certainty that certain things will happen."
On the other question asked at the 2005 conference - what are the options for avoiding dangerous concentrations in greenhouse gas emissions - the report is more equivocal.
Technological options do exist, it concludes, such as ways to increase energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and "clean coal" processes.
Financial mechanisms which can increase their uptake, such as emissions trading, are also in existence.
The big issue is how quickly they will be adopted, and by what proportion of governments.
"For all stabilisation strategies, the biggest problem does not seem to be the technologies or the costs, but overcoming the many political, social and behavioural barriers to implementing mitigation options," conclude Bert Metz and Detlef van Vuuren of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
"There is a multitude of potential obstacles, ranging from lack of awareness, vested interests, prices not reflecting environmental impacts, cultural and behavioural barriers to change and, in the case of spreading technologies to developing countries, the lack of an effective enabling environment for new investments."
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Flashback: Climate change 'irreversible' as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
14 March 2006
Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter, raising fears that global warming may have tipped the polar regions in to irreversible climate change far sooner than predicted.
Satellite measurements of the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice show that for every month this winter, the ice failed to return even to its long-term average rate of decline. It is the second consecutive winter that the sea ice has not managed to re-form enough to compensate for the unprecedented melting seen during the past few summers.
Scientists are now convinced that Arctic sea ice is showing signs of both a winter and a summer decline that could indicate a major acceleration in its long-term rate of disappearance. The greatest fear is that an environmental "positive feedback" has kicked in, where global warming melts ice which in itself causes the seas to warm still further as more sunlight is absorbed by a dark ocean rather than being reflected by white ice.
Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, said: "In September 2005, the Arctic sea ice cover was at its lowest extent since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and probably the lowest in the past 100 years. While we can't be certain, it looks like 2006 will be more of the same," Dr Serreze said.
"Unless conditions turn colder, we may be headed for another year of big sea ice losses, rivalling or perhaps even exceeding what we saw in September 2005. We are of course monitoring the situation closely ... Coupled with recent findings from Nasa that the Greenland ice sheet may be near a tipping point, it's pretty clear that the Arctic is starting to respond to global warming," he added.
Although sea levels are not affected by melting sea ice - which floats on the ocean - the Arctic ice cover is thought to be a key moderator of the northern hemisphere's climate. It helps to stabilise the massive land glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland which have the capacity to raise sea levels dramatically.
Dr Serreze said that some parts of the northern hemisphere experienced very low temperatures this winter, but the Arctic was much warmer than normal. "Even in January, when there were actually record low temperatures in Alaska and parts of Russia, it was still very warm over the Arctic Ocean," he said.
"The sea ice cover waxes and wanes with the seasons. It partly melts in spring and summer, then grows back in autumn and winter. It has not recovered well this past winter - ice extent for every month since September 2005 has been far below average. And it's been so warm in the Arctic that the ice that has grown this winter is probably rather thin," he explained.
Professor Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, who was the first Briton to monitor Arctic sea ice from nuclear submarines, said: "One of the big changes this winter is that a large area of the Barents Sea has remained ice-free for the first time. This is part of Europe's 'back yard'. Climate models did predict a retreat of sea ice in the Barents Sea but not for a few decades yet, so it is a sign that the changes that were predicted are indeed happening, but much faster than predicted."
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Flashback: Climate change: The great Atlantic shutdown and the Coming Ice Age
New Scientist Print Edition
15 April 06
IS EUROPE'S central-heating system about to break down, causing climate chaos around the world? Late last year, oceanographers reported a sudden and shocking slowdown in the currents of the North Atlantic, a critical part of the vast system of ocean circulation that influences temperatures and weather around the world. A shutdown could cause famine in south Asia, kill off the Amazon rainforest and plunge western Europe into a mini ice age.
However, if you live in Europe, don't order that snowcat just yet. The conclusions reported last year have been dismissed by many climate scientists, who say their models show the current will keep going for at least another hundred years or so. So what is really going on? Are changes in ocean circulation about to turn our lives upside down, or is this something only our grandchildren will have to cope with?
This vital question is in doubt because the behaviour of ocean currents is still remarkably obscure. On a crude level, the oceans of the world are linked together by a network of currents sometimes called the global conveyor, with warm surface flows connecting to cold deep currents. The conveyor is driven by winds and by a more complicated process called thermohaline circulation - and this is the process that has climatologists worried.
As its name implies, thermohaline circulation depends on heat and salt. An offshoot of the Gulf Stream called the North Atlantic Drift flows all the way to the seas off Greenland and Norway. Evaporation makes the water saltier, so as it is chilled by Arctic winds it becomes denser than the waters underneath it and sinks. It then spills back southward over the undersea ledges between Greenland and Scotland to form a slow, cold, undersea river called the North Atlantic Deep Water. This flows all the way to the Southern Ocean, with some water going as far the Indian Ocean, where it gradually wells up again, perhaps a millennium after it sank.
The weak link is the sinking process. Climate change is injecting ever more fresh water into the Arctic by increasing river flows and accelerating the calving of icebergs from Greenland. This fresh water dilutes the North Atlantic Drift, reducing its density and making it more buoyant. If the fresh water input reaches a critical rate, around 100,000 tonnes per second, sinking could stop entirely. The northern branch of the conveyor would stop, and warm tropical waters would no longer flow past the west coast of Europe.
With that million-gigawatt heat supply switched off, climate models suggest that air temperatures in the region could fall by between 5 and 10 °C, and parts of the US and Canada would suffer too. A switch-off like this is blamed for a cold snap 12,000 years ago called the Younger Dryas, which turned the forests of Scandinavia into tundra.
Could it be happening again? That spectre was raised in December by Harry Bryden of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK. His team took a ship from Florida to the coast of North Africa, stopping at 120 points en route to lower a bundle of instruments all the way to the sea floor. The researchers compared their results with similar measurements made at irregular intervals since 1957. According to their analysis, the deep, cold return leg of the circulation has weakened by 30 per cent (New Scientist, 3 December 2005, p 6). If that has slowed, they reasoned, then the northward branch of warm water must have slowed too.
In fact, the slowdown seems to have started nearly a decade ago. When the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration made a similar survey of the Atlantic in 1998 it was interested in carbon dioxide levels and did not calculate the flow rate. When Bryden's team did the sums, they found the flow had been relatively steady between 1957 and 1992, dropped off by 1998 and remained low.
Bryden's paper prompted some nervous press coverage. "There were alarming stories saying that the sky is falling," says Carl Wunsch, a physical oceanographer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's a complicated story reduced to a fairytale". In fact, Bryden's measurements are not proof of imminent cataclysm.
One question mark is whether his team has simply seen short-term fluctuations in the ocean. "The ocean is a very turbulent beast. We tend to assume that at great depth it is quiet, but that's not necessarily so," says Stefan Rahmstorf of the University of Potsdam in Germany. Wunsch likens it to the vagaries of the weather: "It might get colder for a few days in England, but you don't necessarily say we're entering a new ice age." Bryden, however, thinks his team has found more than a stutter. "If we just had the 1998 data we'd be nervous, but 2004 is similar to 1998," he says.
Are the models wrong?
There are other reasons to be cautious. Climate models do not predict any substantial slowdown in Atlantic currents until near the end of this century. "It would mean all our models are wrong," says Rahmstorf. Bryden thinks they might well be: "I think if we measure a slowdown, the models will follow."
The trouble for Bryden is that not all observations fit in with his conclusions. If less warm water is flowing north, the seas off western Europe ought to be cooler than normal. They are not. In fact, these waters are slightly warmer than a decade ago. And direct measurements of the cold, deep currents that spill southwards over the ledges joining Scotland, Iceland and Greenland do not show a downward trend. Although these currents did slow between 1995 and 2000, they have picked up again. "We are faced with conflicting evidence," says Rahmstorf.
How to resolve this conflict? It is possible that Bryden's group has got its physics wrong. Like other groups, the team did not measure flow rates directly, but instead calculated them from measurements of temperature and salinity. Rahmstorf and Wunsch both point out that these calculations rely on assumptions that are far from proven.
Or it could be that the currents are changing in ways that no one has anticipated. There is a vast stretch of ocean between Bryden's measurements at 25° north and the overspill at around 65°. In between, the warm surface current becomes meandering and unstable, and difficult to measure, says oceanographer Tore Furevik of the University of Bergen in Norway. "There are certainly large changes going on beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, but we are still missing too many pieces in the puzzle to get the picture clear," he says.
For the moment, this rather unsatisfactory answer is the best we have. Oceanographers and climate scientists agree that thermohaline circulation will slow as the world warms, but most think it will happen later rather than sooner. In its report due next year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is likely to predict a slowdown of at most 50 per cent by the end of this century.
This prediction, however, relies on estimates of the freshwater input. While the discharge from Siberian rivers is being monitored, that from Canadian rivers is not. The input from the Greenland ice cap could change too. The glaciers that drain the ice cap are accelerating, and in the past decade the amount of ice they spit into the ocean has doubled. Nobody can predict with confidence what they will do in the coming decades. "At the moment models don't represent the dynamics of Greenland glaciers, which may or may not start moving faster," says Richard Wood of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, UK. What all this means is that even if Bryden is wrong and Atlantic circulation is not yet slowing, a shutdown could still happen sooner than most models predict.
Farming hit hard
For Europe, the timing of any slowdown or shutdown is critical. If it does happen soon, the weather will certainly get chilly. Average temperatures would be about 5 °C lower, and winters could be as harsh as those in Newfoundland. In bad years the Thames might freeze over, and even in good years farming will be hit hard.
On the other hand, if currents hold fairly steady until the late 21st century, the cooling effect of a shutdown would help to mitigate warming. There might be drastic changes in other aspects of the climate - not to mention a relatively rapid rise in sea level around the northern Atlantic (see "Rising waters") - but Europeans might escape much of the warming that occurs elsewhere.
Their distant descendants might need those snowcats, though. If greenhouse gases do eventually fall to pre-industrial levels and the world cools down again, there could be a lag of a thousand years before ocean circulation restarts. So Europe still faces the big freeze - just not for a few hundred years.
Coming back to this century, other parts of the world face even more serious consequences than Europe. A slowdown in the thermohaline circulation would reduce the transfer of heat from the southern to the northern hemisphere, shifting the Earth's "thermal equator" to the south. "One of the things that really struck us is that rainfall patterns over the whole world change dramatically," says Wood.
When he tried artificially switching off thermohaline circulation in one climate model, he found that monsoon rains weaken over India, and parts of central and south America lose half their rainfall. "It would have a huge impact on the climate of those regions," says Wood. He estimates that agricultural productivity in parts of India could fall by 30 per cent. And in the Americas? "If you lose the rain then the rainforest tends to die out." Although all of this is based on an imminent shutdown, which climatologists think very unlikely, even a delayed slowdown could seriously disturb rainfall patterns.
Wood's model also predicts that a shutdown would warm the southern hemisphere by 0.2 °C on average - not much, but against a background of rising global temperatures any extra warming will hardly be welcome. In 2004, Brazil was hit by the first ever hurricane recorded in the South Atlantic, perhaps a consequence of rising sea-surface temperatures. Could a slowdown in circulation have contributed? "Theoretically, this is possible," says Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in Philadelphia, "but I think it would be a leap to tie any observed change to thermohaline circulation. It could just be fluke."
While the precise effects on the climate remain uncertain, there is little doubt that a shutdown will wreak serious damage beneath the waves, since upwelling waters supply vital nutrients to the phytoplankton that are the basis of ocean food chains. A study last year predicted that the productivity of the world's oceans would fall by a fifth if the Atlantic thermohaline circulation shuts down.
There's more. At the moment, the oceans are soaking up a lot of the excess carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere. Without the thermohaline circulation, however, surface waters will soon become saturated and greenhouse gases will build up faster still. Any reduction in carbon fixing as forests and ocean ecosystems fail would only compound the effect.
A lot therefore depends on what is really happening in the Atlantic. To find out, the UK has launched a project called RAPID, an unprecedented effort to monitor North Atlantic currents. In 2004, on the same voyage that found the controversial signs of a slowdown, Bryden's team planted a series of 22 moorings along a line from Africa to America (see Diagram). Cables fixed to the seafloor tether instrument packages that are constantly measuring ocean properties such temperature and salinity.
With continuous measurements now coming in from the Atlantic, it should be possible to distinguish between short-term fluctuations and a longer-term trend. "Soon we'll find what seasonal variability there is and know whether what we said was a 30 per cent slowdown was above the noise level. I'm hoping we'll eventually be able to get 10 years' worth of measurements."
Then again, monitoring a single cross section of one ocean might not be enough. "People are obsessed with the North Atlantic and it's only 10 per cent of the ocean," Wunsch says. "There is a danger we're neglecting the rest." For example, there are areas of sinking ocean water around Antarctica that also help to drive the global ocean circulation. "Recent papers have started to suggest there are changes happening in the Southern Ocean," says oceanographer Steve Rintoul, based in Hobart, Australia.
Some studies show that the water in some Antarctic seas is getting less salty, for instance, but the picture in the Southern Ocean is even less clear than it is in the Atlantic. "We have to observe this system globally and indefinitely," says Wunsch. "But how the devil do you get governments to do that?"
From issue 2547 of New Scientist magazine, 15 April 2006, page 42
In the Hollywood disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the shutdown of the Atlantic circulation somehow results in a giant wave crashing over New York. That is nonsense, of course, but a shutdown of the Atlantic thermohaline current would raise sea levels in the North Atlantic.
At present, sinking waters in the Arctic produce a kind of plughole effect, lowering the sea level of this region and slightly raising it elsewhere. If sinking stops, sea levels will fall in the Southern Ocean and rise by up to a metre on some North Atlantic coasts.
A group led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has run a simulation that shows northern Norway getting a metre rise by the time the circulation stops altogether, while the UK, north-eastern Canada and the US see rises of up to 80 centimetres (see Map). With global sea levels also rising as the oceans warm up and glaciers melt, these regions face total rises of well over a metre by the end of the century.
One NASA study shows that if the sea level was just a metre higher on the New York coast, storm surges that now occur just once in a century would happen almost every year, flooding some low-lying suburbs. In the Thames estuary, planners believe they can handle total rises of up to two metres, but if there is also a large increase in the frequency and ferocity of storms, as some models predict, then an extra half-metre rise from a thermohaline shutdown could mean abandoning some areas to the sea.
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Flashback: US suffers world's first climate change exodus: study
by Jitendra Joshi
August 16, 2006
WASHINGTON - The first mass exodus of people fleeing the disastrous effects of climate change is not happening in low-lying Pacific islands but in the world's richest country, a US study said.
"The first massive movement of climate refugees has been that of people away from the Gulf Coast of the United States," said the Earth Policy Institute, which has warned for years that climate change demands action now.
Institute president Lester Brown said that about a quarter of a million people who fled the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina a year ago must now be classed as "refugees".
"Interestingly, the country to suffer the most damage from a hurricane is also primarily responsible for global warming," he said.
The United States is the world's largest consumer of energy, but has refused to sign up to the Kyoto pact aimed at reducing emissions of gases that scientists say are to blame for heating up the Earth.
Many environmentalists had expected the first big population shift to come somewhere like the Tuamotu islands in French Polynesia, the world's largest chain of atolls which rise barely metres (feet) from the Pacific.
Rising sea levels are part of the problem afflicting low-lying places but, experts argue, so are tropical storms that are mounting in ferocity because of warmer ocean temperatures.
Brown said many thousands of people who evacuated last year as Katrina slammed into New Orleans and other populated areas on the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts had no intention of returning.
"We estimate that at least 250,000 of them have established homes elsewhere and will not return," he said.
"They no longer want to face the personal trauma and financial risks associated with rising seas and more destructive storms. These evacuees are now climate refugees."
Many businesses have also deserted the coastal towns left ravaged by Katrina as insurance and other costs soar, the study said.
"As rising seas and more powerful hurricanes translate into higher insurance costs in these coastal communities, people are retreating inland," Brown said.
"And just as companies migrate to regions with lower wages, they also migrate to regions with lower insurance costs."
The study also warned: "The experience with more destructive storms in recent years is only the beginning."
The institute said that since 1970, the Earth's average temperature has risen by one degree Fahrenheit, but by 2100 it could rise by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (six degrees Celsius).
Rising temperatures could melt glaciers and polar ice caps, raising sea levels and displacing coastal residents worldwide.
"The flow of climate refugees to date numbers in the thousands, but if we do not quickly reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, it could one day number in the millions," Brown said.
The institute's study classed "climate refugees" as part of a larger group of people who have been forced from their homes by man-made environmental change such as overgrazing.
"Overgrazing destroys the vegetation which leads then to local sandstorms ... we are looking at growing flows of environmental refugees in Africa, for example in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania or Kenya," Brown told reporters.
Millions of people in northern and western China have abandoned their villages as the land turns semi-arid because of overgrazing, the study said.
China is also the second biggest greenhouse-gas polluter after the United States thanks to the voracious rise in coal, gas and oil consumption to power its economic growth.
The booming port city of Shanghai could be at risk of flooding from more ferocious typhoons linked to global warming as it is only a metre (three feet) above sea level, Brown said.
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Flashback: Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial
David Adam, environment correspondent
September 20, 2006
Britain's leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.
In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence".
The scientists also strongly criticise the company's public statements on global warming, which they describe as "inaccurate and misleading".
In a letter earlier this month to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cites its own survey which found that ExxonMobil last year distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent the science of climate change.
These include the International Policy Network, a thinktank with its HQ in London, and the George C Marshall Institute, which is based in Washington DC. In 2004, the institute jointly published a report with the UK group the Scientific Alliance which claimed that global temperature rises were not related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
"There is not a robust scientific basis for drawing definitive and objective conclusions about the effect of human influence on future climate," it said.
In the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes: "At our meeting in July ... you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge."
The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, adds: "I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public."
This is the first time the society has written to a company to challenge its activities. The move reflects mounting concern about the activities of lobby groups that try to undermine the overwhelming scientific evidence that emissions are linked to climate change.
The groups, such as the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose senior figures have described global warming as a myth, are expected to launch a renewed campaign ahead of a major new climate change report. The CEI responded to the recent release of Al Gore's climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, with adverts that welcomed increased carbon dioxide pollution.
The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be published in February, is expected to say that climate change could drive the Earth's temperatures higher than previously predicted.
Mr Ward said: "It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it."
The Royal Society letter also takes issue with ExxonMobil's own presentation of climate science. It strongly criticises the company's "corporate citizenship reports", which claim that "gaps in the scientific basis" make it very difficult to blame climate change on human activity. The letter says: "These statements are not consistent with the scientific literature. It is very difficult to reconcile the misrepresentations of climate change science in these documents with ExxonMobil's claim to be an industry leader."
Environmentalists regard ExxonMobil as one of the least progressive oil companies because, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell, it has not invested heavily in alternative energy sources.
ExxonMobil said: "We can confirm that recently we received a letter from the Royal Society on the topic of climate change. Amongst other topics our Tomorrow's Energy and Corporate Citizenship reports explain our views openly and honestly on climate change. We would refute any suggestion that our reports are inaccurate or misleading." A spokesman added that ExxonMobil stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.
Recent research has made scientists more confident that recent warming is man-made, a finding endorsed by scientific academies across the world, including in the US, China and Brazil.
The Royal Society's move emerged as Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, warned that the polar ice caps were breaking up at a faster rate than glaciologists thought possible, with profound consequences for global sea levels. Professor Rapley said the change was almost certainly down to global warming. "It's like opening a window and seeing what's going on and the message is that it's worse than we thought," he said.
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Flashback: Beckett to warn climate change a security threat
By Sophie Walker
LONDON (Reuters) - Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will warn Europe on Tuesday to tackle climate change or risk terrorists seizing on famine, water shortages and failing energy infrastructures to threaten global security.
In her first major foreign policy speech, to a group of experts in Berlin, Beckett will call on the European Union to lead a global push towards new technologies and renewable energy, warning EU countries are already "dangerously behind the curve".
Beckett, according to a text of her speech obtained by Reuters, will cite reduced rainfall in the Middle East as a possible trigger for security problems.
"Look at those things that are highest on the European agenda -- strong borders, poverty reduction, the risks of conflict and international terrorism, energy security, jobs and growth," Beckett will say.
"Get our response right to climate change and our ability to deal with all of these is enhanced. Get it wrong and our efforts across the board will be undermined."
Beckett's speech follows an EU leaders' meeting in Finland last week that focussed on energy policy and urged action on climate change.
She will say climate change, with drastically diminishing resources in some of the most volatile parts of the world, has the potential to create a "potentially catastrophic dynamic" in regions already at breaking point.
Beckett, a former environment minister, will say the Middle East is a case in point as climate models suggest Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq will be among those countries to see the biggest rainfall reductions in the world.
Egypt -- a pivotal country for regional stability -- will suffer a double blow, she will say, as loss of flow from the river Nile and rising sea-levels in the north are set to destroy the country's agricultural heartland.
Beckett will urge governments to produce incentives and penalties designed to drive private capital towards a low-carbon world economy.
"The greatest security threat we face as a global community won't be met by guns and tanks," she will say.
"It will be solved by investment in the emerging techniques of soft power -- building avenues of opportunity that will lead to a low-carbon economy."
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Flashback: Climate change cannot be stopped
Climate change cannot be stopped, so the government needs to develop realistic policies that will slow it down, according to one expert.
Speaking at the Tenant Farmers Association's 25th anniversary conference this week, the University of London's Emeritus Philip Stott said media-hype and the lack of a robust energy policy over the past 30 years had been major problems.
"We are walking into danger if we think we can stop climate change - we can't, but we can mess up the British economy. Energy security for Britain is a very serious issue and we need a realistic policy that will slow down climate change. But let's not be conned that we can stop it."
In terms of the effect on the climate, emitting gases and not emitting gases were equally unpredictable, but politically it is not something that is talked about, Professor Stott said.
"Don't be taken in by the current politics around climate change - be very cautious as there are agendas attached. As farmers, the only thing you have to worry about is to adapt. What we want from government policy is flexibility. We don't want to place farming in a straight jacket."
Flexibility is particularly important for tenant farmers considering growing energy crops, or going into other long-term energy projects, he noted.
More important than climate change, water management will be the number one issue in the future, Professor Stott said, suggesting that some form of pricing mechanism will be needed.
"We still treat water as a free good in Britain, and for the past 30 years, we have put-off measures that will help manage water use. We will have to value it for any pricing mechanism to work."
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Flashback: Probe into Bush govt climate-change 'gag'
Two US government agencies are investigating whether the Bush administration tried to block government scientists from speaking freely about global warming and censor their research, a senator says.
Two US government agencies are investigating whether the Bush administration tried to block government scientists from speaking freely about global warming and censor their research, a senator says.
Democrat Frank Lautenberg said he was informed that the inspectors general for the Commerce Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) had begun "co-ordinated, sweeping investigations of the Bush administration's censorship and suppression" of federal research into global warming.
"These investigations are critical because the Republicans in Congress have ignored this serious problem," Lautenberg said.
Republicans have controlled Congress for most of Republican president George Bush's five years in office.
Lautenberg said the investigations "will uncover internal documents and agency correspondence that may expose widespread misconduct". He added: "Taxpayers do not fund scientific research so the Bush White House can alter it."
Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council for Environmental Quality, said early today that the administration had supported the scientific process in its approach to studying climate change.
"We have in place the most transparent system of science reporting, and claims that the administration interfered with scientists are false," she said.
"Our focus is on taking action and making real progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The nearly $2bn (€1.6bn) worth of climate science we publish annually leads the world and speaks for itself."
Carbon dioxide and other gases (primarily from fossil fuel-burning) that scientists say trap heat in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth's surface an average one degree over the past century.
The White House has committed to reducing the "intensity" of US carbon pollution, a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic growth.
But the total US emissions, now more than seven billion tons a year, are projected to rise 14% from 2002 to 2012.
In February, Republican Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the Science Committee in the House of Representatives, and other congressional leaders asked Nasa to guarantee scientific openness.
They complained that a public affairs officer changed or filtered information on global warming and the "Big Bang" theory of the creation of the universe.
The officer, George Deutsch, a political appointee, had resigned after being accused of trying to limit reporters' access to James Hansen, a prominent Nasa climate scientist, and insisting that a web designer insert the word "theory" with any mention of the Big Bang.
A report last month in the scientific journal Nature claimed administrators at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration blocked release of a report that linked hurricane strength and frequency to global warming. Hansen had said in February that NOAA has tried to prevent researchers working on global climate change from speaking freely about their work.
NOAA has denied the allegations, saying its work is not politically motivated.
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Of Cakes and Diamonds
Chronic fatigue syndrome linked to stressful childhood
NewScientist.com news service
06 November 2006
Chronic fatigue syndrome may be linked to childhood trauma, according to two new studies. It suggests there is a strong psychological component to the mysterious disorder, which is characterised by unexplained fatigue, the researchers say.
Christine Heim at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, US, and colleagues carried out a survey of 100 adults aged about 50-years-old, 43 of whom had CFS. Participants were asked whether they had experienced neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.
Those diagnosed with CFS were significantly more likely to have experienced childhood abuse, the team found. CFS patients were also more likely than the control subjects to have psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Heim believes that mental illness is a contributing factor but not a cause of CFS - not all of the CFS patients had a psychiatric disorder, she notes. Nevertheless, CFS might have a larger psychological component than some experts believe, Heim says.
Some researchers currently promote the idea that CFS is a purely biological illness. But Heim says that biology and experience probably both contribute to the disorder. It is unclear why trauma and stress may predispose a person to CFS, but such experiences early in life might influence brain development, she speculates.
A second study, by Kenji Kato at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues examined the records of more than 19,000 twins born between 1935 and 1958, of whom 1600 had CFS. Individuals who reported having a stressful childhood were five times more likely to have CFS, the team found.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is estimated to affect between 400,000 and 900,000 adults in the US. Symptoms of the illness include fatigue that lasts longer than six months, difficulties with memory and concentration, joint pain and tender lymph nodes.
Journal reference: Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 63, p 1258 and 1267)
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Solved: the perfect way to cut a cake
NewScientist.com news service
06 November 2006
The art of cake-cutting requires great care and skill to ensure no party is left feeling cheated or envious. Now, however, parents and party hosts can approach the task with a little more confidence - mathematicians claim to have found the perfect way to cut a cake and keep everyone happy.
"The problem of fair division is one of the oldest existing problems. The cake is a metaphor for any divisible object where people value different parts differently," explains Christian Klamler, at the University of Graz, Austria, who solved the problem with fellow mathematicians Steven Brams and Michael Jones.
According to Klamler, for any division to be acceptable, it must ideally be equal among all parties, envy-free so that no one prefers another's share and equitable, where each places the same subjective value on their share.
Traditional methods, such as the "you cut, I choose" method, where one person halves the cake and the other chooses a piece, are flawed because though both get equal shares and neither is envious, the division is not equitable - one piece may have more icing or fruit on it than another, for example.
Enter the "Surplus Procedure" (SP) for cake-sharing between two people, and the "Equitability Procedure" (EP) for sharing between three or more. Both involve asking guests to tell the cake-cutter how they value different parts of the cake. For example, one guest may prefer chocolate, another may prefer marzipan.
Under SP, the two parties first receive just half of the cake portion that they subjectively valued the most. Then the "surplus" left over is divided proportionally according to the value they gave it. EP works in a similar way: the guests first get an equal proportion of the part of the cake they each value the highest - a third each if they are three; a quarter each if they are four, etc - and then the remainder is again divided along the lines of subjective value.
The result is everyone is left feeling happy, Klamler says. Two people, for example, may feel they are each getting 65% of what they want rather than just half.
"These procedures are new and have never been tried out in real-world applications," says Brams. "But where there is a divisible good like land or water, which players value differently, the procedure could be used to allocate more-than-proportional shares, making everybody as happy as possible."
Intriguingly, the procedures are "tamper-proof" - people cannot manipulate the process and must be truthful with the referee, or else they could end up with less than makes them happy.
Journal reference: Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Vol 53, p1014)
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Z machine melts diamond to puddle
Sandia Nat. Lab
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Sandia's Z machine, by creating pressures more than 10 million times that of the atmosphere at sea level, has turned a diamond sheet into a pool of liquid.
The object of the experiment was to better understand the characteristics of diamond under the extreme pressure it would face when used as a capsule for a BB- sized pellet intended to fuel a nuclear fusion reaction.
The experiment is another step in the drive to release enough energy from fused atoms to create unlimited electrical power for humanity. Control of this process has been sought for 50 years.
Half a bathtub full of seawater in a fusion reaction could produce as much energy as 40 train cars of coal.
Results of the fusion reaction also will be used to validate physics models in computer simulations used to certify the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.
Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration facility.
Comment: Experiments that have the potential to provide unlimited electrical power for humanity have a habit of becoming sidetracked into parallel, and obviously much more important discoveries of ways to kill every greater numbers of people with the least effort. Strange how that just happens, isn't it...
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Bird flu outruns the vaccines
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
A NEW strain of H5N1 bird flu has emerged in China and is poised to start yet another global wave of infection. The human pandemic vaccines now being developed will not protect against it. Worse still, nearly three times as many Chinese poultry are infected with H5N1 now as last year, meaning there is a greater chance of human infections - despite China's insistence that all poultry be vaccinated against it. In fact, vaccination may be to blame for the new strain.
Yi Guan and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong have been testing poultry in markets across southern China for bird flu for years. In 2004, 0.9 per cent of market poultry tested positive for H5N1, including 2 per cent of ducks, a major carrier of the virus. But between the middle of 2005 and June this year the virus turned up in 2.4 per cent of market poultry - a nearly threefold increase - and 3.3 per cent of ducks. The virus is also showing up in chickens for 11 months of the year, up from only four months previously.
The reason, says Guan, is a new "Fujian-like" strain of the virus, descended from one first seen in a duck in Fujian, China, in 2005. It caused 3 per cent of poultry infections in September 2005 but was responsible for 95 per cent of infections by June 2006. "The predominance of Fujian-like virus appears to be responsible for the increased prevalence of H5N1 in poultry," write Guan and colleagues in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0608157103).
A higher number of infected but apparently healthy birds in Chinese markets for more of the year means a greater risk for humans, says Guan. All but one of China's 21 officially reported human cases of H5N1 have occurred since November 2005 - after the Fujian strain started its rise. Some of these people lived far away from any known outbreak in poultry, but close to urban poultry markets, suggesting the new strain is spreading silently in some of the world's most crowded cities.
That means there could be many more unrecognised human cases. In China and elsewhere, people with serious cases of flu are only tested for H5N1 if poultry have suddenly died nearby. If seemingly healthy birds are infected with H5N1 and spreading it, they could also be passing it to humans without anyone knowing. "If death of poultry is used as the only indication of H5N1 infection, but the emergence of human cases is ignored, the consequence will be increased transmission of the virus in poultry," says Guan, who believes surveillance needs to be stepped up to include routine testing of birds throughout areas infected with H5N1.
Based on what previous H5N1 viruses have done in China, Fujian now seems poised to start a third epidemic wave, potentially worldwide, following the first in 2004 and H5N1's spread across Eurasia in 2005. So far the Fujian virus has reached Thailand, Malaysia and Laos.
Its sudden emergence suggests that a selection pressure is acting on the virus. In November 2005 China ordered compulsory vaccination of all poultry. The law has been imperfectly applied, however: Guan and colleagues found vaccine-induced antibodies in only 16 per cent of birds tested. What's more, they found these antibodies do not recognise the Fujian virus, even though they attack the previous strains of H5N1. "This novel variant may have become dominant because it was not as easily affected as other strains by the current avian vaccine," Guan says.
In 2004, an investigation by New Scientist concluded that vaccinating poultry against bird flu can lead to the emergence of novel strains that can circulate undetected in vaccinated birds unless there are scrupulous controls (New Scientist, 27 March 2004, p 6). The risk is that whatever strain emerges might have unexpected features, such as an ability to kill humans.
While Guan's team has no evidence to suggest that the Fujian strain is more virulent or likely to transmit between humans than previous strains, so far it has killed one person in Thailand and caused five of the Chinese cases for which the team has virus samples. "As far as I know all (20) human cases since November 2005 were caused by this virus," Guan told New Scientist.
The discovery is a warning bell to researchers working on human vaccines for H5N1. The pandemic vaccine now being developed by pharmaceutical companies is based on strains of H5N1 isolated from Vietnam in 2004 and Indonesia last year - but antibodies to these strains do not recognise the Fujian strain. This means the vaccine would not work against any pandemic virus carrying surface proteins from the Fujian strain.
Guan and colleagues say comprehensive influenza surveillance is needed in both people and animals throughout the region affected by H5N1, both to track the real spread of the virus and to provide updates for vaccine developers.
THE sudden emergence of a "super-strain" of H5N1 that sweeps away all other strains may seem unsettling, but it is something we could have predicted. Human flu does this all the time. The reason people get flu year after year is because the virus evolves slightly different surface proteins that our immune systems don't recognise from the last time we had flu.
Researchers had thought this was a continual process, with individual mutations being selected for if they give the virus an advantage over the others. Now David Lipman and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, have shown that the process is far more sporadic.
Using a large collection of recent flu strains, they showed that H3N2, the most common human strain, generally floats in evolutionary limbo accumulating random mutations, none of which gives any virus an advantage over the rest. As more and more people become immune, flu seasons become milder.
Then every few years, one virus happens to collect a winning combination of these individually useless changes that enables it to avoid recognition by human flu antibodies. It out-competes other H3N2 viruses and rapidly becomes the dominant strain that sweeps the world (Biology Direct, DOI: 10.1186/1745-6150-1-34).
In 1998, for instance, one strain from Australia acquired a novel surface change, but it wasn't until 2003, after a few more key mutations, that it suddenly emerged as the most murderous H3N2 of recent years.
Lipman's team suggests that by monitoring these random mutations, we might learn to predict what dominant strain is about to emerge, giving vaccine makers more warning.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 8-9
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Global sex survey considers marriage and god
New Scientist Print Edition
04 November 2006
Marriage is good for your sex life, but both it and religion could harm your sexual health.
The first ever global survey of sexual behaviour, studying more than a million men and women from 59 countries, has found that while married people have the most sex, marriage is not a safeguard for sexual health. "Married women typically find it harder than single women to negotiate safer sex and condom use, leaving them more vulnerable to infections and unplanned pregnancies," says Kay Wellings at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the research.
Perhaps surprisingly, countries where people have the most sexual partners - the developed world - also have the lowest incidence of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. The reason could be that condom use is far more common in these countries, Wellings says.
Religion is a real problem in reproductive health, says Joy Phumaphi, assistant director general of the World Health Organization. People who follow religions that frown on contraception still have more children than they can support, and the lack of safe abortion centres harms thousands of women, she says. Only part of the blame lies with Catholicism and other major religions, Phumaphi says. "The biggest problem is many independent churches have huge influence and very extremist views."
The survey is part of a batch of sex and reproductive health papers published this week in The Lancet.
From issue 2576 of New Scientist magazine, 04 November 2006, page 7
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Got warts? Duct tape won't help
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 18:44:32
BEIJING, Nov. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- The Internet says a quick and easy way to remove warts is to use duct tape. A recent Dutch study says the Internet is wrong.
Researchers from Maastricht University on Monday wrote in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that duct tape does not work any better than doing nothing to cure warts in schoolchildren.
Warts are caused by a virus in the skin that often clears up on its own. They can also be frozen off in a treatment called cryotherapy, or burned off chemically using a strong formulation of salicylic acid.
In 2002, Dr. Dean Focht of Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, and colleagues reported in the same journal that using duct tape on warts worked better than cryotherapy.
The Maastricht University research team, led by Dr. Marloes de Haen expressed disappointment with their own findings.
"Considering the serious discomfort of cryotherapy and the awkwardness of applying salicylic acid for a long time, simply applying tape would be a cheap and helpful alternative, especially in children," de Haen's team wrote.
The study of 103 children aged 4 to 12 showed duct tape worked only slightly better than using a corn pad, a sticky cushion that does not actually touch the wart and was used as a placebo during the study.
"After 6 weeks, the warts of eight children (16 percent) in the duct tape group and the warts of three children (6 percent) in the placebo group had disappeared," the researchers wrote.
They said this difference was not statistically significant.
In addition, some of the children who used duct tape reported itching, rashes and other effects, although none of the children who wore corn pads did.
Following the 2002 study, the idea of using duct tape to treat warts quickly became common wisdom and is advocated widely on the Internet.
The Dutch researchers said that Focht's team did not actually examine their patients to determine whether the warts had disappeared, but called them on the telephone to ask.
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Saturn moon gives clues about early life on Earth
By Will Dunham
Mon Nov 6, 2006
WASHINGTON - Billions of years ago, Earth may have been shrouded in a blanket of atmospheric haze like that seen on Saturn's moon Titan, providing organic material that nourished our planet's earliest life forms, researchers said on Monday.
Some scientists look to Titan as a model for what early Earth's atmosphere may have looked like.
They think Titan's atmosphere, packed with organic aerosol particles created when sunlight reacts with methane gas, may offer clues about Earth's climate when primitive organisms were first arising 3.6 billion years ago.
University of Colorado scientist Margaret Tolbert and her colleagues conducted laboratory experiments based on conditions in Titan's atmosphere measured last year by the Huygens space probe during the NASA-European Space Agency's Cassini mission.
They irradiated methane gas with an ultraviolet lamp, then mixed in carbon dioxide to see whether conditions that may have existed eons ago on Earth could yield a comparable organic haze. They found that such a haze formed in the lab using various methane and carbon dioxide concentrations.
Tolbert said the chemical composition of the haze was organic molecules that are digestible to organisms alive today and could have nourished simple living organisms along ago.
"That would have been a food source for any budding life," Tolbert said in an interview. "And it would have been, importantly, a global food source. And so life, instead of being confined to certain very special environments, could have thrived in every puddle."
Scientists previously have concentrated on isolated, extreme environments such as hydrothermal vents bursting with energy and nutrients to understand primordial life.
Beyond merely providing a food source for early life forms, this organic haze also may have played a role in providing the very building blocks needed for living organisms to first form, Tolbert said.
The study appears in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.
Earth was formed perhaps 4.6 billion years ago and liquid water was present about 3.8 billion years ago. Tolbert said this haze may have been a dominant feature of Earth's early atmospheric landscape from about the time of the first evidence of life 3.6 billion years ago until the rise of the oxygen content about 2.3 billion years ago.
The thick haze not only may have nourished organisms, but may have protected them from harmful ultraviolet rays. The haze may have placed more than 100 million metric tons of organic material on Earth's surface annually, the study estimated.
"It's exciting to see that the early Earth experiments produced so much organic matter," Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute in California, said in a statement.
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Weather or Not
Preparing for the Wrath of Vesuvius
Vesuvius has been quiet for the last 62 years -- and that's cause for concern. Italian authorities are preparing for the next eruption of the most dangerous volcano in the world.
Mount Vesuvius towers over the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy. It is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
"Gentlemen, we have to prepare for the worst," says Franco Barbieri in his Italian-accented English. The researchers in the room know exactly the implications of what the Italian researcher is telling them.
The ground south of Mt. Vesuvius has been shaken by tremors 52 times during the last 24 hours, Italy's leading volcanologist explains. Three hundred tons of sulfur dioxide have spewed out of the crater. Other ominous signs of an impending catastrophe are mounting: The coast guard has sighted gaseous bubbles in the sea, and dead fish are floating on the waves. The water in the boroughs of Ercolano and Torre del Greco tastes sourer and sourer. And, as if that weren't enough, GPS stations have observed that the ground in the region is rising -- by no less than 20 centimetres (8 inches) in a single day.
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Flood waters recede in B.C.
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | 7:29 AM ET
Water levels began to recede in southwestern B.C. early Tuesday, but an evacuation order remained in place for residents of about 200 homes in Chilliwack and about 10 homes in Hope.
The forecast called for more showers on Tuesday. Parts of the eastern Fraser Valley were hit by 300 millimetres of rain in the last few days that caused the Chilliwack River to overflow.
Residents in Maple Ridge, a community of 70,000 about 45 kilometres east of Vancouver, and Hope, a community of about 7,000 about 200 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, were also put on evacuation alert because of the heavy rain.
Chilliwack, a city of about 76,000 about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, was the hardest hit by the near record rainfall.
Officials said Monday that the water level of the Chilliwack River had subsided by one metre, which meant works crews could go home for the night.
Meanwhile, a mudslide near Hope, at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley, has closed Highway 3 to the B.C. Interior, and officials said late Monday that the highway will likely remain closed for the next two days. It was closed early Tuesday in both directions. Crews will clean up when the area has been declared safe.
The weather system that dumped heavy rain on the south coast of B.C. headed south to Washington State, where rainfall there caused a large mudslide northeast of Seattle. The mudslide closed the eastbound lanes of U.S. Highway 2.
Environment Canada meteorologist Gary Dickenson said there will be a break in the weather this week, but it is not expected to last.
Tuesday's forecast calls for rain to ease near Vancouver for a few days, but more rain is expected in the eastern Fraser Valley.
"There's another big system that's going to be making its way to the coast on Friday. We should be looking at some moderate to heavy rainfall and some blustery winds pretty much all day."
In Agassiz, about 115 kilometres east of Vancouver, about 179 millimetres of rain fell in just one day, an amount that exceeds by more than 30 millimetres a record set three years ago.
Mayor Lorne Fisher said Monday there was some flooding on downtown streets, but drought-like conditions this past fall lessened the impact of the heavy rain.
"I've been out and around the series of drainage ditches we have throughout the agricultural land, and the buildup of water wasn't as much as I had expected," said Fisher.
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Tornado kills 9 in northern Japan
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | 5:30 AM ET
The Associated Press
A tornado ripped through a northern Japanese town on Tuesday, killing at least nine people and injuring 25 more, officials said.
Several hours after the twister, two people were missing and believed trapped under the rubble of flattened homes and offices.
The tornado, which knocked out electricity and flipped over cars in the town of Saroma on the northern island of Hoddaido, was the deadliest tornado on record in Japan.
Local television showed a scene of devastation, with a wide swath of collapsed buildings, badly damaged cars and utility poles strewn across streets. Many of the victims were construction workers building a tunnel near the town, officials said.
Tornados are not common in Japan.
According to the Central Meteorological Agency, the worst tornado previously recorded in Japan was just two months ago, when three people were killed on the southern island of Kyushu. The agency only has records of tornado-related deaths going back to 1961.
National broadcaster NHK quoted a local woman, Keiko Takeda, as saying that the skies suddenly darkened over the town and when she opened her window winds were swirling outside.
"It was very strong, but it was over very quickly," she said.
The twister blacked out several hundred homes and also disturbed phone communications, police said. Some 350 police officers were being mobilized in the relief effort.
The twister hit Saroma shortly after 1 p.m., said area fire department official Nobuaki Ueda.
Ueda had no immediate details on the severity of the injuries to the 25 people, although he said 10 were able to go the hospital on their own, while the other 15 were taken in ambulances.
Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan's four main islands. Saroma, which has a population of 6,244, is approximately 1,000 kilometres northeast of Tokyo.
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Wikipedia - Disinfo online
Wikipedia in action
6 Nov 06
Over the weekend a Wikipedia article on an obscure psychological theory of personality was exposed as an extremely successful act of self-promotion. And I think it provides an insightful peek into the way the community of volunteer editors behind Wikipedia work.
Over a period of months Anthony M Benis carefully built a Wikipedia entry describing his narcissism, perfectionism and aggression (NAP) personality theory. He also added a generous page on himself and built up his own sites describing it and linking to the Wikipedia entries.
His pages even made it into the the Good Articles section of Wikipedia, which is reserved for the top 0.2 - 0.3 % of entries. Yet Benis' theory is far from even the fringes of psychology. It is not mentioned in any large reference book on personality theories, and has only ever been described in one book - written by Benis and published in 1985.
This Wikipedia page shows the discussion that led to its deletion. I'm impressed at the rigour of the editors' investigations and deliberations. But the entries still escaped attention for some time. And there are so many articles in Wikipedia that a devoted manipulator seems bound to be successful. One Wikipedian in the discussion reports similar problems with the entry for Hardcore Punk (now locked).
One suggestion that came out of the discussion was this proposal for a system of vetting for academic experts. To me it sounds a little like the basic proposal of Citizendium - see this post - could these two projects end up looking quite similar?
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Long-term Wikipedia self-promotion exposed
5 Nov 06
Wikipedia, as everyone knows, can be vulnerable to certain types of activity that compromise its integrity. As a collaboration between tens of thousands of ordinary people, without a rigorous credential policy like the current pilot of Citizendium. While on the one hand that has enabled Wikipedia to grow to its amazing size today, and the combined forces of AntiVandalBot and the Recent Change Patrollers generally keep vandalism to a minimum (although not entirely without issue), there are some kinds of vandalism that people simply aren't prepared for.
The article on "NPA personality theory", a theory developed by retired physician Anthony M. Benis, was recently proposed for deletion. The move came as something as a surprise, since the article had previous been listed as a Good Article, one of the best 0.2% of all articles, and one of just six in the field of psychology. Now, it was accused of being an example of long-standing and accepted self-promotion at the website, having been largely written by a user called "ABenis" - Anthony M. Benis himself.
The article was originally listed as a Good Article some months ago, thanks to an extremely effective campaign of astroturfing and deception. Not only was the article written almost entirely by Benis himself (and an associated user, named "D-katana"), but it took advantage of the fact that Good Article and peer reviewers aren't really supposed to ensure that the articles they are asked to look at aren't vandalism. The assumption is that, if they make it as far as GA review, they're probably quite good.
Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than simply taking advantage of the system. At several points during the course of the article's creation at Wikipedia, users expressed worrying attitudes towards NPA personality theory and its article. To quote from the AfD discussion:
One editor in particular expressed rather directly that his or her intention was to use Wikipedia to promote the theory, as evidenced by this statement: "And, in turn, Wikipedia has the honor of the recognition for championing the theory before any other group of scholars took it on for further development and propagation." -Cswrye
The article, and the one on its author (both still kept in Google's cache, if you're interested) remained in Wikipedia and even rose to great heights entirely on the work of a single editor - who happened to be creator of the theory.
And they remained there for months, and months, and months:
This is precisely one of the things that troubles me about Wikipedia even more than reg'lar spam - bogus knowledge slipped in between the cracks and woven into the article matrix. Yikes. -Dhartung
I'm not sure what there can be done with this. The fault is not with any of the users who were asked to review the article, since their work does not involve checking for notability, verifiability or hoaxes; they make good-faith efforts to improve the article as requested. The fault doesn't lie with any of the newpage patrollers, who had just one chance to catch the article upon creation and were not in a position to make a snap decision on its accuracy.
That said, the blame doesn't even entirely fall with Benis: while he certainly violated Wikipedia's vanity guideline (and common sense) and the GNU FDL under which Wikipedia content is licensed (reproducing the article without reference or the terms of the license at npatheory.com), he wasn't even the only editor involved, nor was he - apparently - the one that instigated the article's "improvement." These things happen, and it's certainly not possible to find a single point of failure.
The fault here lies partially with the structure of Wikipedia, too. The website's openness both allows an enormous amount of vandalism to filter through every day, not all of which can be removed within minutes, and relies on ordinary people to catch hoaxes like this and remove them.
In this case, the articles were caught by a professional scientist after one of them had been a Good Article since 29 May 2006 - and while it's comforting to think that this is now gone, it's a little unsettling to know that we might have missed more.
Comment: We here at SOTT have our own solution:
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Wikipedia could have some competition, if a new project called Citizendium gets going.
Citizendium was started by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. His plan is to start with a snapshot of Wikipedia's current content and then build on it using a more expert-led version of the Wikipedia model. Although anyone will still be able to contribute, subject specialists will have the final say on what goes in. And experts will have to publically state their qualifications. It reminds me a little of the way these wiki textbooks work.
But Sanger's idea is alreayd attracting some heated criticism from supporters of Wikipedia's open-to-all policy. I think their criticism is too focussed on ideology, rather than practicality. Most people will see Citizendium as a more trustworthy version of Wikipedia and as a result will probably use it. Setting up the system will be hard but, I think, not impossible.
In a previous post I suggested that Wikipedia would benefit from adopting a model not unlike the one announced by Sanger. Opinion was divided in the comments, although most people seemed to disagree. Maybe the fate of Citizendium will settle the argument.
It'll also be interesting to see how Citizendium constrains the development of Wikipedia. I don't imagine it'll want to be seen poaching ideas from thie new upstart, but it's hard to see how Wikipedia's acknowledged problems will be solved without tightening the editorial policy further, and stepping on Citizendium's toes.
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Will Citizendium become Wikipedia 2.0?
September 20, 2006
The long-term viability of online encyclopedia Wikipedia has once again been thrust into the spotlight after one of its founders launched a new knowledge sharing wiki project called Citizendium.
Larry Sanger, who originally helped to establish the open and collaborative online encyclopedia, announced this week that his new Citizendium project would start life as a "progressive fork" of Wikipedia, while offering more editorial control and elimination of anonymous contributions.
"We believe a fork is necessary, and justified, both to allow regular people a place to work under the direction of experts, and in which personal accountability - including the use of real names - is expected. In short, we want to create a responsible community and a good global citizen," he said.
He said the Citizendium would not be called an encyclopedia, but described it instead as an "experimental workspace".
The move is likely to stir up controversy among those who wish to defend the openness of the Wikipedia model, however the online encyclopedia has suffered some blows to its credibility in recent times for hosting inaccurate and in some cases legally contentious content.
As experts debate the future of the online encyclopedia, a new software download was rolled out by US start-up, Webaroo, allowing information addicts access to Wikipedia offline.
The latest version of Webaroo's download allows users to grab chunks of live internet content for browsing later. This includes acess to websites, audio, video and 200 different news and lifestyle content bundles, one of which is its new Wikipedia encyclopedia offering.
One of the key benefits in the latest version of the software is the ability to shift live content from a computer to a mobile device, potentially easing access to data that must otherwise be downloaded via a slow and expensive wireless network.
"We've received great feedback over the past few months from all over the world and have improved our service to meet customer requests," said Beerud Sheth, Webaroo CTO and co-founder.
To download the Wikipedia pack, Webaroo recommends users have a 1GB RAM and 10GB free space on their system.
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One Touch screen, One Vote?
UPDATE: As Election Looms, Polls Shift and Newspapers Hedge -- And What's This About 'Robo-Calls'?
By E&P Staff
Published: November 06, 2006 1:55 PM ET updated 11:00 PM ET
NEW YORK As the country heads to the polls in the still uncertain midterm elections, the nation's top newspapers had one clear message: the GOP, some claimed, seems to be gaining back votes, but it's unclear whether this last minute push will be enough to stop a Democratic takeover, at least in the House.
A USA Today/Gallup poll predicts that the Democrats have five of the six seats it needs to gain control in the Senate, but GOP gains in Tennessee and Virginia may have pulled those seats out of the Democratic column. Except that some polls show Jim Webb, the Democrat, winning in Virginia.
But, in general, polls were all over the place.
The oft-quoted "generic" polls of who voters want to win in Congress showed a Democratic edge of anywhere from 5% to 20%. The Washington Post's final poll showed a Democratic edge of only 6% -- but more recent polls from Fox (13%) and CNN (20%) seemed to dispute those who claimed a rising GOP tide.
The president's approval rating went up in some polls, down in others, but almost always below 41%.
Individual races were also votatile, with Webb supposedly opening a lead over Sen. George Allen, even as Rhode Island might slide back to the Republicans -- and so on. Consensus seemed to hold that the Democrats would still get the 15 of more House seats they need to take over, but perhaps fall short in the Senate.
The Washington Post main story on Election Day opens:
"As the 2006 campaign staggered to an angry close, national security and the Iraq war dominated the final-day debate of midterm elections in which national themes, not simply local choices, have framed the most competitive races. Democrats said that a vote for them would force change in Iraq strategy, while President Bush led the GOP charge in warning that the opposition party cannot be trusted in a time of war.
"Dozens of too-close-to-call House and Senate races finished on a surly tone, as the traditional political strategy of shifting to a positive message at the end gave way this year to a calculation that the best chance to tip the balance was through continued attacks over personal character and alleged corruption."
CNN's Bill Schneider released numbers that showed no "bump" for the GOP from the sentencing of Saddam Hussein.
President Bush predicted a GOP win and some Democrats curbed their optimism a bit -- giving them a better platform to proclaim a huge win if it happens. The GOP has the edge in voter turnout, and Democrats in some districts were charging the Republican with "robo-call" dirty tricks. The New York Times posted a story on this on its Web site late Monday, and the Washington Post put it this way:
"This year's heavy volume of automated political phone calls has infuriated countless voters and triggered sharp complaints from Democrats, who say the Republican Party has crossed the line in bombarding households with recorded attacks on candidates in tight House races nationwide.
"Some voters, sick of interrupted dinners and evenings, say they will punish the offending parties by opposing them in today's elections. But critics say Republicans crafted the messages to delude voters -- especially those who hang up quickly -- into thinking that Democrats placed the calls."
The New York Times wraps it all up this way on Tuesday: "Most independent analysts predicted a strong Democratic wave on Tuesday, but Republicans found a glimmer of hope in a handful of weekend polls that showed the percentage of voters saying they planned to vote for Democrats dipping slightly. And Democratic officials acknowledged that Senate seats they thought they had wrapped up - in Maryland, Montana, New Jersey and Rhode Island - were no longer sure things."
As each party makes its usual last-minute efforts, The Washington Post talked of the confidence of Republican strategists, while Democratic counterparts sounded concerned. But the Post also reported a sense of cautiousness from members of both parties who are carefully campaigning to bring out loyal voters -- not the undecided ones, who might vote against their candidates.
The Chicago Tribune's national election coverage focused on the president's campaign stops in Nebraska and Kansas, which the paper called very defensive, given that they are GOP-leaning states.
The Los Angeles Times' top election story, titled "Voter Anger Threatens Republican Strategies," reversed the common point of view that Democratic campaigning caters to special interests. The story contrasted Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr.'s (R-Fla.) distribution of specialized campaigns ads to different demographics, including Spanish and Jewish voters, with Democratic challenger Ron Klein's uniform message: Iraq is a mess.
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Electronic Voting Problems (scams?) Surface in US mid-term elections
07 November 2006
Voting is continuing in the mid-term elections in the United States.
Polling stations in eastern US states opened at 6am (11am Irish time) and are due to close at 6pm local time, but it could be hours before results in the tightest contests are known.
Voting will end in the last stations to close, those in Alaska, at 5am Irish time tomorrow.
There have already been problems with electronic voting machines in a number of states, including Ohio, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.
In one polling station in East Cleveland, Ohio, all 12 machines went down when voting opened.
The machines were not started up until two hours later and officials refused to hand out paper ballots until a lawyer for the watchdog group Election Protection showed up.
Problems were also reported at other polling places in the state, which was involved in controversy over the results of the 2004 elections.
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Latin America Under Pressure
Ortega Gets a Vote of Confidence
Managua, Nov 7 (Prensa Latina)
"Now he just has to come through for us," Chano says while changing a flat on a bright white van, when asked his opinion on the imminent return to power of the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega.
The vehicle isn t his own property. This weather-beaten man is a simple mechanic and repairman in a small shop on Villa Libertad in a humble barrio to the east of Managua.
Chano believes that Ortega, who won the presidential elections in Nicaragua the first time around "deserves a second chance."
This country can t be worse, the worker adds, with an air of resignation and hope, referring to poverty that affects 80 percent of the population and dramatic unemployment.
The mechanic hopes that the Sandinista leader will fulfill his promise of getting Nicaragua out of a slump of poverty, whose index is second to only Haiti on the continent.
The only aspect of which he appears convinced is that the Sandinista government will know how to cut down the growing wave of violence and delinquency that slams Managua.
He will put a stop to these, he says pointing with his chin to a group of young men covered in tattoos who are making a ruckus a few feet away.
Marlon Rodríguez, custodian of a home in Planes de Altamira, is more confident that Ortega will fulfill his promise of governing for the poor and by the poor.
"All told, we will be here to demand responsibility if he doesn t", he adds with a sly grin on his lips.
The young man considers, however, that these are not the same conditions as the 80s, when the governing Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front) had to confront an internal armed conflict financed and supported by the United States.
"Now no one will wage war on us," he affirms.
Fifty-year-old Carlos Martínez who could pass as the owner of the van repaired by Chano, a few miles from the gas station where we met, does not hide his dislike for Sandinism.
"He (Daniel) will not come through. You ll see that he is going to bring war and misfortune to Nicaragua"he claims, getting into his fancy silver gray van.
The Sandinista candidate who has managed to woo Nicaraguans after three failed attempts, to give him a second chance, is preparing to gather the reins of the country on January 10.
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Bolivian Farmers Join Native March
La Paz, Nov 6 (Prensa Latina)
The eastern Bolivian indigenous march was supported by thousands of farmers in Yapacani, demanding approval of a new Land Law blocked by the opposition in the Congress.
Thousand of farmers and the ayllus indigenous community from the west join the demonstration in that locality.
The settlers also gave accommodation and food to the more than 500 representatives from 35 ethnic groups that will arrive in La Paz to present their demands to the government headquarters.
Cimar Victoria, Yapacani farmers leader, assured that about a thousand people will join the march and accompany them until Bulo Bulo town.
The executive of the Single Farmers Workers Union Confederation, Isaac Avalos confirmed the indigenous people from Cochabamba will join the protest this week.
The main demand is to put pressure on the parliament to establish the agrarian reform announced by the Constitutional President Evo Morales last August.
The Bolivian government agrarian policy states reversion is a mechanism to recover land that does not accomplish a socio-economic function.
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Oaxaca: Peaceful Solution or Civil War?
Carol Cositore Sitrin
Havana, Nov 6 (Prensa Latina)
The embattled APPO of Oaxaca, Mexico, held a mega march this weekend to demand immediate removal of Gov. Ulises Ruiz and withdrawal of the federal police (PFP), sent last week by President Vicente Fox to restore order.
Police reportedly opened fire Sunday on the normally sacrosanct autonomous university where the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) has its radio transmitter, wounding one student.
The disorder stems from the June protest strike by teachers prompting formation of the APPO in their support, organizing marches, sit-ins and camp-ins in Oaxaca and the capital, demanding removal of the governor.
The response was more violent repression, with 15 teachers and activists murdered in the past five months, including Brad Will, a NYC Indymedia photo journalist shot twice while filming the protest.
The Mexican Senate recognized that Oaxaca had become "ungovernable", but refused to remove Ruiz, a member of PRI party (Revolucion Instituional) allied with the governing PAN (Accion Nacional).
However, following more violence when the federal police tried unsuccessfully to evict the protestors rather than the paramilitary, the Senate asked Ruiz to voluntarily resign, which he refused to do.
Positions are hardening on both sides, with support for the APPO flooding in from many Mexican and international progressive groups and President Fox vowing to bring order to Oaxaca before he hands over power Dec. 1 to President-elect Felipe Calderon, himself a focal point of controversy in continuing protests of fraud in his election.
While the police entrench in the city with barbed wire and the population rebuilds their barricades protecting the university and call for cameras to film police harassment, PRD (Revolucion Democratica) party - part of the coalition supporting Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as legitimate president-elect - will again call for a Senate vote to remove the Oaxaca executive and judicial powers.
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Report: Anti-Semitism on Rise in Venezuela; Chavez Government "Fosters Hate" Toward Jews and Israel
Under the leadership of firebrand President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has experienced a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism, fostered in large part by Chavez's own rhetoric and that of his government institutions. A new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) details the troubling mix of anti-Semitism and support for radical Islam that -- along with anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism -- have become the calling cards of the Chavez regime.
"The Chavez Regime: Fostering Anti-Semitism and Supporting Radical Islam" examines recent statements by Chavez, articles in the government-sponsored media and the remarks of academics and government leaders, creating a portrait of a regime that promotes virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes as it seeks to position itself as a regional and world player.
The Chavez regime's frequent anti-Israel statements, open support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and collusion with radical Islamic leaders like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran are having a "spillover effect" in Venezuelan society, with anti-Israel demonstrations, anti-Jewish graffiti and other displays of anti-Semitism becoming dangerously commonplace, according to ADL. The Jewish population of Venezuela is reportedly about 25,000 people.
[Ed: The Zionists must be overjoyed at the thought of Venezuelan Jews fleeing to Israel]
"President Hugo Chavez and his government institutions have elevated their anti-Israel rhetoric to dangerous levels, and it often crosses the line into anti-Semitism," said Abraham H. Foxman. "It is troubling that the leadership of a Latin American country, that once served as a safe-haven for Holocaust survivors and that still boasts a sizeable Jewish community, has taken a wrong turn into fostering hatred, prejudice and bigotry while supporting countries and groups who call for Israel's total destruction."
Rehashing Stereotypes and Demonizing Israel
Chavez and his government have resorted to implicit and explicit anti-Semitic displays, including rehashing the ancient canard of Jewish control, blaming Israel and the Jews for the world's problems, and adopting anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish financial influence. Recently, in a series of public statements on Israel's war with Hezbollah, Chavez repeatedly compared Israel to the Nazis and Hitler,
and in speaking to his own people he has on at least one occasion dabbled in classical anti-Semitic canards:
* Israel was committing genocide in Lebanon and its leaders should be held responsible and should be judged by an international tribunal ... The Israelis criticize Hitler but have done something worse." - August 25, 2006.
[Ed: Can't see anything wrong with this since it is empirically provable as true]
* This fascism is something similar to what Hitler did: bombard cities, kill innocent children, women and men, and destroy the infrastructure of people." - July 26, 2006
[Ed: again, this appears to be a very accurate statement]
* ... The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendents of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones that kicked Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia. A minority has taken possession of all the wealth in the world ... -- December, 24, 2005.
[Ed: "a minority has taken all the wealth in the world". Again, demonstrably true]
Allying with Radical Islam
Chavez has strengthened and formed new alliances with extreme leaders in the Middle East, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Chavez also has fostered relationships with convicted guerrilla terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez (a.k.a. "Carlos the Jackal") and Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole of Argentina.
During the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, the Venezuelan National Assembly and various Venezuelan states issued a number of one-sided declarations against Israel. Ch?vez was very aggressive in condemning Israel's actions against Hezbollah, recalling his charge d'affaires from Israel and threatening to sever diplomatic relations.
Anti-Semitism in the State-Sponsored Media
Anti-Semitism is routinely found in Venezuela's government-sponsored press, with stereotypical descriptions and caricatures of Jews and anti-Israel invective appearing in opinion pieces and editorial cartoons. Some examples:
* Those who are upset with Ahmadinejad's visit to Venezuela are the gangsters of the local Jewish mafia; the terrorists who control the Confederations of Israelite Associations (CAIV) and other criminal organizations of similar reputation." -- Los Papeles de Mandinga, September 19, 2006
* It was to be expected. The profound humanistic conviction and moral solidarity of Commander Chavez for denouncing the atrocities that are systematically committed by the state of Israel against Arab people have bothered the cancers of the inferno - international imperialism and Zionism." - Diario Vea, September 14, 2006
* Zionists, the destructive sect of radical Jews, are again impregnating the Jewish community with its animosity towards humanity. The genocide they executed in Palestine and Lebanon is similar to the Holocaust which the Nazis executed against them, and they will undergo another Holocaust because of the global hatred they are accumulating." -- Diario Vea, July 4, 2006.
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Packaged Products From Canada
Meat products recalled after syringe discovery at Ont. plant
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 | 7:51 AM ET
Maple Leaf Foods is recalling some of its ham and turkey products after police were called in to investigate a possible case of food tampering at a meat products plant in southern Ontario.
Employees of a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Kitchener, Ont., discovered syringe casings on company property on Sunday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Maple Leaf Foods said in a joint statement Tuesday.
Police were called in after the discovery, said CFIA safety inspector Garfield Balsom.
It's not clear where the syringe casings were found, but the statement says they were discovered "during the production process."
"We were informed Sunday evening that there was an investigation ongoing and we followed up with that and as a result today determined that there was some product that had gotten into the marketplace," Balsom said.
There have been no reports of illness associated with the affected products, which are being pulled off the shelves as a precaution. Products made at the plant are distributed nationally.
Consumers are being warned not to eat the following products:
½ Kent Smoked Hams (approx. one kg); best before date JA 01.
125-gram Schneider's Lifestyle Fat Free Cooked Ham Sliced; best before date DE 29.
125-gram Schneider's Lifestyle Fat Free Cooked Ham Sliced; best before date JA 04.
125-gram Schneider's Lifestyle Fat Free Turkey & Ham Sliced; best before date DE 30.
125-gram Schneider's Lifestyle Fat Free Smoked Ham; best before date DE 29.
Products pulled from store shelves have not shown any traces of contamination, said Balsom.
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PM called a 'chicken' for skipping EU summit
Last Updated: Monday, November 6, 2006 | 6:17 PM ET
Opposition parties slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for cancelling out on a European Union summit this month, accusing him of being too afraid to defend his policies on climate change.
"I think the prime minister's chicken to go and hear from the leaders of Europe who are going to dress him down for breaking Canada's commitment on climate change," NDP Leader Jack Layton said.
Critics have said Harper is afraid to go to the summit in Finland, where global warming is expected to be a key issue, and where he may face rebuke for what some say is his abandonment of Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
"We know why he cut and run from their meeting," Liberal interim leader Bill Graham said during question period on Monday. "He's afraid to defend his policy on climate change to European Union leaders."
The PM's Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney defended the prime minister, saying he has a very busy travel schedule during a hectic parliamentary period. He also noted that former prime minister Paul Martin missed two EU-Canada summits.
The Prime Minister's Office has said Harper needs to be close to the Commons because of his government's minority status.
Graham said he would enter an order into the House that the government would not be in danger of defeat while Harper was away.
The PMO had earlier rejected the New Democrats' offer to pull one of their MPs from a House of Commons vote so that Harper could go to the Finland summit worry-free.
But the CBC's Chris Hall reported that it's doubtful there will be international fall out because of Harper's absence, pointing out that French President Jacque Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will not be attending the summit.
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Trigger for Europe blackout found
www.chinaview.cn 2006-11-07 07:16:55
BERLIN, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- German electricity giant E.ON admitted Monday that the switch-off of one of its main cables caused the power outage in west Europe affecting around 10 million people Saturday night.
But experts said it might take days to find out why the grid failed.
Klaus-Dieter Maubach, a senior executive of German utility giant E.ON, told ZDF television that the power-off of a 380,000-volt E.ON line in north-west Germany to let a new ship pass safely below it was the source of the outage.
E.ON plugged off a line Saturday so that the new vessel Norwegian Pearl could be put from a German dockyard to the sea. The power grid became haywire and lights went out half an hour later in parts of Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy.
Lights flickered in the affected areas during the crisis and power restored in most places within an hour.
Maubach defended the German power network, saying,"The networks are in a very good condition and we're investing in them all the time."
German news agency DPA quoted academic engineer Christoph Maurer at Aachen University's power equipment institute as saying that the pan-European power grid separated into three separate zones when the crisis occurred on Saturday.
"Normally the load and generating capacity is shared around the European grid. Once it fragmented into three islands, there was a shortage of generating capacity in the west. Under the rules, an automatic purge of the loads began. The customer experiences that as the power is failing."
Maurer blamed wind generation of power made it harder nowadays to predict where electricity would enter the grid.
But Germany's BWE association of wind-power generators rejected blame for the blackout, noting that winds had been moderate Saturday night and windmills had only been working at 30 percent of their total capacity at the time.
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2 Texas Students Charged in School Plot
Tuesday November 7, 2006 2:46 PM
ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) - Two high school students have been charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder after authorities uncovered what they described as potentially deadly school attack plot.
The boys, whose names were not released, were arrested Thursday, Williamson County Sheriff's Department Detective John Foster said.
Foster would not discuss specifics of the McNeil High School students' alleged plan after announcing the arrests Monday. He would not say how police and school officials learned of the plot but added that "we were very fortunate to discover this before it did happen.''
"It jeopardized the lives of people there at the school: students and teachers,'' Foster said. "There were no specific targets other than the school and its occupants.''
Round Rock Independent School District spokeswoman JoyLynn Occhiuzzi would not give the students' ages or grades other than that both were juveniles, which in Texas means younger than 17.
A letter to parents went home with students Monday explaining the incident, Occhiuzzi said.
"This has been pretty tightlipped until today, so not very many people knew about it,'' Foster said. "So we were able to act quickly and make an arrest on it. As far as the mood, I think most everybody at the campus was unaware of what had transpired.''
McNeil High has about 2,700 students and 200 staff members. Round Rock is about 15 miles north of Austin and is the headquarters of computer maker Dell Inc.
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