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Editorial: Will Jimmy Carter's Book Liberate the Palestinians?

by William Hughes
4 Jan 07

"Nothing else in the world...is so powerful as an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo

Let's face it! The year 2006 was another hell on earth for the Palestinians. Since 1967, they have been suffering under the heel of the Zionist Death, Mayhem & Occupation Machine. Earlier this summer, as the situation grew desperate in Gaza, where 1.4 million people are trapped, Israel's Far Right Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, wisecracked: "Nobody dies from being uncomfortable." He lied! Six hundred and sixty Palestinians perished from the 24/7 siege by the Israeli Occupation Army (IOF). Of that number, 141 were children. (1) Enter ex-President Jimmy Carter and his best selling book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid." (2) Will this good and decent man from Georgia do for the Palestinians, what Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" did for African-Americans, who were then languishing under the crime of slavery? Can Carter light the fuse that leads to the liberation of the Palestinians from their cruel oppressors?

Meanwhile, America is in deep spiritual decline. I don't mean that in a religious sense. I do, however, mean it with respect to so many people not being in touch with their own humanity--their own souls. One of the ways this shows up is how we have historically subsidized, with little or no objections, the evildoings of the Zionist state of Israel. (1) According to the prestigious "Harvard Study," over $140 billion of our tax dollars have ended up there since 1967. (3) Three to four billion dollars is added each year to that total. (4) Now, Jimmy Carter is saying: "Stop!" The Israelis don't deserve our support because they have built a racist Apartheid-like enclave, symbolized by an Annexation Wall, on the backs of the indigenous people--the Palestinians. (1)

What is interesting to note in the Jimmy Carter/Zionist Israel brouhaha is how the former President, like so many others before him, is being subjected to an intense campaign of vilification by Israeli apologists in this country. (5) But surprise--the ubiquitous smear artists are falling on their collective faces! With every mean spirited insult, Carter sells another book. What his critics don't understand is this: Carter belongs to America. He is one of us! They, the Carter bashers, are not only deeply resented, but are being seen by growing numbers as arrogant, spiteful and shameless shills for a foreign power. Israel is the same two-faced foreign power who slaughtered Americans on the USS Liberty, bulldozed to death peace activist Rachel Corrie, and directed the traitor Jonathan Pollard to steal our military secrets. (6) Carter is not only helping Americans see what the Israelis have been doing to the Palestinians, he is also opening up the eyes of many here, to what the "Harvard Study" clearly documents: The Israel Lobby has exercised "unmatched power" over U.S. foreign policy, which hasn't been in "the national interest" of our country. (3) The hawkish Neocons are part, too, of the powerful Israel Lobby.

Thankfully, more Americans, daily, do know what is going on in the Israeli Occupied Territories. During 2006, I was privileged to cover events dealing with that issue and also Israel's unjust invasion of Lebanon. (7) I also heard human rights experts denounce the Israeli conduct in those two areas of combat as "War Crimes." (8) This includes the IOF's blood stained attack on the village of Qana and its dropping of over one million cluster bombs on the civilian population of Lebanon. (9) I also got a chance to interview some of the demonstrators at these spirited protest actions, and to put on the public record their strong moral and legal objections to Israel's serial wrongdoing. (10) At the same time, I had an opportunity to witness, close up, the nobility of the Palestinians. Ms. Laila El- Haddad and Mohammed Omer spoke volumes via their personal accounts of oppression by the IOF in Occupied Gaza.

Ms. El-Haddad, a Gaza resident, on June 23, 2006, at a forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Council for the National Interest, warned that the humanitarian outlook facing the people there was "extremely bleak." She spoke of the barbaric home demolitions by the IOF, the lack of access to food, and the fact that over 9,000 Palestinians are presently languishing in Israeli dungeons, many without any charges pending against them. (11) Mohammed Omer, a Gaza- based journalist, gave a talk at the Palestine Center on Nov. 28, 2006. He spoke of how his late brother, Hussam, was shot to death by an Israeli sniper. Omer knew Rachel Corrie. He related how the children of the Rafah refugee camp, who had grown to love her, "couldn't believe she was dead." (12)

On a related topic, when Professor William Fletcher lectured at the Palestine Center, on Dec. 1, 2006, he shared how the present state of Israel could easily be compared with the Apartheid-era South African regime. He labeled Israel a "rabid state," which was capable of a maniacal act, like "unleashing a nuclear weapon." (13) Now, that Israel's Olmert has admitted that Israel possesses Nukes, Professor Fletcher's concern becomes even more relevant.

When "Esquire" magazine ran a cover story (Jan. 2007) showing an Iraqi War vet, Sgt. Bryan Anderson, a triple amputee, I couldn't help but think of the Neocon, Richard Perle. (14). The last time I spotted him he was filling his mouth with chocolate chip cookies. He had just attended a memorial service for a fellow Iraqi War junkie, Philip Merrill Levine. (15) Perle is also the same hard core Zionist, who co- authored the hawkish "The Clean Break" document for Israel's Likud honcho--Benjamin Netanyahu. (16)

Neocons, like Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, et al, all knee jerk supporters of Israel, deserve strong censure for pushing our country into the war with Iraq. (17) As I write, over 3,000 American troops have died in that conflict, about 60 of them were from my home state of Maryland. And, despite the horror story that is the Iraqi War, with 655,000 Iraqis also reported dead, Netanyahu, is calling for a U.S. led war with Iran. (18) I couldn't help but reflect: The cunning Neocons urged sending our sons and daughters to die in Iraq based on a pack of rotten lies. Now, they, and their cronies, like Netanyahu, are looking for a war with Iran. Do these shameless war hucksters have any limits?

Getting back to Israel's Olmert and his crude remark: "Nobody dies from being uncomfortable." When you tie his callous comment to the significant loss of human life suffered in both Gaza and Lebanon this last summer, you need to be alarmed. Add this fact: His regime was charged with engaging in "collective punishment" tactics in those two campaigns. (8) To me, Olmert reflects a troubled man whose psyche has been unduly influenced by those vindictive Storm Gods of the ancient Canaanites. Like those deities, he too, acts like he is all powerful and omniscient, and without a conscience. Might, of course, excuses nothing. Olmert appears from his recent conduct incapable of reflecting on the morality of his own wrongdoing. He lacks wisdom, too. Is this why characters, like Olmert, are so ultra sensitive to any criticism? When you consider that this zealot has his finger on the trigger of a nuclear weapon, the world itself should shudder in fear. (19)

In any event, there is little chance that an authoritarian ideologue, like Olmert, will change on his own. What is important, however, is that ex-President Jimmy Carter's courageous voice condemning the endemic evil that is a racist, Israeli-dominated Apartheid Palestine, is being heard. If enough Americans change their attitudes towards Israel, then there can be some real hope that the occupation of Palestine might, mercifully, end soon.


1. pchrgaza
2. normanfinkelstein.com
3. harvard.edu/Research and atlasbooks.com
4. www.wrmea.com
5. "They Dare to Speak Out" by Paul Findley.
6. baltimore.indymedia.org
7. californiachronicle.com
thepeoplesvoice.org usa.mediamonitors.net
8. sf.indymedia.org
9. miami.indymedia.org
10. youtube.com
11. baltimore.indymedia.org
12. dailyscare.com journalist_mohammed_omer_on_the_hell_that_is_gaza
13. baltimore.indymedia.org
14. batr.net
15. thepeoplesvoice.org
16. irmep.org
17. pbs.org and baltimore.indymedia.org
18. whatreallyhappened
19. apnews.myway.com and see, "Answer to Job" by Carl G. Jung.

© William Hughes 2007.

William Hughes is the author of "Saying 'No' to the War Party" (Amazon.com).

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Editorial: Soldiers and Imperial Presidents

By Charles Sullivan
"Information Clearing House"

But the trouble with sacred cows is that they tend to preclude critical examination and often escape the scrutiny of rational thinking and moral judgments. The premise of honorary military service thus goes virtually unchallenged, and often becomes the essence of dogma. But it seems to me that anyone contemplating a military career, especially since it may require killing other human beings and broad scale environmental destruction, should do so with open eyes and clear senses. They need to know who they are serving and whose interests they are protecting.

There is no escaping the fact that the U.S. is an imperialist nation conceived in genocide and racism that has continued through the ages, and worsened with the rise of modern technology and weaponry. With the advent of smart bombs came stupid and immoral leaders. Our litany of crimes against earth and humanity are concealed under layers of moral language, but the actual deeds belie the intent behind what is being done in our name. Ignorance, however, does not absolve anyone from culpability.

Anyone considering military service should deliberate upon the promises proffered by recruiters with extreme skepticism. Recruiters are trained to exalt war as the highest expression of patriotism and love of country; when, in fact, it is often the most debasing expression of our humanity that makes a shallow mockery of real service to god and country. The war resister and the conscientious objector may be the true patriot.

I will make no effort to conceal my contempt for military recruiters who prey upon unsuspecting and inexperienced youth, especially the poor and economically disadvantaged. No parent should expose their children to these predators. Recruiters are the moral equivalent of ambulance chasers, and they should be accorded no more respect than them, or the corporate con men who sell us goods that are detrimental to our health. These people are not concerned about the welfare of our children or the country; they are the representatives of imperialism, empire, and Plutocracy; and they are in search of cannon fodder.

Marketing militarism and war to society at large is no different than selling potato chips laced with trans-fats or carcinogenic chemicals, without regard to public health and its attendant social costs. It is all about managing public perception and providing widening profit margins to the corporations that are running the government. To hell with the public welfare and moral pronouncements, the plantation owner demands blood sacrifices as a show of loyalty and gratitude.

Thus it is not surprising that military sacrament is couched in the language of service to country, patriotism, and other noble causes that are as divorced from reality as the President is removed from sanity. The hypocrisy of righteous language contrasted to the actual deed is readily apparent to anyone who knows history. It is propaganda in the purest and most lethal form.

No doubt, the millions of men and women working in the armed forces today do so in the belief that they are heroically serving their country, as well as the cause of freedom and democracy. But in fact, they are serving the ruling clique, the Illuminati, and a few thousand wealthy investors, which represent less than 0.02% of the population. There must be no confusion that the financial interests of Halliburton, Bechtel, and the Bush dynasty are not the interests of America's citizens, especially those in the armed forces.

There is nothing noble or moral about invading defenseless sovereign nations and killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent human beings. There is no morally justifiable way of making occupation and the outright theft of natural capital, such as oil, respectable or gallant. Genocide and theft are crimes against humanity, regardless how the corporate advertisers and public relations firms couch them; and the military is complicit in the commission of those crimes, whether they are ignorant of their role in them or not.

Consider, for example, the role the military has traditionally played in carrying out the plans of one imperial president after another. We have troops permanently stationed in 135 nations protecting America's corporate interests from democracy. Stifling democracy is quite different from nurturing it. Either most of our presidents are pathological liars or they do not know the difference between nurturing and destroying. America's record of imperialism speaks for itself; and it is something that, when critically examined, is not easily mistaken for anything other than what it is.

Similarly, the bogus war on terror is a contradiction in terms, as historian Howard Zinn has so aptly pointed out. War is terrorism. Terrorism begets terrorism, and nothing but terrorism. War does not, and cannot ever lead to peace.

Aided by the CIA and death squads trained at the School of the America's at Fort Benning, Georgia, the U.S. has crushed one fledgling democracy after another and replaced them with brutally oppressive right wing dictatorships friendly to American corporations and financial investors. Let us recall that Saddam Hussein was our man in Iraq until he converted from the dollar to the euro. From Iran to Chile there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases that could be cited. For a more detailed analysis of these incursions, I refer readers to William Blum's provocative book, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War Two.

Let us assume that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is a fairly typical example of imperial policies that have been in vogue for well over a century. Like previous military actions, the invasion of Iraq was based upon a litany of lies set forth by the president and his cabinet, and carried forth in the corporate media. Iraq did not pose a threat to America or to the interests of the American people, and both the President and the commercial media knew it. Their intent was to deceive and to garner support for unconscionable acts of aggression and terror that are not in the people's interest.

Thus our armed forces are in Iraq under false pretenses that have nothing to do with spreading democracy or liberating oppressed people from tyranny. They are there for reasons that are as nefarious as they are treasonous. More than anyone, the men and women in the armed forces need to know why they are in Iraq and what is expected of them by the commander in chief.

The Plutocratic interests in Iraq may be summarized as the use of technologically advanced military forces and high tech weaponry that provide incalculable wealth to a privileged few. In this context, soldiers are nothing more than a means to and end; a Machiavellian way of socializing costs and privatizing profits-the ultimate in corporate welfare. Well over $50 billion in profits have been hauled out of Iraq by 150 U.S. corporations, including the privatization of lucrative Iraqi oil. The profits and the death toll continue to rise simultaneously.

To date, some 700,000 Iraqi people have died in the war and occupation, and the violence is rapidly escalating. Most of the dead are civilians, many of them women and children. Over 3,000 American soldiers have died on the basis of lies and thousands more are permanently maimed and traumatized-all to enhance the bottom line of America's wealthiest and most privileged elite.

It is not well publicized in the western mainstream media that fourteen permanent military bases are under construction in Iraq. The occupation is growing deep tap roots that are drawing the life, and the oil, out of the region, and consuming it in a firestorm of self-perpetuating violence.

President Bush and his kind, always eager to exploit a photo opportunity, frequently pay homage to the troops stationed around the world and in return garner their respect and admiration, neither of which is deserved. Placing soldiers in peril when there is no threat to America or to national security is an expression of utter contempt for them; it is a treasonous offense worthy of the most severe punishment short of execution.

Aside from photo ops, Bush and his wealthy brethren do not associate with enlisted men, whose petty lives transpire far below the lofty socio-economic status the elite were born into. Enlisted men and women are permitted to wipe the cow dung from the president's cowboy boots, but they are not allowed to wear them or travel in the same social circles as their owner.

The parasites that are running the country produce nothing, and have no more loyalty to the American people or to the Constitution than Frito-Lay or Halliburton. Their only allegiance is to accruing ever more wealth and power to themselves by all possible means, including war. You see, America is also an occupied country.

Neither the Iraqi nor American people's interest is served by the military industrial complex. War is never in the interest of those who are fooled into fighting them. War benefits those who instigate them and reap their financial reward from the safety of posh offices and marbled halls. War is the century's old tradition of peasants doing the bidding of kings and queens. That is whose interest is being served by our soldiers.

The truth is that soldiering is a particularly virulent manifestation of America's unending class war; the continued exploitation of the working class by the ruling elite-the rich preying upon the poor. Now the President and his accomplices in Congress intend to send even more soldiers to Iraq, further escalating the violence, and acting contrary to public sentiment. The lives of these men and women mean nothing to the emperor and his minions. They are only so much excrement to be wiped from their boots; the sacrificial lambs of empire crawling beneath their ignoble gaze.

Despite my severe criticism, it is not my intention to disparage either soldiers or military service. However, these men and women are being duped and exploited, and someone has to tell them what they are killing and dying for. It will remain for each individual to weigh the evidence and decide whether it is right or wrong, courageous or foolish.
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Editorial: Sacrifice Translates into More Dead People

Kurt Nimmo
Wednesday January 03rd 2007, 10:13 pm
Another Day in the Empire

Is John "Keating Five" McCain sincerely clueless? Or is he simply a politician playing a cynical numbers game with Iraq and thus eventually condemning to certain death more troops that should be here at home, protecting our borders?

McCain told General John Abizaid he didn't understand why the United States cannot "control" al-Anbar province and was flummoxed the general would suggest the "mission" is to train Iraqis to fight the "insurgency," actually a popular resistance against both occupation by foreign troops and their hand-picked Iraqi proxy.

McCain expressed frustration that said "insurgents" have taken back al-Anbar, thus demonstrating you can't teach an old dog new tricks, or at least teach him a bit of history and the inevitability of defeat for those who invade and attempt to occupy, as the French lost Vietnam at Diem Bien Phu and the British lost Afghanistan at the Gandamak pass. In Iraq, the Brits were unable to contain continual uprisings against occupation, even though they used mustard gas, a weapon favored Winston Churchill for the likes of "uncivilized" tribes. John McCain, the Manchurian candidate for president in 2008, does not even seem vaguely aware of such historical realities:

But forget al-Anar, the Pentagon can't even "secure" Baghdad, and will be unlikely to do so even if they send another 20,000, 30,000, or even 100,000 troops into the neocon constructed meat grinder.

Next, we are told, Bush will announce a smaller number than McCain has in mind-15,000 troops, not 20,000. "Instead of a surge, it is a bump," an anonymous person in Condi's State Department told McClatchy Newspapers, thus reducing, to a niggling degree, the severity of "sacrifice" (when neocons and one-world types start in talking about sacrifice, it is time to head for the hills).

As usual, Keith Olbermann, one of the only sane voices left in the corporate media, the other being Lou Dobbs, had a few choice words about this:

Olbermann, however, trumpets the "liberal" line, namely Bush (read: the neocons) has no idea what he is doing in Iraq.

Admittedly, Bush may not know what he is doing from one moment to the next, as he is a former drunk and drug abuser, and thus a mental graveyard, but his coterie of neocons most certainly know what they are doing-coming up with excuses to send more troops into Iraq, not to win that which cannot be won, as another basket case, McCain, would have us believe, but rather to see through "mission accomplished," the destruction and balkanization of Iraq. It's a work in progress, with horrifying results. For instance, last weekend, a series of car bombings killed more than 70 people in Shia neighborhoods in the hours after Saddam Hussein was lynched by a gaggle of puppets installed by the neocons.

"Americans are a patient lot and likely will give Bush the time and backing he needs to take another shot at getting a U.S. policy in Iraq that works," a scribbler over at the Associated Press avers. "And the new Democratically led Congress, which convenes on Jan. 4, probably won't block the commander in chief if he decides to briefly increase troop levels."

In other words, the American people can be expected to do nothing, or nothing effective, to put an end to the carnage, never mind the increasing flights of flag-draped coffins off-loaded at Dover Air Force Base. Of course, most Americans, many unable to find Iraq on a map, don't know a thing about the 650,000 plus Iraqis slaughtered, and even if they did a whole lot of them wouldn't care.

"I think there was a time when the death of Saddam Hussein would have given Bush the kind of political capital he needs to call for an increase in troops and an expansion of the military effort there, but I think we're past that time," said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Boston University.

Such idiocy obviously makes Boston University a less than satisfactory place to send the kids for an education.

"The American people want to know whether we're going to win this war, and they're going to listen very carefully to whatever the president says," said the blowhard neocon Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, where Bush scrapes up his "minds."

In fact, the American people, on average, don't give a wooden nickel about what their demented unitary decider says, although they should.

As for the American people wanting to "know whether we're going to win this war," most of them already know it is lost, or at least lost in a traditional sense. For as we know, the neocons, Kagan included, are all for the "surge" option, that is to say they are hot to pour meat into the grinder in an effort to realize their creative destruction game plan, no matter how many more Americans and Iraqis are sacrificed, as Bush demands.

Offing Saddam on the first day of the holy Eid holiday should have rung a bell with Americans, allowing them to realize the neocons, their leadership rife with Arab-hating Israel Firsters, will stop at nothing to turn up the heat of sectarian violence in Iraq.

"What the Shiite Arabs have to remember is that while the Sunni Arabs are a minority in Iraq, they in fact are a majority in the Arab world. They have the backing of the Sunni masses which form the basis of Arab nationalism," writes Ilnur Cevik for the New Anatolian. "What they are attracting is more Arab Sunni enmity which will be very dangerous for the future of Iraq. Iran, which acts like the mentor of the Arab Shiites in Iraq, should also take this into account. The way Saddam was humiliated and mishandled in his final minutes by his Arab Shiite executioners will be deeply entrenched in the minds of many Sunni Arabs, and not only those who had sympathies for Saddam."

If you think otherwise, I have an ice sculpture to sell you in the Mojave.

Of course, we can't expect Democrats-now taking up their places in the Great Corporate and Special Interest Whorehouse on the Potomac-to consider such nuances, as some of them, for instance Silvestre Reyes, the incoming chairman of the House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, can't be bothered to tell crucial differences between the Sunni and Shia.

Neocons, naturally, know the difference, and that's why they do the things they do.

Get ready to sacrifice, indeed.

Next up, Iran.


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Editorial: Clash of the Elites: Beltway Insiders Versus Neo-Cons

5 January 2007

A titanic power struggle is being waged within the policy elite or power elite, or more simply the U.S. ruling class. The clash is taking place over the war on Iraq, U.S. policy toward Israel--and ultimately over the best way to run the U.S. empire. The war on Iraq is shaping up as such a disaster for the empire that it can no longer be tolerated by our rulers in its present form. The struggle is as plain as the nose on your face; nevertheless it draws little comment. One reason is that we are taught to view matters political through the prism of Democrat versus Republican, whereas this struggle among our rulers cuts across party lines. On the "Left," few so much as allude to this internecine war, much less use it to good effect. This is apparently due to a very rigid, very dogmatic view of how empires function, indeed how they "must" function, and due to a fear of being labeled anti-semitic and thus running afoul of the Israeli Lobby. In many cases this silence reflects an actual sympathy among "liberals" for neocon foreign policy, either out of a latter day do-gooder version of the White Man's Burden, or an attachment to Israel.

This struggle is in no way hidden and definitely not a secret conspiracy. It is out in the open, as it must be, since it is in great part a battle for the hearts and minds of the American public. This fact makes the absence of commentary about it all the more chilling. The fight among our rulers sets the neocons against other very important elements in the establishment: the senior officer corps, represented by Jack Murtha and Colin Powell; the old money like Ned Lamont; the oil men, like James Baker (With Baker against the war, how then can oil be the only reason for the war?); those who want to see the American imperium run effectively, like Lee Hamilton and Robert Gates of the Iraq Study Group; many in the CIA, both active duty and retired; policy makers like Zbigniew Brzezinski who has long opposed the war which he has ascribed to the influence of certain "ethnic" groups; and even former presidents Gerald Ford who kept his mouth shut and Jimmy Carter who has not and whose frustration with Israel and the neocons is all too clear in his book "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid."

Influential voices tied to the ruling circles include some writers for the militantly anti-war publication of the Old Right, The American Conservative.
On the other side are the neocons, based in the Washington "Think" Tanks, in the civilian leadership of the pre-Gates Pentagon, in Dick Cheney's office, in large parts of both parties in Congress, and in the editorial and op-ed pages of the print media. Most of the House and much of the Senate is still under the control of the neocons thanks to the fund-raising exertions and threats from AIPAC and its minions. Hence, the most powerful political allies of the neocons are the leading Democrats, who indulge in the most intense and shallow anti-Bush rhetoric but are reliable allies in the neocon crusades in the Middle East. The neocon side has relied heavily on the power of ideas,. This in turn hinges on the second rate level of those writing for the mass media who think little for themselves and go along with whatever framework for policy discussion is put forward by the neocons. Good examples of this are most op-ed pages, TV programs like the Sunday morning talk shows, Weekend Edition on NPR and Washington Week in Review on PBS. The neocons have not dominated the weekly news magazines, with the exception of U.S. News and World Report, but they are working to remedy that. Witness, for example, the adoption of William Kristol as a star columnist at Time!

Given this balance of forces, it would seem that the neocons must lose but the outcome remains an open question. If they do prevail, that will be the end of our democracy and freedoms as we have known them. If you have any doubts about that, consult their philosopher, Leo Strauss. The neocons cannot be automatically counted out, even though their base is narrow, for they can draw on all the resources of a mighty nation state, Israel, a modern Sparta, with its vaunted intelligence services and special forces which span the world and operate in the U.S., as well as its ability, if it desires, to launder cash and deliver it to U.S. operatives. And of course the war profiteers like Halliburton and others love the Iraq adventure. The arms manufacturers may be less happy with it, since money is not being spent on profitable high-tech weapons which do not have to function but rather on highly unprofitable "boots on the ground."

The public forays of the anti-neocons in this struggle are well-known. James Wilson in the New York Times, accusing Bush of lying about uranium from Niger; Richard Clarke's expose on the incompetence behind 9/11; the exposure of Judith Miller as lying about WMD, thus corrupting the NYT reportage (even the Washington Post, dominated as its opinion pages are by the neocons did not allow its reporting to be undermined by the likes of Judith Miller); the antiwar stance of John Murtha indicating the unhappiness of the senior officer corps with the dominance of US Middle East policy by the Israel-first neocons; Mearsheimer and Walt's paper, as important for who wrote it as for its content, which finally took on the Israeli Lobby, the core adversary of the anti-neocons; and most recently Jimmy Carter's book which inevitably raises the question of the shedding of American blood to preserve Israeli apartheid and to lay waste every and any nation perceive by Israel to be a threat. Add to this the report of the Baker Commission and the near-simultaneous removal of Rumsfeld and his replacement with a member of the Baker Commission.

The biggest blow to the neocon agenda came from the people themselves, in the form of the 2004 election defeat of the Republicans. Unfortunately, this defeat amounted only to a registration of national disgust over the war in Iraq but not one which would result in policy changes since the establishment Dems are solidly neocon in their foreign policy especially when it comes to the Middle East and Israel. The same is true of many progressives. One looks in vain for a reference to the Lobby on the Michael Moore web site for example or in the missives from UFPJ or from "P"DA.

Two questions emerge. Are there advantages to be gained from this struggle for the peace movement? Most definitely. We are being provided with powerful testimony from the most unassailable sources Jimmy Carter, Richard Clarke and Mearsheimer and Walt to name a few. And we should not allow this important information to be discredited by the neocons. The leading anti-neocons are not anti-empire, but at least they want to end the bloody war on Iraq and the dominance of Israel over key segments of U.S. foreign policy. That is a step forward. And second, given the key power of the Israel Lobby, can the peace movement fail any longer to ignore it as though it were irrelevant? Absolutely not. We ignore it at our peril. And we must get rid of all fears of being labeled as anti-semites. Most Jewish Americans, much to their credit, oppose the policies of the Lobby, which in the long run may be responsible for stirring up considerable anti-semitism in the U.S. and around the world. Would it not be wonderful if an anti-Lobby organization of Jewish Americans emerged with a title like "Not in Our Name"?

Finally, given the balance of forces at play, it is difficult to discern what Bush is likely to do in the coming days and months. The punditry is now predicting an escalation of the war in Iraq (aka a "surge"), but Bush surprised once with the firing of Rumsfeld of which there was no advance hint quite the contrary. He is certainly under enormous pressure to alter course, and he may have to do so no matter how much he recoils from it. He may even do so after a "surge" which could be used as a smoke screen for a policy shift. But escalating the conflict even temporarily will sink his ratings below 30% and make him the most unpopular president in history. We shall see.

John V. Walsh can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com.

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Editorial: The "Demonization" of Muslims and the Battle for Oil

by Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research
January 4, 2007

Throughout history, " wars of religion" have served to obscure the economic and strategic interests behind the conquest and invasion of foreign lands. "Wars of religion" were invariably fought with a view to securing control over trading routes and natural resources.

The Crusades extending from the 11th to the 14th Century are often presented by historians as "a continuous series of military-religious expeditions made by European Christians in the hope of wresting the Holy Land from the infidel Turks." The objective of the Crusades, however, had little to do with religion. The Crusades largely consisted, through military action, in challenging the dominion of the Muslim merchant societies, which controlled the Eastern trade routes.

The "Just War" supported the Crusades. War was waged with the support of the Catholic Church, acting as an instrument of religious propaganda and indoctrination, which was used in the enlistment throughout Europe of thousands of peasants, serfs and urban vagabonds.

America's Crusade in Central Asia and the Middle East

In the eyes of public opinion, possessing a "just cause" for waging war is central. A war is said to be Just if it is waged on moral, religious or ethical grounds.

America's Crusade in Central Asia and the Middle East is no exception. The "war on terrorism" purports to defend the American Homeland and protect the "civilized world". It is upheld as a "war of religion", a "clash of civilizations", when in fact the main objective of this war is to secure control and corporate ownership over the region's extensive oil wealth, while also imposing under the helm of the IMF and the World Bank (now under the leadership of Paul Wolfowitz), the privatization of State enterprises and the transfer of the countries' economic assets into the hands of foreign capital. .

The Just War theory upholds war as a "humanitarian operation". It serves to camouflage the real objectives of the military operation, while providing a moral and principled image to the invaders. In its contemporary version, it calls for military intervention on ethical and moral grounds against "rogue states" and "Islamic terrorists", which are threatening the Homeland.

Possessing a "just cause" for waging war is central to the Bush administration's justification for invading and occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Taught in US military academies, a modern-day version of the "Just War" theory has been embodied into US military doctrine. The "war on terrorism" and the notion of "preemption" are predicated on the right to "self defense." They define "when it is permissible to wage war": jus ad bellum.

Jus ad bellum serves to build a consensus within the Armed Forces command structures. It also serves to convince the troops that the enemy is "evil" and that they are fighting for a "just cause". More generally, the Just War theory in its modern day version is an integral part of war propaganda and media disinformation, applied to gain public support for a war agenda.

The Battle for Oil. Demonization of the Enemy

War builds a humanitarian agenda. Throughout history, vilification of the enemy has been applied time and again. The Crusades consisted in demonizing the Turks as infidels and heretics, with a view to justifying military action.

Demonization serves geopolitical and economic objectives. Likewise, the campaign against "Islamic terrorism" (which is supported covertly by US intelligence) supports the conquest of oil wealth. The term "Islamo-fascism," serves to degrade the policies, institutions, values and social fabric of Muslim countries, while also upholding the tenets of "Western democracy" and the "free market" as the only alternative for these countries.

The US led war in the broader Middle East Central Asian region consists in gaining control over more than sixty percent of the world's supplies of oil and natural gas. The Anglo-American oil giants also seek to gain control over oil and gas pipeline routes out of the region. (See table and maps below).

Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, possess between 66.2 and 75.9 percent of total oil reserves, depending on the source and methodology of the estimate. (See table below).

In contrast, the United States of America has barely 2 percent of total oil reserves. Western countries including its major oil producers ( Canada, the US, Norway, the UK, Denmark and Australia) control approximately 4 percent of total oil reserves. (In the alternative estimate of the Oil and Gas Journal which includes Canada's oil sands, this percentage would be of the the order of 16.5%. See table below).

The largest share of the World's oil reserves lies in a region extending (North) from the tip of Yemen to the Caspian sea basin and (East) from the Eastern Mediterranean coastline to the Persian Gulf. This broader Middle East- Central Asian region, which is the theater of the US-led "war on terrorism" encompasses according to the estimates of World Oil, more than sixty percent of the World's oil reserves. (See table below).

Iraq has five times more oil than the United States.

Muslim countries possess at least 16 times more oil than the Western countries.

The major non-Muslim oil reserve countries are Venezuela, Russia, Mexico, China and Brazil. (See table)

Demonization is applied to an enemy, which possesses three quarters of the world's oil reserves. "Axis of evil", "rogue States", "failed nations", "Islamic terrorists": demonization and vilification are the ideological pillars of America's "war on terror". They serve as a casus belli for waging the battle for oil.

The Battle for Oil requires the demonization of those who possess the oil. The enemy is characterized as evil, with a view to justifying military action including the mass killing of civilians. The Middle East Central Asian region is heavily militarized. (See map). The oil fields are encircled: NATO war ships stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean (as part of a UN "peace keeping" operation), US Carrier Strike Groups and Destroyer Squadrons in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian deployed as part of the "war on terrorism".

The ultimate objective, combining military action, covert intelligence operations and war propaganda, is to break down the national fabric and transform sovereign countries into open economic territories, where natural resources can be plundered and confiscated under "free market" supervision. This control also extends to strategic oil and gas pipeline corridors (e.g. Afghanistan).

Demonization is a PSYOP, used to sway public opinion and build a consensus in favor of war. Psychological warfare is directly sponsored by the Pentagon and the US intelligence apparatus. It is not limited to assassinating or executing the rulers of Muslim countries, it extends to entire populations. It also targets Muslims in Western Europe and North America. It purports to break national consciousness and the ability to resist the invader. It denigrates Islam. It creates social divisions. It is intended to divide national societies and ultimately trigger "civil war". While it creates an environment which facilitates the outright appropriation of the countries' resources, at the same time, it potentially backlashes, creates a new national consciousness, develops inter-ethnic solidarity, brings people together in confronting the invaders.

It is worth noting that the triggering of sectarian divisions and "civil wars" is contemplated in the process of redrawing of the map of the Middle East, where countries are slated to be broken up and transformed into territories. The map of the New Middle East, although not official, has been used by the US National War Academy. It was recently published in the Armed Forces Journal (June 2006). In this map, nation states are broken up, international borders are redefined along sectarian-ethnic lines, broadly in accordance with the interests of the Anglo-American oil giants (See Map below). The map has also been used in a training program at NATO's Defense College for senior military officers.

The Oil Lies in Muslim Lands

The oil lies in Muslim lands. Vilification of the enemy is part and parcel of Eurasia energy geopolitics. It is a direct function of the geographic distribution of the World's oil and gas reserves. If the oil were in countries occupied predominantly by Buddhists or Hindus, one would expect that US foreign policy would be directed against Buddhists and Hindus, who would also be the object of vilification..

In the Middle East war theater, Iran and Syria, which are part of the "axis of evil", are the next targets according to official US statements.

US sponsored "civil wars" have also been conducted in several other strategic oil and gas regions including Nigeria, the Sudan, Colombia, Somalia, Yemen, Angola, not to mention Chechnya and several republics of the former Soviet Union. Ongoing US sponsored "civil wars", which often include the channelling of covert support to paramilitary groups, have been triggered in the Darfur region of Sudan as well as in Somalia, Darfur possesses extensive oil reserves. In Somalia, lucrative concessions have already been granted to four Anglo-American oil giants.

"According to documents obtained by The Times, nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco [now part of BP], Chevron and Phillips in the final years before Somalia's pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991. Industry sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising concessions are hoping that the Bush Administration's decision to send U.S. troops to safeguard aid shipments to Somalia will also help protect their multimillion-dollar investments there." (America's Interests in Somalia, Global Research, 2002)

Globalization and the Conquest of the World's Energy Resources

The collective demonization of Muslims, including the vilification of Islam, applied Worldwide, constitutes at the ideological level, an instrument of conquest of the World's energy resources. It is part of the broader economic, political mechanisms underlying the New World Order.


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Editorial: OPEN LETTER: To Our U.S. Senators: Show Me the Money

Baltimore Chronicle
3 Jan 07

Dear U.S. Senators:

I myself rarely take the time to communicate with my elected representatives. But I'm beginning to feel that we all must take the time out of our lives to let you all know how we feel.

We have so many problems here in Michigan that aren't being addressed at all. I'm a Finance Manager for the Public Works Department in Lansing. We work pretty closely with the State, and I can tell you we're in deep trouble over here. Before you go blaming it all on our dependence on the automotive industry (which admittedly has put us at a disadvantage for the current economic environment), let me point out that our governor is doing a lot to bring in technology-based industries and reduce that dependence. In the meantime, we're bleeding jobs, and therefore bleeding revenues that we need to keep the infrastructure of the community going. We're looking at a 25% reduction in Act 51 funds this coming year, which means less money to fix the roads, and even more importantly, less money to clear snow and ice during bad weather. The City of Lansing is running a $13 million deficit, and the State of Michigan is running a $1 billion deficit. Five years ago we were in the black-had surpluses in fact.

Lack of revenues due to an economy on the downslide is one factor, but do you know what's really killing us in City government? Healthcare, plain and simple. We paid $25 million for employee healthcare benefits (for a work force of fewer than 2000 employees) in 2005. In 2006, that went up another 10%. Our current fringe rate is 112%. So an employee making $25K annually is costing another $28K in benefits. That's projected to increase another 25% in the coming year. We're looking at laying off about one quarter of our regular work force. Police and Fire are political hotbuttons, so they won't be touched. But the folks who keep the City clean, maintain the roads and sewers, keep our water clean, and work in revenue-generating sectors such as Parks and Rec, Parking, Income Tax and Treasury, are all on the block. When those people are laid off, they will no longer have health benefits, along with thousands of others in this state that are in the same predicament. When that happens, these folks will go to the doctor only when they're sick, probably to the ER. They won't be able to pay for it, but the cost will get passed on to those people who are insured. This will cause insurance premiums to rise again. Fewer employers will be able to afford the cost, so more people will lose their insurance benefits. And the cycle continues.

Is it any wonder that major employers who can move their operations outside of the U.S. do so? Even if they pay the exact same wages to foreign employees, they're going to increase their bottom line by 10% off the bat by not paying these benefits.

And insurance companies aren't alone in this. The drug companies that proclaim that prices must be so high so they may fund more research and development, spend billions on advertising. Next time you're in a restaurant or at a retailer, see if the pen they hand you to sign your credit card receipt doesn't have a drug name on it. When you get a sample of a drug from your doctor, how elaborate is the packaging? And when you turn on your television, how many commercials for specific drugs go across the screen in an hour?

I was hospitalized in November for less than 72 hours. The bill was $8000. I am fortunate to be insured, but I do get the itemized bill. I was charged $14 for two regular-strength run-of-the-mill Tylenol. Another drug they gave me cost $38.50 per pill. I was sent home without my problem being resolved, and told to monitor my diet. This is insane!

There seems to be a competition between the insurance companies and drug companies (in their glass and steel palaces...some of the most costly buildings in the world) to see who can make the most money. And the patient gets the short end of the stick. Advertising by drug companies should be illegal. Advertising by insurance companies is questionable, but more understandable given that they are in direct competition for the consumer dollar. Drug companies, however, should be limiting their advertising to health care providers, who should be the ones making the decisions about what medications to prescribe, not the patients themselves. Capitalism needs to be removed from healthcare. This one issue is going to bankrupt this country, and we're the only advanced country in the world that runs our healthcare system this way. The money being spent in Iraq on a monthly basis could fund a public health care system. But that would take a lot of money out of a lot of people's pockets, wouldn't it?

So to circle back to my original statement, I'm not naive enough to believe that the United States can function as an island. We can't. But we don't need to have our fingers in every little pie around the world. And stop lying to us about this "war on terror." That is such a ridiculous concept. We won't end terrorism by making war on any one country. People who commit acts of terror exist in every country in the world, and there's no way to prevent every possible act. And taking leaders who promote terrorism out of power won't stop it either. Most of the terrorists who are really commited have their basis in extremist religious doctrine, not in political power bases. You've been getting away with it by preying on the fears of a largely uneducated American public. And we breed our own terrorists right here in the good old U S of A, but they tend to be white males between the ages of 25 and 45, or have we already forgotten Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, the abortion clinic bombings in the South and in Boston...need I go on?

And how can we continue to give money to other governments? I manage our personal finances, as well as those of my employer. When my checkbook's in the red, I tell charities that I just can't afford to give. The bills need to be paid and I need to buy groceries first. That only makes sense. But our government seems to operate on the concept that as long as there are checks in the checkbook, we can go on spending.

I am a true Public Servant. Everything I do goes directly to the health and safety of the Citizens of Lansing. I'm a good steward. I cut costs wherever I can, and attempt to maintain the funding to provide the same high level of service to our public. My staff spends absolutely no money that isn't absolutely necessary, and they work their tails off. Due to staff cuts I've got one employee who is doing three people's jobs. She's a single mother with three children at home. Yet she never complains, or shows frustration to the citizens she serves. She is a true public servant. I am commited to the concept that the citizens are my employer, and I owe them the best possible job I can do. I'm even willing to take a pay cut to accomplish it. How about all of you in Washington? Are you public servants, or political servants? I'm hoping for the former, but I fear it's the latter.

There are so many other issues at home I would like to see addressed...education, job training, homelessness..I could fill a book. But then it would be too long for you to read, and I would accomplish nothing. So here's hoping for change in 2007. God knows we need it!

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Editorial: What Is the 'Root' of Evil?

by Douglas Herman
3 Jan 07

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." ~ Thoreau

Lake dweller Henry David Thoreau enjoyed an enviable, pastoral life in the pre-industrial age. Living in the woods on the shore of the 60 acre Walden Pond, a mile from the village of Concord, Massachusetts , Henry had ample time to dwell on the topic of good and evil.

The year was 1845. Slavery existed then in America . The Mexican War had not yet begun but would very soon. The War Between The States (for some unknown reason called a civil war) was 15 years in the future, but the issues drove many men into a frenzy. Most of the native tribes, "Indians," living west of the Missouri River, hadn't yet been eradicated. And all of these topics and hundreds more caught the attention of Thoreau. Like Tolstoy, 50 years later, Thoreau dwelt on the topic of good and evil, (among many others), trying to determine the clearest definition of the two in a so-called civilized society.

What he discovered was what most folks discover. Nobody much gives a damn about good and evil. Most folks were just too busy. At any moment, anywhere in the Western world, most men simply want to work and relax, "get paid and laid," as my younger brother so clearly defined the focus of most civilizations. The only root most men want to strike lies between their legs.

Good? Evil? Can anyone define the terms? The Seven Deadly Sins your definition of evil? What about a flag-waving series of wars based on lies? Is that good for some people and evil for others? Most folks prefer their Congressmen or televangelist or talk show host to define good and evil and do all their thinking for them. Never mind that these televangelists and US Representatives seem to represent themselves, rather than any declared ethic, and instead rapturously rubberstamp those wars.

"What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another . . . That is the whole law," Jewish rabbi Hillel taught about 2,000 years ago. But how many top Jewish leaders today make foreign or domestic policy with that wisdom in mind? How many so-called Christian leaders conduct their lives with the Sermon on the Mount in mind? Nobody in Congress that I know, aside from Ron Paul. Otherwise, how could so many hypocrites have voted for the Iraq War?

One hundred and sixty years ago, Henry Thoreau protested the flag-waving imperial war of his day. He protested a poll tax by going to jail. (See Mass Moments: Henry David Thoreau Spends Night in Jail) Who would do that today? One out of a hundred people, maybe? One of a thousand?

Can a person protest evil?

Several years ago, I got off my fat ass and protested a war. I spent Saturdays and Sundays in the weeks before the war, standing on a busy street corner in Coral Springs , Florida with my sign. "War $200 Billion-Peace Priceless." Nobody joined me. A few people gave me the finger. Several people honked and waved and one or two even stopped to ask me what the hell I was doing.

What could I tell them? What does the protest of one person accomplish? Opposing evil? What a laugh. Two weeks before the war, the drumbeats growing louder, only a fool would have predicted that American politicians and the collaborative media would seek a peaceful way. So I stood there, filled with self-doubts, wishing I was getting paid and laid, aware of my futile gesture. Striking at the roots of evil? Hardly. Probably not even striking at the branches.

Thoreau defended the Abolitionist John Brown for attacking and occupying the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. For his efforts, Brown and his co-conspirators-or heroes-got hanged. What did Brown accomplish? Did John Brown hack at the roots of evil? Did Thoreau? A large number of people were killed in the raid on the arsenal. What did Brown accomplish but agitate a hornet's nest that eventually led to the Confederacy and the War of Secession and a half million dead? Arguably, taking up arms against evil might then become a greater evil. Nuclear retaliation-or Mutually Assured Destruction-comes to mind.

The Root and Branches of Evil

How does a person recognize the so-called greater good and the greater evil? When I define 9-11 as the root of evil that led to the imperial wars in the Middle East, I assert my belief that a conspiracy of evil conspired to create a false flag event by the state. Was 9-11 a root of evil? Or a single branch of a greater evil? Because a state grown wholly out of control, branching out in a thousand directions, without remorse or ethical qualm, cannot be anything but evil. The 911 conspiracy might have been only a larger branch that I continue hacking at.

Tolstoy (an admirer of Thoreau) spent the last years of his life writing short stories and moral essays: "What Then Must We Do?" "What Men Live By." "How Much Land Does A Man Need?" The essays dealt with good and evil, the moral duty of a man, the lassitude of society.

Not surprisingly, Tolstoy determined that evil has plagued humans since some men asserted control and others let them. He wrote: "Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us . . . . In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful."

Is the war-loving state the stem of evil, while the root cause is a society's willing surrender to it? Or are humans predisposed to evil? My buddy Bill, a former Philly cop, believes humans possess damaged DNA and act accordingly. Not sure if that defense would hold up in a court of law but the evidence-that humans are flawed--is overwhelming.

"There are two basic reasons why people commit evil," wrote Fred E. Foldvary, in "The Origins of Evil." "Some people are simply amoral. They lack sympathy and don't think there is any morality. To them their victims are like rabbits. They think, if someone is weak or foolish enough to be a victim, they deserve no better . . . . But most evil is committed by people who believe they are doing good."

Presto. Or by people too lazy or programmed to reflect upon their actions.

Like most folks, I'll continue hacking at the branches of evil, and tell myself it is a good thing to do. After all, to strike at the root might require I get my hands dirty and acquire the proper digging tools. Who wants to do that? Most importantly, however, I would need the wisdom and ability to recognize the root when I see it and not mistake it for a fallen leaf.

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Editorial: Executing Saddam Hussein was an Act of Vandalism

Richard Dawkins
January 3, 2007

The obvious objections to the execution of Saddam Hussein are valid and well aired. His death will provoke violent strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and between Iraqis in general and the American occupation forces. This was an opportunity to set the world a good example of civilized behaviour in dealing with a barbarically uncivilized man. In any case, revenge is an ignoble motive. The usual arguments against the death penalty in general apply. If Bush and Blair are eventually put on trial for war crimes, I shall not be among those pressing for them to be hanged. But I want to add another and less obvious reason why we should not have executed Saddam Hussein. His mind would have been a unique resource for historical, political and psychological research: a resource that is now forever unavailable to scholars.

Imagine, in fancy, that some science fiction equivalent of Simon Wiesenthal built a time machine, travelled back to 1945 and returned to the present with a manacled Adolf Hitler. What should we do with him? Execute him? No, a thousand times no. Historians squabbling over exactly what happened in the Third Reich and the Second World War would never forgive us for destroying the central witness to all the inside stories, and one of the pivotal influences on twentieth century history. Psychologists, struggling to understand how an individual human being could be so evil and so devastatingly effective at persuading others to join him, would give their eye teeth for such a rich research subject. Kill Hitler? You would have to be mad to do so. Yet that is undoubtedly what we would have done if he hadn't killed himself in 1945. Saddam Hussein is not in the same league as Hitler but, nevertheless, in a small way his execution represents a wanton and vandalistic destruction of important research data.

Saddam Hussein could have provided irreplaceable help to future historians of the Iran/Iraq war, of the invasion of Kuwait, and of the subsequent era of sanctions culminating in the current invasion. Uniquely privileged evidence on the American government's enthusiastic arming of Saddam before they switched loyalties is now snuffed out at the tug of a rope (no doubt to the relief of Donald Rumsfeld and other guilty parties - it is surely no accident that the trial of Saddam neglected those of his crimes that might - no, would - have implicated them).

Political scientists of the future, studying the processes by which unscrupulous leaders arise and take over national institutions, have now lost key evidence forever. But perhaps the most important research in which a living Saddam Hussein could have helped is psychological. Most people can't even come close to understanding how any man could be so cruel as Hitler or Saddam Hussein, or how such transparently evil monsters could secure sufficient support to take over an entire country. What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels? Could the danger have been nipped in the bud by an alert psychiatrist before it was too late? How would Hitler, or Saddam Hussein have responded to a different style of education? We don't have a clear answer to these questions. We need to do the research.

Then again, are there lots of Saddams and lots of Hitlers in every society, but most of them end up as football hooligans wrecking trains rather than dictators wrecking countries? If so, what singles out the minority that do come to power? Or were men such as these truly unusual? What can we do to prevent them gaining power in the future? Are there changes we could make to our democratic and other political institutions that would make it harder for men of Hitler's or Saddam Hussein's psychological types to take them over?

These questions are not just academically fascinating but potentially of vital importance for our future. And they cannot be answered by prejudice or preconception or intuitive commonsense. The only way to answer them is by research. It is in the nature of research on ruthless national dictators that the sample size is small. Wasn't the judicial destruction of one of the very few research subjects we had - and a prime specimen at that - an act of vandalism?

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Shutting Up Saddam

Saddam is Hanged for His Crimes: Who will Hang Bush/Blair for Theirs?

by Dr. Elias Akleh
Global Research
2 Jan 07

Saddam Hussein was hanged on the orders of a US sponsored Kangaroo court. Who has the authority to hang Bush, Blair and company for their crimes?
A kangaroo court (the so-called High Iraqi Tribunal) had sentenced Saddam Hussein, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim, and the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court Awad Hamed Al-Bandar to be hanged within 30 days. Yet the US administration, in a rash decision, pressured the Al-Maliki government to hang Saddam on Saturday the 30th of December, the first day of Islamic religious Addha holiday, in a blatant violation of the religious beliefs and laws of all Islamic countries, which ban the execution of any criminal during this holiday. The hanging also violated the Christian spirit of Christmas, and the Iraqi constitution penned down by Bremer. It exhibited spirit of vengeance. Sparing the life of Ibrahim and Al-Bandar clearly shows that Saddam's hanging was intent on demonizing Muslims in Iraq and around the World as well as inciting increased sectarian violence within Iraq.

Saddam's death sentence was decided a long time ago, in the late 1980's when he refused to open up Iraqi assets (and oil reserves) to Western corporations, when he invaded Kuwait, and when he subsequently took the decision to convert Iraq's reserve funds from Dollars into Euros.

Several assassination attempts had been planned, but failed miserably. The failed Dujail assassination attempt was one of such attempts, which resulted in the execution of 148 Shiites. Finally under the lies of alleged possession of WMD, "the freeing of Iraqis", and the "spreading of American democracy" British and American forces invaded Iraq in 2003.

Saddam was originally a CIA asset, recruited to assassinate the previous Iraqi president Abdel-Karim Qassem, who started taxing British and US oil companies as a first step in an attempt to nationalize Iraq's oil resources. After failing to assassinate Qassem, and being wounded in the process, Saddam escaped to Egypt, where he routinely visited the US embassy in Cairo.

Later when the CIA was able to topple Qassam's presidency, Saddam was sent back to Iraq to take on the position of Head of National Security. He later became president with the backing of the US. Saddam installed as head of State to prevent the nationalization of Iraq's oil industry as well as to quell the Arab Nationalist Movement in Iraq, integrated by Shi'a, Kurdish and Sunni Iraqis.

In the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Saddam was pressured by Washington to wage war on Iran. Kissinger's famous statement "let them kill each other" describes the real nature of this eight years' war. The US administration supported both sides. It provided Saddam with weapons and intelligence, while also covertly supporting Iran. The US military industrial complex profited tremendously from the Iraq-Iran war.

The Arab Gulf rulers supported Saddam and handed him the necessary money to pay for his war against Iran. When the war was over Kuwait refused to forgive Saddam's wartime debt. It also opposed to increase the price of oil, as Saddam had proposed in OPEC with a view to financing Iraq's war debts. This confrontation ultimately led to the invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War I carpet bombing of withdrawing Iraqi troops. Although it was possible to topple Saddam's regime at that time, the US adminstration feared this would break their alliance with the frontline Arab states.

There is no question that Saddam was a ruthless dictator, like most of the Arab rulers, who were handed their political positions after WWII to keep the Arab World divided and separated, and to subdue their people. Yet with all his ruthlessness and despotic rule he enjoyed public support for the political positions he took. He built Iraq into the most technologically advanced Arab country. Next to the Palestinians, Iraqis were the most educated in the Arab world. Primary education was compulsory, higher education was free. Women's rights progressed in the context of secular Muslim state. Unlike the rest of the Arab rulers, the Iraqi government provided real homes rather than dirty refugee camps for Palestinian refugees. He also sent money to Palestinian fighters resisting Israeli occupation. Besides his support to Palestinians, Saddam stood defiant towards Israel, the US and Iran; he dispatched Iraqi tanks to protect Syria from Israeli attacks, gave Jordan support in the form of monetary and oil grants, resisted US demands in the wake of the Gulf War.

Although Saddam was ruthless towards any form of political opposition, much like most Arab rulers, whose crimes and tortures have not yet been exposed, his government, nonetheless, provided for the average Iraqi citizen.

The Hussein regime formally provided "security and safety" where people could walk the streets without fear of crimes.

The government also provided food rations while under the US sponsored sanctions regime following Gulf War I. Within a few months after the end of the first Gulf War, the Hussein government started rebuilding Iraq's civilian infrastructure, which had been destroyed by US bombings. This included roads and bridges, power stations, water desalination facilities, educational centers, and governmental services.

Saddam was tried by a kangaroo Iraqi Special Tribunal, whose judges had been specially assigned by the US military authorities. Its judges had been changed few times, and several of Saddam's lawyers were assassinated. This Tribunal convicted Saddam for crimes allegedly perpetrated in Dujail against 148 Iraqis, who were originally tried and sentenced to death by a legal Iraqi court for their alleged assassination attempt against president Saddam. The Tribunal overlooked Saddam's other more severe crimes, often perpetrated in cooperation with successive US administrations, which supplied his regime with weapons and intelligence.

Bush/Blair War Crimes

There can be no double standards in assessing war crimes. Hanging should also be the sentence for Bush and Blair, for:

1. causing the death of almost 700 thousands mostly civilian Iraqis during the last three years of US occupation, the destruction of all Iraqi civilian infrastructures,

2. the collapse of all civilian services,

3. triggering the departure into several hundred thousand Iraqis, fleeing Iraq and becoming refugees in foreign countries,

4. the bombings of various religious shrines,

5. the tearing of the Iraqi social fabric and the incitment of civil war,

6. the theft of Iraqi's oil national resources,

7. the looting of cultural treasures,

8. the massacre of civilians including women and children,

9. the use of illegal weapons, such as depleted uranium and phosphorus bombs, against whole cities and the burying thousands of victims in massive graveyards,

10. the nightly raids against civilian homes and the kidnapping of people including women and children,

11. the spreading of terror, insecurity and chaos within cities,

12. the imprisonment of thousands of innocent people in massive encampments, torturing, humiliating, raping, and murdering of innocent civilian prisoners, and many other war crimes.

The invasion of Iraq, in itself, is a war crime. The invasion was based on lies and fabrications; Iraq did not have WMD, did not support terrorists, and did not pose any threat to its neighboring countries or to the Western world as claimed by the US administration.

"Freeing Iraqis" and "spreading American democracy" were the underlying falsehoods used to justify a terrorist war against Iraq. and its population. The UN Secretary Kofi Annan, in his resignation speech, called the war on Iraq an "illegal act that contravened the UN charter", thus making the war a supreme international crime. Annan also declared that Iraq under the rule of dictator Saddam was much better off than under the American democracy.

Bush and Blair. waged an illegal war, with a view to steeling Iraqis natural resources including its extensive oil reserves. They, and their administrations, caused the deaths of almost a million people within a period of three years.

They had caused the destruction of a whole country. They spread terror not only in Iraq but in the entire Middle Eastern region. They legalized torture, rape, and murder of prisoners.

They kidnapped citizens of other nations and sent them to be tortured in prisons scattered around the world.

They not only terrorized and caused the deaths of citizens of other nations, they also terrorized their own citizens,

They derogated their human and civil rights through imposing draconian laws such as the Patriot Act,

They legalized surveillance and ethnic profiling, the imprisoned their own citizens, based on ethnic on religious background labeling them "foreign combatants', trying them with undisclosed evidence, terrorizing their citizens with imaginary enemies.

They sent their young men and women to fight an illegal war in iraq and Afghanistan..

They dramatically curtailed all types of social services, while channelling tax dollars to the military industrial complex.

Billions of dollars from the public purse, financed by tax payers, allegedly designated to financing "postwar reconstruction" and "spreading American democracy", were channelled into the bank accounts of large corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

Saddam Hussein was hanged on the orders of a US sponsored Kangaroo court. Who has the authority to hang Bush, Blair and company for their crimes?

Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala. Currently he lives in the US.

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The Barbaric Lynching of President Saddam Hussein

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Member of the International Committee
For the Defence of President Saddam Hussein
30th December 2006

On the Holy day of Eid, the world watched in horror at the barbaric lynching of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, allegedly for crimes against humanity. This public murder was sanctioned by the War Criminals, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.

This sadistic act broadcasted to the whole world is a travesty of justice, and was meant to demonstrate the imperial power of the United States and serves as a warning to peace loving peoples that we must either bow to the dictates of the Bush regime or face the consequences of a public lynching.
The lynching was also an insult to all Muslims, as it occurred on the Holy Day of Eid, whereby Muslims devote themselves to prayer and forgiveness. It is all too clear that the war criminal Bush has no sensitivities whatsoever for Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca. This barbaric act is a sacrilege!

The entire trial process was a mockery of justice, no less a Kangaroo Court. Defence counsels were brutally murdered, witnesses threatened and judges removed for being impartial and replaced by puppet judges. Yet, we are told that Iraq was invaded to promote democracy, freedom and justice.

A peaceful country has now been turned into a war zone. Over 500,000 children died as a result of the criminal economic sanctions, and the latest findings by the medical journal, Lancet reveals that over 650,000 Iraqis have died since the illegal invasion of 2003.

The War Criminal Bush has killed more Iraqis than President Saddam ever did, if in fact he was guilty of any crime. If President Saddam Hussein is guilty of war crimes, then the world must find Bush, Blair and Howard equally guilty and the International Criminal Court cannot but prosecute these war criminals. The inaction thus far by the International Criminal Court against Bush, Blair and Howard exposes the double standard of the said Court, when it does not hesitate to prosecute war crimes committed in Dalfur, Rwanda and Kosovo.

If we support human rights and justice, we must condemn this barbaric lynching of President Saddam Hussein. There can be no excuse whatsoever for this injustice under any circumstances. War Criminal Bush and the puppet regime in Iraq have made a mockery of the Rule of Law.

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Saddam Hussein asks for no mercy during his execution - Would George W. Bush Act as Courageously in the Same Circumstances?

3 Jan 07

The murder of ex-President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad was perhaps the worst example of political blindness shown by the inept, incompetent and incapacitated Bush regime.
From the beginning, the war in Iraq lacked one fundamental precept: legality. From the beginning, the kangaroo court hurriedly set up to try Saddam Hussein and other members of the Ba'athist Party lacked one fundamental precept: legality, as expressed by numerous international experts.

From the very beginning, the foreign policy launched by the Bush regime (the lies of Colin Powell at the UNO, the lies of George Bush, who knew not only that Iraq had WMD but even knew exactly where they were, the shock and awe campaign which was no more than a criminal act of butchery) proved to be wholly out of tune with the rest of Humankind, a sort of Hitlerian spasm which humanity appears to suffer from every so many years.

The criminal act of invading a sovereign nation outside the UN auspices, of targeting civilian structures with military hardware, of removing a State so irresponsibly, has sent Iraqi society back three centuries in three years. Women, for instance, have lost any rights they gained under Saddam, and now are unable to venture out without a veil and religion is no longer a private matter, but a cause to be killed for, while the Kurds fight to keep Saria law out of their constitution. This is the Iraq of George Bush.

Sectarian violence is rife and increasing and civilian casualties are reaching shocking proportions of tens of thousands a year. So what did the Bush regime wish to achieve with the murder of Saddam Hussein?

Does George Bush believe that two wrongs make a right? He should know, after all Saddam Hussein was hanged for signing 148 death warrants for high treason, while George Bush signed 152 as Governor of Texas, for lesser crimes.

With the Sunni community deploring this wanton act of cruelty and the Shiite community celebrating, how much nearer to open civil war does the Bush regime wish to push Iraq?

The hurried way in which Saddam Hussein was dispatched raises the suspicion that there was something to hide. After all, why were we not shown the footage of the trial? Why did 99 per cent of the proceedings take place in secrecy? What did Saddam Hussein say in his defence? Who sold him the weapons? Who sold him the gas? Upon whose orders? Did Iraq gas the Kurds or was it some other neighbouring state with a Kurdish question to solve at a moment when it would be easy to blame someone else?

These are questions to which we will never know the answer because the Government of the United States of America was unable or unwilling to face the truth. The murder of Saddam Hussein was therefore a criminal act of cowardice which created a martyr out of a man who could easily have been portrayed as a monster and which underlines the criminal, murderous traits of George Bush the man and the Presidency of the USA today. The monster, after all, sits in the Oval Office, Washington, the scene of many lurid acts in recent years.

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After the YouTube execution, what now for death penalty?

By Justin Huggler
04 January 2007

It was never meant to be a public execution. But two and a half minutes of jerky footage, shot with a mobile phone, brought the hanging of Saddam Hussein into living rooms across the world. By yesterday, it had provoked a wave of international condemnation, and put the question of capital punishment under renewed scrutiny.

"Welcome to the sordid world of the execution chamber, brought to you by the YouTube generation," Amnesty International said. More than half of all countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; Iraq has now rejoined the small number of countries where executions are routine and justice uncertain. That roll call includes China, Saudi Arabia, the US and Iran, where more than 90 per cent of executions are committed.
A total of 128 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Although 69 other countries retain the death penalty, the number of countries that actually execute prisoners in any year is much smaller.

Saddam's Iraq was notorious for arbitrary killings. He used torture, murders, targeted assassinations, and court-ordered executions to maintain an iron grip. One respected human rights organisation reported how he ordered public beheadings of women accused of being prostitutes. Their heads were publicly displayed near signs reading, "For the honour of Iraq".

His execution has come at a time when the death penalty is under more pressure than it has been for years. No less a figure than Governor Jeb Bush of Florida - whose brother, President George Bush, is a noted supporter of capital punishment - has just ordered a moratorium on executions in the state after a botched lethal injection in which the prisoner took twice as long as usual to die and is believed to have been in agony.

Executions have been suspended in California and Missouri after judges ruled lethal injection unconstitutional because the pain it causes amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

And a special commission in New Jersey yesterday recommended that the state become the first to abolish the death penalty since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

In the United States, new medical research that suggests lethal injection, the execution method in all but one state, is an extremely painful way to die, has reopened the debate.

Around the world, capital punishment is losing ground. In 2005, Mexico and Liberia became the latest countries to abolish the death penalty, bringing the number of countries that have no death penalty to 86; in 1977 there were 16.

Although thousands are still executed every year, just four countries account for 94 per cent of all executions: China, the US, Iran and Saudi Arabia. China accounts for most executions, sentencing people to death not only for murder, but for crimes including tax fraud, minor drug offences and non-violent theft. It has dropped its practice of forcing the relatives of the executed to pay for the bullet with which they are killed.

In Iran and Saudi Arabia, executions are still public. Criminals are beheaded with the sword in Saudi Arabia, and hanged from cranes in Iran, where children under the age of 18 are still executed.

Other countries that still commit significant numbers of executions include Vietnam, where information on how many death sentences have been carried out is classified as a state secret, and Pakistan. Now Amnesty International is warning of growing concern over the number of people being executed in Iraq.

Saddam executed thousands of Iraqis during his time in power. But in the end, the video of his own brutal execution may be two and a half minutes that reopened the debate on capital punishment.

Capital punishment across the world

The number of executions in the United States in 2006

10 The number of states which have put executions on hold after the botched execution of Angel Nieves Diaz in Florida last month. He took 34 minutes to die from a lethal injection

31 The number of years that one US citizen has been on death row. The Texan prisoner is scheduled to be executed this year for murder

68 The number of crimes carrying the death penalty in China. They include non-violent crimes such as tax fraud, embezzlement and drugs offences

86 The number of prisoners executed in Saudi Arabia last year - almost half of whom were foreign nationals

4 The number of people executed in Japan on Christmas Day

The percentage of all known executions which took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US

6 The number of methods of execution: beheading (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq); electrocution (US); hanging (Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and others); lethal injection (China, Guatemala, Philippines, Thailand, US); shooting (Belarus, China, Somalia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and others) and stoning (Iran and Afghanistan)

18 The minimum age for the application of the death penalty according to international treaty

8 The number of child offenders executed in Iran in 2005

2,148 The total number of people executed in 2005, in 22 countries

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Official arrested for filming Saddam execution

03 Jan 07

The person believed to have recorded Saddam Hussein's execution on a mobile phone camera was arrested today, an adviser to Iraq's prime minister said.

The adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not identify the person. But he said it was "an official who supervised the execution" and who is "now under investigation."

"In the past few hours, the government has arrested the person who made the video of Saddam's execution," the adviser said.
Iraqi state television aired an official video of the hanging, which had no audio and never showed Saddam's actual death. But the mobile phone video showed the deposed leader being taunted in his final moments, with witnesses shouting "go to hell" before he dropped through the gallows floor and swung dead at the end of a rope.

The unruly scene aired on Al-Jazeera television and was posted on the internet, prompting a worldwide outcry and big protests among Iraq's minority Sunnis, who lost their preferential status when Saddam was ousted in the US-led invasion of March 2003.

Al-Maliki yesterday ordered his Interior Ministry to investigate the video - who made it and how it reached television and websites for public viewing.

Today, an Iraqi prosecutor who was also present at the execution denied a report that he had accused the country's national security adviser of possible responsibility for the leaked video.

"I am not accusing Mowaffak al-Rubaie (the national security adviser), and I did not see him taking pictures," Munqith al-Faroon, an Iraqi prosecutor in the case that sent Saddam to the gallows, told The Associated Press.

"But I saw two of the government officials who were ... present during the execution taking all the video of the execution, using the lights that were there for the official taping of the execution. They used mobile phone cameras. I do not know their names, but I would remember their faces," al-Faroon said in a telephone interview.

The prosecutor said the two officials were openly taking video pictures, which are believed to be those which appeared on Al-Jazeera satellite television and a website within hours of Saddam's death by hanging shortly before dawn on Saturday.

The New York Times today reported that al-Faroon told the newspaper " one of two men he had seen holding a mobile phone camera aloft to make a video of Mr Hussein's last moments up to and past the point where he fell through the trapdoor was Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Maliki's national security adviser."

The Times said it had been unable to reach al-Rubaie for comment. AP also could not reach him today.

Al-Faroon said there were 14 Iraqi officials, including himself and another prosecutor, as well as three hangmen present for the execution. All the officials, he said, were flown by US helicopter to the former military intelligence facility where Saddam was put to death in an execution chamber used by his own security men for years.

The prosecutor said he believed all mobile phones had been confiscated before the flight and that some of the officials' bodyguards, who arrived by car, had smuggled the camera phones to the two officials he had seen taking the video pictures.

Some of the last words Saddam heard, according to the leaked mobile phone video, were a chant of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada," a reference to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric, whose Mahdi Army militia is believed responsible for many of this year's wave of killings that have targeted Sunnis and driven many from their homes.

Al-Sadr's father was killed by Saddam. The militant cleric is a key al-Maliki backer.

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U.S. on Saddam: "Would have done it differently"

Alastair Macdonald and Claudia Parsons
Wed Jan 3, 2007 12:54 PM ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces had no role in Saddam Hussein's hanging, but would have handled it differently, a U.S. general said on Wednesday as Iraqi authorities questioned a guard over a video of officials taunting Saddam on the gallows.

National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said a committee investigating who had illicitly filmed and leaked a video of the hanging was questioning one of the guards at the prison facility where Saddam was hanged at dawn on Saturday.

There were conflicting reports of whether Saddam's two co- defendants, including his half-brother Barzan, would be hanged on Thursday at dawn. Rubaie said the date had not been set.
As the White House said President George W. Bush had not seen the video, Major General William Caldwell urged the Iraqi government to reach out to disillusioned Sunni Arabs, who have warned that the execution and film are blows to the Shi'ite-led government's efforts at national reconciliation.

Caldwell said U.S. forces, who had physical custody of Saddam for three years, left all security measures at Saddam's hanging, including access to the execution chamber, to Iraqis.

"Had we been physically in charge at that point we would have done things differently," Caldwell told a news conference.

"At this point the government of Iraq has the opportunity to take advantage of what has occurred and really reach out now in an attempt to bring more people back into the political process and bring the Sunnis back," he said, singling out a need to ease restrictions on former members of Saddam's Baath party.

"It's a real critical juncture."

In unusually direct advice from the U.S. military to Iraqi leaders, Caldwell said the country's government and parliament "will have to rise above past divisions".

"This will entail difficult decisions ... and hard compromises necessary for national reconciliation."


Caldwell said there had been a lull in violence over the Eid al-Adha holiday which started on Saturday, but U.S. forces were braced for a possible violent backlash still to come.

Thousands of Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs have marched to vent anger at the execution in Sunni Arab strongholds. More mourners came to visit his grave in his home village of Awja on Wednesday, and other towns also saw further demonstrations.

In Falluja, in western Iraq, posters were plastered on walls promising revenge for the "martyr" Saddam.

The unofficial video of the hanging, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, showed Shi'ite officials mocking Saddam just before he was hanged, inflaming sectarian passions in a country already on the brink of sectarian civil war.

Rubaie blamed the video on people trying to raise tension.

"Whoever leaked this video meant to harm national reconciliation and drive a wedge between Shi'ites and Sunnis," said Rubaie, one of some 20 official witnesses at the hanging.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to the prime minister, told Iraqiya state television that a number of guards at the facility had been taken in for questioning and investigators had identified a person suspected of filming the hanging.

Prosecutor Munkith al-Faroon, heard appealing for order on the video, told Reuters on Tuesday that two senior officials had filmed the hanging, challenging government claims guards did it.


The timing of the execution, just four days after an appeal failed and on the first day of Eid, shocked many, both in Iraq and in the rest of the Muslim world.

A senior U.S. official told the New York Times Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was concerned that if Saddam was not hanged quickly he would somehow escape the noose.

"His concern was security, and that ... maybe there would be a mass kidnapping to bargain for Saddam Hussein's release," he said. "He was concerned that he might somehow get free."

Rubaie confirmed that Iraqi officials had been concerned Saddam might escape justice: "The question is not 'Why the rush in the execution?' The question is 'Why the delay?'

"Some people were talking about the Americans, saying they might take him to one of these islands controlled by the United States and exile him there."

Rubaie, Faroon and Sami al-Askari, a senior aide to Maliki, all said the date had not been set for the hanging of Barzan al -Tikriti, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad al-Bander, a former chief judge, despite other officials telling media they would hang on Thursday at dawn.

Before Saddam's hanging, there were similarly conflicting reports about when it would happen and the government took the final decision only a few hours before the dawn execution.

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Blair fails to condemn hanging as Bush ducks the question

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
UK Independent
04 Jan 07

Downing Street has welcomed the Iraqi government's decision to hold an inquiry into the fiasco over the execution of Saddam Hussein and admitted that mistakes had been made.

But No 10 declined to endorse comments by John Prescott who said the unauthorised filming and taunting of the former Iraqi dictator by guards who told him to "go to hell" was "deplorable" and that those responsible should be "ashamed." A spokeswoman said the Deputy Prime Minister was giving his "personal" view.
When he returns from his holiday in Miami, Mr Blair will come under pressure to condemn the way Saddam was executed last Saturday. He has so far avoided any public comment.

Yesterday George Bush ­ who said he had not seen the illicit video of the hanging because he was focused on the "way forward" in Iraq ­ dodged questions about the execution as the Americans sought to distance themselves from the way it was handled. Major General William Caldwell said in Baghdad that the US would have carried it out "differently" and did not play a role in the proceedings. "If you're asking me, would we have done things differently, yes, we would have," he said. "But that's not our decision. That's a government of Iraq decision."

He said a US military team only transported Saddam to the site of his execution, and the Iraqi government maintained custody of the former leader throughout. After delivering Saddam to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice's As-Buratha prison, American personnel "withdrew from the building, back from the whole location", he added.

In Britain, MPs believe the controversy risks turning Saddam into a martyr. His execution is sensitive for Mr Blair because the Government opposes the death penalty. Downing Street declined to say whether Britain would back Italian calls for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment via the United Nations but reaffirmed the Government's opposition to it.

The spokeswoman said: "The Iraqi government is going to conduct an inquiry into the manner in which the execution was conducted. We fully support that decision and believe it is the right thing to do. As they have said, there were obviously things that went wrong."

She insisted that Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, had spoken on behalf of the whole Government by saying the UK was against the death penalty but that Saddam had been "held to account".

No 10 backed Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who said in an interview that he would not seek a second term and wished he could leave office before his four-year term is up and would not run again. "I didn't want to take this position," Mr Maliki told the Wall Street Journal. "I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again."

Amnesty International warned that Saddam's execution was just one of a fast-rising number in Iraq, claiming at least 54 were carried out last year. Tim Hancock, its UK campaigns director, said: "Iraq had a chance to turn its back on the cruelty of the Saddam years and respect human rights, pursuing real justice with fair trials and humane punishment of those found guilty."

Iraqi authorities have not yet set a date to hang Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, and a former judge, Awad al-Bander, convicted with him for crimes against humanity.

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Cairo dismayed at 'primitive' Saddam death

Staff and agencies
Guardian Unlimited
5 Jan 07

Saddam Hussein was made into "a martyr" by the manner of his execution, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, warned today, saying he had urged Washington not to hang him during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Mr Mubarak said that when it became clear the former Iraqi dictator was about to be hanged he sent a message to president George Bush asking to get it postponed. "Don't do it at this time," Mr Mubarak told the US leader, he recounted in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
"Why is it necessary to hang (him) just at the time when people are saying the holiday prayers?"

Mr Mubarak, who was interviewed at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheik ahead of a meeting there with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who also condemned the manner in which Saddam was put to death.

Footage shot on a mobile phone camera, which appeared on television and websites just hours after Saddam was hanged on Saturday, showed him facing sectarian taunts from hooded guards before he was placed in the noose.

Mr Mubarak labelled the video footage of Saddam's death as "shocking pictures, primitive pictures," adding, "It was disgraceful and very painful".

"I'm not going to say whether Saddam deserved the death penalty or not," Mr Mubarak said. "I'm also not going to go into the question of whether that court is legal under the occupation.? "When all's said and done, nobody will ever forget the circumstances and the manner in which Saddam was executed. They have made him into a martyr, while the problems within Iraq remain."

Egypt is a key US ally in the Middle East, and has signed a peace deal with Israel. However, it also had friendly relations with Saddam's regime before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The manner of Saddam's execution has been condemned around the world, with Mr Bush admitting he "wished proceedings had gone in a more dignified way".

Tony Blair, who was on holiday when Saddam was hanged, has yet to comment. His deputy, John Prescott, labelled the way it was carried out as "deplorable".

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From Vatican to India, Saddam Hanging enrages millions

Ali Cordoba
4 Jan 07

In Hyderabad, leftist and Muslim political parties protested against the execution of Saddam Hussein. The Vatican, through its newspaper, condemned the hanging of Saddam, saying it was a crime to distribute the video of his hanging. In North Africa, Yemen, Mecca (Makkah), and even in Dubai, the sentiment among Sunni Muslims across the world is anger and spite for the US and its President, George W. Bush. Is Saddam more dangerous dead than alive?
The US propaganda machine got it all wrong once again. Thinking that the Saddam hanging would make the world celebrate the New Year with greater frenzies, the US has in fact divided the world into pro-US and anti-US.

While Malaysia, Indonesia and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) showed their real fear of the US by 'accepting' the hanging, other nations did not fail to point the wrong timing, the bad video and the sectarian taunting during Saddam's last moments alive.

Editors in Mauritius (see world futures for the article on Saddam City) the tiny Indian Ocean Island called the hanging an unfortunate event that made Saddam a martyr despite his wrongdoings. The day of Eid el Adha, chosen for the killing of Saddam by the Shiite majority government in Iraq, will only turn Saddam into a household hero in Iraq's Sunni homes wrote other editors in the Middle East.

The Arab streets are boiling with anti-US sentiments while in Palestine there has been extensive mourning for the fallen leader who is now considered a martyr. A Muslim is said to be a martyr if he is killed by his foes. Many Palestinians believe the fact that Saddam is heard reciting the act of Islamic faith and died while calling the name of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) makes him a martyr.

In Hyderabad, President Saddam Hussein's execution by the Iraq government on Saturday 30th December 2006 was received with shock.

Political parties, including left-wing parties and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, took out rallies and burnt effigies of US President George W Bush, while religious institutions condemned the execution.

MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi said, "The trial was a farce. The US showed its total insensitivity by executing Saddam Hussein on a holy day. These days are holy for the Muslims. They are busy in prayers and celebrating Id."

Hundreds of left activists took out a rally from L B Stadium to Basheerbagh crossroads and later burnt Bush's effigy. They also raised slogans against the US government.

"Saddam's hanging is hanging of justice," they shouted. CPM activists took out a black flag rally from Golconda crossroads to Musheerabad crossroads and later burnt the effigy of the US president. TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu termed the execution of Saddam as an 'unfortunate' event.

"The execution will have far-reaching consequences on the law and order situation internationally," Naidu said in a press release.

Religious bodies Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiatul Ulama (JU) were more vocal in their reaction. JI president for AP and Orissa Abdul Basith Anwar, in a statement, expressed regret and said the execution was carried out when Muslims were preparing for Fajar (morning) prayer.

"If execution is the punishment for Saddam Hussein for what he had done to his people and the country, then President Bush and his ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair deserve worse treatment for what they are doing in Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq," he added.

JU state president Hafiz Peer Shabbir Ahmed described the US as the biggest terrorist on the face of earth. The hanging of Saddam will have dangerous repercussions. The US should realise this, he warned.

However, Shia Personal Board general secretary Maulana Raza Agha said Saddam Hussein was the biggest tyrant and Muslims should learn a lesson in his execution

India dissapointed

Describing the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as 'unfortunate', India on Saturday said it was 'disappointed' over the development.

New Delhi, which had earlier opposed Hussein's execution, hoped that the event will not affect the process of reconciliation and restoration of peace in the trouble-torn country.

"We had already expressed the hope that the execution would not be carried out. We are disappointed that it has been (carried out)," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.

U.N. approves of Saddam's killing

The United Nations, through its new Secretary General failed to condemn the hanging of Saddam. New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ran into trouble on his first day of work Tuesday over Saddam Hussein's execution when he failed to state the United Nations' opposition to the death penalty and said capital punishment should be a decision of individual countries.

In a blunt and shocking statement, Ban Ki-moon showed his intolerance and possibly the new image of the SG of the UN by stating it was alright to hang Saddam.

On their part, Malaysia and Indonesia approved of the hanging despite the general feeling among Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims that it was wrong to do so. The two South East Asian Muslim majority nations have de-facto approved of the US illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 with this tacit approval of Saddam's killing.

Perhaps Mahathir Mohamad, former Premier of Malaysia, voiced what most Muslims in the world are feeling when he said Saddam's hanging was a lynching and that George W. Bush and Tony Blair were criminals.

In the UK, the Independent Newspaper criticized the hanging of Saddam saying it made the 'monster a martyr' and it will fuel wider sectarian violence in Iraq.

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Iraq to go ahead with hangings despite UN call to halt them

Brian Whitaker and agencies
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

The Iraqi government said yesterday it will execute two of Saddam Hussein's henchmen despite a call from the UN to refrain from hanging them.

"Nobody can stop the carrying out of court verdicts," said Sami al-Askari, an adviser to prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"The court's statute does not allow even the president of the republic or the prime minister to commute sentences, let alone grant a pardon. Therefore, no pressure can stop the executions," he told the BBC's Arabic service.
Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, had appealed to Iraq not to execute the two men, Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's revolutionary court.

They were convicted and sentenced to death along with Saddam for the killings of 148 Shia from Dujail in the 1980s.

Their executions were initially postponed until after the Eid al-Adha holiday. Although Wednesday was the last day of the holiday for Iraq's Shia community the government has declared a public holiday lasting until Saturday.

Bahaa al-Araji, an MP for the radical Shia group headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, said he believed the likely execution date was Sunday.

Following the rowdy scenes at Saddam's hanging, the US called yesterday for due diligence in the forthcoming executions. "We expect Iraqi officials to handle their business with appropriate care," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters.

According to Mr Askari, investigators have identified two guards as having illicitly filmed Saddam's execution using mobile phones. However, a prosecutor who attended the execution told Reuters he had seen two officials filming the hanging, prompting suggestions that the guards might be used as scapegoats.

The "humiliating" manner in which the execution was carried out clearly violated human rights law, said Philip Alston, an independent expert with the UN Human Rights Council. He described the legal proceedings as a "tragically missed opportunities to demonstrate that justice can be done, even in the case of one of the greatest crooks of our time."

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Saddam: A Monster of Our Creation

By Robert Scheer
3 Jan 07

The hanging of Saddam Hussein was an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of President Bush's claim it was "an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy."
Someone has to say it: The hanging of Saddam Hussein was an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of President Bush's claim it was "an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy."

Instead, the rushed, illegal and unruly execution of a former U.S. ally after his conviction in a kangaroo court blurred the line between terrorist and terrorized as effectively as Saddam's own evil propaganda ever did.

In the most generous interpretation, the frantic killing of Saddam abetted by the United States was the third act in a morality play of misplaced vengeance for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- in which the first act was the invasion of Iraq, based on trumped-up lies linking it to al-Qaida, and the second was the killing of the tyrant's sons, whose bloody corpses were hypocritically displayed to the world like war scalps.

At worst, the handling of Saddam is just another example of an Imperial America under President Bush that recognizes no boundaries of national sovereignty or any restraint of international law. A nation that posed no threat to U.S. security was conquered for a range of base motives, from oil plunder to industrial profits to naked political gain. Of course, these are the same rationales that despots always use to explain their murderous wars, such as Saddam's genocidal invasion of Iran and greedy occupation of Kuwait.

The president says the execution was warranted because Saddam received a fair trial even after Bush decided to bypass an international tribunal designed to handle such trials of national rulers and instead turn Saddam over to Iraq's dominant partisan faction in the midst of a nascent civil war. While Saddam's guilt of "crimes against humanity" may have been accurate, it was not, in fact, established by his trial, which was pushed through even as his lawyers were being assassinated. This, quite opposite to the spirit of the Nuremberg war crime trials (established by the United States but not repeated today by President Bush), where the accused had competent and unintimidated attorneys, free to make a complete case.

The trial dealt only with alleged crimes that occurred in the Shiite village of Dujail after an assassination attempt on Saddam. His bloody reprisals occurred 15 months before Donald Rumsfeld, then President Ronald Reagan's emissary, traveled to Baghdad to initiate an alliance with Saddam. Rumsfeld conceded in classified memos that he was familiar with Saddam's unsavory past, yet advocated forming an alliance with the dictator.

In fact, the most heinous crimes allegedly committed by Saddam, including the use of poison gas against Shiite Iraqis he suspected of being sympathetic to his Shiite enemies in Iran, were carried out during the years that he was our ally. With the United States having now put Iraqi Shiites with long political, military and ideological ties to those same Iranian ayatollahs into power in Baghdad, the bizarre circle of this foreign policy disaster is now complete, with Saddam's broken neck a fitting coda.

The video images now broadcast widely on the Internet show, as The New York Times reported, that the execution proceedings deteriorated "into a sectarian free-for-all that had the effect . . . of making [Saddam] appear dignified and restrained, and his executioners, representing Shiites, who were his principal victims, seem like bullying street thugs." As the executioners chanted "Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!," in reference to death squad leader Moqtada al Sadr, Saddam may have claimed for his Sunni followers an undeserved martyrdom.

"Is that how real men behave?" Saddam asked, smiling contemptuously. In the end, Sadr was presented figuratively with the head of Saddam by reluctant U.S. officials -- the former dictator was in U.S. custody, after all -- in order to placate the Shiite radicals running Iraq, even though Iraqi law bans executions on this past weekend's religious holiday and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani refused to sign a decree upholding the death sentence, as is required by the country's new constitution.

Fittingly, U.S. officials appeared in this spectacle as hapless Keystone Kops, morally implicated by their tepid support of a lynch mob. It perfectly mirrors decades of U.S. meddling in the history of Iraq, beginning with U.S. support for Saddam's Baath Party when it overthrew Iraqi nationalist Abdul Karim Qassem because we feared he was tilting ever so slightly to the Soviets. In fact, Saddam, like Osama bin Laden and the other Islamist fanatics our CIA recruited and helped to wage holy war against the Soviets, was a monster at least partially of our creation.

Those deeply unsavory connections between Saddam and the United States would have been exposed in any honest trial. Presumably, this is the real reason why the Bush administration so assiduously undermined any equitable judicial accounting of Saddam's criminality, right through his shamefully and illegally rushed execution.

Robert Scheer is the co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. See more of Robert Scheer at TruthDig.

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Saddam: From monster to martyr?

By Patrick Cockburn
04 Jan 07

How Bush and Blair's choices have led to disaster in Iraq, culminating in a chaotic execution that is fuelling civil war.

It takes real genius to create a martyr out of Saddam Hussein. Here is a man dyed deep with the blood of his own people who refused to fight for him during the United States-led invasion three-and-a-half years ago. His tomb in his home village of Awja is already becoming a place of pilgrimage for the five million Sunni Arabs of Iraq who are at the core of the uprising.
During his trial, Saddam himself was clearly trying to position himself to be a martyr in the cause of Iraqi independence and unity and Arab nationalism. His manifest failure to do anything effective for these causes during the quarter of a century he misruled Iraq should have made his task difficult. But an execution which vied in barbarity with a sectarian lynching in the backstreets of Belfast 30 years ago is elevating him to heroic status in the eyes of the Sunni - the community to which most Arabs belong - across the Middle East.

The old nostrum of Winston Churchill that "grass may grow on the battlefield but never under the gallows" is likely to prove as true in Iraq as it has done so frequently in the rest of the world. Nor is the US likely to be successful in claiming that the execution was purely an Iraqi affair.

Many Iraqis recall that the announcement of the verdict on Saddam sentencing him to death was conveniently switched last year to 5 November, the last daily news cycle before the US mid-term elections. The US largely orchestrated the trial from behind the scenes. Yesterday the Iraqi government arrested an official who supervised the execution for making the mobile-phone video that has stirred so much controversy.

The Iraqi Shia and Kurds are overwhelmingly delighted that Saddam is in his grave. But the timing of his death at the start of the Eid al-Adha feast makes his killing appear like a deliberate affront to the Sunni community. The execution of his half-brother Barzan in the next few days will confirm it in its sense that it is the target of an assault by the majority Shia.

Why was the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki so keen to kill Saddam Hussein? First, there is the entirely understandable desire for revenge. Members of the old opposition to Saddam Hussein are often blamed for their past ineffectiveness but most lost family members to his torture chambers and execution squads. Every family in Iraq lost a member to his disastrous wars or his savage repressions.

There is also a fear among Shia leaders that the US might suddenly change sides. This is not as outlandish as it might at first appear. The US has been cultivating the Sunni in Iraq for the past 18 months. It has sought talks with the insurgents. It has tried to reverse the de-Baathification campaign. US commentators and politicians blithely talk about eliminating the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and fighting his militia, the Mehdi Army. No wonder Shias feel that it is better to get Saddam under the ground just as quickly as possible. Americans may have forgotten that they were once allied to him but Iraqis have not.

When Saddam fell Iraqis expected life to get better. They hoped to live like Saudis and Kuwaitis. They knew he had ruined his country by hot and cold wars. When he came to power as president in 1979, Iraq had large oil revenues, vast oil reserves, a well-educated people and a competent administration. By invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, he reduced his nation to poverty. This was made worse by the economic siege imposed by 13 years of UN sanctions.

But life did not get better after 2003. Face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Iraqi adults by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in November revealed that 90 per cent of them said the situation in their country had been better before the US-led invasion. Only 5 per cent of people said it was better today. The survey was carried out in Baghdad, in the wholly Sunni Anbar province and the entirely Shia Najaf province. It does not include the Kurds, who remain favourable to the occupation.

This does not mean that Iraqis want Saddam back. But it is clearly true that the chances of dying violently in Iraq are far greater today everywhere in the country outside the three Kurdish provinces than they were in 2002. The myth put about by Republican neoconservatives that large parts of Iraq enjoyed pastoral calm post-war but were ignored by the liberal media was always a fiction. None of the neocons who claim that the good news from Iraq was being suppressed ever made any effort to visit those Iraqi provinces which they claimed were at peace.

Saddam should not have been a hard act to follow. It was not inevitable that the country should revert to Hobbesian anarchy. At first the US and Britain did not care what Iraqis thought. Their victory over the Iraqi army - and earlier over the Taliban in Afghanistan - had been too easy. They installed a semi-colonial regime. By the time they realised that the guerrilla war was serious it was too late.

It could get worse yet. The so-called "surge" in US troop levels by 20,000 to 30,000 men on top of the 145,000 soldiers already in the country is unlikely to produce many dividends. It seems primarily designed so that President George Bush does not have to admit defeat or take hard choices about talking to Iran and Syria. But these reinforcements might tempt the US to assault the Mehdi Army.

Somehow many senior US officials have convinced themselves that it is Mr Sadr, revered by millions of Shia, who is the obstacle to a moderate Iraqi government. In fact his legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Shia Iraqis, the great majority of the population, is far greater than the "moderate" politicians whom the US has in its pocket and who seldom venture out of the Green Zone. Mr Sadr is a supporter of Mr Maliki, whose relations with Washington are ambivalent.

An attack on the Shia militia men of the Mehdi Army could finally lead to the collapse of Iraq into total anarchy. Saddam must already be laughing in his grave.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, which is published by Verso

'I felt quite sickened, appalled and disgusted'

A S Byatt

Booker Prize-winning author

The only absolute moral value I have is that the death penalty is wrong. And I think that it's wrong not because of the sanctity of the life of the dead person but because of the evil it does to the executioners. Of course it has now turned Saddam into a kind of martyr because people have now started to imagine what was actually done to him. The death penalty produces a kind of horror in me that not even paedophilia can. I think it is the absolute evil thing that humans do.

Sir Crispin Tickell

Former British ambassador to the United Nations and permanent representative to the Security Council

I thought the way the execution was carried out was quite disgraceful. But then the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has, as we know, been a disaster. Everything that I feared has, sadly, come true. I am against the death penalty and thus I was against this execution. Having said that, this one death, in the context of all the others in Iraq, probably will not have such a huge impact on the long term.

Louise Christian

Solicitor for former Guantanamo Bay detainees

I felt quite sickened, appalled and disgusted by what we saw. I hate everything that Saddam Hussein stood for and wanted him brought to justice. This [his death] is the worst kind of outcome.I think the prosecutor should have stopped it. It sends the message that it is revenge by the Shias and not impartial justice. I would support an international moratorium on the death penalty but we need all international leaders to sign up to it.

Nitin Sawhney


The killing was barbaric. I find it strangely coincidental that it happened at Eid - a time when Muslims are trying to celebrate. Instead, a brown-skinned man with a noose around their neck dominated the front page of every newspaper. George Bush, himself a historically prolific perpetrator of capital punishment, described the execution as "a milestone"; which is equally as abhorrent. I wonder what

message this action of internationally condoned murder sends out to children across the world during Christmas, Eid and the New Year. The situation is so extreme: I feel incredibly angry - and emotional - about so many things around it.

Ann Widdecombe

Former Home Office minister

I have no problem with the decision to execute Saddam, but I have an enormous problem with the way it was made into a public spectacle. I didn't see the slightest justification for the official pictures. I know the justification was that if they didn't take pictures, people may not believe the execution had happened, but there are 5,000 ways of getting around that. Things went from bad to worse with the informal footage. Yes, I voted for the death penalty in this country, particularly for police killers.

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Saddam's execution cited in boy's accidental hanging death

4 Jan 07

HOUSTON - Police and family members said a 10-year-old boy who died by hanging himself from a bunk bed was apparently mimicking the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"It appears to be accidental," Claunch said. "Our gut reaction is that he was experimenting."

An autopsy of the fifth-grader's body was pending.

Julio Gustavo, Sergio's uncle, said the boy was a happy and curious child.

He said Sergio had watched TV news with another uncle on Saturday and asked the uncle about Saddam's death.

"His uncle told him it was because Saddam was real bad," Gustavo said. "He (Sergio) said, 'OK.' And that was it."

Sergio's mother, Sara Pelico DeLeon, was at work Sunday while Sergio and other children were under the care of an uncle, Gustavo said. One of the children found Sergio's body in his bedroom.

Police said the boy had tied a slipknot around his neck while on a bunk bed. Police investigators learned that Sergio had been upset about not getting a Christmas gift from his father, but they don't believe the boy intentionally killed himself.

Clinical psychologist Edward Bischof, of California, said children Sergio's age mimic risky behaviors they see on TV -- such as wrestling or extreme sports -- without realizing the dangers. He said TV appeared to be the stimulant in Sergio's case.

"I would think maybe this kid is trying something that he thinks fun to act out without having the emotional and psychological maturity to think the thing through before he acts on it," Bischof said.

Family members held a memorial for the boy Wednesday in the apartment complex activity center. Gustavo said the family is trying to put together enough money to send Sergio's body to Guatemala for burial.

"I don't think he thought it was real," Gustavo said of Saddam's hanging. "They showed them putting the noose around his neck and everything. Why show that on TV?"

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Another 'Saddam suicide'

4 Jan 07

Kolkata, India - A 15-year-old girl from eastern India hanged herself in response to the execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, police and family members said on Thursday.

"She said they had hanged a patriot. We didn't take her seriously when she told us that she wanted to feel the pain Saddam did during the execution," the girl's father, Manmohan Karmakar, told AFP by phone from the town of Kharda.
He said his daughter, called Moon Moon, had become extremely depressed after watching Saddam's execution on television.

"She kept watching the scene over and again and didn't take food on Saturday and Sunday to protest the hanging," he said.

Police superintendent Pravin Kumar confirmed the suicide, saying the girl had strung herself up from a ceiling fan and was found dead early on Wednesday.

The communist-ruled state of West Bengal has condemned Saturday's execution of Saddam, with thousands of people taking to the streets.

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Crimes of the Zionist Entity

Truth at last, while breaking a U.S. taboo of criticizing Israel

By George Bisharat
Philadelphia Inquirer
2 Jan 07

Americans owe a debt to former President Jimmy Carter for speaking long hidden but vital truths. His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid breaks the taboo barring criticism in the United States of Israel's discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. Our government's tacit acceptance of Israel's unfair policies causes global hostility against us.

Israel's friends have attacked Carter, a Nobel laureate who has worked tirelessly for Middle East peace, even raising the specter of anti-Semitism. Genuine anti-Semitism is abhorrent. But exploiting the term to quash legitimate criticism of another system of racial oppression, and to tarnish a principled man, is indefensible. Criticizing Israeli government policies - a staple in Israeli newspapers - is no more anti-Semitic than criticizing the Bush administration is anti-American.
The word apartheid typically evokes images of former South Africa, but it also refers to any institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another. Carter applies the term only to Israel's rule of the occupied Palestinian territories, where it has established more than 200 Jewish-only settlements and a network of roads and other services to support them. These settlements violate international law and the rights of Palestinian property owners. Carter maintains that "greed for land," not racism, fuels Israel's settlement drive. He is only partially right.

Israel is seizing land and water from Palestinians for Jews. Resources are being transferred, under the guns of Israel's military occupation, from one disempowered group - Palestinian Christians and Muslims - to another, preferred group - Jews. That is racism, pure and simple.

Moreover, there is abundant evidence that Israel discriminates against Palestinians elsewhere. The "Israeli Arabs" - about 1.4 million Palestinian Christian and Muslim citizens who live in Israel - vote in elections. But they are a subordinated and marginalized minority. The Star of David on Israel's flag symbolically tells Palestinian citizens: "You do not belong." Israel's Law of Return grants rights of automatic citizenship to Jews anywhere in the world, while those rights are denied to 750,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced or fled in fear from their homes in what became Israel in 1948.

Israel's Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty establishes the state as a "Jewish democracy" although 24 percent of the population is non-Jewish. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, counted 20 laws that explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews.

The government favors Jews over Palestinians in the allocation of resources. Palestinian children in Israel attend "separate and unequal" schools that receive a fraction of the funding awarded to Jewish schools, according to Human Rights Watch. Many Palestinian villages, some predating the establishment of Israel, are unrecognized by the government, do not appear on maps, and thus receive no running water, electricity, or access roads. Since 1948, scores of new communities have been founded for Jews, but none for Palestinians, causing them severe residential overcrowding.

Anti-Arab bigotry is rarely condemned in Israeli public discourse, in which Palestinians are routinely construed as a "demographic threat." Palestinians in Israel's soccer league have played to chants of "Death to Arabs!" Israeli academic Daniel Bar-Tal studied 124 Israeli school texts, finding that they commonly depicted Arabs as inferior, backward, violent, and immoral. A 2006 survey revealed that two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in a building with an Arab, nearly half would not allow a Palestinian in their home, and 40 percent want the government to encourage emigration by Palestinian citizens. Last March, Israeli voters awarded 11 parliamentary seats to the Israel Beitenu Party, which advocates drawing Israel's borders to exclude 500,000 of its current Palestinian citizens.

Some say that Palestinian citizens in Israel enjoy better circumstances than those in surrounding Arab countries. Ironically, white South Africans made identical claims to defend their version of apartheid, as is made clear in books such as Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull.

Americans are awakening to the costs of our unconditional support of Israel. We urgently need frank debate to chart policies that honor our values, advance our interests, and promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. It is telling that it took a former president, immune from electoral pressures, to show the way.

The debate should now be extended. Are Israel's founding ideals truly consistent with democracy? Can a state established in a multiethnic milieu be simultaneously "Jewish" and "democratic"? Isn't strife the predictable yield of preserving the dominance of Jews in Israel over a native Palestinian population? Does our unconditional aid merely enable Israel to continue abusing Palestinian rights with impunity, deepening regional hostilities and distancing peace? Isn't it time that Israel lived by rules observed in any democracy - including equal rights for all?

George Bisharat (bisharat@uchastings.edu) is a professor of law at University of California Hastings College of the Law. He writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

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'My crime was to protest at Israeli assassinations'

Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

They said they wanted to teach her to be a "good Jew" as she sat with her arms handcuffed to the legs of her chair for 16 hours a day.

But if Tali Fahima was not prepared to be a good Jew then Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service, was determined to put her in jail for as long as possible regardless of what she did.
Ms Fahima, 30, was released from jail on Wednesday after serving almost 30 months in jail for travelling to the West Bank, meeting an enemy agent and translating a simple army document.

"My first crime was that I refused to work with Shin Bet, the second was that I insisted on going to see the Palestinians and the third was that I protested against the Israeli policy of assassination," Ms Fahima told the Guardian in her first interview since her release.

For nine months of her incarceration she was kept in isolation, without access to any distractions such as books or television. "I used to lie on my bed and think about Jenin, the people I met and wonder how things were going there. I never get bored on my own," she said.

Eventually, Ms Fahima was persuaded by her lawyer to agree to a plea bargain which would mean her serving only 10 months more than the 19 she had already served. It could take as long as a year to be found innocent, she was advised.

She is unbowed by her experience. "I learnt about the nature of Shin Bet, how they terrorise us, both the Israelis and Palestinians. I learnt about the nature of the government, how they do not want us to see what is going on in our name," she said.

Ms Fahima had been an apathetic legal secretary who voted for the rightwing Likud party and carried Israeli prejudices about Palestinians until in 2003 she decided she wanted to understand why the Palestinians were attacking Israel.

She began making regular visits to Jenin, which had been devastated in an Israeli raid earlier that year. She talked to hundreds of people including Palestinian militants and for the first time heard the Palestinian view of the intifada and the difficulty of life under Israeli occupation.

Her meetings with one militant, Zakaria Zubeidi, stood out. Zubeidi was the leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin whose mother and brother had been killed by the Israelis that year. In countless interviews with journalists, including Israelis, he described how he and his mother had been involved in an Israeli-Palestinian theatre project which was the basis of an internationally-acclaimed Israeli documentary, Arna's Children.

A week before Ms Fahima was arrested in August 2004 she received a phone call from a Shin Bet agent who inquired how she was finding life without work before inviting her to a meeting at her local police station in Kiryat Gat in the south of Israel. She decided not to go. In the month-long interrogation that followed her arrest she was questioned about the people she had met and asked for information which Ms Fahima said she did not have. During this period Shin Bet agents briefed Israeli journalists she had been having an affair with Zubeidi, who was well known to Israelis from newspaper interviews.

"It was a Shin Bet tactic to make me and him seem bad and to delegitimise us both," she said, adding that while it was obvious to some that it was malicious, many, including friends, believed it.

When she was finally charged she was accused of translating an army document which apparently detailed an arrest operation that was due to take place.

"In the wake of the explanations of the accused," read the charge sheet, "Zubeidi later ordered the wanted persons to hide until the conclusion of the military operation and the wanted persons, who carried out Zubeidi's directive and hid, were not detained."

The document contains three aerial maps of Jenin, and four photographs of wanted men, including Zubeidi, with a short description of each. Zubeidi speaks and reads Hebrew after years of work and imprisonment in Israel.


August 8 2004 Tali Fahima arrested

September 2004 Placed under administrative detention

December 2004 Charged with "assistance to the enemy at time of war"

January 2005 Tel Aviv district rules Ms Fahima should be placed under house arrest during the trial

January 2005 Jerusalem's high court overrules district court saying she "identifies with an ideological goal"

December 2005 Ms Fahima pleads guilty to meeting and aiding an enemy agent and entering Palestinian territory

January 2006
Ms Fahima released

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Israeli troops kill Palestinian militants in raid on Ramallah

By Eric Silver in Jerusalem
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

Israeli undercover troops, backed by helicopters, armoured cars and bulldozers, killed four Palestinians and wounded 25 others in a gun battle in Ramallah. One Israeli soldier was wounded.

Yesterday's clash in the West Bank administrative capital came as Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, flew to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in an attempt to revive the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The summit ended inconclusively.
At a joint press conference, Mr Olmert apologised if innocent civilians were killed or wounded in Ramallah. He said that was not Israel's intention, but that it had to continue pursuing those who wanted to harm its citizens.

Two Israeli television stations reported last night that Mr Olmert was preparing to remove Amir Peretz as Defence minister and offer him another senior post. If he did not go quietly, the reports said, Mr Olmert would dismiss him. Mr Peretz, a former trade union boss, has been widely criticised for his handling of last summer's Lebanon war.

Mr Olmert felt free to move after parliament passed the 2007 state budget earlier this week. Mr Peretz's leadership of the Labour Party has been weakened by disenchantment over Israel's failure to win an outright victory over Hizbollah, but Mr Olmert will try to finesse things so that his biggest partner does not leave the ruling coalition.

An army spokesman said yesterday that the raiding force entered Ramallah to arrest wanted militants. They were greeted by a hail of stones from bystanders, followed by automatic fire that quickly developed into heavy exchanges. The Israelis said their helicopters raked an open space with "deterrent fire," though Palestinians claimed they also hit a building.

Arab television news footage showed bulldozers and armoured vehicles shunting aside parked cars near the city-centre Manara Square while dozens of civilians fled for their lives. Troops were also seen firing teargas. It was the biggest raid on Ramallah in six months. The Israelis captured four wanted men before withdrawing.

An Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, agreed in late November, covered the Gaza Strip, but has not been extended to the West Bank. Israel has continued daily arrest operations there, but has refrained so far from retaliating for the persistent launching of Qassam rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

In northern Gaza yesterday, a Hamas security man was shot dead and two other people were wounded in fire fights between Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and supporters of the Islamist government. On the West Bank, Fatah kidnapped the Hamas deputy Health minister, Bashar Karmi, in El Bireh and torched the car of another Hamas politician.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister, called for an end to the fighting. "These clashes must stop," he insisted on his return to Gaza from Mecca.

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Israeli activist who helped Palestinian militant is freed

By Eric Silver in Jerusalem
UK Independent
04 Jan 07

Tali Fahima, an Israeli peace activist, has been freed on parole after serving two-thirds of her three-year jail sentence for aiding Zakaria Zubeidi, one of the most wanted gunmen in the West Bank.

As a condition for her early release, the 30-year-old Tel Aviv office worker was barred from travelling abroad for a year, contacting enemies of the state or visiting the Palestinian territories. She emerged defiant from Neve Tirtzah women's prison yesterday and told family and supporters: "I don't regret anything. I will continue to work against the occupation and for peace."
Fahima has always denied involvement in violence but said in 2004 that she was ready to serve as a human shield for Zubeidi, the target of three failed Israeli assassination attempts. She contacted him after talking to Arabs on the internet and was arrested after a clandestine meeting in Jenin.

After a year in custody, she pleaded guilty in December 2005 when more serious charges were dropped.

There was outrage in Israel when it was revealed that a Jewish woman had befriended the commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the Jenin refugee camp, a man accused of planning suicide bombings. Like many descendants of north African immigrants, she and her single-parent mother had always voted for the right-wing Likud party. She had also seen military service.

"I was brought up to consider Arabs as something that should not be here," she told Ha'ir, a Tel-Aviv weekly paper. "One day I understood there were many gaps in my information, things that are not in the media. I realised that it's about human beings, and that we have to take responsibility for the way their life looks."

* A Peruvian photographer, Jaime Razuri, 50, was kidnapped yesterday by Pales-tinian militants in Gaza.

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Israeli 'traitor' vilified in press freed after two years in jail

Conal Urquhart
Thursday January 4, 2007
The Guardian

An Israeli woman whose attempts to better understand Palestinians led to a campaign of vilification and charges of treason was released yesterday after serving more than two years in jail.

Tali Fahima, 30, said she had no regrets and insisted that she had done nothing to harm the state of Israel as she left prison to the cheers of a hundred supporters.
Ms Fahima, a legal secretary, was arrested in August 2004 after the last of a series of visits to Jenin, which were publicised in the media. She was detained without trial after the defence minister said she "took part in planning a terrorist attack in Israel".

She was attacked in the Israeli press as a "terrorist's whore" after journalists were briefed that she had an affair with a Palestinian militant, Zakaria Zubeidi, who is often described as Israel's most wanted man.

Ms Fahima said there was no truth in any of the allegations and said she was only arrested after she declined to work for Shin Bet, Israel's secret service.

When she was tried no evidence was presented of her involvement in a terrorist attack, although she admitted reading an Israeli army document that soldiers lost on patrol.

Ms Fahima pleaded guilty to meeting enemy agents and passing information to them as part of a plea bargain in December 2005.

The charges could have led to a life sentence but Ms Fahima was offered the opportunity to serve only a further 10 months in return for a guilty plea.

As part of the condition of her release she is "banned from leaving the country in the coming year, contacting a foreign agent or entering unauthorised territories", the Israeli prison service said in a statement.

She said she had no plans to visit Jenin and Zubeidi but said she wanted to continue to fight Israel's occupation of the territories.

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4 Palestinians killed in Israeli raid of Ramallah

Thursday, January 4, 2007 1:21 PM ET
CBC News

Backed by armoured cars, undercover Israeli forces stormed the centre of Ramallah in the West Bank on Thursday, sparking a gun battle in a main marketplace that left at least four Palestinians dead.

Hospital officials said 25 people were wounded during the Israeli operation to arrest wanted militants. Many of the wounded were in critical condition, the officials said.
There were no reports of Israeli troops being wounded in the exchange.

As plumes of smoke rose above the mostly deserted Manara Square in the Palestinian Authority's capital, live footage at the scene showed smashed or overturned cars that had been cleared out of the way by armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers, during what Israeli forces described as "routine arrest activity."

The clash erupted when Israeli forces entered the open-air vegetable market to try to arrest fugitives with the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the Associated Press reported, quoting an anonymous Palestinian security official. The militant group is affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

An Israeli army spokeswoman was quoted as saying four Palestinian militants were detained in the raid.

Israel routinely conducts arrest raids in the West Bank, but usually avoids such operations in downtown Ramallah, where the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority is located.

The raid came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in talks with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to find ways to restart Mideast peace talks that have been stalled for more than six years and to free an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday's action violated a promise Olmert made in a rare summit with Abbas last month to work toward peace.

And in a statement read by a spokesman, Abbas said: "This operation proves that Israeli calls for peace and security are false."

Separately, a new round of factional fighting broke out Thursday between the rival Hamas and Fatah groups in the Gaza Strip, leaving two Palestinians dead.

A member of a Hamas security force was killed when his car came under fire from unidentified assailants in the Jebaliaya refugee camp, a security official said. Hamas accused Fatah of the attack, but Fatah denied involvement.

Hamas gunmen surrounded the house of a Fatah-linked security commander in Beit Lahiya and exchanged fire with guards, leaving a Fatah member dead and 14 other people wounded, witnesses and security officials said.

Clashes erupted during the funeral for three Fatah loyalists killed in gun battles with Hamas on Wednesday, wounding five people.

Assailants also targeted three senior Hamas officials in the West Bank, kidnapping one, torching the car of a second and shooting in the air as a third emerged from a mosque, security officials said.

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Cleric gunned down in Gaza after plea for calm

By Nidal al-Mughrabi
5 Jan 07

GAZA (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead a Muslim cleric after he delivered a sermon in the Gaza Strip on Friday calling for an end to fierce factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah, hospital officials and local residents said.

The cleric's shooting in central Gaza came hours after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said he and President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah had agreed to keep rival gunmen off Gaza's streets after clashes in which eight were killed.

Tension remained high across the coastal strip as thousands of Palestinians loyal to Fatah took part in funeral marches for a commander killed in a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades fired by Hamas gunmen on Thursday.
Brushing aside Haniyeh's plea for calm, Fatah issued a harshly worded statement in Gaza: "Blood for blood and aggression for aggression... and all the sons of the movement should retaliate to each aggression openly."

The Muslim cleric, who was in a car when the gunmen opened fire, was affiliated with neither Hamas nor Fatah. No group claimed responsibility for the shooting, which occurred after services at a mosque in the Maghazi refugee camp.

Residents said the cleric had sharply criticized internal fighting in his Friday sermon.

At one of the funeral marches, members of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened to assassinate Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar and Interior Minister Saeed Seyam of Hamas.

"Zahar and Seyam, you have to leave Gaza. We will tear your bodies to pieces," an al-Aqsa member screamed through a megaphone as gunmen fired into the air.

Overnight, Hamas-controlled militants and police forces stormed the house of senior Fatah leader Sufian Abu Zaida in northern Gaza Strip, smashing furniture. Abu Zaida, a former cabinet minister, was unhurt.

Factional fighting has surged in Gaza and the occupied West Bank since Abbas challenged the ruling Hamas faction by calling for early parliamentary and presidential elections after talks on forming a unity government failed.

Haniyeh said after late-night emergency talks with Abbas, their first meeting in two months, that they had agreed to "withdraw all gunmen from the streets and deploy police forces to keep law and order".

Abbas made no public comment, but a diplomat who attended the talks and declined to be identified confirmed an agreement had been reached.

Similar pacts in the past have quickly been shattered by violence and Gazans said they feared another eruption of bloodshed later in the day when Thursday's dead are buried.

In a move that could fuel tension, Washington will provide $86 million to strengthen security forces loyal to Abbas, expanding U.S. involvement in Fatah's power struggle with Hamas.

In fighting between rival Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Fatah gunmen killed a policeman loyal to Hamas.

Hamas gunmen, blaming the shooting on bodyguards of Colonel Mohammed Ghareeb of the Preventive Security Service, besieged his home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing Ghareeb and six of his men and wounding his wife.

Some Fatah gunmen expressed anger at Abbas for not sending forces to save Ghareeb, who had pleaded for help on Palestinian television.

The fighting spread overnight to the occupied West Bank, where gunmen critically wounded a Hamas activist near the city of Nablus, Hamas officials said.

"Hamas and Fatah, you are brothers, please stop the fighting," cried an elderly woman as Ghareeb's funeral passed her house in the Jabalya refugee camp.

Haniyeh told reporters: "The battle is not an internal battle, it is a battle against the occupation."

Earlier on Friday, Israeli forces raided the village of Attil near the West Bank town of Tulkarm. The army said two members of Islamic Jihad were seized.

On Thursday, Israeli forces mounted a rare raid into the West Bank city of Ramallah in which hospital officials said four Palestinians were killed and at least 25 wounded.

In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement it welcomed the Abbas-Haniyeh meeting but considered Israel's raid into Ramallah inflammatory. "This operation led to new victims among peaceful Palestinian citizens," it said.

(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Atef Sa'ad in Nablus)

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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Hamas: U.S. is funding a 'revolt' against our gov't

Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
Fri., January 05, 2007

Senior Hamas official Mushir al-Masri blamed the United States on Friday for attempting to promote a revolt against the Hamas government, after U.S. documents showed that the Bush administration will provide $86.4 million to strengthen security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

"We demand that Abbas postpones this U.S. policy, which is tearing the Palestinian people apart," he said.

The new policy would expand U.S. involvement in Abbas' power struggle with Hamas.
Fighting between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas has surged since talks on forming a unity government collapsed and Abbas called for early parliamentary and presidential elections. Hamas accused Abbas of mounting a coup.

The U.S. money will be used to "assist the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling PA commitments under the road map to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza," a U.S. government document obtained by Reuters said.

Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers in Gaza City, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged Palestinians not to let the violence spill over to the West Bank and to focus on fighting Israel. "Our fight is not an internal one, it's against the occupation," Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh's words were echoed by senior West Bank Fatah official Jibril Rajoub,speaking in the town of Bilin to supporters celebrating the movement's 42nd anniversary.

"Our battle with Hamas is not a battle of assassination, kidnapping or
revenge. Our battle with Hamas is a democratic moral battle," he told a crowd of about 100. "Our battle is with the occupation, not with each other."

Thousands of Palestinians carried bodies draped in yellow flags through pouring rain Friday in a funeral procession for seven Fatah men killed in the bloodiest single battle in weeks of factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of Fatah gunmen marched in the procession, firing in the air and
calling for vengeance against the rival Hamas group, which is locked in a
power struggle with Fatah over control of the Palestinian government.

Hamas critic gunned-down in Gaza

A local religious leader who was a frequent critic of the Islamic militant group Hamas was killed in a drive-by shooting Friday as he walked out of a Gaza mosque, witnesses and medical officials said.

There was no claim of responsibility in the death of Adel Nasar, who was shot by gunmen who were waiting in a car outside the mosque in the Mughazi refugee camp in central Gaza. Nasar was not openly affiliated with any political party, but he was a well-known in the refugee camp and often spoke against Hamas in his sermons.

Haniyeh, Abbas agree to defuse tensions

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday he and Abbas had agreed at emergency talks to keep gunmen from their rival Hamas and Fatah factions off Gaza's streets after six people were killed and 18 were wounded.

"We have expressed our regret and sorrow for these incidents that do not reflect our struggle," Haniyeh told reporters at Abbas's office at the end of their first meeting in two months.

Haniyeh said he and Abbas agreed to "withdraw all gunmen from the streets and deploy police forces to keep law and order."

Abbas made no public comment after the session, but a diplomat who attended the talks and declined to be identified confirmed an agreement had been reached.

Similar pacts in the past have been shattered swiftly by violence and Gazans said they feared another eruption of bloodshed later in the day when Thursday's dead are buried.

Gunbattles broke out between forces loyal to Abbas and the Hamas government in northern Gaza on Thursday, killing six people and wounding 18 other people, witnesses said.

In the northern Gaza Strip, a senior Palestinian security officer allied with Fatah was killed when Hamas militants laid siege to his house, engaging in a protracted gun battle with his guards, and then attacked it with grenades and a dozen rockets, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

The officer, Colonel Mohammed Ghayeb, was on the phone to Palestine TV just moments before his death and appealed for help as his house came under attack. Ghayeb's wife was seriously wounded in the attack, in which Hamas fired assault rifles and rockets at the building.

"They are killers," he said of the Hamas gunmen. "They are targeting the house, children are dying, they are bleeding. For God's sake, send an ambulance, we want an ambulance, somebody move."

The battle outside the house raged for much of the day and killed four of Ghayeb's guards and a Hamas gunman. About three dozen people, including eight children, were also wounded.

Ghayeb was the chief of the Preventive Security Service in northern Gaza, and his killing was expected to trigger revenge attacks by the men under his command.

During the standoff outside Ghayeb's home in Beit Lahiya, dozens of women rushed into the streets in protest, chanting "Spare the bullets, shame, shame."

One resident, Amina Abu Saher, told the local Al Quds radio station that it was difficult for her to see Palestinians fighting each other and said she and the other women were determined to stop the internal fighting.

Haniyeh called for calm in the wake of the renewed internal violence. Five people were killed on Wednesday in fighting.

"These clashes must stop, this bloodshed must end. Let all of you love one another, let's resolve differences through dialogue and not with weapons," Haniyeh told reporters after returning from making the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. "Weapons must only be directed against the Israeli occupation," he added.

The two sides declared the truce in an attempt to end violence that surged after Abbas challenged Hamas by calling for early parliamentary and presidential elections after unity government talks failed.

Also Thursday, unknown gunmen fired on mourners at a funeral for three security officers loyal to Abbas who were among those killed the day before.

Fatah sources and medical officials said two mourners were wounded during the funeral march in central Gaza when gunmen shot at the procession.

A senior Hamas member was also kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Gaza City, the Islamists said.

Abbas met with leaders of political factions in Gaza on Thursday night. The smaller Islamic Jihad group, which has stayed out of the fighting, was to propose another round of unity talks, this time between Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, rather than between lower-level envoys.

As the fighting worsened, Haniyeh of Hamas cut short a tour of Arab nations and returned to Gaza on Thursday. His next stop was to have been Jordan, which has offered to host a meeting between Haniyeh and Abbas, in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

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Fischer: Israeli Banks exploit the poor and undercharge the wealthy

Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent
Thu., January 04, 2007

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer thinks that Israeli banks are too kind to the rich and too hard on ordinary families.

In an interview appearing in this Friday's Haaretz Magazine, Fischer said: "The banks' profits from companies are very low compared with the international scene, but their profits from households are high."

According to Fischer, this is the root of the feelings of anger and exploitation experienced by ordinary account-holders.
"In comparison to the international sphere, the big companies get credit at very good terms," he said. "Someone else pays for that. It's a case of cross-subsidization. The margin in one sector would appear to fund the margin in the second sector and subsidize it."

Do the banks in Israel behave as though they are a cartel?

"Your question has legal implications and therefore I am unable to reply to it. We need to take into account that when there are very few players in the market, it's difficult for them to behave in a manner that looks competitive."

What are you, as governor, doing about this?

"I'm trying to bring in a foreign bank. Every time I am abroad, I go to the chairmen of the big banks and try to persuade them to open a branch here. If we succeed in getting foreign banks to work here on the retail side, it will be a major accomplishment for the country. That will solve the problem."

The complete interview will appear in Friday's Magazine.

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Rattling the Cage: A bigot called Bibi

Larry Derfner,
Jan. 3, 2007

By rights, Binyamin Netanyahu, who every poll says is by far the most popular politician in Israel, should be ranked with Jean Le Pen, Jorge Haider and the rest of the Western world's racist demagogues.

But he won't be, because anti-Arab racism in Israel is either supported or strategically ignored by the mainstream of the Jewish world, and pretty much taken for granted by the gentile world.
What Netanyahu said Tuesday night was not new for him; he was reported to have made the same appeal to the same sort of audience - haredi political leaders - a couple of years ago as finance minister.

Then, as now, he was apologizing for the way his child welfare cuts had hurt large haredi families, while at the same time asking the haredim to look at the bright sides of that policy.

"Two positive things happened," he told a conference of haredi government officials in Nir Etzion this week. "Members of the haredi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate." (Quoted in Ynet, Yediot Aharonot's Web site. The speech was also reported in Haaretz.)

The once-and-possibly-future prime minister of Israel says publicly that he's sorry his welfare cuts made life harder for Jewish families who are "blessed," as he put it, with many children, but isn't it "positive" that these cuts resulted in fewer Arab children being born? Then Netanyahu went on to suggest a national remedy for the victims of his economic policies - but for Jewish victims only, not Arab victims.

"I don't think that the Jewish Agency should refrain from helping part of the Jewish public in the state," he said, "and it is possible that additional non-governmental bodies could have done so."

IMAGINE IF any gentile government official in the world cited the lowering of the Jewish birthrate in his country as an accomplishment, then recommended that his country's founding institution raise money to help poor gentile families, but not poor Jewish families. How would the Jewish world, starting with Israel, characterize such an individual? What sort of pressure would the Jewish world apply to get him or her fired, blackballed and, if possible, indicted?

Yet everyone knows the speech in Nir Etzion will not hurt Netanyahu at all - even though, again, this is not the first time he's said this, and even though the statements are perfectly in line with his standing as Israel's number one fear-monger on the Israeli Arab "demographic threat." (On second thought, Netanyahu is probably only number two - Avigdor Lieberman, his former right-hand man and alter ego, is number one. When it comes to the subject of Israeli Arabs, it's hard to tell where Netanyahu ends and Lieberman begins.)

The worst that will happen to Netanyahu from this is that maybe another liberal commentator or two will denounce him, and there will be a press release from some civil rights organization. Maybe not even that. If, on the other hand, we're really, really lucky, the attorney-general might have a word to say. (FYI, even if there was a chance of it happening, I wouldn't want to see Netanyahu indicted. If every Israeli who made racist remarks in public had to stand trial, the courts would collapse under the load.)

The only political parties that might censure Netanyahu are the left-wing parties, and nobody cares about them; in fact, a bad word from Meretz can only help the Likud leader in the polls.

The Anti-Defamation League won't say anything, and neither will the other Diaspora Jewish organizations. Bibi is just too big, too popular, too important, too much a symbol of Israel for the Diaspora Jewish establishment to say a word against him, let alone accuse him of being a shameless bigot.

Two positive things happened: Members of the haredi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate.

That's the Israeli people's overwhelming choice for prime minister talking. I hope The New York Times, CNN and every other major news medium in the world picks up this story and doesn't let it go until Israel and Diaspora Jewry are shamed into dumping this guy once and for all.

On second thought, exposure as an anti-Arab racist by the international media could cause Netanyahu some problems overseas, but at home, it would only increase his appeal.

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Israel eyes West Bank growth

Ilene R. Prusher
January 05, 2007
The Christian Science Monitor

MASKIOT, WEST BANK - Tucked into a remote cluster of hills is a rather rare species these days: a new Israeli settlement taking shape.

As advocates are keen to point out, there has been an Israeli presence here since 1982, including an army base and military prep school. Two decades ago, in 1986, Maskiot's plot of "state land" was given an approval to become a bona fide settlement.

For a smattering of reasons political or bureaucratic, it never happened, and Maskiot's existence was hardly known outside the 20 other small Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley. But last week, the Israeli defense ministry announced that it had authorized construction of 30 new homes here - for settlers who were evacuated from the Gaza Strip.
The decision confirmed a concern that some observers had about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, which pulled 8,000 settlers from their homes in the Gaza Strip after Israel's 38-year-long occupation of the territory.

Skeptics wondered if Mr. Sharon would move many of the settlers from Gaza into the West Bank, a place which - in religious, historic, and strategic terms - Israel has always held in higher regard. Settler leaders in this region, in fact, claim that Sharon promised them he would relocate some of the Gaza evacuees here.

New push for peacemaking

Any move to allow new - or expand old - settlements in the West Bank could complicate efforts already under way to give Middle East peacemaking a fresh push.

On Thursday, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarek, to discuss a potential deal on a prisoner release and restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, internecine Palestinian tensions appear to be worsening as kidnappings and shootings between armed gangs affiliated with Hamas and Fatah continued in Gaza and spilled into part of the West Bank.

Israel's Peace Now organization, a group that tracks Israeli settlement expansion, charged that any move to put Israelis in a new settlement over the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 boundary) would be a mistake, and one which, like the settlements in Gaza, was likely to be removed in the long run.

"We're taking a place that was an abandoned military place and making it a civilian settlement," says Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Peace Now. "It's an extreme right-wing decision and it's not something we expected from this government. I don't think that the government should give in to the pressure of the settlers to live there. It's against the promises of the roadmap and promises to the international community."

Amid the controversy over the issue, Israeli officials said this week the decision is still under consideration.

"It's not a new site in any case, but given the sensitivity of the issue, it's being reviewed," says Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin. The Defense Ministry, which issued the permit a week ago, declined to comment. An official who asked not to be quoted said that a final decision has not yet been made.

Here in Maskiot, there is a sense that a new settlement - or at least a significantly expanded one - is not merely being considered, but is already taking root.

There are currently a few dozen young post-high school men living here, studying in a religious preparatory program before their induction into the army. Two of the families who were evacuated some 16 months ago from Gaza have already moved in; they refused to speak to a visiting reporter.

The families are two of at least 16 families who plan to settle here, and are part of a narrative that seems problematic for people of all political stripes. Moved out of Gaza in August 2005, the Israeli government never found a permanent community for them. And because their settlement in Gaza wasn't officially recognized by the government, they didn't qualify for some of the same relocation benefits other settlers did.

"This is my place now. My bones will be buried here," says Binyamin Rabinovich, as he was busy fixing a car. It's so remote that there's hardly any cell phone reception, and when there is, the phones pick up Jordanian rather than Israeli signals.

"I'm disappointed in our government, that they would agree to freeze this because of pressure from the US," he says. "The Land of Israel is ours and we need to develop it."

Searching for a home

About 10 minutes down the winding road from Maskiot is the settlement of Hemdat, where nine of the 16 families who had lived in the Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam are now living in a cluster of mobile homes on the side of hill. Shirat Hayam's name means "Song of the Sea," a reference to a biblical poem, which is depicted as a song sung by the Israelites just after their exodus from Egypt.

The analogies are not coincidental. Here, people take an extraordinary long view of history. They don't use the word disengagement or withdrawal so much as gerush, which means expulsion and is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.

The leader of the group of temporary settlers, waiting for what they now expect will be their new homes in Maskiot, says they've taken shelter in five different places since being evacuated by Gaza.

"We wanted to build our new community as quickly as possible. It's already more than a year and we're still not in our homes," says Yosef Hazut, a young father of two, after tramping through the rainy season's red mud between the boxy trailer homes.

"It's not so easy to start a new community over the Green Line," says Mr. Hazut. There they looked in the less populated parts of the country that Israel has long expressed hopes to develop, such as the Negev and the Galilee. They face only obstacles and delays, he says, and decided to come here.

Still, the dislocation of being moved out and around has not discouraged them from resettling in the West Bank. The fact that they don't believe there's too great a likelihood they'll be evacuated yet again is a window into how Israelis see this area, which they refer to as the Jordan Valley, but not the West Bank. Polls have shown that the majority of Israelis think they should maintain control of this area, even if only for defense purposes.

"We're people of faith," says Hazut. "And I think there's only a very small chance there would ever be a disengagement from the Jordan Valley. "For most Israelis, the Jordan Valley is a red line: giving up the Jordan Valley means to return the whole of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and allow the establishment of a terrorist state here, just the way we're seeing in Gaza."

Evolving view of the West Bank?

The gap between how most Israelis view the West Bank and how it is viewed elsewhere appears to be widening. As a case in point, Education Minister Yuli Tamir introduced a plan to change Israeli school textbooks to include the Green Line on maps of the country. Her proposal was voted down earlier this week, 8-2, by a Knesset education committee panel that disagreed and painted her as a radical with a extreme left agenda.

Rather than this being a conscience decision to build up settlements in the Jordan Valley, some analysts here say, the government is taking an ad hoc, policy-less approach to which settlements grow and where.

"Maskiot was a kind of military settlement a few years ago and they want to kind of reestablish it," says Hillel Cohen, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace.

"I think the point is the Israeli government doesn't really know where it's going to," says Professor Cohen. "I don't see that they have any plan. They just deal with problems from day to day. Where they want us to be in five years isn't clear. So if they have a group that wants to settle in the Jordan Valley, they say OK, go settle there.

"I don't think [that] the government really thought about it and they didn't think the US would say much about it, either."

One of the reasons for this view, he says, is that in the 1970s, Israeli military strategist and foreign minister Yigal Allon proposed a plan to give West Bank Arabs autonomy but keep the Jordan Valley forever under Israeli sovereignty. The plan is unacceptable to all known Palestinian political factions.

But Mr. Allon, from the same left-leaning Labor Party that later signed a historic peace deal with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was once seen as a bulwark of the security-conscious mainstream. He encouraged settlements in the Jordan Valley, and drew many agriculturalists there. Today, some 70 percent of the current residents are secular people from liberal backgrounds, unlike the religious nationalist population that dominates in other areas of the settlements.

"In the heart of people in the Labor Party, we know that there are places which seem more logical or legal to settle, and this is one of them," says Cohen. "Also today, I think that if there is a plan of the Israeli government, it does include keeping at least part of the Jordan Valley as part of the future Israeli state."

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Abbas, Haniyeh agree to defuse tensions in Gaza after six die

Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies
Fri., January 05, 2007

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday he and President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed at emergency talks to keep gunmen from their rival Hamas and Fatah factions off Gaza's streets after six people were killed.

"We have expressed our regret and sorrow for these incidents that do not reflect our struggle," Haniyeh told reporters at Abbas's office at the end of their first meeting in two months.
Haniyeh said he and Abbas agreed to "withdraw all gunmen from the streets and deploy police forces to keep law and order".

Abbas made no public comment after the session, but a diplomat who attended the talks and declined to be identified confirmed an agreement had been reached.

Similar pacts in the past have been shattered swiftly by violence and Gazans said they feared another eruption of bloodshed later in the day when Thursday's dead are buried.

Gunbattles broke out between forces loyal to Abbas and the Hamas government in northern Gaza on Thursday, killing six people and wounding 18 other people, witnesses said.

In the northern Gaza Strip, a senior Palestinian security officer allied with Fatah was killed when Hamas militants laid siege to his house, engaging in a protracted gun battle with his guards, and then attacked it with grenades and a dozen rockets, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

The officer, Colonel Mohammed Ghayeb, was on the phone to Palestine TV just moments before his death and appealed for help as his house came under attack. Ghayeb's wife was seriously wounded in the attack, in which Hamas fired assault rifles and rockets at the building.

"They are killers," he said of the Hamas gunmen. "They are targeting the house, children are dying, they are bleeding. For God's sake, send an ambulance, we want an ambulance, somebody move."

The battle outside the house raged for much of the day and killed four of Ghayeb's guards and a Hamas gunman. About three dozen people, including eight children, were also wounded.

Ghayeb was the chief of the Preventive Security Service in northern Gaza, and his killing was expected to trigger revenge attacks by the men under his command.

During the standoff outside Ghayeb's home in Beit Lahiya, dozens of women rushed into the streets in protest, chanting "Spare the bullets, shame, shame."

One resident, Amina Abu Saher, told the local Al Quds radio station that it was difficult for her to see Palestinians fighting each other and said she and the other women were determined to stop the internal fighting.

Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, called for calm in the wake of the renewed internal violence. Five people were killed on Wednesday in fighting.

"These clashes must stop, this bloodshed must end. Let all of you love one another, let's resolve differences through dialogue and not with weapons," Haniyeh told reporters after returning from making the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. "Weapons must only be directed against the Israeli occupation," he added.

The two sides declared the truce in an attempt to end violence that surged after Abbas challenged Hamas by calling for early parliamentary and presidential elections after unity government talks failed.

Also Thursday, unknown gunmen fired on mourners at a funeral for three security officers loyal to Abbas who were among those killed the day before.

Fatah sources and medical officials said two mourners were wounded during the funeral march in central Gaza when gunmen shot at the procession.

A senior Hamas member was also kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Gaza City, the Islamists said.

Abbas met with leaders of political factions in Gaza on Thursday night. The smaller Islamic Jihad group, which has stayed out of the fighting, was to propose another round of unity talks, this time between Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Meshal, rather than between lower-level envoys.

As the fighting worsened, Haniyeh of Hamas cut short a tour of Arab nations and returned to Gaza on Thursday. His next stop was to have been Jordan, which has offered to host a meeting between Haniyeh and Abbas, in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

Gunmen target 3 senior Hamas men

Assailants targeted three senior Hamas officials in the West Bank, kidnapping one, torching the car of a second and shooting in the air as a third emerged from a mosque, officials said Thursday.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the attacks came a day after four supporters of the rival Fatah group were killed in factional fighting in the Gaza Strip. Gaza is a Hamas stronghold, while Fatah dominates in the West Bank.

Late Wednesday, gunmen stormed the home of Deputy Health Minister Bashar Karmi in the West Bank town of El Bireh and seized him. Arab satellite TV stations reported that he was released Thursday morning, but the report could not immediately be confirmed independently.

Mohammed Barghouti, a Hamas Cabinet minister, held Fatah responsible. "It is obvious who kidnapped him," Barghouti said. "People are trying to bring the fighting from Gaza to the West Bank."

Karmi's wife, Suhad al-Kubaj, said the gunmen took a laptop, numerous compact discs and 600 shekels from his wallet before abducting him.

"He told me they tied his hands and blindfolded him, and passed him from one car to the next" during his 5 and a half hours in captivity, she said.

"They released him with a warning: What happens in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah can happen here, in the West Bank," she added.

In the town of Jenin, assailants torched the car of Prisoner Affairs Minister Wasfi Kabaha of Hamas, security officials said. It was the third attack on a car owned by Kabaha.

In the village of Jabaa, gunmen fired in the air as the local prayer leader and senior Hamas activist, Nasser Al Awna, emerged from the mosque. He was not harmed.

Smuggling tunnel between Gaza and Egypt collapses
A smuggling tunnel under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt collapsed Thursday morning, Palestinian security officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or details on who might have been inside at the time of the collapse, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian smugglers use hundreds of tunnels dug under the border to bring weapons and contraband goods into Gaza from Egypt.

Israel says antitank missiles, tons of explosives and thousands of rifles have reached militants in Gaza through the tunnels. Palestinian militants claim to have smuggled in long-range Katyusha rockets, as well as the materials needed to upgrade their homemade rockets to reach deeper into Israel.

Five killed in intense gunfighting in Gaza

Fighting between Fatah and Hamas gunmen intensified Wednesday in the Gaza Strip and claimed the lives of five Palestinians.

Four of the dead were Fatah militants and one was a civilian caught in the cross-fire.

In the bloodiest incident, three members of Fatah's Preventive Security Service were shot dead in Khan Yunis when their vehicle came under attack by gunmen. Fatah blamed Hamas for the attack.

Earlier, a 22-year-old Palestinian woman, Mona Salha, was killed when a bullet struck her in the head during an exchange of fire between Fatah and Hamas gunmen at the Jabalya refugee camp near Gaza City. A dozen other people were injured in those clashes.
Intense gun battles continued throughout the afternoon in Jabalya, but there were no reports of further casualties.

At noon, gunmen shot and killed a member of Fatah in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. Eyewitnesses said that the Fatah man was on the roof of a residential building when he was shot.

Hamas said that two of its men were injured, one seriously, while patrolling in a vehicle belonging to a security organization affiliated with the radical Islamic group.

Palestinian security sources said Wednesday that they had urged all foreign nationals to evacuate the Gaza Strip because of threats to kidnap them. However, foreign organizations in Gaza said that they were not aware of such an announcement by the Palestinian security forces.

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Israel desperately seeks war with Iran

2 Jan 07

With Saddam out of the way, israel throws all its weight into jumpstarting a war with Iran.
In a stark statement published on Saturday Brigadier General Oded Tira observed, "President Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran. As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors.

We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure."

Because of the dramatic loss of political power of the Bush-Cheney administration, General Tira urges the Israel Lobby to, "turn to Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party so that they support immediate action by Bush against Iran."

In another move designed to strengthen Bush politically, General Tira urges the Israel Lobby to exert its influence on European countries so that, "Bush will not be isolated in the international arena again."

As if all of that Israel-lobbying in America and Europe were not enough, General Tira proposes an even more aggressive political tactic, "We must clandestinely cooperate with Saudi Arabia so that it also persuades the US to strike Iran.

For our part, we must prepare an independent military strike by coordinating flights in Iraqi airspace with the US.

We should also coordinate with Azerbaijan the use of airbases in its territory and also enlist the support of the Azeri minority in Iran.

In addition, we must immediately start preparing for an Iranian response to an attack."

Based on the urgency of General Tira's extraordinary pleas, it is immediately apparent that he has been shocked by the turn of political events inside America.

By this time, he has learned from official US sources that the long-anticipated attack against Iran has been shelved because of tectonic shifts in American politics.

Apparently, General Tira did not realize that President Bush has become the most deeply unpopular president in American history and that it was his subservience to the dictates of the Israel Lobby and its demands for wars against Iraq and Iran that led him into the political prison where he now finds himself isolated and impotent.

Neither does General Tira realize that the Republican Party is no longer unified in its support of President Bush's deeply unpopular war in Iraq or his plans for expanding the war by a sustained bombing campaign against Iran. Since General Tira did not publish any remarks about the Iraq Study Group headed by former US Secretary of State, James Baker, he may be oblivious to the political facts now in place in 2007 America.

Instead of the bipartisan commitment to broaden Bush's unpopular war as General Tira proposes, there is now a broadening bipartisan movement to reign in the US losses in Iraq. No major American politician has voiced any enthusiasm for broadening Bush's war into Iran as General Tira beseeches the US to do.

General Tira's outburst suggests that the official channels for news and the analysis of public affairs in Israel are not working as efficiently as they should in the 21st century. Perhaps, someone should provide the General with a subscription to Ha'aretz and the International Herald Tribune for starters.


Michael Carmichael is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, The Planetary Movement, Oxford, United Kingdom

Expect a ruthless last ditch attempt by israel to plunge the world headlong into war.

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Destroying Our Home

Record snowfall buries Anchorage

by Jason Moore
2News - Alaska
3 Jan 07

Anchorage, Alaska - It snowed all day in Anchorage Wednesday. A combination of snow, fog and ice contributed to more than 100 cars becoming stuck in ditches and snow berms across the city. The Anchorage Police Department said accidents occurred at a pace of a collision every 10 minutes today. A snow advisory remains in effect and the job of digging out is only beginning.
Midtown resident Linda Rinard just returned from vacation.

"I just flew in at 9 a.m. from Las Vegas; two weeks and sunny Las Vegas," she said.

Sherri Stein picked up Rinard from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and brought her to Stein's driveway. Rinard and Stein are among the army of folks with shovels and snow blowers digging out, but only making room for more snow to take its place. The constantly falling snow and fog make it difficult for drivers to see the road.

Some ended up stuck in a snow bank like Jennifer Alger.

"I was just driving down the road and everything all looked the same, just all white. And my tires caught the snow bank, just went right through it, so my car's completely stuck," she said.

The worst of the snow-related accidents happened on the Glenn Highway this morning. Five cars were involved in an early-morning accident that resulted in two people being taken to the hospital. Traffic was forced to reroute on the Hiland Road exit.

Some of those in the ditch say they dove for it as they tried to avoid other cars.

"I just decided to get in the ditch rather than hit them in the middle of the road," said Shannon Overstreet, who was stuck in a ditch.

Four cars mixed it up on Lake Otis Parkway, near Tudor Road. Anchorage police closed the southbound lanes for about an hour.

The only ones smiling through all of this mess were wrecker drivers, who consider all of the weather-related wrecks like these as payday.

"Unfortunate, yes, but yeah, got to pay the bills you know," said Alaska Towing and Wrecking wrecker driver Greg Head.

At Stein's driveway, the ladies make progress. But they realize once the driveway is done, it's time to contemplate the roof.

"It's kind of nice to have some on the top because it does help to insulate. But then it gets to the point where you need to take it off, and I think it's at that point," Stein said.

It's how you get through these tough weather days: one step at a time.

State workers in Anchorage went home early today and the city closed libraries and several parks and recreational facilities early at 6 p.m.

Today was a record snowfall day for the Anchorage area. The National Weather Service has recorded 9.6 inches at its forecast offices as of 5:15 p.m. However, a lot more snow has fallen in other parts of town.

The following amounts have been recorded around Anchorage over the last 24 hours, as of 5:15 p.m. today:

O'Malley and Hillside - 22.0 inches
Mid-Hillside - 17.0 inches
Upper DeArmoun - 17.0 inches
Abbott Loop Road - 15.0 inches
Glen Alps - 12.0 inches
Eagle River - 4.5 inches
So far, Anchorage has accumulated 57.60 inches of snow this winter, a new record for snowfall as of Jan. 3.

Snow advisories are in effect until 9 p.m., but the Southcentral region should be seeing an end to the snow later tonight.

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Warm winter wreaks havoc

By Andrea Stone
4 Jan 07

Bill Weigle's tree service in Lyndeborough, N.H., usually delivers five to 10 cords of firewood a day this time of year. He's sold only one in the past two weeks.

Business is "dead," Weigle says. "I've never seen it like this ... I feel like the Maytag man."

This winter's curiously warm weather across the Northeast and much of the Midwest has played havoc with more than seasonal businesses. In Washington, D.C., springlike temperatures have faked out flora, causing dogwoods and daffodils to bloom.
PREDICTION: El Niño, greenhouse gases making '07 hot

"There's been weird weather all across the United States," says Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, which was walloped by two major snowstorms last month. He blames an El Niño warming pattern in the Pacific for dry and warm conditions elsewhere.

"Another big player is what we call the 'long-term trend,' " said Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel. "That's a euphemism for global warming."

The combination of El Niño and global warming prompted Britain's Meteorological Office to say Thursday that 2007 could become the hottest year ever recorded. It said there is a 60% chance to break the record set in 1998, when global temperatures were 1.2 degrees warmer than the long-term average.

The balmy temperatures have smashed records. International Falls, Minn., which averages a high of 13 degrees this time of year, hit record highs of 41 degrees Wednesday and 37 Thursday. Buffalo has had more than three weeks of above-average temperatures, and all-time highs are likely Saturday in New York City and Richmond, Va.

The warm wave has had a silver lining for consumers and taxpayers. Electric heating bills were down 7.35% for Pepco customers in Washington and its Maryland suburbs. In Syracuse, N.Y., acting Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wright says the city could shave as much as $1 million off the annual $3.2 million snow-removal budget.

The picture is more mixed for sportsmen. Golfers in some areas are enjoying more time on the links.

In Michigan, two dozen people took advantage of late Octoberlike temperatures at the Traverse City Golf & Country Club on Thursday. "Normally we're closed," says Roger Bliss, the club's golf pro. "It's the first time anyone can remember playing golf in January."

Thin ice in Minnesota's lakes, however, has canceled ice fishing tournaments and put organizers of the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival, which starts Jan. 26, in a bind. Carnival spokeswoman Mary Huss says officials will decide next week whether to haul 56 flatbed truckloads of 300-pound ice blocks from northern Minnesota lakes or use plastic blocks to build a giant ice maze.

The tepid temperatures have been more than a nuisance, though. In Maine, it proved deadly Sunday when a college professor drowned after falling through thin ice on usually frozen Rangeley Lake.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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2 dead after strong storms, tornadoes rip through southern Louisiana

5 Jan 07

NEW IBERIA, La. - Powerful storms that killed at least two people and ripped apart mobile homes in Louisiana headed into Alabama on Friday, where tornado watches were posted across the state.

A flash-flood watch was still in effect Friday morning for parts of southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi after the heavy rain.

Some of the worst damage from Thursday's storms was in Louisiana's Iberia Parish after what appeared to be a tornado hit in the New Iberia area just before 4 p.m.
A woman and six-year-old girl were killed in their home as the storm hit, the Iberia Parish Coroner's Office said. At least 15 other people were injured, and several mobiles homes were blown over, Sheriff Sid Hebert said.

"We were just sitting and watching a movie, and then all of a sudden the wind started blowing and it got really bad," said Joyce Firmin of Iberia Parish. "It just sounded like a bunch of trucks or an airplane or something was coming toward the house."

Firmin's daughter Jaci, 14, said she could hear branches snapping and power lines popping during the storm. "My ears were popping a lot," she said. "Then we came out, everything was down."

Steven Bruno described from a hospital how he was flipped over twice while furniture and glass flew around his mobile home. His girlfriend, who is six months pregnant, was hospitalized for fetal monitoring.

Whether it was a tornado won't be determined until storm surveys are conducted.

Damage was less serious as the storm continued through the state, although the heavy rain flooded roads, and windows were blown out and roofs ripped off homes in the New Roads area, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Vasilj said.

In Mississippi, at least nine people were hurt in Kemper County and eight homes damaged when the storm hit there late Thursday and early Friday, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Five more homes and business were damaged in Stone County.

City workers in New Orleans had been dispatched early to clean drains and prepare for possible flooding ahead of the heavy rain.

The area has been pounded by major storms that bumped its December rainfall total to more than 25 centimetres, nearly twice the normal average.

Forecasters on Friday warned that more rain was coming.

"More showers and thunderstorms are on the way Saturday afternoon and evening as we get another cold front coming through. We're in a progressive pattern - almost like clockwork, every three days we'll get a front through," said weather service forecaster Kent Kuyper.

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Scientists Say 2007 May Be Warmest Yet

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

LONDON - A resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever recorded, British climate scientists said Thursday.

Britain's Meteorological Office said there was a 60 percent probability that 2007 would break the record set by 1998, which was 1.20 degrees over the long-term average.

"This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," the office said.
The reason for the forecast is mostly due to El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean. The event occurs irregularly - the last one happened in 2002 - and typically leads to increased temperatures worldwide.

While this year's El Nino is not as strong as it was in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady increase of temperatures due to global warming from human activity may be enough to break the Earth's temperature record, said Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research unit at the University of East Anglia.

"Because of the warming due to greenhouse gases, even a moderate warming event is enough to push the global temperatures over the top," he said.

"El Nino is an independent variable," he said. "But the underlying trends in the warming of the Earth is almost certainly due to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

El Nino can sometimes lead to milder weather, such as in the in the northeastern United States or the Atlantic Ocean, which is likely to see fewer hurricanes this year. However, it can also increase the severity of weather-related disasters, such as typhoons in the Philippines or drought in southern Africa and Australia, a country that is already suffering through its longest dry spell on record.

Environmental groups said the report added weight to the movement to control greenhouse gases.

"The evidence that we're doing something very dangerous with the climate is now amassing," said Campaign against Climate Change coordinator Philip Thornhill.

"We need to put the energy and priority (into climate change) that is being put into a war effort. It's a political struggle to get action done - and these reports help," Thornhill said.

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2007 likely warmest year ever: Scientists

Tim Lai
January 05, 2007
Toronto Star

As British meteorologists announced that the world will probably be the warmest on record in 2007, Torontonians will get a burst of that heat today as the city is expected to "obliterate" record temperatures.

The mercury is due to reach 13C today, breaking the 1997 record of 10.1 degrees, according to Environment Canada.
Yesterday, British scientists announced that there's a 60 per cent chance globally that 2007 will be the same or hotter than 1998, the warmest year on record, due to the effect of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and greenhouse gases.

"It's another important addition to the ever-increasing body of evidence that climate change is real, it's happening now, and it's getting worse," said, Keith Allott, head of the climate change program at World Wildlife Federation (UK).

The past few weeks have been warmer than normal, said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada. Nationally, December was the warmest month on record.

While it's easier to predict global weather patterns, said Phillips, he believes it will probably be another warm year for Canada and the GTA.

"I wouldn't bet the family farm or the fishing fleet on it. I'd maybe bet a couple loonies on it," said Phillips, who noted forecasters have been wrong on their hurricane predictions in the past two years, underestimating in 2005 when Katrina killed more than 1,300 people in the Gulf Coast and overestimating last year.

The effect of this balminess is most evident on ski hills, where the ground is making unwanted appearances.

"Conditions are starting to deteriorate. It's getting warmer and warmer, and brown patches are starting to come out," said Caroline Yli-Luoma, co-owner of Dagmar Ski Resort, who added that business has dropped 30 per cent. "It can be frightening. These are huge operations that we run. They're very expensive."

She said the resort hasn't been able to regularly employ its 200 seasonal staff. But it's surviving, making snow whenever temperatures dip low enough, which is infrequent. Ice wine producers in the Niagara region are also hoping for just a few days of frigid temperatures for their ice wine production. Barry Katzman, president of the Creekside Estate Winery, said they need just a few days of minus 8C weather for the crop.

On the other hand, the weather has been great for table wines, he said. "Severe winter conditions damage and hurt the grapes that we harvest for our regular wines - that's 80 to 90 per cent of all grapes out there."

Gardeners would also like to see a cold snap. Sara Katz, a landscape designer who owns Wild at Heart Design, said warm weather could have damaging effects on the garden. The lack of snow robs the ground of insulation and moisture. A lack of cold means garden pests and diseases won't be killed off.

"A lot more spores and fungus will survive in the ground," Katz said.

Elsewhere, the Toronto Stock Exchange had its second day of triple-digit declines yesterday, largely because of balmy North American temperatures.

The biggest drag on the TSX yesterday was energy and "that is clearly a weather-related story, with oil prices falling," said Mark Levesque, a fixed income strategist at TD Securities.

Warmer weather means less demand for oil for heating purposes. Home-heating demand in the northeast United States will be 40 per cent lower than normal in the coming week, Bloomberg News reported.

In the last two days, the price of crude oil has had its biggest drop in two years.

with files from Tara Perkins and Star Wires

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Hurricane center chief issues final warning: The Big One is Coming

By Carol J. Williams
LA Times
3 Jan 07

MIAMI - Frustrated with people and politicians who refuse to listen or learn, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield ends his 34-year government career today in search of a new platform for getting out his unwelcome message: Hurricane Katrina was nothing compared with the big one yet to come.

Mayfield, 58, leaves his high-profile job with the National Weather Service more convinced than ever that U.S. residents of the Southeast are risking unprecedented tragedy by continuing to build vulnerable homes in the tropical storm zone and failing to plan escape routes.
He pointed to southern Florida's 7 million coastal residents.

"We're eventually going to get a strong enough storm in a densely populated area to have a major disaster," he said. "I know people don't want to hear this, and I'm generally a very positive person, but we're setting ourselves up for this major disaster."

More than 1,300 deaths across the Gulf Coast were attributed to Hurricane Katrina, the worst human toll from a weather event in the United States since the 1920s.

But Mayfield warns that 10 times as many fatalities could occur in what he sees as an inevitable strike by a huge storm during the current highly active hurricane cycle, which is expected to last another 10 to 20 years.

His apocalyptic vision of thousands dead and millions homeless is a different side of the persona he established as head of the hurricane center.

Mayfield attained national celebrity status during the tempestuous 2004 and 2005 seasons, appearing on network television with hourly updates as hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Frances and Wilma bore down on the Caribbean and the Southeast. His calm demeanor and avuncular sincerity endeared him to millions of TV viewers seeking survival guidance.

And he argues that his dire predictions don't have to become reality.

The technology exists to build high-rise buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and tropical storm surge more powerful than those experienced in the last few years. Much of Hong Kong's architecture has been built to survive typhoons, and hotels and apartments built in Kobe, Japan, after a 1995 earthquake devastated the city are touted as indestructible, he said.

What is lacking in the United States is the political will to make and impose hard decisions on building codes and land use in the face of resistance from the influential building industry and a public still willing to gamble that the big one will never hit, he said.

"It's good for the tax base" to allow developers to put up buildings on the coastline, Mayfield said in explaining politicians' reluctance to deter housing projects that expose residents to storm risks.

"I don't want the builders to get mad at me," he said, "but the building industry strongly opposes improvement in building codes."

Consumers also have yet to demand sturdier construction, Mayfield added. A builder gets a better return on investment in upgraded carpet and appliances than for safety features above and beyond most states' minimal requirements, he said.

As a senior civil servant, Mayfield was prohibited from making job inquiries in the private sector while still in the government's employ. But he said on Tuesday, his last day in office, that he hoped to launch a second career as a consultant in emergency planning and disaster response. He has particular interest in a potential public-private initiative to mine natural disaster scenes for their educational value.

He envisions a natural disaster assessment service like the National Transportation Safety Board, which probes the causes and consequences of aviation and other transport accidents.

"If the NTSB finds some structural problem is the cause of an air crash, you would never see that plane continue to be built with the same problems," he said.

With natural disasters, though, the same mistakes that put lives at risk are repeated year after year in unsafe construction and inadequate planning, he said.

Mayfield said he also was pondering collaboration with advocates of tougher building standards and land use rules.

"It's not just about the forecasting. Whatever I do, I want to help change the outcome," he said, conceding frustration with persistent public disregard of federal and local government campaigns to boost hurricane awareness and preparation.

Even after the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, he said, fewer than 50% of those living in storm-prone areas have a hurricane evacuation plan.

While he has been critical of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, he warns against depending on the federal government after natural disasters. He was dismayed to see federal agencies handing out water and ice in South Florida after Hurricane Wilma hit in October 2005, when stores were open and tap water was usable.

"You don't want the federal government to be your first-responders," he said. "The government can't do everything for people and it shouldn't, or else you create a culture of dependence."

Mayfield praises the Florida state government for its well-oiled disaster-response program and steps toward improving building safety, in contrast with other states along the Gulf of Mexico that he says still have no statewide building standards.

Though Mayfield's name and face recognition are the envy of some presidential hopefuls, he laughs out loud at the notion of running for office.

"Oh, good gosh, no! That is just not my thing," he says.

At the hurricane center on the Florida International University campus, Mayfield will be succeeded by Bill Proenza, the National Weather Service's director for the Southern region. Home to 77 million, the region has "the most active and severe weather in the world," according to the weather service's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Proenza, 62, began his meteorological career at the Miami office as an intern in 1963. As director of 50 regional offices and 1,000 employees in the Southern region for the last eight years, he has long experience collaborating with the hurricane center staff on forecasts and tracking.

"That's why I don't have any problem walking out the door," said Mayfield, declaring himself fearful that the mild 2006 hurricane season left those in the storm zone ever more complacent.

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Grim prognosis for Earth

Peter Gorrie
January 03, 2007
Toronto Star

So far away, and yet so close.

It's 2050.

Read any report on climate change and, chances are, that date will stare back at you.

It's frequently set as the year when we can expect a long, frightening list of devastating impacts, including decimation of the oceans' fish and the planet's forests; an ice-free Arctic; hordes of starving environmental refugees seeking new homes; and the extinction of a million animal species.

But Canada's main political parties and the governments of many countries also cite 2050 as the target by which to achieve massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Why that year?

Part of its appeal is that it's a middling distance into the future.
It's soon enough that the majority of people alive today can still expect to be breathing then. That makes it real. Despite professions of concern for future generations, it's difficult to stir passions or action about something that will happen a century or two or three from now.

As well, most of the things we build, including generating stations, roads and major industries, last 40 or 50 years. So what we do now will play a large part in determining what the Earth is like in 2050.

"It's a useful year to focus on," Matthew Bramley, director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, which does environmental policy research, said in an interview from Ottawa. "It's far enough away to be a year when real change is both necessary and possible."

Anyway, longer-term forecasts are likely irrelevant.

If we make the wrong decisions now, scientists warn, by 2050 the planet will either be a mess or irretrievably on course to become one. Viewed from the opposite direction, it's when major changes must be completed if we're to avoid disaster.

So, what will the Earth be like 43 years from now?

While most general predictions are consistent, details remain a bit of a guess. Much depends on whether we make a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution between now and then, and on what steps we take to adjust to the new environment.

It's certain the world will be warmer. With all of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, the planet is, on average, 0.6C warmer than at the start of the Industrial Revolution - when we began burning fossil fuels in vast quantities - and there's no way to keep it from climbing another half a degree. The stuff stays intact for about a century, and we're stuck with it.

Even with very stringent emissions cuts, scientists say the average temperature by the end of the century will be at least 2C above pre-industrial levels. In fact, they say, that's the best we can hope for.

It's a small number but a substantial increase, and it will cause hardship for many people. Still, with effort, we could adapt to the changes in temperature, precipitation and water supply that would likely result.

To stay within that limit would require major changes in technology. Current crystal balls show lines of giant wind turbines and machines that generate electricity from wave power a few kilometres off ocean coasts; massive centralized power stations fuelled by coal that capture all their greenhouse gas emissions and pump them deep into the ground; well-insulated homes heated or cooled by underground geothermal energy; solar panels everywhere; zero-emission cars.

Of course, technology changes rapidly and often in surprising ways, so we might go off in totally unexpected directions to meet our inevitably soaring energy demand and be much better off than anyone now hopes.

But we're also resisting change, which makes it more difficult to curb the warming trend. Bare land and open water absorb much more heat than earth covered in trees or snow, or frozen seas. Melting permafrost could release immense amounts of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.

So most predictions for 2050 assume we'll zip past the two-degree target. As now, we'll gradually use energy more efficiently. But those gains will be far outstripped by population and economic growth.

These attempts at future gazing, too, contain considerable guesswork. Experts plug numbers into sophisticated and massive computer programs that often take months to spit out results. Others look at history and trends, and make assumptions.

Forecasts for the entire planet are considered the most accurate. Precision decreases along with the size of the area being studied.

With all of this in mind, what follows is a picture of the world in 2050, a picture compiled from a wide variety of reports and interviews.

Up to one-third of the global population - about 9 billion in 2050 - lacks water. The shortages are worst in the areas of Asia and South America that get their supply from melting glaciers in the Himalayas and Andes mountain systems. Those rivers of ice have melted away.

Some parts of Earth, including much of Canada and Europe, get more rain, but others - notably southern Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean Basin - are parched by drought.

Mediterranean tourism has withered away; the beaches are blistering hot. But people flock to toasty warm northern Europe and Britain, where they can sit under palm trees and munch on locally grown olives.

And if it's business as usual?

It's warmer in most places, particularly in winter. In the first couple of decades after 2007, a few areas here and there cooled down from time to time, as natural cycles asserted themselves over human-caused climate change. By 2050, though, that kind of impact is history: Climate change rules.

The biggest temperature increases are in the Arctic and over Africa and the Middle East.

The poles get more precipitation, the mid-latitudes less. Drought threatens southern Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, northern South America, and the central and southeast United States.

We've just seen the first summer with no ice at the North Pole. Canada's High Arctic is, on average, a huge 5C or 6C hotter than in the past. Ships can now ply the Arctic with relative ease.

Inuit have many more weeks in which to zip across the waves in boats, but they no longer see polar bears or walruses, and seals are rare. With Arctic winter temperatures 5C to 8C higher than in recent history, ice conditions are treacherous and travel dangerous.

Most of British Columbia and the Prairies have the least warming, winter and summer, but even they are two or three degrees above the late-20th-century average. They'll also get less precipitation.

In Toronto, winters are mild and drier. Outdoor ice rinks are distant memories. Summers are hot and sticky - three or four degrees above the turn-of-the-century average. Smog blankets the city almost every day, although the cruddy haze is often shredded by violent thunderstorms, which overwhelm the sewer system, causing floods and erosion and flushing vast amounts of human and toxic wastes into Lake Ontario.

The Humber, Don and Rouge rivers are increasingly erratic, and with the intense bursts of rainfall, it's no longer news when they overflow their banks.

With increased evaporation and slightly reduced precipitation, the levels of Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes have dropped a metre or two. Storm-whipped water and occasional flash floods make living near the shore a dicey proposition.

Farmers are frustrated. Their crops should be thriving on the feast of carbon dioxide in the air and the longer growing season. But the heat is often too scorching: Even worse, precipitation comes in violent, damaging storms that punctuate prolonged droughts.

In the tropics, the growing season has actually been shortened by heat, and crops are parched.

Around the world, about 1 million land-based plant and animal species have gone extinct. More than 90 per cent of the oceans' coral reefs, including Australia's Great Barrier, have died off. The sea species we eat have virtually disappeared from the oceans, and farmed fish can't fill the void.

The "bread basket" of the United States - the Great Plains of the Midwest - is now too hot for wheat and other cereal crops. The prime growing area has shifted. It begins in the northern U.S., covers almost all of Canada's prairie provinces and stretches up to the southern Northwest Territories. Unfortunately, much of the land is the Canadian Shield, with thin soil that can't support grains. But there are pockets of good growing land.

Much of the vast boreal forest that once covered the rocky shield has disappeared; it simply couldn't survive the hot, dry climate. Forest fires are larger and more frequent. The decline of the boreal has been the death knell for the woodland caribou, wolverine, Canada Jay and many other species.

Other forests have been decimated by disease and insects that are no longer killed off by cold winters. Pests have a longer growing season in which to attack trees and produce offspring. That produces yet another feedback, since dying and dead trees stop storing carbon.

On average, everyone on Earth is 20 per cent poorer. But the economic burden isn't spread equally. Places like sub-Saharan Africa that are already impoverished fare even worse.

Rising sea levels and the spread of deserts have forced as many as 200 million people to seek new homes as environmental refugees. They're flooding into Europe, North America and Australia.

Malaria is spreading because mosquitoes that carry it can survive in more areas, but the disease hasn't yet reached Canada.

International tourism will have shrivelled because of restrictions on air travel - which by now is one of the major sources of greenhouse gases.

Warm winters long ago wiped out Europe's ski industry. Now, Rocky Mountain resorts in Canada and the U.S. are going under.

The Netherlands, after centuries of wresting land from the sea, has had to give much of it back. Thousands of people are living in floating communities.

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China Report Warns of Agriculture Problems from Climate Change

Associated Press
3 Jan 07

BEIJING -- Climate change will harm China's ecology and economy in the coming decades, possibly causing large drops in agricultural output, said a government report made public Wednesday.

The report, issued by six government departments including the State Meteorological Bureau, the China Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Technology, comes several days after state media said 2006 was hotter than average with more natural disasters than normal.
"Climate change will increase the instability of agricultural production," the report said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday. "If no measures are taken, in the latter half of the century production of wheat, corn and rice in China will drop by as much as 37 percent."

It said that average temperatures in China would rise by 2 or 3 degrees Celsius in the next 50 to 80 years, and that this would cause "the speed of change to accelerate."

The report did not say what measures should be taken to combat climate change. It added that evaporation rates for some inland rivers would increase by 15 percent. China already faces a severe water shortage, especially in the northern part of the country.

On Sunday, the state Xinhua News Agency reported that temperatures in 2006 were on average 1 degree higher than in normal years. Meteorological officials were quoted as saying there was less rain than normal, down 16 millimeters (half an inch) from an average year.

Dong Wenjie, director of the Beijing Climate Center, said the high temperatures were caused by global warming, while the annual meteorological report released by the China Meteorological Administration said 2006 had been a disastrous year for loss of life and property damage.

Typhoons, floods and droughts killed 2,704 people and caused economic losses of 212 billion yuan (US$27.2 billion; euro20.65 billion) in 2006, second only to 1998 when an extremely severe flood swept the country, the report said.

China's size and geography make it prone to natural disasters. Every year, natural disaster affect 400 million people and 50 million hectares (123.6 million acres) of farmland, with economic losses equal to 1 percent to 3 percent of gross domestic product, Xinhua said.

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Warming oceans make it tough for fish to breath

2007-01-05 21:37:22

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Recently completed research reveals warmer oceans caused by global warming is making it more difficult for eelpouts to breath and survive.

Biologists have known for years declining fish stocks are connected to global warming, but a new study of eelpouts -- big-headed fish that resemble eels -- is the first to go deeper and see how warmer seas are connected to how fishes take in oxygen.
Scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany studied the relationship between sea temperature and eelpouts counts in the Southern North Sea, combining data from the field with lab investigations of eelpout physiology.

The researchers not only found the oxygen levels in the waters of the North and Baltic seas have dropped because of increasing temperatures over the past 50 years -- a factor that reduces fish populations -- they also discovered eelpouts need more oxygen in warmer waters, a second factor that is reducing their numbers.

A key factor in the diminishing size of fish stock is increased difficulty in absorbing oxygen via respiration and blood circulation caused by the warming waters.

The study, published in the Jan. 5 issue of the journal Science, also noted the population of eelpouts dropped as average summer temperatures increased. The impact was also observed in the short term such that eelpout numbers decreased the year immediately after a warm summer.

Animals tolerate a limited range of environmental conditions. Anything out of their tolerance window can cause damage. Fish in the North Sea have evolved to tolerate a wider range of temperatures than fish elsewhere because of the large seasonal fluctuations there.

However, warming waters and their impact on oxygen supply can stress fish to the point their thermal tolerance range is thrown off and they perish, the scientists said.

In the future, eelpouts could prove to be important bioindicators that would help experts assess what might happen to other marine species in the region, the scientists explained.

Worldwide, warming waters can be expected to strain species that require lots of oxygen, forcing them to either relocate to cooler waters or face extinction, the authors write.

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We could become extinct

Times Union
3 Jan 07

Now 2007 is upon us, but not the white-fin dolphin. It's gone, too. Another year, another species.

A team of 25 scientists recently searched the Yangtze River, the dolphin's only home, and could find not a one. That was not a great surprise. The species was known to be in trouble. The last sighting was in 2004.

Perhaps the search missed one or two of the dolphins. If so, no matter. The species is done for. The United Nation's environmental unit has declared the Yangtze a dead zone.

This fresh-water dolphin had been on Earth 20 million years. Imagine that: 20 million. Geologic epochs came and went. The dolphin had taken the worst that volatile and violent nature could throw at them. They were no match for a man-made environment of overfishing, industrial development and intense shipping.
Is it really necessary to rehearse what ought to be the obvious? There's an alarm going off here, adding to the many already clanging and wailing.

Genesis had God giving humankind dominion over the Earth. This was not a favor. It was a task. Dominion must suppose stewardship.

There is a bitter irony in our failures at the job. Bitter because, if we were paying attention, we would notice that when we knuckle down and, crucially, if it's not too late, we can stop and sometimes reverse the damage from our neglect and despoliation. Environmentalism works.

Thirty-five years of reasonably serious attention to air and water quality in the United States has improved both. And timely alertness to imminent species extinctions has led to rescues.

The bald eagle is to be taken off the endangered species list in February; its population has increased 15-fold since 1963. The whooping crane, down to 15 in 1941, now number 518. The loss and degradation of migration habitat remains a challenge, but this is the first time in more than a century that the population exceeds 500.

It is the overwhelming, international judgment of scientists in the relevant disciplines that the Earth is warming and that the warming is man-made, not part of a natural cycle. There are a million arguments over details but that's the big picture and it is not in serious question among serious people.

The Bush White House, which shrugs energy conservation off as perhaps nice for personal virtue but useless as policy, first denied global warming is occurring, then grudgingly admitted it is but swore the administration couldn't for the life of it figure out why, so what's a poor body to do?

To act would inconvenience automotive, fossil-fuel and other industries and abrade the political right, which holds, as doctrine, that global warming is lefty hoax created to smash free markets and spit on Adam Smith's grave.

Yet word has slipped out from the administration that the polar bear may soon be listed as endangered, the first species designated as a potential victim of the global warming that the White House says we shouldn't try to do anything about.

Dolphins are mammals, like us, a thought that often charms us. Maybe we should pay more notice to the fact that we're mammals. Like dolphins.

Tom Teepen writes for Cox Newspapers. His e-mail address is teepencolumn@earthlink.net

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The Big Question: How quickly are animals and plants disappearing, and does it matter?

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
UK Independent
02 January 2007

Why are we asking this question now?

As 2006 drew to a close, the polar bear was about to be classified as a threatened species by the United States Government. Melting Arctic sea ice could significantly reduce numbers of the world's largest terrestrial carnivore over the next 50 years. And, just before Christmas, a 38-day search for the Yangtze River dolphin ended without finding a single member of the species. It is feared that the aquatic mammal may be the latest in a long line of extinct animals.
Extinction is as old as life on Earth - about 3.5 billion years - but scientists calculate that we are losing species at a rate of somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural "background" rate of extinction. This means that technically we are going through a period of "mass extinction", the sixth that we know about over the hundreds of millions of years of the fossil record. But unlike the previous five mass extinctions, this one is largely caused by the actions of a single species - Homo sapiens.

How many species have gone extinct in the past 100 years?

This is a notoriously difficult question to answer, due in part to the difficulty in recording the declining populations of a particular animal or plant, and in part to the technical definition of an extinction. Experts estimate there are 15,589 species threatened with extinction. But a species is only accepted to have become extinct if exhaustive surveys in its known habitat range have failed to find any record of the individual.

So even if scientists strongly suspect that an animal has gone extinct it cannot be defined as extinct until some time has elapsed since an individual was last observed - which can mean 30 or 50 years for some species.

The decline and eventual extinction of an animal or plant may take many decades or even centuries and the final stages are seldom observed. This make it difficult to decide when something has completely died out.

Conservationists calculate that since 1500 there have been more than 800 recorded extinctions. However, the true number of extinctions is likely to be much larger because of what is known about the rate at which habitats are being lost or broken up.

What groups of animals or plants are at the highest risk?

In general, the more we know about a particular group of species, the more we realise that they are at risk. One in four mammals and one in every eight birds is threatened. Half of all tortoises and freshwater turtles are similarly endangered.

Amphibians - frogs, toads, newts and salamanders - are perhaps the largest group of animals at serious risk.

About one in three species of amphibians are seriously endangered in some way or other and more than 120 species are thought to have died out over the past 25 years.

Amphibian specialists believe that a combination of factors may be involved, such as habitat loss and the spread of a deadly fungus, aided by the human trade in an African toad, a known carrier of the disease.

Up to 2,000 species of amphibians - the first vertebrates to conquer the land - are classified as endangered. The group is thought to be particularly vulnerable because their life cycles generally depend on two habitats, terrestrial and aquatic, for survival.

How many species are still alive?

Again, this is another notoriously difficult question. About 1.5 million animals and plants have been identified and formally or informally named. However, the true number of species alive today is likely to fall within the range of between five million and 15 million, although some scientists suggest even higher numbers - perhaps 30 million species in total.

According to studies of the fossil record, which gives a good indication of the diversity of life on Earth over the past 600 million years, only between about 2 and 4 per cent of the species that have ever lived are believed to survive today - the disappearances of the earlier species occurred long before the arrival of the first humans some two million years ago.

Do species have a natural 'lifetime'?

Some species are better than others at surviving for long periods of time. Some adapt to changing environmental conditions and evolve into new species.

Most species eventually become extinct. Animals without backbones, the invertebrates, have an average evolutionary "lifetime" of five to 10 million years. Mammals, on the other hand, are thought to have a lifetime of one or two million years.

However, scientists say that the current lifetimes of some birds and mammals are much shorter than natural lifetimes based on the fossil record. One scientist calculated that the lifetime of a typical bird or mammal species is now about 10,000 years - significantly shorter than the natural average lifetime.

What caused the previous mass extinctions?

We know about the previous five mass extinctions from the fossil record. Studies of the number of marine families over the past 600 million years show five points in time when large numbers of species disappeared abruptly.

The last was 65 million years ago, in which the dinosaurs became extinct, and is thought to have resulted from an asteroid hitting the Earth and causing a dramatic change in the climate. In fact all previous mass extinctions are thought to have been caused by some large-scale geo-physical process, such as supervolcanic eruptions or the sudden release of vast quantities of greenhouse gases from the seabed.

The biggest mass extinction of all occurred some 251 million year ago, when about 90 per cent of marine life and 70 per cent of land species vanished. One theory is that something happened to the Earth's atmosphere at the end of the Permian period, robbing it of vital oxygen.

It has happened before, so why worry?

There are several reasons we should be concerned. The first is that in the past it has taken life on Earth between 10 million and 100 million years to recover from a mass extinction. The second is that for all our technology, we still rely on the delicate ecological balance of the natural world for our survival. The Earth's biodiversity provides us with clean air, drinking water, food and even new drugs - upsetting it too much could cause the collapse of this vital life-support system.

The third reason is philosophical. If we conserve works of art, why should we not also conserve nature? The extinction of a humble beetle is no less important than the wilful destruction of a Rembrandt or a Picasso?

Should we be concerned about the rapid extinction of the Earth's species?


* Life is a delicate web of inter-related species: destroy too many and the entire fabric can come apart

* The natural world is the planet's only life-support system, and if we lose that we lose our own lives as well

* Protecting biodiversity is the moral equivalent to preserving human culture for future generations - it is not ours to destroy


* There are millions of species on Earth and the loss of a few won't matter too much

* Life has bounced back in the past when there have been similar mass extinctions

* We can live in a world of fewer species, provided we keep the ones that matter to us

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Flashback: Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
The Observer
22 Feb 04

- 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.

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'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.

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Bush Looking at Global Warming Ideas

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal to prod the Middle East peace process and said he was open to new ideas to combat global warming.

"I believe there is a chance now to put behind us the old stale debates of the past," Bush said at a joint White House news conference with the German leader.
It was a reference to past differences between Bush and European allies on the Kyoto accords, an international agreement to reduce pollution that causes global warming. It has not been ratified by the United States.

He also praised her for her efforts to put the so-called quartet- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations - at the center of a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.

"Madame Chancellor had a good idea to convene the quarter," Bush said. He said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would soon be going to the region to try to revive the process.

"We're strongly committed to a two-state solution. Two democracies supporting each other's rights to exist," Bush said. He said, however, that he was unwilling to expand the quartet.

The two leaders conferred on issues ranging from war and energy problems to the economy and global warming.

Merkel's visit came just days after Germany assumed the presidencies of the 27-nation European Union and the Group of Eight major industrialized democracies.

While Bush and Merkel are strong allies on many issues, there also are differences, including steps to combat global warming.

"We talked about climate change, and I assured the chancellor I'm committed to promoting new technologies that will promote energy efficiency and do a better job protecting the environment," Bush said.

For her part, Merkel said she believed there was "wide scope for further talks about this." She said that while "on the one hand we obviously need economic growth," it was also important to protect the environment from so-called greenhouse gases.

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They Love You, Really!

Pa. girl, 12, charged with disorderly conduct for wetting pants in school

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

DANVILLE, Pa. - A 12-year-old special education student was charged with disorderly conduct after authorities said she deliberately wet her pants at school.

The girl's mother said she urinated only because the principal frightened her. The mother said in Thursday's Press Enterprise that the incident occurred last month, after the girl, classmates and teachers ate a holiday lunch at Danville Middle School.
The girl was told to go to the kitchen to wash some pots and pans, but refused, wet her pants after teachers summoned Principal Kevin Duckworth, the mother said.

The newspaper withheld the names of the girl and her mother.

Police Chief Eric Gill said school officials were at "wit's end" with the girl, and they believe her actions were deliberate.

Duckworth did not return calls for comment. School Superintendent Steve Keifer said only that police are generally called in only after "all other alternatives are exhausted."

Police told the girl's parents they could probably avoid a fine if they agree to have the girl do community service.

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In Padilla Wiretaps, Murky View of 'Jihad' Case

New York Times
January 4, 2007

In 1997, as the government listened in on their phone call, Adham Hassoun, a computer programmer in Broward County, Fla., proposed a road trip to Jose Padilla, a low-wage worker there. The excursion to Tampa would be his treat, Mr. Hassoun said, and a chance to meet "some nice, uh, brothers."
Mr. Padilla, 36, a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican who had converted to Islam a few years earlier, knew Mr. Hassoun, an outspoken Palestinian, from his mosque. Still, according to a transcript of the conversation obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Padilla equivocated as Mr. Hassoun exhorted.

"We take the whole family and have a blast," Mr. Hassoun said. "We go to, uh, our Busch Gardens, you know ... You won't regret it. Money-back guarantee."

Mr. Padilla, laughing, suggested that they not discuss the matter over the phone.

"Why?" Mr. Hassoun said. "We're going to Busch Gardens. What's the big deal!"

That conversation took place five years before Mr. Padilla, a United States citizen accused of plotting a "dirty bomb" attack against this country, was declared an enemy combatant. Given that Mr. Padilla and Mr. Hassoun are now criminal defendants in a terrorism conspiracy case in Miami, it sounds suspicious, as if Mr. Hassoun were proposing something more sinister than a weekend at the amusement park. He well may have been - but maybe, too, he was sincere or joking about a Muslim retreat.

Deciphering such chatter in order to construct a convincing narrative of conspiracy is a challenge. Yet, prosecutors say, the government will rely largely on wiretapped conversations when it puts Mr. Padilla, Mr. Hassoun, and a third defendant, Kifah Jayyousi, on trial as a "North American support cell" that sent money, goods and recruits abroad to assist "global jihad."

Tens of thousands of conversations were recorded. Some 230 phone calls form the core of the government's case, including 21 that make reference to Mr. Padilla, prosecutors said. But Mr. Padilla's voice is heard on only seven calls. And on those seven, which The Times obtained from a participant in the case, Mr. Padilla does not discuss violent plots.

But this is not the version of Mr. Padilla - Al Qaeda associate and would-be bomber - that John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, unveiled in 2002 when he interrupted a trip to Moscow to trumpet Mr. Padilla's capture. In the four and a half years since then, as the government tested the limits of its power to deal with terrorism outside the traditional law enforcement system, Mr. Padilla is the only accused terrorist to have gone from enemy combatant to criminal defendant.

His criminal trial, scheduled to begin late this month, will feature none of the initial claims about violent plotting with Al Qaeda that the government cited as justification for detaining Mr. Padilla without formal charges for three and a half years. Those claims came from the government's overseas interrogations of terrorism suspects, like Abu Zubaydah, which, the government said, Mr. Padilla corroborated, in part, during his own questioning in a military brig in South Carolina.

But, constrained by strict federal rules of evidence that would prohibit or limit the use of information obtained during such interrogations, the government will make a far more circumscribed case against Mr. Padilla in court, effectively demoting him from Al Qaeda's dirty bomber to foot soldier in a somewhat nebulous conspiracy.

The initial dirty bomb accusation did not disappear. It quietly resurfaced in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The government filed the dirty bomb charges against Mr. Padilla's supposed accomplice, an Ethiopian-born detainee, at about the same time it indicted Mr. Padilla on relatively lesser offenses in criminal court.

A Change in Strategy

The change in Mr. Padilla's status, from enemy combatant to criminal defendant, was abrupt. It came late in 2005 as the Supreme Court was weighing whether to take up the legality of his military detention and the Bush administration, by filing criminal charges, pre-empted its review. In a way, Mr. Padilla's prosecution was a legal maneuver that kept the issue of his detention without charges out of the Supreme Court. After apprehending him at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago in May 2002, the Bush administration made a choice: to detain Mr. Padilla militarily, in order to thwart further plotting, rather than to follow him in order to gather evidence that might serve a criminal prosecution.

Now that Mr. Padilla has ended up a criminal defendant after all, the prosecution's case does not fully reflect the Bush administration's view of who he is or what he did.

Senior government officials have said publicly that Mr. Padilla provided self-incriminating information during interrogations, admitting, they said, to undergoing basic terrorist training, to accepting an assignment to blow up apartment buildings in the United States, and to attending a farewell dinner with Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected master planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, before he flew to Chicago in 2002.

But any confessions by Mr. Padilla while he was detained without charges and denied access to counsel - whether or not he was mistreated, as his lawyers claim - would not be admissible in court.

And it is unlikely that information obtained during the harsh questioning of Al Qaeda detainees would be admissible, either - and, further, the government is disinclined to expose sensitive intelligence or invite further scrutiny of secret jails overseas.

Probably as a consequence, the current criminal case zeroes in on what the government sees as an earlier stage of Mr. Padilla's involvement with terrorism. It focuses primarily on the other defendants' support during the 1990s for Muslim struggles overseas, especially in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. Mr. Padilla, who was appended to their pre-existing case, in which he had been an unnamed co-conspirator, is depicted as their recruit.

Although prosecutors have declined to discuss the government's strategy, their filings and statements in court provide a picture of the case they are expected to present at trial.

The most tangible allegation against Mr. Padilla is that in 2000 he filled out, under an alias, an Arab-language application to attend a terrorist training camp. That application is expected to be offered into evidence alongside the wiretapped conversations, but Mr. Padilla's lawyers say they will contest its admissibility, challenging the government's assertion that the "mujahideen data form" belonged to their client.

Robert Chesney, a specialist in national security law at Wake Forest University, called the prosecution a pragmatic one, analogous to "going after Al Capone on tax evasion."

But Deborah Pearlstein, a lawyer with Human Rights First who has consulted with Mr. Padilla's defense, said that his will never be an ordinary, pragmatic prosecution. "If Jose Padilla were from Day 1 just charged and tried, then maybe," she said. "But this is a case that comes after three and a half years of the most gross deprivation of human rights that we've seen in this country for a long time."

Further, Ms. Pearlstein noted, the government has reserved the option, should the prosecution fail, of returning Mr. Padilla to the military brig. This, she said, "casts a shadow" over the current prosecution.

The Bush administration's military case against Binyam Mohamed, 28, the Ethiopian detainee at Guantánamo, put the current proceedings in a different light, too.

In December 2005, Mr. Mohamed was referred to the military commission in Guantánamo on accusations that he conspired with Mr. Padilla on the dirty bomb plot. It was little noticed at the time.

But accusations against Mr. Padilla that are nowhere to be found in the indictment against him filled the pages of Mr. Mohamed's charging sheet, with Mr. Padilla repeatedly identified by name. The sheet referred to the two men meeting in Pakistan after Sept. 11, 2001, studying how to build an improvised dirty bomb, discussing the feasibility of a dirty bomb attack with Al Qaeda officials and agreeing to undertake the mission to blow up buildings.

Mr. Mohamed's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said that these charges were based on a forced confession by Mr. Mohamed, who, he said, was tortured overseas into admitting to a story that was fed to him. "Binyam was told all along that his job was to be a witness against Padilla, Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed," Mr. Stafford Smith said, adding that his client "has no conscious knowledge that he ever met" Mr. Padilla.

The charges against Mr. Mohamed and other Guantánamo detainees who were headed for prosecution there have been suspended temporarily as a result of the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress in October. Those charges are likely to be reinstated, a Pentagon official said yesterday.

That Mr. Mohamed faced dirty bomb charges and Mr. Padilla does not speaks to the central difference between being a terrorism suspect in Guantánamo and a criminal defendant charged with terrorism offenses in the United States.

In Guantánamo, the military commission system that deals with foreign-born terrorism suspects is expected to allow, with some exceptions, the use of information obtained through coercion.

"Federal court rules are restrictive," Professor Chesney of Wake Forest University School of Law said. "The very essence of why they're trying to have that separate military system was to create rules to use information that is deemed by the intelligence community to be trustworthy but wouldn't make it under the federal rules of evidence."

David Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown University and author of books on terrorism and civil liberties, sees the difference between the two systems more critically: "What this says clearly is that they feel that they can get away with using tainted evidence in the military commission system that they can't use in the criminal court system."

The Wiretapping Case

The criminal case against Mr. Padilla has its roots in the prosecution of Sheikh Omer Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to blow up the United Nations and other New York landmarks.

In the early 1990s, Sheikh Rahman's telephone was tapped, and Mr. Hassoun and Dr. Jayyousi, a Jordanian-born American citizen who holds a doctorate in civil engineering, came to the government's attention through phone calls to or from his line. Then the government, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, began to eavesdrop on them, which eventually pulled Mr. Padilla into their net, too.

The government presents the three defendants as "joined at the hip," as one prosecutor put it in a hearing last summer. But Judge Marcia G. Cooke of Federal District Court, noting that Mr. Padilla was appended to a case well under way, asked the government, "If they are so joined at the hip, why is Mr. Padilla so late to the dance?"

Dr. Jayyousi, a former school system administrator in both Detroit and Washington, D.C., never met Mr. Padilla, his lawyer, William Swor, said.

It is Mr. Hassoun, the government said, who recruited Mr. Padilla. But both Mr. Hassoun's and Mr. Padilla's lawyers deny that Mr. Padilla was recruited.

Seven Taped Phone Calls

Mr. Padilla's lawyers and relatives say that he left South Florida for Egypt in September 1998 on a spiritual journey. A former juvenile offender, he converted to Islam as part of an effort to straighten out his life, they say. His mosque in Fort Lauderdale sponsored his travel, he told friends, relatives and F.B.I. agents who interviewed him in 2002. Mr. Hassoun belonged to that mosque, and the telephone transcripts seem to indicate that Mr. Hassoun helped, at the least, with Mr. Padilla's travel plans.

The seven taped phone calls that bear Mr. Padilla's voice involve conversations with Mr. Hassoun from 1997 to 2000.

On those calls, Mr. Padilla, unlike some of the other defendants, does not employ what the government says is coded language. According to the government, other defendants refer to their jihad-related plans as "getting some fresh air," "participating in tourism," "opening up a market," "playing football," and so on. This leads to silly-sounding exchanges where "the brothers" discuss going on "picnics" in order "to smell fresh air and to eat cheese" or using $3,500 to buy "zucchini."

In contrast, Mr. Padilla's seven conversations with Mr. Hassoun range from straightforward - Mr. Hassoun tells Mr. Padilla that his grandmother has died; Mr. Padilla tells Mr. Hassoun that he has found himself an 18-year-old Egyptian bride who is willing to wear a veil - to vaguely suggestive or just odd.

In one phone call, the two men talked about a dream. It appeared to be the dream that Mr. Padilla, according to his relatives, cites as having played a crucial role in inspiring him to convert to Islam: the vision of a man in a turban, surrounded by the swirling dust of a desert.

Mr. Hassoun brought it up and told Mr. Padilla that he himself had experienced the same vision. "What do you mean you saw the same dream?" Mr. Padilla asked.

"I saw the dream of the uh ... person with the turban," Mr. Hassoun said.

Mr. Hassoun explained how, in his dream, the turban was wrongly wrapped and so he thought the man might be a spy, in which case, he was prepared "to split his body apart." But then, he said, he understood that "the brother ... was a good one."

"Yeah?" Mr. Padilla said.

In three of the seven conversations, Mr. Padilla made statements that the government has identified as "overt acts" in furtherance of the accused conspiracy.

In the first, Mr. Hassoun asked, "You're ready, right?" and Mr. Padilla said, "God willing, brother, it's going to happen soon." That was the summer of 1997, a year before Mr. Padilla left South Florida for Egypt.

In the second, Mr. Padilla told Mr. Hassoun, during a 1999 conversation from Egypt, that he had asked his ex-wife in the United States to arrange for him to receive an army jacket, a book bag and a sleeping bag, supplies that he had requested because "there was a rumor here that the door was open somewhere." In the third, Mr. Padilla told Mr. Hassoun in April 2000, that he would need a recommendation to "connect me with the good brothers, with the right faith" if he were to travel to Yemen.

Prosecutors say Mr. Padilla is mentioned, although by his Muslim name Ibrahim or by another alias, on 21 additional tapes. One of them refers to Ibrahim as being "in the area of Usama," which the government takes to mean that he was near Osama bin Laden. But Mr. Padilla's lawyers contest that interpretation.

"That is just nonsensical, Your Honor, that these men who for years, according to the government, have been talking in code all of a sudden are going to throw Osama bin Laden's name around," Michael Caruso, a federal public defender, said in court.

Mr. Padilla has pleaded not guilty. But before his case goes before a jury, his fitness to stand trial will be evaluated. On the basis of Mr. Padilla's lawyers' assertion that he is mentally damaged as a result of his prolonged isolation and his interrogation in the brig, Judge Cooke has ordered a psychiatric evaluation by a Bureau of Prisons doctor to be completed this week.

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America's Holy Warriors

By Chris Hedges
4 Jan 07

The radical Christian Right is coming dangerously close to its goal of taking over the country's military and law enforcement.
The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement. This effort signals the final and perhaps most deadly stage in the long campaign by the radical Christian right to dismantle America's open society and build a theocratic state. A successful politicization of the military would signal the end of our democracy.

During the past two years I traveled across the country to research and write the book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America." I repeatedly listened to radical preachers attack as corrupt and godless most American institutions, from federal agencies that provide housing and social welfare to public schools and the media. But there were two institutions that never came under attack -- the military and law enforcement. While these preachers had no interest in communicating with local leaders of other faiths, or those in the community who did not subscribe to their call for a radical Christian state, they assiduously courted and flattered the military and police. They held special services and appreciation days for all four branches of the armed services and for various law enforcement agencies. They encouraged their young men and women to enlist or to join the police or state troopers. They sought out sympathetic military and police officials to attend church events where these officials were lauded and feted for their Christian probity and patriotism. They painted the war in Iraq not as an occupation but as an apocalyptic battle by Christians against Islam, a religion they regularly branded as "satanic." All this befits a movement whose final aesthetic is violence. It also befits a movement that, in the end, would need the military and police forces to seize power in American society.

One of the arguments used to assuage our fears that the mass movement being built by the Christian right is fascist at its core is that it has not yet created a Praetorian Guard, referring to the paramilitary force that defied legal constraints, made violence part of the political discourse and eventually plunged ancient Rome into tyranny and despotism. A paramilitary force that operates outside the law, one that sows fear among potential opponents and is capable of physically silencing those branded by their leaders as traitors, is a vital instrument in the hands of despotic movements. Communist and fascist movements during the last century each built paramilitary forces that operated beyond the reach of the law.

And yet we may be further down this road than we care to admit. Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. His employees, in an act as cynical as it is deceitful, take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. These mercenary units in Iraq, including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority. The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of the future. It was a stark reminder that the tyranny we impose on others we will one day impose on ourselves.

"Contracting out security to groups like Blackwater undermines our constitutional democracy," said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "Their actions may not be subject to constitutional limitations that apply to both federal and state officials and employees -- including First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal searches and seizures. Unlike police officers they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights and unlike police officers or the military they have no system of accountability whether within their organization or outside it. These kind of paramilitary groups bring to mind Nazi Party brownshirts, functioning as an extrajudicial enforcement mechanism that can and does operate outside the law. The use of these paramilitary groups is an extremely dangerous threat to our rights."

The politicization of the military, the fostering of the belief that violence must be used to further a peculiar ideology rather than defend a democracy, was on display recently when Air Force and Army generals and colonels, filmed in uniform at the Pentagon, appeared in a promotional video distributed by the Christian Embassy, a radical Washington-based organization dedicated to building a "Christian America."

The video [Watch it HERE], first written about by Jeff Sharlet in the December issue of Harper's Magazine and filmed shortly after 9/11, has led the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to raise a legal protest against the Christian Embassy's proselytizing within the Department of Defense. The video was hastily pulled from the Christian Embassy website and was removed from YouTube a few days ago under threats of copyright enforcement.

Dan Cooper, an undersecretary of veterans affairs, says in the video that his weekly prayer sessions are "more important than doing the job." Maj. Gen. Jack Catton says that his being an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a "wonderful opportunity" to evangelize men and women setting defense policy. "My first priority is my faith," he says. "I think it's a huge impact. ... You have many men and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as they advise the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs] and the secretary of defense."

Col. Ralph Benson, a Pentagon chaplain, says in the video: "Christian Embassy is a blessing to the Washington area, a blessing to our capital; it's a blessing to our country. They are interceding on behalf of people all over the United States, talking to ambassadors, talking to people in the Congress, in the Senate, talking to people in the Pentagon, and being able to share the message of Jesus Christ in a very, very important time in our world is winning a worldwide war on terrorism. What more do we need than Christian people leading us and guiding us, so, they're needed in this hour."

The group has burrowed deep inside the Pentagon. It hosts weekly Bible sessions with senior officers, by its own count some 40 generals, and weekly prayer breakfasts each Wednesday from 7 to 7:50 a.m. in the executive dining room as well as numerous outreach events to, in the words of the organization, "share and sharpen one another in their quest to bridge the gap between faith and work."

If the United States falls into a period of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown or a series of environmental disasters, these paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could swiftly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to businesses and right-wing interests that often help bankroll the Christian right, could become a permanent condition. And the thugs with automatic weapons, black uniforms and wraparound sunglasses who appeared on street corners in Baghdad and New Orleans could appear on streets across the U.S. Such a presence could paralyze us with fear, leaving us unable to question or protest the closed system and secrecy of an emergent totalitarian state and unable to voice dissent.

"The Bush administration has already come close to painting our current wars as wars against Islam -- many in the Christian right apparently have this belief," Ratner said. "If these wars, bad enough as imperial wars, are fought as religious wars, we are facing a very dark age that could go on for a hundred years and that will be very bloody."

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and the author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."

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Bush Claims Right to Open Mail

Dan Froomkin
Thursday, January 4, 2007; 12:38 PM

The New York Daily News today reports on a signing statement President Bush quietly issued two weeks ago, in which he asserts his right to open mail without a warrant.

Signing statements have historically been used by presidents mostly to explain how they intend to enforce the laws passed by Congress; Bush has used them to quietly assert his right to ignore those laws.
James Gordon Meek writes about the latest: "President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.

"The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a 'signing statement' that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

"That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. . . .

"Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval."

The signing statement said, in part:

"The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."

Meek notes that White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

Here is the signing statement in question. Here is information on the bill in question.

It shouldn't be a surprise that although Meek was almost two weeks late with this story -- which was a matter of public record -- he still got a scoop.

Bush's signing statements have been widely ignored by the traditional media, with the significant exception of Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, who is on book leave right now.

And sadly, most of the questions about signing statements that I raised in a Nieman Watchdog essay last June still remain unaddressed. Foremost among them: Are these signing statements just a bunch of ideological bluster from overenthusiastic White House lawyers -- or are they actually emboldening administration officials to flout the laws passed by Congress? If the latter, Bush's unprecedented use of these statements constitutes a genuine Constitutional crisis.

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Join the Marines... for the Summer

Tom Engelhardt
The Nation

The other day, the college-age daughter of a friend received an e-letter from a Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer, inviting her to "an awesome summer training program called the Platoon Leader's Course." Think of it as Marine Corps summer camp. No uniforms ("This is not ROTC!"), but reasonable amounts of moolah. Here's some of what was on offer to her, part of a desperate military's Iraq-era appeal to citizenly duty:

"You will earn approximately $2,400 (six weeks) or $4,000 (ten weeks) plus room and board during the training. How's that for a summer job?.... You will not incur any obligation to the Marine Corps even after completing the training. (You can choose whether or not to continue with the program).... Tuition assistance will be available to you after you complete training this summer. You could potentially earn $8,000 to $25,000 for school, depending on graduation date."

Imagine! The Marine Corps is willing to pay young people to go to a uniform-less summer camp to test their "leadership potential," with no commitment to the Corps necessary. Consider that; then consider what was certainly the President's only significant decision of the holiday season past--to permanently expand the US military by as many as 70,000 troops.

Now, as in some old math problem, the question is: How do you connect these two points. (Hint: Not with a straight line.)

Faced with a December shot across the bow in testimony before Congress by Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker, who warned that the Army "will break" under present war-zone rotation needs, President Bush responded by addressing the "stressed" nature of the US Armed Forces. He said, "I'm inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops--the Army, the Marines. And I talked about this to Secretary [Robert A.] Gates, and he is going to spend some time talking to the folks in the building [the Pentagon], come back with a recommendation to me about how to proceed forward on this idea." All this was, he added, "to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists."

Ah... that makes things clearer.

Of course, to get those new "volunteer" officers and men, who have generally been none too eager to volunteer for the Army and the Marines in the midst of a disastrous, far-away, increasingly incomprehensible set of double wars, you'll have to pay even more kids more money to go to no-commitment summer camp; and, while you're at it, you'll have to lower standards for the military radically. You'll have to let in even more volunteers without high school diplomas but with "moral" and medical "waivers" for criminal records and mental problems. You'll have to fast-track even more new immigrants willing to join for the benefits of quick citizenship; you'll have to ramp up already high cash bonuses of all sorts; you'll have to push the top-notch ad agency recently hired on a five-year contract for a cool billion dollars to rev up its new "Army Strong" recruitment drive even higher; you'll certainly have to jack up the numbers of military recruiters radically, to the tune of perhaps a couple of hundred million more dollars; and maybe just for the heck of it, you better start planning for the possibility of recruiting significant numbers of potential immigrants before they even think to leave their own countries. After all, it's darn romantic to imagine a future American all-volunteer force that will look more like the old French Foreign Legion--or an army of mercenaries anyway. All in all, you'll have to commit to the fact that your future soldier in your basic future war will cost staggering sums of money to hire and even more staggering sums to retain after he or she has had a taste of what "leadership potential" really entails.

Put another way, as long as Iraq remains a classic quagmire for the Army and Marines, any plan to expand the U.S. military in order to make it easier to fight such wars in the future, threatens to become a classic financial quagmire as well. In other words, Iraq and military expansion don't fit together well at all. And yet, looking at the state of our military in Iraq in a certain light, expansion seems so... well, logical.

After all, the American military, now at just over 500,000 troops, stood, at the time of the First Gulf War, at 703,000. (Of course, no one now counts the quite expensive hired mercenaries who envelop our military -- the privatized, Halliburton-style adjuncts, who cook the food, build the bases, do the cleaning, deliver the mail and supplies, perform interrogation duties, and so on, and whose increase has been striking as has the growth of rent-a-mercenary corporations whose armed employees are, for instance, all over Iraq.) In addition, it has long been clear that the Armed Forces could not take the strain of failing wars in Central Asia and the Middle East forever, not to speak of increased "commitments" in the Persian Gulf and the normal massive global basing and policing that the Pentagon regularly refers to as our "footprint" on the planet. Added to this, the President seems to be leaning towards increasingly the pressure on military manpower needs by "surging"--the Vietnam era word would, of course, have been "escalating"--up to 30,000 troops into Baghdad and al-Anbar province, while naval and air forces (with an obvious eye to Iran) are simultaneously ramped up in the Persian Gulf.

In light of Iraq, military manpower needs cry out to be dealt with. In light of Iraq, dealing with them any time soon will be prohibitively expensive.

In Washington, this conundrum leads nowhere in particular. Instead, in the spirit of imperial-mission logic (and with the urge to bash the Bush administration for being late to such an obvious support-our-troops position), Democrats simply leaped onto the expand-the-military bandwagon even faster than Republicans. In fact, leading Democrats had long been calling for just this sort of expansion. ("I am glad [the President] has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces... but this is where the Democrats have been for two years," commented Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the new House Democratic Caucus chairman.) The Democratic leadership promptly pledged to make such an expansion one of its top reform priorities in the New Year.

To get those numbers significantly higher will, it's estimated, take a decade and unimaginable sums of money (as well as those lowered standards). And, if the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan worsen, as they almost certainly will, and American casualties rise with no end in sight, you can start going through your multiplication tables. This could be considered but a form of ongoing blowback from American imperial shock-and-awe tactics in Iraq and presents some curious choices to our leaders. After all, to take but one example, those most eager to expand the military, with their eyes on the imperial future, should be eager to liquidate the Iraqi mission as soon as possible.

But a far more basic choice lurks--one rarely alluded to in the mainstream. If we voted on such things--and, in truth, we vote on less and less that matters--the choice that actually lies behind the Marine e-letter to my friend's daughter might be put this way: Expand the military or shrink the mission?

This is the essential question that goes largely unmentioned--and largely unthought as well. In the meantime, money will continue to pour into military recruitment ad campaigns, bonuses, and summer camps. In the meantime, those Marine e-letters will continue to go out. In the meantime, money will continue to pour into the Pentagon and the national security world generally. In the meantime, we will continue to build our near billion-dollar embassy, the largest on the planet, in the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone. In the meantime, the imperial and military paths will continue to fuse, and the Pentagon will continue to take on new roles, even outside "declared war zones," in intelligence, diplomacy, "information operations," and other "self-assigned missions"; so that, as Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times recently described it, even our embassies will increasingly be militarized outposts in the global war on terror.

Shrinking the mission--choosing some path other than the imperial one (in part by redefining what exactly our national interests are)--would, of course, address many problems. It would make paying young people thousands of dollars to test their leadership potential or thinking about scouring Central America for a future Foreign Legion far less necessary. But no one in Washington--not in the Bush administration, not in James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group, which recently captured the Inside-the-Beltway "middle ground" on Iraq policy, not in the Democratic leadership--is faintly interested in shrinking the American global mission. No one in Washington, where a kind of communal voting does go on, is about to vote "no" to that mission, or cast a ballot for democracy rather than empire.

Expanding the military may seem like a no-brainer in response to the Iraq crisis. As it happens, it's anything but. Unfortunately, few ever discuss (as, for instance, Chalmers Johnson did in his book, The Sorrows of Empire) the 700-plus military and intelligence bases we retain around the world or ask why exactly we're garrisoning the planet. No one, in these last years, has seriously challenged the ever expanding Pentagon budget; nor the mushrooming supplemental requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, including the record-setting latest for almost $100 billion; nor, generally, the fact that paying for actual war-fighting is no longer considered an appropriate part of the Pentagon's normal budget process.

No one challenged it when, in 2002, the United States gained a new North American Command (Northcom), making U.S. citizens but another coequal part of the Pentagon's division of its imperial world, along with those who live in regions covered by Centcom, Paccom, and the just authorized Africa Command (Africom). No one challenged the vast expansion of Pentagon intelligence activities. No one offered a challenge as the military took on ever more civilian domestic duties, including planning for the potential arrival of a pandemic disease on our shores or for future Katrinas. No one seriously challenges the plans the Pentagon has on the drawing boards for exotic, futuristic hardware meant to come on line decades from now that, along with futuristic military tactics already being worked out, will help predetermine the wars most Americans don't even know we are going to fight--from the vast mega-slum-cities of the Third World to the borderlands of space.

No one considers what the Pentagonization of our world and the Homeland Securitization of our country is doing to us, because militarism here has never taken on the expectable forms--few vast military parades or displays (despite the almost full-scale militarization of Presidential funerals); few troops in the streets; no uniforms in the high councils of government. In fact, it's one of the ironies of our particular form of militarization that when our military--no longer really a citizen army--goes to war and troops begin to die, less Americans are touched by this than perhaps at any time in our recent history.

Shrink the mission or expand the military? Your choice?

Fat chance.

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The Next Stage of Capitalism

By David Morris
5 Jan 07

In his new book Capitalism 3.0, Peter Barnes writes that the costs of our current capitalist system are clear: inequality, stressful lives and a dwindling financial safety net. But how do we revise such a complex system?
Since the dawn of capitalism, people have been in awe of both its productive and destructive capacities. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels expressed their own wonderment in a widely quoted passage from the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

"The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground. What earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?"

Prodigious production, however, imposed an equally prodigious cost on nature and humanity. And humanity did not go quietly into the dark industrial night. So long as people could survive on the land, however minimally, they rarely chose to become industrial laborers. As Karl Polanyi explained in The Great Transformation, they became "Labor" because they had to.

The driving force that made them have to was the enclosure movement. English law and custom were reshaped to segregate and privatize land formerly available to all for grazing and farming. With less and less access to the Commons, impoverished peasants moved into the cities. Over many decades, they became a reluctant and restive industrial workforce.

In his brilliant and so very needed new book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, (Berrett-Koehler) Peter Barnes argues that each stage of capitalism spawns its own operating system, its own set of rules and institutions that reflect its historical situation. The enclosures laws reflected a time of shortages and scarcity he calls Capitalism 1.0.

Beginning in the late 19th century and increasingly evident in the late 20th century, we have moved into a period Barnes calls Capitalism 2.0. This era is characterized by surplus, not scarcity. The central economic problem no longer is increasing supply, but soliciting new demand. An increasing portion of the GDP is spent to persuade people to want increasingly superfluous output and to provide them the credit to buy it. Regulations curb corporate excesses; incentives ameliorate the damage caused by those corporations.

Capitalism 2.0 spawns a political battle that focuses on how the enormous wealth generated by capitalism's prodigious engines should be distributed. That battle gives birth to a new set of rules and institutions, including the regulation of corporate behavior, environmental regulations, and the creation of a safety net(minimum wage and maximum hour laws, Social Security, and universal health care -- everywhere but in the U.S.)

To Barnes, the costs of Capitalism 2.0 on humanity are clear: growing inequality, increasingly stressful lives, ever-widening holes in the safety net as capital spills across borders and corporate revenues and power begin to exceed those of many nations.

We need a new set of operating instructions, Barnes argues, that will usher in and guide the creation of Capitalism 3.0. In a remarkably brief 166 pages, Peter addresses and rather astonishingly, largely answers his question, "How do you revise a system as vast and complex as capitalism? And how do you do it gracefully, with a minimum of pain and disruption?"

Capitalism 3.0 grew out of a life of social and political activism and market entrepreneurialism. In the 1970s, Barnes started a profitable solar energy company. In the 1980s, he helped launch the much more profitable and enduring Working Assets phone and financial company. He opens his book with this self-description. "I'm a businessman. I believe society should reward successful initiative with profit. At the same time, I know that profit-seeking activities have unhealthy side effects. They cause pollution, waste, inequality, anxiety and no small amount of confusion about the purpose of life."

Barnes' key solution to the unhealthy side effects of profit-seeking behavior is to revive the idea of -- and reclaim the value -- of the Commons. Over the last few years, hundreds of meetings and thousands of conversations have taken place among those who are actively involved in protecting the popular culture from the encroachment of private intellectual property, those who are involved in trying to maintain the internet as a public network, and those who are trying to curb corporate power and restrain the increasing tendency by cities and states to privatize public goods.

Many of these conversations have been stimulated by a small California-based organization called the Tomales Bay Institute, aided and abetted by its increasingly well-visited web site. Among its fellows are David Bollier, Harriet Barlow, Jonathan Rowe, and Peter Barnes. Capitalism 3.0 is the first comprehensive book on the Commons issued by the Institute.

The Commons, Barnes insists, should no longer be viewed simply as a pasture where animals graze, but rather as a generic term, comparable to the terms "market" or "state". The Commons is the gifts we inherit or create together. "A gift is something we receive as oppose to something we earn," Barnes writes. "A shared gift is one we receive as members of a community as opposed to individually".

Think of the Commons as a broad river fed by three principal tributaries: nature, community, and culture. This river precedes and surrounds capitalism and adds immense value to it, and to us.

The land as Commons is an idea that has had its advocates from the earliest days of the American Republic. For Thomas Paine, "there are two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe -- such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property -- the invention of men." In the natural property, Paine maintained, "all individuals have legitimate birthrights ... Since such birthrights were diminished by enclosure, there ought to be an 'indemnification for that loss." Paine propose the establishment of a national permanent fund where every person at the age of twenty-one would receive money as partial compensation for his or her loss of "natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property."

In the late 19th century, economist Henry George launched an influential movement also based on the concept of the Commons. That movement argued that the value of land is almost entirely derived, not from the landowner's investment, but from public actions. Value comes from easy transportation access, good parks and schools, quiet and safe streets. All of which are created from public investment. George and his followers advocated a significant tax on unimproved land, to compensate the public for its investment that created that land's market valuable.

In the modern lingo, Henry George was the first to advocate an anti-givings movement. In the last twenty years the United States has witnessed the rise of its evil twin, the anti-takings movement. This movement has gained considerable political traction. Several states have adopted laws that require government to compensate private landowners if public actions diminish the value of private property. If, for example, government downzones land to require a lower building density, the landowner should receive compensation for any loss in his property value.

But what if the government upzones the land to allow for higher concentration? What if it builds a freeway near the land? What if it transforms an unsightly section of the neighborhood into a park? All these actions would substantially increase the value of the land. Shouldn't the public be compensated for its investment? Even a cursory investigation suggests that the level of givings in this country is 100, perhaps even 1000 times greater than the level of takings.

Barnes is reluctant to rely on governments to protect the Commons, especially on an ongoing basis. Governments change. Laws, regulations, and taxes are easily rescinded or weakened when powerful financial interests get involved. The public interest rarely if ever is represented with the same level of resources and feral energy as the private interest. This imbalance is inherent in the costs and rewards of involvement. An individual gains little by stopping private interests from encroaching on the Commons. An individual corporation, on the other hand, is handsomely rewarded when it enables poaching.

The timber industry spent $8 million in campaign contributions to preserve a logging road subsidy worth $458 million, a return on their investment of 5,725 percent, former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips observes. Glaxo Wellcome invested $1.2 million in campaign contributions to obtain a l9 month patent extension on Zantac worth $1 billion, a return of 83,333 percent.

Rather than relying on government, Barnes argues for the creation of a new institution, a commons trust, based on a new property right in the Commons. Unlike government policies, he maintains, property rights tend to endure, as do the institutions that own them. When government is deciding what to do with a public asset like the spectrum, or the national parks, or the air, Barnes' advice is, "Propertize, don't privatize".

Barnes briefly lists many kinds of possible trusts: watershed trusts, air trusts, children's opportunity trust, an American Permanent Fund based on a waste absorption tax on corporate profits.

These new trusts would serve as stewards of the Commons for future generations, and would distribute revenue gained from creating a property right in the Commons. Barnes argues that a trust could conceivably generate large sums, which, if distributed on a per capita basis, could ameliorate poverty. Not only would there be a redistribution from rich to poor within countries, but an even larger redistribution between richer and poorer countries when the Commons in question is global, like the atmosphere.

A significant test for this new approach to the Commons may come as we develop strategies to combat global warming. Europe and, several American states, are beginning to embrace a cap on carbon emissions, ratcheting the cap down over time to eventually reach a point where no further global warming from human activities would occur.

Such a cap creates an environmental market value for carbon. How should this new value be distributed? Europe distributed carbon emission credits in proportion to the amount of pollution a company emitted! The result? Billions of dollars in increased corporate income with little or no reduction in pollution. The new Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, has suggested that 100 percent of the credits created by a New York carbon cap on electricity generation should be auctioned off.

Barnes would consider this a major step in the right direction, but he would go further. In Capitalism 3.0, and in his previous book, Who Owns the Sky? Barnes argues that carbon emission credits should be distributed on a per capita basis. We might issue a certificate to every person that allows him or her 5 tons of annual carbon emissions.

Corporations, and households that generate higher carbon emissions would have to buy credits. Each five years, as governments ratchet downwards the carbon cap, increasing the market value of an individual credit rises, creating a higher incentive for companies to improve energy efficiency and shift to no and low carbon energy sources and a greater income to individual households.

Capitalism 3.0 is an important and timely book. Blessedly brief and simply written, it elaborates an argument for profound social and economic change while offering a pragmatic strategy for achieving that change with a minimal amount of disruption and bureaucracy. Read it to understand why the word Commons is slowly but surely permeating political conversations.

David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnnesota and director of its New Rules project.

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Are you pro-union? You're fired!

by Joshua Holland
4 Jan 07

From the "what you already knew but couldn't put a number to" files ...
The good folks at the Center for Economic Policy and Research (make sure you get the "and" in their name) have issued a study titled: "Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaign." You can get a PDF of the report, authored by economists John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer, here.

From the press release:

"Aggressive actions by employers -- often including illegal firings -- have significantly undermined the ability of U.S. workers to unionize their workplaces," said John Schmitt, CEPR senior economist and lead author of the paper. "With the legal penalties for such actions being so slight, employers can break the law to head-off organizing efforts and face almost no real repercussions."

The paper finds that firings of pro-union workers involved in union election campaigns are approaching the peak reached during the 1980s of 1 in 42. The current probability of a pro-union worker being fired - a 1 in 53 chance - is far greater than the rate at the end of the 1990s, when it was only 1 in 87. The paper also finds that the number of successful union elections have significantly declined, partly as a result of the increase in illegal firings. If only ten percent of pro-union workers are active campaign organizers, almost 1 in 5 union activists were fired illegally in 2005. Using annual data from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on its determinations of "discriminatory discharges" in the context of union-election campaigns, Schmitt and Zipperer were able to estimate the probability of a pro-union worker being fired illegally in connection with a union-organizing election, and to calculate other aspects of employer behavior and success rates in union-organizing elections.

I'm going to have more on this topic in the next few weeks.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

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Fine Print in Defense Bill Opens Door to Martial Law

By Jeff Stein
CQ National Security Editor
1 Dec 06

It's amazing what you can find if you turn over a few rocks in the anti-terrorism legislation Congress approved during the election season.

Take, for example, the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006, named for the longtime Armed Services Committee chairman from Virginia.

Signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, the law (PL 109-364) has a provocative provision called "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies."

The thrust of it seems to be about giving the federal government a far stronger hand in coordinating responses to Katrina-like disasters.
But on closer inspection, its language also alters the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, which Congress passed in 1807 to limit the president's power to deploy troops within the United States.

That law has long allowed the president to mobilize troops only "to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."

But the amended law takes the cuffs off.

Specifically, the new language adds "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident" to the list of conditions permitting the President to take over local authority - particularly "if domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order."

Since the administration broadened what constitutes "conspiracy" in its definition of enemy combatants - anyone who "has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States," in the language of the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) - critics say it's a formula for executive branch mischief.

Yet despite such a radical turn, the new law garnered little dissent, or even attention, on the Hill.

One of the few to complain, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., warned that the measure virtually invites the White House to declare federal martial law.

It "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law," he said in remarks submitted to the Congressional Record on Sept. 29.

"The changes to the Insurrection Act will allow the President to use the military, including the National Guard, to carry out law enforcement activities without the consent of a governor," he said.

Moreover, he said, it breaks a long, fundamental tradition of federal restraint.

"Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy."

And he criticized the way it was rammed through Congress.

It "was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study," he fumed. "Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."

No matter: Safely tucked into the $526 billion defense bill, it easily crossed the goal line on the last day of September.

The language doesn't just brush aside a liberal Democrat slated to take over the Judiciary Committee come January. It also runs over the backs of the governors, 22 of whom are Republicans.

The governors had waved red flags about the measure on Aug. 1, sending letters of protest from their Washington office to the Republican chairs and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

No response. So they petitioned the party heads on the Hill - Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and his Democratic opposite, Nancy Pelosi of California.

"This provision was drafted without consultation or input from governors," said the Aug. 6 letter signed by every member of the National Governors Association, "and represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors . . .to the federal government."

"We urge you," they said, "to drop provisions that would usurp governors' authority over the National Guard during emergencies from the conference agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act."

Again, no response from the leadership, said David Quam, the National Governors Association's director of federal relations.

On Aug. 31, the governors sent another letter to the congressional party leaders, as well as to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had met quietly with an NGA delegation back in February.

The bill "could encroach on our constitutional authority to protect the citizens of our states," they protested, complaining again about how the provision had been dumped on a midnight express.

"Any issue that affects the mission of the Guard in the states must be addressed in consultation and coordination with governors," they demanded.

"The role of the Guard in the states and to the nation as a whole is too important to have major policy decisions made without full debate and input from governors throughout the policy process."

More silence.

"We did not know until the bill was printed where we stood," Quam said.

That's partly the governors' own fault, said a Republican Senate aide.

"My understanding is that they sent form letters to offices," she said. "If they really want a piece of legislation considered they should have called offices and pushed the matter. No office can handle the amount of form letters that come in each day."

Quam disputed that.

"The letter was only the beginning of the conversation," he said. "The NGA and the governors' offices reached out across the Hill."

Looking back at the government's chaotic response to Katrina, it's not altogether surprising that the provision drew so little opposition in Congress and attention from the mainstream media.

And of course, it was wrapped in a monster defense bill related to the emergency in Iraq.

But the blogosphere, of course, was all over it.

A close analysis of the bill by Frank Morales, a 58-year-old Episcopal priest in New York who occasionally writes for left-wing publications, spurred a score of liberal and conservative libertarian Web sites to take a look at it.

But a search of The Washington Post and New York Times archives, using the terms "Insurrection Act," "martial law" and "Congress," came up empty.

That's not to say the papers don't care: There's just too much going on in the global war on terror to keep up with, much less write about such a seemingly insignificant provision. The martial law section of the Defense Appropriation Act, for example, takes up just a few paragraphs in the 591-page document.

What else is in there? More intriguing stuff, it looks like - and I'm working my way through it.

Putin on the Risk: Don't be too quick to finger Russian president Vladimir Putin in the radiation rub-out of disaffected former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London Nov. 23, says a retired CIA operative who spent a career trying to outwit his Soviet opposites. "I see it all as a little too pat," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year CIA veteran and chief of its Soviet/East European Division when the Kremlin crumbled in 1990.

"Is Putin insane or stupid? I think not," Bearden e-mailed me last week.

"I tilt toward a setup," Bearden said. The villain? "Someone with the [scientific] resources of a state," a large research laboratory, perhaps, with connections to the criminal underworld.

"This story has legs," Bearden went on, "just what Putin would not want if he was behind it."

Stay tuned...

More on Torture Law: Most legal analysts, as reported here last week, believe that the new law setting up Military Commissions will exempt U.S. officials from prosecution for abusing prisoners, by narrowing the definitions of torture in the 1997 War Crimes Act. But at least one eminent jurist begs to differ.

"Even as retroactively amended and narrowed, a person whose actions caused 'serious' or 'severe' mental or physical suffering at any time after 1997 committed a felony violation of the War Crimes Act and can be prosecuted," maintains Stephen Rickard, a former top State Department official, foreign policy adviser to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and prominent Washington lawyer with a speciality in human rights.

"I don't like the definitions of 'torture' and 'cruel and inhuman' conduct," Rickard e-mailed me last week, "but even with all of their flaws, I don't see how they exempt interrogators from potential punishment, especially for the harshest, most controversial techniques."

These days Rickard is the director of the Washington Office of the liberal Open Society Institute.

Jeff Stein can be reached at jstein@cq.com.

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Propaganda! Never again?

UPI Editor at Large
2 Jan 07

WASHINGTON -- Through history, rulers, despots, nations and empires have humbled and humiliated, and with the advent of Adolph Hitler, massacred Jews by the millions. From the Exodus from ancient Egypt to the First Crusade, which didn't distinguish between Jews and Arabs, to the Spanish Inquisition under Tomas de Torquemada, to Czarist pogroms, to the World War II Nazi genocide, some historians calculate that had Jews been treated like other citizens through the ages, they would number at least 200 million today. They now number less than 15 million. And from right to left, the five million Jews in Israel now feel threatened with extinction yet again.
In today's Israel, the overwhelming majority is now convinced Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is synonymous with a 2nd holocaust. "We stood idly by as we were led to slaughter in Hitler's concentration camps and gas chambers in the 1930s and 40s," is a refrain frequently heard in Israel these days, "but never again." In a New Year's Day message, superhawk and former Prime Minister Netanyahu Binyamin accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the kind of appeasement that threatened Israel's very existence.

Ahmadinejad recently held an international conference of holocaust deniers. And Israelis are now reminded daily that the Iranian president is a new Hitler who has to be terminated "with maximum prejudice" before a Persian nuclear weapon terminates Israel. The existential threat to Israel looms even larger, in Netanyahu's view, with the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report. His critique's main points:

- The ISG report smacks of rank appeasement when it recommends talking to Syria and Iran at a time when Iran has been handed the whip hand in Iraq by the U.S. with a U.S.-facilitated, pro-Iranian Shiite-led government.

- ISG says a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sine qua non to stabilizing the rest of the Middle East. The implied suggestion that it's now up to Israel to make further concessions to the Palestinians is yet another manifestation of appeasement. Israel must reject any perceived sign of weakness.

- In reality, if the problem of Iran, which Israel's enemies call "the strategic backbone of Hezbollah and Hamas," were solved by the forceful elimination of its nuclear facilities, or a highly unlikely voluntary return to nuclear power for peaceful purposes under U.N. inspection, the conflict with the Palestinians would become easier to tackle.

- Hezbollah and Hamas are rapidly arming themselves thanks to the Israeli government's decision to refrain from further action against them. Since the cease-fire was declared, dozens of Kassam rockets have been fired at targets in the western Negev.

- If Olmert's government reacts limply to Iran's statements about its intentions to destroy Israel, "why should we expect the world to act against them?"

- ISG says, "The majority of the political establishment in Israel has grown tired of a continuous state of a nation at war." When even Israel's leadership sends out a message of fatigue and weakness, "why should we be surprised that the world agrees?"

Netanyahu then said Israel "must immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost on the U.S. The goal being to encourage President Bush to live up to specific pledges he would not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. We must make clear to the government, the Congress and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the U.S. and the entire world, not only Israel."

There are signs this is already happening in Washington. Before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika decided the ousting of Saddam Hussein had to become an integral part of the "war on terror." Eventually 60 percent of Americans thought Saddam was behind 9/11, even though there was no link between the two. Today, the Bush-Cheney team faces the same spin scenario: how to weave the global war on terror and the Shiite powers that be in Iran. This one is relatively simple: Iran trains and funds Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories.

Anticipating the new line, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Independent-CT) referred to "Iran and al-Qaida" on Wolf Blitzer's Sunday program on CNN. That Iran is Shiite and al-Qaida Sunni becomes irrelevant in the new game plan that will most probably lead to U.S. air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities in 2007/08. Can a Democratic Congress be bypassed under a blanket authorization already secured to hunt down transnational terrorists wherever they may be hiding?

The "neocons" who work closely with Netanyahu on what could be the next phase of a nascent regional war in the Middle East, say Bush has the authority to take out Iran's nuclear threat. Because it has only one purpose -- to take out Israel. One Hiroshima-type nuclear weapon and Israel ceases to exit.

There is little doubt president Bush's geopolitical legacy as it stands today is unacceptable to someone who identifies with Winston Churchill roaring against appeasement in the 1930s. Iraq is either an unmitigated or mitigated disaster. And year-end analyses widely published at home and abroad listed Bush among the four worst presidents in U.S. history.

And if Bush doesn't take on Iran, prominent Israelis are speculating that president Clinton 2 (Hillary) will do so. Oded Tira, the chairman of Israel's Association of Industrial Manufacturers, and former chief artillery office in the IDF, said, "Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran. As an American air strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party, which is conducting itself foolishly, and U.S. newspaper editors."

Writing in Ynet News (online Yedioth Ahronoth), Tira said, "We need to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure. Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party (must) publicly support immediate action by Bush again Iran."

As for target Iran, Tira voiced widespread belief in Israel that the Jewish state must coordinate strikes with the U.S. -- "and prepare for the Iranian response." Fearless forecast: It will be formidable.

Comment: What a bunch of evil drivel. Don't these people get it that it is the Zionists that are manipulating politics so that they can rule the world? As they have done again and again; each time resulting in a backlash?

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Flashback: How to Brainwash a Nation

25 August 06

How did we get here?

How did we get to a place where a president can blatantly lie us into a war - and get away with it?

How did we get to a place where crooks can wrap themselves in the flag and rob the country blind - and no one challenges them?

How did we get to a place where a country once known for innovation and generosity can degenerate into a front of corruption and mindless viciousness - and life goes on as if normal?

We've been "worked on" for decades...

There has always been propaganda and persuasion, but nowhere has the art of skillful lying been developed to the art form it's become under the corporation-controlled United States.

"What my father understood about groups is that they are manipulable and malleable. And that you can tap into their deepest desires or their deepest fears and use that to your own purposes."

--Daughter of Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew and the architect of modern day PR.

Joseph Goebbels was his biggest fan.

In this seven-minute excerpt from "The Century of the Self" a four hour film series by Adam Curtis, you'll get a quick lesson about how sophisticated the mass brainwashing of the American people has been and how long it's been going on.

And it goes on because we let it go on.

Now, more than ever it's time to wake up America! We've been brainwashed! Throw your tv in the trash. Turn away from the billboards. Ignore the ads. You have a choice. Exercise it.

Don't work for a scumbag so you can buy things you don't need, or live in a house you never see, or let your children be raised by snake oil salesmen.

This is the most important struggle on earth - the struggle between truth and lies. Your mind is the prize. Whatever you do, don't let someone else control it.

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Flashback: The Power of Suggestion

29 Sept 2006

"The secret of mind control is to change people outside of their awareness so they do your bidding without realizing that that's what they're doing."

* * *

"In 1776, Franz Mesmer unveils a device called a [baquette?] at the court of Louis the XVI of France. It is an oak barrel filled with iron filings that gives off an almost imperceptible magnetic charge. Mesmer tells the assembled guests that the charge is very powerful and that if they touch it they will have pleasant convulsions. And in fact, when members of the court touch the baquette, they collapse in convulsive fits and faint. What Mezmer has discovered is the power of suggestion."

Think you know what you're doing?

Think again. You don't know half the story.

And when you learn it, you'll realize that what you don't know CAN hurt you.

Can you say pat-sy?

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Flashback: MIND CONTROL - The Ultimate Imperialism

11 Aug 06

In 1946, President Truman approved Project Paperclip, bringing Hitler's top scientists into the United States.

Mind control was a psychological warfare weapon which Adolf Hitler regarded as the answer to taking over the entire planet. The name for mind control research in the United States was MK-ULTRA.

* * *

BRAINWASH - to indoctrinate so intensively and thoroughly as to effect a radical transformation of beliefs and mental attitudes.

--Webster's New World Dictionary

* * *

The first subjects of MK-ULTRA were military personnel, who were given doses of LSD and PCP without their consent.

* * *

Ewen Cameron was probably the foremost psychiatrist of his time in the 1950's. He was using high tech sound techniques. He was using multiple kinds of loop recorders to force people to listen to recorded messages 24 hours a day, for weeks on end, to basically destroy people's thinking patterns.

* * *

This is not just breaking into people's home. It's not just invasion of privacy by illegal wiretapping. This is an invasion of a person's mind and that is about as profound an injury except for loss of life that the government can impose.

--Terry Lenzner
Washington D.C. attorney

* * *

This was a post-Nazi program - an Americanization.

* * *

The Nazis didn't lose the war - they just had to move.

* * *

Wars are not won on the battlefield - they're won in the minds of the people.

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Science or Not

Scientists attack plan to ban 'hybrid' embryos

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian
05 January 07

Groundbreaking research into incurable diseases could be jeopardised if permission to create human embryos from animal eggs is withheld, scientists warned yesterday.

British researchers want to use the embryos to make stem cells with genetic faults linked to conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease. Studying how the cells grow could yield unprecedented insights into disease, leading to cures for the otherwise untreatable conditions.
The scientists fear the government and its embryo research watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, will outlaw the research to head off a public backlash. Some groups oppose the work because while the embryos would be almost entirely human, around 1% of their DNA would be from the animal.

Two scientific teams applied to the HFEA for licences to pursue the research last year, but a white paper published in December proposed outlawing "hybrid" embryos. The HFEA is due to announce its decision next week, but has indicated it will turn the licence applications down.

Scientists believe that by making stem cells with specific genetic faults, they will be able to unravel what goes wrong at the earliest stages of diseases. Their work has been hampered by the scarcity of human eggs and the low success rate of the technique. But by using animal eggs instead, they hope to make more rapid progress.

Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King's College London, said public consultation on the white paper had led to a "short-sighted, kneejerk reaction". Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh scientist whose team created Dolly the sheep, said scientists would be at a "very clear" disadvantage if they were prohibited from pursuing the research.

Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat member of the science and technology select committee, said: "This is exactly the sort of groundbreaking and world-leading research that must be permitted to take place in this country. It is disappointing that the government, for no good reason, is proposing to ban this."

A Department of Health spokesman said the white paper proposals would be put to parliament for debate, adding: "In the meantime, the HFEA will make its decision on any outstanding applications."

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Surgery on Girl Raises Ethical Questions

AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- In a case fraught with ethical questions, the parents of a severely mentally and physically disabled child have stunted her growth to keep their little "pillow angel" a manageable and more portable size.

The bedridden 9-year-old girl had her uterus and breast tissue removed at a Seattle hospital and received large doses of hormones to halt her growth. She is now 4-foot-5; her parents say she would otherwise probably reach a normal 5-foot-6.
The case has captured attention nationwide and abroad via the Internet, with some decrying the parents' actions as perverse and akin to eugenics. Some ethicists question the parents' claim that the drastic treatment will benefit their daughter and allow them to continue caring for her at home.

University of Pennsylvania ethicist Art Caplan said the case is troubling and reflects "slippery slope" thinking among parents who believe "the way to deal with my kid with permanent behavioral problems is to put them into permanent childhood."

Right or wrong, the couple's decision highlights a dilemma thousands of parents face in struggling to care for severely disabled children as they grow up.

"This particular treatment, even if it's OK in this situation, and I think it probably is, is not a widespread solution and ignores the large social issues about caring for people with disabilities," Dr. Joel Frader, a medical ethicist at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital, said Thursday. "As a society, we do a pretty rotten job of helping caregivers provide what's necessary for these patients."

The case involves a girl identified only as Ashley on a blog her parents created after her doctors wrote about her treatment in October's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The journal did not disclose the parents' names or where they live; the couple do not identify themselves on their blog, either.

Shortly after birth, Ashley had feeding problems and showed severe developmental delays. Her doctors diagnosed static encephalopathy, which means severe brain damage. They do not know what caused it.

Her condition has left her in an infant state, unable to sit up, roll over, hold a toy or walk or talk. Her parents say she will never get better. She is alert, startles easily, and smiles, but does not maintain eye contact, according to her parents, who call the brown- haired little girl their "pillow angel."

She goes to school for disabled children, but her parents care for her at home and say they have been unable to find suitable outside help.

An editorial in the medical journal called "the Ashley treatment" ill- advised and questioned whether it will even work. But her parents say it has succeeded so far.

She had surgery in July 2004 and recently completed the hormone treatment. She weighs about 65 pounds, and is about 13 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than she would be as an adult, according to her parents' blog.

"Ashley's smaller and lighter size makes it more possible to include her in the typical family life and activities that provide her with needed comfort, closeness, security and love: meal time, car trips, touch, snuggles, etc.," her parents wrote.

Also, Ashley's parents say keeping her small will reduce the risk of bedsores and other conditions that can afflict bedridden patients. In addition, they say preventing her from going through puberty means she won't experience the discomfort of periods or grow breasts that might develop breast cancer, which runs in the family.

"Even though caring for Ashley involves hard and continual work, she is a blessing and not a burden," her parents say. Still, they write, "Unless you are living the experience ... you have no clue what it is like to be the bedridden child or their caregivers."

Caplan questioned how preventing normal growth could benefit the patient. Treatment that is not for a patient's direct benefit "only seems wrong to me," the ethicist said.

Dr. Douglas Diekema, an ethicist at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, where Ashley was treated, said he met with the parents and became convinced they were motivated by love and the girl's best interests.

Diekema said he was mainly concerned with making sure the little girl would actually benefit and not suffer any harm from the treatment. She did not, and is doing well, he said.

"The more her parents can be touching her and caring for her ... and involving her in family activities, the better for her," he said. "The parents' argument was, 'If she's smaller and lighter, we will be able to do that for a longer period of time.'"

Ashley's blog

Comment: There's nothing sinister about this case. The child is in an infant state, unable to sit up, roll over, hold a toy or walk or talk with no hope of improvement ever. The fact that her parents want to keep caring for her and have taken steps to make sure that they can is what is important, and it certainly cannot have been an easy decision.

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Parents who froze girl in time defend their actions

By Jeremy Laurance and Louise Jack
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

Opinion was divided yesterday about the case of Ashley X, the nine-year- old girl whom doctors have determined will never grow up. The severely disabled child has had her womb and breasts removed and hormone treatment to halt puberty and stunt her growth, freezing her development so that her parents can continue to lift and care for her at home.

Called "Pillow Angel" by her parents, the girl, who suffers from static encephalopathy, cannot walk, talk or hold her head up. She is fed through a tube and lies wherever she is put, usually on a pillow.
Her parents, from Seattle, who describe themselves as college-educated professionals, gave their reasons for seeking the treatment for their daughter in a 4,000-word blog launched on New Year's Day.

Only those in a similar situation were qualified to comment, they said. " Unless you are living the experience, you are speculating and you have no clue what it is like to be the bedridden child or their care givers.

"Ashley was dealt a challenging life and the least that we could do as her loving parents and caregivers is to be diligent about maximising her quality of life.

"A fundamental and universal misconception about the treatment is that it is intended to convenience the caregiver."

The parents also describe how their daughter is faring after the medical procedures in other blog entries. "Ashley is doing well ... [she is] healthy, happy, and lovingly cared for."

Medical experts said they could not say for certain whether the case was unprecedented, but that nothing similar had been reported in mainstream journals before.

"It's simply the first reported case any of us know about," Jeffrey Brosco, a University of Miami paediatrician and co-author of an editorial criticising the treatment, told the Los Angeles Times.

"I think most people, when they hear of this, would say this is just plain wrong. But it is a complicated story, and when you get into this issue, you can understand the difficulties."

Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said the "do no harm" rule governing physicians is powerful and stopping growth is, "not the ethical way to head".

In the UK, Richard Parnell, of Scope, an organisation which focuses on care for people with cerebral palsy, said many British parents of children with conditions similar to Ashley's would be "appalled" by her treatment.

"We hope any such request for this kind of treatment would go to a court because it is an abuse of the child's human rights and this is why everyone is so outraged," he said.

Professor Raanan Gillon, a leading ethicist at Imperial College London, said: "My immediate response was shock, horror and disgust. How could a child be mutilated in this way?

"But on reflecting, it seemed to me there were some reasons in favour. She could be looked after much better by her parents... in a much more appropriate way as a child."

Some parents of disabled children attacked what has been described as " Ashley's treatment" for creating a 21st century Frankenstein and for maiming a child for the sake of convenience.

But scores of supportive comments on the parents' website revealed how their decision had touched a nerve. "I worked with the severely disabled for 30 years and know the problem of a 190lb, 6ft tall man with the mind of an eight-month-old," reads one. "To bath, change and just move him was a nightmare.

"If they could be kept small then life for them would be easier and happier, they would be taken out more and kept home longer and live much more normal lives."

David Fleming, a physician who is director of the Centre for Health Ethics at the University of Missouri, said: "Only history will know and only time will be able to witness whether they [the parents] made the right decision. It seems likely they were acting in the best interest of the child. "

What is static encephalopathy?

Ashley has been diagnosed with static encephalopathy of unknown aetiology. She had a normal birth, but failed to develop, mentally and physically, for reasons doctors could not ascertain. "Over the years, neurologists, geneticists and other specialists conducted every known traditional and experimental test but still could not determine a cause," the parents say on their website. The diagnosis means that her brain has been damaged and the addition of the term "static" means that her condition will not improve. She will remain for the rest of her life with the mind of a baby.

The symptoms of static encephalopathy depend on which part of the brain is damaged. There is no cure and treatment is symptomatic, to ensure the child is kept comfortable and does not suffer.

Ashley's parents chose, in consultation with her doctors, a treatment known as growth attenuation. In 2004, doctors in Seattle, where the family lives, carried out a hysterectomy and surgery to remove her breast buds and started her on the hormone oestrogen to halt puberty.

The aim was to restrict her height to its present 4ft 5in - compared with the 5ft 6in expected without treatment - and to limit her weight to about five-and-a-half stones, instead of the nine stones expected. Her parents say this is not for their convenience but it will mean Ashley can be moved more easily, taken on trips and included in more family events "instead of lying down in bed staring at TV (or the ceiling) all day". The treatment was discussed in the US journal Archives of Paediatrics last October, provoking criticism from some doctors. The parents responded by launching their blog on 1 January.

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Boosting intelligence among poor is child's play

By Jeremy Lovell
5 Jan 07

LONDON - Giving pre-school children toys to play with boosts their mental development even if they suffer from malnutrition, a report said on Friday.

The report, published in the Lancet medical journal, said several studies had found a clear link between intelligence and child's play.

"We have done play programs in Bangladesh where the children are severely malnourished and we have produced up to a nine-point improvement in the IQ of these kids -- just with play," said author Sally McGregor of the Institute of Child Health at University College London.
"Malnutrition on its own is a problem. Malnutrition without mental stimulation is an even bigger problem," she said in an interview.

The report found that more than 200 million of the world's poorest children were underfed and under-stimulated.

It said 89 million of the most neglected children lived in south Asia, while 145 million were divided among India, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Tanzania.

Simple intervention at the lowest level by governments and aid agencies to change attitudes and encourage pre-school play at home, as well as basic nutrition, could have a major effect, researchers concluded.

"People are focused on reducing mortality. But they haven't realized that so many children are not reaching their potential," said McGregor. "But by the time they reach five or six and go to school their chances are almost blown."

McGregor said that, in studies in Jamaica, villagers with no secondary education themselves were sent into homes with home-made toys to teach mothers how play with their children.

"We followed the children up to 18 years of age and their IQ is better, their reading is better, they are less likely to drop out of school and their mental health is better -- they are less depressed, less anxious and have better self-esteem," she said.

"There is a lot of ignorance about what a child needs -- they think that play is not for adults and they don't understand that they can improve the child's development," she added.

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Encephalitis scare closes Rhode Island schools

2007-01-05 15:09:06www.chinaview.cn

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Public schools in the state of Rhode Island canceled classes Thursday and Friday for more than 20,000 students after the death of a second-grader from encephalitis and a suspected case of meningitis.

Another 2,600 students were kept from school by the Catholic Diocese of Providence, which closed eight schools in three communities as a precaution. No cases of meningitis or encephalitis have been reported among the students, said diocese spokesman Michael Guilfoyle.
Health experts are trying to determine whether the cases are connected. Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain.

"Given the parents'concerns and our concerns, we felt that out of abundance of caution we would keep schools closed for the next two days," said Dr. David Gifford, state public health director.

The school closings affected students in three communities south of Providence: 11,500 in Warwick; 6,000 in Coventry; and 4,000 in West Warwick. The three communities have had an unusually high incidence of pneumonia, Gifford said.

The case of suspected meningitis was reported Wednesday in an unidentified student in Coventry. Also, two weeks ago, Dylan Gleavey, a Warwick elementary school student, died of encephalitis. A classmate of hers and a girl at a West Warwick school also contracted encephalitis but have since recovered.

Dylan's encephalitis was caused by "walking pneumonia," a common illness that in rare cases can lead to meningitis or encephalitis.

Doreen Simao of Coventry said she had been sending her 5-year-old son, Malakie, to kindergarten each day with a small bottle of hand sanitizer because of the illnesses.

Joanne Grace, the mother of a 5-year-old Coventry girl, said officials "definitely did the right thing."

"There's too much of a risk for someone to get something potentially fatal," Grace said.

More epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headed to the state to assist the half-dozen scientists already in Rhode Island.

Health investigators said they will spend the next few days talking to school nurses and looking for possible additional cases in hospitals.

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Cold sore virus increases Alzheimer's risk

2007-01-05 21:39:42

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- New research announced Thursday reveals the virus responsible for causing cold sores around the mouth also plays a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

The latest work describes a connection between a gene and herpes simplex 1, or HSV. The form of the ApoE gene called ApoE-4 is the leading known risk factor for Alzheimer's. HSV is the type of herpes responsible for cold sores around the mouth. More than 80 percent of Americans are infected with HSV.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, discovered ApoE-4 allows the herpes virus to be more active in the brain.

"The data suggest that ApoE-4 may support the ability of HSV to be a more virulent pathogen," said Howard Federoff, lead author of the research published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

The research involved measuring the activity levels of HSV in the brains of mice with different forms of the human ApoE gene.

The team found the virus infiltrates brain cells about the same whether or not mice have the ApoE-4 form of the gene. But in mice with the ApoE-4 version, the virus is less likely to be latent and thus more likely to multiply.

Scientists have known for several years the ApoE-4 gene plays a role in Alzheimer's but the concept that it works together with the herpes virus is new.

Ruth Itzhaki of the University of Manchester has conducted several studies showing a relationship between herpes and Alzheimer's.

Patients suffering from the dementia disease who also have the ApoE-4 form of the gene also have more herpes DNA in the brain regions that are affected by Alzheimer's, she found. And people with the ApoE-4 version of the gene who have HSV are more likely to get Alzheimer's than those who lack either the gene version and the virus.

Also, other scientists have discovered people who frequently break out in cold sores are more likely to have the gene that makes them more vulnerable to Alzheimer's.

HSV is a chronic infection that lives in people for a lifetime, periodically flaring up. The virus is usually latent, locked inside cells, but occasionally stress, fatigue, certain foods and even sunlight can spark the virus into an active phase that damages cells and causes cold sores.

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Stem cells regenerate teeth in pigs, study says

3 Jan 07

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Using stem cells harvested from the extracted wisdom teeth of young adults, researchers have successfully generated tooth root and supporting tooth ligaments to support a crown restoration in experiments using miniature pigs.
The restored tooth mirrored the original tooth in function and strength, the research team reports in the December issue of the open access medical journal PLoS ONE. The technique holds promise for use in humans, the investigators say.

Stem cells are the master cells of the body that give rise to all the blood and tissue in the body.

Dr. Songtao Shi said: "In this study, we use stem cell technology to generate 'a bio-root and periodontal tissue' along with dental clinical porcelain crown technique to restore tooth function in swine (mini-pig)."

Shi, from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, Los Angeles, added. "This is a hybridized approach (stem cell and clinical technologies) leading to reconstruction of functional tooth in an animal model similar to human."

The researchers hope to test their technique in humans within the next several years. If successful, it could be especially attractive to dental patients who are not good candidates for dental implants or would prefer living tissue derived from their own teeth.

"Implant patients must have sufficient bone in the jaw to support the implant. For those who don't, this therapy would be a great alternative," Shi said in a statement.

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Take a Wagyu cow, give it a drop of wine... delicious

By Kathy Marks in Sydney
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

Most people enjoy a glass of good red wine with a juicy steak. Australian farmers have gone one step further. They have put their prized Wagyu cows on a diet laced with red wine, in the hope of creating an even more succulent beef.
The lucky bovines live in Margaret River, in Western Australia, which produces some of the country's most celebrated reds. The area also has a big agriculture industry, and some farmers have been breeding the Wagyu cows - first bred in Japan - that yield the world's most expensive red meat.

The black cattle are notoriously pampered; in Japan, they are fed beer to stimulate their appetites, massaged to relieve tired muscles, and played classical music to soothe their nerves. Cows that feel mellow and relaxed before they are slaughtered are said to produce beef of an exquisite tenderness. In Margaret River, the Wagyus are being raised on a diet supplemented by a litre of red wine a day.

The idea of marrying the area's two main exports originated with Jack Semini, whose company, Margaret River Premium Meats, supplies hotels and restaurants around Australia and south-east Asia. Mr Semini told ABC radio that the company wanted to emulate Japanese methods, and felt that wine "could enhance [the meat's] quality".

Peter Semini, who farms the cows, said they received a twice-daily tipple. "There is a special ration worked out," he said. "We just mix the wine in the tub in the morning and then at night. They just get right into it."

When they were first given the wine, he said, the cows "were sort of standoffish". Since then, though, they had acquired the taste.

The calves are bred on stations in the north of the state, and moved to the fertile pastures of Margaret River at four months old. They are fattened up with premium quality feed, and before being slaughtered are given as much food as they want for 100 days. They then meet the same fate as ordinary cows. But in order to ensure that their beef has the distinctive marbling that makes it melt in the mouth, Wagyus are allowed to enjoy life for twice as long.

Jack Semini told ABC: "For traditional beef, you are looking to get to market as quickly as possible; as cheap as possible, whereas with the Wagyu, we are looking at a slower-growing animal, and sort of like a red wine [it] gets better with age."

Margaret River Wagyu sells for several hundred dollars a kilogram, with a steak likely to cost about A$100 (£40). Despite its price, there is growing demand. John McLeod, the marketing manager, said that turnover had risen from A$1m in the company's first year to about A$9m this year and was forecast to double next year.

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Captive-bred panda injured by rivals on return to wild

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

The only captive-bred giant panda to be released into the wild has gone missing after being badly beaten by a rival for territory, food or a mate.

In a major setback for China's efforts to replenish the endangered species with animals reared in zoos, Xiang Xiang has broken at least one bone and could be in danger, a leading Chinese zoologist said.

"Xiang Xiang has been badly hurt in a competition with other pandas," said Zhang Hemin, the director of the Research and Conservation Centre for the Giant Panda. "We think he fell from a high place after being chased up a tree by a wild panda."
The four-year-old panda was released into the forests of Sichuan province last April after being reared in China's main captive breeding centre at Wolong. It was the first step in a long-term programme to boost the 1,600-strong wild population with captive-bred mammals.

During the first six months Xiang Xiang appeared to have adapted well. Tracked by satellite and regularly checked by monitoring teams, he put on weight and entered areas inhabited by wild panda communities without any apparent problem. But after making an initial diagnosis of the panda's wounds 15 days ago, scientists have been unable to make visual contact.

"We have found some problems, but we are still searching," said Mr Zhang. "It used to be easy to find him, but now he is afraid of any noise and any person so it is very difficult."

The team will decide whether to return Xiang Xiang for treatment in captivity or leave him in the wild for research purposes once they have made a fuller check on his condition.

Even if he survives his injuries there is a risk that he could be unable to defend himself in conflicts with other males during the mating season, which is just a few months away.

The injury looks likely to fuel a debate about the wisdom of the release programme. Supporters point to the success of captive breeding. Thanks to artificial insemination and techniques to encourage natural mating and rearing, the State Forestry Administration said a record 34 cubs were born in captivity last year. But international conservation groups such as WWF say the priority should be on protecting and expanding the habitat of the wild population.

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The Iraqi Occupation: Phase 2

Bush prepares to escalate Iraq war

By Sara Flounders
4 Jan 07

As the death toll of U.S. troops passes 3,000 and the number of Iraqi casualties exceeds 600,000, the execution of Saddam Hussein signals Bush's intention to escalate the war against the people of Iraq as he plans to send 30,000 more troops to maintain the occupation.

The billions that have been spent on this war-and the more than $100 billion that Bush is asking for this winter and spring-have been robbed from the people here who need the money for jobs at a living wage, health care, affordable housing, education and rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
Saddam Hussein's execution by U.S. military occupation forces in Iraq again shows in sharpest light the nature of the criminal occupation. The execution of the legal president of Iraq was a brutal colonial outrage intended to insult Iraqi national sovereignty. It was orchestrated so as to enflame sectarian and religious hatred among Iraqis.

The unofficial cell-phone video circulating on the internet shows that the atmosphere was truly that of a lynching. It was a chaotic scene with insults, abuse, heckling catcalls and ridicule while Saddam Hussein remained defiant and calm.

As outrage has grown in Iraq and internationally at the execution, its timing and the manner in which it was carried out, the U.S. corporate media has gone to exaggerated lengths to describe the execution as an Iraqi affair, a decision of the Iraqi High Tribunal, a body over which the U.S. occupation forces supposedly had little control or influence.

The Iraqi High Tribunal is a creation of the U.S. occupation forces. Its creation was a desperate effort to justify the illegal and criminal invasion. From the beginning the tribunal was a totally illegal court-expressly prohibited by international law. Under the Geneva Convention, which the U.S. government signed, an occupying power is explicitly prohibited from changing the judicial structure or establishing new courts.

L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, established the tribunal. U.S. occupation authorities appointed all judges and personnel, and the U.S. Congress established a $128 million fund to pay the court's expenses. U.S. advisers drafted the laws of the court.

During the U.S.-staged trial, three defense lawyers were assassinated. The Iraqi High Tribunal used coerced witnesses, heavy censorship, isolated the defendants and denied them all visitation and legal rights. Even the court announcement of the death sentence was timed to the weekend before the U.S. midterm elections last November.
Washington controlled trial, execution

Right up to the execution, Saddam Hussein was at all times in the hands of the U.S. military. He was captured by U.S. forces and held at the U.S. base Camp Cropper. For his execution, he was taken by U.S. helicopter, under U.S. guard, to Camp Victory, another U.S. base. U.S. forces transported the Iraqi executioners and the collaborators who were to serve as witnesses.

The U.S. officials chose executioners and collaborators who were identified as being of Shiite heritage apparently to throw the blame on all Shiites in Iraq for Saddam Hussein's execution. Remember it is the U.S. occupation forces who decided who can run for office and how the Iraqi government is structured. They protect the thin layer of puppets and collaborators within the Green Zone.

A statement from the former ruling Baath Party after the sentencing last November noted that "the theatrics that have been called a trial are nothing but [U.S.] America's way of putting the onus of the crime of executing Saddam Hussein on the stooge government."

The timing of the execution on the Eid al-Adha, one of the most sacred holidays of the Muslim year, added further offense and outrage to the act. This holiday is traditionally a time of peace, of putting aside quarrels and anger-at least for the duration of the holiday. It follows the time when millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is religiously unacceptable and explicitly illegal, even under the U.S.-created constitution written for Iraq, to execute someone during this time.

The execution was an act of desperation and weakness at a time when the U.S. occupation has collapsed and the resistance is gaining strength. Rather than follow the proposals of negotiations put forth by the Iraq Study Group and other imperialist strategists who fear impending disaster for the U.S. in Iraq, Bush has signaled with the execution of Saddam Hussein a decision to escalate the war.

It is also suspicious that an "unofficial video" was released showing alleged Mahdi Army members taunting Hussein. Hussein's assassination follows news that the U.S. has stepped-up attacks and arrests of members of the Mahdi Army, led by Moqtada al-Sadr. This offensive too is part of a desperate attempt to further divide the country and cut off any avenues of negotiation or phased withdrawal for the U.S. forces.

According to sources who monitor Iraqi resistance web sites, these have contained messages warning resistance fighters that the U.S. occupiers are trying to provoke battles between the resistance and the Mahdi Army. These messages urge fighters to make the main target the U.S. occupation forces, and where possible to convince Mahdi Army militia forces to join the resistance against the U.S.

The execution had nothing to do with the alleged crimes of the Iraqi president nor can the trial be seen as a historic judgment of Saddam Hussein's role in Iraq. It is seen in Iraq and around the world as the act of a conquering power, intended for humiliation of a nation occupied against the will of the vast majority of the population.
U.S. supports many dictators

The war was never about bringing democracy to Iraq. This has always been a war about oil and U.S. corporate domination of the entire region. U.S. imperialism has never opposed dictators. It has installed, supported and armed dictatorships when it suited the interests of corporate profits. From their support and arming of dictatorships in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait today to the Shah of Iran, Mubutu in the Congo, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, the U.S. government has supported some of the most brutal regimes in history, when it served Wall Street's interests.

In the 1980s Washington was ready to collaborate with the Saddam Hussein government when it wanted to use the Iraqis against the Iranian Revolution with the Iraq-Iran war. It was the old "divide and conquer" tactic, and Henry Kissinger even wrote about wanting to weaken both sides by having Iran and Iraq fight each other.

Saddam Hussein was not executed because the U.S. occupation forces considered him a dictator. Although he had in the past been willing to make deals and to maneuver with imperialism, Washington saw his real crime as his refusal to hand over sovereignty or the control of the rich resources of Iraq. He refused to bow down to the New World Order. He was executed because he stood in the way of U.S. imperialist reconquest of the Middle East.

Corporate power in the U.S. was determined to turn back the control of the nationalized oil gained through the 1958 revolution in Iraq. This nationalization had transformed Iraq into a prosperous, rapidly developing country with the highest living standard in the region-a modern, secular country with free education and free health care.

The U.S. ruling class as a whole, the entire political establishment, the corporate media and both houses of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, supported the 1991 bombing and massive destruction of Iraqi cities, industries and educational institutions. They also supported the 2003 bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq.
U.S. war crimes

U.S. imperialism has committed numerous war crimes in its effort to subjugate Iraq. Its Pentagon has used bunker busters, cluster bombs, white phosphorous, napalm and radioactive depleted uranium weapons on the cities of Iraq. Thirteen years of U.S.-imposed starvation sanctions resulted in 1.5 million Iraqi deaths from malnutrition and disease.

Since the 2003 invasion, U.S. occupation forces have carried out massive round-ups, systematic torture and humiliation of defenseless prisoners that the whole world knows about through photos from Abu Ghraib. The U.S. occupation has created a chaos that has shut the schools and universities and hospitals, left even the capital, Baghdad, without potable water, sanitation or more than four hours of electricity a day.

Wholesale corruption by tens of thousands of U.S. contractors has resulted in the looting of reconstruction projects and the theft of tens of thousands of cultural artifacts. Almost four years of occupation have resulted in over 600,000 Iraqi deaths and the flight of 2 million Iraqis from the country.

Whatever criticisms of and charges Iraqis have against Saddam Hussein, it was their sovereign right to decide his fate, free of outside occupation forces. The independent Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies recently polled Iraqis on whether they were better off under Saddam Hussein's government compared to the chaos and humiliation of today. Almost 90 percent declared that Iraq's situation was better and more stable before U.S. occupation.

The movement that stands against the imperialist war in Iraq and demands that all U.S. troops be brought home needs to also raise its voice against all forms of the colonial occupation. U.S. corporate contracts and laws that have privatized and looted Iraqi resources must be canceled. Hundreds of U.S. bases, thousands of U.S. checkpoints and scores of secret prisons must be closed. The illegal courts must be disbanded.

Finally, it is essential that this movement demand that U.S government and military officials be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their actions in Iraq.

Sara Flounders is a co-director of the International Action Center, which organized protest demonstrations on Dec. 30 against the execution of Saddam Hussein.
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American Leaders Promise More Pain - Democrats, Republicans, CEOs, Generals United

by John Stanton
Global Research
1 Jan 07

Just 32 years ago in 1975, former US President Gerald Ford (unelected to both the vice presidency and the presidency) served as master of ceremonies for the close of the Vietnam War. There are two images that remain seared in the minds of many around the world from that terrible 10 year debacle and defeat. One is a photograph taken by Hubert van Es during the fall of Saigon depicting Vietnamese civilians climbing to the top of an apartment building frantically attempting to board a US helicopter. The other is a photograph taken by Nic Ut of a young Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, her flesh seared by napalm in a US aerial assault. She is running down a road, naked and screaming.
Thirty-two years later, as much of the world celebrated religious and cultural holidays, and prepared to greet the new year 2007, its newspapers and electronic media outlets depicted photographs and video of the hanging of former Iraq Dictator Saddam Hussein. The 21st Century and the freedom-loving US government approved a good old style 1800's hanging in Iraq. Hussein, guilty of mass murder, swinging from a rope in a stairwell somewhere in Baghdad. In 1975, Ford and Kissinger gave a green light to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor which left some 200,000 dead.

As an aside, perhaps Americans should be reminded of its history with hangings and what's likely to come from 21st Century military tribunals. According to Wikipedia, "the largest single execution in United States history was the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota people convicted of murder and rape in the Sioux Uprising. They were executed simultaneously on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. A single blow from an axe cut the rope that held the large four-sided platform, and the prisoners (except for one whose rope had broken, and who consequently had to be restrung) fell to their deaths.[7] The second largest mass execution in United States history was also a hanging: the execution of 13 African American soldiers for their parts in the Houston Riot. Notably, both incidents involved ethnic minority defendants, and military tribunal judgments in time of war."

Appetite for Destruction

The two images from the Vietnam War and the photo's and video of the hanging of Hussein capture in vivid detail the end results of strategies and tactics designed and executed by incompetent American leaders. Failure is everywhere in the stills and video. Failure to manage risk, failure to anticipate, failure to understand, failure to have compassion for human life, failure to accept change, failure to realize that perception is often not reality. Title, rank or advanced degree have never been a barrier to poor decision making or the maniacal drive for power to ensure a lasting place in world history. On what basis can one make such an outrageous claim?

What's the record of the US leaders since 1975? Some of the highlights include: Vietnam War; Cold War (post Cold War mis-management); Iranian Revolution/Hostage Crisis; Iran/Contra; HIV/AIDS (1980's); Grenada War; War on Drugs; Panama War; Iraq War I; Iraq War II; Afghanistan War I; Somalia I (think Blackhawk Down); Yugoslavia/Bosnia War; Ethiopia vs Somalia War (US now backing Ethiopia); War on Terror; Israel vs Lebanon/Hezbollah (US backing Israel); Lebanon Stability Operation (200 plus US Marines needlessly sacrificed); botched presidential election of 2000 decided by US Supreme Court; 911 attack on New York City, New York and Arlington, Virginia; military tribunals,; income disparity (US middle class disappearing); tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; health care cost increases; record foreclosures and bankruptcies in 2006; 2007 recession looming; sanctioned domestic electronic surveillance, refusal to honor international treaties, nuclear proliferation (Egypt and Saudi Arabia will now build nuclear reactors); global warming; over 3,000 Americans dead and many more thousands maimed in Iraq II and Afghanistan I; military families on food stamps; unprecedented national debt, unreliable infrastructure (electrical grids, for example); 911 Commission and Iraq Study Group; and now trial balloons being floated for a return to military conscription.

But the nail in the coffin, so to speak, is that "The Vote" does not matter one bit. The 2006 mid-term elections in the USA sent a clear signal to US leaders that the time had come to get out of Iraq. And yet as the new year enters, Democrats and Republicans, CEO's and Generals are united in their support for a troop "surge" in Iraq. Those in charge in America are creating the conditions which lead to open revolt. When votes do not matter, when draconian laws and regulations weigh on people, when employment is uncertain, and there is no longer any outlet for expression, frustration and anger set in. That leads to violence.

Operation Roadrunner

And what do the folks in charge offer as solutions? Catch phrases and information manipulation. Over at the Pentagon the thinking on Iraq II is something like this: go long, go short, maintain, get out, go left, go right, go, go down. Is this what $1 trillion a year buys. Meanwhile, the President, with his staff in tow, tells the American people. "...My heart breaks everyday for our dead soldiers and their families. Next question...Go shopping." Are you kidding?

What;s next!? Cartoon character Wylie Coyote briefs the Joint Chiefs, President Bush and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Speaking on guarantee of anonymity, a source who was at the briefing said that, "Mr Coyote provided some keen insights that are applicable to the Global War on Terror, The War on Terror, The Long War, The Asymmetrical War, The Irregular War, The Calling of Our Time War. The President and Joint Chiefs were receptive. The Pentagon feels that if Mr. Coyote had the space, sea and land assets that we now have, he would have caught that Roadrunner whom we see as an example of your basic modern day Al Qaeda/Anti-American terrorist. Mr. Coyote was far ahead of his time in the use of technology from defense contractor ACME and his understanding and application of psychological operations techniques. We appreciate his timely advice."

The world waits in horror for a congressionally mandated commission co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Former President George Bush II to study every commission created from 2001 to 2008. Why not Homer Simpson and Sponge-Bob Squarepants?

What more can be said about the down right crappy leadership that the American public and the world have endured for a little over three decades. Clinton promised "A Bridge to the 21st Century." That bridge needs to be demolished and a new one built. Unfortunately it is going to fall to the next three generations to fix it, if they can. It's time to listen to the words of Malcolm X, speaking at Oxford Union, UK in 1964.

"I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare ,who wrote something that moved me. He put the words into a character named Hamlet who said, 'To be or not to be'. He had a doubt about something. 'To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.' Compromise. 'Or to take up arms against a a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.' And I go for that. If you take up arms you'll end it. But if you sit around waiting for the ones in power to change things you'll be waiting a long time. In my opinion young people today, whites, blacks, browns whatever else there is, must realize that they live in a time of revolution, a time of change. Those in power have abused it and there has got to be change. A better world needs to be built and the only way it is going to get built is by extreme methods. I will stand with anyone, I don't care what color you are, as long as you want to change the miserable condition that exists on this earth."

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in political and national security matters. Reach him at cioran123@yahoo.com

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A 'Surge' to Save Bush's Legacy

By Robert Parry
Consortium News
3 Jan 07

With 3,000 American soldiers already dead along with possibly a half million or more Iraqis, Bush is determined to escalate the war in the Middle East into a pitched battle for his presidential legacy.
If press reports are correct -- that George W. Bush will approve a troop "surge" in Iraq of 17,000 to 20,000 soldiers -- the follow-up question must be whether the escalation will do anything but get more Americans and Iraqis killed while only forestalling the defeat of Bush's war policy.

Even top advocates for the "surge," such as retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and neoconservative activist Frederick W. Kagan, have argued that U.S. troop levels must be increased by at least 30,000 for 18 months or more to bring security to Baghdad, what they call a "precondition" for any successful outcome.

"Any other option is likely to fail," Keane and Kagan wrote in an op-ed article in the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2006.

So, the more modest escalation of up to 20,000 soldiers would appear to represent what might be called "Operation: Save Bush's Legacy," with the goal of postponing the inevitable until 2009 when American defeat can be palmed off on a new President.

Right now, Bush seems caught between his determination to stave off admission of failure and the shortage of U.S. troops available to throw into the conflict in Iraq. Just to reach a 20,000-troop increase, Bush would have to delay the scheduled departure of two Marine regiments now deployed in Anbar Province.

The escalation to 160,000 troops, from the current 140,000, also would be hard to maintain for long, since the Pentagon has warned that existing troop levels in Iraq already are straining the U.S. military and forcing repeated tours for soldiers and Marines.

Yet all the signs point to Bush going in that direction. Over the past few weeks, he even appears to be orchestrating a slow-motion purge of senior military leaders who oppose the "surge" and instead favor a phased withdrawal.

First, Bush fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Nov. 8, just two days after Rumsfeld sent Bush a memo suggesting a "major adjustment" in Iraq War policy that would include "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases" from 55 to five by July 2007 with remaining U.S. forces only committed to Iraqi areas that request them.

"Unless they [the local Iraqi governments] cooperate fully, U.S. forces would leave their province," Rumsfeld wrote in his Nov. 6 memo.

Proposing an option similar to a plan enunciated by Democratic Rep. John Murtha, Rumsfeld suggested that the commanders "withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions -- cities, patrolling, etc. -- and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance."

And in what could be read as an implicit criticism of Bush's lofty rhetoric about transforming Iraq and the Middle East, Rumsfeld said the administration should "recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) -- go minimalist."

Though many Americans viewed Rumsfeld as the personification of Bush's "tough-guy" strategy in the Middle East, the Defense Secretary's downfall may have been caused by his going wobbly on the war.

Mistaken judgment

Washington insiders also may have been wrong when they interpreted Bush's selection of former CIA Director Robert Gates as a concession to the "realists" advocating a disengagement from Iraq. It may actually have been the opposite -- the replacement of a disillusioned Rumsfeld with a dutiful Gates.

The "conventional wisdom" was misguided, too, when it assumed that Bush would interpret the Democratic victory on Nov. 7 as a sign to begin winding down the Iraq War. Instead, Bush signaled his disdain for anyone suggesting a troop withdrawal.

In Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Bush mocked the expected recommendations from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by longtime Bush Family adviser James Baker who considered a troop drawdown combined with a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process and direct talks with Iran and Syria as the only realistic course.

But Bush declared that U.S. forces would "stay in Iraq to get the job done," adding "this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

When the Iraq Study Group issued its formal report on Dec. 6, Bush gave it a cool reception and indicated it would be only one of several reports on Iraq that he would consider. Bush said he wanted Gates to undertake a review with the U.S. generals.

During a classified briefing at the Pentagon in December, Bush then reportedly made clear to the brass that he had no interest in finding a way out of Iraq. Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine commandant, described Bush's message as: "What I want to hear from you is how we're going to win, not how we're going to leave."

Soon, there was a drumbeat from White House allies and from neoconservative circles for a military escalation, not a gradual withdrawal. That suggestion, however, was countered by a Pentagon leak revealing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed an escalation because they doubted it could achieve any lasting strategic objective.

Bush, who has always insisted that he listens to his generals on military matters such as troop levels, reacted to their resistance to the "surge" with a purge.

The first to be pushed to the door was Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East who suddenly announced that he was accelerating his retirement which would take effect in March. Abizaid, who speaks fluent Arabic, was criticized by some in Washington for being too concerned about Arab sensibilities.

Getting the bum's rush with Abizaid will be Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq who had called the idea of a troop escalation unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. The New York Times reported that Casey would be replaced in February or March, several months ahead of schedule.

"As Baghdad spun further out of control [in 2006], some of the President's advisers now say, Mr. Bush grew concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory," the Times reported.

By ousting "surge" opponents -- from Rumsfeld at the Pentagon to the top commanders in the Middle East -- Bush and his neoconservative aides in Washington appear to be taking personal control of the Iraq War strategy.

The President seems determined to put in place a military hierarchy that will fall in line with his edicts, rather than disagree with him.

The Iran Gamble

But less clear is whether Bush will stop at a 20,000-troop escalation in Iraq or whether he will "double-down" his Middle East bet further by expanding the war beyond Iraq's borders to confront other U.S. adversaries in Syria and Iran.

Along with Israeli leaders, Bush has declared that Iranian progress on a possible nuclear bomb is unacceptable. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has even called the prospect an "existential threat" to Israel.

But Bush and Olmert are facing a ticking clock if they want to act before they lose one of their few remaining international allies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to resign from his post sometime in the spring.

So, with Bush purging his regional military commanders by March -- and presumably replacing them with more pliable generals -- the next few months could prove to be crucial for the future of the Middle East.

Though Bush may yet back away from the idea of expanding the war beyond Iraq, his apparent decision to escalate U.S. troop levels there suggests that he will do whatever he can -- even if it bloats the death toll -- to escape the opprobrium of having committed perhaps the greatest strategic blunder by any President in U.S. history.

With 3,000 American soldiers already dead along with possibly a half million or more Iraqis, Bush is determined to escalate the war in the Middle East into a pitched battle for his presidential legacy.

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McCain Reaffirms Support For US Troop Surge In Iraq

by Staff Writers
4 Jan 07

US Senator John McCain on Thursday reaffirmed his support for the deployment of thousands of additional US troops in Iraq, a proposal expected to figure in President George W. Bush's upcoming reassessment of US strategy there. "When I raise my hand and vote to send young men and women, American men and women into harm's way and fight a war, I am committing to accomplishing the mission," McCain, an early frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, told MSNBC.

He said the fight against Islamic extremism must be joined with renewed fervor.
"The consequences of failure are chaos and disaster. And these people ... want to destroy the United States of America," McCain said.

His remarks came as Bush prepares to announce a shakeup of US Iraq policy, which reportedly could include sending tens of thousands of additional troops to supplement 140,000-strong US force already there.

But a troop surge has found little support in Congress, with McCain one of only very few voices speaking up in favor of such a policy.

McCain takes over this week as the top Republican in the Democrat-led Senate Armed Services Committee. The Democrats took control of the Senate and House of Representatives Thursday following their November elections triumph.

McCain said he believes US soldiers there are equally committed to the goal of fighting on in Iraq.

"I just recently visited them, including some who have been involuntarily extended," said McCain. "The morale is good. They understand what the mission is and they know what they need to do."

"I am convinced that if we leave and lose this conflict, the conflict will spread in the region, there will be chaos, and we will be sending in men and women into harm's way both in the region and other parts of the world," the former Navy pilot and former Vietnam prisoner of war told MSNBC.

"I've said for more than three years, it's long, hard, tough," McCain said.

"It's going to be very, very difficult. And we have to understand that. But we also have understand the sequences of failure."

Source: Agence France-Presse

Comment: Sounds like McCain is trying to stay on the good side of Israel in hopes they'll give him the 2008 election.

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Old guard back on Iraq policy

Peter Spiegel, Times Staff Writer
January 4, 2007
LA Times

WASHINGTON - Ever since Iraq began spiraling toward chaos, the war's intellectual architects - the so-called neoconservatives - have found themselves under attack in Washington policy salons and, more important, within the Bush administration.

Eventually, Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Defense department's most senior neocon, went to the World Bank. His Pentagon colleague Douglas J. Feith departed for academia. John R. Bolton left the State Department for a stint at the United Nations.

But now, a small but increasingly influential group of neocons are again helping steer Iraq policy. A key part of the new Iraq plan that President Bush is expected to announce next week - a surge in U.S. troops coupled with a more focused counterinsurgency effort - has been one of the chief recommendations of these neocons since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
This group - which includes William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, and Frederick W. Kagan, a military analyst at a prominent think tank, the American Enterprise Institute - was expressing concerns about the administration's blueprint for Iraq even before the invasion almost four years ago.

In their view, not enough troops were being set aside to stabilize the country. They also worried that the Pentagon had formulated a plan that concentrated too heavily on killing insurgents rather than securing law and order for Iraqi citizens.

These neoconservative thinkers have long advocated for a more classic counterinsurgency campaign: a manpower-heavy operation that would take U.S. soldiers out of their large bases dotted across the country and push them into small outposts in troubled towns and neighborhoods to interact with ordinary Iraqis and earn their trust.

But until now, it was an argument that fell on deaf ears.

"We have been pretty consistently in this direction from the outset," said Kagan, whose December study detailing his strategy is influencing the administration's current thinking. "I started making this argument even before the war began, because I watched in dismay as we messed up Afghanistan and then heard with dismay the rumors that we would apply some sort of Afghan model to Iraq."

If Bush goes ahead with the surge idea, along with a shift to a more aggressive counterinsurgency, it would in many ways represent a wholesale repudiation of the outgoing Pentagon leadership.

These leaders - particularly former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the departing Middle East commander - strongly resisted more U.S. troops and a larger push into troubled neighborhoods out of fear it would prevent Iraqis from taking over the job themselves and exacerbate the image of America as an occupying power.

The plan the administration appears moving toward envisions an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 troops, the majority of whom would be sent to Baghdad. The increase would be achieved by delaying the departure of Marine units already in Iraq and speeding the departure of Army brigades due to deploy this spring.

The neoconservative group had been the driving force in Washington behind a move against Iraq, even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They saw Hussein as a lingering threat to world security - a view bolstered within the administration following 9/11. And they argued that transforming Iraq into a democracy could serve as a model to remake the Middle East's political dynamics.

The problems with the war gradually undermined the clout they had wielded. But perhaps the more important hurdle to their views being heeded - especially on military matters - was the White House's refusal to see its Iraq policy as a failure.

That changed this summer, when the spike in sectarian violence and the failure of an offensive to secure Baghdad created what one Pentagon advisor called a "psychological break" within the administration. Until then, neoconservatives argued, the administration saw little proof that Abizaid's plan, which was backed by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the military commander in Iraq, was failing.

The main reason for the new ascendancy of the neocon recommendations, said Kristol, is that "the Rumsfeld-Abizaid-Casey theory was tried and was found wanting.... Some of us challenged it very early on, but, of course, then we were just challenging it as a competing theory."

Although Kristol, Kagan and their intellectual allies have pushed hard for their policy change for more than three years, they bristle at the notion that the idea of a larger troop presence in Iraq and a different approach to securing the country is wholly a neoconservative idea.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican presidential contender, has been pushing for more troops and a different security strategy for nearly as long as Kristol and Kagan. Recently, support for a revised counterinsurgency plan also has gained support among military officers, active and retired. Perhaps most notable among this group is retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army chief of staff who signed on to Kagan's plan last month.

The case for change has been bolstered by actions the military has taken, including a successful 2005 Army offensive in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar, where midlevel officers used counterinsurgency tactics to suppress sectarian violence. In addition, the Pentagon released a new counterinsurgency field manual last month that largely echoed Kagan's thinking.

Some leading neoconservatives do not embrace the troop surge proposal.

Wolfowitz, for instance, ridiculed the notion that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq than were used in the invasion.

And Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to the Pentagon who also advocated for smaller troop numbers at the time of the invasion, is known to be skeptical of the idea of a surge.

The plan's advocates acknowledge the split.

"Before the war, I was arguing for a quarter of a million troops in expectations we'd be there five or 10 years," said Gary J. Schmitt, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has worked closely with Kristol and Kagan. "Richard Perle, obviously somebody else who's thought of as a neocon, thought we should go in" with far fewer U.S. forces.

The neocons calling for more troops in Iraq and different tactics have pressed their proposals in public writings and speeches and in more private conversations within the administration.

Kenneth L. Adelman, another leading neoconservative thinker, recalled a meeting a year ago of the Defense Policy Board, a group of outside advisors to the Pentagon, where he pressed Rumsfeld - a longtime friend - to implement more traditional counterinsurgency ideas, such as keeping soldiers longer in their deployed areas so they could get to know the local population.

"What you need for counterinsurgency has been pretty clear for some time: You need to protect the population and get the population to fight the insurgents with you, or at least inform on them," Adelman said. "The fight is over the population, it's not over getting the enemy."

And much like they did when advocating for the invasion, these neocons have promoted their military strategy even at times when it was seen as politically unpalatable.

"What you can say about Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol, whatever else you want to say, is they've been constant in sounding this theme," said Eliot A. Cohen, a military analyst at Johns Hopkins University's international studies school in Washington who has advised the administration on Iraq policy. "You've had other people who have dropped in and out of this."

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The Adults take Charge - The Reality Based Community Strikes Back in Iraq

Juan Cole
Informed Comment
5 Jan 07

The professionals take charge. Bush is bringing in Ryan Crocker, a distinguished career foreign service officer, as the new US ambassador to Iraq. And Gen. David Petraeus will replace Gen. Casey as top ground commander in Iraq. Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing ambassador to Iraq, will go as ambassador to the United Nations, replacing the lying blowhard John Bolton.

I'm stricken with a case of the "what ifs" and "if onlys"! What if Gates had been at the Pentagon in 2003 and Petraeus had been in charge of the US military in Iraq and Crocker had been there instead of Paul Bremer? These are competent professionals who know what they are doing. Gates is clear-sighted enough to tell Congress that the US is not winning in Iraq, unlike his smooth-talking, arrogant and flighty predecessor. Petraeus is among the real experts on counter-insurgency, and did a fine job of making friends and mending fences when he was in charge of Mosul. Crocker has been ambassador to Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan, and knows the region intimately (as does Khalilzad). Bremer had been ambassador to . . . Holland. Despite all the talk of the resurgence of the Neoconservatives with their "surge" (actually ramped up occupation) plan, this team is the farthest from Neoconservative desires that you could possibly get.

I wish these seasoned professionals well. They know what they are getting into, and it is an index of their courage and dedication that they are willing to risk their lives in an effort that the American public has largely written off as a costly failure. If the US in Iraq can possibly have a soft landing, these are the individuals who can pull it off. It is a big if.

What they are up against comes through clearly in the reporting on the situation in Iraq on Thursday. Police found 47 bodies in the streets of Baghdad on Thursday. Guerrillas set off two car bombs in the al-Mansur district, killing 13 persons and injuring 22. The NYT gives a graphic eyewitness account of the gruesome aftermath.

Guerrillas killed a US soldier in Baghdad with small arms fire.

Sunni Arab guerrillas also launched a mortar attack on the Shiite Shu'la district of Baghdad, injuring 9 civilians. The NYT piece mentions several other such attacks, as does Reuters. Police found four bodies in Hilla, in the mixed Sunni and Shiite province of Babel (Hilla is largely Shiite).

The Associated Press has been vindicated in having reported on an incident of sectarian violence based on an interview with Jamil Hussein. The Iraqi government initially denied he existed, and the US military put pressure on AP to retract. Now it turns out he does exist but will be punished for speaking to the press!

Gee, it turns out AP is more reliable on Iraq than Michelle Malkin after all. Since she's so eager to intern people, maybe she can do penance by putting herself under house arrest for the rest of the war as a punishment for spreading war propaganda.

The diary of the last two months in the life of the director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives. It is harrowing.

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Dreyfuss on Bush's Wizard-of-Oz Iraq Plan

Tom Engelhardt
4 Jan 07

Among Iraqi Shiites, no individual has been viewed as more of an enemy by the Bush administration than the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops fought bloody battles with his Mahdi Army in 2004, destroying significant parts of the old city of Najaf in the process. American forces make periodic, destructive raids into the vast Baghdad slum and Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City to take out his followers and recently killed one of his top aides in a raid in Najaf. The upcoming Presidential "surge" into Baghdad is, reputedly, in part to be aimed at suppressing his militia, which a recent Pentagon report described as "the main threat to stability in Iraq."

Nonetheless at the crucial moment in the execution what did some of the Interior Ministry guards do? They chanted: "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"

In all press reports, this has been described as a "taunting" of Saddam (and assumedly of Iraqi Sunnis more generally). But it could as easily be described as the purest mockery of George W. Bush and everything he's done in the country.
Every now and then, you have to take a lesson or two from history. In the case of George Bush's Iraq, here's one: No matter what the President announces in his "new way forward" speech on Iraq next week -- including belated calls for "sacrifice" from the man whose answer to 9/11 was to urge Americans to surge into Disney World -- it won't work. Nothing our President suggests in relation to Iraq, in fact, will have a ghost of a chance of success. Worse than that, whatever it turns out to be, it is essentially guaranteed to make matters worse.

Repetition, after all, is most of what knowledge adds up to, and the Bush administration has been repetitively consistent in its Iraqi -- and larger Middle Eastern -- policies. Whatever it touches (or perhaps the better word would be "smashes") turns to dross. Iraq is now dross -- and Saddam Hussein was such a remarkably hard act to follow badly that this is no small accomplishment.

A striking but largely unexplored aspect of Saddam Hussein's execution is illustrative. His trial was basically run out of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad; Saddam was held at Camp Cropper, the U.S. prison near Baghdad International Airport. He was delivered to the Iraqi government for hanging in a U.S. helicopter (as his body would be flown back to his home village in a U.S. helicopter).

Now, let's add a few more facts into the mix. Among Iraqi Shiites, no individual has been viewed as more of an enemy by the Bush administration than the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops fought bloody battles with his Mahdi Army in 2004, destroying significant parts of the old city of Najaf in the process. American forces make periodic, destructive raids into the vast Baghdad slum and Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City to take out his followers and recently killed one of his top aides in a raid in Najaf. The upcoming Presidential "surge" into Baghdad is, reputedly, in part to be aimed at suppressing his militia, which a recent Pentagon report described as "the main threat to stability in Iraq."

Nonetheless at the crucial moment in the execution what did some of the Interior Ministry guards do? They chanted: "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" In all press reports, this has been described as a "taunting" of Saddam (and assumedly of Iraqi Sunnis more generally). But it could as easily be described as the purest mockery of George W. Bush and everything he's done in the country. If, in such a relatively controlled setting, the Americans couldn't stop Saddam's execution from being "infiltrated" by al-Sadr's followers -- who are also, of course, part of Prime Minister Maliki's government -- what can they possibly do in the chaos of Baghdad? How can a few more thousands of U.S. troops be expected to keep them, or Badr Brigade militiamen out of the streets, no less the police, the military, and various ministries?

Consider the "new way forward," then, just another part of the Bush administration's endless bubbleworld. And check out exactly what madness to look forward to in next week's presidential address via Robert Dreyfuss, a shrewd reporter and the author of the indispensable Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Tom

The Surge to Nowhere
Traveling the Planet Neocon Road to Baghdad (Again)
By Robert Dreyfuss

Like some neocon Wizard of Oz, in building expectations for the 2007 version of his "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq, President Bush is promising far more than he can deliver. It is now nearly two months since he fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, installing Robert Gates in his place, and the White House revealed that a full-scale review of America's failed policy in Iraq was underway. Last week, having spent months -- if, in fact, the New York Times is correct that the review began late in the summer -- consulting with generals, politicians, State Department and CIA bureaucrats, and Pentagon planners, Bush emerged from yet another powwow to tell waiting reporters: "We've got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan."

As John Lennon sang in Revolution: "We'd all love to see the plan."

Unfortunately for Bush, most of the American public may have already checked out. By and large, Americans have given up on the war in Iraq. The November election, largely a referendum on the war, was a repudiation of the entire effort, and the vote itself was a marker along a continuing path of rapidly declining approval ratings both for President Bush personally and for his handling of the war. It's entirely possible that when Bush does present us with "the plan" next week, few will be listening. Until he makes it clear that he has returned from Planet Neocon by announcing concrete steps to end the war in Iraq, it's unlikely that American voters will tune in. As of January 1, every American could find at least 3,000 reasons not to believe that President Bush has suddenly found a way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

What's astonishing about the debate over Iraq is that the President -- or anyone else, for that matter, including the media -- is paying the slightest attention to the neoconservative strategists who got us into this mess in the first place. Having been egregiously wrong about every single Iraqi thing for five consecutive years, by all rights the neocons ought to be consigned to some dusty basement exhibit hall in the American Museum of Natural History, where, like so many triceratops, their reassembled bones would stand mutely by to send a chill of fear through touring schoolchildren. Indeed, the neocons are the dodos of Washington, simply too dumb to know when they are extinct.

Yet here is Tom Donnelly, an American Enterprise Institute neocon, a co-chairman of the Project for a New American Century, telling a reporter sagely that the surge is in. "I think the debate is really coming down to: Surge large. Surge small. Surge short. Surge longer. I think the smart money would say that the range of options is fairly narrow." (Donnelly, of course, forgot: Surge out.) His colleague, Frederick Kagan of AEI, the chief architect of the Surge Theory for Iraq, has made it clear that the only kind of surge that would work is a big, fat one.

Nearly pornographic in his fondling of the surge, Kagan, another of the neocon crew of armchair strategists and militarists, makes it clear that size does matter. "Of all the 'surge' options out there, short ones are the most dangerous," he wrote in the Washington Post last week, adding lasciviously, "The size of the surge matters as much as the length. ... The only 'surge' option that makes sense is both long and large."

Ooh -- that is, indeed, a manly surge. For Kagan, a man-sized surge must involve at least 30,000 more troops funneled into the killing grounds of Baghdad and al-Anbar Province for at least 18 months.

President Bush, perhaps dizzy from the oedipal frenzy created by the emergence of Daddy's best friend James Baker and his Iraq Study Group, seems all too willing to prove his manhood by the size of the surge. According to a stunning front-page piece in the Times last Tuesday, Bush has all but dismissed the advice of his generals, including Centcom Commander John Abizaid, and George Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq, because they are "more fixated on withdrawal than victory." At a recent Pentagon session, according to General James T. Conway, the commandant of the U.S. Marines, Bush told the assembled brass: "What I want to hear from you now is how we are going to win, not how we are going to leave." As a result, Abizaid and Casey are, it appears, getting the same hurry-up-and-retire treatment that swept away other generals who questioned the wisdom on Iraq transmitted from Planet Neocon.

That's scary, if it means that Bush -- presumably on the advice of the Neocon-in-Chief, Vice President Dick Cheney -- has decided to launch a major push, Kagan-style, for victory in Iraq. Not that such an escalation has a chance of working, but there's no question that, in addition to bankrupting the United States, breaking the army and the Marines, and unleashing all-out political warfare at home, it would kill perhaps tens of thousands more Iraqis.

Personally, I'm not convinced that Bush could get away with it politically. Not only is the public dead-set against escalating the war, but there are hints that Congress might not stand for it, and the leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces is opposed.

Over the past few days, a swarm of Republican senators has come out against the surge, including at least three Republican senators up for reelection in 2008 in states that make them vulnerable: Gordon Smith of Oregon, whose remarkable speech calling the war "criminal" went far beyond the normal bland rhetoric of discourse in the U.S. capital, along with John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. In addition, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, less vulnerable but still facing voters in 2008, has questioned the surge idea. And a host of Republican moderates -- Chuck Hagel (NE), Dick Lugar (IN), Susan Collins (ME) -- have lambasted it. (Hagel told Robert Novak: "It's Alice in Wonderland. I'm absolutely opposed to the idea of sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly.") Even Sam Brownback, one of the Senate godfathers of the neocon-backed Iraqi National Congress, has expressed skepticism, saying: "We can't impose a military solution." According to Novak, only 12 of the 49 Republican senators are now willing to back Sen. John McCain's blood-curdling cries for sending in more troops.

Meanwhile, says Novak, the Democrats would not only criticize the idea of a surge but, led by Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, might use their crucial power over the purse. "Biden," writes Novak, "will lead the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it." Reports the Financial Times of London: "Democrats have hinted that they could use their control over the budget process to make life difficult for the Bush administration if it chooses to step up the military presence in Iraq." A Kagan-style surge would require a vast new commitment of funds, and with their ability to scrutinize, put conditions on, and even strike out entire line items in the military budget and the Pentagon's supplemental requests, the Democrats could find ways to stall or halt the "surge," if not the war itself.

Indeed, if President Bush opts to Kaganize the war, he will throw down the gauntlet to the Democrats. Unwilling until now to say that they would even consider blocking appropriations for the Iraq War, the Democrats would have little choice but to up the ante if Bush flouts the electoral mandate in such a full-frontal manner. By escalating the war in the face of near-universal opposition from the public, the military, and the political class, the president would force the Democrats to escalate their own -- until now fairly mild-mannered -- opposition to the war.

However, it's possible -- just possible -- that what the President is planning to announce will be something a bit more Machiavellian than the straightforwardly manly thrust Kagan wants. Perhaps, just perhaps, he will order an increase of something like 20,000 American troops, but put a tight time limit on this surge -- say, four months. Perhaps he will announce that he is giving Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki that much time to square the circle in Iraq: crack down on militias and death squads, purge the army and police, develop a plan to fight the Sunni insurgency, find a formula to deal with the Kurds and the explosive, oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they claim as their own, un-de-Baathify Iraq, and create a workable formula for sharing the fracturing country's oil wealth.

By surging those 20,000 troops into a hopeless military nowhere-land, Bush will say that he is giving Maliki room to accomplish all that -- knowing full well that none of it can, in fact, be accomplished by the weak, sectarian, Shiite-run regime inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. So, sometime in the late spring, the United States could begin to un-surge its troops and start the sort of orderly, phased withdrawal that Jim Baker and the Carl Levin Democrats have called for.

Levin suggested as much as 2006 ended. "A surge which is not part of an overall program of troop reduction that begins in the next four to six months would be a mistake," said Levin, who will chair the Armed Services Committee. "Even if the president is going to propose to temporarily add troops, he should make that conditional on the Iraqis reaching a political settlement that effectively ends the sectarian violence."

That may be too much to ask for a Christian-crusader President, still lodged inside a bubble universe and determined to crush all evil-doers. And it may be too clever by half for an administration that has been as utterly inept as this one.

At the same time, it may also be too much to expect that the Democrats will really go to the mat to fight Bush if, Kagan-style, he orders a surge that is "long and large." Maybe they will merely posture and fulminate and threaten to... well, hold hearings.

If so, it will be the Iraqis who end the war. It will be the Iraqis who eventually kill enough Americans to break the U.S. political will, and it will be the Iraqis who sweep away the ruins of the Maliki government to replace it with an anti-American, anti-U.S.- occupation government in Iraq. That is basically how the war in Vietnam ended, and it wasn't pretty.

Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. He covers national security for Rolling Stone and writes frequently for The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Nation. He is also a regular contributor to TomPaine.com, the Huffington Post, Tomdispatch, and other sites, and writes the blog, The Dreyfuss Report, at his website.

Copyright 2007 Robert Dreyfuss

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UK Exempts Soldiers from Abuse Guilt

Jan 4
Prensa Latina

London, Jan 4 (Prensa Latina) The British Military Law exonerated nine soldiers accused of beating Iraqi civilians, because it considered that crime, the scenes of which were broadcast by the local television, had become invalid.

According to that branch of the British armed forces, which is in charge of the investigation of the events on April, 2004 in the southern Basora province, it is impossible to try those involved six months after the incident.
The images broadcast in February, 2006 in television, after the publication of photographs of the abuse by The News of the World Sunday newspaper, show how the soldiers were beating the civilians near a food warehouse in Basora.

The film maker´s laughter and shouts can be heard in the video tape, in which the soldiers even kick a corpse, and subjected the detainees to different humiliations, as part of a supposed operation to catch thieves.

The British military agents were in charge of guarding a food warehouse, just a month after the US-British unilateral aggression against the Persian Gulf nation started.

Despite enough evidence to try at least the soldiers involved, the British Military Law considered that it was impossible to hold a trial against them for that crime after the period established for it.

The army leadership reserves the right to implement administrative sanctions against those who committed the abuse, which could entail expulsion from the armed forces

The scandal for the beating to the Iraqi civilians by the UK soldiers recalled the tortures by US forces to prisoners from the Arab State in the Abu Ghraib prison, in the outskirts of Baghdad.

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Killing the Innocent

I lost 11 members of my family in less than one year

Abbas Dawood
4 January 2007

I'm 29-years-old. I've been handicapped since 18 January, 2006, when I lost my leg in an explosion while I was working as a waiter in a Baghdad restaurant.

On the same day I lost my brother Muhammad, who was working with me at the restaurant. He was only 19-years-old and didn't survive his injuries.

In March of last year, I lost my mother, Suheiya, and my father Dawood. They were killed inside our home. A militia member asked them to leave the neighbourhood but they refused because they were too old. They were shown no mercy and were brutally shot dead.
In addition to all this, I lost my only uncle, Abu Omar, his wife, and their four children, while they were trying to flee the country to Syria. Insurgents stopped them, accused my uncle of being a traitor and shot dead the entire family.

But, life must go on and we find other ways to survive. I'm still a bachelor because my fiancee broke up with me last September after I became handicapped. Since the death of my parents I have been living with my sister Sahar and her husband, but the latest tragedy occurred two weeks ago.

Sahar and her husband were driving to work when their car exploded. Both died instantly. She had 90 percent burns and her husband's body was found in pieces.

I don't have anyone now. Neighbours are trying to help me find a place to live because the house was rented and I don't have money to pay for it, and all my relatives have been killed or are abroad.

Thousands of Iraqis are suffering like me. Lives are being lost due to sectarian violence. The government this week said that 12,000 people died last year but it is a lie because for sure the number is much higher. And if they don't take urgent action, this year could be the worst for Iraqis.

I'm now an adult orphan, with no one to turn to for help. The sectarian violence is everywhere and I cannot move alone anymore. I hope someone can help me to survive because I would rather die and join my dead family members than go begging for food in the streets.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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Iraq Vets Left in Physical and Mental Agony

Aaron Glantz
Electronic Iraq
4 January 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (IPS) - On New Year's Eve, the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq passed 3,000. By Tuesday, the death toll had reached 3,004 -- 31 more than died in the Sep. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

But the number of injured has far outstripped the dead, with the Veterans Administration reporting that more than 150,000 veterans of the Iraq war are receiving disability benefits.

Advances in military technology are keeping the death rate much lower than during the Vietnam War and World War Two, Dr. Col. Vito Imbascini, an urologist and state surgeon with the California Army National Guard, told IPS, but soldiers who survive attacks are often severely disabled for life.
"If you lost an arm or a leg in Vietnam, you were also tremendously injured in your chest and abdomen, which were not protected by the armour plates back then," he said. "Now, your heart and chest and lungs and heart are protected by armour, leaving only your extremities exposed."

Dr. Imbascini just returned from a four-month deployment to Germany, where he treated the worst of the U.S. war wounded. He said that an extremely high number of wounded soldiers are coming home with their arms or legs amputated. Imbascini said he amputated the genitals of one or two men every day.

"I walk into the operating room and the general surgeons are doing their work and there is the body of this Navy SEAL, which is a physical specimen to behold," he told IPS. "And his abdomen is open, they're exploring both intestines. He's missing both legs below the knee, one arm is blown off, he's got incisions on his thighs to relieve the pressure on the parts of the legs that are hopefully gonna survive and there's genital injuries, and you just want to cry."

According to documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, 25 percent of veterans of the "global war on terror" have filed disability compensation and pension benefit claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

One is a Jul. 20, 2006, document titled "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism," which shows that 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled.

Pentagon studies show that 12 percent of soldiers who have served in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The group Veterans for America, formerly the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, estimates 70,000 Iraq war veterans have gone to the VA for mental health care.

New guidelines released by the Pentagon released last month allow commanders to redeploy soldiers suffering from traumatic stress disorders.

According to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, servicemembers with "a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance" may be considered for duty downrange. It lists post-traumatic stress disorder as a "treatable" problem.

"As a layman and a former soldier I think that's ridiculous," Steve Robinson, the director of Veterans Affairs for Veterans for America, told IPS.

"If I've got a soldier who's on Ambien to go to sleep and Seroquel and Qanapin and all kinds of other psychotropic meds, I don't want them to have a weapon in their hand and to be part of my team because they're a risk to themselves and to others," he said. "But apparently, the military has its own view of how well a soldier can function under those conditions and is gambling that they can be successful."

Robinson said problems with the policy are already starting to arise.

On Christmas, for example, Army Reservist James Dean barricaded himself in his father's home with several weapons and threatened to kill himself. After a 14-hour standoff with authorities, Dean was killed by a police officer after he aimed a gun at another officer, authorities told the Washington Post.

Veterans for America's Robinson told IPS that Dean, who had already served 18 months in Afghanistan, had been diagnosed with PTSD. He had just been informed that his unit would be sent to Iraq on Jan. 14.

"We call that suicide by cop," Robinson said.

After his death, Dean's friends told the Washington Post that the reservist enjoyed hunting and fishing but had lost much of his enthusiasm for life when he found out that he was being deployed to Iraq.

"When Congress comes back in session we're looking forward to accountability hearings," Robinson said. "We want to see veterans helped in the first 100 hours of the new session. We want to see the word 'veteran' somewhere in that first hundred hours."

Robinson says his organisation has also documented the existence of at least 1,000 homeless veterans of the Iraq war.

"We need to get on top of the problem of homelessness," he said. "It's too soon to be seeing homelessness. I want to be seeing a commitment from the Democratic Congress to dealing with the war and the needs of the soldiers in the first hundred hours of them coming to power."

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Our Meaningless 'Sacrifice' in Iraq Must Stop

By Keith Olbermann
5 Jan 07

President Bush may not be very good at dealing with reality, but he is still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to his own political advantage.
If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?

Would you at least protest?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them -- and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more?

This is where we stand [with] President Bush's "new Iraq strategy," and his impending speech to the nation, which, according to a quoted senior American official, will be about troop increases and "sacrifice."

The president has delayed, dawdled and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group.

He has seemingly heard out everybody, and listened to none of them.

If the BBC is right -- and we can only pray it is not -- he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for "sacrifice."


More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.

More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.

More American families will have to bear the unbearable and rationalize the unforgivable -- "sacrifice" -- sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.

And more Americans -- more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more -- will have to conclude the president does not have any idea what he's doing -- and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.

It must now be branded as propaganda -- for even the president cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone "the decider."

But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called "surge and accelerate" -- as many as 20,000 additional troops -- for "political purposes" ...

This, in line with what we had previously heard, that this will be proclaimed a short-term measure, for the stated purpose of increasing security in and around Baghdad, and giving an Iraqi government a chance to establish some kind of order.

This is palpable nonsense, Mr. Bush.

If this is your intention -- if the centerpiece of your announcement next week will be "sacrifice" -- sacrifice your intention, not more American lives!

As Sen. Joseph Biden has pointed out, the new troops might improve the ratio our forces face relative to those living in Baghdad (friend and foe), from 200 to 1, to just 100 to 1.



A drop in the bucket.

The additional men and women you have sentenced to go there, sir, will serve only as targets.

They will not be there "short-term," Mr. Bush; for many it will mean a year or more in death's shadow.

This is not temporary, Mr. Bush.

For the Americans who will die because of you, it will be as permanent as it gets.

The various rationales for what Mr. Bush will reportedly re-christen "sacrifice" constitute a very thin gruel, indeed.

The former labor secretary, Robert Reich, says Sen. John McCain told him that the "surge" would help the "morale" of the troops already in Iraq.

If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam ... or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent ... or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.

Then there is the argument that to take any steps toward reducing troop numbers would show weakness to the enemy in Iraq, or to the terrorists around the world.

This simplistic logic ignores the inescapable fact that we have indeed already showed weakness to the enemy, and to the terrorists.

We have shown them that we will let our own people be killed for no good reason.

We have now shown them that we will continue to do so.

We have shown them our stupidity.

Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq -- and now about "sacrifice" -- is at variance with your people's, to the point of delusion.

Your most respected generals see no value in a "surge" -- they could not possibly see it in this madness of "sacrifice."

The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.

Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.

And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying "best two out of three ... best three out of five ... hundredth one counts."

Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and moreover, they do not want you to do this.

Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us.

Mr. Bush, you do not own this country!

To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship -- those bonded still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this "sacrifice" -- proceed at your own peril.

John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds -- he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.

That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.

Or, maybe it is obvious to him and he simply no longer cares.

But to the rest of you in the Republican Party:

We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country's most precious assets -- the lives of its citizens who are in harm's way.

If you do not, you are not serving this nation's interests -- nor your own.

November should have told you this.

The opening of the new Congress on Wednesday and Thursday should tell you this.

Next time, those missing Republicans will be you.

And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.

President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.

The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.

It wants fewer.

Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.

Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war, Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.

Because that's what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?

That is what this "sacrifice" has been for.

To continue this senseless, endless war.

You have dressed it up in the clothing, first of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction, then of liberation ... then of regional imperative ... then of oil prices ... and now in these new terms of "sacrifice" -- it's like a damned game of Colorforms, isn't it, sir?

This senseless, endless war.

But -- it has not been senseless in two ways.

It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It has gotten many of us used to the idea -- the virtual "white noise" -- of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague "sacrifice" for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase "the war on terror."

And the war's second accomplishment -- your second accomplishment, sir -- is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.

Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can't sell them any more until the first thousand have been destroyed.

The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.

This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn't, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a $125 million courtroom complex at Gitmo, complete with restaurants.

At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.

And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

You have insisted, Mr. Bush, that we must not lose in Iraq, that if we don't fight them there we will fight them here -- as if the corollary were somehow true, that if by fighting them there we will not have to fight them here.

And yet you have re-made our country, and not re-made it for the better, on the premise that we need to be ready to "fight them here," anyway, and always.

In point of fact even if the civil war in Iraq somehow ended tomorrow, and the risk to Americans there ended with it, we would have already suffered a defeat -- not fatal, not world-changing, not, but for the lives lost, of enduring consequence.

But this country has already lost in Iraq, sir.

Your policy in Iraq has already had its crushing impact on our safety here.

You have already fomented new terrorism and new terrorists.

You have already stoked paranoia.

You have already pitted Americans, one against the other.

We ... will have to live with it.

We ... will have to live with what -- of the fabric of our nation -- you have already "sacrificed."

The only object still admissible in this debate is the quickest and safest exit for our people there.

But you -- and soon, Mr. Bush, it will be you and you alone -- still insist otherwise.

And our sons and daughters and fathers and mothers will be sacrificed there tonight, sir, so that you can say you did not "lose in Iraq."

Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.

But it is all too easily understood now.

First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.

Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.

If what is reported is true -- if your decision is made and the "sacrifice" is ordered -- take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning -- Gerald Ford:

Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation ahead of some kind of misguided vision.


Sacrifice, Mr. Bush?

No, sir, this is not "sacrifice." This has now become "human sacrifice."

And it must stop.

And you can stop it.

Next week, make us all look wrong.

Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.

And you must stop it.

Watch this video HERE

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US Soldier Deaths Spiral in Iraq

Jan 5
Prensa Latina

Baghdad, Jan 5 (Prensa Latina) While US President George W. Bush said it will announce a new Iraqi strategy, the US death toll continues increasing, with two soldiers reported dead in the first five days of the new year, according to the central command.
The sources said Friday in a release that the last victim died on Thursday when patrolling the capital.

The new year has begun claiming its first US casualties in the Arab country, after December 2006 was reported as the third deadliest month for the US occupation, with 115 soldiers dead.

Over nearly four years of war, 3,006 US soldiers have died and over 22,000 been wounded, mostly in clashes with the insurgency.

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The Real Cost of the Iraq War: 50,000 U.S. Casualties

By Michael Munk
4 Jan 07

Death is not the only measure of loss in Iraq. What about all of the lost limbs, bloodshed and other casualties that aren't being reported?
To bring the human cost to Americans of the invasion and occupation of Iraq home, antiwar groups across the country are marking mark the 3,000th death of a member of its military components (at this writing the total is 3,004).

But by focusing only on the number of dead Americans we are being manipulated along with the media and public by the administration's determination to minimize the cost in blood of establishing permanent military bases in the heart of the Middle East oil patch.

That public relations strategy consists of prohibiting images of the dead and wounded returning home and those of U.S. casualties in Iraq in the U.S. media as well as aggressive efforts to prevent such coverage by foreign media --including deadly attacks on Al-Jazeera reporters and offices. It also plants stories and interviews, leaks to FOX and other Pentagon-friendly reporters and provides generous payola to foreign (especially Iraqi) news sources.

Still, the most consistent propaganda effort since the invasion aims to keep public attention away from the actual amount of blood being shed by American military victims of the war and their families. That cost now exceeds 50,000 casualties -- a far cry from the 3,000 to which most of the public is restricted to know.

"Casualties" in the military sense is the total number made unavailable for duty from all causes, including deaths and wounds suffered in combat as well as injuries, accidents and illness in a war "theater" such as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (the official Pentagon name for the invasion and occupation). So whether caused by "hostile" (24,965 as of Dec.27) or "non-hostile" (25,406 as of Dec. 2) causes, the Pentagon's own web sites record a toll of more than 50,000 so far in "OIF."

However, for most Americans who depend on mass media for information, the approaching number of only 3,000 is the only measure of the loss of life and limb the media allow them to know. For the rest of us, here are the facts: The Pentagon reports deaths on a daily basis at although its own total always lags behind the wire services number because it insists survivors must be informed before a dead solider, marine, sailor or airman can be added to the casualty lists. But the Pentagon only reports the wounded on the weekly basis (usually on Tuesdays) at the same site and it reports the non fatal casualties from non hostile causes only monthly and on another website.

From those sources, we can count U.S. military occupation forces casualties as more than 50,371 as of Dec. 27. The total (as above) includes 2,400 killed and 22,565 wounded (which includes both severely and less severely wounded) by what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes. By that date, another 583 military personnel had died from "non hostile" causes such as accidents, suicides (there were 99 "self inflicted fatalities") and illness and, as of Dec. 2, another 24,823 had been injured or become ill seriously enough to require medical evacuation. According the excellent siteIraq Coalition Casualty Count, another 147 U.S. "contractors" have also been killed since they invaded Iraq.

I urge opponents of the war to make the public aware that the actual human cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq exceeds 50,000 troops and their families who have suffered death and often life-long disability -- of whom the 3,000 are just one tragic part.

Michael Munk is a retired political scientist in Portland, Ore., where his "Portland Red Guide" is to be published by Ooligan Press on May Day.

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10% of Active Journalists in Iraq Were Killed in 2006

By Mohammed A. Salih
IPS News
3 Jan 07

After 64 journalists were killed in Iraq in 2006, Reporters Without Borders has described the country as "the world's most dangerous" for the media.
After an estimated 10 percent of active journalists in Iraq died in 2006, the rest are asking themselves what lies ahead for them in the New Year.

A report released by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB, also known as Reporters sans Frontieres), on the last day of 2006 described Iraq as "the world's most dangerous country for the media." The group said it had called upon Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to put a stop to "hostile accidents" against journalists.

The RWB says 64 journalists and media assistants were killed in Iraq during 2006, "more than twice the number in the 20-year Vietnam war." Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, 139 journalists have been killed in Iraq, 90 percent of them Iraqis, RWB says.

The survey says what journalists in Iraq know too well.

"The security situation in Baghdad and other insecure parts of the country made journalists suffer heavily, and be victimised in the worst possible form in the conflict in 2006," Hamid Mohammed Ali, member of the administrative council of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS) told IPS. The KJF is one of the two press unions in Iraq, with the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, that are recognised by the International Federation of Journalists.

"Since journalists are doing field work in covering events, they face serious problems and are regularly targeted," he added.

"The point is that every group wants to shut the voice of journalists to prevent the deteriorated situation of Iraq from being shown worldwide," Afif Sarhan, a Lebanese-Brazilian journalist working in Baghdad wrote in an email interview.

"Today, the word journalist means coming death. Hundreds of journalists have been targeted, kidnapped or killed for their stories."

All conflicting parties in Iraq today, from militias to insurgents to the government and U.S. forces are blamed for targeting journalists, imprisoning them or detaining them for interrogation.

But security is not the only problem. The media also suffers from a legal vacuum caused by the lack of a law that could regulate journalistic activities.

The harsh press laws of Saddam Hussein's regime were abolished after his government collapsed, but no law has been created to fill the gap. As a result, many complain of confusion over rights, duties and work limits as journalists.

In the country's northern Kurdistan region, the KJS has drafted a new press law. Although the proposed law has been criticised by many journalists as curbing press freedom, the KJS officials take pride in calling it "the most progressive press law in the entire Middle East region."

"The new press law in Kurdistan prohibits the government from imprisoning journalists, and the highest punishment for a journalist would be fining him," said Hamid Mohammed Ali from KJS.

According to the draft law, journalists will not need government authorisation to publish newspapers, and only need to be registered with the KJS.

Kurdistan has been spared much of the bloodshed engulfing other parts of the country, but many journalists still complain that the KJS has failed to protect their rights in the face of harsh treatment by the government.

"I believe if the KJS is there to protect my rights as a journalist and defend me, then they are almost non-existent, because they mainly represent political parties in the region," Rahman Gharib, correspondent for the prominent Hawlati Weekly published in Kurdistan told IPS.

He described 2006 as "a bad history in the relationships between journalists and government in Kurdistan."

Gharib was once detained for three hours and then beaten on two occasions by local security forces in the course of covering mass demonstrations and strikes that engulfed large parts of Kurdistan in 2006. The demonstrations were held against the regional government's failure to providing basic services.

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AP employee found shot to death in Iraq

5 Jan 07

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The body of an Associated Press employee was found shot in the back of the head Friday, six days after he was last seen by his family leaving for work. Ahmed Hadi Naji, 28, was the fourth AP staffer to die violently in the Iraq war and the second AP employee killed in less than a month. He had been a messenger and occasional cameraman for the AP for 2 1/2 years.

"All of us at AP share the pain and grief being felt by Ahmed's family and friends," said AP President and CEO Tom Curley. "The situation for our journalists in Iraq is unprecedented in AP's 161-year history of covering wars and conflicts. The courage of our Iraqi colleagues and their dedication to the story stand as an example to the world of journalism's enduring value."
The circumstances of Naji's death were unclear. Dozens of Iraqis are found slain almost every day in Baghdad, many believed victims of sectarian death squads.

Naji's wife, Sahba'a Mudhar Khalil, reported him missing Dec. 30 when he did not return that evening. He had left home by motorcycle in the Ashurta Al Khamsa District in southwest Baghdad at 10:30 a.m., telling her he was going to the AP office. Naji's body was found in a morgue.

In addition to his wife, Naji is survived by 4-month-old twins, a boy, Zaid, and a girl, Rand.

The death came as colleagues were still mourning Aswan Ahmed Lutfallah, 35, an AP cameraman who was shot to death by insurgents while covering clashes Dec. 12 in Mosul. He was the second AP journalist killed in that northern Iraqi city in less than two years.

On April 23, 2005, cameraman Saleh Ibrahim was killed after an explosion in Mosul. He was a father of five in his early 30s. AP photographer Mohammed Ibrahim was wounded. The circumstances surrounding the death and injury are still unclear.

In 2004, Ismail Taher Mohsin, an AP driver, was ambushed by gunmen and killed near his home in Baghdad.

Naji's death brings to 30 the number those who have lost their lives on assignments for the AP since the news cooperative was founded in 1846.

Before Naji's killing, Reporters Without Borders had recorded at least 94 journalists killed in Iraq since the war started nearly four years ago. Forty-five media assistants also have been killed, according to the Paris-based advocacy group.

The Committee to Protect Journalists had put the figure at 92 journalists and 37 media support workers killed in Iraq.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Cop's Wife Admits To Drowning Newborn In Tub

Jan 5, 2007 11:02 am US/Eastern
CBS Broadcasting Inc.

(CBS/AP) BRIDGETON, N.J. A police officer's wife has admitted she allowed her newborn daughter to drown in the bathtub where she had just given birth.

In pleading guilty Thursday to reckless manslaughter, Tina Marie Reynolds said she saw the baby, named Kaylee, move her limbs but did not explain why she let her daughter die in the tub April 14.
"That's the $24 million question," her lawyer, Arnold Robinson, told The Press of Atlantic City for Friday's newspapers.

Reynolds was undergoing psychological treatment, Robinson said in court. He later declined to comment on how long she had been in treatment.

Reynolds, the mother of a young son and daughter, said she knew she was pregnant but did not get prenatal care. Prosecutors said the baby was not born prematurely.

As part of a plea bargain, Reynolds, 30, of Millville, faces at least three years, four months and 26 days in state prison when sentenced March 2 by state Superior Court Judge John M. Waters Jr.

"Under all the circumstances, that was the appropriate sentence in exchange for her plea of guilty," said First Assistant Cumberland County Prosecutor Kenneth A. Pagliughi.

Reynolds is married to Millville Officer Richard Reynolds, who was not in court for his wife's guilty plea.

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The Democratic Illusion

Democrats Take Control of Congress

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

WASHINGTON - In a day of ceremony and historic change, Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the nation's first female House speaker on Thursday as Democrats eagerly took control of Congress for the final two years of President Bush's term.

"The Democrats are back," rejoiced Pelosi, and she immediately set the rank-and-file to work passing tougher ethics rules.

As is customary, the opening moments of the 110th Congress produced pledges of bipartisanship at both ends of the Capitol. Yet Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled a new political order when they swiftly challenged Bush over the war in Iraq.
"No issue in our country is more important than finding an end to this intractable war," said Reid, D-Nev. "Completing the mission in Iraq is the president's job, and we will do everything in our power to ensure he fulfills it." Bush is expected to announce a revised strategy next week for the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. armed forces.

The two houses convened at the stroke of noon, under Democratic control together for the first time since 1994.

That meant a return to power for men long used to wielding it. Liberals such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan are committee chairmen again, for example.

And it brought reduced circumstances to others - no one more so than Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., just a member of the ranks after eight tumultuous years as speaker.

By custom, lawmakers brought their children to opening ceremonies in the House, and Pelosi swept into the chamber accompanied by her grandchildren.

Formality reigned, as always, in the Senate, where Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath of office to 33 new and newly re-elected senators.

Former President Clinton watched from the gallery as his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was sworn in for a second term from New York.

In a chance encounter, he dodged questions about her presidential ambitions. "I would like not to talk about it today," he said.

It fell to Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the new House Republican leader, to hand the gavel - symbol of the speaker's authority - to Pelosi. "Whether you're a Republican, Democrat or an independent, this is a cause for celebration," he said, noting her place in history.

But he also gave notice to the party she leads, adding, "Republicans will hold the incoming majority accountable for its promises, and its actions."

Across the Capitol, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took over as leader of minority Republicans, and said it was time to put an end to "a culture of partisanship over principle." He said cooperation was clearly possible on minimum wage and lobbying bills, and he added that he hoped the issues of Social Security and immigration would also yield to compromise.

Reid said he was eager for cooperation, and he arranged for a rare closed-door meeting of all senators before the Senate convened to help set a more cordial tone.

Leader of a slender majority, the Nevadan said, "Some may look at this composition as a recipe for gridlock, but I see it as a unique opportunity. ... We must turn the page on partisanship and usher in a new era of bipartisan progress."

He tempered his optimism when referring to Bush - a man he has previously called a loser. "The president has 22 months left in office. If he wants to accomplish anything, he will have to work with us in Congress to pass bipartisan legislation," he said.

In the two months since the election, both Reid and Pelosi have promised longer hours in Congress, an institution where the five-day work week is a rarity.

While Thursday was set aside for ceremony and celebration in the Senate, the House plunged immediately into work on the agenda that Democrats campaigned on last fall.

Despite Republican procedural protests, Democrats said they had the votes to assure passage of rules changes designed to end what they long called a "culture of corruption."

The changes expand restrictions on privately financed trips enjoyed by lawmakers, prohibit travel on corporate jets and require greater disclosure of earmarks, the pet projects inserted into legislation at the behest of individual lawmakers.

House members would still be allowed to take trips financed by foundations that seek to influence public opinion, but only if the ethics committee approves the travel in advance.

Current rules ban congressional travel paid for by lobbyists or foreign governments, and violations of the existing restrictions played heavily in the scandal involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

House Democrats have an ambitious agenda for the next few weeks. They have pledged to pass bills to raise the minimum wage, expand the opportunity for federally funded stem cell research, make Medicare prescription drugs cheaper, reduce the cost of student loans, implement anti-terror measures and reduce tax breaks enjoyed by the oil industry - all before Bush goes to the Capitol on Jan. 23 for his State of the Union address.

The Senate operates on a far slower pace, but Reid has said he will attempt to complete work on the early measures. Legislation to crack down on lobbyists will be the first bill brought to the floor next week.

At least one measure - the stem cell legislation - faces a veto threat. Republicans have also hinted Bush would reject a measure that orders the administration to muscle drug companies into lowering their prices for prescriptions filled under Medicare.

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The Democrats are back: Pelosi opens a new era in Washington

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

At the stroke of noon yesterday, a new political era opened in Washington as jubilant Democrats assumed control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 1995 - a takeover the party hopes will be springboard for the recapture of the White House in two years' time.

"The Democrats are back," proclaimed Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 100th Congress, the first woman to hold the third-ranking post under the constitution, a proverbial two heartbeats away from the presidency. "Today we make history. Today we change the direction of our country," she beamed, as she was formally installed to lead the House, where Democrats hold a solid 233 to 202 seat majority.
The guard changed, too, on the other side of Capitol Hill, where the taciturn but tough-dealing Harry Reid took over as majority leader in the Senate, in which the Democrats hold a 51 to 49 edge (at least as long as the critically ill Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who underwent major brain surgery last month, remains in office).

In the House, there were thunderous cheers from Democrats after Ms Pelosi - resplendent in burgundy suit and trademark pearl necklace, surrounded by her children and holding her youngest grandchild, Paul in her arms - was elected in a traditional hour-long roll-call vote. But proceedings in the Senate were far more demure - low key and typically clubby.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in his constitutional role as President of the Senate, swore in the 33 members elected in the 7 November midterm elections. They are a notable group - among them Hillary Clinton who, if her presumed plans bear fruit, would be moving to the White House in a couple of years, and the indefatigable Robert Byrd of North Virginia. As the oldest member of the chamber, the 89-year-old Mr Byrd will not only become President Pro Tempore of the Senate, third in line to the presidency after Mr Cheney and the newly enthroned Ms Pelosi. He is also now the longest-serving senator in US history. He was first elected in 1958 and is now embarking on his ninth six-year term.

In her words after taking the Speaker's gavel, Ms Pelosi promised to foster "partnership not partisanship" in a bid to build a co-operative relationship with the Republican White House in the last two years of President George Bush's term. But she is kicking off the new Democratic era on Capitol Hill with a "100 hour" legislative blitz of heavily Democratic measures, including an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of embryonic stem-cell research, and a tightening of ethics rules over congressmen's dealings with lobbyists.

Bills will be introduced on a daily basis over the next fortnight and - given the majority's total control of House proceedings - immediately voted through. But there is no guarantee they will become law, given the cumbersome ways of the Senate, and the ever-present threat of a Bush veto.

Bipartisanship, moreover, could be stretched to the limit as soon as next week, when Mr Bush is likely to announce his new Iraq policy, including the dispatch of 20,000 or more troops to the country, a strategy strongly opposed by most Democrats in both the House and Senate.

Thereafter, the congressional session will be increasingly overshadowed by the 2008 presidential race, which starts in earnest over the next couple of months. At least seven senators in addition to Ms Clinton, as well as two members of the House, have either announced or are mulling runs. If the Congress of Ms Pelosi and Mr Reid performs well, it can only enhance the prospects of a Democrat returning to the White House after an eight- year interval.

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The Big Question: Will the new Democratic Congress transform politics in Washington?

By Rupert Cornwell, Washington Correspondent
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

Why we are asking the question now?

The new Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, chosen at last November's midterm elections, convened yesterday. The party has a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time since January 1995 (with the exception of an 18-month period until January 2003 when a sitting Republican crossed the aisle). Otherwise they have not had a sniff of real power in Washington since George W Bush entered the White House. All that now changes. Mr Bush is still President, but he faces the novel experience of a hostile legislature, which will send him laws he opposes and conduct the sort of tough investigatory hearings - on domestic issues as well as Iraq - that he was spared during his first six years when the President's own party ran Congress.
How big a blow is it for the White House?

A huge one, that Mr Bush and his top strategist Karl Rove certainly weren't expecting. After a series of high-profile scandals, and a general feeling they had been around too long, Republicans were braced for losing the House. But loss of a 10-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate was a shock. The only consolation is they might conceivably regain that majority back in the months ahead, depending on the health of South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, who suffered a severe brain illness in December. His condition is still listed as critical. If he dies or is forced to resign, a replacement would be named by the state's Republican governor, who would presumably appoint a Republican. That would create a 50-50 split with Vice President Dick Cheney holding the tie breaking vote. But the Democrats will do anything to avoid this. Expect an "El Cid strategy" where even lifeless, the political warrior is strapped into the saddle and sent into battle.

What exactly are the Democrats planning?

Nancy Pelosi, the incoming Speaker (and the first woman to hold the third-ranking post under the US constitution) has mapped out an agenda of largely populist measures the House will pass during an initial "100 Hours" legislative blitz. This will start with new ethics rules governing lawmakers' ties with lobbyists, followed by the first increase in the minimum wage since 1997, bills expanding embryonic stem cell research, moves to lower drug prices and cut tax breaks for energy companies, and allow the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. The Democrats also want to restore 'pay-as-you-go' rules for federal spending, whereby any tax cut or spending increase would be offset by other tax increases or spending cuts. They also say they will pass a bill implementing unfulfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, thus bolstering the party's national security credentials. All this is supposed to happen over the first 100 hours of floor session, in practice over the next fortnight, and before Mr Bush delivers his State of the Union address on 23 January.

Exactly what will they be able to do?

Certainly not everything they want. The minimum wage proposal already has Mr Bush's grudging support, while the new ethics rules, banning gifts and meals aid by lobbyists, will certainly go through. The rest is more problematic. Mr Bush used his only veto thus far to block an earlier bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress on stem cell research. Even though the President has never been as weak, there is no reason to suppose he won't veto a repeat measure. The 9/11 Commission pledge looks good on paper; in practice turf battles on Capitol Hill will prevent the streamlining of Congressional oversight of intelligence that was a key recommendation of the 2004 report.

There are two other obstacles in Ms Pelosi's way. One is the Presidential veto. In both House and Senate, the Democrats are far short of the two-thirds majority required to override. The other is the hybrid nature of Congress. Strict procedural rules in the House mean the majority party can ram through almost anything it likes. Senate rules, however, offer endless opportunities for delay by the minority, above all the filibuster which only a 60-vote "super-majority" can break.

Even with a fit Mr Johnson, the Democrats only have 51 votes. On top of that, there is a conservative-liberal split in Democratic ranks on key social issues like gay rights and abortion. Thus, important legislation is likely to pass only on a bipartisan basis. For all the fine promises to co-operate, expect normal partisan politics to resume shortly - especially with a Presidential election on the horizon.

So is there any chance of improving the tarnished image of Congress?

Frankly, not much. Americans were disgusted with the outgoing 'do-nothing' Republican-run 109th Congress, which in its final year sat for just 102 days. By the end, its approval rating of only 25 per cent made even George W Bush look like a rock star. The ethics rule changes are the bare minimum required, after the Jack Abramoff and Randy 'Duke' Cunningham scandals, which saw two Republican Congressmen convicted of bribe-taking and influence-peddling. But "draining the swamp," as Ms Pelosi promises, requires draining a Democratic swamp as well.

Republican lobbyists have lost the clout they gained under the former (now disgraced) House majority leader Tom "the Hammer" DeLay. But their Democratic counterparts are emerging into the sunshine, fully expecting their piece of the action. The fact is that money is so vital for US politics that the role of the lobbyists, in terms of fundraising, is irreplaceable.

And for their pious talk, this is payback time for Democrats - in the House especially - after 12 years of being steamrollered by Republicans. Expect collision and stalemate, and renewed public grumbling about "those politicians in Washington".

But what about Iraq?

This could produce the most momentous clash of all. Mr Bush and the executive branch he heads still decide Iraq policy. But his expected proposal next week for a 20,000-plus troop "surge" in Iraq is regarded with deep scepticism not only by Democrats but also by many Republicans on Capitol Hill. Iraq could trigger the real nightmare for a highly unpopular "lame duck" President - that moderate Republicans, looking to their own survival in 2008, could make common cause with Democrats.

Even so, however many klieg-light hearings the Democrats convene to scrutinise Iraq policy, they will not use either of the truly drastic options theoretically open to them - an initiation of impeachment proceedings against Mr Bush for his mendacious handling of pre-war intelligence or a cut-off of funding for the war that would instantly bring the troops home. The first is "off the table" Ms Pelosi has said. The second, given the sacrosanct status of the military, is unthinkable.

Can the Democrats make a real difference?


* America is yearning for change, and the opportunity is there for the Democrats if they wish to grasp it

* Mr Bush is so weak politically that he will not be able to block everything the Democrats seek to accomplish

* The Democrats need results to bolster their chances of recapturing the White House and retaining Congress in 2008


* Blunders already made by the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, show she will be unable to control her troops

* The party's wafer-thin majority in the Senate gives Republicans a blocking minority on anything of importance

* Although the Democrats abhor Mr Bush's Iraq policy, they have no agreed alternative to replace it with

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Veto threat as Democrats plan whirlwind of reforms

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
UK Independent
04 Jan 07

The new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress convenes today, with plans for a "100-hour" whirlwind of legislation to seize the political initiative before President George Bush delivers his State of the Union address later this month.

Today's ceremonies on Capitol Hill will see several novelties, including the formal election of Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House in US history, and the swearing-in of Keith Ellison, who will represent a Minnesota district as America's first Muslim member of Congress. He will take the oath on the Koran - or, more precisely, an English translation of the Koran that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, the third US president.
The biggest novelty of all however, is that George Bush will for the first time be facing a House and Senate both run by the Democrats, setting the stage for almost inevitable confrontation between the White House and the legislature for the last two years of Mr Bush's final term.

As the two sides made their final preparations for the new session, both made symbolic appeals for bipartisanship and co-operation in the public good.

"The next two years can be fruitful ones," Mr Bush wrote in The Wall Street Journal. "We can show people that Republicans and Democrats can come together." Speaking after meeting with his cabinet yesterday on the eve of the new Congress, he urged Democrats to help rein in government spending through the practice of "earmarks", whereby spending projects are secretly slipped into legislation without scrutiny. He also followed several of his predecessors in asking for a "line item veto", allowing him to veto such individual clauses of a measure without killing the entire bill.

But he warned: "If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate" - a clear threat that he would use his veto to block bills he does not like. With only small majorities in both chambers, the Democrats have no chance of assembling the two-thirds majority required to overrule him. Indeed, the veto shadow hangs over the raft of measures that Ms Pelosi intends to push through the House in its first 100 hours of business in the next two weeks.

They include relatively uncontroversial items such as tighter ethics rules for Congressmen in the wake of recent lobbying scandals, and an increase in the minimum wage from $5.75 (£3) to $7.25 per hour - the first such boost since 1997, and a plan Mr Bush has signalled he will not oppose.

Other proposals are almost certain to run into White House objections, among them a vote on expanding embryonic stem cell research, an idea that has wide public support but which Mr Bush blocked in 2005 on the only occasion he has wielded the veto in his six years in office.

Equally uncertain is the fate of the Democrats' plan to vote down a ban on the government negotiating with the politically powerful pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices under the Medicare public health programme.

The "100 hour" initiative will also be an early test of how the Democrats intend to run Congress after 12 years in the minority when they were increasingly cut out of the legislative process. During the mid-term campaign, Ms Pelosi and her colleagues promised to give a Republican minority a greater say in shaping legislation. However, many Democrats want the party to give as good as it got.

One thing that will not change is the rules for television coverage of the House, which is currently limited to close-up images of floor speeches. The rules do not allow panning shots that would show that, in 99 cases out of 100, the speeches were made to an empty chamber. C-Span, the network which covers Congress, pleaded for more flexible rules last month.

But Ms Pelosi refused the request, claiming that the present system "best preserved the dignity and decorum" of the House".

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Bush prepares for Congress battle over Iraq

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
UK Independent
03 Jan 07

George Bush will embark this week on the toughest phase yet of his presidency, with a Democratic-controlled Congress arrayed against him for the first time, ahead of his expected - and certain to be controversial - decision to send more US troops to Iraq.

After spending much of his Christmas and New Year break at his Texas ranch consulting senior advisers over the various options on Iraq, Mr Bush is likely to make his announcement next week.
But whatever he decides will face intense scrutiny in the new 100th Congress, where many Republicans, as well as Democrats, argue that the administration should start withdrawing troops, rather than sending servicemen into a civil war which any American presence, however large, is powerless to control for long. Those tensions have been exacerbated by the sectarian taunts exchanged at Saddam Hussein's execution on Saturday.

Mr Bush has been careful not to tip his hand. But every sign is that he is leaning towards a temporary "surge" in US strength - 20,000 to 30,000 is the figure most commonly mentioned - above all to regain a grip on Baghdad.

In doing so, he would be sending another signal that he is not inclined to give ground to his critics, or embark on the radical shift in strategy his opponents are demanding.

A taste came last month with the tepid White House reaction to the report of the Iraq Study Group chaired by the former Republican Secretary of State, James Baker, which urged an early start to troop reductions, and the opening of diplomatic contacts with Iran and Syria. The latter step has been ruled out while, in an apparent rejection of a hasty pull-out, the new Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has warned that an American defeat in Iraq would be "a calamity".

But opposition in Congress, even among Republicans, is strong. Richard Lugar, outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed reservations about a force increase in Iraq, while Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska senator, said such a move would be "folly".

Scepticism will abound too at the Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq, due to start on 9 January and run for three weeks. Joe Biden, the panel's Democratic chairman, says he is "totally" opposed to a troop increase, adding that one would be "contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both by people inside the administration and outside the administration".

Although a 30,000 increase to the existing deployment of 145,000 troops is feasible, by delaying rotation of units and lengthening tours of duty, many senior generals say it could only be temporary, given the existing overstretch of the military. At some point the troops would have to leave, irrespective of the level of violence at the time.

New figures show that 1,930 Iraqi civilians died in December, which was also the deadliest month in two years for US servicemen, taking the lives of 111 soldiers. Since the 2003 invasion, more than 3,000 have been killed and about 25,000 injured. More American troops would merely invite more casualties, critics contend.

The President's new approach also would signal the abandonment, at least temporarily, of the strategy of turning security over to Iraqi forces. This was the policy favoured by General George Casey, the highest-ranked US general in Iraq.

But for all the Pentagon claims that more and more Iraqi units were now trained for the job, the violence has only increased.

General Casey is now likely to be removed, probably within the next two months, while Lt-Gen John Abizaid, the head of Central Command and in overall charge of the Iraq war, is also due to step down.

After the post-midterm election replacement of Donald Rumsfeld by Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Mr Bush will in effect have installed an entire new leadership of the war.

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House Democrats push proposal to link spending changes, tax shifts

5 Jan 07

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House moved in its second day under Democratic reign toward changing budget rules that allowed deficits to swell with lawmakers' pet projects and President Bush's tax cuts.

But the changes sought Friday could bedevil efforts to appease middle-class voters later.

Another rule change would curb past abuses in which GOP leaders held votes open for hours and excluded minority party lawmakers from House-Senate negotiations on the language of final bills sent to the White House for enactment.
Former GOP Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California said he supports the reforms but complained that the new rules could easily be sidestepped - and that more extensive reforms once demanded by Democrats had been left out.

Many Republicans also were expected to vote for a Democratic proposal to require lawmakers to disclose publicly their want for pet projects - referred to as earmarks in legislative terms - for their districts or states, such as a bridge to a small community in Alaska. Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Republicans would tend to vote for the earmark reforms despite its linkage to a "pay as you go" rule that would threaten efforts to extend GOP-passed tax cuts that expire at the end of 2010.

The PAYGO rule would require tax cuts to have corresponding cuts in government spending or tax increases elsewhere to pay for them. Likewise, any increase in entitlement programs like Medicare would have to have corresponding tax increases, or equal cuts in other government programs.

"I give them kudos," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a fierce but sometimes quixotic foe of Congress' earmarking ways. But, he added, "The PAYGO stuff wreaks havoc on tax cuts."

If strictly enforced, the PAYGO rule would make it difficult for Democrats to pass increases in federal benefit programs such as Medicare. In the near term, it would mean Democrats' bill to cut student loan rates will be less generous than they'd like. The rule would also threaten efforts to extend Bush's tax cuts, most of which expire at the end of 2010.

"This is putting the American taxpayer on a collision course with higher taxes," said Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, top Republican on the Budget Committee.

"Today, we are cutting our national credit card," countered Heath Shuler, D-N.C., during floor debate Friday. To underscore the point, Shuler cut a credit card in half at a news conference populated by moderate-to-conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who are most responsible for implementing the rule.

The PAYGO and earmark proposals come a day after Democrats seized control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, with a jubilant Nancy Pelosi becoming the first woman ever to rise to speaker of the House.

"This is an historic moment - for the Congress, and for the women of this country," Pelosi said Thursday when she took the House gavel. "It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years."

NEW SPEAKER: Pelosi promises big results

Pelosi, D-Calif., will exert vast influence over the congressional agenda and stands second in the line of succession to the presidency. In her first step as speaker, she orchestrated bipartisan 430-1 passage of a measure banning lawmakers from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists and discounted trips on private planes. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., cast the sole "nay" vote.

The vote, said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., amounted to "sweeping ethics reforms that begin to address some of the most egregious transgressions of the recent past."

Republicans applauded Democrats' efforts to require greater disclosure of lawmakers' earmarks. The Democratic effort largely mirrored a GOP plan passed last year in the wake of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal, in which the former California GOP congressman pleaded guilty to corruption charges for channeling earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for $2.4 million in bribes. Lesser scandals have hit other lawmakers.

Democratic budget hawks, especially the moderate-to-conservative "Blue Dogs," say that restoring the rule is crucial to curbing the budget deficit. Various forms of PAYGO were in place from 1990-2002, however, and Congress often found ways around it.

The version up for a vote Friday can easily be waived. Still, the incoming chairman of the Budget Committee, John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., touted it as better than the status quo.

"You've got to offset those tax cuts," Spratt said. "And if you want to enhance an entitlement, you've got to pay for it."

Democrats left in place - for now - a GOP rule limiting committee chairmen to three two-year terms.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Giuliani's presidential bid is undermined by leak

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
UK Independent
04 Jan 07

Even before he has formally entered the presidential race, the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been embarrassed by the leak of a voluminous campaign document, listing possibly "insurmountable" obstacles, including his marital history and liberal social views, that could torpedo his candidacy.
Mr Giuliani, who is currently making up his mind whether to run, is at or near the top of every poll of possible candidates for the Republican nomination in 2008, mainly on the basis of his much admired handling of the 11 September attacks and their aftermath. But the 140-page strategy document, obtained by the New York Daily News lists his liabilities as well, including his stormy divorce from Donna Hanover, one of his former wives, his ties to his former aide Bernard Kerik, embroiled in scandal and controversy, and his support for abortion rights, gay civil union and gun control.

While these views give Mr Giuliani cross-party appeal, they may be too much to stomach for conservative Republican primary voters. The document also says that he needs to raise $100m (£50m) to fund a campaign. The document was apparently lost in the luggage of a staff member, before falling into the hands of someone "sympathetic to one of Giuliani's rivals for the White House" who then gave it to the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the youthful first-term Illinois senator weighing a bid for the Democratic nomination, is coming under fresh scrutiny for admitting that he used cocaine and other drugs when he was student.

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Sleight of Hand

Bush plans changes in key advisers for Iraq fresh start

By Carol Giacomo and Steve Holland
4 Jan 07

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush is planning to name a new ambassador and military commanders for Iraq as he prepares to make a fresh start on a worsening problem that has mired his administration and threatens his legacy.

The changes are part of a major realignment of administration personnel as Bush seeks to adjust his approach to Iraq, where nearly four years of a large U.S. military presence has failed to bring stability and an end to violence.

The current U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, is expected to replace Zalmay Khalilzad in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad is expected to be nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, three senior U.S. officials said on Thursday.
ABC News said Bush was expected to nominate Adm. William Fallon to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the head of U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus was expected to become the top ground commander in Iraq, replacing Gen. George Casey, ABC said, citing unnamed officials.

But there is little expectation that changing faces will mean a radical shift in policy called for by some opposition Democrats, who took control of the U.S. Congress on Thursday after an election dominated by the Iraq debate.

Bush is still giving top consideration to a short-term increase in U.S. troops to Baghdad and is expected to outline his plans in a speech next week. Asked what the theme would be, spokesman Tony Snow said: "Victory."

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who on Thursday became first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said November elections that brought her party to power in the U.S. Congress meant Americans wanted a change of direction.

"Shortly, President Bush will address the nation on the subject of Iraq," she said in her inaugural speech. "It is the responsibility of the president to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own streets and their own security, a plan that promotes stability in the region and a plan that allows us to responsibly redeploy our troops."

The Pentagon declined to comment on the ABC report.

Fallon currently is the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific. The move would place a Navy admiral in control of two land wars.

Replacing Abizaid and Casey and giving Khalilzad a new job would wrap up a virtually complete change of top U.S. officials responsible for the prosecuting the war and dealing directly with the American-backed Iraqi government in Baghdad.

Khalilzad, who had also served as ambassador to Afghanistan during Bush's first term, would replace John Bolton, who left the U.N. post last week.

This follows the departure of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was replaced with former CIA chief Robert Gates.

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Bush poised to name new Iraq commander

Mark Tran
Guardian Unlimited
05 Jan 07

George Bush is set to appoint Lieutenant General David Petraeus as the top US commander in Iraq, it was reported today.

Lt Gen Petraeus, a military intellectual and counter-insurgency expert, is currently the head of the US army's leading military schools.

He will be Mr Bush's most important appointment as the US president prepares to unveil a fresh approach that is expected to include a temporary increase in troop numbers.
US media reports say Mr Bush will also name Admiral William Fallon, the top US commander in the Pacific, as the new head of Central Command, which covers Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

The choice of a naval commander for Centcom could signal growing concern over Iran - any move against Tehran would rely heavily on ship-based missiles and carrier-based aircraft.

As part of his new approach, Mr Bush is set to go against the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group and send more troops to Iraq.

An increase of 30,000 has been widely predicted, with 9,000 of those going to Baghdad, a city wracked by suicide car bombings, sectarian assassinations and kidnappings. The US currently has around 140,000 troops in Iraq.

The commanders to be replaced - General George Casey in Iraq and General John Abizaid at Centcom - have voiced scepticism about an increase in troop numbers, instead wanting to focus on training Iraqi forces.

Iraqi leaders fear that an influx of US troops could inflame tensions because of the widespread Iraqi resentment of the US military presence.

In a meeting with Mr Bush in Jordan in November, Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, presented a plan for US troops to retreat to the periphery of Baghdad to fight Sunni insurgents, leaving security in the capital to the Shia-dominated government.

In a major reshuffle of the US foreign policy and national security teams, Ryan Crocker, currently the ambassador to Pakistan, is expected to replace Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to Iraq.

Mr Khalilzad is set to replace John Bolton at the UN, while John Negroponte will leave his post as the director of US national intelligence to become Condoleezza Rice's deputy at the state department.

However, it is the appointment of Lt Gen Petraeus - a believer in avoiding heavy-handed tactics in order to win hearts and minds - that will be most closely watched.

Supporters including the retired army general Barry McCaffrey speak glowingly of Lt Gen Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq in the 2003 invasion.

"A guy like Petraeus is so ferociously creative and brilliant, sometimes that makes the buttoned-down senior military leadership nervous," Gen McCaffrey said.

Lt Gen Petraeus has a PhD from Princeton University, where he wrote a dissertation on lessons the US army learned from Vietnam. In his current job, he oversaw the rewriting of the army and Marine counter-insurgency field manual.

Issued last month, the document argues that, while killing insurgents matters, it is even more vital to win the support of the population. It also advocates moving soldiers out of large, isolated bases and putting them among the population.

Under generals Abizaid and Casey, US troops would conduct operations in dangerous Baghdad neighbourhoods but would then leave, allowing insurgents to move back in.

Gen Petraeus's tactics worked to good effect in Mosul and northern Iraq, but his detractors say he won a short-term peace at the expense of allowing insurgents to organise themselves.

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Negroponte steps down to be Rice's new deputy

By Rupert Cornwell
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

In a shake-up of the Bush national security team, John Negroponte will step down as America's first national Director of Intelligence to become Deputy Secretary of State, serving under Condoleezza Rice.

The impending move, which is, if anything, a demotion, has caused some bafflement - not least because only last month Mr Negroponte said he expected to remain intelligence tsar until the end of the current administration in 2009.
The change is likely to have ramifications for policy on Iraq, where Mr Negroponte was US ambassador between 2004 and 2005. Word of the switch came as Mr Bush finalised new strategy on Iraq, including a "surge" of 20,000 or more troops in Iraq, mainly to restore order in Baghdad.

It also fills a top State Department post that has remained embarrassingly vacant since July, when Robert Zoellick resigned to take a job on Wall Street.

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Bush Announces Pick for Intelligence Post

NY Times
5 Jan 07

WASHINGTON - From the start, John D. Negroponte felt miscast as the nation's first director of national intelligence, a diplomat who never seemed comfortable in spook's clothing, colleagues and friends of his said.
Even at age 67, Mr. Negroponte longed to be back in the thick of policymaking, they said. But he knew it was the one role he was barred from playing as long as he remained the nation's top intelligence chief, whose role is to step into the Oval Office each morning as a neutral, impartial adviser on the threats lurking around the globe.

It was because of this, officials said, that he agreed to do something generally unheard of in a city obsessed with the bureaucratic totem pole: trade a cabinet-level job for a subcabinet post as deputy secretary of state, a job that essentially requires him to handle tasks that Condoleezza Rice would rather not deal with.

President Bush nominated him for the post today, and Mr. Negroponte said, "It will be a great privilege for me to come home to the department where I began my career and rejoin a community of colleagues whose work is so important."

To succeed Mr. Negroponte, Mr. Bush, as expected, named a retired admiral, Mike McConnell, who has had extensive experience in the collection and analysis of intelligence.

"He served as director of the National Security Agency in the 1990's," Mr. Bush said. "He was the intelligence officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the liberation of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm."

Although he has been a private consultant for the last decade, Mr. McConnell said he had stayed in touch with intelligence agencies and issues.

His work, he said, "has allowed me to stay focused on national security and intelligence communities as a strategist and as a consultant. Therefore, in many respects, I never left."

Mr. Negroponte leaves his office at Bolling Air Force Base after only 19 months and with mixed reviews. The base is the home of a new intelligence bureaucracy created to solve the problems laid bare after the Sept. 11 attacks, but Mr. Negroponte barely had time to get it running. All over Washington on Thursday, there were questions about whether Mr. Negroponte was there long enough to lay the foundations of real change and whether his transfer suggested that the Bush administration was less committed than it claimed to be to an intelligence overhaul that President Bush had billed as the most significant restructuring of American spy agencies in half a century.

Senior administration officials said it was Mr. Bush who personally asked Mr. Negroponte to take on the diplomatic post sometime last month. It was the second time in two years that Mr. Bush had turned to Mr. Negroponte to fill a critical job: Mr. Negroponte became the director of national intelligence only after several other candidates had turned down the job. This time around, Ms. Rice had requested over the summer that Mr. Negroponte become her deputy. But the decision languished for months as the White House sought an adequate replacement for the spy chief, and as Mr. Negroponte vacillated between remaining at the helm of an intelligence community that numbered roughly 100,000 people and a return to the State Department, in the shadow of the administration's most visible international figure.

Senior administration officials said that Ms. Rice wanted Mr. Negroponte to focus on China and North Korea, which have been among his focuses in the intelligence post, and on Iraq, a country he knows particularly well.

Mr. Negroponte has also served as ambassador to the United Nations, Mexico, the Philippines and Honduras, in a Foreign Service career that spanned more than three decades. A senior administration official who was involved in discussions about his nomination said that Ms. Rice regarded him as a foreign policy moderate who could help fill the big voids left by the departure of Robert B. Zoellick, who stepped down as deputy secretary last summer, and Philip D. Zelikow, who left the job of State Department counselor last month.

Ms. Rice would continue to play a central role in Iraq policy, the official said, but she has also made it clear that she wants to devote more time to a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at Middle East peace.


John E. McLaughlin, a former director of central intelligence who is a friend of Mr. Negroponte, said that he managed to make the transition from career Foreign Service officer to the intelligence arena with little difficulty, but that Mr. Negroponte was now returning to the world where he felt most at ease.

Mr. McLaughlin said he believed that Mr. Negroponte's familiarity with the latest intelligence from Iraq would help to bring a "realistic" view of the situation there as the administration works to develop a new strategy.

But other intelligence experts expressed concern about what Mr. Negroponte's departure might mean to the office he helped to establish. "My major concern about this appointment is not about the State Department, but what happens at the D.N.I. office," said Lee H. Hamilton, who served as co-chairman of both the 9/11 commission and the Iraq Study Group. "The future of that office and the concept of intelligence-sharing is on the line."

Top Congressional officials responded angrily to the news of Mr. Negroponte's departure.

"I think he walked off the job, and I don't like it," said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Just as Mr. Negroponte is leaving his post, his office is finishing a major National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's chances of surviving as a unified, independent country - a review that was commissioned only after a Congressional request over the summer, on a problem that Mr. Negroponte will have to help manage in his new post.
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"He came into it after just a year in Iraq, and someone without a strong background in intelligence, and I think he is leaving awfully early, given the importance of getting this right," said Robert Hutchings, the senior diplomat in residence at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, who once headed the National Intelligence Council.

"I think it is quite irresponsible," he said.

Mr. Hutchings said the departure would compound "three or four years of nonstop turmoil" within American intelligence agencies.

Bush administration officials noted several successes during Mr. Negroponte's tenure, most significant the creation and progress of the National Counterterrorism Center. Terrorism experts have credited the center with fusing information from across the intelligence community to understand better the global terrorism threat.

But as he assembled a staff of more than 1,500 people, he was criticized for simply adding another layer to a bureaucracy he was assigned to streamline. But some intelligence experts said that the criticism was unfair, and that the real blame rested with Congress for passing convoluted legislation that made bureaucratic bloat at the director of national intelligence office inevitable. Some critics say that the job of spy czar was never necessary to begin with. Some of those whom the White House first approached to take the job nearly two years ago - including Robert M. Gates, the newly installed secretary of defense - were deeply skeptical about whether that structure would work.

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said that President Bush was "very impressed" with the job Mr. Negroponte had done.

One of the greatest difficulties of Mr. Negroponte's position has been trying to wrest control over multibillion dollar spy satellites and other gadgetry from the Pentagon, which historically had been in charge of 80 percent of the nation's intelligence budget.

One of the top priorities of the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, was to expand the Pentagon's role in intelligence gathering, and some members of Congress say that Mr. Negroponte was not aggressive enough in bringing the Pentagon's intelligence budget more under his control.

Some intelligence experts believe that Mr. Gates is likely to be less territorial than Mr. Rumsfeld was about the Pentagon's intelligence functions, and may even be eager to cede some of the Pentagon's authority to the new intelligence chief. Others said that the job of corralling 16 sometimes dysfunctional intelligence agencies is an often thankless task, and one where it is difficult to have a noticeable impact. Mr. Negroponte is said by associates to have grown particularly weary of clashes with members of Congress.

"I think it's pretty telling that both Bob Gates and John Negroponte prefer jobs trying to bail us out of Iraq to the job of trying to fix U.S. intelligence," said Amy Zegart, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and an expert in intelligence overhaul.

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'Clean sweep': Bush replaces top general in Middle East who opposed troop surge

4 Jan 07

In what appears to be a military shakeup surrounding Iraq, President Bush has replaced both the top US general in the Middle East and the top general in Iraq, ABC NEWS is reporting on air.

Admiral William J. Fallon will replace Gen. John Abizaid, US commander in the Middle East, who announced his retirement in December and was expected to leave the post in March. Abizaid was a critic of Bush's efforts to add more troops to Iraq, but the circumstances of his early departure are unclear.

"The president wants a clean sweep," an official told ABC News.
"Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual," ABC reports.

According to a Kansas City Star article published December 24, "Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops. The decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq,

David Petraeus will replace General George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq. Casey originally opposed the President's plan to add troops in Iraq, arguing it could delay "the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world."

The LA Times recently reported that Abizaid's departure could clear the way for a more aggressive strategy in Iraq.

Excerpts from LA Times article:

Abizaid's planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January.

These officials said Gates faces a clear choice between generals who have agreed with Abizaid's push to quickly hand over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and a small but increasingly influential coterie of officers backing a more aggressive U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign.

According to Defense officials, Abizaid submitted his retirement documents just over a month ago, shortly before Donald H. Rumsfeld was pushed out as Defense secretary. One recently retired Army general said Abizaid had wanted to retire earlier but that Rumsfeld blocked the move, insisting his war commanders stay in place.

"Going to war isn't like having a regular job," said the retired general, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity because Abizaid's plans had not been made public. "It's extremely stressful, it's heavily responsible. I can understand why he'd want to retire."

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Nuclear Agency Head Dismissed for Lapses

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

WASHINGTON - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on Thursday dismissed the chief of the country's nuclear weapons program because of security breakdowns at the Los Alamos, N.M., laboratory and other facilities.

Linton Brooks said he would leave in two weeks to three weeks as head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a post he held since May 2003.

Bodman said the nuclear agency under Brooks, a former ambassador and arms control negotiator, had not adequately fixed security problems. "I have decided it is time for new leadership at the NNSA," Bodman said.
Brooks told agency workers in a statement, "This is not a decision that I would have preferred ... (but) I accept the decision and you need to do likewise."

He characterized the demand for his resignation as "based on the principle of accountability that should govern all public service."

Brooks was reprimanded in June for failing to report to Bodman a security breach of computers at an agency facility in Albuquerque, N.M., that resulted in the theft of files containing Social Security numbers and other personal data for 1,500 workers.

The theft did not become generally known, nor was Bodman made aware of it, for eight months.

Last fall, security at Los Alamos came into question anew. During a drug raid, authorities found classified nuclear-related documents at the home of a woman with top secret clearance who worked at the lab.

That security breach was especially troubling, the department's internal watchdog said, because tens of millions of dollars had been spent to upgrade computer security at Los Alamos. The lab is part of the nuclear weapons complex that Brooks' agency oversees.

"These management and security issues can have serious implications for the security of the United States," Bodman in a statement announcing Brooks' departure.

While the agency's management "has done its best to address these concerns, I do not believe that progress in correcting these issues has been adequate," Bodman said.

"Therefore, and after careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for new leadership at the NNSA," said Bodman

Bodman said an acting head of the agency will be named soon.

Brooks has more than 40 years of experience in national security and nuclear nonproliferation issues. He led the negotiating team that worked on the START arms reduction treaty signed with Russia in 1991.

Widely respected for his knowledge of nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues, Brooks nevertheless has been a target of some members of Congress.

When it was learned that Brooks did not inform his superiors for eight months about the computer theft of data on 1,500 employees, Rep. Joe Barton last year sought Brooks' immediate dismissal.

"His departure is long overdue," Barton, R-Texas, said Thursday.

With Democrats now in charge of the House and Senate, there has been talk of hearings into the administration's response to security breaches at the labs.

"It will take more than a new boss to fix the problems, which are far more systemic and pervasive in nature," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considering hearings.

Some lawmakers have criticized Brooks' pursuit of a bunker-buster bomb, a project promoted by Brooks but abandoned last year because of congressional opposition. Others have questioned whether Brooks' agency made a clear enough argument on behalf of the weapon.

At the same time, Brooks' agency has come under criticism for not making enough progress in working out an agreement with Russia for the disposal of tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he has been concerned "about the effectiveness" of the agency for some time and that Bodman now "has sent a clear message" that operations need to be improved.

In his message to employees, Brooks bemoaned the lack of progress in solving security problems at Los Alamos, saying the agency was formed "to prevent such management problems from occurring.

"We have not yet done so in over five years," he said.

The agency is responsible for managing the nuclear weapons complex that includes the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons research labs. The agency has more than 37,000 employees, most of them contractor personnel.

Congress created the agency within the Energy Department in response to the uproar over the Wen Ho Lee security lapses at Los Alamos in the late 1990s. The belief was that security would improve by putting all nuclear weapons programs under a semiautonomous agency.

But since then, there have been repeated security problems - most of them at Los Alamos - from misplaced and lost computer disks containing classified information to alleged misuse of credit cards, and last October's discovery of classified documents in a drug raid.

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Life in the US of A

Subway hero: 'I had to decide, do I let the train run him over'

By David Usborne in New York
UK Independent
04 Jan 07

For one young man in New York, the gods of good and ill fortune struck at once. The bad news came when he suffered a seizure on a subway platform in Harlem on Tuesday afternoon, a medical crisis that sent him stumbling on to the rails below. The good news was that Wesley Autrey was standing near by.
What transpired at 12.45pm at the 137th Street Station on Number 1 line has cast Mr Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and veteran of the US Navy, into the role of self-deprecating hero. He continues to insist he did nothing to deserve special acclaim. Most New Yorkers beg to differ. And all were asking themselves the same question yesterday: if they had been in Mr Autrey's shoes, would they have done the same?

Mr Autrey was on his way to Times Square to drop off his daughters, Syshe, four, and Shuqui, six, with their mother before going to work. But before a train arrived, his eye was caught by the young man having the fit. He went to his aid, putting a pen in his mouth to stop him swallowing his tongue. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, a 20-year-old student from Massachusetts attending the New York Film Academy, came to and struggled to his feet. But as he did so, he fell over the platform's edge.

"I had a split-second decision to make," Mr Autrey said later. " Do I let the train run him over and hear my daughters screaming and see the blood? Or do I jump in?" Leaving the girls behind, he opted for action. At first he tried to heave Mr Hollopeter back to the platform, but the confused and frightened man began to struggle. Both men risked touching the third rail, charged with 600 volts.

It was then that Mr Autrey saw the twin headlights of a train bearing down on them from the tunnel. In an instant, he had thrown Mr Hollopeter into a 12-inch drainage trough between the rails and leapt in after him. "I just chose to dive on top of him and pin him down."

Mr Hollopeter, slammed into the gulley on his back, continued to struggle with his saviour. The two were lying face-to-face, the rumbling of the train filling the station, when the Navy veteran blurted: "Please don't move. If you move, one of us going to lose a leg or die."

The train driver saw the entwined bodies and slammed on the emergency brakes. But moving too fast, the train stopped only after at least two of its 10 cars had already passed over them. The space between them and the train's underbelly and couplings was no more than two inches.

"Am I dead?" Mr Hollopeter asked, according to Mr Autrey, who recalled what happened to the Daily News. "I said, 'No, we're under the train'." Mr Autrey then yelled to passengers on the platform to be silent. He was worried about his girls. "I've got two daughters up there. Let them know their father's OK."

The station filled with applause. Twenty minutes later ­ the time it took to turn off the power ­ Mr Autrey emerged to be reunited with his daughters. Mr Hollopeter was sedated and taken to hospital where he remained under observation yesterday. His mother, Rachel Hollopeter, spoke for most of the city, calling Mr Autrey an "angel". She added: "If he wasn't there, this would be a whole different call."

But Mr Autrey would have none of it. "I don't feel like I did something spectacular. I just saw someone who needed help."

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FBI Files: Rehnquist Had Hallucinations

Jan 04 2006 10:49 AM
Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI's file on former Chief Justice William Rehnquist _ made public more than a year after his death _ indicates the Nixon and Reagan administrations enlisted its help in blunting criticism of him during confirmation hearings.

The file also offers insight into the hallucinations and other symptoms of withdrawal that Rehnquist suffered when he was taken off a prescription painkiller in 1981. A doctor was cited as saying that Rehnquist, an associate justice of the Supreme Court at the time, tried to escape the hospital in his pajamas and imagined that the CIA was plotting against him.
The FBI on Wednesday released 1,561 pages of documents on Rehnquist to The Associated Press, other news organizations and scholars in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act following Rehnquist's death in September 2005. An additional 207 pages were withheld under the federal disclosure law, and the FBI said an entire section of his file could not be found.

Much of the FBI's file on Rehnquist appears to have been compiled almost exclusively for his two Senate confirmations _ his initial nomination to the court by President Nixon in 1971 and his nomination as chief justice by President Reagan in 1986. Administration officials apparently hoped to prevent any surprises from sinking his nominations.

In 1971, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst directed the FBI to conduct investigations of witnesses who were planning to testify at a Senate hearing against Rehnquist's confirmation. Fifteen years later during the Reagan administration, the FBI was enlisted to conduct background checks on witnesses who were scheduled to testify against Rehnquist's nomination to become chief justice.

The late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 when Rehnquist was nominated to be chief justice. John Bolton, who resigned in December as President Bush's U.N. ambassador, was an assistant attorney general under Reagan.

"Thurmond just gave these names to Bolton they will testify for the Democrats and we want to know what they are going to say," a Justice Department official told a counterpart at the FBI, according to a memo in Rehnquist's file.

Alexander Charns, a Durham, N.C., lawyer who received the file and has extensively researched the FBI's relationship with the court, said the new disclosures show the two administrations went to some lengths to discredit Rehnquist opponents.

"In many ways, I guess it's the same old story of the political use of the FBI," Charns said.

The documents show that the FBI was aware in 1971 that Rehnquist had owned a home in Phoenix with a deed that allowed him to sell only to whites. The restrictive covenant was not disclosed until his 1986 confirmation hearings, at which Rehnquist said he became aware of the clause only days earlier.

Also detailed in the declassified file was Rehnquist's 1981 hospital stay for treatment of back pain and his dependence on powerful prescription pain-relief medication.

The FBI investigated his dependence on Placidyl, which Rehnquist had taken for at least 10 years, according to a summary of a 1970 medical examination.

When Rehnquist checked into a hospital in 1981 for a weeklong stay, doctors stopped administering the drug, causing what a hospital spokesman at the time said was a "disturbance in mental clarity."

The FBI file, citing one of his physicians, said Rehnquist experienced withdrawal symptoms that included trying to escape the facility and discerning changes in the patterns on the hospital curtains. The justice also thought he heard voices outside his room discussing various plots against him.

The doctor said Placidyl is a highly toxic drug and that she could not understand why anyone would prescribe it, especially for long periods.

Prior to his hospitalization, Rehnquist occasionally slurred his speech in his questions to lawyers at Supreme Court arguments. Those problems ceased when he changed medications, the doctor said.

Charns said some of the censored documents provide intriguing hints of what else Rehnquist's file might contain.

In one previously secret memo from 1971, an FBI official wrote, "No persons interviewed during our current or 1969 investigation furnished information bearing adversely on Rehnquist's morals or professional integrity; however ..." The next third of the page is blacked out, under the disclosure law's exception for matters of national security.

"It would be nice to know what is still classified, three decades later," Charns said.

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Fainting dieters crimp NYC subway schedules

2007-01-05 21:38:54

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Dieters who faint from dizziness are among the top reasons for subway train delays in New York city, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority statistics.

Track work and signal problems headed the list, but fainting dieters topped the "sick customer" list, AM New York newspaper reported Tuesday.
Asim Nelson, a transit emergency medical technician, told the paper that lack of food was the root cause of fainting passengers.

"Not eating for three or four days, you are going to go down," Nelson said. "If you don't eat for 12 hours, you are going to get weak."

Although the agency doesn't keep an official record of the nature of each rider's illness, the paper said that an average 395 delays each month are caused by sick customers.

The notion that fainting dieters are causing transit delays was previously reported by the newspaper Metro in a 2005 article.

Fainting spells caused by missed meals topped other "sick customer" causes, including flu symptoms, anxiety attacks, hangovers and heat exhaustion, according to Nelson.

Nelson is part of the MTA's "sick Customer Response Program," which consists of emergency medical technicians and registered nurses. When a rider becomes sick, the train conductor must stay with the passenger until emergency responders arrive.

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Immigrants launch 25% of U.S. high-tech startups

2007-01-05 21:38:02

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Recent political debate over immigration is most often about unskilled, illegal workers in low-wage jobs. But a recent study at Duke University discovered one in four U.S. technology startups in the last 10 years can be credited to foreign-born entrepreneurs.

In a study published Thursday, researchers estimated 25 percent of technology and engineering companies launched from 1995 to 2005 had at least one senior executive -- a founder, chief executive, president or chief technology officer -- who was not born in America.

Immigrant entrepreneurs' companies employed 450,000 workers and generated 52 billion U.S. dollars in sales in 2005, according to the survey.
"It's one thing if your gardener gets deported," said the project's Delhi-born lead researcher, Vivek Wadhwa. "But if these entrepreneurs leave, we're really denting our intellectual property creation."

Wadhwa, Duke's executive in residence and the founder of two tech startups in North Carolina's Research Triangle, said the country should make the most of its ability to "get the best and brightest from around the world."

The study comes lmost eight years after a report from the University of California, Berkeley, on the impact of foreign-born entrepreneurs.

At that time, AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, estimated immigrants founded about 25 percent of Silicon Valley tech companies in 1999. The Duke study found the percentage had more than doubled, to 52 percent in 2005.

California led the nation, with foreign-born entrepreneurs founding 39 percent of startups, even though they make up only 25 percent of the state's population. In New Jersey, 38 percent of tech startups were founded by immigrants, followed by Michigan (33 percent), Georgia (30 percent), Virginia (29 percent) and Massachusetts (29 percent).

Saxenian, also co-author of the new study, said the research debunks the notion that immigrants who come to the United States take jobs from Americans.

"The advantage of entrepreneurs is that they're generally creating new opportunities and new wealth that didn't even exist before them," Saxenian said. "Just by leaving your home country, you're taking a risk, and that means you're willing to take risks in business. You put them in an environment that supports entrepreneurship, and this is the logical outcome."

Researchers started with a list of 28,766 companies classified as technology and engineering companies in Dun and Bradstreet's Million Dollar Database, which lists companies with more than 1 million dollars in revenue and at least 20 employees. Researchers were able to reach senior executives to determine the backgrounds of key founders for 2,054 of the tech startups.

Immigrants were most likely to start companies in the software, semiconductor and communications industries. They were least likely to enter the defense sector.

One of the study's biggest surprises was the extent to which Indians led the entrepreneurial pack. Of an estimated 7,300 U.S. tech startups founded by immigrants, 26 percent have Indian founders, CEOs, presidents or head researchers, the study found.

Indian immigrants founded more tech startups from 1995 to 2005 than people from the four next biggest sources -- United Kingdom, China, Taiwan and Japan -- combined.

"People who come from India are laser-focused on technology," said Rosen Sharma, who immigrated from India in 1993 and is now president and chief executive officer of Palo Alto-based management software company SolidCore Systems Inc. "They come here and they learn to tell a story and paint a vision. Once you have those two things, you're off to the races."

The Duke researchers also found that foreign-born inventors living in the United States without citizenship accounted for 24 percent of patent filings last year, compared with 7.3 percent in 1998.

Without permanent citizenship, inventors are more likely to take valuable intellectual property elsewhere -- and U.S. companies would have to compete with them, Wadhwa said.

"The bottom line is: Why aren't these people citizens?" Wadhwa said. "We're giving away the keys to the kingdom. This is a big, big deal once you figure out what this means for U.S. competitiveness."

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Guardsmen overrun at the Border

12 News, Arizona
4 Jan 07

A U.S. Border Patrol entry Identification Team site was overrun Wednesday night along Arizona's border with Mexico.

According to the Border Patrol, an unknown number of gunmen attacked the site in the state's West Desert Region around 11 p.m. The site is manned by National Guardsmen. Those guardsmen were forced to retreat.
The Border Patrol will not say whether shots were fired. However, no Guardsmen were injured in the incident.

The Border Patrol says the incident occurred somewhere along the 120 mile section of the border between Nogales and Lukeville. The area is known as a drug corridor. Last year, 124-thousand pounds of illegal drugs were confiscated in this area.

The Border patrol says the attackers quickly retreated back into Mexico.

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Moroccan convicted over Sept. 11 attacks protests innocence as sentence hearing opens

5 Jan 07

HAMBURG, Germany - A Moroccan convicted as an accessory to murder in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made an emotional declaration of innocence as a court opened hearings Friday to set his sentence.

Mounir el Motassadeq, a friend of three of the suicide pilots, could receive up to 15 years in prison in the latest chapter of the tangled, five-year legal saga.

In November, a federal appeals court ruled that judges in Hamburg had wrongly acquitted el Motassadeq in 2005 of direct involvement in the attacks, even as they sentenced him to seven years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group.
The appeals court convicted el Motassadeq as an accessory to the murder of 246 passengers and crewmembers aboard all four jetliners used in the attacks, and ordered the Hamburg state court to set a new sentence.

El Motassadeq, 32, a slight man with a long beard who has always maintained he knew nothing of the hijackers' plans, appeared relaxed for much of Friday's session, but became agitated when presiding Judge Carsten Beckmann asked if he wanted to make a statement.

"Can anyone in this room swear by God that what is in this verdict is the truth about me?" he asked.

"I swear by God that I did know the attackers were in America," he shouted in accented German. "I swear by God that I did not know what they wanted to do."

Defense attorney Ladislav Anisic called for the proceedings to be stopped and his client released on procedural grounds, citing constitutional concerns over the way the panel hearing the case was selected.

His colleague, Udo Jacob, argued that the hearings should at least be halted pending a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court on an appeal filed last month against el Motassadeq's stiffened conviction. It is unclear when that court, Germany's highest, might consider the case.

Judge Carsten Beckmann adjourned the hearing until Monday without ruling on either request.

The court has scheduled sessions through Feb. 5, but Beckmann said that, depending how his three-judge panel rules on the defense requests, both sides could make their sentencing arguments Monday - and the court could deliver a verdict then.

Prosecutor Walter Hemberger said before Friday's hearing that his sentence "will certainly be toward the upper end" of what is possible.

Andreas Schulz, an attorney for families of Sept. 11 victims, said he places "a great deal of value on el Motassadeq getting the maximum sentence."

El Motassadeq was a close friend of pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah when they lived and studied in Hamburg. He has acknowledged training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and that he was close to the three hijackers, but insists he knew nothing of their plans.

However, the federal appeals court said evidence showed el Motassadeq knew that the hijackers planned to hijack and crash planes. It found that his actions - for example, transferring money, and helping the hijackers keep up the appearance of being regular university students by paying tuition and rent fees - facilitated the attacks.

The federal court also said it was irrelevant to el Motassadeq's guilt whether he knew of the plot's timing, dimension or targets.

The sentencing hearings mark the third time that the Hamburg court has considered el Motassadeq's case. But it may not be the end of the saga that started with his arrest in November 2001 and has featured two full trials.

El Motassadeq was convicted and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison in 2003, but that verdict was overturned by a federal court the following year - largely because of lack of evidence from al-Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody.

At a retrial that resulted in the 2005 conviction, the U.S. provided limited summaries from the interrogation of, among others, Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected liaison between the Hamburg hijackers and al-Qaeda.

Jacob on Friday insisted that judges had been wrong to dismiss a statement from Binalshibh supporting el Motassadeq's insistence that he knew nothing of the terror cell's plans. The judges had questioned both its credibility and its value as evidence.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Airport Battles Some Muslim Cabbies

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

MINNEAPOLIS - Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport are proposing stiffer penalties - including suspension of an airport taxi license - to Muslim cab drivers who refuse service to passengers toting alcohol or service dogs.

Officials on Wednesday asked the Metropolitan Airport Commission for permission to hold public hearings on a proposal that would suspend the airport licenses of cab drivers who refuse service for reasons other than safety concerns. The penalties would also apply to drivers who refuse a fare because a trip is too short.
Drivers would have their airport licenses suspended 30 days for the first offense and revoked for two years after the second offense, according to the proposal.

"Our expectation is that if you're going to be driving a taxi at the airport, you need to provide service to anybody who wants it," commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

The commission is expected to vote Jan. 16 on the request for public hearings.

Airports Commissioner Bert McKasy said the issue raised by Muslim cab drivers who say that carrying alcohol or dogs, including those that help people with disabilities, violates religious beliefs is "unfortunate."

"I think it's pretty much the consensus of the commissioners and the staff that we have to provide good service to the public, and that's pretty much the bottom line," McKasy said.

Each month, about 100 people are denied cab service at the airport. Airport officials say that in recent months, the problem of service refusals for religious reasons has grown. About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers at the airport are Somali, many of them Muslim.

Hogan said the goal is to have a new policy in place by May 11, when airport taxi licenses come up for annual renewal.

"We want the drivers to know about the policy in advance, so that if they don't think they can work under these conditions, they have the option of not renewing their license," Hogan said.

Last year, the airports commission received a fatwa, or religious edict, from the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society. The fatwa said "Islamic jurisprudence" prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol, "because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam."

Eva Buzek, a flight attendant and Minneapolis resident, said she was recently refused service by five taxi drivers when she was carrying wine as she returned from a trip to France.

"In my book, when you choose to come to a different country, you make some choices," said Buzek, a native of Poland. "I never expected everything to be the same way as in my homeland, and I adjusted. I never dreamed of imposing my beliefs on somebody else."

But Hassan Mohamud, imam at Al-Taqwa Mosque of St. Paul and director of the Islamic Law Institute at the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, one of the largest Islamic organizations in the state, said asking Muslims to transport alcohol "is a violation of their faith. Muslims do not consume, carry, sell or buy alcohol, and Islam also considers the saliva of dogs to be unclean, he said.

Mohamud said he would ask airport officials to reconsider.

But many Somali taxi drivers don't have a problem transporting passengers with alcohol and are worried about a backlash, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. Jamal said he supports the tougher penalties.

"We tell the taxi drivers, if you don't want to do this, change your job," he said. "You are living in a country where alcohol is not viewed the way it is in your country."

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Things From the Sky

Alleged Russian Rocket Comes Down Over Wyo.

Associated Press
4 Jan 07

"NORAD identified the rocket as an SL-4 that had been used to launch a French space telescope in December, and Kelly said U.S. spacewatchers knew the rocket was coming down."
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) -- A spent Russian booster rocket re-entered the atmosphere Thursday over Colorado and Wyoming, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing flaming objects in the sky at the time the rocket was re-entering, NORAD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly said.

"It was pretty spectacular," said Riverton Police Capt. Mark Stone, who said he saw the burning object while he was retrieving his newspaper. "My first concern is that we had some sort of aircraft that was coming down. It was definitely leaving a burning debris trail behind it."

Stone said he could tell it was fairly large object, but it was too high to make out exactly what it was.

Kelly said the agency was unable to confirm a report that a piece of the rocket may have hit the ground near Riverton, Wyo., at about 6 a.m. MST.

No damage was reported, and any debris that may have hit the ground was not believed to be hazardous, NORAD said.

NORAD identified the rocket as an SL-4 that had been used to launch a French space telescope in December, and Kelly said U.S. spacewatchers knew the rocket was coming down.

"Objects falling from space are almost an everyday occurrence," Kelly said.

Comment: On a number of occasions the public has been warned in advance of falling rocket debris and it's generally a big deal. Here they say that "rocket watchers knew" it was coming down, yet nobody said a thing.

Somehow, we find their explanation to be disingenuous.

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Spent Russian Space Rocket Falls on Western U.S.

05.01.2007 11:21 MSK

Pieces of a spent Russian rocket reentered the atmosphere over Colorado and Wyoming early on Thursday, showering parts of the western United States with space debris, the Reuters news agency reported quoting U.S. space monitors.

Pieces of the Russian SL-4 spacecraft that survived their blazing descent intact most likely landed in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, U.S. Northern Command spokeswoman Air Force Major April Cunningham said.
"No damage has been reported and the debris is not believed to be hazardous. It's also important for the public to understand that the reentry of pieces from this rocket is complete, so in other words, they're not expecting other pieces to fall," she said.

A U.S. Space Control Squadron at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colorado, tracked the reentry of the spacecraft launched on December 27.

Typically 200 objects reenter the Earth's atmosphere every year, but the debris typically burns before it hits the ground and rarely falls in populated areas, Cunningham said.

While space debris might make for a unique souvenir, NORAD advises against handling any that may be found.

"We also encourage anyone who believes that they may know the location of a piece from this rocket to exercise caution and inform their local authorities immediately for potential recovery," Cunningham said.

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Missing jet mystery deepens

05/01/2007 13:35 - (SA)

Jakarta - Officials say they are baffled they cannot find a trace of the missing Adam Air Boeing 737-400 despite marking its coordinates from an onboard Emergency Locator Beacon Aircraft (OLBA).

This as the massive, internationally-assisted search operation in Indonesia prepared to halt at nightfall and resume at daybreak on Saturday over an even wider area of Sulawesi Island.

"We're trying to find it but there's an 'X-factor' about it," said Ahmad, an official from the National Search and Rescue Agency in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province and base of search and rescue operation.
Ahmad told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the beacon's signal was growing weaker as its battery came closer to exhausting, which would further hamper the massive land, sea and air search.

The Indonesian government has become so desperate to find the missing budget carrier flight, which disappeared on Monday, they have called in psychics and actually deployed search teams to locations that the paranormal experts suggested, but nothing was found.

"We are using a coordinates map and a psychic map, but neither has worked," Ahmad said.

Four Indonesian Navy warships carrying amphibious troops and divers were sent to Sulawesi Island to bulk up what has already been a massive operation, which on Saturday will expand further north and east of the large, octopus-like island.

The US is assisting by conducting offshore satellite imaging, and a Singaporean naval ship joined in the search on Thursday.

Adam Air flight KI-574 was carrying 96 passengers, including three US citizens, and a crew of six when it disappeared on Monday afternoon in bad weather.

Conflicting information hampers progress

Rescue officials are increasingly frantic about finding the plane, which senior officials had erroneously reported was spotted along with 12 survivors on Tuesday morning. The false reports delayed expanding the search into the Makassar Strait by at least one day and enraged grieving relatives of the passengers.

Military and civilian rescue teams have been hampered by inclement weather and are not equipped to search at night.

The response to the missing plane has exposed Indonesia's limited emergency response capabilities and bureaucratic incompetence. Officials had previously said the jetliner disappeared after issuing a distress signal, but they later admitted that there had been no distress call.

Government officials on Tuesday were forced to retract earlier statements that a crash site had been located in a remote, mountainous region near the town of Polewali Mandar, about 1 600 kilometres north-east of Jakarta, and that 12 people had survived while 90 bodies had been accounted for.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered an investigation into the condition of all commercial planes in Indonesia, as well as an evaluation of the nation's transportation system.

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by Alan Boyle
2 Jan 07

More than 3,000 reports of unidentified flying objects were sent to the National UFO Reporting Center over the past year - but not one has generated as much buzz as November's sighting at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Was it a metallic-looking, saucer-shaped object rising through the clouds, or nothing more than a meteorological oddity? It's hard to figure out whether the truth is really out there, but one thing is for sure: Clouds can do some positively alien-looking things.
Peter Davenport, the UFO center's director, says the buzz over the O'Hare sighting is fully justified.

"In my opinion, because I know the quality of the witnesses, and because I know the nature of the documents that were generated, it is one of the most dramatic cases of the year 2006 that this center has handled," Davenport told me today from the center's headquarters in Washington state.

On the other side, NBC News space analyst James Oberg - a longtime UFO skeptic - says the evidence that's come to light so far isn't all that compelling.

"It's just sad that we keep getting these reports which are of zero evidential value," he told me. "It's sad because there's a lot of strange stuff in the air that we do need to know."

Davenport's center put out the first reports on the O'Hare sighting weeks ago, but the report really picked up traction over the past weekend, when The Associated Press picked up a Chicago Tribune story about the case (free registration required).

Here are the basics: Employees at O'Hare reported seeing a dark gray, seemingly spinning disc hovering above Concourse C - at an estimated altitude of hundreds of feet, close to the cloud cover. The disc appeared to fly up at a rapid rate, leaving behind a hole in the clouds.

The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that it received a sighting report, but agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said no further follow-up was planned.

"Our theory on this is that it was a weather phenomenon," she told the Tribune. "That night was a perfect atmospheric condition in terms of low ceiling and a lot of airport lights. When the lights shine up into the clouds, sometimes you can see funny things."

Case closed? Not so fast, Davenport said.

"I am certain that the airline and the FAA are now attempting to conceal the true nature of the incident," Davenport said.

So far, about a dozen witnesses - all affiliated with the airport or airlines - have surfaced, according to the Tribune. Davenport said he's not yet aware of any reports from outsiders.

"Trying to find the actual eyewitnesses is very difficult," he said. "My suspicion is that there are a great many more. ... You ask, are there other witnesses? My response is, almost certainly. How do we find them, and how do we get them to come forward?"

One of the airport witnesses did take a photo of the phenomenon, but is reluctant to make it public out of concern for his job, Davenport said. "So far, over almost two months, we've been unable to get that," he said.

I have a feeling that even photographic evidence wouldn't settle the case. There are so many weird atmospheric phenomena out there that even crystal-clear pictures could be interpreted either as UFOs or as cloud patterns. For example, check out this roundup of lenticular clouds (offered with a big tip o' the Log to Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog). Even knowing what they are, you'd be hard-pressed not to see them as flying saucers worthy of a Steven Spielberg blockbuster.

The idea that the disk left a hole in the clouds might sound like an atmospheric vortex phenomenon - perhaps like the vortices created when airplanes zoom through clouds. This Web page includes a video of an airplane leaving a dark, indistinct vortex in its wake. Other weird phenomena are reminiscent of smoke rings.

When I suggested that the O'Hare incident might have been a vortex created by an airplane rising through the clouds, Davenport shot me right down.

"You can conjecture all day long on that point if you wish to do so, but it's futile in this case," he said. "First of all, airplanes don't fly over [terminal] gates, they fly over runways. So your surmise, I think, is not appropriate in this case. ... This object was seen by many people to accelerate so fast and go straight up in the clouds that their eyes were unable to follow it."

To be fair, Davenport's center has been taking such cases seriously for 32 years - longer than I've been a professional journalist. So who am I to question the reports, particularly when they seem so authoritative?

The O'Hare incident is being taken more seriously than most sightings because the reports are coming from aviation professionals rather than untrained onlookers. But Oberg argues that the professionals don't always make the best eyewitnesses because they tend to favor flight-related explanations for what they see.

"NTSB investigators say that the worst observers of an aviation accident are aviation personnel," Oberg said. "It's because a pilot will usually want to understand what happened, and in his initial perceptions and later retellings will stress the facts that support his initial interpretation."

Oberg pointed to a couple of case studies in pilot misperception, investigated in detail years ago. And just for good measure, he passed along Web links to a Russian UFO report from 2001 that sounds similar to the O'Hare incident, plus the solution to a UFO mystery that came up just last week in Europe.

Oberg said the European case was particularly instructive, because the specifics about the mysterious glow in the sky helped investigators quickly figure out that it was most likely a cloud trail left behind by a Russian rocket launch. Without such specifics, the O'Hare incident may turn out to be little more than another "missed opportunity," Oberg said.

In any case, the incident is making for an interesting tale, and that has led Cosmic Log correspondents to add more UFO tales to a posting I published back in June. Feel free to offer up your own story right here in the comments section, even if it's decades old. If you've got a recent sighting, you might want to let Davenport know as well - you can find the contact details at his Web site.

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UFO crash still a mystery

News24 South Africa
3 Jan 07

Lephalale - Mystery still surrounds the UFO that reportedly crashed somewhere in the Lephalale (Ellisras) region on Monday.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Leonie Ras, the administrative manager of Lephalale saw a strange object fall to the ground at about 04:33 on her daughter's farm east of the town.

She was lying in bed checking her SMS messages when she heard a noise "like an Airbus aircraft firing up its motors".
There was no thunder or lightning and the noise grew louder, eventually sounding like a million turbines screaming in unison, said Ras.

She walked to the bedroom window and saw the clouds taking on a bright orange-red colour.

She described the object as a bright object that "plunged from the clouds to the earth, at a terrible speed, and hit the ground with an almighty bang."

It looked like Haley's comet, "round in the front and with an orange-red tail following behind".

On Wednesday, the Lephalale police station reportedly received numerous enquiries following the incident.

But the area was vast and there was no way of knowing where to start looking, said Superintendent Wessel Geldenhuys.

He added that the object could have fallen in Botswana, which is situated about 45km away.

Geldenhuys said that Ras's neighbour had also seen the UFO, but that so far, no one else had seen the object or had any idea where it was.

"We have had many queries, but no answers," he said.

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Turbulence Detected in Space

Michael Schirber
Special to SPACE.com
2 Jan 07

The highly ionized solar wind blows around our planet, disrupting satellites and endangering unprotected astronauts. A flotilla of four satellites have recently measured random variations in the solar wind's propagation, providing the first definitive detection of turbulence in space.
The observation could improve space weather forecasts, as well as help improve models of turbulent flow in ionized gas, called plasma.

Turbulence is quite common on Earth, as any frequent airplane passenger can attest. But even physicists get a little queasy when trying to explain the nature of this choppy, swirling flow.

"One cannot predict future behaviors with satisfactory accuracy," says Yasuhito Narita of the Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics in Braunschweig, Germany. "Even a small deviation or uncertainty in the initial state will end up with a completely different state."

Chaos reigns

It's a bit of the butterfly-tornado connection from chaos theory. Without predictive mathematical equations for turbulence, scientists usually resort to statistical descriptions, like how much does the pressure or velocity vary over a certain distance.

Researchers have done such detailed observations of the turbulence in wind tunnels and water pipes. Making similar measurements in space has been harder to do. Still, astrophysicists have inferred the presence of turbulence inside stars, among interstellar clouds, in black hole accretion disks and around Jupiter's red spot.

Single satellites have also studied the solar wind and have detected turbulent signals in the way this plasma flow changes with time. However, to make direct comparisons to models, researchers had to assume something about the size of wind variations.

Data cluster

To avoid this ambiguity, multiple sensors are needed to measure the wind's properties at several points. This is exactly what the Cluster suite of satellites was designed for.

"One needs at least four spacecraft to obtain the spatial resolution in three dimensions," Narita told Space.com. "Cluster spacecraft provide a minimal set of the measurement points for this purpose."

The four identical Cluster satellites orbit the Earth in a pyramid formation, collecting electric and magnetic field data. Of special interest is the Earth's protective magnetosphere, where the planet's magnetic field deflects the ionized solar wind, like air hitting a car's windshield.

A big shock

On Feb. 18 2002, the Cluster quartet ventured out into the leading-edge of the magnetosphere. At this bow shock, reverberating shock waves cause ripples and eddies in the solar wind propagation: a prime place to look for turbulence. Analyzing the magnetic field intensities recorded by each satellite, Narita and his colleagues were able to pinpoint changes in the wind speed. From this, they determined how the solar wind's energy varied over distance, as detailed recently in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The results largely matched energy fluctuations seen in Earth-bound fluid turbulence, making this the first "definitive" detection of space turbulence, said Melvyn Goldstein of Goddard Space Flight Center. He has worked on previous studies that gave hints of the same similarity.

That the solar wind behaves like the cream swirling in your coffee is surprising, since the low-density solar wind has almost no viscosity--an important component in fluid turbulence.

"For turbulence to develop in space, there must be some physical processes that can replace the role of viscosity," Narita says.

This viscosity replacement may be some complicated electromagnetic interaction between the solar wind's ionized particles. Goldstein says much of the current work is aimed at understanding how this plasma behaves in relation to the nearby magnetic fields.

Better characterization of solar wind turbulence could help scientists predict space weather, which affects the radiation level for astronauts and spacecraft, Narita says.

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Money Matters

Scientists' Report Documents ExxonMobil's Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science

Union of Concerned Scientists
3 Jan 07

Oil Company Spent Nearly $16 Million to Fund Skeptic Groups, Create Confusion WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 3-A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists offers the most comprehensive documentation to date of how ExxonMobil has adopted the tobacco industry's disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue. According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.
"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."

Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to "Manufacture Uncertainty" on Climate Change details how the oil company, like the tobacco industry in previous decades, has

* raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence
* funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings
* attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for "sound science" rather than business self-interest
* used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming

ExxonMobil-funded organizations consist of an overlapping collection of individuals serving as staff, board members, and scientific advisors that publish and re-publish the works of a small group of climate change contrarians. The George C. Marshall Institute, for instance, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil, recently touted a book edited by Patrick Michaels, a long-time climate change contrarian who is affiliated with at least 11 organizations funded by ExxonMobil. Similarly, ExxonMobil funds a number of lesser-known groups such as the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. Both groups promote the work of several climate change contrarians, including Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist who is affiliated with at least nine ExxonMobil-funded groups.

Baliunas is best known for a 2003 paper alleging the climate had not changed significantly in the past millennia that was rebutted by 13 scientists who stated she had misrepresented their work in her paper. This renunciation did not stop ExxonMobil-funded groups from continuing to promote the paper. Through methods such as these, ExxonMobil has been able to amplify and prop up work that has been discredited by reputable climate scientists.

"When one looks closely, ExxonMobil's underhanded strategy is as clear and indisputable as the scientific research it's meant to discredit," said Seth Shulman, an investigative journalist who wrote the UCS report. "The paper trail shows that, to serve its corporate interests, ExxonMobil has built a vast echo chamber of seemingly independent groups with the express purpose of spreading disinformation about global warming."

ExxonMobil has used the laudable goal of improving scientific understanding of global warming-under the guise of "sound science"-for the pernicious ends of delaying action to reduce heat-trapping emissions indefinitely. ExxonMobil also exerted unprecedented influence over U.S. policy on global warming, from successfully recommending the appointment of key personnel in the Bush administration to funding climate change deniers in Congress.

"As a scientist, I like to think that facts will prevail, and they do eventually," said Dr. James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on climate change impacts. "It's shameful that ExxonMobil has sought to obscure the facts for so long when the future of our planet depends on the steps we take now and in the coming years."

The burning of oil and other fossil fuels results in additional atmospheric carbon dioxide that blankets the Earth and traps heat. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased greatly over the last century and global temperatures are rising as a result. Though solutions are available now that will cut global warming emissions while creating jobs, saving consumers money, and protecting our national security, ExxonMobil has manufactured confusion around climate change science, and these actions have helped to forestall meaningful action that could minimize the impacts of future climate change.

"ExxonMobil needs to be held accountable for its cynical disinformation campaign on global warming," said Meyer. "Consumers, shareholders and Congress should let the company know loud and clear that its behavior on this issue is unacceptable and must change."

Comment: Notice "Tobacco-like disinformation campaign." We think this is a revealing slip. Indeed, tobacco has been subjected to an outrageous disinformation campaign, and probably by industries that wish to conceal their guilt for causing all the diseases attributed to tobacco.

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U.S. slaps fines on 4 diet pill companies for false promises

CBC News
Thursday, January 4, 2007 12:04 PM ET

Science doesn't support the advertising claims made by four weight-loss pill companies, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday after fining the companies' marketers millions of dollars.

The FTC is allowing Xenadrine EFX, One A Day Weight Smart, Cortaslim and TrimSpa to remain on store shelves but ordered the companies to stop making misleading advertising claims.
FTC investigators said some of the companies touted their drugs saying their effects could include decreased risks of osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and cancer.

Health Canada has not authorized any of the drugs for sale in Canada.

"The marketers are required to back up the claims with the science and if they can't do that they can't make the claim. But we don't ban the products from the shelves," said FTC commissioner Deborah Platt Majoras.

The marketers of Xenadrine EFX must pay at least $8 million US and as much as $12.8 million, Majoras said, while the marketers of Cortislim must pay $12 million.

Bayer Corp will pay a civil penalty of $3.2 million while Trim Spa has been fined $1.5 million.

Majoras said the FTC will direct some of the money back to the consumers.

"We always try to get money back when consumers have been deceived," she said.

"In this instance, I'm pleased to say that I believe we're going to get millions back from some of these products to be able to return it to consumers."

She also urged people trying to lose weight to evaluate products on the market with a critical eye.

"You're not going to find weight loss in a bottle of pills," she said.

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Oil prices continue retreat

CBC News
Thursday, January 4, 2007 12:01 PM ET

Oil prices continued their recent retreat on Thursday, falling more than $1 US per barrel on commodity markets as mild winter weather continued in eastern North America.

The February futures contract for light sweet crude oil was down $1.43 at $56.89 in late morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The price decline came despite an unexpected drop in U.S. oil supplies. According to information released Thursday by the U.S. Energy Department, inventories of oil fell 1.3 million barrels to 319.7 million barrels last week. Analysts had been forecasting a supply increase of over 900,000 barrels.

Observers said oil producers could be prompted to react if the weather trend continues in eastern North America.

"If the unseasonably warm weather stretches deeper into January, OPEC will need to deliver more production cuts soon to keep prices above its unofficial $60 US target," said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Bart Melek in a commentary.

"Based on every statement from the cartel and its recent actions on the ground, it seems that oil exporters are ready to act quickly to balance the market," he said.

Oil fell $2.73 US on Wednesday to close at $58.32 US a barrel.

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Dec 06

Why the Federal Reserve Violates the U.S. Constitution (Formerly called FIAT EMPIRE - A Closer Look at the Federal Reserve).

This important documentary is inspired by the well-known book, The Creature From Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin.

Produced by William L. Van Alen, Jr., the 1-hour documentary is a co-production between Matrixx Productions and Cornerstone Entertainment and features interviews by not only G. Edward Griffin, but Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), MOVIEGUIDE Founder, Ted Baehr, and constitutional authority, Edwin Vieira (4 degrees from Harvard). See the official website of FIAT EMPIRE for at for more information on all four experts and how to get a DVD copy.

FIAT EMPIRE was written and directed by James Jaeger and narrated by Kris Chandler. Associate producers are Ted Pollard, author and former Commissioner of Radnor Township and James E. Ewart, well-known author of MONEY.

You can screen a 60-minute promo version of FIAT EMPIRE (plus raw interviews).

FIAT EMPIRE is also up at Google Movies and the promo version has already been downloaded by over 5,300 people who have given it a collective 5 star rating (that's 5 out of a possible 5). Please note, we did not authorize the placement of this on Google. Someone else commandeered it and placed it up there. Given this and the number of downloads, it's apparent that someone out there feels this subject and film may be of concern to citizens. Accordingly, we are looking for a wider distribution, perhaps on DVD or even theatrical, so if you are a distributor, or can help us find one, please contact James Jaeger at 610/688-9212 or contact@mecfilms.com. This show is not authorized for sale but may be displayed in private settings and for the purpose of promoting completion funds, distribution and future shows based upon G. Edward Griffin's book. Again, if you can help out on any of these goals, or wish to proffer comments on the film, please contact us at 610/688-9212 or email us at contact@mecfilms.com.

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Gov. to seek insurance for all children

By Jordan Rau
LA Times
4 Jan 07

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will propose that all Californian children, including those in the state illegally, be guaranteed medical insurance as part of the health-care overhaul he intends to unveil next week, according to officials familiar with the plan.

If enacted by the Legislature, his proposal would affect about 763,000 children who now lack insurance. Although the administration has not revealed details of how it would pay for such a program, officials estimate that extending insurance to all children could cost the state as much as $400 million a year.
That would be a small piece of Schwarzenegger's stated goal: to ensure medical coverage for all of the 6.5 million Californians who now have none. Experts say that could cost upward of $10 billion a year.

If successful, the governor's effort to cover all children would be a substantial political feat. Only a few states guarantee coverage for all those under 18. Schwarzenegger himself vetoed a measure to cover all children in 2005, complaining that lawmakers offered no way to pay for it.

California's Republican legislators, who blocked a more modest effort to extend health-care coverage last year, are sure to rebel against a plan that includes children of illegal immigrants.

Schwarzenegger is scheduled to announce his full health plan Monday. His office is still finalizing many parts of that package, but aides have made clear that it will be an ambitious effort to restrain health-care costs and reduce the state's uninsured population.

All sectors of the health-care industry, including hospitals, insurers, doctors, patients, businesses and government, would pay some of the costs under Schwarzenegger's plan. People familiar with the proposal say that it includes new requirements for businesses to cover employees, though the details were unclear. The more cost shouldered by employers and workers, the less the state would have to spend.

In addition, a number of measures favored by some aides, such as limiting the profits of insurers, remain undecided.

"There is no final health plan," said Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director. "As has been the case from the start, all ideas are on the table and the final touches are being applied. The administration is not confirming the inclusion of any one piece."

But several independent sources said Schwarzenegger had committed to the framework of the children's insurance portion. Administration officials have privately told people outside government that they intend to guarantee medical coverage for children of families earning up to 300% of the poverty level, or $60,000 a year for a family of four. Those families have 90% of the children without insurance. But the cutoff is not yet set in stone.

Schwarzenegger's proposal goes further than one put forward last month by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland). His plan excluded illegal immigrants. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) incorporated children of undocumented residents into his plan, which also was announced in December.

"A lot of us are really looking to [Schwarzenegger] for leadership," said Wendy Lazarus, founder of the Children's Partnership, a nonpartisan child advocacy group based in Santa Monica and Washington, D.C. "Assuming he is going to tell us that he is going to cover all kids, this is great news for California's kids."

About 90% of California's children already have insurance, either through their parents' coverage or through state Medi-Cal programs that help the impoverished. For years, advocates have been pressing lawmakers to finish the job, arguing that the electorate would be sympathetic to the plight of children.

"It's the low-hanging fruit of the health-care reform debate," said Dr. Bob Ross, president of the California Endowment, a private foundation in Los Angeles that was created to push for expanded access to health care.

"Kids are relatively cheaper to cover" than adults, he said. "From a public health standpoint, it's smarter to cover all children regardless of immigration. You just don't want unimmunized kids surfing around in the population."

Such arguments have yet to win the day in Sacramento. Last year, Schwarzenegger backed a budget plan that would have helped fund local children's initiatives. Republican lawmakers blocked the proposal, because it would have included coverage for children of illegal immigrants.

"We believe Californians do not want to reward illegal behavior," said Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis. "There are so many here [legally] who are hurting and trying to make ends meet, we've got to focus on them first."

The GOP is a minority in both houses of the Legislature, but most proposals involving state spending require a two-thirds vote, giving Republicans the power to stop them. However, it is possible that Schwarzenegger's plan could be molded to need a simple majority vote, like the last major piece of health-care legislation to become law.

That measure, a 2003 mandate that most employers provide insurance for their workers, was repealed by voters the following year.

Schwarzenegger has taken incremental steps to expand existing programs aimed at children's health, including the addition of $80 million to the state budget last year.

Martha Escutia, a former Democratic state senator from Whittier who pressed for coverage of all children, including those of illegal immigrants, said Schwarzenegger told her in 2004 that he agreed with her.

"I said very bluntly that there was no way we could distinguish between children based on legal status," she recalled Wednesday. "And the governor agreed. He said, 'Children are children.' I remember him saying that very clearly."

Sixty-nine percent of Californian children without health insurance in 2005 were eligible for existing programs but were not enrolled, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

That was due to a variety of factors, including inadequate funds in some county programs to cover all those who qualified, and some of the bureaucratic requirements for entering state programs.

Many parents, for instance, are required to prove that their earnings are low enough to qualify their children.

There is disagreement about how many of the uninsured children are here illegally. A 2003 UCLA survey said that 33% were not citizens, but that does not mean that they were in the country illegally. Ross, of the California Endowment, said the number was below 15%.

Most of the other states that already guarantee coverage for all children do it through state-paid programs for those from poor families, and by allowing better-off families to cover their children by paying a portion of the costs for the same programs.

Typically, the more a family earns, the more it pays. Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont all have such programs.

Lazarus, of the Children's Partnership, said that although California would not be the first to cover all children, it has fewer employers providing insurance and more illegal immigrants than other states, making coverage more challenging.

"For California to step up at this time when states and Congress are really focused on health-care reform means that California could have a really significant leadership role across the nation," she said.

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Stranger than Fiction

Images of Saturn's moon Titan reveal lakes

CBC News
Thursday, January 4, 2007 | 1:01 PM ET

The Cassini spacecraft has discovered another similarity between Earth and Saturn's moon Titan, revealing images of what appear to be lakes on its surface.

The radar images show dark, smooth patches that appear to be lakes based on their shape and low radar reflectivity.
The images, published in the current issue of the journal Nature, are the best evidence yet of lakes of liquid on the moon's surface since they were first predicted more than 20 years ago.

Researchers speculate the liquid is methane, which is one of the few molecules to exist as a liquid in the extreme cold of the moon, where temperatures rarely rise above -179 C.

The dense haze of Titan's mostly nitrogen atmosphere had prevented earlier attempts to view the surface of the moon. Cassini's probe made its northern-most radar pass to date last July to retrieve the images.

Radar is the only way to pierce the haze surrounding Titan, which has an atmosphere 10 times denser than Earth's.

The spacecraft took an image of a narrow strip about 250 kilometres wide and more than 1,000 kilometres long that contained more than 75 lakes.

Titan's dense atmosphere and presence of carbon-based material have fascinated scientists who see it as a time vault of what Earth may have looked like billions of years ago, before life formed and introduced oxygen into the atmosphere.

Scientists had speculated Titan might also contain vast oceans, but a 2004 Cassini flyby found no evidence of large bodies of liquid.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a co-operative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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Ancient Vishnu Idol Can Change View on Russian History

04.01.2007 14:18 MSK (GMT +3)

An ancient Vishnu idol has been found during excavation in an old village in Russia's Volga region, raising questions about the prevalent view on the origin of ancient Russia, the Reuters news agency reports.

The idol found in Staraya (old) Maina village dates back to VII-X century AD. Staraya Maina village in Ulyanovsk region was a highly populated city 1700 years ago, much older than Kiev, so far believed to be the mother of all Russian cities.
"We may consider it incredible, but we have ground to assert that Middle-Volga region was the original land of Ancient Rus. This is a hypothesis, but a hypothesis, which requires thorough research," Reader of Ulyanovsk State University's archaeology department Dr Alexander Kozhevin told state-run television Vesti .

Dr Kozhevin, who has been conducting excavation in Staraya Maina for last seven years, said that every single square metre of the surroundings of the ancient town situated on the banks of Samara, a tributary of Volga, is studded with antiques.

Prior to unearthing of the Vishnu idol, Dr Kozhevin has already found ancient coins, pendants, rings and fragments of weapons.

He believes that today's Staraya Maina, a town of eight thousand, was ten times more populated in the ancient times. It is from here that people started moving to the Don and Dneiper rivers around the time ancient Russy built the city of Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine.

An international conference is being organised later this year to study the legacy of the ancient village, which can radically change the history of ancient Russia.

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Rare Rhinos Go Missing in Nepal

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 3, 2007

How do you make a 4,000-pound (1,800-kilogram) rhinoceros disappear?

That's the weighty mystery facing a Nepali nature reserve where more than four dozen Indian rhinoceroses have gone missing over the past several years.
Starting in the 1980s wildlife officials introduced 72 of the rare rhinos to a protected valley about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southwest of Nepal's capital city of Kathmandu as part of a conservation program.

"We have records showing 23 rhinos had died due to poaching or other causes. The rest are missing," Laxmi Prasad Manandhar, a senior official at Nepal's Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation, told the Reuters news service.

"Where did they go? I have no answer. It is a mystery," Manandhar said.

War Victims

The Indian rhino, also known as the great one-horned rhino, once roamed wild in the Babai Valley, which was made part of Royal Bardia National Park in 1984 (related photo: baby Indian rhino born in California zoo [February 11, 2005]).

The species is also found in the wild in the northeast Indian state of Assam.

In Nepal, army units stationed inside the national parks once effectively deterred poachers and helped the country's rhinos rally from about 60 animals in the mid-20th century to more than 500 in 2000.

But Nepal's recently ended civil war hampered conservation efforts and fueled the poaching of rhinos and other wildlife (photos: inside Nepal's revolution).

The monarchy's troops were needed to battle Maoist rebels, so the parks were left unguarded and poachers were free to ply their trade.

Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal's largest rhino stronghold, has seen its population fall from 544 of the animals in 2000 to 372 in 2005.

Yet some Nepali officials think it unlikely that poachers killed Babai Valley's 49 missing rhinos, because only one skeleton has been found after an exhaustive search.

Poachers usually kill rhinos for the animals' horns, which are valuable in Chinese medicine. The massive carcasses are then left to rot.

Disappearing Act?

Eric Dinerstein is a rhino expert with the international conservation organization WWF and author of Return of the Unicorns, an analysis of Indian rhino conservation efforts.

Dinerstein explained that the rhinos have a high rate of natural mortality.

Calves often fall victim to tigers or are separated from their mothers by monsoon floods. Males engage in vicious battles during mating season that frequently end in the loser's death.

Still, Dinerstein suspects that there is a human hand behind the Babai Valley mystery.

"The likely answer is that many of them were poached," he said.

"The truth is that even back in 1975 I was told [by local people] not to go into the Babai Valley, because there were a lot of poachers there and it was very rough. There has been poaching there since long before there the [Maoist] insurgency," he said.

As for the missing carcasses, Dinerstein suggests that many factors could have caused them to disappear.

He's seen local Nepalese carry off the remains of a rhino that died naturally.

"Every part of the animal was considered valuable," he said. "There wasn't a shred of that rhino left."

The reserve's animal denizens may have also played a part.

"There are lots of scavengers on the [southern plain known as the] Terai-mammals, birds, lots of species," Dinerstein said.

"If somebody had been patrolling they would have been tipped off [to a dead rhino] by lots of vultures.

"But because nobody was patrolling, you could easily have a carcass disappear quite quickly without much of a trace."

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Two-Headed Reptile Fossil From Age of Dinosaurs Found

John Pickrell
for National Geographic News
December 26, 2006

Palaeontologists have found a tiny dinosaur-era reptile with two heads-the first time the extremely rare developmental anomaly has been found in a fossil.

The 120-million-year-old specimen, just 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) long, is a hatchling of a species of Choristodere-extinct aquatic reptiles resembling modern-day crocodiles or lizards.
Found in China, the fossil hatchling has two perfectly formed heads and necks fused at the base.

"When I saw it, I immediately realized it was something extremely unusual," said paleontologist Eric Buffetaut of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, France.

"Two-headed reptiles are very rare, so the chance that one of them could get fossilized, preserved, and collected is extremely small," he added.

Buffetaut and Chinese colleagues detail their finding in the past week's issue of the journal Biology Letters.

Two Heads Not Better Than One

The developmental anomaly that causes animals to occasionally form two heads is called axial bifurcation.

The abnormality occurs when an embryo is damaged in the womb. A lesion can form, causing some parts to develop in duplicate.

The phenomenon, though quite rare, has been observed a number of times in modern-day reptiles, including lizards, snakes, turtles, and tortoises. (Related photo: "Two-Headed Turtle Found in China" [March 17, 2006].)

Scientists have even run across some two-headed mammals, such as sheep, though few survive to adulthood.

Two-headed reptiles are also at a significant disadvantage in the wild, but some have been know to live long lives in captivity.

"There is a two-headed tortoise at the Natural History Museum in Geneva [in Switzerland] which has lived there since it was born ten years ago," Buffetaut said.

There is no possibility that the new specimen was a two-headed species, he adds.

The hatchling belongs to a long-necked fish-eating species known either as Sinohydrosaurus or Hyphalosaurus that grew up to 3 feet (1 meter) long. Many one-headed specimens that otherwise resemble the fossil were found near the hatchling.

And no vertebrates have ever been reported to have two heads as their normal state.

"Having two heads obviously causes huge coordination and behavior problems, since it means having two brains which function more or less independently, while other organs within the body cavity, such as the heart and digestive tube, are usually not duplicated," Buffetaut said.

"Reptiles with two heads can survive for years in captivity because they are cared for, but in the wild they apparently don't survive very long."

Possible Hoax?

Buffetaut first learned of the fossil from study co-author Jianjun Li at the Beijing Museum in China.

The unusual nature of the fossil immediately aroused his suspicion-like many Chinese fossils, this was found by a local farmer and sold to a museum.

The isolated nature of such discoveries allows fakes to easily find their way to market-such as the Archaeoraptor fossil purported to be the missing link between carnivorous dinosaurs and birds in 1999.

Archaeoraptor was actually created by a Chinese farmer who intricately glued the front part of a fossil bird and the tail and hind legs of a small dinosaur together. (Read the full story: "Dino Hoax Was Mainly Made of Ancient Bird, Study Says" [November 20, 2002].)

In the case of the two-headed Choristodere, however, "the slab bearing the fossil is untouched and shows absolutely no sign of tampering, and neither do the tiny bones, so we are completely confident that the specimen is genuine," Buffetaut said.

Susan Evans is an evolutionary biologist at University College London in England and a leading expert on Choristodera.

"Two-headed mutants are fairly widely reported amongst modern reptiles, but this is the first reported occurrence of the phenomenon in a fossil reptile," she said.

"That certainly makes it interesting and worth reporting, and it gives us one more glimpse of Choristoderan biology."

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Propaganda! Sam Harris's Faith in Eastern Spirituality and Muslim Torture

By John Gorenfeld
AlterNet (beginning to look like a disinfo rag)
5 Jan 07

The best-selling author of "The End of Faith" may argue against Christianity, but he is also supportive of phenomena such as reincarnation and ESP, and calls for "compassionately killing" the "Muslim hordes."
Sam Harris's books "The End Of Faith" and "Letter To A Christian Nation" have established him as second only to the British biologist and author Richard Dawkins in the ranks of famous 21st century atheists. The thrust of Harris's best-sellers is that with the world so crazed by religion, it's high time Americans stopped tolerating faith in the Rapture, the Resurrection and anything else not grounded in evidence. Only trouble is, our country's foremost promoter of "reason" is also supportive of ESP, reincarnation and other unscientific concepts. Not all of it is harmless yoga class hokum -- he's also a proponent of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

"We know [torture] works. It has worked. It's just a lie to say that it has never worked," he says. "Accidentally torturing a few innocent people" is no big deal next to bombing them, he continues. Why sweat it?

I wanted to interview Harris to find out why a man sold to the American public as the voice of scientific reason is promoting Hindu gods and mind reading in his writing. But we spend much of our time discussing his call for torture and his Buddhist perspectives on "compassionately killing the bad guy."

In 2004, Sam Harris' award-winning first book said society should demote Christian, Muslim and Jewish belief to an embarrassment that "disgraces anyone who would claim it," in doing so catapulting himself from obscure UCLA grad student -- the son of a Quaker father -- to national voice of atheism.

"The End of Faith" may be the first book suitable for the Eastern Philosophy shelf at Barnes & Noble that somehow incorporates both torture and New Age piety, and offers pleas for clear scientific thinking alongside appeals to "mysticism." The old-fashioned brand of atheist, like the late Carl Sagan, argued eloquently against religion without supporting rituals and ghosts.

Harris, however, argues that not just Western gods but philosophers are "dwarfs" next to the Buddhas. And a Harris passage on psychics recommends that curious readers spend time with the study "20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation."

Asked which cases are most suggestive of reincarnation, Harris admits to being won over by accounts of "xenoglossy," in which people abruptly begin speaking languages they don't know. Remember the girl in "The Exorcist"? "When a kid starts speaking Bengali, we have no idea scientifically what's going on," Harris tells me. It's hard to believe what I'm hearing from the man the New York Times hails as atheism's "standard-bearer."

Harris writes: "There seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which have been ignored by mainstream science." On the phone he backpedals away from the claim.

"I've received a little bit of grief for that," he says. "I certainly don't say that I'm confident that psychic phenomena exist. I'm open-minded. I would just like to see the data."

To see the "data" yourself, "The End of Faith" points readers to a slew of paranormal studies.

One is Dr. Ian Stevenson's "Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy." The same author's reincarnation book presents for your consideration the past life of Ravi Shankar, the sitar player who introduced the Beatles to the Maharishi. He was born with a birthmark, it says, right where his past self was knifed to death, aged two.

Making the case for the "20 Cases researcher, Harris sounds almost like "Chronicles of Narnia" author C.S. Lewis, who said Jesus could only be a liar or the Son of God.

"Either he is a victim of truly elaborate fraud, or something interesting is going on," Harris says. "Most scientists would say this doesn't happen. Most would say that if it does happen, it's a case of fraud. ... It's hard to see why anyone would be perpetrating a fraud -- everyone was made miserable by this [xenoglossy] phenomenon." Pressed, he admits that some of the details might after all be "fishy."

Another book he lists is "The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena." "These are people who have spent a fair amount of time looking at the data," Harris explains. The author, professor Dean Radin of North California's Institute of Noetic Sciences, which is not accredited for scientific peer review, proclaims: "Psi [mind power] has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments."

Harris has spent the past two years doing "full-time infidel" duty, in his words. His second book, "Letter to a Christian Nation," takes the infidel persona and runs with it, lashing back at Christians for their intolerance toward his first book.

In a versatile turn, however, Harris moonlights as inquisitor as well as heretic. Without irony, he switches hats between chapters of "The End of Faith." Chapter 3 finds him complaining that the medieval Church tortured Jews over phony "blood libel" conspiracies. Then in chapter 6, "A Science of Good & Evil," he devotes several pages to upholding the "judicial torture" of Muslims, a practice for which "reasonable men and women" have come out.

Torture then and now: The difference, he tells AlterNet, is that the Inquisition "manufactured" crimes and forced Jews to confess "fictional accomplices."

But if the Iraq War hasn't been about "fictional accomplices," what has? "There's nothing about my writing about torture that should suggest I supported what was going on in Abu Ghraib," says Harris, who supported the invasion but says it has become a "travesty." "We abused people who we know had no intelligence value."

While our soldiers are waging war on Islam in our detention centers, according to Harris, our civilians must evolve past churchgoing to "modern spiritual practice," he writes. "[M]ysticism is a rational enterprise," he writes in his book, arguing it lets spiritualists "uncover genuine facts about the world." And he tells AlterNet there are "social pressures" against research into ESP.

Society is remarkably free, however, in airing justifications for putting Muslims to the thumbscrews. Harris's case for torture is this: since "we" are OK with horrific collateral damage, "we" should have no qualms against waterboarding, the lesser evil. "It's better than death." Better, in other words, than bombing innocents.

Then again, Sam Harris is not devoting his time in the media to call for an end to bombing civilians. Attacking the sacred cow of airstrikes might have been a real heresy, true to his Quaker roots but ensuring himself exile from cable news. Instead the logic he lays out -- that Islam itself is our enemy -- invites the reader to feel comfort at the deaths of its believers. He writes: "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."

Playing his part in last year's War Over Christmas, Harris plays it safe with "Letter to a Christian Nation." The book lumbers under a title so heavy, you'd think Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote it from prison. While keeping the Christian Nation on notice that Harris remains disdainful of "wasting time" on Jesus, he now calls for something of an alliance with the Right against Muslim Arabs and the "head-in-the-sand liberals" he denounced in a recent editorial. "Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living," he writes.

Thus praising the hard Right for its "moral clarity" in the War on Terror, Harris reserves much of his wrath for nonfundamentalist Christians, whom he considers enablers of a virgin-birth sham.

Fine, but the alternative to Jesus that Harris recommends in "The End of Faith" is a menu of messiahs. There is Shankara, an avatar of the god Shiva whose water pot could stop floods. There is the first Buddha and his 8th-century successor Padmasambhava. After materializing on a lotus leaf at age 8, Padmasambhava cast a spell that changed his friend into a tiger.

"That is objectively stupider than the doctrine of the virgin birth," Harris says in the interview, however.

Like any religious moderate, he has picked and chosen what he likes from a religion. On the one hand, there's an obligatory swipe in "The End of Faith" against Pakistan and India for threatening to nuke each other over "fanciful" religious disputes. The equal-offender pose doesn't slow Harris from claiming the supremacy of Shankara and other oracles over Europe's entire secular brain trust. For thousands of years, "personal transformation [...] seems to have been thought too much to ask" of Western philosophers, he complains petulantly, as if finding the entire Enlightenment short on self-help tips.

He likes that Buddhism will make you relax. And "dial in various mental states," he says. In the classic case, he says, "you see various lights or see bliss." And like a Scientologist cleric promising you the state of Clear, evicting alien ghosts ruining your life, Harris expresses a faith that his own style of pleasurable mental exploration ushers in good deeds. Meditation, he says, will drive out whatever it is "that leads you to lie to people or be intrinsically selfish."

So it purges your sins? "You become free to notice how everyone else is suffering," he says. Well, some more than others.

We all need our illusions. But doesn't his, a mishmash of Buddhism and "Time-Life Mysteries of The Unknown," weaken his case against Christians? His answer is that Buddhism is a superior product for including the doctrine of "non-dualism," or unity. "The teachings about self-transcending love in Buddhism go on for miles," he says. "There's just a few lines in the Bible." And hundreds in Dostoyevsky and the Confessions of St. Augustine, but never mind: Harris's argument that "belief is action" rests on treating works like the Old Testament not as complex cultural fables but something akin to your TiVo instruction manual.

Though it lapses in skepticism, Harris's work has won a surprising following among nonmystics. Times science writer Natalie Angier felt "vindicated, almost personally understood" reading it, she wrote in a review. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has practically adopted Harris as the American Robin to his Batman in confronting unreason wherever it may lurk in the hearts of men. "The End of Faith" should "replace the Gideon Bible in every hotel room in the land," blurbs Dawkins.

* * *

When that happens, Muslims will check into the Best Western and find a text cheering their torture.

Legendary for his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial, American attorney Clarence Darrow wrote of his admiration for his forbearer Voltaire, the original 18th-century renegade against the church. He thanked Voltaire for dealing superstition a "mortal wound" -- and for an end to torture. "Among the illustrious heroes who have banished this sort of cruelty from the Western world, no other name will stand so high and shine so bright."

And then among those who want to bring it back, there stands Sam Harris.

"They're not talking," Harris is telling me, imagining a torture scenario where the captives clam up, "quite amused at our unwillingness to make them uncomfortable."

No, it's not the sticky (and real) case of Jose Padilla, the detainee who may have been reduced by his treatment to mind mush, possibly ruining his trial. Instead he's sketching out a kind of Steven Seagal action movie scenario in which we lasso Osama or his gang, maybe on the eve of a terror plot. What to do?

"We should say we don't do it," Harris says of torture. "We should say it's reprehensible." And then do it anyway, he says.

So there it is. In Harris's vision of future America, we will pursue "personal transformation" and gaze into our personal "I-we" riddles, while the distant gurgles of Arabs, terrified by the threat of drowning, will drift into our Eastern-influenced sacred space, the government's press releases no more than soothing Zen koans.

Comment: This Sam Harris guy is a real tarbaby. As noted, he says some sensible things: "The thrust of Harris's best-sellers is that with the world so crazed by religion, it's high time Americans stopped tolerating faith in the Rapture, the Resurrection and anything else not grounded in evidence. Only trouble is, our country's foremost promoter of "reason" is also supportive of ESP, reincarnation and other unscientific concepts."

Nothing wrong with that, despite the exaggerated horror with which Gorenfeld pronounces that amazing finding.

What IS truly revolting is that Harris is a promoter of torture and other strange ideas. Is he deliberately trying to make people who agree that religion should be investigated by science look nutty?

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Black's ex-colleagues take aim at 'five-star girl' Amiel

By Stephen Foley in New York
UK Independent
05 Jan 07

Assailed by lawsuits and criminal charges and still brooding on the loss of a media empire that was once the third largest in the world, Lord Black of Crossharbour has now to contend with a public attack on his marriage by several of his most senior former lieutenants at the Daily Telegraph.

The Telegraph's former editor Charles Moore, and chief executive Jeremy Deedes are among those who help trace the peer's downfall to his 1992 marriage to Barbara Amiel, the columnist who drew him deeper into a rich-list world of celebrity and influence. Their comments, in interviews for the forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair, come only two months before Lord Black goes to trial to fight charges that he used his network of media companies to fund a lavish lifestyle in the US, the UK and Canada.
Mr Deedes tells the magazine that he used to call Ms Amiel "the distraction". He said: "Barbara is a five-star girl and she needs five-star maintenance. He was willing to do whatever she wanted, it would appear."

Charles Moore comments: "She led him away from the company of journalists to the company of the super-rich." Whereas an ideal evening for Mr Black prior to his marriage in 1992 might have been dinner with a right-wing politician or columnist, favoured guests soon became the likes of Donald Trump, Princess Michael of Kent, the Duchess of York and Joan Collins.

"He did want society's acceptance. I could never quite figure out whose," said Mr Moore. Of Ms Amiel, he added: "One day she is kind, warm, helpful. Then she'll turn her head around and barely look at you. In social relations, she was definitely giving orders to him - it was not the other way around."

Both men also complain about the influence Lady Black had over her husband on political matters and of her meddling in staff hirings and firings. Mr Deedes said: "Barbara ruffled feathers with her views. 'I think I better ask the little woman,' he would say when certain subjects came up."

The Hollinger media empire that once gave Lord Black the keys to the British establishment has been broken up since he stepped down from the business in 2003. Federal prosecutors in the US accuse him of orchestrating a "corporate kleptocracy", looting at least $92m from the New York-listed business, Hollinger International, while his Canadian company, Hollinger Inc, is suing him for $700m, alleging widespread asset stripping. He and his wife had their worldwide assets frozen by an Ontario court last year.

The forthcoming criminal trial, set for 5 March, is sure to be a media circus with a defiant Lord Black promising "vindication" before returning to "a quieter life". According to a gossip columnist at Lord Black's former paper the Chicago Sun-Times, the peer was handing out T-shirts to his friends as Christmas presents emblazoned with the slogan "Conrad Will Win". No one has yet been photographed in one.

The magazine also quotes Lady Thatcher, who says she "does not cut and run just because someone gets into difficulties. Conrad is innocent until proven guilty". But other former friends have shunned him.

Dominic Lawson, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, says Lord Black often muses on the society friends who have stuck by him. "I think Conrad feels the Jews and Catholics have been very loyal and the Episcopalians less so," he says. "The Jews and Catholics are more accustomed to persecution."

The latest issue of Vanity Fair goes on sale on 12 January.

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11 hospitalized after chemical leak in Britain

2007-01-04 23:43:26

LONDON, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Eleven people are receiving treatment in hospital on Thursday after a toxic chemical leak from the BASF plant in Britain, Sky news reported.

Three were suffering from serious burns from a substance called HMD, which was released from the factory in Billingham, Teesside, said the report.
HMD causes burns and skin irritation.

Fire and ambulance crews were sent to the plant after the alarm was raised at 9:28 a.m. (0928 GMT).

According to an earlier Sky report, over 30 people had been injured, most of whom were treated at the site. The report quoted an ambulance service spokesperson as saying that there were 37 people injured.

There had been no comment on the cause of the leak.

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OECD Pressures London To Explain Halt To Saudi Arms Probe

by Staff Writers
4 Jan 07

Britain's government is facing international pressure over its decision to halt its probe into a controversial arms deal between British defence group BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia during the 1980s. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of 30 industrialised nations, confirmed Thursday that it had written to the British government asking it to explain why it dropped the investigation last month.

"The letter was sent before Christmas asking for further information about the BAE affair," OECD head of media Nicholas Bray told AFP.
Britain's Attorney General Peter Goldsmith denied in December that the government had contravened an OECD convention, to which Britain is a party, on combating bribery in international business transactions.

Goldsmith announced on December 14 that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) -- a government department -- had halted its investigation into claims that BAE Systems had established a slush fund for some Saudi royal family members.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended the decision, saying years of "ill feeling" between Britain and "a key partner and ally" would have developed if the investigation had been allowed to proceed.

The fund allegedly provided perks including luxury cars to keep the Saudis on board at BAE. It was also allegedly linked to an estimated 50-billion-pound deal from the 1980s involving the supply and support of Tornado and Hawk jets as well as the construction of an airbase.

BAE earlier this year agreed to a 10 billion-pound (14.8-billion-euro, 19.8-billion-dollar) deal with Saudi Arabia for 72 Eurofighter jets, and the deal was reportedly under threat because of the SFO investigation.

The Financial Times said Thursday that the OECD had "taken the unusual step of writing a formal letter to the Foreign Office to ask why the Serious Fraud Office stopped its investigation last month".

According to the business daily, the letter was sent on behalf of the OECD's working group on corporate bribery.

The FT quoted Mark Pieth, the bribery group's chairman, as saying:

"I am not condemning Britain at the moment. I just want to hear an explanation, and it had better be a good explanation."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office told AFP: "We have received this letter and will be responding in due course."

The FT meanwhile added that the OECD had asked for the information to be provided ahead of discussion of the case at a regular meeting of the OECD this month, to be attended by British officials.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the January OECD meeting would not make the BAE-Saudi matter part of its agenda.

But he added: "My understanding is that at the end there will be a sort of 'tour de table' to discuss other pertinent issues and I have no doubt it will be raised at that point.

"The attorney general set out the reasons for the decisions that were made which seem to be in line with the convention, but I'm sure that this will be discussed at the meeting in a couple of weeks' time."

Goldsmith had said the SFO halted its probe after representations made both to him and the head of the SFO "concerning the need to safeguard national and international security".

One of the articles of the OECD convention on bribery states that contracting parties "shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved".

Source: Agence France-Presse

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British formal inquest into Diana death to reopen

By Michael Holden
5 Jan 07

LONDON - The deaths of Britain's Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al Fayed in a 1997 car crash, one of the most thoroughly investigated events of recent times, comes in for more scrutiny on Monday when an inquest reopens after a three-year break.

Three weeks ago, a lengthy police investigation ruled that the crash was an accident and the two were not the victims of an elaborate murder plot. A two-year French investigation had already come to that conclusion.

Diana, who was 36, Fayed and their chauffeur Henri Paul died when their Mercedes limousine smashed at high speed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel after they sped away from the Ritz Hotel, pursued by paparazzi on motorbikes.
In the decade since the accident, a host of conspiracy theories flourished suggesting the couple were murdered because their relationship was embarrassing the British royal family.

The death of the "People's Princess" -- divorced from heir to the throne Britain's Prince Charles and the world's most photographed woman -- sparked an outpouring of grief in Britain.

A two-year French investigation ruled out foul play, saying Paul was responsible because he was drunk, under the influence of anti-depressants and driving too fast.

But that has not stopped skeptics pointing the finger of blame at British spies acting on the orders of Queen Elizabeth's husband Prince Phillip or even of Britain's Prince Charles.

When the formal British inquest opened in 2004, it was immediately adjourned in dramatic fashion by the then royal coroner Michael Burgess to allow police to carry out a top-level investigation into the allegations.

That three-year inquiry, headed by former London police chief John Stevens, reported last month that it agreed with the French probe's conclusions, with thorough tests showing the chauffeur had been drinking before the crash.

It also dismissed claims Diana was pregnant and was engaged, or about to get engaged, to Fayed.

"On the evidence available now, there was no conspiracy to murder any of the occupants of that car. This was a tragic accident," Stevens said.


But under British law an inquest is needed to determine the cause of death when someone dies unnaturally. It cannot apportion blame but can rule that the death was "unnatural", due to violence or an accident.

The police report will be at the center of the inquest, which resumes on Monday, but Stevens said his findings should not prejudge its conclusions.

The inquest has already attracted controversy after Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who took over last year as the presiding judge, decided initial hearings should be conducted in secret.

She changed her mind after strong criticism from Fayed's father Mohamed, owner of the London store Harrods and the leading advocate of murder conspiracy theories.

Preliminary hearings will decide whether inquests into Diana and Fayed's deaths should be held together, whether a jury should be present and if so, who will take part.

Nothing short of a full public inquiry is likely to satisfy Fayed. "I will never accept this cover-up of what really happened," he said after the Stevens report, which he called "garbage".

"For nine years I have fought against overwhelming odds and monstrous official obstructions. I will not stop now in my quest for the truth."

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Wine and Cheese

Chirac warns rival Sarkozy to do his job

Jan 3, 2007

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac took a veiled swipe this week at his rival and would-be successor Nicolas Sarkozy, warning him not to neglect his job as interior minister as the presidential race heats up.

Chirac was speaking to a cabinet meeting a day after the 327,000 members of his centre-right UMP party started voting in an online presidential primary -- the outcome of which is all-but-certain since Sarkozy is the only candidate.
"You will certainly be keen to take part in the coming national debate. It is only fair you should be able to do so," Chirac told cabinet ministers.

"But you must do so with respect for one clear principle: taking part in the electoral debate must in no way undermine your work in government."

Chirac appeared to be taking aim at Sarkozy, who is expected to be anointed as the UMP's candidate at a party congress on January 14, but has yet to say when he plans to leave the government to focus on the race.

Critics see a conflict of interest in Sarkozy's job as interior minister -- and therefore technically in charge of organising the April 22 elections -- and question his ability to keep his eye on the job while on the campaign trial.

Brice Hortefeux, a close Sarkozy ally, said Wednesday that to juggle both roles was "all a question of ability -- and Nicolas Sarkozy has more than enough of that."

He dismissed grumblings about a conflict of interest, saying today was "not the 19th century, when interior ministers... organised the candidacies and chose the winners" of French elections.

But others among Sarkozy's friends are advising him to stand down right away, to clear the air.

Besides, ruling party members concede that the choice may not be entirely his -- Chirac has the power to force Sarkozy out of government if he believes he can no longer combine the roles of minister and candidate.

The animosity between Chirac, 74, and Sarkozy, 51 -- a former protege who "betrayed" him by backing a rival presidential candidate in 1995, going on to wrest control of the UMP, founded by Chirac -- is an open secret in French politics.

In his New Year's address to the nation, Chirac pointedly refused to rule out running for a third term and -- though a bid is seen as highly unlikely -- looks set to allow the suspense to linger up to the last moment.

Chirac's refusal to step aside has undoubtedly taken some of the wind out of Sarkozy's sails -- although polls still show him neck-and-neck with his Socialist rival Segolene Royal, who is riding a wave of enthusiastic support for her bid to become France's first woman president.

The president also took aim Wednesday at Sarkozy's campaign call for a "clean break" with France's Gaullist tradition, in favour of an American-inspired approach to economic and social reform.

He warned ministers against the "temptation of the clean slate" and urged them to show "respect for work done".

Both Sarkozy and Royal, 53, have promised to sweep aside many of the features left by Chirac's almost 12 years in power, threatening the incumbent president's hope of leaving a strong legacy.

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Poll: France's Sarkozy seen as defeated

Jan 3, 2007

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, the Socialist aiming to become France's first woman president, would beat conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, in the second round of presidential elections later this year, according to a new poll.

The poll, carried out by telephone on Wednesday among 891 registered voters aged at least 18, showed Royal slipping by one percentage point to 52 percent and Sarkozy picking up one point to 48 percent compared with a CSA institute poll in late November.
Twenty-six percent of respondents said they would abstain in the election or spoil their vote.

The Socialist candidate was also seen as the frontrunner for the first round, with 34 percent of the votes, up three points, ahead of Sarkozy with 32 percent, up two points.

Far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made it to the runoff vote in the 2002 presidential election, was credited with 15 percent of the votes, down one point.

France votes on April 22 and May 6 to find a successor to incumbent Jacques Chirac, who has not ruled himself out of running for an unlikely third term.

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France's Royal steals limelight with platform

Jan 4, 2007

PARIS, Jan 4, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, who is campaigning to become France's first ever woman president, on Thursday grabbed an early political advantage by unveiling a raft of planned policies and details of a visit to China.

The one-two punch undercut both incumbent President Jacques Chirac, who announced planned tax cuts for businesses in France the same day, and her chief rival on the right for the presidency, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
It also underlined Royal's attempts to bolster her credibility domestically and internationally after months of sniping from detractors that the 53-year-old candidate of the opposition Socialist Party was a political lightweight.

"If France is having a hard time, it's not for lack of advantages -- it's because its leaders have wasted them," she said in a speech conveying New Year's wishes to the public.

She outlined a platform of promises whereby, under her, the French would benefit from "an exercise of power that is simple, direct and genuine".

Royal proposed improving housing security, especially for families and the homeless. That responded to a government bill announced Wednesday that went in the same direction following pressure from a left-wing group that brought the issue to the fore over the past two weeks.

She also argued for a reform of France's generous welfare system that would reward active job-seekers and offer better child-care options for working parents, and pledged to ensure France had influence over EU labour laws.

Later Thursday, Royal was to give details of a trip to China that would see her and a 15-strong delegation speaking to top officials, including possibly President Hu Jintao. The visit would run from Saturday to Tuesday, with Royal leaving late Friday.

China "is an enormous emerging power" whose increasing clout in the globalised marketplace "makes the French nervous," Royal's campaign manager, Jean-Louis Biano, told AFP.

Polls already show Royal leading the race to succeed 74-year-old Chirac in the presidential elections, due in two rounds on April 22 and May 6.

The latest survey, carried out by the CSA institute and published Thursday, predicted she would take the job with 52 percent in the final vote, compared to 48 percent for the 51-year-old Sarkozy.

Far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made it to the runoff vote in the 2002 presidential election, was credited with 15 percent of the votes, down one point.

Chirac, meanwhile, has not ruled out standing for a third term despite low popularity.

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France shocked by cannibalism in prison

Jan 5, 2007

ROUEN, France, Jan 5, 2007 (AFP) - A French prisoner who killed a cellmate and apparently ate part of his chest and lungs was in custody Friday facing charges of premeditated murder and cannibalism, officials said.

The 35-year-old prisoner -- named by the French daily Le Parisien as Nicolas Cocaigne -- had confessed to the gory attack, confirmed by an autopsy, state prosecutor Joseph Schmit said in a statement.
"I have been told that two sections of muscle had been removed in the thorax, and that the upper part of the left lung of the victim was missing," Schmit said.

"The absence of these body parts -- which have not been found at the scene of the crime -- make the suspect's confession of an act of cannibalism very probable."

The attack occurred Wednesday night in a detention centre in the northwestern city of Rouen.

The body of the 31-year-old victim, identified as Thierry Baudry, was found early Thursday when guards opened the cells.

According to the prosecutor, he had been beaten, cut with scissors and a razor, strangled and finally asphyxiated with a plastic bag.

A third detainee in the cell, a man aged 34, initially said he slept through the attack but later recanted. He, too, was facing murder charges and was to be questioned along with Cocaigne by an investigating magistrate Friday.

The prisons authority said the three men had requested to share the cell several days previously. It was not immediately known what motivated the attack.

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Military Shananigans

Basque police discover bomb

Mar Roman, Associated Press in Madrid
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

Police found a bomb in the Basque region of Spain yesterday, five days after a car bombing in Madrid killed one person and shattered a nine-month ceasefire between the government and the armed separatist group Eta.

Nearly 100kg (220lb) of explosives were found in a drum near an abandoned car outside the town of Amorebieta, and they had been rigged to be used in an attack, a spokesman for the Basque police said.

The Basque interior department said the new explosives had been ready for "immediate" use and only lacked a detonator.

Just hours before the find was disclosed, the Spanish prime minister warned Eta that the government and people would not be intimidated after the weekend bombing of a Madrid airport car park. The blast killed a 35-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant, whose body was found in the rubble on Wednesday and was sent back to his country on a Spanish military plane last night.

In a rare gesture, Eta's outlawed political wing, Batasuna, expressed its "deepest sorrow" for the Ecuadorean's death. On Wednesday, its members said they were caught off guard by the bombing and insisted the peace process was not dead because Eta had not formally declared it was ending the truce.

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Bangkok awash with whispers of another coup

2007-01-05 21:36:33

BEIJING, Jan. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Whispers of another coup are spreading through Bangkok, but Thai leaders reviewing security videotapes of the New Year's Eve bombings said the rumors are being spread by unnamed soldiers and police implicated in the bombings.

But some residents Thailand's capital have been speculating that supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could try to retake power and others are citing a possible move within the military against the civilian government it installed less than four months ago.
"Security forces and intelligence sources have confirmed that the coup rumors were spread by the groups of people linked to the New Year's bombs. They aim to create a state of confusion and chaos," interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters Friday.

"The investigators have concluded that the bombers were men in uniform, both green and khaki," said Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtas, referring to the uniforms worn by military and police services.

Surayad said police had recovered two security videotapes of some of the bombers and warned the country should be ready for continued violence. The eight small bombs Sunday killed three people and wounded nearly 40 as the Thai capital celebrated the New Year.

A tape seen by an Associated Press reporter showed the back of the head of a man with closely cropped hair who dropped something and then walked away. Police said the tape was recorded by security cameras at one of the bomb attack sites, in Nonthaburi on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

Authorities have not released the other tape to the press.

Army commander Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, leader of the September coup and head of the Council for National Security, called the reports of another coup "impossible" in an interview on Thai television.

Col. Sansern Chaengkamnerd, a council spokesman, also told The Associated Press Thursday that the coup rumors were unfounded.

"There have been transfers of troops but it is for the purpose of providing security in Bangkok," he said.

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of troops on the streets of Bangkok, at airports, bus and train stations since the Sunday night bombings.

The military has suggested Thaksin supporters in the military and police have been trying to destabilize the country in a bid to take back power.

Thaksin has denied involvement.

There has also been speculation the military may not be satisfied with the performance of the interim civilian government it installed after the coup, and may prefer to take complete power for itself rather than work behind the scenes.

Sondhi denied the military council was responsible for the bombings.

"I have risked myself to do what the people wished. Why should I do that?" he said in a TV interview. "I love my people and my country."

The interim government, which is supposed to relinquish power after an election expected later this year, has drawn criticism for failing to solve several major problems, including an Islamic insurgency in the south and the rising value of Thailand's currency, which has hurt exports.

The failure to restore peace in the south and the Bangkok bombings raised fears the insurgency may be spreading north from the country's three southernmost, Muslim-dominated provinces. Nearly 2,000 people have died from violence in the past three years.

Surayud acknowledged Thursday his government received intelligence in advance about two of the bombing targets, but said he didn't know who the culprits were.

Speaking to the interim legislature, he said there was only "a very small chance" that the blasts were linked to the southern violence.

"It is related more to people with ill intentions, and those who want to cause violence who are in our area, which is Bangkok," he said.

Surayud on Thursday said authorities should be ready for future attacks, though he did not indicate any specific threat: "This isn't happening only now, but we have to be prepared to face a new threat that could harm people's lives in the future."

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Russia to Write Off 80 Percent of North Korean Debt - Newspaper

05.01.2007 14:32 MSK (GMT +3)

ussia has agreed in principle to write off up to 80 percent of some eight billion dollars owed by North Korea, a South Korean newspaper report has said.

The AFP news agency said on Thursday that the Chosun daily had quoted diplomatic sources in Moscow as saying Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong-Gil reached the agreement in December.

"They have agreed to finish negotiations on this issue before March," the source said.
Finance officials from the two countries met last month for talks on the debt. Storchak had previously said he expected Russia to write off much of the debt but that the final amount would depend on Pyongyang's ability to pay.

A South Korean foreign ministry official said he believes no agreement has yet been reached in the talks.

North Korea borrowed 3.8 billion roubles from its ally the Soviet Union since the 1960s to build power plants.

Russia's Vneshtorgbank and North Korea's Trade Bank agreed to re-estimate the debt at eight billion dollars including interest, the daily said.

"Russia backed down from its earlier position that it won't continue eocnomic cooperation unless the North repays all its debt, in order to persaude it to take part in trilateral economic cooperation involving Russia and South Korea and return to the six-party nuclear talks," it quoted a diplomat as saying.

The three-year-long negotiations aimed at scrapping North Korea's nuclear programmes resumed in December for the first time in 13 months but they ended without setting a date for the next round.

The negotiations resumed after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in October and the UN Security Council imposed sanctions.

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East Asia The Biggest Suspect In US Military Technology Theft

by P. Parameswaran
3 Jan 07

East Asian nations are the biggest suspected thieves of American military technology, according to an annual Pentagon study showing foreign spies using sex and computer hacking to steal defense secrets. There will be no let up in technology theft in East Asia, which includes rising military power China, as the economically booming region modernizes its defense systems, said the "2006 Technology Collection Trends in the US Defense Industry" report.
Most of the 971 so called "suspicious contact reports" from US defense contractors and security and counterintelligence staff in 2005 were linked to the East Asian region, said the study, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Prepared by the Defense Security Service Counterintelligence Office, the unclassified document said "the majority of reported targeting originated from East Asia and the Pacific, which accounted for 31 percent of all reporting.

"The apparent across-the-board surge in activity from East Asia and Pacific countries will continue in the short term as gaps in technological capability become apparent in their weapons development processes," it said.

A total of 106 countries were linked in the report to "suspicious activities" pertaining to secret military technology in 2005, up from 90 countries a year earlier, the report said. The Middle East emerged second after East Asia with 23.1 percent of the cases, followed by Eurasia with 19.3 percent and South Asia with 13.2 percent.

In one case, a foreign" woman "seduced" an American male translator to give her his password in order to log on to his unclassified network, the report said, without giving particulars. "Upon discovery of this security breach, a computer audit revealed foreign intelligence service viruses throughout the system, it said.

The study did not identify countries.

"Identifying particular countries will make it a classified document," a spokeswoman for the Defense Security Service told AFP.

The report said however that lasers and optics technology and aeronautics appeared to be "priority technology targets" for the East Asian region. South Asia was more keen on obtaining secrets pertaining to signature control technology.

After terrorism, the greatest threat to US national security at home is espionage, officials say.

Many American state agencies have cited China as the top counterintelligence threat, with as many as 3,500 Chinese "front companies" reportedly gathering intelligence, especially highly-prized information technology.

Just last month, a Chinese national was charged in California with stealing military trade secrets and using them in demonstration and sales proposals to Beijing as well as the air forces of Malaysia and Thailand.

Xiaodong Sheldon Meng, 42, allegedly stole military combat and commercial simulation software and other materials from his ex-employer Quantum3D, a San Jose-based company.

Meng, a resident of Cupertino in California and facing 36 "economic espionage" charges, was said to have stolen trade secrets from Quantum3D "with the intent that they would be used to benefit the foreign governments of China, Thailand, and Malaysia."

"The alleged economic espionage and theft and export of trade secrets such as these -- visual simulation training software that has military application, no less -- has real consequences that could jeopardize our country's military advantages in the world," said US attorney Kevin Ryan.

The US Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive in an annual report to Congress in August last year underlined the challenge of protecting sensitive US technologies from foreign theft, citing globalization and the openness of the US economy to both trade and labor flows.

While the FBI had expanded its counterintelligence cooperation with key defense contractors, that may not be enough, said Peter Brookes, a former senior Pentagon official.

"We've clearly got to do more to prevent foreign spies from nicking sensitive American information for ill-gotten commercial, military -- or worse yet -- terrorist gain," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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I Want Outta Here!

Prisoner slips out of Norwegian jail after smearing himself with vegetable oil

Canadian Press
Wednesday, January 3, 2007 | 5:44 PM ET

OSLO, Norway (AP) - A Lithuanian held on suspicion of theft in an Arctic Norway jail slipped out of custody - literally - by stripping naked, smearing himself with vegetable oil and sliding through the prison bars, police said Wednesday.
"He slipped through the bars on Christmas Eve," said Svein-Erik Jacobsen, operation leader for the Oest-Finnmark Police District. The unusual escape made national news in Norway on Wednesday.

Another Lithuanian, held as an accomplice in the same cell, also used the technique to try to slip out of a window of the Vadsoe Jail, but failed, apparently because he was too big. The men had managed to bend the bars slightly to gain more space.

"It was a good effort," Jacobsen said. "But all he did was get his head and part of his shoulder through the bars."

A police news release identified the escaped suspect as Yuris Sinkevicius, 25, and said he was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and thin. He remained at large. The statement did not name the second suspect.

Both were arrested in Sweden in late October on suspicion of being involved in an organized grand theft ring that had hit targets in northern Norway and Sweden. They were turned over to Norway, and were being held pending an investigation and possible indictment.

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Incoming Archbishop of Warsaw 'spied for communist secret police'

Daniel McLaughlin
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

The Catholic church in Poland has been convulsed by claims that the priest who is due to be sworn in this weekend as Archbishop of Warsaw, one of the leading posts in the hierarchy, spied for the communist secret police.

Stanislaw Wielgus is under pressure to withdraw from Sunday's ceremony or request its postponement after Polish newspapers accused him of collaborating for two decades with a communist regime that the Catholic church staunchly opposed.
There were doubts yesterday over whether the prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, would attend the ceremony as he was due to. The prime minister campaigned with his twin brother, Poland's president, on a platform of purging ex-communists from public life.

"The new archbishop of Warsaw was a secret and conscious collaborator with the SB [Security Service] for more than 20 years. Documents confirm this," the well-respected Rzeczpospolita newspaper wrote yesterday of Mr Wielgus, who was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI last month to fill one of the most important roles in the Polish church.

Rzeczpospolita and other publications claim to have found Mr Wielgus's file in the archives of the communist secret police, which have yielded evidence exposing several prominent priests as former collaborators and led investigators to conclude that about one-in-10 Polish clergymen passed information to the security services.

Mr Wielgus is accused of spying for the SB from 1967, when he was a philosophy student at Lublin University, until the collapse of communist rule in 1989, and of operating under at least three pseudonyms: "Adam", "Grey" and "Adam Wysocki".

Rzeczpospolita claimed to have unearthed Mr Wielgus' signed agreement to work for the SB, along with documents showing that he gathered information about church matters and students whom he taught, and even papers suggesting that he received "special training" for agents and was given a grant to study in Germany as reward for his collaboration.

When the allegations first appeared in the Gazeta Polska newspaper last month Mr Wielgus dismissed them as "a planned attack" by opponents, and insisted that he met SB agents only as part of the standard procedure for obtaining a passport in communist Poland.

"They tried to recruit me but I never did anything that could harm anyone," he said of his meetings with the secret police. "I have never been an informer."

Jozef Kloch, a spokesman for the Polish church, said yesterday that a clerical commission had compiled a summary of what it had found in Mr Wielgus' SB dossier.

"We've given the report to Archbishop Wielgus so he can have the possibility to take a stance on it," Mr Kloch said.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the outgoing Archbishop of Warsaw and a fierce critic of communism, has said he has "every confidence" in his successor, and the Vatican said in a statement last month that "all the circumstances of his life, including those concerning his past, were taken into consideration" when Mr Wielgus was chosen for his new post.

"Black clouds will gather over Sunday's ceremony if he doesn't explain himself," said Kazimierz Sowa, a Catholic priest and journalist.

Adam Boniecki, of the Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny, said the Vatican would expect Mr Wielgus to step down right away if his guilt were proven. "To free the Holy See of any dilemmas, he will certainly resign if - if - there is unambiguous proof of these accusations."

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Terrorist Vegetables

Thursday, January 04, 2007
Angry Arab News Service

Terrorist vegetables

The heroic occupation army of Israel today attacked vegetable stands. The vegetables were accused of terrorist links. US Congress acted immediately: all the offending vegetables were put on terrorist-watch lists.

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Feminist Blogs Respond to Club Culture and Rape Article

By Jessica Valenti and Evan Derkacz
4 Jan 07

Tuesday's article on young women, club culture and rape has the feminist blog world hopping mad.
"Underage Women Sidle Up to Barroom Risks," originally published in Women's eNews and reposted on AlterNet as "How Bars Exploit Underage Women as Commodities" is being criticized by the feminist blogosphere for citing dubious "experts," shaming women for commonplace socializing, and for implying that young "scantily clad" women get what they ask for.

Below is an edited selection of responses from the feminist blogs. (Full disclosure: Liz Funk, the article author, wrote a less-than-favorable Huffington Post piece about me and my blog late last year.)

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon responds:

Please, god, let people stop getting enamored of the idea that the most important battle of all time for gender equality has got to be getting rid of the small perks of being female in the club scene. Yes, yes, it's true that ladies' night is discrimination against men, but for some reason anyone who complains about it doesn't want to hear my solution, which is that women pay 76% of the price men pay on every item until pay equity is reached. This fair solution that addresses all horrible injustices, from ladies night to actual injustices, just doesn't seem to be a marketable idea for some reason.

I bring this up because Liz Funk has stepped in it again with her latest article bemoaning the fact that because men basically run the nightclubs and women are desired to be seen in them, women get a secondary power of being able to manipulate male power for small favors. You know, like those horribly unjust 25 cent well drinks. To make this entire situation worse, Funk quotes Gary Miller in the story, who is mainly an expert in being a douchebag, as we learned when he got into a big war with Jill at Feministe and the fine folks at Gawker, who didn't appreciate his bizarre fantasy-masquerading-as-editorial of legions of club sluts crying into their hangover coffee because they keep getting the fuck-and-run. From this bizarre fantasy, so you know I'm not joking:

You just dance. Then you meet a guy, he buys you drinks, you go home with him, then you wait by your phone the whole next week; but he doesn't call until he's really drunk at 3 a.m. the following Saturday. So you analyze every detail of your encounter with your friends. You start to think maybe he's just busy. But really, you're just the slut from last week.

Women think every guy they have a one night stand with wants to marry them. Gary knows, because he saw it on the teevee. And the teevee will never lie to you about how people really act in order to reinforce stereotypes, now would it?

Gary's a pig with an overinflated sense of how much women need his approval, so why on earth is Liz Funk quoting him in her article about nightclubs?

"Bar and club owners definitely exploit women," said Miller, who wrote an article in November headlined "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" in the Washington Square News, New York University's student newspaper. "Women become a commodity of the establishment that owners use to draw male patrons in. I think the reason most men go to bars and clubs is to find women. This is why they'll pay a cover charge while women get in free; they're paying for the women inside. Bar and club owners know this. They know the success and appeal of their establishment depends on the quantity and attractiveness of the girls inside."

There are two major problems here, apparently:

1. That men have more power and money than women and therefore women end up getting treated like a sexual commodity.
2. Some women realize they can use their commodification in minor, limited ways to get favors.

Which is the concern of "feminist" Liz and her buddy Gary? Well, we'll get around to discussing how problematic male dominance is after we've convinced every woman ever to avoid ever turning tables and gaining some small pleasures here and there. Men feel they can use you for sex? You should cry and give up on sex rather than use them right back and show them payback's a bitch.

But in case this isn't appalling enough, Funk then breaks into hand-wringing about how women just keep going out there and apparently raping themselves. She invokes poor Jennifer Moore, an 18-year-old rape and murder victim, and then goes on about how the booze somehow rapes you.

Over 70,000 alcohol-related date rapes a year are committed among students aged 18 to 24, according to "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," a 2004 report from the National Academies. The report also finds that 29 percent of those between 15 and 17, and 37 percent of those between 18 and 24, said that alcohol or drugs influenced their decision to do something sexual.

Two months after Jennifer Moore's murder, the speaker of the New York City Council, Christine Quinn, promised the participation of the City Council, nightclub owners and police officers, among others, to make "sure that New York City has the most exciting -- and safest -- nightlife in the world." They hope to have legislative plans in place by next year.

Some grassroots initiatives try to help women out on the town get home safely.

In New York, for instance, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called Right Rides provides free car service for women on Saturday nights who don't feel safe taking the subway and don't have alternative means of transportation.

But even with laws and initiatives and special public precautions in place, Quinn acknowledged that young people "who go out at night remain at risk until they get back home."

On this thread the other day, it was repeatedly mentioned how anti-rape discussions tend to fall into victim-blaming, and the people who have the real power to stop rape--men who rape--are rarely mentioned as a target group for actually curtailing rape. Problem is that telling women to give up freedoms in order to stop rape is just more oppression of women. Liz clutches her pearls earlier in the article in shock that underage women have more access to alcohol than underage men where clubs are a little more lenient, but then she plays coy when she says that drinking is a factor in rape by just using the words "people" and "alcohol-related". This weaseling is important to make this article come together, because the truth is that alcohol is a factor not just if the victim had some, but if the rapist did.

So the issue is that if drinking makes it more likely that someone will commit rape, why are we angry that it's women who can get into the bars and not men? Seems to me that bars teeming with drunk 18-year-old women but no drunk 18-year-old men are probably a hell of a lot safer for those young women than situations like parties where the drunk young men are everywhere. Not that a man of 21 can't rape, but from what I understand, the likelihood of a man becoming a rapist basically goes down rapidly with age, which is what you'd figure.

Worse, bringing rape up in an article that's otherwise just moralizing slut-shaming at young women implies that rape is akin to a "consequence", i.e. punishment, for being sexual. By going on about how horrible it is that young women are going out to bars and drinking and being seen as sexually appealing by men, and then saying, essentially, "No wonder they get raped," I don't see how Liz Funk is any different than Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, who blamed rape on women who dare leave the house alone without being covered up. Funk thinks the sluts at the club are asking for it, but Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali thinks Liz Funk is asking for it if she goes to the grocery store alone without a chaperone or a hijab, and doubly so if she's put on a little lipstick. She may think she's so much less a temptation for rapists than the girls at the club, but according to the "uncovered meat" theory, not so.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said:

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?"

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

The sheik then said:

"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

I doubt very seriously that Liz Funk or Gary Miller or the editors at Women's eNews think that it's appropriate to tell women that rape is their fault if they don't wear a hijab, so why do they think it's appropriate to lay the same guilt on women for wearing a miniskirt to the club?

Update: I'm so irate that I'm emailing the editor of Women's eNews to complain. You can do the same here.

Dear Rita Henley Jensen,

As a long time reader of Women's eNews, I was deeply disappointed to read "Underage Women Sidle Up to Barroom Risks" by Liz Funk, an article that seemed to serve no other purpose than to fuss over young women having the audacity to go out and have fun dancing and drinking in the clubs as if they were, shocker, young women. The article went from merely irritating and disappointing to outrageous, though, when Funk finished the article by implying that the cause of date rape is women behaving like this. Since when is it feminist to blame rape victims for being too seductive or free in their movements? Rape is caused by rapists, end of story. If you're interested in chastising someone for partying behavior that leads to rape, save your vitriol for young men who drink and use that as an excuse to commit rape. Feminism is about more, not less freedom for women. Shame on you for engaging in the ancient tradition of blaming the victim for rape.

Dr. Violet Socks writes: Number One Cause of Rape: Rapists

I know that's a bold claim, but I'm going to go even further: rapists are not just the leading, but in fact the only cause of rape. I've been turning this over in my mind for a couple of hours now, trying to poke holes in the logic, and I think I've got a solid case.

Of course the patriarchy doesn't see it that way; under patriarchy, women are the ones who somehow cause themselves to get raped. They're always either wearing short skirts or walking down the street or sitting at home or holding their mouths funny or breathing or doing some goddamn thing that makes men rape them.

We're used to hearing that kind of crap from asswipes like the Cat Meat Sheik, but when ostensible feminists slide into victim-blaming it's maddening. According to Liz Funk, the latest cause of rape is young women going out drinking. Ms. Funk completely omits any mention of who commits these rapes; apparently they just occur, like spontaneous combustion, when young women are out at night. A bunch of girls out on the town, having a few drinks, and poof! They're raped!

Sheelzebub writes: Because nothing says feminist like "those drunk sluts are asking for it"

You know, I realize that club owners engage in the same marketing crap that other industries engage in. I realize that clubs regard women as so much bait for men. I get it. And if Liz Funk had focused on that, I'd be linking to the article exhorting everyone to read this, with a hearty Yeah! What she said! Too bad I can't. What I don't get is why, when Liz Funk could have just concentrated on that and demanded that clubs act responsibly (and perhaps critique the whole peer-to-peer guerilla marketing jauggernaut), she instead chose to shame women who go to nightclubs and quote Gary Miller, a college student who got into an internet war with Jill and Gawker because he was called on his own slut shaming (betcha have a great social life there, boyo). There's a difference between pointing out how an industry exploits someone, and blaming someone for being exploited.

"Bar and club owners definitely exploit women," said Miller, who wrote an article in November headlined "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs" in the Washington Square News, New York University's student newspaper. "Women become a commodity of the establishment that owners use to draw male patrons in. I think the reason most men go to bars and clubs is to find women. This is why they'll pay a cover charge while women get in free; they're paying for the women inside. Bar and club owners know this. They know the success and appeal of their establishment depends on the quantity and attractiveness of the girls inside."

Miller dresses his lament up in feminist blue-jeans and comfy shoes, but we know the score. In the article Funk references, Miller insists that "girls" go to clubs just to dance (and implies that they're looking for a husband), "guys" go to clubs to get laid. Thank you for telling me about my sexuality and desires, Gary. It's so nice when a young pissant lecutures me, 'cause "girls" never just want to get laid, and guys never want to go out and dance (and they aren't being had by the nightclubs as so much tempting meat either--I mean, all that eye-candy AND willing to spring for drinks):

You just dance. Then you meet a guy, he buys you drinks, you go home with him, then you wait by your phone the whole next week; but he doesn't call until he's really drunk at 3 a.m. the following Saturday. So you analyze every detail of your encounter with your friends. You start to think maybe he's just busy. But really, you're just the slut from last week.

And Mr. Miller knows this. . .how? Cause his cousin's best friend's sister had this experience? Or "lots of girls" do? Or what? I mean, it's not as if people go to clubs to hang out and dance. We all know that men are genetically engineered to hate dancing and women never think about sex, it's all about the ring. Just ask Steven Pinker.

See, the club is like a discount brothel. A guy pays a $20 cover charge, plus drinks, plus labor, to convince a girl to go home with him, instead of paying $200 up front for sex. It's a lewd circus, and you girls are oblivious. I just try to see it for what it is. So, keep donating your bodies to the profit of "the club," and keep parading around with your air of VIP prestige. Just remember that it goes hand in hand with a lack of dignity and self-awareness. Have a great four-day weekend.

Let's turn it on its head: See, the club is like a free brothel for women. A "girl" pays next-to-nothing for cover and drinks, gets guys to buy her drinks, gets guys to beg her to go home with him, and gets to have sex without having to pick his socks up off the floor and listen to him yelp with his friends over the football game the next day. Why buy the bull when you can get the rodeo ride for free, after all? It's a lewd circus, and you boys are oblivious. So keep donating your cash and your bodies to the profit of the club, and keep parading around with your air of he-man machismo. Just remember that it goes hand-in-hand with a lack of dignity and self-awareness.

Okay. So we've got a feminist quoting a slut-baiting jackass whose whole! 21 years of experience with women! make him an expert on women's sexuality, thoughts, and inner lives. That's bad enough. But then Funk goes way over the top:

While there are no statistics or national studies about the incidence of bars breaking laws and doing what they can to attract young and underage women, Gary Miller, a senior at New York University, said it's an open secret. The secret burst into the new York City headlines, however, in July 2006. In a second homicide that summer in the city involving a young woman who had been drinking to excess, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore left one of the city's most exclusive lounges intoxicated. Walking alone in the early morning hours along the city's West Side Highway, she was abducted and raped. Two days later she was found disemboweled in a dumpster in Weehawken, N.J.

She should have known better! If she'd just stayed at home like a good girl, this never would have happened. Of course home can be dangerous, too. As can friends/boyfriends. More dangerous, in fact, than being out alone at night:

Contrary to the belief that rapists are hiding in the bushes or in the shadows of the parking garage, almost two-thirds of all rapes were committed by someone who is known to the victim. 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger - 38% of perpetrators were a friend or acquaintance of the victim, 28% were an intimate and 7% were another relative.

Maybe Funk should read this hair-raising account of a rape and inform us how abstaining from clubs, dancing, and alcohol would have helped this woman. A woman who was forcibly sodomized by her boyfriend, then hectored and lectured by his friends and family during her hospital stay. He felt so very sowwy! He was on suicide watch! It was her duty to forgive him even though she had told him several times that anal was a deal breaker for her. Instead of respecting this, he forced the issue and raped her. But it's okay, because he's sowwy and he feels terrible. And it's all about him and how he feels, you see.

Look, if Funk kept this to how clubs are using women as unpaid labor, I'd be right there with her. Marketers are forever getting people to do their scut work and their heavy duty marketing work for some throwaway swag. It's exploitive and it's slimy. But she filtered all of this through a slut-shaming, red-light lens, and ignored the bigger picture.

Rox Populi's response: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Can you guess which one?

* Blaming the ongoing ritualized rape of girls and women in Darfur on the victims
* Sentencing a Saudi woman to 90 lashes for the crime of "adulterous relations" because she was gang raped by seven men
* Implying that the rape of some young American women is nearly justified because they like to go out to clubs to drink and dance
* Rufusing to accept that the reverse mullet is even fuglier than the original

Now please go tell the editors of Women's eNews that blaming the victims of rape is way more uncool than any mullet LA's fashion victims ever dared to concoct.

Dear Ladies: Please Stop Getting Yourselves Raped is Melissa McEwan's response:

... In this approximately thousand-word article, the word rape appears three times, and the words murder, homicide, abducted, and disemboweled appear once each. One of the section headers says, ominously, "70,000 Date Rapes a Year." Those, I guess, are the "barroom risks" of which the article title speaks, as opposed to, say, the people who commit the acts-people who might also be drinking at "ladies' nights," in spite of not being ladies. The acts/risks are referenced abstractly, as if they are somehow eternal, like God maybe. Before man and woman, there was Rape, and Rape said, "Let there be life so that I might ruin it."

In a second homicide that summer in the city involving a young woman who had been drinking to excess, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore left one of the city's most exclusive lounges intoxicated. Walking alone in the early morning hours along the city's West Side Highway, she was abducted and raped. Two days later she was found disemboweled in a dumpster in Weehawken, N.J.

She was abducted and raped and she was found disemboweled in a dumpster, all because she had been drinking to excess and was walking alone while intoxicated. No trace of the person who actually abducted, raped, and murdered her anywhere. He is absent while his crime haunts the article like an menacing specter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you're going to write an article about minimizing the "barroom risk" of assault against women, perhaps you ought to consider actually discussing the assaulters, too.

Though somewhere between 69,999 and 70,000 of those "70,000 Date Rapes a Year" (which refers only to the number of "alcohol-related date rapes a year ... among students aged 18 to 24") are committed by men, this article uses woman/women 22 times, she/her 9 times, girl(s) 6 times, female twice, and ladies twice. Man/Men/He/Him/His/Male/Guy(s) combined are used 14 times. Four women are quoted; one man is quoted-the author of an article entitled "Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs." Yeesh. I guess we're meant to believe that it is just the victims who have been drinking and none of the rapists in those 70,000 alcohol-related date rapes every year-and that if only those victims had all been sober instead, none of those rapes would have happened. My rape, during which I was stone cold sober and my rapist's breath tasted of gin, was obviously the only one of its kind. I deserve a trophy or some shit.

... Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent-I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn't raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.

Enough blaming the victim. Enough.

Echidne, references many of the above responses and adds:

...[From the article,] you quickly you get the idea that men are discriminated against in the admissions procedures of these clubs but that this is in fact upside down, because it is the women who are really treated disgustingly. They are the tethered goat that is used to get the tigers or the men with the money. They are part of the amenities of the place, and that may be the point Funk is trying to make. But adding that reference to a horrible murder makes her point something quite different, something to do with punishing the underage women for their irresponsible behavior.

Notice the reference to "dignity" in the quote by Gary Miller ["Girls exchange dignity for attention in trendy clubs"]? It seems to be a wingnut codeword for women who know their place, or at least that is the way the Pope and the Muslim imams use the term "women's dignity." Women lose their dignity if they act in an uppity manner or if they try to excel in something we all know women can't excel in. And it seems that women lose their dignity in clubs, too.

That tethered goat thing. That is what I have the most trouble with, because the tone of the article assumes that the women going to these bars are all hapless victims, looking for who knows what. Marriage? Enlightenment? And the men who frequent these bars are all tigers looking for a quickie. And rape happens, even murder happens, but somehow the perpetrators are never described. You might get raped by the night air, it seems, especially if you are underage.

Jill at Feministe includes AlterNet:

If I were to write a personal ad for Liz Funk, it would go something like this: SWF seeks tall, manly-man writer or psudeo-intellectual singer-songwriter who appeals to the 'tween set. Interests include long walks on the beach, John Mayer, playing dress-up in feminist clothes, slut-shaming, woman-bashing, and rape apologism. And Gary, if you're out there, call me!

Think I'm exaggerating about "feminist" Liz? Then check out her latest article: "Sacrificing Dignity for Attention." Where have I heard this before?

I'm not one to play feminist police, but damn if this isn't one of those moments where I'd love to take away someone's membership card. So, because Ms. Funk seems to be a little on the slow side when it comes to catching on to basic feminist theory, here's the 101: Feminists don't hate women. And that is why you, Liz, are no feminist.

Feminists don't blame women for being raped or attacked, or attempt to obscure that blame with "concern." Feminists don't shame women for having the audacity to leave their homes, or walk outside alone, or have a drink. Good feminist writers also do some basic research before they end their articles with stuff like this:

But even with laws and initiatives and special public precautions in place, Quinn acknowledged that young people "who go out at night remain at risk until they get back home."

If she had done some very basic research, she would have discovered that home is often more dangerous than being out at a bar...


I was disappointed to see this article run on AlterNet, but even more frustrated to see that it originated from Women's eNews, a great organization that I used to write for many, many moons ago. They employ great writers and have a fantastic editorial staff, and I'm unclear on how a piece like this made it past the decidedly feminist women who run the site. I'd suggest that anyone who is similarly outraged by the article contact the WeNews editorial staff at editors@womensenews.org. At the bottom of this post I'll include a list of all the blogs I can find that have written about this issue; feel free to link to this post and the rest of them in your email.

And finally, Feministing's response, from Jessica Valenti's co-blogger Ann Friedman:

She's baaaaack! Get out your feminist police badges, because Liz Funk is here to tell us that women who go out to bars or take advantage of drink specials are not only kinda slutty, but are almost asking to be raped. Her line of reasoning sounds remarkably similar to all of the anti-feminist responses to the rape and murder of Imette St. Guillen and other women who were last seen at bars or clubs.

To be sure, there are many feminist critiques to be made of ladies' nights. (Check out Jess's nuanced take on this from a while back.) Rather than slut-shaming and victim-blaming, Funk could have addressed the fact that, in promoting ladies' nights and for-women-only drink specials, club owners are using women as bait to attract the "real" customers...


Funk mentions Right Rides -- an organization that acknowledges being out, alone and drunk late at night is not a safe situation but never says the onus is on women to prevent their own rapes. But rather than quote the feminists who run this valuable service (or other non-blaming sources), she turns to Gary Miller, whose previous claim to fame was saying that all women who go to bars are "exchanging dignity for attention." Nice move.

The editors at Womens E-News say they stand by the piece. Click here to email them and share your thoughts on this subject.

Jessica Valenti is the executive editor of Feministing.

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Provoking Iran

Iran's president says international sanctions won't stop uranium enrichment

5 Jan 07

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran stepped up its defiance of international sanctions aimed at rolling back its nuclear program, vowing on Friday to continue enriching uranium and announcing it has produced and stored more of the gas used as a feedstock for enrichment.

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would not give into U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend enrichment, state-run television reported.

"Iran will stand up to coercion. ... All Iranians stand united to defend their nuclear rights," state-run TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"Enemies have assumed that they can prevent the progress of the Iranian nation through psychological war and issuing resolutions, but they will be defeated," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on state-run TV.

Iran has condemned as "invalid" and "illegal" a Security Council resolution passed last month that imposes sanctions against the Islamic Republic for refusing to halt enrichment.

The resolution orders all countries to ban the supply of specified materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It also imposes an asset freeze on key companies and individuals in the country's nuclear and missile programs named on a U.N. list.

If Iran refuses to comply within 60 days, the resolution warns Tehran that the council will adopt further non-military sanctions.

The United States and its allies accuse Tehran of secretly trying to produce atomic weapons, but Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.

Ahmadinejad's comments came as China's President Hu Jintao urged Iran to give a "serious response" to the resolution, Chinese state media reported.

The resolution "reflects the shared concerns of the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue, and we hope Iran could make a serious response to the resolution," Hu said in his meeting with Iran's visiting top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, according to Xinhua News Agency.

But in another show of defiance, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who also heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that Iran has produced and stored 250 tons of uranium hexaflouride gas, the feedstock for enrichment, state-run TV reported.

The hexaflouride gas, or UF-6, is being stored in underground tunnels at a nuclear facility in Isfahan to protect it from any possible attack.

"Today, we have produced more than 250 tons of UF-6. Should you visit Isfahan, you will see we have constructed tunnels that are almost unique in the world," state-run TV quoted Aghazadeh as saying.

The central Iranian cities of Isfahan and Natanz house the heart of the country's nuclear program. In Isfahan, a conversion facility reprocesses raw uranium, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment.

Iran has said it is moving toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges and says it plans to later expand this to 54,000 centrifuges.

Centrifuges spin uranium gas into enriched material, which at low levels is used to produce nuclear fuel to generate electricity. But further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building nuclear weapons.

Aghazadeh confirmed in April 2006 that Iran has produced 110 tons of uranium hexaflouride gas. Experts say that amount would be enough to produce up to 20 nuclear bombs if Iran was to divert its civilian nuclear program into making weapons.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Bush: No peace with Iran developing nuclear arms

5 Jan 07

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday applauded German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, saying he did not see peace with Tehran developing nuclear weapons.
The resolution was an important message that "the free world wants there to be a peaceful future, but we don't see a peaceful future with the Iranians developing a nuclear weapon," Bush said after meeting with Merkel at the White House.

A sanctions resolution adopted unanimously by the
United Nations last month restricted Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology in an attempt to pressure Tehran to halt nuclear activities and resume talks aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.

The United States suspect Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.

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US had better end acting based on double standards - Larijani

Jan 5, IRNA

Iran's top nuclear negotiator said here Friday night that the United States had better end acting based on double standards in various fields.

Secretary of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani said at a press conference, comprised of Chinese and foreign media correspondents, "If the Americans are truly after the establishment of global peace, the first thing they would have to do is to end observing double standards."

He made the comment in response to a question in which the reporter had quoted the US President George W. Bush as saying that peace cannot be achieved resorting to nuclear weapons.
Iranian President's special envoy once again evaluated the US threats and UN sanctions "quite futile" in Iran's ever onward progress toward advancement in various fields, including in modern technologies.

He added, "We are not worried about sanctions as we have been proceeding with out objectives during the past twenty seven years despite all pressures and sanctions.

In response to a question on Israel's threats against Iran he said, "Under such conditions that the Prime Minister of the Zionist regime explicitly confesses that that regime is equipped with nuclear weapons the UN Security Council should logically condemn that regime."

A reporter asked, "A US research institute has predicted that Iran's oil exports would end by the year 2015. Is that the reason why Tehran is persistently pursuing its nuclear program?"

Larijani replied, "Such comments are all results of US miscalculations, and such miscalculations have resulted in engagement of the Americans in pursuing warmonger policies in the region, and creating lots of problems."
He emphasized, "Iran's oil exports have not be decreased and they would not be decreased either, but all the same, we would be in dire need of taking advantage of new sources of energy in the future." The SNSC Secretary further emphasized, "Iran's oil exports would not be decreased."

Iran's nuclear negotiator was asked about the axis of his talks with Chinese officials during his ongoing visit. He replied, "We would talk on various issues, including Tehran-Beijing ties and expansion of bilateral cooperation."
He said that in his meeting with President Hu Jintao he has delivered President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's written message to him.

Larijani added, "Iran has very broad ties with China and both sides have long-term plans for pursuing them, which is why such consultations between the two countries' officials have always been necessary and fruitful for both sides."

A reporter referred to the Zionist Prime Minister's visit of China during the current month, asking Larijani whether he has referred to Israeli threats during his meeting with the Chinese President, or not."

Larijani replied, "We do not evaluate the Israeli threats as important. The Zionist regime had better heed its own disgusting and status."

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America's new puppet

Cameron Duodu
The Guardian
5 Jan 07

By its ill-judged invasion of Somalia, Ethiopia has become an accomplice in Bush's war on terror.

If the 20th century taught us anything, it was that powerful armies can be brought to their knees by small groups of fighters who are not afraid to die. Small Vietnam humiliated mighty America, and the "stone-age" mujahideen of Afghanistan sent the Soviet army packing. With all this so apparent, why has the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, sent his army into Somalia?

The transitional government had been fighting a civil war against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Meles may think the former has the people's backing, but that poses the question: if it's so popular, why does it need the Ethiopian army to fight for it?

Ethiopia fought a war against the Somali government in the late 1970s and early 80s, but there has been peace on the border for over a decade. So Ethiopia cannot point to internal safety concerns in allowing itself to be drawn into invading its neighbour.

The crisis has now escalated sharply with the deployment of US naval forces to prevent UIC fighters from fleeing, the US claiming that some have ties to terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida.

The Ethiopian invasion will certainly be resisted by Somali patriots. It will initially be classified as "successful" because it will establish a semblance of law and order. But the routed UIC, although weakened by internal squabbles, will seek safe havens nearby, regroup and woo back its supporters.

The UIC knows that when faced with a conventional army backed by an airforce, the best option is to disappear into the undergrowth or behind the desert dunes. The Somalis have been "disappearing" like that for centuries, always coming back to harass those who claim to have defeated them.

The danger this time is that the resistance will draw in other countries. Eritrea, which fought its own costly war with Ethiopia, does not need an invitation to help its enemy's enemy. The UIC is also said to be receiving financial assistance from rich leaders of sympathetic Islamic sects, drawn from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf sheikhdoms. And the most explosive fuel will be the involvement of the US on the side of Ethiopia. General John Abizaid, commander for the US central command, is reported to have visited Ethiopia last month, after which Ethiopia moved from providing the Somali government with "military advice" to open armed intervention.

The US objective is to safeguard access to the Red Sea for its oil tankers, and to prevent al-Qaida cells being nurtured in Somalia or in Ethiopia, which has a sizeable Muslim minority. Now, by allowing the US to persuade it to invade, Ethiopia has signalled to the Islamic world that it is willing to join the US in its "war on terror".

Can Ethiopia afford to be universally regarded as a US puppet? In the African Union (AU) - which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa - US policy is already causing enormous confusion. For months the AU has been trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade the UN security council to bolster the AU force in Darfur, Sudan. Yet within days of Ethiopia's invasion, the security council, under US instigation, was able to pass a resolution asking for an AU force to be sent to Somalia. Clearly, the US wants to legitimise the invasion by placing it under the umbrella of the very AU that it has humiliated for months.

As one of the poorest countries on earth, Ethiopia needs to have the solidarity of the "wretched of the earth". In allowing itself to be associated with George Bush's foreign policy, it is placing itself on the wrong side of the struggle between the weak and the strong.

- Cameron Duodu is a Ghanaian novelist and journalist duodu@homechoice.co.uk

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Somali conflict enters 'final battle' as soldiers hunt down Islamists

By Kim Sengupta
05 Jan 07

Ethiopian and Somali government troops are engaged in what they were describing as one the "final battles" of the war with hundreds of Islamist fighters in the south-west of Somalia.

With combat intensifying near its border, and renewed fears that the conflict may spread across the region, the Kenyan government sent extra forces to the area and declared the frontier has been "sealed". Sources say American forces were helping to direct attacks by Ethiopian helicopter gunships as US warships stepped up patrols off Somalia.
Abdirahman Dinari, a spokes-man for Somalia's transitional federal government, said the Islamists "were being surrounded from every direction" in the district of Badade. "The fighting is going on. We hope they will either surrender or be killed by our troops. Their resistance is failing. Some of them are trying to escape by sea, but US anti-terrorist forces have been deployed there to prevent them." In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said US Navy vessels were looking for al-Qa'ida members and their allies.

The US, which claims attacks on its embassies in East Africa had been organised by al-Qa'ida members based in Somalia, also has personnel working with the Kenyans at the border.

The Kenyan Foreign Affairs minister, Raphael Tuju, said: "We will not allow combatants and their families to use this country as a base. It is apparent that some so-called refugees are combatants on the run. We have arrested men holding British, Canadian, Eritrean and Danish passports."

But the United Nations said an acute humanitarian crisis was developing in the wake of the fighting, with almost 10,000 Somalis encamped at the town of Doble, near the Kenyan border. Geoff Wordley, of UNHCR, said: "The situation is pretty bad, these people have no assistance, or food or water." The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the US will provide $16m (£8.1m) in aid to Somalia. Of this $11.5m will be in food, $1.5m in non-food assistance and $3.5m to help refugees.

Jendayi Frazer, the assistant US secretary of state for Africa, said there had been no request for US troops or military assistance for an airlift, but that she did not rule out that it could be requested and supplied later if necessary. In Somalia, the Interior Minister, Hussein Aideed, claimed that "there are 3,500 Islamists hiding in Mogadishu and they are likely to destabilise the security of the city".

Mr Aideed, son of the warlord the Americans attempted to capture or kill during their ill-fated intervention in Somalia, portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down, is now a staunch ally of Washington. He added that the Islamists may begin the bombing campaign they had threatened since being driven out of the Somali capital by Ethiopian and government forces.

But a fresh outbreak of violence in Mogadishu appeared to be the responsibility of warlord-led militias who had reoccupied the city since the demise of the Islamists.

Militia fighters were accused of opening fire at an oil tanker in the outskirts of the city. The driver, Ali Tusbah, said afterwards: "The militias fired three RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] at us and one of them hit my truck. They were bandits who wanted money, just like the old days."

The Somali government, which could barely control the one remaining city, Baidoa, under its jurisdiction, has given Mogadishu residents three days to hand in weapons.

Mr Aideed said: "It can, in fact take years. The three days should not be taken literally. Disarming Somalis is not easy. The government will have a tough time collecting the arms and specifically the small-arms."

Very few have been handed in. One resident said: "I have an AK-47 and a pistol. I will not surrender them because I don't see any trustworthy person to give them to. People have started burying their weapons. Others have transported their heavy weapons outside Mogadishu."

The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, said he wanted to withdraw his troops within a few weeks. Talks are being held for an African Union force to replace them.

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Latin America Awakens!

Zero Infant Mortality, Much of Cuba

Jan 5
Prensa Latina

Havana, Jan 5 (Prensa Latina) Twenty-five Cuban municipalities reported zero infant mortality rates in 2006, making for a current national rate of 5.3 percent.

The National Statistics Department of the Ministry of Health, which previously reported on the national infant mortality rate, said in a new report that those 25 municipalities have a population of over 800,000 inhabitants each.
According to the same source, the western province of Matanzas registered the best results since 6 of its 14 municipalities reported no death among under one-year old live births last year.

In Cuba, children are also protected since they are born without risk of contracting 13 preventable diseases, through immunization programs which have the benefits of a vaccines created by Cuban scientists.

The VaMengoc-BC anti-meningococcal vaccine is another of the achievements reached by the Cuban science in favour of children.

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Venezuela's Chavez Names Vice-President, Ministers for New Term

Steven Mather
Thursday, Jan 04, 2007

Caracas, January 4, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced yesterday that former Electoral Council president Jorge Rodríguez would replace José Vicente Rangel as his new Vice-president while Minister for Justice and the Interior Jesse Chacón is to be replaced by National Assembly Deputy Pedro Carreño.
Jorge Rodríguez is a former president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), who declined a renewed candidacy for the post in March last year, amid speculation that he wanted to give the embattled CNE a chance to start anew with a fresh slate of directors. The National Assembly elections of December 2005, where the main opposition parties withdrew, were held during his stewardship of the CNE.

The 41 year-old Rodriguez has so far not held any post in the executive under Chavez. He is the son of one of Venezuela's more prominent left leaders, also named Jorge Rodriguez, who founded the political party Socialist League and who died while in custody by state police in 1976.

Chávez said that Rodriguez, along with other new ministers would be sworn in before his own inauguration on January 10.

The end of Rangel's role as Vice-President brings an end to a long and mutually loyal relationship which goes back to 1999 when he was Foreign Minister. After that he was Minister of Defense for a year from 2001 - 2002, after which Chavez named him Vice-President of the Republic. Chávez said his relationship to Rangel is like that of a son to a father. "The decision to relieve José Vicente was not easy for me because he is like one of those star pitchers," said Chávez.

Rangel is a long-time icon of Venezuela's left, who ran for president several times in the 1970's and 1980's, before supporting Chavez's run for the presidency in 1998. It was not clear what Rangel would do when he leaves the Vice-Presidency. Chavez merely stated that he and the other departing ministers would continue to form part of his government.

The replacement of Interior Minister Jesse Chacón comes shortly after 16 people died and 13 people were injured in a prison riot. Chávez did not say whether that was the reason for the removal of Chácon, but did not express the same regret he said he felt in relation to the Rangel's removal. He merely said that the changes were necessary to "refresh" the government so they could move on to the next stage, which he said was to fight, "bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiency."

Chávez also said that Rafael Ramírez would remain as Minister for Energy and Oil as well as President of PDVSA, the state petroleum company. Ramírez was criticized by the opposition during the election for reportedly politicizing PDVSA when he urged upper management of the oil company to unequivocally support the government's policies. Chavez praised Ramirez's stand, though, that PDVSA was now "Red, deep Red," in reference to his movement's color.

Finally, Finance Minister Nelson Merentes announced he will be vacating his position and will be replaced by Rodrigo Cabezas, who has been a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly since 1993.

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Litvinenko Affair

2 More British Test Positive for Polonium in Russian Agent Litvinenko Probe

04.01.2007 13:41 MSK (GMT +3)

Two more people have tested positive for low levels of polonium 210, the radioactive poison that killed former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, the Reuters news agency quoted British health authorities as saying on Wednesday.

The tests bring to 12 the number of people in Britain found to have been contaminated by polonium since Litvinenko died on November 23. He accused the Kremlin of assassinating him in a murky spy case which has strained relations between London and Moscow.
Moscow has strongly denied the charge and dismissed Litvinenko, a former member of its FSB security agency who became an exiled dissident, as a low-level figure with no access to intelligence secrets.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said one of the new cases was a member of staff at a central London hotel, the Best Western in Piccadilly, where police had conducted searches after Litvinenko's death.

The other was a guest who visited the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel on November 1 -- the same date and venue where Litvinenko met two Russian contacts hours before he fell ill.

But an HPA spokesman could not say whether this was the same person referred to last week by Dutch authorities when they said one of 24 Dutch nationals who stayed at the Millennium between October 31 and November 2 had tested positive for polonium. She said she was not aware of the Dutch report.

The HPA said the 12 people exposed to polonium did not show levels significant enough to result in any short-term illness. Any increased longer-term risk was likely to be very small.

British police are conducting a murder investigation into Litvinenko's death but have declined to comment on their findings.

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U.K. radiation monitors say Polonium-210 traces found at another restaurant

5 Jan 07

LONDON - Traces of lethal Polonium-210 have been detected at a restaurant linked to the investigation of the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, the Health Protection Agency said Friday.
The agency said "some evidence" of radioactive contamination had been found at the Pescatori Restaurant in London's Mayfair neighborhood, but measures to remedy the problem had been completed and the resaturant had been allowed to reopen.

"On the basis of the monitoring results received there is no public health concern," said the agency, which has taken the lead in monitoring people and places for signs of contamination.

Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who lived in exile in London, died in a London hospital on Nov. 23 after suffering radiation poisoning. In a deathbed statement, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, allegations which the Kremlin dismissed.

British police say they are treating his death as murder and have conducted investigations in both London and Moscow. Around a dozen London sites have been tested for traces of the rare element.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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