Friday, November 26, 2004
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Picture of the Day: Flashback!

Major newspapers and other publications have received scores of e-mails wanting to know about this mysterious figure. Many women, in particular, have inquired about how to contact him.

"The photo captures his weariness yet his eyes hold the spirit of the hunter and the hunted," wrote one admirer in an e-mail. "His gaze is warm but deadly. I want to send a letter."

The photo seems to have struck a chord, as an image of Germany striking back at a perceived enemy, or just one young man putting his life on the line halfway across the globe.

Smoking while Iraq burns

Its idolisation of 'the face of Falluja' shows how numb the US is to everyone's pain but its own

Naomi Klein
Friday November 26, 2004
The Guardian

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old marine from Appalachia, who has been christened "the face of Falluja" by pro-war pundits, and the "the Marlboro man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in more than a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop, deadly combat" in Falluja, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, the CBS News anchor Dan Rather informed his viewers: "For me, this one's personal. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I."

A few days later, the LA Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic". In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood - John Wayne - who was himself channelling America's most powerful founding myth, the cowboy on the rugged frontier. It's like a song you feel you've heard a thousand times before - because you have.

But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro man as its president, Miller is an icon and, as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy. "Lots of children, particularly boys, play army, and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of non-smoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: letter writers from across the nation are united in their outrage - not that the steely-eyed, smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. Better to protect impressionable youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by drinking water or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke. (It reminds me of the joke about the Hassidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up "because that could lead to dancing".)

On second thoughts, perhaps Miller does deserve to be elevated to the status of icon - not of the war in Iraq, but of the new era of supercharged American impunity. Because outside US borders, it is, of course, a different marine who has been awarded the prize as "the face of Falluja": the soldier captured on tape executing a wounded, unarmed prisoner in a mosque. Runners-up are a photograph of a two-year-old Fallujan in a hospital bed with one of his tiny legs blown off; a dead child lying in the street, clutching the headless body of an adult; and an emergency health clinic blasted to rubble.

Inside the US, these snapshots of a lawless occupation appeared only briefly, if they appeared at all. Yet Miller's icon status has endured, kept alive with human interest stories about fans sending cartons of Marlboros to Falluja, interviews with the marine's proud mother, and earnest discussions about whether smoking might reduce Miller's effectiveness as a fighting machine.

Impunity - the perception of being outside the law - has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime. What is alarming is that it appears to have deepened since the election, ushering in what can only be described as an orgy of impunity. In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone - doctors, clerics, journalists - who dares to count the bodies. At home, impunity has been made official policy with Bush's appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, the man who personally advised the president in his infamous "torture memo" that the Geneva conventions are "obsolete".

This kind of defiance cannot simply be explained by Bush's win. There has to be something in how he won, in how the election was fought, that gave this administration the distinct impression that it had been handed a get-out-of-the-Geneva-conventions free card. That's because the administration was handed precisely such a gift - by John Kerry.

In the name of electability, the Kerry team gave Bush five months on the campaign trail without ever facing serious questions about violations of international law. Fearing that he would be seen as soft on terror and disloyal to US troops, Kerry stayed scandalously silent about Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. When it became painfully clear that fury would rain down on Falluja as soon as the polls closed, Kerry never spoke out against the plan, or against the other illegal bombings of civilian areas that took place throughout the campaign. When the Lancet published its landmark study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis had died as result of the invasion and occupation, Kerry just repeated his outrageous (and frankly racist) claim that Americans "are 90% of the casualties in Iraq".

There was a message sent by all of this silence, and the message was that these deaths don't count. By buying the highly questionable logic that Americans are incapable of caring about anyone's lives but their own, the Kerry campaign and its supporters became complicit in the dehumanisation of Iraqis, reinforcing the idea that some lives are expendable, insufficiently important to risk losing votes over. And it is this morally bankrupt logic, more than the election of any single candidate, that allows these crimes to continue unchecked.

The real-world result of all the "strategic" thinking is the worst of both worlds: it didn't get Kerry elected and it sent a clear message to the people who were elected that they will pay no political price for committing war crimes. And this is Kerry's true gift to Bush: not just the presidency, but impunity. You can see it perhaps best of all in the Marlboro man in Falluja, and the surreal debates that swirl around him. Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns.

Comment: Amen. For all the talk of Bush staking out the moral territory in the recent "election", here we see what United Statist morality amounts to: don't smoke while you're killing Iraqis.

The hallucinatory media blitz includes this bit from a follow-up article to the photo, the article that tries to answer the important question of "who is that man"?

Miller is now obliged to provide smokes to just about anyone who asks. It's just about wiped out his stash.

"When we came to Fallouja I had two cartons and three packs," Miller said glumly, adding that his supply had dwindled to a mere four packs — not much for a Marine with a three-pack-a day habit. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Even in the Marines, where smoking is widespread, the extent of Miller's habit has raised eyebrows.

"I tried to get him to stop — the cigarettes will kill him before the war," says Navy Corpsman Anthony Lopez, a company medic.

Yeah, right.

In a world where smoking is a bigger evil than war crimes, is there any hope?

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In God We Trust
The War Economy in Iraq

Arthur Lepic
25 November 2004

At the beginning, the occupation of Iraq was that of a classic war of predation. But today, the impossibility of peacefully exploiting the oil resources and the cost of maintaining an extremely large contingent has made of it a financial pit. Nevertheless, the US has decided to continue on and to pay the price. This shows, aside from its long-term strategic objectives, that there is an indirect economic interest in their military deployment. This demonstration of force is indispensable in order to safeguard the unique status of the dollar, alone capable of compensating for the instability of a United Statesian economy on its last legs.

The economic imperatives that conducted the US and several vassal states to invade Iraq have been the object of numerous analyses, most of which are wrong or incomplete. The neo-conservatives tried hard to refute the claims that the war had no other goal than the pillage of Iraqi oil. They pushed forward the idea that the oil is sold on the international market at the going price, respecting the rules of competition. Moreover, anyone can see that the Coalition has not been able to exploit Iraqi oil as they wished and that, nevertheless, it persists and is getting bogged down in a costly occupation. The reality is therefore more complex and a close examination of the macro-economic processes at work is necessary.

For certain aspects the invasion of Iraq is a classic predatorial war. The administration of a conquered country by a private provisional Authority, based upon the model of the East Indian Company, is firmly within the Anglo-Saxon tradition. [1] The allocation of contracts for the rebuilding of the country to companies like Haliburton, paid for by the profits from the exportation of Iraqi oil, permits the reintroduction into a dying United Statesian economic system of a source of real value, and not simply speculative profit. Washington’s foreign debt has reached abysmal proportions: twenty years ago household debt in the US was equivalent to half of the economy of the country. Today, it has reached 85%, debt for which the Treasury must compensate by importing $2.6 billion of liquidities each day, principally thanks to the system of recycling petro-dollars [2]. From this we can better understand why states like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, that had envisaged transferring their dollar reserves into euros, were accused by president Bush of forming an “Axis of Evil”.[3]

However, the resistance is hindering this predatorial activity, and, in any case, the riches open to pillage cannot suffice to compensate for the instability of the US economy. As well, the Bush Administration must maintain an influx of foreign capital to its soil by rendering investment attractive. To do this, the administration first lowered the cost of labour, guaranteeing a high level of profit. For this, it must lower the salary base and social charges. The balance sheet for the first term of the Bush Administration reflects this: the number of unemployed increased prompting the population as a whole to give up a part of its social coverage, which led to a clear reduction in the cost of labour.

That is why the candidate Bush was supported by big industry. To the contrary, the premature announcement, November 2, 2004, of a possible Kerry victory, the candidate favourable to an increase in social protection for more modest electors, translated into a general lowering of prices on Wall Street. The Democratic candidate was supported by large speculators, like Warren Buffet and George Soros, who get their revenue from the growing inequalities in the world and who are not interested in the internal economic health of the US.

Secondly, in order to preserve the confidence of foreign investors, the Bush Administration deployed its military force [4]. Capital doesn’t like risk, and there is no better sanctuary than the country that wishes to rule the world by force. Permanent war confers an all-mighty image that acts as a veritable magnet for capital.

But contrary to the Gulf War, where the costs were repaid by the financial contributions of the member States of the Coalition, the rest of the world is paying indirectly for the invasion of Iraq: attracted by US power, foreign investors place their extra dollars in US Treasury Bonds, thus transferring a large part of the cost of the war to foreign countries, including those who opposed the war!

Most “liberals” [Economic liberals, neo-liberals – translator’s note] in the world supported the invasion because it was motivated by a world-wide profit crisis. They had realized several years earlier that the “dot com” economy produced only artificial profits, and that the future lowering of net energy production globally around 2010 (the beginning of the decline of world oil production) would have as its consequence an unprecedented contraction in the world economy [5]. From which came the simple calculation: if we can’t increase global wealth, we must lower the number of people who benefit. It is the same reasoning that led the proponents of zero growth, and before them the neo-malthusians, to propose different, humanist and, of necessity, collectivist solutions. But one thing is certain, that the agenda for “sustainable development” failed long ago, precisely when the world’s population growth surpassed that of available resources, that is, in the early 80s.

To avoid the collapse of their economy, the United States has no other choice than to prepare itself to repress a generalized insurrection against the capitalist interests of an ever-shrinking minority. It is a situation that Samuel Huntington anticipated, in 1957, in his work Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. At that date, he was already affirming that the US Army had as its vocation not the defence of its population or its territory, but the defence of the economic interests of the multinationals.

Just as the militarization of the Hitler regime permitted Germany to brutally rebound from a profound economic crisis by attracting capital, principally from the US, in the same way the militarization of the US guarantees to foreign capital that it will be safe as long as it remains on United Statesian soil. In parallel, the army is placed in the service of capital by opening markets that were formerly nationalised, and then, eventually, by maintaining chaos and terror – when its power is not accepted.

If we return to the example of the 1930s, Hitler’s Germany had attracted US capital based upon the promise of a military response to the Bolshevik peril. In the same way, in 1999, large industrial groups invested in the war in Kosovo in the hope that NATO would subdue and open the final socialist economy in Europe. And it was again in the perspective of the privatization of another vast public sector that the Anglo-Saxon employers invested in the invasion of Iraq in 2003; a privatization that was led by the Pied Piper, L. Paul Bremer III, assisted by East European experts who had participated in the liquidation of the socialist economies, such as the ex-Bulgarian president, Peter Stoyanov or the ex-Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar [6].

The question that torments the strategists in the war rooms in Washington today is that of knowing by what means they can most efficiently control the populations of the new strategic colonies. The neo-conservatives consider the invasion of Afghanistan a success in terms of return on investment: control of the country was had with little cost by subcontracting the fighting out to low-paid local war lords rather than by deploying high price GIs with large transportation costs. On the other hand, in Iraq, Saddam Hussein prepared his country for guerrilla war, putting into place beforehand the necessary structures for an insurrection, forming, according to the US Army’s own jargon, a “counterstate” [7]. Believing that they could avoid the error of Vietnam, where the CIA alone waged counter-insurgency operations through most of the war, the Pentagon thus decided, given the size of the task, to confide the mission of counter-insurrection to the regular army [8]. According to a very military and bureaucratic logic, all means possible must be put at the service of a clear objective. Several failures forced the Pentagon to take up this solution: in the first place, it was up to the intelligence services to neutralize the political leaders. The files listing Ba'athist leaders, carefully compiled by Ahmed Chalabi, came to nothing because the Ba'ath Party, foreseeing the insurrection, had doubled its structure. This explains the political fall from grace of Chalabi after the searching of his house by Coalition forces that doubted his good faith.

Next, the strategists watched on as the insurrection achieved its first strategic victory in its first phase [9]: because the essential elements of the political and military structure of the resistance had been left intact after the invasion, they were able to infiltrate the collaborating Iraqi security forces and rally the population by provoking murderous actions by the occupation forces. Today, after the “Guernica” of Fallujah, there is no possibility that the majority of Iraqis will ever accept the occupation or the puppet regime.

It is therefore an initiative saturated with contradictions that was recently approved behind the walls of the Pentagon: hand out to the conventional military forces a manual that is supposed to aid them in conducting the counter-insurrection [10]. The manual recuperates diverse theoretical elements accumulated during the course of the last decades’ conflicts, in particular those from Vietnam, trying to adapt them urgently to the Iraqi context. This redefinition of the role of the US Army, now being forced to make up for the absence of a real Iraqi collaboration force, is a contradiction in itself because the soldiers that bombard a country can hardly win the confidence of its population themselves. Nevertheless, given the size and organization of the resistance, it must above all limit the damage brought on by the manu militari control of the population, and explain to the strong arms of the army in what way this type of mission differs from those to which they are used. It isn’t a simple thing because the Iraqi resistance is active throughout the entire country, in different phases according to the region and the population. The resistance wages a war of position (Phase III) in Fallujah or Mossul while waging one of strategic defence (Phase I, which includes sporadic actions, principally against collaboration forces) in Baghdad. Mao’s original theory of guerrilla warfare implies that even if the guerrillas don’t evolve from one phase to another in clear ways and may be active in different phases at the same time, the simultaneous activity of the resistance in different phases signals an evolution of the conflict in its favour.

As efficient work of political intelligence gathering, supported by targeted actions by special forces, is the only way to wage a victorious counter-insurrection, we are forced to conclude that the guerrilla war is lost for the United States. From this sombre balance sheet, we are forced to conclude that the Pentagon has chosen to terrorise the Iraqis by military force in order to maintain, at whatever the cost, its control over the second largest oil reserves in the world and to keep its economy afloat. All the apologies of the Democratic electorate of the US will change nothing: we are watching the pure and simple destruction of a people and a country in the name of capital and fossil fuels.

[1] « Qui gouverne l'Irak ? » by Thierry Meyssan, Voltaire, 13 May 2004.

[2] See « Economic "Armageddon" Predicted », by Brett Arends, From the Wilderness, 23 November 2004.

[3] « Le talon d'Achille des USA », by L.C. Trudeau, Voltaire, 4 April 2003.

[4] See « What is new in today's imperialism ? », by Peter Hudis, News and Letters, November 2003.

[5] See the article « Les ombres du rapport Cheney », by Arthur Lepic, Voltaire, 30 March 2004. A point of view that is fed by the public reports of the CIA announcing an immament reduction of global production.

[6] « Buts de guerre et bilan stratégique de l'attaque de l'Irak » by Thierry Meyssan, Voltaire, 6 October 2003.

[7] See the article « Opération Phénix », by Arthur Lepic, Voltaire, 16 November 2004.

[8] See the article « Faute de collaborateurs, les États-Unis sacrifieront leurs fils », Voltaire, 15 November 2004.

[9] The Maoist theory of insurrection, notably adopted by the Viet Cong and then by the Bathists in Iraq, distinguishes three phases in the insurrection’s development: Phase I is strategic defence, Phase II is overt confrontation, and finally, Phase III is the formation of regular troops to wage an offensive.

[10] The manual is available for download on the site of the Federation of American Scientists.

English translation by Signs of the Times

Comment: Many observers agree that the US economy was kept artificially afloat during the election campaign. It would have looked very bad for the neo-cons if the economy had tanked while the Commander-in-Chief was predicting good times ahead...well, good times while awaiting that inevitable next "terrorist" attack on the US.

There is also much speculation that the US cannot maintain its current level of debt. As the above article points out, the US is dependent upon foreign capital. The growing impoverishment of the US population will provide cannon fodder for the next round of wars as disenfranchised US youth look for a way out of the descending cycle of unemployment and poverty. For all its faults, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 paints a devastating portrayal of the predatorial activities of Marine recruiters in poor neighborhoods, as they describe the "career" opportunities available to young people with no other hope, matching their sales pitch to the victim they stalk.

Every day it becomes more and more clear that the US is caught up in the same dynamic as Hitler's Germany. As Lepic's article describes, the US has already lost the war in Iraq. But, then again, perhaps the goal of the neo-cons has all along been to foment civil war between the Sunnis, the Shi'ites, and the Kurds, hoping that they will kill each other off, leaving a devastated Iraq for the taking, for the interests of a Greater Israel. It is the same strategy they are using against the Palestinians.

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Economic 'Armageddon' predicted
By Brett Arends/ On State Street
Boston Herald
Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish.

But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity. His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic "armageddon.''

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, "it struck me how extreme he was - much more, it seemed to me, than in public.''

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that "we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.

In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded.

Less a case of "Armageddon,'' maybe, than of a "Perfect Storm.''
Roach marshalled alarming facts to support his argument.

To finance its current account deficit with the rest of the world, he said, America has to import $2.6 billion in cash. Every working day. That is an amazing 80 percent of the entire world's net savings. Sustainable? Hardly.

Meanwhile, he notes that household debt is at record levels.
Twenty years ago the total debt of U.S. households was equal to half the size of the economy.

Today the figure is 85 percent.

Nearly half of new mortgage borrowing is at flexible interest rates, leaving borrowers much more vulnerable to rate hikes.

Americans are already spending a record share of disposable income paying their interest bills. And interest rates haven't even risen much yet.

You don't have to ask a Wall Street economist to know this, of course. Watch people wielding their credit cards this Christmas.

Roach's analysis isn't entirely new. But recent events give it extra force. The dollar is hitting fresh lows against currencies from the yen to the euro.

Its parachute failed to open over the weekend, when a meeting of the world's top finance ministers produced no promise of concerted intervention.

It has farther to fall, especially against Asian currencies, analysts agree.

The Fed chairman was drawn to warn on the dollar, and interest rates, on Friday.

Roach could not be reached for comment yesterday. A source who heard the presentation concluded that a "spectacular wave of bankruptcies'' is possible.

Smart people downtown agree with much of the analysis. It is undeniable that America is living in a "debt bubble'' of record proportions.

But they argue there may be an alternative scenario to Roach's. Greenspan might instead deliberately allow the dollar to slump and inflation to rise, whittling away at the value of today's consumer debts in real terms.

Inflation of 7 percent a year halves "real'' values in a decade. It may be the only way out of the trap.

Higher interest rates, or higher inflation: Either way, the biggest losers will be long-term lenders at fixed interest rates.

You wouldn't want to hold 30-year Treasuries, which today yield just 4.83 percent.

Comment: Not wanting to incite a panic, the author throws in an "alternative scenario" at the end to give the reader some hope to cling to - don't worry, it'll all be okay...

From the articles we have presented lately on the Signs page regarding the US and world economies, it is becoming more and more likely that the "glimmer of hope" is not a pool of crystal clear water reflecting the sunlight in a desert economy, but rather a simple mirage...

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Bush orders massive CIA recruitment drive
By Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

Washington, DC, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- President Bush has ordered the CIA to embark on a massive recruiting drive to boost by 50 percent the numbers of analysts and spies with the language and other skills needed to improve intelligence about terrorist groups and rogue nations seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Some reformers praised the directive in the form of a memorandum sent to CIA Director Porter Goss last week and released by the White House late Tuesday. But others worried it plays a numbers game that might lead to a reduction in standards.

"It will be extremely difficult to increase the numbers of people like that, especially because you cannot afford to let standards slip," Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of both the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, told United Press International.

The memo gives Goss 90 days to work with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and the Office of Management and Budget to produce a plan and a budget to:

-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of "fully qualified officers in the Directorate of Operations," also known as the clandestine service, which recruits and runs agents;

-- ensure that "a majority" of the new recruits are "drawn from diverse backgrounds with the skills experience and training needed";

-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of "CIA officers tested and proficient in mission-critical languages" like Arabic, Persian and Pashtu;

-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of analysts in the Directorate of Intelligence; and

-- double the numbers of CIA staff involved in research and development of new technologies to help with the war on terror and the fight against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The number of staff currently in the Directorate of Operations is classified, but it is thought to be several thousand, and the Directorate of Intelligence is several times larger than that.

The memo gives no time frame within which the plan must be executed, but such a huge undertaking is likely to take several years, and the memo asks for biannual updates on its implementation starting in June 2005. [...]

But critics of the CIA said there would be no way to reach the goals without lowering standards and poured scorn on the idea of measuring success by numbers of officers.

"The numbers will force them to lower the bar," said retired Col. Pat Lang, a former case officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, who quoted Napoleon to illustrate his point. "In war, men are nothing; the man is everything."

Ruppersberger said there was a need to maintain standards and "focus on the crucial issue of training. ... Otherwise you get credibility problems."

But Lang, author of a textbook about recruiting and running agents called "Intelligence: The Human Factor," said that there were very particular skills involved that could not necessarily be imparted through training.

"The people who are good at this are a kind of elite, a group not of the common clay," he said, explaining that they needed to be both "empathetic and domineering," able to simultaneously "represent themselves to (the agent) as caring about their welfare, while being prepared to sacrifice them without hesitation if necessary."

"People like that -- people with the potential to become like that -- don't grow on trees," he said. [...]

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Falwell's Thanksgiving message: "I thank God" for Hannity, Limbaugh, FOX, NewsMax, WorldNetDaily, and The Drudge Report
Some News Source
September 5, 2004

During his November 21 pre-Thanksgiving sermon, Reverend Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority founder and national chairman of the Faith and Values Coalition, encouraged his audience to "praise the Lord" at Thanksgiving for "alternative news media" sources such as FOX News Channel, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, which he said are "telling the truth."

From Falwell's November 21 televised sermon, broadcast from his Thomas Road Baptist Church:

Let me talk to you about five good things of late ... for which this week I hope you and your family around your Thanksgiving table will praise the Lord. ... No. 5: America has alternative news media and is no longer held hostage by the major print and broadcast media. I remember a day when ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN and the major print media controlled all the news flow to the American people and we found ourselves getting warped and distorted news. I thank God now in the 21st century for talk radio, that three hours a day people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and hundreds of others are telling the truth of what really is going on. I thank God for FOX News Channel [applause]. I thank God for the Internet bloggers and the news producers like,, even The Drudge Report.

Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances of false statements made by the so-called "truth" tellers that Falwell is thankful for:

Falwell is pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a 22,000-member church in Lynchburg, Virginia, that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Falwell's weekly services, titled "The Old Time Gospel Hour" are broadcast from the church and reach global audiences by television, radio, and Internet. Falwell is founder and chancellor of Liberty University. He operates the Liberty Channel cable and satellite network, publishes the National Liberty Journal, and writes a weekly column published by conservative news outlets such as and Falwell endorsed President George W. Bush's reelection.

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Declaration of Independence Banned at Calif School
By Dan Whitcomb
Wed Nov 24, 2004 04:12 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God -- including the Declaration of Independence.

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.

"It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young fifth-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful," said Williams' attorney, Terry Thompson.

"Williams wants to teach his students the true history of our country," he said. "There is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence." [...]

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1m Christians sign EU religion plea
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
The Telegraph
(Filed: 25/11/2004)

More than a million people from all over Europe are to deliver a petition to Tony Blair and fellow EU leaders calling for changes to the constitution recognising Europe's Christian heritage.

Refusing to accept a secular "fait accompli" from Brussels, a Christian coalition is demanding that each EU state publish its version of the constitution's preamble, with references to God if desired.

Already armed with 1,149,000 signatures and with thousands more pouring in from Holland since the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh, the group claims that most states want some reference to Christianity but were blocked by France.

The move is keenly backed by Pope John Paul II, who has repeatedly condemned the "moral drift" of Brussels. "One does not cut the roots to one's birthright," he told pilgrims this summer.

Euro-MPs voted this week to back the calls for a change in the text. Petitioners, led by Italy's International Mission Centre, will now take their case to EU governments. The current version of the preamble eschews Christianity, talking vaguely of "the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe".

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, deliberately left the issue open when he wrote the document, inviting a petition.

"I have chosen not to insert the reference to the Christian heritage in the constitution,"he said. "Rather I appeal to you to persuade me of its necessity."

A British official said it was too late to change the preamble, although national parliaments could add a "rider" stressing their country's Christian roots.

An EU official said: "These Christians could at least have the good grace to accept that they lost the argument."

Comment: These Christians claim that most states do not want a separation of church and state. What is so interesting about all this is that such Christians are not fighting for religious freedom; they are fighting to impose their beliefs on all citizens by changing the EU constitution to include references to their "one true god". Shades of the US...

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EU's Solana Says He Secretly Met Hamas
November 25, 2004

LONDON (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had secret talks with the Palestinian militant group Hamas even though it is on the European Union's list of banned organizations, he said in an interview broadcast Thursday.

"I have had direct contact with Hamas but not in the last few days," Solana told BBC Radio. "Those meetings were not long. They were just to pass a clear message of where the international community was."

He declined to say who he met or where the meetings took place. Asked how long ago they took place, he said: "months."

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, talking to the BBC from Jerusalem, declined to comment directly and repeated British policy on Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction.

"Our position is very clear. We do not have contact with Hamas," Straw said.

"We do not believe in contacts with Hamas or other proscribed organizations. What these organizations have to do if they want to take part in discussions is to renounce violence."

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned Hamas but stopped short of criticizing Solana for meeting its representatives.

"We don't see Hamas as a political partner," the spokesman told BBC Radio's Today program.

"We see them as a deadly terrorist organization responsible for countless suicide bombings in Israeli cities and towns. We think they're part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Hamas has spearheaded many attacks on Israel, including suicide bombings, during a 4-year-old Palestinian uprising. The Israelis have killed several of its leaders.

The EU and the State Department placed Hamas on their lists of banned organizations last year.

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Blix doubts Falluja chemical arms find

Friday 26 November 2004, 8:27 Makka Time, 5:27 GMT

Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix says he would be surprised if a chemical laboratory found in the Iraqi city of Falluja was capable of creating weapons.

"Let's see what the chemicals are," Blix told a packed gathering of the Oxford Union debating club on Thursday, after Iraqi officials said they had uncovered a chemical bomb factory in Falluja.

"Many of these stories evaporate when they are looked at more closely," he told the mainly student crowd. "The chances [that the laboratory could produce weapons] are, I think, relatively small. I would be surprised if it was something real." [...]

Comment: Indeed, we have all seen that the 'reality' of the "war on terror" also evaporates when looked at more closely. Sadly, most people are not interested in looking closely at the assertions of their leaders, preferring to unquestioningly accept whatever they are told.

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Iran's nukes 'not the only target'

Ex-Mossad intel chief says U.S., Israel could strike other areas

Posted: November 25, 2004
By Aaron Klein
© 2004

If the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran, operations would not be limited to the targeting of Tehran's suspected nuclear sites, but could also include attacks against several key military and industrial installations, the former head of Mossad's foreign intelligence told WorldNetDaily in an exclusive interview.

"From a hypothetical point of view, one shouldn't assume any attack would only target nuclear facilities. Other targets of significance to the Iranians could be attacked, including military bases, oil facilities and certain industrial facilities," said Uzi Arad, former director of Mossad's Intelligence Division and Chairman of Israel's prestigious Herzliya Conference.

"The Iranians shouldn't make the assumption that just because they hide a few nuclear sites they are safe. There are enough targets to exact a very heavy price on Tehran, so much so that it should render their entire nuclear exercise a losing proposition," said Arad.

Last week, the National Council for Resistance, a grass-roots Iranian organization that in the past has accurately revealed Iranian nuclear sites, announced Tehran was producing enriched uranium and testing biological and chemical warfare projects at a secret plant in northeast Iran that had not been disclosed to United Nations inspectors.

WorldNetDaily reported exclusively the site is hidden many feet below a development of luxury villas in the Iranian suburb of Nour in the Lavizan district of northeast Tehran.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he has seen intelligence corroborating some of the Council's disclosures and that Iran may be researching the use of conventional warheads to deliver nuclear material.

Arad said the Iranians shouldn't view America's troubles in Iraq as an impediment to its ability to attack Iran.

"The Iranian planners should not make the easy assumption that Iraq will hamper America's efforts. Iraq gives the U.S. certain important tactical advantages, including a major staging base. We may be talking here mostly about an air campaign against Iran, and this kind of targeting can be mounted and staged from neighboring Iraq," said Arad.

Arad said for now America and the international community must continue to press for sanctions and other methods of intense pressure against Tehran, and suggested the Iranian regime should view Iraq as a warning.

"We saw in Iraq what happens to a country that supports terrorism and tries to obtain WMDs," he said. "Iraq should serve as an example, both from this war and during the first Gulf War, that when America acts, it brings an overwhelming force to bear. The Iranian leaders must ask themselves whether they are willing to take this very high risk gamble with their nuclear program because they might end up where Saddam is today."

Arad warned allowing Tehran to develop nuclear weapons would have widespread serious negative consequences.

"If Iran proceeds, it will be disastrous for the world," said Arad. "It would place nuclear weapons in the hands of a hostile totalitarian regime. It would be a victory for all states that support terrorism, a clear signal to hard-liners that they can get away with such things. It would stiffen the negotiating positions on key diplomatic disputes, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. It would have a spillover effect on other countries – Saudi Arabia would want such weapons. It would destabilize the Gulf region, have consequences for the world oil supply. And it would mean the total unraveling of the nonproliferation regime and the International Atomic Energy Agency's ability to be effective."

Support of Iranian opposition by the international community could be an effective way of handling the current regime, said Arad.

"The regime does not have strong domestic support. There is a great deal of resentment on the surface. Its stability can be greatly reduced by the people themselves."

Arad told WorldNetDaily the issue of Iran and other key regional issues, including Israel's Gaza withdrawal and its growing relationship with the EU and involvement in NATO, will be discussed at this years Herzliya Conference in mid-December.

The conference, in its fifth year, is known to set the tone for regional policies and has been the site of several major policy speeches by Israeli leaders. Sharon last year announced at the conference his disengagement plan, and in 2002 detailed the U.S.-backed roadmap to peace. Arad said to expect similarly important diplomatic announcements this year, as well.

Comment: One has to wonder why the former head of Mossad foreign intelligence is giving an exclusive interview to WorldNet Daily.

For our readers who may be unfamiliar with WorldNet Daily news, it is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian news organization that features commentary by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter. The above story has been reprinted here on the Signs of the Times in order to give our readers an example of what passes for objective news reporting in the evangelical world.

Now, if you consider the "intended audience" of this interview, the implications become much more disconcerting. It seems likely that the average fundamentalist reading this article will take it at face-value, unconditionally swallowing the Zionist propaganda that Iran is a rogue state and should be dealt with harshly and quickly.

But on a subtler level, this so-called "former" Mossad intel chief may be deliberately planting clues as to what we may expect from the Americans regarding the inevitable Iranian invasion. An "air campaign... staged from neighboring Iraq", against "military bases, oil facilities and certain industrial facilities", in addition to nuclear targets.

It seems the PTB can be starkly accurate when they want to be.

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Putin says Ukraine election results are clear
25 November 2004 2227 hrs

THE HAGUE : The results of the Ukraine presidential elections results are absolutely clear, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after a summit meeting with the European Union.

"I congratulated Viktor Yanukovich", the Ukrainian prime minister, for the "results are absolutely clear," Putin said Thursday after talks in The Hague with the EU.

Earlier before the summit started Putin sent a congratulatory message to pro-Moscow Yanukovich, who was the handpicked choice of outgoing President Lenoid Kuchma to replace him.

"The Ukrainian people have made their choice -- a choice in favor of stability, the strengthening of the state, further development of democratic and economic transformation," Putin told Yanukovich in the message published by the Kremlin. [...]

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Canada slams Ukraine vote


OTTAWA - The federal government yesterday rejected the results of Ukraine's bitterly disputed presidential election and vowed to force authorities in Kiev to review a vote that was described as rigged by Canadian and other international observers.

"Considering the allegations of serious and significant electoral fraud from international and Canadian election observers, the government of Canada cannot accept that the announced results by the central election commission reflect the true, democratic will of the Ukrainian people," Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan announced in the Commons.

"Canada rejects the announced final results." [...]

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Ukraine's rigged elections: we've been this way before
Anne Applebaum
November 26, 2004

Before the election, the Government mobilised groups of thugs to harass voters. On the day of the election, police prevented thousands of opposition activists from voting. Nevertheless, when the votes were counted, it was clear the opposition had won by a large margin. As a result, the ruling party decided to falsify the result, and declared victory. Immediately, the Russians sent their fraternal congratulations.

No, that was not a description of the presidential election that took place last Sunday in Ukraine. It was a description of the referendum in Soviet-occupied Poland in June 1946.

But although that infamous Polish election took place nearly 60 years ago, there are good reasons why it sounds so much like last weekend in Ukraine. According to the Committee of Civic Voters, a volunteer group with branches all over Ukraine, the techniques haven't changed much in 60 years. In the Sumy region, they record, a member of the electoral commission was beaten up by unidentified thugs. At one polling station, "criminals" disrupted the voting and destroyed the ballot boxes. In Cherkassy, a polling station inspector was found dead. More "criminals" broke polling station windows and destroyed ballot boxes. In the Zaporozhye region and in Kharkov, observers saw buses transporting voters from one polling station to the next.

There was, in other words, not much that was subtle about the disruption of the election - no arguments about hanging chads or "secret software" here - and not much that was surprising about the result. Polls taken before and after the vote showed a large margin in favour of Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western liberal.

Nevertheless, victory has been declared for Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Moscow candidate. He has already received warm congratulations from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who backed him with praise, money and, possibly, some advice on how to steal elections. It can't be a coincidence that if the Ukrainian election is settled in Moscow's favour, it will mark the third such dubious vote in Russia's "sphere of influence" in the past two months, following the polls in Belarus and the separatist province of Abkhazia.

All of these places may seem obscure and far away. But so did the events 60 years ago in Poland, at least until it became clear they were part of a pattern: 1946 was also the year Winston Churchill gave his celebrated speech describing the "iron curtain" that had descended across Europe. [...]

Comment: History does indeed repeat itself. We would encourage our readers to go out and rent a copy of the movie "The Pianist". It is a heartrendingly accurate and frighteningly prophetic movie about the Nazi invasion of Poland and life inside the Warsaw ghetto.

There are certain scenes in the film that are eerily reminiscent of what's happening in the United States right now.

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Alleged Tapes of Vote-Rigging
Friday, November 26, 2004. Page 2.
By Simon Saradzhyan
Staff Writer

Ukrainian web news portal Ukrains'ka Pravda posted what it claims are transcripts of four telephone conversations between Yury Levenets, PR adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and unidentified campaign workers on election day.

The tapes, which the online newspaper says were given to opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's headquarters by high-ranking law enforcement officials, document alleged collusion on rigging the results of the Nov. 21 election.

In the first reported conversation, Levenets asks who is winning, and an unidentified campaign worker responds that as of 2:30 p.m. their candidate is losing by 1.46 percent, and they agree the vote needs to be rigged so that by 8 p.m. he appears to be winning.

It is not clear which district is being referred to. Nor is it clear how the vote would be rigged. According to the newspaper and Yushchenko's headquarters, the most popular method used by Yanukovych's campaign team was to obtain numerous absentee ballots and then have the same people cast them at several polling stations.

The second taped conversation allegedly features Levenets and another campaign worker, identified by his first name, Valery. The two discuss how results of a nationwide exit poll should be tweaked to give Yanukovych a 3 to 3.5-percentage-point advantage. The third tape allegedly features a brother of Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Klyuyev debating with a campaign worker how to organize fights with students. The fourth tape allegedly records Levenets being briefed by an unidentified campaign worker on how to invalidate seven protocols from district election commissions to tilt the overall balance in the remaining protocols toward Yanukovych.

The online newspaper also claimed to have received several other tapes from Yushchenko's headquarters, including conversations involving presidential administration chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk, Central Elections Commission chairman Serhiy Kivalov, and several other senior officials. The conversations were taped from Oct. 30 to Nov. 24 and will be released soon, the paper said.

Myron Wasylyk, a spokesman for Yushchenko's political bloc, confirmed Thursday that the opposition candidate received the tapes from law enforcement officials.

Calls to the prime minister's and President Leonid Kuchma's press services went unanswered Thursday evening. Vladislav Yezhelin, a spokesman for Yanukovych's campaign headquarters, denied any knowledge of the reported tapes.

Leaks of taped phone conversations have been a political weapon of choice in former Soviet republics, but have been especially popular in Ukraine. The opposition used alleged intercepts of conversations between Kuchma and his subordinates in which he vented his anger with the writings of Ukrains'ka Pravda editor Heorhiy Gongadze to strengthen its calls for the president's resignation.

Gongadze was abducted in downtown Kiev in September 2000. His decapitated body was later found buried in a forest outside the capital. His murder triggered months of violent protests against Kuchma, who the opposition alleged was involved in the killing. Kuchma denied the allegations.

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Australian police to try stun guns for air marshals
25 November 2004 1457 hrs
CANBERRA : Australian police say they may soon follow the United States' lead and issue air marshals with electric stun guns after a trial of the weapons by an elite security unit.

The Taser X26 stun gun is to be tried out by the Specialist Response and Security unit in a six-month pilot scheme around Canberra, Detective Superintentant Rob Gilliland of the Australian Federal Police said.

The weapon can incapacitate a person by temporarily collapsing their muscles with a powerful bolt of electricity delivered through charged probes. [...]

Gilliland said the stun guns could eventually be used more widely, including by air marshals and Australian police posted overseas.

Asked if arming air marshals with stun guns would eventually be an option, he said: "Yes, it certainly is."

Australia is in the process of deploying about 200 police in neighbouring Papua New Guinea under a controversial plan to restore law and order there.

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Egyptian council leader dies after microphone attack
26.11.2004 8.22 am

CAIRO - The head of a local council in Egypt died after a fellow councillor beat him unconscious with the base of a microphone stand during a meeting on Thursday, Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.

Mohamed Tahaami, leader of the local council in Beni Suef about 140km south of Cairo, died on his way to hospital after being beaten on his face, it said.

MENA did not say what provoked the attack but added police were searching for the attacker, who left the council hall after the incident.

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British troops dismantle Belfast firebomb
Associated Press
November 25, 2004

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- British army experts have defused a firebomb discovered in a central Belfast department store, police said Thursday, in the latest sign that Irish Republican Army dissidents are targeting the city's bustling pre-Christmas shopping season.

Staff at the Primark discount clothes store discovered the homemade device Wednesday night after closing time. They were searching stacks of clothes in response to a police warning of the increased risk of firebombs being hidden by IRA dissidents, who oppose the outlawed group's 1997 ceasefire.

Five firebombs have been discovered this month in Belfast shops, but none has caused serious damage. [...]

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Islanders fleeing PNG eruption

PORT MORESBY - Voluntary evacuations have begun on a tiny Papua New Guinea island after a volcanic eruption spewed ash 14km into the air and blanketed homes, crops and water supplies.

The volcano on Manam, off the countryís north coast, began erupting in October, but a severe burst yesterday prompted authorities to upgrade volcanic activity to stage 3.

A Papua New Guinea volcanologist said the volcano coughed up lava and large rocks. An aviation red alert was issued for aircraft to avoid the area.

"The people of Manam are helpless - living on an island that is sitting on a deadly volcano," said Minister for Inter-Government Relations Sir Peter Barter, who has called for assistance.

"Hunger is setting in because the islanders have lost their food gardens over the past month since the volcano started erupting."

Emergency officials said an area was being cleared on the mainland for a possible full-scale evacuation of the 9600 islanders. Evacuation becomes compulsory if volcanic activity reaches stage 4.

Papua New Guinea lies on the "Ring of Fire", a zone of volcanic activity around the Pacific that accounts for more than 75 per cent of the worldís active and dormant volcanoes.

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Papua earthquake kills 17
Last Update: Friday, November 26, 2004. 11:34pm (AEDT)
At least 17 people have been killed and more than 130 injured after an earthquake hit a town in Indonesia's Papua province for the second time in nine months.

Terrified residents in the coastal town of Nabire have pitched tents outside their homes amid continuous aftershocks, badly needing more tents and medicine.

"A total of 11 bodies have been identified but there are six others which are still buried under rubble of destroyed buildings," said Commissioner Wempi Batlayeri, the town's deputy police chief.

The quake and smaller shocks had injured 133 people, 30 of them seriously and destroyed 328 homes and other buildings, Commissioner Batlayeri said.

"The current condition in Nabire is pitch black, there is no lighting. Almost every minute aftershocks can be felt," he said.

Residents set up camp outside their houses fearing further tremors while tents were pitched outside the town's main hospital to treat victims.

"We are still waiting for supplies from Biak town. The airport's runway is cracked in six places but Twin Otter planes can still land here," Commissioner Batlayeri said.

The main quake, measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale, hit Nabire at 9.25 am (local time).

Some 150 buildings were flattened and another 178 were set ablaze.

The tremor had its epicentre 17 kilometres south of Nabire and 33 kms underground.

In February, strong earthquakes jolted Nabire, which is 580 kms west of Jayapura, for three days, killing 37 people and injuring 600.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 18,000 islands, lies at the collision point of three tectonic plates.

Pressure between the massive segments of the Earth's crust cause frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Two weeks ago a succession of powerful earthquakes struck Alor island in eastern Indonesia, killing 26 people.

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Reported Tornado Damages Nearby Indiana Homes
Thursday, November 25 @ 09:27:36 PST

About a dozen families in southeastern Indiana have a special reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day.

Their homes were damaged when a tornado or severe thunderstorm skipped through their communities Wednesday night, but no one was reported hurt. [...]

Several tornado sightings were reported in southeastern Indiana on Thanksgiving Eve as powerful storms cut two paths near Greater Cincinnati but spared the city.

The metropolitan area was under a tornado watch for several hours, but the storms passed west and east of Cincinnati.

The storm system that moved through Fayette, Union and Franklin counties produced large hail and winds up to 80 mph that even blew a semi off the highway. [...]

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Heavy rains and floods kill one in central Vietnam
Last Updated 26/11/2004, 11:59:18

Drought-stricken central Vietnam has issued a flood alert as rains triggered by an approaching typhoon have swept away at least one person.

Rains started this week in the central region, bringing relief to rice farmers who had faced drought since September.

Disaster management officials in the coastal province of Quang Ngai have issued a high flood alert as upstream waters pour in.

One man has died after being swept away in the province.

The typhoon has destroyed 200 houses in the southern region where a sailor is missing after his boat capsized. [...]

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Drought sparks cholera fears (South Africa)

By Eric Naki, Political Editor

FORT BEAUFORT - The "worst drought in years" in the Nkonkobe Municipal area has sparked fears of a cholera outbreak in rural villages.

The provincial government and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry have been asked to intervene as tens of thousands of people are suffering in an area where 90 percent of rural villages are without water. [...]

"Except for a few villages, there is absolutely no reticulation," said Nkonkobe mayor Mandisile Mdleleni yesterday.

He said the problem started earlier in the week when he was inundated with calls from various sectors of the community pleading for assistance.

"Those who had no option but to use polluted river and dam water in the past are in the same predicament as these rivers and dams have dried up as well. In the light of the prevailing circumstances, an outbreak of cholera is imminent."

Fort Beaufort villages are the worst affected, as water from the Kat River is moving too slowly to fill reservoirs that feed the rural areas. The water evaporates before it can be reticulated to the villages.

The Middledrift situation was worsened by technical problems in the water reticulation infrastructure at Sandile Dam near Keiskammahoek.
Since the rural taps, dams and rivers have dried up, many villagers have had to walk or drive to get water from urban towns. [...]

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Fears of rice shortage in drought-hit Cambodia
Last Updated 25/11/2004, 15:08:26

Officials in Cambodia say drought has hit a fifth of the country's rice growing land.

A poor monsoon season has affected more than 520,000 hectares of Cambodia's 2.5 million hectares of paddy.

Reuters news agency says the drought has destroyed nearly 124,000 hectares of paddy and seriously affected nearly 400,000 hectares. [...]

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WHO warns of threat to billions from flu pandemic
25 November 2004 1651 hrs
BANGKOK : An influenza pandemic is being predicted to affect every country leaving millions dead and make more than a quarter of the world's population ill with no vaccines available until at least next March, according to the World Health Organisation.

An outbreak of bird flu that has killed 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam this year is the most likely cause of an inevitable pandemic but it was not clear if it would start in the "next week or the next years", said Dr. Klaus Stohr of the WHO global influenza programme.
He predicted more than a quarter of the world's estimated 6.4 billion population would fall ill from influenza.

"There are estimates that would put the number of deaths at the range between two to seven millions and the numbers of people affected will go beyond the billion because 25 to 30 percent will fall ill," he told reporters at a meeting in Bangkok of health ministers and officials from 13 Asian nations.

"An influenza pandemic would spread globally and every country would be affected."

The WHO has sounded similar warnings during two waves of bird flu outbreaks across Asia that have destroyed bird stocks and infected 44 people, killing 12 in Thailand and 20 in Vietnam. [...]

At least 20 million and perhaps as many as 50 million people died in the 1918-1919 pandemic, the highest toll of any disease in the last century, and the worst of four flu pandemics since 1890.

Scientists said the disease in 1918, which also infected up to a billion people, then half of the world's population, leapt to humans by mutating from bird flu.

The strain in 1918 was especially lethal for healthy young adults. Two later pandemics hit the elderly worst but the average age of those who have contracted flu in Thailand this year has been 20 and only 15 in Vietnam, said Stohr. [...]

Comment: See our Signs Flu Supplement for the real story on the upcoming pandemic and how it may be connected to the American scientists who are currently experimenting with the 1918 Spanish Flu by growing it in the eggs of chickens.

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Scientists see us in a virtual reality

By Christophe Schmidt in London

IS it all just a dream? Speculation that reality is nothing but an illusion, or simulation, or controlled environment, has been with us for thousands of years, most recently doled out as pop culture brain candy with the likes of the US film The Matrix.

But now two respected British scientists, physicist Martin Rees and mathematician John Barrow, are questioning whether all matter and mind we know is not the creation of some mega-supercomputer somewhere.

"A few decades ago, computers were only able to simulate very simple patterns. They can now create virtual worlds with a lot of detail," Rees told AFP.

"In the future, we could imagine computers able to simulate worlds perhaps even as complicated as the one we think we're living in."

Martin, an astronomer at Cambridge University, dares a thought that could have been deemed far-fetched among serious scientists only a while back: "The question is : Could we be in such a simulation?"

In this case, the universe would not be all-encompassing but only part of an ensemble Rees and Barrow call the "multiverse".

Barrow, who also teaches as Cambridge, described in an academic article that it was long known that a civilization slightly more advanced than our own could simulate "universes in which self-conscious entities can emerge and communicate with one another".

In a much more computer-savvy society with vastly more advanced technology, "instead of merely simulating their weather or the formation of galaxies, like we do, they would be able to go further and watch the appearance of stars and planetary systems," he said.

"Then, having coupled the rules of biochemistry into their astronomical simulations, they would be able to watch the evolution of life and consciousness."

With the same ease that we humans watch the "life cycle of fruit flies", Barrow said, the machine masters of the universe could "watch the civilizations grow and communicate with each other, argue about whether there existed a Great Programmer in the Sky who could intervene at will in defiance of the laws of Nature they habitually observed".

However, the theory of the Cambridge pair of scientists has not met widespread approval among peers.

Seth Lloyd, professor of quantum mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pointed out such a simulation would require an "unimaginably large" computer.

Lloyd, in comments published last week in The Sunday Times, gave a jab to the duo, comparing them to a science fiction book with a cult following - Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which stars a supercomputer named Deep Thought.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide is a great book but it remains fiction," Lloyd said

Comment: Note the dismissive comments in the last paragraphs, based on the light weight argument that essentially states: "if we can't imagine it, it can't exist". We are not sure if comments of this type, which are heard often in scientific circles, are due to a natural and honest inability to think and reason logically or some more sinister agenda. The point of course, is that modern computers were "unimaginably powerful" 50 years ago, yet here I sit typing these words. Some people just seem determined to insist that "skin and bone" is all we will ever be. Thank God for free will and independent thought.

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