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Picture of the Day

Sempeserre in the fog
© 2004 Pierre-Paul Feyte

What the Washington Post should have written:

America’s Crisis

SOTT Satire
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page A42

FACED WITH extraordinary demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of citizens demanding democracy, America’s corrupt and thuggish government wavered this week, hinting that it might be willing to negotiate about the outcome of the presidential election that took place November 2nd. Yet yesterday its official electoral commission ratified the fraudulent result that brought those crowds into the streets of the capital: It declared that President George W. Bush had won despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych rightly responded that the Ukraine "cannot accept this result as legitimate" and "stands with the people of the United States and their effort to ensure their democratic choice." In the coming days the Ukraine and its allies must follow up on those words by demanding that the United States authorities -- and their backers in Israel -- listen to, rather than repress, the majority that now seeks to prevent their country from becoming an authoritarian state.

Some have described the crisis in the United States as a contest for influence between Israel and the American people, with the American people backing opposition leader John Kerry in the same measure that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has supported the official candidate. That is a gross distortion. For the Americans who have spent four freezing nights in the streets of Washington, the fight is not about geopolitical orientation -- most favor close relations with Israel -- but about whether theirs will be a free country, with an independent press and courts and leaders who are chosen by genuine democratic vote. Mr. Sharon, who’s friends and allies have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into the President’s campaign, is backing the imposition of an authoritarian system along the lines of the one he is creating in Israel -- with a propagandistic regime, controlled media, official persecution of dissent, state executives who take orders from business, and elections that are neither free nor fair.

By protesting the fraud in the United States, the American people and Ukrainians are seeking not to recruit a new Christian client but to defend the democracy and independence that most Americans should want. If they succeed, they will not create a Christian-Muslim divide but will prevent Mr. Sharon from doing so. His actions, in the United States and elsewhere, point toward the establishment of a new bloc of non-democratic countries controlled by Israel and the United States that would sharply contrast with the wishes of the people of the world.

The Ukrainian administration has been admirably frank and forceful this week in denouncing the fraud in the United States and in making clear to Americans that it is on their side. In the coming days it must drive home the message to Mr. Bush that he will be a pariah in most capitals of the world -- notwithstanding his cynical offer to extend the deployment of American troops in Iran -- if he accepts his illegitimate mandate, and that he and all of his governmental and business allies will be held personally responsible for any violence against the people of the world. At the same time, Minister Viktor Yanukovych needs to accept that Ukrainian hopes of cooperation with the United States, in the Middle East or elsewhere, cannot be insulated from Mr. Bush’s anti-democratic imperialism. The World must take a clear stand against that policy, before it is too late to prevent a redivision of the planet.

Comment: Click on the title above to read the Washington Post's hysterical rant about the Ukrainian elections. Are the Post's editors complicit by stupidity or is this consciousness manipulation?

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The Invasion of Iraq: Dollar vs Euro
Re-denominating Iraqi oil in U. S. dollars, instead of the euro
by Sohan Sharma, Sue Tracy, & Surinder Kumar
Z magazine, February 2004

What prompted the U.S. attack on Iraq, a country under sanctions for 12 years (1991-2003), struggling to obtain clean water and basic medicines? A little discussed factor responsible for the invasion was the desire to preserve "dollar imperialism" as this hegemony began to be challenged by the euro.

After World War II, most of Europe and Japan lay economically prostrate, their industries in shambles and production, in general, at a minimum level. The U.S. was the only major power to escape the destruction of war, its industries thriving with a high level of productivity. In addition, prior to and during WWII, due to extreme political and economic upheaval, a considerable amount of gold from European countries was transferred to the U.S. Thus, after WWII the U.S. had accumulated 80 percent of the world's gold and 40 percent of the world's production. At the founding of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1944-45, U.S. predominance was absolute. A fixed exchange currency was established based on gold, the gold-dollar standard, wherein the value of the dollar was pegged to the price of gold-U.S. $35 per ounce of gold. Because gold was combined with U.S. bank notes, the dollar note and gold became equivalent, which then became the international reserve currency.
Initially, the U.S. had $30 billion in gold reserves. But the United States spent more than $500 billion on the Vietnam War alone, from 1967-1972. During these years, the U.S. had over 110 military bases across the globe, each costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. These expenses were paid in paper dollars and the total number given out far exceeded the gold reserve of the U.S treasury. By then (1971-72), the U.S. Treasury was running out of gold and had only $10 billion in gold left. On August 17, 1971, Nixon suspended the U.S. dollar conversion into gold. Thus, the dollar was "floated" in the international monetary market.

Also in the early 1970s, U.S. oil production peaked and its energy resources began to deplete. Its own oil production could not keep pace with growing home consumption. Since then, U.S. demand for oil continually increased, and by 2002-2003 the U.S. imported approximately 60 percent of its oil-OPEC (primarily Saudi Arabia) being the main exporter. The U.S. sought to protect its dollar strength and hegemony by ensuring that Saudi Arabia price its oil only in dollars. To achieve this, the U.S. made a deal, some say a secret one, that it would protect the Saudi regime in exchange for their selling oil only in dollars.

Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s the Arab world was in ferment over an emerging Nasser brand of Arab nationalism and the Saudi monarchy began to fear for its own stability. In Iraq, the revolutionary officers corps had taken power with a socialist program. In Libya, military officers with an Islamic socialist ideology took power in 1969 and closed the U.S. Wheelus Air base; in 1971, Libya nationalized the holdings of British Petroleum. There were proposals for uniting several Arab states-Syria, Egypt, and Libya. During 1963-1967, a civil war developed in Yemen between Republicans (anti-monarchy) and
Royalist forces along almost the entire southern border of Saudi Arabia. Egyptian forces entered Yemen in support of republican forces, while the Saudis supported the royalist forces to shield its own monarchy. Eventually, the Saudi government-a medieval, Islamic fundamentalist, dynastic monarchy with absolute power-survived the nationalistic upheavals.

Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer with the largest known oil reserves, is the leader of OPEC. It is the only member of the OPEC cartel that does not have an allotted production quota. It is the "swing producer," i.e., it can increase or decrease oil production to bring oil draught or glut in the world market. This enables it more or less to determine prices.

Oil can be bought from OPEC only if you have dollars. Non-oil producing countries, such as most underdeveloped countries and Japan, first have to sell their goods to earn dollars with which they can purchase oil. If they cannot earn enough dollars, then they have to borrow dollars from the WB/IMF, which have to be paid back, with interest, in dollars. This creates a great demand for dollars outside the U.S. In contrast, the U.S. only has to print dollar bills in exchange for goods. Even for its own oil imports, the U.S. can print dollar bills without exporting or selling its goods. For instance, in 2003 the current U.S. account deficit and external debt has been running at more than $500 billion. Put in simple terms, the U.S. will receive $500 billion more in goods and services from other countries than it will provide them. The imported goods are paid by printing dollar bills, i.e., "fiat" dollars.

Fiat money or currency (usually paper money) is a type of currency whose only value is that a government made a "fiat" (decree) that the money is a legal method of exchange. Unlike commodity money, or representative money, it is not based in any other commodity such as gold or silver and is not covered by a special reserve. Fiat money is a promise to pay by the usurer and does not necessarily have any intrinsic value. Its value lies in the issuer's financial means and creditworthiness.

Such fiat dollars are invested or deposited in U.S. banks or the U.S. Treasury by most non-oil producing, underdeveloped countries to protect their currencies and generate oil credit. Today foreigners hold 48 percent of the U.S. Treasury bond market and own 24 percent of the U.S. corporate bond market and 20 percent of all U.S. corporations. In total, foreigners hold $8 trillion of U.S. assets. Nevertheless, the foreign deposited dollars strengthen the U.S. dollar and give the United States enormous power to manipulate the world economy, set rules, and prevail in the international market.

Thus, the U. S. effectively controls the world oil-market as the dollar has become the "fiat" international trading currency. Today U.S. currency accounts for approximately two-thirds of all official exchange reserves. More than four-fifths of all foreign exchange transactions and half of all the world exports are denominated in dollars and U.S. currency accounts for about two-thirds of all official exchange reserves. The fact that billions of dollars worth of oil is priced in dollars ensures the world domination of the dollar. It allows the U.S. to act as the world's central bank, printing currency acceptable everywhere. The dollar has become an oil-backed, not gold-backed, currency.
If OPEC oil could be sold in other currencies, e.g. the euro, then U.S. economic dominance-dollar imperialism or hegemony-would be seriously challenged. More and more oil importing countries would acquire the euro as their "reserve," its value would increase, and a larger amount of trade would be transacted and denominated in euros. In such circumstances, the value of the dollar would most likely go down, some speculate between 20-40 percent.

In November 2000, Iraq began selling its oil in euros. Iraq's oil for food account at the UN was also in euros and Iraq later converted its $10 billion reserve fund at the UN to euros. Several other oil producing countries have also agreed to sell oil in euros-Iran, Libya, Venezuela, Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia (soon to join this group). In July 2003, China announced that it would switch part of its dollar reserves into the world's emerging "reserve currency" (the euro).
On January 1, 1999, when 11 European countries formed a monetary union around this currency, Britain and Norway, the major oil producers, were absent. As the U.S. economy began to slow down during mid-2000, Western stock markets began to yield lower dividends. Investors from Gulf Cooperation Council nations lost over $800 million in the stock plunge. As investors sold U.S. assets and reinvested in Europe, which seemed to be better shielded from a recession, the euro began to gain ground against the dollar .

After September 11, 2001, Islamic financiers began to repatriate their dollar investments-amounting to billions of dollars-to Arab banks, as they were worried about the possible seizure of their assets under the USA PATRIOT Act. Also, they feared their accounts might be frozen on the suspicion that such accounts fund Islamic terrorists. Iranian sources stated that their banking colleagues felt particularly hassled as Washington heated up its war of words and threats of military intervention. This encouraged Tehran to abandon the dollar payment for oil sales and switch to the euro. Iran also moved the majority of its reserve fund to the euro. (Iran is the latest target of the U.S., which has interfered by stirring up opposition forces, and making covert threats.)

OPEC member countries and the euro-zone have strong trade links, with more than 45 percent of total merchandize imports of OPEC member countries coming from the countries of the euro-zone, while OPEC members are the main suppliers of oil and crude oil products to Europe. The EU has a bigger share of global trade than the U.S. and, while the U.S. has a huge current account deficit, the EU has a more balanced external accounts position. The EU plans to enlarge in May 2004 with ten new members. It will have a population of 45 million; it will have an oil consuming-purchasing population 33 percent larger than the U. S., and over half of OPEC crude oil will be sold to the EU as of mid-2004. In order to reduce currency risks, Europeans will pressure OPEC to trade oil in euros. Countries such as Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Russia-which export oil and natural gas to European countries and in turn import goods and services from them-will have an interest in reducing their currency risk and hence, pricing oil and gas in euros. Thus momentum is building toward at least the dual use of euro and dollar pricing.

The unprovoked "shock and awe" attack on Iraq was to serve several economic purposes: (1) Safeguard the U.S. economy by re-denominating Iraqi oil in U.S. dollars, instead of the euro, to try to lock the world back into dollar oil trading so the U.S. would remain the dominant world power-militarily and economically. (2) Send a clear message to other oil producers as to what will happen to them if they abandon the dollar matrix. (3) Place the second largest oil reserve under direct U.S. control. (4) Create a subject state where the U.S. can maintain a huge force to dominate the Middle East and its oil. (5) Create a severe setback to the European Union and its euro, the only trading block and currency strong enough to attack U.S. dominance of the world through trade. (6) Free its forces (ultimately) so that it can begin operations against those countries that are trying to disengage themselves from U.S. dollar imperialism-such as Venezuela, where the U.S. has supported the attempted overthrow of a democratic government by a junta more friendly to U. S. business/oil interests.

The U.S. also wants to create a new oil cartel in the Middle East and Africa to replace OPEC. To this end the U.S. has been pressuring Nigeria to withdraw from OPEC and its strict production quotas by dangling the prospects of generous U.S. aid. Instead the U.S. seeks to promote a "U.S.-Nigeria Alignment," which would place Nigeria as the primary oil exporter to the U.S. Another move by the U.S. is to promote oil production in other African countries-Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Angola, from where the U.S. imports a significant amount of oil-so that the oil control of OPEC is loosened, if not broken. Furthermore, the U.S. is pressuring non-OPEC producers to flood the oil market and retain denomination in dollars in an effort to weaken OPEC's market control and challenge the leadership of any country switching oil denomination from the dollar to the euro.

To break up OPEC and control the world's oil supply, it is also helpful to control Middle East and central Asiatic oil producing countries through which oil pipelines traverse. The first attack and occupation was of Afghanistan, October 2001, in itself a gas producing country, but primarily a country through which Central Asia and the Caspian Sea oil and gas will be shipped (piped) to energy-starved Pakistan and India. Afghanistan also provided an alternative to previously existing Russian pipelines. Simultaneously, the U.S. acquired military bases-19 of them-in the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan in the Caspian Basin, all of which are potential oil producers. After the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. controlled the natural resources of these two countries and, once again, Iraq's oil began to be traded in U.S. dollars. The UN's oil for food production program was scrapped and the U.S. Iaunched its Iraqi Assistance Fund in U.S. dollars. In December 2003, the U.S. (Pentagon) announced that it had barred French, German, and Russian oil and other companies from bidding on Iraq's reconstruction.

How would a shift to the euro affect underdeveloped countries, most of which are either non-oil producing or do not produce enough for their home consumption and development? These countries have to import oil. One of the advantages that may accrue to them is that they are likely to earn more euros than dollars since much of their trade is with the European countries. On the other hand, a shift to euro will pose a similar dilemma for them as dollars. They will have to pay for oil in euros, have enough euros deposited-invested in EU treasuries, and borrow euros if they do not have enough for their oil purchases. If, as is projected, the dollar and euro are in a price band (that is, prices will stay within an agreed upon range), they may not have much of a bargaining position.

Oil for euros would be tar more helpful if oil-importing underdeveloped countries could develop some form of barter arrangement for their goods to obtain oil from OPEC. Venezuela (Chavez) has presented a successful working model of this. Following Venezuela's lead, several underdeveloped countries began bartering their undervalued commodities directly with each other in computerized swaps and counter trade deals, and commodities are now traded among these countries in exchange for Venezuela's oil. President Chavez has linked 13 such barter deals on its oil; e.g., with Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors and paramedics who are setting up clinics in shanty towns and rural areas. Such arrangements help underdeveloped countries save their hard currencies, lessening indebtedness to international bankers, the World Bank, and IMF, so that money thus saved can be used for internal development.

Sohan Sharma is a professor emeritus at California State University in Sacramento. Sue Tracy is a hazardous waste material scientist in Sacramento. Surinder Kumar is professor of economics In Rohtak, Inala.

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Colin Powell: Failed Opportunist
By Robert Parry
November 26, 2004

A Special Report

Colin Powell’s admirers – especially in the mainstream press – have struggled for almost two years to explain how and why their hero joined in the exaggerations and deceptions that led the nation into the disastrous war in Iraq. Was he himself deceived by faulty intelligence or was he just acting as the loyal soldier to his commander-in-chief?

But there is another, less flattering explanation that fits with the evidence of Powell’s life story: that the outgoing secretary of state has always been an opportunist who consistently put his career and personal status ahead of America’s best interests.

From his earliest days as a junior officer in Vietnam through his acquiescence to George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure, Colin Powell repeatedly has failed to stand up against actions that were immoral, unethical or reckless. At every turning point, Powell protected his career above all else.

Yet, Powell’s charisma – and the fact that he is a prominent and successful African-American – have protected him from any clear-eyed assessment of his true record. Even when Powell has publicly defended war crimes, such as the shooting of defenseless “military-aged males” in Vietnam, national journalists have preferred to focus on Powell’s sparkling style over his troubling substance.

‘Fine Leopard’

This infatuation with Powell’s image was perhaps best captured when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd plunged into mourning after Powell backed away from a flirtation with a presidential candidacy in 1995.

"The graceful, hard male animal who did nothing overtly to dominate us yet dominated us completely, in the exact way we wanted that to happen at this moment, like a fine leopard on the veld, was gone," Dowd wrote, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. "'Don't leave, Colin Powell,' I could hear myself crying from somewhere inside." [NYT, Nov. 9, 1995]

As longtime readers of know, we always have tried to resist Powell’s personal magnetism. In one of our first investigative projects, Norman Solomon and I examined the real story of Colin Powell. [To read the full series, start at “Behind Colin Powell’s Legend.”]

I’ve updated the series a couple of times: when Powell failed to protest Bush’s disenfranchisement of thousands of African-Americans during the disputed Florida election in 2000 and when Powell made his over-the-top presentation on Iraq in February 2003. After Powell’s UN speech – while both liberal and conservative commentators swooned over Powell’s WMD case – we entitled our story: “Trust Colin Powell?

What we found in our investigation of Powell’s legend was not the heroic figure of his press clippings, but the story of an ambitious man with a weak moral compass. He either hid in the reeds when others were standing up for what they knew to be right or he contributed to the wrongdoing (albeit often while wringing his hands and confiding to reporters that he really wasn’t entirely comfortable).

Another amazing aspect of Powell’s life story was his Forrest-Gump-like quality to show up in frame after frame of turning-point moments in recent American history, except in Powell’s case, he almost never did the right thing. Indeed, one could argue that the reason Powell found himself in the middle of so many historical moments was that he never sacrificed his career on the altar of challenging corrupt or foolish superiors.

That pattern began in the earliest days of his military career when he was part of an extraordinary group of early U.S. military advisers that President John F. Kennedy dispatched to Vietnam.

Burning Hooches

As a 25-year-old Army captain, Powell was assigned to advise a 400-man unit of South Vietnamese troops in the A Shau Valley, near the Laotian border. When he arrived on Jan. 17, 1963, the conflict was at a pivotal juncture.

The South Vietnamese army, known as the ARVN, was losing the war, suffering from poor discipline, ineffective tactics and bad morale. Already, many U.S. advisers, most notably the legendary Col. John Paul Vann, were voicing concerns about the ARVN’s brutality toward civilians. At the time, the dominant counterinsurgency strategy was to destroy rural villages and forcibly relocate inhabitants while hunting down enemy forces.

But Colin Powell was untainted by these worries. Powell's ARVN unit punished the civilian population systematically. As the soldiers marched through mountainous jungle, they destroyed the food and the homes of the region's Montagnards, who were suspected of sympathizing with the Viet Cong. Old women cried hysterically as their ancestral homes and worldly possessions were consumed by fire.

"We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters," Powell recalled in his memoir, My American Journey. "Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. ... We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?"

Soon after his arrival, Powell and his South Vietnamese army unit left for a protracted patrol that fought leeches as well as Viet Cong ambushes. From the soggy jungle brush, the Viet Cong would strike suddenly against the advancing government soldiers. Often invisible to Powell and his men, the VC would inflict a few casualties and slip back into the jungles.

While on one patrol, Powell fell victim to a Viet Cong booby trap. He stepped on a punji stake, a dung-poisoned bamboo spear buried in the ground. The stake pierced Powell's boot and infected his right foot. The foot swelled, turned purple and forced his evacuation by helicopter to Hue for treatment.

Although Powell's recovery from the foot infection was swift, his combat days were over. He stayed in Hue, handling intelligence data and overseeing a local airfield. By late autumn 1963, Powell's first Vietnam tour ended.

On his return to the United States, Powell chose not to join Vann and other early American advisers who were warning their superiors about the self-defeating counterinsurgency strategy and tactics. In 1963, Vann carried his prescient concerns back to a Pentagon that was not ready to listen to doubters. When his objections fell on deaf ears, Vann resigned his commission and sacrificed a promising military career.

Powell stayed silent, however, recognizing that his early service in Vietnam put him on a fast track for military advancement.

My Lai

On July 27, 1968, Major Colin Powell returned to Vietnam to serve as an executive officer at an outpost at Duc Pho. But history again was awaiting Colin Powell.

To the north, Americal division commander Major General Charles Gettys saw a favorable mention of Powell in the Army Times. Gettys plucked Powell from Duc Pho and installed him on the general's own staff at Chu Lai, headquarters for the Americal division, which had been engaged in some of the cruelest fighting of the Vietnam War. Though it was still a secret when Powell arrived at Chu Lai, Americal troops had committed an act that would stain forever the reputation of the U.S. Army.

On March 16, 1968, a bloodied Americal unit had stormed into a hamlet known as My Lai 4. With military helicopters circling overhead, revenge-seeking American soldiers rousted Vietnamese civilians -- mostly old men, women and children -- from their thatched huts and herded them into the village's irrigation ditches.

As the round-up continued, some Americans raped the girls. Then, under orders from junior officers on the ground, soldiers began emptying their M-16s into the terrified peasants. Some parents used their bodies futilely to shield their children from the bullets. Soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded.

The slaughter raged for four hours. A total of 347 Vietnamese, including babies, died in the carnage. But there also were American heroes that day in My Lai. Some soldiers refused to obey the direct orders to kill and some risked their lives to save civilians from the murderous fire.

A pilot named Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. from Stone Mountain, Ga., was furious at the killings he saw happening on the ground. He landed his helicopter between one group of fleeing civilians and American soldiers in pursuit. Thompson ordered his helicopter door gunner to shoot the Americans if they tried to harm the Vietnamese. After a tense confrontation, the soldiers backed off. Later, two of Thompson's men climbed into one ditch filled with corpses and pulled out a three-year-old boy whom they flew to safety.

A Letter

Several months later, the Americal's brutality would become a moral test for Major Powell, too. A letter had been written by a young specialist fourth class named Tom Glen, who had served in an Americal mortar platoon and was nearing the end of his Army tour. In the letter to Gen. Creighton Abrams, the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, Glen accused the Americal division of routine brutality against civilians.

Glen's letter was forwarded to Americal headquarters at Chu Lai where it landed on Major Powell's desk. Glen's letter contended that many Vietnamese were fleeing from Americans who “for mere pleasure, fire indiscriminately into Vietnamese homes and without provocation or justification shoot at the people themselves.” Gratuitous cruelty was also being inflicted on Viet Cong suspects, Glen reported.

“What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal,” Glen wrote.

In 1995, when we questioned Glen about his letter, he said he had heard second-hand about the My Lai massacre, though he did not mention it specifically. The massacre was just one part of the abusive pattern that had become routine in the division, he said.

The letter's troubling allegations were not well received at Americal headquarters. Powell reviewed Glen's letter, but did so without questioning Glen or assigning anyone else to talk with him. Powell simply accepted a claim from Glen's superior officer that Glen was not close enough to the front lines to know what he was writing about, an assertion Glen denied to us.

After that cursory investigation, Powell drafted a response on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing by the Americal division. Powell claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese courteously and respectfully. "In direct refutation of this [Glen's] portrayal," Powell concluded, "is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

Powell's findings, of course, were false, though they were exactly what his superiors wanted to hear.

Soldier Hero

It would take another Americal hero, an infantryman named Ron Ridenhour, to piece together the truth about the atrocity at My Lai. After returning to the United States, Ridenhour interviewed Americal comrades who had participated in the massacre.

On his own, Ridenhour compiled this shocking information into a report and forwarded it to the Army inspector general. The IG's office conducted an aggressive official investigation, in marked contrast to Powell's review. Confirming Ridenhour's report, the Army finally faced the horrible truth. Courts martial were held against officers and enlisted men who were implicated in the murder of the My Lai civilians.

In his best-selling 1995 memoir, Powell didn’t mention his brush-off of Tom Glen’s complaint. But Powell did include another troubling recollection that belied his 1968 official denial of Glen's allegation that American soldiers "without provocation or justification shoot at the people themselves."

After a brief mention of the My Lai massacre in My American Journey, Powell penned a partial justification of the Americal's brutality. In a chilling passage, Powell explained the routine practice of murdering unarmed male Vietnamese.

"I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age male," Powell wrote. "If a helo spotted a peasant in black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him.

"Brutal? Maybe so. But an able battalion commander with whom I had served at Gelnhausen [West Germany], Lt. Col. Walter Pritchard, was killed by enemy sniper fire while observing MAMs from a helicopter. And Pritchard was only one of many. The kill-or-be-killed nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong."

While it's certainly true that combat is brutal, the mowing down of unarmed civilians in cold blood does not constitute combat. It is murder and, indeed, a war crime. Neither can the combat death of a fellow soldier be cited as an excuse to murder civilians in retaliation. Disturbingly, that was precisely the rationalization the My Lai killers cited in their own defense.

Yet, in 1995, even as Powell promoted his book which contained these recollections, the U.S. press corps didn’t challenge him on this passage.

Back Home

By the time Powell returned home from Vietnam in 1969, he was proving himself the consummate team player. He even rallied to the defense of another Americal officer who was accused of murdering Vietnamese civilians.

In a court martial proceeding, Powell sided with Brig. Gen. John W. Donaldson, who had been accused by U.S. helicopter pilots of gunning down civilians almost for sport as he flew over Quang Ngai province.

In 1995, a senior Army investigator from the Donaldson case told me that two of the Vietnamese victims were an old man and an old woman who were shot to death while bathing. Though long retired -- and quite elderly himself -- the investigator still spoke with a raw disgust about the events of a quarter century earlier. He requested anonymity before talking about the behavior of senior Americal officers.

"They used to bet in the morning how many people they could kill -- old people, civilians, it didn't matter," the investigator said. "Some of the stuff would curl your hair." [...]

When newly minted Brig. Gen. Colin Powell became military assistant to Secretary Weinberger, top Pentagon players quickly learned that Powell was more than Weinberger's coat holder or calendar keeper. Powell was the "filter," the guy who saw everything when it passed into the Secretary for action and who oversaw everything that needed follow-up when it came out.

Iran-Contra Clouds

In 1984-85, Powell’s “filter” role put him near the center of the emerging Iran-Contra operations. Indeed, Weinberger was one of the first officials outside the White House to learn that Reagan had put the arm on Saudi Arabia to give the contras $1 million a month in 1984, as Congress was cutting off the CIA's covert assistance to the contras through what was known as the Boland Amendment.

Handling the contra-funding arrangements was Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar, a close friend of both Weinberger and Powell. Bandar and Powell had met in the 1970s and were frequent tennis partners in the 1980s. So it was plausible -- perhaps even likely -- that Bandar would have discussed the contra funding with Powell, Weinberger or both. But exactly when Weinberger learned of the Saudi contributions and what Powell knew remain unclear to this day.

One fact that has emerged is that on June 20, 1984, Weinberger attended a State Department meeting about the contra operation. He scribbled notes citing the need to "plan for other sources for $." But secrecy would be vital, the defense secretary understood. "Keep US fingerprints off," he wrote.

On another front, the White House was maneuvering into dangerous territory in its policy toward Iran. The Israelis were interested in trading U.S. weapons to Iran's radical Islamic government to expand Israel's influence. It was also believed that Iran might help free American hostages held by Islamic extremists in Lebanon.

Carrying the water for this strategy within the Reagan administration was National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane. He circulated a draft presidential order in June 1985, proposing an overture to supposed Iranian moderates. The paper passed through Weinberger's "filter," Colin Powell.

In his memoir, Powell called the proposal "a stunner" and a grab by McFarlane for "Kissingerian immortality." After reading the draft, Weinberger scribbled in the margins, "this is almost too absurd to comment on."

On June 30, 1985, as the paper was circulating inside the administration, Reagan declared that the United States would give no quarter to terrorism. "Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists," the president said.

But in July 1985, Weinberger, Powell and McFarlane met to discuss details for doing just that. Iran wanted 100 anti-tank TOW missiles that would be delivered through Israel, according to Weinberger's notes. Reagan gave his approval, but the White House wanted to keep the operation a closely held secret. The shipments were to be handled with "maximum compartmentalization," the notes said.

On Aug. 20, 1985, the Israelis delivered the first 96 missiles to Iran. It was a pivotal moment for the Reagan administration. With that missile shipment, the Reagan administration stepped over a legal line. The transfer violated laws requiring congressional notification for trans-shipment of U.S. weapons and prohibiting arms to Iran or any other nation designated a terrorist state. Violation of either statute was a felony.

The available evidence from that period suggests that Weinberger and Powell were very much in the loop, even though they may have personally opposed the arms-to-Iran policy. On Aug. 22, 1985, two days after the first delivery, Israel notified McFarlane of the completed shipment. From aboard Air Force One, McFarlane called Weinberger.

When Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, McFarlane rushed to the Pentagon to meet Weinberger and Powell. The 40-minute meeting started at 7:30 p.m. That much is known from the Iran-Contra public record. But the substance of the conversation remains in dispute. McFarlane said that at the meeting with Weinberger and Powell, he discussed Reagan's approval of the missile transfer and the need to replenish Israeli stockpiles.

Criminal Conspiracy

If that is true, Weinberger and Powell were in the middle of a criminal conspiracy. But Weinberger denied McFarlane's account, and Powell insisted that he had only a fuzzy memory of the meeting without a clear recollection of any completed arms shipment.

"My recollection is that Mr. McFarlane described to the Secretary the so-called Iran Initiative and he gave to the Secretary a sort of a history of how we got where we were that particular day and some of the thinking that gave rise to the possibility of going forward ... and what the purposes of such an initiative would be," Powell said in an Iran-contra deposition two years later.

Congressional attorney Joseph Saba asked Powell if McFarlane had mentioned that Israel already had supplied weapons to Iran. "I don't recall specifically," Powell answered. "I just don't recall." When Saba asked about any notes, Powell responded, "there were none on our side."

In a later interview with the FBI, Powell said he learned at that meeting that there "was to be a transfer of some limited amount of materiel" to Iran. But he did not budge on his claim of ignorance about the crucial fact that the first shipment had already gone and that the Reagan administration had promised the Israelis replenishment for the shipped missiles. [...]

UN Fallout

The fallout over his bogus UN testimony has caused Powell more public humiliation than he has ever experienced. His reputation as a straight-shooter of unchallengeable integrity was badly tarnished. Still, rather than resigning in protest of Bush’s war policy, Powell stayed on as secretary of state, continuing to protect Bush’s standing with centrist American voters.

The news media’s favored explanation for Powell’s choice was that he was simply acting like the “good soldier” putting loyalty to his commander-in-chief ahead of his own judgment. Some of Powell’s media supporters argued, too, that he remained at State as a matter of public sacrifice, acting as a force of moderation in an otherwise reckless and ideological administration.

But those arguments assume that Powell has always been a man of principle and self-sacrifice, a conclusion not supported by his real public record. The notion that Powell has injected a healthy dose of moderation into the Bush administration is also a hard argument to sustain. What Powell actually did was to give Bush and his neoconservatives “moderate” cover for the Iraq invasion.

Indeed, Powell may have been the only person who had a chance to stop Bush’s rush to war. If Powell had resigned in late 2002 or early 2003, that action would have been a powerful signal to Middle America about the dangerous course that Bush had chosen. Even if a Powell resignation couldn’t have prevented the war, at least it would have made Bush’s second term much less likely.

But as Forrest Gump’s momma famously said in a different context, “stupid is what stupid does.”

By sticking with his longstanding pattern of acquiescing to wrongheaded actions by his superiors, Powell achieved what might be the worst of all possible worlds. He gave the disastrous invasion of Iraq his imprimatur. He then stayed in office long enough to ensure Bush’s second term. Now, after the election, Powell’s ouster as secretary of state eliminates even his muted dissent from a Cabinet of “yes” men and women.

These misjudgments may still confuse some of Powell’s ardent media apologists, but his mistakes shouldn’t surprise anyone who has removed the rose-colored glasses and taken a hard look at the real Colin Powell: the opportunist whose clever career-building over four decades finally outsmarted itself.

Comment: The article documents Powell's opportunism, his lack of moral fiber, his acquiescence to crime after crime. We have cut a large part that deals with his Iran-Contra involvement. Powell has become "an American Hero" because of one self-serving choice after another. Somehow, that it very approriate. Powell captures the American Spirit: "I want it all." Things like morality don't count. What is a few dead civilians, or a few tens of thousands, compared to a career in the most powerful army on Earth!

If Powell was able to "overlook" and rationalise the murder of old people and children in Vietnam, the same mindset continues among US soldiers in Iraq. The justification is that "war is hell", and you have to go all the way if you want to win because if you don't, the other guy will, an excuse that begs the question of why the US was in Vietnam and is now in Iraq. It certainly isn't for democracy.

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Worm Turning
Global Eye
By Chris Floyd
November 26, 2004

There has been much throwing about of brains on the subject of George W. Bush's further lurch to the Right since he limped over the election finish line with his tiny, 1 percent, fraud-marred majority. And to be sure, the wholesale purges he has instituted throughout his regime -- replacing a slew of merely cringing sycophants with cringing, drooling, groveling sycophants -- will indeed hasten the United States' degeneration into corpo-religious authoritarianism along the lines of Franco's Spain.

But all the earnest disquisitions about Bush's Franco-U.S. "ideology" entirely miss the point -- and increase the fog that the Regime deliberately spreads over its true interests. For the heart of this slouching beast is neither left-wing nor right-wing; it's strictly Bush-wing. Anyone even slightly acquainted with the history of the Bush dynasty knows what makes these preppy puppies run -- and it has nothing to do with conservative principles or moral values or national security or world freedom. It's not ideology, but investments -- the gobbling up of unearned, risk-free lucre on the grandest scale imaginable.

Naturally, the pursuit of this kind of piratical wealth leads to certain kinds of policies that can at times be mistaken for a political philosophy. For example, the Bush Regime's devotion to Big Oil, the military, tax cuts, corporate deregulation and unbridled executive power could be seen as the expression of a coherent, if repellent, worldview: Social Darwinism -- survival of the fittest, might makes right, winner takes all. Likewise, the Regime's embrace of religious and cultural fundamentalism resembles an ideological stance of unbending zeal and moral certitude, encompassing the whole of reality.

Taken together, these traits present a formidable picture of a thoroughgoing ideological juggernaut, well-plated with philosophical, academic, legal and theological armor. But underneath all this bristling array there is nothing but a tiny white maggot of greed, wriggling and gorging on scraps of rotting meat. No deep beliefs or high ideals inform the Bushist ethos, which can be boiled down to one sentence: Grab your pile and screw anybody who gets in the way. War, energy and corporate finance just happen to be where the money is at. And raw, secretive political power -- unfettered by courts, laws, legislators or public scrutiny -- is the most effective way to safeguard and augment these investments.

That is not to say that the Bushist credo lacks all nuance. There is in fact a very important refinement to their wormy greed: Loot should always be obtained without the slightest risk to your own financial position. The "free market" must be shunned at all costs -- and manipulated by string-pulling, deceit and intimidation when competition is unavoidable. Thus the Bush model is to cozy up to governments -- preferably strongman regimes free to ladle out public money to their favorites with no questions asked.

That's why Bush patriarch Prescott, pa and grandpa to presidents, invested heavily in Nazi war industries throughout the 1930s -- and kept on investing even after the German war machine was grinding through Europe. That's why George I made his mogul bones by pumping oil with repressive royals in Kuwait. Later, when he had a government of his own to play with, George sent U.S. troops to bail out his Kuwaiti partners after another of his business clients, Saddam Hussein, got too frisky in a border dispute. George I would end his career as a corporate bagman, roaming the Earth in search of insider deals and choice "privatizations" from Saudi princes, Asian dictators, African tyrants, South American sleaze merchants and Europork peddlers.

George II's murky road to fortune was likewise paved with insider trading, no-risk loans and mysterious infusions of foreign cash, including a bailout from a firm embedded in the octopus of BCCI -- the renegade banking cartel that the U.S. Senate called the "largest criminal organization in world history," which cloaked drug deals, gun-running, nuke trafficking and "black ops" by the CIA and other intelligence services behind a protective wall of bribes that reached into nearly every government on Earth.

Of course, the best of all possible worlds is controlling the government yourself -- and Dubya has certainly raised crony capitalism to dizzy heights, tearing down whole countries just so his investor pals (and his family) can reap the profits of "reconstruction." But again, it is the maggoty hankering for easy money that truly drives Bushist militarism, not any kind of ideological or religious vision. For such crude minds, the surest way to guarantee that floods of public boodle keep pouring into your private pocket is to scare the hell out of people and keep them scared with war and rumors of war.
The decidedly un-butch Bushes are not really bloodthirsty. They don't sit in dark corners and cackle over the idea of children being chewed to pieces by American bombs. Nor do their nostrils flare with righteous rage at the thought of homosexuality or abortion or nipples on national television. It's just that war profiteering, corporate rapine and cynical pandering to the public's worst instincts are the easiest way to get the unearned riches they crave -- and the perks and power they feel are their birthright as an ancient branch of the American aristocracy.

Perhaps if they could obtain these same privileges as easily by other, less horrific means, they would. As it is, they take the world as they find it, and go about their business without fretting over the consequences -- the dead, the ruined, the spreading hate, the poisoned planet. Why should they care? As the maggot cannot see beyond the meat, so too these men of greed-stunted understanding can see nothing of worth outside their own bottomless appetites.

Comment: Although Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the banking families who back them have profited handsomely from the rape and plunder of Iraq, it seems simplistic and somewhat naive to ascribe this as the primary reason for pushing their military weight around.

One of the main motivations behind the war, and all wars for that matter, as explicated in our recent article War as Mind Control, is to keep the masses in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. On a superficial level, by keeping people in a heightened emotional state and easily suggestible, it facilitates their control and containment by the PTB.

On an esoteric level this fear may literally serve as "food" for certain individuals higher up the pyramid, and the greater and more intense the fear, the better it "tastes" to them.

By learning to see through the lies and refusing to be manipulated by the politics of fear, we can use the natural energy of negative emotions to better understand our reality, to see it more objectively, and hopefully become less appetizing for those who would perceive us as "lunch".

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Israelis occupy state of denial over Zionism's great moral crisis
William Pfaff
11 oct 04
A GENERALLY unremarked note in the US presidential and vice-presidential debates so far has been their glacial semi-silence on the subject of what is going on in the Gaza Strip, and on its implications for declared US foreign policy.

This silence very likely will continue in the lead-up to election day on November 2. However, there are new and extremely important questions on this subject that could be asked, and that now excite intense controversy inside Israel itself.

The Gaza affair is another act – and possibly a culminating one – in a great moral crisis for Israelis, and for Israel's friends elsewhere. Most Israelis sense this.

The source of the crisis is the one identified by Israel's first prime minister, David ben Gurion, in 1967, when he expressed his fear of the consequences of Israel's annexation of new areas with large Arab populations.

Should Israel annex those populations, enclose them, expel them? Or, as in Gaza, has it a right – intentionally or otherwise – to destroy civil society itself in retaliation for these people's resistance to Israel's settlement and effective annexation of what legally and historically are Palestinian lands?

The psychological as well as political conditions created in Gaza's wretched refugee camps by the Israeli army's new intrusions, the most violent in two years and announced as of indefinite duration, are those of anarchy and what may be described as existential struggle: the conviction that struggle affirms existence and survival.

The rhetorical accompaniment to the attacks suggests Israel intends this time to finish with the resistance in Gaza. But, as an important part of Israeli opinion itself understands, this is what Ariel Sharon's Government cannot do. The ostensible aim of the intrusions is to force Hamas and other Palestinian militants to stop their rocket attacks on Israeli towns adjoining the Gaza Strip (and settlements inside Gaza), or to make the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian civil society stop the attacks. The effort is self-defeating.

An analysis by the Strategic Affairs Unit of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information points out that the Israeli aim obviously requires the existence of some kind of Palestinian authority capable of taking and enforcing decisions.

Yet the Israeli attack itself is a continuation of the campaign by the Sharon Government to make sure that no Palestinian centre of decision survives.

Many in Israel think the attacks are really meant as a penultimate display of Israeli military power before the announced evacuation of Israel's Gaza colonies next year. Sharon cannot tolerate any interpretation that the evacuations are a victory for the Palestinians, and particularly for Hamas.

Such is what happened in 2000, when Israel finally evacuated its security zone in Lebanon under Hamas military pressure. The zone was the sad and useless remnant of Sharon's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

A new and crucial interpretation and elaboration of the significance of what is going on has now been provided by Sharon's political adviser Dov Weisglass, who has been the Israeli Prime Minister's main contact with the Bush administration and with the congressional leadership in Washington.

Last week he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Gaza withdrawal was meant to put an end to the US-backed road map that was supposed to provide an overall peace settlement, including an independent Palestine – and that the Bush administration had secretly acquiesced.

The road map for negotiations leading to peace and a free Palestine was drafted by the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, all of whom promised to support it.

Weisglass said a deal had now been made with the US Government that, in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal, the US would abandon its promise of a Palestinian state, "with all that entails".

He added: "All this with a presidential blessing (from Bush) and ratification by both houses of Congress."

He subsequently and unconvincingly denied saying this. But it has been apparent from the start of the road map plan that, for the Sharon and Bush governments, it was merely a gesture to appease international opinion. (It was originally devised to provide domestic political cover for Tony Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq.)

Sharon and his colleagues are acting out something the radical and brilliant American Jewish journalist I.F. Stone wrote many years ago.

He said Zionism had from the start involved the physical displacement of the Palestinians from what became Israel, but achieving that would require a psychological act of denial of the existence of the Palestinians. "Jewish life", he said, "went on as if the Arabs weren't there". "In a profound sense, the yishuv, the Jewish community, had to pretend the Arabs weren't there, or confront ethical problems too painful to be faced."

Sharon's entire life has been devoted to Israel's expansion, and to the physical realisation of the forbidden and denied Zionist wish, that the Arabs are not there.

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Our man in the US: Israel uses TV show to find its best spin doctor
Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Saturday November 27, 2004
The Guardian

In some countries, reality television offers contestants fame and fortune. In Israel, the winner gets the equivalent of a job with the civil service.

The latest reality programme to catch the country's imagination is The Ambassador, in which 14 contestants compete at defending Israel's reputation abroad.

The winner will receive a year's contract at an agency set up in New York to promote the country in the United States.

The show's popularity and the prize it offers reflect, say academics, domestic confusion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it is perceived around the world.

The 14 contestants must carry out a variety of diplomatic tasks in Washington, New York, France, Britain and Israel. The judges are a former spokesman for the Israeli army, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency and a television political correspondent.

The winner will be the person who best demonstrates the qualities of a professional advocate and presents Israel in the most positive light.

The format is based on The Apprentice, the show in which the tycoon Donald Trump sets aspiring job applicants tasks and then tells one at the end: "You're fired."

The first edition of The Ambassador featured a debate between the seven male and seven female contestants at the Cambridge University Union.

Appearing for the men, Tzvika Deutsch asked the audience how they would feel if a football game in Manchester was cancelled because the stadium was threatened with rocket fire from militants. "For the people of Manchester this would be a very bad joke. But for people in the Israeli city of Sderot this is the reality."

Ravit Shemtov, for the women, said Israel had offered the Palestinians many peace solutions but they had all been rejected. "Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has declined every opportunity the Israeli government offered them."
Under hostile questioning, one contestant, Ofra Bin Nun, was prompted into saying: "Israel has not taken anything from anyone." The audience groaned in response.

The judges ruled that Ms Bin Nun had made a major error and she became the first contestant to be expelled.

Candidates must strive to spin Israel's story most effectively and need not pay much attention to reality or the Palestinian point of view.

Nachman Shai, a judge on the programme and a former spokesman for the Israeli army, described advocacy as an ongoing war for the past and for the future.

Yoram Peri, a professor of politics and media at Tel Aviv University, said the series went to the heart of Israeli society and its emphasis on how it is perceived rather than what it does.

"The major concern in Israeli society is that we do not explain ourselves well. When we discuss the horrible things that happen in the West Bank, we don't talk about the issue but about how it will be seen.

"It's a fundamental issue in Israeli life. It explains the popularity of someone like Benjamin Netanyahu [finance minister and former prime minister]. It's not because he is a good ambassador, it's because he is good at PR."

Prof Peri added: "The programme reflects a major problem in Israeli society. We do not think we do anything wrong but we think we explain ourselves badly and that the international media is anti-semitic."

The Ambassadors highlighted Israel's real problem, the professor said, which was not one of advocacy but facing up to the true nature of its problems. "We are fighting two wars. One is a war against terrorism, which is legitimate, and the other is a war against Palestinian liberation, which is not," he said.

"Most Israelis cannot make the distinction and President Bush has added to that confusion by seeing only terrorism."

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Boston suburb may become first US city to divest from Israel
Nov. 26, 2004 0:00

BOSTON - Somerville, a community abutting both Boston and Cambridge, could become the first US city to divest from Israel. According to those who track the issue, the city has already distinguished itself as the first place to formally consider a divestment resolution.

The measure stems from alleged Israeli human rights abuses and calls on Somerville's retirement board to rid the city's pension fund of $250,000 of Israel Bonds and other investments in American companies that "manufacture military equipment used in Israel's illegal military occupation," such as Caterpillar and Boeing.

The city of 80,000 can be described as both blue-collar and progressive.

The proposal came close to passing without debate when it was introduced on October 28, but the Board of Aldermen, Somerville's 11-member legislative body, decided to host a public hearing on November 8 to let the other side have its say. They will consider whether or not to modify the measure and hold a final vote at a legislative committee meeting on December 7. The resolution is non-binding, since the retirement board is independent of the board of aldermen.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) is optimistic that the flood of e-mails, phone calls and public testimony its constituency has unleashed in the past month will stymie the measure.

The resolution was drafted by the grassroots Somerville Divestment Project, which presented a petition with 1,200 signatures and lobbied aldermen to back the proposal. Eight signed on as sponsors, but several of them have since backtracked, and some have suggested the December 7 meeting will result in a watered-down general resolution on the Middle East peace process – or in the measure being buried in committee.

"It was a mistake to get involved in the first place," Alderman Bruce Desmond, a cosponsor of the resolution who has since decided to vote against it, told The Jerusalem Post. "My intentions were just to make a statement about human rights, and unfortunately I hadn't taken into consideration what kind of division it would cause in the city, and the arguments in the rest of the community that were quite strong."

He added, "A local community has neither the expertise or the background to be making decisions concerning this [issue]."

"A lot of the board has become enlightened by the discussion in the community," said Alderman Tom Taylor after the hearing in which scores of divestment foes showed up. "I didn't expect such a strong reaction at all."

"I guess I thought it was a simple comment [against] violating human rights," explained Taylor, who hasn't decided how he will vote, despite sponsoring the resolution. "I guess as I read it further, [it seemed] that it's targeting one country and that's not fair."

To the Somerville Divestment Project, however, it's the city that has unfairly singled out one country. According to Annique Caplan, a member of the project's board of directors, Israel is the only country in which the retirement board holds bonds. If Burma or even an independent Palestine were similarly invested in, Caplan maintained, her group would call for divestment there, too.

In any case, Mayor Joe Curtatone, who spoke against the resolution at the contentious November 8 hearing, promised to veto the measure.

"It's much more complex than any resolution can address," he said of the Middle East conflict. "Passing this resolution would just add more confusion and complexity."

While Caplan said her organization is still "hopeful" that its motion will prevail, she added, "We're realistic that when anyone, no matter how courageous, is confronted with a certain level of feeling intimidated and doesn't know what the ramifications – political ramifications – of taking a position might be, it remains hard to take a position."

She also charged that, "The retribution is so intense for anyone who takes a position that is supportive of the protection of Palestinians. The retribution is swift and intense."

Aldermen such as Taylor vociferously challenged the claim that they had been intimidated by anti-divestment forces, asserting, "It hasn't intimidated me. It's just caused me to look at it a little closer."

JCRC deputy director Alan Ronkin termed the charge "libelous" and said that there aren't enough Jews in the city to politically threaten the elected officials. Yet he welcomed the strong turnout and vocal opposition mustered against the divestment proposal.

"This is the broadest-based coalition of Jewish organizations I've seen on any issue," according to JCRC executive director Nancy Kaufman, who pointed to condemnation of the proposal from organized labor, leftist groups such as Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and blocs of Russian immigrants. But this positive result didn't prevent her from feeling shaken by the experience.

"This is a wake-up call," she said, noting that her organization was "surprised" by the Somerville initiative. Until now, divestment campaigns have mostly occurred on college campuses and among church groups, such as the Presbyterians.

"We need to come together to work out a strategy that is preventive, not reactive," Kaufman said. "This isn't the first [divestment campaign] and it's not going to be the last."

Though the Somerville Divestment Project might be the most far along in pushing municipalities to divest, it's not the only such attempt. The Palestine Solidarity Committee has for years been prodding Seattle to divest from American companies selling military equipment that Israel uses in the West Bank and Gaza.

So far, their efforts haven't been met with much success, as the City Council hasn't even been willing to meet with them. But PSC volunteer Edward Mast said the group is carefully following the "inspiring" project in Somerville. Those efforts have already achieved a lot of the purpose.

"Whether they pass it or not, they've gotten huge local attention [on] this issue and national attention," Mast said. "That's already a success for their campaign."

"They've won in some senses," the JCRC's Ronkin acknowledged. "Their goal is to delegitimize Israel [and] they've put Israel on the defensive."

Comment: This headline in the Jerusalem Post is deliberately misleading. Going by the headline alone, one gets the impression that this Boston suburb seems to have at least a fair possibility of passing a resolution divesting itself from Israel.

After all, financially supporting companies that directly aide in the violation of human rights would make one complicit in those crimes, would it not?

Reading further into the article we find that because of extensive pressure by the Jewish lobby, including a "flood of e-mails, phone calls and public testimony", several alderman who initially backed the proposal "have since backtracked". No matter whether it ends up as a watered down resolution, or buried in comittee, the Mayor has gone on record promising that he will veto the measure.

So in reality, this motion has almost no chance of passing.

This story is a good example of how powerful lobbies like the JCRC can quickly act to stifle any movement towards truth by individuals and communities who threaten the status quo.

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New High-Tech Passports Raise Snooping Concerns
Published: November 26, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 - The State Department will soon begin issuing passports that carry information about the traveler in a computer chip embedded in the cardboard cover as well as on its printed pages.

Privacy advocates say the new format - developed in response to security concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks - will be vulnerable to electronic snooping by anyone within several feet, a practice called skimming. Internal State Department documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Canada, Germany and Britain have raised the same concern.

"This is like putting an invisible bull's-eye on Americans that can be seen only by the terrorists," said Barry Steinhardt, the director of the A.C.L.U. Technology and Liberty Program. "If there's any nation in the world at the moment that could do without such a device, it is the United States."

The organization wants the State Department to take security precautions like encrypting the data, so that even if it is downloaded by unauthorized people, it cannot be understood.

In a telephone interview, Frank E. Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said the skimming problem "can be dealt with."

"We are certainly still working hard on the question of whether additional security measures should be taken," he said.

The technology is familiar to the public in applications like highway toll-collection systems and "smart cards" for entering buildings or subway turnstiles. In passports, the technology would be more sophisticated, with a computer having the ability to query the chip selectively for particular information. The chip, expected to cost about $8, would hold 64 kilobytes of data, the same as early personal computers.

Last month the Government Printing Office awarded $373,000 in contracts to four manufacturers to design the passports, which would contain chips that stored all the printed data on the passport, as well as digitized data on the traveler's face.

At an airport immigration checkpoint, an antenna could read a passport waved a few inches away. A digital camera could look at the traveler's face and compare it with the data from the passport chip.

The problem, though, is that the passport might be read by others, too. According to one document obtained by the A.C.L.U., a State Department memo from September detailing negotiations on the subject, the American position is that the data "should be able to be read by anyone who chooses to invest in the infrastructure to do so."

Mr. Steinhardt of the A.C.L.U. described a test in which a chip was read from 30 feet away, but Mr. Moss of the State Department said that was in a laboratory and would be hard to duplicate in the field.

Government officials from the United States, Canada and western European countries, and chip manufacturing experts, have been discussing standards for chips in passports for more than two years under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is affiliated with the United Nations and promulgates a variety of standards for aviation. Mr. Steinhardt complained that the organization had ignored the civil liberties group's request to participate in sessions when standards were discussed.

The State Department, which issues about seven million passports a year, hopes to begin issuing a limited number with chips early next year, initially to government employees.

To combat passport fraud and theft, the government will soon require all visitors who do not need visas to enter the United States - those who are deemed low security risks because of the countries they come from - to carry passports that are machine-readable and contain "biometric" information like fingerprints or facial measurements.

Australia is already issuing passports with chips, and others will follow soon, Mr. Moss said. And since passport requirements are usually reciprocal, the United States anticipates that those countries will demand similar features on American passports.

Neville G. Pattinson, the director of business development, technology and government affairs at Axalto, one of the vendors, said the problem with encryption was that the chip had to be readable by governments all over the world. But, he said, "there is a considerable concern over skimming."

The chips raise the possibility of someone "brushing against you with the equipment, in a briefcase or another disguise, and hoping they can read it out of your pocket or purse," Mr. Pattinson said. Another possibility is someone embedding a reader in a doorway, he said.

But he said low-cost fixes were available. One would incorporate a layer of metal foil into the cover of the passport so it could be read only when opened.

Another would put a password into the printed information in the passport. A reader would optically scan for the password, which would be visible only when the passport was open, and then use it to obtain data from the chip.

Another possibility would be to keep the passport in a foil pouch, like those issued with highway toll-collection devices so they can be carried through a toll booth without being read. In multilateral discussions, though, some experts said they feared that terrorists would use the pouches to smuggle weapons.

The A.C.L.U. is seeking to portray the new passports as part of a continuing loss of privacy.

In March, the A.C.L.U. and 12 other organizations from North America, Europe and Asia signed a letter to the aviation organization saying they were "increasingly concerned that the biometric travel document initiative is part and parcel of a larger surveillance infrastructure monitoring the movement of individuals globally."

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Mother turns son in for Chinese school killings
Last Updated Fri, 26 Nov 2004 22:01:26 EST

BEIJING - A man armed with a knife killed eight boys and wounded four others at a high school dormitory in the city of Ruzhou, in central China, reported China's Xinhua news agency Friday.

State media report that a mother reported her 21-year-old son, Yan Yanming, to police after he tried to commit suicide following the attack.

The attack at the No. 2 High School took place around 11:45 p.m. Thursday.

"The man broke into the high school with a knife in his hand...and chopped eight people to death and four others to injury," said the Xinhua report.

There's no word on the attacker's motive, though the China News Service says him might have been a former student who may have been expelled. [...]

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Man jumps to his death from Empire State Building
November 26, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) - A man jumped to his death Friday from the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, one of New York's busiest tourist destinations, police said.

The apparent suicide forced police to briefly close the landmark on Fifth Avenue to tourists in the city for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The man apparently climbed over a security fence that encloses the observation deck before leaping off. He hit a landing on the sixth floor, where he died instantly, police said.

No identification was found on his body.

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Norwalk outbreak hits Hamilton school
Nov. 25, 2004. 09:34 PM

HAMILTON - Up to 100 students from a downtown public school are sick in an outbreak of the Norwalk virus.

Hamilton's public health department has ordered Adelaide Hoodless public school to disinfect its 28 classrooms with anti-bacterial cleaners after up to 100 children and five teachers called in sick yesterday.

There were 66 absences Wednesday and officials are trying to control the spread of the virulent illness. [...]

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Urine-infested river called threat to Dubliners' health
Associated Press

Dublin — The Guinness may be good for you in Dublin, but the river can make you really sick.

So warns the director of public health for the Irish capital, Dr. Marie Laffoy, who reported that three canoeists plying the River Liffey this week were hospitalized after catching a bacterial infection called leptospirosis. All recovered.

“In Ireland it is usually picked up from rats, although a milder form can be caught from cattle or dogs. The infection is spread through contact with rat, cattle or dog urine or cattle manure,” said Dr. Laffoy.

The infection — which initially causes headaches, rashes, fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting, and if unchecked can lead to jaundice, meningitis and kidney failure — rarely proves fatal.

Those considered most likely to catch it are farmers, vets, sewage workers and enthusiasts of water sports.

“We are advising people to avoid swimming or boating in water which is obviously polluted, as well as ensuring they cover any cuts or abrasions with a waterproof dressing while swimming or canoeing,” Dr. Laffoy said. [...]

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Indonesian earthquake kills at least 13
Associated Press
Friday, Nov 26, 2004

Jakarta — A strong earthquake rocked Indonesia's West Papua province Friday, killing at least 13 people and causing dozens of buildings and homes to collapse, officials said.

The magnitude-6.4 quake struck at 11:25 a.m. about 30 kilometres from the Papuan town of Nabire, 3,200 kilometers northeast of the capital Jakarta, seismologist Edison Gurning said.

At least 13 people were killed and 65 injured, said Major Wempi Batlairi, Nabire's deputy police chief.

The quake destroyed 170 homes and shops, three bridges, a church and a government telecommunications building, he said. Authorities closed the local airport after a crack was found in the runway.

Tents were being erected to house the homeless.

“People are still scared,” Major Batlairi said. “We are still getting aftershocks from the quake. All of the townspeople are outside because they fear that more buildings will collapse.” [...]

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Strong earthquake jolts Hokkaido
(Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Nov. 27, 2004)

A fairly strong earthquake jolted Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido Saturday morning, the Meteorological Agency said.

There was no immediate report of casualties or damage to properties, Hokkaido Prefectural Police said. Nor did the agency issue a tsunami warning following the quake.

The temblor that struck at 7:42 a.m. registered 4 on the 7-point Japanese intensity scale in Urakawa, Sarabetsu and Churui and 3 in Niikappu, Shizunai, Erimo, Shikaoi, Toyokoro and Hiroo.

The focus of the earthquake, which is estimated to have registered 5.6 on the open-ended Richter scale, was located about 60 kilometers below the ground in the southern Tokachi district.

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Swift storm, possible tornado, knocks out power to thousands
New York

KINGSTON -- A tornado was reported in Lomontville and more than 3,000 lost power as a strong, fast-moving cold front swept through the region Thursday morning.

About 3,500 Central Hudson customers lost power between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. as strong winds felled trees onto powerlines, said Central Hudson spokesman Paul Tesoro. About 1,500 were still without service Thursday evening but full restoration was expected by daybreak Friday, he said.

Hardest hit were the City of Kingston, Marbletown, Wawarsing and Rochester, where a combined 1,455 customers lost power. [...]

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Rock slide closes Interstate 70
Nov. 25 (UPI)

Glenwood Springs, CO, -- A huge rock slide Thursday in western Colorado Thursday forced the closure of a stretch of Interstate 70, forcing motorists to detour more than 200 miles. The slide occurred about nine miles east of Glenwood Springs in Glenwood Canyon, CNN reported. Glenwood Springs is halfway between Vail and Grand Junction.

The Colorado transportation department closed east- and westbound lanes for a 17-mile stretch and said it could be a week before the road reopens.

Workers trying to clear the highway were using dynamite on large boulders and jackhammers on others.

"It's very severe," said department spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. "There's some big rocks that have come down."

Between 30 and 40 large rocks tumbled onto the road, including boulders up to 8 feet by 10 feet, the department said.

"It is estimated that about a half-dozen boulders are embedded between 6 and 8 feet into the roadway," Shanks said.

The highway closure comes during Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest travel periods of the year

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Rocks of all ages tell story

(New Zealand) - A few hundred metres off the coast of Northland stand tiny islets that may tell the story of the biggest catastrophe in the history of life on Earth.

Arrow Rocks, just off Tauranga Bay about 40km north of the Bay of Islands, are so small that you can clamber round the main rock in about 10 minutes.

The other rock is even smaller, but more treacherous, rising from the waves like a sharp arrow head - or, as the Maori saw it, a bird's beak. They named the islet Oruatemanu, "two birds" or perhaps "the bird's home".

You can see at once why these rocks have drawn geologists from several Japanese universities this week for their eighth field trip in as many years. In the eroded cliff faces and caves, layer upon layer of multicoloured rocks have been twisted into rollercoaster patterns by years of folding and deformation.

These are not just any old rocks. This is one of a handful of places on the globe where you can see rocks that were laid down just before, during and immediately after something awful that happened 251 million years ago.

Almost instantaneously, geologically speaking, 90 per cent of the living species that existed at that time were wiped out - a far worse disaster even than the meteorite that hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago and destroyed about half the species of that time, including the dinosaurs.

At the end of what geologists call the Permian era, named after the Russian city of Perm where 250 million-year-old rocks were first found, the dinosaurs had not yet evolved.

Only about 120 million years before, the first amphibians had ventured out of the protection of the sea on to a raw land.

By Permian times a whole zoo of land animals had evolved - creatures called synapsids, or mammal-like reptiles including huge plant-eaters the size of rhinos, and sabre-toothed meat-eaters that jumped on the backs of the plant-eaters and ripped their skins with their teeth.

The land was covered in mosses and ferns, with a few early trees around the margins of lakes and rivers. Spiders, beetles and a wide variety of insects had evolved in the undergrowth. The sea teemed with tiny plankton, snails, seafloor plants and fish.

Then suddenly, 251 million years ago, the fossil record preserved at places such as Arrow Rocks shows that most of these life forms disappeared. Plants died and were replaced by fungus. Of 74 species of amphibians and reptiles, only two survived.

Auckland University geologist Bernhard Sporli, who is working with the Japanese on Arrow Rocks, says it was a terrible time.

"You had general wildfires, dust that went into the atmosphere. The effects were not measured in months but in years. It could have been dark for a whole year."

With no sunlight, photosynthesis stopped and plants died. Eventually the animals that fed on them followed.

But the causes are a mystery.

"We just don't know," says Dr Chris Hollis of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, who was at Tauranga Bay this week. [...]

"One thing is clear, however. The biggest mass extinction of all time did happen 251 million years ago, and even if we cannot yet fully explain why, it is important to look at the consequences of cutting life down to 10 per cent or less of its normal diversity. There are lessons to be learnt."

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