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Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
January 9, 2005

Gold fell sharply on Friday, closing the week at $422.20, down 3.5% on the week from last Friday’s close of $437.10. The Euro closed at $1.305 down 1.3% from $1.354 . The Dow closed at 10, 604, down about 2% from last week’s close of 10,783. The NASDAQ closed at 2089, down about 4% from last week’s close of 2175. US interest rates were up, generally, with the 10-year Treasury bond closing 4.27% up from last week’s 4.22%.

Because of the instability of the dollar, I thought it would be helpful to cite the price of gold in Euros and the price of oil in Euros and gold as well as in dollars. An ounce of gold closed at 323.53 Euros up a bit from last week’s close of 322.32. Oil closed at $45.43 (or 34.81 Euros) a barrel up from $43.45. An ounce of gold, then, would buy 9.29 barrels of oil.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the US economy created 157,000 new jobs in December 2004, creating a small annual net rise in the number of jobs for the first time in the Bush II years. ( The official unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.4%. The monthly gain in jobs was below the median predicted by analysts, but not bad nonetheless.

It was, all in all, a pretty good week in which to be optimistic for 2005, if you weren't looking at the other factors involved. But even mainstream analysts are still worried. Stephen Roach, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, a firm whose privately delivered forecast that the US had only a ten percent change of avoiding “economic armageddon" was leaked to the Boston Herald recently, writes:

For me, many of last year's lessons are interrelated — part and parcel of the general framework of global rebalancing that has guided my macro view over the past few years.  First is the timeworn debate over global imbalances.  In many respects, I have led the charge in arguing that imbalances matter — especially the unprecedented disparities between the world's current account deficits (mainly the US) and surpluses (Asia and, to a lesser extent, Europe).  I still have deep conviction on that count.  But I certainly have to confess that this call has gained only partial traction, at best, in world financial markets.  When I speak with equity investors, they look at me as if I have come from a different planet.  Suffice it to say, the resolution of global imbalances has hardly had a major impact on share prices.  The same can be said of bond investors, as yields on longer-term securities barely budged in the face of unprecedented global imbalances.  Of course, it was a different matter altogether in foreign exchange markets as the dollar came under renewed pressure over the course of last year.  The broad dollar index fell about 7% in real terms in the second half of 2004, bringing the cumulative decline from the early 2002 peak to about 16%.

Of course, when speaking with the general public, they use positive-sounding terms like “global balancing” rather than the more alarming “economic armageddon.” Like many of us, the healthy stock and bond markets last year puzzle Roach:

Take yourself back a year ago:  If you had known that the Fed would tighten by 125 basis points (I publicly urged Chairman Greenspan to go by 200 bps), that the US core inflation rate would essentially double, that crude oil prices would shoot up into the mid-$50 range, that the US economy would grow by nearly 4.5%, that America's twin deficits (budget and current-account) would soar, and that the dollar would come under renewed pressure, the bearish call for longer-term US interest rates would have been a no-brainer.  And yet yields on 10-year Treasuries basically ended the year where they began at approximately 4.2% — with a modest increase in inflationary expectations largely offset by a surprising decline in real interest rates (as captured in the inflation-indexed TIPS market).  Hard as it may be to admit, this result basically turns the art of interest rate forecasting inside out.

Again, no mention of political factors, the most important of which was the US election.  In order to reduce the number of votes Bush had to suppress or steal, the Bush faction had to maintain the illusion that things were going tolerably well in the economy and in the war. For this, we can raise a martini glass to the non-US bondholders:

In the 12 months ending October 2004 (latest US Treasury data available), net foreign buying of long-term US securities totalled $850.6 billion, well in excess of the cumulative current-account deficit of $603 billion recorded over the four quarters ending in 3Q04.  Yes, there was an increase in the share of dollar-denominated assets purchased by foreign central banks, from 18% to 27% over the past year; this was a conscious policy choice, largely aimed at preventing Asian currencies from rising and thereby impeding the region's export-led growth dynamic.  But the bulk of the flows still came from non-US private investors seeking return and/or security in dollar-denominated assets. 

And we can raise another toast to the US consumer:

[Another] lesson of 2004 bears on the power of the Asset Economy and the related resilience it has imparted to the seemingly unflappable American consumer — long the major engine on the demand side of the global economy.   Despite sub-par wage income growth, anemic job creation, historical lows in personal saving, and record household sector debt loads, US consumption growth appears to have exceeded 3.5% over the four quarters of 2004.  In my view, this latest outcome — along with comparable results that have generally persisted since the late 1990s — is very much an outgrowth of an asset-driven spending dynamic.  First, it was the equity wealth effect, then more recently the impetus from property markets.  In ever-rising asset markets, consumers have chosen to substitute wealth accumulation for income-based saving.   This works for as long as asset markets do not go to excess and for as long as the interest-rate underpinnings of such markets remain favorable.  With America's housing market now in bubble territory and with interest rate risks likely to tip to the upside, the staying power of its asset-driven consumer could be tested in 2005.  I was wrong on that view in 2004, but in large part, I believe that was because the interest rate test never occurred.  If that test now comes to pass, the long-awaited capitulation of the American consumer could well be at hand.

Enough of the mainstream analysts, let’s hear from the alternative ones, since they don’t have to worry about actually triggering, by their analysis, the collapse they fear. Here’s what Al Martin ( said in his 2005 forecast:

The economic storm clouds on the horizon continue to gather as the planet sinks into a sea of red ink. The economic numbers are simply frightening as the scourge of Bushonomics, i.e., negative debt finance consumption, continues unabated, reaching all of the wrong kind of records, as it were. Total consumer debt is now 86% of GDP, a number never seen before, and a number, which classically cannot exist in Smithsonian capitalism, as in James Smithson, the father of modern day capitalism. The current regime is now consuming 84% of the planet’s entire net savings rate in order to finance Bushonian triple deficits–current account, budgetary and trade. Meanwhile the personal savings rate in the United States , is now a negative number, a statistic never before seen. Supposedly the largest nation-state on the planet, accounting for 43% of global GDP, has a negative savings rate. …

 The speculative bubble in residential real estate shows signs of bleeding air. The November data of “housing starts” is down 12%, the largest drop in 11 years. New home sales are down 13%, the sharpest 1-month decline also since 1994. Building permits are down sharply. Median home values now the lowest in 12 months, having fallen for 7 consecutive months.

 The national foreclosure rate is now at 6.54%, the highest since 1933 in the very depths of the Great Depression. The national property tax arrearage rate for residential properties is now at 8.9 months, also a record number. Never before has the national residential property tax arrearage rate exceeded 8.6 months. And now it does for the first time in history.

      There are so many historical record numbers! A U.S. dollar, which continues to decline under a Regime who will do nothing to support it and everything to encourage its continuing decline under the belief, which is inherent in classical Smithsonian capitalism, that a cheaper currency spurs exports – this despite the fact that exports in real terms under this regime have actually fallen.

      The reason, of course, that a cheaper dollar is not spurring exports in this economic cycle, as they have classically done in the past, is that our major export partners, the 10 largest trade partners that we export to have economies which are declining at even a faster rate now than is our own–something also that has never before happened. This then breaks the traditional post-war cycle of economic growth that had existed, the so-called tri-partite economic growth scenario that had long existed between Western Europe, the United States and Japan, where there would be revolving economic slowdowns.

While the mainstream folks keep hoping that “foreign investors and banks” will continue to balance the imbalance, few people are mentioning how indebted the whole world is:

This can be seen, for instance, by the increase in global debt and the increase in the negative net worth of the entire planet, which now stands at -$13 trillion. The planet is, indeed, literally sinking into a sea of red ink. In 2005, with Bushonian fiscal stimulus via tax cuts now gone and no further fiscal stimulus in the United States possible via more tax cuts, or nothing substantial certainly, due to the ever-growing size of budget deficits, that removes a stimulative factor that had existed under this Bush/Cheney regime from 2002 to date. Furthermore, monetary stimulus that had occurred under this regime through sharply declining interest rates is now over. We have now entered the period of rising interest rates.

As for the heroic efforts of the US consumer:

Therefore, for instance, consumption stimuli that was coming from mortgage refinancing, which was substantial, more than a hundred billion a year under this regime average–that was the average amount of consumable income that was being drawn out from refinancing mortgages into ever lower rates with ever higher equities due to rising real estate values–this whole scenario now has been reversed. Not only have refi’s dropped sharply and will continue to drop as interest rates rise, but the value of homes coming out of a speculative bubble that have been refinanced is now also declining.

For instance, here’s a frightening, frightening thought that former Federal Reserve Governor Lyle Gramley pointed out: there has been so much money under this regime taken out of home equity through refinancing or home equity lines of credit, etc., more than 1-1/2 trillion dollars taken out, that median equity versus mortgage debt in the United States has fallen to an all-time low fraction of only 43%.

This means that the median value of a home owned by a US citizen (because of refinancing and continuously taking money out of that equity without actually selling the home) is only 43% of that home’s current value. This is an all-time low.

To give you an idea, for instance: 30 years ago in 1974, the median equity of U.S. citizens in their home was 68%. Now it is 43%. This IS even more nerve wracking considering the five fold increase in median home prices which has occurred over the past 30 years

The mainstream economic analysts, then, can be divided into three camps. First, those who carefully and cautiously warn about an upcoming disaster in ways so measured that their words don’t have much effect; second, those who publicly say all is well while privately saying and doing with their own money something different; and third, those who truly think things are going to keep getting better and better. But they are all united in one thing: the fundamental assumptions of neo-classical economics. What the Anglo world (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand) calls “mainstream economists,”  the rest of the world calls “Anglo-Saxon, neo-liberal economists.” And they don’t mean that is a good way! The “liberal” in this case refers to 18th and 19th century classic liberalism that advocated free trade, free labor, free enterprise, and a society and economy bound by contractual relations between freely acting individuals. This economic ideology was discredited to an extent for much of the twentieth century, but it came back with a vengeance in the right-wing “neo-classical” economic reaction instituted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. While this type of economy has always been imposed at the point of a gun, the gun is much more visible now. Even the New York Times cheerleader for globalism, Thomas Friedman, said that “"The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas”.  Now, in the beginning of the 21st century, the fist is not so hidden.

Classic liberal economics represent one branch of clear STS or Service to Self economic relations.  Corporate-Fascist economics represents an alternate STS economic path. Both ideologies propose an ethos of getting as much as you can for yourself without concern for the other.  The difference is, the “you” in liberal economic ideology is the “individual” and in corporate fascism the “you” that is maximizing personal benefits is the Nation or the State merged with the powerful corporations. Game Theory, with its rational self-interested actors and two-person games, is essential to both types of STS economic ideologies. What results, then, when societies make these theories and ideologies their fundament, is a culture of psychopathy, a culture where psychopathic behavior is rewarded. (see Laura Knight-Jadczyk’s “’Official Culture’ in America: A Natural State of Psychopathy?” ) and  her Adventures with Cassiopaea series).

What is the end result? Bourgeois liberalism has always said that if each “rational actor” pursues his or her self interest, the greater good will result. The spiritual tradition, however, tells us that, while it is true that those who serve themselves end up serving others, they often end up working for their own ruin.  The tradition also tells us that the serving of self may not even serve the interests of the human race. Even the standard Christian tradition would agree by saying that sinners end up working for the good of the God’s plan while working for their own ruin. Can this be true of whole societies?  Is there an STO or Service to Others economics? Is that what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven? Can the cooperative movement and “localist” economics provide a model?  Argentina, for example, has seen an explosion of cooperatives since their economic collapse of a few years ago (this was censored story number 23 in Project Censored’s Top 25 Censored Media Stories for 2004). Catherine Austin Fitts is working to build that kind of movement in the United States (see Can a distributed network like the Internet along with the Open Source software movement provide a model? Will creating an STO economy lead to a departure from the type of existence we have now?  What the tradition does teach is that the change must first come from within and that it involves work. Here may be where it has most in common with classical economics which gave us the saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

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"Hitler's Hit Parade" shows how pop culture bolstered Nazi ideology

By Associated Press January 7, 2005

NEW YORK — Hitler's Hit Parade is hardly a trip down memory lane. This film's juxtaposition of romantic songs and wartime brutalities can cause viewers to squirm or turn away in horror.

The disturbing collage of Third Reich musicals, newsreels, home movies, cartoons and commercials, including rare segments in color, shows how the Nazis relied on escapist entertainment to promote their murderous ideology and bolster the veneer of normalcy during the nightmare of Adolf Hitler's reign.

The 75-minute production, co-directed by Oliver Axer and Susanne Benze, opened Wednesday for a two-week run in New York — the U.S. premiere after limited screenings in Germany. It's a provocative study of seductive propaganda techniques, a partial explanation of the riddle of mass German support for Hitler.

Portraying themselves as protectors of German traditions and historic continuity, the Nazis promised law and order and national respect at a time of economic despair when Hitler came to power in 1933. Lighthearted entertainment was allowed to flourish to distract Germans from harsh realities of totalitarianism.

Sentimental songs churned out by Germany's light-music industry were crammed with code words like "fate" and "homeland" that served as psychological tools to enforce mass conformity.

Allusions to discipline and obedience were reflected in seemingly innocuous popular tunes with titles like Don't Ask How, Don't Ask Where, Don't Let It Bother You and Everything in Life Will Pass.

"I know a miracle will happen some day and a thousand fairy tales will come true," Zarah Leander, a wartime diva, croons in one segment, hinting at "wonder weapons" rumored to be in Hitler's arsenal to beat back the allies.

"Entertainment rather than propaganda proved to be the most effective support for the regime," Moshe Zimmermann wrote in his Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper review of the film. "One could whistle Eternal Spring, take pleasure in Heinz Ruehmann's amusing films, sing along with the pop tune "The World Isn't Collapsing" as bombs fell, and the world seemed intact."

Hitler's Hit Parade (in German with English subtitles) plays out without a spoken commentary, instead using Nazi catch phrases to preface segments on idealized Third Reich society. Lyrics from 20 popular songs serve as ironic commentaries on the sinister policies propelling German industrial expansion for the coming war, mass physical fitness, higher birth rates, anti-Semitism, military training and adulation of Hitler.

The film shows "how dangerously tempting and engaging the general mood of an era can be," according to co-director Axer. It serves as a warning to "recognize the true, hidden meanings before believing" in the brave new world promised in Nazi rhetoric.

Comment: When we speak of the "American people" on the Signs page it needs to be understood that there are very likely two distinct groups of Americans.

One group is comprised of those people who lack the ability to see and understand the deeper reality within which we all live. This group makes up the majority of Americans who support the Bush government and its policies and takes as 'gospel truth' every word that their leaders utter. There is little hope and that such people will do anything but continue to stand side by side with their government, believing the lies, right up until the bitter end.

The second group, which possibly comprises a slight, overall majority in the US, is made up of the millions of people who stood in line to vote against George Bush in last year's, clearly stolen, election. For them there exists the possibility of an awakening to the deeper truths about life and its purpose and the role that each of has to play if we so choose.

The second group is the one that we hope to appeal to through our daily musings here on this page. However, we also understand that this is a task that must be approached with tact and sensitivity while at the same time not shrinking from spelling the facts out as we perceive them. In this regard, we would like to make some comments about the current issues vis a vis the American people and their government and outline the core problems that have lead us all to the precipice on which we now stand.

At present that section of the American people that possesses the latent capacity to see and understand the reality of the world as it is, find themselves caught in an extremely subtle trap. The subtlety of the trap is such that the people themselves unwittingly perpetuate their state of entrapment.

One of the most commonly noted character traits of Americans is arrogance. Almost every European would recognise the image of the stars and stripes-bedecked American on European vacation and the chant of "USA! USA!" Of course, it would be disingenuous to pin this character analysis in a general way on the entire American populace, and it has been said that countries often "export" their worst exemplars. Having said that, the exaggerated patriotism that seems to underwrite everything American is central to the issue we would like to discuss here.

The idea of an "American way of life" that is fundamentally wholesome and good is based to a large extent on the concept of freedom. How often have Bush and Co used the word "freedom" or "free" or "liberty" in their saber- rattling rhetoric. It is almost as if "freedom" is a magic word to American ears, numbing the critical faculties of the millions who hear it and rendering them unable to discern truth from lies.

How often during the course of their childhoods are American children indoctrinated with stories of the "founding fathers" and the noble principles upon which the "great American nation" was built. Anyone that does not see the inherent dangers in such early mind programming, regardless of the actual details of the programming, is simply not seeing. The point is that "freedom", "liberty", or any other noble ideals are not "American", nor are they the property or the "birth right" of any other contrived national identity. To believe so is to believe a lie and to be sucked into a manipulation that will ensure that real freedom is never tasted.

We are taught that democracy was born in Athens 2500 years ago. It was a form of democracy that we might not recognize, but that the founding fathers probably would. It was based upon slavery, only land-owners could vote, and women were excluded. But the Athenians called it democracy, the founding fathers called it democracy, and we continue to call it democracy today.

Many of the Americans involved in the War of Independence were influenced by the ideas of the French Enlightenment, Franklin, Paine, Jefferson among them. How many of Bush's followers would be willing to own up to such a Gallic influence on "American values" today?

Of course, no one, least of all us, will deny that the freedom to live one's life as one chooses is something to be cherished and protected, but when the individual relinquishes their responsibility to personally uphold that ideal and gives it over to a monolithic institution like government, the ideal itself becomes a tool for the manipulation of the people.

The tactic that has been employed to such great effect in America is to take fundamental noble concepts like "freedom" or "the pursuit of happiness" and make them the property of a faceless national identity like "America, which naturally cannot be disassociated from the actions of the American government or military. The people are rightly encouraged to seek to uphold freedom, but by allowing government to then wage war in the name of freedom, the people are implicated in the act of war and cannot avoid reaping its rewards and consequences, whatever those consequences might be.

At this stage, the concept of freedom has been subverted and distorted in the minds of Americans to the point that there can be no "return to an American way of life". All of the signs point to the likelihood that America as it is today will be destroyed, either economically or militarily, and with it all notions of American "freedom". Even if this were not the case, does anyone really believe that to "take back the government" or to "return to an American way of life" would usher in a golden age? The "American way of life", as it is commonly understood, is the freedom to have big, gas-guzzling cars, the freedom to enjoy large salaries, the freedom for 5% of the world's population to consume 30% of the world's resources. Americans were told that all of these "benefits" resulted from their diligence and honest enterprising spirit, but the truth is that all of it was predicated on the exploitation of others around the world and the "freedom" to believe the lies of the US government that always maintained "it ain't so".

Anyone that claims to truly love freedom must first love the truth, and loving the truth requires that we strip away every vestige of the lies and manipulations to which we have been exposed, however subtle, without pity for ourselves or our cherished notions of who and what we are.

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Americans are closing their eyes and letting a new form of fascism get rolling

Citizen Times
Jan 4 2005

Before we tune in to the second inauguration of President George Bush, perhaps you should read this. When we ignore history, we are condemned to repeat it. Oh, not here in the good ol U.S.A., you say. Never here, the land of the free and home of the brave, the bastion of democracy for the free world. Well, open your eyes, America. We may not relive the human catastrophe of the Holocaust on our own soil, but were learning how to borrow from what helped it start.

Billboards in Florida extol George Bush as Our Leader, placed by the conservative media conglomerate Clear Channel, owner/operator of scores of TV, radio and other news media across the country. German for leader is Fuehrer.

Our conservative government is railroading a dismantling of social programs under the guise of economic reform, while waving the banners of domestic safety initiatives as the best form of security for our nation. Unfortunately, security is not closed borders, guns on every corner and limited civil rights. We can't be secure if our roads, bridges and schools are crumbling; if our water, air and food are dirty; if people aren't healthy because they can't pay to see their doctors; and if we must remain in the workforce until were 70-plus years old with an average lifespan of mid- to high 70s, what kind of American Dream retirement is that?

And now we have the Orwellian Patriot Act and the just passed 563-page Intelligence Reform Bill (Have you read it? You authorized your conservative elected officials to vote for it. ...) to shield us from harms way and still no responsible economic solutions, no new jobs, no health insurance for all Americans. We did get, however, a conservative invasion of our schools to remind us of the apocalyptic future we have in store, as the Revelations-reading religious right proclaims at every turn, while generals and clergy boast that our presidents re-election was through divine intervention (Gen. William Boykin and Rev. Pat Robertson). As Hitler descended from the clouds in the Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film Triumph of the Will ... Let's top if off with a Cornell University poll just released and reported by the Associated Press, warning that a near majority of citizens favor restricting the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans. Whats next, will they have to wear a red crescent on their clothes like Jews wore their Stars of David during the Third Reich?

I know many of you reading this will think that this is merely the alarmist ranting of a disgruntled liberal. But think again. When we close our eyes to little things that happen around us, suddenly those small steps along a dangerous path take us far away from where we started. We are nearing the precipice. Our nation is evolving into something very dangerous, and we have a responsibility to stop it. Be afraid of those who follow these principles blindly, of those who profess their allegiance to our leader undyingly. Those who accuse my words of being anti-American and anti-Bush have, regrettably, succumbed to the mass hysteria being created by a new American fascism and will be held accountable as accomplices, just as many aging Germans bear their guilt-by-silence still to this day.

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An American gulag

Seattle Tmes

The U.S. plan to lock up suspected terrorists for life in secret locations without evidence is a horrifying development.

Torturing prisoners, denying them legal safeguards and essentially refuting their existence is what rogue regimes and lawless nations do. Reading about it in China's Xinhua News Agency is especially disconcerting. The Bush administration is not only doing all this now, but making systematic plans to create an American gulag of prisons and prisoners without names and cells without numbers. From the old Soviet Union to Communist China to the banana republics of Latin America and Castro's Cuba, that's what others do.

According to reports in The Washington Post, the military and CIA have hundreds of detainees for whom they have no evidence to hold longer or who have exhausted their usefulness as intelligence sources, or never provided any information.

U.S. authorities refuse to let them go or put them in proximity to U.S. civilian or military judicial systems.

The options under study include construction of a special prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Another proposal would transfer Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees from Cuba back to their home countries, where they'd reside in U.S.-built prisons.

Another option is sending detainees to U.S.-friendly third countries where they can be held indefinitely, and tortured if need be, completely out of sight and mind of U.S. laws and nosy human-rights organizations.

Detainees have been held at secret locations ranging from Afghanistan to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and on ships at sea.

Americans were shocked to learn of the torture and abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and subsequent revelations of other, earlier abuses. These new proposals are another departure from the values most Americans believe symbolize their nation at home and abroad.

So what might be the next step: the holding of political prisoners whose views are considered an unspecified and unproven threat to the commonweal? Certainly, that is preposterous. Except that extreme policies predictably debase other standards.

The Post's Dana Priest reported that moving captives to friendly third countries which hold them without question was a technique used in the drug wars. Kingpins would be stashed away for later delivery to U.S. courts. Since 2001, the practice has been used to make sure detainees do not go to court or back to the streets, Priest reported.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress must challenge the administration and hold the Pentagon and CIA responsible for behavior that undermines the values and liberties they profess to protect.

These agencies do not have to operate in the public glare, but they have to be accountable to civilian law and authority. It's an abomination to take prisoners, hold them, and indefinitely deny them access to civilian and military proceedings.

That is not what America stands for, and not what it does.

Comment: The problem is that this is what America has always stood for, the American people were just unaware of it. We fully accept that it may not be what individual Americans do or have done, but that is an entirely different matter. "America" does not and never has belonged to the American people, the idea that is does, or did, is the main way in which successive members of the American government have made the American people guilty for the crimes of their leaders.

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11 Year Old Children Strip Searched In Hunt For Missing $10 Bill
Jan 7 2005

TEXAS CITY, Texas -- Some parents were up in arms Friday after 10 students were strip-searched for a missing $10 bill at an award-winning charter school in Texas.

The incident happened Thursday at Mainland Preparatory Academy near Texas City, The Galveston County Daily News reported.

Principal Wilma Green said seven girls and three boys -- ages 11 and 12 -- had been in study hall when they were told to strip to their underwear.

She said the boys were sent off with a male teacher and the girls with a female teacher for the searches.

Green said the disrobing was nothing different from what the children would have done for gym class.

She added none of the children objected because they wanted to prove their innocence.

But one boy's mother was so infuriated that she's filed a complaint with police and pulled her four children from the school.

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Haycock Elementary pupil suspended for having knife
January 8, 2005
By Steve Wartenberg
Of The Morning Call

A third-grader at Haycock Elementary School was suspended after school officials discovered she brought a pocketknife to school Tuesday.

Scanlon said the girl brought the knife to school by accident and was remorseful, and that at no time was a student in danger.

''Under Act 26 it's considered a weapon and under Act 26 we are required to expel the student for not less than a year, unless it is deemed otherwise by the superintendent,'' said Quakertown Community School District Superintendent Jim Scanlon.

Act 26 is a Pennsylvania law that requires any student who possesses a weapon at school, at a school activity or on the way to school to be expelled for at least one year.

Superintendents have the option to review each case and recommend action other than the one-year expulsion.

Scanlon wouldn't say how long the girl will be suspended for, but said it wouldn't be a long time.

''If there had been a threat or someone had been injured we would have elevated the suspension,'' Scanlon said. [...]

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85-year-old says police roughed him up

Friday, January 7, 2005

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) -- Police said they are investigating an incident in which an officer pepper-sprayed an 85-year-old man during a traffic stop.

Leon Nins said officer Michael Lee also beat him after he took too long to stop his car. Police deny that and say Nins attacked Lee.

Leaders of St. Paul's NAACP chapter and St. Paul African American Leadership Council alleged that race was a factor. Nins is black.

Nins said at a news conference Thursday that he was bringing sandwiches and cupcakes to his wife during his daily visit to her nursing home December 27 when Lee tried to pull him over for having expired license tags.

Nins, a World War II veteran who stands about 5-feet-7 and weighs 145 pounds, claims Lee was angry that he didn't stop his car right away.

"I told him, 'If I'd have seen you, I would have stopped,"' Nins said earlier. "He got really mad about that. He told me to get in his car, and he started beating me on the leg and on the side of the arm. He pushed me down on the floor, and he was slamming the door on my legs."

Nins was arrested and jailed for two days. The Ramsey County Attorney's Office declined to charge him with a felony, but prosecutors still could bring a lesser charge.

Nins said he went to a hospital for treatment after his release.

Police reports said Nins did not stop for nearly a half mile after Lee began trying to pull him over.

St. Paul police Chief John Harrington confirmed that Lee used pepper spray to subdue Nins, but only after Nins refused to produce identification and began flailing at the officer.

"I do not believe (Lee) was acting with excessive force and I don't have any intention of suspending him or moving him to any administrative assignment at this time," Harrington said.

Groups who claim that race played a role cited a 2001 shooting in which Lee was cleared of wrongdoing. Charles Craighead had taken a gun from a man trying to carjack him. Lee mistook Craighead, who was black, for the carjacker, and shot him to death.

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Police Begin Fingerprinting on Traffic Stops

WBAY TV | Jan 08 2005

If you're ticketed by Green Bay police, you'll get more than a fine. You'll get fingerprinted, too. It's a new way police are cracking down on crime.

If you're caught speeding or playing your music too loud, or other crimes for which you might receive a citation, Green Bay police officers will ask for your drivers license and your finger. You'll be fingerprinted right there on the spot. The fingerprint appears right next to the amount of the fine.

Police say it's meant to protect you -- in case the person they're citing isn't who they claim to be. But not everyone is sold on that explanation.

"What we've seen happen for the last couple of years [is] increasing use of false or fraudulent identification documents," Captain Greg Urban said.

Police say they want to prevent the identity theft problem that Milwaukee has, where 13 percent of all violators give a false name.

But in Green Bay, where police say they only average about five cases in a year, drivers we talked with think the new policy is extreme.

"That's going too far," Ken Scherer from Oconto said. "You look at the ID, that's what they're there for. Either it's you or it's not. I don't think that's a valid excuse."

"I would feel uncomfortable but I would do it," Carol Pilgrim of Green Bay said.

Citizens do have the right to say no. "They could say no and not have to worry about getting arrested," defense attorney Jackson Main said. "On the other hand, I'm like everybody else. When a police officer tells me to do something, I'm going to do it whether I have the right to say no or not."

That's exactly why many drivers are uneasy about the fine print in this fingerprinting policy.

Police stress that the prints are just to make sure you are who you claim to be and do not go into any kind of database; they simply stay on the ticket for future reference if the identity is challenged.

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US Government Stiffs American Tsunami Survivors

Daily Kos

The next day I went back to where my house had been and surveyed the damage. One bungalow nearby had been lifted up and dropped on top of another. The whole beach was visible, meaning all of the two or three story hotels that had lined it were gone. There was a jet ski just near our house. The bottom floor of our house was gone, the upper floor was missing a couple of walls. The only thing left, was a plastic Jesus doll I had bought as a joke. So I was left with nothing in the world except my own plastic Jesus.

The level of destruction is virtually impossible to describe. On our beach we had approx. 2500 hotel rooms. It looked to me, that maybe 50 could still be called hotel rooms. The week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest of the week. Without warning, without an evacuation plan the survival rates were minimal. The wave at our house was about 7 meters high (20 feet) and in some places it was 10 meters (30 feet) high. It wiped out the third floor of most resorts. The number of dead is astronomical, several thousand on my beach alone. By the second day you could smell it, and in the short walk to my former house, we passed about 10 bodies just strewn about.

Our final glance of the town was a cattle truck stacked full of wrapped up corpses. We wanted to go home.

In Bangkok most people got help pretty quick. The Swedes, Germans and English had charted flights for their citizens to get home. The Thai government gave free hotel rooms to survivors and there were lists of places to get food.

EXCEPT the Americans. I went in to find out what help I could get - I was able to get a replacement passport, a toothbrush and a paperback book. They said it was not their policy to arrange flights home. I was cut up, still covered in a pretty good layer of mud, I had no home, no money, no clothing (except some borrowed off Keith) nothing at all, and they could do nothing to help.

They did offer to let me borrow money, but they would have to find three people in America who would vouch for me, and that process should take less than a week. In the mean time I was fucked. I was destitute and rejected by the embassy. Karin was with me (she's Swedish) and said that I could still try and emigrate to Sweden. I was VERY tempted.

In these last days, watching politicians go on about helping and giving aide, but they won't even take care of their own citizens? I am very, very angry. All the other nations of the world were taking care of their own citizens! Eventually I got a flight home with JAL (that would be JAPAN airlines) not even an American company, but a JAPANESE company helped me get home.

I am still listed as neither found nor alive. Before I left I had spoken to the embassy twice on the phone, giving my name so I would be listed as alive so my family would not worry. I went to the embassy twice, once to get a passport to replace the one lost in the tsunami, and they never listed me as alive or found. I flew out of the country using said passport and am still not found. I went to the hospital three times, and, as of yesterday I am now listed as injured (having been in the states three days already). My family is now waiting to see how long it will take before they are notified about my status. So am I.

Comment: The above is the end portion of a longer article about the author's experiences as he was swept away by the tsunami. See the above link for the full harrowing tale.

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At Least 8 Deaths Blamed on Calif. Storms
By MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jan 10, 2:33 AM ET

RENO, Nev. - Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven't seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train, knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways across the mountains.

The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6 1/2 feet at lower elevations in the Reno area. Meteorologists said it was the most snow the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.

"I've lived here for almost 40 years and I've never seen anything like it," Peter Walenta, 69, said Sunday from his home in Stateline, on the southern end of Lake Tahoe. "This baby just seems to be stretching on forever. Right now I'm looking out the window and it's dumping."

Storms also have caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona, deadly avalanches in Utah and ice damage and flooding in the Ohio Valley.

The weather was blamed for at least eight weekend deaths in Southern California, including a homeless man killed Sunday by a landslide. Along the storms' eastward track, avalanches killed two people Saturday in Utah, authorities said.

An avalanche Sunday afternoon killed a 13-year-old boy after knocking him from a ski lift at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. No other injuries have been reported.

A lull in the storm allowed the reopening Sunday of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways were closed off and on for more than a day. The highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.

"The snowbanks along Interstate 80 are about 8 to 10 feet high. It's like you're going through a maze," said Jane Dulaney, spokeswoman for the Rainbow Lodge west of Donner Summit.

About 25 motorists were rescued by National Guard members in Humvees after they become stranded overnight on U.S. Highway 395 about 20 miles south of Reno, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers said. Motorists had to wait up to six hours until rescuers could reach them after daylight Sunday.

"That would have been as scary as it gets to be out there alone in those conditions," Bowers said.

The California Highway Patrol reported 720 crashes Sunday night, more than three times the number of accidents during the previous Sunday when roads were dry.

More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento on Sunday after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening. No one was hurt. Amtrak officials moved the passengers to other cars and the train reversed course and returned to Sacramento about 6 a.m.

Because of the derailment, a westbound Zephyr had to stop in Reno and its roughly 140 passengers completed their trip to California by bus. Service from several stations in Ventura, as well as trains from Los Angeles to Burbank, were canceled for Monday.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years, because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall, spokeswoman Trish Tucker said. [...]

Flash flood warnings were posted throughout Southern California. Residents of a mobile home park in Santa Clarita, northwest of Los Angeles, were evacuated Sunday after 5 feet of water spilled in from a creek.

"An eight-foot masonry wall that was protecting the structures gave way and water is rushing into all the houses," said Inspector John Mancha. Authorities weren't immediately sure how many people were evacuated.

A two-story home collapsed in the Studio City area above the San Fernando Valley. A man and his two children were pulled from the rubble with minor injuries.

Elsewhere, flooding along the Ohio River had chased hundreds of Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky residents from their homes. Meteorologists predicted the river would reach its highest level in eight years at Louisville, Ky., this week at about 5 feet above flood stage. Cincinnati was already more than 2 feet above its 52-foot flood stage Sunday, with forecasters expecting a crest at 57.5 feet.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency in 28 of Ohio's 88 counties this weekend, increasing to 49 the number of counties eligible for state assistance cleaning up from the storms, Ohio Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mark Patchen said Sunday. Ohio authorities believe carbon monoxide poisoning killed five people using generators for electricity since Friday.

Indiana officials said some of the worst flooding since 1937 had isolated pockets across the southern part of the state, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

The storm that fed the flooding also knocked out power last week in parts of western and northern Ohio. Utilities said Sunday that about 66,000 customers remained without electricity, down from a peak of 250,000. More than 37,000 customers were still blacked out Sunday in Pennsylvania, and 56,500 were without power in Indiana.

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Storm blasts California --- 200 vehicles stuck in mountain snow
Associated Press
January 8, 2005

LOS ANGELES - As many as 200 vehicles got stuck in deep snow early today in the San Bernardino Mountains as the latest in a series of storms struck California.

Snow piled up 3 to 4 feet deep along a 15-mile stretch of state highway between the Snow Valley ski resort and Big Bear dam, said Tracey Martinez, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County fire department.

"People were panicking and calling 911 on their cell phones,'' Martinez said. "It's going to take us awhile to get all the folks out of there.''

No injuries were reported as rescue crews used tracked vehicles to pick up the snowbound motorists in the mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. [...]

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3 Killed as Unrelenting Storms Batter Southland

Rain is expected to last through Tuesday

By Jia-Rui Chong, Amanda Covarrubias and Richard Fausset
LA Times
January 10, 2005

A fourth day of thrashing thunderstorms began to take a heavier toll on Southern California on Sunday with at least three deaths blamed on the rain, as flooding and mudslides forced road closures and emergency crews carried out harrowing rescue operations. [...]

The storms had stalled over an area of the Pacific Ocean on Sunday evening, a few hundred miles off the coast of Point Conception, west of Santa Barbara, said Bruce Rockwell, a specialist with the National Weather Service.

"It's stationary off the coast and constantly pumps in moist water from the south," he said.

Forecasters had originally said that some areas of Southern California might receive more than 20 inches of precipitation over the weekend. Although they later reduced that estimate, a campground near Mt. Wilson, Opids Camp, received 20.82 inches of precipitation between 4 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.

In that same time period, downtown Los Angeles received 4.49 inches of rain, Beverly Hills 7.79 inches, Santa Monica 4.7 inches, Chatsworth 5.81 inches, Claremont 7.51 inches and Lancaster 2.36 inches.

Continued downpours were expected through Tuesday, when the jet stream airflow from the north was expected to start pushing the storm inland toward Nevada.

Southern California has been drenched by a string of storms that began in late December and have been only sporadically interrupted by clear skies.

The current dousing, which began Thursday, has been the heaviest. More than 15 inches have fallen in Los Angeles in the first nine days of 2005, as much as the average annual rainfall downtown.

All across the Southland, residents dealt with rockslides, debris flows, downed trees, power outages and mandatory evacuations, though there were few serious injuries.

Mudslides, a sinkhole and other water damage forced Metrolink and Amtrak to cancel some train routes serving Los Angeles and Ventura Counties today.

In Orange County, a combination of storm runoff and big surf caused health officials to close Corona del Mar State Beach in Newport Beach and Capistrano County Beach in Dana Point because of sewage pipe leaks. [...]

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High wind, rains result in some damage around Mississippi
Posted on Sat, Jan. 08, 2005
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - Highs winds associated with a fast moving storm systems left behind some isolated pockets of damage Friday night, with the National Weather Service confirming that a small tornado touched down in the metropolitan Jackson area.

Damage to houses, mobile homes and farm buildings was reported Saturday in central and south Mississippi from the storm system that swept through the region. Rain totals ranged up to an inch in some areas, according to the weather service.

There were no reported injuries.

Officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said small tornado touched down in Jackson about 5:30 p.m. Friday at the height of heavy rain and winds. At least one home was destroyed and about 10 others suffering some damage.

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Seven killed, ferry runs aground as storm pounds northern Europe
09 January 2005 0648 hrs
LONDON : Seven people were killed, more than 1,000 homes were flooded and 330,000 others left without power as violent storms swept through northern Europe, bringing hurricane force winds and heavy rain.

Denmark, southern Sweden and the British Isles bore the brunt of the conditions, with 100 people forced to spend the night on a ferry after it ran aground in southwest Scotland, while a Dutch freighter issued a mayday call off the Danish coast.

In northwestern England, meanwhile, the centre of the city of Carlisle was largely underwater, with locals sheltering on upper floors, watching cars float past in the street below.

Four people were killed in Denmark -- two motorists who died when trees crashed onto their cars, and two others who were killed when a roof blew off a building, police said.

In southern Sweden, two motorists were also killed when trees fell on their cars, and a third died when a car hit him as he tried to remove a fallen tree from a road, media reported.

Copenhagen's Kastrup airport closed down for several hours, as did the Malmoe Sturup airport in southern Sweden, as hurricane force winds of up to 151 kilometers (94 miles) an hour lashed the region and authorities urged people to stay indoors if possible.

Danish sea rescue services reported that a Dutch freighter off Denmark's west coast had called for assistance after reporting a fire on board in heavy seas.

The 15 crew evacuated the ship and were in a lifeboat at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) waiting to be picked up by rescue ships.

In southern Sweden, around 280,000 households were without electricity, while rail services were suspended and traffic on the Oeresund bridge linking Copenhagen to southern Sweden was stopped, as well as dozens of ferry services.

In Germany's northern state of Schleswig-Holstein which borders Denmark train traffic was halted, while road traffic came to a standstill on the North and Baltic Sea coasts, on the bridge over the Kiel Canal linking the two seas, and on the one connecting the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn to the continent.

Firefighters said they dealt with 300 emergencies within a few hours, 250 alone in the state capital Kiel, mainly after trees were unrooted and billboards blown away. No injuries were reported.

Electricity was cut in several areas after winds gusted up to 161 kilometers per hour (100 mph).

In Ireland, more than 50,000 people were also without electricity -- around 20,000 in the Republic of Ireland and 30,000 in the North.

In Scotland, 43 passengers and 57 crew looked set to be spending Saturday night on board a P and O ferry, which set off from Larne in Northern Ireland before running aground at Cairnryan, Loch Ryan.

No one was injured, but heavy seas meant tugs would not be able to get close to the European Highlander vessel to pull it free from the shingle beach until Sunday morning, P and O said.

Around the British Isles, trucks toppled over, river banks burst, people were evacuated from flooded houses and uprooted trees blocked dozens of roads as gales reached 140 kilometres (85 miles) an hour.

The city of Carlisle in far northwest England was worst affected, although local police said that the waters appeared to be receding late Saturday.

Around 1,000 homes in the city had been flooded, as well as a further 100 in other areas, a spokeswoman for Britain's Environment Agency said, with the Royal Air Force preparing for a possible helicopter evacuation of some people.

"We've had people phoning up reporting that the water is starting to creep up the stairs in their homes. Some houses have been evacuated," a spokesman for Cumbria Police said, describing the town centre as "awash".

About a dozen trucks overturned on a motorway in Cumbria and several roads were blocked because of flooding and trees falling.

"At the moment, high-sided vehicles should not travel at all. Our advice to drivers of ordinary vehicles is to only travel if your journey is absolutely necessary," the police spokesman warned.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands was also hit by storms, with a German teenager injured as he was hang-gliding at Zeewolde, in the centre of the country.

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What will happen if a tsunami hits our coast
William Boei
Vancouver Sun
January 8, 2005

Experts say the giant waves could destroy towns, submerge forests, rip up beaches and deposit millions of tonnes of sand far inland - The Ground Shakes, and Then Hell Breaks Loose

One day, the ocean floor 100 kilometres west of Vancouver Island will rupture at a point where two of the moving plates that make up the earth's crust have been stuck since 1700.

The energy will be released all at once, the ocean floor will heave and the earth will shake for several minutes.

A tsunami will begin to spread in all directions. Then:

- Residents on the outer coast of Vancouver Island will head for high ground when the shaking stops. There is no time for evacuation warnings.

- In the quake, the island coast falls by an average of one metre, making structures more vulnerable to big waves.

- The tsunami reaches shore in 20 minutes or less.

- The sea may draw back for a few minutes, exposing ocean floor that is normally covered. Then a towering wave will thunder into the shore, only a few metres high in some places, as high as 10 to 15 metres (33 to 50 feet) in others, as it reaches shallow waters.

- Anyone on the beach or on low rocky outcrops when the waves hit is swept into the ocean.

- Beachfront homes and resorts near Tofino are swamped. Flimsier buildings are smashed.

- Hot Springs Cove, north of Tofino, is largely destroyed.

- Zeballos, a small village at sea level in a narrowing valley, suffers severe damage as residents huddle on the mountain slopes.

- At Gold River, Tahsis and Port Alice, some docks and wharves are lifted above sea level, others are permanently submerged.

- The Pacific Rim Highway is swamped where it runs close to the beach.

- The waves undermine shore lines and river banks, toppling millions of trees.

- The tsunami begins to lose energy as it rounds Vancouver Island, especially at the south end. In the northeast, the waves are still up to seven metres high when they crash into Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Alert Bay.

- In the south, Esquimalt and Victoria see waves as high as two to three metres, and Vancouver less than a metre high.

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Vietnam officially confirms two children died from bird flu
08 January 2005 1945 hrs

HANOI : Vietnam on Saturday officially confirmed that two young boys had died from bird flu as state media said two other people are suspected of contracting the virus.

"We assert that there have been three people infected with the H5N1 virus since December 16, of whom, two had died," the daily Lao Dong newspaper quoted Deputy Head of the ministry's legal department, Tran Duc Long as saying.

On Thursday, the government said that only a 16-year-old girl from southern Tay Ninh province, who is in critical condition in Ho Chi Minh City, had been infected with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus.

The two boys, aged six and nine, were also from the south and died on December 30 and January 4.

Their deaths brought the total toll from bird flu in Vietnam since late 2003 to 22. [...]

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Landslide victory for Abbas

Mark Oliver and agencies
Monday January 10, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas last night won a landslide victory in the Palestinian presidential election and was today expected to outline his vision of a post-Yasser Arafat future.

The militant Islamic group Hamas, which boycotted the elections along with another militant group, Islamic Jihad, said today it could work with Mr Abbas, but questioned his real margin of victory and complained of electoral irregularities.

Election officials confirmed that Mr Abbas had won 65% of the vote, citing partial results from 10 out of 16 voting districts. An official said Mr Abbas's nearest rival, Mustapha Barghouti, had secured 21%, and Mr Barghouti today conceded defeat.

Analysts said Mr Abbas's victory held out the promise of breakthrough in the Middle East peace process after four decades of rule by Mr Arafat, who died on November 11. [...]

Comment: Arafat tried for decades to win genuine freedom and justice for the Palestinian people - nothing worked. Israel is not and never has been interested in a peaceful or just settlement with Palestinians. The leaders of a rogue state like Israel correctly understand that sitting down at the negotiating table and reaching a peaceful and just settlement with Palestinians would require them to relinquish some of their total power. They are completely unwilling to do so.

In the end Arafat was forced by Israel to use the only option and resource left to him - his very presence. While Arafat lived, his understanding of the reality and truth of the intentions of Israel meant that Sharon could not move forward in his plans to excise the Palestinian problem.

The fact that Abbas has now been installed and is sanctioned by Israel is a very worrying development indeed.

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Not Your Grandfather's Anti-Semitism

Tony Judt, The Nation
January 3, 2005

"Anti-Semitism" today is a genuine problem. It is also an illusory problem. The distinction between the two is one of those contemporary issues that divide Europe from the United States. The overwhelming majority of Europeans abhors recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions and takes them very seriously. But it is generally recognized in Europe that these attacks are the product of local circumstances and are closely tied to contemporary political developments in Europe and elsewhere. Thus the increase in anti-Jewish incidents in France or Belgium is correctly attributed to young people, frequently of Muslim or Arab background, the children or grandchildren of immigrants. This is a new and disconcerting social challenge and it is far from clear how it should be addressed, beyond the provision of increased police protection. But it is not, as they say, "your grandfather's anti-Semitism."

As seen from the United States, however, Europe – especially "old," or Western, Europe – is in the grip of recidivism: reverting to type, as it were. Last February Rockwell Schnabel (the U.S. ambassador to the European Union) spoke of anti-Semitism in Europe "getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the '30s." In May 2002 George Will wrote in the Washington Post that anti-Semitism among Europeans "has become the second – and final? – phase of the struggle for a 'final solution to the Jewish Question.'" These are not isolated, hysterical instances: Among American elites as well as in the population at large, it is widely assumed that Europe, having learned nothing from its past, is once again awash in the old anti-Semitism.

The American view clearly reflects an exaggerated anxiety. The problem of anti-Semitism in Europe today is real, but it needs to be kept in proportion. According to the Stephen Roth Institute at Tel Aviv University, there were 517 anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2002 (503 in 2003) and 51 in Belgium (twenty-nine in 2003). These ranged from anti-Semitic graffiti on Jewish-owned shops to Molotov cocktails thrown into synagogues in Paris, Lyons and elsewhere.

Measured by everything from graffiti to violent assaults, anti-Semitism has indeed been on the increase in some European countries in recent years; but then it has in America as well. The American Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 60 anti-Semitic incidents on U.S. college campuses alone in 1999, 106 in 2002 and 68 in 2003. The ADL recorded 1,559 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2002 (1,557 in 2003), up from 906 in 1986. Even if anti-Semitic aggression in France, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe has been grievously underreported, there is no evidence to suggest that it is much more widespread in Europe than in the United States.

As for expressions of anti-Semitic opinion: Evidence from the European Union's Eurobarometer surveys, the French polling service SOFRES and the ADL's own surveys all point in the same direction. There is today in many European countries, as in the United States, a continuing tolerance for mild verbal anti-Semitism, as well as a continuing propensity to believe longstanding stereotypes about Jews: e.g., that they have a disproportionate influence in economic life. But the same polls confirm that young people all over Europe are much less tolerant of prejudice than their parents were. Among non-Muslim French youth, especially, anti-Semitic sentiment has steadily declined and is now negligible. A majority of young people questioned in France in January 2002 believed that we should speak more, not less, about the Holocaust; and nearly nine out of 10 of them agreed that attacks on synagogues were "scandalous." These figures are broadly comparable to results from similar surveys taken in the United States.

The one thing on which European and American commentators can agree is that there is a link between hostility to Jews and events in the Middle East. But they draw diametrically opposed conclusions as to the meaning of this link. It is increasingly clear to observers in France, for example, that assaults on Jews in working-class suburbs of big cities are typically driven by frustration and anger at the government of Israel. Jews and Jewish institutions are a convenient and vulnerable local surrogate. Moreover, the rhetorical armory of traditional European anti-Semitism – the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Jews' purported economic power and conspiratorial networks; even blood libels – has been pressed into service by the media in Damascus, Cairo and elsewhere. Thanks to satellite television, anti-Jewish images and myths can now spread with ease across the youthful Arab diaspora.

But whereas most Europeans believe that the problem originates in the Middle East and must therefore be addressed there, the ADL and many American commentators conclude rather that there is no longer any difference between being "against" Israel and "against" Jews: i.e., that in Europe anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have become synonymous. But that is palpably false. Some of the highest levels of pro-Palestinian sympathy in Europe today are recorded in Denmark, a country that also registers as one of the least anti-Semitic by the ADL's own criteria – and the ADL has worked harder than anyone to propagate the image of rampant European anti-Semitism. Another country with a high level of support for the Arabs of Palestine is the Netherlands; yet according to the ADL the Dutch have the lowest anti-Semitic quotient in Europe, and 83 percent of Dutch citizens believe the government should take a role in combating anti-Semitism.

In other words, some of the most widespread pro-Palestinian and even anti-Zionist views are to be found in countries that have long been – and still are – decidedly philo-Semitic. And there is good evidence that Europeans have considerably more balanced views than Americans on the Israel-Palestine conflict in general. Thus, although Europeans are more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians than with Israel, they do so only by a ratio of 24:15, according to the ADL. Americans, by contrast, sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, by a ratio of 55:18 (Gallup).

Europeans are also better placed to appreciate that old-style European anti-Semites were, and are, frequently quite sympathetic to Israel – and the worse Israel behaves, the fonder they become. Thus the French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, in an interview in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz in April 2002, expressed his "understanding" of Ariel Sharon's harsh policies ("A war on terror is a brutal thing"), comparable in his opinion to France's anti-terrorist practices in Algeria 40 years earlier, which he thought were no less justified.

The source of American anxiety and confusion is the unstinting support given by the United States to Israel ($3 billion per annum and uncritical backing for all its actions), and the ensuing sentiment among many Americans that since criticism of Israel is close to impermissible, anti-Zionist opinions must be anti-Semitic in origin. Indeed, the gap separating Europeans from Americans on the question of Israel and the Palestinians is one of the biggest impediments to transatlantic understanding today.

This gulf is well illustrated in a recent essay by Omer Bartov, a distinguished professor of European history at Brown University. In a lengthy discussion of contemporary anti-Semitism published last February in The New Republic, Bartov argued that just as the world failed to take Hitler at his word in the 1930s, so we are underestimating or even ignoring the revival, today, of similarly virulent anti-Semitism, whose consequences might prove comparably devastating. The message of the essay was that if anti-Zionism is a camouflage for anti-Semitism (and Bartov thinks it often is), then we should call it by its real name and combat it as such. In Europe especially it has become politically correct, Bartov suggests, to ignore – or play down – expressions of anti-Semitic opinion, particularly in the academic community. The time has come, he concludes, to call a spade a spade.

Bartov himself does not make the mistake of tarring any and all criticism of Israel with the brush of anti-Semitism. But by relentlessly drawing comparisons and analogies between contemporary anti-Zionism and the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the 1930s, he ends up conflating past and present. If we were wrong 70 years ago not to take Hitler's exterminationist intentions seriously, he suggests, we are just as wrong to make any allowance for Hamas, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (who said at a 2003 conference that "Jews rule this world by proxy"), renegade German politicians and novelists, misguided American academics, the former French ambassador to Britain (who several years ago referred to Israel as "that shitty little country") and no doubt countless others.

In Bartov's account, people might well have good reasons to criticize the policies of the Israeli government (Bartov himself is no admirer of Ariel Sharon). But those are not the reasons many of them express such criticisms. It is the hatred of Jews – Jews in Israel, Jews in Europe, Jews everywhere and always – that accounts for the virulence of the critique. The trouble with this account of the matter is, as I suggested above, that it does indeed make the relevant link between the Middle East and modern anti-Semitism, but inverts the causality.

It is the policies of Israeli governments, especially in the past two decades, that have provoked widespread anti-Jewish feelings in Europe and elsewhere. This may seem absurd, but there is a certain tragic logic to it. Zionists have always insisted that there is no distinction between the Jewish people and the Jewish state. The latter offers a right of citizenship to Jews anywhere in the world. Israel is not the state of all its citizens, much less all its residents; it is the state of (all) Jews. Its leaders purport to speak for Jews everywhere. They can hardly be surprised when their own behavior provokes a backlash against ... Jews.

Thus Israel itself has made a significant contribution to the resurgence of the anti-Semitism Bartov and others describe. This is an outcome with which many Israeli politicians are far from unhappy: It retroactively justifies their own bad behavior and contributes, as they proudly assert, to a rise in the number of European Jews leaving for Israel. At a time when many Israelis are obsessed with the prospect of becoming a minority in their own enlarged territory, the inflow of Jews fleeing real or imagined persecution is an occasion for self-congratulation.

Bartov concedes a distinction between "soft-core" and "hard-core" anti-Semitism. However, he still insists that there is a single slippery slope leading from misguided academics and intellectuals to pathological murderers. Historically this may be true. But today the implications of such a conflation of different levels of criticism and prejudice are dangerously censorious. No doubt some of Israel's strongest critics do display anti-Semitic propensities. But that doesn't disqualify anti-Zionism as ipso facto anti-Semitic: As Arthur Koestler observed back in 1948, you can't help people being right for the wrong reasons. If those of us who think Israel is behaving shamefully follow Bartov's reasoning, we'll be constrained to silence for fear of being accused of complicity in anti-Semitism ourselves.

What, then, is to be done? Those of us who take seriously the problem of anti-Semitism – but who utterly reject the suggestion that we ourselves are in danger of sympathizing with anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism – must begin by constructing and defending a firewall between the two. Israel does not speak for Jews; but Israel's claim to speak for Jews everywhere is the chief reason that anti-Israel sentiments are transposed into Judeophobia. Jews and others must learn to shed inhibitions and criticize Israel's policies and actions just as they would those of any other established state.

It may be easier for Jews to take their distance from Israel's illegal acts and misguided calculations than it is for non-Jews – the latter are always vulnerable to moral blackmail by Zionists, especially in countries with anti-Semitic pasts. But we shall never be able to think straight about anti-Semitism until this firewall is in place. Once Germans, French and others can comfortably condemn Israel without an uneasy conscience, and can look their Muslim fellow citizens in the face, it will be possible to deal with the real problem. For indeed there is a problem. This is an arena in which legitimate responses shade all too readily into familiar prejudices.

Thus, to take one notorious example: Critics of the foreign policy of the Bush administration who claim that it is directed in many cases by men with close ties to Israel are not mistaken. Contemporary U.S. foreign policy is in certain respects mortgaged to Israel. Several very senior Bush appointees spent the 1990s advising politicians of the Israeli far right. But that does not mean that "Jewish interests" run the American government, as some European and many Arab commentators have inferred and suggested. To say that Israel and its lobbyists have an excessive and disastrous influence on the policies of the world's superpower is a statement of fact. But to say that "the Jews" control America for their own ends is to espouse anti-Semitism.

Moreover, the slippage between criticism of America and dislike for Jews long antedates the founding of the state of Israel. "Anti-Americanism" and anti-Semitism have been closely interwoven at least since the 1920s, when European intellectuals looked with nervous distaste across the Atlantic and saw a rootless, predatory, commercial society, the incarnation of cosmopolitan modernity, threatening the continuity and distinctiveness of their own national cultures. Many critics of America, in Germany or France or Russia, were all too quick to identify the shifting, unfamiliar contours of an Americanizing world with the essential traits of a homeless Jewry. The link with Israel is new, but the image of "Jewish" America is an old story and a troubling one.

Or, to take an even more sensitive instance: The Shoah is frequently exploited in America and Israel to deflect and forbid any criticism of Israel. Indeed, the Holocaust of Europe's Jews is nowadays exploited thrice over: It gives American Jews in particular a unique, retrospective "victim identity"; it allows Israel to trump any other nation's sufferings (and justify its own excesses) with the claim that the Jewish catastrophe was unique and incomparable; and (in contradiction to the first two) it is adduced as an all-purpose metaphor for evil – anywhere, everywhere and always – and taught to schoolchildren all over America and Europe without any reference to context or cause.

This modern instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political advantage is ethically disreputable and politically imprudent. To deplore this abuse of other people's sufferings seems to me an important civic duty. But to conclude that "the Jews" have made too much of what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945, or that it is now time to move on – that edges us much closer to anti-Semitism.

This brings us to a related and equally sensitive issue. Among European intellectuals and artists – in Germany, for example – anti-Semitism occasionally surfaces in discussions of how to speak openly about the unmanaged past. Why, people ask, after all these years should we not speak of the burning of Germany's cities, or the sinking of refugee boats, or even the uncomfortable fact that life in Hitler's Germany – for Germans – was far from unpleasant, at least until the last years of World War II? Because of what Germany did to the Jews? But we've spoken of this for decades – the Federal Republic is one of the most philo-Semitic nations in the world; for how much longer must we (Germans) look over our shoulder? Will the Jews never just forgive us and let everyone move on? As this last question suggests, what begins as the search for historical honesty risks ending perilously close to resentment at "the Jews."

In formerly communist countries one frequently encounters resentment and perplexity, among well-informed and educated people, at the West's failure to understand the enormity of the crimes of communism. "Why won't you compare Nazism to communism?" they ask. There are a number of answers that one might offer, but the question is not unreasonable, especially when posed by communism's victims. And it must be addressed openly, lest the citizens of eastern Europe tell themselves what a number of intellectuals in Romania, Hungary and elsewhere have already openly suggested: that the reason we in the West reject the comparison is that Nazism persecuted Jews above all, and it is Jews who set the international agenda for remorse, retribution and reparation. Once again, anti-Semitism emerges as the bastard child of otherwise reasonable political preoccupations.

There is no simple answer to the dilemmas raised by such issues. Somehow we need to juggle the need to speak honestly and openly about present politics and past sufferings without either imposing silences or legitimizing the resurrection of prejudices. In my view it is incumbent upon Jews in particular – Jewish writers, Jewish intellectuals, Jewish scholars – to address these contested and disconcerting problems. Because Jewish critics of Israel are less vulnerable to moral blackmail from Israel's defenders, they should be in the forefront of public discussion of the Middle East, in America and Europe alike.

Similarly, Jewish commentators need to take the lead in opening up difficult and uncomfortable conversations about the past – and the present – in Europe. Public discussion in Germany especially, but elsewhere too, is often trapped between politically correct evasions and resentful "taboo-breaking." The majority's fear of offending Jewish sensibilities arouses a growing minority's desire to do just that. We can never "normalize" the European history of anti-Semitism, nor should we. But if the charge of "anti-Semitism" remains suspended like Damocles' sword across the European public space – as it is today across much of America – we shall all fall silent. And between controversial debate and fearful silence we would be well advised to choose the former. Silence is always a mistake.

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US military admits it hit wrong target after bomb kills 14 Iraqis

By Nicholas Pyke
09 January 2005

Fourteen Iraqis were reported killed and five injured early yesterday morning after an American war plane obliterated a family house in the north of the country. The military said it was a mistake.

The American authorities promised a full investigation after admitting that a 500lb bomb had been unleashed on entirely the wrong target, south-east of Mosul.

Television footage had earlier shown a house in the village of Aitha reduced to rubble, while locals inspected the damage.

Nearby there were rows of freshly dug graves where local people said the dead were buried. They reported that American military vehicles had surrounded part of the settlement overnight, shortly before the strike in the early hours of the morning. An official US statement said an F-16 jet dropped a satellite-guided bomb on a house that was meant to be searched: "The intended target was another location nearby." [...]

Last year, US forces mounted frequent air strikes on houses in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah ahead of a major ground offensive, claiming the houses were being used by insurgents.

In May, US marines outraged ordinary Iraqis when they attacked an isolated villa in western Iraq, claiming it was an insurgent base and killing 40. Survivors said they were all civilians.

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US soldier cleared of killing Iraqi
Saturday 08 January 2005, 11:32 Makka Time, 8:32 GMT

A US military panel has found an army sergeant innocent of killing an Iraqi civilian, but guilty of assault for having subordinates force him off a bridge over the Tigris River.

Army Sergeant 1st Class Tracy Perkins was cleared on Friday of a charge of involuntary manslaughter, but found guilty on charges of assault and obstruction of justice. He was also cleared on a charge of making false statements. 

Sentencing of Perkins, 33, a 14-year army veteran, will begin on Saturday by the same jury panel. He faces a maximum of 11.5 years in prison on his conviction for assault and obstruction of justice. 

The military panel had deliberated for more than 16 hours before delivering its verdict late on Friday night. 

'No evidence'

Perkins was accused of killing Zaidun Hassun, 19, by having soldiers force him and a cousin off a ledge above the Tigris river in Samarra, Iraq in January 2004. 

The cousin, Marwan Fadil, testified on Wednesday that the soldiers tossed the two at gunpoint into the water after they begged for mercy and then laughed as Hassun drowned. 

Defence lawyer Captain Joshua Norris said the panel should not convict Perkins because there was "no body, no evidence, no death". Soldiers testified both men made it safely to shore and that the death may have been faked. 

Blog alert

The drowning incident almost went untold until a popular online blog - - posted a public appeal from Hassun's mother calling for an investigation into her son's death.

She claimed the two cousins had been hauling toilet spare parts from Baghdad to Samarra when their truck broke down on 3 January.

After repairing it, they were stopped at a US checkpoint at 15 minutes before the beginning of the 11pm nightly curfew. The two Iraqis were allowed to pass but were then followed by a "mechanised vehicle".

They were stopped, forced out of their truck, handcuffed and taken to a bridge overlooking the Tharthar Dam where they were then allegedly forced to jump into the Tigris river.

Hassun's mother wrote an open letter to US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pleading for an investigation into her son's death.

An investigation was opened by US occupation forces on 8 January.

Comment: The army is a strict hierarchical organization where the power emanates from the top down. When a sergeant gives orders, his subordinates follow, or else. These two innocent Iraqi civilians, whose only crime was to be out too close to curfew, were handcuffed and pushed off a bridge, where one of them died as American soldiers laughed out loud.

He should have been charged with murder.

In a hierarchical chain of command, the sergeant who issues the orders is responsible for the actions of those subordinates following his commands. The sergeant in question has now been cleared of voluntary manslaughter which only adds further proof that American soldiers are above the law and can freely continue to torture, murder and intimidate any "less than human" Arabic person without any real repercussions.

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U.S. Army Sergeant May Refuse Re-Deployment To Iraq

By Robert S. Finnegan 
Managing Editor, Southeast Asia News
from "ICH"

-- Ft. Stewart Georgia, “Rock of the Marne” -- This morning Sergeant Kevin Benderman, U.S. Army awoke to face what will probably be one of the most important decisions of his life: whether or not to accept or refuse re-deployment to Iraq to participate in a war that has been increasingly questioned by the American public, and the world. A war that has been ruled illegal by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and has come under increasing fire from both Republicans and Democrats alike who share the same concerns as Sergeant Benderman and the U.N. Secretary General. 

While conscious of the fact that this single action could be the opening salvo of a war pitting an increasingly disgruntled military against the Bush administration over issues such as “stop-loss,” questionable operations, equipment failures and casualties in Iraq and the possibility of facing severe penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for his actions, Benderman remains firm in his resolve to do something about it, and to do it now. 

“I have both a professional and a moral obligation to call into question why we are still in Iraq after accomplishing the mission – in President Bush’s words – of deposing Saddam, and why U.S. military personnel are increasingly killing non-combatants. On my last deployment in Iraq elements of my unit were instructed by a Captain to fire on children throwing rocks at us.” This is not what he signed up for, Benderman said. 

Both Benderman, 40, and his wife Monica realize the possible ramifications of his stand. 

“We have no other choice,” Benderman’s wife said. “This is what we have to do, I have always told my children that the right thing is the most important thing, and doing it is the only thing that allows you to keep your integrity, regardless of the consequences.” Their actions are only reflecting their core beliefs she said. 

Benderman’s feelings on the war run deep, and were primarily influenced by his experiences during a previous deployment to Iraq from March through September 2003. “The people that we are fighting now, are for the most part people like you and me, people that are defending themselves against a superior military force and fighting to keep that which is rightfully theirs” he said. Benderman also stated that the Iraqi people have the right to choose their own form of government, “just like we did in America after the revolution.” 

He says that he is proud of his service to his country, but takes no pride in what is happening in Iraq now. In addition, Benderman states that while he signed a contract with the military to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ he says now that “I am ashamed to be associated with this mess, and I certainly did not join the Army to kill women, children and old men. I just don’t see how these innocent people could be a threat to the constitution of the United States: an American soldier should not be ashamed of what they do.” 

Benderman has a flawless military record and a list of meritorious awards. 

As for his combat experience in Iraq, Benderman says that he believes that those who have not experienced war are those who beat the war drums the loudest. “Has the video game mentality so pervaded our country that this is how we base our decisions on war? Some of the younger guys were totally out of touch with reality in that respect, and I had to repeatedly tell them to keep their heads down because there are no restart buttons on reality,” he said. 

Benderman sincerely believes that the U.S. has lost its way in Iraq and that the best way to avoid creating more terrorists in the world at this time is to bring our soldiers home from Iraq and to let Iraqis sort out without interference the type of government they prefer. “We did it for ourselves during the American Revolution and now it is time to let the people of Iraq do it for themselves,” he said. 

Sergeant Benderman is scheduled to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at Ft. Stewart Georgia this afternoon after submitting a request for Conscientious Objector Status from the Army. 

U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer Lt. Colonel Kent declined comment for this article citing privacy, and adding that “typically, these are administrative actions we cannot comment on.”

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Iran will respond strongly to any hostile action in Persian Gulf: Navy commander
January 8, 2005

TEHRAN (MNA) -- Iranian Navy commander Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj on Thursday dismissed a report that Israeli submarines had entered the Persian Gulf to attack the Bushehr nuclear power plant, asserting that Iran would deliver a strong response to any hostile action in the Persian Gulf.

"Anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a resolute and forceful response from us," the rear admiral told the Mehr News Agency.

Mohtaj said reports that Israeli Dolphin submarines have entered the Persian Gulf to target the Bushehr power plant with harpoon missiles are part of the psychological warfare program being waged against Iran by the Zionist media.

"Such a plan may have been tentatively proposed, but it would not be practicable in the operational stage. Today, the Naval Forces have full control over all surface ships and submarines which enter the Persian Gulf waters."

On the recent decision by the National Geographic Society to use an unacceptable name for the "Persian Gulf", he stated that the idea of changing the name of the Persian Gulf is also part of the psychological warfare program orchestrated by the U.S. that is meant to sow discord among Persian Gulf littoral states because there would be no room for the U.S. to rampage through the Persian Gulf if regional countries united.

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Five Alleged Militants Killed in Russia
Posted on Sat, Jan. 08, 2005
Associated Press

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia - More than 100 police and security agents backed by five armored personnel carriers surrounded a house Saturday in the restive southern Russian region of Ingushetia and killed five alleged militants in a shootout, the Interior Ministry said.

The suspects had resisted capture, opening fire with automatic weapons and throwing grenades, said Yuri Smolyaninov, a spokesman for the regional branch of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet KGB. He said the special operation to eliminate the militants was completed by Saturday afternoon.

The alleged militants were suspected in the June attacks on Ingush police installations, in which about 90 people were killed, said a duty officer in the Russian Interior Ministry's southern regional branch in Rostov-on-Don. No casualties were reported among law enforcement officers or civilians, the duty officer said on condition of anonymity.

State-controlled television showed the smoking ruins of a brick building, the wooden planks of its roof in splinters. A body could be seen in the wreckage. [...]

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French Foreign Minister calls for "a new relationship" with US
Sun Jan 9,11:12 PM ET

PARIS - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called for a "new relationship" with the United States but warned that a better alliance did not mean allegiance.

Barnier, in an interview published in the International Herald Tribune, said he hoped to visit the United States "every three to four months" to meet with administration officials, members of Congress and others.

"We need more political dialogue - we need to talk more," Barnier said.

US officials accuse France of blocking their bid to obtain full UN backing for the US-led occupation of Iraq, a campaign which Paris opposed.

Barnier said it was a "mistake, an error of analysis" for the Bush administration to try to divide the Continent into an "Old Europe," principally France and Germany, and a new, more pro-American Europe including countries like Poland.

Stressing that the European bloc would continue to grow "whether it is pleasing or not," Barnier said Washington should recognise that "the countries joining the European Union will progressively and inevitably have a European reflex."

"Americans must understand that it is in their interest that Europe get organized and have an autonomy," he said. "It's the price to pay for an effective alliance. The alliance between Europeans and Americans must be balanced."

Asked if an alliance with the US meant allegiance at moments of crisis like the Iraq war, he replied that "it is never allegiance".

"An alliance is a partnership based on mutual respect."

Barnier said France would support the January 30 elections in Iraq, which he said needed to be "as credible as possible" and sensitive to the Sunni minority.

He also urged US President George W. Bush to fulfil his "historic responsibility" in the post-Arafat Middle East, to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, ensure a successful Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and bring about talks based on the road map toward peace.

Comment: The problem with the US administration is that to them, forming an "alliance" with the US actually means pledging allegiance to Bush. Now that Bush has stolen his second election in a row, and more and more power is being placed in his hands, one might suspect that he will become increasingly bold in exercising his authority - perhaps to the dismay of those who believe that dialogue with the US president is still possible and those around him who believe that they may still be able to influence his decisions. Psychopaths aren't exactly known for their willingness to negotiate.

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Audit: Texas Improperly Spent Terror Funds
Sat Jan 8,10:17 AM ET

AUSTIN, Texas - An audit of the state's spending of nearly $600 million in federal anti-terrorism funds found that some of the money was spent improperly, including to buy a trailer that was used to haul lawn mowers to "lawn mower drag races."

The state auditor's office pointed out several cases in which poor monitoring by the Texas Engineering Extension Service may have allowed abuse.

One county bought 18 radios and other communication equipment from a company owned by one of its county commissioners, according to the report released Thursday. Another jurisdiction used a trailer ostensibly bought as emergency equipment to haul lawn mowers to races, the report says.

State auditors have forwarded the case to their special investigation unit, which handles fraud, abuse and other criminal allegations.

The audit's findings mirror some of the weaknesses identified in a September report by The Dallas Morning News. The newspaper found that some cities used anti-terrorism funds to buy equipment for traffic stops, drug investigations and even community festivals.

The extension service said it agreed with many of the auditor's recommendations but that overall it had done an excellent job overseeing grants. It has begun requiring some grant recipients to report how they use equipment.

Comment: Some grant recipients? One might suspect from a report like this one that the war on terror is one big joke, and the entire US population is being hoodwinked. The real problem is that there are a lot of very real people being tortured, killed, and stripped of their liberties - and it seems that the game hasn't even kicked into high gear yet...

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Unexploded U.S. bomb from Second World War found at German hospital
10:43 PM EST Jan 08

BERLIN (AP) - Some 5,000 residents of a Berlin suburb were evacuated from their homes Saturday while explosives experts defused a 250-kilogram U.S. bomb believe dropped during the last months of the Second World War, police said.

Much of downtown Potsdam was sealed off and hundreds of stores and businesses were closed to allow for the removal of the bomb, which was found during excavation work on the grounds of a hospital.

Nearly 500 of the hospital's patients were taken to a gymnasium for about six hours while disposal experts defused the bomb, police said. Other residents waited in schools and other gymnasiums.

Potsdam is the capital of Brandenburg state, which surrounds Berlin.

Based on historical records, city officials believe the bomb was dropped in April 1945, about a month before the war's end.

Nearly 60 years after the end of the Second World War, unexploded bombs dropped during Allied air raids across Germany are still discovered and disposed of.

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Italians brace for brave new non-smoking world -- in public places
Sun Jan 9, 3:15 PM ET

ROME (AFP) - Italy's 14 million smokers prepared for a new way of life with new legislation banning smoking in all public places such as bars, restaurants, discotheques and offices.

Plainclothes police will patrol the country's 240,000 eating and drinking places on the lookout for miscreants, press reports said.

Customers face fines of 275 euros (360 dollars) and offending landlords up to 2,200 euros.

But opposition remained to the last in this land of dedicated subversives, extending even up to cabinet level.

Parliament is setting an example with a rigorous ban on its premises despite protest from unreconstructed smokers in government and on the benches.

Defence Minister Antonio Martino fumed in an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera: "I've been smoking since age 18. It's my sacred right."

"These restrictions are overdone," he expostulated earlier. [...]

Comment: Considering the pollutants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the often genetically modified food we eat, doesn't it seem strange that so many governments around the world are so terribly concerned by their citizens' smoking habits? See Laura Knight-Jadczyk's article Diet and Health Related Questions... Can Smoking Be GOOD For You? for more information.

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Two people killed in shooting at Chicago nightclub, at least five wounded
Saturday, January 08, 2005
The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Shots were fired inside a nightclub early today, apparently by patrons angry that they were denied entry to another part of the building, killing a bouncer and another man and wounding at least five others, police said.

The gunfire took place at about 3 a.m. at Cafe Allure on the city's North Side when four people who had left a private party on the second floor returned and demanded to enter the main room on the first floor, said police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak.

"The main room was closed and the employees were cleaning and said 'You can't come in,"' said Kubiak. "The individuals began firing into the club."

No one was in custody today. Kubiak said she did not know how many shooters were involved or how many shots were fired.

Tamikia Charles said she was in the back of the club — which features lounge, jazz, house and hip-hop music — when she heard gunfire.

"People were screaming and when we looked out, people were laid out on the floor, bleeding," said Charles, 28, of Maywood. "We were just real scared and we were just glad to be out of there alive."

Charles' friend, Makeda Roby, said the crowd pushed her and others into a men's restroom where they waited for police.

She said she heard another round of gunfire that sounded as if it came from a different weapon. "It just seemed like the gunshots were never going to stop," said Roby, 28, of Oak Park. [...]

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Two Teens Gunned Down at Birthday Party
Sun Jan 9,10:58 PM ET

HIALEAH, Fla. - Two gunmen crashed a girl's 15th birthday party early Sunday morning, shooting two teenagers to death and injuring another in a back yard crowded with revelers, police said. One suspect was in custody.

The men apparently had a previous dispute with some of the partygoers, Hialeah police spokesman Jose Caragol said. When the two showed up at the party, some of the revelers threw beer bottles at them to force them to leave.

One man opened fire, but when his gun jammed the other gunman started shooting, Caragol said. [...]

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2 Arrests in Fatal Miss. Hospital Shooting
Sun Jan 9, 8:28 PM ET

MERIDIAN, Miss. - Two people were arrested Sunday in a fatal shooting at a hospital that may have been related to an earlier murder-suicide attempt, police said.

One of the suspects was arrested at Rush Foundation Hospital and the other turned himself in to police, Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose said. Both were expected to be charged Monday.

The man fatally shot at the hospital was the son of a man who Dubose said shot himself and a woman at a Meridian home Sunday morning in an apparent murder-suicide attempt. Dubose said one of the suspects is the woman's son.

The man and woman found at the home did not suffer life-threatening injuries. [...]

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Plane diverted after man's drunken rampage  
January 08 2005 at 04:07PM

Moscow - A Russian plane diverted to Iceland on Saturday after a drunken man tried to start a fight with the crew and his fellow passengers, an Aeroflot spokesperson said.

Police removed the man from the Toronto-Moscow flight, Irina Danenberg told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio.

"A Canadian of Russian extraction in a state of alcoholic intoxication provoked a fight, swore wildly and shouted at the crew and passengers. As a result the captain decided to make a forced landing in Iceland," she said.

Ekho Moskvy quoted a passenger as saying the man punched the plane's captain.

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Nuclear Submarine Runs Aground; 20 Hurt
Posted on Sat, Jan. 08, 2005
Associated Press

HONOLULU - A nuclear submarine ran aground about 350 miles south of Guam, injuring around 20 sailors, one of them critically, the Navy said.

There were no reports of damage to the USS San Francisco's reactor plant, which was operating normally, the Navy said.

The 360-foot submarine was headed back to its home port in Guam, and the Friday afternoon incident was under investigation, said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor.

He said there was no information yet on what the submarine struck.

Details on the sailors' injuries were not immediately available, but Yoshishige said an initial assessment put the number injured at around 20. The sub has a crew of 137, officials said.

Navy and Coast Guard aircraft from Guam were en route to monitor the submarine and assist if needed, the Navy said.

Guam is a U.S. territory about 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii.

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Experts bust the boom mystery - again

Jan 8, 2005

Scientist sleuths say noises were caused by 'micro-earthquakes'

It now appears that it wasn't boys with "bottle bombs" that caused the big booms that mystified North Richmond during the past two months.

More likely, it was their mother.

Mother Earth, that is.

A series of "micro-earthquakes" probably produced the booms, said Martin C. Chapman, a seismologist and professor of geophysics at Virginia Tech.

"There are hundreds of them happening all the time in Virginia," Chapman told 60 North Side residents during a public hearing last night at Linwood Holton Elementary School. "The ground is always moving."

Now the city is buying is own earthquake-detecting equipment to avoid another long-troubling mystery. That equipment should be up and running in 90 days, said Ben Johnson, Richmond's emergency services coordinator.

Virginia Tech was called in last month to help unravel the mystery that began in earnest on election night and continued, off and on, through Christmas.

Compounding and - as it now appears - confusing the BOOM mystery were the arrests over the Thanksgiving holiday of two teenage boys who admitted to making a couple of small booming devices in late September and early October by mixing household chemicals in 20-ounce plastic bottles. That fueled speculation that the continuing booms were the work of young pranksters who became known as the "Bellevue Bombers."

Three seismographs installed in North Side last month by Virginia Tech's earthmoving experts detected a minus-1 magnitude tremor during the boom heard on Christmas Day. (Previous booms, many of them more pronounced, couldn't be measured because the nearest detecting equipment was in Fredericksburg and Charlottesville.)

That evidence, along with anecdotal information gathered from residents and some key comparative data from a 1986 quake in the same area, led Virginia Tech's sleuths to blame tiny shifts in the earth's crust less than a mile beneath the surface. While not conclusive, Chapman said, the quake theory is the most logical explanation.

During the past couple of months, Chapman told the crowd, it appears there has been a "series of these events happening in Richmond."

Why does that cause a boom? asked one resident.

Seismic waves created from rock sliding past rock radiate from the point of friction and convert to sound waves as they reach the earth's surface, Chapman said.

It typically makes a booming sound and sensation, he added, very similar to a truck rumbling by just outside your house.

That description caused roughly half of those present to nod in complete understanding.

Chapman explained that these micro-quakes tend to "flare up and die off," although they can sometimes precede a stronger tremor.

Usually, though, they're "just a nuisance," he said, which produced a ripple of sardonic laughter in the crowd.

Virginia Tech research assistant Jake Beale showed a mapping of a 1986 quake in North Side, which he said is almost identical to recent activity.

North Side resident Bill Britton recalled that'86 quake. "I was in bed . . . BOOM! My first thought was the furnace had exploded. Second thought, the Yankees were back."

He said the biggest of the recent booms reminded him of that quake.

Some residents clearly weren't ready to give up on the serial prankster theory.

But Capt. William "Mike" Martin with the Richmond Fire Department said the nature of the mystery booms and the type of bangs from bottle bombs didn't seem to match from the start of the investigation.

But once the two boys were arrested, the prankster theory "unfortunately took on a life of its own," Martin said.

"The slant in the media all along is the kids did [the booms]," complained one resident.

In that regard, Martin said, the boys "probably caught a bum rap. . . . The timing was horrible."

The two boys were convicted Thursday. They made and detonated bottle bombs well before the booms became an issue.

The boys and their parents cooperated fully from the start, Martin said.

"I have to praise the families involved and the juveniles involved," Martin said. "They stepped up to the plate."

Nearby resident Hampton Carver drew applause when he said the community now has to realize that the two boys had nothing to do with the booms. "We've got to be fair to these kids," he said.

Comment: "Sigh", and so the explanations continue. Do these people have no shame? For sure the most recent explanation is more believable, but the fact that it is still being passed off as an every day occurrence begs the questions as to why these booms are not being heard every day? While small earthquakes may well be the cause, we have to ask the question just what is causing these small earthquakes?

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Strong earthquake recorded off disaster-hit Indonesian province
Time is GMT 8 hours
Posted: 10 January 2005 0935 hrs

HONG KONG : A strong earthquake was recorded off Indonesia Monday close to the site of a massive quake two weeks ago that unleashed tsunamis that killed thousands of people across Asia, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

The earthquake was recorded off Sumatra at 6:18 am (2218 GMT Sunday) and estimated to measure 6.2 on the Richter scale, the observatory said in a statement.

Its epicentre was initially determined to be at sea about 60 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, it said.

Aceh has been rattled by a series of aftershocks since a 9.0-strong earthquake off Sumatra on December 26 produced tsunamis that killed more than 150,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

About 104,000 people were killed in north Sumatra which took the full force of the quake and tsunamis. - AFP

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Quakes rock Taal Volcano (Philippines)
Monday, January 10, 2005 8:12 PM

Moderate volcanic earthquakes rocked Taal Volcano on Sunday, causing some residents to flee the area for fear of a possible tsunami, ABS-CBN News learned Monday.

A Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology report said the first earthquake occurred at 7:45 p.m. and registered intensity 3 on the Richter scale. An intensity 2 quake was also recorded a minute later.

Phivolcs official Allan Luz advised the public to remain calm, adding that volcanic quakes do not usually result in tsunamis.

The quakes drove some 300 families to flee to the Pulo public market and Balas High

School in Talisay town.

Alert status of Taal Volcano has been raised to Level 1 due to increased level of earthquake activity. Phivolcs added that there has been no intensification of seismic activity that may indicate an imminent eruption.

Phivolcs advised the public that the entire volcano island is a permanent danger zone and permanent settlement in the area is strictly prohibited.

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Blogger Predicted Indonesian Earthquake
i-Newswire, 2005-01-10
Business idea blogger, Dan Sherman, used his blog to predict a major seismic event 4 months before the southeast Asian tsunami. Reading his words now, in light of what has happened, is eerie.

On September 2, 2004, business blogger Dan Sherman posted the following on his blog, "I just hope the intensity of the [seismic event doesn't directly correlate with the intensity of the physical manifestation I've been experiencing. If it does, it will be absolutely devastating. Let's hope I'm wrong."

As we know now, he wasn't wrong.

But how does Sherman explain his ability to predict seismic activity?

"It's a sensation I feel in my ears. While the sensation is happening, my hearing in that particular ear is affected until it subsides. The stronger or louder the sensation, the stronger the seismic activity seems to be once it occurs."

Sherman first associated this physical reaction to seismic activity when he was in high school in the late 1970s while living in the central valley of California.

"I started to notice that an earthquake would be reported in the news shortly after I had experienced this hearing sensation," Sherman says. "So I began to write down dates when I would feel this sensation and then log when earthquakes would be reported in the news. Because I was relying on my local paper and television news for the reporting of any seismic event, they would have to be large enough to make it to the news. About 70% of the time there would be an earthquake of 6.5 or larger somewhere in the world within 5 days of hearing sensation occurring. They are typically always 6.5 and above. Although, if one is close to me geographically, they can be in the 5's."

After all these years of experiencing this physical manifestation, why did Sherman risk his reputation as a respectable business blogger to go off-topic and go so far as to predict a major seismic event in the near future?

Sherman says, "I had to get it in the public domain because I knew with 100% certainty that there was going be a major event. In the 24 years that I've been experiencing this physical sensation, I had never experienced the intensity as I had in the last few days of August of 2004. First major indicator was that it lasted for almost 2 days. Previously, it's only lasted for no more than 10 minutes. So of course, that was odd. But the biggest tip was the absolute intensity of the sensation. Typically, it will feel like there is a electrical transformer near my ear and it'll just tingle and feel weird. This time, it overpowered my hearing in one of my ears to where I was completely deaf in that ear for more than 2 days. I was just about to go to the doctor when it subsided. I just knew this was going to be a big one. So I posted it on my blog on September 2nd."

The blog entry he's talking about is titled, "I'm Predicting an Earthquake - Literally!" In it, he writes this ominous statement, "I just hope the intensity of the [seismic event doesn't directly correlate with the intensity of the physical manifestation I've been experiencing. If it does, it will be absolutely devastating. Let's hope I'm wrong."

Two days after that ominous post, there were two back-to-back earthquakes in Japan. They occurred 5 hours apart and were 6.8 and 7.3 in magnitude, respectively.

Sherman reported this in his blog. However, because the sensation he experienced wasn't like his normal sensations prior to seismic activity, he wrote this in that follow-up blog post, "But, for some reason, because of the intensity of the 'thing' that happens to me before earthquakes, I don't think those two earthquakes are going to be the end of it. I believe we have some more coming up in the next 24 hours or so. But because seismic activity is so dependent on many things, it could be that what I experienced is the set up for something really major in the near future. Who knows... it's such an inexact science. But don't be surprised if we get another big jolt somewhere before it quiets down."

It's already well known that animals are able to sense seismic activity. Indeed, there are reports of animals in a game reserve on Sri Lanka were all spared because they sought higher ground prior to the tsunami's arrival. Perhaps Sherman's ability is related in some way. The science community should test Sherman's abilities and try to understand what it is he experiences.

Dan Sherman writes about his unorthodox and off the wall business ideas on

Comment: It would be easy to discount this prediction because, as he says, most of the earthquakes occur within five days of his physical symptoms while the quake in Indonesia took place three months later. It is also somewhat ambiguous because he is unable to predict where the upheaval will occur, so scientists might find his predictions of little use. Such was the response to a man in Taiwan who predicts quakes in an article below.

For us, on the other hand, it is very interesting because it shows there are changes that occur beforehand that are perceptible. Animals can read them. Certain tribes in Southeast Asia were able to read them, but most of us can't.

What is even more curious is that Dan Sherman wrote a book, Above Secret, in 1997 purportedly describing his experiences in the Air Force, working for a secret program for the NSA: Project Preserve Destiny in which he claims he was in communication with aliens. He describes an encounter in his book with the man who recruited him for the project in which he was told that aliens had contacted his mother in 1960, and that he was the subject of "genetic management". We note in passing he is also a strong supporter of Bush and Cheney. Perhaps his alien genetics have affected him in other ways than earthquake prediction.

But Sherman is not alone in having this faculty.... but before that, check out an idea he had for a business just before Christmas.

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Another Use for WiMax - Spy Service
Dan Sherman
December 24, 2004

As WiMax evolves and the chips get smaller and more efficient, someone's going to build a flying apparatus that will be WiMax enabled with a really small video camera mounted on it. Something like this only on a much smaller scale.

What good is that? Imagine this...

Having a very small flying device, equipped with a small survellience type of camera and a WiMax chip. The WiMax ability will allow it to transmit a live video feed, wirelessly to the base unit that could be 20 or 30 miles away. Using the camera, you could effectively control the little device like you were actually sitting in it while flying.

With this little flying "eyes in the sky" you could rent your services to spy on suspected cheating spouses... etc. You're hired by a suspecting spouse. You get details from that spouse as to when the cheating spouse usually leaves. You fly your little spy device to their house and you land on a roof adjacent to the target house and you sit there and wait for the target car to leave the driveway. You then follow the car with your spying device, hovering 100 feet or whatever over the car, following it to wherever they go. Meanwhile, the video feed can be fed through your website live to the spouse that hired you. She (he) could watch in real time where their spouse goes. If the spouse stops, you land somewhere where you can maintain visual on the car or perhaps even be able to see through open windows... etc.

This same thing can be hired out by parents who are suspicious of where their teens are going.

There are going to be sooooo many uses that we've not even thought of yet, for the WiMax technology. It has so much potential. The bandwidth, coupled with the non line of sight range, just opens it up to so many uses.

Comment: Once a spy, always a spy, right? Sounds like the whole "alien" agenda is encoded in the guy's DNA....

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Man hears ringing in ear right before earthquakes strike
Taichung County resident claims hearing predicts temblors of intensity 4 or higher
2004-10-18 / Taiwan News, Staff Writer /
A Taichung County resident who has experienced tinnitus before earthquakes, including Friday's magnitude 7 temblor, should be studied by the Central Weather Bureau and medical practitioners, an ear-nose-throat specialist advised yesterday.

Lee Cheng-chi said on Saturday that he has experienced tinnitus in his right ear before strong earthquakes since the September 21, 1999 quake caused serious damage in his hometown and throughout central Taiwan.

The tinnitus - a ringing in the ears not caused by an external noise source - surfaces before any quake of a magnitude of 4 or higher on the Richter scale and then stops as soon as the earthquake ends, Lee was quoted as saying by Apple Daily in a report published yesterday.

The Taichung County resident had a ringing sound in his right ear on Friday morning, just four hours before the strongest earthquake since the 9-21 disaster rocked Taiwan, and he sent an e-mail to the Central Weather Bureau to warn earthquake specialists there.

"I can feel that an earthquake is coming, but I can't predict its scale and epicenter. I only pass the information to an acquaintance at the weather bureau because I don't want to be viewed as a man with supernatural powers," Lee was quoted as saying in the report.

Tien Huei-shun, an ENT doctor at Taichung's Veterans General Hospital, suggested that Lee's case was similar to the bizarre case of American Charlotte King, and was worth further exploration.

King, an Oregonian, is able to "hear" the earth and discovered that she would get an earache and even severe migraines when earthquakes of 7 or higher on the Richter Scale were about to hit. Her service as a human earthquake warning system helped coin the term "The Charlotte King Effect."

She has been studied for 14 years by scientific and earthquake research institutes in the U.S., which tried to produce models imitating her sensitivity to signals indicating earthquakes were imminent. Scientists found that she was particularly sensitive to electromagnetic fields and the radiation they gave off prior to large quakes.

Some scientists continue to hope that by studying King's signals, they could obtain real-time warnings of large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Her Web site includes a story describing her many accurate predictions.

Tien believes that Lee may have the same predictive powers and suggested it would be worthwhile for local weather forecasters and researchers at hospitals to study Lee as American scientists studied King.

Lee said he sometimes receives responses to his e-mails from Central Weather Bureau officials who told him his warning would be taken into account.

But Kuo Kai-wen, director of the CWB's earthquake prediction center, explained that they could not attach importance to Lee's warnings because "an earthquake prediction must include time, scale, epicenter and intensity."

Lee' warnings have been limited to simple predictions that an earthquake was coming, Kuo said, which from a strictly scientific point of view could only be described as "coincidences."

National Central University professor Ma Guo-feng nevertheless encouraged Lee to further explore his predictive powers.

"A study on such an ability by compiling statistics on the predictions from now on could add value to the study of when earthquakes might occur," Ma was quoted as saying in the report.

Comment: We think that the Powers That Be have much more sophisticated ways of predicting earthquakes than they let on. This raises the question of, if this is so, why don't they use their predicative abilities to warn people? What benefits acrue to them from remaining silent and allowing tens of thousands of people to die?

Do disasters such as last month's earthquake and tsunami give them the opening to come into areas that have been closed off to them until that time? The possibility of imposing their will in exchange for "aid"? Bringing the countries hit by the disaster even more firmly into the web of globalisation?

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B.C. natives believe they'll face similar disaster
DIRK MEISSNER, CP 2005-01-10 02:50:53

VICTORIA -- Aboriginals who live in the villages that dot the rugged, fjord-like west coast of Vancouver Island believe one day they'll face an earthquake and tidal wave similar in destructive force to the quake and tsunami that hit southeast Asia on Boxing Day. It happened before on Vancouver Island more than 300 years ago and it will happen again, say aboriginals and scientists.

"It's in our oral history," says Chief Robert Dennis about the violent earthquake and massive tsunami that struck the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"There was an earthquake and they felt the ground shake and then shortly after the tidal wave came and it washed up all the sand onto the houses," he said. "All the dwellings were destroyed and people by the thousands drowned. They didn't even have time to get into their canoes."

The island quake and tsunami are more than a legend to scientists, says Garry Rogers, a seismologist with Victoria's Pacific Geoscience Centre, a federal research facility that studies the earth's movements.

He can actually pinpoint the date and time of day when the west coast of Vancouver Island was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

"Three hundred years ago, Jan. 26, the year 1700, there was a massive tsunami caused by a magnitude nine earthquake, the same size that was in Sumatra," said Rogers. "The difference is it occurred at night time rather than the daytime.

"The reason we can put it to the date is because the tsunami went across the Pacific and it impacted Japan," he said. "At that time, Japan had a good timing system and a good recording system. It damaged the rice store houses in several ports along the east coast of Japan."

Island aboriginals who live in the Cowichan Valley, about 60 kilometres north of Victoria, tell stories of the ground shaking in the night, causing landslides and massive damage, Rogers said.

West Coast aboriginals who lived on a hillside overlooking the ocean tell a story of continuous shaking and survival, but their neighbours who lived on the water at what is now called Pacheena Bay were wiped out, he said.

"The whole village was gone," Rogers said. "The buildings were gone. The canoes were gone. The people were gone, taken away by the tsunami like we're seeing in Sumatra."

Dennis, elected chief of the Hu-ay-aht First Nation of Bamfield, a fishing and tourism village located about 300 kilometres northwest of Victoria, said he knows of at least 10 different aboriginal accounts passed down over time that tell of the destruction wrought by the island earthquake and tsunami.

The quake and tsunami of 300 years ago have become ingrained in the culture of the West Coast aboriginals and what happened in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India on Boxing Day is a stark reminder of what is lurking in the Pacific Ocean, he said.

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Germany seeks role in quake warning system
10 January 2005
BERLIN - Germany aims to seek a leading role in efforts to improve the globe's international earthquake early warning system, with the geophysical research centre GFZ in Potsdam being commissioned to carry out the work.

The Foreign Ministry indirectly confirmed reports that Germany wants to lead the way in international efforts.

It was noted that in December, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had proposed to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that Germany host the third international conference on prevention of natural catastrophes. The meeting would be held in the second half of 2005, ministry undersecretary Klaus Scharioth

"The work of the institute (GFZ) in Potsdam will play a very large role in this," Scharioth said after a meeting of the German emergency group reviewing the situation in Asia.

He said the GFZ had been working many years in the area of earthquake early warning research and was "very much ahead" of other such research bodies.

"I can imagine that ahead of the conference everything will combine so that they will give Potsdam a very active role," Scharioth said.

According to a report in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Science and Technology Research Minister Edelgard Bulman has asked the Potsdam-based GFZ to develop plans for an early warning system.

"We can have a functioning early warning system in place in one to three years' time with our concept," Bulman told the paper.

The paper said the GFZ work is initially to focus on an early warning system for the Indian Ocean, where the devastating quake of occurred on 26 December, with early warning systems then to be set up for the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

"The Greek and Turkish coasts are also highly-endangered earthquake regions," Bulman told the paper.

The GFZ operates its own seismological research unit and has 50 monitoring stations around the world. It also cooperates closely with such centres in other countries.

The GFZ currently has only a few stations in the Indian Ocean. Under the German plans, the GFZ would establish 30 to 40 new monitoring stations in the region as part of an effort with other donor countries to set up around 250 stations.

Scharioth, in his daily briefing about the relief work in Asia and the search for German victims, said that by latest count the number of Germans reported missing had decreased by eight to 716. But he said that the final official figure was expected to be higher.

Unofficial calculations by relief experts put the number of missing Germans at more than 1,000.

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Kitten rescued from occult ritual
By Ben Baeder , Staff Writer

DOWNEY -- Three men, one wearing a black, hooded cloak. A black kitten in a bag with its legs tied together and a puncture wound in its hip. A knife, candles, a wax skull, daggers, four roosters in boxes.

Painted in red on a nearby animal skin were the words "Beelzebub Jefe Supremo.'

That's the scene police came upon in a cemetery early New Year's morning.

Now, authorities are trying to find a home for the kitten they call Nuevo and three men are facing time behind bars. [...]

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And Finally...

62-Foot Stogie Rolled in Puerto Rico

By FRANK GRIFFITHS, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jan 9,11:50 AM ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A cigar maker in Puerto Rico has hand-rolled a 62-foot-long stogie, which would be the world's largest if confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Patricio Pena, 43, took about four days to manufacture the cigar in a plaza outside a farmer's market in the Santurce district of San Juan, finishing the project late Saturday.

"A friend of mine came up to me recently, and said why don't you try and make the world's largest cigar?" Pena said standing over the cigar, which spanned the length of about a dozen tables.

Pena is attempting to displace Cuba — the king of cigar-making — as the home of the world's largest cigar. The current Guinness record-holder is Jose Castelar Cairo of Havana who made a 45-foot-long cigar in August of 2003.

Pena, originally from Santiago, Dominican Republic, first started rolling cigars at the age of 7, and has continued the practice in Puerto Rico, where he has lived for the past three decades. He has a stand outside the market where he rolls regular-sized cigars.

It took 20 pounds of tobacco from Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania and 100 leaves to roll the huge cigar, Pena said. The materials cost about US$2,000 but he was sponsored by San Juan's city government, Bacardi rum company and Telemundo television station, he said. [...]

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