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Solitary Oak
©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Bush Speaks - The World Scratches Its Head

SOTT
15/01/2005

Last Friday two Washington Post reporters were given the privilege of not only looking the President in the eye, but speaking directly to him on board his favorite Presidential toy - Air Force One. As the massive hulk of Bush's airborne office ploughed the direct flight path from Washington to Jacksonville Florida, the interview took a more circuitous route, stopping off now and again for Bush to ask "what were we talking about again?" or words to that effect.

While the topics discussed were described as "wide ranging" and the president at times expounded incoherently on subjects like the war in Iraq, finding Osama and Social Security, as with most of his previous speeches the abiding feeling we are left with is that the American Commander in Chief lacks the intelligence required to lead a troop of monkeys, much less an entire nation. That is not to say, however, that Bush did not sound confident, he did, and always does, but the fact that he is unaware that he is an idiot and indeed believes that he is a genius, simply gives us all the more cause for concern.

In order to best summarise the interview, we have separated the content into three categories: Obvious Lies, evidence of Bush's ineptitude, and evidence of Bush's self-deluded Messiah complex

The Lies

The Post: Can you be sure that by the end of your second term, that there will be a significant reduction (in troops in Iraq)?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm still on the, as quick as possible.

The Post: Do you disagree with Colin Powell's assessment, then, that he thinks it can be done?

THE PRESIDENT: My assessment is, is that we will -- one of the reasons why the military sent an assessment team to Iraq recently was to assess our training mission, because success in Iraq will depend upon the Iraqis defeating the enemy. And so we're constantly assessing to see whether -- where we can improve training, how we can do things better, and what the Iraqis think they need, in order to do their job.

And so the troops have been helping to provide as much security as possible for the elections. The political process is going on. And at the same time, doing their job and training these Iraqis. So we're constantly assessing, and that's what this is. The panel will report back to determine how best to train the Iraqis. My answer to your question is, as soon as possible, based upon fulfilling the mission.

The elections -- I am pleased that the elections are going forward. I recognize that there are a group of terrorists trying to stop the election process. I have been amazed by the spirit of the Iraqi people. There's a big front-page story; I'm sure you read that. Please don't tell me you haven't.

The main lie here is contained within the idea that those opposing the US occupation are terrorists - that they are not ordinary Iraqis attempting to defend their homeland from an occupying power. The idea that "success in Iraq depends on Iraqis defeating the terrorists" is therefore a blatant lie. "Success", as in real freedom for Iraq, depends upon the removal of US troops and the US proxy government headed by CIA asset Allawi. This, however, will never happen because the Iraq war was waged for the purposes of invasion and conquest.

As for the Iraq elections; there will be no democratic elections in Iraq because if there were, the vast majority of Iraqis would obviously vote for candidates who oppose the US presence in Iraq. The US will not allow this to happen and the fact that known CIA asset and current "interim" Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi is running for election is proof of this. The reality is that the plan to bring elections to Iraq is a deliberate ploy to ultimately foment civil war in Iraq which will of course necessitate a US troop presence for many years to come. How convenient for Israel.

The Post: In Iraq, there's been a steady stream of surprises. We weren't welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven't found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn't gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn't anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I'm grateful.

Blatant lie number 2. The majority of those that voted for Bush were fundamentalist Christians who voted for him because of his stance on "moral issues" such as same sex marriage. In any case, the election was very likely stolen, as evidenced by the many reports of irregularities with the electronic voting machines that were used widely throughout the country during the 2004 election. The idea that Americans voted for Bush as an endorsement of his and his cabinet's criminal record over Iraq is therefore laughable and evidence of the deep state of delusion into which Bush has sunk. We say "delusion" because psychological profiles of Bush suggest that he actually genuinely believes his own lies. Of course, Bush is simply a puppet, a figurehead who is being used by others who are well aware that they are lying to the public.

Listen, in times of war, things don't go exactly as planned. Some were saying there was no way that Saddam Hussein would be toppled as quickly as we toppled him. Some were saying there would be mass refugee flows and starvation, which didn't happen. My only point is, is that, on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.

Blatant Lie Number 3. Saddam was not captured. He was flown out of Iraq in April 2003, probably to Belarus. The man that was planted and then captured was one of Saddam's infamous body doubles. A close examination of pictures of the two men will prove this point. While the Iraq war may not have provoked a refugee crisis, the Iraqi infrastructure and economy are in tatters. Starvation may be just around the corner.

The Post: Why do you think [Osama] bin Laden has not been caught?

THE PRESIDENT: Because he's hiding.

The Post: Our allies have done all they can do to help catch him?

THE PRESIDENT: We're on the hunt.

The Post: Do you think others are on the hunt, too? Are you happy, content with what other countries are doing in that hunt?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

The Post: Anyone you're not happy with? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Look, bin Laden is elusive, and he is in a remote part of the world. And we are -- I am -- I can't think of anybody in the world who is our ally who isn't willing to do what is necessary to try to find him. And so I am pleased about the hunt, and I am pleased that he's isolated. I will be more pleased when he's brought to justice, and I think he will be.

Blatant lie number 4. Osama is a CIA asset since the time of the Afghan-Russo war when he was used by the CIA to funnel funds and weapons to the Afghan fighters. The Bush administration needs a bogeyman to scare the American people into accepting restrictions on their civil liberties and to justify the continued bogus "war on terror" which is a war of global conquest. The US has consistently avoided capturing Osama and has on many occasions deliberately let him escape. He also made an appearance in the US elections when a video appeared just days before the vote.

Coincidence? We think not.

The Post: How concerned are you about the enormously high levels of anti-Americanism, particularly in the Muslim world? And is that an indication that somehow the terrorists are winning the hearts and minds of those people?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting. The people of Afghanistan, which is a part of the Muslim world, are really happy that the government of the United States, along with others, liberated them from the Taliban. I suspect that people in the Muslim world, as we speak, are thrilled that supplies are being delivered by U.S. servicemen and women. The Iranians -- the reformers in Iran are, I suspect, very hopeful that the United States government is firm in our belief that democracy ought to spread. In other words, there are some places we're not popular, and other places where we're liked.

In essence Bush's answer about the enormously high levels of anti-Americanism is that he doesn't really care. He does not care about the fact that extortion, corruption and poverty are everywhere in 'liberated' Afghanistan. Nor does he care about the fact that Afghanistan opium production has leaped with the overthrow of Taleban. He does not care that vast numbers of people around the world now see American for the brutal imperialist regime that it always was.

The Post: Only two-thirds of the beneficiaries of Social Security, as you know, are retired people. The rest are disabled and people collecting survivor's benefits. Do you think that the rising costs of disability and survivor's insurance is causing the overall Social Security problem, and can you promise that the benefits will not be touched under your reform plan?

THE PRESIDENT: We will look at all aspects of Social Security, of course, but the main focus I have been on, focusing on -- the main issue I have been focusing on is the retirement system aspect of Social Security, because it is a pay-as-you-go system. The number of payers is declining quite rapidly relative to the number of retirees. And that, thus far, has been our focus, because that is the part where the Congress needs to focus.

And to answer the disability insurance, we have no plans of cutting benefits at all for people with disabilities.

The Post: So they'll definitely remain untouched?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, we have no plans for cutting benefits.

The Post: Is that just for disability, or for survivors, as well?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're --

The Post: It's a different benefit for --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, you're right. Frankly, our discussions in terms of reform have not centered on the survivor/disability aspect of Social Security. We're talking about the retirement system of Social Security. I think that's an accurate statement.

MR. McCLELLAN [Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary]: You're talking about at or near retirees, right?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they're talking about survivor and disability benefits, and we have had no discussions of that, thus far. The best way to put it -- the answer is, we have no discussions of that, so far, in terms of changing them, I think is the best way to describe it.

An expert piece of filibustering - Bush style. The truth is that Social Security is being siphoned off to support the "war against terrorism". The whole idea that Social Security is bankrupt is false, at least according to the records available to the public, as much of a lie as the story that there were WMD in Iraq. That Bush may wish to bankrupt it to finance his military adventures is, of course, a possibility or even a likelihood. But this would come from a refusal or inability of the US government to pay back the Treasury bonds the government owes Social Security, not because there are more retirees than contributors -- the oficial story. This spike was foreseen twenty years ago and measures were taken to prepare for it. However, if the money has been embezzeled since Spetember 11, they need to find another reason, blame someone else. The government cannot admit this of course, so the plan is to privatise Social Security, hand it over to Wall Street and wait for the impending collapse of the US economy, at which point the blame for there being no SS funds will be laid at someone else's door.

The Ineptitude

THE PRESIDENT: I called Abu Amas the other day, and I told him I'm looking forward to seeing him again and working with him.

Here we see evidence of just how unaware Bush is of current world events. The name is was trying to enunciate was "Abu Mazen", the "nickname" of new Palestinian President Abbas.

The Post: A parochial question for The Post in D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm trying to stay concentrated.

The Post: What's that?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just trying to stay concentrated. You've got a whole --

The Post: . . . I've got to ask you at least a couple domestic questions. Your answers are short, though.

THE PRESIDENT: A lot shorter than usual.

We are not sure what was going through Bush's mind in the first part of the above quote, what is very interesting however is the comment from the Post reporter: "I've got to ask you at least a couple domestic questions. Your answers are short, though." How could the post reporter know that Bush's answers were short to questions that had not yet been asked? Ok, we realise that very often reporters are given questions to ask the President, but are they given the answers also? And if so, who wrote the questions and answers? Certainly, we suspect that it was NOT Bush. Here again we have evidence for the complete incompetence of Bush as any kind of "leader".

The Post: When you talk about Social Security, you talk about the crisis being now, given the demographic inevitabilities of the system and the financial strains. Is Medicare in crisis, given that it has the same exact demographic strains?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the difference, of course, is that in Medicare, we began a reform system that hopefully will take some of the pressures off the unfunded liabilities, and that is providing, for example, a drug benefit, that will, hopefully, in cases, replace the need for surgery. I used to tell people a lot on the campaign trail that Medicare would pay for the heart surgery but not for the medicine that would prevent the heart surgery from being needed in the first place. Heart surgery costs nearly $100,000, and the medicine could be $1,000. And that's a reform that not only reflects the new nature of medicine, but it's a reform, hopefully, that has cost benefits for the long run.

Notice that in the above Bush ends up saying the exact opposite of what we suppose he means, saying that Medicare would pay for the more expensive heart surgery and not for the drugs that would prevent it in the first place.

In the following extract we have further evidence that Bush has little or no idea about the concepts behind the words that are scripted for him to say.

The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?

The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --

THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.

The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes?

The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.

THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?

The Post: You used partial privatization.

THE PRESIDENT: I did, personally?

The Post: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: When?

The Post: To describe it.

THE PRESIDENT: When, when was it?

The Post: Mike said it was right around the election.

THE PRESIDENT: Seriously?

The Post: It was right around the election. We'll send it over.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm surprised. Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're tired. Anyway, your question was? I'm sorry for interrupting.

If you are not shocked by the fact that the "Commander in Chief", the "President of the United States of America", the "leader of the free world" has just stated that he was totally unaware that, just a few months before, he himself had told the nation that he was planning to "partially privatize" the Social Security system. To make matters worse, he puts his amnesia down to the fact that he was "tired". We wonder what else Bush has rubber stamped in a state of semi-consciousness. But wait, there's more to come...

The Post: So have you talked to Senate Democrats about this?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I have talked to Senate Democrats, and I will continue to talk to Senate Democrats. And I'll continue --

The Post: Did you --

THE PRESIDENT: We had a meeting with -- I think before Christmas we had the leadership in, didn't we?

MS. DEVENISH [Nicolle Devenish, the White House communications director]: That was Republicans.

How ironic. Not only can Bush not remember what meetings he was at, he can't tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats either. But then again, there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Notice also that Bush has two aides sitting in on the interview and listening carefully in case Bush needs to prompted to say the right thing or quickly censored.

The Messiah Complex

The Post: But you haven't reached out personally to [Senate Democrats] Ben Nelson or Mary Landrieu or [Joseph] Lieberman, people that seem open, at least to the idea, because so many Democrats say, no way.

THE PRESIDENT: I will. First step is to make sure people address -- are willing to address the problem. In other words -- in the campaign, you might remember, in going to one of the debates -- Senator [John] Kerry said -- I don't want to put words in his mouth, but basically said, this is something that we can grow the economy and Social Security will be okay. I think he said that. It's not fair for me -- I don't like when people put words in my mouth, and I try not to put in theirs.

But my point is, is that to me, that points at part of the challenge of getting the issue moving forward. That's why I love when you all put it in the front page of your newspaper, the different aspects of Social Security; so and so says this, and so and so says that -- because it means people are at least talking about it. And my view is, the more it's talked about and the more it's debated, the more likely it is people will recognize that we have a problem that we need to address.

And I meant what I said in some of the big speeches I gave, and oftentimes on the campaign trail, where the job of the president is to confront problems, not to pass them on. Plus, I enjoy confronting problems. I enjoy it when hot shot political reports say, can you believe -- sitting around the coffee table -- can you believe old Bush is trying to take this on?

Bush really seems to think that he can take on the world and win, despite the fact that he cannot get the names of high profile political leaders right and fails to remember the content of his speeches on important issues concerning the American people and their future. Not that any further evidence was needed to conclude that "old Bush", is nothing more than a useful idiot. The future does indeed seem bleak when a man like Bush can rise to the top of a society that is touted to the world as an example of freedom and democracy.

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CIA gives grim warning on European prospects

NICHOLAS CHRISTIAN
Jan 16 2005
Scotsman

THE CIA has predicted that the European Union will break-up within 15 years unless it radically reforms its ailing welfare systems.

The report by the intelligence agency, which forecasts how the world will look in 2020, warns that Europe could be dragged into economic decline by its ageing population. It also predicts the end of Nato and post-1945 military alliances.

In a devastating indictment of EU economic prospects, the report warns: "The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role."

It adds that the EU’s economic growth rate is dragged down by Germany and its restrictive labour laws. Reforms there - and in France and Italy to lesser extents - remain key to whether the EU as a whole can break out of its "slow-growth pattern".

Reflecting growing fears in the US that the pain of any proper reform would be too much to bear, the report adds that the experts it consulted "are dubious that the present political leadership is prepared to make even this partial break, believing a looming budgetary crisis in the next five years would be the more likely trigger for reform".

The EU is also set for a looming demographic crisis because of a drop in birth rates and increased longevity, with devastating economic consequences.

The report says: "Either European countries adapt their workforces, reform their social welfare, education and tax systems, and accommodate growing immigrant populations [chiefly from Muslim countries] or they face a period of protracted economic stasis."

As a result of the increased immigration needed, the report predicts that Europe’s Muslim population is set to increase from around 13% today to between 22% and 37% of the population by 2025, potentially triggering tensions.

The report predicts that America’s relationships with Europe will be "dramatically altered" over the next 15 years, in a move away from post-Second World War institutions. Nato could disappear and be replaced by increased EU action.

"The EU, rather than Nato, will increasingly become the primary institution for Europe, and the role Europeans shape for themselves on the world stage is most likely to be projected through it," the report adds. "Whether the EU will develop an army is an open question."

Defence spending by individual European countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, is likely to fall further behind China and other countries over the next 15 years. Collectively these countries will outspend all others except the US and possibly China.

The expected next technological revolution will involve the convergence of nano, bio, information and materials technology and will further bolster China and India’s prospects, the study predicts. Both countries are investing in basic research in these fields and are well placed to be leaders. But whereas the US will retain its overall lead, the report warns "Europe risks slipping behind Asia in some of these technologies".

For Europe, an increasing preference for natural gas may reinforce regional relationships, such as those with Russia or North Africa, given the inter-dependence of pipeline delivery, the report argues. But this means the EU will have to deal with Russia, which the report also warns "faces a severe demographic crisis resulting from low birth rates, poor medical care and a potentially explosive Aids situation".

Russia also borders an "unstable region" in the Caucasus and Central Asia, "the effects of which - Muslim extremism, terrorism and endemic conflict - are likely to continue spilling over into Russia".

The report also largely en dorses forecasts that by 2020 China’s gross domestic product will exceed that of individual western economic powers except for the US. India’s GDP will have overtaken or be overtaking European economies.

Because of the sheer size of China’s and India’s populations their standard of living need not approach European and western levels to become important economic powers.

The economies of other developing countries, such as Brazil, could surpass all but the largest European countries by 2020.

Comment: This prediction seems designed to redirect attention away from the faltering US economy rather than provide any honest assessment of the state of the EU. It is rather rich for the CIA to be casting aspersions on other countries' economies when the economy of the US is on the brink of collapse.

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Sharon orders militant crackdown

BBC News
Jan 16 2005

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he has given his troops a free hand to launch a crackdown on Palestinian militants.

His announcement came only seven days after the election of new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Despite the change in Palestinian leadership, we have yet to see them taking any action against terror," Mr Sharon told his cabinet.

Six Israelis were killed in an attack on a Gaza Strip crossing on Thursday.

Israel severed contacts with the Palestinian leadership after the attack.

On Saturday eight Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops during incursions into Gaza.

Two Israelis, including a seven-year-old, were injured by Palestinian rockets.

"The Israeli military and security apparatus have been instructed to take any action needed without restriction," Mr Sharon said on Sunday.

"These instructions will remain valid as long as the Palestinians fail to lift even a single finger."

Cabinet members from Mr Sharon's new coalition partners, the Labour party, expressed support for Mr Sharon's tough line.

"[Mr Abbas] has clearly said that he is opposed to terrorism but now his words must be translated into action," said Interior Minister Ophir Pines.

"He must prove his determination to confront the terrorists."

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath condemned the announcement.

"At the same time that Abu Mazen says he will work hard to return to the peace track, Sharon declares a military escalation," he said, using the Palestinian leader's nickname.

Mr Abbas used his inauguration speech on Saturday to call for a ceasefire between Israel and the militants.

Palestinian officials said Mr Abbas will visit the Gaza Strip this week in an effort to convince militant groups to stop attacks against Israeli targets.

But the BBC's correspondent in Jerusalem, James Reynolds, says Mr Sharon's latest move may complicate Mr Abbas' tactic of trying to reach a ceasefire through negotiation and persuasion.

Militant factions have indicated they will only stop attacks if Israel does the same.

Mr Sharon's comments to his cabinet suggest that that is unlikely to happen, our correspondent says.

Comment: Again we have clear evidence of what we have been saying for so many months now - Sharon does not want peace, he wants war.

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Verizon persists with European email blockade

By John Leyden
Friday 14th January 2005

US ISP Verizon is persisting with a controversial policy of blocking email sent from Europe. Since 22 December, mail servers at verizon.net have been configured not to accept connections from Europe by default.

Verizon is blocking ranges of IP addresses belonging to British and European ISPs (the IP space from RIPE, APNIC, and more) in a misguided attempt to reduce spam. Domains are only unblocked following complaints, with Europeans effectively treated as guilty till proven innocent.

Verizon's original line was that it "only blocks spam messages on an individual basis, and not based on geography" but a customer services rep told Wired that it was blacklisting email from Europe in response to spam coming from the region.

Paul Wood, chief information analyst at email security firm MessageLabs, said it took Verizon two days to whitelist the IP addresses of its European messaging servers from the time it first complained its international users were having problems sending email to customers of the US ISP.

El Reg still remains blocked at the time of writing. That means we've been unable to deliver Reg newsletters to readers who signed up to receive them via Verizon accounts. At the time of writing Verizon has not responded to our requests for comment.

Verizon media relations manager Ells Edwards told Wired that he didn't know when the ISP would lift its blockade. "Normally these things abate in a matter of days," Edwards said.

Verizon three million DSL customers waiting for emails from Europe were advised to use alternative forms of communication. "If it's really important you might want to make a phone call," he said.

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"Absurd" Election Process in Iraq
Juan Cole
Informed Comment
Dexter Filkin of the NYT reports on the so-called election campaign in Iraq. He does not himself come out and say it, but the whole process is obviously absurd, with candidates afraid to identify themselves as such meeting secretly with prospective voters equally afraid to admit their plans in public. Some of the few candidates so foolhardy as to announce themselves have turned up dead. I don't think an election conducted like this can possibly have much legitimacy, and it certainly will not contribute to resolving the guerrilla war.

Comment: Great way to have an election. Large parts of the country are not "secure enough" to hold the vote. The candidate lists are unknown for "security" reasons. Then we have the news today from the Washington Post, see elsewhere on this page, that Bush thinks the November elections were "an accountability moment" between the people and the president. Notice how in his comment he does not refer to his policies, but rather makes it a personal mandate, for GW as an individual. From that, he takes it for granted that he has been given a mandate to do what he wills.

The occupation of Iraq is going so well that the good people of Baghdad now have electricity one hour out of ten. Does John Negroponte, the US ambassador, have electricity only one hour out of ten?

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Privations weigh down Iraqi housewives
By Ahmed Janabi
Thursday 06 January 2005, 1:23 Makka Time, 22:23 GMT
The lives of Iraqi housewives have not got any easier since the US invasion in March 2003 and their hopes for better days are fading with every passing day.

Insecurity, unemployment, a lack of electricity and drinking water, as well as a shortage of fuel are among the many facts of daily life, some Baghdad women say.

The shortage of fuel has made winter especially tough on families. Room heating and hot water are essential in temperatures that sometimes reach zero.

"We get our electricity service for one hour every 10 hours; if we want more than that, we have to pay for private generators. Generator owners cheat us, bully us and use us, but we have to deal with them," Ghada Qahtan, a 38-year-old former translator, said.

"It is the only way to get electricity to heat the house and get hot water in the bathrooms. It is very cold here. Children must have warm water and a warm indoor environment."

Constant threat

Ban al-Obaidi, a 37-year-old secretary, says unemployment leaves families out on a limb.

"Life has become very difficult in our country. We have to pay a lot of money to secure our needs. To do that, my husband and I have to work, but there is no opportunity for a decent job that is not associated with the US military.

"Nearly all available jobs are connected somehow with the Americans, and you live under a constant threat. I have received many threats from the Iraqi resistance in the past year: leave work or get killed."

Al-Obaidi worked last February for a graphic design company. Her company did designs for an Iraqi printing press that provides the US military and the US-backed Iraqi interim government with designs for cards and letterheads.

No easy options

In the eyes of the Iraqi resistance she was a collaborator, but to her children she was a working mother.

"It is really not my intention to work for the US army, but what can we do if all companies now in Iraq have to work directly or indirectly with the Americans?"

Qahtan says her husband had to leave the family behind in Baghdad and go to Arbil in the northern Kurdish area to work.

"My husband is a civil engineer, and all construction companies in Iraq have work with the US military. He tried to work here in Baghdad but received many death threats, especially because he is a former Iraqi army officer. They said to him you must fight against them [US army], not work for them.

"So he had to leave for the north where it seems much safer. He visits us every three weeks. It is hard to have him away from me and the kids, but we have to pay the bills," she said.

Pervasive insecurity

The level of insecurity in Iraq has a great impact on daily life. Saiba al-Nawwab, a 57-year-old housewife, says the instability disrupts housework.

"Because they are always bombing oil pipelines, we suffer a serious shortage of fuel. Sometimes I am even unable to cook our food.

"We do not have a car, and the door-to-door fuel trucks and carts we buy from often go absent for days. That means we have to hire a taxi and go to buy fuel, which is not an easy job. It costs a lot of money," she said.

Jinan Salih, 55, retired, has a different view of the situation. She says the income is better than before, but people cannot spend it.

"Before the invasion we used to get a pension of $10, but now we are getting about 10 times that amount. But sadly we are not enjoying it. It is all going to cover extra expenses created by the abnormal situation.

"Why should I pay for private generators? Why should I pay double the taxi fare to do my shopping because all shopping has to be done during the day?" she said.

Comment: See, what the Iraqi people have got to understand is that you need to make sacrifices to be free. It comes with a price, but for such a noble goal, isn't any price worth paying?

Could it be that there are Americans, the ones at least who know something of the true situation in Iraq, who believe such nonsense as the first paragraph?

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Abu Ghraib abuse firms are rewarded

As prison ringleader awaits sentence, defence contractors win multi-million Pentagon contracts

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
Sunday January 16, 2005
The Observer

Two US defence contractors being sued over allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison have been awarded valuable new contracts by the Pentagon, despite demands that they should be barred from any new government work.

Three employees of CACI International and Titan - working at Abu Ghraib as civilian contractors - were separately accused of abusive behaviour.

The report on the Abu Ghraib scandal implicated three civilian contractors in the abuses: Steven Stefanowicz from CACI International and John Israel and Adel Nakhla from Titan.

Stefanowicz was charged with giving orders that 'equated to physical abuse', Israel of lying under oath and Naklha of raping an Iraqi boy.

It was also alleged that CACI interrogators used dogs to scare prisoners, placed detainees in unauthorised 'stress positions' and encouraged soldiers to abuse prisoners. Titan employees, it has been alleged, hit detainees and stood by while soldiers physically abused prisoners.

Investigators also discovered systemic problems of management and training - including the fact that a third of CACI International's staff at Abu Ghraib had never received formal military interrogation training.

Despite demands by human rights groups in the US that the two companies be barred from further contracts in Iraq - where CACI alone employed almost half of all interrogators and analysts at Abu Ghraib - CACI International has been awarded a $16 million renewal of its contract. Titan, meanwhile, has been awarded a new contract worth $164m.

Despite the allegations in the internal US army report, the two companies have described the claims against them 'baseless' and as 'a malicious recitation of false statements and intentional distortions'.

[...]
Comment: It would appear that for the Bush gang, homosexuality between consenting adult Americans is an affront to God while the homosexual rape of an Iraqi boy isn't.

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Downright criminal
Josh Marshall

Just out from the Times ...

Over the objections of many of its own employees, the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution.

The agency's plans are set forth in internal documents, including a "tactical plan" for communications and marketing of the idea that Social Security faces dire financial problems requiring immediate action.

Social Security officials say the agency is carrying out its mission to educate the public, including more than 47 million beneficiaries, and to support the agenda of President Bush.

But agency employees have complained to Social Security officials that they are being conscripted into a political battle over the future of the program. They question the accuracy of recent statements by the agency, and they say that money from the Social Security trust fund should not be used for such advocacy.

They transgress every limit, every rule. Now the Armstrong Williams episode turns out to have been just a blip on the radar, a faint premonition. Your payroll taxes and the whole edifice of the Social Security Administration is being joined to Karl Rove's outside astroturf groups pushing the Social Security phase-out. Or, I guess you could say that your payroll taxes are being used to cheat you out of what you've spent the last decade or two or three paying them for.

Gives a whole new meaning to raiding the Trust Fund.

The White House is intent on making this into a fight about what the country is. So the battle is joined.

Here's the page the Social Security Administration says to use if you have a complaint.

How does Senator McCain feel about this? Congressman Leach? Senators Chafee and Specter and Snowe?

One more thought: As we've tried to show in the last few days, when you dig down into the Social Security Administration website you find a wealth of information which directly contradicts the lies coming out of the White House. How much longer you figure that stuff's going to stay there? Perhaps some handy folks should start doing some quick site archiving. Call it the Memory Hole Project.

Comment: If you're an American, and if you want to know what the debate is about over Social Security, the place to start is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. He has been detailing the fight over the last few weeks.

Briefly, there is no crisis in Social Security according to the published figures. It is functioning as planned. Don't believe the lies coming out of the mouth of Karl Rove's drones.

Unfortunately, Marshall, as so many others, have yet to see into the true terror of the situation they face: that 9/11 was an inside job. The battle started years ago. It is most likely too late to stop the Bush juggernaut now. They are so far ahead of their opponents that nothing short of proof that Bush and his friends organised 9/11 will bring them down.

And even then, how many Americans, those who believe that GW is their anointed leader, who find some excuse or rationalisation?

The other explanation for the sudden flurry of discussion about the "Social Security crisis" could be that the Bush Administration has taken more out of Social Security than they admit to pay for their "war on terror". If this is true, they may be cooking the books and trying to put the blame on their being too many retirees, once more shifting the burden onto the many Americans who have worked hard all of their lives while Bush was being bailed out of his drug and alcohol problems by Daddy.

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Runaway US debt spells tough times ahead
By Adam Porter in Perpignan, France
Thursday 13 January 2005, 22:01 Makka Time, 19:01 GMT
They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or even a free vote. Having cast their ballot in the recent US elections, it is the US public who may now be about to pay the price for their politicians.

Whether or not Joe Schmo USA voted for President Bush or his challenger John Kerry, there was a widespread feeling in the markets that either candidate would unwind the flagging US economy in 2005.

Those who would be hurt the most would be the American middle-income earners. It now appears that this premise may be starting to come true.

The US Federal Reserve is the central bank of the US. The chairman Alan Greenspan has presided over monetary policy which has cut interest rates, making credit cheaper, until very recently.

It also presided over tax cuts. It has also run up enormous debt. This was to introduce cash, or "liquidity", into the US economy after the stock-market crash of 2000-2002.

Widening debt

The record government debt is also a method of increasing cash flow in the US economy. The current administration has raised its own "debt ceiling" to $8 trillion 184 billion.

In December of 2004 the US national debt widened to a monthly record of $60bn. Way over the projected $600bn annual debt for 2005.

Interest paid to its creditors, Europe, Japan and others now touches those countries GDPs. In other words the US is paying other countries as much as they earn by working, in order to prop up its economy.

As a result this cheap cash, tax cuts and easy credit has fuelled a boom in house price, commodity and asset. In turn, as wages fail to keep pace, US (and many other industrialised countries) consumers have incurred even greater levels of debt.

Lower wage earners and reckless spenders have taken on even more, buoyed up psychologically by their rising house price.

Sharper rises

Debt-induced spending is incredibly strong in the US right now. Americans increased their spending by $57.8 billion more than they earned in the third quarter (Q3) of 2004. Those without assets have simply been chopped off into the economic wilderness.

But since June the Federal Reserve has started to raise rates, currently at 2.25%. More worryingly, for the first time in years, it has openly and plainly hinted that sharper, harder rises are in store.

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley in New York says "this spells tough times ahead for the asset-dependent US economy. That's especially the case for the income-short, saving-depleted American consumer".

Commentators who have favoured the Fed's actions point to the "historically low" level of interest rates. As low as 1% in June 2004, the lowest rates for 46 years. Others say people on cheap credit have been fooled.

'Open-ended profligacy'

If base rates of interest rise from 1% to 3%, they will still be "historically low". But the reality is that the level of repayments for the public will have trebled. In the case of the US, that is a public which, on average, is already in debt.

"Lacking in wage-income generated purchasing power, US households have relied on a combination of aggressive tax cuts and equity extraction from now-overvalued homes to support their open-ended profligacy," says Roach.

"Both of those sources of support seem destined to dry up.The odds of any additional near-term fiscal stimulus are low."

And this in an economy where consumer spending (Q3 2004) is now an amazing 89.2% of total GDP. So, in order to retain business profits, rate cuts were the order of the day, until last June. The rate cuts fuelled consumer spending and business loans.

Bloated costs

As well as this, the Bush administration has followed a policy of allowing "the market" to set the rate for the dollar, meaning it has fallen dramatically, despite a small recent rally.

This was also supposed to aid US businesses, making exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

However, US manufacturing has shrunk under bloated costs and fierce global competition. As a result imports of goods have not dropped. Instead imports, now more expensive, have carried on roughly as before.

This has created inflationary pressures, hurting powerful business interests. Especially in the case of those who operate on low margins and high turnover such as K-Mart, Wal-Mart and others.

Scared over supply

Secondly is China itself. The Chinese yuan, has been "pegged" to the dollar by the Chinese government. As a result Chinese imports have remained unaffected by the dollar's fall.

This has indeed fuelled investment in manufacturing capacity and jobs. But in China, not in the US.

Any reduction in consumer spending in the US may also trigger an end to surplus manufacturing demand in Asia. Europe will also be similarly hit as its exports to the US dry up.

The final problem has been the rise in oil prices above $40. Market makers have been scared over the tightness of supply versus demand. Previously around 4% of oil supply was in excess of what was needed.

That is now down to around 0.5%. Meaning there are is no room for slip-ups. The war in Iraq has also spooked many analysts. They see the war as a desire by the US to command "energy security" by force.

As well as this has been the now oft-raised subject of "oil depletion" or its more media-friendly title of "peak oil". This is the discussion within the oil industry of exactly when world oil production will reach its maximum point before starting to decline.

Game over

This has also contributed to higher oil costs and further knock on increase in food and commodity prices. Most of which are only now starting to occur.

All these fiscal demands cut into US pockets. The result is an indebted US public is facing higher, not lower, costs of living. The higher costs of fuel, commodities and real estate means that in turn the Fed may well be forced to raise rates, and fast.

As Roach says, "a sharp increase in US interest rates spells game over for a now-over-extended US housing market. The asset economy has gone to excess, and it is high time to face the endgame, before it's too late".

In the first week of 2005, the US national debt was $40bn. Way over the projected $600bn annual debt for 2005."

Comment: The pieces are being put into place for the endgame. Will the crash of the American economy herald its opening?

9/11 set the stage for changes, radical changes, across the board in the US. Could anyone have foreseen such a thing? How quickly the American people were duped into signing their suicide note?

What do the tea leaves read for the future?

Well, you don't need tea leaves. A regular reading of the news along with a good understanding of the nature of our reality will suffice, and the outlook is not good.

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Why the West is riding for a fall - Subscription article
By Paul Sheehan
January 15, 2005

A little book with a big title, Dark Age Ahead, published last year, tracked the ebbs and flows of civilisations over centuries. It came to this chilling conclusion: "We show signs of rushing headlong into a Dark Age." Not slipping towards a Dark Age. Rushing.

Dark Age Ahead (Random House, New York), was written by Jane Jacobs. She may be almost unknown in this country but has been famous in North America for 40 years, making her name writing about how communities thrive or decay. "Jane is like a rock star in Canada," her publisher, David Ebershoff, told me. (Jacobs is American but lives in Toronto.) Her dark age warning was directed at the United States but she also wants the rest of the West to heed the signs. She thinks Western culture is not as sturdy as it looks: "Writing, printing, and the internet give a false sense of security about the permanence of culture. Most of the million details of a complex, living culture are transmitted neither in writing nor pictorially. Instead, cultures live through word and mouth and example ... [and] countless nuances that are assimilated only through experience."

She singles out several pillars of culture that she believes are "insidiously decaying":

Community and family: A culture of consumerism and debt is working against long-term cultural regeneration. People are choosing houses over families, consumption over fertility, debt over discipline. "This bubble will burst," she says.

Higher education: "Credentialling, not educating, has become the primary business of North American universities." More and more people are being churned through corporatised credential factories. And not just in North American universities.

Bad science: Huge numbers of mediocrities with flimsy credentials are sprouting jargon in defence of outdated orthodoxies. Jacobs is especially brutal about economists.

Bad taxes: "Fiscal accountability of public money has almost disappeared from the modern world." Governments buy elections and suffocate innovation. "False image-making has become a very big business throughout North America and is a staple of the US government. Legions of hired liars labour to disconnect reality from all manner of images."

Jacobs sees junk culture creeping over society, and skills being exported wholesale to low-wage countries in the name of consumerism and corporate profit, and communalism in decline. "A culture is unsalvageable if stabilising forces themselves become ruined and irrelevant. This is what I fear for our own culture."

What makes her fears more troubling is that they are complemented and amplified by another substantial public intellectual, Jared Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor of geography and environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. His latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, will be published in Australia next month by Penguin. Its thesis was summarised in an essay published in The Best American Essays 2004, entitled The Last Americans:

"One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilisations collapse. Few people, however, least of all our politicians, realise that a primary cause of collapse of those societies has been the destruction of the environmental resources on which they depended. Fewer still appreciate that many of those civilisations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society's demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power ...

"Because peak population, wealth, resource consumption, and waste production are accompanied by peak environmental impact - approaching the limit at which impact outstrips resources - we can now understand why declines of societies tend to follow swiftly on their peaks."

Diamond's warning appears when both the US and Australia have never enjoyed so much material wealth yet had so much environmental poverty. No advanced economy is as dependent on natural resources as Australia's. On Wednesday came the news that Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth face serious water shortages within 10 years. Research showed that without drastic changes to Sydney's water supply and consumption, the city faces a dire shortfall in 25 years.

As a non-doctrinaire geographer, Diamond is unmoved by the ideology of consumerism: "Foremost among misconceptions is that we must balance the environment against human needs. That reasoning is exactly upside down...

"Another popular misconception is that we can trust in technology to solve our problems ... All of our current environmental problems are unanticipated harmful consequences of our existing technology. There is no basis for believing that technology will miraculously stop causing new and unanticipated problems while it is solving the problems that it previously produced ... We think we are different. In fact, of course, all those powerful societies of the past thought that they too were unique, right up to the moment of their collapse."

In one of his case studies of catastrophic cultural hubris, he writes: "Why did the kings and nobles not recognise and solve these problems? A major reason was that their attention was evidently focused on the short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with one another, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities."

Sound familiar?

Unlike Jane Jacobs, who describes cultural amnesia and the hollowing out of human relationships, Diamond's theme is driven by another form of short-termism - environmental decay. He details the inverse wealth of environmental problems in the US, including water restrictions in southern California, Arizona and the Florida Everglades, forest fires resulting from logging practices, farm land lost to salinisation, drought and climate change on the Great Plains, worsening air quality in the large population centres, problems with water quality, and inundations by exotic invaders such as harbour-choking zebra mussels.

"We have already lost American chestnut trees, the Grand Banks cod fishery, and the Monterey sardine fishery; we are in the process of losing swordfish and tuna and Chesapeake Bay oysters and elm trees; and we are losing topsoil."

Sound familiar?

The message in Collapse applies to the lethal combinations of consumerist excess and environmental ignorance that has occurred across cultures and ages. And his dissection of decline, along with the warnings contained in Dark Age Ahead, are far from unusual among American scholars. No less than six serious books about US imperial overstretch were published last year, in addition to dozens of anti-Bush, anti-war tracts. All the books appeared in the wake of the Iraq war and their collective message led the critic Tony Judt, in a review of all six books for The New York Review of Books to conclude: "With our growing income inequalities and child poverty; our underperforming schools and disgracefully inadequate health services ... our bellicose religiosity and our cult of guns and executions; our cavalier unconcern for institutions, treaties, and laws - our own and other people's, we should not be surprised that America has ceased to be an example to the world."

The world is biting back. As Diamond argues: "The cost of our homegrown environment problems adds up to a large fraction of our gross national product, even without mentioning the cost we incur from environmental problems overseas, such as the military operations they inspire. Even the mildest of bad scenarios for our future includes a gradual economic decline, as happened to the Roman and British empires. Actually [America's] economic decline is already under way. Just check the numbers for our national debt, yearly government budget deficit and unemployment statistics..."

Social anxieties in the West have cohered around the threat of terrorism, an anxiety fanned by the Bush Administration, but the toll of terrorism pales into relative insignificance when compared with the thousands of small tragedies that Western society deems acceptable for the convenience, efficiency, freedom and glamour associated with consumerism, above all, the motor vehicle. Australia is certainly no exception. Over the past 50 years, while the numbers of Australians killed in wars and terrorist attacks totalled less than 1000, more than 135,000 people were killed on Australians roads.

Today, instead of responding intelligently to the dangerous dependence on oil from the hair-trigger Middle East, consumers in the US and Australia, with the encouragement of government, have reacted with a historic boom in sales of four-wheel-drives and other heavyweight, fuel-guzzling urban combat vehicles that have become symbols of this era. If ever there was a metaphor for complacency...

Jane Jacobs regards the cultural addiction to the motor vehicle as the single biggest contributor to civic decline: "Not TV or illegal drugs, but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities ... One can drive today for miles through American suburbs and never glimpse a human being on foot in a public space, a human being outside a car or a truck ... While people possess a community, they usually understand that they can't afford to lose it; but after it is lost, gradually even the memory of what was lost is lost. In miniature, this is the malady of Dark Ages."

Cultural amnesia, excess consumption and environmental decline are more dangerous than terrorism, but we are so awash with propaganda we don't even notice. Or care.

[...]

Comment: And they aren't even mentioning the threat from cataclysmic upheaval of the Earth from earthquakes, volcanoes, or rocks falling on our heads from the sky. But, hey, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die:

Matthew 24: 1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.

2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:

18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:

21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

25 Behold, I have told you before.

26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?

46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.

48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;

49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;

50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,

51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No, we aren't fundamentalist Christians, but we think that there are some truths in this chapter that merit our attention. The myth of the flood is found throughout the world, throughout the myriad cultures that make up our species... or is that our two species? Are these texts warnings left to us by our ancestors? Texts that contain hidden truths that have been taken out of context, misinterpreted, and used to keep us ignorant and enslaved?

Is it not saying something similar to the books discussed above?

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Driver's Licenses Spark Privacy Debate
By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer
Sun Jan 16,12:30 AM ET

That plastic card, the one with the lousy photo that's jammed into your wallet or purse, isn't just a license to drive. It's the green light to buy a drink, the ticket to federal benefits, the must-have document to get aboard airplanes. Now it's also the flash point for an argument about how best to balance America's security needs with worries that personal privacy could be swept away.

The federal intelligence overhaul that became law last month — while creating a new national intelligence director and beefing up border patrols — also aims to close loopholes for identity fraud that some of the Sept. 11 terrorists used to get aboard the jets they hijacked.

Privacy advocates warn that the new federal standards for driver's licenses will effectively create a national ID card, centralizing information that can be misused — by letting the government track the whereabouts of innocent people, for instance. Government officials say they're just making the cards more secure, and that the worries are overblown. [...]

The small provision in the massive intelligence overhaul doesn't take effect immediately. It requires a year-and-a-half of deliberation by state and federal officials, and others.

States can opt out — refuse to make changes to their driver's licenses that will be required under the federal law — but then the licenses would be useless for any federal purpose, from getting benefits to boarding an airplane guarded by federal screeners.

The intelligence law aims to standardize the documents drivers present to get a license, the ways DMV workers verify that those documents are authentic, the information included on a license and the steps authorities take to ensure licenses can't be forged. The law also requires that licenses can be read by machines. [...]

Many of the law's specifics have yet to be decided. Will licenses include biometric information like fingerprints or retinal scans? Will "machine-readable" mean bar codes or radio frequency identification systems — in which a tiny computer chip transmits data and can theoretically be used to track location? [...]

The biggest danger is that, as the nation becomes more security-minded, and relies more on driver's licenses as ID, our society changes, Johnson said. "You just wind up being a nation where you have to show your papers to go anyplace. That's something the American people have never put up with." [...]

Comment: There have been many changes in the US that most of the American people would never have put up with before 9/11. There is no reason to believe that National ID cards will be any different.

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Draft officials ask church to "dust off" conscientious objector alternatives
by Kevin Eckstrom,
Religion News Service
Jan. 4, 2005

Leaders of the Church of the Brethren say they will follow through on a request from the Selective Service to have "alternative service" programs in place for conscientious objectors if a draft is reinstated.

As one of the historic "peace churches" that shun military service, Brethren officials were "cautious" after an unannounced visit by a draft official to a church center in Maryland last October. Officials were worried that the visit signaled that a draft may be at hand.

In follow-up meetings, draft officials urged the church to dust off long-standing "alternative service" programs that allow conscientious objectors to serve in two-year domestic service projects in lieu of military service.

In a meeting Dec. 10, the church's council voted to "maximize our efforts" on alternative service, as well as help "guide our youth in their choice of nonviolent service."

"We don't want to miss the part of providing resources to our youth that will help them understand and embrace the Brethren peace witness," said Chris Bowman, moderator of the church's 2004 conference.

Selective Service officials have insisted there are no plans to reinstate the draft, and said Alternative Service Director Cassandra Costley stopped by the Brethren Service Center simply because she was in the area.

Dick Flahavan, a spokesman for Selective Service, said officials did their best to convince church leaders there is no draft on the horizon. "We answered every one of their questions and they didn't leave with anything hanging," he said. "What we were telling them was what we tell everyone. The story hasn't varied."

Brethren leaders also agreed to meet in March with other Anabaptist churches that oppose military service. The meeting in Elgin, Ill., will bring together six Brethren and Mennonite groups to discuss "how to prepare for alternative service opportunities."

Comment: There have been quite a few rumors of the return of the draft in June 2005. A meeting of the leaders of various churches in March would certainly allow enough time to "dust off" alternatives for conscientious objectors. On the other hand, we have the idea that when the US economy crashes, millions will be unemployed and possibly homeless and hungry, and the military would provide the perfect opportunity for such individuals to get off the streets. Perhaps the draft is simply the back-up plan.

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U.S. Troops May Move Bases in Europe
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jan 14, 7:44 AM ET

CASTEAU, Belgium - U.S. troops could start moving from Cold War-era posts in Germany to new bases in Romania and Bulgaria this year as part of American efforts to create a more mobile overseas force, the top U.S. commander in Europe said Friday.

Marine Gen. James L. Jones said the United States was looking at up to five facilities in each country for use by Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine units.

"This is part and parcel of the transformation of our footprint in Europe, which has been in need of surgery for some time," he told reporters at NATO military headquarters in southern Belgium after a trip to Romania and Bulgaria.

Plans for the bases are expected to be drawn up soon, and Jones said the move could start quickly if Congress and the two countries go along.

"There's no reason why we could not start with deployment this year," said the general, also NATO's top operational commander.

The move east is part of an overhaul announced by President Bush last year that aims to withdraw 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members from bases in Germany and South Korea.

Under the plans, the United States would move away from many of its big, permanent bases where troops are stationed long-term with families and large back-up infrastructures. Instead, it would use smaller, more austere facilities where troops would rotate in for shorter deployments. [...]

Romania and Bulgaria, which joined NATO in April, are considered particularly suited to new U.S. bases because of their proximity to volatile regions in the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East. They also have Soviet-era facilities that could be adapted for American use, and both countries are keen to host U.S. troops. [...]

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Rising China to haunt Bush in second term
AFP
Sat Jan 15, 9:52 PM ET

WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush may keep a wary eye on China during his second term in office as the Asian giant musters greater political and economic influence across the globe.

But US reliance on Beijing to keep nuclear-armed North Korea on a leash and Washington's preoccupation with insurgency-wracked Iraq may limit any pressure Bush may want to exert on China, especially on human rights and trade issues.

Growing at a rapid pace, China is using its economic clout to expand its political influence in both the East Asian region as well as around the world, including Latin America, Africa, South Asia and Europe, analysts say.

"Bush will have to pay a great deal of attention on China because he owes China on the North Korea issue and because US-China trade relations is enormously important," said David Steinberg, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

"But there has been a lack of US policy in relation to Chinese and US roles in Southeast Asia, where the Chinese campaign for influence has been very, very successful," he said.

Some analysts warn that China may seek to push its diplomatic momentum further in the hope that the United States will not be a position to resist it.

One short term problem Bush may have to confront with is Europe's potential lifting of a 15-year arms embargo on China, seen as a landmark development that could change the dynamics of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

"The Chinese have very cleverly discovered an issue that can drive a wedge between the Europeans and Americans and they managed to frame it in a way that the Europeans are inclined to choose China's side," said John Tkacik of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The United States fears China may use any lifting of the arms embargo -- imposed in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre -- to turn the weapons against its own people or Taiwan, which Beijing covets and the United States has pledged to help defend.

The Bush administration has often been accused of not appreciating the gravity of the challenge posed by a rising China.

"The failing of American diplomacy is that the United States does not know how to leverage its economic clout whereas China is an expert on it," Tkacik said.

If Bush is not firm with China, he warned, the US Congress might start looking at ways of exerting American economic leverage on the world's most populous nation.

"Otherwise we are going to find our support from democracies in Asia collapsing under the weight of China's growing political and economic influence," he said.

But Elizabeth Economy, director of Asian studies at the US Council on Foreign Relations, dismissed any notion that China could rapidly assume a leadership role in Asia.

"When you speak to people in the region, they are very keen to keep Japan and the United States and potentially even India around because from their perspective, there is a lot of value to being able to balance the powers and much less interest in having China become a regional hegemon of any sort," she said.

China, too, has to address key issues such as transparency and accountability, intellectual property rights, environmental safety and copyright piracy before it can deepen its influence in the region, she said.

"My question is: can China be an effective regional leader when it itself is by and large the most important source of many of the transnational problems that are plaguing the region."

Economy felt the Bush administration could be tough with Beijing on reigning in North Korea through multilateral talks aimed at de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

"But I don't think you are going to see any new sort of US toughness emerging when it comes to human rights or potentially even trade," she said, citing US preoccupation with Iraq and with the "war on terror."

"There is no sense in raising the China issue to a new level of challenge or threat when we clearly have far more important issues that we have to engage right now," she said.

Among key bilateral problems with China is the burgeoning US trade deficit, which may have hit 150 billion dollars last year or one-fourth the US deficit with all countries.

Washington is also concerned over China's fixed currency peg, which depresses the yuan's value and gives Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage by making their goods cheaper abroad.

Comment: Does the Bush administration not "appreciate the challenge posed by a rising China", or are they simply planning to use and manipulate the situation to their advantage? The idea that the US could have an economic influence on China - given the noted US trade deficit and the current state of the US economy - is laughable at best. Note also the comment about China driving a wedge between Europe and the US. If any country is dividing the world up into "good guys" and "evildoers", it is the US itself. One might suspect that this article is simply more propaganda to distort the perceptions of the American populace in preparation for the impending collapse of the US economy.

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US 'should not rule out torture'
BBC
Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 00:47 GMT

The outgoing head of the US Department of Homeland Security has said torture may be used in certain cases in order to prevent a major loss of life.

Speaking to the BBC, Tom Ridge said the US did not condone the use of torture to extract information from terrorists.

But he said that under an "extreme set" of hypothetical circumstances, such as a nuclear threat, "it could happen".

A spokesman for Mr Ridge said his comments were taken out of context and did not amount to approval of torture.

Mr Ridge's remarks come a day after the US was accused of eroding human rights by campaigners.

Prisoners shackled

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the US over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Shocking pictures last year alerted the world to abuses at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, and there have been numerous allegations of abuse and torture by former Guantanamo Bay inmates.

One FBI agent described in a memo seeing prisoners at Guantanamo shackled, hand and foot, in a foetal position for up to 24 hours at a time, and left to defecate on themselves.

The US defence department has announced a new investigation into the allegations.

It has condemned the abuses in Iraq and says it is prosecuting those responsible.

Mr Ridge told BBC News 24's HARDtalk: "By and large, as a matter of policy we need to state over and over again: we do not condone the use of torture to extract information from terrorists."

But he said it was "human nature" that torture might be employed in certain exceptional cases when time was very limited.

In the event of something like a nuclear bomb threat "you would try to exhaust every means you could to extract the information to save hundreds and thousands of people", he said.

'When not if'

But he admitted there was "a real question" whether using torture on terrorists would actually gain the information required "given the nature of the enemy".

He said the US did not have the luxury of knowing where and when a terrorist attack might happen.

"I don't think it is 'if'. I think it's a matter of 'when'. We operate that way," he said.

"On a day-to-day basis, not just the United States but many allies around the world, do whatever we can to share information about terrorists, share information about the kind of attacks."

Thursday's HRW report called for the Bush administration to set up a fully independent commission to investigate allegations of torture during interrogations at Abu Ghraib.

It said abuses committed by the US had significantly weakened the world's ability to protect human rights because it had undermined international laws.

Mr Ridge argued the HRW report reflected a "foreign perception" that the US was using different methods to those employed before the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Comment: Oh, it was just a "foreign perception" that the US tortures prisoners in the war on terror. Silly us - we thought that the memos approving the use of torture signed by Rummy and Bush were actually real! We thought that the numerous reports of torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere that are being "investigated" were real! And the photographs of torture and abuse that were splashed all over newspapers and TV screens across the globe? Why, it was all just a bad dream!

Of course, this tactic of deception is nothing new. Many in Nazi Germany were completely convinced that the horrors of the concentration camps were simply enemy propaganda, or they just turned a blind eye. Many others fully supported the Nazi policies of torture and extermination of "inferior" peoples.

History seems to be repeating itself.

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Mom Charged With Killing Girl With Bleach
AP
Sat Jan 15, 9:02 AM ET

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A woman angry with her 12-year-old daughter for having sex forced the girl to drink bleach and sat on her until the child died, a police detective said.

The girl's 9-year-old brother was forced to watch the attack, Detective Warren Cotton testified Thursday in a preliminary hearing for Tunisia Archie, 31.

Archie is charged with capital murder in the asphyxiation death of her daughter Jasmine. If convicted, she could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Cotton said Archie, who has been jailed without bond since shortly after her daughter's Nov. 26 death, told authorities she was disturbed because "her daughter told her that she was no longer a virgin."

She said she poured bleach into Jasmine's mouth and the child vomited, he said, then sat on her until she stopped breathing, Cotton testified.

Archie forced Jasmine's 9-year-old brother Jacorey to watch the attack and "told him that if he shed a tear that she was going to kill him, too," Cotton testified.

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Gondolas stuck as Venice waters recede
Thursday, January 13, 2005 Posted: 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) -- Gondolas are running aground and hotel docks hang in midair as Italy's lagoon city Venice, more commonly awash at high tide, dries out because of good weather and an unusual combination of planetary influences.

Only the Grand Canal, Venice's biggest and most famous waterway, can still take water traffic, and the falling canal levels have given rise to terms such as "ghost town" and "desert" in local papers.

"The phenomenon is due to low pressure, that is, the good weather that coincides with the syzygy, the alignment of the moon, earth and sun," said Venice's tides office.

The new moon this week has helped push water levels to their lowest point in more than a decade, nearly 2.5 feet (80 cm) below sea level, it said. The lowest fall on record was 4.1 feet (1.21 meters) below sea level in 1934.

The city assured tourists that water levels would soon start rising again, restoring the romantic look they expect.

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AURORA ALERT
Spaceweather.com
Two coronal mass ejections (movies: #1, #2) are heading toward Earth and they could spark strong auroras when they arrive on January 16th and 17th. These clouds were blasted into space by M8- and X2-class explosions above giant sunspot 720 on Jan. 15th.
Comment: We note also that the sunspot number is at 100.

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