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Zogby: 9% of Sunnis Will Vote
Stong Majority of Iraqis Want US Out
Juan Cole

Zogby International did a poll of 805 Iraqis between January from January 19 to 23, 2005 in the cities of Baghdad, Hilla, Karbala and Kirkuk, as well as Diyala and Anbar provinces.

Results:

Sunni Arabs who say they will vote on Sunday: 9%
Sunni Arabs who say they definitely will not vote on Sunday: 76%
Shiites who say they likely or definitely will vote: 80%
Kurds who say they likely or definitely will vote: 56%

Sunni Arabs who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 82%
Shiites who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 69%

Sunni Arabs who believe US will hurt Iraq over next 5 years: 62%
Shiites who believe US will hurt Iraq over next five years: 49%

Shiites who want to hold elections on Jan. 30: 84%
Kurds who want to hold elections on Jan. 30: 64%

Sunni Arabs who want to postpone elections: 62%

Sunni Arabs who consider guerrilla resistance against the Americans legitimate: 53%

Iraqis who would support a religious government: 33%

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Would You Vote in Iraq?
January 28, 2005

US Marines are combing the streets of Iraq with loudspeakers, encouraging residents to get out and vote. Yet all around, gunfire and chaos erupt. Can elections really work if people are too scared to go to the polls?

Some U.S. Marines have shoved their automatic rifles aside and have picked up bullhorns and loudspeakers in an attempt to encourage Iraqis to get out and vote in Sunday's elections. After toppling Saddam's dictatorship with force, America it seems is now trying desperately to get the rebellious nation to install a democracy. Meanwhile, many Iraqis say they are not only too scared to vote, but know little to nothing about the some 7,000 candidates from 256 political groups and independents running.

They have good reason. Most of the candidates have been so terrified of being assassinated they haven't publicly acknowledged that their candidacy. One Iraqi voter explained his confusion succinctly, telling CNN that he would prefer to vote for pop idol George Michael because he knows more about the singer than about any of the candidates.

Violence has stepped up prior to the election with insurgents threatening open season on anyone who goes to a polling station.

Here's a quick roundup of Iraq violence from 8 a.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Friday. We have just one question: Amid all this, would you vote?

*Insurgents attacked a Marine base about 50 kilometers south of Baghdad, killing one soldier and injuring others.

*Street fighting broke out between American soldiers and rebels in central Baghdad.

*Jordanian terrorist and al-Qaida affiliate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted a videotape on the Internet showing the murder of Salem Jaafar Abed, a National Assembly candidate and the secretary of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

*In Baghdad, a car bomb near an Iraqi police station killed four policemen.

*A car bomb exploded in Samarra (95 kilometers north of Baghdad) killing three Iraqis.

*Two polling stations in Samarra were attacked. One -- a school administration building -- was blown up. Staff had been warned beforehand to leave.

*Sporadic clashes erupted in Samarra between US soldiers and armed men. One Iraqi died.

*In the city of Kirkuk north of Baghdad, rebels attacked seven polling stations with mortar shells and machine guns.

*Also in Kirkuk, insurgents attacked an Iraqi police patrol, killing one.
*In Beiji, also in the north, a suicide bomber struck a US military convoy.

*In Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, three Iraqis died when a roadside bomb missed a US convoy.

*Near Tikrit, a roadside bomb aimed at a US convoy killed an Iraqi.
*On the military base, a US soldier died of gunshot wounds.

*In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, an Iraqi National Guard soldier died when insurgents attacked a school voting center.

*In Baqouba, the body of a former Saddam Hussein loyal was found. He had been abducted by armed men.

*Insurgents shelled the US Marine base south of Baghdad.

*In Baghdad, a car bomb near an Iraqi police station killed four policemen.

*In Basra, four polling stations were attacked. (2:45 p.m. CET)

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Fear grips Baghdad before election
BY HANNAH ALLAM
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Posted on Fri, Jan. 28, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Baghdad kicked into panic mode three days before the election, with terrified Iraqis stockpiling food and evacuating homes near polling places Thursday for fear that insurgents would make good on threats to disrupt Sunday's vote with violence.

At least 15 Iraqis and a U.S. Marine were killed Thursday. Insurgents blew up six polling places, detonated car bombs in three cities, triggered at least three roadside bombs and gunned down several Iraqi policemen, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi authorities.

Iraqis who support the parliamentary election and those who oppose it agreed on one thing: They expect such attacks to grow much, much worse.

"How much fear is there? A lot of fear. A whole lot of fear," said Dhikra Hussein, 25, who lives a block from a polling center. "Our neighbors are all gone. We've bought 3 kilos of everything we need."

Leaflets passed out to residents of several neighborhoods in Baghdad warn of more attacks that will "strike voting centers powerfully and without mercy." Another insurgent flier says "a gift" is waiting for each polling place. Rumors abound that Iraqis in line to cast ballots Sunday will be mowed down by gunfire or blown up by suicide bombers posing as voters.

While many Iraqis said they wouldn't risk their lives to vote, others said the first step to democracy was worth the sacrifice.

"Since when are Iraqis afraid of anything? We don't have time for fear," said Mohammed Abbas, a supermarket owner in his 40s. "We're ready for anything. Right now, as I'm talking, a mortar could just fall and kill us. We expect anything these days."

The insurgents' campaign of intimidation appears successful in nearly paralyzing a city of millions. The capital's notorious traffic snarls were gone Thursday, and residents locked themselves inside at dusk, even though the interim government's strict curfew and ban on civilian cars don't begin until Saturday.

Local newspapers announced Internet-only editions because printing-press employees won't leave their homes starting Friday. Shops sold out of large burlap bags of rice, potatoes, lentils and other Iraqi staples. Men lugged home huge canisters of fuel and kerosene. Women stripped duct tape over their windows to prevent the glass from shattering in explosions.

Travel agencies were packed all week with families desperate to make it to Jordan or Syria before the borders are completely sealed Saturday. Iraqi bus drivers who dropped passengers at checkpoints along the border said they found no one waiting for rides back into Iraq. The airport also will be closed until after the election.

The Iraqi army and police forces are better trained than they were in 2003, when they were given a week's training and a gun.

But the security scene across Iraq is a stark reminder of how unprepared the Iraqis are as Sunday's vote approaches:

• In Mosul, violence remains uncontrolled, despite the presence of thousands of American troops and more than 4,000 Iraqi police and army reinforcements sent to supplement the 8,000 Iraqis already on duty there. Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who's in charge of American forces there, says that the challenge in Mosul is the lack of a "credible and capable police force."

• There are 11 Iraqi army battalions in the areas controlled by the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division south of Mosul, each with about 900 men and based in key cities such as Samarra, Tikrit, Baqouba, Balad and Kirkuk. Only two or three are capable of conducting operations much beyond roadblocks, U.S. officers say. Infiltration remains a major problem. Soldiers from the 1st Infantry arrested one battalion commander for allegedly collaborating with the insurgents.

• More than four months after U.S. and Iraqi forces retook Samarra from insurgents, U.S. and Iraqi units are still waiting for the arrival of new police recruits being trained in Jordan or Baghdad. Insurgents carry out an average of five attacks a day there, according to Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division.

• In Baghdad, where there are seven Iraqi army battalions, many of the soldiers wear ski masks and street clothes to hide their identities out of fear that insurgents will kill their families.

Impromptu neighborhood-watch teams have sprung up in areas near polling places, which are mostly schools and community centers. In the heavily Shiite Muslim district of Kadhemiya, for example, Nadhim Abed and two friends nervously watched passers-by through the window of his real-estate office right across from a primary school designated as a polling place.

"We weren't expecting this to be a polling center," said Abed, 33. "So we just got together, and we're watching the streets now, looking for anything strange."

A lone policeman who looked no more than 18 stood guard at the school, which was protected by a single, puny coil of razor wire. Abed and his friends observed the "security perimeter" with resignation.
"It's all in God's hands," he said. "If it happens, we can't stop it."

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Nurturing Iraq's Non-Election
By Robert Jensen and Pat Youngblood,
AlterNet. Posted January 28, 2005.

The U.S. news media are full of discussion and debate about this weekend's election in Iraq. Unfortunately, virtually all the commentary misses a simple point: There will be no "election" on Jan. 30 in Iraq, if that term is meant to suggest an even remotely democratic process.

Many Iraqis casting votes will be understandably grateful for the opportunity. But the conditions under which those votes will be cast – as well as the larger context – bear more similarity to a slowly unfolding hostage tragedy than an exercise in democracy. We refer not to the hostages taken by various armed factions in Iraq, but the way in which U.S. policymakers are holding the entire Iraqi population hostage to U.S. designs for domination of the region.

This is an election that U.S. policymakers were forced to accept and now hope can entrench their power, not displace it. They seek not an election that will lead to a U.S. withdrawal, but one that will bolster their ability to make a case for staying indefinitely.

This is crucial to keep in mind as the mainstream media begins to give us pictures of long lines at polling places to show how much Iraqis support this election and to repeat the Bush administration line about bringing freedom to a part of the world starved for democracy. Those media reports also will give some space to those critics who remain comfortably within the permissible ideological limits – that is, those who agree that the U.S. aim is freedom for Iraq and, therefore, are allowed to quibble with a few minor aspects of administration policy.

A painfully obvious fact, and therefore one that is unspeakable in the mainstream, is that a real election cannot take place under foreign occupation in which the electoral process is managed by the occupiers who have clear preferences in the outcome. That's why the U.S.-funded programs that "nurture" the voting process have to be implemented "discreetly," in the words of a Washington Post story, to avoid giving the Iraqis who are "well-versed in the region's widely held perception of U.S. hegemony" further reason to mistrust the assumed benevolent intentions of the United States.

Post reporters Karl Vick and Robin Wright quote an Iraqi-born instructor from one of these training programs: "If you walk into a coffee shop and say, 'Hi, I'm from an American organization and I'm here to help you,' that's not going to help. If you say you're here to encourage democracy, they say you're here to control the Middle East."

Perhaps those well-versed Iraqis say that because it is an accurate assessment of policy in the Bush administration, as well as every other contemporary U.S. administration. They dare to suggest that the U.S. goal is effective control over the region's oil resources.

But we in the United States are not supposed to think, let alone say, such things; that same Post story asserts that the groups offering political training in Iraq (the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, International Republican Institute, and International Foundation for Election Systems) are "at the ambitious heart of the American effort to make Iraq a model democracy in the Arab world."

To fulfill that alleged ambition, U.S. troop strength in Iraq will remain at the current level of about 120,000 for at least two more years, according to the Army's top operations officer. For the past two years, journalists have reported on U.S. intentions to establish anywhere from four to 14 "enduring" military bases in Iraq. Given that there about 890 U.S. military installations around the world to provide the capacity to project power in service of the U.S. political and economic agenda, it's not hard to imagine that planners might be interested in bases in the heart of the world's most important energy-producing region.

But in mainstream circles, such speculation relegates one to the same category as those confused Middle Easterners. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has dismissed as "inaccurate and unfortunate" any suggestion that the United States seeks a permanent presence in Iraq. In April 2003, Rumsfeld assured us that there has been "zero discussion" among senior administration officials about permanent bases in Iraq.

But back to reality. Whatever the long-term plans of administration officials, the occupation of Iraq has, to put it mildly, not gone as they had hoped. But rather than abandon their goals, they have adapted tactics and rhetoric. Originally the United States proposed a complex caucus system to try to avoid elections and make it easier to control the selection of a government, but the Iraqis refused to accept that scheme. Eventually U.S. planners had to accept elections and now are attempting to turn the chaotic situation on the ground to their advantage.

Ironically, the instability and violence may boost the chances of the United States' favored candidate, U.S.-appointed interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. While most electoral slates are unable to campaign or even release their candidates' names because of the risk involved, Allawi can present himself as a symbol of strength, running an expensive television campaign while protected by security forces. He has access to firepower and reconstruction funds, which may prove appealing to many ordinary Iraqis who, understandably, want the electricity to flow and the kidnappings and violence to stop.

Of course the United States can't guarantee that Allawi will prevail. But whoever is in the leadership slot in Iraq will understand certain unavoidable realities of power. As The New York Times put it, the recent announcement by Shiํa leaders that any government it forms would not be overtly Islamic was partly in response to Iraqi public opinion. But, as reporter Dexter Filkins reminded readers, U.S. officials "wield vast influence" and "would be troubled by an overtly Islamist government." And no one wants troubled U.S. officials, even Iraqi nationalists who hate the U.S. occupation but can look around and see who has the guns.

The realities on the ground may eventually mean that even with all its firepower, the United States cannot impose a pro-U.S. government in Iraq. It may have to switch strategies again. But no matter how many times Bush speaks of his fondness for freedom and no matter what games the planners play, we should not waver in an honest analysis of the real motivations of policymakers. To pretend that the United States might, underneath it all, want true democracy in Iraq – one that actually would be free to follow the will of the people – is to ignore evidence, logic and history.

As blogger Zeynep Toufe put it, "All these precious words have now become something akin to brand names: 'democracy,' 'freedom,' 'liberty,' 'empowerment.' They don't really mean anything; they're just the names attached to things we do."

Right now, one of the things that U.S. policymakers do is to allow Iraqis to cast ballots under extremely constrained conditions. But whatever the results on Jan. 30, it will not be an election, if by "election" we mean a process through which people have a meaningful opportunity to select representatives who can set public policy free of external constraint. The casting of ballots will not create a legitimate Iraqi government. Such a government is possible only when Iraqis have real control over their own future. And that will come only when the United States is gone.

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Why I am not taking part in these phoney elections
Houzan Mahmoud:
28 January 2005

Women are the new victims of Islamic groups intent on restoring a medieval barbarity

I am an Iraqi woman, and I am boycotting Sunday's elections. Women who do vote will be voting for an enslaved future. Surely, say those who support these elections, after decades of tyranny, here at last is a form of democracy, imperfect, but democracy nevertheless?

In reality, these elections are, for Iraq's women, little more than a cruel joke. Amid the suicide attacks, kidnappings and US-led military assaults of the 20-odd months since Saddam's fall, the little-reported phenomenon is the sharp increase in the persecution of Iraqi women. Women are the new victims of Islamic groups intent on restoring a medieval barbarity and of a political establishment that cares little for women's empowerment.

Having for years enjoyed greater rights than other women in the Middle East, women in Iraq are now losing even their basic freedoms. The right to choose their clothes, the right to love or marry whom they want. Of course women suffered under Saddam. I fled his cruel regime. I personally witnessed much brutality, but the subjugation of women was never a goal of the Baath party. What we are seeing now is deeply worrying: a reviled occupation and an openly reactionary Islamic armed insurrection combining to take Iraq into a new dark age.

Every day, leaflets are distributed across the country warning women against going out unveiled, wearing make-up, or mixing with men. Many female university students have given up their studies to protect themselves against the Islamists.

The new norm - enforced at the barrel of a gun by Islamic extremists - is to see women as the repository of honour and shame, not only on behalf of family and tribe but the nation. Ken Bigley's abductors perversely wanted to redeem the "honour" of Iraq through obtaining the release of female prisoners. Since when did Islamic groups - the very people doing the hostage-taking, torturing and killing - start caring about the rights of Iraqi women?

Take the case of Anaheed. She was suspended to a tree in the New Baghdad area of the capital and then first shot by her father (a solicitor no less) and then by each member of her tribe. She was then was cut into pieces. This to clear the shame on the tribe's honour for having wanted to marry a man she was in love with. This happened in late 2003, months after the "liberation".

In the last six months at least eight women have been killed in Mosul alone - all apparently by Islamic groups clamping down on female independence. Among these, a professor from the city's law school was shot and beheaded, a vet was killed on her way to work, and a pharmacist from the Alkhansah hospital was shot dead on her doorstep.

The occupation has in effect unleashed this new violence against women, while in some cases adding its own particular variety. Iraqi women have been tortured by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. The social taboo against speaking about sexual abuse is so strong in Iraq that these women will almost certainly have no-one to turn to upon release.

Methal Kazem is one woman who has spoken publicly of her treatment at the hands of the occupiers. Last February a US helicopter landed on the roof of her house. She was hooded and handcuffed and taken to Abu Ghraib. Accused of being a former Baathist secret policewoman, she was made to run on sharp gravel, tied up and suspended and made to listen to the screaming of other inmates. She heard one man repeatedly screaming "do not touch my honour", and Methal believes that the man's wife was being raped in front of him.

When Allied forces handed over power to the interim government last June, they should, as Amnesty International has argued, also have handed over prisoners. Instead they have illegally detained over 2,000, without charge. Few of these may be women, but it still leaves thousands of wives, mothers, sisters and other family members in distress and despair.

I also believe that Iraqi women have been raped by American soldiers. They dare not talk about it, however, as they face being killed by their own families if they do. My associates in Iraq have been counselling Liqaa, a former Iraqi female soldier, who was raped by an American soldier in November 2003. The savage truth is that if she returns home, male family members may murder her for her "dishonour".

If Iraqi women take part in Sunday's poll, who are they to vote for? Women's rights are ignored by most of the groupings on offer. The US government appears happy to have Iraq governed by reactionary religious and ethnocentric ้lites.

The one glimmer of hope is that courageous demonstrations against rape and kidnapping have taken place. In September, a women's protest fused opposition to the occupation, a demand that all Islamic militia forces leave cities, and a call for safe streets for women. This new women-led secular progressive movement is against the interim government and against the violence and restriction of political Islam. Those who support us should publicly renounce these phoney elections and campaign for a truly free Iraq.

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Five American Soldiers Killed in Baghdad
Fri Jan 28, 1:08 PM ET
Middle East - AP

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Five American soldiers were killed Friday by roadside bombs and a shooting attack in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Three soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb hit their patrol at about 4:30 p.m. in western Baghdad. Another soldier was slightly wounded in the attack, the military said.

Earlier, a bomb in a southern neighborhood killed a soldier and wounded three others at about 2 p.m. Another soldier was shot dead about 15 minutes later in the city's north, the military said in a statement. It provided no further details.

All the slain soldier's were from Task Force Baghdad. Also, an insurgent hurled a hand grenade at an American patrol in the capital, injuring another soldier.

More than 1,414 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since fighting began in March 2003.

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Helicopter crashes in Baghdad
28/01/2005 - 17:26:59

An Army helicopter crashed in southwest Baghdad tonight and the fate of the crew was not immediately known, a US military official said.

US military officials do not think the helicopter was hit by hostile fire, but are still investigating, said Lt. Col. James Hutton.

The OH-58 Kiowa copter usually carries a crew of three and is unlikely to carry large numbers of passengers.

Ground units were at the scene, but the status of the crew was still unknown, Hutton said.

Other helicopters were flying overhead in the area, in southwest Baghdad, to provide cover for the ground search and rescue units, Hutton said.

The crash occurred about 7:55 pm Baghdad time, he said

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The Military is Nowhere; the Press is Nowhere; the Congress is Nowhere...
We've Been Taken Over By a Cult
January 27, 2005
By SEYMOUR HERSH

Editors' Note: This is a transcript of remarks by Seymour Hersh at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York.

About what's going on in terms of the President is that as virtuous as I feel, you know, at The New Yorker, writing an alternative history more or less of what's been going on in the last three years, George Bush feels just as virtuous in what he is doing. He is absolutely committed -- I don't know whether he thinks he's doing God's will or what his father didn't do, or whether it's some mandate from -- you know, I just don't know, but George Bush thinks this is the right thing. He is going to continue doing what he has been doing in Iraq. He's going to expand it, I think, if he can. I think that the number of body bags that come back will make no difference to him. The body bags are rolling in. It makes no difference to him, because he will see it as a price he has to pay to put America where he thinks it should be. So, he's inured in a very strange way to people like me, to the politicians, most of them who are too cowardly anyway to do much. So, the day-to-day anxiety that all of us have, and believe me, though he got 58 million votes, many of people who voted for him weren't voting for continued warfare, but I think that's what we're going to have.

It's hard to predict the future. And it's sort of silly to, but the question is: How do you go to him? How do you get at him? What can you do to maybe move him off the course that he sees as virtuous and he sees as absolutely appropriate? All of us -- you have to -- I can't begin to exaggerate how frightening the position is -- we're in right now, because most of you don't understand, because the press has not done a very good job. The Senate Intelligence Committee, the new bill that was just passed, provoked by the 9/11 committee actually, is a little bit of a kabuki dance, I guess is what I want to say, in that what it really does is it consolidates an awful lot of power in the Pentagon -- by statute now. It gives Rumsfeld the right to do an awful lot of things he has been wanting to do, and that is basically manhunting and killing them before they kill us, as Peter said. "They did it to us. We've got to do it to them." That is the attitude that -- at the very top of our government exists. And so, I'll just tell you a couple of things that drive me nuts. We can -- you know, there's not much more to go on with.

I think there's a way out of it, maybe. I can tell you one thing. Let's all forget this word "insurgency". It's one of the most misleading words of all. Insurgency assumes that we had gone to Iraq and won the war and a group of disgruntled people began to operate against us and we then had to do counter-action against them. That would be an insurgency. We are fighting the people we started the war against. We are fighting the Ba'athists plus nationalists. We are fighting the very people that started -- they only choose to fight in different time spans than we want them to, in different places. We took Baghdad easily. It wasn't because be won. We took Baghdad because they pulled back and let us take it and decided to fight a war that had been pre-planned that they're very actively fighting. The frightening thing about it is, we have no intelligence. Maybe it's -- it's -- it is frightening, we have no intelligence about what they're doing. A year-and-a-half ago, we're up against two and three-man teams. We estimated the cells operating against us were two and three people, that we could not penetrate. As of now, we still don't know what's coming next. There are 10, 15-man groups. They have terrific communications. Somebody told me, it's -- somebody in the system, an officer -- and by the way, the good part of it is, more and more people are available to somebody like me.

There's a lot of anxiety inside the -- you know, our professional military and our intelligence people. Many of them respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as much as anybody here, and individual freedom. So, they do -- there's a tremendous sense of fear. These are punitive people. One of the ways -- one of the things that you could say is, the amazing thing is we are been taken over basically by a cult, eight or nine neo-conservatives have somehow grabbed the government. Just how and why and how they did it so efficiently, will have to wait for much later historians and better documentation than we have now, but they managed to overcome the bureaucracy and the Congress, and the press, with the greatest of ease. It does say something about how fragile our Democracy is.

You do have to wonder what a Democracy is when it comes down to a few men in the Pentagon and a few men in the White House having their way. What they have done is neutralize the C.I.A. because there were people there inside -- the real goal of what Goss has done was not attack the operational people, but the intelligence people. There were people -- serious senior analysts who disagree with the White House, with Cheney, basically, that's what I mean by White House, and Rumsfeld on a lot of issues, as somebody said, the goal in the last month has been to separate the apostates from the true believers. That's what's happening. The real target has been "diminish the agency." I'm writing about all of this soon, so I don't want to overdo it, but there's been a tremendous sea change in the government. A concentration of power.

On the other hand, the facts -- there are some facts. We can't win this war. We can do what he's doing. We can bomb them into the stone ages.

Here's the other horrifying, sort of spectacular fact that we don't really appreciate. Since we installed our puppet government, this man, Allawi, who was a member of the Mukabarat, the secret police of Saddam, long before he became a critic, and is basically Saddam-lite. Before we installed him, since we have installed him on June 28, July, August, September, October, November, every month, one thing happened: the number of sorties, bombing raids by one plane, and the number of tonnage dropped has grown exponentially each month. We are systematically bombing that country.

There are no embedded journalists at Doha, the Air Force base I think we're operating out of. No embedded journalists at the aircraft carrier, Harry Truman. That's the aircraft carrier that I think is doing many of the operational fights. There's no air defense, It's simply a turkey shoot. They come and hit what they want. We know nothing. We don't ask. We're not told. We know nothing about the extent of bombing. So if they're going to carry out an election and if they're going to succeed, bombing is going to be key to it, which means that what happened in Fallujah, essentially Iraq -- some of you remember Vietnam -- Iraq is being turn into a "free-fire zone" right in front of us. Hit everything, kill everything.

I have a friend in the Air Force, a Colonel, who had the awful task of being an urban bombing planner, planning urban bombing, to make urban bombing be as unobtrusive as possible. I think it was three weeks ago today, three weeks ago Sunday after Fallujah I called him at home. I'm one of the people -- I don't call people at work. I call them at home, and he has one of those caller I.D.'s, and he picked up the phone and he said, "Welcome to Stalingrad." We know what we're doing. This is deliberate. It's being done. They're not telling us. They're not talking about it.

We have a President that -- and a Secretary of State that, when a trooper -- when a reporter or journalist asked -- actually a trooper, a soldier, asked about lack of equipment, stumbled through an answer and the President then gets up and says, "Yes, they should all have good equipment and we're going to do it," as if somehow he wasn't involved in the process. Words mean nothing -- nothing to George Bush. They are just utterances. They have no meaning. Bush can say again and again, "well, we don't do torture." We know what happened. We know about Abu Ghraib. We know, we see anecdotally. We all understand in some profound way because so much has come out in the last few weeks, the I.C.R.C. The ACLU put out more papers, this is not an isolated incident what's happened with the seven kids and the horrible photographs, Lynndie England. That's into the not the issue is. They're fall guys. Of course, they did wrong. But you know, when we send kids to fight, one of the things that we do when we send our children to war is the officers become in loco parentis. That means their job in the military is to protect these kids, not only from getting bullets and being blown up, but also there is nothing as stupid as a 20 or 22-year-old kid with a weapon in a war zone. Protect them from themselves.

The spectacle of these people doing those antics night after night, for three and a half months only stopped when one of their own soldiers turned them in tells you all you need to know, how many officers knew. I can just give you a timeline that will tell you all you need to know. Abu Ghraib was reported in January of 2004 this year. In May, I and CBS earlier also wrote an awful lot about what was going on there. At that point, between January and May, our government did nothing. Although Rumsfeld later acknowledged that he was briefed by the middle of January on it and told the President. In those three-and-a-half months before it became public, was there any systematic effort to do anything other than to prosecute seven "bad seeds", enlisted kids, reservists from West Virginia and the unit they were in, by the way, Military Police. The answer is, Ha! They were basically a bunch of kids who were taught on traffic control, sent to Iraq, put in charge of a prison. They knew nothing. It doesn't excuse them from doing dumb things. But there is another framework. We're not seeing it. They've gotten away with it.

So here's the upside of the horrible story, if there is an upside. I can tell you the upside in a funny way, in an indirect way. It comes from a Washington Post piece this week. A young boy, a Marine, 25-year-old from somewhere in Maryland died. There was a funeral in the Post, a funeral in Washington, and the Post did a little story about it. They quoted -- his name was Hodak. His father was quoted. He had written to a letter in the local newspaper in Southern Virginia. He had said about his son, he wrote a letter just describing what it was like after his son died. He said, "Today everything seems strange. Laundry is getting done. I walked my dog. I ate breakfast. Somehow I'm still breathing and my heart is still beating. My son lies in a casket half a world away."

There's going to be -- you know, when I did My Lai -- I tell this story a lot. When I did the My Lai story, more than a generation ago, it was 35 years ago, so almost two. When I did My Lai, one of the things that I discovered was that they had -- for some of you, most of you remember, but basically a group of American soldiers -- the analogy is so much like today. Then as now, our soldiers don't see enemies in a battlefield, they just walk on mines or they get shot by snipers, because it's always hidden. There's inevitable anger and rage and you dehumanize the people. We have done that with enormous success in Iraq. They're "rag-heads". They're less than human. The casualty count -- as in Sudan, equally as bad. Staggering numbers that we're killing.

In any case, you know, it's -- in this case, these -- a group of soldiers in 1968 went into a village. They had been in Vietnam for three months and lost about 10% of their people, maybe 10 or 15 to accidents, killings and bombings, and they ended up -- they thought they would meet the enemy and there were 550 women, children and old men and they executed them all. It took a day. They stopped in the middle and they had lunch.

One of the kids who had done a lot of shooting. The Black and Hispanic soldiers, about 40 of them, there were about 90 men in the unit -- the Blacks and Hispanics shot in the air. They wouldn't shoot into the ditch. They collected people in three ditches and just began to shoot them. The Blacks and Hispanics shot up in the air, but the mostly White, lower middle class, the kids who join the Army Reserve today and National Guard looking for extra dollars, those kind of kids did the killing. One of them was a man named Paul Medlow, who did an awful lot of shooting.

The next day, there was a moment -- one of the things that everybody remembered, the kids who were there, one of the mothers at the bottom of a ditch had taken a child, a boy, about two, and got him under her stomach in such a way that he wasn't killed. When they were sitting having the K rations -- that's what they called them -- MRE's now -- the kid somehow crawled up through the [inaudible] screaming louder and he began -- and Calley, the famous Lieutenant Calley, the Lynndie England of that tragedy, told Medlow: Kill him, "Plug him," he said. And Medlow somehow, who had done an awful lot as I say, 200 bullets, couldn't do it so Calley ran up as everybody watched, with his carbine. Officers had a smaller weapon, a rifle, and shot him in the back of the head. The next morning, Medlow stepped on a mine and he had his foot blown off. He was being medevac'd out. As he was being medevac'd out, he cursed and everybody remembered, one of the chilling lines, he said, "God has punished me, and he's going to punish you, too."

So a year-and-a-half later, I'm doing this story. And I hear about Medlow. I called his mother up. He lived in New Goshen, Indiana. I said, "I'm coming to see you. I don't remember where I was, I think it was Washington State. I flew over there and to get there, you had to go to - I think Indianapolis and then to Terre Haute, rent a car and drive down into the Southern Indiana, this little farm. It was a scene out of Norman Rockwell's. Some of you remember the Norman Rockwell paintings. It's a chicken farm. The mother is 50, but she looks 80. Gristled, old. Way old - hard scrabble life, no man around. I said I'm here to see your son, and she said, okay. He's in there. He knows you're coming.

Then she said, one of these great -- she said to me, "I gave them a good boy. And they sent me back a murderer."

So you go on 35 years. I'm doing in The New Yorker, the Abu Ghraib stories. I think I did three in three weeks. If some of you know about The New Yorker, that's unbelievable. But in the middle of all of this, I get a call from a mother in the East coast, Northeast, working class, lower middle class, very religious, Catholic family. She said, I have to talk to you. I go see her. I drive somewhere, fly somewhere, and her story is simply this. She had a daughter that was in the military police unit that was at Abu Ghraib. And the whole unit had come back in March, of -- The sequence is: they get there in the fall of 2003. Their reported after doing their games in the January of 2004. In March she is sent home. Nothing is public yet. The daughter is sent home. The whole unit is sent home. She comes home a different person. She had been married. She was young. She went into the Reserves, I think it was the Army Reserves to get money, not for college or for -- you know, these -- some of these people worked as night clerks in pizza shops in West Virginia. This not -- this is not very sophisticated.

She came back and she left her husband. She just had been married before. She left her husband, moved out of the house, moved out of the city, moved out to another home, another apartment in another city and began working a different job. And moved away from everybody. Then over -- as the spring went on, she would go every weekend, this daughter, and every weekend she would go to a tattoo shop and get large black tattoos put on her, over increasingly -- over her body, the back, the arms, the legs, and her mother was frantic. What's going on? Comes Abu Ghraib, and she reads the stories, and she sees it. And she says to her daughter, "Were you there?" She goes to the apartment. The daughter slams the door. The mother then goes -- the daughter had come home -- before she had gone to Iraq, the mother had given her a portable computer. One of the computers that had a DVD in it, with the idea being that when she was there, she could watch movies, you know, while she was overseas, sort of a -- I hadn't thought about it, a great idea. Turns out a lot of people do it. She had given her a portable computer, and when the kid came back she had returned it, one of the things, and the mother then said I went and looked at the computer. She knows -- she doesn't know about depression. She doesn't know about Freud. She just said, I was just -- I was just going to clean it up, she said. I had decided to use it again. She wouldn't say anything more why she went to look at it after Abu Ghraib. She opened it up, and sure enough there was a file marked "Iraq". She hit the button. Out came 100 photographs. They were photographs that became -- one of them was published. We published one, just one in The New Yorker. It was about an Arab. This is something no mother should see and daughter should see too. It was the Arab man leaning against bars, the prisoner naked, two dogs, two shepherds, remember, on each side of him. The New Yorker published it, a pretty large photograph. What we didn't publish was the sequence showed the dogs did bite the man -- pretty hard. A lot of blood. So she saw that and she called me, and away we go. There's another story.

For me, it's just another story, but out of this comes a core of -- you know, we all deal in "macro" in Washington. On the macro, we're hopeless. We're nowhere. The press is nowhere. The congress is nowhere. The military is nowhere. Every four-star General I know is saying, "Who is going to tell them we have no clothes?" Nobody is going to do it. Everybody is afraid to tell Rumsfeld anything. That's just the way it is. It's a system built on fear. It's not lack of integrity, it's more profound than that. Because there is individual integrity. It's a system that's completely been taken over -- by cultists.

Anyway, what's going to happen, I think, as the casualties mount and these stories get around, and the mothers see the cost and the fathers see the cost, as the kids come home. And the wounded ones come back, and there's wards that you will never hear about. That's wards -- you know about the terrible catastrophic injuries, but you don't know about the vegetables. There's ward after ward of vegetables because the brain injuries are so enormous. As you maybe read last week, there was a new study in one of the medical journals that the number of survivors are greater with catastrophic injuries because of their better medical treatment and the better armor they have. So you get more extreme injuries to extremities. We're going to learn more and I think you're going to see, it's going to -- it's -- I'm trying to be optimistic.

We're going to see a bottom swelling from inside the ranks. You're beginning to see it. What happened with the soldiers asking those questions, you may see more of that. I'm not suggesting we're going to have mutinies, but I'm going to suggest you're going to see more dissatisfaction being expressed. Maybe that will do it. Another salvation may be the economy. It's going to go very bad, folks. You know, if you have not sold your stocks and bought property in Italy, you better do it quick. And the third thing is Europe -- Europe is not going to tolerate us much longer. The rage there is enormous. I'm talking about our old-fashioned allies. We could see something there, collective action against us. Certainly, nobody -- it's going to be an awful lot of dancing on our graves as the dollar goes bad and everybody stops buying our bonds, our credit -- our -- we're spending $2 billion a day to float the debt, and one of these days, the Japanese and the Russians, everybody is going to start buying oil in Euros instead of dollars. We're going to see enormous panic here. But he could get through that. That will be another year, and the damage he's going to do between then and now is enormous. We're going to have some very bad months ahead.

Comment: Yup, it's gonna get a lot worse before it starts to get better. When a mainstream journalist like Hersh talks about selling off your sticks and moving to Italy, you know that it is being discussed in the circles of the elite in the US and elsewhere.

The train is heading down the tracks. Casey is high on cocaine, as the old Grateful Dead song put it, and it is time to get out of the way.

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Scowcroft and Baker Up the Ante
The Widening Chasm Among Conservatives
By MIKE WHITNEY
January 27, 2005
The machinery of state decision-making is rarely exposed to public scrutiny. The cover of representative government is a scrupulously maintained fiction concealing the nuts-and-bolts of real statecraft. Normally, politicians and their accomplices in the media can keep the illusion of representative government intact; avoiding the embarrassing implication that the current order is really upheld by the decision-making of elites. It's only when a major rift appears between the members of the ruling class that we have the opportunity to marvel at the moving parts of the imperial apparatus.

The deteriorating situation in Iraq has precipitated this very scenario. The rift we allude to, has, in fact, developed into a yawning chasm; pitting one faction of conservative elder statesmen against their antecedents in the Bush administration. This battle of the giants can be expected to grow exponentially as the principle characters clash over the future of the Iraq occupation.

On the one hand, we have perhaps the most widely respected (conservative) policy experts alive today, advising the administration to withdraw from Iraq. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker have joined the ranks of anti-war Leftists in calling for an immediate withdrawal of all American troops. They have noted the failed attempts by the Bush administration to establish even minimal security or to achieve the overall objectives of the invasion. With Iraq tilting precipitously towards civil war, and with America's prestige irreparably damaged, their protestations should be regarded as an appeal for a return to political sanity.

Clearly these staunch supporters of American supremacy would never accept such a humbling defeat if there was even the remotest possibility of success. This gives us some idea of the extent to which the media has been concealing the crucial details of the disaster in Iraq from the public. Even those who are most likely to benefit the most from regional domination are jumping-off the sinking ship-of-state.

The significance of this rebellion among conservative members of the ruling establishment can,t be overstated. The war in Iraq didn,t evolve from a viable threat to national security, but from consensus among elites that America's future depended on projecting power into the Middle East. This is apparent in everything from the manipulation of interest rates to accommodate aggression, to the fabricated threats promoted by the corporate media, to the signatures of the 60 oil giants (reported by Secretary of Treasury, Paul O, Neil) on Cheney's Energy papers. (which divided up Iraqi oil fields months before the invasion)

Democracy: for elites, that is.

One of the illusions of American-style democracy is the notion that policy is driven by the will of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the entire corporate system of delivering information ("the media") is predicated on the idea of selectively creating a message that is compatible with the aims of elites. The interests of the public are never seriously entered into the policy-making equation, except in terms of how their approval can be obtained through the normal channels of calculated misinformation.

Policy is shaped by elites, for elites. It only changes when particular policies lose favor among the men who are ensconced at the foot of power. That's what makes the Baker-Scowcroft-Brzezinski insurgency worth noting; they point to the growing number of policy-wonks, corporate big-wigs and political powerbrokers who no longer support the Iraq occupation. Their position of influence and respect among their colleagues would seem to make them the last best hope for anti-occupation Americans.

James Baker who was instrumental in waging the legal battle that put G W Bush in the White House, has said that continued American presence in Iraq threatens to "undermine domestic support" and perpetuate the belief in the region that Iraq is part of Washington's "imperial design".

Baker, a devoted Bush loyalist, has no problem with the morality of the occupation, only with its efficacy. For him to suggest withdrawal is a clear indication that the mission is unsalvageable.

Brent Scowcroft implicitly supports Baker's analysis. Scowcroft, who is former National Security Advisor, served in both the H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford administrations and has solid record of commitment to conservative issues. Ideologically he is cut from the same cloth as Bush, although the extremism of the neocons has created a significant divide between old guard Republicans like Scowcroft and the new establishment.

At a recent meeting of the New America Foundation, Scowcroft gave a bitter critique of the Iraq conflict warning that the "war of choice" was jeopardizing long-held alliances and endangering America's stature in the world.

He said that the upcoming elections "won,t be a promising transformation, and has the potential for deepening the conflict; we may be seeing incipient civil war at this time."

Scowcroft emphasized his deep misgivings about war by suggesting that we should consider "whether we get out now" before more damage is done to American credibility and prestige.

(Scowcroft also provided a withering summary of the Afghanistan debacle, the likes of which have only previously appeared on Left-wing web sites. He said, "We did not go into Afghanistan because it was Afghanistan, we went in because it was the headquarters for Al Qaeda and the Taliban was supporting Al Qaeda. And we have pretty well cleaned out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Now Afghanistan stands as it was when the Soviet Union left"A FAILED STATE. And, one election a democracy does not make.

We,ve been really lucky about Karzai, he turned out to be pretty good, and rather lucky for us -- but he is still more the MAYOR OF KABUL than he is the president of Afghanistan. The warlords are not only alive and well, they are thriving and running much of that country.

They probably have at their disposal more resources than they ever had before because Afghanistan is TURNING INTO A NARCO-STATE. We have precious little experience in dealing with failed states and putting them together we have to prevent it from receding back to the condition it was in 94 when we gave up on it before and have it become a haven for terrorism."

"Narco-state"? "Mayor of Kabul"? "Failed state" run by "warlords"? These are the very same observations made by critics of the Afghanistan war for more than three years. It is extraordinary to see that these SAME VIEWS ARE SHARED BY REPUBLICAN INSIDERS behind closed doors. Although, the media still characterizes Afghanistan as a Bush success, it's refreshing to know that serious analysts are not similarly in denial. Afghanistan has been a dismal failure; Scowcroft's comments only reinforce that point.)

Zbigniew Brzezinski has provided an even more scathing appraisal of the Iraq war. Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor for Jimmie Carter, is widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities on international affairs and foreign policy. Apart from being the architect of America's clandestine war in Afghanistan in the 1980's (through the funding and arming of Islamic militants) he's a master of American Realpolitik and a Machiavellian-type strategist. His book "The Grand Chessboard" provides the basic blueprint for American global domination through projection of force into Eurasia and consolidating control over Middle East oil in the Caspian Basin. The current imperial strategy being carried out by the Bush White House is mainly Brzezinski's invention.

Brzezinski's criticism was succinct and blistering: "A great deal of what is happening thus far in American Foreign Policy has been influenced by the ongoing conflict in Iraq. that war which was a war of choice is already a serious moral set back to the United States. A moral set-back both in how we start, how it was justified, and because of some of the egregious incidents that have accompanied this proceeding. The moral costs to the United States are high. It's a political setback.

The United States has never been involved in an intervention in its entire history like it is today. It is also a military set back. "Mission Accomplished" are words that many in this administration want to forget.

While our ultimate objectives are very ambitious we will never achieve democracy and stability without being willing to commit 500,000 troops, spend $200 billion a year, probably have a draft, and have some form of war compensation.

As a society, we are not prepared to do thatThere comes a point in the life of a nation when such sacrifices are not justified . . .and only time will tell if the United States is facing a moment of wisdom, or is resigned to cultural decay."

Brzezinski's is not a man given to rhetorical flights of fancy. He's known for his bare-knuckle, "take-no-prisoners" Kissinger-style approach to foreign policy. His denunciation of the war in Iraq as a "moral setback" or, more significantly, as a sign of "MORAL DECAY" will be construed by many political realists as a sign that we cannot succeed in our stated goals.

Brzezinski's assessment of war extends far beyond the battlefield to its devastating affect on America's "international legitimacy". As a sign of how despised the Bush crusade has been around the world, Brzezinski cites a poll taken earlier in the year that shows a vast number of interviewees were disappointed "that more Americans were not killed" in the invasion. Brzezinski opines, "That is some measure of the depth of the animus to our policies."

As for Brzezinki's estimate of what it will take to succeed in Iraq ("500,000 troops, $200 billion a year, and a draft") it is an astute approximation that is entirely consistent with the conclusions of many in the Defense establishment, including General Shinseki who was removed from duty for making similar calculations.

The broader issue, however, is summarized by the comments of James Dobbins from the conservative Rand Corporation when he admitted, "THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM IS TO REALIZE THAT WE CAN,T WIN" Dobbins remarks are underscored by Iraq's Intelligence Chief, General Mohammed Shahwani concession that the, "US was facing 40,000 hard-core fighters" and a support group of as "many as 150,000 to 200,000".

Predictably, the story was buried in the western press, but the implications are clear. The Pentagon has been lying to the American people about the size and strength of the insurgency, (previous estimates were between 5,000 to 20,000 total) and the likelihood of winning the conflict is slim to none.

America's right-wing elite fully grasp the meaning of these numbers. That's why retired General Gary Luck was sent to Iraq to provide a comprehensive assessment of the current reality on the ground. Secretary Rumsfeld knows full-well that Luck will return home with a detailed analysis of a deteriorating security situation and a well rehearsed appeal for more ground troops. Whether or not Luck's report will be the basis for reinstating the draft is uncertain, but it will signal the steady escalation of men and resources devoted to America's latest quagmire.

The growing chasm between American elites will have no measurable affect on the embattled White House. Already, the administration has announced its intention to keep at least 120,000 troops deployed in Iraq for at least the next three years. This is a clear message to the nay-sayers that their advice has been duly rejected. As Donald Rumsfeld said just recently, "They,ll be no second guessing". The grand-plan to occupy Iraq will continue and the voices of reason will be silenced.

By marginalizing Baker, Scowcroft and Brzezinski the administration is severing relations with their ideological forebears. The project in Iraq is now cut-off from the reasoned analysis of conservative policy experts and is supported only by the hard-right ideology of political extremists. As the ground is increasingly cut away from more and more of the people who might provide some rational relief to the bloodletting; the project becomes more infused with the incendiary rhetoric of religiosity and nationalism. The crusade in Iraq is now propped up by nothing more than the flimsy stanchions of hubris and delusion; the foundation blocks of catastrophe.

Comment: Tomorrow, the elections will be held in Iraq. What a joke, a horrifying joke, a joke that will cost lives as the resistance fights back. The elections are not being held for Iraqi democracy; they are being held so that Bush can go to his uninformed supporters at home and say, "See, the Iraqis have had elections because of our good work in their country." Bush will use the elections to justify the plan outlined in his inauguration speech, that of "fighting tyranny" and "bringing freedom to the world".

Bush and his cronies tell us that the fighting in Iraq is the work of "insurgents" and "terrorists". This denies the truth -- that the US got sucked into an unwinnable war and occupation when the Iraqi resistance pulled out of Baghdad, letting the Americans take the city with little fighting and a grand pronouncement of "Mission Accomplished" in May 2003.

The "Mission" is hardly "Accomplished". The Iraqis are fighting a war of attrition, forcing the US to commit more and more soldiers, money, and energy to maintain their fragile hold over the country. It is Iraqi strategy, a well-thought out and prepared strategy, conforming to conditions when one is facing a military power the size of the US.

To say that the fighting is due to insurgents merely covers over the fact that the US has already lost in Iraq.

On the other hand, we cannot say that the Iraqi people have won, for there are forces at work in the country to push it to civil war where Sunni fights Shi'ite and they both fight the Kurds, the same strategy used by Israel against the Palestinians.

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Russia to Increase Special Services’ Funding by 25% in 2005 — PM

Created: 28.01.2005 15:32 MSK (GMT 3), Updated: 15:43 MSK
MosNews

The funding of the Russian special services in 2005 will grow by 25 percent, the RIA Novosti agency quoted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov as saying on Friday.

The prime minister made this announcement at the board session of the Federal Security Service, the FSB. Fradkov also said that the FSB’s funding had also been increased last year.

“The government is doing its best to ensure the FSB has the necessary funds and equipment, and in the border areas the financing is being carried out ahead of schedule,” Fradkov said.

“The country’s leadership is taking measures to ensure the functioning of the FSB so that citizens can expect to be protected,” he added.

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Islamists Arrested in Paris Planned France Attacks
By Thierry Leveque
Reuters
Fri Jan 28, 2:48 PM ET

PARIS - Suspected Islamists arrested by secret service agents in Paris this week were plotting terrorist attacks on French and foreign targets in the country, the Paris public prosecutor's office said on Friday. Anti-terrorism magistrates are to prosecute three of the 11 people detained in a series of swoops in a northern district of the French capital on Monday and Tuesday, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The others have been released or will be shortly.

"This network is suspected of drawing up plans for attacks in France against French and foreign interests," said the prosecutor's office in a statement. It did not elaborate.

The prosecutor's office confirmed two people had been charged with association with criminals engaged in a terrorist enterprise. They were to be remanded in custody later on Friday.

A third was to be questioned on Saturday by the anti-terrorism judges leading the investigation, Jean-Louis Bruguiere and Jean-Francois Richard.

Intelligence services believe the trio were part of an "Iraq network" recruiting guerrillas to fight U.S.-led forces. Officials said the network had now been dismantled.

Anti-terrorism experts fear Iraq, like Afghanistan in the 1980s, will attract Islamic militants bent on resorting to political violence once they return home.

Roland Jacquard, head of the International Terrorism Observatory in Paris, said earlier this month al Qaeda was training agents, including Western nationals, in Iraq and sending them home to form networks or sleeper cells.

France launched a formal probe into Iraq recruitment networks after three of its nationals died in fighting or suicide operations against U.S.-led forces.

All three came from the Paris district raided in this week's operation, Le Parisien newspaper reported on Wednesday.

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Report: 'Missing' Lab Disks Didn't Exist
By LESLIE HOFFMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 29,12:44 AM ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Two computer disks that supposedly disappeared last summer, prompting a virtual shutdown of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in fact never existed, according to report released Friday.

In a harshly worded review that described severe security weaknesses at the nuclear lab, the U.S. Energy Department concluded that bar codes were recorded for the disks but the disks themselves were never created. A separate FBI investigation supported that finding, according to the report.

"The weaknesses revealed by this incident are severe and must be corrected," according to the report.

As punishment for the problems, the Energy Department slashed by two-thirds the management fee it paid to the University of California for running the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Out of a possible $8.7 million, UC will get only $2.9 million; it is the largest fee reduction ever imposed on a national laboratory.

"Although multiple investigations have confirmed that the 'missing' disks never existed, the major weakness in controlling classified material revealed by this incident are absolutely unacceptable and the University of California must be held accountable for them," National Nuclear Security Agency Administrator Linton Brooks said in a statement.

The NNSA is a branch of the Energy Department that oversees the nation's nuclear labs.

UC officials on Friday accepted responsibility for the problems but pointed to the months of work they and lab officials have done reviewing Los Alamos' safety and security procedures since the initial shutdown.

"We got walloped. Unfortunately, we deserve this," UC spokesman Chris Harrington said. "But what we have done is correct the problems and put the right system in place so that we don't have to take this type of hit again."

In the wake of the supposed disk disappearance and a laser accident involving an intern, four Los Alamos workers were fired and one resigned. The problems also drew criticism from Congress and senior officials at the Energy Department.

About 12,000 workers were idled during the July shutdown.

Comment: This story certainly doesn't end there...

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Flashback: Who Gains from Missing Data at Los Alamos?

The University of Texas Connection

By STEFAN WRAY
July 14, 2004

A security breach at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico last week is another setback for the University of California's management of the nuclear weapons facility. The identity of the culprits is still not known. But we do know that the public relations damage to the university will likely decrease its chances of retaining control of the lab, while increasing the odds for the University of Texas and several companies announcing this week their intent to bid on the lab's management contract.

On July 9 Los Alamos lab officials reported that two computer disks containing classified nuclear research information were missing. It is the third incident of missing classified data at the nuclear weapons lab in the last year. The loss of classified information came days before a July 12 Department of Energy deadline for competitors to express interest in bidding on Los Alamos' management contract, set to expire in September 2005.

The Department of Energy decided last year to open competition on the lab contract, in part because of poor management and security mishaps under University of California's leadership, which has managed the lab since 1943. This summer the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration will be issuing a Request for Proposals. In addition to the University of California and the University of Texas, expected bidders include Lockheed Martin and Battelle Memorial Institute.

Given the timing of this latest incident, it makes one wonder if the individual or individuals behind the missing computer disks intentionally wanted to cast negative light on the University of California at the onset of the bidding process on the lab's management contract. We can only guess about the motives, but whether the computer disks were taken for personal gain or as an act of malice toward the university, the incident adds to UC's growing list of security problems at Los Alamos and will likely be a contributing factor when the DOE decides early next year on a new lab manager.

The University of California not retaining the Los Alamos contract might at first appear to be its loss. But the university has experienced a lot of grief in the past few years, with scrutiny from Congress and federal agencies, and lawsuits from citizens groups and lab employees. Elements within the University of California System might now think that managing the Los Alamos National Laboratory is more trouble than it is worth.

If the University of California leaves Los Alamos it could take with it parts of the paper trail that has accumulated over the past 61 years. Some of those records tell an unpleasant history of environmental contamination and callous disregard for worker safety. It would be in the university's best interest to remove those documents from the lab.

A concern among some scientists and lab administrators could be that their research at Los Alamos would become the property of, or credited to, others if the lab management changes hands.

Some employees at Los Alamos are eager for change. They view UC as an absentee landlord that doesn't treat workers fairly. A new manager won't necessarily solve the lab's problems, but some workers are ready to see UC leave.

Others to benefit if UC is ousted are some companies that currently subcontract at Los Alamos. One subcontractor, BWXT, has been in discussion with the University of Texas to form partnership to management the lab. Clearly BWXT would be better off as a partner rather than a subcontractor for UC.

Another beneficiary of a new lab manager would be the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons program itself. During a transition period of new management, it might be more difficult for outside oversight and scrutiny, more difficult for opponents of new nuclear weapons development to access information about those programs.

Regardless of the intent behind the missing computer disks, security breaches under the University of California's leadership like the incident last week will be perceived as the fault of the university. These breaches will embolden those who want the University of California to lose its management contract and will encourage institutions like the University of Texas and others who are vying to run the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This is unfortunate for those of us in Texas who do not want our flagship university involved with nuclear weapons development.

Comment: Well, it seems that concerned Texans have nothing to worry about...

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Major university close to withdrawing from Los Alamos competition
By David McGlinchey
Govexec.com
January 14, 2005

One of the nation's largest universities is on the verge of pulling out of the contest to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a government watchdog group is concerned about a lack of serious competition for the contract.

Chancellor Mark Yudof of the University of Texas system announced Friday that he would recommend to its Board of Regents that the organization not continue with its bid for the Los Alamos contract.

Late last year, the National Nuclear Security Administration launched the formal process to find a contractor for the facility, which is responsible for developing some of the nation's most advanced technology and nuclear weaponry. The University of California has operated Los Alamos for more than 61 years - without competition - but the facility recently has been plagued with security lapses and poor management. The University of California is seeking to retain the contract.

Officials at the Project on Government Oversight said Friday that the withdrawal of the University of Texas would hurt the bidding process. In August 2004, defense contractor Lockheed Martin dropped out of the contest to run the lab. According to reports, the company had been considering a joint bid with the University of California, but the cost of pursuing the contract was prohibitive.

"It is not a good news story for competition, that's for sure," said Pete Stockton, a Los Alamos observer from POGO. "Texas appeared to be one of the serious ones."

The National Nuclear Security Administration did not return calls for comment on the recommendation from Yudof.

Stockton theorized that some potential competitors are being scared off by the existing problems at Los Alamos. Officials there have been sharply criticized over missing computers and disks, purchase card abuse by employees and bungled efforts to investigate fraud.

The University of Texas has not officially pulled out of the competition. The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet on Feb. 9 and 10 and will consider Yudof's recommendation. The board approved planning for the bid in February 2004. Stockton said POGO is not supporting any particular bidder but is interested in a lively challenge.

"We would like to see competition..." Stockton said. "But we don't have a dog in this fight."

Comment: It appears that a final decision on Los Alamos will be made in February of this year. Lockheed Martin has also dropped its bid for the nuclear lab...

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Energy officials seek operators for Los Alamos
AP
Sun, Jan. 16, 2005

OAKLAND -- U.S. energy officials said they are looking for ways to make managing Los Alamos National Laboratory more attractive to potential bidders after a second would-be operator appeared unlikely to compete for the job now held by the University of California.

University of Texas Chancellor Mark Yudof announced Friday that he would recommend the school's Board of Regents vote against a Los Alamos bid next month.

The university system is the second major potential bidder to decide against trying to take over the troubled nuclear-weapons lab in New Mexico.

In August, defense giant Lockheed Martin, which already manages Sandia National Laboratories, said it had decided not to bid on Los Alamos because it would cost too much.

The announcement from Texas has raised concern in Congress and the Department of Energy that few corporations or educational institutions will end up submitting bids.

Some competitors are wary about taking on the lab because they don't want to become a target of criticism like the University of California did.

Comment: It seems that no one wants the lab now. Perhaps that was the idea all along. Recall the quote from the flashback above:

The loss of classified information came days before a July 12 Department of Energy deadline for competitors to express interest in bidding on Los Alamos' management contract, set to expire in September 2005.

Who in their right mind would bid on an unbelievably expensive nuclear lab after its image became so tarnished? And now, just a few weeks before the final decision is made, it is revealed that there apparently never was any lost classified information...

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Acne Drug Memos Kept Secret Despite Suits
By VICKIE CHACHERE, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jan 28,10:59 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. - Lawyers suing the makers of Accutane over allegations the acne drug increases the risk of suicide cannot share the company's internal memos and other documents with the public or federal regulators, a judge ruled Friday.

The attorneys had sought to make public as many as 1 million documents produced by Hoffman-La Roche Inc., saying the disclosure was needed as Accutane's safety comes under increased scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

U.S. District Judge James Moody rejected the request, saying attorneys could ask the court to open up records if they discover a matter of public safety as they prepare their cases. But in a victory for the plaintiffs, he said the drug maker cannot redact documents before handing them over to the attorneys.

Moody, based in Tampa, is presiding over the management of dozens of lawsuits filed nationwide over Accutane, used by about 5 million Americans.

The drug, which has been dispensed in the United States since 1982, has been blamed for increased rates of suicide and gastrointestinal diseases in some users and birth defects in babies born to mothers who took Accutane.

Hoffman-La Roche contends the drug is safe, although it recommends that users be screened for depression. The company notes that teenagers and young adults, the groups most likely to use the drug, have higher suicide rates than the general population.

The documents at issue include internal company discussions about the safety of the drug and how to handle allegations of an increased suicide risk.

Hoffman-La Roche attorney Ed Moss said the company fought the release of the documents mostly out of concern for protecting Accutane's "recipe," and that federal officials already have internal documents relating to the drug's safety.

"We are not trying to hide documents from the public," Moss said. "We have given everything in the world to the FDA." [...]

Comment: The FDA could hardly be considered an organization with the best interests of the American people at heart. If Hoffman-La Roche has nothing to hide, why the resistance to releasing all one million documents directly to the public?

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Cop wins RCMP settlement after highway search
Last Updated Jan 28 2005 02:35 PM PST
CBC News

VANCOUVER – A Vancouver man has won an out-of-court settlement from the RCMP after an incident in which he says he was illegally searched.

David Laing says police overstepped the law when they stopped his car, decided he was driving under the influence of marijuana, and searched his vehicle and two-year-old son.

Under Canadian law, that kind of search is illegal.

What upset the Laing even more is that some the officers he tangled with were actually American police officers.

Last spring, Laing was driving on a highway near Hope. He turned a corner and a man in an orange traffic vest in the middle of the road motioned him to pull over. In a heavy Texas accent, the man asked for Laing's identification.

Laing asked if the man was an American. The man answered that he was, and that he was performing a B.C. road check.

"I said, are you a police officer? Who are you to be detaining me?"
The man was a Texas state trooper. The RCMP brought the Texans up to help them learn how to identify drug traffickers.

Laing refused to let the officers search his car. He knew that under Canadian law, police officers don't have the right to preform that kind of search.

Laing is a Vancouver cop.

Less than a minute after Laing drove away, another Texas trooper – paired with an RCMP officer – pulled him over.

This time Laing was told he was under the influence of marijuana. Laing's lawyer, Marilyn Sandford, says it was all preposterous.

Laing agreed to the search, but was told he couldn't take his son from the vehicle. He was horrified as he watched the Mountie search his two-year-old.

The police found no drugs, and despite saying he was impaired just moments earlier, let him go.

RCMP spokesperson Const. John Ward says the Texas troopers profiling program provides great help to the Mounties.

"The Americans do a lot of this and have been doing it for quite some time. So there's a lot of opportunity on both sides of the border to become closer."

Laing and his lawyer disagree. They say that when it comes to narcotics, American attitudes and Canadian laws are quite different.

"We have different freedoms than they have," Laing says. "You don't want to mesh too much. You don't want your police meshing to the point where we start taking on other police jurisidiction's policies."

The RCMP settled with Laing out of court when he threatened to sue for unlawful detention. But the Mounties defend the search, saying Laing was suspicious because his eyelashes were fluttering and his eyes were flashing.

Murray Mollard of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says police shouldn't be depending on clues like that. He says that it's not a scientifically reliable method.

The RCMP also says Laing was evasive when asked about his job. Laing says he didn't want to tell them he's a Vancouver cop.

"To me it's irrelevant," he says. "I'm a father with his son going to look at property. I'm not in the course of duty – I don't deserve privileges of any type."

Mollard says Laing's case presents a series of concerns – from using unreliable profiling techniques to a wrongful vehicle search, not to mention using an American police officer to pull over Canadians.

He says his association will be writing the RCMP to complain about the profiling techniques and remind them of the rights Canadians have under the law.

Comment: Regardless of whether Texas-style "profiling" of suspected drug traffickers works or not, the appearance of American police officers pulling over law abiding drivers in Canada should give citizens of that country serious cause for concern.

This new relationship between law enforcement agencies in the two countries could be a harbinger of what is likely to be a regular occurrence if this report about NORTHCOM from the Centre for Research on Globalisation is accurate.

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Explosive devices confiscated from Denton home
By Leila Fadel and Domingo Ramirez Jr.
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Friday, January 28, 2005

DENTON -- Hand grenades and other explosive devices, including napalm and Claymore mines, were confiscated early Thursday morning from the home of a 51-year-old hospital worker.

Vernon Todd had been arrested Wednesday evening, accused of shooting a construction worker who was in a portable toilet across the street, police said. Todd remained in custody Thursday night in lieu of $200,000 bail.

About two dozen officers and federal investigators dragged boxes and bags of explosives and other items from his home until about 3:30 a.m., neighbors and police said.

"It could have been a bad situation. I'm glad that it did not end up in a standoff-type situation," said Jim Bryan, Denton police spokesman. "With what he had in the house, a lot of people could have been hurt."

Investigators found eight hand grenades, several types of explosive materials and powders, blasting cords, napalm, Claymore explosive devices, a sword and silencers for pistols and rifles, police said. An undisclosed amount of drugs and drug paraphernalia also were found in the house, police said.

"We're still sorting this whole thing out," Bryan said. "We're trying to figure out where he got it and what he intended to do with it."

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Grenades slow airport terminal
By SAEED AHMED
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/28/05

Grenades found in the checked luggage of a soldier returning from Iraq briefly disrupted operations in a section of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Thursday evening.

The soldier had arrived on a military chartered flight to Atlanta about 5:15 p.m. and was having his bags examined at the international terminal.

A screening device alerted officials to the presence of an explosive, said Yolanda Clark, a spokeswoman for the federal Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA screener opened the bag and initially found one grenade, Clark said. The second was discovered soon afterward.

The soldier apparently had tried to inform TSA officials about the explosives, said Lanii Thomas, spokeswoman for the airport.

"Troops who come through are routinely asked to remove all their weapons but from time to time, some of them forget," Thomas said. "This happened to be one of those times."

Arriving passengers on three international flights were kept from deplaning while officials looked into the matter.

About 200 passengers were in the receiving area of the terminal, known as Concourse E, at the time, officials said.

"We didn't evacuate anybody," Thomas said. "We just moved people a safe distance away from the area."

Operations in other parts of the airport continued as normal.

A bomb squad removed the bag and the soldier was to be questioned by military officials and the FBI.

Arriving international passengers were allowed to leave their planes about 40 minutes later.

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Four cats garrotted in torture spate: RSPCA
January 28, 2005 - 1:42PM - AAP

Four cats were garrotted and dumped outside a Queensland charity shop in a sack in the latest shocking case of animal cruelty, the RSPCA said today.

A fifth cat was so badly mutilated it had to be euthanased, RSPCA regional inspector Shayne Towers-Hammond said.

The incident in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton was the latest in an Australia-wide spate of cat cruelty cases under investigation by animal welfare inspectors and the police.

Mr Towers-Hammond said a passerby, who was not a suspect, found the sack outside the St Vincent De Paul shop in Gladstone Road at Rockhampton at 11pm (AEST) last night.

"There were four dead cats and actually one live one," he said.
Two of the dead cats had their throats cut from ear to ear and one had its tail crushed.

All had rope marks consistent with strangulation with rope or string.
Mr Towers-Hammond said the four animals had just recently been killed but a fifth was still alive.

"This particular little female kitten had its rib cage broken and its claws were actually cut down to the quick and they were bleeding, so I had to put that animal down straight away on humane grounds."

Mr Towers-Hammond said the RSPCA and the police were appealing for information from the public about the cruelty case.

He also said pet owners should contact the RSPCA if their cat was missing.

Three similar cat cruelty cases have been reported in NSW recently, and one in Victoria.

RSPCA Queensland spokesman Michael Beatty said there was a proven association between people who abused animals in their youth and went on to become violent towards humans as adults.

"It's really important they (police) find the people who did this because of all these links between animal cruelty and serious violence to humans down the track," Mr Beatty said.

Comment: It has been reported that Dubya used to enjoy torturing small animals as a child, which could explain his willingness to execute prisoners as Govenor of Texas, and current treatment of the Iraqi people in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

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Sub teacher taped eyes, pupils say
By Ana Beatriz Cholo
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 28, 2005

Police and school officials are investigating reports that a substitute teacher at an elementary school on the South Side taped shut the eyes and mouths of 2nd graders earlier this week.

Students told the principal at Esmond Elementary School, 1865 W. Montvale Ave., that the substitute verbally abused at least 10 children and then covered their eyes and mouths with tape early Tuesday afternoon. [...]

As the news continued to spread around the school Thursday, Becky Jenkins, who has a child at the school, asked, "What is wrong with that lady?" She called the alleged behavior "medieval" and said "that is totally unacceptable."

Students traded different stories of what the substitute teacher allegedly did. Several said she told the students to "shut up" and then she taped some of the eyes and mouths of the students. Some students got worse treatment than others, several students said. One child had his mouth taped four times, they said. [...]

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Meteor seen falling in Madrid suburb
IOL
28/01/2005 - 10:39:59

MADRID, Spain (AP) - A spectacular fireball meteor was seen falling in the neighbourhood of two Madrid airports, emergency services said today.

“We had three calls and are aware of other calls reporting a huge fireball before midnight,” said Luis Serrano of the emergency telephone service in Madrid.

Spanish press agency EFE also received calls reporting the falling object which was seen descending nearly vertically near the airports.

Barajas International Airport that services the Spanish capital is about 4.3 miles from Torrejon military air base.

“An enormous, incandescent and very red ball gave a tremendous flash and then went out in a few seconds,” witness Jose Antonio Lopez told EFE. He said he believed it was a meteor “by the way it fell and the brevity of the object’s flash”.

Officers at Torrejon, which was once a United States air base, would not comment. Barajas Airport press department also had nothing to report.

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Minor earthquake registered on Kuril Islands
Jan 28 2005 9:28AM (Interfax)

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK. - Underground tremors measuring two points on the Richter scale were felt in Yuzhno-Kurilsk on Kunashir island, in the Russian Far East Friday morning.

The seismological station in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk informed Interfax that an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.6 points was registered at 05:51 a.m. with an epicenter 430 kilometers southeast of the town.

The quake did not cause any loss of life, destruction or tsunami.

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Small quake off Kapiti nothing to worry about'
29 January 2005
By MICHELLE QUIRKE and NZPA
(New Zealand) - A small earthquake felt by Kapiti residents yesterday is no cause for alarm, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences duty seismologist Peter McGinty says.

The quake, measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale, was centred about 30 kilometres offshore from Paraparaumu at a depth of 50km and was felt on the Kapiti Coast about 9.11am.

It follows a flurry of tremors throughout the Wellington region during the past two weeks. Last Friday's magnitude 5.5 earthquake was followed by quakes on Saturday and Sunday, registering 4.2 and 3.6 on the Richter scale respectively. No other significant tremors had been recorded this week till the Kapiti one.

"That (Kapiti) one was not unusual. It's part of background seismic activity. I am no more concerned than I was before the 5.5 quake last week," Mr McGinty said. "That's not to say that something couldn't happen in the near future. We just don't know."

After an earthquake there was a one in 20 chance of another one the same size or bigger happening within a few days, Victoria University associate geophysics professor Martha Savage said.

But the chance of it recording a whole magnitude higher on the Richter scale was only one in 100.

"It's always a good wake-up call to check all your preparations for an earthquake are up to date . . . We know there will be (a big) one at some time. We don't know if it will be preceded by foreshocks."

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EARTHQUAKE MEASURING 4.8 ON THE RICHTER SCALE IN GAVDOS
28 January 2005 (13:47 UTC 2)

Athens, - Earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale was recorded at 2:18 am today and its epicenter was located 50 kilometers west of the island of Gavdos, south of the Aegean island of Crete.

The local residents were alarmed by the tremor and spent the night outside their homes while the earthquake was also felt in Crete.

Seismologists maintain that there is no course for concern characterizing the earthquake as weak. No damages were reported to police.

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Goodbye blizzard, hello flooding
WebPosted Jan 28 2005 12:42 PM NST
CBC News

ST. JOHN'S  —  Many schools on the Avalon Peninsula and in eastern and cental Newfoundland are closed Friday morning because of bad weather.

Heavy rain overnight is causing flooding in the St. John's area, with the fire department being called to rescue some drivers whose cars stalled in pools of water. Much of the island was pelted Thursday afternoon and night with snow, with as much as 45 centimetres of snow expected in central areas.

On the Avalon Peninsula, snow changed to rain Thursday evening, with Environment Canada reporting 41 millimetres overnight, on top of 25 centimetres of snow.

In the Gander area, more than 40 centimetres fell in a 24-hour period. That brings to more than 140 centimetres the snow fall since Saturday.

Four storms have blown through the province in six days, causing a cascade of school, office and road closures

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Heavy snow, ice leave motorists stranded in southern Italy
ROME (AFP) Jan 28, 2005

Hundreds of motorists were stranded by heavy snow and ice on a motorway in southern Italy overnight forcing local authorities to call in the army to remove snowbound vehicles and take their occupants to safety, police said Friday.

Local authorities faced a barrage of criticism from many motorists who spent two days and nights in their vehicles on the snowbound A3 autostrada between Salerno and Reggio Calabria without receiving help.

Some 200 soldiers were drafted in to dig stranded vehicles out from thick snow and take their occupants to safety along a 160-kilometre (100-mile) section of the motorway.

Many had spent two days and nights trapped without food and water. Hospitals in the region were treating 11 people for exposure, Italian media reports said.

Local hotels and schools in the Vallo Di Diano area of Campania have been turned into reception centres for stranded drivers, and local authorities provided blankets, hot meals and bottles of water for motorists recovering from their ordeal.

But many others said they had been ignored by the thinly spread emergency services.

"We spent 48 hours on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway without anyone, and I mean anyone, offering us the slightest help. We spent two night in the cold, in the car, eating what we had with us and drinking snow," said Luigi Ruggiero, deputy mayor of the small town of Ciro Marina.

He and his driver had been stranded on the A3 autostrada from 10:00 am (0900 GMT) on Wednesday until 7:00 am Friday.

"In 48 hours we got no help, not from the traffic police, the civil protection, the fire services, nobody."

As the cold snap continued, two early morning regional flights from Naples airport were cancelled due to ice on the wings of the aircraft.

Around 150 articulated trucks remained blocked on a national roadway beteween the southern regions of Basilicata and Campania early Friday, police said.

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Winter storm to bring 'prolonged' freezing rain
By MIKE MORRIS, JEFFRY SCOTT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/28/05

With tiny flecks of frozen rain gathering on overcoats, the season's first ice storm crept into metro Atlanta Friday afternoon.

Forecasters predict the worst is to come.

Overnight, the light sleet is expected to develop into a full-blown winter storm that could glaze roads in sheets of ice and down power lines. Rain moving up from the Gulf of Mexico colliding with cold air from the Arctic is expected to produce freezing rains beginning Friday evening and lasting through Saturday.

The mercury has dropped steadily today at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, falling from the low 40s just after midnight to 33 by 9 a.m. Overnight lows are predicted in the high 20s.

Temperatures are already below freezing in Lawrenceville and Gainesville as cold air sweeps in from the northeast.

Friday evening and Saturday events were being canceled around the metro area as people prepared for the worse, while others decided to wait and see. [...]

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Arctic ozone may drop to new low
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent
The coming weeks could bring the most severe thinning of the ozone layer over northern Europe since records began.

The conditions are being driven by unusual weather in the high atmosphere above the Arctic, says the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit.

The stratosphere, where the ozone layer lies, has seen its coldest winter for 50 years; there have also been an unusually large number of clouds.

These factors hasten the rate at which man-made chemicals destroy ozone.

"The meteorological conditions we are now witnessing resemble and even surpass the conditions of the 1999-2000 winter, when the worst ozone loss to date was observed," said Dr Neil Harris, from the Cambridge University-based unit.

Broken balance

Ozone is a molecule that is composed of three oxygen atoms. It is responsible for filtering out harmful ultra-violet radiation (less than 290 nanometres) from the Sun.

The molecule is constantly being made and destroyed in the stratosphere, which exists from about 10km to 40km above the Earth.

In an unpolluted atmosphere, this cycle of production and decomposition is in equilibrium.

But a number of human-produced chemicals, such as the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used as refrigerants, in aerosol sprays, as solvents and in foam-blowing agents, have risen into the stratosphere where they are broken down by the Sun's rays.

Chlorine atoms released from these chemicals then act as catalysts to decompose ozone.

Long return

At the moment, the area where the ozone layer is particularly thin is constrained by winds, which to some extent isolate the Arctic from the rest of the global climate system.

Scientists say this natural barrier will break down in the coming weeks, and the low ozone area will spread southwards over northern Europe, including the UK.

This will mean more of the Sun's ultra-violet rays reaching ground level, potentially increasing the risk of skin cancer.

The incidence of malignant melanoma, the worst kind of skin cancer, is rising; but to what extent that has been caused by decades of ozone depletion is far from clear.

"We will watch the development closely from day to day, and will inform the public and our authorities if the situation becomes worrying," said Dr Harris

The use of ozone-depleting chemicals is now restricted by an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol; but it may be half a century before levels of these chemicals have fallen sufficiently in the atmosphere to allow the northern ozone layer to be fully repaired.

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Mad cow disease found in French goat
Last Updated Fri, 28 Jan 2005 13:52:23 EST
CBC News
BRUSSELS - European scientists have found mad cow disease in a French goat – the first naturally occurring case known to hit an animal other than cattle.

The finding immediately raised fears that bovine spongiform encephalopathy – which can cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in people – has crossed to other species eaten by humans. [...]

The goat, which was slaughtered in France in 2002, was first believed to have scrapie, a disease of goats and sheep similar to BSE but not infectious for humans.

Scrapie, BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease all belong to a family of diseases that can cause brain tissue to degenerate, giving it a sponge-like appearance.

The infected goat was the only animal in a herd of 300 that tested positive for the disease, scientists found.

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Feeble earthquake jolts southeast Spain
www.chinaview.cn 2005-01-29 20:11:34
MADRID, Jan. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- A feeble earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale jolted southeast Spain on Saturday, causing minor damages but no casualties, local media reported.

The epicenter was near the village of Bullas in Murcia province and six provinces near the epicenter felt the tremor, the Efe newsagency quoted the National Geographic Institute as saying.

When the tremor hit the region of Murcia, local residents ran out into the streets in panic.

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Apocalypse soon: The signs are all there
Jan. 25, 2005. 01:00 AM 
SLINGER

The Rapture Index stands at 153 today, up only one point since 2005 began, and it makes you wonder whether the folks at raptureready.com who compile it — many experts regard the index as the Dow Jones Industrial Average of "end time activity" — have got their heads screwed on right. Or maybe they haven't been keeping careful track because they're too busy with other things, such as packing. If the end is coming anytime soon, you don't want to have forgotten your toothbrush when you join the righteous dead in heaven.

According to raptureready.com, a Rapture Index reading over 145 means "Fasten your seat belts," so when it hits the mid-150s it has to be telling us to close our tray-tables and make sure our seat-backs are in the full upright position.

By my estimate, it should be nudging 250 on the basis of Category 38, "Wild Weather," alone. On the East Coast, every new blizzard — to judge by the news reports, a new one lashes the region daily — puts the Maritimes under another 10 or 12 metres of snow, and they were already under so much of it at the end of last winter that only about half of it melted off before this winter got rolling.

On the West Coast, where the phrase "a beautiful day" means it's not raining quite as hard, mudslides have started carrying Vancouver into the Strait of Georgia, and once it's filled in you won't even have to be able to walk on water to hike to Victoria.

Meanwhile here (the Centre Coast?), anybody who thinks that it's natural for there to be three or four heat waves interspersed with brutal cold snaps every week is so goofy that when the world is transformed into a fiery, boiling cataclysm in the tribulation they'll figure it's just an early spring.

Then there's the arrival of the anti-Christ in the earthly form of Paul Martin, which is spelled out between the lines of the open letter Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic published in The Globe and Mail last week. Something about Martin's determination to force everybody in Canada to marry a homosexual whether they swing that way or not.

Maybe raptureready.com is hanging back because the theology confuses them. Since the only mention in Scripture of a notwithstanding clause is in reference to the Ten Commandments ("Being that the provision forbidding adultery couldst be unduly onerous if thou art out of town on business and hath consumed too many martinis at the hotel bar" etc.) they don't understand exactly how invoking it, as the cardinal demands, will solve things regarding gay marriage, a topic — the only one, in fact — the Bible doesn't offer even the slightest "thou shalt not" about.

I guess you have to be a Canadian to appreciate this particular apostolic position on the subject (by the same token, there's no Rapture Index category that includes "sponsorship scandal," which, most of us are pretty well convinced, should have blown it through the roof).

Finally, there's the re-election of George W. Bush, especially when you take into consideration that all the people who voted for him did so because they, as washed-in-the-blood Christians, want him to make sure there's nobody in Israel but Jews, otherwise the Messiah won't return there as foretold, possibly in Thessalonians.

You may think it's odd that the Jews buy into this, given that they don't believe the Messiah will return at all since he hasn't so far showed up at all. As far as they're concerned, when he comes it will be a first. You may also think it's odd that the Jews would buy into it since, if the neocons stay true to form, after the Messiah does come (or whatever), what do they figure their chances are of continuing to live in Israel. About what the Palestinians' chances were when the Jews took over?

Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones and Pat Robertson and their born-again, elected-again apostle Dubya, God's Chosen Instrument, plan to live there with them in harmony?

Keep your gas masks handy, you Israelis. Buy more duct tape.

The Rapture Index is clearly out of whack. Recalculating it to take developments such as these into account makes it obvious that the final day will be the one after tomorrow. (Thursday, Jan. 27.) For some of you, this is the news you've been longing to hear. For the rest of you, tough. You'll be holy toast.

Comment: All joking aside, there may be certain lessons contained within the Book of Revelations that do seem pertinent to our times.

Eschewing the over-zealous rantings of hardcore Biblical fundamentalists such as those at raptureready.com, even a cursory study of the many earth changes happening at present, and impending apocalyptic war in the Middle East does lend support to many of the so-called "prophecies" contained in the last book of the Bible.

Is it possible that the end-times stories were intentionally put in there by those with the knowledge of time and space, in order to achieve a certain outcome? Or perhaps the Book of Revelations can be seen as a message from our ancestors warning us a the cyclical nature of earthly catastrophes, and the political manifestations that accompany them?

In any case, it seems obvious that stories of four horsemen and a beast with seven heads are to be understood as symbols for certain events or "markers in time", and the interested reader may want to check out Bob Fraley's website, or this interesting and scholarly interpretation by Laura Knight-Jadczyk.

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Cheney's green parka and boots stand out
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Friday, January 28, 2005

OSWIECIM, Poland -- Vice President Dick Cheney's utilitarian hooded parka and boots stood out amid the solemn formality of a ceremony commemorating the liberation of Nazi death camps, raising eyebrows among the fashion-conscious.

Cheney replaced the zipped-to-the-neck green parka he sported in Thursday's blowing snow and freezing wind with a more traditional black coat - red tie and gray scarf showing underneath - for his tour of Auschwitz on Friday.

Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan described Cheney's look at the deeply moving 60th anniversary service as "the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower."

"Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood," Givhan wrote in Friday's Post, also mocking Cheney's knit ski cap embroidered with the words "Staff 2001" and his brown, lace-up hiking boots. "The vice president looked like an awkward child amid the well-dressed adults," she said.

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