Tuesday, February 01, 2005

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Picture of the Day

Yesterday, or the Day After Tomorrow?

A woman feeds birds from her frozen porch in Hull, Massachusetts. The town, about 20 miles southeast of Boston, is located on a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Boston Harbor.

 

Cold snap leaves 11 dead in Afghanistan
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Monday, January 31, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan -- At least six people died in a snow-covered camp for former Afghan refugees and another five died on a frozen highway after temperatures dropped below freezing, officials said Monday.

Afghans say this winter is the harshest for several years, bringing welcome snowfall after years of drought but also deadly conditions for motorists and impoverished former refugees living in makeshift shelters.

Six people, including four children, died in recent days in a camp housing returnees in the capital, Kabul, said Ahmad Shah Shokomand, a Health Ministry spokesman. Nighttime temperatures dropped as low as zero degrees in the city, compared to normal lows that hover around freezing, according to NATO peacekeepers.

On the icy highway between Kabul and Kandahar, two people were fatally injured in accidents and another three died of exposure Saturday after abandoning their vehicle to walk to a nearby town, said Gov. Khial Mohammed Husseini of Zabul province.

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'Unheard Of' Seismic Events Continue In Quake Areas
SIFY.com
Jan 29 2005

Unusual events "unheard of in the history of seismology" have been recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, with more than 120 such events being recorded in the last one month, according to seismologists.

The seismology department of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Earth Sciences Department of the Indian Institute of Technology here have recorded over 120 such unusual events in the islands following the December 26 earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale that triggered tsunamis which wreaked havoc in several parts of the country.

Of these events recorded at BARC's Gouribidnur station in Karnataka, at least 33 events were above 5 on the Richter scale, they said, adding "this is unusual and alarming as large amount of energy is being released so frequently."

Eleven events with surface wave of magnitude 5, indicating large amount of energy close to Nicobar Islands was also recorded, the seismologists said.

"Since yesterday, 16 events which range from 5.2 to 5.8 on the Richter scale have been recorded," they said.

Comment: See the USGS listing for the details of each quake.

"Whether these events are foreshocks or aftershocks - it is not clear, and has to be taken up seriously and the data analysed as fast as possible," the scientists said.

"Both 'strike slip and 'dip slip are taking place simultaneously and these factors have to be taken very seriously both by scientists and authorities," they added. [...]

Comment: There is at least one theory that may explain the string of large earthquakes...

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Another 5.6 Richter earthquake in Tsunami hit Nicobar Island

Something strange happening in the tectonic plates

India Daily
January 27, 2005

The bizarre pattern of aftershocks ranging between 5.2 and 6.2 Richter continues in the Tsunami hit Nicobar island of India. According to PTI, another earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale hit India's Nicobar Islands today, the Hong Kong Observatory said The earthquake was recorded at 0536 GMT with its epicenter about 345 kilometers northeast of Banda Aceh in Indonesia's Aceh province.

The tribal people are saying that many miles below the earth's surface, something is happening they never experienced before.

According to sources, the tectonic level disturbances based on recorded and plotted aftershock quakes, are very slowly moving northwards towards Assam in India.

A theory exist that says the recent massive earth quake in northeast of Banda Aceh in Indonesia's Aceh province really has its roots in the series of earthquakes in Assam over the last three years. It seems the Andaman plate line of 700 miles may be collapsing. That will be a much larger catastrophe. [...]

Comment: Whether or not the theory of the collapse of the Andaman plate is correct, the fact remains that there have been a huge number of 5.0 magnitude earthquakes. When one adds in other recent geological activity, such as the volcanic events at Mount St. Helens and numerous fireball sightings, it appears that we are all in for a very interesting ride.

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M5.8 earthquake jolts eastern Hokkaido
Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 04:52 JST
(Kyodo News)

SAPPORO — An earthquake registering a preliminary magnitude of 5.8, jolted eastern Hokkaido Monday evening, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the 6:39 p.m. quake. The quake measured 3 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Churui and Hiroo, the agency said.

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Earthquake jolts Indonesia's Aceh again
www.chinaview.cn 2005-01-31 17:09:59

JAKARTA, Jan. 31 (Xinhuanet) -- An earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale on Monday shook the tsunami-hit Indonesian province of Aceh, where more than 20 aftershocks have been reported since a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami on Dec. 26.

The tremor occurred at 10:08 local time (03:08 GMT) Monday and lasted for about 20 seconds, the provincial geophysics agency reported, as quoted by the Antara news agency.

The epicenter was located beneath the water off Sumatra island,about 30 km northwest of the Aceh provincinal capital of Banda Aceh.

The quake caused panic among residents but there was no report of casualty.

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Another quake jolts Wellington region
www.chinaview.cn
2005-02-01 08:40:31
WELLINGTON, Feb. 1 (Xinhuanet) -- An earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale struck the lower North Island of New Zealand at 6:31 a.m. (GMT 1731) Tuesday.

According to New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, the quake was centered 40 km southeast of Martinborough near Wellington, at a depth of 20 km. It was felt in the Wairarapa and Wellington regions.

The quake was the latest in a flurry of seismic activity in recent days.

This morning's quake was centered at the same location as sevenof ten quakes which shook the Wairarapa and Wellington in a ten-hour period on Jan. 18. The biggest measured 5.3.

A 5.5 magnitude quake centered near Upper Hutt, 30 km north of Wellington, struck on Jan. 21 - the largest in the region for nine years. It was quickly followed by a smaller quake, measuring 3.7.

On Jan. 28 the region was rocked by another small earthquake, measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale and centered within 30 km of Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast near Wellington.

Scientists in New Zealand record around 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 have a magnitude greater than 5.0.

The last fatal earthquake in the country, caught between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates, was in 1968 when an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale killed three people on the South Island's West Coast.

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Earthquake jolts Indonesia’s Java island
(AFP)
1 February 2005
JAKARTA - An earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale rocked Indonesia’s Java island early Tuesday but there were no reports of casualties or damage, seismologists said.

The undersea earthquake occurred at 03:21 am (2021 GMT Monday) with the epicentre 19 kilometers (12 miles) south of the town of Lumajang in East Java province, said Subagyo of the National Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of thousands of islands, lies at the junction of three major tectonic plates that cause frequent earthquakes and trigger regular volcanic eruptions.

A 9.0-strong earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island on December 26 produced tsunamis that left about 280,000 people missing or dead around the Indian Ocean.

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Bulgaria, Greece Rocked by Quakes
31 January 2005, Monday.

A light earthquake was registered in Bulgaria around midnight, the Seismological Centre at the Bulgarian Academy of Science reported.
The quake measured 2.8 on the Richter scale and its epicenter was located 180km southeast of Sofia.

There were no immediate reports of damages, the State Agency for Civil Protection informed. [...]

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New hot springs flow in wake of Palu earthquake
Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Palu

A new phenomenon has stunned the people of Central Sulawesi, in the wake of a recent 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the region.

New hot springs have emerged in Bobo subdistrict, Donggala regency, southeast of Palu, shortly after the quake jolted the area on Jan. 24.

The biggest hot spring had formed a pool 6 meters square, while dozens of smaller ones were also scattered around the subdistrict. Many residents were surprised to find water boiling up in the new springs with a distinct sulfuric odor. According to local residents, it takes just two minutes to poach an egg.

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Man feared dead after PNG volcano erupts
February 1, 2005 - 1:29PM
A volcano on the Papua New Guinea island of Manam is spewing lava, rocks and ash onto villages, leaving one man missing and several others injured, officials have said.

Hundreds of Manam islanders were evacuated to the mainland after the eruption early Friday.

At least one man is feared dead in the destruction.

"We believe he was buried by a lava flow," said Eric Ani, the director of the National Disaster Centre, in a telephone interview.

Several other villagers had been injured by falling rocks, he said.

"It rocked the whole island and sent rocks over the whole island as well. Rocks, some as big as footballs, falling onto houses and catching them on fire. It was quite devastating," Cabinet Minister Peter Barter told Radio New Zealand International.

Ani said the volcano had left a think blanket of ash covering the entire island, contaminating the water supply and making the island uninhabitable for its residents, who had been evacuated to Papua New Guinea's mainland.

"They will stay on the mainland for a while until we are sure they can return," Ani said.

Manam's first recorded eruption was in 1616, and it has erupted at least 30 times since.

The volcano has been erupting sporadically since last year. In November, hundreds of villagers were evacuated after it began spewing ash over the island.

The 1,807 metre volcano, about 650 km north of the capital, Port Moresby, is the most active in Papua New Guinea, which lies along the volcanic Pacific Ring of Fire and is dotted with active volcanoes.

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EBEKO VOLCANO AWOKE IN PARAMUSHIR ISLAND
YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, Feb. 1 (RIA Novosti, Pyotr Tsyrendorzhiyev)

The Ebeko volcano has awoken with a jolt at the North Kuril island of Paramushir in the Russian Far East.

According to the spokesperson for the Sakhalin Region's Main Civil Defense and Emergency Department, the seismic activity of the volcano has increased considerably and the temperature in its crater has risen, with the volcano being situated just 7 km away from the city of Severo-Kurilsk.

Ebeko's crater is trailing a steam plume about 500 m high, and sulphurous gas can be smelled in Severo-Kurilsk.

The state of the volcano indicates an eruption is possible in the near future, the press service reported. In such a case, ash fallout and eruptive tuffs might hit the city. A power generation plant and the central city hospital are within the danger zone.

The Ebeko volcano is 1,156 m high above sea level. Last time, it erupted between 1987 and 1990. The volcano erupts roughly every 10-30 years, the spokesperson said.

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ALASKA: VOLCANOES MONITORED
New York Times

Scientists are monitoring two volcanoes that the Alaska Volcano Observatory says could send dangerous ash into the air. Mount Spurr, 80 miles west of Anchorage across Cook Inlet, has been having daily small earthquakes since July after 12 years of inactivity. The observatory classifies it as Code Yellow, meaning an eruption is possible.

Mount Veniaminof, about 500 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula, changed from Code Green, or "dormant," to Code Yellow about Jan. 1. On Jan. 10, the observatory changed that to Code Orange, meaning "in eruption." Ash plumes from Mount Veniaminof can be seen on sunny days and have been photographed. Even when clouds obscure the summit, seismic records indicate the eruption is continuing, said John Power, a geophysicist at the observatory. (AP)

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ASH FELL VIC. EURASIA-LARGEST VOLCANO KLYUCHEVSKOY IN ERUPTION
PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Feb. 1 (RIA Novosti's Oksana Guseva)

Ash has fallen in the vicinity of the Eurasia-largest volcano, Klyuchevskoy, as a result of its eruption.

According to the Kamchatka experimental and procedures seismic station, the crater is ejecting steam and ash as high as up to 1 km. The plume has stretched out at more than 100 km in the northwestern direction.

Seismic stations near the volcano have registered high-frequency vibration. Video monitoring of the volcano is difficult because of its remoteness and adverse weather conditions. However, scientists think that the vibration was accompanied by a discharge of ash or a lava stream. Dark volcanic ash has fallen in the vicinity of Klyushevskoy.

According to Alexei Ozerov, senior researcher with the Volcanology and Seismology Institute of the Far Eastern Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the summit crater, which is about 700 m in diameter, is being filled with lava. The magnitude of the eruption that began on January 17 has been growing.

Summit crater eruptions normally last from a month to several years, posing a serious threat to domestic and international air services. Foreign object damage (FOD) to jet engines from volcanic ash particles that may be up to 2 mm in diameter can result in engine failure.

At present, the Klyuchevskoy volcano that is 4,822 m high does not jeopardize urban areas nearby, of which the town of Klyuchi 30 km away from the foot of the volcano is the closest one.

Comment: Volcanoes all around the Pacific Rim are rising from their sleep. This, coupled with the intense earthquake activity, suggests that something more is afoot than a series of isolated and individual events; it suggests that they may be related. Is this a possibility? You'd never see such a question posed in the mainstream press. Sure, the fundamentalists will talk about it as an indication that the "End Times" are upon us. Jesus is on his way back to rapture them out of here. But where are the scientific studies that should be done to understand this phenomenon?

Are they being done? Do some people know the answers while keeping them from the public because they are so frightened that society would shake to its roots?

The Earth evolves in cycles. One of these cycles appears to be of cataclysm. The ancient stories of the flood are a warning from our ancestors of great catastrophes of which they wished us to be aware. We have turned them into fairy stories. Official science does not admit of anything but slow, gradual evolution and change on the macrocosmic scale. Could the Earth be entering a period of upheaval? There are indications that this is the case.

We are neither seers nor fortune tellers. We have no crystal ball that will tell us the future. We study history in order to better understand current events, but we study history, at or least attempt to, without the blinders of people who believe they know the answers before they begin their research. Our study tells us that it doesn't look good. Signs like these may well be precursors of something ever more horrendous than the loss of a quarter of a million people in Southeast Asia in December. Are they? Time will tell. Until then, all we can do is keep our eyes open and continue watching the Signs.

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NASA Searches for a Snowball in Hell
Why Velikovsky Matters...Today More Than Ever
By MARK GAFFNEY

On January 12, 2005 NASA launched its latest space probe, Deep Impact, named after the recent Hollywood science fiction film. Recall, in the cliffhanger a team of courageous astronauts (led by tough guy, Robert Duvall) sacrifice their lives to deflect a speeding comet from its collision course with earth, thus saving human civilization from catastrophe. NASA's newest mission is also a last-ditch gambit, of sorts: an attempt to save the current comet model.

Open any astronomy book and you will read that comets are dirty snowballs - conglomerates of ancient rock and ice left over from the creation of the solar system. And it must be true, right? After all, it says so in the textbooks, and surely the university professors can't be wrong. The problem is that over the five decades since Fred Whipple first proposed the snowball model in 1950, neither NASA nor anyone has proved that comets are actually made of ice. Every time NASA scientists focus their instruments on the surface of comets, they see only rocky stuff. Comets look like asteroids. So, where's the ice? After failing repeatedly to find it, NASA has concluded that the ice must be hidden by surface dust, or is buried out of sight. Deep Impact will attempt to resolve this question by looking below the surface.

Next July, if all goes well, the unmanned Deep Impact spacecraft will rendezvous with a small comet named Tempel 1, not to avert a collision, but for the purpose of causing one. Once in position, the craft will send a 300 pound "impactor" - essentially a 3 foot diameter copper projectile - directly into the speeding comet's path. No nuke or explosive charge will be needed to blast a hole in the comet's surface. The comet's tremendous kinetic energy will do that. Tempel 1 is clipping along at an estimated 12 miles a second.

The plan is to study the 100-300-foot crater excavated by the collision. During its fly-by, the spacecraft will also gather spectroscopic data from the ejected gas, dust and debris. Much planning has gone into the selection of the impact site, to (hopefully) assure that the crater will be in full sunlight, instead of shadow. Comet Tempel 1 has an irregular shape - it is only about 5 miles in diameter. With a bit of luck, NASA's cameras will obtain a good look at the comet's freshly excavated surface. It will be the first time that NASA has actually probed the interior of a comet. NASA expects to confirm the presence of ice.

Will they find it?

For the answer we will have to wait until next summer. When the rendezvous happens - assuming things go according to plan - earth bound folks with binoculars will be treated to a show of celestial fireworks; although exactly how bright and visible the collision will be is open to question. The event will take place - believe it or not - on the fourth of July, independence day. One wonders if the neocons in Washington had something to do with this. At very least, the date shows the extent to which science has been politicized.

Snowball in Hell

But, somewhere, God must be laughing at us silly humans, because NASA has about as much chance of finding ice in Tempel 1 as the proverbial snowball in hell. It just ain't going to happen. There's too much contrarian evidence. It's been accumulating for years, and should have melted the ice model, long ago. Yet, NASA stolidly presses onward. The agency greets every new anomaly with ad hoc improvisations, and has gone to increasingly outlandish lengths to preserve its ice theory. Why? Answer: because so much hangs in the balance. The stakes are very high. More is involved than simply comets. At issue is the Red Shift, the expanding universe, the theory of black holes, and yes, even the big bang - all at risk if NASA's cometary house of cards comes crashing down.

To see why the ice model is wrong, let us look at several anomalies:

In 1991 Halley's Comet caused a stir by announcing itself from so far away - it was then between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. Halley's is one of the smaller comets, yet it became visible at fourteen times the distance of the earth from the sun, a fact that solar heating cannot explain. The standard explanation is that the sun's warmth is responsible for the cometary coma and tail. But at that enormous distance the sun was simply too faint.

Evidence of an even more remarkable phenomenon, the sunward spike - previously unknown - was first documented in a 1957 photograph of the Comet Arend-Roland. This stunning feature must be seen to be believed.

Over the years since the first sunward spike was photographed, dozens of other comets have been shown, at times, to display this amazing phenomenon. The spikes always point toward the sun. Yet, NASA has dismissed the photographic evidence - however compelling - as nothing but an optical illusion, an artifact, a play of light, etc. Obviously, NASA is in robust denial. Why? Sunward spikes are incompatible with the current ice model.

On May 1, 1996 the Ulysses spacecraft documented another previously unknown feature of comets, when it crossed the tail of Comet Hyakutake at a point more than 350 million miles from the comet's nucleus. The ephemeral tail, in other words, stretched across the equivalent of three and a half times Earth's distance from the sun - a number that is astonishing. The discovery was accidental - and wholly unexpected. Scientists had never guessed that comet tails were so long. Ulysses had been studying the solar wind, and so, had the necessary equipment on board to detect the ions typically associated with comets. The satellite also recorded the magnetic field directional changes that are associated with comet tails. Detailed analysis showed that both kinds of data were in agreement. For most scientists, this was enough to confirm the discovery. Notice, the remarkable tail length means that when Comet Hyakutake moved around the sun toward its minimum point (perihelion), the invisible portion of its tail arced across a vast reach of the solar system. The fact that the tail maintained its integrity at such extreme distance is incompatible with the standard view that the tail is composed of materials blown away from the nucleus. Something more is going on, here. The question is: What?

But the big event, also in 1996, was the discovery of X-rays coming from the head of Hyakutake. This discovery set the scientific world on its ear, because naturally occurring X-rays are associated with extreme temperatures: in the range of millions of degrees Kelvin. Yet, here they were coming from a supposed ball of ice. There was no immediate word from NASA about how or why an icy cold comet could produce X-rays. The discovery was the work of the German ROSAT satellite, and no mistake about it. During the next few years X-radiation was detected in half a dozen other cases, including the Comet Hale-Bopp.

Four years passed before NASA finally announced a solution to the puzzling anomaly. In April 2000, NASA conceded that extreme conditions are necessary for X-ray emission to occur. But, rather than call into question its own theory that comets are cold, NASA attempted to square the circle. The agency explained that the X-rays had been produced by the solar wind, which - it asserted - was merely an extension of the extremely hot solar corona. NASA's explanation explained nothing, and amounted to a contradiction, as any intelligent high school science student should have been able to judge. The official word showed that NASA was fumbling with a mystery it did not understand, grasping at air like a blind man trying to steady himself. (For NASA's official word go to http://spacescience.com/)

Next summer, when NASA fails to confirm the presence of ice in the nucleus of Tempel 1, the question that the space agency should have been asking in 1996 will become paramount. (Of course, this does not mean that NASA will come clean. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how far NASA is prepared to go to defend its ice model. Probably the contortions will continue. Not for no reason the agency acronym has been subject to redux: NASA - Never A Straight Answer.)

Everyone agrees that comets have an atmosphere. It is known as the coma, and has been shown to include significant amounts of water vapor, along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, gaseous hydrocarbons, and various other compounds. The proportions vary from comet to comet. The present model holds that the water comes from the cometary nucleus. The thinking is that the sun's warmth causes the icy head to sublimate, or out gas, and the solar wind pushes the vapors away in the amazing tail that has always been a source of wonderment and inspiration here on earth. No question, comets are beautiful to behold on a starry night. But neither NASA nor anyone has shown that the water actually comes from the nucleus. Such a deduction is understandable, but it remains unsupported by evidence, and it is almost certainly wrong. I have already cited the puzzling case of Halley's Comet, whose visibility at extreme distance was incompatible with solar warming. Here's the key question: If the head is NOT made of ice, how then to account for the known presence of water in the coma and tail? It's a safe bet that, next summer, NASA will have no answer to this simple question. After all, they couldn't explain the X-rays.

Not everyone was surprised by the discovery of X-rays. One astronomer named Jim McCanney actually predicted them. He did so as early as 1981 in a scientific paper first published in the journal Kronos. McCanney even urged NASA officials to look for X-rays when the agency was preparing a fly-by of Comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985. At the time, NASA's ISEE-3 satellite had already completed its original mission, and was being reprogrammed for comet study. The spacecraft had X-ray equipment on board, and McCanney urged NASA to use it. Instead, NASA shut down the equipment to conserve power. NASA's experts concluded that there was no point in leaving the X-ray detector on, since there couldn't possibly be X-rays coming from a cube of ice.

Fortunately, German scientists do not labor under NASA's ideological thumb. The Germans took McCanney's recommendation seriously. In 1990 they launched a satellite of their own, the Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT), which was equipped with an X-ray telescope. ROSAT continues to search the heavens for high frequency X-rays. Earth-based X-ray telescopes are not feasible, because earth's protective atmosphere absorbs X-radiation. This was the satellite that independently made the big discovery in 1996.

The Plasma Discharge Comet Model

McCanney is the originator of an alternative comet theory, what he calls the Plasma Discharge Comet Model. His model challenges several key assumptions current in today's science, which, he says, must be overturned to correctly understand the nature of comets and the workings of the solar system. One of these assumptions is that space is electrically neutral. "Not so," says McCanney. His comet model is, in fact, but a subset of a grander theory that describes the electrical nature of the sun. McCanney refers to it as the Solar Capacitor Model. He argues that most of the energy released by the sun - by far - is electrical, rather than in the visible spectrum. According to this view, the sunward spikes are titanic bolts of solar electricity, and comets are anything but cold. On the contrary, they are incredibly hot and fiery crucibles in which chemical and nuclear transmutations are occurring constantly.

McCanney thinks our earth and the other planets were originally comets that were drawn from their more elliptical orbits into more circular orbits. He is also quick to credit another maverick thinker who preceded him: Immanuel Velikovsky. In 1950 Velikovsky authored a controversial book, Worlds in Collision, in which he argued, among other things, that science had failed to account for the electromagnetic nature of comets. Even as the book topped the bestseller charts, several prominent figures in science, among them Carl Sagan, ridiculed Velikovsky and eventually succeeded in destroying his reputation. Velikovsky's name became almost synonymous with wacko nonsense. How ironic this is - because the 1996 discovery of cometary X-rays has made Velikovsky look like a prophet. If the Plasma Discharge Comet Model turns out to be correct, McCanney will earn his rightful place alongside Kepler, Galileo, and Newton; and the names Velikovsky and McCanney will be remembered long after NASA and Sagan have been forgotten.

Next time: Why it matters. How the Solar Capacitor Model could save our civilization from self-destruction - now imminent.

To be continued...

Comment: We do not know if the Solar Capacitor Model is a better model than the current model or not. However, it is clear that the current model doesn't work.

It might be inaccurate to propose a model where comets are all made of the same material. What if some are giant snow balls and others are not? In such a case, NASA might very well send Deep Impact towards a comet that was known to be made of ice in order to disappoint people such as Mr. Gaffney and make them look ridiculous. We agree with Gaffney that the work of Velikovsky on comets and catastrophes has been marginalised. We don't think that this was done for no reason.

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Focus On Our Magnetic Planet
Paris, France (ESA) Jan 25, 2005

Mission controllers cross their fingers whenever the Sun is stormy and their spacecraft have to fly over the South Atlantic. There, even satellites in low orbits suffer many hits by atomic bullets from the Sun.

Troublesome faults occur in electronic systems and astronauts see flashes in their eyes. The Earth's magnetic field, which shields our planet against charged atomic particles coming from outer space, is curiously weak in that region.

The South Atlantic Anomaly, as the experts call it, is one pressing reason why they are intensifying their exploration of the Earth's magnetism. Denmark's Orsted satellite, launched in 1999, is dedicated to magnetic research, whilst Germany's CHAMP mission (2000) measures both magnetism and gravity.

These satellites show that the danger zone for satellites over Brazil and the South Atlantic is growing wider towards the southern Indian Ocean.

The Earth's magnetic field is becoming generally weaker at an astonishing rate. When a French-Danish team compared Orsted's results for 2000 with those from an American satellite, Magsat, 20 years earlier, the decline in the field's strength suggested that it might disappear completely in a thousand years or so.

The experts wonder if our planet is preparing to swap its north and south magnetic poles around, as it has often done before during the Earth's long history.

These and other mysteries about our magnetic planet will get the closer attention they deserve, in ESA's forthcoming Swarm project. Three satellites will work together to measure the magnetic field and its variations far more accurately than ever before. [...]

Separating the different sources of magnetism

Ordinary magnetic compasses obey the main magnetic field, produced by electric currents in the Earth's core of molten iron. But in magnetic storms, compass needles wander.

Since the 19th Century scientists have linked these storms to eruptions on the Sun. Many space ventures, recently including the ESA-NASA SOHO spacecraft and ESA's four-satellite Cluster mission, have helped to clarify the solar connection.

We live in a protective bubble in space called the magnetosphere. At its boundary, gusts in a non-stop solar wind of atomic particles battle with the Earth's magnetism.

As a result, events in outer space make a continual but highly variable contribution to the magnetic field. So do electric currents in the ionosphere, the zone of free electrons and charged air molecules high in the atmosphere that's best known for reflecting radio signals.

Other, much weaker patterns are overlaid on the global picture. In the Earth's crust, many rocks have built-in magnetism that remembers the direction of the main magnetic field when they formed.

This affects the field measured locally. By its subtle east-west comparisons Swarm will picture the magnetic field of the crust with unprecedented clarity. And even ocean water generates electric currents as it move in the main field, so that the ebb and flow of the tides have a slight magnetic effect.

As gauged by the satellites, the main field is roughly 6,000 times stronger than the rock magnetism of the ocean floor, and 30,000 times greater than the influence of the oceanic tides.

Only with delicate measurements by satellite constellations, supported by ground stations, ships and aircraft carrying magnetic instruments, can scientists sort out all the patterns of magnetism from the different sources.

The most careful analyses reveal yet another effect. Magnetic variations drive electric currents in the mantle, the main region between the core and the crust. These in turn cause further magnetic changes, from which scientists can estimate the electrical conductivity of the mantle. This provides a check on the temperature of the material hidden deep in the Earth's interior.

"What excites us is the huge scope of what we can study even with quite small satellites," comments Nils Olsen of the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen, who analyses Orsted's results while he helps to plan Swarm.

"By making magnetic measurements in space we get new information about the Earth, from the molten core deep under our feet, through the mantle, to the crust on which we live. And then we go on upwards into the upper atmosphere, through the planet's local space environment, and all the way to the Sun itself, which is the source of daily magnetic disturbances."

Practical benefits

Solar storms can be fatal for satellites, and not only on account of radiation damage. The atmosphere inflates and low-orbiting spacecraft run into unexpected air resistance.

Experts used to think it was just a matter of the air being heated by particles and electric currents in the regions around the poles, where auroras occur.

Now a sensitive French-built accelerometer on the German CHAMP satellite has revealed heating by intense currents where the solar wind pushes towards the magnetic poles in daytime. The three Swarm satellites will investigate this new effect with accelerometers of their own.

Swarm's operational lifetime, 2009-13, will coincide with the next expected peak of storminess on the Sun. Immediate practical benefits will centre on Swarm's general monitoring of space weather, and the solar events affecting not just spacecraft and astronauts but technological systems on the ground as well.

Magnetic storms can damage power systems and pipelines, whilst the changes in the magnetic field can mislead any navigational systems that use magnetic compasses. These include compasses operating underground to guide the drills used to find and recover oil.

For scientists, the biggest benefit of Swarm is that high-quality magnetic measurements provide a new way of 'x-raying' the hidden interior of planet. Earthquake waves and variations in the strength of gravity already provide a picture of the hot core, the rocky mantle that surrounds it, and the ever-active crust. But the picture is not yet clear enough for scientists to agree how the internal machinery of the planet really works.

"Magnetic measurements give a fresh point of view on the Earth's interior," says Roger Haagmans, who is responsible for solid-Earth science in ESA's Earth Observation programme.

"And Swarm will also investigate the puzzling changes in the Earth's core that are responsible for the present weakening of the magnetic field. That's already a matter of practical concern for many satellite operators. With a better idea of the reasons, we may know what to expect in the busy decades of spaceflight that we have ahead of us."

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Gorbachev Calls Iraqi Elections "Fake"
MosNews
31.01.2005

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev called the Iraqi parliamentary elections a profanation.

In an interview with the Interfax news agency, he said the elections are "very far from what true elections are. And even though I am a supporter of elections and of the transfer of power to the people of Iraq, these elections were fake."

"I don't think these elections will be of any use. They may even have a negative impact on the country. Democracy cannot be imposed or strengthened with guns and tanks," the agency quoted Gorbachev as saying.

Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it respected the results of Iraq's elections. However, the statement said that it was important for the Iraqi people to acknowledge and accept the poll's results. Russian President Vladimir Putin also welcomed the parliamentary elections in Iraq, calling it a "step in the right direction" and a "positive event".

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Chirac congratulates Bush on Iraq election
AFP
January 31, 2005

PARIS - The Iraqi elections showed "the strategy of terrorist groups partly failed," French President Jacques Chirac told his US counterpart George W. Bush by telephone Monday, officials in Paris said.

The Sunday poll was "an important stage in the political reconstruction" of Iraq, Chirac told Bush in the 15-minute conversation, according to presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.

The French leader said the turnout and technical organisation of the elections was "satisfactory," he added.

Between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters were estimated to have cast ballots. The result of the elections would not be known for several days.

Chirac reiterated that France was ready to "cooperate with Iraq, especially by training security forces and senior civil servants." Paris has refused US pressure to carry out such training in Iraq itself, however.

After the elections, the focus in Iraq should be "including all groups that have renounced armed struggle" and drafting a constitution, Chirac said.

Bonnafont said that Chirac also took the opportunity to say to Bush that he was looking forward to seeing him over dinner when the US president visits Brussels February 21.

Paris and Washington have been making efforts of late to smooth over the dispute caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq. Relations are now cordial if tepid.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the Europe 1 radio station Monday that he and the rest of Chirac's government "don't regret anything" over the way they acted in relation to the war.

"We said what we believed and we are looking straight ahead," he said. He added that the Iraqi elections "were a victory for the Iraqi people and a first important step, which is indispensable for democracy and for the political process that we want to see and towards which we - I'm speaking of the international community - have been working for months."

But he also stressed that they now laid the ground for US and other foreign troops to leave Iraq.

"Frankly, the Americans want to exit this tragedy, this situation where their soldiers are dying," Barnier said. [...]

Comment: It is interesting that although the French government seems to be praising Bush and the US for the Iraqi election, they are basically saying, "Okay, election's over - nice job. So, when do you guys leave Iraq?"

As we reported yesterday, it seems that the real answer to that question is: not anytime soon.

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Why the US will not leave Iraq
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
01/31/05

Shi'ites will be in power in the Arab world for the first time in 14 centuries. So Iraqi elections are indeed historic. But it's not for US President George W Bush to proclaim Sunday's elections "a success", even before the results are known: it's for the Iraqi people, those who did and also those who did not vote. The undisputable fact is that apart from the Kurds - who since the first Gulf War in 1991 have lived under American protection - most Iraqis, Sunni or Shi'ite, voter or non-voter, in public or in private, blame the United States for the current chaos and their "liberation" from electricity, water, jobs and security. History may still reveal the case that Sunday's elections under occupation, with rules established by the occupier, suit everyone except the long-suffering 27 million Iraqis.

Up to 8 million Iraqis, about 60% of eligible voters, are believed to have voted nationwide, although this could not be verified. Voters in Shi'ite and Kurdish areas turned out in large numbers. The turnout in Sunni-dominated areas such as Fallujah and Mosul, where the insurgency is strongest, and where Sunni leaders had called for a boycott, was substantially lower.

The contenders

The White House, the Pentagon and the neo-conservatives were forced - by Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's brilliant brinkmanship - to accept these elections, in which a Shi'ite victory is assured. For many Iraqis, Sunni and Shi'ite, Washington's endgame is not withdrawal, but finding the right proxy government: only the naive may believe that an imperial power would voluntarily abandon the dream scenario of a cluster of military bases planted over virtually unlimited reserves of oil.

Washington doesn't even try to disguise it, and in Baghdad, US-appointed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is widely referred to as either "the man from the Americans" or "Saddam without a moustache". In these elections, where security was extremely tight - many candidates dared not appear in public for fear of being shot - Allawi benefited from three exclusive assets: name recognition; protection by 1,000 heavily armed guards; and US-sponsored saturation television exposure (although most Iraqis have no electricity at the moment). His campaign slogan was "A strong leader for a strong country". Allawi is a secular Shi'ite, but as a former Ba'athist, he also appeals to moderate Sunnis.

Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad suggest that the newly elected National Assembly and new government will be very similar to Allawi's: a mix of religious and secular parties, all of them led by former exiles. A "Sunni parliamentary quota" is almost inevitable, for two reasons: Sunni voter turnout was low; and Sunnis must be represented in the drafting of the new constitution. It's important to remember that the assembly itself will not write the new constitution; instead, it will supervise the drafting committee. So it's imperative that Sunnis are part of the committee, otherwise the constitution may be shot down in the four Iraqi provinces with a Sunni-majority when it is submitted for a referendum next September.

The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Sistani-blessed Shi'ite list that will capture most of the popular vote, has officially dropped its demand to negotiate the American departure. This essentially means, from many a Sunni point of view, that the Shi'ites will rely on the Americans to protect them from the Sunni resistance, both secular and Islamist - as well as from the hundreds of thousands of disgruntled, unemployed former Ba'athists who may or may not (yet) be part of the resistance.

Ibrahim Jaafari, the official spokesman of the Hezb al-Dawa al-Islamiya party, founded in 1957 (the oldest Iraqi Shi'ite party), the third most popular figure in Iraq after Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr, the No 2 at the UIA list and a serious contender for becoming the new prime minister, has already spelled it out: "If the US pulls out too fast there would be chaos." Jaafari, crucially, also enjoys a lot of respect by moderate Sunnis.

Current Finance Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, a former Maoist and Ba'athist turned free marketer, also a member of the UIA and strong contender for becoming premier, has repeatedly talked about "realistic thinking" in terms of securing Iraq. Mahdi is very close to some members of the White House's National Security Council.

And the prize goes to...

Shi'ites swamped the polls in part because Sistani told them it was a "religious duty" to vote. It's unclear how far the next Sistani-blessed government will go to dispel the widely-held Sunni perception of the elections as "a movie" directed by the Americans and packaged to the rest of the world. The Shi'ite leadership at the UIA cannot afford an enduring, widely held Sunni perception of a Washington-Shi'ite alliance. Things may get much worse. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the No 1 in the UIA list - who has ruled out becoming the new prime minister - was the leader of the Badr Brigades for almost 20 years. The Badr Brigades - trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards - were the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Now they're rebranded as the Badr Organization, a political party also represented in the UIA. One can imagine the volcanic possibility of the Badr Brigades being employed by the Shi'ites to fight the Sunni resistance.

Muqtada will immediately pounce at any suggestion of a Shi'ite cozying up to the Americans and denounce a Jaafari, Mahdi, or better yet Allawi II government as an American puppet. Sheikh Hassan al-Zarqani, the Sadrists' press officer, has already delivered the message in unmistakable terms: "The Iraqi people want a pullout timetable, security, job opportunities and social services. We will obey the new elected government if it serves the best interests of the Iraqi people. If not, we will be its arch enemies." [...]

Iraq's Arab neighbors, for their part (as well as American neo-conservatives) are afraid by the emergence of a so-called "Shi'ite crescent" of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah in Lebanon. What these anti-democratic Arab regimes - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, all of them American allies - fear is not only the specter of Bush-exported democracy, but first and foremost the Shi'ites in power. It's no secret that the Sunni resistance in Iraq gets a lot of help from inside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and especially Jordan. Washington insists "terrorists" move in total freedom from Syria to Iraq. This is false. Islamists cross the border from Jordan, with no hassle by American patrols, then take the highway to Baghdad.

The governments - not the people - of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all want the Americans to remain in Iraq. For their part, competing big powers Russia, China and the European Union are not exactly displeased to contemplate, from a distance, Bush and the neo-cons' clumsy attempts to replicate the British post-World War I empire in the Middle East.

It's the resistance, stupid

If the Sunni resistance is really 200,000-strong, as Iraq's chief spook has announced, it is the resistance that will have the last word. In a perverse twist of "reaping what you sow", American abuses in Iraq have reaped so such anger that nobody wants them to leave - even moderate Sunnis, because everyone fears total chaos. The Americans created the conditions for the emergence of a hardcore resistance. They created the conditions for the emergence of suicide bombers. And they created the conditions for staying: after all, now they need to engage in counterinsurgency. As the Iraqi Islamic Party, the biggest Sunni party puts it, even the resistance does not want the Americans to leave. What moderate Sunnis want to see is a detailed plan on the table, with fixed dates.

Americans - but not the rest of the world - are still unable to understand why the resistance has become so powerful. Every faction has its own reasons. Ba'athists are longing to recapture their lost power. Salafists want Iraq to be part of the new caliphate. Moderate Sunnis want the restoration of Sunni rule - which has always been the rule in Iraq. Iraqi nationalists want to kick the foreigners out - like they did with the Mongols, the Ottomans and the British. That's why the resistance is a relentless, ever-expandable proposition, but always under a unifying umbrella: to defeat the occupiers.

The Shi'ites may be on the brink of power after 14 centuries. Their premier electoral promise - later reneged - was to negotiate a total American withdrawal. If now their strategy is a "wait and see" - let's train Iraqi forces to fight the Sunni resistance and then we negotiate the American withdrawal - they may be in for a rude shock and awe.

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Iraq's electoral fiasco

By Mike Whitney
Date: Monday, January 31 @ 10:19:50 EST

The only way the Iraqi elections would have been interesting is if they'd stuck Saddam's name on the ballot. Then we could've seen whether the Iraqi people are sick enough of Bush's farce to want a return to the old order. Instead, we're left ferreting through reams of trivia to sort out what the voting really meant.

It's easier to figure out what it doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean that the water that has been off for 8 straight days in Baghdad will come on anytime soon. Nor does it mean that the sputtering electrical grid will work for more than 4 hours a day, or that anyone is going to clean up the raw sewage that's coursing through the streets in downtown Baghdad. And it certainly doesn't mean that the newly "elected" officials will have any real influence over borders, air space, oil extraction, economic policy, deployment of troops or any of the other powers we normally associate with sovereign leaders. (Even the ridiculously named Iraqi National Bank is completely owned by foreign investors) Those will still be in the hands of their US overlords. They will however, be frequently photographed by an enthusiastic media eager to display America's latest satraps to the world. And, they can also expect an engraved invitation to the upcoming State of the Union Speech, where they'll be showcased next to Crawford Laura in the front-row, upper-deck, like some exotic Amazonian bird captured in the wild. (The Bush people are very big on diversity.)

So, although the elections may be a meaningless exercise of imperial maneuvering, the coup was carried off with considerable skill.

For one thing, the western media proved, once again, its breathtaking range and ability. All the major televised media featured virtually the same lead without one dissonant voice. They praised the "brave Iraqis who put themselves at risk to enjoy the blessings of democracy". This "objective" account was accompanied by footage of mile-long lines of expectant Iraqis waiting to cast their first vote in free elections. No mention was made of the fact that (as Robert Fisk noted) that the world media was limited to exactly 5 polling stations that were secured by legions of troops and armored vehicles in predominantly Shiite areas to give the impression of widespread participation.

In keeping with the (Karl) Rovian philosophy of political hi-jinks, the streets were swept-clean, the cement barricades were hidden from view, and the rolls of razor-wire were scrupulously kept off camera. All signs of city under siege were effectively concealed. It was a solid effort on the part of the White House producers who slapped this comedy together. Particularly admirable were the scenes of enraptured Iraqis waving flags and gyrating with abandon on the streets of Baghdad. What American could watch such a heartwarming demonstration of elation and not feel choked-up by the great gift Bush has bestowed on these simple people.

Alas, it was all a hoax as well. As Robert Fisk opines in his latest article in the UK Independent, he stumbled on "three truckloads of youths, all brandishing Iraqi flags-like the unemployed who have been sticking posters to Baghdad's walls-paid by the government to 'advertise' the election. And there was a cameraman from state television."

"Paid by the government"?

Ah-ha! Yet another public relations ploy like the carefully choreographed toppling of Saddam in Fidros Square, or the staged landing of "Top-Gun" Georgie B. on the USS Lincoln; this time arranged and financed by ex-CIA operative (and former Saddam agent) Iyad Allawi.

Shame, shame, shame!...but, good theatre none the less. And, besides, the charges of fraud won't be forthcoming anytime soon. For now, the balloting is being celebrated by the media as another positive step towards the anticipated "transfer of power". Just listen to the unanimity of the approbation from the press: "Iraqis Brave Bombs to vote in Millions" MSNBC... "This is Democracy!" Reuters... "Brave Voters defy Rebels" NY Post... "Iraqis begin Historic Vote" Washington Times.

Anyway, you get the idea. A quick perusing of Google headlines produces 1,468 stories with nearly identical bylines. The western press is either besotted with Iraq's "alleged" metamorphosis or they're getting their marching orders from "Sec-Def" at the Pentagon. Either way, don't waste your time looking for divergent points of view in the establishment media. Anything that fails to harmonize with the Conquistador agenda has been conscientiously extracted by the roots.

NYT's profound remorse for the deceased

The "Paper of Record" gave its typically glib assessment of the elections by noting "a comparatively peaceful day of voting". In the parlance of the New York Times that means that only 41 Iraqis will killed; "chump-change" for America's prodigious war-machine, unless, of course, you happen to be the unhappy wife or child who just lost your father or brother to a nervous Marine with a hair-trigger finger. In any event that's not the business of the NYTs. They've got a war to cover and (like Tommy Franks says) they don't do body counts.

Similarly, Corporate George added his voice to the chorus of praise with his characteristic chest-thumping, "I-told-you-so" rhetoric saying "The people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East....Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy, but we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them." And, Blah, blah, blah; like the shallow whistling of hot air emerging from a flat tire.

George W. may be crowing "victory" a bit prematurely. Iraq is not quite ready for the trophy-case along side Bush's Warlord-dominated, drug-colony, Afghanistan. And, despite the celebratory braying from the obsequious press, 20% of the population boycotted the elections, and that 20% (Sunnis) have ruled Iraq as long as anyone can remember. They'll have their say before the day is done.

Bush can revel in his Pyrrhic victory; everyone enjoys seeing happy, ballot-clutching folks mugging for the cameras. But, beyond the circumscribed range of the media, the fighting rages on.

Attacks on the polls occurred in Baghdad, Balad, Basra, Baquba, Hilla, Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, Al-Duluiya, Al-Mhawil, Al Muqtadiya and Samarra. This is the tragic litany of the Torturer-in-Chief's ongoing depredations in Iraq; a list that will be faithfully excluded from today's festive coverage of election results. Reality rarely intrudes into the bubble of managed perceptions that encloses the American public. Today will be no different.

The suffering, torture and death unleashed by America's blundering military campaign have been temporarily suspended to rejoice in this moment of unalloyed, Orwellian ecstasy. Bush has acquired his fig leaf of legitimacy and the rudiments of a client regime that will assist him in his long-range goals, but at what cost to both Iraq's future and America's prestige. The desperation of this electoral fiasco is reminiscent of a skydiver grasping at a frayed ripcord as he tumbles downward through the ether.

There's a hard landing ahead.

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The Phony Vote
January 31, 2005

It doesn’t matter how many people voted yesterday in Iraq. In the end, the Iraqi parliament that results from yesterday's vote will be illegitimate, having been elected under the guns of U.S. soldiers. The triumphalism of the Bush administration aside, the new Iraqi regime will have no more credibility than the Iraqi Governing Council, set up by the United States in 2003, or the ersatz government of Prime Minister Allawi, appointed in 2004.

My favorite quote from today’s coverage of the election comes from the Post . It’s the story of a U.S. Army company in Mosul, in a Sunni area where no one bothered to vote:

Instead of protecting voters on the periphery of the polling sites, as occurred in most areas, the company’s platoons spent much of the day on raids in which they would burst into homes in search of insurgents, only to wind up urging the occupants to vote.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is working hard to push Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda man in Iraq, out front as the spokesman for the resistance in Iraq. Nearly all intelligence analysts agree that he is a minor player, except for organizing the suicide bombs that kill people for no reason. The real resistance—the resistance that attacks the U.S. occupation forces with roadside bombs, mortars and organized, platoon-style actions—is made up of ex-Baath and Sunni forces, and they are likely to gain strength once the results of the election are known. It will be a victory for obscurantist Ayatollah Sistani and his pet mullah, Abdel Aziz Hakim, the cleric who headed Sistani’s election list. A Shiite fundamentalist majority in Iraq’s new parliament, with a counterpoint of independence-minded Kurds, is not likely to win favor among Iraq’s Sunnis.

The Post quotes James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a poll analyst with Zogby International, to wit:

He compared Iraq’s election to the 1860 U.S. election, which paved the way for the Civil War after Abraham Lincoln won—and South Carolina seceded. “This election could exacerbate the divide,” Zogby said. “You can’t have 20 percent of the population feel disenfranchised.”

One other thing: To take the parallel further, Sistani is no Lincoln.

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The Staged Elections of 2005
Ghali Hassan
January 31, 2005 - ICH

Like the US elections of November 2004, the Iraqi “elections” of 2005 have received great deal of propaganda in Western and American mainstream media. Like the elections of November 2004, the elections of January 2005 are “non-elections”. They are US-crafted to “legitimise” and keep the same system in place. These elections bring no benefits to the people of Iraq. They are part of an imperial design to keep Iraq in foreign hands. They are staged elections.

Staged elections are directed at the peoples of the West, and particularly, the American people. The Iraqi people know that these elections are a sham designed to keep them forever poor, without civil and public services, and subjected them to foreign domination. They know that these elections are to legitimise the Occupation, not for the sake of “democracy”. For elections are not an end, they are part of a process. These elections show the naked and corrupt character of western democracy when packaged and forced on peoples in the Developing World.

From the beginning, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq. The Bush administration picked up a stooge and appointed him as “prime minister” in place of democracy. The Bush administration “stifled, delayed, manipulated and otherwise thwarted the democratic aspiration of the Iraqi people,” writes Canadian journalist and author, Naomi Klein. It was Washington who replaced the process of democracy with violence.

The only legitimate elections under foreign occupation must be in the form of a referendum on whether or not to end the US occupation. The Iraqi people have been denied this important choice. Instead, the Iraqi people were treated to the charade of fake democracy. “That democracy has been denied in Iraq is beyond question”, writes John Nichols of The Nation. The Occupation will continue, “as democracy takes hold in Iraq, America's mission there will continue”, as part of controlling the oil reserves and establishing military bases against the wishes of the Iraqi people who rejected the elections and stayed indoors.

It was hardly the elections’ day people are used to. It was a day of war, similar to the first day of that illegal US war of aggression. Iraqis cuddled their children and stayed home praying for food, water and electricity. Unless paid by Allawi’s gang and loaded on trucks with Iraqi flags, most Iraqis ignored this “American movie”. The veteran journalist, Robert Fisk, of The Independent writes, “Many Iraqis do not know the names of the candidates, let alone their policies, [because it was secret]. But there will be democracy in Iraq”, the democracy of enslavement to US imperialism.

Are there any doubts that, the US-created stooge, Iyad Allawi, will not continue his current position of Occupation spokesman? According to the Washington Post, Allawi’s gang threatened Iraqis if they do not vote (for Allawi), they will not get their monthly food rations, the miracle of Saddam, which is keeping the Iraqi people out of starvation.

Under these elections, Iraqis had two choices, lose your card (Saddam's old food-distribution cards) and starve, or go out and vote for the fraudulent elections. About 3 million Iraqis were forced to venture out of their homes to vote in the mid of violence. It is this violence that will keep Allawi and his masters in their positions. These are truly “historic elections” for the US dream of “spreading democracy”.

Contrary to western media, the elections were a sham and most Iraqis boycotted them. Heavily fortified polling centres were deserted and streets empty as Iraqis stayed home on Sunday, too frightened or angry to vote in these elections. Over 40 percent of the Iraqi population live in the four provinces that boycoted the US-crafted elections and rejected the Occupation. Furthermore, according to Al-jazeera, “voter turnout in Baghdad was poor, especially in the al-Yarmuk, al-Amiriya, and al-Adhamiya districts - the main population centres in central and western Baghdad”. The same was in Samarra, a city of 200,000 people.

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that of the 4 million Iraqis living outside Iraq, only 280,303 people registered to vote. Imagine what the numbers are like inside Iraq. “It was hard to describe the vote as legitimate, when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote”, Democrat Senator John Kerry, warned. In a word, the elections were illegitimate and do not represent the Iraqi people. Peoples of the West, and particularly, the American people should be ashamed of this travesty of democracy imposed on other peoples in their name.

Staged elections are not new. They are “demonstration elections” and have been around for a long period of time. From Vietnam in the 1960s to the recent Afghanistan elections. “The purpose of these elections - crafted by the US - was to persuade US citizens and especially Congress that we were invading these countries and supporting a savage war against government opponents at the invitation of a legitimate, freely elected government. The main purpose of a demonstration election is to legitimise an invasion and occupation, not to choose a new government”, wrote Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.

For the Americans, “what happens before or after the elections concerns them not one iota. What matters is that the elections become a good PR exercise for the Bush administration”, Wamid Nadhim of Baghdad University told Al-Ahram Weekly. Furthermore, these elections are also seen as an excuse for Tony Blair and other “coalition of the willing” leaders to justify their support for Washington’s illegal war of aggression and occupation.

Like the war, these staged elections are illegal and against Iraq’s interests. Peoples in the “civilised” world should reject these elections, demand the immediate withdraw of US forces from Iraq and the liberation of the Iraqi people.

If George Bush is smart enough, he can use these “historic elections”, as an “exit strategy”, and withdraws his army from Iraq. The Iraqi people will remember the elections that guaranteed them freedom and liberty from foreign occupation.

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The Vietnam turnout was good as well
Sami Ramadani
The Guardian
Tuesday February 1, 2005

No amount of spin can conceal Iraqis' hostility to US occupation

On September 4 1967 the New York Times published an upbeat story on presidential elections held by the South Vietnamese puppet regime at the height of the Vietnam war. Under the heading "US encouraged by Vietnam vote: Officials cite 83% turnout despite Vietcong terror", the paper reported that the Americans had been "surprised and heartened" by the size of the turnout "despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting". A successful election, it went on, "has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam". The echoes of this weekend's propaganda about Iraq's elections are so close as to be uncanny.

With the past few days' avalanche of spin, you could be forgiven for thinking that on January 30 2005 the US-led occupation of Iraq ended and the people won their freedom and democratic rights. This has been a multi-layered campaign, reminiscent of the pre-war WMD frenzy and fantasies about the flowers Iraqis were collecting to throw at the invasion forces. How you could square the words democracy, free and fair with the brutal reality of occupation, martial law, a US-appointed election commission and secret candidates has rarely been allowed to get in the way of the hype.

If truth is the first casualty of war, reliable numbers must be the first casualty of an occupation-controlled election. The second layer of spin has been designed to convince us that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis participated. The initial claim of 72% having voted was quickly downgraded to 57% of those registered to vote. So what percentage of the adult population is registered to vote? The Iraqi ambassador in London was unable to enlighten me. In fact, as UN sources confirm, there has been no registration or published list of electors - all we are told is that about 14 million people were entitled to vote.

As for Iraqis abroad, the up to 4 million strong exiled community (with perhaps a little over 2 million entitled to vote) produced a 280,000 registration figure. Of those, 265,000 actually voted.

The Iraqi south, more religious than Baghdad, responded positively to Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani's position: to call the bluff of the US and vote for a list that was proclaimed to be hostile to the occupation. Sistani's supporters declared that voting on Sunday was the first step to kicking out the occupiers. The months ahead will put these declarations to a severe test. Meanwhile Moqtada al-Sadr's popular movement, which rejected the elections as a sham, is likely to make a comeback in its open resistance to the occupation.

The big vote in Kurdistan primarily reflects the Kurdish people's demand for national self-determination. The US administration has hitherto clamped down on these pressures. Henry Kissinger's recent proposal to divide Iraq into three states reflects a major shift among influential figures in the US who, led by Kissinger as secretary of state, ditched the Kurds in the 70s and brokered a deal between Saddam and the Shah of Iran.

George Bush and Tony Blair made heroic speeches on Sunday implying that Iraqis had voted to approve the occupation. Those who insist that the US is desperate for an exit strategy are misreading its intentions. The facts on the ground, including the construction of massive military bases in Iraq, indicate that the US is digging in to install and back a long-term puppet regime. For this reason, the US-led presence will continue, with all that entails in terms of bloodshed and destruction.

In the run-up to the poll, much of the western media presented it as a high-noon shootout between the terrorist Zarqawi and the Iraqi people, with the occupation forces doing their best to enable the people to defeat the fiendish, one-legged Jordanian murderer. In reality, Zarqawi-style sectarian violence is not only condemned by Iraqis across the political spectrum, including supporters of the resistance, but is widely seen as having had a blind eye turned to it by the occupation authorities. Such attitudes are dismissed by outsiders, but the record of John Negroponte, the US ambassador in Baghdad, of backing terror gangs in central America in the 80s has fuelled these fears, as has Seymour Hirsh's reports on the Pentagon's assassination squads and enthusiasm for the "Salvador option".

An honest analysis of the social and political map of Iraq reveals that Iraqis are increasingly united in their determination to end the occupation. Whether they participated in or boycotted Sunday's exercise, this political bond will soon reassert itself - just as it did in Vietnam - despite tactical differences, and despite the US-led occupation's attempts to dominate Iraqis by inflaming sectarian and ethnic divisions.

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Iraq vote brawl erupts in Sydney
Monday 31 January 2005, 9:01 Makka Time, 6:01 GMT

Shotgun blasts have wounded four people after tensions linked to the Iraq election boiled over into a street brawl involving around 100 Iraqi expatriates in Sydney, police say.

Some Iraqis in Australia question the legitimacy of the election, saying their homeland is under occupation and jeering at voters who cast absentee ballots.

Fights broke out on Saturday and on Sunday in a western Sydney neighbourhood dominated by Iraqi Shia, police said on Monday. 

Sunday's fight resulted in several shotgun blasts, damaging several cars and a shop in the Auburn neighbourhood and leaving four people with minor ricochet wounds, said New South Wales state police Superintendent Allen Harding.

No charges

No charges were immediately filed, police said. "The past weekend has seen an escalation in tension between members of the Iraqi community here in Auburn," Harding said.

Voting hours were extended at the Auburn polling centre, one of five in Sydney, on Saturday and Sunday after a brawl and a bomb scare halted voting for an hour.

Despite the disruptions, officials said 94.6% of the 11,806 voters registered in Australia cast their ballots over three days.

Saturday's clash involving about 50 people erupted when about 20 protesters yelled insults at voters. The protesters were identified by ballot organisers as Wahhabis - followers of an austere brand of Sunni Islam.

Pictures taken

Police were called but there were no arrests and no reports of injuries. A backpack found near the polling centre after the fighting ended sparked a bomb scare and the place was closed, but no bomb was found.

Thair Wali, an Iraqi adviser to the International Organisation for Migration, said the fight broke out on Saturday after the protesters began taking pictures of voters leaving the station.

"This is scary for the people, taking photos of the voting," he said. Many of Australia's estimated 80,000 Iraqis declined to register for the election, fearing that their votes would prompt armed groups to target their relatives in Iraq.

Australia is one of 14 countries where Iraqi exiles were able to vote by absentee ballot. [...]

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US guards kill Iraqi inmates in riot
Tuesday 01 February 2005, 2:09 Makka Time, 23:09 GMT

US guards have opened fire on prisoners during a riot at a main detention facility, killing four detainees, the US command says.

Six other prisoners were injured in the Monday riot that broke out shortly after noon at the Camp Bucca Theatre Internment Facility near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

The US command statement said the riot occurred after a routine search for contraband in one of the camp's 10 compounds, and "resulted from both the use of force to control the situation and from violence by other detainees within the camp during the riot".

"The cause of the riot and use of lethal force is currently under investigation by the chain of command and the US army's Criminal Investigations Division, which is standard procedure whenever a detainee death occurs," the statement added.

Riot quickly spread

"The riot quickly spread to three additional compounds, with detainees throwing rocks and fashioning weapons from materials inside their living areas." the statement said. "Guards attempted to calm the increasingly volatile situation using verbal warnings and, when that failed, by use of non-lethal force.

"After about 45 minutes of escalating danger, lethal force was used to quell the violence," the statement added.

The command said names of those who died are being provided to the Iraqi government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The US military says it holds an estimated 7000 security detainees, with 4700 of those held at Camp Bucca and 2300 at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

Comment: Gee, it is good to know that the incident is being investigated... like the bombings of mistaken targets and the torturing of prisoners.

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Post-poll attacks kill three US marines
Monday 31 January 2005, 23:59 Makka Time, 20:59 GMT

Three US marines were killed in combat south of Baghdad, the US military said in a statement on Monday.

"Three US marines were killed in action and two others wounded on 31 January while conducting security and stability operations in northern Babil Province," the statement said.
 
The latest deaths marked the first fatalities reported by the US military since polls closed in Iraq's elections on Sunday. [...]

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Poland to withdraw 800 troops from Iraq
www.chinaview.cn 2005-02-01 08:49:02
WARSAW, Jan. 31 (Xinhuanet) -- Poland will withdraw 800 troops from Iraq by the end of February as part of its plans to reduce military presence in the country following Iraqi elections, a top official said Monday.

The withdrawal will be completed by the end of February, said Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski. He also said the government will evaluate the situation in Iraq in February and March, and decide the future of the remaining Polish troops in the country.

Poland, a staunch US ally in Iraq, currently has 2,400 troops and also leads a multinational force in Iraq. It has said it will pull all its forces out of the country by the end of the year.

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U.S. Judge: Guantanamo Suspects Have Rights

By James Vicini
Reuters
Jan 31, 12:05 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON - A U.S. judge dealt a setback to the Bush administration and ruled on Monday that the Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspects can challenge their confinement and the procedures in their military tribunal review process are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green said the prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have constitutional protections under U.S. law.

"The court concludes that the petitioners have stated valid claims under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the procedures implemented by the government to confirm that the petitioners are 'enemy combatants' subject to indefinite detention violate the petitioners' rights to due process of law," Green wrote.

More than 540 suspects are being held at Guantanamo after being detained during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and in other operations in the U.S. war on terrorism. They are al Qaeda suspects and accused Taliban fighters. The ruling pertained to only 50 detainees. [...]

At issue in the ruling was the July 7, 2004, order by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz creating a military tribunal -- called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- to check the status of each Guantanamo detainee as an "enemy combatant."

The procedures used for the tribunals "are unconstitutional for failing to comport with the requirements of due process," Green concluded.

She said the procedures failed to give the detainees access to material evidence and failed to let lawyers help them when the government refused to disclose classified information.

The main part of her ruling held the suspects can challenge their confinement and rejected the government's position that all the cases must be dismissed.

"Of course, it would be far easier for the government to prosecute the war on terrorism if it could imprison all suspected 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay without having to acknowledge and respect any constitutional rights of detainees," Green said.

"Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats, that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over two hundred years," Green said.

"In sum, there can be no question that the Fifth Amendment right asserted by the Guantanamo detainees in this litigation -- the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law -- is one of the most fundamental rights recognized by the U.S. Constitution," she said.

Green also ruled that some of the suspects have brought valid claims under the Geneva Convention, the international treaty protecting the rights of prisoners of war.

A group of attorneys representing some of the suspects hailed the ruling. "Now it's time for this administration to act," they said in a statement. "Today's decision is a momentous victory for the rule of law, for human rights, and for our democracy."

Green's 75-page opinion was the unclassified version and stemmed from 11 cases involving Guantanamo prisoners.

Her ruling probably will not be the final word on the issue. A different federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19 dismissed the cases of seven Guantanamo prisoners on the grounds they had no recognizable constitutional rights and were subject to the military review process.

The cases could be appealed to the U.S. appeals court, and then ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comment: 50 detainees? The ruling could hardly be called a victory...

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First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say
By BEN FELLER, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON - The way many high school students see it, government censorship of newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly protected free speech.

It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.

The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

"These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous," said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study. "Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation's future."

The students are even more restrictive in their views than their elders, the study says.

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.

The results reflected indifference, with almost three in four students saying they took the First Amendment for granted or didn't know how they felt about it. It was also clear that many students do not understand what is protected by the bedrock of the Bill of Rights.

Three in four students said flag burning is illegal. It's not. About half the students said the government can restrict any indecent material on the Internet. It can't.

"Schools don't do enough to teach the First Amendment. Students often don't know the rights it protects," Linda Puntney, executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said in the report. "This all comes at a time when there is decreasing passion for much of anything. And, you have to be passionate about the First Amendment."

The partners in the project, including organizations of newspaper editors and radio and television news directors, share a clear advocacy for First Amendment issues.

Federal and state officials, meanwhile, have bemoaned a lack of knowledge of U.S. civics and history among young people. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has even pushed through a mandate that schools must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17, the date it was signed in 1787.

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.

The study suggests that students embrace First Amendment freedoms if they are taught about them and given a chance to practice them, but schools don't make the matter a priority.

Students who take part in school media activities, such as a student newspapers or TV production, are much more likely to support expression of unpopular views, for example.

About nine in 10 principals said it is important for all students to learn some journalism skills, but most administrators say a lack of money limits their media offerings.

More than one in five schools offer no student media opportunities; of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated them in the last five years.

"The last 15 years have not been a golden era for student media," said Warren Watson, director of the J-Ideas project at Ball State University in Indiana. "Programs are under siege or dying from neglect. Many students do not get the opportunity to practice our basic freedoms."

Comment: You hear about the dumbing down of the American public. This article is an excellent example of what it means. Obviously, the more sophisticated reader is aware of the old adage about freedom of the press for those who own them and understands the implications of monopoly corporate control over the airwaves and newspapers. But this level of awareness is far beyond that of the students who responded to this poll.

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Many Unhappy Returns
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: February 1, 2005
The fight over Social Security is, above all, about what kind of society we want to have. But it's also about numbers. And the numbers the privatizers use just don't add up.

Let me inflict some of those numbers on you. Sorry, but this is important.

Schemes for Social Security privatization, like the one described in the 2004 Economic Report of the President, invariably assume that investing in stocks will yield a high annual rate of return, 6.5 or 7 percent after inflation, for at least the next 75 years. Without that assumption, these schemes can't deliver on their promises. Yet a rate of return that high is mathematically impossible unless the economy grows much faster than anyone is now expecting.

To explain why, I need to talk about stock returns. The yield on a stock comes from two components: cash that the company pays out in the form of dividends and stock buybacks, and capital gains. Right now, if dividends and buybacks were the whole story, the rate of return on stocks would be only 3 percent.

To get a 6.5 percent rate of return, you need capital gains: if dividends yield 3 percent, stock prices have to rise 3.5 percent per year after inflation. That doesn't sound too unreasonable if you're thinking only a few years ahead.

But privatizers need that high rate of return for 75 years or more. And the economic assumptions underlying most projections for Social Security make that impossible.

The Social Security projections that say the trust fund will be exhausted by 2042 assume that economic growth will slow as baby boomers leave the work force. The actuaries predict that economic growth, which averaged 3.4 percent per year over the last 75 years, will average only 1.9 percent over the next 75 years.

In the long run, profits grow at the same rate as the economy. So to get that 6.5 percent rate of return, stock prices would have to keep rising faster than profits, decade after decade.

The price-earnings ratio - the value of a company's stock, divided by its profits - is widely used to assess whether a stock is overvalued or undervalued. Historically, that ratio averaged about 14. Today it's about 20. Where would it have to go to yield a 6.5 percent rate of return?

I asked Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, to help me out with that calculation (there are some technical details I won't get into). Here's what we found: by 2050, the price-earnings ratio would have to rise to about 70. By 2060, it would have to be more than 100.

In other words, to believe in a privatization-friendly rate of return, you have to believe that half a century from now, the average stock will be priced like technology stocks at the height of the Internet bubble - and that stock prices will nonetheless keep on rising.

Social Security privatizers usually defend their bullishness by saying that stock investors earned high returns in the past. But stocks are much more expensive than they used to be, relative to corporate profits; that means lower dividends per dollar of share value. And economic growth is expected to be slower.

Which brings us to the privatizers' Catch-22.

They can rescue their happy vision for stock returns by claiming that the Social Security actuaries are vastly underestimating future economic growth. But in that case, we don't need to worry about Social Security's future: if the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current system sound for generations to come.

Alternatively, privatizers can unhappily admit that future stock returns will be much lower than they have been claiming. But without those high returns, the arithmetic of their schemes collapses.

It really is that stark: any growth projection that would permit the stock returns the privatizers need to make their schemes work would put Social Security solidly in the black.

And I suspect that at least some privatizers know that. Mr. Baker has devised a test he calls "no economist left behind": he challenges economists to make a projection of economic growth, dividends and capital gains that will yield a 6.5 percent rate of return over 75 years. Not one economist who supports privatization has been willing to take the test.

But the offer still stands. Ladies and gentlemen, would you care to explain your position?

Comment: After Enron, WorldCom, the California energy "shortage", 9/11, Afghanistan, Saddam's WMD, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention two stolen elections the neo-con artists are now turning their attention to the Social Security program.

Yet another way to transfer the money of the ordinary American into the pockets of the military-industrial complex.

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Healthcare Overhaul Is Quietly Underway
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Mon Jan 31, 7:55 AM ET

WASHINGTON — Emboldened by their success at the polls, the Bush administration and Republican leaders in Congress believe they have a new opportunity to move the nation away from the system of employer-provided health insurance that has covered most working Americans for the last half- century.

In its place, they want to erect a system in which workers — instead of looking to employers for health insurance — would take personal responsibility for protecting themselves and their families: They would buy high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policies to cover major medical needs, then pay routine costs with money set aside in tax-sheltered health savings accounts.

Elements of that approach have been on the conservative agenda for years, but what has suddenly put it on the fast track is GOP confidence that the political balance of power has changed. [...]

Supporters of the new approach, who see it as part of Bush's "ownership society," say workers and their families would become more careful users of healthcare if they had to pay the bills. [...]

Critics say the Republican approach is really an attempt to shift the risks, massive costs and knotty problems of healthcare from employers to individuals. And they say the GOP is moving forward with far less public attention or debate than have surrounded Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security.

Indeed, Bush's health insurance agenda is far more developed than his Social Security plans and is advancing at a rapid clip through a combination of actions by government, insurers, employers and individuals.

Health savings accounts, known as HSAs, have already been approved. They were created as a little-noticed appendage to the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill. [...]

"Portability" was a key feature of President Clinton's ill-fated healthcare reform plan. But the GOP approach is significantly different: Whereas Clinton would have required all employers to chip in for universal health insurance, Bush wants to leave responsibility primarily to individuals.

"This is certainly getting a lot of attention from employers," said Jack Rodgers, a healthcare analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

One reason is potential cost savings to employers.

A typical catastrophic health insurance plan carries an annual deductible of about $1,600 for an individual when purchased through a large employer. That means the worker pays the first $1,600 of healthcare expenses each year. By contrast, under the more comprehensive, employer-provided health insurance programs common today, the company begins to pay after about $300 in expenses have been incurred. Deductibles for families are considerably higher under both types of plans. [...]

The California Medical Assn. supports a plan that would require all residents of the most populous state to carry at least high-deductible coverage — just as automobile liability insurance is often mandatory. White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush was not contemplating such a requirement at the federal level.

But the existence of health savings accounts may make it easier to enact state mandates such as the California proposal.

Despite the record federal budget deficit, Bush on Wednesday proposed additional tax breaks and subsidies for HSAs, particularly for low-income families. He also called for a tax credit to help small businesses offer the plans to their employees. The low-income aid would be worth a maximum of $3,000 per family.

"Health savings accounts all aim at empowering people to make decisions for themselves, owning their own healthcare plan," the president said. Consumer- driven decision-making is more likely to control costs than having bills paid by a third party, such as an employer, he added. [...]

Critics say that Bush's vision represents wishful thinking at best, and at worst, a perilous new direction in national health policy.

"One danger with this is that people will not get needed care because they want to save a few thousand bucks," said Rep. Pete Stark, a leading lawmaker on healthcare.

"Healthcare isn't like buying a Chevrolet," Stark added, disputing Bush's assertion that individual patients can be empowered to control costs. "You can go to Consumer Reports and read about the new Malibu, but if I asked you to describe a regimen of chemotherapy for someone who has colon cancer, you'd be out of gas.

"We are talking about highly technical services that 99% of the public doesn't even know how to spell the names of," he said. "Secondly, there is no uniformity within the medical community as to what services ought to be used. It's a 'by guess and by gosh' sort of practice." [...]

A study released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports research on healthcare policy, found that people with high- deductible policies were more likely to have trouble paying medical bills than those in traditional insurance plans. They were also more likely to skip care because of cost. [...]

In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine , Frist called for what would amount to a healthcare information revolution. Within the next decade, he said, patients should be able to gain online access to performance rankings and prices for doctors and hospitals.

"Increased access to more accurate information about care and pricing will make possible... the transformation of the healthcare system," Frist wrote. "Whether selecting their physician, hospital or health plan, consumers must be able to choose what best meets their needs."

A comprehensive system of healthcare information would be costly to create, and perhaps challenging for patients to navigate. On Thursday, Bush proposed some initial steps, such as computerized medical records and standardized information technology for medical offices.

His vision of an empowered patient calling the shots may stand little chance without a new information infrastructure.

Gingrich acknowledged: "You can't have an informed marketplace in a setting where you don't have any information."

Comment: It seems that the only ones who will benefit from this glorious new healthcare system are employers, i.e. corporations. When the US economy bombs, Bush could tell Americans that the reason they have no healthcare and social security is because [insert name of New Axis of Evil countries here] decided to attack the US economically.

At the very least, this story should make one think twice about the real intentions of Bush and the neocons. They are basically butchering social security and health care, and placing a huge additional burden on the American people. It is almost as if they are pushing the entire population into a corner, forcing them to choose servitude to the military-industrial complex just to survive and feed their families.

When the dollar plummets, what other choice will most Americans have?

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PNAC calling for a draft
Truthout.org
Monday 31 January 2005 @ 11:19
A good portion of TO readers are all too familiar with the Project for the New American Century. For those who have missed this important group and the story behind them, this essay will fill in the gaps.

The strength and influence of this group, therefore, makes the letter they released on January 28 all the more disturbing. It is titled 'Letter to Congress on Increasing U.S. Ground Forces,' and basically calls for a draft without using the word:

The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

The men and women of our military have performed magnificently over the last few years. We are more proud of them than we can say. But many of them would be the first to say that the armed forces are too small. And we would say that surely we should be doing more to honor the contract between America and those who serve her in war. Reserves were meant to be reserves, not regulars. Our regulars and reserves are not only proving themselves as warriors, but as humanitarians and builders of emerging democracies. Our armed forces, active and reserve, are once again proving their value to the nation. We can honor their sacrifices by giving them the manpower and the materiel they need.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world.

Disturbing. [...]

PNAC has gotten everything it has wanted in the last three years. Parents of draft-age children should fear this new call.

Comment: Click here to read the letter to Congress on PNAC's web site.

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"A Nation Rocked to Sleep"

Neocons drive the nation toward ruin, Iraqi guerrillas kill our soldiers, veterans are ignored, and Americans fall asleep

By Stewart Nusbaumer
Intervention Magazine

For three decades, since the end of the Vietnam War, veterans of that bloody fiasco have said, "been there, done that," implying Americans should listen to what they have to say about war.

We fought a war so we understand the horror of war -- horror is not always easy to remember, especially, when in youth, videogames were one's greatest threat. We fought a war so we know war should be the last option, which seems to have slipped the minds of most Americans. We fought a losing war so we know the military needs a clear, specific military goal, not some vague wishful goal. We fought a losing war so we know that lifeless bodies shipped home to the heartland will eventually speak louder than all those determined words roaring out of Washington. But this can takes years and many thousands of dead bodies.

All knowledge is not equal, nor can all knowledge be easily learned. That which is learned from painful reflection after horrible experience is often the most important knowledge. "No pain, no gain" applies not only to biceps.

For those who experienced that ugly war, Vietnam was a hard experience for learning what is possible and what is not possible -- a massive sobering antidote, actually, to hubristic foreign adventures. Yet, for those who fervently supported the Vietnam War yet refused to fight in that war -- those now running this country -- what they learned on the safe sidelines far from the fighting was something quite different. They learned fantasy can survive bloody reality and lies are more politically effective than truth. They learned America can win any war, anywhere, anytime, as long as they are in charge. They learned nonsense. But they run this country, not us.

The reality is, although America is a so-called superpower it does not have super military power. Like all nations, our nation is restricted and limited by resources and power. Like all nations, we need to be thoughtful a nd cautious. We need leaders who are informed and wise, and citizens who are skeptical and questioning. But our leaders are dense, hubristic and blind, and too many Americans have followed these dense, hubristic and blind leaders, followed them into another foreign policy nightmare. And too many Americans never heard the veterans' message of wisdom from a long ago failed war.

The guerrilla forces of the world cannot afford to be dense, hubristic and blind. To survive, they are forced to be cunning and elusive, sharp tigers exploiting the advantages of fighting on their own turf.

Nearly all insurgency groups today understand the workings of asymmetrical warfare: avoid your more powerful military adversary where it is strong; strike the sluggish leviathan where it is weak. Time is the opponent of t his expensive technically laden "stronger" power but an asset of yours the no-frills "weaker" guerrilla force. So guerrillas slowly bleed the powerful costly fighting machines.

And the U.S. military is being slowly bled. In May 2003 when President Bush arrogantly proclaimed an end to major combat operations, there was an average of 17 U.S. combat deaths a month. Today there is an average of 82 c ombat deaths per month. (Actually, nothing slow about this: in only 9 months fatalities have increased four-fold.) During this same period, the number of wounded Americans has spiraled from 142 a month to 808 a month -- n early a six-fold increase! Meanwhile, the number of insurgent attacks has risen from 735 to 2,400 per month.

Back in the 1980s, on an isolated Philippine jungle island, I spent several days with a group of communist guerrillas. We ate rice with our fingers and drank rum late into the night. These illiterate Filipino farmers turn ed communist fighters understood clearly how the North Vietnamese defeated the superpower America. They couldn't write, they couldn't read, but they understood the weak points in the U.S. military machine and how to explo it them. Today their sons probably know how the great Soviet Union fell in Afghanistan.

The same modern communication and transportation used to ferry ideas and people around the globe for international business are also being used by international insurgents. Instead of penetrating remote economic areas for money making, they are spreading information about effective military tactics and stymieing the world's most powerful military power. Globalism is making foreign occupation increasingly difficult; it has never been so di fficult for the rich and powerful to occupy the weak and the poor.

The New York Times says 1,417 Americans soldiers have died and 10,622 Americans soldiers have been wounded in Iraq, more than half of whom have been unable to return to duty. Now I hear a second amputee ward has been open ed in San Antonio, Texas because Walter Read Army hospital in Washington cannot accommodate all the incoming amputees. When will there be a third amputee ward for our returning soldiers. When?

And last week CNN said President Bush in his 21-minute inauguration speech spoke the word "freedom" 27 times and "liberty" 15 times; that was a "freedom" or a "liberty" every 20 seconds. But not once during his entire 21- minute speech did he say the word "Iraq." And not once during that 21 minute, 1,260 second speech did he say the name of even 1 dead American soldier.

Here is the name of 1 dead American soldier: Casey Sheehan. And here is a poem by Carly Sheehan, little sister to dead American soldier Casey Sheehan:

Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?
The torrential rains of a mother's weeping will never be done
They call him a hero, you should be glad that he's one, but
Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?

Have you ever heard the sound of a father holding back his cries?
He must be brave because his boy died for another man's lies
The only grief he allows himself are long, deep sighs
Have you ever heard the sound of a father holding back his cries?

Have you ever heard the sound of taps played at your brother's grave?
They say that he died so that the flag will continue to wave
But I believe he died because they had oil to save
Have you ever heard the sound of taps played at your brother's grave?

Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?
The leaders want to keep you numb so the pain won't be so deep
But if we the people let them continue another mother will weep
Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?

Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. He served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam on the DMZ.

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Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored
By LILA GUTERMAN
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, January 27, 2005

When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquake in December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring of grief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.

Two months earlier, the reaction in the United States to news of another large-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding that about 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines.

The paper, written by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriya University, was based on a door-to- door survey in September of nearly 8,000 people in 33 randomly selected locations in Iraq. It was dangerous work, and the team of researchers was lucky to emerge from the survey unharmed. [...]

Neither the Defense Department nor the State Department responded to the paper, nor would they comment when contacted by The Chronicle. American news- media outlets largely published only short articles, noting how much higher the Lancet estimate was than previous estimates. Some pundits called the results politicized and worthless.

Les F. Roberts, a research associate at Hopkins and the lead author of the paper, was shocked by the muted or dismissive reception. He had expected the public response to his paper to be "moral outrage."

On its merits, the study should have received more prominent play. Public- health professionals have uniformly praised the paper for its correct methods and notable results.

"Les has used, and consistently uses, the best possible methodology," says Bradley A. Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indeed, the United Nations and the State Department have cited mortality numbers compiled by Mr. Roberts on previous conflicts as fact -- and have acted on those results.

What went wrong this time? Perhaps the rush by researchers and The Lancet to put the study in front of American voters before the election accomplished precisely the opposite result, drowning out a valuable study in the clamor of the presidential campaign. [...]

The number of deaths in Fallujah was so much higher than in other locations that the researchers excluded the data from their overall estimate as a statistical outlier. Because of that, Mr. Roberts says, chances are good that the actual number of deaths caused by the invasion and occupation is higher than 100,000.

Mr. Roberts took a few days in Baghdad in late September to compile and analyze the data. He discovered that the risk of death was 2.5 times as high in the 18 months after the invasion as it was in the 15 months before it; the risk was still 1.5 times as high if he ignored the Fallujah data. Because he had found in many other wars that malnutrition and disease were the most frequent causes of civilian deaths, he was "shocked," he says, that violence had been the primary cause of death since the invasion.

"On the 25th of September my focus was about how to get out of the country," he recalls. "My second focus was to get this information out before the U.S. election." In little more than 30 days, the paper was published in The Lancet.[...]

Despite the sprint to publication, the paper did go through editing and peer review. In an accompanying editorial, Richard Horton, editor of the The Lancet, wrote that the paper "has been extensively peer-reviewed, revised, edited, and fast-tracked to publication because of its importance to the evolving security situation in Iraq."

Dr. Horton declined repeated requests by The Chronicle for comment on the study and the decision to publish it before the U.S. presidential election. But three other major medical journals told The Chronicle that they, too, occasionally put papers of immediate importance on a fast track, and that the time from receipt to publication can be days or a few weeks. [...]

The timing of the paper's publication opened the study to charges of political propaganda. So did Mr. Roberts's admission to an Associated Press reporter on the day that the paper came out that he opposed the war. "That was the wrong answer," Mr. Roberts says now, "because some of the other study members hated Saddam and were in favor of the initial invasion." [...]

The Lancet released the paper on October 29, the Friday before the election, when many reporters were busy with political coverage. That day, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune each dedicated only about 400 words to the study and placed the articles inside their front sections, on Pages A4 and A11, respectively. (The news media in Europe gave the study much more play; many newspapers put articles about it on their front pages.)

In a short article about the study on Page A8, The New York Times noted that the Iraq Body Count, a project to tally civilian deaths reported in the news media, had put the maximum death toll at around 17,000. The new study, the article said, "is certain to generate intense controversy." But the Times has not published any further news articles about the paper.

The Washington Post, perhaps most damagingly to the study's reputation, quoted Marc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, as saying, "These numbers seem to be inflated."

Mr. Garlasco says now that he had not read the paper at the time and calls his quote in the Post "really unfortunate." He says he told the reporter, "I haven't read it. I haven't seen it. I don't know anything about it, so I shouldn't comment on it." But, Mr. Garlasco continues, "like any good journalist, he got me to."

Mr. Garlasco says he misunderstood the reporter's description of the paper's results. He did not understand that the paper's estimate includes deaths caused not only directly by violence but also by its offshoots: chaos leading to lack of sanitation and medical care. [...]

The U.S. government had no comment at the time and remains silent about Iraqi civilian deaths. "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for U.S. troops and civilians," a Defense Department spokesman told The Chronicle.

Mr. Garfield now regrets the timing of the paper's release because he believes that it allowed people to dismiss the research. "The argument is an idiotic one of, 'You're playing politics, so then the data's not true,'" he says.

Such logic angers him. "Hey," he says. "This is valuable information. The fact that somebody wants to convince you of it -- how is that suddenly illegitimate? Why is that a reason to ignore it? If it's wrong, then ignore it. If it's dealing with deaths of people that don't count in the world, then ignore it. I don't think it's wrong, and I don't think Iraqi deaths don't count." [...]

The reception of the Iraqi mortality study by scientists has been far friendlier than by the news media.

Scientists say the size of the survey was adequate for extrapolation to the entire country. "That's a classical sample size," says Michael J. Toole, head of the Center for International Health at the Burnet Institute, an Australian research organization. Researchers typically conduct surveys in 30 neighborhoods, so the Iraq study's total of 33 strengthens its conclusions. "I just don't see any evidence of significant exaggeration," he says.[...]

The gap between the Lancet estimate and that of Iraq Body Count does not trouble scientists contacted by The Chronicle. John Sloboda, a professor of psychology at the University of Keele, in England, and a co-founder of Iraq Body Count, says his team's efforts will lead to a count smaller than the true number because not every death is reported in the news media. [...]

Despite the muted public response, public-health professionals are glad that the study brought to light the human toll of the Iraq war and continuing occupation. Both the study and the Iraq Body Count, says Mr. Sloboda, are "shoestring attempts by private citizens" to do work he says the government ought to be doing.

Mr. Garlasco, of Human Rights Watch, is mystified that the Defense Department is not publicly interested in such studies. "Civilian casualties can be a bellwether for the actual conduct of the war-fighting," says Mr. Garlasco, who was an intelligence officer at the Pentagon until 2003. "They're using all these precision weapons, so one would expect that if you're striving to minimize casualties, you'd have very low casualties. In Iraq we've seen the exact opposite, so one has to wonder why."

Besides, he says, counting civilian deaths could actually be useful for the Pentagon's public image. "I truly believe when the U.S. military says we're not there to kill civilians, it's absolutely true," he says. "The problem is, though, there are many people who don't accept their reasoning. The only way they'll change their minds is if the U.S. military shows they take civilian casualties seriously enough that they quantify them and attempt to minimize casualties in the future."

In the Lancet article, Mr. Roberts and his colleagues write, "It seems difficult to understand how a military force could monitor the extent to which civilians are protected without systematically doing body counts or at least looking at the kinds of casualties they induce."

Dr. Coupland says, "The number of noncombatant deaths and injuries would speak to the legality of the nature of the hostilities."

That's why surveys like the Lancet one are important, says the World Health Organization's Dr. Meddings, even if the immediate response is hesitant: "If you can put accurate information out, it shifts the burden of proof onto militaries to substantiate why what they're doing is worth this humanitarian cost."

At the end of the day, Mr. Roberts worries that his study may play little part in that crucial debate. Although he blames the American news media for being embedded not only with the military but also with the military point of view, he also partly blames himself for the lack of public response.

"Maybe we the scientists have mismanaged this information," he says. "We had a message that was of interest to most Americans. We had a message that was extremely robust scientifically. And we failed to get it out into society where they could use it."

Comment: The blame can't really be placed squarely on the shoulders of the scientific community. If the media pushes government propaganda onto the people, and the population fails to do their homework to check the facts, who is to blame? In any case, this article - along with many others on the Signs page - demonstrates that the truth is out there. It just takes the desire, will, and effort to find it.

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Israeli troops kill Gaza schoolgirl
Monday 31 January 2005, 22:32 Makka Time, 19:32 GMT  

Gunfire from Israeli occupation forces in Gaza has killed a 10-year-old Palestinian girl as she was standing with other children in a schoolyard in a Rafah refugee camp.

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate information on the incident near the border with Egypt, where soldiers and resistance fighters have frequently clashed during a four-year-old Palestinian uprising. 

Witnesses said Nuran Did was lining up with classmates on Monday to enter their school in the morning when she was shot from the army's Termit post, 900m away. 

"She suddenly screamed and fell to the ground, bleeding. The girls started to run everywhere," one witness said. 

The Palestinian resistance group Hamas said it fired five mortar shells at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the girl's death.
 
Witnesses said the shelling damaged a home in Neve Dekalim. There was no immediate word on casualties.
 
Shot in the head

Doctors at Rafah hospital, where the 10-year-old was pronounced dead, said she was shot in the head. 

Violence has dropped sharply in the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks after efforts by new Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to coax fighters into a ceasefire. The latest death has strained a ceasefire brokered by Abbas.

Palestinian security forces have deployed across the occupied territory in a sign of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, but they have not been stationed near the flashpoint Termit post, local residents said.

Comment: Other reports in the news contend that the girl was killed and another wounded by bullets from Israeli tank fire from a distance of 600 - 800 metres away. Whatever the case, noting the distance from which she was shot and the accuracy of where she was hit suggests the deliberate targeting of children from Israeli soldiers using a long distance rifle or scope of some kind.

This was not some random shooting or casualty from accidental fire. This 10 year old girl was lined up in a soldiers sights from a great distance and murdered in cold blood for no other reason than the fact that she happened to be born a Palestinian.

There are no words to describe this barbaric atrocity.

And the reality is this type of incident is a common occurrence for the people of Palestine, who must endure the slaughter of their children on a nearly daily basis, while the rest of the world goes about their business like it isn't even happening.

What kind of world is this we live in?

What kind of world sits back and allows these crimes to happen, and even worse allows the perpetrators of such crimes routinely absolve themselves of responsibility by raising the spectre of anti-semitism?

Answer: a world run by thugs and psychopaths, where the the most vicious are rewarded and the most ruthless and cunning rise to the top echelons of power. A world where anyone in their right mind with even a shred of humanity left would want to stop and get off.

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'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'
By Clare Chapman
The Telegraph
30/01/2005

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

When the waitress looked into suing the job centre, she found out that it had not broken the law. Job centres that refuse to penalise people who turn down a job by cutting their benefits face legal action from the potential employer.

"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

Miss Garweg said that women who had worked in call centres had been offered jobs on telephone sex lines. At one job centre in the city of Gotha, a 23-year-old woman was told that she had to attend an interview as a "nude model", and should report back on the meeting. Employers in the sex industry can also advertise in job centres, a move that came into force this month. A job centre that refuses to accept the advertisement can be sued.

Tatiana Ulyanova, who owns a brothel in central Berlin, has been searching the online database of her local job centre for recruits.

"Why shouldn't I look for employees through the job centre when I pay my taxes just like anybody else?" said Miss Ulyanova.

Ulrich Kueperkoch wanted to open a brothel in Goerlitz, in former East Germany, but his local job centre withdrew his advertisement for 12 prostitutes, saying it would be impossible to find them.

Mr Kueperkoch said that he was confident of demand for a brothel in the area and planned to take a claim for compensation to the highest court. Prostitution was legalised in Germany in 2002 because the government believed that this would help to combat trafficking in women and cut links to organised crime.

Miss Garweg believes that pressure on job centres to meet employment targets will soon result in them using their powers to cut the benefits of women who refuse jobs providing sexual services.

"They are already prepared to push women into jobs related to sexual services, but which don't count as prostitution,'' she said.

"Now that prostitution is no longer considered by the law to be immoral, there is really nothing but the goodwill of the job centres to stop them from pushing women into jobs they don't want to do."

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Police search for road-rage gunman who killed boy
Jan. 31, 2005, 7:29AM
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Police continued to search for a gunman today after a suspected road-rage shooting that left a 14-year-old boy dead and his stepfather wounded.

The shooting happened about 2 p.m. Sunday in a shopping center parking lot in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, about 3 miles west of downtown, police said.

Ruben Juarez, 14, was killed. His stepfather, Gilbert Garza, 25, was treated at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and later released. A 14-year-old friend of Ruben's was also in the family's sport-utility vehicle but was not injured.

Witnesses said the two vehicles were traveling in opposite directions when they nearly collided. Garza told Dallas-Fort Worth television station KDFW that he honked at the car, and the other driver honked back.

Dallas police Sgt. Gary Kirkpatrick said the gunman got out, pulled a rifle out of his car and fired a single shot. The bullet went through the driver's-side window, hit Garza, then struck Ruben. [...]

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Air France Plane Makes Emergency Landing in Cairo
31 January 2005, Monday.
Air France Boeing 474 with 470 passengers aboard made an emergency landing in Cairo after it was not allowed to touch down at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport. Officials at the French airport refused to give the plane the greenlight due to a navigation problem, Russian Gazeta Ru agency reported. In Egypt twelve passengers were given first aid treatment and the plane was refueled. The plane has headed for the Belgian airport in Austin.

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6 hurt as jet fails in landing attempt on U.S. aircraft carrier off Chiba
(Kyodo News)
Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 07:56 JST

YOKOSUKA — Six U.S. Navy personnel on board a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific off Chiba Prefecture were injured, some seriously, Saturday when a fighter jet failed in its landing attempt, the U.S. Navy in Japan said Monday.

Arrestor wires, used to bring a jet to halt, broke when an F/A-18F Super Hornet made a landing attempt on the Kitty Hawk around 6:30 p.m. Saturday, hitting the deck crew, the U.S. Navy said. The fighter overran the deck and plunged into the sea. The two crew members aboard were rescued by helicopter and were not hurt.

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10 killed in Kashmir amid crucial civic elections
31 January 2005 1447 hrs

SRINAGAR, India : Suspected Muslim rebels killed 10 civilians, including three children, in a fresh spurt of violence a day ahead of a crucial phase of municipal elections in Indian Kashmir.

Police said four members of a Muslim family were killed, two of them minors, and two wounded when hand grenades were hurled at their home in southern Doda district today.

The wounded were in critical condition, a police spokesman said.

In the neighbouring district of Anantnag, suspected rebels overnight stormed into another Muslim household wounding the owner and killing his wife.

"They (militants) abducted his student son and later hanged him to death," the spokesman said.

In the state's summer capital Srinagar suspected militants overnight shot dead a Muslim contractor, police said.

No group claimed responsibility for the latest civilian killings.

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One killed, four injured in Tajikistan car bomb blast
31 January 2005 1923 hrs

DUSHANBE : At least one person was killed and four were injured when a car exploded in the heart of the Tajik capital, an official in the country's emergencies ministry said.

The explosion occurred outside the emergencies ministry, breaking windows and damaging the facade, said the official, who requested anonymity.

He said the explosion appeared to have been an attack.

The person who was killed appeared to be the driver of a Russian-built Volga sedan waiting outside the building. The automobile was destroyed in the blast and several other vehicles were damaged.

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Meningitis kills eight in eastern China
- AFP
30 January 2005 1304 hrs

BEIJING : An outbreak of meningitis across 11 cities in eastern China has claimed eight lives and left seven people hospitalised, state media reported.

As of December 20, the disease had killed three in the eastern city of Nanjing and five school children in Anhui province, also in the east, provincial health authorities were quoted by China Youth Daily as saying.

Anhui officials said 61 cases had been found, and that 49 had recovered.

Most victims were children aged 13 to 18 and most of the cases were of group C meningitis, which generally causes more deaths than groups A and B.

"Group C bacteria spreads easier and is more difficult to control," said Du Changzhi, deputy director of Anhui health department.

The report did not say whether the outbreak could spark a large-scale epidemic.

Heath and education authorities have asked schools to closely monitor the health of students.

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Flu Epidemic Threatens Bulgaria
29 January 2005, Saturday.

A flu epidemic might be declared in some Bulgarian cities within days, Dr. Anguel Kunchev from the ministry's Epidemic Control Department said.

Experts are still waiting for the latest data to decide whether it is an epidemic.

Kunchev explained that the most endangered Bulgarian regions are near the cities of Haskovo, Dimitrovgrad, Stara Zogara and Burgas. Still, he underlined that the situation will be clear on Monday and it will be then decided whether a flu epidemic will be declared.

An epidemic is declared when over 180 people from 100,000 are sick, Dr. Kunchev explained.

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Bird flu found in two more Thai provinces
31 January 2005 1314 hrs

BANGKOK : A strain of bird flu that can be deadly to humans has been detected in two more Thai provinces, livestock officials said, bringing to six the number of provinces affected by the disease.

The H5N1 virus was detected in locally bred chickens in the northern provinces of Nakhon Sawan and Uttaradit last week, the livestock department said in a statement.

An outbreak was confirmed on January 24 in the Pichai district of Uttaradit, where 78 chickens died of the flu and 22 others were culled to prevent the disease from spreading, the department said.

Another outbreak was confirmed January 28 in Nakhon Sawan's Krok Phra district, where 37 chickens died.

Both areas were placed under 21-day surveillance.

Twelve people have died in Thailand from the virus that has swept Asia since December 2003.

Comment: When one considers the massive panic over the SARS scare a couple years ago and how it lead to a restriction of travel to and from Asian countries, these latest reports of bird flu in Thailand and the 12th victim in Vietnam just yesterday, seem more than a little coincidental.

As we've been reporting on the Signs page lately, the US economy appears to be on it's last legs and due for a major collapse in the near future. Judging by how over-hyped the SARS scare was in the media in comparison to the actual threat from the disease, it seems as if the PTB may be planning a similar scenario with bird flu.

Imagine what would happen if the US dollar suddenly took a nose dive and people, seeing the chaotic effects of such a collapse, might start thinking of liquidating their assets and perhaps looking to relocate in large numbers to economically friendlier climes.

Now, is it plausible that those Machiavellian types in the corridors of power, wanting to prevent such a mass exodus from American soil, might start deliberately trumpeting the bird flu scare in the mainstream media to attempt to restrict global travel when the panic sets in?

An event such as this may sound a little far-fetched, considering we seem to be just at the beginning stages of a potential worldwide pandemic.

However, maybe the SARS scare was exactly that; a test by the controlling elite to see just how easy it would be to prevent or restrict a large number of people from traveling overseas at any given time?

Knowing the modus operandi of the PTB in desiring to control the masses, and knowing how easily the masses can be conditioned and are likely to respond to any real or perceived threat to their health and livelihood, a scenario like the one described above doesn't sound that far-fetched after all.

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State issues air pollution alert
Star Tribune
February 1, 2005

An air pollution alert was put in effect Monday for approximately the southern three-fourths of Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, Rochester, St. Cloud, Brainerd and Duluth.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency extended the alert through Wednesday.

The agency said levels of soot in the air are in the "orange'' category, meaning unhealthy for sensitive groups such as those with heart or lung disease, adults over 50, and healthy adults and children doing vigorous exercise outdoors.

However, the agency said the air pollution in the Twin Cities area is nearing the point where it's unhealthy for everyone.

A temperature inversion trapped fine particles in the air near the ground, and more particles have moved into Minnesota from the south.

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Train derails, leaks chemical into river
Jan. 31, 2005, 10:12AM
Associated Press

CREIGHTON, Pa. - A freight train carrying a corrosive chemical derailed in a Pittsburgh suburb early today, sending several cars into a river and forcing the evacuation of 200 residents, officials said.

Thirteen of the Norfolk Southern train's 83 cars derailed at about 5:30 a.m. in East Deer Township.

One of several cars that ended up in the Allegheny River leaked an unknown amount of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, a chemical used in steelmaking, said Betsy Mallison, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman. The tanker can hold up to 15,000 gallons.

There were no reports of injuries and Mallison said no significant environmental impact was expected. Nearby residents were evacuated as a precaution and it wasn't clear when they would be allowed to return home, she said.

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Centuries' Old UFO Coin Remains Mystery
PRWEB
January 28, 2005

Colorado Springs, CO -- After decades of seeking possible answers about a mysterious UFO-like design on a 17th century French copper coin, a prominent numismatic expert says it remains just that: an unidentified flying object. After a half-century of research, the design has defied positive identification by the numismatic community.

"It was made in the 1680s in France and the design on one side certainly looks like it could be a flying saucer in the clouds over the countryside," said Kenneth E. Bressett of Colorado Springs, Colorado, a former President of the 32,000-member American Numismatic Association and owner of the curious coin.

"Is it supposed to be a UFO of some sort, or a symbolic representation of the Biblical Ezekiel's wheel? After 50 years of searching, I've heard of only one other example of it, and nothing to explain the unusual design."

Bressett said the mysterious piece is not really a coin, but a "jeton," a coin-like educational tool that was commonly used to help people count money, or sometimes used as a money substitute for playing games. It is about the size of a U.S. quarter-dollar and similar to thousands of other jetons with different religious and educational designs that were produced and used in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

"The design on this particular piece could be interpreted as showing either a UFO or Ezekiel's wheel, but little else. Some people think the Old Testament reference to Ezekiel's wheel may actually be a description of a long-ago UFO," he explained.

"The legend written in Latin around the rim is also mystifying. 'OPPORTUNUS ADEST' translates as 'It is here at an opportune time.' Is the object in the sky symbolic of needed rainfall, or a Biblical reference or visitors from beyond? We probably will never know for certain," said Bressett.

"It is part of the lure of numismatics that makes coin collecting so intriguing."

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