Monday, February 07, 2005

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FBI to expand into CIA's intelligence gathering: report 2005-02-07 00:56:04
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is expanding its intelligence role in the United States and is seeking control over the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s domestic activities, a news report said Sunday.

At stake is control over a pool of US-based intelligence assets and information that has been invaluable in the past to understanding the intentions of foreign nations and groups, the report in The Washington Post said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is pushing to rewrite the rules under which the FBI and the CIA have operated domestically for decades and to assert what he views as the FBI's proper authority over all domestic intelligence gathering as part of vast restructuring of the bureau to focus on counterterrorism.

For decades, the CIA has been allowed under US law to recruit foreign officials, business executives and students living in or visiting the United States to spy for the agency when they return home, the report said. CIA case officers working in National Resources Division, which has stations in major US cities, routinely debrief, on a voluntary basis, US business executives and others who work overseas.

The CIA is generally viewed across the US intelligence community as more experienced and skilled at handling foreign assets, who eventually return abroad, where the CIA leads in intelligence gathering and operations.

Under an executive order signed in 1981, the CIA is prohibited from spying on or conducting operations against US citizens in theUnited States.

The CIA and the FBI in the past year have sought to vastly expand the use of multinational corporations to recruit Americans willing to share information from their trips abroad. The CIA is also making a big push to embed its spies in US companies doing business overseas, but only with a company's knowledge and permission, according to the report.

The FBI and the CIA counterterrorism and counterintelligence officials have been in heated debates over the past few weeks, trying to hash out a new "memorandum of understanding" on domestic intelligence gathering, but the two sides have made little progress so far, the report said.

Comment: It's getting hotter and hotter in the US of A.With the FBI and the CIA duking it out, it is likely that they will both be spying on US citizens.

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Paranoia grips the U.S. capital
Sun, February 6, 2005
By Eric Margolis -- Contributing Foreign Editor

The film Seven Days In May is one of my all-time favourites. The gripping 1964 drama, starring Burt Lancaster, depicts an attempted coup by far rightists in Washington using a top-secret Pentagon anti-terrorist unit called something like "Contelinpro."

Life imitates art. This week, former military intelligence analyst William Arkin revealed a hitherto unknown directive, with the Orwellian name "JCS Conplan 0300-97," authorizing the Pentagon to employ special, ultra-secret "anti-terrorist" military units on American soil for what the author claims are "extra-legal missions."

In other words, using U.S. soldiers to kill or arrest Americans, acts that have been illegal since the U.S. Civil War.

This frightening news comes as Washington is gripped by reborn, Cold-War-style paranoia, ominous threats of war against Iran from the real president, Dick Cheney, and a titanic bureaucratic battle just won by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Instead of being fired for the grotesque military-political fiasco in Iraq and the shameful torture scandals, Rumsfeld has just managed to create a new, Pentagon spy/special ops organization, blandly named "Strategic Support Branch," that will replace or duplicate many of the CIA's tasks.

The CIA has been sent to the doghouse. Too many CIA veterans criticized or contradicted Bush's and Cheney's phony claims over Iraq and terrorism. So Bush has imposed a new, yes-man director on the agency, slashed its budgets, purged its senior officers, and downgraded CIA to third-class status.

Rumsfeld's new, massively funded SSB will become the Pentagon's CIA, complete with commando units, spies, mercenary forces, intelligence gathering and analysis, and a direct line to the White House. The Pentagon has just effectively taken over the spy business.

Used terrorism hysteria

Mind you, the Pentagon and its Defence Intelligence Agency have been deeply involved in intelligence around the globe for 50 years. U.S. Army intelligence and its covert sub-branches have long conducted "black ops," including missions in the U.S. as well as assassinations and sabotage abroad. The Pentagon consumes three-quarters of the total U.S. intelligence budget.

Rumsfeld has skillfully used terrorism hysteria to wrest control of intelligence and make the Pentagon supreme in Washington's bureaucratic power struggles.

The Pentagon's new spy arm will be largely excluded from Congressional oversight or media examination. Its special operations teams will roam the globe, all under cover of "deep black" missions of which no records will be kept, and no questions asked.

Equally worrying, the Pentagon's new special-ops units are headed up by notorious religious fanatic, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who calls the U.S. Army "the house of God" and Islamic insurgents "agents of Satan." He warned Muslims, "my God is bigger than your god, which is an idol."

Boykin's command will now dispatch post-modern Christian crusaders to cleanse the world of Satanic Muslims and other miscreants. The Pentagon's new special forces will be able to run operations of which the CIA knows nothing.

The 9/11 Commission called for improved intra-agency co-operation and data sharing -- instead, the U.S. will get far less co-operation, as the Pentagon goes its own, secret way.

Now, George W. Bush, who clearly believes he holds the mandate of heaven after being re-elected by the less mentally active half of American voters, has decided to "unleash" special forces and all sorts of irregular units, including mercenaries, uniformed bounty hunters, and mutants sporting t-shirts proclaiming "kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." These militarized thugs and video arcade Rambos are sure to run amok, dragging America's once good name ever deeper into the mud.

We have evidently learned nothing from the wars in Indochina and Central America.

Have we reached Seven Days in May?

Not yet, but the second Bush administration has been taking dangerous steps that continue to curtail personal rights, further emasculate the supine, cowardly U.S. Congress, and empower ideological or religious extremists and shadowy agencies with unrestrained powers that endanger Americans at home, and all abroad suspected of troubling the Pax Americana.

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Rice promises US involvement in Mideast peace process 2005-02-07 21:39:21
JERUSALEM, Feb. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised an active US involvement in the Mideast peace process on Monday, saying Washington would dispatch a high-level "security coordinator" to the region.

Speaking at the Ben Gurion International Airport before her departure, Rice said Lieutenant-General William Ward had been appointed as the security coordinator.

Ward was former commander of the NATO Stabilization Force in post-war Bosnia.

After talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Rice praised Abbas, for he is following through on a clear mandate to restore calm in the Palestinian areas and he has helped start peace efforts with Israel.

Rice said Washing would send over 40 million US dollars within 90 days in an immediate aid to the Palestinians for job creation and infrastructure programs.

She urged Israelis and the Palestinians to make "maximum efforts" to make the best of the current chance for peace.

After meeting with Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, Rice left for Rome, Italy, Monday afternoon.

Comment: How nice for the Israelis. They bomb the Palestinians and destroy the infrastructure, and then the US comes along and cleans up after them. Of course, US money doesn't come cheap, and the Abbas government will have to uphold its side of the bargain. Hmm, what could that be?

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PNA to reshuffle cabinet in 24 hours: Palestinian sources 2005-02-07 20:15:43
RAMALLAH, Feb. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- Palestinian well-informed sources said Monday the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) would reshuffle its cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei within the coming 24 hours.

The sources said the move would be announced soon and only six portfolios would be changed.

Local press said General Nasser Yousef is expected to take charge of the Interior Ministry, and the Palestine Liberation Organization representative at the United Nations Nasser al Qeddwa would replace Nabil Shaath as foreign minister.

Nabil Amer will be the minister of information and Mohammed Dahlan is expected to take the portfolio of PNA cabinet affairs, said the sources.

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Rice promises action on Middle East peace
Staff and agencies
Monday February 7, 2005
The Guardian

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, today vowed the US would be "very active" in the Middle East peace process as she made a joint appearance with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

On the Palestinian leg of her first foreign trip since taking office two weeks ago, Ms Rice named William Ward, a retired US general, as a security coordinator to oversee reform of the Palestinian security forces and monitor peace efforts on the ground.

"This would not supplant efforts and activities of the parties themselves," she said at the Palestinian administrative headquarters in Ramallah. "I do believe it's most important that the Israelis and Palestinians have security coordination that is bilateral, that is strong and robust at dealing with problems."

Ms Rice also promised $40 million (£21m) over the next 90 days to spur job creation and economic reconstruction, part of the $350 million (£187m) package already promised by the US president, George Bush, to the Palestinian territories.

The success or failure of the Middle East peace process is likely to be determined by the extent of US participation. In Mr Bush's first term, the administration concentrated on Afghanistan and Iraq but Ms Rice's visit is seen as an indication of US interest in re-starting the process.

In a repeat of comments made yesterday at the Israeli foreign ministry, Ms Rice said that both she and Mr Bush were personally committed to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to this process at this time, no doubt about the commitment of the president," she said.

Ms Rice's disclosure stopped short of appointing a senior Middle East envoy that some, especially among the Palestinians, believe is necessary to ensure the parties fully adhere to confidence-building measures in the "road map" peace plan to a Palestinian state.

She will not attend tomorrow's summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh between Mr Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, that renews cooperation on the plan. But yesterday she told Israel it had to make "hard decisions" if it was to create the correct environment for peace and a Palestinian state.

Ms Rice said she told the Israelis that they must refrain from taking unilateral actions that would prejudge the outcome of future peace negotiations, singling out Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as a capital, and recent Israeli efforts to seize Jerusalem land owned by West Bank Palestinians.

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Rice sees hard choices for Israel
Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Monday February 7, 2005
The Guardian

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said last night that Israel had "hard decisions" to make to create the correct environment for peace and a Palestinian state, as she began a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

She said too that the Palestinians had to fight terrorism and create political institutions to prepare for statehood.

Ms Rice's visit precedes the first high level meeting between Israelis and Palestinians for more than 18 months. She will not attend tomorrow's summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, but she met Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, yesterday and will meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, and other officials today.

The success or failure of the Middle East peace process is likely to be determined by the extent of US participation. In President George Bush's first term, the administration concentrated on Afghanistan and Iraq but Ms Rice's visit is seen as an indication of US interest in re-starting the process.

"I most especially want to bring the personal commitment of President Bush and my own personal commitment to this process, because this is a time of opportunity and it is a time that we must seize," Ms Rice said at Israel's foreign ministry.

According to the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Ms Rice will discuss both sides' commitments to the road map, the Bush-sponsored peace plan which was unveiled 18 months ago but faltered soon after.

She will push Israel to honour its commitments to dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank and carry out other confidence-building measures to boost the credibility of Mr Abbas.

Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, told Ms Rice that their main concern was the disarming of militants before serious peace negotiations could begin.

Speaking on Israeli television, he said he told Ms Rice: "If the Palestinians do not do everything to halt the smuggling of weapons through tunnels, close the tunnels, close the weapons workshops, gather up illegal weapons - we would simply be giving the violent groups time to regroup and then carry out terror attacks that could collapse the whole process."

After her meeting with Mr Shalom, Ms Rice said: "We will ask of our partners and our friends in Israel that Israel continues to make the hard decisions that must be taken in order to promote peace and ... the emergence of a democratic Palestinian state."

Palestinian officials will brief Ms Rice about the effect of the separation barrier and request support for their demands, including freeing Palestinian prisoners and easing travel restrictions.

Israeli and Palestinian officials quarrelled on Friday about the release of 900 Pales tinian prisoners. Israel planned to release mostly criminals, while the Palestinians wanted the release of long-held militants. Officials continued to meet to work out a compromise.

In an interview with BBC's Breakfast with Frost yesterday, Ms Rice praised Mr Abbas and said that the international community should help him build the economy and institutions required for a future Palestinian state.

"The Palestinians will need help in bringing together ... and unifying their security forces. They will need help in building the institutions that will become the foundation of a state.

"They certainly need help in economic reconstruction, in reconstruction, job creation, doing something about the terrible plight of the Palestinian people that really the intifada has worsened."

She said that Israel should not do anything to prejudge the final borders of a Palestinian state, adding that "this route, the route of this fence, should do everything that it can to ease the plight of the Palestinians, not contribute to it".

At the same time as Ms Rice's visit, the EU is offering financial help to encourage peace. Its external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, is to meet Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas today.

She spoke of a "promising start" to improve relations after the death on November 11 of Yasser Arafat, but added that "further bold actions are necessary on both sides".

These included an orderly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a halt to all violence and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Ms Rice arrived in Israel from Turkey.

In Ankara she said the US wanted help from Turkey and other countries to "sustain the momentum" toward Middle East peace, and called for the end of "incitement of anti-Jewish violence".

"Israel deserves to live in peace in the Middle East and the Jewish people deserve the respect of their neighbours," she said.

Comment: Condi is talking a good game for the international press in saying that Israel has "hard decisions" to make. The only decisions the Israelis are discussing at the moment is how best to torpedo the new "opening" and when is the best time to do so. Whether she knows this or whether she believes, like her boss, that Ariel Sharon is a "man of peace" matters little. The Israelis have outmaneuvered the Americans so far. Think back to the summer of 2003 when Bush brought forth his "road map", and remember how constant Israeli attacks and assassinations broke the ceasefire that had been negotiated. Return a few years earlier and remember how Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in the fall of 2000, after two years of peace, provoked the Second Intifada.

The Israelis are excellent as saying they want peace while working overtime to crush any possibility. In the intervening years, they have been fighting a war of attrition: killing the Palestinians regularly, steadily, wiping out the source of their livelihood, bulldozing homes, erecting the wall, increasing the settlements, all of which are illegal and condemned by the entire international community, with the notable exception of the US.

Peace has never been so far out of sight as today, and yet to read the US papers, we are on the verge of a radical breakthrough.

Don't believe it.

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Rice warns Iran against provoking Israel
Julian Borger in Washington
Monday February 7, 2005
The Guardian

Condoleezza Rice turned Washington's rhetoric on Iran up another notch yesterday, telling Iranians they would have to "live up to their international obligations" to avoid a conflict with Israel.

But back in Washington, the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, struck a more dovish note, saying the estimates he had seen said Iran was "years away" from building a nuclear bomb, and that the White House had meanwhile opted for diplomacy.

"The president handles Iran policy, he's decided on a diplomatic route ... They're on a diplomatic path," he said.

The Bush administration has sent mixed signals to Tehran in the past week, mixing bellicose and reconciliatory remarks, amid reports that the Pentagon is already sending special operations teams into Iran to spot potential targets.

In an interview on BBC's Breakfast with Frost, recorded on Friday but broadcast yesterday, Ms Rice was asked about remarks last month by Vice-President Dick Cheney, who warned of a possible pre-emptive strike against Iran by Israel - which already has a nuclear arsenal - if the latter felt threatened.

In response, Ms Rice put the onus on Iran, saying: "Obviously, anything that would lead to conflict in this region would be a terrible, terrible thing. And the Iranians need to live up to their international obligations so we don't face any such point."

Ms Rice, who holds talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders today, has said that the US will not take part in European negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, reflecting the Bush administration's distaste for dealing with Tehran, and its belief that Iran will use such discussions as a cover to buy time to work secretly on a bomb.

But Ms Rice said in yesterday's interview: "We believe that this is a time for diplomacy. This is a time to muster our considerable influence ... our considerable power, if you will, to bring great changes in the world."

She added: "Iran is a destabilising force in the international system and we need unity of purpose, unity of message to Iran to stop those activities."

Reacting to earlier remarks by Ms Rice criticising "the loathed" Tehran regime of "unelected mullahs", Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said yesterday that the war of words would not affect its nuclear talks with Europe.

"Negotiations have not reached a deadlock and still continue," he said, but he added: "We think the Europeans must be more serious and show more dynamism."

However, Time magazine reported yesterday that the International Atomic Energy Agency had discovered that Iran was still doing maintenance on a uranium-enrichment plant in southern Iran, in apparent violation of an agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment.

Time also reported that Iran may have acquired centrifuges for enriching uranium and weapons designs from the smuggling network operated by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist under house arrest in Islamabad.

The report quoted unnamed IAEA investigators as saying that Tehran had privately confirmed at least 13 meetings with representatives of Mr Khan's network from 1994 to 1999. US and IAEA officials cannot question Mr Khan directly, but have to submit questions to Pakistani interrogators.

More information about the extent of the network is beginning to emerge, according to Washington and the IAEA. One US official examining the extent of its ties to Tehran, told Time: "You're dealing with a supplier who didn't appear to have any qualms."

The network's other customers may also have included Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, the Time report said, although there is no evidence that any has begun work on a nuclear weapons programme.

Middle East analysts have warned that Iran's suspected efforts to produce a nuclear weapon could provoke Saudi Arabia into acquiring one itself, although most predict that in such a situation the Saudi monarchy would try to buy a ready-made bomb, rather than attempt to build one.

George Bush, in his state of the union address last week, offered encouragement to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, another regional ally, to develop democracy in their countries, but he directed pointed warn ings at Syria and Iran, offering Iranians American support for achieving democracy.

Ms Rice, on being asked in the BBC interview whether the administration would support regime change, said: "All of us would have to agree that the behaviour of this Iranian regime in supporting terrorism, in sowing instability in the Middle East, in the way it treats its own people, is not a regime to be admired and certainly the Iranian people deserve the same opportunities for freedom and liberty that are beginning to take hold in other parts of the Middle East."

Comment: The fact that Israel is the only nuclear power in the region is never mentioned when the US and Israel start clamouring for other countries to give up even the possibility of building nuclear weapons. The fact that the nuclear disarmament treaty signed decades ago that was to limit the nuclear club to those already possessing nuclear weapons had as its premise that other countries would not go nuclear if the nuclear powers gave up their nukes in return. That, of course, has never happened. It is never mentioned in articles such as this one.

As for diplomacy, no one is fooled by Condi's words. All it will take to justify a war in Iran is some staged "event" that can be pinned on Iran. We bet that Mossad is already drawing up the plans.

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Chinese invest near 37 billion US dollars overseas 2005-02-07 20:12:46
BEIJING, Feb. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- Chinese companies invested 3.62 billion US dollars in non-financial sectors overseas in 2004, an increase of 27 percent year-on-year, the Ministry of Commerce said Monday.

Up to the end of last year, China's direct investment overseas reached 37 billion US dollars.

Last year, according to the ministry, nearly half of Chinese investment went to Latin America and some 40 percent to the other parts of Asia, mainly in the fields of mining, commercial service, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales.

Chinese companies that were engaged in engineering projects overseas reported a business turnover of 17.5 billion US dollars last year, up 26 percent year-on-year. They also signed new contracts worth 23.8 billion US dollars, according to the ministry.

So far, China has dispatched 3.2 million individuals overseas under labor service contracts and earned 30.8 billion US dollars.

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US Senate to mull deadline for China to revalue yuan
Wed Feb 2, 2005 6:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON - China would have a six-month deadline to revalue its currency under a bill to be introduced in the US Senate amid charges the yuan is wreaking havoc on the US economy, officials said.

At least a dozen senators from both President George W. Bush's Republican Party and the Democratic Party have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, Israel Klein, spokesman for one of the senators, told AFP.

"It will be introduced hopefully tomorrow or in the coming days and would require China to abide by international trade agreements and stop manipulating the value of its currency," said Klein, speaking on behalf of New York Democrat Senator Charles Schumer, who is spearheading the proposed legislation.

He said the legislation would give China "a window of 180 days" to revalue its currency or face a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese manufactured goods entering the United States.

Comment: Of all the products that Americans buy, a ridiculously high percentage are made in China. We don't think that many Americans are actually aware of just how dependent on China they actually are. If all Chinese goods are slapped with a 27.5% tariff, most people in the US will suddenly find themselves paying that much more for everything from small electric appliances to clothing. Given the enormous personal debt in the US, the average American doesn't have the financial resources to foot the bill. Perhaps that is the whole idea...

The Bush administration has often complained that the yuan, which is fixed to the US dollar, is grossly undervalued and thus keeping China's exports artificially cheap, undermining US exports and putting many Americans out of work.

The yuan, also known as the renminbi and now pegged at 8.27 to the US dollar, is kept in a narrow band by the People's Bank of China. This range is considered too weak by many financial observers and made worse by recent weakening of the dollar.

"The fact that there are a number of cosponsors for the bill on both sides of the aisle is terrific and as the trade deficit increases and as more jobs are lost, more Congress members are looking to such an important issue and want to level the playing field," Klein said.

The United States trade deficit with China is ballooning and may have hit 150 billion dollars last year or one-fourth the US deficit with all countries, analysts say.

John Taylor, the US Treasury's under secretary for international affairs, acknowledged Tuesday that China had taken steps "consistent with the move towards a flexible exchange rate," including participation in the Group of Seven meeting of finance chiefs.

"But setting time lines or indicating any other dates is not what we're hearing and we can understand why the important thing is that we are seeing steps and we urge them to move in that direction," he said.

China will send two senior officials to the G7 meeting in London this weekend but it is very unlikely Beijing will make any major announcement on the fixed yuan, analysts say.

Comment: China's response was basically, "We'll do it when we think we should do it".

US legislators meanwhile have scheduled a two-day hearing from Thursday to discuss issues such as the undervalued yuan and weak Chinese enforcement of intellectual property as part of a broad trade meeting.

The hearing is hosted by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Congress sanctioned panel pushing for a tough US approach to China on trade and security.

It will examine China's record of compliance with its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and explore options for using US trade laws and WTO mechanisms for addressing continuing trade problems.

Comment: It seems that the US will point the finger at China when the US economy tanks. The idea that China is solely to blame for the current situation is preposterous. It was US corporations who, with the support of the politicians, outsourced so many jobs to countries like China. Pushing for less "protectionism", American companies also decided to use raw materials from overseas instead of supporting US suppliers. The textile industry is a prime example. These actions kept product costs down, and motivated US consumers to buy more goods - while simultaneously racking up extraordinary debts. More and more jobs were lost. The only winners are the psychopathic corporations and their buddies in the political realm.

Two days after this article was published, the bill was introduced...

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Graham Wants Big Tariffs On Chinese Products

Upstate Response To Proposal Mixed

3:43 pm EST February 4, 2005

GREENVILLE -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says it's time to do something about Chinese imports.

Graham joined Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York Thursday in introducing new legislation Thursday that would put a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese goods entering the U.S.

Graham said he wants the tariff on goods because he said China artificially pegs their currency below its true value, making their goods cheaper.

Economists estimate the move makes goods 15 to 40 percent cheaper.

"If [workers are] losing their jobs and we're losing market share because a government manipulates business transactions, then it is incumbent upon us to stand up as workers," Graham said.

"We need an international response to China's across-the-board cheating and if we don't do that, we're going to lose jobs, not because we get outworked, but because people are cheating us out of jobs," he said.

The plan got a mixed reaction from Upstate manufacturers.

"There are 1,300 jobs at Kemet which are dependent on our ability to do business around the world ... in Europe and in Asia and having open markets and free flowing trade is important to us," Kemet Electronics spokesman John Warner said.

"We want to make sure that don't end up with a trade war, where various countries around the world start to erect tariffs against one another, because that might hurt the Upstate in the long run ... rather than help it," he said.

But textile manufacturer Milliken officials said that this move could allow U.S. companies a fair chance to compete against Chinese products.

"We've filed petitions for these Chinese safeguards that would limit the number of imports that are allowed in the U.S.," Richard Dillard said.

Graham said that, "this is a common ground between Republicans and Democrats," and he expects that the bill will pass if it makes it to the Senate floor.

Comment: We are meant to believe that the US is being cheated by China. What the senators do not seem to be mentioning is that China's purchase of billions of dollars in treasury instruments is a good chunk of the foreign investment that is keeping America afloat financially. Now, when the US economy is in dire straits, US politicians are accusing China as if it has committed some terrible crime against Americans. All this comes after much talk of China - and just about every other country - dumping its dollars in favor of other currencies such as the euro. Whether US lawmakers are complete idiots, completely unaware and uninformed, or actually trying to ensure that the dollar drops like a rock, this latest move is certainly not a good sign.

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With cuts, 2.5 trillion-dollar budget sees 390 billion-dollar gap
February 7, 2005

WASHINGTON - A 2.5 trillion-dollar 2006 budget plan proposed by President George W. Bush would cut many domestic programs while boosting defense, with a projected deficit of 390 billion dollars.

The proposal, certain to ignite a battle from opposition Democrats, would raise military expenditures 4.8 percent to 419.3 billion dollars and add eight percent to the budget for Homeland Security.

At the same time, non-mandatory, non-defense spending would be cut one percent, budget documents showed.

About 150 domestic programs deemed inefficient on unnecessary would be eliminated under the budget plan.

The deficit for the fiscal year starting October 1 would be reduced under the proposal to 390 billion dollars, or three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from a projected 427 billion (3.5 percent of GDP) in the current fiscal year.

The deficit would decline to 233 billion dollars, of 1.5 percent of GDP, by fiscal 2009 under the spending outline that aims to fulfill Bush's pledge to cut the deficit in half as a percentage of GDP.

The plan assumes economic growth of 3.6 percent in 2005 and 3.5 percent in 2006, in line with most private economists' forecasts.

Comment: Oops...

The budget plan sent to Congress is merely a blueprint of White House spending plans. A budget plan must be approved by Congress, which also would decide on specific funding plans each year.

"The 2006 budget builds on the progress the president and the Congress achieved in meeting the priorities of the nation during the first (Bush) term," the document said.

"We are funding efforts to defend the homeland from attack. We are transforming our military and supporting our troops as they fight and win the global war on terror ... And we are taking additional action to enforce spending discipline."

Among the biggest cuts come in programs for housing (down 11.5 percent), agriculture (down 9.6 percent), transportation (down 6.7 percent) and justice (down 5.5 percent).

But Democrats came out swinging immediately in response.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the plan does not even include many programs that will be funded by the administration.

"The president's budget is a hoax on the American people," Pelosi said.

"The two issues that dominated the president's State of the Union address -- Iraq and Social Security -- are nowhere to be found in this budget. We know that the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost billions this year, but those costs are not accounted for in this budget. Independent experts estimate the President's proposal to privatize social security will cost trillions in coming decades, but it is not accounted for here."

Pelosi criticized efforts to cut local law enforcement, health care and other domestic programs

"The president's budget is fiscally irresponsible, morally irresponsible, and a failure of leadership," she said.

"Democrats insist upon fiscal discipline with budgets that pay as you go, and over the coming months, we will fight for a budget that reflects the values of America's middle class: national security, prosperity, opportunity, fairness, community, and accountability."

On the international front, Bush earmarked 3.2 billion for fighting AIDS worldwide in 2006 and three billion dollars -- two billion less than earlier projections -- for the so-called Millennium Challenge Account program for developing countries.

Traditionally sacrosanct farm subsidies would be shaved, and the US passenger train network, Amtrak, would no longer receive government funding.

Law enforcement, education and environmental conservation programs would suffer and several public health programs would be drastically cut. [...]

Comment: A Reuters article on Bush's budget includes the following interesting tidbit:

The budget leaves out some big items, such as the future costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and massive borrowing required by Bush's plan to add private retirement accounts to the Social Security retirement system.

Those pesky details! Given the budget thus far for Iraq alone, it is clear that Bush's proposal is a bad joke...

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Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
February 6, 2005

The dollar closed at .777 euros last week or 1.287 dollars per euro, representing a rise of about 1.2% in the dollar from last week’s close of .768 euros or 1.302 dollar per euro. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,716.13 up 2.8% from last week’s 10, 427.20. The NASDAQ closed at 2086.66 up 2.5% from 2035.83 last week. The interest rate on the 10-year US Treasury Bond closed at 4.08%, down significantly from last week’s 4.15%. Oil closed at $46.48 (36.12 euros) a barrel, down 1.4% from last Friday’s close of $47.15 (36.16 euros). Gold closed at $415.90 dollars an ounce or 323.15 euros, down significantly (2.6% in dollar terms) compared to last week’s $426.80 or 327.10 euros. An ounce of gold would buy 8.95 barrels of oil, compared to last Friday’s 9.05.

Some people would look at last week’s numbers and shout: “USA! USA!” Not us, of course. We may not get much more of a warning about a crash than we already have. Things didn’t look too bad in mid 1929, either. That is how crashes work. What we need to guard against is taking comfort from short-term numbers. A reader wrote in with an excellent summary of the talking points he heard in the US media trying to reassure us that a crash won’t happen. For those of you living outside the United States, believe it or not, this is what we in the US are hearing:

1. There is no problem having a federal deficit because the federal deficit as a % of GDP as been higher in the past than it is now. Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. As long as GDP growth is strong, the deficits will disappear in time as the U.S. grows its way out of the revenue shortfall. (No mention that the total debt picture is a combination of household, business, and government debt or that household debt has driven a consumption buying spree, or that 70% of GDP is comprised of personal consumption expenditures with another 5% in housing. Both these areas have been "growing" due to credit creation.)

2. There is no problem having a 50-60 billion dollar trade deficit each month because it shows how high the U.S. standard of living is. The U.S. way of life is a beacon of light to the world. If more countries copied the U.S. system, they could enjoy a better lifestyle too.

3. Foreigners loaning the U.S. 2 billion per day to finance the deficits shows that they regard the U.S. as the safest place to put their money.

4. Gold prices are not historically high, so that means the dollar is not losing any value. It's a myth that the U.S. dollar is becoming unstable.

5. The U.S. is the engine of world economic growth and expert economists see no reason for concern about U.S. deficits or debt loads being excessive. The Bush tax cuts will supply the capital needed to reduce all the deficits within the next few years.

6. The event of 9-11 changed everything and had it not been for that there would be a federal surplus. The federal deficit spending is the sign of a responsible government that takes the steps needed to deal with the crisis and protect the people and the system.

7. Record high levels of mortgage debt are not actually debt; it's really unrecognized wealth. It's a myth that the housing sector in the U.S. is experiencing a price bubble. Price growth is the sign of a healthy real estate market. Ask any economist that's paid by the real estate or homebuilders associations if you don't believe it. The prices of houses have gone up so the debt loads of households are of no concern. People can let their homes serve as savings accounts. House prices never go down and the Bush administration will make sure that economic growth is strong so that everyone can own a home.

Still people are starting to take notice and the talking points quoted above are starting to sound a little desperate. The syndicated columnist, Charley Reese ( had this to say:

What about the record deficit? Well, [Bush] still plans to cut it in half in five years, but no details yet.

What about the falling dollar and the massive trade deficit? Well, he says, we're for freedom. I'm for freedom, too, especially freedom from the poorhouse, which, if the dollar collapses, a lot of us could be occupying. A pension in dollars that are only worth 2 cents in purchasing power isn't much of a pension. It's not that bad yet, but it's getting there.

In the meantime, Europeans and Asians, holders of billions of U.S. dollars because of the trade deficit, are starting to buy up America. One Frenchman just bought an entire island off the coast of Florida and all the mansions on it. I'm sure Bill O'Reilly will be happy to hear that. Maybe some Frenchman will buy Fox News. If that happens, then O'Reilly will say what a fictional Riley used to say on a radio sitcom: "What a revoltin' development this is."

In all seriousness, the trade deficit and the federal deficits are real crises that are looming on a not-very-distant horizon. The only way to correct the trade deficit is to sell more stuff overseas, but that's hard to do when the administration is encouraging manufacturers to export jobs instead of products.

We cannot live as consumers, no matter how much easy credit there is available. To keep consuming, we have to produce and earn and save. American consumers are already $2 trillion in debt. How are these consumers going to keep the economy going while paying off that amount of past consumption?

More people are echoing Sy Hersh’s hope that the collapse of the US economy will prevent Bush’s plan for World War III. No doubt that is an indication of the desperate straits we are in. Protests won’t prevent another war, voting won’t prevent it, nor will opposition from establishment heavyweights. The Xymphora ( blogger wrote:

The Chinese, who are desperately trying to get somebody in the Bush Administration to pay attention to the American economic problem, have had to resort to making a public announcement of their lack of confidence in the American dollar (something central bankers never do, particularly if they are holding massive amounts of these rapidly depreciating dollars). This is their vain attempt to find someone in the Bush Administration who would help them let the dollar down in an orderly way that won't ruin the American economy and the golden goose of the consumer demand of Americans for cheap Chinese consumer goods. When it comes to responsible economic policies, no one in the Bush Administration is at home. Americans find themselves in the odd position that their only hope is that their economy tanks sufficiently quickly to save them from the warmongering stupidities of their own government. Unfortunately, they'll probably get both the wars and the ruined economy.

Last month’s jobs report came out, showing some 146,000 new jobs created, a disappointing number for most economists who had expected a much larger number. It was, however, gratifying to Bush since he can now claim a very small net gain in jobs in his first term (reason enough to be suspicious of the numbers).

It was amusing to hear the mainstream analysts express puzzlement at the anemic rate of job creation in what they see as a strong economy. To those of us working in Cubicle Land, it is no mystery. It’s the outsourcing. Here’s a small example from personal experience. The company I work for is developing some new enterprise-level software products for which there is strong demand in the market. Other companies are practically begging for the right to pay for these products, but first they have to be finished. At the beginning of the year we did not have near enough engineers to do it. In the nineteen-nineties that would have led to a hiring boom. Now, however, we hired one or two new people in the United States and about twenty new people in Bangalore, India. Then we contracted out more engineering work to other firms, who then hired even more engineers in India and Pakistan.

The interesting thing is that all the outsourcing has led to a six to eight month delay in completing work compared to hiring US engineers (of which there is a large unemployed supply) at the outset. The total cost would have been less to do it locally. When that was brought up to upper management, they were told that they had to make "the model" work even if it means delays and lost contracts. "The model" being massive outsourcing of engineering work and business process work to low cost countries.

Is it because the real "model" is simply to lower wages of workers everywhere? Or are they trying to crash the economy? This is not to say that it is not a good thing to have high tech development in South Asia. It is a good thing, not just for them but also for the whole world. But, when the stability of the world economy depends on the continuing excessive spending of American workers, if the United States loses the type of high-paying, high-tech jobs that have made the earlier exodus of manufacturing jobs manageable, all it will take to plunge the world into a depression is the bursting of the US housing bubble from persistent unemployment and stagnating wages.

Last week saw the product launch of the "Ownership Society" of George Bush. What this really means is that THEY will own US. Ostensibly this is a plan where there will be accounts set up from which we citizens of the United States can all pay for our medical expenses, retirement, education of our children using our own saved money without help from that pesky government. Which might work if they paid us enough. Since they only pay a small fraction of the population enough to be able to afford those things, this is a cunning plan to shift the blame for their low pay to the victims.

Last week, for example, it was reported that in the United States, medical expenses accounted for half of the personal bankruptcies. People in the rest of the developed world can only shake their heads in amazement. The thing is, we Americans only have ourselves to blame for being such sheep. In France, whenever the government proposes some small cut in medical benefits or education benefits the, citizens rush out in the streets and start burning cars. In the United States, they take away our pensions, our healthcare, cut our pay, and now they want to take away Social Security, and no one raises a peep.

In the past, in the United States, social progress only came when people began threatening the destruction of the property of the owner class. The inner cities were ignored and pumped with destructive drugs throughout the nineteen eighties. It wasn’t until the Los Angeles riots of the early nineties that the political elite began to say, "maybe we should do something about the cities." Note that I am in no way advocating violent protests. While they can bring about some reform, they are also used by the elite to scare other citizens into supporting deeper crackdowns. What I am advocating is that the elite should not wait until that happens to spread some social health around.

If that doesn't happen, and it certainly looks like the Bush Administration is moving in the opposite direction, the possibility of violence becomes very real. Could that be the real reason for "Homeland Security"?

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Colleges Look to Undergrads As Donors
Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 7, 4:29 AM ET

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Leon Harris pays for his education at the University of Alabama on his own. He's drowning in student loans, he's between jobs and his dorm room just got more expensive.

Yet on a recent afternoon, during a break at the student center, the sophomore sat facing a banner that asked him to donate money to a new student capital campaign. The university wants each of its 21,000 students to give at least $2 toward a scholarship for someone who will be the first in his family to go to college.

"I don't have any money to give," said Harris, who's from Montgomery. "I give them a lot of money already."

Public universities traditionally have not solicited their undergraduates for donations — Alabama hasn't asked since 1922. But faced with state budget cuts and the need to remain competitive, schools across the country are beginning to focus on students as young as freshmen and sophomores as prime targets for fund-raising campaigns.

At California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, undergraduates give to a students-only fund, established in 1998, that's used for scholarships. Several schools, including the University of Georgia, solicit seniors to donate typically $35 to 50 for the betterment of the campus. At Auburn University, a few colleges within the university are asking students to make contributions in the amount of their class year — $20.04 for 2004, for example. [...]

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White House Letter: Why is Bush reading Tom Wolfe? Don't ask
Elisabeth Bumiller
International Herald Tribune
Monday, February 7, 2005

WASHINGTON - If you ask the White House what President George W. Bush is reading these days, the press office will call back with the official list: "His Excellency: George Washington," by Joseph J. Ellis, "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow and, not least, the Bible.

What the official list omits is Tom Wolfe's racy new beer- and sex-soaked novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons." The president, a Wolfe fan, has not only read the book but is enthusiastically recommending it to friends.

It is unclear exactly what Bush liked so much about the book, which is told from the point of view of a young woman from the God-fearing backwoods of North Carolina, Charlotte Simmons, the first in her family to go to college. Charlotte, who is at first shocked by the booze and debauchery she encounters at Wolfe's Dupont University, modeled on Duke among others, eventually succumbs in a chapter-long deflowering scene at the hands of a drunken fraternity rat. Then she sinks into depression.

Bush, who was the hard-drinking, hard-partying president of the jock fraternity at Yale, Delta Kappa Epsilon, is also the father of two partying twins, Jenna and Barbara. Jenna graduated last year from the University of Texas and Barbara from Yale, and on neither campus is the milieu of Charlotte Simmons entirely foreign.

Does Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke, or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters' generation? Or does he like the writing? Or is it all of the above? The White House won't say. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, did not respond to phone calls or e-mail messages last week asking about Bush's interest in Wolfe's book.

So perhaps Wolfe had some thoughts. In relatively short order he was located last Friday at a conference at his alma mater in Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee University. He was asked if he thought it unusual that a 58-year-old man, that is, the president, had so embraced his book.

"Well, a 74-year-old man wrote it," Wolfe replied. He said he had no idea why Bush liked it. "I imagine he responded to the blinding talent," Wolfe added, chuckling, "but beyond that, I'm just not sure."

Wolfe, who voted for Bush and was invited by the first lady to the White House last year to speak at a salute to the authors Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote, said he had not talked to the president about his book. But he said that Bush's father once told him how much he liked "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Wolfe's novel about New York City bond traders and racial politics during the excesses of the 1980s.

Friends note that the current President Bush has read every one of Wolfe's books, including "A Man in Full," the behemoth about real estate and social change in Atlanta in the 1990s.

Bush, who does his reading for pleasure on Air Force One, on weekends and before bed at night, has long said he prefers books to channel surfing, although he does watch television sports. [...]

Friends say that Bush, who like most modern American presidents is drawn to the biographies of those who governed before him, reads more nonfiction than fiction and tends toward history. "It turns out that the president better have seen the day that has gone in order to be able to help lead to the day that is coming," Bush told Lamb, paraphrasing the Texas writer and painter Tom Lea. "In other words, history really matters for the president."

Bush noted that he liked the Hamilton biography because "it was a very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started." He also told Lamb that he alternates between reading the Bible every day in one year and a daily devotional by Oswald Chambers, a Protestant minister of Scotland from a century ago, the next.

Bush told Lamb that "Oswald Chambers was one of the great Christian thinkers" and that "the easier it is to understand what he writes, I think, the more understanding of religion a person becomes." This year, the president said, he is once again making his way through the Bible.

He did not utter a word to Lamb about "I am Charlotte Simmons."

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Some in U.S. voting with their feet
By Rick Lyman
The New York Times
Monday, February 7, 2005

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Christopher Key knows exactly what he would be giving up if he left Bellingham, Washington.

"It's the sort of place Norman Rockwell would paint, where everyone watches out for everyone else and we have block parties every year," said Key, a 56-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former magazine editor who lists Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner," among his ancestors.

But leave it he intends to do, and as soon as he can. His house is on the market, and he is busily seeking work across the border in Canada. For him, the re-election of George W. Bush was the last straw.

"I love the United States," he said as he stood on the Vancouver waterfront, staring toward the Coastal Range, which was lost in a gray shroud. "I fought for it in Vietnam. It's a wrenching decision to think about leaving. But America is turning into a country very different from the one I grew up believing in."

In the Niagara of liberal angst just after Bush's victory on Nov. 2, the Canadian government's immigration Web site reported a surge in inquiries from the United States, to about 115,000 a day from 20,000.

After three months, memories of the election have begun to recede. There has been an inauguration, even a State of the Union address.

Yet immigration lawyers say that Americans are not just making inquiries and that more are pursuing a move above the 49th parallel, fed up with a country they see drifting persistently to the right and abandoning the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful idealism they felt once defined the nation.

America is in no danger of emptying out. But even a small loss of population, many from a deep sense of political despair, is a significant event in the life of a nation that thinks of itself as a place to escape to. Firm numbers on potential immigrants are elusive.

"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

Other immigration lawyers in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, Nova Scotia, said they had noticed a similar uptick, though most put the rise at closer to threefold.

"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."

Still, that is more than double the population of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "For every one who reacts to the Bush victory by moving to a new country, how many others are there still in America, feeling similarly disaffected but not quite willing to take such a drastic step?" Cohen asked.

Melanie Redman, 30, assistant director of the Epilepsy Foundation in Seattle, said she had put her Volvo up for sale and hopes to be living in Toronto by the summer. She and her Canadian boyfriend, a Web site designer for Canadian nonprofit companies, had been planning to move to New York, but after Nov.2, they decided on Canada instead.

"I'm doing it," she said. "I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down."

Redman intends to apply for a conjugal visa, which can be easier to get than the skilled worker visa that most Americans require. To do so, she must prove she and her boyfriend have had a relationship for at least a year, so she has collected supporting paperwork, like love letters, to present to the Canadian government.

"I'm originally from a poor, lead-mining town in Missouri, and I know a lot of the people there don't understand why I'm doing this," she said. "Even my family is pretty disappointed. And the fact is, it makes me pretty sad, too. But I just can't bear to pay taxes in the United States right now."

Compared with the other potential immigrants interviewed, Redman was far along in planning.

Mike Aves, 40, a financial planner in Palm Beach, Florida, where he has been active in the Young Democrats, said he was finding it almost impossible from that distance to land a job in Canada. "I've told my wife, I'd be willing to take a step down, socioeconomically, to move from white-collar work to a blue-collar job, if it would get us to Canada," he said.

Many of those interviewed said the idea of moving to Canada had been simmering in the backs of their minds for years, partly as a reaction to what they saw as a rightward drift in the United States and partly as a desire to live in a place they see as more tolerant, pacific and, yes, liberal. But for all, the re-election of Bush was decisive.

"Not everybody is prepared to live their political values, but these are people who are," said Jason Mogus, an Internet entrepreneur in Vancouver whose offers marketing services for progressive companies and nonprofit groups, and whose is often the first stop for Americans eager to learn about moving north.

"Immigration to Canada is not like packing your family in a car and moving across the state line," Mogus said. "It's a long process. It can take 18 months or even longer sometimes. And if you hire a lawyer to help you, it can cost thousands of dollars."

So Mogus said the response to the Web site, from all over the United States, had amazed him. Some are drawn by Canada's more tolerant attitude toward same-sex unions, he said, and there are a surprising number of middle-aged professionals.

"My wife and I have talked for a long time about perhaps retiring to a condo in downtown Vancouver," said Frederick Newmeyer, 61, a professor of linguistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. "But the election was the tipping point."

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France Calls for Fresh Start in Relations with U.S.
By Matthew Bigg
Mon Feb 7, 7:41 AM ET

PARIS - France wants a fresh start in relations with the United States and both sides have much to contribute to a renewed transatlantic partnership, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in comments published Monday.

He made the remarks before a visit to Paris Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed in part at repairing ties damaged by the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which France opposed.

"The moment has come for a fresh start in our relations," Barnier said in an interview with the French daily Liberation which was conducted late last week.

"Alliance doesn't signify allegiance," he said, underlining the need for a mutual partnership. "A renewed transatlantic alliance must be based on two pillars (European and American)."

His remarks were the latest sign since President Bush's re-election of a desire for rapprochement between the Cold War-era allies.

Bush has invited French President Jacques Chirac to Washington and the two leaders are due to dine together in Brussels on Feb. 21 before a NATO summit.

Recent statements from both sides have underlined the positive rather than the negative in relations, and Rice has chosen Paris as the venue for a keynote speech during her first tour of Europe and the Middle East as secretary of state.

"The question is not to know what we can bring to the United States, or what they can bring us. The question is what we can do together to solve problems," Barnier said, citing problems including terrorism, hunger and the situation in Afghanistan.

Barnier, who like Rice was visiting the Middle East on Monday for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defended negotiations by Britain, France and Germany over Iran's nuclear program but called for U.S. support.

"We have no illusions and are moving forward with open eyes with the Iranians. But to succeed we need American support. I have the impression listening to President Bush, who has strongly criticized Tehran, that he would wish to have confidence in Europe," he said.

The EU is trying to persuade Iran to turn a temporary freeze on sensitive nuclear work, such as uranium enrichment, into permanent cessation in return for economic and political incentives.

Washington accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb but Rice has sought to ease fears of a possible U.S. attack. Iran says its nuclear program is to generate electricity.

France was encouraged by the election in Iraq on Jan. 30 and by a "renewed determination" in Bush's efforts over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Barnier said.

But Washington must understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central and there will be no progress toward democracy in the Middle East unless it is addressed, he said.

Comment: In other words, France is willing to work with the US, but not as Bush's lap dog. The problem is that Bush and the neocons do not want other nations to work with them - they want allegiance.

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French Tabloid Takes Aim at the U.S.
Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 5, 6:24 AM ET

PARIS - Forget about all that trans-Atlantic talk of kiss-and-make-up following the "Freedom Fries"-era disagreements between France and the United States. There's a new tabloid on Paris newsstands offering an alternate take: "L'Anti-Americain."

The cheeky newspaper's editor-in-chief says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can have a free issue of the satirical monthly when she's in Paris next week.

She'll need to have packed her sense of humor. This month's issue features an entry in a bogus George W. Bush diary that reads: "Ask the CIA: Where's China?"

Rice and her French counterparts hope to rebuild ties bruised by disagreements over the U.S.-led war in Iraq. In Paris, a stop on her swing through Europe and the Middle East, she'll give a major speech in which she's expected to lay out her vision for American diplomacy.

But on French and American streets, mutual distrust still simmers.

Comment: The question is, who exactly do the French mistrust? As the remainder of this article will demonstrate, the biggest issue many French people have is not the American people themselves, but Bush. They also seem to be protective of their own culture in the face of American cultural influences, which is certainly understandable - and not exactly rare. Just look at how proud most Americans are of their culture...

On the day Bush won re-election in November, freelance journalist Frederic Royer decided to tap into the zeitgeist and start "L'Anti-Americain."

The French-language paper offers an unflattering, if tongue-in-cheek, look at America's perceived shortcomings — from fast food to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Cartoons and editorials featuring sharp-edged critiques of American politicians — mostly Bush — are a fixture of mainstream French dailies. Royer's monthly strives to pack more punch. But he insists it's good-natured ribbing.

"We're so invaded by American culture, we can't resist," he said.

The first edition in December sold 7,500 copies, advertised only by word-of-mouth and its eye-catching cover, Royer said.

Its Bush re-election headline read: "France offers political asylum to Americans!"

The cover of January's issue features a voluptuous blonde clad only in an American flag beside a doctored photo of Bush as a paperboy, proudly pointing to his presidential seal.

"The name is 'anti-American' for laughs, but it's really anti-Bush," said Royer.

By ordering troops into Iraq over European protest and refusing to back international efforts to curb global warming, Bush looks to some Europeans like a cowboy thumbing his nose at the world.

Comment: Um, Bush IS a cowboy thumbing his nose at the world... He's got the ranch, the hat, the boots, and a complete disregard for international relations and international law.

Conversely, some Americans see France as ungrateful for U.S. help during World War II.

Comment: What exactly do such Americans expect? Unquestioning obedience? Is that the behaviour of a true friend? The French can certainly be grateful for US help during WWII while simultaneously not supporting Bush's imperialist crusade to invade Iraq based on no evidence whatsoever. In fact, given that Bush's crusade reminds many people all over the world of Hitler's quest, it is ridiculous to think that the French would help Bush out.

"These grudges will probably last a long time. They go deep beyond the White House and Washington, and out to Middle America," said political scientist Steven Ekovich of the American University of Paris.

Royer acknowledges the success of "L'Anti-Americain" rests on Bush providing good material.

"The danger is to do something too basic, too stupidly anti-American," Royer said. But he expects success "because of the ambient air — maybe what I think a lot of French people are feeling right now."

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The Republicans' Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iraq
Juan Cole

The Republican Party spin machine was bouncing around the airwaves like an overloaded washing machine on Sunday attempting to obscure from the American public that they had by their actions managed to install a Shiite religious ruling class in Iraq. The New York Times even lead with a headline, "U.S. Officials Say a Theocratic Iraq Is Unlikely." This headline is probably wrong, but in any case it begs the question of what a "theocracy" is.

If it means a clerically-ruled state, then I agree with Vice President Dick Cheney that a) you have to look at what Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani wants, and b) that Sistani does not want clerics to rule the country as in Iran. But the main goal of political Islam in the past few decades hasn't been clerical rule. It has been the replacement of civil law with shariah or Islamic canon law. This was done by the non-clerical government of Sudan, e.g. And that is where Iraq is headed. The only question is how wideranging the substitution will be. Will it just be personal status law (marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony, etc.), or will it be in commercial law and other spheres of society?

Even as Cheney was pooh-poohing the notion of Iraqi theocracy, Sistani's close colleague Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad said, "We warn officials against a separation of the state and religion." Then Sistani's spokesman came out and said that the Grand Ayatollah Sistani "wants the source of legislation to be Islam."

A lot of Americans believe whatever Cheney says, though I cannot for the life of me understand why, since he lies to them relentlessly. He is the one who tried to link Saddam and al-Qaeda operationally. He even once said he knew exactly where Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were. Most people will only remember that Cheney said there wouldn't be an Iraqi theocracy, but won't bother to actually read the newspapers on Monday to see the news I'm reporting below.

Although George Orwell/ Eric Blair wrote 1984 as an anarcho-syndicalist socialist critique of Stalinism, it is becoming increasingly clear that it was also prophetic about the direction of Late Capitalist societies characterized by corporate media consolidation. In such a society, Cheney can substitute himself for Sistani and speak for Sistani, erasing the real Sistani just as the Republican pundits have erased the real Iraq. "Ignorance is knowledge."

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Unqualified US medics carried out amputations at Abu Ghraib: report
07 February 2005 0440 hrs

WASHINGTON : Unqualified US military medics stationed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison carried out amputations, recycled used chest tubes and lacked medical supplies to treat the overcrowded jail's inmates after the fall of Baghdad, according to a report.

The Time magazine report, to hit newsstands Monday, also said that a medic was ordered, by one account, to cover up a homicide inside the jail.

Although the prison just outside Baghdad was jammed with as many as 7,000 detainees -- some of whom displayed serious mental illnesses -- no US doctor was in residence for most of 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The report said "with straitjackets unavailable, tethers -- like the leash held by Private Lynndie England -- were put to use at Abu Ghraib to control unruly or mentally disturbed detainees, sometimes with the concurrence of a doctor."

England has been charged with abusing Iraqi detainees at the jail. She was infamously photographed holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked Iraqi inmate sprawled on a cell block floor.

In a statement obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, Time reported that an Army medic based at Abu Ghraib spoke of examining 800 to 900 detainees daily as they were admitted. If he worked a 12-hour day, that gave him less than one minute for each exam.

The report cited National Guard Captain Kelly Parrson, a physician's assistant at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and 2004. Parrson was seriously injured by a mortar during an insurgent attack that targetted the jail.

Parrson told Time there were times when he and other non-physicians carried out amputations and other procedures on inmates that should have been performed by surgeons.

"I took off an ankle and a lower leg," he recalls. "There was no one else, and if it was death or amputation, you just had to do it."

"When somebody died, we just took out their chest tube and inserted it into another, living person," he said.

The National Guard captain cited a shortage of catheters, breathing tubes, orthopedic supplies, including casts used to treat bone fractures caused by shrapnel from high explosives.

Another officer, who is a psychologist, estimated that five percent of prisoners suffered from mental illnesses, yet for long periods no doctor was on site to treat such inmates.

Doctor David Auch, commander of the reserve company that supported medical operations at Abu Ghraib in 2003, said medics at one point used a helmet to protect a mentally unwell inmate who banged his head against cell walls.

Improvised padded gloves and plastic handcuffs were used to restrain the troubled inmate and a thin leather tether was also used to restrain the man.

Auch said neither he nor his medical staff were consulted about an Iraqi, later dubbed "Ice Man," when he was first brought to the prison for interrogation by US military intelligence.

The detainee subsequently died during questioning in the middle of the night under circumstances that have been officially ruled a homicide by the military.

According to statements made during an Army inquiry, military personnel ordered the body put on ice and then spirited it away after medics had attached a fake IV to the dead man's arm in an apparent attempt to create the impression he was still alive.

Auch told Time that he had not been questioned as part of the army's probe into the homicide.

But he told the magazine a medic told him he was ordered by a military intelligence officer to participate in the ruse and to never discuss it.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the case while it continues its investigation into the man's death.

In the past year, the US military says it has set up a 52-bed hospital at the jail, staffed by 200 highly trained medical personnel.

The number of detainees in US custody is currently about 3,000. The interim Iraqi government also holds prisoners at the jail, Time added.

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36 killed in Iraq gunfight
Last Updated Sun, 06 Feb 2005 21:54:35 EST
CBC News

BAGHDAD - It was another day of violence in Iraq on Sunday.

Insurgents attacked a police station south of Baghdad. The hour-long gunfight killed 22 Iraqi security forces and 14 attackers, according to police.

But the U.S. military in Iraq has denied the report. It says there hasn't been any fighting in the district.

Earlier, four Egyptians working for a mobile phone company were kidnapped in Baghdad, when gunmen stopped their vehicle on the way to work. [...]

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Egyptians abducted as Iraqi communities stake rival claims
06 February 2005 2041 hrs

BAGHDAD : Gunmen abducted four Egyptian telecoms engineers in Baghdad, heightening the fears of foreigners, as Iraq's divided communities staked out their demands in the aftermath of the country's historic election.

Despite the euphoria of the widely hailed election, insurgents have targeted Iraqi security forces in a wave of attacks and foreigners have again become a target.

Meanwhile, two of the most senior Shiite Muslim clerics in Iraq on Sunday demanded that Islam be the only source of law in the country's new constitution as Sunnis demanded a clear timetable for a withdrawal of foreign troops.

The four Egyptians were seized in front of their Baghdad house on Sunday morning, two days after an Italian reporter was abducted in the centre of the capital.

The engineers worked for a subsidiary of the Egyptian telecom firm Orascom, which runs the main mobile phone network in the Baghdad area.

Two groups have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena.

One previously unknown Islamist group said the 56-year-old veteran Middle East correspondent would be killed unless Italy announces by Monday night that it would withdraw its 3,000 troops in Iraq.

The group, calling itself the Organisation for Jihad in the Countries of Mesopotamia, posted the threat on the Internet. There was no confirmation of the authenticity of the claim.

Another group, the Organisation of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility in an Internet statement on Friday which made the same demand.

Several hundred people, carrying rainbow peace flags, rallied by torch light outside the Rome city council on Saturday night to demand the release of Sgrena.

Sgrena was seized as she worked on a story about refugees from Fallujah who have moved into a Baghdad mosque. The area has become notorious among western journalists.

French reporter Florence Aubenas was abducted with her translator in Baghdad one month ago and there has been no news of her fate.

Insurgents have not eased up their renewed bloody campaign, despite a brief lull after the election.

More than 25 Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed on Saturday alone and a US marine was also killed, during what the US military called "security operations" south of Baghdad.

Three members of the Iraqi security forces and one gunman were killed and nine wounded in two hours of clashes south of Baghdad early Sunday, close to the town of Hilla, police and medical sources said.

The militant Ansar al-Sunna group, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, said Saturday that it had executed seven Iraqi soldiers who were taken following an ambush west of Baghdad last week.

In a statement posted on its website, the group said "the divine rule executed seven miscreants taken prisoner in violent combat with the valiant mudjahedeen in the Abu Ghraib region." [...]

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One attempt to attack Iran or Venezuela could bring on a world nuclear war...
Published: Sunday, February 06, 2005
Bylined to: Bob Chapman

We find it of special interest that George and the neocons do not get bent out of shape as Paul Martin, Canada's PM, returns from China with an agreement to cooperate in a wide variety of energy projects, including plans for a pipeline and ports that would allow oil from Albertaís tar sands to move to Canadaís west coast for export to China, rather than the US.

If you notice this information failed to appear in the US media.

China will invest $100 billion in a series of energy deals to extend its influence. Four hundred million will be spent in Venezuela in the oil and gas industry. President Chavez has suspended the operations of Conoco Phillips, Harvest Oil and Chevron Texaco. That is a little payback for the antics of the CIA and George and the elitists.

Russia is supplying two-thirds of Europe's gas, which makes up 62% of their energy consumptions. Germany gets 35% of its oil and 40% of its gas from Russia and that is increasing every day. Russia agreed to Japanís financing for an $18 billion oil pipeline from eastern Siberia. After having put up $6 billion China has bought a piece of what was Yukos. The US was frozen out of the deal due to their arrogant attitude toward Russia, the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan at Russia's backdoor, and interference in the recent election in Ukraine. Due to dreadful US foreign policy by US elitists, they will now have to share the oil production of Canada and Venezuela with China.

• This is one of the biggest screw-ups of all time and American citizens are going to pay for it dearly with a lower standard of living. We see plenty of trouble ahead as Russia, China, Iran, India, Brazil and Venezuela band together.

One attempt to attack Iran or Venezuela could bring on a world war and nuclear war.

What absolute morons the elitists running our county are...

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Iran 'to retaliate if US attacks'
BBC News
Monday, 7 February, 2005, 04:13 GMT

Iran's top nuclear negotiator says Iran will retaliate and accelerate its efforts to develop nuclear technology if attacked by the US or Israel.

Hassan Rohani told Reuters news agency there was nothing the West could do that would persuade Tehran to scrap its nuclear programme.

Both the US and Israel have said it would be unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear programme will be used to generate electricity.

The US has refused to rule out a military strike on Iran, but has said it will try to resolve the dispute by diplomatic means.

Enrichment activities

Mr Rohani, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran's ability to produce nuclear parts had made it "invulnerable" to attack since it could simply rebuild whatever was destroyed.

"If such an attack takes place then of course we will retaliate and we will definitely accelerate our activities to complete our fuel cycle and make nuclear fuel," he said.

"But I do not think the United States itself will take such a risk," he added. "They know our capabilities for retaliating against such attacks."

Mr Rohani said that not even the offer of lifting US sanctions or security guarantees from Washington would be enough to make Iran abandon its enrichment programme.

"Uranium enrichment is Iran's right," he said.

On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said intelligence estimates indicated Iran was some years away from developing nuclear arms.

Iran has agreed to suspend all its enrichment activities during negotiations with Britain, France and Germany.

The US is not taking part in negotiations, and wants Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.

The European countries would like to use a package of incentives to induce Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, but Tehran has said it is disappointed with what is on offer so far.

It says it can only continue talks for a matter of months, not years.

Enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear power, but the technology behind it can also be used to develop weapons-grade nuclear material

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North Korea threatens attacks on US military bases

North Korea will turn US military bases in the region into a "sea of fire" if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean media has quoted a communist officer as saying today.

It was unclear why the North’s state-run news media highlighted the comment, which was made two days earlier by an individual military officer during a debate in Pyongyang, its capital.

North Korea has vowed to fight off what it calls a US plan to invade, while the United States and its allies are struggling to end the North’s nuclear weapons programmes through multinational disarmament talks.

"If the US imperialists ignite flames of war, we will first of all strike all bases of US imperialist aggressors and turn them into a sea of fire," North Korea’s Central Radio quoted officer Hur Ryong as saying.

Hur was also quoted as saying that the North Korean military will "thoroughly incinerate the aggressor elements that collude with the US imperialists", in an apparent reference to South Korea and Japan, both of which host US military bases.

The remarks were reported hours after South Korea released a new defense policy paper today that said the United States would dispatch 690,000 troops and 2,000 warplanes if war breaks out on the divided Korean Peninsula.

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Ottawa told to join U.S. missile defence plan
Last Updated Sun, 06 Feb 2005 19:58:04 EST
CBC News
HARRIMAN, N.Y. - Most of those attending a major conference on Canada-U.S. relations say it is time for Ottawa to stop hesitating and to join the U.S. missile defence plan.

Most of the government officials, academics and diplomats from both sides of the border say the missile project has been misunderstood. They say it has been wrongly linked to "science fiction scenarios" of weapons in space.

A draft report from the American Assembly at Columbia University says if Canada joins, it would get the issue off the table and allow both countries to move on to issues like co-ordinating maritime defence and trans-border emergencies.

But the assembly's report wasn't unanimous.

A handful of high-profile Canadians, including former prime minister Joe Clark, expressed reservations about the plan.

The elite assembly on cross-border issues last met two decades ago, when it played a major role in pushing the concept of free trade.

Comment: From the same people who brought Canada the Free Trade Agreement. That says it all.

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U.S. Redesigning Atomic Weapons
The New York Times
February 7, 2005

Worried that the nation's aging nuclear arsenal is increasingly fragile, American scientists have begun designing a new generation of nuclear arms meant to be sturdier and more reliable and to have longer lives, federal officials and private experts say.

The officials say the program could help shrink the arsenal and the high cost of its maintenance. But critics say it could needlessly resuscitate the complex of factories and laboratories that make nuclear weapons and could possibly ignite a new arms race.

So far, the quiet effort involves only $9 million for warhead designers at the nation's three nuclear weapon laboratories, Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia. Federal bomb experts at these heavily guarded facilities are now scrutinizing secret arms data gathered over a half century for clues about how to achieve the new reliability goals.

The relatively small initial program, involving fewer than 100 people, is expected to grow and produce finished designs in the next 5 to 10 years, culminating, if approval is sought and won, in prototype warheads. Most important, officials say, the effort marks a fundamental shift in design philosophy.

For decades, the bomb makers sought to use the latest technologies and most innovative methods. The resulting warheads were lightweight, very powerful and in some cases so small that a dozen could fit atop a slender missile. The American style was distinctive. Most other nuclear powers, years behind the atomic curve and often lacking top skills and materials, settled for less. Their nuclear arms tended to be ponderous if dependable, more like Chevys than racecars.

Now, American designers are studying how to reverse course and make arms that are more robust, in some ways emulating their rivals in an effort to avoid the uncertainties and deteriorations of nuclear old age. Federal experts worry that critical parts of the arsenal, if ever needed, may fail.

Originally, the roughly 10,000 warheads in the American arsenal had an expected lifetime of about 15 years, officials say. The average age is now about 20 years, and some are much older. Experts say a costly federal program to assess and maintain their health cannot ultimately confirm their reliability because a global test ban forbids underground test detonations.

In late November, Congress approved a small, largely unnoticed budget item that started the new design effort, known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. Federal officials say the designs could eventually help recast the nuclear arsenal with warheads that are more rugged and have much longer lifetimes.

"It's important," said John R. Harvey, director of policy planning at the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the arsenal. In an interview, he said the goal of the new program was to create arms that are not only "inherently reliable" but also easier to make and certify as potent.

"Our labs have been thinking about this problem off and on for 20 years," Dr. Harvey said. "The goal is to see if we can make smarter, cheaper and more easily manufactured designs that we can readily certify as safe and reliable for the indefinite future - and do so without nuclear testing." [...]

Comment: The director of policy planning at NNSA declared that, "...the goal of the new program was to create arms that are not only 'inherently reliable,' but also easier to make and certify as potent". Great, so that implies that America's current warheads are not inherently reliable. That's good to know. So much for "distinctive American-style warheads" that were "years ahead" of those of other nations...

We wonder, are other countries redesigning their "inferior" warheads as well?

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Chilling tales emerge in wake of Nepal coup
By Connie Levett
February 7, 2005

Tales of systematic arrests of politicians, alleged torture of students and targeting of human rights activists emerged yesterday as reports of the early days after a royal coup in which King Gyanendra dismissed his government came in from rural Nepal.

A report by the Nepalese Bar Association's human rights project outlined accusations of abuse and detention from all corners of the country since King Gyanendra assumed absolute power last week.

The report comes amid suggestions that the number of courts that hear appeals against detention may be drastically reduced by the new government from 16 to five.

In Pokhara, in central Nepal, the Bar Association report said that 15-20 students were arrested and claimed to have been hit with the butts of guns at a student protest on Tuesday after the state of emergency was declared.

At 10 that night, security forces went to Prithivi Narayan University's hostel and took 150-200 students into custody at Fulbari Barracks, the report said.

When 59 students were released the next afternoon, after the university's campus chief intervened on their behalf, they claimed they had suffered "extreme torture" during their detention.

In the eastern town of Biratnagar, home town of the former prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, anyone moving towards the Nepali Congress Party president's home was arrested. Five politicians, one journalist and 30-35 others were detained.

In Nepalganj, in western Nepal, the army issued a list of eight human rights activists, instructing them to report to army barracks.

The groups on the list included the Bar Association's human rights project and the Nepal Human Rights Commission, the organisation charged with monitoring abuses.

The district vice-president of the Nepal Federation of Journalists was also on the list.

The BBC's stringer had been told to inform the army if he wanted to go into the field for a story, the report said. In the far west, at Mahendranagar, 22 politicians and political cadres were arrested.

In the first days after the royal coup, information outside the capital, Kathmandu, was hard to obtain because the army had shut down the phone system completely, and now those who have regained access to local land lines are fearful of speaking.

One of the few rights not curtailed under this state of emergency is habeas corpus, the right to a trial.

In Nepal, such cases are heard first in the appellate courts, of which there are 16 across the country, with 76 judges, and then the Supreme Court.

"I understand they are trying to ignore habeas corpus cases, and not fix dates," said a Nepalese journalist who asked not to be named.

"There are 16 appellate courts in the country, and they are discussing reducing that to five. If they [do], it will discourage people to come to the court."

He said the reason habeas corpus had not been suppressed with all other civil rights was that the king and the army were trying to avoid antagonising the United States to ensure the military supplies pipeline stayed open.

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18 Spanish teenagers killed in gas accident, two survivors
07 February 2005 0546 hrs

MADRID : Eighteen young people in Spain were gassed to death at a country inn, apparently due to a gas leak while they were sleeping after spending all night celebrating a birthday, emergency services said.

Officials said there were only two survivors from the group who stayed the night at the San Christobal inn in the village of Todolella, in eastern Spain. The bodies of the victims were found at 4:30 pm (1530 GMT).

The two survivors, who were sleeping further away from the gas leak than the others, were found unconscious and taken to hospital.

Rescue services initially said the victims were teenagers, but local officials said later they were aged between 20 and 40. [...]

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Suspected drag-racer ploughs into Sydney crowd, 10 hospitalised
07 February 2005 0817 hrs - AFP

SYDNEY : A suspected illegal drag racer crashed his car into a crowd of onlookers in Sydney overnight, injuring 10 people, police said.

Two men were arrested after they allegedly attacked police trying to question witnesses to the incident in an industrial estate in Sydney's west, police Superintendent Allan Harding said.

Police said a speeding car hit a parked vehicle that then crashed into a crowd of about 60 people who had allegedly been watching an illegal drag race.

The driver and nine onlookers were injured seriously enough to require hospitalisation, Harding said.

When police and media arrived at the scene, a group of young men turned on them and one policeman was taken to hospital after being punched in the face, he said.

"There was a very ugly mood for a short time," Harding said on national radio.

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Power blackout prompts Bangkok subway evacuation, two-hour closure
05 February 2005 1541 hrs

BANGKOK : The Thai capital's subway was evacuated and shut down for two hours on Saturday when a power failure halted all trains just five days after the system was reopened following a major accident, officials said.

"There was a power blackout at all subway stations, but we managed to safely evacuate all commuters from the trains and the platforms," head of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA), Prapat Chongsanguan, told AFP.

An MRTA spokeswoman said the incident occurred at around noon and the subway came back online two hours later. [...]

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Oil tankers collide off Egypt

Cairo, Feb 5 - Two oil tanker collided off the coast of Egypt's Mediterranean port city of Port Said on Friday, leaking large amount of crude, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported Saturday.

The collision of the vessels, one is the Maltese-flagged Genmar Kestrel and the other the Singapore-registered Trijata, was caused by bad weather.

Egyptian officials have gone to the scene to evaluate the extent of the spill, said the MENA. Port Said is just north of the Suez Canal, one of Egypt's major revenue earners. [...]

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More volcanic quakes rock Mayon
Monday, February 7, 2005 9:36 AM

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) noted an increase in the number of earthquakes in Mayon volcano in the past 24 hours, prompting a reiteration of a previous advisory against venturing inside the six-kilometer danger zone.

In its latest bulletin released 8 a.m. Friday, the PHIVOLCS seismic network monitored five high frequency volcanic earthquakes in Mayon. The figure went up by one from Thursday though the number of volcanic tremors recorded went down significantly from the 44 recorded last week.

However, seismologists said the decrease in recorded tremors does not mean the public can now hike or wander inside the Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) imposed on a six-kilometer radius from the volcano's base.

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Mount Veniaminof's hot rocks and lava now visible more than 20 miles distant
the associated press
February 6, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Mount Veniaminof, one of Alaska's largest and most active volcanoes, spewed hot rocks and lava that was clearly visible to residents more than 20 miles away.

The volcano's increased activity was noticed Thursday night after a decrease in seismic activity during the morning, said scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

"This kind of activity, while it would certainly be quite dangerous close up, has not led to bigger explosions," John Eichelberger, coordinating scientist for the observatory, said Saturday. "It is not cause for great alarm because this is pretty typical behavior of this volcano."

The volcano, located on the Alaska Peninsula 480 miles southwest of Anchorage, was upgraded from yellow to orange on Jan. 10 after a very weak seismic tremor was observed on Jan. 1. The tremor increased in magnitude over the next week. Orange indicates that the volcano is erupting or may erupt at any time. [...]

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Periodic tremors at volcano Mt Wrangell in Arctic region
[India News]: Mumbai, Feb 7

The great earthquake of December 26 in Sumatra and Andaman Nicobar islands has periodically triggered off earthquakes at Mount Wrangell (volcano) in South Central Alaska in the Arctic region, volcanologists and seismologists have said.

The data provided by the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said, following the quake in Sumatra and Andaman Islands, Mt. Wrangell, one of the largest 'andesite shield' volcanoes in the world had a 'swarm' of seismic events. "This is remarkable since Mt. Wrangell is nearly 11,000 km from the epicentre," they said.

"It exhibits fumerolic (gaseous) activity and occasional steam plumes. Because of its volcanic and seismic activity, a network of short period seismometers is operated at Wrangell by the Alaska Volcano Observatory," the scientists said.

"Following the quake in Sumatra and Andaman Islands on December 26, 2004, Mt. Wrangell had a swarm of seismic events ranging in magnitude from -0.3 to 1.9. These events occurred as the large amplitude surface waves from the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake crossed the region," they said.

While swarms are not uncommon at Wrangell, the events in this swarm occur at intervals of 20-30 seconds in-phase with the teleseismic ground motion and the tremors continuing, they said. "This suggests that the events were triggered by individual pulses within the teleseismic wavetrain," scientists said.

The Observatory is a cooperative effort of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. PTI

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Small earthquake rattles remote area east of San Jose
Saturday, February 5, 2005

Patterson, CA (AP) -- A 4.4-magnitude earthquake rattled a remote area east of San Jose on Saturday, but there were no reports of damage or injury.

The 10:43 a.m. temblor struck 23 miles east of San Jose and 20 miles southwest of Patterson, a small town along Interstate 5 southwest of Modesto. It was centered at a depth of four miles in the Diablo Range, close to the Stanislaus-Santa Clara county line near Henry W. Coe State Park.

Sheriff's officials in Santa Clara and Stanislaus counties said they had received no calls related to the earthquake.

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An earthquake in the Philippines sparks Tsunami fears in Malaysia
Last Updated 07/02/2005, 09:55:36

Thousands of people in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island fled coastal areas for higher ground when officials warned of a possible tsunami after a strong earthquake hit the neighbouring southern Philippines.

An earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale was recorded late Saturday with its epicentre in the sea south of Mindanao island.

The Prime Minister's Crisis and Disaster Centre issued Malaysia's first-ever tsunami alert -- and police urged locals in some areas to evacuate coastal homes.

The Asian Tsunami killed 68-people in Malaysia, mostly in the northern resort island of Penang.

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Tourists evacuated as Meena nears super-cyclone status off Cook Islands
06 February 2005 1734 hrs - AFP

WELLINGTON : Hundreds of foreign tourists have been evacuated from the Cook Islands as Cyclone Meena neared super-cyclone status, authorities said on Sunday as the small Pacific nation prepared to cut itself off from the world as a safety precaution.

Winds close to the eye of Meena were estimated at 230 kilometres an hour, giving it a severity rating of four, one level short of the maximum.

"This is now a critically dangerous situation" for the Cook Islands, the
Australian-Pacific Centre for Emergency and Disaster Information said on its website.

The storm is forecast to pass very near or over the main island of
Rarotonga "as category 4-5 super-cyclone with the capacity of causing severe damage to the capital late tonight and tomorrow".

Huge seas were expected to cause flooding in coastal areas of the Cook Islands, and forecasters have warned of damaging gale-force winds over northern parts of the southern Cook Islands in the next 36 to 48 hours.

"Frequent heavy rain with squally thunderstorms, phenomenal seas, damaging heavy swells, flooding including sea flooding of coastal areas," the Fiji Meteorological Service website said.

A spokesman at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort told Radio New Zealand that residents were calm, but the resort had been boarded up, about 300 tourists evacuated and flights cancelled.

New Zealand's foreign ministry said an Air New Zealand flight out of the Cook Islands was packed with tourists as the storm neared.

The Cook Islands telecommunications tower was to be taken down at 11:00pm Saturday local time (1100 GMT Sunday) to avoid destruction in the winds and "from then on there won't be any communication," a ministry spokeswoman said.

The Cook Islands national emergency operations centre has been activated to monitor the situation.

Meena had curved southeast after skirting American Samoa earlier in the week.

The Cook Islands, made up of 15 small islands with a total land area of 240 square kilometres, is spread over an area of the South Pacific greater than the size of India and has a population of around 21,000.

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Blizzards Seal off Half Bulgaria

Winter storms took the life of two elderly people - a woman and a man - and forced authorities in Bulgaria to declare a state of emergency in 35 municipalities and nine districts to date.

Rescue services have been fighting to transport nine baby-delivering women through the snow-drifts to hospitals in Eastern Bulgaria.

The country's coastal capital Varna has seen one of its gravest winters in decades waking totally blocked under a two-meter snow cover since Friday.

The sea and airports of Varna remained closed on Saturday, as the wind reached the hurricane speed of 20m/s.

More than 140 villages were left without electricity and 72 continue to be deprived of water because of the damages incurred by the stormy winds.

Meteorologists forecast a freezing weekend for Bulgaria with temperatures dropping to minus 18 on Sunday and Monday until the Mediterranean cyclone draws off the country.

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Hurricane stops electricity supply to 8,571 in Novorossiisk
February 6 (Itar-Tass)

NOVOROSSIISK (Krasnodar territory), -- Lights are down in the homes of 8,571 people, including 3,000 children, because of a hurricane in Novorossiisk and suburbs, a source in the Kubanenergo energy company press service told Itar-Tass on Sunday.

The wind reached 35-37 meters per second, and temperatures dropped to ten degrees below zero, Celsius. The villages of Natukhayevskaya, Rayevskaya and Lenin were damaged most. Fallen trees broke electric wire and damaged transformer sub-stations. Additional teams of repairmen were sent from Krasnodar.

Meanwhile, the electricity supply to Anapa and Gelendzhik has been restored.

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Three dead and four missing in Austrian avalanches
(AFP) Feb 06, 2005

VIENNA - Three people were killed and four were missing Sunday after avalanches in Austria, emergency services said.

A Belgian snowboarder, 42, was found dead Sunday afternoon after an avalanche in the region of Obergurgl in the Tyrol. He was snowboarding off the ski trails despite a high avalanche risk.

Earlier in the day, an Austrian was found dead in an avalanche at Schmirntal also in the Tyrol, while a 28-year-old German woman was buried by an avalanche at Koenigsleiten near Salzburg in the centre of the country Saturday and later died in Innsbruck hospital.

A man buried under an avalanche Sunday afternooon at Weisskirchen in the southern Styria region was rescued but remained in a critical condition in hospital.

Searches continued for three hunters who disappeared Thursday in Styria, the APA news agency reported. [...]

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Dengue attacks 178 in N. Sulawesi
February 07, 2005 - JP

MANADO: The North Sulawesi Health Office reported that the number of people known to have contracted dengue fever in North Sulawesi reached 178 in January alone. Five of them, children under the age of five, died.

Of the 178 cases, 90 cases were detected in Manado, 65 case in Bitung, 11 cases in South Minahasa, seven cases in North Minahasa, four cases in Minahasa Induk and one case in Tomohon.

There were still no reports of such cases in Bolaang Mongondow, Sangihe Islands and Talaud regencies.

The highest death toll was in Bitung, where four of the victims died, while one died in Manado.

The provincial health office has said it was attempting to prevent the spread of the disease by fumigating throughout the province, especially where the disease has claimed lives.

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