Wednesday, March 09, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

The Shock of Truth
SOTT Editorial

Perhaps in response to yesterday's rebuttal of Hoffman's article on the Pentagon attack, we received the following from a reader:

Below is what Mike Ruppert has had to say about the Pentagon 911 mess. If you could, please set the record straight on this, even if you disagree with his chosen course (and I don't think Ruppert is above reproach or not to be questioned, BTW, so thank you for airing the question of just who his backers are and what their agenda might be...):

"More than thirty-five times now, and in nine countries, I have lectured on 9/11. The average attendance at the lectures has been between 400 and 500 people. In an estimated sixty-five per sent of those lectures, in question and answer sessions lasting sometimes up to three hours I have been asked why I don't pursue the physical evidence inconsistencies of 9/11. At least 9,100 people have heard me say something like:

"I don't for a minute believe that an airliner hit the Pentagon. And no one has ever seen a video of an airliner hitting the Pentagon because there isn't one. [...] But if I, with some measure of journalistic credibility, and my readers on Capitol Hill and in universities start writing stories about these things, I wind up in either a journalistic suicide mission, or in the improbable place of having to explain where the airliner that didn't hit the Pentagon went or how the towers were brought down. There is a mountain of physical evidence that blows the government story in my mind, but my experience says that it will never penetrate the consciousness of the American people in a way that will bring about change. What will penetrate, from my experience, is taking non-scientific reports that most people instantly accept as credible, whether news reports or government statements or documents, and merely showing that they are lies. That opens the wedge, and removes any reliance upon expert or scientific testimony which is typically used to confuse simple facts. From there, you can begin to show people all the other documentary evidence of foreknowledge, planning and participation."

The "straightening of the record" then is that Ruppert does not believe that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon but he feels that the evidence for the fact that no plane hit the Pentagon is not strong enough. For Ruppert, the problem with the evidence is twofold. Firstly, as he states in his book "Crossing the Rubicon":

I have never believed that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. I also chose not to pursue it in my newsletter because I couldn't prove it by the rigorous standards of either the law courts or by peer-reviewed forensic science." (P. 351)

So the issue is that while the evidence that "no plane hit the Pentagon" does exist, i.e. there is no evidence that a plane hit the Pentagon - other than the conflicting and largely biased "eyewitness" reports that Hoffman bases his flimsy argument on - Ruppert feels that such evidence would not allow him to make a convincing case in a court of law. We have asked it before and we will ask it again now: "what planet is Mike living on?". Does Mike really believe that he was ever going to have his "day in court" with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al in the dock? Mike presents himself as a seasoned investigative reporter with years of experience in uncovering government-sponsored drug running etc., yet he is either unaware that the American justice system is but a arm of the same US government that was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, or he is deliberately giving false hope to his followers.

Secondly, Ruppert, like Hoffman, makes the argument that anyone that pursues the "no plane hit the Pentagon" line of inquiry will be forced to then explain what happened to Flight 77. Again we disagree with this assertion. Our job is to present the case for "the prosecution", central to which is the lack of evidence that a boeing 757 impacted the Pentagon on 9/11 and is best summed up by our "Pentagon Strike" Flash presentation.

While we can offer hypotheses, it is NOT our job to definitively answer the question as to what happened Flight 77 if it did not hit the Pentagon, it IS the responsibility of the US government to answer that question. Of course the US government will not answer that question willingly, and it can refuse indefinitely to acknowledge any of the accusations levelled against it so long as only a tiny "fringe" section of the population are making the demands. While it is not our main objective, it is possible however that if enough of the American population can be shocked out of their government media-induced ignorance and apathy about the problems with the official version of 9/11 events, there may yet be some degree of calling to account.

Due to the fact that the general public has been repeatedly bombarded with the lies that make up the official version of events, we realise that we are fighting an uphill battle. We do not possess the massive exposure that the US government enjoys via the mainstream media, yet despite this, people like Hoffman have no problem admonishing us for not making the case for the government by citing the "eyewitness" reports of a 757 hitting the Pentagon made by people who are more than likely government agents.

We are talking about a conspiracy and a cover up of massive proportions involving many different people in high-level positions spanning many branches of the federal government, yet Hoffman is happy to cite "eyewitness" reports from Military and Navy personnel within the Pentagon itself, along with such "reliables" as the ex executive editor of USA today and Bobby Eberele, the owner of GOP USA a "Conservative" news site with links to White House rent-boy Jeff Gannon aka James Guckert! Just for good measure, Hoffman also cites the testimony of one General Richard Myers, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that before the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington. Well Heck! if General Myers (who was very likely one of the key conspirators) said that a plane hit the Pentagon then it just HAS to be true, right?! Is Hoffman REALLY posing as a serious 9/11 researcher? Or is he is just posing?

At the WTC, there were billions of eyewitnesses from all over the world who saw two planes slam into the towers. The recovered wreckage leaves no doubt that Flight 93 really did "crash" into a field in Pennsylvania (although the fact that the debris was strewn across 8 miles strongly suggests that it was shot down, not forgetting that, in another infamous "slip", Rumsfeld also confirmed this). There is however, NO hard evidence that Flight 77 crashed into the facade of the Pentagon.

Of all the evidence pointing to a 9/11 cover-up, and for the purposes of opening the debate among the general unbelieving public, the events surrounding the Pentagon attack presents the best chances of success. Our definition of "success" does not include the hope that the conspirators will be hauled up in front of any US court given that Bush owns a controlling stake in the US Supreme Court, but rather that the greatest number of people be exposed to the idea that the official version of events of 9/11 is in fact a lie. It seems that the idea of success and how best to achieve it is the crux of the matter. Hoffman and Ruppert have claimed that the best way to ensure success is to stick only to those arguments that will "open the wedge" and "penetrate the consciousness of the American people" without presenting any scenarios that are simply too unbelievable or frightening. Such arguments, they claim, include the long list of inconsistencies in the official version of events such as David Ray Griffin delineates in his book "A New Pearl Harbor".

The problem with this approach is that it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the target audience. While it is not realistic, we will assume that, like us, Ruppert's and Hoffman's best case scenario is that all 6 billion people on the planet will be exposed to the evidence for US (and other) government complicity in 9/11.

While there are no exact figures, it is reasonable to assume that there are a significant number of people who have already accepted the idea that the US government was in some way complicit in the 9/11 attacks. These people make up the bulk of those who frequent alternative news and 9/11 research sites like Ruppert's "From The Wilderness" and Hoffman's "9/11 Review". Basically, more often than not 9/11 researchers and writers are preaching to the converted - people who are able to accept that their government does indeed lie and is capable of attacking itself for political and personal profit. The remainder of the population - the vast majority - is made up of people who ascribe to the official version of events. It is extremely unlikely that such people, not being inclined to believe "crazy conspiracy theories" and already fully believing that "Arab terrorists" carried out the 9/11 attacks, will sit down and read through a long list of "documentary evidence of foreknowledge, planning and participation." From experience we have come to the conclusion that such people are also viscerally aware that, if they allow the "wedge" to be opened even a little, then that wedge will very soon become a floodgate. For example, if an non-believer is exposed to and accepts the evidence that Guiliani knew in advance that the WTC towers were going to fall, how many degrees of separation are there between the acknowledgement of that fact and the idea that the US government deliberately murdered or facilitated the murder of thousands of its own citizens? Furthermore, in such a scenario, is it any more difficult for the average citizen to accept that the government murdered or allowed the murder of its own citizens in the WTC attacks, than that the same government "disposed of" the 64 people on Flight 77 after it didn't hit the Pentagon?

While we understand the value of the lists of "documentary evidence of foreknowledge, planning and participation", we do not think that such information is appropriate for the task of attempting to "open a wedge" with the average non-believer. For such a task we feel that a short, sharp, shock, is much more effective, and we make no apologies for the fact that it employs some of the emotionally jarring techniques that have been used to such great effect by the US government and their media lackeys in forcing the lie onto the unsuspecting public. There is a world of difference between shocking the "emotional center" for the purposes of spreading the truth and using the same tactics to spread the lie. When the lie is told, it is presented as truth and therein lies the deception and manipulation. When the truth is told it is presented for what it is - the truth.

We are engaged in an information "war" after all, and there are no rules that say we should not use all available means to make the truth available to those who seek it. In fact, it is our responsibilty to do so, with the proviso that we always strive to maintain rigorous standards as regards the objectivity of the truth that we present.

It is not, however, an easy task.

How many times in your life have you successfully convinced someone with strong opinions to change their mind solely through an appeal to reason and the data in hand? How many times have you been convinced through rational argument to change an idea about which you felt strongly?

It happens rarely, if ever.

There is a reason for this, and it lies in the structure of our Personality, composed as it is of three "centres": the motor, the emotional, and the intellectual.

The intellectual centre is the seat of reason and logic. It is there that we weigh and measure, calculate and identify relationships between facts, and come to an intellectual judgment. Were our intellectual centres part of a balanced system where each centre did its work without the interference of the others, reason might well be able to convince reason. However, in the personality as it exists in reality, the centres are out of balance. Emotional energy is often used to fuel the intellectual centre, leading to ideas becoming embedded within emotion, like the stones or gravel in cement. From the emotional centre comes our passions, our likes and dislikes, the energy that fuels belief. Facts and data are not seen for what they are, but for how they support or undermine that which we want to believe.

When the centres are in balance, the emotional centre can give force to the facts in order to motivate us to do, lighting the fire of passion, but under the sign of objective reality and Truth. When the centres are in balance, the intellectual centre is able to work free from the emotion of belief. Data is aligned in patterns magnetised by truth, seen for what it is, not as another brick to either build our house of ideas or throw at the house of another.

But rare are the individuals who have achieved this balance. The rest of us are machines badly out of synch, misusing our energy, allowing our fears and hopes, our wishful thinking and our desire to maintain the illusion to cloud our ability to judge and calculate. We have a very difficult time being objective.

When we think using our emotional energy, strong feelings become attached to our ideas and the data behind them. Rather than a fluid canvas upon which the raw data can be arranged and rearranged quickly and easily as new data enters, permitting new and more accurate patterns of reality to emerge, emotions work to set the data firmly in place in a force field of passionate belief. We become fixed upon a particular interpretation, one pattern out of many, and we do everything in our power to hold that pattern in place no matter what new information may arrive. The idea is set in our personality, fixed, anchored, unable to budge or be dislodged.

In order to let go of an idea, or of a pattern of data, of a set belief, the emotional bond holding it in place must be broken. An emotional shock must be delivered that overcomes the existing bond, snapping it, disrupting the force field allowing that which is set in place to float, to become fluid so that it can be displaced, removed, or replaced by something new. A shock to the old pattern is necessary to permit a new pattern to emerge. If enough shocks are continually delivered to the system over time, the state of fluidity can become permanent, our thought processes can learn to remain supple, flexible, ever able to integrate new data on the fly, in real time. Rather than seeing the world through a filter of preconceived patterns, we can learn to continually form new patterns as we need them, with no need to shock the system to unlearn.

That is one goal of esoteric work.

Among the ideas that are the mostly firmly anchored through the emotions are those having to do with family and country. In the United States especially with its patriotic traditions of the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, with its self-image as a country that welcomed the world's poor and oppressed to a new life of individual fulfillment, its strong belief in its democratic heritage and its pride in its system of government, the world's longest surviving experiment in government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the emotional bonds Americans and their ideas about their government are very strong and deeply anchored.

To consider that members of that government would intentionally harm those citizens it was elected through free and democratic elections to protect is beyond the pale. It is unthinkable in a very literal sense. The emotions prevent such a thought from forming. Such an idea cannot exist because the brain, hardwired through years of socialisation and education and frozen into place through emotional entrancement, does not have the circuits to permit it to form. If the idea is heard, there is nowhere in the mind for it to lodge, to take root, as if we bit into a fruit whose taste did not fit the existing receptors in the tongue and nose.

What are the consequences of the reality of emotional thinking for those who are attempting to get out the truth about the events of 9/11?

The overwhelming majority of Americans will need a shock to their system to dislodge the strong hold of the emotional beliefs around their government, a shock that is strong enough to break up the pattern of "our government would never do such a thing" that would permit the data to shift into a pattern more closely matching the truth.

The Pentagon Strike flash animation produced by Signs of the Times produces such a shock. The photos of the lawn in front of the Pentagon, pristine after the attack, speak to the psyche in ways that words and verbal logic can not. The photos of the Pentagon offices, untouched by the flames, jar our mental images of the inferno of a plane crash where, we are told, the fire was so hot it vapourised the plane.

The Pentagon Strike video is not meant to reach people through their reason. It is meant to shock their reason awake by showing the holes and contradictions in the official version, stirring reason from its lethargy so that the viewer will follow up and do the research necessary to build a rational understanding of what happened that day, an understanding based not upon belief but upon the facts.

It will not work with everyone. Some people's critical capacities have atrophied to such an extent that it is doubtful that anything short of a presidential address by Bush admitting to his complicity would shock them awake...and even then. How many Americans remained loyal to the crook Richard Nixon throughout the days of the Watergate investigation? For certain people, their beliefs are so firm that even staring the truth in the face, they are unable to renounce them and recognise that which is.

There are others who have more knowledge about the actual state of affairs. They know about the history of US interventions in other countries, carried out in the name of democracy but for reasons of power, control, and profit. Even if they have a difficult time believing that people in government could carry out an operation such as the attacks of 9/11 on their own people, they have enough data to know that such attacks are routine against the people of other countries. For some, one shock is all it takes. For others, it may take the collapse of the economy, an economic 9/11 on a massive scale where millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their savings, and their ability to earn a living while George and the boys continue wining and dining pseudo-journalists in the White House backrooms, for them to realise they have been lied to, manipulated, and set up to take the fall so that the rich can maintain their lifestyles during the collapse.

The accumulation of data about the "crash" at the Pentagon, when one excludes eye-witness reports from members of the military and intelligence communities, is overwhelmingly weighted against the official story. Comparison photos of the Pentagon "crash site" and other crash sites where planes were known to have crashed is a strong message to the visual cortext that the data does not compute. The one photo used as evidence of plane debris on the lawn, the famous photo by Mark Faram, is not even claimed by the Defence Department as a piece of an American Airlines jet. There is no physical evidence that a 757 hit the Pentagon. The photos of the site are powerful prods from the emotions to reason to rouse itself from its slumber, so when 9/11 investigators ignore this data and tell us, like Michael Ruppert, that there is not the evidence that would hold up in a court of law, or when Hoffman wants to focus on other issues, such as the testimony of members of the group that, if the "conspiracy theorists" are correct, carried out the attacks, we are forced to wonder what side they are on. These differences tell us that these researchers are looking for something other than the truth. They wish to defend the republic, reclaim the constitution, and, in Ruppert's case, spread the oil industry's propaganda about peak oil to prepare us for the "Save Humanity Raffle" where 2 billion lucky winners will watch as the other 4 billion inhabitants of the planet commit a heroic mass suicide so that the horrors of human history can continue on for a few hundred years more.

The survivors might even erect a plaque in honour of their sacrifice and their memory.

It is interesting also that, while Ruppert is happy to dismiss the "no plane at the Pentagon" theory on the grounds that there is not enough evidence to convincingly prove it in a court of law, he sees no problem with proclaiming the reality of "peak oil" despite the fact that there is NO proof that oil is even a finite fossil fuel.

Why is humanity so important that it must survive? Has it earned that right to life by its actions over the few thousand years of written history? If truth is the highest goal and a life lived defending the truth in a world of darkness and lies the only noble life, mankind as a whole is an utter failure.

We do not have Mr. Ruppert's faith in the courts of law, nor do we think that we must hold off judgment until such time as unassailable proof comes to the fore. We think that people must come to their conclusions themselves based upon the available data. The situation is serious enough that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to begin throwing light on the crimes of America's leaders. Proof does not always exist. In those cases, we must act based upon the best knowledge that we have at the time, mindful that new data can permit us to arrive at new hypotheses. Ridding ourselves of rigid patterns of thought and belief is imperative, for those calcified thought forms are dams that block the flow of the force of Creation, diverting the energy needed for the renewal of the world into paths leading towards its destruction.

A closed system will be subject to the second law of thermodynamics. If we are not open to the possibilities of a limitless universe, the only way we can become open systems ourselves, then we, too, will be in the hold of entropy. If we can not break the rigidity of our thought, imprisoned in our emotions, stoked by fear of our own mortality, then we will be unable to transduce the Creative energy.

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Congress Likely to Pass Bankruptcy Bill
by Madeleine Baran
A bill limiting the rights of debt-ridden families to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy clears hurdles in the Senate; the House is expected to approve the bill early next week. 

Mar 9 - The most sweeping overhaul of bankruptcy legislation in over a quarter century will likely be signed into law as soon as next week, after two Senate votes yesterday removed the few remaining political obstacles. 

The new law would require many indebted individuals filing for bankruptcy to do so under Chapter 13, in which the debtor is required to set up a repayment plan; instead of Chapter 7, in which some assets are seized, but debts are erased. 

The credit industry heavily backed the bill, arguing that the changes are needed to prevent people from abusing the current system. A coalition of credit companies -- including Visa, MasterCard, the American Bankers Association, MBNA America, Capital One, Citicorp, the Ford Motor Credit Company and the General Motors Acceptance Corporation -- spent more than $40 million in political fundraising and lobbying for the changes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a government watchdog group that tracks money and politics. 

CRP also reports that finance and credit companies donated more that $7.8 million to political campaigns during the 2004 election cycle. Sixty-four percent went to Republican candidates and 36 percent went to Democrats. Additionally, according to CRP, credit card giant MBNA gave more than $1.5 million and the American Bankers Association, which is the main lobbying organization for the banking industry, contributed more than $2.2 million to candidates and parties. 

Supporters of the new bill say increasing numbers of bankruptcy filings illustrates the need for restrictions. However, the bill's opponents contend that the increase is the result of a rise in debt, often resulting from burdensome medical and education expenses. 

A Harvard University study published in February in the journal Health Matters found that, in the two years before filing for bankruptcy, 19 percent of families went without food, 40 percent lost their phone service, 43 percent could not afford to fill a prescription and 53 percent went without vital medical care. About half of the 1,771 individuals interviewed for the study cited medical expenses as a cause of their bankruptcy. 

"This bankruptcy bill is mean-spirited and unfair," Senator Edward Kennedy,  (D-Massachusetts) told the New York Times. "In anything like its present form, it should and will be an embarrassment to anyone who votes for it. It's a bonanza for the credit card companies, which made $30 billion in profits last year; and a nightmare for the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak." 

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this February, reported in the Houston Chronicle, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, who opposes the bill, noted, "A family driven to bankruptcy by the increased costs of caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer's disease is treated the same as someone who maxed out his credit cards at a casino." She added, "A person who had a heart attack is treated the same as someone who had a spending spree at the shopping mall. A mother who works two jobs and who cannot manage the prescription drugs needed for a child with diabetes is treated the same as someone who charged a bunch of credit cards with only a vague intent to repay." 

The Senate rejected several proposals to tighten bankruptcy regulations that allow the wealthy to shelter assets to protect them from being seized during bankruptcy proceedings. Senators also rejected an amendment that would have made it more difficult for individuals convicted of violence while protesting abortion to escape fines by declaring bankruptcy. The Senate will vote on the bill as early as today. 

House leaders told the New York Times that they expect to pass the legislation as soon as this week. President Bush has already said he will sign it. 

2005 The NewStandard.

Credit Card Penalties, Fees Bury Debtors 
Senate Nears Action On Bankruptcy Curbs
By Kathleen Day and Caroline E. Mayer 
Washington Post Staff Writers 
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page A01
For more than two years, special-education teacher Fatemeh Hosseini worked a second job to keep up with the $2,000 in monthly payments she collectively sent to five banks to try to pay $25,000 in credit card debt. 

Even though she had not used the cards to buy anything more, her debt had nearly doubled to $49,574 by the time the Sunnyvale, Calif., resident filed for bankruptcy last June. That is because Hosseini's payments sometimes were tardy, triggering late fees ranging from $25 to $50 and doubling interest rates to nearly 30 percent. When the additional costs pushed her balance over her credit limit, the credit card companies added more penalties. 

"I was really trying hard to make minimum payments," said Hosseini, whose financial problems began in the late 1990s when her husband left her and their three children. "All of my salary was going to the credit card companies, but there was no change in the balances because of that interest and those penalties." 

Punitive charges -- penalty fees and sharply higher interest rates after a payment is late -- compound the problems of many financially strapped consumers, sometimes making it impossible for them to dig their way out of debt and pushing them into bankruptcy. 

The Senate is to vote as soon as this week on a bill that would make it harder for individuals to wipe out debt through bankruptcy. The Senate last week voted down several amendments intended to curb excessive fees and other practices that critics of the industry say are abusive. House leaders say they will act soon after that, and President Bush has said he supports the bill. 

Bankruptcy experts say that too often, by the time an individual has filed for bankruptcy or is hauled into court by creditors, he or she has repaid an amount equal to their original credit card debt plus double-digit interest, but still owes hundreds or thousands of dollars because of penalties. 

"How is it that the person who wants to do right ends up so worse off?" Cleveland Municipal Judge Robert J. Triozzi said last fall when he ruled against Discover in the company's breach-of-contract suit against another struggling credit cardholder, Ruth M. Owens. 

Owens tried for six years to pay off a $1,900 balance on her Discover card, sending the credit company a total of $3,492 in monthly payments from 1997 to 2003. Yet her balance grew to $5,564.28, even though, like Hosseini, she never used the card to buy anything more. Of that total, over-limit penalty fees alone were $1,158. 

Triozzi denied Discover's claim, calling its attempt to collect more money from Owens "unconscionable." 

The bankruptcy measure now being debated in Congress has been sought for nearly eight years by the credit card industry. Twice in that time, versions of it have passed both the House and Senate. Once, President Bill Clinton refused to sign it, saying it was unfair, and once the House reversed its vote after Democrats attached an amendment that would prevent individuals such as anti-abortion protesters from using bankruptcy as a shield against court-imposed fines. 

Credit card companies and most congressional Republicans say current law needs to be changed to prevent abuse and make more people repay at least part of their debt. Consumer-advocacy groups and many Democrats say people who seek bankruptcy protection do so mostly because they have fallen on hard times through illness, divorce or job loss. They also argue that current law has strong provisions that judges can use to weed out those who abuse the system. 

Opponents also argue that the legislation is unfair because it ignores loopholes that would allow rich debtors to shield millions of dollars during bankruptcy through expensive homes and complex trusts, while ignoring the need for more disclosure to cardholders about rates and fees and curbs on what they say is irresponsible behavior by the credit card industry. The Republican majority, along with a few Democrats, has voted down dozens of proposed amendments to the bill, including one that would make it easier for the elderly to protect their homes in bankruptcy and another that would require credit card companies to tell customers how much extra interest they would pay over time by making only minimum payments. 

No one knows how many consumers get caught in the spiral of "negative amortization," which is what regulators call it when a consumer makes payments but balances continue to grow because of penalty costs. The problem is widespread enough to worry federal bank regulators, who say nearly all major credit card issuers engage in the practice. 

Two years ago regulators adopted a policy that will require credit card companies to set monthly minimum payments high enough to cover penalties and interest and lower some of the customer's original debt, known as principal, so that if a consumer makes no new charges and makes monthly minimum payments, his or her balance will begin to decline. 

Banks agreed to the new rules after, in the words of one top federal regulator, "some arm-twisting." But bank executives persuaded regulators to allow the higher minimum payments to be phased in over several years, through 2006, arguing that many customers are so much in debt that even slight increases too soon could push many into financial disaster. 

Credit card companies declined to comment on specific cases or customers for this article, but banking industry officials, speaking generally, said there is a good reason for the fees they charge. 

"It's to encourage people to pay their bills the way they said they would in their contract, to encourage good financial management," said Nessa Feddis, senior federal counsel for the American Bankers Association. "There has to be some onus on the cardholder, some responsibility to manage their finances." 

High fees "may be extreme cases, but they are not the trend, not the norm," Feddis said. 

"Banks are pretty flexible," she said. "If you are a good customer and have an occasional mishap, they'll waive the fees, because there's so much competition and it's too easy to go someplace else." Banks are also willing to work out settlements with people in financial difficulty, she said, because "there are still a lot of options even for people who've been in trouble." 

Many bankruptcy lawyers disagree. James S.K. "Ike" Shulman, Hosseini's lawyer, said credit card companies hounded her and did not live up to several promises to work with her to cut mounting fees. 

Regulators say it is appropriate for lenders to charge higher-risk debtors a higher interest rate, but that negative amortization and other practices go too far, posing risks to the banking system by threatening borrowers' ability to repay their debts and by being unfair to individuals. 

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David H. Adams of Norfolk, who is also the president of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, said many debtors who get in over their heads "are spending money, buying things they shouldn't be buying." Even so, he said, "once you add all these fees on, the amount of principal being paid is negligible. The fees and interest and other charges are so high, they may never be able to pay it off." 

Judges say there is little they can do by the time cases get to bankruptcy court. Under the law, "the credit card company is legally entitled to collect every dollar without a distinction" whether the balance is from fees, interest or principal, said retired U.S. bankruptcy judge Ronald Barliant, who presided in Chicago. The only question for the courts is whether the debt is accurate, judges and lawyers say. 

John Rao, staff attorney of the National Consumer Law Center, one of many consumer groups fighting the bankruptcy bill, says the plight consumers face was illustrated last year in a bankruptcy case filed in Northern Virginia. 

Manassas resident Josephine McCarthy's Providian Visa bill increased to $5,357 from $4,888 in two years, even though McCarthy has used the card for only $218.16 in purchases and has made monthly payments totaling $3,058. Those payments, noted U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen S. Mitchell in Alexandria, all went to "pay finance charges (at a whopping  29.99%), late charges, over-limit fees, bad check fees and phone payment fees." Mitchell allowed the claim "because the debtor admitted owing it." McCarthy, through her lawyer, declined to be interviewed. 

Alan Elias, a Providian Financial Corp. spokesman, said: "When consumers sign up for a credit card, they should understand that it's a loan, no different than their mortgage payment or their car payment, and it needs to be repaid. And just like a mortgage payment and a car payment, if you are late you are assessed a fee." The 29.99 percent interest rate, he said, is the default rate charged to consumers "who don't met their obligation to pay their bills on time" and is clearly disclosed on account applications. 

Feddis, of the banker's association, said the nature of debt means that interest will often end up being more than the original principal. "Anytime you have a loan that's going to extend for any period of time, the interest is going to accumulate. Look at a 30-year-mortgage. The interest is much, much more than the principal." 

Samuel J. Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, a nonpartisan research group, said that focusing on late fees is "refusing to look at the elephant in the room, and that's the massive levels of consumer debt which is not being paid. People are living right up to the edge," failing to save so when they lose a second job or overtime, face medical expense or their family breaks up, they have no money to cope. 

"Late fees aren't the cause of debt," he said. 

Credit card use continues to grow, with an average of 6.3 bank credit cards and  6.3 store credit cards for every household, according to Inc., which monitors the industry. Fifteen years ago, the averages were 3.4 bank credit cards and 4.1 retail credit cards per household. 

Despite, or perhaps because of, the large increase in cards, there is a "fee feeding frenzy," among credit card issuers, said Robert McKinley, Cardweb's president and chief executive. "The whole mentality has really changed over the last several years," with the industry imposing fees and increasing interest rates if a single payment is late. 

Penalty interest rates usually are about 30 percent, with some as high as 40 percent, while late fees now often are $39 a month, and over-limit fees, about $35, McKinley said. "If you drag that out for a year, it could be very damaging," he said. "Late and over-limit fees alone can easily rack up $900 in fees, and a 30 percent interest rate on a $3,000 balance can add another $1,000, so you could go from $2,000 to $5,000 in just one year if you fail to make payments." 

According to R.K. Hammer Investment Bankers, a California credit card consulting firm, banks collected $14.8 billion in penalty fees last year, or 10.9 percent of revenue, up from $10.7 billion, or 9 percent of revenue, in 2002, the first year the firm began to track penalty fees. 

The way the fees are now imposed, "people would be better off if they stopped paying" once they get in over their heads, said T. Bentley Leonard, a North Carolina bankruptcy attorney . Once you stop paying, creditors write off the debt and sell it to a debt collector. "They may harass you, but your balance doesn't keep rising. That's the irony."

Comment: Talk about a diabolical setup!  First you ship many of the "living wage" jobs overseas, so that soaring numbers of people are working for wages under the true cost of living (if at all).  Then, "Easy Al" of the Fed lowers interest rates to less than nothing and credit is offered to anyone who breathes by the financial institutions (of course, those who can't possibly "make ends meet" take them up on it) to boost consumption.  Then you lower the boom and trap them forever in a setup where, if they are sincerely are trying to "pay their debts" as they have been programmed to believe they must, they are forever trapped in servitude to the financial elite.

And these are the "lucky ones" who aren't being murdered for the benefit of and under the true auspices of this same "financial elite" through their "wars" and various black ops operations.

It is looking quite grim.  And the "hits" just keep on coming! It is part of a plan to bring the American population to its knees by milking them of their last cent so that the likes of Bush and his "base" can accumulate and even greater share of America's assets. It is a war, a war that the rich will admit to among themselves, but which is ignored in the mainstream media. The fascists in the US have won. They have never forgiven FDR for the New Deal and used the defeat of Germany to bring the best Nazi brains "home" in order to radically reform the US.

Another Profiteering Scheme

Neil Bush and Crest Investments
March 8, 2005

Neil Bush, has a $60,000-a-year employment contract with a top adviser to a Washington-based consulting firm set up to help companies secure contracts in Iraq, according to the Nov 11, 2004 Financial Times.

Neil disclosed this employment during a divorce deposition on March 3, 2003. He testified that he was co-chairman of the Houston-based, Crest Investment Corporation, which invests in energy and other ventures, and said he received $15,000 every three months for a average 3 or 4 hours of work a week doing "miscellaneous consulting services." "Such as?" his ex-wife's Attorney asked, "Such as answering phone calls when Jamal Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice," Neil answered. [...]

Overall, Crest goes to great lengths to show Neil how much it values his membership on the team. For instance, when Neil got remarried in 2004, Daniel held a wedding reception at his home, and Crest arranged a 5-year rent-free cottage for Neil and his new bride in Kennebunkport, Maine, so they could spend time near Mom & Pop Bush whenever they wanted to.

Another Jackpot - Thanks To Brother W

As usual, during his deposition, Neil forgot to mention a few facts about his earnings potential with Crest. First of all, he didn't mention that he attached his signature to letters soliciting business for New Bridge in obtaining contracts in Iraq, and two, that he attached his name as a reference for an extremely lucrative proposal submitted by Crest to obtain a lease on a parcel of property located on the island of Quintana, Texas, that will result in payments of at least $2 million a year to Crest.

When W took office in 2001, he vowed to make it easier for companies to build coastline facilities to store liquefied natural gas (LNG), a cooled and condensed form of natural gas, shipped in from countries around the world. [...]

If it could gain approval, the Crest LNG facility would be the first such facility in Texas, and only one of a few in the entire country.

The Harbor Commission was so enthralled with a proposal from Crest, that it offered the company an all-exclusive lease without soliciting for any other bids. [...]

To this day, Neil's connection to the firm is not widely known. However, Saathoff said that when Crest approached the commission with the project, it provided Neil's name as a reference. [...]

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Oh George – You Can't Be Serious!
By W. David Jenkins III
Project for the Old American Century

"Democracies have certain things in common. They have a rule of law, and protection of minorities, a free press, and a viable political opposition." – George W. Bush

Y'know, you've really got to give George credit. There he was standing next to his ol' pal, "Pootie Poot," at a press conference during his recent fence-mending trip to Europe and he never even cracked a smirk when he uttered those words. After a private meeting with the man whose soul Bush had looked into years ago, the accidental leader of the not-so-free world gently chided the Russian leader with words so hypocritical – it was truly astounding. And Bush was actually able to keep a straight face.

I, on the other hand, sprayed a mouthful of coffee all over my TV screen. I really hate it when that happens.

Now, I always thought we lived in a democracy, at least that's what I was always taught in school, but after listening to Bush's description of democracy that day I may have to reconsider things. Although George is big on platitudes when describing "American values," he seems to be completely oblivious to fact that he and his administration have made great inroads towards the destruction of those very things he was rubbing Putin's face in.

I can't imagine what was going through Vladimir 's mind - or any other knowledgeable person in that room - as Bush was rambling on about something he knew nothing about. Maybe that little saying about people in glass houses might have come to mind.

Rule of Law?

C'mon, George, give it a rest. You've pretty much broken every one of the Ten Commandments you keep going on about.

Your administration has zero respect for any rule of law. The invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law. Somebody in the White House broke a federal law in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The GAO stated the use of taxpayer money to make and distribute fake "news" documentaries to further an agenda was against the law. Torture is against the law. Arresting people without charge and holding them indefinitely is against the law. Shall we go on?

This administration has shown more contempt and fear of the rule of law than it has shown any respect for it at all - and the rule of law is one of the basic building blocks upon which the Constitution stands. From stone-walling the 9/11 investigation to withholding documentation of Cheney's Energy Commission participants, the Bush administration has flaunted its disregard of the rule of law as something that shouldn't apply to them.

Its attitude is shamefully in full view when it comes to the horror and bloodshed taking place this very second in Darfur . In early February, members of the Bush administration were sneaking around the UN in an effort to block the prosecution of Sudanese officials responsible for the continuing slaughter of innocent men, women and children in that country.

Why? Because these prosecutions would take place in the International Criminal Court and the Bushies don't want to legitimize that court.

Why? Because the Bushies are afraid that, because of their actions, they might be dragged in front of that court. Of course, they state that they're concerned about "Americans being prosecuted," but let's get real. The only "Americans" they're trying to protect are themselves.

Rule of law, indeed!

And what's all this about the protection of minorities? Didn't anybody ever tell George that the only reason he is where he is was due to the suppression of the minority vote? Remember the purged voters these last two elections, George? Or the lack of adequate voting machines in predominantly minority districts? How about your pledge to change the Constitution to discriminate against a certain minority group in order to "save" the marriages of your gullible flock?

The one that really got me was the reference to Russia 's lack of "free press." He shot that one straight into his good pal Vladimir after the whole world had enjoyed a few weeks of reports about your own tax dollars having been used to pay conservative pundits to do what they would've done for free anyway. And then – imagine if it were Clinton – a fake journalist moonlighted as a gay hooker (er, "escort") using a fake name and spending two years in the White House press room lobbing questions as soft as flower petals at Ari, Scott and George. Meanwhile, the Bush "free press" has been running willy-nilly away from this story because the bloggers who did all the work and broke the story have shown the mainstream corporate media to be the lazy, pandering mouthpieces they truly are.

And just how "free" can the press be when the corporations that own them have other interests?

Let's take, for instance, MSNBC. One of the corporations owning that particular cable news channel is General Electric. GE expects to have approximately $3 billion of contract work in Iraq by the year 2006, much of that being tied to rebuilding the infrastructure in that country. Now, if the success in fulfilling the terms of those contracts is dependent upon the security of Iraq, how tolerant will GE's shareholders be if a news outlet it owns starts going on about the insecurity in that country? Talk about a quagmire. [...]

MSNBC isn't the only culprit. [...]

I guess, in some ways, one could say that we have a free press. It's free from any accuracy, journalistic integrity and investigative talent. Even Bob Woodward had to admit recently that if Watergate had happened today, Nixon would have gotten away with it.

Now, about this "viable political opposition" nonsense – George is really stretching things. Granted, the lack of opposition is not all George's fault. Let's face it: the majority of the so-called opposition has been playing "footsie" with Bush and the Republicans for over four years now and any time one dares speak up, the GOP hangs 'em out to dry and lets the free press beat on 'em for a week or so.

Of course, it doesn't help matters when you have a snake like Tom DeLay redrawing voting districts in Texas (one district looks like a 300 mile bar-bell) and you have conservative leaders talking about going "nuclear" on the opposition so they can get even more radical right-wing judges appointed. The opposition Bush espoused to Putin that day has pretty much spent the last four years (in his own back yard) being squashed like a bug any time one of 'em slips out from under his faux cowboy boot..

So, in light of the fact that America under King George wildly contradicts his own description of a democracy, I really have to wonder just where I live or what system of government we have now. And I really have to wonder if Bush is so divorced from reality (sorry, I couldn't resist) that he actually believes his statement resembles America today.

If that's the case, I better start keeping a towel or something near my TV set. There's no telling what nonsense will come out of his mouth next.

Comment: To Bush and the Neocons, it doesn't matter if their descriptions of "American values" or "American democracy" match up with reality. In their minds, there is no reality save that which they create themselves. American democracy can include fascist laws because they say it can. Bush, Rove, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest of the shady bunch are only concerned with the history they are making at each step. Their delusions of power - along with their egos - are so great that they actually appear to believe that they can reshape the universe to their liking. From Hysterica Passio by Chris Floyd:

Now we come at last to the heart of darkness. Now we know, from their own words, that the Bush Regime is a cult -- a cult whose god is Power, whose adherents believe that they alone control reality, that indeed they create the world anew with each act of their iron will. And the goal of this will -- undergirded by the cult's supreme virtues of war, fury and blind faith -- is likewise openly declared: "Empire."

You think this is an exaggeration? Then heed the words of the White House itself: a "senior adviser" to the president, who, as The New York Times reports, explained the cult to author Ron Suskind in the heady pre-war days of 2002.

First, the top Bush insider mocked the journalist and all those "in what we call the reality-based community," i.e., people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." Suskind's attempt to defend the principles of reason and enlightenment cut no ice with the Bush-man. "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality," he said. "And while you're studying that reality, we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." [...]

Bush and his gang are history's actors, and the rest of us are just along for the ride to study what they do. The advisor's comments sound like something Hitler might have said to his biographer. We are informed that a judicious study of discernible reality presents no solutions. The Neocons and Zionists in control of the American Empire act, and reality is created.

Talk about wishful thinking...

Reality is what it is. Contrary to the views expressed by the mysterious senior Bush official, there IS a discernible reality, and studying it can be quite useful. In fact, this is why we create the Signs page each day. It is not surprising that someone who believes in creating his own reality would declare that observing reality as objectively as possible is useless - if one does exactly that, one discovers the reality of the delusional thinking of those in power.

Each person that believes in the lies and propaganda of the Bush administration reinforces the fairytale. Ultimately, it appears that the whole charade will not end until enough people stand up and declare in no uncertain terms that they've had enough of the fairytale reality that they have allowed to blind them from the truth.

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FBI Warns of 'Special Interest' Aliens
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Mar 8,10:06 PM ET

WASHINGTON - FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress on Tuesday that people from countries with ties to al-Qaida have crossed into the United States from Mexico, using false identities.

"We are concerned, Homeland Security is concerned about special interest aliens entering the United States," Mueller said, using a term for people from countries where al-Qaida is known to be active.

Under persistent questioning from Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, Mueller said he was aware of one route that takes people to Brazil, where they assume false identities, and then to Mexico before crossing the U.S. border.

He also said that in some instances people with Middle Eastern names have adopted Hispanic last names before trying to get into the United States.

Mueller provided no estimate of the number of people who have entered the country in this manner. [...]

In recent congressional testimony, Adm. James Loy, deputy Homeland Security secretary, said al-Qaida operatives believe they can pay to get into the country through Mexico and that entering illegally is "more advantageous than legal entry."

But Loy said there's no conclusive evidence that al-Qaida operatives have entered the country via Mexico.

Likewise, Mueller did not acknowledge that terrorists had entered the country through Mexico, only that it's believed people from countries where al-Qaida is active have done so. [...]

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Rendition & Tortured Confessions

The Appalling Case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
March 8, 2005

Twenty-three-year-old, Houston-born American citizen Ahmed Omar Abu Ali has been returned to Virginia after twenty months in solitary confinement in a Saudi Arabian prison. But he returned only to face arraignment, on February 22, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The charge is that he conspired to commit terrorism - and, indeed, the FBI says that he admitted as much in the course of interrogations in Saudi prison. He is alleged to have plotted to assassinate President Bush--but is not charged with that conspiracy.

The case is far from as open-and-shut as the FBI might suggest. Indeed, a number of aspects of the prosecution are deeply troubling.

The Early History of Abu Ali's Case: The Government Reverses Itself

At the end of the 2003 academic year at the Saudi university he was attending, Abu Ali failed to return home to the U.S. As a result, his family--Jordan-born, naturalized U.S. citizens living in Northern Virginia where I practice--contacted me to see if I could help.

In August 2004, attorneys filed suit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, on behalf of Abu Ali's parents, in order to obtain his release. Among the attorneys was renowned constitutional rights scholar and Georgetown University law professor David Cole.

The day the suit was filed, the State Department--which had previously refused to provide information to Abu Ali's parents--notified them that their son would be charged with crimes of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. But that never happened. Instead, the question of whether Abu Ali could be returned to the U.S. was litigated.

Before U.S. District Judge John Bates, the government took the position that Abu Ali was far too dangerous to ever be returned to the United States, and that the reason was so serious that it could not be disclosed even to the family's attorneys. In other words, the government sought to proceed on secret evidence.

Then, the government reversed itself dramatically. It transported Abu Ali to the United States itself--thus mooting the question before Judge Bates of whether the government could proceed upon secret evidence to block his return.

In 2004, when Abu Ali's parents had been begging the U.S. government to intervene, it had refused--claiming it was up to the Saudis whether he was released. With his return, however, it began to seem evident that the Saudis had been holding Abu Ali with U.S. consent--indeed, even at the U.S.'s behest. It now appears that FBI agents had the Saudis remove Abu Ali from his university class and take him to a Saudi facility for questioning in the summer of 2003.

It also became apparent that the U.S. could, all the time, have ensured Abu Ali's return to the U.S. whenever it felt like it. After all, federal prosecutors had, during this time, extradited from Saudi Arabia to Alexandria another man in Saudi custody who was alleged to be (and acquitted of being) a terrorist and involved in the case of the Alexandria 11.

Apparently, however, the U.S. had taken advantage of this U.S. citizen's choice to attend school abroad, to make sure he was held in prison there--where torture would be permitted, and counsel would not be provided. Indeed, unidentified sources have been quoted in the Washington Post and New York Times as saying that the government certainly would have preferred to have left Abu Ali in Saudi Arabia.

It was only Judge Bates's interest in Abu Ali's case that changed the government's mind. Laudably, Bates was concerned--as we all should be -- about the potentially indefinite imprisonment of a U.S. citizen, with the U.S.'s consent, in a foreign prison where due process is ignored and torture is common.

With Judge Bates perhaps unwilling to proceed against Abu Ali in absentia, the government felt it had to bring him home. To do so, they had to charge him with something--something that would at least sound serious, even if the underlying indictment (as I will explain below) fell far short of the media headline. [...]

The Government Relies on a U.S. Citizen's Saudi-Prison Confession

At the hearing on the bail motion, an FBI agent testified that Abu Ali had confessed to Saudi officials that he associated with persons involved with al-Qaeda, received things of value from them, and talked with one or more of them about how to assassinate President Bush, whether by car bomb or shooting. (These persons are named in the indictment as unindicted co-conspirators.) The government also claims to have a videotape of this confession.

Abu Ali's attorneys argued that if Abu Ali indeed confessed, he did so under extreme conditions of confinement--conditions that included torture. Confessions under such circumstances are not only deeply inhumane; they are also notoriously unreliable.

They also pointed out that Abu Ali had repeatedly been denied the right to an attorney. Abu Ali's parents had asked the U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia -- who had infrequently sent an employee to visit Abu Ali in prison -- to provide their son with an attorney. They were told the Saudis would not allow it. Accordingly, no attorney ever met with Abu Ali while he was incarcerated and doubtless tortured in Saudi Arabia. [...]

The Government Searches Abu Ali's Parents Home pursuant to the USA PATRIOT

The government also admitted at the bail hearing that it had secretly raided Abu Ali's parents' home in 2003--apparently pursuant to the USA PATRIOT Act -- and found what it deemed to be "radical" Islamic writings. It also found a gun magazine--hardly unusual for Virginia. [...]

In Abu Ali's case, the government was able to use two arguably unconstitutional laws--the USA PATRIOT Act, which allows secret, warrantless searches, and the law the government invoked, which allows pre-trial dangerousness to be presumed. Through the combination of these laws, it was able to search secretly for supposed evidence of dangerousness, craft an overblown indictment, flood the media with dramatic press releases, and then dare the defendant to prove his innocence.

The Government's Indictment: Where's the Conspiracy?

When the indictment was made available to the public, it raised an even larger question about the entire prosecution. Nowhere in the indictment is Abu Ali tied to any terrorist event or action. So what is his crime?

Plainly, there was not enough support for a charge of conspiracy to assassinate President Bush. Conspiracy requires an agreement, and an overt act in furtherance of the agreement. Nothing in the indictment suggests that Abu Ali either agreed to attempt to assassinate Bush, or took any action as a step to doing so.

So, instead, the indictment simply charges Ali with having "associated" with alleged terrorists. Specifically, it claims that he talked about wanting to kill Bush with these persons, and that he received money from one or more of them--for what purpose, it is unclear.

The very reason that the law of conspiracy requires an agreement and an overt act is to prevent prosecutions like this one--based on alleged, vague discussions that supposedly took place, but were never acted upon.

What Abu Ali's Case Signifies for America and the Rule of Law

The next development in the Abu Ali case may be a plea agreement. The government's case is obviously weak, and its evidence depends on conduct that many view as unconstitutional--even appalling.

The government will be in the same bind it is in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. There, it has successfully argued that it cannot produce witnesses because they are of such high intelligence value to the government that they have to be kept in secret. It has also argued that given that this is the case, the defendant can't subpoena these witnesses because their appearance, pursuant to Moussaoui's Sixth Amendment right to face his accusers, would be a grave threat to national security.

If prosecutors offer Abu Ali a deal and he refuses, he will sit in jail for years as the case winds it way through appeal after appeal, as his occurred in the Moussaoui saga.

If Abu Ali pleads guilty, he will no doubt be placed under a gag order, like that imposed on John Walker Lindh. It will require, most certainly, that he never speak in public about anything related to the court case, or about what happened to him while he was in Saudi custody.

The plea agreement may also require that Abu Ali return to Saudi Arabia--as the agreement the government entered into with U.S. citizen Yaser Hamdi did--even though that means he will be separated from his family. (The agreement followed upon Hamdi's in his Supreme Court case.) [...]

If Abu Ali's case does end in a plea agreement--or, worse, in a precedent blessing this prosecution as constitutional--Americans' rights will have been very significantly diminished.

Such a result will mean that this nightmare is viewed as an entirely legal reality: The U.S. can work with a foreign government to arrest and imprison a U.S. citizen and torture him. It can allow the imprisonment to go on indefinitely; Abu Ali's took over twenty months. [...]

But, readers may object, what if the U.S. really thinks Abu Ali is a terrorist? The answer is that the U.S. can still protect its citizens from him--consistent with the Constitution.

How? The U.S. could have promptly extradited him from Saudi Arabia to face charges here. Once he was here, it could have honored his right, as a U.S. citizen, to an attorney, a speedy trial, and a right to pretrial release unless the government proved that he was a danger or a flight risk.

This is not too much to ask. And it is what the Constitution requires.

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War is Peace - John Bolton to the UN
March 8, 2005

In Bushzarro world, where up is down and logic is irrational, Bush nominates a man as ambassador to the United Nations who believes there is no United Nations. "There's no such thing as the United Nations," John Bolton declared in 1994. ''If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.'' Like the character Bizarro created by Otto Binder, Bolton Bizarro has a brain apparently functioning at a level of a kid -- or more accurately, Bolton Bizzaro operates on the level of a playground bully minus Ritalin. [...]

Jesse Helms commented on Bolton's irrational bully-boy stance when he told the neocon criminal organization, the American Enterprise Institute, "John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon." Considering Bolton's take on international treaties -- he never saw one he didn't want to send through a paper shredder -- Armageddon may not be entirely out of the question.

For Bolton Bizarro, as senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, the idea of international law, specifically the International Criminal Court (ICC), is "a product of fuzzy-minded romanticism [that] is not just naive, but dangerous." So ecstatic was Bolton over the decision of the United States to become an outlaw nation -- sending a letter U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on May 6, 2002 renouncing the Rome Treaty, signed by Clinton on December 31, 2000 -- he told the Wall Street Journal it was "the happiest moment of my government service." In Bushzarro world, there is nothing wrong with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression -- in fact, as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, such crimes are to be considered normal behavior between states. In renouncing the ICC, the United States joined such enlightened nations as China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar, and Israel in refusing to abide by the ICC. [...]

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More and more US relying on political news from internet
[07.03.2005 - 06:18]

Six times more US Citizens get political news from Internet.

The number of Americans relying on political news from the Internet grew sixfold between the 1996 and 2004 presidential campaigns. This growth was achieved by a sharp drop in the influence of newspapers.

Chicago Sun-Times reported that 18 % of American adults cited the Internet as one of their two main sources of news about the presidential races, compared with only 3 % in 1996. The reliance on TV grew only slightly to 78 percent, up from 72 percent.

Meanwhile, the influence of newspapers dropped sharp to 39 % last year, from 60 percent in 1996, according to the joint, telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Twenty-eight percent said they primarily used news pages of AOL, Yahoo, Google News and other online services, which carry dispatches from traditional news sources like the AP and Reuters.

Comment: Here we see the growing divide as the world moves towards greater and greater polarisation between the force of entropy and the force of creation. Those aligning with entropy are getting more and more of their news from the television while eschewing other forms of media. While the percentage of those going to the Internet is increasing, almost one-third (28%) are going to the mainstream media sites which means that 13% of Americans are looking for their news outside of the corporate and statist media.

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Al-Qaeda flourishing on internet, intelligence officials warn
Last Updated Tue, 08 Mar 2005 08:05:38 EST
CBC News
OTTAWA - Radical groups such as al-Qaeda have developed a strong command of the internet, using it for everything from fundraising to recruiting, according to the head of Canada's security service.

Jim Judd, who was appointed director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in November, says Osama bin Laden's network has compensated for the loss of its training camps in Afghanistan by using the internet to run lucrative credit-card fraud schemes, publish training manuals and recruit new fighters.

"Followers are recruited around the world, including in our own country," Judd told a Senate committee reviewing Canada's Anti-terrorism Act.

He said CSIS keeps tabs on more than 100 people it suspects have links to terrorist groups. Increasingly, the names on the watch list belong to young Muslim men, many of them born in Canada as well as Europe and the United States.

The number of adherents to terrorism has grown since al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Judd said.

"We are encountering here and elsewhere individuals who are native born in their country showing up as associates or members of terrorist groups," he said.

Nearly 4,000 known Islamist websites

That trend is encouraged by nearly 4,000 Islamist websites and chat rooms that can be found online at any given time. They post everything from video clips of sermons by radical imams to bomb-making manuals, intelligence officials say.

Last year, al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even managed to publish 23 issues of a sophisticated 40-page online magazine called Al Battah.

Rita Katz, head of an American institute that searches for websites related to militant groups such as al-Qaeda, says Islamic extremists have acquired highly trained experts with a sophisticated knowledge of the internet.

"We have cases of people with PhDs in computers, people who were employed by internet security companies, people who are extremely familiar with the network," she said.

"When you have a U.S. passport [or] a Canadian passport, you can move freely and no one will arrest you."

Comment: Al Qaeda and the Internet. We all know where this is leading, don't we? The need for more and more control over who uses it and what content it is permitted to carry.

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War on terror may breed more terrorism, experts tell Madrid summit
Wed Mar 9,12:33 AM ET

MADRID - Military strikes and draconian measures against terrorists may create even more terror, US-based academics warned at a summmit here as Spain prepared to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadly train bombings in the capital.

The experts said Europe could learn from Washington's mistakes in this regard.

"Europe can learn from America's mistakes and successes. Among the successes was not to allow any religious group to dominate society. But a strong militant stance may lead to more violence," said Mark Juergensmeyer, the director of international studies at the University of California.

Comment: More to the point, one of America's "successes" was to use a religious group, fundamentalist Christians, to help seize and maintain power and control. Technically, Juergensmeyer's statement is correct in that the fundies do not dominate society; their ardent faith is simply being used as a tool by the powers that be to control everyone. The fundamentalists are being hoodwinked with tales of the "end times" and floating up to heaven on a cloud to meet Jesus, while all the heathens are "left behind". To the fundies, Bush is their savior in that he is seen as fulfilling the prophecy, so to speak. At the same time, a male prostitute named James Guckert - one man in a long line of homosexual prostitutes linked to the Bush family and the Republican party - who is good buddies with someone in the Bush administration is allowed to pretend to be a White House reporter even though he has basically zero credentials.

He was speaking to the press on the first day of a summit marking the anniversary of the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, where several delegates pointed to the dangers of the "war on terror" led by the United States.

Juergensmeyer said the US military's detention of Islamic militants captured in Afghanistan as "prisoners of war" at Guantanamo Bay had exacerbated the threat of extremism.

"We have the Guantanamo effect. That is dealing with terror in such a way that it has an incubator effect. One has to examine the penal system's role in creating more terrorism," Juergensmeyer said. [...]

Louise Richardson, the dean of the Radcliff Institute at Harvard, said she opposed the US-led war "on Iraq precisely because I feared that it would have this effect.

"The US government has done a lot of things in response to terrorism that it may regret," she said. [...]

Comment: Unless there were no real terrorists to begin with, and then the Bush administration's actions make perfect sense... Don't have an enemy? Make one! Bush himself may be just a mindless cowboy, but the brains behind him - like Karl Rove - are extremely cunning.

Praising the response of the Spanish government, which is holding 23 suspects for the bombings, she said Europe and the United States dealt with terrorism "differently" though sharing the same aims.

Some 200 delegates, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and about 20 heads of state and goverment are meeting in Madrid over four days to search for a democratic response to terrorism.

The summit is organised by the Club of Madrid, a group of ex-government leaders, whose president Fernando Enrique Cardoso urged here that no measure to fight terrorism breach international law.

Comment: Oops! Too late.

"Sometimes resorting to force is necessary but it must strictly adhere to international law. Sometimes the effect of military force is counterproductive," he said.

US billionaire financier George Soros, who is also attending the summit, on Tuesday told Spanish radio that Washington's strategy was dangerous because it had sparked anger around the world.

"In Iraq," he said, "there are more people wanting to kill Americans than there were before.

"These people didn't think like that before the Americans arrived and did what they did. The attitude of creating innocent victims creates terrorists. It's as simple as that." [...]

Lee, ex-Irish president and UN rights chief Mary Robinson and former president of Cape Verde, Antonio Mascharenhas Monteiro, who briefed reporters on the sidelines of the conference, all underlined the need for democratic standards in fighting terrorism. [...]

She singled out the United States for taking draconian measures against terror suspects, detaining some without trial at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba following the conflict in Afghanistan, in Washington's attempt to prosecute a global "war on terror."

And she warned that democracies, had, in seeking to combat terrorism, to address the root causes of terrorism, the "anger, frustration and despair" of groups who perceive themselves as marginalised.

Cape Verde's Monteiro for his part warned against accepting religion as an "excuse" for fomenting terrorist violence.

"Violence can never be an option for religion. Religion preaches love, tolerance and harmony," he said, warning against false "interpretations" of religious doctrines.

"We must combat poverty. The rich countries bear an enormous responsibility here," Monteiro said, while echoing Robinson's warning on abuses within a democracy.

Comment: It seems there are two definitions of terrorism. First, there is the terrorism conducted by numerous independent groups that has plagued many European countries for years. In dealing with such violent groups, Europe has not yet cracked down on civil liberties the way that the US has in the war on terror. There appears to be an understanding among European governments that limited increases in security and containment are the best ways to fight violent groups. There is a realisation that responding to violent acts with yet more violence only results in a descending spiral that can only lead to chaos. In contrast, the US war on terror, centered around the Mossad/CIA-created al-Qaeda group, has essentially been an excuse to satisfy the imperial ambitions of the Neocons and their Zionist counterparts. While the recent meeting in Spain on the subject of terrorism may appear to be a more constructive approach to the matter, none of the attendees wanted to really make a distinction between "terrorist" groups committing acts of violence and the invented terrorism that is the tool of those who wish to dominate and control through fascist measures.

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Nineteen People Found Shot Dead in Iraqi Town
March 9, 2005

BAGHDAD - The bodies of 19 people who were shot dead were found in the western Iraqi town of Qaim, hospital sources said Wednesday.

All 19, including a woman, were wearing civilian clothes, said Doctor Hamdi al-Alousi, the director of Qaim Hospital. Police said the bodies were discovered Tuesday night.

Another doctor at the hospital said a police identification document was found on one of the corpses. [...]

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U.S. Panel Faults Intelligence on Iran Weapons - NYT
Wed Mar 9,12:17 AM ET

WASHINGTON - A presidential commission investigating prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons has concluded that U.S. data on Iran's arms is "inadequate," The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing people who have been briefed on the panel's work.

In a report to President Bush later this month, the panel will describe American intelligence on Iran "as inadequate to allow firm judgments about Iran's weapons program," the newspaper reported in an article posted on its Web site.

A spokesman for the nine-member commission declined direct comment on the New York Times report.

"The report itself isn't complete yet and the full details will be presented to the president," spokesman Larry McQuillan said.

Bush accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and called it part of an "axis of evil." Tehran insists its nuclear program is intended solely to generate electricity.

The New York Times report said one person who described the panel's deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as "scandalous" given the importance and relative openness of the country, compared to North Korea. [...]

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US allegation on Iran's nuclear program hollow 2005-03-08 19:43:17
TEHRAN, March 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani has termed as "hollow" the US allegation that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, the official IRNA news agency reported Tuesday.

"Iran is not after developing nuclear arms or mass killing weapons, and I recommend the US not to terrify the world with hollow allegations," Rowhani was quoted as saying on Monday evening.

"Iran, as a principle not in need of any forms of nuclear bombs, was not a lover of adventurism and never intended to enter wars with any country," Rowhani said, adding that the Iranian nation would confront any threats and resist any attacks.

However, the negotiator underlined that Iran needed new sciences, advanced technology and nuclear energy for its infrastructure and construction projects.

The United States accused Tehran of developing nuclear weapons secretly and urged to refer Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council.

Iran rejected the charge, terming it as politically motivated.

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New oil, gas fields discovered in southern Iran 2005-03-08 20:09:39
TEHRAN, March 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh announced here Tuesday that Iran has discovered two new oil and gas fields in the south of the country.

The new oil field, with an estimated capacity of 5.7 billion barrels, was located in the southern province of Khuzestan, 40 km northeast of the provincial capital of Ahvaz, Zanganeh told reporters.

"The field also holds 242 billion cubic meters of gas, of which 36 billion cubic meters are recoverable," he said.

Zanganeh said that the gas field is situated east of the great South Pars gas field in another southern province of Bushehr and the capacity is estimated at 168 billion cubic meters of gas and 183 million barrels of gas condensate.

The minister added that the oil field belonged solely to Iran while the gas field was shared with another country.

Iran previously boasted that it has 132 billion barrels of oil and 26,800 billion cubic meters of gas in proven reserves, both at the second in the global list.

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Israel to phase out Palestinian labor by 2008 2005-03-08 20:36:59
JERUSALEM, March 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Israel plans to phase out Palestinian labor by 2008, the head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Tuesday.

Israel made the decision in response to more than four years of fighting with the Palestinians, IDF chief Moshe Yaalon told a security conference, Ha'aretz reported.

"Our goal is to stop any kind of Palestinian working in Israel by 2008. This is our policy, this is our political directive and this is because of what has happened here over the last four and a half years," Yaalon said.

However, Israel will allow goods to flow freely through Israel's borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a military official saidon condition of anonymity.

Before the outbreak of violence in 2000, more than 150,000 Palestinian workers were in Israel, most in menial jobs Israelis refused to fill.

Palestinian economy has traditionally relied heavily on work in Israel. During the recent violence when workers were barred from entering Israel, unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip skyrocketed, leading to high poverty rates.

Comment: Israel's goal is to cut off the "unclean" Palestinians from any contact with the Israelis: force them into small enclaves, surround those enclaves with the apartheid wall, control the checkpoints to make travel as difficult as possible, and, finally, lock the doors and throw away the key before letting lose the ethnic specific weapons.

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Italy Demands Justice from U.S. Over Iraq Death
Tue Mar 8, 2005 09:24 AM ET
By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's foreign minister rejected Tuesday a U.S. account of how its forces killed an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq and urged Washington to punish any soldiers found guilty of wrongdoing in the shooting.

"It is our duty to demand truth and justice," Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini told parliament.

Agent Nicola Calipari has been hailed as a hero in Italy after he died shielding a newly freed hostage from U.S. gunfire as they drove to Baghdad airport last Friday.

The killing has strained ties between the United States and Italy, which has been one of President Bush's staunchest allies in Europe over the war in Iraq.

Fini dismissed speculation that U.S. forces deliberately fired on the Italians, but he said a U.S. military statement on the incident appeared to be at odds with what actually happened.

"It was certainly an accident, an accident caused by a series of circumstances and coincidences," Fini said.

"But this doesn't mean, in fact it makes it necessary, to demand that events are clarified ... to identify those responsible, and if people are to blame then to request and ensure that the guilty parties are punished," he added.

The U.S. military has said its soldiers fired on the Italians' car after it approached a checkpoint at speed and failed to heed signals to slow down.

But in a detailed reconstruction, Fini insisted that the Italians had been driving slowly and had received no warning.


Fini said that immediately after the shooting, U.S. soldiers had apologized profusely to freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena and an unnamed Italian intelligence officer who survived the fire.

"The government has a duty to point out that the reconstruction of the tragic event that I have set out ... does not coincide totally with what has been said so far by the U.S. authorities," Fini said.

President Bush has promised an investigation. In previous "friendly-fire" deaths, the Pentagon has not publicly admitted to any culpability on the part of U.S. forces.

Italy deployed 3,000 troops to Iraq following the fall of Baghdad and has made clear that it will not withdraw its troops despite Calipari's death. But it fears any hint of a U.S. whitewash over the incident will fuel anti-American sentiment.

Sgrena, an award-winning journalist who was held hostage for a month in Iraq before Calipari masterminded her release, has suggested the Italians were fired at because the United States opposes Rome's practice of negotiating with kidnappers.

The White House has rejected that suggestion.


The Islamic militant group that held Sgrena hostage said in a tape released Tuesday that they had rejected offers of a ransom for her release. Italian newspapers have reported that between $6 million to $8 million was handed over by Italy.

Fini Tuesday gave a long account of Calipari's fatal mission to Baghdad but made no mention of any ransom. He said Rome had never considered a military swoop to free Sgrena for fear such an operation would endanger her life.

He said Calipari arrived in Baghdad Friday afternoon after establishing contact with the kidnappers. He checked in with U.S. authorities at the airport before driving off with an Italian colleague to meet an Iraqi middleman.

The middleman took them to Sgrena, who was seated in the wreckage of a car, dressed in black robes and wearing a mask.

On the drive back to the airport, the Italians left the lights on in the car to help identify them to U.S. checkpoints.

As they neared the airport, the car slowed to about 40-km/h because the road was wet and because the driver had to make a sharp turning. Half way around the curve, a searchlight picked out the car and guns opened fire for 10-15 seconds, Fini said.

The intelligence officer who survived the attack was forced to kneel in the road until the soldiers realized who he was.

"Two young Americans approached our officer and, demoralized, repeatedly apologized for what had happened," Fini said.

Comment: While the two recounting of the facts last Friday evening in Baghdad are impossible to reconcile, the photos released today by RAI in Italy of the car in which Giuliana Sgrena and Nicola Calipari were traveling add to the confusion. The only bullet hole in the car was through the windshield, at least on the pictures available. Whether more will be found we must wait to discover. However, it does appear that if the US forces fired many hundreds of rounds, they are either not very good shots, or they were firing into the air. Is the bullet hole through the windshield a stray bullet, or the shot of an expert marksman who was told to take out one of the passengers?

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Bush risks losing the plot over Cuba
Simon Tisdall
Wednesday March 9, 2005
The Guardian

Unrelenting US pressure on Cuba, set to ratchet up again at next week's UN human rights commission meeting in Geneva, is testing relations between the Bush administration and a new generation of centre-left Latin American leaders.

As it has done each year since the early 1990s, the US will urge the commission to adopt a resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record. And Cuban officials predict that the US will again use "arm-twisting and threats" to get its way.

Republican attacks on President Fidel Castro's communist government intensified during last year's American election campaign. The treasury secretary, John Snow, tightened the 42-year-old US embargo and vowed to "bring an end to the ruthless and brutal dictatorship".

But George Bush's victory has not eased the pressure - rather the reverse. A Republican-led congressional committee gave a platform to Cuban dissidents last week to publicise Cuba's "atrocious" behaviour. Porter Goss, the CIA chief, recently described Cuba (and Venezuela) as a source of regional instability.

New US rules, effective this month, will create more obstacles to American food sales to Cuba, affecting staples such as rice, wheat, soybeans and dried milk, in addition to the tougher curbs on commerce, visas and travel.

The US devotes an estimated $36m annually to encouraging political change in Cuba, employing the "soft power" tactics successfully used in eastern Europe.

But according to Abelardo Moreno, Cuba's deputy foreign minister, the latest US moves could foreshadow more muscular intervention.

"US officials are publicly speaking of regime change in Cuba. They were already attacking us as sponsors of terrorism. Now we are told we are an 'outpost of tyranny'," Mr Moreno said in London on Monday.

"We do not discount the possibility of military action against Cuba. The administration has to prepare public opinion. So human rights are being used. If the [UN] resolution is adopted, it will be extremely dangerous, more so than in previous years."

Mr Moreno described the peaceful opposition as "mercenaries" in the pay of the US. But Christine Chanet, the UN commission's Cuba envoy, offered a different perspective last week.

Ms Chanet deplored Cuba's detention of 61 dissidents, first jailed in 2003, and the continuing arrest, disproportionate sentencing and intimidation of non-violent political opponents.

Human Rights Watch's 2004 report said that "the Cuban government systematically denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement and a fair trial".

The EU, which fell out with Cuba over the 2003 arrests, still has misgivings, despite a rapprochement promoted by Britain and Spain. The Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell raised human rights concerns during a visit to Havana yesterday.

Yet for all its failings, and disconcertingly for the US, Cuba's government is steadily strengthening ties with its Latin American neighbours.

Recently installed leaders in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Venezuela were raised in the leftwing, activist tradition of the 1970s and 1980s. For them, Che Guevara is more than a romantic character in a motorcycle road movie, and Cuba's revolution is deserving of their protection.

While following a broadly pragmatic line these days, all oppose Washington's embargo as much as they opposed the US-driven, neo-liberal free market policies blamed for Latin America's economic woes.

Cuba's trade with Brazil has doubled since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Washington's bete noire, is investing in Cuba's nascent oil industry and supplying discounted fuel.

And Uruguay's new socialist leader, Tabare Vazquez, has restored full diplomatic relations. He revealed that Cuba was being considered for associate membership of the regional trade bloc, Mercosur. If agreed, this could further upset US plans for a "Free Trade Area of the Americas".

Mr Moreno evidently relishes Cuba's changing fortunes. "We feel very much more comfortable than before," he said. This, of course, is the opposite of what the US intends. While Mr Bush is busily remaking the Middle East in America's image, he may be losing the plot in his backyard.

Comment: The US is upset with Castro because he has had the gall to stand up to Yankee imperialism for forty-five years. He refuses to submit no matter how many troops, spies, and assassins have been sent to Cuba. The bloc of countries in Latin America is a bad example for the rest of the world, as was the democratically elected government of Salvadore Allende in Chile. And we know what happened to Allende. The world saw what the US means by "democracy".

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Bush senior no agent of charity
Associated Press in Washington
Wednesday March 9, 2005
The Guardian

Former president George Bush is finally confessing after 16 years.

The raincoat he told an agent give to a rain-drenched elderly woman in a Warsaw square belonged to the agent, not the president.

The woman, one of thousands of onlookers, was caught unprepared for the downpour that marked the speech the president made in the Polish capital in 1989.

Alongside her, in the front row, stood an American secret service agent with a raincoat, presumably the president's, folded over his arm.

Mr Bush, standing coatless on the platform under a large umbrella, motioned the agent to give the soaked woman the coat, which she happily accepted.

The incident was recorded as a kindly presidential gesture.

But when reminded of the incident yesterday by a reporter who was on the trip to Warsaw, Mr Bush smiled and declared: "Yes, but it was the agent's raincoat."

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Hundreds of Thousands of Shiites Stage Pro-Syrian Demonstration in Beirut
Juan Cole
Informed Comment

Hizbullah's call for a huge pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut was answered by hundreds of thousands of protesters on Tuesday. The largely Shiite crowds were huge compared to the smaller anti-Syrian demonstrations held for the past week.

The anti-Syrian protesters had mostly been Christians, with some Druze and Sunnis. But Lebanon is probably only now 20 percent Maronite Christian (the most anti-Syrian group), and may be as much as 40 percent Shiite.

The simplistic master narrative constructed by the partisans of President George W. Bush held that the January 30 elections were a huge success, and signalled a turn to democracy in the Middle East. Then the anti-Syrian demonstrations were interpreted as a yearning for democracy inspired by the Iraqi elections.

This interpretation is a gross misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East. Bush is not pushing with any real force for democratization of Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy) or Pakistan (where the elected parliament demands in vain that General Pervez Musharraf take off his uniform if he wants to be president), or Tunisia (where Zayn Ben Ali has just won his 4th unopposed term as president), etc. Democratization is being pushed only for regimes that Bush dislikes, such as Syria or Iran. The gestures that Mubarak of Egypt made (officially recognized parties may put up candidates to run against him, but not popular political forces like the Muslim Brotherhood) are empty.

In fact the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections were deeply flawed. 42 percent of the electorate did not show up. The elections could only be held by locking down the country for 3 days, forbidding all vehicular traffic to stop car bombings. The electorate had no idea for whom they were voting, since the candidates' names were secret until the last moment. The Sunni Arabs boycotted or were prevented from voting by the ongoing guerrilla war, which started right back up after the ban on traffic lapsed.

The Lebanese have been having often lively parliamentary election campaigns for decades. The idea that the urbane and sophisticated Beirutis had anything to learn from the Jan. 30 process in Iraq is absurd on the face of it. Elections were already scheduled in Lebanon for later this spring.

Moreover, the anti-Syrian protests were not a signal that the Lebanese wanted to be like American-occupied Iraq. They were a signal that the Druze, Maronites and a section of the Sunnis had agreed to try to push Syria out. It was the US who had invited Syria into Lebanon in 1976. And it was a sign that Lebanon is still deeply divided, since the Shiite plurality largely supports Syria. Given the pro-Syrian sentiment in some Sunni cities like Tripoli, it may well be that a majority of Lebanese want Syria to remain in some capacity. If that were true, what would it do to Mr. Bush's master narrative of the march of democracy?

The main exhibit for the relevance of Iraq to Lebanon is Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt's statement to the Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."

It is highly unlikely that Jumblatt is sincere in this statement. He has seen Lebanese vote for parliament several times, and has campaigned, and Iraq was nothing new to his experience (like Lebanon, it is occupied by a foreign military power even during its elections).

It is worth recalling Jumblatt's stance on Iraq and Paul Wolfowitz (for more on whom, see below):

November 19, 2003

US annuls visa for Lebanese politician who regretted Wolfowitz survived

BEIRUT, Nov 19 (AFP)

A leading Lebanese politician said Wednesday his US visa had been annulled after he expressed regret that US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was unhurt in a Baghdad rocket attack.

Walid Jumblatt, an MP who is leader of Lebanon's Druze community, told AFP he had "received from the US embassy in Beirut a letter saying that the visa -- valid until 2007 -- has been cancelled" . . .

According to a letter sent by the US State Department to Jumblatt and published by Al-Mostaqbal newspaper, the visa was withdrawn as it "cannot be given to a foreigner who uses a privileged position to express his support for terrorist activity, tries to convince others of such support or supports a terrorist organisation."

On October 27, Jumblatt described Wolfowitz as a "microbe" in comments that were described as "unacceptable" by the United States but were not condemned by the Lebanese government.

"We hope the firing will be more precise and efficient (next time), so we get rid of this microbe and people like him in Washington who are spreading disorder in Arab lands, Iraq and Palestine," Jumblatt said.

One US soldier was killed and 17 other people were wounded in late October when a volley of rockets was fired at the Rashid hotel in Baghdad that houses US military and other staff and where Wolfowitz had been staying.

But despite the cancellation of his visa, Jumblatt remained defiant on Wednesday.

"I am sticking to my position, I refute ... America's imperialist policy," he told France's RFI radio in an interview.

He also accused the United States of causing "chaos" in Iraq and putting a "puppet government" in place in Baghdad.

"They (the United States) will now continue the repression of the Iraqi people who are rejecting them," he added."

I guess now that Jumblatt sees a way of getting the Syrians out of Lebanon by allying with Bush, all of a sudden America is no longer an imperialist cause of chaos. People who want to believe that remind me of PT Barnum's dictum that one is born every minute.

Comment: We wonder what deal was made behind closed doors to change Jumblatt's mind? Secrecy. Deals made by politicians and hidden from the population that elected them. This is democracy, Western style. Until there are no more secrets, until all negotiations between peoples are carried out in the light of day, there will be no freedom, there will be no democracy. As long as national security comes before truth, there will be no freedom, there will be no democracy.

Government of the people, for the people, and by the people means that the people get to vote once every few years in rigged elections -- rigged either through the voting or by putting up candidates who express the same ideas in different words to fool the voters into believing their politics are different. The people's input ends in the ballot box. There is no discussion of policy, no dialogue or give and take, outside of backroom deals in the halls of parliament. By voting for representatives, the people exclude themselves from power. But direct democracy, or government through referendum, is no better. When the population is ignorant or apathetic, they do not have the knowledge necessary to decide for themselves. By imposing a school system that crushes independent thought and critical thinking, a cowed populace is formed which can be acted upon without any negative reactions.

But until the very stuff of mankind is changed through inner work on the self, a population capable of leading itself will not come into existence. As such work can not be imposed from above, but must come from an internal recognition of its necessity, it falls outside of the purview of any political party. In other words, our lot as a species is hopeless; we can only liberate ourselves as individuals, one by one.

What are the chances of such liberation outracing the madness sweeping the globe under the Bush Reich?

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Vietnam's long march towards justice for Agent Orange 2005-03-09 21:09:20
HANOI, March 9 (Xinhuanet) -- Despite facing a bumpy road ahead, the lawsuit against 37 US defoliant producers by Vietnamese Agent Orange victims -- the poorest among the poor, the most miserable among the miserable -- will bring about justice to them.

"The suit is not only for the life of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, but also for the legitimate rights of all victims in many other countries, including the United States. The suit is conducted because we believe that conscience and justice are stillrespected in this earth," Dang Vu Hiep, president of the Vietnam Agent Orange Victims' Association (VAVA), told Xinhua on Wednesday.

According to studies of US scientists, the US army forces dropped some 80 million litters of defoliants, mostly Agent Orange,which contained nearly 400 kilograms of dioxin, an extremely toxic substance, to Vietnam between 1961 and 1971.

Among 4.8 million local people exposed to the dioxin, 3 million are Agent Orange victims, many of whom, and even their children and grandchildren suffer from cancer and genetic deformities, Hiep noted.

"Tens of thousands of people have died in agony. Many women either have been unable to have babies or given birth to deformed children. Millions of people, including their children and grandchildren, are now living with diseases and in poverty due to cruel aftermaths of the Orange Agent spraying," he said.

To help Agent Orange victims overcome their painful experiences,the Vietnamese government as well as the international community has offered them both spiritual and practical support. The government has recently raised the level of financial allowances to the victims, while foreign countries, individuals and organizations from France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Chile among others, Hiep said.

Len Aldis, secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society,has received nearly 700,000 signatures from many countries after placing a petition in support of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims on the Internet. He has already set letters to US President George Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to seek support for the victims.

"In 1984, American veterans of the Vietnam War took the chemical companies which manufactured Agent Orange to court. The companies settled by paying a sum of 180 million US dollars. Today, in a court in New York, the city that is also home to the building of the United Nations, a lawsuit has begun, brought by three Vietnamese seriously affected by Agent Orange. This lawsuit also speaks for the 3 million victims in Vietnam. The lawsuit may take a number of years before a judgment is reached," says the letter sent to Kofi Annan.

An international conference on the effects of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam is to take place on March 11-12 in Paris, which will draw greater attention of the international community. "Via the conference, more people around the world will have concrete actions to assist the victims and strongly support their lawsuit against US chemical producers," Hiep said.

On Jan. 30, 2004, three Vietnamese Agent Orange victims brought the suit against 37 US companies that produced defoliants to the US district court in Brooklyn, New York. After much research of thousands of documents and legal arguments, the lawsuit began on Feb. 28, 2005.

"People on planes which sprayed toxic chemicals have been recognized that they are poisoned and infected with diseases. So, there is no reason for people, who had to receive the toxic on their head, ate and drank food and water containing the toxic, won't receive the same recognition. We believe that the lawsuit, withthe wide support of the fair international community, including the US public opinion, will certainly give us a victory," said Nguyen Thi Binh, VAVA honor chairwoman.

Comment: Long before Saddam Hussein was "gassing his own people", the US was using chemical agents on the civilian population of Vietnam. The US is also the only country to have used nuclear weapons against an enemy. Quite the record; something to be proud of, to fight for across the sands and mountains and oil fields of the Middle East.

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Super Volcano Will Challenge Civilization, Geologists Warn
By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Senior Writer
posted: 08 March 2005
06:30 am ET
The eruption of a super volcano "sooner or later" will chill the planet and threaten human civilization, British scientists warned Tuesday.

And now the bad news: There's not much anyone can do about it.

Several volcanoes around the world are capable of gigantic eruptions unlike anything witnessed in recorded history, based on geologic evidence of past events, the scientists said. Such eruptions would dwarf those of Mount St. Helens, Krakatoa, Pinatubo and anything else going back dozens of millennia.

"Super-eruptions are up to hundreds of times larger than these," said Stephen Self of the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) Open University.

"An area the size of North America can be devastated, and pronounced deterioration of global climate would be expected for a few years following the eruption," Self said. "They could result in the devastation of world agriculture, severe disruption of food supplies, and mass starvation. These effects could be sufficiently severe to threaten the fabric of civilization."

Self and his colleagues at the Geological Society of London presented their report to the U.K. Government's Natural Hazard Working Group.

"Although very rare these events are inevitable, and at some point in the future humans will be faced with dealing with and surviving a super eruption," Stephen Sparks of the University of Bristol told LiveScience in advance of Tuesday's announcement.

Supporting evidence

The warning is not new. Geologists in the United States detailed a similar scenario in 2001, when they found evidence suggesting volcanic activity in Yellowstone National Park will eventually lead to a colossal eruption. Half the United States will be covered in ash up to 3 feet (1 meter) deep, according to a study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Explosions of this magnitude "happen about every 600,000 years at Yellowstone," says Chuck Wicks of the U.S. Geological Survey, who has studied the possibilities in separate work. "And it's been about 620,000 years since the last super explosive eruption there."

Past volcanic catastrophes at Yellowstone and elsewhere remain evident as giant collapsed basins called calderas.

A super eruption is a scaled up version of a typical volcanic outburst, Sparks explained. Each is caused by a rising and growing chamber of hot molten rock known as magma.

"In super eruptions the magma chamber is huge," Sparks said. The eruption is rapid, occurring in a matter of days. "When the magma erupts the overlying rocks collapse into the chamber, which has reduced its pressure due to the eruption. The collapse forms the huge crater."

The eruption pumps dust and chemicals into the atmosphere for years, screening the Sun and cooling the planet. Earth is plunged into a perpetual winter, some models predict, causing plant and animal species disappear forever.

"The whole of a continent might be covered by ash, which might take many years -- possibly decades -- to erode away and for vegetation to recover," Sparks said.

Yellowstone may be winding down geologically, experts say. But they believe it harbors at least one final punch. Globally, there are still plenty of possibilities for super volcano eruptions, even as Earth quiets down over the long haul of its 4.5-billion-year existence.

"The Earth is of course losing energy, but at a very slow rate, and the effects are only really noticeable over billions rather than millions of years," Sparks said.

Human impact

The odds of a globally destructive volcano explosion in any given century are extremely low, and no scientist can say when the next one will occur. But the chances are five to 10 times greater than a globally destructive asteroid impact, according to the new British report.

The next super eruption, whenever it occurs, might not be the first one humans have dealt with.

About 74,000 years ago, in what is now Sumatra, a volcano called Toba blew with a force estimated at 10,000 times that of Mount St. Helens. Ash darkened the sky all around the planet. Temperatures plummeted by up to 21 degrees at higher latitudes, according to research by Michael Rampino, a biologist and geologist at New York University.

Rampino has estimated three-quarters of the plant species in the Northern Hemisphere perished.

Stanley Ambrose, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, suggested in 1998 that Rampino's work might explain a curious bottleneck in human evolution: The blueprints of life for all humans -- DNA -- are remarkably similar given that our species branched off from the rest of the primate family tree a few million years ago.

Ambrose has said early humans were perhaps pushed to the edge of extinction after the Toba eruption -- around the same time folks got serious about art and tool making. Perhaps only a few thousand survived. Humans today would all be descended from these few, and in terms of the genetic code, not a whole lot would change in 74,000 years.

Sitting ducks

Based on the latest evidence, eruptions the size of the giant Yellowstone and Toba events occur at least every 100,000 years, Sparks said, "and it could be as high as every 50,000 years. There are smaller but nevertheless huge eruptions which would have continental to global consequences every 5,000 years or so."

Unlike other threats to mankind -- asteroids, nuclear attacks and global warming to name a few -- there's little to be done about a super volcano.

"While it may in future be possible to deflect asteroids or somehow avoid their impact, even science fiction cannot produce a credible mechanism for averting a super eruption," the new report states. "No strategies can be envisaged for reducing the power of major volcanic eruptions."

The Geological Society of London has issued similar warnings going back to 2000. The scientists this week called for more funding to investigate further the history of super eruptions and their likely effects on the planet and on modern society.

"Sooner or later a super eruption will happen on Earth and this issue also demands serious attention," the report concludes.

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Scan reveals King Tut's mysterious injury
Staff and agencies
Tuesday March 8, 2005

The results of a CT scan done on King Tutankhamun's mummy indicate the boy king was not murdered, but may have suffered a badly broken leg shortly before his death at age 19 - a wound that could have become infected, Egypt's top archaeologist said today.

Zahi Hawass announced the results of the CT scan about two months after it was performed on Tut's mummy. Hawass says the remains of Tutankhamun, who ruled about 3,300 years ago, showed no signs that he had been murdered - dispelling a mystery that has long surrounded the pharaoh's death.

"In answer to theories that Tutankhamun was murdered, the team found no evidence for a blow to the back of the head, and no other indication of foul play," according to a statement released Tuesday by Egyptian authorities.

"They also found it extremely unlikely that he suffered an accident in which he crushed his chest."

Hawass says some members of the Egyptian-led research team, which included two Italian experts and one from Switzerland, interpreted a fracture to Tut's left thighbone as evidence that the king may have broken his leg badly just before he died.

"Although the break itself would not have been life-threatening, infection might have set in," the statement says. "However, this part of the team believes it also possible, although less likely, that this fracture was caused by the embalmers."

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Earthquake jolts town of Zarrin-Dasht in Iran
Wednesday, March 09, 2005 - ©2005

LONDON, March 9 (IranMania) - An earthquake jolted the town of Zarrin-Dasht in Fars province, southern Iran, Tuesday evening. According to Iran's Official News Agency (IRNA), it was measuring 4.2 on the open-ended Richter scale

The seismological base of Fars province, affiliated to the Geophysics Institute of Tehran University recorded the tremor at 22:38 local time (1908 GMT).

The epicenter of the quake was registered at 28/22 degree latitude and 54/37 degree longitude in Zarrin-Dasht. The tremble caused no damage, the report said.

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S.African Earthquake Traps 42 Miners Underground
Wed Mar 9, 2005 11:10 AM ET
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - An earthquake in South Africa trapped 42 miners when it collapsed some deep underground tunnels, gold mining company DRDGOLD told Reuters.

"Some of the access tunnels have been closed by fallen rock ... the guys are digging like mad at the moment trying to get to them," spokesman Ilja Graulich at gold mining company.

The quake measured 5.0 on the Richter scale and was felt in Johannesburg at 12:16 p.m. It had its epicenter near the town of Stilfontein, 97 miles southwest of Johannesburg, experts at the Council for Geoscience in Pretoria said.

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Large Plume Billows From Mount St. Helens
Tue Mar 8,10:56 PM ET

MOUNT ST. HELENS, Wash. - Mount St. Helens released a towering plume of ash Tuesday, its most significant emission in months but one that seismologists did not believe heralded any major eruption.

The volcano has vented ash and steam since last fall, when thousands of small earthquakes marked a seismic reawakening of the 8,364-foot mountain.

Late afternoon television footage showed the plume billowing thousands of feet into the air, then drifting slowly to the northeast.

The ash explosion happened around 5:25 p.m., about an hour after a 2.0 magnitude quake rumbled on the east side of the mountain, said Bill Steele, coordinator of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network at the University of Washington.

Steele said he did not believe the explosion had increased the risk of a significant eruption and noted that recent flights over the volcano's crater did not reveal high levels of gases. [...]

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Icy Snowstorm Comes on Strong in Northeast
By GREG SUKIENNIK, Associated Press Writer
Wed Mar 9, 2005 12:09 AM ET

BOSTON - A late-winter storm lashed parts of the Northeast with icy winds and frigid temperatures Tuesday, closing Boston's airport, knocking out power to thousands of homes and dumping at least 8 inches of snow in some areas.

Whiteout conditions forced authorities to close Logan International Airport after a number of flights were canceled. Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella said the airport planned to reopen early Wednesday.

Boston expected to receive 6 to 8 inches of snow by Wednesday; the weather service said western suburbs were already reporting 8 inches late Tuesday. Wind gusts over 50 mph were creating dangerous wind chills; minus 24 degree wind chills were forecast for Worcester through Wednesday morning.

Scattered power outages caused by gusty winds left about 22,000 utility customers without electricity.

In New Jersey, slick driving conditions caused scores of highway wrecks. "I have more accidents than I have troopers," state police Capt. Al Della Fave said.

The state remained under a wind advisory. Winds reached 61 mph hour in northwest New Jersey, and 50 mph in Atlantic City.

The wintery conditions came only a day after spring-like weather raised temperatures in the Northeast into the 60s under clear, sunny skies.

In North Carolina, a line of strong thunderstorms rumbled across the countryside with winds up to 70 mph, toppling trees, damaging buildings and cutting electrical service to tens of thousands of homes.

At one point, more than 34,000 utility customers were without power. [...]

A suspected tornado threw a large pine tree into a home in Wilson County, punching a hole in the roof.

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Football coach admits to licking player's blood
March 8, 2005, 06:20 PM

HALSEY -- A state panel is expected to investigate a high school football coach who acknowledged licking one of his player's cuts.

The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission decided to look at the case after a parent complained that Central Linn High School coach of Scott Reed's "repeated inappropriate behavior."

The 34-year-old was disciplined for licking the bleeding knee of an athlete. The school district placed Reed on probation and required him to take a "bloodborne pathogens" course.

The student whose knee was licked told police it happened after Reed had given team members a pep talk about a coach licking and healing the wounds of injured players.

Reed asked permission, then knelt down and licked the boy's knee.

An athlete says Reed seemed to be "joking around" and the licked athlete was not offended.

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And finally...

Playgirl Editor Not Ashamed

The editor of Playgirl has come "out" as a Republican. Since being the editor of Playgirl is way more embarrassing, we're not sure what the big deal is. Anyhow, we were interested in her take on ideology in the bedroom: "The Democrats of the Sixties were all about making love and not war while a war-loving Republican is a man who would fight, bleed, sacrifice, and die for his country. Could you imagine what that very same man would do for his wife in the bedroom?" Gee, great question. Plant a flag in her head? Frag her?

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