Tuesday, March 22, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

The Economics of Conspiracy Theories
By Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

Barry Chamish is convinced that Shimon Peres, Israel's wily old statesman, ordered the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, back in 1995, in collaboration with the French. He points to apparent tampering with evidence. The blood-stained song sheet in Mr. Rabin's pocket lost its bullet hole between the night of the murder and the present. The murderer, Yigal Amir, should have been immediately recognized by Rabin's bodyguards. He has publicly attacked his query before. Israel's fierce and fearsome internal security service, the Shabak, had moles and agents provocateurs among the plotters. Chamish published a book about the affair. He travels and lectures widely, presumably for a fee. Chamish's paranoia-larded prose is not unique. The transcripts of Senator Joseph McCarthy's inquisitions are no less outlandish. But it was the murder of John F. Kennedy, America's youthful president, that ushered in a golden age of conspiracy theories.

The distrust of appearances and official versions was further enhanced by the Watergate scandal in 1973-4. Conspiracies and urban legends offer meaning and purposefulness in a capricious, kaleidoscopic, maddeningly ambiguous, and cruel world. They empower their otherwise helpless and terrified believers.

New World Order, One World Government, Zionist and Jewish cabals, Catholic, black, yellow, or red subversion, the machinations attributed to the freemasons and the illuminati - all flourished yet again from the 1970's onwards. Paranoid speculations reached frenzied nadirs following the deaths of celebrities, such as "Princess Di". Books like "The Da Vinci Code" (which deals with an improbable Catholic conspiracy to erase from history the true facts about the fate of Jesus) sell millions of copies worldwide.

Tony Blair, Britain's ever righteous prime minister denounced the "Diana Death Industry". He was referring to the tomes and films which exploited the wild rumors surrounding the fatal car crash in Paris in 1997. The Princess, her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed, heir to a fortune, as well as their allegedly inebriated driver were killed in the accident.

Among the exploiters were "The Times" of London which promptly published a serialized book by Time magazine reports. Britain's TV networks, led by Live TV, capitalized on comments made by al-Fayed's father to the "Mirror" alleging foul play.

But there is more to conspiracy theories than mass psychology. It is also big business. Voluntary associations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society are past their heyday. But they still gross many millions of dollars a year.

The monthly "Fortean Times" is the leading brand in "strange phenomena and experiences, curiosities, prodigies and portents". It is widely available on both sides of the Atlantic. In its 29 years of existence it has covered the bizarre, the macabre, and the ominous with panache and open-mindedness.

It is named after Charles Fort who compiled unexplained mysteries from the scientific literature of his age (he died in 1932). He published four bestsellers in his lifetime and lived to see "Fortean societies" established in many countries.

A 12 months subscription to "Fortean Times" costs c. $45. With a circulation of 60,000, the magazine was able to spin off "Fortean Television" - a TV show on Britain's Channel Four. Its reputation was further enhanced when it was credited with inspiring the TV hit series X-Files and The Sixth Sense.

"Lobster Magazine" - a bi-annual publication - is more modest at $15 a year. It is far more "academic" looking and it sells CD ROM compilations of its articles at between $80 (for individuals) and $160 (for institutions and organizations) a piece. It also makes back copies of its issues available.

Its editor, Robin Ramsay, said in a lecture delivered to the "Unconvention 96", organized by the "Fortean Times":

"Conspiracy theories certainly are sexy at the moment ... I've been contacted by five or six TV companies in the past six months - two last week - all interested in making programmes about conspiracy theories. I even got a call from the Big Breakfast Show, from a researcher who had no idea who I was, asking me if I'd like to appear on it ... These days we've got conspiracy theories everywhere; and about almost everything."

But these two publications are the tip of a gigantic and ever-growing iceberg. "Fortean Times" reviews, month in and month out, books, PC games, movies, and software concerned with its subject matter. There is an average of 8 items per issue with a median price of $20 per item.

There are more than 186,600 Web sites dedicated to conspiracy theories in Google's database of 3 billion pages. The "conspiracy theories" category in the Open Directory Project, a Web directory edited by volunteers, contains hundreds of entries.

There are 1077 titles about conspiracies listed in Amazon and another 12078 in its individually-operated ZShops. A new (1996) edition of the century-old anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlet faked by the Czarist secret service, "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion", is available through Amazon. Its sales rank is a respectable 64,000 - out of more than 2 million titles stocked by the online bookseller.

In a disclaimer, Amazon states:

"The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is classified under "controversial knowledge" in our store, along with books about UFOs, demonic possession, and all manner of conspiracy theories."

Yet, cinema and TV did more to propagate modern nightmares than all the books combined. The Internet is starting to have a similar impact compounded by its networking capabilities and by its environment of simulated reality - "cyberspace". In his tome, "Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America", Robert Alan Goldberg comes close to regarding the paranoid mode of thinking as a manifestation of mainstream American culture.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the first 50 all time hits include at least one "straight" conspiracy theory movie (in the 13th place) - "Men in Black" with $587 million in box office receipts. JFK (in the 193rd place) grossed another $205 million. At least ten other films among the first 50 revolve around a conspiracy theory disguised as science fiction or fantasy. "The Matrix" - in the 28th place - took in $456 million. "The Fugitive" closes the list with $357 million. This is not counting "serial" movies such as James Bond, the reification of paranoia shaken and stirred. [...]

It is impossible to tell how many people feed off the paranoid frenzy of the lunatic fringe. I found more than 3000 lecturers on these subjects listed by the Google search engine alone. Even assuming a conservative schedule of one lecture a month with a modest fee of $250 per appearance - we are talking about an industry of c. $10 million.

Collective paranoia has been boosted by the Internet. Consider the computer game "Majestic" by Electronic Arts. It is an interactive and immersive game, suffused with the penumbral and the surreal. It is a Web reincarnation of the borderlands and the twilight zone - centered around a nefarious and lethal government conspiracy. It invades the players' reality - the game leaves them mysterious messages and "tips" by phone, fax, instant messaging, and e-mail. A typical round lasts 6 months and costs $10 a month.

Neil Young, the game's 31-years old, British-born, producer told Salon.com recently:

"... The concept of blurring the lines between fact and fiction, specifically around conspiracies. I found myself on a Web site for the conspiracy theory radio show by Art Bell ... the Internet is such a fabulous medium to blur those lines between fact and fiction and conspiracy, because you begin to make connections between things. It's a natural human reaction - we connect these dots around our fears. Especially on the Internet, which is so conspiracy-friendly. That was what was so interesting about the game; you couldn't tell whether the sites you were visiting were Majestic-created or normal Web sites..." [...]

Conspiracy theories have pervaded every facet of our modern life. A.H. Barbee describes in "Making Money the Telefunding Way" (published on the Web site of the Institute for First Amendment Studies) how conspiracy theorists make use of non-profit "para-churches".

They deploy television, radio, and direct mail to raise billions of dollars from their followers through "telefunding". Under section 170 of the IRS code, they are tax-exempt and not obliged even to report their income. The Federal Trade commission estimates that 10% of the $143 billion donated to charity each year may be solicited fraudulently.

Lawyers represent victims of the Gulf Syndrome for hefty sums. Agencies in the USA debug bodies - they "remove" brain "implants" clandestinely placed by the CIA during the Cold War. They charge thousands of dollars a pop. Cranks and whackos - many of them religious fundamentalists - use inexpensive desktop publishing technology to issue scaremongering newsletters (remember Mel Gibson in the movie "Conspiracy Theory"?).

Tabloids and talk shows - the only source of information for nine tenths of the American population - propagate these "news". Museums - the UFO museum in New Mexico or the Kennedy Assassination museum in Dallas, for instance - immortalize them. Memorabilia are sold through auction sites and auction houses for thousands of dollars an item.

Numerous products were adversely affected by conspiratorial smear campaigns. In his book "How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From", Daniel Pipes describes how the sales of Tropical Fantasy plummeted by 70% following widely circulated rumors about the sterilizing substances it allegedly contained - put there by the KKK. Other brands suffered a similar fate: Kool and Uptown cigarettes, Troop Sport clothing, Church's Fried Chicken, and Snapple soft drinks.

It all looks like one giant conspiracy to me. Now, here's one theory worth pondering...

Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited

Comment: The first question one might ask is: Where exactly did this guy come up with his information? Nine tenths of the American population get their news from tabloids and conspiracy-oriented news organizations?? Yeah, that's why Fox News and all the right-wing, ultra-conservatives in the US are so popular nowadays. How about the "billion dollar" conspiracy industry? Sure, if an organization is COINTELPRO, its budget can be enormous - but the ordinary folks who are just trying to shine the light of truth upon the mountains of lies that infest our reality - including those from "experts" like Vaknin - can usually barely scrape a few bucks together just to keep going.

This article sure is rich, and for a very good reason: It is written by a self-admitted psychopath. Oh, yeah, Vaknin calls himself a "narcissist," but that's "just semantics" as the reader will soon see.

A web site entitled Malignant Self-Love/Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Sam Vaknin Revisited discusses Vaknin's book:

To cut to the chase - for a review of Sam Vaknin's book, among other facts, by someone diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and still in therapy after 7 years, go here: Was There a Need to Revisit Narcissism? Where is Sam Vaknin Leading People Affected by NPD?

But, if you click the link, you discover that it has been removed. Fortunately, the web archive still has a copy here, where we learn:

"Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited," by Sam Vaknin was first published in 1997 and is now in its fourth impression. The author is a self-diagnosed "Narcissist" who reached this conclusion while incarcerated in an Israeli prison. Mr. Vaknin describes a process of examining how he came to be in prison, with his marriage over and his finances in shocking condition. It is my understanding that since this book first came into print that he has also come to describe himself as misanthrope and schizoid. Mr. Vaknin has stated that he has never attempted to work through his issues in a formal therapy, rather he believes that his writing to be his therapy. It is my understanding that since this book first came into print that he has also come to describe himself as schizoid and misanthrope. [...]

My first objective was to develop a better understanding of Sam. A check of the Curriculum Vitae published on Mr. Vaknin's web site as of August 11 brought forward several concerns. First, there is no listing for where Mr. Vaknin obtained his Bachelor Master's degree. Next, there is a disturbing aspect of Ph.D. that Mr. Vaknin claims from Pacific Western University. A check of the Pacific Western web site revealed, "The University is oriented to those individuals not seeking licenses or credentials requiring accredited degrees. Our programs are not designed to meet any established requirements by private or professional associations. If a license or a credential is desired, a check should be made of state, federal, association, and credential requirements before applying. Pacific Western University has not sought membership in any independent accrediting association." I am of the firm belief that for a Ph.D. to be legitimate it must be offered by an accredited university. It is for this reason that I will not be using the title of Dr. in reference to Mr. Sam Vaknin.

Mr. Vaknin's biography also claims a certificate in counseling offered through Brainbench, an online "school". As near as I can tell from examining the criteria that Brainbench lists on their web site the only requirement for receiving such a certificate is to pass an exam, which appears to be open book. There are no requirements for working in a professional counseling setting and receiving supervision on counseling techniques. It should also be noted that the link to the transcript that is included on Mr. Vaknin's site does not have his name or other readily accessible information for a visitor to confirm this is indeed Sam's transcript, so are being asked to place our trust in his word. I am very concerned that Mr. Vaknin is intentionally misleading people about his credentials in counseling with this certificate that must people will not take the time to investigate.

The best insight I have found for understanding Sam's intentions in writing "Malignant Self Love" came in an interview Bob Goodman conducted with Mr. Vaknin and was published on the Natterbox website in 2000. The following exchange helped me develop a better understanding of Mr. Vaknin's motives and agenda.

Bob Goodman writes, "I've seen 'Malignant Self Love' described in some contexts as a self-help book. Often in this genre, we see authors who have triumphed over some personal adversity and wish to help others do the same. But your approach is quite different. You write that your discovery of your own NPD "was a painful process which led nowhere. I am no different -- and no healthier -- today than I was when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis poor and alarming." Do you see the book, then, as more a work of self-literacy than self-healing?"

Mr Vaknin replies, "I never described "Malignant Self Love" as a helpful work. It is not. It is a dark, hopeless tome. Narcissists have no horizons, they are doomed by their own history, by their successful adaptation to abnormal circumstances and by the uncompromising nature of their defense mechanisms. My book is a scientific observation of the beast, coupled with an effort to salvage its victims. Narcissists are absent-minded sadists and they victimize everyone around them. Those in contact with them need guidance and help. "Malignant Self Love" is a phenomenology of the predator on the one hand, and a vindication and validation of its prey on the other."

Mr. Goodman continues his interview, "You are a self-professed narcissist, and you warn your readers that narcissists are punishing, pathological, and not to be trusted. Yet hundreds of readers or customers seem to be looking to you for help and advice on how to cope with their own narcissism or their relationship with a narcissist. I'm struck by a kind of hall-of-mirrors effect here. How do you reconcile these seeming contradictions?"

Mr. Vaknin replies, "Indeed, only seeming. I may have misphrased myself. By "helpful" I meant "intended to help." The book was never intended to help anyone. Above all, it was meant to attract attention and adulation (narcissistic supply) to its author, myself. Being in a guru-like status is the ultimate narcissistic experience. Had I not also been a misanthrope and a schizoid, I might have actually enjoyed it. The book is imbued with an acerbic and vitriolic self-hatred, replete with diatribes and jeremiads and glaring warnings regarding narcissists and their despicable behavior. I refused to be "politically correct" and call the narcissist "other- challenged." Yet, I am a narcissist and the book is, therefore, a self- directed "J'accuse." This satisfies the enfant terrible in me, the part of me that seeks to be despised, abhorred, derided and, ultimately, punished by society at large."

It was with this background information that I started my journey of reading Mr. Vaknin's book, "Malignant Self Love". The introduction raised a very serious concern that the author was combining several identifiable psychological terms into one all consuming label which he calls Narcissism. I am deeply concerned that throughout this offering the author is either oblivious to, or ignores the reality of that Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-Social Personality Disorder, and Psychopaths are not synonymous terms. Throughout the book Sam repeatedly calls behaviors specific to all of these categories "Narcissism". Much of the behavior that the author talks about in this book would be more accurately used to describe Anti-social-Psychopathic behavior, yet is presented as "Narcissism". The message that the author is attempting to articulate to his readers is significantly reduced by the fact that in re-visiting narcissism he appears to be re-defining it to meet his agenda. [...]

Mr. Vaknin appears to be of the belief that Narcissism is the root or cause of all personality disorders. This leaves me wondering again exactly how Sam defines Narcissism. In this instance he appears to be suggesting that "Narcissism" is the arrest in childhood development which is believed to be the cause of many psychological disorders. The term used by mental health professionals to describe the this early childhood trauma is narcissistic injury or narcissistic wound. A narcissistic injury is a wound inflicted on a young child's ego or true self when they experience trauma such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, death of a parent etc. Evidence appears to confirm that people respond to narcissistic wounds differently depending on a variety of environmental and biological factors which can lead to a wide range of mental illnesses. It is not accurate to suggest that Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Wounds are synonymous terms and they should not be used interchangeably. [...]

The anger, to the point of rage, that the author feels almost leaps off the pages, especially in the first couple of chapters. I find myself asking who is the author mad at and how does he feel writing this book is helping him get beyond that anger. If we are to believe that the author regards his writing as therapy than it would be logical to assume he is making an effort to resolve demons hidden deep within himself. This may be happening, though the process is obscure to the reader.

Mr.Vaknin makes several interesting wide reaching observations about the behavior of "Narcissists. One such assessment address whether Narcissists understand cause and effect thinking as it relates to their behavior. "The narcissist does not suffer from a faulty sense of causation. He is able to accurately predict the outcomes of his actions and he knows that he might be forced to pay a dear price for his deeds. But he doesn't care." No supporting scientific information is given to defend this view, so the reader is left to assume this is the opinion of the author. I find this troubling as human beings suffering from NPD often struggle with cause and effect thinking. A person with this disorder views the world through the eyes of a child and attempts to relate to others from the viewpoint much younger than their actual age. It is not that they understand that their behavior will cause a certain reaction from people and do it anyway. They lack the emotional developmental skills needed to understand how and why an adult will react to their actions. On the other hand psychopaths may be able to process how their behavior will affect someone and will make a conscious decision to engage in the behavior despite, maybe because of the effect. This is a huge difference between NPD and Psychopaths and shows how these disorders cannot be lumped into one overriding category.

One of the more revealing commentaries in this offering centers around the authors feelings about treating Narcissists in formal therapy, "his therapist in particular and to psychology in general. He seeks treatment only following a major crisis, which directly threatens his projected and perceived image. We can say that the narcissist's "pride" has to be severely hurt to motivate him to admit his need for help. Even then, the therapy sessions resemble a battleground. The narcissist is aloof and distanced, demonstrates his superiority in a myriad of ways, resents what he perceives to be an intrusion on his innermost sanctum. He is offended by any hint regarding defects or dysfunctions in his personality or in his behavior. A narcissist is a narcissist is a narcissist even when he asks for help with his world and worldview shattered."

This is an interesting assessment that is revealing in many ways. It is accurate to suggest that it often takes a major crisis before a person suffering from NPD will seek therapy, as was the case with myself. Much of what the author talks about are indeed concerns that must be worked through a therapy process. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a person suffering from NPD can voluntarily enter therapy and work through these and the many other issues that will come out during the course of a relationship between a therapist and client. It appears that Mr. Vaknin is using this and other aspects of his writing as an excuse for himself not to enter therapy. I regard this as a classic game that is played by people suffering from a lot of the disorders that the author has lumped into the classification of Narcissism. It is unfortunate he appears to lack the insight to get beyond this dilemma as this would be more helpful than implying therapy is very difficult.

Mr. Vaknin spends a considerable amount of time discussing how a "Narcissist" reacts to intimacy. He writes, "intimacy transforms us all into unique beings. It, therefore, negates the uniqueness of those who should be judged to be truly unique even in the absence of intimacy." He goes on to suggest, "since it (intimacy) is a common pursuit, it cannot be unique." It is fascinating that intimacy transforms us into unique beings, but intimacy itself is not unique. Once again there is no scientific data given to support the idea that intimacy cannot be unique. I suspect most people will say every intimate encounter or relationship they have ever experienced has been somewhat unique to all others. Each person is different and we do bring different dynamics to every relationship. This is more evidence of a great need of the author to simplify complex dynamics and place all people into one category. [...]

Toward the end of the book the author confirms a truth about people suffering from NPD and other personality disorders, "Being a child, he feels no need to acquire adult skills or adult qualifications. Many a narcissist do not complete their studies, or even do not have a driving license. They feel that people should adore them as they are and could and should supply them with all the needs that they, as children, cannot themselves secure." This appears to explain why Mr. Vaknin has not taken the time or put forward the effort to secure the credentials which is expected of anyone claiming to hold a doctorate or a counseling certificate.

My overall impression of "Malignant Self Love" is that the author spent a lot of time talking around the issues which he has labeled "Narcissism", but offered almost no insight into the emotions which drive the behavior of a person suffering from NPD. I came away with the sense that the author was trying very hard to sell the reader on the idea that he is a Narcissist, coming close to creating a whole new classification of Narcissism in the process. I believe the lasting result of this effort has been to create mass confusion among people about Narcissism, NPD, Anti-social Personality Disorder and Psychopaths.

I believe it is of great significance that Mr. Vaknin stated in the interview with Bob Goodman that "Malignant Self Love" was never intended to help anyone, rather its primary intention was to bring adulation to the author, Sam Vaknin. My honest assessment is this offering amounts to a period of acting out where the author attempted to scapegoat his lifelong behaviors on what he felt he could label an incurable disease. It is of significance that not only has Mr. Vaknin never sought therapy, and does not believe that "Narcissists" can recover, but there is no indication that he has genuine feelings of remorse or regret for his behavior.

The truly disturbing aspect of this book is that the author indicates in the interview with Bob Goodman that there is something about them which has led them to be victimized by narcissists. Sam comments that, "The victims of narcissists have rarely become victims randomly. It is very akin to an immunological response: there is a structural affinity, an inexorable attraction, an irreversible bonding and an ensuing addiction far stronger than any substance abuse. I, therefore, am doubtful not only with regards to the prognosis of a narcissist but also with regards to the healing prospects of those exposed to his poisoned charms. The inverted narcissists (a sub-species of codependent who is specifically attracted to narcissists) are narcissists -- kind of mirror narcissists. As such, they are no less doomed than the original." It is important to stress that the idea of Inverted Narcissism is not recognized by most professionals, and is an example of the author making things up as he goes through his writings. After reading this it is both fascinating and infuriating to contemplate the cult guru leader status that the author has achieved among people who consider themselves "victims of narcissists". Clearly people are not using their brains to think critically and ask themselves and Mr. Vaknin some very difficult questions.

It is widely accepted in the psychological community that a person suffering from NPD does have a conscience and the ability to express genuine remorse and regret. This is one of the significant obvious differences between NPD and what professionals classify as Antisocial-Psychopath. If we allow ourselves to look beyond the book and examine other behavior Mr. Vaknin has displayed in his work the concern regarding the accuracy of his self-diagnosis becomes dramatically magnified.

Sam lives a nomad lifestyle which he describes in the interview with Bob Goodman. [...]

Mr. Vaknin's nomad lifestyle is reflected in his ownership of several different support forums for "victims of narcissists". After studying the archives on a variety of forums it seems that when Nr. Vaknin becomes bored with a group or if he feels they are threatening him by moving in a direction he is not comfortable than he ceases participation, sometimes starting a new group on another list. Many people have brought forward questions and concerns to me about the behavior on these support forums. One of the major concerns is centered around Sam deleting posts on his support forums for no reason other than the author challenged his theories toward narcissism, often by suggesting that a person suffering from NPD can recover. [...]

In the interview with Bob Goodman the author makes it clear exactly how he feels about his own intelligence and authority on narcissism. Goodman asks, "I'm still curious, though, what your attitude is toward your "customers." It's clear you appreciate the attention from them, but do you consider them foolish for seeking advice from a narcissist such as yourself?" Mr. Vaknin replies, "I am by far the most intelligent person I know, so, the deep-seated belief that others are bumbling, ineffectual fools is a constant feature of my mental landscape. But seeking advice from a narcissist about narcissism doesn't sound foolish to me -- if the consumer applies judgement and his or her knowledge of narcissism and its distortions to the advice received." [...]

I do not believe that Sam Vaknin suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is my opinion that if he were to be diagnosed by an impartial, licensed mental health professional who has no knowledge of what has gone on over the last six years that the diagnosis would not be NPD. I think it is very regrettable that the author has lead what I believe to be a campaign of hatred and misinformation around Narcissism and NPD. Many people who are suffering from this disorder, their friends and family, and those harmed by what they thought was narcissistic abuse have been affected by this period of acting out. It is time to reclaim the scientific meaning of NPD and reestablish the boundaries around Narcissism, NPD, Anti-social Personality Disorder and Psychopaths. [...]

Vaknin exhibits all the traits of the classic psychopath. Readers are strongly encouraged to read Laura Knight-Jadczyk's article on psychopathy, which contains a link to a free PDF version (for educational use only) of Hervey Cleckley's excellent book on psychopaths, The Mask of Sanity.

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Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolfowitz

He bungled Iraq, the Pentagon, and East Timor. Look out, World Bank – here he comes.
By Jason Vest, Village Voice
Posted March 22, 2005

To some, Paul Wolfowitz's nomination to be president of the World Bank is yet another sign of neoconservative political hegemony; to others, it smacks of a setback for the neocons, as it means one of their top (though least doctrinaire) defense intellectuals will, for the first time in his career, be using balance sheets, not bullets, as instruments for realizing formidable political vision.

How well he'll do is anyone's guess. There were, however, a few comments of optimistic or deferential cast in last Tuesday's papers regarding the deputy secretary of defense that bear commenting on, in the service of divining what we're likely to see from the architect of "free and democratic Iraq" – which a report released by the anti-corruption group Transparency International reveals is reeling with corruption and graft, thanks in part to the poor planning and practices of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation that was Wolfowitz's baby.

He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank's a large organization; the Pentagon's a large organization. He's been involved in the management of that organization.
– [George W. Bush, March 16]

Ah, but how well has he helped manage it? Late last year the Government Accountability Office (Congress' investigative arm) released a report on how effectively and efficiently the Pentagon's "transformation" of the armed services – an effort running to the hundreds of billions of dollars – has been going. The report pointedly noted an "absence of clear leadership and accountability" at the Pentagon's top tier – not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Citing the deputy secretary and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld specifically, the report concluded the Wolfowitz and other top Department of Defense officials haven't done a stellar job of "maintain[ing] the oversight, focus and momentum needed to resolve the weaknesses in DOD's business operations." The result, concluded the GAO, has been a "lack of transparency and appropriate accountability across all of DOD's major business areas [that] results in billions of dollars in annual wasted resources in a time of increasing fiscal constraint."

That was just with regard to "transformation." About this time last year, Comptroller General David M. Walker (the GAO's chief) gave Congress a verbal update on a critical 2002 GAO report about across-the-board Pentagon financial management problems. Since 2002, Walker said, things hadn't got much better. The principal reasons included a "lack of sustained top-level leadership and management accountability for correcting problems." [...]

Walker went on to cite some examples of what poor financial and operational management atop the Pentagon has wrought – examples that would not seem to portend well for a Wolfowitz-run World Bank. Among the dubious financial and accounting achievements that have occurred on Wolfowitz's watch:

* Weak Iraq-related distribution and accountability processes that have screwed both the American solider and American taxpayer. "These weaknesses," he revealed, "resulted in (1) supply shortages, (2) backlogs of material delivered in theater but not delivered to the requesting activity, (3) a discrepancy of $1.2 billion between the amount of material shipped and that acknowledged by the activity as received, (4) cannibalization of vehicles, and (5) duplicate supply requisitions."

* Helping defense contractors abuse the federal tax system with impunity. "Under the Debt Collection Act of 1996, DOD is responsible – working with the Treasury Department – for offsetting payments made to contractors to collect funds owed, such as unpaid federal taxes," Walker said. "However, we found that DOD had collected only $687,000 of unpaid taxes over the last six years. We estimated that at least $100 million could be collected annually from DOD contractors through effective implementation of levy and debt collection programs."

* Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction constructive material from DOD's own inventory. "Using a fictitious company and fictitious individual identities," Walker reported, "we were able to purchase a large number of new and usable equipment items over the internet from DOD," including "a bacteriological incubator, a centrifuge, and other items that could be used to produce biological warfare agents."

* Putting civilians in danger by neglecting environmental responsibilities. "DOD continues to lack a complete inventory of contaminated and real property sites, which affects not only DOD's ability to assess the potential environmental impact and to plan, estimate costs, and fund cleanup activities, but also its ability to minimize the risk of civilian exposure to unexploded ordnance," Walker reported. "The risk of such exposure is expected to grow with the increase in development and recreational activities on land once used by the military for munitions- related activities."

* Letting insurers bilk the Pentagon. "Tens of millions of dollars are not being collected each year by military treatment facilities from third- party insurers because key information required to effectively bill and collect from third-party insurers is often not properly collected, recorded or used by military treatment facilities." [...]

"If this guy ignored some of the best advice from the most informed and experienced experts and scholars in and out of the military, what makes anyone think he's going to do anything differently at the World Bank?" asked one senior military officer whose experiences with Wolfowitz have not made him a fan of the departing deputy secretary.

Having dismissed with impunity everything from the troop requirement estimates for Iraq of then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, to realistic cost estimates for the Iraq venture, to the prescient observations of various war colleges' scholars; having blamed reporters in the line of fire for post-war problems in Iraq; having asserted as of summer 2004 that the situation in Iraq is "not an insurgency" when troops on the ground had been properly calling it such for a year ... well, you get the idea.

"It wouldn't surprise me," said the officer, "if he sets up his own little Office of Special Plans over there at the Bank." [...]

No word yet on whether or not a Wolfowitz-run World Bank will alter its debt collection policies to include extraordinary renditions or audits at the Abu Ghraib branch.

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The Wolfowitz Appointment: A Red Flag for the Coming Wars  
By Mike Whitney
Al-Jazeerah, March 21, 2005

The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank has brought on the widespread gnashing of teeth among America's liberals, but there's no real reason for despair. The World Bank has never operated according to its mandate, (to reduce poverty in the developing countries through financial assistance) so it's better to have someone like Wolfowitz at the top-spot where the activities of the bank draw greater public scrutiny. His appointment will serve the same purpose as a warning label on medicine vial; cautioning needy third world states that overuse could be hazardous.

The World Bank has operated below the radar for too long. Rather than reducing poverty, it's strategies of readjusting economies to meet the needs of global industrialists, have only created greater disparities between rich and poor and a 20 year cycle of economic stagnation. Wolfowitz's appointment will show the public how political decision-making has contributed to this malaise, and demonstrate how the bank functions as an extension of the US Treasury; working tirelessly on behalf of US financial institutions and big business. For those who think the bank should be done away with entirely, Wolfowitz provides an identifiable "name-brand" that will connect the bank to the egregious policies that keep most of the developing world in perpetual debtor peonage.

Wolowitz dismal record on Human Rights

Wolfowitz's resume is bound to draw brickbats from anti-war Europeans. He brings with him the baggage of two unprovoked wars, 100,000 dead and a constellation of gulags strung out across the globe; not the type of qualifications we normally expect for leadership in the World Bank. So far, his nomination has been greeted with either exasperation or derision, and many believe that his personal history should preclude him from the top position. The ACLU has condemned the nomination citing recently discovered FBI documents that confirm that Wolfowitz "specifically authorized torture techniques" for interrogations at Guantanamo. Such allegations would normally be career ending if not grounds for criminal proceedings. However, in the new Bush paradigm these actions simply indicate a readiness to move up the political food-chain.

What Qualifications?

By any standard, Wolfowitz is unqualified for his new task. He has no experience in finance or administration. As for his skills at managing large reconstruction projects; his history in Iraq speaks for itself. A full year after the initial invasion less than 2% of the $18 billion provided by Congress for reconstruction had been spent, even though electrical power, sewage treatment and clean water were nearly non-existent. In fact, Wolfowitz's performance would suggest that the administration never had any intention of rebuilding Iraq ("We don't do nation building") Whatever money couldn't be sluiced off to Bush's constituents (Halliburton, Bechtel etc) simply ended up disappearing in what may be the greatest corruption scandal of all time. (To date, an independent UN commission has acknowledged that over $8.8 billion has gone missing from Iraqi oil receipts.) We should also take notice of Wolfowitz unorthodox manner of awarding contracts. After the fall of Baghdad it was Wolfowitz who said that contracts would not be issued to any country that hadn't participated in the illegal invasion. Saving money for the American taxpayer was never a serious concern for the Deputy-Secretary. Contracts were issued strictly according to a feudal-system deigned by Wolfowitz to reward those who were loyal to the administration. (Reconstruction in Afghanistan has been equally abysmal, where only 1 in 5 Afghanis has access to clean water and yet, two-thirds of reconstruction money goes towards Karzai's security apparatus)

Despite the spurious claims that Wolfowitz's experience with Tsunami victims "changed his outlook"; he will continue the same debilitating programs that are the mainstay of World Bank activity. All the talk about poverty reduction is pure nonsense. His task will be to entice corrupt foreign leaders to plunge their countries further into unsustainable debt so the World Bank (and their sister organization, the IMF) can offer "bail-out" loans and apply harsh austerity measures designed to pry-open markets, destroy the public sector and deliver valuable natural resources to US corporations. (These usurious policies have frequently been compared to legalized loan-sharking) The bank has always operated this way. Moreover, this is the process that ensures America's continued economic hammerlock on developing nations. The policies are devised to perpetuate poverty not reduce it.

In his new role Wolfowitz will oversee construction and development loans to Iraq's fledgling government. The new Iraqi leadership will be expected to rubber-stamp the many enormous loans that pay for the services of American mega-corporations and security services. This way, Iraq will stay in a permanent state "colonial dependency" (Noam Chomsky) even while its vast natural wealth is spirited out of the country.

The Israel connection

Wolfowitz's appointment comes at an opportune time for Israel. Now, that Arafat is out of the picture, the World Bank is expected "to supervise the implementation of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects in Gaza." (Jerusalem Post) Newly elected Mahmoud Abbas will be able pay off the corrupt Palestinian Authority with funds from the World Bank to do the job that Arafat always rejected; disarming the militias and cracking down on their own people.

As one senior official said, "Wolfowitz is a no-nonsense administrator who knows what needs to be done in terms of reform and democratization".


Hardly. When we look at the affect of Wolfowitz's policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, it's difficult to believe that his influence will produce better results in the world's last sanctuary for apartheid.

Realists would expect that Wolfowitz's involvement will only exacerbate already-existent divisions by expressing an institutional bias in favor of Israel. It is impossible to imagine that Wolfowitz could be even-handed about an issue for which he has expressed virulent partiality his entire adult life.

Preparing for War

The inserting of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank is actually part of a global war strategy. The idea is to put Bush loyalists and ideologues wherever they can advance the neocon agenda and undermine international organizations. The Pentagon's new "National Defense Strategy" released this week makes this perfectly clear.

The document states that America's strength will continue to be challenged by "a strategy of the weak".

Asked to explain the paper Douglas Feith (no. 3 at the Pentagon) said, "There are various actors around the world that are looking to either attack or constrain the US, and they are going to find creative ways of doing that, that are not the obvious conventional military attacks. We need to think broadly about diplomatic lines of attack, legal lines of attack, technological lines of attack, all kinds of asymmetrical warfare that various actors can use to try to constrain our behavior." Feith is not talking about the nebulous threat of terrorism. He's talking about the nations of the world that are looking for ways to deter future American aggression. ("diplomatic, legal, and technological") This is an administration that sees the entire world as a potential enemy. The amount of paranoia in this statement epitomizes the bunker-mentality that pervades the current White House. Enemies are everywhere, trying to constrain the US with "international forums, judicial processes and terrorism".

"Judicial processes?"

The administration holds itself above the law, and those who would make it conform to the law ( Guantanamo, Iraq etc) are the de facto enemies of the state. The Wolfowitz appointment is a part of the "asymmetrical warfare" to which Feith alludes. The administration plans to extend its grip by filling every available position of authority with Bush loyalists; undermining the efforts of the international community to resolve crises through multilateral means. It's all a straight forward attack on the current world order and, tragically, a prelude to even bigger and more catastrophic confrontations.

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The Politicization of Terri Schiavo
March 21, 2005

A brain-damaged woman's tragic case is being used as an opportunity for political grandstanding.

Just like countless other families, the family of Terri Schiavo has struggled for years with the intensely difficult decision of how to match her course of treatment to her wishes.

Comment: We would like to point out that Terri's case is slightly different because her parents and her husband have been battling over what her REAL wishes might be. Thus far, it is only Michael Schiavo's word we have to go on, and his word doesn't seem to be worth much when all the evidence is considered.

Now President George W. Bush, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are using the tragic case of Schiavo – a severely brain-damaged woman who has been incapacitated for the past 15 years – as an opportunity for political grandstanding.

A memo, which the AP reports was distributed by Senate leadership to right- wing members, called Schiavo "a great political issue" and urged senators to talk about her because "the pro-life base will be excited."

Over the weekend, DeLay and Frist held special sessions of Congress to facilitate passage of a bill that would allow a federal court to overturn years of Florida jurisprudence – encompassing seven courts and 19 judges – and intervene in the Schiavo case. (Underscoring that this was about the politics of the Schiavo case and not policy, the bill was written explicitly to apply only to Terri Schiavo.)

President Bush played his part in the spectacle, flying to Washington from his ranch in Crawford to sign the bill, even though waiting a few hours for the bill to be flown to him would likely "have made no difference in whether Ms. Schiavo lives."

In a statement released early this morning, President Bush said he will "continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans."

Comment: Too bad Bush can't stand on the side of those defending the lives of other human beings in the world that are on the other side of the "political railroad tracks," so to say; Iraqis and Palestinians come to mind...

But the facts make it hard to believe that Bush is standing on principle.

In 1999, then Gov. Bush signed a law that "allows hospitals [to] discontinue life-sustaining care, even if patient family members disagree."

Just days ago the law permitted Texas Children's Hospital to remove the breathing tube from a 6-month-old boy named Sun Hudson. The law may soon be used to remove life support from Spiro Nikolouzos, a 68-year-old man. Bush has not commented on either case.

At every opportunity, Tom DeLay has sanctimoniously proclaimed his concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo, saying he is only trying to ensure she has the chance "we all deserve."

Schiavo's medications are paid for by Medicaid. Just last week, DeLay marshaled a budget resolution through the House of Representatives that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion, threatening the quality of care for people like Terri Schiavo. Because the Senate voted to restore the funding, DeLay is threatening to hold up the entire budget process if he doesn't get his way.

Bill Frist has been positioning himself in the media as a champion for Schiavo's interests. Yet, much of Schiavo's medical care has been financed by $1,000,000 from two medical malpractice lawsuits Schiavo won after her heart attack 15 years ago.

Frist has been leading the charge to limit recovery for people like Schiavo who are severely debilitated. If Frist is successful, people like Schiavo would not be able to recover any punitive damages no matter how severe their injuries.

Comment: While we have some serious questions about the husband's claim that Terri wants to die, and even that she is in a "persistent vegetative state," considering that he has never allowed any of the funds mentioned above to be used for therapy, and has been quoted as asking regularly "Is the bitch dead yet?", we consider the activities of the Bush Reich in regards to this case as stunning hypocrisy.

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Eight dead in Minn. school shooting
Mon, 21 Mar 2005

RED LAKE, Minn. (AP) - A high school student went on a shooting rampage on this Indian reservation Monday, killing his grandparents at their home and then seven people at his school, "grinning and waving" as he fired, authorities and witnesses said. The gunman was later found shot to death.

It was the country's worst school shooting since the Columbine massacre in 1999. Students pleaded with the gunman to stop shooting.

"You could hear a girl saying, 'No, Jeff, quit, quit. Leave me alone. What are you doing?" Sondra Hegstrom told the Pioneer of Bemidji, using the name of the suspected shooter.

Before the shootings at Red Lake High School, the suspect's grandparents were shot in their home and died later.

Six students including the gunman were killed at the school, along with a teacher and a security guard, FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said at a news conference in Minneapolis.

Hegstrom described the gunman grinning and waving at a student his gun was pointed at, then swivelling to shoot someone else. "I looked him in the eye and ran in the room, and that's when I hid," she told the Pioneer.

McCabe declined to talk about a possible connection between the suspect and the couple killed at the home, but Red Lake Fire Director Roman Stately said they were the grandparents of the shooter. He identified the shooter's grandfather as Daryl Lussier, a longtime officer with the Red Lake Police Department, and said Lussier's guns may have been used in the shootings.

Stately said the shooter had two handguns and a shotgun.

"After he shot a security guard, he walked down the hallway shooting and went into a classroom where he shot a teacher and more students," Stately told Minneapolis television station KARE.

Students and a teacher at the scene, Diane Schwanz, said the shooter tried to break down a door to get into a room where some students were.

"I just got on the floor and called the cops," Schwanz told the Pioneer. "I was still just half-believing it."

Ashley Morrison, another student, took refuge in a classroom. With the shooter banging on the door, she dialed her mother on her cellphone. Her mother, Wendy Morrison, said she could hear gunshots on the line.

"'Mom, he's trying to get in here and I'm scared,"' Ashley Morrison told her mother.

Schwanz was the teacher in that room. She said, "I just got down on the floor and (said), 'Kids, down on the ground, under the benches!' " She said she called police on her cellphone.

All of the dead students were found in one room. One of them was a boy believed to be the shooter, McCabe said. He would not comment on reports that the boy shot himself and said it was too early to speculate on a motive.

Fourteen to 15 other students were injured, McCabe said. [...]

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Mum shoots dead her family

SYDNEY - A mother shot her husband and two young children dead before turning the gun on herself in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, police believe.

Relatives found the bodies of Sally Elizabeth Winter and Steven Anthony Winter, both 32, along with their 4-year-old son Jake, and daughter Casey Rose, 3, at their home at Oakhampton Heights, near Maitland, on Sunday.

Lower Hunter Area Commander Superintendent Charles Haggett yesterday said police believed Sally Winter killed the family.

"At this early stage in the investigation, police are treating the incident as a murder-suicide," Haggett told reporters.

"It appears Sally Winter has used the firearm, resulting in the death of her husband and the two children, before turning the firearm on herself, resulting in her death."

He said the weapon, registered to Steven Winter, was found with Sally Winterís body, leading police to conclude she had done the killings. [...]

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First-grader hands out crack cocaine, thinking it was candy
Tribune staff reports
Published March 21, 2005, 4:41 PM CST

Police this afternoon continued to search for the mother and other relatives of a first-grader who found 40 small bags of crack cocaine in his school book bag and allegedly handed the drug out to his classmates, thinking it was candy.

"He was a darling little child; he had no idea of what he had," said Chicago Heights District 170 Supt. Dollie Helsel.

Police have been searching for the boy's guardians since the incident occurred Friday at Lincoln School in the southern suburb. The child is now in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, authorities said.

No arrests have been made yet, and officials said the child would not be charged because he sincerely believed he was passing out candy, not a dangerous drug. [...]

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Ukrainian president signs order for withdrawing troops from Iraq
www.chinaview.cn 2005-03-22 21:21:54
KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has formally signed an order for pulling out troops from Iraq, the country's security council said on Tuesday.

The president signed the order for "a staged withdrawal" of Ukraine's peacekeeping contingent from Iraq, Petro Poroshenko, head of the National Security and Defense Council, told a news conference.

The order is a "very carefully crafted document which details the terms of the Ukrainian pullout from Iraq," he said, adding that it will make the withdrawal irreversible.

The deadline of the withdrawal will be fixed after consultations with other coalition members and the Ukrainian troops may leave Iraq in November or December, Poroshenko said.

Ukraine has a 1,650-strong contingent in Iraq, the sixth-largest in the US-led coalition forces. So far, 18 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the country and more than two dozen were wounded.

Last Tuesday, about 137 soldiers returned home from Iraq. A further 550 troops were to be pulled out in May and the rest of the original contingent would be withdrawn by the end of the year.

Comment: Another member of the coalition of the prostrate has decided to stand up and leave.

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In a warped reality
Gary Younge
The Guardian
Monday March 21, 2005

Two years on, the occupiers justify the war by embracing the irrelevant and ignoring the inconvenient

This is a tale of one war, two anniversaries, three different demonstrations - and inconsistencies, contradictions and civilian deaths that are too numerous to count.

On April 18 2003, tens of thousands of Sunni and Shia protesters took to the streets of Baghdad to call for the Americans to leave Iraq. "You are the masters today," Ahmed al-Kubeisy, the prayer leader, told the Americans as he addressed the men emerging from Friday prayers. "But I warn you against thinking of staying. Get out before we kick you out."

Two years later, the US is still there. The anti-American protest was hailed in the White House as a vindication for the US strategy of bombing and then occupying the country. "In Iraq, there's discussion, debate, protest - all the hallmarks of liberty," said President George Bush that week. "The path to freedom may not always be neat and orderly, but it is the right of every person and every nation."

On February 22 2005, tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters took to the streets of Beirut to call for the Syrians to leave the country. Within a week the Syrians announced indefinite plans to leave. Front covers of magazines carried pictures of pretty young Lebanese women waving flags (at last, some Arabs editors could fancy) proclaiming a "cedar revolution" and "people power". The protest was hailed in the White House as a vindication for the US strategy of bombing and occupying Iraq. "By now it should be clear that authoritarian rule is not the wave of the future," said Bush. "We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed, and we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power."

On March 8 2005, 500,000 pro-Syrian protesters took to the streets of Beirut to oppose US and European interference. The demonstration was backed by Hizbullah, which the US has branded a terrorist organisation. People carried banners saying "Death to America". It was several times bigger than the first anti-Syrian protest. They too waved Lebanese flags. But editors didn't find them pretty. They did not appear on the front pages of the news magazines. Their protest was not hailed in the White House. In fact, its existence was barely acknowledged.

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side," George Orwell once wrote. "He has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

So it is on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, where the occupying powers are still so desperate to create a moral framework to justify the war that embracing the irrelevant and ignoring the inconvenient has become the only viable strategy left to them.

We have entered a world where reality - like the photographs of torture or the absence of weapons of mass destruction - is just a minor blockage in a flood of official, upbeat declarations and statements. Each new dispatch from the departments of irony on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that truth can be created by assertion, principle can be established by deception and democracy can be imposed through aggression. These people would claim credit for the good weather and deny responsibility for their own signature if they thought they could get away with it.

Two years on, the death toll keeps rising, the size of the "coalition" keeps shrinking and global public support for this reckless occupation has maintained its downward spiral from a low base. Indeed, the only thing that changes is the rationale for starting the war, where the sophistry of the occupying powers keeps plumbing new depths and selective amnesia has attained new highs.

We are supposed to believe that there is no link between the American shooting of an Italian intelligence agent on a rescue mission and Rome's decision to withdraw its troops 10 days later. "I don't see a connection there," says the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan. We are supposed to remember Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds 17 years ago in graphic detail and forget everything that happened in Abu Ghraib 16 months ago.

"If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," said Republican senator Jim Talent at a recent hearing on torture. How about ramming someone who does not have the name of a bomb maker in the anus with a truncheon, Mr Talent. Are you for that too?

Most recently, we have been told to believe that the limited and as yet untested moves towards democracy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the thawing in Palestinian-Israeli relations (largely the result of Yasser Arafat's death) and the proposed withdrawal of Syrian troops (prompted by an outcry over the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri) all justify the bombing.

As further proof they point to January's elections in Iraq. This was a vote that the Americans wanted to postpone, in which many people could not participate, that produced a victory for Islamists with close ties to Iran who want the US troops out as soon as possible. If all of this amounts to victory, I would hate to see what their idea of defeat looks like.

The truth is that you cannot even begin to make a justification for the war unless you take into account the lives of innocent Iraqis lost as a result of it. The simplest way to deal with that is to pretend that these deaths do not exist - the occupying powers simply do not count them. The only other defence is that their deaths are a price worth paying and that good things can come from bad acts - a claim every bit as offensive and wrong-headed as arguing that 9/11 was a price worth paying for waking America up to the consequences of its foreign policy.

But the Iraqis are not the only ones to have suffered these past two years. While the occupiers have been busy failing to export democracy abroad, they have been busy undermining it at home. All of them lied to their electorates about the reasons for going to war. With the exception of America, all of them went to war despite overwhelming opposition from the public. And through their anti-terrorist bills and patriot acts they have removed some of the most basic legal rights of their citizens and criminalised the most vulnerable.

The elections last year in Spain and recent events in Italy are encouraging. They show that while the anti-war movement failed to stop the war, it has maintained a sufficiently effective presence to make a crucial difference at key moments to disable and discredit it.

In the meantime, the department of irony will keep moulding its own version of reality until it is sufficiently warped to fit its own agenda. US troop withdrawal, said Bush last week, "would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves". They are already defending themselves Mr Bush - from you.

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ElBaradei urges US security pledge for Iran
www.chinaview.cn 2005-03-22 09:57:45
PARIS, March 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Head of United Nations nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday called on the United States to make security pledge for Iran in order to push forward the nuclear negotiations by Europe with that country.

ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at an international conference on civilian atomicpower programs that if countries of the European Union (EU) reached accord with Iran on a nuclear settlement and promised to guarantee security for that country, the US should follow suit because security commitment requires US participation.

The IAEA chief believed that conditions for a US involvement in the negotiation efforts are ripe now, adding that security in the Mideast region concerns not only Europe.

He said that talks with Iran are not stalled and a new round of discussion will start Wednesday.

Washington suspected Iran was using civilian nuclear power programs as a cover for its underground plan for nuclear weapons and threatened to submit the issue to the UN Security Council.

However, the US seems to have somewhat backed down from its hard-line policy against the country and the Bush administration agreed last week to support a European plan that offers economic incentives for the Tehran government to freeze its nuclear activities permanently.

As part of the agreement, the United States said it would stop opposing an Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization.

The EU said if it failed to secure a positive result from the talks, it would agree to report the case to the UN Security Council.

Comment: You can be certain that Bush and his advisors are making alternate plans. It must not sit well with Bush to be advised by ElBaradei, a man the US did their best to remove from his position last fall.

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'Greater Jerusalem' takes shape

Israel plans to create two new neighbourhoods in the West Bank
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent
Israel's controversial proposal to build some 3,500 new homes in the West Bank comes just as final plans are being drawn up for a pull-out of all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip.

A small number of settlements in the West Bank will also be removed.

Settlements are one of the major stumbling blocks in relations not just between Israel and the Palestinians but also between the Israeli government and Washington.

The dream of a biblical Greater Israel has already collapsed but the idea of a Greater Jerusalem is still very much alive.

Comment: Don't believe that for a minute. The Zionists have no intention of giving up the dream of a "Greater Israel". Everything that is being done now is for show. You can count on future "suicide bombings" or other forms of "Palestinian terrorism", all brought to you by Mossad, to get the dream back on track.

The Israeli government's latest plans are to create two new neighbourhoods effectively linking the settlement block of Maaleh Adumim to East Jerusalem.

This will be taken by the Palestinians as yet another sign that Israel has no intention of relinquishing that part of the West Bank closest to Jerusalem.

Washington's backing

And they argue that Israel's moves fly in the face of the so-called roadmap-to-peace agreement which calls for a total freeze on settlement-building.

The Israelis, however, believe that they have Washington's support for constructing thousands of new homes in the Jerusalem area.

A letter from President George W Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon almost a year ago said that it was unrealistic to expect that a final peace deal would see Israel return fully to its old borders.

The settlement issue is complicated because while the Americans appear willing to accept some building activity in areas that they believe will remain under Israeli control they want a freeze on construction elsewhere, and they want so-called outposts - settlements not approved by the Israeli government - removed immediately.

Here the Israeli government has been dragging its feet. Indeed a recent official Israeli report found that illegal settlement construction was much more widespread than had been thought and in many cases had been aided by government officials or agencies.

But given all of Prime Minister Sharon's difficulties in pushing through the Gaza withdrawal, it is unclear how much pressure the Americans are likely to apply to make him honour his commitments on the wider settlement issue.

Comment: Israel has been dragging its feet all along. The more they can change the facts on the ground, the more they will argue for their "God-given rights" to the land.

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Detainees who find Christ may be allowed to stay
By Mike Seccombe and Linda Morris
March 21, 2005

Thirty of Australia's longest-term immigration detainees are having their cases reviewed and could be freed because they have converted to Christianity since arriving.

The Federal Government has made the move quietly as it searches for a face-saving way to soften its policy on failed asylum seekers who have been in custody for more than three years, and cannot be repatriated to their countries of origin.

It follows strong lobbying efforts by several Government backbenchers, churches and the powerful Family First party for the Government to relax its refugee policy for Christian converts.

It also follows the case of one convert, deported from Baxter detention centre last October within a week after the election, and promptly interrogated in Iran for 48 hours before being charged with leaving the country illegally.

The case was taken up by Family First, whose spokeswoman, Andrea Mason, described the action as "repugnant". The Government is keen to build bridges with Family First, which controls one vital vote in the Senate, where the Government has a majority of a single vote.

Previously, the Immigration Department has viewed conversions to Christianity with suspicion. But yesterday a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, confirmed the only reason for reconsidering the 30 cases was their new religion.

"All these people had exhausted the [assessment and appeals] process and failed. Once you have exhausted the process and failed, you're over. You've had your go and that's it," he said.

"To apply again onshore, the minister has to make a decision under section 48 of the act to lift the bar. That's what has happened in this case; the bar was lifted about two weeks ago."

Asked what had changed in the detainees' circumstances to warrant such reconsideration, he said: "Just that they brought new information that they've converted to Christianity and that they want their claim - that they may be persecuted if returned - to be examined."

He said all 30 were "all unauthorised boat arrivals", mostly from Iran and a few from Iraq, who had been in detention for more than three years. They include Peter Qasim, a Kashmiri whom India will not take back, and who is in his seventh year of detention.

Cabinet is considering whether to release about 120 inmates who have been detained for more than three years. These are asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, but who cannot be returned to their home countries for a variety of reasons. [...]

In the case of Iranians, who make up the bulk of long-term detainees, religion becomes an issue because the theocratic government there makes renouncing Islam a crime. [...]

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North Korea says it has 'increased nuclear arms'
22 March 2005 0410 hrs - AFP

SEOUL - North Korea said it had increased its nuclear arsenal in preparation for a preemptive invasion by the United States, the Yonhap news agency quoted Pyongyang's state media as saying.

The Stalinist regime vowed last month to bolster its nuclear weapons, as it abruptly pulled out of multi-party talks aimed to halt its nuclear weapons programme and accused Washington of plotting to overthrow it.

"We have taken a serious measure by increasing nuclear arms in preparation for any invasions by enemies," Yonhap quoted the North Korean Central Broadcasting Station as saying late Monday.

It said joint US-South Korean military manoeuvres that started at the weekend were "a preparatory war against us."

The latest statement came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up a tour of the region in which the nuclear standoff topped the agenda.

In a dramatic rejection of the Bush administration's policy on North Korea, the reclusive state said last month it would no longer engage in the six-party talks over its nuclear weapons programme.

"We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) and have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's ever-more-undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK (North Korea)," state media said at the time.

Washington believes North Korea possesses one or two crude bombs and may have reprocessed enough plutonium for half-a-dozen more, from spent fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. [...]

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Taiwan, Singapore to hold war games
Monday 21 March 2005, 18:10 Makka Time, 15:10 GMT

In a move expected to anger China, Taiwan and Singapore have decided to hold military exercises for the first time in three decades, a report said on Monday.

The drill involving a Taiwan motorised infantry battalion and a Singapore brigade, being trained on the island, will be staged in the southern county of Hengchun from late March to early April, the Liberty Times said on its website, Libertytimes.com.tw.
Aside from artillery and tanks, Taiwan will mobilise SuperCobra attack helicopters and Singapore will deploy its Super Puma helicopters, the report said said.
Taiwan's defence ministry declined to comment on the sensitive report, while China demanded an explanation from Singapore.  
"The Chinese side is firmly opposed to countries which have diplomatic relations with China carrying out any type of official or military contact with Taiwan," the foreign ministry in Beijing said in a statement. "We have requested the relevant country to clarify the above report."

Singapore recognizes Beijing, but maintains close links with Taiwan, which sent air force and naval officers to Singapore during the city-state's early years of independence in 1965.

The report said the United States and Japan would send military advisers to the exercise. 

In a joint statement last month, Washington and Tokyo said easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait was part of their "common strategic objectives" and urged China, which has 700 missiles massed opposite the island, "to improve transparency of its military affairs."
The statement angered Beijing, which slammed the allies' move as "inappropriate."
Beijing has been increasingly wary of Washington and Tokyo's close strategic partnership, seeing it as a potential threat to its goal of eventually reunifying with Taiwan by force, if necessary.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war

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Cambodian military police shoot dead 4 protesters in land dispute
21 March 2005 1615 hrs

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian military police shot dead four villagers who were protesting their removal from disputed land in the kingdom's northwest and injured three others, officials and activists said.

"Our officials have just reported to me that four villagers were killed while three others were injured," the deputy governor overseeing security in Banteay Meanchey province, Sok Sareth, told AFP by telephone.

He said that a court had given the military police permission to clear an area where villagers were living that has been claimed by the village chief.

"When the authorities went to ask them to move away, they refused to move and this led to a confrontation," he said.

"The villagers were armed with knives and axes to attack the military police and this caused the shootings. We are investigating the case," he said, adding however that he believed both sides were partly responsible for the violence. [...]

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Philippine capital on high alert
21 March 2005 1600 hrs

MANILA: Some 15,000 policemen will be deployed in malls, churches and vital installations across the Philippine capital Manila to prevent terror attacks during the long Easter break, police said.

Authorities have warned that members of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group may stage bomb attacks in Manila and key cities on the southern island of Mindanao after a failed jail break last week left 22 members dead.

Officials said up to seven escaped militants from the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah were still at large.

Jemaah Islamiyah is considered to be the Southeast Asian chapter of Al-Qaeda, which experts say has been training Abu Sayyaf militants in bomb making.

"All security measures are in place. We remain on full alert," national police chief Arturo Lomibao said. "The threat is still serious. That is why we have deployed (men) since last week."

"All members of the PNP (national police) will not be allowed to take their (vacation) leaves and will be on post 24 hours a day," Lomibao said.

"We appeal to the public to remain vigilant," he added, adding that the militants were "highly mobile" and could bomb targets in Manila or Mindanao.

Manila police chief Avelino Razon said up to 15,000 police would be stationed in crowded areas such as malls and transport terminals.

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Former cult head faces new charges in Chile
22.03.05 12.20pm- REUTERS

SANTIAGO, Chile - Ex-cult leader Paul Schaefer, a German citizen accused of aiding the secret police during Chile's 1973-1990 military dictatorship, was charged on Monday in the disappearance of a second political prisoner and with sexually abusing 26 children.

Schaefer led a cult of several hundred German followers in Southern Chile for decades. He fled Chile in 1997 and eluded capture until his arrest earlier this month in a Buenos Aires suburb.

A judge found Schaefer guilty of child sexual abuse in 26 cases last year, but because Schaefer was not present, the verdict was never formalised and the case must be resubmitted.

The 83-year-old former cult leader also faces charges in the disappearances of political dissidents Alvaro Vallejos in 1974 and Juan Maino in 1976.

Prosecutors say Schaefer, working with the former spy chief of dictator Augusto Pinochet, tortured and imprisoned some of Pinochet's political critics at a remote cult compound.

Vallejos and Maino were last seen at Schaefer's cult compound, known as Colonia Dignidad. [...]

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France agrees on launching Russian rockets
www.chinaview.cn 2005-03-22 10:47:17
PARIS, March 21 (Xinhuanet) -- French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Monday signed documents on launching Russia's Soyus rockets from French Guyana, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The four documents, which had earlier signed by the European Investment Bank, the European Space Agency and other parties involved, were based on the Russian-European deal on long-term cooperation of commercial space launches signed in January.

The European Investment Bank has issued a loan for the project,and the first rocket will be launched in 2007.

The Kourou space center in French Guyana is regarded an optimal venue as its proximity to the equator allows the Soyus to carry heavier cargoes to higher orbits with less fuel. Russia had used the Baikonur cosmodrome of Kazakhstan.

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CB Puts more EUROs into Currency Basket
by Alexey Baibakov, Dmitry Ladygin
Mar. 22, 2005

Yesterday, Central Bank of Russia announced a change in the composition of the foreign currency basket, which it uses to determined the exchange rate policy – the EURO share there was doubled. At the same time CB plans to continue gradual increase of the EURO share all the way to its parity with the dollar. Market participants expect volatility of the currency trade, saying already the ruble behaves as if the currency basket had equal shares of EURO and dollar.

Yesterday, CB announced the change of structure of the bicurrency basket, used for orientation of the ruble rate. Beginning on March 15, the basket has been consisting of € 0.2 and $0.8 (before that - € 0.1 and $0.9). Considering that the previous announcement of introducing a bicurrency basket beginning February 1 was publicized only on February 8, it is becoming a tradition. At that time CB had announced its intention to gradually increase the share of EURO in the bicurrency basket as the market participants were adapting to work in the new conditions.

Yesterday, CB deputy chairman of the board Konstantin Korishchenko told Interfax: "Our goal is that both the dollar and the EURO as well as other currencies would have equal rights, and that no currency would be preferred over another." Korishchenko explained that considering the structure of the foreign trade turnover, it would be logical for other currencies to be also represented in the basket, "however, it is complicated to use even three kinds of currencies from the operational point of view." [...]

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BBC to axe nearly 4000 jobs
March 22, 2005 - 6:52AM

The BBC today announced plans to cut 3,780 jobs to save hundreds of millions of dollars, as the world's biggest public broadcaster undergoes a major shake-up.

The BBC said today it would slash 2,050 posts after 1,730 job losses confirmed earlier this month, making a total of 3,780 positions or one in seven jobs.

The cuts would bring cost savings of $860 million a year to reinvest in programs -- $85 million more than first targetted by the BBC in December.

Among the redundancies announced today would be 420 posts in news, 66 in sport, 150 in drama, entertainment and children's programs, 735 in the regions, 58 in new media and 424 in factual and learning.

"This is all money we plan to spend on programs and content, both to improve the services we deliver to audiences right now and to build strong BBC services in the future," Thompson told staff.

"We want all divisions to figure out ways of achieving these savings through genuine improvements rather than crude cuts.

"We are going through the toughest period any of us can remember. It's a difficult and painful process but necessary," he added.

The broadcaster said the elimination of 3,780 jobs amounts to 19 per cent of the workforce in Britain, or nearly 14 per cent of the corporation's staff worldwide. [...]

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U.N.: Nuclear Energy May Be Back in Vogue
By Louis Charbonneau
Mon Mar 21, 6:55 AM ET

PARIS - Expectations of a sharp rise in energy demand and the risk of climate change are pushing many countries to return to the idea of nuclear power, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday.

Comment: The risk of climate change?? What climate change? Officially, there is supposed to be nothing wrong with the climate or planet Earth... Perhaps UN leaders have been reading the Signs page. For more information, don't miss our new Climate and Earth Changes supplement.

Even the most conservative estimates predict at least a doubling of energy usage by mid-century, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a conference on nuclear energy in the 21st century.

He said any discussion of the energy sector "must begin by acknowledging the expected substantial growth in energy demand in the coming decades."

It was unclear what role nuclear power would play, though it appeared to be an increasingly important one, he said.

"All indicators show that an increased level of emphasis on subjects such as fast growing energy demands, security of energy supply, and the risk of climate change are driving a reconsideration, in some quarters, of the need for greater investment in nuclear power," ElBaradei said.

"The IAEA's low projection, based on the most conservative assumptions, predicts 427 gigawatts of global nuclear energy capacity in 2020, the equivalent of 127 more 1,000 megawatt nuclear plants than previous projections," he said. [...]

Comment: One might think that the powers that be would be rather interested in such projections. Perhaps they are not the least bit concerned because they are not planning on needing a huge energy capacity for billions of people after war, cyclic catastrophes, and the "rapture" knock off a large percentage of the global population.

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Transgenetics Hidden in Moscow Food Supply
March 22, 2005

The National Association for Genetic Safety (NAGS) has released the results of selective tests on the Moscow market for meat products for the presence of genetically modified sources. NAGS experts discovered genetically modified sources in the products of four companies (Ostankinsky, Mikoyanovsky, Tsaritsyno and Kampomos).

Genetically modified sources were found in a total of 33 percent of transgenetic material in the products checked. NAGS vice president Alexey Kulikov stated that producers are required to indicate the presence of transgenetic components in products, regardless of the percentage of them in the overall ingredients under 2005 amendments to the federal law "On the Protection of Consumer Rights."

"We have said more than once that the consumption of insufficiently tested products is dangerous," Kulikov said. "We are not claiming that the populace is being poisoned, but there are risks and, without labeling, it is hard to monitor those risks."

"Violation of the requirement to label products can be characterized as withholding information on conditions presenting a threat to health," said head of the NAGS legal department Leonid Ben. "That is a crime under article 237 of the Criminal Code of the RF punishable by up to two years' imprisonment."

However, Ben said, in practice, only administrative sanctions are imposed for it. "The sanction is 30-50 minimum wages [a conditional unit worth 100 rubles] for individuals and 300-500 for legal entities," he noted.

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First Ever Estimate Of Cod Fishery In 1850s Reveals 96% Decline On Scotian Shelf
Science Daily
March 1, 2005

Once a dominant species, the volume of cod on the Scotian Shelf has plunged 96% since the 1850s, according to landmark research published today. In fact, just 16 small schooners of the pre-Civil War era could hold all adult cod currently estimated in the once-rich Scotian Shelf.

Writing in today's edition of Frontier's in Ecology (www.frontiersinecology.org), Census of Marine Life researchers announced the first-ever estimate of cod levels in the 1850s, created using old schooner catch records and observations, coupled with modern modeling tools. And they say their findings have profound implications for contemporary policy makers trying to rebuild fishery "remnants" and restore the marine ecosystem. [...]

To estimate long ago fish levels, researchers used 1850s New England schooner records of daily catch locations and fleet activity on the fishing grounds. Fishers then, using handlines, had "negligible incentive to falsify records" and, combined with ancillary documents, their logs "provide a solid, reliable basis for stock assessment."

Changing fishing patterns suggest handline fishery in sailing schooners depleted regional cod stocks. Between 1852 and 1857, Beverly vessels fished the Scotian Shelf close to 90% of the time, a figure that declined to 60% in 1859 as captains searched farther afield for more economically profitable concentrations of cod.

Some vessels left the Beverly fleet and may have left the cod fishery altogether, a familiar pattern in collapsing fisheries today. Catch per unit of fishing effort (CPUE in fish per day per ton of vessel) declined by over 50% between 1852 and 1859.

"In the logs themselves, effort was measured in a good day's catch. On May 23, 1859, Gilbert Weston, captain of the Dorado on the Scotian Shelf's Banquereau Bank, noted in his log that they 'had 1000 hooks out (on trawls) and (caught) 130 (cod) fish.' However, men who had fished in 1852 remembered good days when seven or eight handliners fishing two hooks apiece over the schooner's rail could each bring in more than 100 fish. George Gould's crew of eight on the Betsy & Eliza had four such good days in 1852, landing more than 1,000 cod on one long day in June."

Estimated 1.26 metric tons of cod on Scotian Shelf in 1852

Using a mathematical formula, the researchers estimate cod biomass on the Scotian Shelf was 1.26 million metric tons in 1852, compared with less than 50,000 metric tons today, the adults within which represent 3,000 metric tons, or 6%.

The study notes the estimate of 1850 cod biomass is "quite conservative" as the old fishing logs only record adult cod. "Prevalent hook sizes in this deepwater fishery made landing smaller juvenile cod very unlikely."

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Aftershocks rattle quake-hit Japanese island
22 March 2005 0907 hrs

TOKYO : A series of aftershocks rattled Japan's southern Kyushu island, two days after a powerful earthquake left one dead and more than 700 injured, officials said.

Sunday's quake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, damaged 780 homes and 63 roads and triggered at least nine landslides in the region, a police official said.

More than 2,830 people were at shelters in and around Fukuoka in Kyushu, about 850 kilometres south of Tokyo.

Since Sunday's quake, the Meteorological Agency said it recorded 13 aftershocks measuring above 4.0 on the Richter scale in areas on Kyushu.

Close to midnight overnight, an aftershock with a magnitude of 4.6 struck Kyushu with its epicentre located off the coast of Fukuoka. [...]

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Alabama Earthquake
Associated Press

JACKSON, Ala. (AP) - A magnitude three-point-three earthquake shook parts of Clarke County early this morning at about 2:11 am, but apparently caused no damage.

The US Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center says the epicenter of the minor earthquake was located approximately 25 miles north-northwest of Jackson.

While no damage was reported, some people reported being awakened by the quake while others said dishes were knocked off of countertops.

Earthquake magnitudes are measures of earthquake size calculated from ground motion recorded on seismographs.

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Army joins relief operations as Bangladesh tornado death toll rises to 47
DHAKA (AFP) Mar 22, 2005
Troops have joined a massive relief operation in northern Bangladesh where a tornado cut a swathe through 15 villages at the weekend, officials said Tuesday, as the death toll rose to 47.

More than 8,000 villagers from the flattened hamlets in the district of Gaibandha spent a second night in the open after Sunday's storm ripped their homes apart, police said.

The twister accompanied by a hailstorm flattened 3,000 houses, destroyed crops, uprooted hundreds of trees and electricity poles and cut off communications to the 15 villages, located in one of the most impoverished parts of the country.

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Whirlwind claims four lives in Vietnam, injures seven
HANOI (AFP) Mar 22, 2005
Heavy rain and a whirlwind have killed four people and injured seven in the northern Vietnamese province of Cao Bang, a local official said Tuesday.

Three communes were hit by strong winds on Sunday and Monday and around 140 houses and nine schools were damaged, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.

"It happened in a very remote area", said a local official from the province's committee for natural disasters. "The four died after their houses collapsed."

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Winds strand boats, knock out power around region
Monday, March 21, 2005

Blustery weather on the first day of spring yesterday caused power outages around the region and kept the U.S. Coast Guard busy rescuing boaters and runaway boats alike.

Gusts up to 40 miles per hour knocked branches into power lines, causing scattered outages around Seattle. City Light crews were busy repairing power lines all day.

About 20,000 people also lost power in parts of Kitsap and Thurston counties yesterday, and a Puget Sound Energy spokesman said crews were working into the night to restore power there. [...]

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Yellowstone Supervolcano Unknown by Nearly Two-Thirds of Adult Americans, Says New Survey
March 21 /PRNewswire/

SILVER SPRING, Md., -- Results from an online survey conducted for Discovery Channel by Harris Interactive(R) reveal that only 22% of adults in America are aware of the term "supervolcano." Supervolcano is a term used to describe a volcano containing a large caldera able to produce an exceedingly large, catastrophic explosive eruption, in some cases over 100 times bigger than anything experienced by humanity over historic time. In scientific terms, a supervolcano implies a volcanic eruption of a magnitude of 8 on the Volcano Explosivity Index, meaning that more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma are erupted. When told that Yellowstone National Park, the home of "Old Faithful," is one of the few known examples of a supervolcano, 64 percent of adults surveyed said that they were unaware of that fact. [...]

Upon hearing that scientists have determined that the history of the Yellowstone supervolcano suggests it explodes regularly, approximately every 600,000 years, and that Yellowstone National Park was formed by the last explosion, which was 640,000 years ago -- making it now, by these measures, overdue -- 81 percent of adult Americans said they were not aware that this type of eruption underneath Yellowstone is likely to happen again. To-date, evidence points to three super-volcanic eruptions blasting through Yellowstone: 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and 640,000 years ago. The force of a single super-eruption at Yellowstone would be the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs exploding every second. The fallout effects are massive, including blizzards of ash, ozone depletion, dropping temperatures, and mudflows. [...]

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'Superbug' infections spiralling in Canadian hospitals
Last Updated Mon, 21 Mar 2005 22:25:23 EST
CBC News

TORONTO - Hospitals are failing to control antibiotic-resistant "superbug" infections that kill as many as 8,000 patients each year and cost health-care systems at least $100 million annually, a CBC News investigation has learned.

Yet infection control budgets are the first to be cut when money gets tight, some doctors say, despite the rising frequency of infections caused by bacteria such as Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA).

The incidence of hospital-acquired MRSA has increased tenfold in less than a decade.

Since 2003, C. difficile has killed more than 600 people in Quebec alone, most of them elderly or very sick patients.

In all, the statistics show 250,000 Canadians are getting sick from preventable infections every year.

Such infections kill more North Americans annually than breast cancer, traffic accidents and AIDS combined. [...]

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