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©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Falling through the Looking Glass in Hebron
K.L. writing from Qawawis, occupied Palestine, Live from Palestine, 1 April 2005

The small village of Qawawis is the most peaceful place I have ever visited. Geographically, it is situated south of Al-Khalil (Hebron) in the West Bank. Here a handful of shepherding families live in caves cut from the stony hill by hand. We are four internationals are staying in the village with the families.

The days in Qawawis are seemingly alike: we get up at dawn and are invited to breakfast, consisting primarily of flat bread and hummus, in one of the caves. Afterwards the herds are let out and we walk with the shepherds as they graze their sheep in the open landscape. After three or four hours we return to the village, have flat bread and hummus and nap. Then we walk with the sheep for another three or four hours and return at dusk.

At dinner time (rarely with any surprises), many of the young boys from the village come to the cave we dine in to practice their English, and teach us new Arabic words. All socializing after dark is by light of oil lamps, since the village is without electricity. Nevertheless, I have yet to find a place in Palestine with better reception for my cellular phone. Paradoxically, the good reception is due to the surrounding illegal settlements, equipped with cellphone towers, new roads, running water, electricity, plenty of guns and telephone wires, primarily funded with Israeli citizens' tax money.

These settlements are the reason we are here. Harassment of Palestinians in the proximity of settlements is more the rule than exception, but a couple of years ago the violence against the village escalated, and when two villagers were shot, most of the families had already moved to the neighboring village of Yatta.

The Israeli army moved in and forced the rest of the inhabitants to move for "security reasons". Some Israeli settlers moved into the caves, but were also evacuated from the village by the army, which then bulldozed several caves and wells. The Israeli separation wall was planned to annex this part of the West Bank and the village was in the way of a new military base. After filing complaints and a hard legal fight, especially from Israeli peace organization Ta'ayush, there was a small change in the path of the separation wall, moving it closer to the Green Line, and the Israeli Supreme Court saying ruled that villagers had the right to return to their land.

One month ago some of the families moved back to the village along with peace activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), on a rotational basis as an international presence. During this month the villagers have suffered daily visits from settlers threatening them with guns or throwing rocks at sheep and shepherds. On Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath), the settlers often make a tour of the village, showing the caves and telling make-believe stories of how they used to live in the caves, and how the original inhabitants moved out for better housing in Yatta. All this I already knew, and yet I was not thoroughly prepared for our first confrontation with the religious fanatics.

Purim mask and an Uzi

"Nazis! Jew killers! Go back to Germany!"

Suddenly everything seems chaotic. Five minutes ago a white pick-up came to a halt, and two young men exited. I and another international calmly approached them, remembering our training in de-escalation of possibly violent situations. One of the males was dressed in orthodox manner, complete with light colored loose clothing, head covered with a kippah and curly black locks of hair at the temples. The other was sporting a yellow Purim* mask, depicting a skull, and an Uzi.

After a couple of weeks in this country, I am still not comfortable with seeing guns, and the adrenalin was pumping through our veins as we got closer and diplomatically asked if we could be of any assistance, without response. The two men started running around screaming, tossing rocks at sheep and shepherds. Our de-escalation was seemingly a gross failure, since still more cars kept coming and everyone that got out seemed very angry with us.

"Nazis! Jew killers! Go back to Germany! You! Are you German?" An extremely animated woman in her thirties is pointing at me. Out of confusion I just answered her: "Ehm no, I'm from Denmark."

"Yeah, Danish people, you're really good at killing Jews too!"

The other two internationals come running and we all try to get between the shepherds and the 10 angry settlers, who are throwing rocks and telling us how easily they could kill us, whilst pointing at us with their machine guns. A military vehicle notices the episode and pulls up curbside.

Three young soldiers get out just to stand around and do nothing, despite the fact that we repeatedly ask, as the settlers begin to kick and beat us. Not until a grown man has thrown himself on top of our female American friend and punched her many times in the face, neck and chest, does one of the soldiers help to get him off of her. Afterwards the soldier decides to help the man find his glasses. We draw back toward the village with the shepherds, as the screaming settlers try to get past the soldiers.

We phoned the police as soon as the two youngsters got out of the pick-up, and were positively surprised that they promised to come quickly. I had heard that the police often don't really handle cases involving settlers out of fear. My positive attitude toward the Israeli Police did not last long. It took several calls before they finally showed up one and a half hour later.

We tried to explain to them what happened, but soon the settlers came driving down again and started yelling in Hebrew at the police. Before we knew it, the police had taken our passports, the settlers were going home, and we are on our way to the police station. The police station is situated in the middle of one of the largest settlements in all of Palestine, Kiryat Arba, a name with an ominous historical ring to it.


Kiryat Arba was Israel's first settlement, the approval of which former Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan would later call the most severe mistake in his career. The huge settlement is situated adjacent to the municipal boundaries of Al-Khalil (Hebron) and is home to about 7200 persons. As we were taken to the police station, we slowly drove through this Disneyland of neat streets, small grassy areas and hundreds of identical little houses, with the characteristic diagonal red roofs, placed on 6,000 dunams (1,500 acres) of confiscated Palestinian land. For some reason this place reminds me of Pennywise, the killer clown from the film based on Stephen King's It, which terrified me as a child.

The Hebron area is known as one of the most difficult in all of the West Bank, the cause of its problems the settler issue. One of the most tragic and fatal examples is the massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque of 1994, when American-Israeli physician Baruch Goldstein, entered the mosque, shot dead 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded another 125. In the old city of Al-Khalil, 500 Jewish fundamentalists reside in four settlements. Once the economic and social centre of Al-Khalil, the old city has been transformed into a ghost town of shops welded shut for "security reasons", military raids and checkpoints.

The settlers claim to be a "continuation" of the original Jewish community of the city but, in 1996, 40 members of the original Jewish community signed a public petition asking for the evacuation of the settlers. As a result of countless violent confrontations, the daily life of the 150,000 Palestinian residents is troubled with harassment, curfew and seemingly innumerable security checks.

More than 600 days of curfew have been imposed on the Palestinian population of Hebron and more than 74 homes demolished, more often than not to give way to Jewish-only roads. All this is overseen by about 1,500 soldiers stationed in the old city. Their primary assignment is to secure the safety of the 500 settlers, many of whom are armed to the teeth and none of whom have to go through humiliating security checks. Soldiers reside in confiscated Palestinian homes and in Kiryat Arba, where we are taken for questioning.

Go to jail, go directly to jail

We arrived in the police station believing that we were going to file charges based on the assault against us and the villagers. When we sat down, we were told that we were now detained as the settlers had filed charges against us for attacking them. Welcome to Through the Looking Glass land. We found out that all the settlers had all been allowed to go home. We, on the other hand, are dragged through hours of questioning, where we only were allowed to defend ourselves against charges. After eight hours we were offered to sign a paper forbidding us to return to Qawawis.

We refused and were arrested and put in jail. Harsh punishment for getting assaulted, but in looking-glass land, it is not necessarily illogical to believe that unarmed, non-violent peace activists might attack crazy settlers armed with M-16s and Uzis. The next day we were taken to a judge who dismissed the charges against us, and acknowledged the importance of an international presence in Qawawis. The settlers continue their regular harassment in the area. Recently a flock of sheep was poisoned with rat poison in the neighbouring village of At-Tuwani.

The trouble created by mad, fundamentalist settlers, who believe in a literal interpretation of religious texts, is a well calculated part of the Israeli government's policy of colonization. The settlers, more or less knowingly, are doing the governments bidding, but also the judicial system seems very lenient when it comes to settlers. A grave example is the story of an eleven-year-old Palestinian boy, Hilmi Shusha who was "pistol whipped" to death by a settler from Betar, on the way to Bethlehem from Hebron, Nahum Korman. The perpetrator was arrested, tried and acquitted on the grounds that "the child died on his own as a result of emotional pressure".

On appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court characterized the act as a "light killing", and the settler received six months of community service and a fine. The settlers, making up 6-7 % of the Israeli population, are not at all alike. Many are simply attracted to cheap government subsidized housing, but they are all but threads in the Israeli cobweb of control over the Occupied Territories. Along with the areas unilaterally annexed with the "land grab wall", they are facts on the ground and can be used as arguments in future peace talks.

I feel like Alice who just stepped through the looking glass. Not just because the letters here are written from right to left. Not just because Al-Khalil (in Arabic) as well as Hevron (in Hebrew) means "friend". Not just because we were imprisoned for being assaulted. More likely so because we in "The Western World" seem to accept the image of Israel reflected in our societies, an image missing important details. The Israeli state does not care about the international commitments that it pretends to respect. The separation wall and the settlements have been declared illegal by the international community.

Unfortunately Israel will continue to act with impunity as long as American vetoes in the UN Security Council and beneficial EU trade agreements send a clear signal that we are more than ready to close our eyes to endless, inhumane violations. The story of Qawawis is in no way especially horrendous or extraordinary, it is just another day in Palestine, Looking Glass land.

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Israeli Commuications Company signs deal with NY fire department

USD 2 million expected to improve department's ability to manage voice transmissions, efficiency of event reconstruction
By Eli Shimoni

Raanana-based Nice Systems Ltd. has struck an estimated USD 2 million contract with the New York Fire Department to improve management of emergency calls and radio transmissions.

Nice, a global provider of advanced solutions that enable organizations to extract useful business information from interactions with customers, was chosen by iXP Corporation, a consulting and integration services company.

The Fire Department will provide its advanced solution for the management of emergency communications.

The order follows the successful implementation of Nice's solution with iXP for the New York Police Department.

Post- Sept. 11 praise

In the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks, the fire department won the praise of New Yorkers, including former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and has worked since then to ensure the highest standards in the reliability of its communications infrastructure.

Nice's solution is expected to improve the department's ability to capture, manage, and replay voice transmissions, and to improving rescue operations' efficiency and accuracy of event reconstruction.

Comment: There certainly should be alarm bells sounding in the NYFD over granting an Israeli company control over the capturing, managing, and replaying of voice transmissions for one of the most important security services in New York.

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Kurdish chauvinist agent of CIA, Mossad proclaimed "president" of puppet regime

Kurdish chauvinist and long-time lackey of the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Zionist Mossad, 71-year old Jalal at-Talibani, took the oath of puppet "president" of Iraq on Thursday. The "inauguration" publicity show was held under intense American guard inside the headquarters of the US occupation in the area of the Republican Palace in Baghdad, called the "green zone" by the invaders.

Underlining the sectarian division of the country imposed by the US occupation, Ghazi al-Yawur, a US stooge of Sunni Arab background, and `Adil `Abd al-Mahdi, a Shi`i collaborator, took oaths as "vice-presidents" of the puppet "authority."

The most important position in the puppet regime is to be occupied by another Shi`i. The chief of the collaborationist Da`wah Party, Ibrahim al-Ja`fari, whom Sunni circles accuse of involvement in planned sectarian atrocities against members of their community, is to be "prime-minister."

With the office of "prime minister" assigned to a Shi`i and the "presidency" designated as a Kurdish position, the stooge "representative" of the Sunni Arab community has been consigned to the largely ceremonial position of "speaker" of the puppet "parliament." That individual is, like the "president" of the state, however, to carry out his functions with one Kurdish and one Shi`i "deputy speaker."

All these sectarian offices are to function under the auspices of the US occupation whose military actually runs the country's affairs under political guidance from Washington through the American ambassador.

The Americans have imposed the sectarian division of offices in the puppet regime as a part of an effort to sow inter-ethnic and sectarian dissention in order to try to split the country and facilitate Zionist and American domination in Iraq and throughout the Arab region.

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U.S. advises Americans to defer travel to Israel, avoid Gaza
By Haaretz Service
07:26 08/04/2005

The U.S. State Department on Thursday advised American citizens to defer any unnecessary travel to Israel and the territories citing growing efforts to thwart recent diplomatic achievements and the disengagement plan.

Although "terrorist attacks within Israel have declined in both frequency and associated casualties," the travel warning states, "the potential for further violence remains high." Israeli security services report that they are investigating between 40 and 60 planned terrorist attacks at any given time, the travel warning says.

Besides the threat originating from Palestinian militant groups, the upcoming Israeli pullout from the entire Gaza Strip and four settlements in northern Samaria are also cited as a potential source of danger. The disengagement "could lead to violence in Israel by settler groups."

"Settlers are reportedly planning acts of civil disobedience and other protests that at best will be severely disruptive and at worst may result in physical confrontations leading to violence," the State Department warning states.

Furthermore, the U.S. government has received information indicating that American interests within Israel could be the focus of terrorist attacks.

For these reasons, the State Department urges U.S. citizens in Israel to remain vigilant while traveling and those in the Gaza Strip to exit immediately.

"Overall conditions of lawlessness prevail" in the Gaza Strip, the travel warning states, "Israeli military operations continue, and areas of violent conflict shift rapidly and unpredictably."

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Cairo blast sparks fears of campaign against tourists
By Nadia Abou El-Magd in Cairo
08 April 2005

An explosion at an outdoor bazaar popular with tourists in Cairo's old city yesterday killed up to four people and wounded around 18 others. One witness said a man on a motorcycle set off a bomb in the middle of a group of foreigners.

The blast - the first attack targeting foreigners in the Egyptian capital in more than seven years - was near the al-Azhar mosque; the wounded included more than 10 Egyptians, two Americans, two Turks, two Italians, two French citizens and a Briton, the health ministry said. Two of the dead were believed to be a French woman and an American man.

The blast rocked al-Moski street, a narrow lane of tourist shops and clothes sellers - often crammed with foreigners and Egyptian shoppers - near the main bazaar of Khan al-Khalili.

Rabab Rifaat, an Egyptian woman who was shopping in a store several yards from the blast, said she heard "a boom, a horrible sound. Everyone started running". She then saw a head flying through the air. A large, organised tour group was in the street, buying items at a market when the explosion went off, she said. Six or seven people were seen lying on the ground afterwards and an Egyptian man ran with burns on his back and his clothes torn, Ms Rifaat said. It was unclear if those on the ground were dead or wounded.

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Cairo blast not accident 2005-04-08 13:26:05

CAIRO, April 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Four people were killed and 18 others wounded in a deadly blast in the Egyptian capital on Thursday, which analysts say was not an accident but a sabotage aimed at Egypt's social stability and national economy.

With no group having claimed responsibility so far, police are working hard to look into the assault and determine its cause.

Initial reports said the explosion might be traced to a bomb thrown by a man on a motorcycle. If confirmed, analysts here say, this will lead to an assumption that the attack was probably premeditated.

One of the major objectives of the Egyptian extremist groups has for long been devastating Egypt's tourism industry by scaring away foreign tourists.

In an interview with Xinhua, political analyst Azzem Tarek noted that Thursday's blast was a result of regional instability and intensified domestic contradiction.

Some countries, in the name of anti-terror campaign or democracy, use force to violate international laws and interfere with other countries' internal affairs, which is in the fact futile in promoting anti-terror efforts but instead, putting a premium on the spreading of terrorism, said Tarek.

It is true that the slow economic development and democratic process in some Arab countries have given terrorists an excuse for launching attacks, but the major root cause for mounting terrorist activities is misusing or excessive using of force in dealing with problems arisen in international relations, said Tarek.

He said the US-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq opened the Pandora's box which triggered a spate of terrorism prevalence across the world, especially in the Middle East.

The intensified social contradiction in Egypt is another factor, he said.

Like most of the terror attacks in the 1990s, Thursday's explosion apparently targeted foreign tourists," said Saber Rabie, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

It was the second attack against tourists in Egypt in six months. Last October, three car bombs exploded almost simultaneously outside the Taba Hilton Hotel and two tourists camps in the Sinai peninsula.

"They (the extremists) wanted to destroy the national economy by devastating one of its pillars: tourism industry," said Rabie.

The Cairo blast occurred near an open-air market in Cairo's Old City, which hundreds of tourists visited every day to buy souvenirs and traditional handicrafts.

Egypt, reputed highly for its ancient relics and sunny coastlines, earned about 6.1 billion US dollars from tourism in 2004.

Tourism officials said the Sinai bombings last year caused a loss of about 200 million dollars for tourism revenue in 2004, as the number of tourists was reduced by 200,000 as a result of the attacks.

Mahmoud Amr, a jewelry dealer at a store near the explosion site, said he was worried by the attack as, like other terror activities in the past, it may have a negative impact on his business.

"Of course, I'm worried," he said. "After the media reports, people around the world surely think Egypt is a dangerous country."

"When they decide not to come to visit this country, how can I make a living by selling items to tourists?" he said.

Egypt's economy is experiencing a hard period of times witnessed by sluggish development and high unemployment rate in addition to price hikes. In the past nine months, prices have jumped up by more than 30 percent.

Such sluggish economy has triggered off the long-accumulated social problems, said Tarek.

Since last December, the Egyptian opposition parties have organized several anti-government demonstrations, demanding the political reform. Such activities are becoming more and more frequent, arousing concerns over the country's stability.

Should the Egyptian government fail to find out an appropriate solution to the economic problem, the country will face serious social crisis, Tarek said.

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Egypt moves to contain shock of Cairo blast 2005-04-08 20:21:15
CAIRO, April 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Egyptian officials on Friday moved to assure foreign visitors that they are safe in the country, downplaying the significance of an explosion in Cairo's Old City late Thursday afternoon.

Egyptian Minister of Tourism Ahmed al-Maghrabi told reporters that police are working hard to determine the cause of the blast, saying foreign tourists should not be scared away from Egypt.

"Incidents like this could turn out to be acts of one individual," Maghrabi said, adding "people should not be scared
away from this country."

According to the official, the death toll of the blast rose to three, including a French woman and a US national.

He said the third victim has not yet been identified, though some media reports said the third dead was the bomber himself.

The explosion took place at around 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) Thursday in an open-air market close to al-Azhar mosque, one of the most revered shrines in the Sunni Muslim world.

No group has claimed responsibility so far.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Cairo on Friday warned its citizens against visiting places teeming with tourists.

"All residents of and visitors to Egypt should be especially vigilant and avoid areas of Cairo where large numbers of tourists congregate," said a statement from the embassy.

Thursday's explosion is the first fatal attack against foreign tourists in more than seven years in Cairo and the second major attack in Egypt in six months.

Last October, three car bombs exploded almost simultaneously outside the Taba Hilton hotel and two tourist camps 55 km farther south.

Egyptian investigators found eight Egyptians and a Palestinian were behind the bombings but denied they belonged to a larger terror organization.

Some people said the incident has reminded the Egyptians of the tumultuous 1990s when Islamic extremists staged a series of attacks across the country.

Comment: Perhaps most Egyptians are too old to remember, but this incident, like the three car bombs last October, bear a striking resemblance to the "Lavon affair" in 1952 where a group if Israeli agents carried out a series of bombings on American and British properties in Cairo and Alexandria and tried to pin the blame on Muslim extremists. The group were caught in the act when one of the bombs exploded prematurely injuring one of the Israeli agents who then confessed. At the time Israel's response was to deny any knowledge of the group or their mission. Last week however, the surviving members of the group were officially honored by the Israeli government as "heroes".

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Britain's intelligence admits mistake on Iraq weapons 2005-04-08 18:56:58

LONDON, April 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Britain's intelligence chiefs have admitted for the first time that claims they made about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were wrong.

"We are concerned at the amount of intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that has now had to be withdrawn," said the Intelligence and Security Committee Wednesday.

Coment: So, they didn't actually say they were wrong - only that the intelligence had to be "withdrawn".

The committee also referred to the Butler inquiry, which described the MI6 agent behind the claim that Iraq could deploy chemical weapons within 45 minutes as open to "serious doubts" and "seriously flawed."

The admission was made in an 2004-2005 annual report of the committee presented to the Parliament early this week.

Late last year the intelligence committee reviewed key judgments on Iraq's capacity of weapons of mass destruction and programs behind the government's now discredited dossier published in September 2002, the committee disclosed.

The committee blames the lack of communication between ministers and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. It noted that ministerial cabinet committee on the intelligence services has not met since December 2003, and even that meeting was the first in more than seven years. "Regular meetings would "enable collective discussion by ministers of intelligence priorities and developments," it said.

At the moment, it added, "ministers discuss intelligence only in the context of crisis or single-issue meetings."

Three MI6 agents were "withdrawn" after the invasion of Iraq, among them, there is one who claimed that Iraq was still making chemical and biological weapons.

Comment: Curious reasoning. If the problem was the lack of communication between ministers and MI6, that would suggest that the problem didn't come from the intelligence gathering end of the operation. If the data was good, then is the report saying between the lines that the problem was political interference?

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Reject the Law of Silence
John Pilger
04/06/05 "New Statesman"

From the BBC's capitulation to the Israeli government, to the rush to eulogise a deeply reactionary Pope, pressure on the media is leading to insidious new state propaganda.

Can you imagine the BBC apologising to a rogue regime that practises racism and ethnic cleansing; that has "effectively legalised the use of torture" (Amnesty); that holds international law in contempt, having defied hundreds of UN resolutions and built an apartheid wall in defiance of the International Court of Justice; that has demolished thousands of people's homes and given its soldiers the right to assassinate; and whose leader was judged "personally responsible" for the massacre of more than 2,000 people?

Can you imagine the BBC saying sorry to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or other official demons, for broadcasting an uncensored interview with a courageous dissident of that country, a man who spent 19 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement? Of course not.

Yet last month, the BBC apologised "confidentially" to a regime with such a record, so that its correspondent would be allowed back, having promised to abide by a system of censorship that continues to gag the dissident. The regime is Ariel Sharon's in Israel, whose war crimes, appalling human rights record and enduring lawlessness continue to be granted a certificate of exemption not only by the US-dominated west but by respectable journalism. The Blair government's collusion with the Sharon gang is reflected in the BBC's "balanced" coverage of a repression described by Nelson Mandela as "the greatest moral issue of the age". Simon Wilson, the correspondent made to apologise for a proper, important and long-overdue interview with Mordechai Vanunu, will know better in future.

That is hardly new. Pressure applied to the BBC by the Israel "lobby" has been so successful that, as a Glasgow University study revealed, many viewers of television news in Britain believe the Jewish "settlers", whose illegal and often violent squatting on Palestinian land has undermined hopes of real peace, are actually Palestinians. What is new is the extent to which insidious state propaganda has penetrated sections of the media whose independence has been, until recently, accepted by much of the public.

To appreciate this, one applies the Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence. The Law of Opposites can be applied to almost any news broadcast these days. The long-awaited death of the Pope is a case in point. By reversing the river of drivel about him - "the people's Pope" (almost universal), "the man who changed history" (Bush), "a shining example . . . revered across all faiths and none" (Blair) - you have the truth. This deeply reactionary man held back history and destroyed lives all over the world with his fanatical opposition to basic decencies such as birth control. He called this "abominable", spitting the word out, and so condemned millions, from starving infants to babies born with Aids. In Latin America, he publicly humiliated courageous priests whose "preference for the poor" dared to cross the medieval hierarchy he upheld. The claim that he "brought down communism" is also the opposite of the truth. As I learned when I reported his papal return to his native Poland in 1979, the Catholic Church in that country, whose conservatism he embodied, was a scheming bedfellow of the Stalinist regime until the wind changed.

The Law of Opposites can be applied to the current government/media fashion for saving Africa known as the Year of Africa. The BBC has hosted a special conference about this, just as Blair will host the G8 summit in July with "eradicating Africa's poverty" as its theme. This is "Britain's big chance", wrote Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, "to engage the rich with debt relief, aid, fair trade, carbon emissions and Aids-crippled Africa". She added: "On debt and trade, Labour has done well."

The opposite is true. Like the rest of the impoverished world, African countries qualify for Gordon Brown's enlightenment only if they agree to impose on their people the deadly strictures of the World Trade Organisation, the IMF and the World Bank - such as the destruction of tariffs protecting sustainable economies and the privatising of water and other natural resources. At the same time, they are "encouraged" to buy weapons from British arms companies, especially if they have a civil war under way or there is a tension with a neighbour.

The Law of Silence is applied to crimes committed not by official demons - Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic et al - but by western governments. An Australian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent, Eric Campbell, recently promoting a book of his adventures, described the broadcast "coverage" of the war in Iraq. "Live satellite is a travesty," he said. "Basically, if [the reporters] are on satellite, they haven't seen anything. The correspondent is read the stories from the wire and told that is what they have to say on air - that's in the majority of cases."

That may help to explain why the horror of the American attack on Fallujah has yet to be reported by all the major broadcasters. By contrast, independent journalists such as Dahr Jamail have reported doctors describing the slaughter by US marines of civilians carrying white flags. This slaughter was videotaped, including the killing of most of a family of 12. One witness described how his mother had been shot in the head and his father through the heart, and how a six-year-old boy standing over his dead parents, crying, was shot dead. None of this has appeared on British television. When asked, a BBC spokesperson said: "The conduct of coalition forces has been examined at length by BBC programmes." That is demonstrably untrue.

Similarly, the Law of Silence applies to the likely American attack on Iran. Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector who in 1999 disclosed that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and was thereafter virtually blackballed, has recently revealed that, according to a Pentagon official, Iran will be attacked in June. Again, Ritter has been ignored by most of the media. As Bush's and Blair's "democracy is on the march in the Middle East" propaganda is reported uncritically, the Law of Silence applies to the Bush regime's campaign to subvert and overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. President Chavez is arguably the most democratically elected leader in Latin America, if not the world (nine elections), and his own "preference for the poor" has diverted the proceeds of the world's fourth-biggest oil supplier to the majority of Venezuelans.

Last year, I did a long interview with Jeremy Bowen, a BBC reporter I admire, for a programme about war correspondents. Although I guessed that what was really wanted were my tales of journalistic derring-do on the front line, I set about describing how journalists often produced veiled propaganda for western power - by accepting "our" version or by omitting the unpalatable, such as the atrocities of western state terrorism: a major taboo. I emphasised that this censorship was not conspiratorial, but often unconscious, even subliminal; such was our training and grooming. My contribution did not appear.

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Del., Md. Shootings Leave 2 Dead, 4 Hurt
By RANDALL CHASE, Associated Press Writer
Thu Apr 7, 7:02 PM ET

LAUREL, Del. - A man wearing a bulletproof vest killed two people and wounded four others Thursday during a shooting rampage in Maryland and Delaware before police arrested him, authorities said.

Police said the suspect also carjacked a vehicle, shot and killed a dog and rammed a SUV into a chain link fence and over a utility meter during the crime spree. Delaware State Police Cpl. Jeff Oldham said authorities had determined a motive for the attacks, but were not releasing details. Police said the suspect, Allison L. Norman, 22, did not know any of the victims.

"Quite a morning for a little rural town," said Laurel's mayor, John Shwed.

Norman was charged with first-degree murder and handgun violations, officials said. He failed Wednesday to appear in court for a motions hearing on four earlier firearms charges. Clerk Mark Bowen said the court issued a $10,000 bench warrant for Norman.

The attacks started in Laurel, where three men were shot, and continued across the border in Maryland, where the suspect fled on foot before being caught. The three other people were shot in Salisbury, Md., including one who died, Oldham said.

Two people were shot at an apartment building in Laurel, and another at a nearby shopping center. "It was just poom, poom, poom, poom. It just scared me so bad," said Matilda Smith, a resident of the apartment building.

She saw a young man covered in blood fall off an air-conditioning unit he had been sitting on, about 20 feet from her door step. "To me, what I could see was nothing but blood; it shook me up," she said. "I stood there and couldn't believe what I was seeing."

At the shopping center, a trail of blood led down a road. Witnesses said a man was shot on side of the road, then staggered along the storefronts before collapsing. The mayor said this victim was apparently shot while trying to hitch a ride from the suspect as he fled the scene.

In Salisbury, Md., he allegedly carjacked a vehicle and was involved in an accident, police said. Maryland State Police said the suspect was wearing the bulletproof vest and carrying a handgun when he was caught in Salisbury.

"He was obviously prepared for a confrontation," said Col. Thomas Hutchins, the Maryland State Police superintendent.

Of the four wounded, two were listed in very serious condition.

Norman's girlfriend, Ashley Dean of Seaford, Del., told WBOC-TV in Salisbury that she didn't believe her boyfriend was involved.

"Why would he do this?" Dean said. "Why would he do this? He has no reason to."

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Coach Shot at Texas High School
Thursday, April 07, 2005

CANTON, Texas - Schools in Canton, Texas, were in lockdown Thursday as police hunted for a man with a hit list who shot and wounded a football coach Thursday at the high school his son attended.

The suspect, Jeffrey Doyle Robertson, 45, was carried out of the woods on a stretcher a few hours later, after his truck was found abandoned near a golf course outside Canton. His condition was not immediately disclosed.

Gary Joe Kinne, who is also the Canton High School (search) athletic director, was shot in the school's field house with an AK-47 (search) rifle, according to the state's Homeland Security office. Kinne was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Tyler. Authorities were not releasing his condition but his father told FOX News around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon that Kinne was out of surgery, was conscious and was in critical condition.

The Homeland Security office identified the shooter as Robertson, who fled the scene in a 2004 black Dodge pickup. Robertson had other weapons in his truck and had made statements that he had a hit list and would not be taken alive, spokeswoman Sophie Yanez said.

KDFW reported that after the suspect exited the truck, he called a friend on a cell phone and said he was going to try to commit suicide by slitting his wrists in a nearby wooded area. Those reports are so far unconfirmed.

Police were not clear on the motive, but authorities have received reports that Robertson and the coach had an "altercation" sometime after Kinne took over the program in 2003, said Jasmine Andresen, a Texas Department of Public Safety officer. Robertson's son was on the team.

Robertson's truck apparently was found abandoned near a golf course off Interstate 20 between Tyler and Canton about two hours after the shooting, authorities said.

"The Sheriff's Department, DPS and Texas Rangers are all out here, but I haven't seen anything," said Justin Hill, who works at the Garden Valley Golf Course's pro shop in Lindale. "No one's running around here with an AK-47." [...]

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TSA slated for dismantling

White House asks agency's director to step down
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
11:32 p.m. ET April 7, 2005

The Transportation Security Administration, once the flagship agency in the nation's $20 billion effort to protect air travelers, is now slated for dismantling.

The latest sign came yesterday when the Bush administration asked David M. Stone, the TSA's director, to step down in June, according to aviation and government sources. Stone is the third top administrator to leave the three-year-old agency, which was swiftly created in the chaos and patriotism following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The TSA absorbed divisions of other agencies such as Federal Aviation Administration only to find itself now the victim of a massive reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security.

The TSA has been plagued by operational missteps, public relations blunders and criticism of its performance from both the public and legislators. Its "No Fly" list has mistakenly snared senators. Its security screeners have been arrested for stealing from luggage, and its passenger pat-downs have set off an outcry from women.

Under provisions of President Bush's 2006 budget proposal favored by Congress, the TSA will lose its signature programs in the reorganization of Homeland Security. The agency will likely become just manager of airport security screeners -- a responsibility that itself could diminish as private screening companies increasingly seek a comeback at U.S. airports. The agency's very existence, in fact, remains an open question, given that the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security contains a clause permitting the elimination of TSA as "distinct entity" after November 2004. "TSA, at the end of the day, is going to look more like the Postal Service," said Paul C. Light, a public service professor at New York University and a Brookings Institution scholar who has tracked the agency since its birth in February 2002. Light calls the TSA "one of the federal government's greatest successes of the past half century," and likens it to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the late 1950s, which was also born amid great public excitement to serve an urgent national need.

More narrow role

But TSA's time in the spotlight is over and it should now step back to serve a more narrow role, Light said. "It's a labor-intensive delivery organization that is not going to be making many public policy decisions. Its basic job is to train and deploy screeners," he said.

Bush administration officials say they don't expect the demise of TSA, adding they will know little about the future of the agency until new Homeland Security Sec. Michael Chertoff completes his review of the department, which will likely prompt a major overhaul.

"TSA has taken significant steps to enhance the nation's transportation and aviation security over the course of the past two years and TSA continues to have the confidence, not only of nation's air travelers, but of departmental leadership, to continue in this important mission," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse. "Secretary Chertoff is open to adjustments in the way that DHS does business but will not advocate for or against any change until a thorough review of the changes are complete." The review is expected to be completed in May or June. The government has pumped more money into airline security than any other Homeland Security effort. Much of it goes toward salaries for more than 45,000 security screeners at over 400 airports. Travelers know TSA mostly by its operations at the airport security checkpoint, a highly public role that magnifies the agency's smallest blunders and often forces it to have to defend itself. [...]

Bit by bit, however, the agency's responsibilities have steadily dwindled amid a succession of directors. Many of its operations have been folded into the Department of Homeland Security, which it joined in 2003. TSA scrapped early plans to create a broad law-enforcement division. The air marshals, who lobbied to leave the agency, were transferred to the department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division -- to the dismay of TSA leaders. Next, the explosives unit left. Now, the agency's high-tech research labs in Atlantic City are also going to another division of the department. [...]

'Selectee' list

Stone, 52, believes the exercise shows that TSA still serves a critical role in the nation's intelligence network. He has told new Homeland Security Sec. Michael Chertoff that he hopes the agency will keep this role. Airlines have complained that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent passengers, and even pilots, have been added to TSA's "selectee" list or that some names are confused with those on the "No Fly" list, subjecting travelers to delays and hassles at the airport.

At a February meeting between TSA and 18 major carriers, airline representatives were asked who had crew members on the list and "they all raised their hands," said one airline source who was present. Airline officials said crew members on the list must be stripped of their badges and cannot perform their duties, according to TSA rules.

Stone said "one or two" pilots who are approved to carry guns in the cockpit have been put on the selectee list in the past year. He said he recalls a "handful" of other pilots who have been added to the selectee list because they were involved in "outrageous" incidents. He cited an incident last year in which an intoxicated pilot punched a patron at a restaurant and threatened him.

"We take all of these incidents seriously and we work to resolve them quickly because we know that people's livelihoods are at stake," said TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield. [...]

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The resistance will go on
Mousa Al-Husseini, Al-Ahram Weekly

Resistance remains a national calling for all Iraqis in the face of US designs, writes Mousa Al-Husseini.

April 7, 2005 - On 11 April 2003, Iraqi resistance set out to free Iraq. Since then, it managed not only to restore pride to all Iraqis and Arabs, but also to make Bush's racist administration change tack repeatedly. But the conflict in Iraq is not just between the occupation forces and the resistance. The picture is quite murky, for someone is plotting behind the scenes. Some individuals or groups are murdering hundreds of innocent people. These individuals and groups are not part of the resistance. They are foisted upon the scene to tarnish and discredit the valiant resistance. Let me elaborate.

It did not take long for Iraqi resistance to spring into action. Less than two weeks after the war was over, resistance began to trickle, developing into a flood. At some point, over 40 operations were reported in a single day. Unlike most liberation movements that take years of painstaking planning, of indoctrinating supporters, recruiting militants and moving from rural to urban areas, Iraqi resistance was born strong, fully-fledged, and ready to take on the enemy in the heart of Iraqi cities. Also, the Iraqi resistance depended on purely domestic capabilities rather than on foreign support.

The Americans often claim that Iraqi resistance is nothing more than reckless operations by militants from outside Iraq. Neither the occupation forces nor their local friends have ever been able to prove that Iraqi resistance is not homegrown. Surely, there is nothing wrong with non-Iraqi Arab militants joining the ranks of the resistance. Thousands of Iraqis have fought along their Arab brethren across the region in the past. When Italy invaded Libya in 1908, Shia ulema issued an edict urging Iraqis to go to Libya and wage jihad.

Some people maintain that the resistance is nothing more than an opportunistic campaign mounted by the disgruntled cronies of a defunct regime. This can not be true. Opportunists and mercenaries are self-serving by nature. The first impulse of the opportunists of the old regime was to turn coat and jump into the occupation's bandwagon. The only Baathists who joined the resistance are the ones who are independent-minded, the ones who still believe in the purity of early Baathist tradition -- tradition once maintained by men such as Fouad Al-Rikabi, Iyad Thabit and Abdul-Wahhab Al-Ghariri. Many people in Iraq want the Americans out. Most of the public to start with, as well as patriotic Baathists, Marxists, Nasserists and pan-Arabists, all of whom are involved in the resistance in one way or another.

The Americas were shocked to see resistance on such a scale. Their first reaction was to claim that it was of a sectarian nature, confined in what they dubbed "the Sunni Triangle". This was laughable, for it was not long before Shia followers of Al-Sadr launched an insurgence in Najaf and the south. Many Shias are known to have fought and died in Falluja.

Whenever major terrorist operations happened, it was mostly with US knowledge or involvement. Israel's Mossad planned major terror operations in Iraq, recruiting 2,000 mercenaries before the war and sending them to various Iraqi cities to offer protection and support to the occupation forces. The mercenaries mount horrific attacks, and these are soon blamed on Abu Mosaab Al-Zarqawi, a shadowy figure who I have reason to believe was killed in the second week of hostilities. If dead, Al-Zarqawi cannot refute US allegations. If alive, he is perhaps in a US base somewhere. For a full review of this argument readers may consult my book, Iraqi Resistance and US Counter-Terror.

The Americans kill and maim, destroy entire cities, just to terrorise inhabitants and discourage them from abetting the resistance. They did so in Najaf, Falluja, Samarra, Talafar and the Sadr neighbourhood in Baghdad. If terror is defined as "military attacks against civilians to achieve political goals", there is no doubt in my mind as to who are the true terrorists in Iraq. They sent lackeys, who served as ministers and top officials in the Interim Governing Council and interim government, on a spree of theft and graft. Dozens of American-imposed agents amassed incredible fortunes over the past two years. The elections were a US ploy. The Iraqis went to the elections because they were told that elections were a peaceful means for ending occupation. The Basic Law for the Administration of the State mentions that a legitimate government is entitled to ask the occupation forces to leave.

I believe that the Iraqi resistance will continue, particularly in the south. The Iraqis know that the Americans did not come as liberators, but as occupiers. They know that Al- Zarqawi is just a ghost. When asked about the recent bombing in their city, many inhabitants in Al-Hilla blamed the Americans, saying that the blast was caused by a bomb planted professionally and detonated by remote control, not by a suicide bomber as the authorities claimed. Another US ploy is that of staging anti-violence protests. In these protests, every participant is paid $10 and given a free meal. Buying protesters is, if you ask me, a sign of guilt.

Religious figures told the public that elections would be the first step to the end of occupation. Soon after the elections these figures dropped any mention of the occupation. Freedom-seeking Iraqis now have no other option but to continue the resistance. The US has its own agenda in Iraq. It claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi government may offer these weapons to terrorists targeting the US, along the lines of 11 September attacks. These were false accusations, as now we all know. The US simply wants to destroy Iraq so as to make Israel safer.

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New puppet government takes shape in Iraq
World Socialist Website
By Peter Symonds
8 April 2005

There was probably a sigh of relief in the US embassy in Baghdad and in the White House when Iraq's National Assembly finally elected a speaker on Sunday, setting the stage for Wednesday's installation of a new president. Haggling between the main winners of the January 30 election over the division of the political spoils has dragged on for weeks. Just last week the assembly's second attempt to choose a speaker ended in a debacle with politicians exchanging bitter public recriminations before the TV cameras were finally turned off.

By contrast, assembly members were on their best behaviour for Wednesday's formal proceedings. Jalal Talabani, a major figure in the Kurdistan Alliance (KA), was chosen as president. The KA, which is dominated by Talibani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), took just over 25 percent of the vote in January. Adel Abdul Mahdi, a leading figure in the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) that won nearly 50 percent of the vote, and outgoing president Ghazi Yawar were installed as vice presidents.

Yawar, a Sunni, whose party won less than two percent of the vote after Sunnis overwhelmingly heeded calls for a boycott, was the immediate cause of last week's fiasco. He turned down the post of assembly speaker at the last minute and demanded a higher political price, upsetting the precarious balance that had been negotiated between the major parties. The UIA and KA, and presumably behind the scenes top US officials, had been attempting to find a Sunni politician to provide a façade of unity.

In the end, it was a process of elimination. Of the handful of Sunni assembly members, most have associations with the ousted Baathist regime and were vetoed by the UIA. Most of the remainder were UIA members and thus were unacceptable to the KA. When Yawar refused the job, it left only Hachim Hassani-an American-trained economist who spent two decades in the US before returning to Iraq after the invasion. His party-the Iraqi Islamic Party-expelled him last year when he refused resign his position as industry minister to protest against the US military's destruction of the city of Fallujah.

The assembly session of Wednesday was replete with empty rhetoric about the beginnings of a new, united democratic Iraq. "This is a new Iraq-an Iraq that elects a Kurd to be president and a former Arab president as his deputy. What more could the world want from us?" the speaker Hassani declared. The US embassy was obviously delighted with its handiwork. An American official told the Los Angeles Times: "We thought it was a very good day, and [Iraqis] should be very pleased."

But tensions were not far below the surface. Following the carefully scripted presidential election, a sharp exchange broke out after Shiite deputies accused the outgoing administration of interim prime minister Ayad Allawi of accelerating the installation of former Baathist military officers and officials in top posts. Several called for Allawi to be censured and for all appointments made after the January 30 election to be invalidated.

Allawi, who was not at the assembly session, was defended by his deputy, Barham Saleh, a Kurd, who declared: "We should not treat the government as a defendant here." Then, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, he "blamed the US, which effectively controls Iraq's security institutions." This astonishing admission not only demonstrates the puppet character of the new government, but the absurdity of US denunciations of the former dictatorship. Having ousted Saddam Hussein, the US is now increasingly relying on Baathist officers and officials to carry on the work of the old regime-the ruthless suppression of any opposition.

Formally, the presidential commission, comprising the president and two vice-presidents, had two weeks to choose a prime minister and a cabinet for the assembly to approve. In fact, most of the arrangements had already been put in place as part of the complex negotiations between the UIA and KA over the filling of political posts. Kurdish leaders have been determined to exploit to the hilt their effective veto over the initial presidential choices, which require a two-thirds, rather than a simple majority.

Yesterday, leading UIA figure and head of the fundamentalist Dawa Party, Ibrahim al Jafaari, was named prime minister. All the top cabinet posts-foreign affairs, defence, interior, finance and oil-have already been shared out between the competing ethnic and religious factions, but are yet to be announced. Control of the key oil ministry and its potentially lucrative benefits has been a bitter point of contention between Kurdish and Shiite leaders.

A house of cards

There is no guarantee that this laboriously constructed political house of cards will last for long. Its chief task is to formulate a new constitution by August, which, after approval by referendum, paves the way for fresh national elections early next year. But the drafting of a constitution will only raise in a sharper form all of the conflicting political interests that have held up the process of selecting a government.

None of the rival ethnic and religious factions has any solid base of support. All the major parties supported the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq and, in some cases, were on the US payroll for more than a decade. Incapable of meeting the genuine democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people or solving the country's horrific social crisis, these groups have deliberately stirred up sectarian and ethnic divisions as a means of shoring up support. The UIA and KA have each promoted the illusion that the US occupation presented an opportunity for the Shiites and Kurds, respectively, to end historic subordination to the Sunni minority.

The UIA and KA do not represent the interests of working people but competing factions of a thoroughly venal Iraqi bourgeoisie. The newly installed president Jalal Talabani is a case in point. Under the banner of "Kurdish independence", he has manoeuvred and conspired for decades with Iraq's neighbours, with the imperialist powers including the US, and even with the Baathist regime, in an effort to carve out a dominant role for the PUK in north of Iraq.

The US-British imposition of a "no-fly zone" on northern Iraq following 1990-91 Gulf War enabled the PUK and KPD to establish an unprecedented measure of autonomy. When the two rivals were not fighting each other over territory and the profitable business of oil smuggling, they were scheming with foreign intelligence agencies, including the CIA and Mossad. The two parties fully backed the US invasion calculating that Washington's backing was essential for securing Kurdish autonomy or even independence.

The issue has been at the centre of the latest political wrangling between the UIA and KA. The Shiite establishment calculates that it can exploit the country's Shiite majority to assume political dominance throughout the country and is hostile to any concessions to Kurdish autonomy. The KA has sought to maximise the powers of the Kurdish regional government, including control over the Kurdish peshmerga militia.

A major bone of contention has been control over the northern city of Kirkuk and nearby oilfields, which are estimated to contain 6 percent of the world's oil reserves. The KA is insisting that the region be incorporated into the autonomous Kurdish region. Bitter disputes have already broken out on the Kirkuk provincial council between the Kurdish majority and Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian minorities, who are challenging the legitimacy of the recent election.

Far from settling these disputes, the installation of a new government in Baghdad has simply set the stage for the next round of conflict. At the insistence of Kurdish parties, the so-called Transitional Administrative Law, drawn up by former US proconsul Paul Bremer, provides the KA with an effective veto over the government and the constitution. As president, Talibani can overrule any legislation passed in the national assembly, which then requires a two-thirds majority to pass it into law. The draft constitution can be rejected if a two-thirds majority in just three provinces vote against the enabling referendum.

The UIA and KA only agreed on the composition of a new government when it became evident that the protracted dispute was rapidly undermining what little credibility the parties had as a result of the election. The Shiite parties in particular had promoted the election as a means of ending the US occupation and improving living standards. Two months on, no government had been formed, let alone addressed the needs and aspirations of Iraqis.

Late last week the Shiite religious establishment in Najaf and Karbala began to sound the alarm bells and to threaten mass protests if there was any further delay in forming a government. Ali Rubaii, spokesman for Ayatollah Ishaq Fayadh, told the Washington Post: "If there was a choice for protests, the protests wouldn't be typical. They would be protests in the millions. In other countries, thousands of protesters can overthrow a government."

Mohammed Hussein Hakim, a spokesman for Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed Hakim, warned: "The street [ordinary Iraqis] is uncomfortable. The people have paid a price for the sake of democracy. It is not possible to leave their sacrifices behind." A senior ayatollah in Karbala, Mohammed Taqi Mudarassi, also underscored the highly volatile situation: "The political crisis will continue, and the result will perhaps be that Shiites will use the weapon of millions protesting. The street only needs a match."

These comments only underscore the irresolvable problems that confront the new government which will not be able to live up to the illusions and hopes that were cultivated among ordinary Iraqis during the elections campaign. The continuing armed resistance against US forces and their Iraqi accomplices is just one indication of the fact that many Iraqis regard any government formed under US occupation as an illegitimate puppet regime.

In an article entitled "The Gates of Hell are open in Iraq" in the British-based Guardian on April 1, Jawad al-Halisi, secretary general of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress, wrote: "The US-British occupation of Iraq is poisoning all political processes in my country and across the Middle East. The elections held under the control of the occupying forces in January were neither free nor fair. Instead of being a step towards solving Iraq's problems, they have been used to prolong foreign rule over the Iraqi people. Only when the occupiers withdraw from the country can Iraq take the first secure steps towards peace and stability."

These sentiments are certainly broadly felt inside Iraq itself and point to deepening opposition to the US occupation and its Iraqi collaborators.

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Army considers shorter tours for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan
Fri Apr 8, 2:05 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The US Army is considering shorter tours of duty for troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan if improving conditions allow commanders to scale down the size of the US force there, a top general said.

Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck, deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the army has studied six and nine month tours and found that returning soldiers and their families would prefer them to the punishing 12 month tours they now face.

"Soldiers will tell you they can take a deep breath for six months and they can maintain that level of focus and energy level for six months. In a 12 month tour they can do it, but it takes a greater toll," Hagenbeck told reporters.

Shorter tours of duty in combat zones would be more appealing to worried parents of prospective recruits, as well as to soldier's spouses, he said. About 53 percent of the army's active duty force is married, he noted.

The 12-month tours will continue as long as the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan requires the current level of forces, now at about 145,000, the general said.

"But what I would tell you is that we think multiple, shorter tours is the ideal way to go ultimately," he said.

"If General Casey and General Abizaid make decisions that would cause the numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan to shrink, we have run some models that would allow us to consider short tours," he said.

General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said last month he should be able to make fairly significant reductions in US force levels by March.

Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, also has expressed cautious optimism about conditions in Iraq since the January 30 elections, and his commanders have said planning for possible reductions should begin in earnest this summer. [...]

Comment: Despite the optimism of US military commanders, the fact remains that the Neocons aren't going to just back out of Iraq unless they are certain that they will retain a powerful influence over Iraq's government. If US troops pull out, someone will have to replace them. At this point, Iraq's security services are inadequate and no other military will be allowed to run the show, so who will do the dirty work?

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Study puts Oakland dropout rate at 52% Mayor decries crisis
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
April 5, 2005

Fewer than half the freshmen who enter Oakland public high schools -- just 48 of every 100 -- stick around long enough to graduate.

That's the devastating news from a recent California study by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C., whose researchers described high schools with graduation rates lower than 60 percent as "dropout factories.''

In the Bay Area, the study listed graduation rates for Oakland and San Francisco. At The Chronicle's request, the researchers also ran the numbers for seven other large Bay Area districts: South San Francisco, Santa Rosa High School, Novato, San Jose, West Contra Costa, Hayward and Mount Diablo.

Oakland's graduation rate was substantially lower than all of them.

The study estimated that dropouts cost the state $14 billion a year in lost wages, crime and jail time.[...]

In Oakland, 68 percent of the 50,400 public school students are poor enough to qualify for the federal lunch program. Their odds of getting a diploma are worse than the 50-50 chance of winning a coin toss.

And that makes Oakland schools emblematic of one of society's most vexing dilemmas: How to educate children growing up amid violence, poverty, drugs, single parenthood, teen pregnancy and unemployment. [...]

State education officials admit that their own dropout numbers are based on guesswork and have urged the Legislature to implement a student-tracking system that could tell when students enroll anywhere in the state. But that system is at least five years away.[...]

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Chinese begin to worry U.S. militarily
By Jim Yardley and Thom Shanker The New York Times
Friday, April 8, 2005

ZHANJIANG, China - When the flagship of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet came into view on a recent Monday afternoon, a Chinese naval band onshore quickly began playing as two rows of Chinese sailors snapped into formation and workers hurriedly finished tacking down a red carpet.

The command ship, the Blue Ridge, answered with music from its own band and raised a Chinese flag below Old Glory.

But the most apt symbolism in the stagecraft of the ceremonial visit came when the two navies staged a tug-of-war - evoking their emerging competition in East Asia.

Comment: Did we read that correctly? Two of the world's most powerful navies staged a tug-of-war?!

While the American military is consumed with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global terrorism, and the threat of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, China is presenting a new and strategically different security concern to America in the western Pacific, as well as to Japan and Taiwan, Pentagon and military officials say.

China, these officials say, has smartly analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the American military and focused its growing defense spending on weapons systems that could exploit the perceived weaknesses in case the United States ever needs to respond to fighting in Taiwan.

This rapid military modernization is the major reason President George W. Bush has warned the European Union not to lift its arms embargo against China.

A decade ago, U.S. military planners dismissed the threat of a Chinese attack against Taiwan as a 160-kilometer infantry swim. Now, the Pentagon believes that China has purchased or built enough amphibious assault ships, submarines, fighter jets and short-range missiles to pose an immediate threat to Taiwan and to any American force that might come to Taiwan's aid.

Even the most hawkish officials at the Pentagon do not believe China is preparing for an imminent invasion of Taiwan. Nor do analysts believe China is any match for the United States military.

Comment: If the US military truly believes that China is no match for the US, why all the concern?

But as neighboring North Korea is erratically trying to play the nuclear card, China is quietly challenging America's reach in the western Pacific by concentrating strategically on conventional forces.

"They are building their force to deter and delay our ability to intervene in a Taiwan crisis," said Eric McVadon, a former military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. "What they have done is cleverly develop some capabilities that have the prospect of attacking our niche vulnerabilities."

Japan, America's closest ally in East Asia, and China's rival for regional dominance, is also watching China's buildup. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi echoed Bush by warning Europe against removing the arms embargo. A think tank affiliated with Japan's Defense Ministry criticized China's increased military spending and warned it was rushing to prepare for possible conflict with Taiwan - an assertion China sharply denied.

The growing friction between Japan and China, fueled by rising nationalism in both countries, is just one of the political developments exacerbating tensions in East Asia.

In March, China passed a controversial new "anti-secession" law authorizing a military attack if top leaders believe Taiwan moves too far toward independence - a move that brought hundreds of thousands of people in Taiwan out in protest last month.

China's most recent military white paper also alarmed U.S. policymakers because it mentioned the United States by name for the first time since 1998. It stated that the American presence in the region "complicated security factors."

China, meanwhile, blamed the United States and Japan for meddling in a domestic Chinese matter when those two countries recently issued a security statement that listed peace in Taiwan as a "common strategic objective."

"The potential for a miscalculation or an incident here has actually increased, just based on the rhetoric over the past six months to a year," one U.S. intelligence analyst in Washington said.

At the welcoming ceremony for the Blue Ridge here at the hometown of China's South Sea Fleet, the American commanding officer, Captain J. Stephen Maynard, and his Chinese counterpart, Senior Captain Wen Rulang, sidestepped questions about the anti-secession law and military tensions.

Wen, Asked about China's military buildup and how America should view it, praised the U.S. Navy as the most modern in the world.

"As for China," he said, "our desire is to upgrade China's self-defense capabilities."

But in China's view, self-defense involves Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province and which the United States has, by treaty, suggested it would help defend. In 1996, when China fired missiles in warning over the Taiwan Strait prior to Taiwanese elections, President Bill Clinton responded by sending a battle group to a position near Taiwan. Then, China could do nothing about it. Now, analysts say, it can.

In fact, U.S. carriers responding to a crisis would now initially have to operate at least 800 kilometers, or 500 miles, from Taiwan, which would reduce the number of jet fighter sorties they could launch and cut their loiter time in international airspace near Taiwan.

This is because China now has a modernizing fleet of submarines, including new Russian-made nuclear subs that can fire antiship missiles from a submerged position. America would first need to subdue these submarines before moving ships close to Taiwan.

China launched 13 attack submarines between 2002 and 2004, a period when it also built 23 ships that can ferry armored vehicles and troops across the 160-kilometer-wide strip of water to Taiwan.

"Their amphibious assault ship building alone equals the entire U.S. navy shipbuilding since 2002," said an intelligence official in Washington. "It definitely represents a significant increase in overall capacity."

In the worse-case scenario for a Taiwan crisis, any delay in U.S. carriers reaching the island would mean that the United States would initially depend on fighter jets and bombers stationed on Guam and Okinawa, while Chinese forces could use their amphibious ships to traverse the narrow Strait. Some U.S. military analysts believe China could now defeat Taiwan before America could arrive at the scene.

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US set to get tough over renminbi
April 8 2005 05:41
By Edward Alden and Christopher Swann in Washington

The US Senate will vote no later than July on legislation that would slap across-the-board tariffs on imports of Chinese goods unless China agrees to revalue its currency.

The agreement, worked out by the Senate leadership on Thursday, is the strongest sign yet that Congress might pass overtly protectionist legislation if the US trade balance with China continues to deteriorate.

The Senate failed on Wednesday on a 67-33 vote to kill the legislation, offered by Charles Schumer, Democratic senator, which would give China six months to revalue the renminbi or face a 27.5 per cent tariff on all its imports. The Senate leadership agreed to a final vote on the measure later this year to avoid having it attached to a bill authorising State Department programmes.

In the House of Representatives, Duncan Hunter, the powerful Republican chairman of the armed services committee, on Thursday also introduced legislation that would define currency manipulation by a foreign government as an export subsidy. This could then allow the US to offset the subsidy by imposing duties on imports.

"Clearly the mood on China is getting more and more intense. There is a lot of surprise at the amount of Republican support," said Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers, which wants tough action on China but opposes the Schumer bill as a violation of World Trade Organisation rules. [...]

The anger in Congress is being driven in part by the rapid increase in the US trade deficit with China. According to Chinese customs figures compiled by Global Trade Information Services, a US data company, US imports from China rose 37 per cent in January and February, while US exports to China fell by 10 per cent. [...]

The rumblings in Congress are increasing pressure on the administration to declare that China is manipulating its currency. The US Treasury is set later this month to release its semi-annual report to Congress on exchange rates. Mr Vargo said: "They just can't find again that China is not manipulating its currency."

Mr Snow on Thursday would not say what the Treasury would conclude in the report. But Rob Nichols, Treasury spokesman, signalled the administration would resist such pressure. "The administration's financial diplomacy approach has been effective and progress is being made in moving China to a flexible exchange rate regime," he said.

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The Invisible Hand (of the U.S. Government) in Financial Markets
by Robert Bell
April 3, 2005
Summary: The U.S. government is manipulating all major U.S. financial markets - stocks, treasuries, currencies. This article shows how it is possible and how it is done, why it is done, who specifically is doing it, when they do it, and where they get the money to do it.

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Bush Less Popular than Dick Nixon
Juan Cole

Could Iraq be the undoing of both major political parties that backed the war in the West?

President Bush is suffering from the worst poll numbers of any second-term president in the spring after his reelection since World War II. If the rest of his second term goes like this, it could hand the Democrats the White House in 2008.

Editor and Publisher put the poll in historical context and found that Bush is relatively unpopular.

Mark Murray gives some of the reasons for the fall in Bush's popularity, but sees Bush's pitiful 45-48 percent poll numbers as solid or good. The whole picture looks much worse in historical context, which is further proof that judgment about contemporary affairs made in a historical vacuum is always flawed.

Murray points to public dislike of Bush's plan for privatizing social security and its disgust at the Republicans' grave-robbing grandstanding in the Schiavo case, as well as a general feeling that the country is going in the wrong direction (51%), as explanations for Bush's poor showing.

Murray mysteriously leaves out the petroleum factor. I have been amazed that a doubling of gas prices was just accepted by Americans as a matter of course and did not become an issue in last year's presidential campaign. The public still hates Jimmy Carter for allowing such a thing (as if he could have done anything about it). I presume that stoicism over petroleum prices was a by-product of the war mentality. Maybe Americans felt that their country had come under attack on September 11, and the subsequent wars and gas price hikes just had to be borne.

But the issue is finally emerging. In a recent poll, 58 % said the gas prices were creating a serious financial hardship for them. USA Today reports, "Nearly half of those polled 48% said they already have cut driving to reduce their fuel bills, and 38% say they've trimmed other household spending." People are also buying fewer SUVs, which isn't going to help the US auto industry. The present concern probably comes because the public has begun to suspect that prices are not going back down. About $10 a barrel of the current $57 a barrel for petroleum probably derives from speculation and anxiety in the oil markets resulting from the Iraq war and ongoing crisis. Prices at the pump might be $1.80 rather than $2.20 if it weren't for Iraq.

And then there is Iraq. In a recent poll, "53 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent said they disapprove of the president's handling of Iraq and 70 percent said the number of U.S. casualties, including more than 1,500 deaths, is an unacceptable price to pay there."

My American readers seem completely disinterested in British politics, to my amazement. But it is worth noting that Tony Blair has called for elections May 5, isn't doing well in the polls, and admits that the Iraq debacle has hurt him. His government has been dogged by questions of whether Blair knew the war to be illegal before he helped launch it, whether he promised Bush to support such a war early in Bush's presidency, and whether he knew or should have known how bad was the intelligence on the basis of which it was set in motion. The British public, unlike the American, actually cares, moreover, about things like the Geneva Conventions and international law, and the Iraq prison abuse scandals have hurt Blair's image, as well. (Bush, on the other hand, has been teflon in the US in the face of torture, intelligence failures, and gross mismanagement of the country he conquered, apparently because a majority of Americans just doesn't care).

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is also running away from the Iraq issue by announcing he'll start pulling out troops in September, for the purposes of positioning himself in his own upcoming election. He knows what happened to Aznar in Spain.

Is Iraq becoming an electoral albatross around the necks of the victors?

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Poll: Bush Standing With Public Weakening
By WILL LESTER, Associated Press Writer
April 8, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush's standing with the public is slumping just three months into his final term, but Americans have an even lower regard for the job being done by Congress.

Bush's job approval is at 44 percent, with 54 percent disapproving. Only 37 percent have a favorable opinion of the work being done by the Republican-controlled Congress, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.

Bush's job approval was at 49 percent in January, while Congress was at 41 percent. [...]

The number supporting Bush's handling of some domestic issues dipped between March and April, to 42 percent for the economy and 38 percent for issues like education and health care, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

Support for the president's approach to his top domestic priority, Social Security, remained at 36 percent, while 58 percent oppose it.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said Bush faces an uphill battle with his plan to allow younger workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in personal investment accounts. [...]

The president's poll standing has been in the mid-40s to low-50s for the past two years, said Matthew Dowd, who was a strategist and pollster for Bush in the 2004 presidential campaign. [...]

Comment: An approval rating in the mid-40s to low-50s over a period of two years isn't exactly stellar. Nevertheless, poor marks from the public haven't stopped Bush and the gang from continually progressing in their phony war on terror.

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Jewish replacement for Feith
Washington Jewish Week

President George W. Bush has nominated a Jewish career diplomat as undersecretary of defense for policy. Eric Edelman, currently ambassador to Turkey, will replace Douglas Feith, who had already announced his plans to retire this summer. Feith, who also is Jewish, has been a lightning rod for criticism of the Iraq war.

Edelman previously served as a national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and as ambassador to Finland.

Comment: What a surprise!

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Bush keeps low profile at John Paul II's funeral
By Bill Sammon
April 8, 2005

ROME -- President Bush, determined not to upstage the funeral of Pope John Paul II, kept an unusually low profile in Rome yesterday, although former President Bill Clinton gave a television interview watched by millions.

"He recognizes the significance of the moment," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Mr. Bush. "And the focus rightly should be on the Holy Father."

Mr. Bush became the first president in years to conduct a full day's schedule on foreign soil without allowing a single press question, photograph or even fleeting image on videotape. His father, the first President Bush, also refrained from interviews. [...]

Photographers and TV news crews accompanying Mr. Bush said they could not remember another foreign trip during which they were unable to capture an image of a president at least walking through a doorway.

The White House promised to issue a couple of photos taken by in-house photographers, although some news agencies are reluctant to publish such photos.

While Mr. Bush stayed out of sight during a dinner with Mr. Berlusconi, photographers were able to watch Mr. Clinton stroll through an elaborate formal garden before the dinner at Villa Madama, a stunning hilltop estate overlooking Rome.

Although the president steered clear of the press, Mr. McClellan answered a few questions from reporters on the substance of Mr. Bush's meetings.

The spokesman said the president and Mr. Berlusconi discussed last month's accidental killing by U.S. troops of an Italian intelligence officer who was rescuing an Italian journalist in Iraq.

"Prime Minister Berlusconi wanted to talk about it and the president welcomed the discussion," Mr. McClellan said. "The president reiterated our regret over the incident."

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Failed terror trials raise worry in Europe
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
Friday April 8, 9:10 PM

BERLIN - Failed terrorism prosecutions in Germany and the Netherlands this week have highlighted Europe's patchy record in securing convictions and prompted some to ask if laws need to be tightened.

Ihsan Garnaoui, a 34-year-old Tunisian, was acquitted in Berlin on Wednesday of trying to form a terrorist group, even though judges considered it proven that he had planned to carry out at least one bomb attack in Germany at the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

The same day, Dutch teenager Samir Azzouz was cleared of planning attacks on Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, a nuclear reactor and government offices.

He had been found in possession of machinegun cartridges, mock explosive devices, electrical circuitry, maps and sketches of prominent buildings and chemicals prosecutors said could be bomb ingredients.

Legal experts and security analysts said such cases raise a difficult question: in the absence of an actual attack, how close must a suspect be to detonating a bomb before prosecutors can demonstrate guilt?

They also highlight the irony that early intervention by security forces to thwart a bombing may make it harder to obtain convictions.

"We cannot wait until attacks have been carried out and the dead are lying on the street," prosecutor Silke Ritzert said in her summing-up of the Garnaoui case.

Comment: At the same time, we cannot allow the police and intelligence agencies to just march around and imprison anyone they think might be a terrorist, because that would be called fascism.

We were under the impression that justice means using evidence to prove that an individual is a criminal, not assuming everyone is a criminal because of a lack of evidence like the Neocons do when they make arguments like, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".


Key is whether a suspect has actually started to implement an attack plan -- for example by recruiting associates, carrying out reconnaissance of targets or actually building a bomb.

"If I make a plan in my study at home to blow up the U.S. embassy, and if those documents are discovered, that will never be enough to send me to prison for a terrorist plot," said Claude Moniquet, head of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center in Brussels.

"The actual execution has to have started. That's very complicated and depends very much on the opinion of the judges."

In the German trial, the lead judge described Garnaoui as a dangerous man who trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and returned with the aim of carrying out at least one bombing.

In his flat, investigators found computer files with detailed circuit diagrams for a bomb, as well as chemicals, mobile phones and watches which could have been used as timers.

Although Garnaoui was jailed for three years and nine months on lesser charges, the terrorism case foundered on prosecutors' inability to establish the target and timing of the supposed attack, and contradictory and inconsistent evidence from secret informants on his alleged attempts to recruit accomplices.

Rainer Wendt, vice president of the German Police Union, said the existence of an attack plan should have been sufficient. "This verdict is completely incomprehensible to the police, and dangerous in its effect," he told Reuters.

In the Dutch case, teenager Azzouz was jailed for three months for illegal possession of weapons but cleared of terrorist charges.

"The court cannot come to a more far-reaching conclusion than that the suspect had an above-average interest in religious extremist violence," the judge ruled.


Maxime Verhagen, Christian Democrat leader in the Dutch parliament, said tougher laws might be needed.

"I ask myself whether the men who flew into the twin towers could have been convicted in the Netherlands if their plans had been intercepted in good time," he said, referring to the al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Laetitia Griffith, member of parliament for the liberal VVD party which is part of a governing coalition with the Christian Democrats and centrist D66, said if the acquittal was not overturned on appeal, her party would investigate whether that was due to insufficient evidence or weak laws.

"If the latter is the case then the VVD will not shrink from presenting more complete legislation," she said.

Hundreds of terrorist suspects have been arrested in Europe since 2001, but only a small proportion successfully prosecuted. [...]

Comment: Verhagen's comment that tougher laws might be needed against "terrorists" reveals the true intent behind these cases. If hundreds of "terrorists" have been arrested in Europe since 2001, but only a small number of them have been convicted of any crime, then the question is: How many of the suspects went on to commit terrorist acts after their acquittal? Have you heard any news stories about one of these suspects that slipped through the legal system being involved in terrorist activities after their release? No? Well, perhaps it is then reasonable to conclude that they were not terrorists in the first place, and that the real point of all these prosecutions is to establish more strict laws to eliminate civil liberties just like in the US.

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Protesting students clash with riot police in Paris
PARIS, April 7 (AFP)

Several violent incidents were reported Thursday as groups of school students maintained a campaign of protests against a government reform of the education system.

In Paris a crowd of around 200 teenagers broke the windows of the education authority building and occupied the hall for several hours before being escorted out by riot police.

Elsewhere in the capital several secondary schools - or lycees - were blockaded by students. A deputy headmaster was hit on the head with a bottle, and a student was hospitalised after being hit by an angry motorist trying to force a way through the crowd.

In the northern city of Lille riot police used tear-gas to disperse a crowd of around 300 who were throwing stones in front of government offices. In the southern town of Beziers seven students were detained after scuffles with police.

Education Minister Francois Fillon promised before parliament that "whenever there is an attempt to blockade we will intervene."

"I will not allow a tiny minority to prevent the smooth running of the education system just a few weeks before the baccalaureat (leaving examination)," he said.

The students were answering a call from a radical left-wing committee to continue protests against Fillon's education bill, despite the fact that it was voted through parliament two weeks ago. They have the support of some teachers' unions and parents' groups as well as the Communist party.

The bill is intended to halt the decline in educational standards that today results in 150,000 French students leaving high school at 18 with no qualification and 80,000 11-year-olds unable to read or write correctly.

Among its innovations are a "core" of knowledge and skills to be attained by students; the extension of foreign language teaching; and guaranteed extra tuition for failing students via "individual success contracts."

The most controversial proposition - a reform of the baccalaureat (high school leaving exam) to introduce an element of continuous assessment - was dropped as a result of earlier student protests.

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Shattering shaman myths

Tedlock's new book explores female roots of shamanism
Contributing Editor

Shamanism, humankind's oldest spiritual and healing tradition, is in many cultures dominated by men, and Western skeptics often debunk its effectiveness.

In a groundbreaking new book published last month by Random House, however, Barbara Tedlock, professor of anthropology, challenges the historical hegemony of the male shamanic tradition, restores women to their essential place in the history of spirituality and celebrates their continuing role in the worldwide resurgence of shamanism.

Tedlock's book, "The Woman in a Shaman's Body," also presents empirical studies that find common shamanic practices to be very effective in medical terms and discusses why this is the case. [...]

A shaman is one who has been initiated into the ancient tradition of walking "between" this and other worlds while in a state of ecstatic trance known as "shamanic ecstasy" or "shamanic flight." In this state, the shaman acts as a bridge between worlds and uses knowledge gained there to work with communities or individuals.[...]

Tedlock brings to bear an abundance of evidence to support her contention that shamanism originally was the domain of women and that there still is a vital tradition of female shamanism in many parts of the world.

Tedlock writes that the active pursuit of knowledge is at the heart of shamanic practice. [...]

The book explains shamanic midwifery and the spiritual powers released in childbirth and female cycles, shamanic symbolism in weaving and other feminine arts, and "gender-shifting" and male-female partnership in shamanic practice.

Women shamans, she says, have often practiced in the fields of healing, birthing children, gathering and growing food, keeping communities in balance, presiding over ceremonies and rites of passage, maintaining relations with the dead, teaching, ministering to those in need, communing with nature to learn her secrets, preserving the wisdom traditions, divining the future and dancing with gods and goddesses.

"These are shamanic arts," she says, "and they are the arts of women."

The book had drawn praise from other anthropologists, including Michael F. Brown, chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Williams College, for its clarity of thought, explanation of complex ideas in ordinary language and the wealth of personal experience Tedlock brings to her task. "Tedlock turns a century of scholarship on its head by showing that women's mastery of shamanic arts is the norm rather than the exception," Brown says.[...]

Comment: This book is another work that supports Laura Knight-Jadczyk's revelations in The Secret History of the World where the primary role of the female shaman is clearly explicated.

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Researchers Say Explosions in Space May Have Caused Extinction on Earth
Daniel Hogan
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Researchers at the University of Kansas and NASA say that a mass extinction on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago could have been triggered by a star explosion called a gamma-ray burst.

Science & TechnologyLawrence, Kan. - infoZine - Although the researchers do not have direct evidence that a gamma-ray burst activated the ancient extinction, their work is based on atmospheric modeling.

Adrian Melott, KU professor of physics and astronomy; Brian Thomas, a Ph.D. candidate whom Melott advises; and Daniel Hogan, Leawood senior in physics, joined Charles Jackman of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Laboratory, Greenbelt, Md., in the discovery. A scientific paper describing their findings appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Thomas is the lead author of the paper.

The researchers calculated that gamma-ray radiation from a relatively nearby star explosion, hitting the earth for only 10 seconds, could deplete up to half of the atmosphere's protective ozone layer. Recovery could take at least five years. With the ozone layer damaged, ultraviolet radiation from the sun could kill much of the life on land and near the surface of oceans and lakes, and disrupt the food chain.

NASA image Gamma-ray bursts in our Milky Way galaxy are rare, but the researchers estimate that at least one nearby likely hit the earth in the past billion years. Life on Earth is thought to have appeared at least 3.5 billion years ago.

"A gamma-ray burst originating within 6,000 light years from Earth would have a devastating effect on life," Melott said. "We don't know exactly when one came, but we're rather sure it did come -- and left its mark. What's most surprising is that just a 10-second burst can cause years of devastating ozone damage."

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known. Most originate in distant galaxies, and a large percentage likely arises from explosions of stars more than 15 times more massive than our sun. A burst creates two oppositely directed beams of gamma rays that race off into space.

A gamma-ray burst may have caused the Ordovician extinction 443 million years ago, killing 60 percent of all marine invertebrates, Thomas said. Life was largely confined to the sea, although there is evidence of primitive land plants during this period.

This research, supported by a NASA astrobiology grant, represents a thorough analysis of the "mass extinction" hypothesis first announced by members of this science team in September 2003. In the new work, the team used detailed computer models to calculate the effects of a nearby gamma-ray burst on the atmosphere and the consequences for life.

Thomas and Jackman calculated the effect of a nearby gamma-ray burst on the earth's atmosphere. Gamma rays, a high-energy form of light, can break molecular nitrogen into nitrogen atoms, which react with molecular oxygen to form nitric oxide (NO). NO will destroy ozone and produce nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 will then react with atomic oxygen to reform NO. More NO means more ozone destruction. Computer models show that up to half the ozone layer is destroyed within weeks. Five years on, at least 10 percent is still destroyed.

Next, Thomas and Hogan calculated the effect of ultraviolet radiation on life. Deep-sea creatures living several feet below the water's surface would be protected. Surface-dwelling plankton and other life near the surface, however, would not survive. Plankton are the foundation of the marine food chain.

Bruce Lieberman, KU associate professor of geology, originated the idea that a gamma-ray burst specifically could have caused the great Ordovician extinction, 200 million years before the dinosaurs. An ice age is thought to have caused this extinction. But a gamma-ray burst could have caused a fast die-out early on and could have triggered the significant drop in surface temperature on Earth.

"One unknown variable is the rate of local gamma-ray bursts," Thomas said. "The bursts we detect today originated far away billions of years ago, before the earth formed. Among the billions of stars in our galaxy, there's a good chance that a massive one relatively nearby exploded and sent gamma rays our way."

The Swift mission, launched in November 2004, will help determine recent burst rates. Other team members are Claude Laird, project coordinator for the KU Center for Research, and Richard Stolarski, John Cannizzo and Neil Gehrels of NASA Goddard.

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Hole Drilled to Bottom of Earth's Crust, Breakthrough to Mantle Looms
By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Senior Writer
posted: 07 April 2005

Scientist said this week they had drilled into the lower section of Earth's crust for the first time and were poised to break through to the mantle in coming years.

The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) seeks the elusive "Moho," a boundary formally known as the Mohorovicic discontinuity. It marks the division between Earth's brittle outer crust and the hotter, softer mantle.

The depth of the Moho varies. This latest effort, which drilled 4,644 feet (1,416 meters) below the ocean seafloor, appears to have been 1,000 feet off to the side of where it needed to be to pierce the Moho, according to one reading of seismic data used to map the crust's varying thickness.

The new hole, which took nearly eight weeks to drill, is the third deepest ever made. The rock collection brought back to the surface is providing new information about the planet's composition.

"It will provide important clues on how ocean crust forms," said Rodey Batiza, program director for ocean drilling at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Already the types of rocks recovered show that conventional interpretation of Earth's evolution are "oversimplifying many of the features of the ocean's crust," said expedition leader Jay Miller of Texas A&M University. "Each time we drill a hole, we learn that Earth's structure is more complex. Our understanding of how the Earth evolved is changing accordingly."

The latest drilling was done at the Atlantis Massif, located at the intersection of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Atlantis fracture zone, two plates of the planet's broken crust. The seafloor is shallower at the center of this region and therefore easier to reach.

It's not clear yet whether drilling should continue at the new hole or if another one should be started in the effort the reach the mantle. Such work isn't likely to begin again in the next year, said Barbara John, a University of Wyoming geologist and one of the co-chief scientists on the expedition.

"We need to evaluate all the data we have from the cruise and re-analyze the seismic data, to determine whether it's better to deepen the current hole or drill elsewhere, or maybe even collect additional seismic data to better constrain where to drill," John told LiveScience. "Our major result is that we've recovered the lower crust for the first time and have confirmed that the Earth's crust at this locality is more complicated than we thought."

John said mantle material will be evident when and if it's brought up because it will have different texture and chemistry and will contain different proportions of minerals compared with rock in the crust.

Drillers use the vessel JOIDES Resolution. The 10-year, $1.5 billion program is funded by the NSF and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

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Superheated speculation
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Posted 4/7/2005 8:30 PM

To be sure, the Discovery networks and their BBC production partners have prospered of late by blurring those factual lines into a sort of fiction-science, reimagining the past from dinosaurs to dragons. With Supervolcano, they speculate on a frightening future.

The someday-maybe supervolcano lies beneath Yellowstone Park, where it powers Old Faithful. The bad news is that should it erupt in its full glory, it will create "a catastrophe on an unprecedented scale." The good news, we're also told, is that the odds of it doing so are 600,000 to 1, which makes you wonder why we're about to spend two hours on the "1."

In its use of actors to tell a "true story" that "just hasn't happened yet," Supervolcano falls between documentary and docudrama. The problem with mixing forms is that you sometimes end up with the best traits of neither.

For a documentary, for example, the special effects are better than average, but for a movie, they're far too obviously computer-generated. And while it may be fine for a documentary to adopt a detached tone, a movie that ends with the United States volcanoed into pre-industrial poverty needs to show considerably more compassion for both victims and survivors.

There's no denying that the idea of some Yellowstone volcano turning much of America into a giant Pompeii is a scary one. The only comfort, I take it, is that there's nothing we can do about it, so there's no sense worrying about it. Which is why it might be best just to let sleeping supervolcanoes lie.

Comment: That's right. There's nothing you can do about it so go back to sleep.

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Death toll in Asian tsunami disaster revised down to 217,000
Friday April 8, 5:00 PM

The number of people killed in the December 26 tsunami disaster which devastated 11 Indian Ocean countries has been revised down to 217,000 after Indonesia drastically reduced its number of missing.

Indonesia remains the worst hit country, with 163,978 people dead or missing. According to the National Disaster Relief Coordination Agency, the number confirmed dead was 126,915 people while 37,063 were listed as missing.

Officials said the figure had been reduced because many people listed as missing had now been identified among more than half a million homeless people living in temporary camps or other shelters. [...]

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Storms Bring Wind, Flooding Across Florida
By The Associated Press
Thu Apr 7,11:09 PM ET

Winds ripping through central Florida on Thursday flipped planes and trucks, damaged buildings, snarled traffic and left a trail of downed trees and blackouts.

Marion County officials reported that the storm had damaged at least 20 homes, some severely, and left more than 6,000 customers without power. At least four people, including a pregnant teen riding a school bus, were injured, officials said.

Mary Krulikowski said she was in her van picking up her son from an Ocala high school when the storm "came out of nowhere."

"The sky darkened, tree limbs started hitting my van," she told the Ocala Star-Banner.

The Marion County Sheriff's Office said a tornado turned over planes and tore off hangar doors at Ocala International Airport. A National Weather Service spokesman said officials were investigating whether a tornado had touched down.

Earlier, rains flooded already saturated parts of the Panhandle.

A 100-foot section of Pensacola's landmark red clay bluffs was washed away as 7 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period that ended Thursday morning. Part of Scenic Highway, overlooking Escambia Bay atop the bluffs, will be closed for several weeks while repairs are made, police said.

Thunderstorms also caused scattered power outages.

In Gulf County, nearly 150 miles east of Pensacola, about 65 homes and hundreds of secondary homes have been flooded since last week and the water was expected to stay high for several more days, said county Emergency Management Director Larry Wells.

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Seismologists say strong quake hits Tibet
April 7, 2005

BEIJING -- A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck western Tibet early Friday, damaging homes in a remote town but causing no deaths or injuries, the government said.

The quake hit about 420 miles west of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, at 4:04 a.m., the earthquake reporting center in Beijing said. [...]

Tibet suffers frequent strong earthquakes caused by the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates, but damage and casualties normally are not heavy because the mountainous region is sparsely populated.

Tibet suffered one of Asia's most powerful earthquakes on record, a magnitude-8.6 temblor in August 1950.

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Several Earthquakes Again Rattle Indonesia
By Associated Press
April 7, 2005

HONG KONG -- Several earthquakes shook Indonesia over a 24-hour period, including two that rattled a region hit last week by a quake that killed more than 600 people, seismologists said Friday. No damage or injuries were immediately reported.

The first quake to jolt the area around Nias Island -- devastated by the 8.7-magnitude quake on March 28 -- struck late Thursday and had a magnitude of 5.6, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologists. The second quake of magnitude 5.0 happened about five hours later, the survey said.

A weaker quake was reported near Simeulue, an island group off the Sumatra's west coast that was also hit hard by the March 28 quake, the survey said. The tremor had a magnitude of 4.9, the survey said.

Another earthquake was centered beneath the Maluku Sea in northeastern Indonesia. The 5.5-magnitude quake hit early Friday about 142 miles northeast of Manado, the provincial capital of North Sulawesi, the Hong Kong Observatory said. [...]

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Earthquakes strike Indonesia, China
April 8, 2005

A series of large earthquakes have struck parts of Indonesia over the past three days:

Magnitude 5.6 - SOUTHERN SUMATRA, INDONESIA on April 6, 2005 at 11:20:09 UTC

Magnitude 5.3 - NIAS REGION, INDONESIA on April 7, 2005 at 02:21:24 UTC

Magnitude 5.6 - NIAS REGION, INDONESIA on April 7, 2005 at 11:46:05 UTC

Magnitude 5.1 - NIAS REGION, INDONESIA April 7, 2005 at 15:23:58 UTC

Magnitude 5.0 - NIAS REGION, INDONESIA on April 7, 2005 at 16:40:52 UTC

Magnitude 5.5 - NIAS REGION, INDONESIA April 8, 2005 at 01:51:39 UTC

Magnitude 5.9 - KEPULAUAN BATU, INDONESIA on April 8, 2005 at 05:48:38 UTC

Two earthquakes also hit two different regions in China:

Magnitude 5.2 - SOUTHERN XINJIANG, CHINA on April 6, 2005 at 08:44:57 UTC

Magnitude 6.0 - WESTERN XIZANG on April 7, 2005 at 20:04:41 UTC

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2005 April 8 11:38:17 UTC

A moderate earthquake occurred at 11:38:17 (UTC) on Friday, April 8, 2005. The magnitude 5.8 event has been located SOUTHEAST OF THE LOYALTY ISLANDS. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

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The World Didn't Come to an End
LAST UPDATE: 4/6/2005 7:20:51 PM

As you know the world didn't come to end today.

Now for the third time, Warren Jeffs is wrong about his doomsday predictions.

2,500 of his most faithful followers gathered at a mysterious sprawling complex in Eldorado, Texas. Wednesday, Jeffs prophesied he and his followers would be caught up and sent to heaven, while the rest of world would come to an end. But you can see they are still there, and continue to work on their new temple.[...]

Some people left behind by Jeffs in the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City say that while there might not be violence Wednesday, they fear it will happen.

Many disaffected members of the FLDS church hope that with Jeffs gone they can get their homes back. Jeffs is the only trustee of the UEP, the group that owns most of the homes and businesses in Hildale and Colorado City.

There is also fear that warren Jeffs is stirring up racial hatred amongst his followers. A recent sermon by Jeffs was secretly recorded by a dissident member of his church. On the tape, Jeffs refers to the black race as "immoral, filthy, people"

Jeffs voice on tape:

"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, rude, and filthy... Uncomely, disagreeable, and loathe in their habits… Wild and seemingly depraved of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind."

Jeffs also warned his followers of "relationships with blacks and of enjoying modern music".

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And Finally...

Cookie Monster Advocating Eating Healthy
By CHELSEA J. CARTER, AP National Writer
Thu Apr 7, 5:00 PM ET

NEW YORK - Something must be wrong in the land of Muppets. First PBS announced that "Sesame Street" would kick off its 36th season this week with a multiyear story arc about healthy habits. No problem there; childhood obesity rates are soaring. Then I learned of changes that turned my "Sesame Street" world upside-down.

My beloved blue, furry monster - who sang "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me" - is now advocating eating healthy. There's even a new song - "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food," where Cookie Monster learns there are "anytime" foods and "sometimes" foods.

"Sacrilege!" I cried. "That's akin to Oscar the Grouch being nice and clean." (Co-workers gave me strange looks. But I didn't care.)

Being a journalist, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I investigated why "Sesame Street" gave Cookie Monster a health makeover.

The answer would lead me into a world where television producers worked with health experts and politicians, a place where Cookie Monster does care about his health, and by association, the health of children. [...]

Even politicians have gotten into the act, filming public service announcements with "Sesame Street" residents. In one taping, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist taught Elmo to exercise - jumping up and down. In another, Sen. Hillary Clinton and the small red monster discuss the various textures and tastes of foods.

But what about their position on Cookiegate?

"Even Cookie Monster is learning to control his cookie cravings," Frist told me by e-mail. "His sage advice opened our eyes to the simple joys of a tasty cookie and now reminds us that moderation is the key to healthy living."

Cookie Monster was not available for comment. (I'm hoping he hasn't gone too Hollywood.) [...]

Cookie Monster appears to be happy with the new "sometimes food" song, because at the end he warbles: "Is sometimes now?"

"Yes," he's told. [...]

Comment: New Cookie Monster songs also include, "Genetically Modified Produce is Yummy" and "A Spoonful of Applesauce Helps the Ritalin Go Down".

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