Saturday, April 09, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Coming Sooner Than You Think
The Economic Tsunami
April 8, 2005

"If the world's central bankers accumulate fewer dollars, the result would be an unrelenting American need to borrow in the face of an ever weaker dollar - a recipe for higher interest rates and higher prices. The economic repercussions could unfold gradually, resulting in a long, slow decline in living standards. Or there could be a quick unraveling, with the hallmarks of an uncontrolled fiscal crisis."

New York Times editorial 4-2-05

It seems that there are a growing number of people who believe as I do, that the economic tsunami planned by the Bush administration is probably only months away. In just 5 short years the national debt has increased by nearly 3 trillion dollars while the dollar has continued its predictable decline. The dollar has fallen a whopping 38% since Bush took office, due largely to the massive $450 billion per year tax cuts. At the same time, numerous laws have been passed (Patriot Act, Intelligence Reform Bill, Homeland Security Bill, National ID, Passport requirements etc) anticipating the need for greater repression when the economy takes its inevitable nosedive. Regrettably, that nosedive looks to be coming sooner rather than later.

The administration is currently putting as much pressure as possible on OPEC to ratchet up the flow of oil another 1 million barrels per day (well over capacity) to settle down nervous markets and buy time for the planned bombing of Iran in June. Like Fed Chief Alan Greenspan's artificially low interest rates, the manipulation of oil production is a way of concealing how dire the situation really is. Rising prices at the pump signal an upcoming recession, (depression?) so the administration is pulling out all the stops to meet the short term demand and maintain the illusion that things are still okay. (Bush would rather avoid massive popular unrest until his battle-plans for Iran are carried out)

But, of course, things are not okay. The country has been intentionally plundered and will eventually wind up in the hands of its creditors as Bush and his lieutenants planned from the very beginning. Those who don't believe this should note the methodical way that the deficits have been produced at (around) $450 billion per year; a systematic and orderly siphoning off of the nation's future. The value of the dollar and the increasing national debt follow exactly the same (deliberate) downward trajectory.

This same Ponzi scheme has been carried out repeatedly by the IMF and World Bank throughout the world; Argentina being the last dramatic illustration. (Argentina's economic collapse occurred when its trade deficit was running at 4%; right now ours is at an unprecedented 6%.) Bankruptcy is a fairly straight forward way of delivering valuable public assets and resources to collaborative industries, and of annihilating national sovereignty. After a nation is successfully driven to destitution, public policy decisions are made by creditors and not by representatives of the people. (Enter, Paul Wolfowitz)

Did Americans really believe they could avoid a similar fate?

If so, they'd better forget about it, because the hammer is about to come down big-time, and the collateral damage will be huge.

The Bush administration is mainly comprised of internationalists. That doesn't mean that they "hate America"; simply that they are committed to bringing America into line with the "new world order" and an economic regime that has been approved by corporate and financial elites alike. Their patriotism extends no further than the garish tri-colored flag on their lapel. The catastrophe that middle class Americans face is what these elites breezily refer to as "shock therapy"; a sudden jolt, followed by fundamental changes to the system. In the near future we can expect tax reform, fiscal discipline, deregulation, free capital flows, lowered tariffs, reduced public services, and privatization. In other words, a society entirely designed to service the needs of corporations.

There are a number of signs that the economy is close to meltdown-stage. Even with cheap energy, low interest rates and $450 billion in borrowed revenue pumped into the system each year, the economy is still barely treading water. This has a lot to due with the colossal shifting of wealth brought on by the tax cuts. Supply-side, trickle-down theories have been widely discredited and Bush's tax cuts have done nothing to stimulate the economy as promised. Now, with oil tilting towards $60 per barrel, the economic landscape is changing quickly, and shock-waves are already being felt throughout the country.

The Iraq war has contributed considerably to our current dilemma. The conflict has taken nearly one million barrels of Iraqi oil per day off line.(The exact amount that the administration is trying to replace by pressuring OPEC) In other words, the astronomical prices at the pump are the direct result of Bush's war. The media has failed to report on the negative affects the war has had on oil production, just as they have obscured the incredibly successful insurgent strategy of destroying pipelines. This isn't a storyline that plays well to the American public, who expected that Iraq would be paying for its own reconstruction by now. Instead, the resistance is striking back at the empire's Achilles heel (America's need for massive amounts of cheap oil) and its having a damaging affect on the US economy.

Just as the economy cannot float along with sharp increases in oil prices, so too, Bush's profligate deficits threaten the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency. This is much more serious than a simple decline in the value of the dollar. If the major oil producers convert from the dollar to the euro, the American economy will sink almost overnight. If oil is traded in euros then central banks around the world would be compelled to follow and America will be required to pay off its enormous $8 trillion debt. That, of course, would be doomsday for the American economy. But, a recent report indicates that two-thirds of the world's 65 central banks have already "begun to move from dollars to euros." The Bush plan to savage the dollar has been telegraphed around the world and, as the New York Times says, "the greenback has nowhere to go but down". There's only one thing that the administration can do to ensure that energy dealers keep trading in dollars.control the flow of oil. That means that an attack on Iran is nearly a certainty.

The difficulties facing both the dollar and the economy are not insurmountable. The world has been more than willing to compensate for America's wasteful spending as long as America shows itself to be a responsible steward of the global economy. However, the administration's military and economic recklessness suggests that some of the key players on the world stage (particularly Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Germany, France, China, Brazil) are collaborating on an alternate plan; a contingency plan. If Iran is bombed in an unprovoked act of aggression, we will certainly see this plan activated. The most likely scenario would be a quick switch to the euro that would have grave implications for the American economy. (Russia has already indicated that it will do this) For Iran, an attack would justify arming disparate terrorist organizations with the weaponry they need to attack American and Israeli interests wherever they may be. In any event, an unprovoked attack will dispel the remaining illusions about Bush's war against terror and confirm to everyone that we are engaged in a new world war; a conflict for global domination.

The neoliberal chickens have come home to roost. America has become the latest staging ground for the eccentric economic policies of the Washington Consensus. The towering national debt coupled with the staggering trade deficits have put the nation on a precipice and a seismic shift in the fortunes of middle-class Americans is looking more likely all the time. The New York Times summarized the country's prospects like this:

"The economic repercussions could unfold gradually, resulting in a long, slow decline in living standards. Or there could be a quick unraveling, with the hallmarks of an uncontrolled fiscal crisis."

"An uncontrolled fiscal crisis"... America's future under George Bush. We are facing years of collective struggle ahead. If there's a quick fix, I have no idea what it might be.

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Stocks Sag as GM Hits Dow
By Megan Davies, Reuters
Fri Apr 8, 5:45 PM ET

NEW YORK - U.S. stocks slid on Friday, as a 3 percent drop in General Motors Corp. helped snap a four-day rally by the Dow average, while energy stocks fell as oil prices slid again.

General Motors, which in March warned its 2005 earnings would fall as much as 80 percent below its previous forecast, fell $1.03 to $29.50 -- making it the Dow's biggest percentage loser. Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock to "sell" from "hold."

After the closing bell, there was more gloom for the auto industry when Ford Motor Co. cut its 2005 earnings forecast, driving its shares down 6 percent in after-hours trading. [...]

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Ford Warns on 2005, 2006 Forecast
By Poornima Gupta, Reuters
Fri Apr 8, 9:07 PM ET

DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. on Friday slashed its 2005 earnings forecast and warned it no longer expects to reach its 2006 profit goal, citing higher costs, becoming the second big U.S. automaker in less than a month to paint a bleak picture about its future.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker said it expects its 2005 profit to be at least 14 percent lower than anticipated and does not expect to hit its 2006 profit goal of $7 billion before taxes, due in part to higher raw material and health care costs.

The profit warning, which was announced after the market closed, caused Standard & Poor's to cut its debt rating outlook on Ford and its finance arm to "negative," bringing the automaker a step closer to junk status. A downgrade to junk could raise borrowing costs significantly. [...]

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When thousands march in Beirut against Syria, it's democracy

When thousands march in Baghdad against US occupation, it's...

Shia protest over US presence in Iraq
Saturday 09 April 2005, 16:38 Makka Time, 13:38 GMT

Tens of thousands of supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have marched in Baghdad to denounce the US presence in Iraq and call for a speedy trial of Saddam Hussein on the second anniversary of his overthrow.

Chanting "No, no to the occupiers", tens of thousands of young and old men gathered in the poor Shia district of Sadr City on Saturday to begin a planned peaceful march to al-Firdos Square, the central Baghdad spot where Saddam's statue was torn down two years ago.

Crowds of al-Sadr's supporters from across the country were gathered at the square by mid-morning, waving Iraqi flags and calling out: "No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!"

Sunni Muslims were urged by the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, an influential Sunni group, to demonstrate to mark the fall of Saddam and to demand US forces leave Iraq.

Sunni and Shia unite

"Many of our brothers, including Sunnis, have welcomed the call and will take part," said Shaikh Abd al-Hadi al-Daraji, a spokesman for al-Sadr. "We hope it's going to be one million people strong."

Al-Daraji told Aljazeera that protesters also demanded the release of Iraqi prisoners and an end to foreign intervention in Iraq and other Arab countries.

"Iraqis can protect themselves, and those who call on US forces to stay in Iraq contradict themselves," he said.

Followers of al-Sadr from the southern Shia cities of Basra, Amara and Nassiriya travelled hundreds of miles to join the protest, showing the appeal the young cleric can command.

The demonstration was expected to be the largest since the 30 January election and the first since the new government began to take shape.

Al-Sadr, a low-ranking cleric in his mid-30s, oversees a force called the Mahdi Army that is thought to be several thousand strong. He led two uprisings against US forces last year, sparking weeks of fighting.

Baghdad shutdown

Iraqi security forces shut down central Baghdad ahead of the demonstration, but were not expecting problems.

"The demonstration is supporting what the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government have said they want - a trial for Saddam and the departure of US forces"

"We're quite relaxed about it," said Sabah Qadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is overseeing security.

"The demonstration is supporting what the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government have said they want - a trial for Saddam and the departure of US forces," he said.

"We don't think this is going to be a huge number - it's not going to be a million-man march, but we are taking precautions as we have done over recent months."

US forces were not in evidence on the streets, but Qadhim said they could be called in to support if needed.

Other marches were held across the country to demand that the United States set a timetable for its withdrawal.

In the central city of Ramadi, thousands of protesters demonstrated in al-Sufayaa neighbourhood and at al-Anbar University, demanding that US-led forces set a withdrawal date.

Anti US-sentiment

"This huge gathering shows the Iraqi people have the strength and faith to protect their country and liberate it from the occupiers," said protester 26-year-old Ahmad Abid, who sells spare car parts.

US officials have said they will not set a timetable for withdrawal, promising to stay until Iraqi forces are able to secure the country.

Mimicking the famous images of US soldiers and Iraqis pulling down a statue of Saddam as Baghdad fell, protesters toppled effigies of US President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Saddam - all dressed in red Iraqi prison jumpsuits that signified they had been condemned to death sentences.

Other effigies of Bush and Saddam were burned in the street.

"Force the occupation to leave from our country," one banner read in English.

Al-Firdos Square has become a central rallying place for Iraqis since Saddam's overthrow two years ago. US forces last year shut down the square, sealing it off with razor wire, to prevent people massing on the first anniversary.

The protest comes as efforts are being made to complete the formation of a government nearly 10 weeks since the election. Earlier, a president and two vice-presidents were named, along with a prime minister.

But the prime minister, Shia leader Ibrahim al-Jafari, is still working on his cabinet and has said it could take him up to two weeks before it is named.

Late on Friday, a senior al-Sadr official who had arrived from Karbala to take part in the protest was shot and killed in the New Baghdad neighbourhood. Fadil al-Shawky died in the attack on his car. Two others were wounded.

Comment: Within months of thousands of Lebanese taking to the streets in Beirut, Syrian president Assad implemented plans to remove Syrian troops from that country. Will Bush now do the same in Iraq?

Sure thing.

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Pentagon Drafting Policy for Detention

Doctrine Addresses Wartime Prison Abuse
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A03

Pentagon officials are developing an overarching doctrine for wartime prison operations that would detail a strict chain of command and clearer detention rules, seeking to eliminate the confusion that contributed to detainee abuse in Iraq, according to a draft of the policy that is working its way to the secretary of defense.

The draft, which is being prepared by the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognizes that commanders in Iraq did not plan for what became extensive detention operations and intelligence gathering, with tens of thousands of detainees landing in U.S. custody. It points out that because the personnel and material needed for the operation "were not prioritized," problems followed.

The draft also would allow some detainees to be classified as "enemy combatants" rather than as prisoners of war, creating a designation not recognized in the Geneva Conventions.

Over the past year, defense officials have said they were dedicated to putting lessons learned from detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan into new policy, and the draft doctrine appears to focus on the problems that emerged at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad: lack of a clear command structure; murky rules for soldiers; a lax and sometimes ignored registration program for detainees; and soldiers who were unaware of, or unconcerned with, the Geneva Conventions protecting detainees.

The draft is one step in a revision of U.S. military detention operations. Separately, the Army is reworking its detention doctrine to deal with ambiguities. A defense official familiar with the proposed joint doctrine draft said it is a comprehensive effort -- ordered by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- that is meant to align all the services under a mandate of humane treatment. [...]

Comment: Designation as an "enemy combatant" specifically to avoid the protections afforded by the Geneva Convention is supposed to be "humane treatment"??

The new policy would give each detention facility military police leadership to erase confusion. At Abu Ghraib, a military police commander's control was ultimately relinquished to a military intelligence commander; soldiers there said they did not know who was in charge, and some cited that as a reason they followed military intelligence suggestions to "soften up" detainees before interrogations.

The draft policy also would prohibit that practice, rebuffing the summer 2003 recommendation by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller that MP guards at Abu Ghraib be used to set the conditions for interrogations. According to the document, MPs may remain in interrogations if needed to guard a detainee, but "the only purpose for an MP . . . is for custody and control." At Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, the MPs' roles sometimes shifted, so they were at times putting detainees in stress positions and putting them through intense physical training -- practices that criminal investigators learned sometimes crossed the line into abuse.

"MP shall not be involved in the interrogation process nor set the conditions for interrogations," according to the draft.

Human Rights Watch, an independent group that has been monitoring detainee abuse, sharply criticized the draft yesterday, saying the provision on enemy combatants gives military officials a way to circumvent international law. Should members of dozens of listed terrorist groups or "anyone affiliated with these organizations" come under U.S. control, the document says, they could be held as enemy combatants. They would still be "entitled to be treated humanely," the document says, "subject to military necessity."

The draft was posted on a Defense Department Web site, and Human Rights Watch distributed copies yesterday.

"Instead of correcting current violations of the Geneva Conventions, these guidelines would shred the conventions further," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement. He sent a letter to Rumsfeld yesterday urging him to modify the document to avoid further mistreatment of detainees. "This policy could strip hundreds of thousands of people worldwide -- including civilians -- of their basic rights not to be arbitrarily detained," he said.

Human Rights Watch also said the draft could cause more "ghost detainees" to disappear within the military detention system, as some enemy combatants might not receive serial numbers if they are not considered official prisoners of war. The CIA housed such ghost detainees at prisons in Iraq, including several under an agreement with Army officials at Abu Ghraib. The draft, however, states that "all detainees arriving from any and all sources and agencies shall be inprocessed and receive [a serial number] immediately upon arrival." [...]

The draft says all inhumane treatment of detainees is prohibited by international law and Defense Department policy.

"There is no military necessity exception to this humane treatment mandate," the draft says. "Accordingly, neither the stress of combat operations, the need for actionable information, nor the provocations by captured/detained personnel justify deviation from this obligation."

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Suspect's Death Evokes Hussein Era

Brutal Beating Reminiscent of Methods of Ex-President's Enforcers, Relatives Say
By Salih Saif Aldin and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A18

TIKRIT, Iraq -- After the arrival of the Americans and the fall of Saddam Hussein, Hameed Rasheed Sultan and his family thought they had seen the last of the techniques favored by Iraq's old justice system: torture, disappearances and death-in-custody.

But in January Hameed's younger brother, Zawba, was arrested by Iraqi police officers at the family's home, and two days later he turned up dead at a local hospital. Pictures show he had been brutally beaten.

A senior Tikrit police official, Col. Jasim Hussein Jbara, said in an interview that Zawba died of low blood pressure shortly after he confessed to blowing up a car outside a shopping mall. There will be no investigation of his death, Jbara said.

The American military initially showed interest in the case and collected evidence, but dropped the matter after a few weeks. An Army spokesman said the U.S. military had no jurisdiction and referred all inquiries about Zawba to the Iraqi police -- the people his brother accuses of killing him.

Hameed said he saw no evidence that anything had changed with the fall of Hussein. "They are using the same methods as the former regime," he said. "If the Americans don't solve this case, there will be no solution at all, because the Iraqi side is a gang that hangs together, and they will never reveal their secrets."

In a recent human rights report on Iraq, the State Department catalogued reports of such practices as "arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions -- particularly in pretrial detention facilities -- and arbitrary arrest and detention."

"The police often continued to use the methods employed by the previous regime," the report stated. "Reportedly, coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police. According to one government official, hundreds of cases were pending at year's end alleging torture."

Many Iraqis see the U.S. military as the country's supreme authority, but U.S. forces technically defer to Iraqi sovereignty and do not want to be seen as dictating the country's path toward democracy and the rule of law.

An Iraqi army official who works with the U.S. military and has detailed knowledge of the case, but who refused to be quoted by name because of its sensitivity, said the Americans apparently dropped their investigation because of concern that it would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty.

"The people want the Americans to arrest the Iraqis" who were behind the killing, and who are well known, the officer said. "But when we talk to the Americans about this, they say it's a matter of Iraqi sovereignty" and refuse to get involved.

In an e-mail response to questions about Zawba's death, Maj. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Army in Tikrit, said: "We recognize and respect the Iraqi Police Services and law enforcement personnel to conduct their own operations and internal investigations as needed. This is a case for Iraqi law enforcement."

Jbara, the Tikriti police colonel, runs the unit that was interrogating Zawba just before he died. Jbara said Zawba, 37, confessed to detonating a car bomb at a mall on Jan. 26 and to being a member of a terrorist group responsible for killing and wounding more than 50 people.

Two other people arrested with him -- his cousin, Bashar Subhi Sultan, 27, and a young neighbor, Safaa Ismail Douri, 15 -- also confessed to being involved in the car bombing, Jbara said, and are being held for trial. Relatives said the suspects, who were arrested early on Jan. 27, denied involvement in the bombing. Zawba, a father of two who taught construction at a local trade school, and Bashar, who studied at that school, were near the mall the day of the bombing only because they were waiting at a bus stop for a relative returning from a trip to Mecca, their brothers said in interviews.

Safaa's father, Ibrahim Ismail Douri, said his son was at the mall because he had just returned from an out-of-town bus trip. He said he last saw his son on Jan. 29 and that it was clear he had been beaten.

"I went to see my son at the police station, and I saw the police carrying him in a blanket. . . . He was hardly talking, and he said, 'Father, I was beaten and forced to confess and say that Zawba and Bashar were involved in the attack.' "

Douri said his son told him that after the explosion, he was afraid and started to run, " 'and the police said whoever ran was involved in making the bomb, so they arrested me.' "

A fourth suspect, Mahmoud Mohammed Ugab, 29, an Iraqi army officer, said in an interview that he also was arrested in connection with the bombing and tortured by officers under Jbara's command. During Ugab's interrogation, Safaa Douri came to the room where he was being held and pleaded with him to say that the four of them were behind the blast, Ugab said.

In an interview at a hospital where he was being treated for his injuries, Ugab said that a police officer beat him later as Jbara demanded that he confess to participating in the bombing. Ugab said he finally relented. But on the third day of his detention, Ugab said, a U.S. Army official who was visiting the police station recognized him from a joint posting in Tikrit's Celebration Park, asked why he was being held and ordered his release.

The officer "went to Col. Jbara's office and said, 'Mahmoud worked with me for 13 days, and I can say he has nothing to do with any attack or operation,' " Ugab said.

Around that time, Hameed and two of Bashar's brothers, Yasser and Qais, had a meeting with Jbara at the police colonel's house to ask for the release of Zawba and Bashar, Hameed and Yasser said in interviews.

According to a complaint filed by Hameed with the U.S. military in Tikrit, Jbara demanded that the families pay $5,000 each for the release of their relatives. Hameed and Yasser repeated the allegation in follow-up interviews.

In a telephone interview, Jbara denied that he or anyone solicited a bribe. "I dare anyone to say that Col. Jasim received $1," he said. "These are lies. There is an Iraqi government, and I am ready for an investigation of this."

Army Capt. Saad Hazim said in an interview that he was at home asleep on Jan. 29 when he received a telephone call at about 3 a.m. from an informant at Tikrit Hospital who said that two bodies had been brought into the morgue by police. One apparently was alive and was immediately taken to the hospital's emergency room. The near-death patient, Hazim said, was Zawba.

The second patient, who remains unidentified, died of "acute failure of the heart as a result of strong shocks," according to a copy of his death report. Hazim said that the hospital source, whom he declined to identify, told him that police evacuated the entire emergency room floor, ordering out all the doctors, nurses and patients. "The police had deployed across the whole floor, all with uniforms, flak jackets and black masks," he said.

According to a second Iraqi army officer, "The police took all the nurses and doctors to one room and locked the door in order not to reveal the secret" that their suspect was in critical condition.

Hazim said Zawba was pronounced dead about two hours later.

Jbara said that Zawba died "because of a health situation he was dealing with even before his arrest."

Pictures of Zawba's body given to The Post by his family show a deep gash above his right eye, a badly bruised right cheek bone and swollen nose. His legs are darkly discolored, with deep purple bruises, and his back and legs are scarred by what appear to be burn marks.

Challenged on his account, Jbara said: "His health situation was not good during the investigation. His blood pressure decreased, and that's in the medical documents." He refused to release the documents.

Hameed said his brother "was completely healthy" before his arrest. He said U.S. Army Capt. Michael Gruber, a liaison officer with the U.S.-Iraqi Army Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, investigated the death and had an aide read Zawba's death report to him.

"It said there were signs of beating on the skull and torture by electricity," Hameed said. "There were also signs of beating in the chest and abdomen areas and internal damage to the kidney."

An Iraqi army official in the coordination center who reviewed the death report said it showed Zawba had burn marks and was beaten around his head. The cause of death was "torture -- the signs are completely obvious," he said. He added that it was clear from the evidence that Zawba had had nothing to do with the Jan. 26 mall bombing.

Gruber, in a brief telephone conversation, declined to discuss the case without authorization, which his superiors refused to grant.

Comment: Yesterday, we ran an article about the optimism of US military commanders regarding the gradual reduction of the number of troops in Iraq. We made the following comments on the article:

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?

It seems that today we have found a potential answer to our question. If the US can ensure an "America-friendly" government in Iraq, and the Iraqi police services are doing all the imprisonment and torture, America is all set. Little has changed - or will change - in Iraq, except that the rulers will now be favorable to the aims of US leaders. This scheme is one which worked quite well for several US governments in the control of Latin America, so why wouldn't Bush and gang continue to use the same tactics?

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POWs battle Iraq and U.S. over compensation
By Sebastian Christ and Philipp Heinz
April 8, 2005

Washington, DC -- A group of 17 former American prisoners of war tortured in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s has called on the U.S. government for support in their fight for compensation. The servicemen want the Iraqi government to pay $959 million in compensation for torture, in part committed in Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to the veterans, the Bush government has abolished the legal basis for their claim and doesn't intend to cooperate with them in their struggle with the new Iraqi government.

"If this is allowed to continue, it sends the wrong message out in the world, also to our own soldiers serving currently in Iraq to fight in the war on terrorism," said retired Lt. Col. Jeff Tice, who served for 21 years in the U.S. Air Force. Tice was shot down in his F-16 fighter over Baghdad on Jan. 19, 1991. "I was captured in a dark cell. There were moments I just tried to survive the next 15 minutes," he said.

His comrade, retired Col. Cliff Acree, who served as a pilot in the Marine Corps, was held in the same prison. "I was for 48 days in Baghdad. I experienced torture, starvation, frequent beatings, I can't tell you how many times," he said. Now, both want the new Iraqi government to pay for the pains they suffered. "We want to hold that nation accountable that tortured us," Acree said.

But the legal situation is rather confusing. The 17 Americans filed a lawsuit against Iraq and Saddam Hussein in 2002. They used the regulations of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from 1996 that gives U.S. nationals the right to hold sponsors of terrorism accountable for injuries and death for torture, hijacking and other acts. In general, national sovereignty protects countries from being sued by foreign individuals, but the FSIA provides an exception of that rule. The U.S. soldiers' suit was filed after Iraq refused to arbitrate as provided by the FSIA.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered a default judgment in their favor in July 2003 after the Iraqi government failed to contest the charges and awarded $653 million in compensatory and $306 million in punitive damages. The United States had just occupied Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Justice Department sought to intervene in the case two weeks after the district court ruling, arguing that the April 2003 Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriation Act to help rebuild Iraq made the FSIA liability provision inapplicable to Iraq and thus negated jurisdiction by the trial court over the case. The trial court rejected the Justice Department's argument. The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously for the Bush administration and threw out the lawsuit. [...]

Allen said he believes that the Iraqi government has enough money to compensate the veterans and called for an immediate solution without charging American taxpayers. "Why the heck should American taxpayers pay for that? Iraq has a lot of resources," he said. "Those who are responsible should be held accountable." [...]

"We want Iraq to be held accountable for what they did to us," he said, adding that a dismissal of the case would amount to a "free ticket" for states that use torture "to do what they want. We should focus on what is going to happen in future. This will happen again, and if we don't take this opportunity, may God help U.S. citizens in future wars."

Comment: If the Bush administration doesn't even care about US soldiers who were tortured as POWs, would they hesitate to approve the torture of Iraqis and others in the war on terror? Would the Bush gang hesitate to imprison and torture ordinary American citizens in the war on terror?

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Mideast truce threatened by proposed rally at sacred site
Last Updated Fri, 08 Apr 2005 15:30:47 EDT
CBC News

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP - Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters marched through Gaza City on Friday, threatening to end a ceasefire if Jewish hardliners rally at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Israeli security officials tightened access to the site – sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary – and stepped up preparations to block Jews who plan to demonstrate there on Sunday.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials fear that the demonstrators are trying to inflame tensions with Arabs in order to sabotage Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip.

The disputed site, on a hilltop in Jerusalem's Old City, includes Islam's third-holiest site, the al-Aqsa mosque, and the ruins of biblical Jewish temples. A rally there would enrage many Palestinians.

About 40,000 supporters of Hamas, the largest Palestinian militant group, paraded through Gaza City after Friday prayers in protest.

Hamas, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups have all warned that if the rally goes ahead they would stop honouring a ceasefire negotiated by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon's visit to Temple Mount in 2000 when he was the opposition leader sparked Palestinian riots that grew into the 4½-year armed uprising, or intefadeh.

Israel plans to withdraw this summer from all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank.

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A Jewish Voice Left Silent: Trying to Articulate "The Levantine Option"
David Shasha
Center for Sephardic Heritage Brooklyn, New York April 2002

David Shasha's article was penned for NY Times but refused for publication. It comes from Israel Shamir's Yahoo Group

The modern state of Israel is composed of Sephardic Jews, Jews who emanate from Arab-Islamic lands, and Ashkenazic Jews, Jews who hail from Christian Europe. These groups have developed within different cultural milieux and espouse divergent Weltanschauung. Occidental Jews have taken on many of the traits of Western culture, while the Oriental Jews, many of whom continued to speak Arabic and partake of a common Middle Eastern culture until the mass dispersions of Jews from Arab countries after 1948, have preserved many of the folkways and traits of Arab civilization.

Because of the stigma against all things Arab propounded by classical Zionism, many Arab Jews have surrendered their native Levantine perspective in favor of the ruling Eurocentric ideology in Israel; others in frustration have divorced themselves from the mainstream of the Jewish community; and still others have submerged their ethnic rage in a thunderous barbarity vis-à-vis the Arab Muslims.

This final point has made many observers question the very legitimacy of even discussing the issue of the Levantine nativity of Arab Jews, many of whom have become among the most militant followers of the Likud and other Right Wing parties in Israel. The movement of Jews out of the Arab world and into the orbit of the Jewish state has greatly disrupted the traditional ethos and bearings of Arab Jewry. This has translated not merely into Sephardic political intransigency, but a complete abandonment of the traditional Sephardic cultural and religious legacy.

But there was indeed a time when Jews lived productively in the Middle East and developed a material and intellectual culture that proved amazingly durable and robust. This culture, what I have called "The Levantine Option," if adopted as a discursive model in the current dialogue, could speak in a sophisticated and humane manner to many of the underlying civilizational and ideological barriers that frame the culture of brutality permeating the region.

Keeping in mind the lamentable erosion of Sephardic cultural history since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, "The Levantine Option" might be identified as a radically new perspective based on a very old way of seeing things.

Sephardim have for many centuries practiced a form of Judaism that has sought engagement with its outside environment. In the Middle East this meant an acculturation to the Arab model as articulated in the first centuries of Islam. Prominent Sephardic rabbis, such as Moses Maimonides and Abraham ibn Ezra, acculturated to the Greco-Arabic paradigm, disdaining clericalism while espousing humanism and science, composed seminal works on Jewish thought and practice. Sephardic rabbis were not merely religious functionaries; they were poets, philosophers, astronomers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, linguists, merchants, architects, civic leaders and much else. Samuel the Nagid, the famous polymath of Granada, even led troops into battle in the 11th century to fight off the Christians.

Traditional Sephardic Judaism provided for a more tolerant and open-minded variant of Jewish existence than an Ashkenazi counterpart continually living in a world apart, utterly disconnected from European civil society. The Hatam Sofer, one of the most prominent Ashkenazi rabbis of the 19th century, boldly formulated the slogan for modern orthodox Ashkenazi thinking: "The Torah prohibits the new."

Religious humanism was endemic to the Sephardic cultural tradition. When the Enlightenment came in the 18th century the Sephardim were able to make a seamless transition (the Sephardic chief rabbi of London David Nieto corresponded with Isaac Newton on scientific and theological matters) while European Judaism was torn by deep internal schisms, many of which continue to play out in the modern Jewish community through movements such as Zionism and Orthodoxy - each practicing a form of cultural exclusion that is predicated upon a narrow interpretation of the Jewish tradition.

While Ashkenazi Jews in the modern period broke off into bitter and acrimonious factions, Sephardim preserved their unity as a community rather than let doctrine asphyxiate them. A Jewish Reformation never took place in the Sephardic world because the Sephardim continued to maintain their fidelity to their traditions while absorbing and adapting the ideas and trends of the world they lived in.

Until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 Arab Jews created a place for themselves in their countries of origin by serving in government, civic affairs, business, and the professions: James Sanua, an Egyptian Jew who wrote for the theater and press, was at the forefront of the nascent Egyptian nationalist movement at the turn of the 20th century. The last chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire and then of Egypt (who died in Cairo in 1960), Haim Nahum Effendi, was elected as a member to the Egyptian Senate and was a founder of the Arabic Language Academy. By request from the Egyptian civil authorities Rabbi Masud Hai Ben Shimon composed a voluminous three volume compendia of Jewish legal practice written in precise classical Arabic, Kitab al-Ahkam ash-Shariyyah fi-l-Ahwal ash-Shaksiyyah li-l-Isra' ilyyin, which served as a primary source for Egyptian Muslim courts dealing with Jewish cases.

In his best-selling work on the Middle East, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, Bernard Lewis makes a telling statement in his interpretation of this ethno-cultural impasse. Professor Lewis, in a manner that echoes Samuel Huntington's infamous "Clash of Civilizations" thesis, sees that the dichotomy between Judaism and Islam extends to the Jews of Israel as well:

The conflict, coexistence, or combination of these two traditions [i.e. the Judeo-Christian and the Judeo-Islamic] within a single small state, with a shared religion and a common citizenship and allegiance, should prove illuminating. For Israel, this issue may have an existential significance, since the survival of the state, surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned by neighbors who reject its very right to exist, may depend on its largely Western-derived qualitative edge.

It is Lewis' assertion, as it was for David Ben-Gurion many years earlier, that the Oriental influence would ultimately drag Israel down into the horrifying abyss of, in Ben-Gurion's words, an "unnatural" Levantinism. Israel, according to this logic, must be a representative outpost of Western civilization in a brutal and barbaric region of culturally inferior Arabs. Arriving in the state of Israel from the Arab world in the 1940's and 50's, Sephardim underwent a forced process of de-Arabization, losing their native tongue, Arabic, which ultimately led to a complete abandonment of the deep ties they once had with the rich civilization of the Middle East. This cultural de-Arabization has left the Sephardim in Israel bereft of their own nativity and led to massive social and economic inequalities that have not been fully redressed by successive Israeli governments.

The forceful opposition between East and West promoted by Lewis and his Orientalist cohorts, a permanent feature of the discourse on the conflict as reproduced by the Western media, is a dangerous mechanism that has occluded the voice of Jews whose culture and native mien once maintained a crucial connection to the organic world of the Middle East. The silencing or marginalizing of the Arab Jewish voice has had a profoundly deleterious affect on the rhetorical process that has been a salient feature of the conflict.

What if the future of the Middle East, contra Lewis, lay in the amicable interaction of the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in a symbiotic formation that lays out the commonalities in culture and politics rather than the deep-seated differences that are rooted in the Ashkenazi experience?

If such a symbiosis were desirable, the cultural memory of Moorish Spain (Hebrew, Sepharad, Arabic, al-Andalus) where the three religions were able to coexist and produce a civilization of great worth, would take prominence. The Sephardic voice would be central in articulating what in Spanish was termed Convivencia, the creative cultural dynamic that fired medieval Spanish civilization, until its untimely destruction in 1492, but which continued through the glorious epoch of Ottoman civilization, until its degeneration in the 19th century.

The Sephardic voice could unfold the delicate strands of the Levantine memory and construct a cultural model that would be more appropriate to the current situation than the spurious binarism promoted by the concept of Israel as an outpost of Western civilization.

The model of Levantine Jewish historical memory would serve to collapse the alienating cult of persecution harbored in classical Zionist thought and omnipresent in the rituals of the state of Israel, replacing it with a more positive view of the past that would lead us into a more optimistic present. The nihilistic "realism" of the current Israeli approach, centered on the institutionalized perpetuation of the twin legacies of the Holocaust and European anti-Semitism, would then be countered by memories of a Jewish past that was able to develop a constructive relationship to its surrounding environment.

Current models of the conflict and ways to resolve it, from the Left as well as the Right, ignore the valuable fact of Jewish nativity in the region. We see Right Wing settlers imposing a romantic version of Jewish history on the conflict that has precious little to do with the organic realities of those who have lived in the region over many centuries. And Left Wing groups, such as Peace Now, promote a resolution from within the same Western mindset and construct "peace" programs that have done little to engender a stable set of relationships between Jews and Arabs.

Both positions, again rooted in Ashkenazi Jewish culture, have failed because they have not seriously engaged the traditional ethos of the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of the region; they have merely adopted Western models of conflict resolution, violent and non-violent, arrogantly assuming that Jews are culturally different from Arabs. "The Levantine Option," if adopted, would become a means to create a shared cultural space for Jews and Arabs rather than the establishment of walls and barriers that are endemic to these Ashkenazi approaches.

The silencing of the Sephardic voice, internally by the self-censoring mechanisms imposed by Zionism (and all-too-willingly adopted by Arab Jews themselves) as well as by the cultural blindness and insensitivity of the Western media, makes little sense at the present moment. We should be seeking new and more creative ways to identify what has gone wrong in Israel and Palestine rather than continuing to insist on the same conceptual mindset that has led us to recycle the same options. We hear a constant stream of repetitive rhetoric that has done little to break the impasse that enslaves Jews and Arabs to lives of mutual incomprehension and a seemingly endless reserve of ethnic hatred.

Until we develop ways to talk to one another in a substantial and civilized way - from within a shared cultural space that exists for those of us (becoming fewer and fewer) who still espouse "The Levantine Option" - the questions surrounding Israel and Palestine, as well as the endemic violence that is a malignant cancer in the region, will continue to haunt Jews, Arabs and the rest of the world. The promotion of such a discourse is not merely a romantic exercise in nostalgia; it is perhaps the most progressive and civilized option that we now have to bring a rational order to what appears to be an utterly intractable inter-cultural dialogue.

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Gun-toting robots eyed for Korean border
Last Updated Fri, 08 Apr 2005 08:29:59 EDT
CBC News

SEOUL - South Korea is working on a plan to send robots equipped with weapons to patrol the demilitarized zone that marks its border with North Korea.

U.S. army soldiers walk with a military robot during a joint military exercise in Daegu, south of Seoul. (AP photo)

The country's defence ministry said Friday that a feasibility study will be completed by the end of this year on a proposal to pull back on human troops in favour of surveillance robots by 2011.

The gun-toting robots will be able to capture video of their surroundings along the heavily fortified 250-kilometre border as well as sound alarms when their alarm systems are tripped.

South Korea has already experimented with rifle-equipped robots, sending two of the models to Iraq along with 3,600 human troops.

A four-kilometre-wide demilitarized zone marks the fenced border between South Korea and North Korea, which have been officially at war since the early 1950s.

The area is strewn with mines, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of troops patrolling the area.

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God's Shock Troops
The Religious Right and US Foreign Policy
Aptos, California
April 8, 2005

When Americans ponder why the rest of the world regards it with less respect, they could turn to the recent controversy created by the U.S. delegation at the March meeting in New York of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The issue reveals both the new approach of right-wing fundamentalists to international organizations and the extent that such groups increasingly determine U.S. foreign policy.

At the two-week meeting, attended by 6,000 women from 130 countries, the U.S. delegation created a furor when it refused to sign a declaration reaffirming the Beijing Platform for Action. Signed by the U.S. and 184 other countries in 1995, the Platform included resolutions asserting the fundamental rights of women and called for ending discrimination against women in 12 important areas.

Before signing a reaffirmation of the Beijing Platform, the U.S. delegation demanded that an amendment rejecting abortion be inserted. Meeting with widespread opposition from international women's organizations and supported only by Egypt and Qatar, the leader of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Ellen R. Sauerbrey, eventually relented and signed the declaration.

Before signing, Sauerbrey made it clear that the declaration would not legally bind the U.S. under international law, did not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, or support abortion in its reproductive health assistance, and did not support quotas as a method of advancing women. Sauerbrey, a Republican national committeewoman described as a "conservative stalwart" by National Review magazine, stressed that the U.S. upholds an "ABC" approach to women's health: abstinence, be faithful and the use of condoms, "where appropriate" to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

According to Zonibel Woods, senior advisor for international policy at the International Women's Health Coalition, instead of addressing important human rights issues and determining how to move forward at the conference, the U.S. delegation spent its time attempting to roll back commitments made ten years ago.

"They wasted a lot of time," said Woods. "They claim to defend women's rights, but they attack women's rights at every international meeting when they think no one is looking."

Woods observed that other countries are frustrated by U.S. policy that focuses moralistically on abstinence, parental rights, and restricting comprehensive health education. In addition to withholding $34 million earmarked for United Nations Population Fund, used to promote family planning, sexual and reproductive rights, sex education and condom use, Bush imposed "a global gag rule," which prevents organizations that receive U.S. funds from counseling, referring or providing information on abortion. The U.N. estimates that withholding these funds led to an additional 2 million unwanted pregnancies and more than 75,000 infant and child deaths.

According to the conservative National Review, Sauerbrey represents "a very conservative, very pro-family" agenda into U.N. programs. Sauerbrey told United Families International that she is "fighting the battle" and "expressing what heartland America is really about . . . moral leadership."

A collection of advocates for right-wing think tanks and fundamentalist groups now populate U.S. delegations to the U.N. For example, the official U.S. women's delegation includes: Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum, which is opposed to spending tax dollars to relieve violence against women and opposes women's comparable pay efforts and affirmative action programs; and Winsome Packer, former executive assistance to the vice president of the Heritage Foundation. Such appointments clearly signaled a change of management at the State Department.

Bush's appointments to non-governmental organization (NGO) observer status to the U.N. come from right-wing religious groups:

* Janet Parshall, author of Tough Faith: Trusting God in Troubled Times and Light in the City: Why Christians Must Advance and Not Retreat, hosts a conservative talk show and frequently attacks women's rights advocates such as Gloria Steinem and Patricia Ireland.

* A devout Presbyterian, Patricia P. Brister served as chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana and chairman of Bush/Cheney '04 in Louisiana.

* Susan B. Hirschmann, a lobbyist, is a former chief of staff for Tom DeLay and former executive director of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, a conservative political action group that helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and is a vociferous opponent of the feminist movement.

Such appointments illustrate a religious focus on foreign policy that is a break with the traditional separation of church and state, a policy that began to change with Pat Robertson and the creation of the Moral Majority. Backed by social conservatives, neoconservative ideologues and the religious right, Ronald Reagan declared that foreign policy would henceforth rest on moral clarity combined with military might.

"From the earliest days in America, fundamentalists stuck with separation of church and state and saw no role for fundamentalist Christians in politics," said Wilfred M. McClay, professor of history and humanities at the University of Tennessee. "The Baptists feared that 'who pays the piper calls the tune.' But in the 1970s, the Moral Majority broke this pattern."

In the 1980s and 1990s, some estimate that right-wing foundations poured over $1 billion into conservative think tanks, organizations and lobbying efforts. According to the Media Transparency grants database, in 1994 these conservative "philanthropies" and think tanks controlled $1.1 billion in assets. From 1992 to 1994, they awarded $300 million in grants and targeted $210 million to support a wide variety of projects and institutions.

Approximately 12 foundations fund a network of interconnected groups, which coordinate activities and push similar agendas. Several of these right-wing religious groups stand out for their growing power in foreign policy. They include:

* The Center for Security Policy claims it is "committed to the time-tested philosophy of promoting international peace through American strength." Its website condemns the U.N. General Assembly for "utopian socialism" and as a haven of anti-Americanism whose members "can only be regarded as enemies." It questions whether the U.S. should be a member of the U.N. and praises Bush for his willingness "to finish the war (in Iraq) and win at all costs."

* The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) claims "to reform the social and political witness of the American churches" by countering the "secular agenda of the Left" with "the timeless message of Jesus Christ." In fact, the IRD concentrates on attacking and discrediting church leaders and provoking conflict in mainline Protestant denominations that embrace "leftist crusades" such as feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, socialism, sexual liberation and other movements that "pose a threat to our democracy." The IRD supported the Contra death squads in Central America and right-wing militaristic Zionists, and criticized mainstream Christians that "spout pacifist-sounding slogans." The IRD is closely allied with antifeminist organizations such as Concerned Women for America and the Ecumenical Coalition on Women and Society, who aim to "counter radical feminist ideology and agenda."

* The Institute for Public Policy and Religion (IPPR), which backs the central role of religion in public life, is led by Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and an outspoken advocate of democratic capitalism. Since its founding, the IPPR has tried to steer American concern away from human rights toward religious freedom. The institute warns its followers against engaging in global warming issues, supports "just wars" and advocates greater Christian participation in public and foreign policy to promote family life, right-to-life, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage programs.

* The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), established in 1976, aims "to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues." The EPPC was the first institute to attack "secular humanists" and promote a "cultural war" against liberalism. Ernest Lefever, founder of EPPC, authored America's Imperial Burden, which justifies American empire building. Convicted felon Elliott Abrams served as president from 1996 to 2001.

A myriad of other groups such as the Independent Women's Forum, Empower America, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the International Right-to-life Foundation also play a role in promoting a religious right-wing agenda.

The efforts of these groups has paid off in converting the role of the Christian right from one of criticizing the U.N. as a secular institution to infiltrating and attempting to reshape the U.N. agenda. According to Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, Bush's focus on religious issues such as abortion, religious school vouchers, same sex marriage, and Israel helped mobilize his white evangelical base. Since 9/11, foreign policy has taken on "significant religious dimensions" with "a rhetorical style of America bringing God's gift of freedom to the planet."

By breaking down the separation of church and state, these groups are bringing religion squarely into the center of government and refocusing governmental policy on their narrowly defined ethical and religious views. Few would disagree with an infusion of ethics into politics but as always, the devil is in the details. These groups share a belief in the superiority of American religious and economic systems and are quick to force them upon other countries and cultures.

"Ethics that assume the superiority of traditional Judeo-Christian values over other cultures and religions is arrogant," said Tom Barry, policy director for the International Relations Center. "This idea does not facilitate democratic or constructive engagement, but leads to reaction and growth in religious fundamentalism by destabilizing other cultures and societies."

In its Middle East policy, the U.S. follows the direction set by these right-wing religious groups, bringing democracy, capitalism and American values, backed by military force. While many may agree with the goals, which also eliminate reason as a guide to U.S. foreign policy, the approach of the religious right proves counterproductive.

"We are not facilitating democratic or constructive engagement but fostering a reaction," said Barry. "By threatening people, we drive them back to fundamentalist values. We are leading to a growth in religious fundamentalism. "

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Few Russians Take Pride in Country's Super-Rich
Created: 08.04.2005 13:49 MSK (GMT 3), Updated: 14:05 MSK

Russia ranks second in terms of the number its super-rich citizens, according to the Forbes magazine. A survey by Russia's leading center for public opinion studies revealed that only 7 percent of Russians are proud of that fact.

The All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) has published the results of a survey where Russians were asked to say what they felt about the country's super-rich; whom they considered the richest Russians and whether they would like to see their children's names included in the Forbes list.

39 percent of respondents said they felt ashamed that Russia had so many billionaires, 15 percent were envious as they would like to see their own names on the list; another 15 percent said it made them curious and only 7 percent said they felt proud of their compatriots. 24 percent were undecided.

Younger respondents proved more tolerant in their attitude towards billionaires. 28 percent of respondents aged 18-24 said they themselves would like to become rich; 21 percent of the same age group take an interest in information about billionaires. 16 percent of the younger respondents have a sense of pride because of the country's rich, while 13 percent said they felt shame that there were so many rich people in Russia.

More of the older respondents expressed shame because of Russia's rich. 62 percent of the respondents aged over 60 said they felt shame for Russia. Respondents with high incomes, on the contrary, feel no shame at all and dream of getting on the list themselves.

When asked to name the richest citizens of Russia, most respondents mentioned Chukotka governor, oil tycoon and football fan Roman Abramovich, self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovsky and Russia's top energy official Anatoly Chubais - 34, 27 and 25 percent respectively.

Other respondents named ex-president Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and pop-singers Alla Pugachyova and Filipp Kirkorov.

Asked if they would like to see their children's names included in the Forbes list of the world's super-rich, 34 percent answered in the affirmative. 50 percent said no, and 23 percent of those were firmly against it.

Remarkably, supporters of the Communists, ultra-nationalist LDPR and nationalist Rodina, for the most part, would not like to see their children on the Forbes list.

1,600 respondents in 100 cities and towns across Russia took part in the poll held in March 2005.

Comment: Nothing surprising here. The older people remember growing up under the Soviet regime when they had jobs, health care, housing, and education. The younger people have grown up under the get-rich quick ideology of the West and the end of the Soviet regime when it had been pushed into bankruptcy by the Western capitalist countries.

There is nothing heroic about stealing State property and making a billion dollars off of it - unless you're a psychopath.

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Time to tame corporate power
by Murray Dobbin
April 7, 2005

As I was scanning the latest documents describing WTO negotiations on its services agreement (the GATS - General Agreement on Trade in Services) I came across a quote that reinforced for me how much corporations have come to dominate our political life - in other words, how much power has been transferred from citizens and democracy to CEOs and corporate boards. The quote was from Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi, the Director General of the WTO. He was taking questions from a gathering of CEOs of global service companies and one asked him what it took it “get things going.”

While he acknowledged that governments and politicians had to “manage” the process, it was corporations who had to design and drive it. According to Panitchpakdi: “I think we need consistent pressure coming from the private-sector side. We need governments who understand what kind of interests you have in the round [of negotiations] ... So I would say ... when you have active participation from the private sector, the political agenda will be always more balanced.”

Needless to say the WTO head said this with a completely straight face because he absolutely believes it. But he revealed in his remarks that what he thought needed balancing was the apparently undue influence of government. In designing a world trading system - but particularly corporate access to and privatization of vital public services - it is the corporations that count. Governments, who are supposedly mandated to look after their citizens' interests, the public interest, are just there to manage the process.

Panitchpakdi's remarks in such private settings are rarely reported so the public is just as rarely made aware of how the world's health care, education and municipal services are in the process of being handed over to global corporations. The parallel at the national level is more transparent, as we saw recently with the signing of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America by the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. The title of the accord - which sets the tone and structure for virtual annexation - was lifted almost word for word from a report by the most powerful corporate organization in Canada.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, founded back in 1974, consists of the CEOs of the 150 richest companies in Canada. This extraordinarily influential organization is not a lobby group in the normal sense of the word. They have been dictating fiscal, trade and economic policy to governments since the early 1980s. Moving beyond the old-fashioned approach of lobbying government each time their interests seemed threatened, the CCCE (formerly the Business Council on National Issues) sought to anticipate governments' moves and strike before government could.

They were stunningly successful with the Mulroney government and in some cases - such as competition law - actually wrote the legislation they wanted and presented it to the federal government. In this example, Mulroney passed the legislation virtually unchanged.

In the spring of 1994 the then BCNI, furious that Paul Martin's first budget did not cut billions from social spending as recommended, delivered its policy prescription to the finance minister: “A Ten Point Growth and Employment Strategy for Canada.” The plan was an aggressive corporate wish list that included huge cuts to social programs, a deliberate moderate economic growth policy, using any surpluses to pay down the debt (rather than reinvest in social programs), massive corporate tax cuts and decentralization. Within four years Martin had delivered on almost every item.

The fact that our nation has been effectively governed according to the priorities of 150 global corporations is now so “normal” that it is almost never remarked upon. Yet there is an enormous disconnect here that goes beyond the obvious question of just how anti-democratic this situation is. I am speaking here of the irrefutable fact that the corporate sector which now claims the right to define our nation has reached unprecedented levels of corruption and social irresponsibility. For the past several years we have witnessed the spectacle of almost unimaginable greed, fraud, lying and outright theft from the men who were the heroes of capitalism.

The perverse nature of corporate culture tells us that those like Bernie Ebbers, had they not been caught, would still be heroes. Indeed from Wall Street's and Bay Street's viewpoint, getting caught was their only real crime. The roots of this cultural pathology go to the relentless drive for deregulation and the resulting corporate contempt for the laws that remain.

Since the early 1980s ethical behaviour has even been equated by some business theorists with violating fiduciary responsibility. University of Chicago law professors Frank Easterbrook and Daniel Fischel have taught that when it comes to making profits, executives not only may violate the law but should do so if it enhances the bottom line. And the fines and penalties if they get caught? Simply the cost of doing business.

While this view may be extremist, it has it roots in traditional corporate law which says that those who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and that duty is to make money. If they fail to do so directors and officers are open to being sued by shareholders. Corporate law not only says nothing about directors and officers serving the public interest, it actually implies that absorbing the necessary cost of doing so could be seen as violating their fiduciary duty.

When the CCCE/BCNI dictates to Paul Martin about the direction of the country, it is speaking on behalf of an ethically corrupted and perverse institution: the modern, global corporation. Governments - and by implication, citizens - crafted the laws that made them so. It's time we changed them.

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Earthquake tremors felt in western Singapore 2005-04-09 23:14:09

SINGAPORE, April 9 (Xinhuanet) -- Tremors caused by an earthquake off the west coast of North Sumatra island of Indonesia on Saturday were felt in Bukit Batok, the western part of Singapore, according to Channel NewsAsia report on Saturday night.

The National Environment Agency confirmed that the earthquake measuring 4.2 to 5 on the Richter scale occurred at about 9:30 a.m.with its epicenter being 700 kilometers away from Singapore.

The earthquake, which is believed to be an aftermath of the onerocked Indonesia's Nias island nearly two weeks ago, affected no other part of the city state, the report said.

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Violent weather kills 10 in China, destroys 20,000 homes
BEIJING (AFP) Apr 09, 2005
Extreme gales, rain and hail have claimed 10 lives and destroyed 20,000 homes in southwest China since violent storms hit the region on Friday, the official Xinhua news agency said Saturday.

The report said another two people had been injured and one person was missing after strong gales swept through more than 20 cities and counties including Guangyuan, Santai and Daxian.

"The severe weather also destroyed more than 20,000 houses, causing millions of yuan in losses," the dispatch said.

It said a relief effort, arranged by Governor Zhang Zhongwei of Sichuan province, had begun.

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Drought hits three-quarters of most populous Australian state
SYDNEY (AFP) Apr 09, 2005
Three-quarters of Australia's most populous state has been hit by drought after experiencing an "exceptionally dry" month, the New South Wales government said Saturday.

The state's drought-hit areas rose from 68 percent to 76 percent after the dry month of March, according to Ian Macdonald, NSW primary industries minister.

"It means that farmers are having to delay planting of winter crops, such as wheat and canola," Macdonald told ABC radio.

"And some of our summer crops such as sorghum have been badly hit. The rice industry will have its worst result in 30 years -- so it's a fairly grim position around the state."

The state's total water storage has also fallen to less than one-third of capacity, he said.

The eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland have been hard-hit by a drought that has ravaged rural communities for two or three years.

New South Wales is home to some 6.7 million of Australia's total population of just more than 20 million.

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Forest fires rage in northern Israel
JERUSALEM (AFP) Apr 08, 2005
Forest fires broke out Friday in Israel's northern Galilee region and on Mount Carmel, overlooking the port of Haifa, as strong winds buffeted the country amid unseasonable heat, firefighters said.

Public radio said the authorities had begun evacuating student dormitories at the University of Haifa, which is located on the mountain.

"Several dozen hectares (scores of acres) of forest are under threat from the flames on Mount Carmel, and some 20 firefighting teams, aided by aircraft, have been trying to subdue the fires for several hours," spokesman Moshe Mosco said Friday evening.

The blaze is also threatening an animal park on Mount Carmel.

The winds were expected to drop later Friday, the meteorological service said.

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