Monday, April 18, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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Signs Economic Commentary
April 18, 2005
Donald Hunt

The U.S. stock market began a steep decline last week, with the Dow closing at 10,087.51, down 3.77% from the previous week's close of 10,468.44.  The NASDAQ closed at 1908.15 down 4.85% from the previous week's 2000.63.  The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury bond fell sharply to 4.23% from 4.47% as investors fleeing stocks bid up the prices on bonds. The euro closed at 1.2924 dollars virtually unchanged from the previous week's 1.2928, that puts the dollar at .7738 euros compared to .7736

Gold closed at $424.60 an ounce down from $429.00  Oil closed at $50.49 down 3.6% from $52.32 the previous Friday. Looking at oil in euros we see oil closing at 39.07 euros a barrel, down 5.6% from last week's 41.24 euros a barrel.  Comparing gold to oil, an ounce of gold on Friday would buy 8.41 barrels of oil, up 4.5% from the previous week's close of 8.05.

Clearly, the big news this week is the sharp drop in the U.S. stock market.  We are now seeing signs of a direct challenge to one of the main rosy lies of the Bush II era, that the United States economy has been in a "robust" recovery since 2001. A look at the wording of the main news services show this:

Fri Apr 15, 5:36 PM ET
By Megan Davies

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks finished at 5 1/2-month lows on Friday -- in the third straight day of steep declines -- as disappointing results from IBM increased investor concerns about an economic slowdown and made Wall Street skittish about the coming flood of earnings.

The blue-chip Dow average had its biggest one-day drop since May 2003, falling 191 points. Friday marked the third consecutive day of triple-digit declines for the Dow, which has fallen more than 400 points in three sessions.

Stocks have now erased the gains built up in a rally that started around November's presidential election. For the year to date, the Dow and the S&P 500 are both down around 6 percent, while the Nasdaq has fallen 12 percent. "What we're looking at is a giving up of hope on the part of investors," said Joseph Keating, chief investment officer of the asset management group at AmSouth Bank.

International Business Machines Corp., the world's largest computer company, tumbled 8 percent, or $6.94 to $76.70, a day after reporting lower-than-expected earnings. .

That sparked another sell-off on Wall Street and sent shudders through stock markets worldwide. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 191.24 points, or 1.86 percent, to end at 10,087.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 19.43 points, or 1.67 percent, to close at 1,142.62. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 38.56 points, or 1.98 percent, to finish at 1,908.15. The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at their lowest since early November 2004, while the Nasdaq ended at its lowest since October 2004. For the week, the Dow was down 3.57 percent, the S&P 500 was off 3.27 percent and the Nasdaq was down 4.56 percent. The Dow suffered its worst weekly decline since March 2003, while the S&P and Nasdaq had their biggest drops since August 2004.

The next level investors were focusing on for the Dow to reach is 10,000, said Warren West, principal at Greentree Brokerage Services. "We've broken through anything technicians might have said were support points and now we're looking at sentiment levels such as round numbers," West added. "We're looking at the Dow at 10,000 as the next real test of investor psychology." Economic reports contributed to the negative mood, when industrial production and University of Michigan consumer sentiment reports came in on the weak side on Friday. "Clearly the economy is downshifting because of the persistently high level of oil prices over the last year and the raising of short-term interest rates," Keating said. "That's really the issue. There needs to be recognition on the part of the Federal Reserve that they will pause before the year end (in raising rates) and not force the economy into a recession."

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note's yield slid to a seven-week low of 4.23 percent as more bad news on the economy bolstered hopes the Fed might take a break from raising interest rates. The IBM news outweighed a rise from conglomerate General Electric Co., which reported higher first-quarter profit . GE shares rose 25 cents to $35.75.

Technology stocks suffered sharp declines. "IBM is leading technology and the Dow down," said David Memmott, head of listed block trading at Morgan Stanley. "IBM touches just about every piece of tech there is." Among tech shares falling, network computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. fell 7.6 percent, or 30 cents to $3.66 after it missed expectations. Hewlett-Packard fell 4 percent, or 91 cents to $20.84 and PC maker Gateway fell 3 percent, or 13 cents to $3.81. Energy companies' shares also traded sharply lower. Exxon Mobil Corp. slid 4 percent, or $2.56 to $56.19, while ConocoPhillips fell more than 4 percent, or $4.80 to $100.07. That came as oil prices slid further from their recent peak of $58.28. NYMEX May crude dropped 64 cents to settle at $50.49 a barrel. The market has typically rallied on declines in oil prices, but has failed to respond in recent days.

"Crude has come down significantly in the last week and it's done nothing for stocks," said John Hughes, managing director at Epiphany Equity Research. "It's almost as if lower crude is indicating softening or slowing economic growth -- it's seen as a bad thing now."

The mainstream press is forced to act surprised, because they have had to conceal the true facts of the situation from the public in the United States long enough to get Bush reelected and to get their money safely out of the country.  Here are the facts, courtesy of Al Martin ( that, while not completely concealed, were never presented to the news-consuming public in the United States in any kind of historical context:

[O]n the day this Bush Cheney regime came to power, the total U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio was 78%. Now it is 308%. To put that into some context, the IMF considers a nation-state whose total debt-to-GDP ratio is 200% or more to be a "de-constructed Third World nation-state."

"De-constructed" in IMF terms simply means "collapse." But the IMF, for political reasons, doesn't want to use the word "collapse." Therefore they use the word "de-constructed."

What "de-constructed" actually means is that a political regime in that country, or series of political regimes, have, through a long period of fraud, abuse, graft, corruption and mismanagement, effectively collapsed the economy of that country. This is precisely the definition of Bushonomics I and II.

It should also be pointed out that on the day that the regime came to power, the income dispersion index of the United States, which is nothing more than the ratio between the total income of the top and bottom 10% of the population, was a factor of 129x, meaning that the total income of the top 10% of the nation was 129 times that of the bottom 10% of the nation. To date, that statistic stands at 319 times.

Further, it should be noted that, on the day the regime came to power, the top 1% of this nation owned 61.9% of all the private wealth of the nation. That number will have grown to 70% by the end of fiscal `05 in September; also, this regime will have been the first regime in the history of the nation to run trade deficits of an average 5% or more of GDP for 3 consecutive years.

All of theses statistics are the classic numbers used by Thomas Malthus in the Malthusian economic theorem, first published in 1822, wherein Malthus pointed out that in all nation-states in the last 2,000 years, when the above-referenced statistics and numbers were reached, those nation-states first underwent a political revolution, then underwent an economic collapse. Indeed, all of the numbers now have reached that magic Malthusian level, economic numbers that have never been seen before in the history of the American republic.

This regime, by the end of fiscal `05, would have generated, on a real basis, aggregate budget deficits of $1.5 trillion, aggregate trade deficits of another $1.5 trillion dollars, and an increase in aggregate national debt of more than $2 trillion. ('Real', in this case, denoting the translation of economic statistics from BFLAP, or Bushonian fantasy-land accounting principles, to GAAP, or generally accepted accounting principles.)

This fiscal deterioration has gone on not only at the federal level, but also in all levels of government. So, whereas the aggregate unsecured public debt of the nation, states, counties and municipalities on the day this regime took power was $3.8 trillion, today that number is $5.8 trillion.

This level of fiscal deterioration in the nation's public finances, occurring at the governmental level, has also been seen throughout business and industry. For example, on the day this regime came to power, aggregate U.S. corporate pension account deficits were $263 billion; today those deficits are $1.5 trillion.

…Furthermore, when it comes to how this fiscal degradation of the nation has affected the people, it is very obvious. We have seen, because of business and industry, certain industry segments, which the Republican Party relies on to stay in business, effectively increase costs of good and services to levels never before reached.

We have seen no effort by this regime to control health-care cost. Indeed, the Kaiser Family Foundation pointed out, in its September 2004 study, that under the Bush-Cheney regime aggregate health-care costs had risen 45%. Furthermore, under this regime, some 42 million citizens have lost their medical insurance.

Also, as another tangential effect of Bushonomics, U.S. individual personal bankruptcy filings have more than doubled under this regime and will, indeed, reach a record 2.5 million in 2005, bringing the total number of personal bankruptcy filings having occurred under the Bush Cheney regime at that time to 10 million.

Small business bankruptcy filings, which had been averaging 350,000 a year when this regime first came to power, will exceed 800,000 in 2005.

And this is what I think is the most startling statistic of all. If one asked me, What is the most startling economic statistic which points to the magnitude of the deterioration of the public finances of this nation that have occurred under the scourge of Bushonomics redux, I would point out that: On the day that the current regime came to power, the United States was contributing 16% to the planet's total net savings rate; today we are consuming 83% of the planet's total net savings rate, in order to continue to service Bushonian triple deficits–current account, budget and trade–and to otherwise service aggregate U.S. national debt.

That is simply an astounding number: to go from representing a positive 16% of the planet's net savings rate to now representing a minus 83% of it.

How is that possible? What skews the number a little bit is that this regime came in inheriting 4 years of fiscal surpluses, and then promptly, within the first year it was in office, proceeded to deplete the $158-billion fiscal surplus it had inherited from its predecessor. That's what skews those numbers.

We have gone from a position, in the year 1999, of a $263-billion fiscal budget surplus to now, 6 years later, the year 2005, what will be, on a real basis, a federal budget deficit of $500 billion plus, on a real basis. This is a 3/4-of-a-trillion-dollar budgetary turnaround. It is almost inconceivable.

The consumption in the nation is now falling, as can be seen in the personal income and spending numbers. Another astounding statistic that bespeaks of the economic deterioration that Bushonomics has visited upon the nation is the fact that on the day this regime came to power, the national personal savings rate was 6.9%.

Now it is a negative number -.3% (minus .3%) the first time in the history of the republic that the nation has had a negative net savings rate. This has been primarily due to the enormous buildup in what is called 'consumer non-mortgage installment debt,' which, when this regime first took office, was $863 billion, and, as of now, is $2.25 trillion.

Consumption, now falling, is likely to continue to fall; in that the nation's real wages, i.e., wages ex of inflation, have fallen in the last 13 months and will most likely continue to fall. Record consumer debt levels combined with falling real wages does not auger well for the maintenance of consumption.

The dangerous loose-money policy of Bushonomics has also created numerous speculative bubbles. Loose-money policy means "accommodative." The Feds' accommodative monetary stance under this regime has helped create numerous speculative bubbles in asset classes, most notably real estate.

We would note that one of the most dangerous statistics we find in real estate is one that is oftentimes overlooked because pro-Bush-net financial media doesn't like to remind the citizens of what they themselves have done; namely, under this regime, there has been a $500-billion draw-down in equity of residential property via home lines of credit or the placement of additional mortgages. Indeed, it has been this bleed-out in equity, although median national real estate prices, residential real estate prices, have increased 53% under this regime.

Although there is a 53% increase in property prices under this regime, the national median homeowner debt-to-equity ratio has actually fallen by 4%.

That gives you an idea of just how much money has been bled out of real estate in order to support consumption, and how dangerous a bubble this actually is, this speculative bubble in real estate. It is much more dangerous than was the speculative bubble in real estate of 1989, wherein, from the 4th quarter of 1989 to the second quarter of 1991, median real estate values in the nation fell 17%.

When this speculative bubble in real estate breaks, the decline will be greater than it was in 1991. And, indeed, no reliable estimates of a potential decline can be made; in that we are now faced with a situation of falling consumption, rising interest rates, rising inflation, a diminished home-equity-to-mortgage value, compounded by record foreclosure rates, wherein now one out of every 16 pieces of privately owned residential property in the nation is either in foreclosure or in the process thereof.

We keep seeing the phrase, "unprecedented in history" again and again. What this means is that our perceptions and our tookits of responses to what is happening will not be adequate since they were formed in historical times that can offer no model for what we are about to experience.  Here is Max Fraad Wolf, who links the credit-driven housing bubble in the U.S. to the role of the United States in the world economy today:

US housing prices and consumer spending- marching in lock step- have delinked from household earnings, long term trends and sustainability. In 2003, half of the nation's $7 trillion in mortgage debt was either originated or refinanced. Credit availability, 40-year low interest rates and rising debt tolerance seized the reins from prudence and off we went.

Total mortgage debt has gone up at a pace and achieved levels for which history and international comparison offer no precedent. Perhaps, it is just that the rest of the world and the past were populated by idiots who needlessly stifled credit expansion due to pathetic lack of innovative vision and creativity. Price inflation enabled refinancing and home equity line of credit bonanza. The cash out and borrow more feeding frenzy is being used to keep consumer spending and the economy outperforming reasonable expectation. The story of our housing bubble is inextricably the story of the US and global economic imbalances. Housing is a microcosm of the US role in the global economy. In this opera the homebuyers are America and the lenders are our foreign creditors. It would be impossible to over state the significance of what is at stake. The home is the only major asset most Americans posses, and the largest portfolio element for millions more.

The home is fortress, symbol of American prosperity and the cornerstone of middle class society. For millions home ownership is a badge of pride, proof of middle class-dom and lender of first and last resort. The loose money policy and over extension of credit that has allowed us to ride out the explosion of past bubbles now imperils. If a worst case scenario unfolds a significant portion of the American middle class will fall.

The parallel between this situation and the dramatically declining US net international investment position, NIIP, should be evident. The endless sale of housing equity represents the desperate attempt to trade purchasing power now for a pledge of future income. This nicely approximates the continuing sale of future tax revenues, earnings and profits to foreign nationals by the US economy. For consumers, this takes the form of mortgage borrowing, refinancing and home equity credit line withdrawals. For the US economy this is done by selling Treasuries, GSE bonds and corporate bonds to whomever will buy them, mainly foreign central banks and investors. It is no accident, and entirely correlated, that the domestic housing and global imbalance bubbles have been inflating together, particularly since 2000.  

...Housing's parallel to the American debt position is irresistible. We are making unspectacular gains based heavily on massive capital inflows that must be repaid. Now we face prospects of much lower inflows and rising interest rates. This is creating a household and national debt fragility of epic proportion.

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Is your boss a psychopath?

Probably, if we are to believe the results of a new scientific study, says Oliver James
Monday April 18, 2005
The Guardian

Many years ago I worked for a man who forced a pair of employees who had just ended their relationship to move to adjacent workstations. He did it purely for his amusement. Doubtless everyone has a story of this ilk. But scientific evidence that leaders really are different in their personal pathology from the rest of us has been lacking - until now. Case studies by psychologists have claimed that "successful psychopaths" really exist. These are portrayed as emotionally detached, with superficial charm and an unbounded preparedness to use others, differing only from personality-disordered criminal psychopaths in being law-abiding and less impulsive. Because such reports are ultimately anecdotal, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon of Surrey University decided to test whether there was any overlap between the personalities of business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalised criminals (psychopathic and psychiatrically ill). Their results, published last month, make startling reading.

Board and Fritzon found that three of 11 personality disorders (PDs) were actually commoner in managers than in disturbed criminals. The first was histrionic PD, entailing superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity and manipulativeness. There was also a higher incidence of narcissism: grandiosity, self-focused lack of empathy for others, exploitativeness and independence. Finally, there was more compulsive PD in the managers, including perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness and dictatorial tendencies.

So far, so David Brent, and it's easy to see how these characteristics might contribute to office skills. But unlike Brent, these bosses were less likely to have several career-stopping PD traits. They were less prone to physical aggression, irresponsibility and law-breaking (antisocial PD); they had less impulsivity, suicidal gestures and emotional instability (borderlines); and they were less prone to hostility followed by contrition (passive-aggressives). David Brent's possession of several of these traits explain his managerial failure (and if The Office had continued, are why he would have ended up in psychiatric care).

Other studies have revealed, rather surprisingly, that mental ability does not in itself result in success. It has to be combined with exceptional social skills and of these, chameleonism and machiavellianism - common in many PDs - are important. Since such people earn more and go higher than ones without these traits, it supports the idea that many leaders have PDs. But perhaps the most persuasive indirect evidence concerns leaders' deeper motivations.

In almost all the fields where a study has been done, a third of the highest achievers lost a parent before the age of 14 (compared with 8% in the general population). This is true in surveys of prime ministers, US presidents and entrepreneurs. Left high and dry at a young age, they have resolved to snatch hold of their destiny. It suggests adversity is the key to exceptional achievement: it's not that little bit more that drives the powerful, it's that little bit less.

There is also evidence that most PDs are caused by childhood maltreatment rather than genes. Several studies suggest that deprivation of love in infancy creates a potential for the disorder which is more likely to be fulfilled if there is subsequent abuse or neglect. At least half of people with PDs suffered abuse in childhood.

For many high achievers, the pursuit of status is a compensation for feelings of worthlessness and despair caused by early adversity. They want to be recognised by strangers because needs went unrecognised in infancy; want money to feel richer than others because they felt poorer, emotionally, as children; and want to have control over others because they were rendered impotent by parental care. They reveal the chain linking childhood adversity to PD to exceptional success.

Such people seem peculiarly ill-suited to the job of setting the parameters of our everyday lives. Most of us do not like working seven days a week for years on end. We take all the holiday we can. That our political and business bosses are so different - driven, even desperate people, compensating for their distress with workaholia - makes them the very last citizens you would logically select to decide your work-life balance.

A few years ago I chaired a debate between several British business figures, of whom one was Sir Brian Pitman (head of Lloyds TSB for 18 years). Over lunch, he revealed that his father had died before he was old enough to know him. Speaking in the debate, he told us that if we thought the present environment was competitive, we "ain't seen nothing yet". Over the next five years companies would be forced to become far more efficient. The principle of "up or out" would become universal: if you don't do well enough to be promoted, you get fired.

I asked if he was concerned about the increased stress this would cause. To my surprise, he appeared not to have given the idea any consideration. Finally, he commented that "you will never stop progress. Children will always want to outdo their parents".

Of course, for those of us who are never going to get near the top of any organisation, the idea that leaders are several sandwiches short of a picnic is reassuring. While we may like to think of ourselves as their moral superiors, we may also be motivated to look down from this moral high ground out of a mixture of envy, thwarted ambition and dislike for authority.

What's more, while leadership is often a dirty business, someone's got to do it. I don't want to work all the time and you probably don't either. Surely you'd prefer a superefficient workaholic to be representing your interests if the alternative was an easygoing, decent chap who couldn't politic his way out of a paper bag?

But these are not the only options. I visited Denmark last year while writing a book about middle-class affluenza. Interviewing Toeger Seidenfaden, a newspaper editor, I was staggered to hear that he leaves work at 4.30pm. British editors are usually still in the office long after their kids have been put to bed. But Toeger has to collect the kids from school and cook the supper and he claims that only a tiny minority of high-achieving Danes are any different. Working long hours is simply culturally unacceptable.

Quite how we get from our Americanised society to one where top editors knock off at teatime I leave to other, harder-working people to decide. Only of this am I sure: the Danes probably don't have the best lager in the world, but emulating their working practices would do us all a power of good.

Comment: Some psychopaths are born; others are made. To succeed in our dog eat dog world, people must take on the traits of the psychopath. The study cited may show that this is more likely to happen to those, like the leaders mentioned in the article, who faced abuse and a lack of love in childhood.

For more on psychopathy, a domain in which we have been interested for several years, check out our pages on the subject. Also, download and read the book The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, one of the key academic texts on the subject, available on our site as a free pdf download.

To understand how psychopaths are made in our society, check our Laura Knight-Jadczyk's article Official Culture.

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Confusion mounts over Iraqi hostage crisis
Last Updated Sun, 17 Apr 2005 21:44:57 EDT
CBC News

NEAR MADAIN, IRAQ - Conflicting reports are surfacing over what appears to be a mass hostage-taking in a town south of Baghdad.

Iraqi security forces surrounded Madain on Sunday after reports that Sunni militants had abducted as many as 150 Shias. But some reports said the troops had only sealed off the town, while others said they had entered it and clashed with hostage-takers.

Estimates of the number of hostages ranged from dozens to 150, but some Sunni leaders insisting that the whole story was untrue.

The incident in Madain, some 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, has sparked fears of wider sectarian strife between Iraq's Shia majority and the Sunnis at a time when leaders from both communities are seeking agreement on the make-up of a government.

Legislators warn against sectarian violence

A number of legislators expressed outrage in Parliament on Sunday, painting it as an attempt to plunge the country into civil war.

"We have to acknowledge the truth that there is an attempt to draw the country into a sectarian war," Iraq's security minister, Qassem Dawoud, told the parliament on Sunday.

"There are people who want the Iraqi project to fail. What is going on in Madain is targeting the unity of the Iraqi people," a Shia legislator said.

The incident started on Thursday, when Shia leaders said Sunni militants bombed a mosque in Madain. They said masked militants drove through the streets on Friday and captured hostages, threatening to kill them unless all Shias left the town of 1,000.

The country's most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged the government to end the crisis peacefully.

Raid reported to have freed hostages

Dawoud said three battalions of Iraqi soldiers and police, backed by U.S. troops, had been sent to Madain and were planning a major assault later in the week on the region – an insurgent stronghold nicknamed the "Triangle of Death" by the U.S. military.

Earlier Sunday, a Defense Ministry official, Haidar Khayon, said Iraqi forces had freed about 15 Shia families in a raid and captured five militants.

However, Iraqi officials hadn't produced any hostages by Sunday night.

Hostage taking a hoax, some Sunni leaders say

Several prominent Sunni leaders questioned whether the hostage taking had even occurred.

A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, an organization of Sunni clerics, called the incident a false rumour.

"This news is completely untrue," Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi told al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television network.

The Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, headed by the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also denied there had been any hostage-taking in a statement posted on an Islamic website Sunday.

The statement painted the story as an excuse to target Sunnis in Madain.

U.S. activist killed by car bomb

Elsewhere on Sunday, militants killed at least eight Iraqis in various attacks aimed at the police and government employees.

The U.S. military said three American troops were killed and seven others wounded as insurgents fired mortar rounds late Saturday at a Marine base near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

That raised Saturday's death toll to 24, including an American woman who founded a humanitarian group to help Iraqi civilian casualties.

U.S. officials said on Sunday that a suicide car bomber in Baghdad had killed Marla Ruzicka, 27, who led the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, and two other civilians.

Comment: Whether or not there is any validity to the claims of a hostage crisis in Maidan, one thing seems certain; the U.S. occupation forces benefit greatly from increasing sectarian strife between the Sunnis and the Shias in Iraq. As long as the Iraqi people remain divided and fighting amongst themselves, they can offer no unified resistance against the foreign American invaders. Thus, the occupiers can then legitimize establishing a permanent presence in the region under the illusion of maintaining law and order.

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U.S. Military's Elite Hacker Crew
By John Lasker
02:00 AM Apr. 18, 2005 PT

The U.S. military has assembled the world's most formidable hacker posse: a super-secret, multimillion-dollar weapons program that may be ready to launch bloodless cyberwar against enemy networks -- from electric grids to telephone nets.

The group's existence was revealed during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last month. Military leaders from U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, disclosed the existence of a unit called the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare, or JFCCNW.

In simple terms and sans any military jargon, the unit could best be described as the world's most formidable hacker posse. Ever.

The JFCCNW is charged with defending all Department of Defense networks. The unit is also responsible for the highly classified, evolving mission of Computer Network Attack, or as some military personnel refer to it, CNA.

But aside from that, little else is known. One expert on cyber warfare said considering the unit is a "joint command," it is most likely made up of personnel from the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, the four military branches, a smattering of civilians and even military representatives from allied nations.

"They are a difficult nut to crack," said Dan Verton, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer. "They're very reluctant to talk about operations." Verton is author of the book Black Ice, which investigates the threats cyber terrorism and vandalism could have on military and financial networks.

Verton said the Defense Department talks often about the millions it spends on defending its networks, which were targeted last year nearly 75,000 times with intrusion attempts. But the department has never admitted to launching a cyber attack -- frying a network or sabotaging radar -- against an enemy, he said.

Verton said the unit's capabilities are highly classified, but he believes they can destroy networks and penetrate enemy computers to steal or manipulate data. He said they may also be able to set loose a worm to take down command-and-control systems so the enemy is unable to communicate and direct ground forces, or fire surface-to-air missiles, for example.

Some of the U.S. military's most significant unified commands, such as Stratcom, are undergoing a considerable reorganization. Stratcom, based at the massive Offutt Air Force base in eastern Nebraska and responsible for much of the nation's nuclear arsenal, has been ordered by the Defense Department to take over the JFCCNW.

To better understand the secret program, several questions about the unit were submitted to Stratcom.

Capt. Damien Pickart, a Stratcom spokesman, issued a short statement in response: "The DOD is capable of mounting offensive CNA. For security and classification reasons, we cannot discuss any specifics. However, given the increasing dependence on computer networks, any offensive or defensive computer capability is highly desirable."

Nevertheless, Verton says military personnel have told him numerous "black programs" involving CNA capabilities are ongoing, while new polices and rules of engagement are now on the books.

The ground was prepared in the summer of 2002, when President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 16, which ordered the government to prepare national-level guidance on U.S. policies for launching cyber attacks against enemies.

"I've got to tell you we spend more time on the computer network attack business than we do on computer network defense because so many people at very high levels are interested," said former CNA commander, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Bradley, during a speech at a 2002 Association of Old Crows conference. The group is the leading think tank on information and electronic warfare.

Last summer, the internet-posted execution of American civilian Nicholas Berg sparked a debate about the offensive capabilities of the CNA program, said retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Dietz.

The Berg execution, a gruesome example of Netpolitiking (.pdf), sparked a back-room debate at the highest levels, involving the State Department, the Department of Justice and the Defense Department, said Dietz.

The debate focused on whether the United States should shut down a website as soon as it posts such brutality.

"There are some tremendous questions being raised about this," said Dietz. "On whether they (JFCCNW) have the legal mandate or the authority to shut these sites down with a defacement or a denial-of-service attack."

Dietz knows a thing or two about information warfare. He led NATO's "I-War" against Serbia in the mid-1990s -- a conflict that many believe was the occasion for the U.S. military to launch its first wave of cyber attacks against an enemy. One story widely reported, but never confirmed, described how a team of military ops was dropped into Serbia, and after cutting a wire leading to a major radar hub, planted a device that emitted phantom targets on Serb radar.

Rita Katz, an expert on Islamic terror sites and director of the Washington, D.C.-based Search for International Terrorist Entities, believes a website that posts an execution should be taken out immediately. No matter what the implications are for free speech or other nation's laws, she said.

"There is no good, no value in those sites to exist anymore," said Katz. However, Katz promotes the theory that some terror sites, especially those whose servers are in the United States, should remain up and running for intelligence purposes.

Dietz believes it could only be a matter of time before a U.S. soldier faces a similar fate as Berg. Yet along with raising questions about free speech, he realizes shutting down a website has its limitations.

After discovering that's servers, which hosted video of Berg's execution, were within its borders, the Malaysian government shut the site down. But it took the Malaysian government more than a day to act. By then, the Berg video was well on its way to becoming a global recruiting tool for terror groups. And even if a website were to be knocked offline, eventually such highly-charged political statements would find a way onto the internet, Dietz said.

Verton said the Berg debate is actually an extension of a cyber warfare debate started several years ago.

"The reality is, once you press that Enter button, you can't control it," he said. "If the government were to release a virus to take down an enemies' network, their radar, their electrical grid, you have no control what the virus might do after that."

Comment: Aren't the guys and gals fighting in Iraq in US uniforms fighting for freedom and democracy according to the fearless leader of the new imperial power? And isn't one of the cornerstones of this freedom supposed to be freedom of speech? So how come they can take it upon themselves to stifle the free expression of those with whom they do not agree?

Sure, today it is against those who put up the video of the supposed execution of Nick Berg. But what happens tomorrow when more and more voices within the US start being raised against the fascist monster now extending its tentacles throughout US society? The right-wing is already denouncing liberals as un-American! Liberals for god's sake! People who don't even have the wherewithal to admit to themselves that 9/11 was an inside job, people who still have faith in the Democratic Party! These people are un-American, are traitors!

Where does that leave anyone who has the eyes to see what is really going on in the world today?

How much longer will web sites such as ours be available?

We have seen this coming for several years. We have been talking about it, warning our readers. How many people have taken those words seriously?

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Huge Rally in Jakarta Against Israel
April 17, 2005 12:47 PM,

Tens of thousands of members and supporters of Indonesia's Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) have staged a massive rally in Jakarta to protest efforts by Jewish extremists to enter the disputed Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem.

Right-wing Israelis grouped in the Revava organization have this month been threatening to mobilize thousands of supporters to seize the holy site, which the Jews call the Temple Mount compound. Israeli police have so far prevented the radicals from entering the site, which also contains the golden Dome of the Rock (Omar Mosque).

Muslims, who call the site Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), fear the extremist Jews want to demolish Al-Aqsa and build a synagogue in its place.

Revava has been trying to surround Al-Aqsa to protest the planned withdrawal of 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian radicals have responded to the Jewish threats by appealing to the entire Muslim world to protect Al-Aqsa.

PKS, which holds the most seats in Jakarta's provincial legislative assembly, responded enthusiastically to the call. Thousands of the party's supporters began rallying at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle at 8am Sunday (17/4/05) and marched down Jalan Thamrin, the city's main thoroughfare, to the heavily fortified US Embassy on Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan.

Members of at least 130 local chapters of PKS from Jakarta, West Java and Banten created severe traffic congestion as they marched down one side of the street while chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving Palestinian flags. Several children and babies were brought along to join the huge rally.

Dressed mostly in white, the protesters carried banners with slogans such as 'Al-Aqsa is our mosque, not their synagogue', 'Israel = Terrorists', 'Save Al-Aqsa, Free Palestine', 'Got to Hell Zionist Israel', 'Jihad against arrogant Jews' and 'Raid the Jews'. Some of the protesters wore black outfits in the style of Palestine's radical Hamas group and carried toy guns. [...]

Despite the absence of official diplomatic links, Israel has long maintained covert ties with Indonesia. According to some reports, Israel's intelligence agency Mossad, under the cover of a business office, has been present in Jakarta for years.

Reports say Indonesian officers have been trained in Israel in anti-terrorist methods, and intelligence agencies of both countries have been exchanging information since the late 1960s. [...]


The First Temple of the Jews was built at the site during the reign of King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant. Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon later forced the Jews into exile, plundered their treasures and destroyed the temple in 587 BC.

The Jews later returned to Jerusalem and built a Second Temple on the site in 515 BC, although the scared Ark of the Covenant had long been missing. The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. The only remaining part of Solomon's original temple is the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, which is the holiest place of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews.

Muslims built the Dome of the Rock in 687 BC. The Prophet Mohammad is said to have flown on a winged horse-like animal from Mecca to the site in Jerusalem, from where he ascended a golden ladder to Heaven. The compound is the third holiest site to most Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

Comment: The "war on terror" is a cover behind which the Washington NeoCons, in league with Israel, are actively setting up a false clash of civilisations between the Muslim and Christian worlds. By perpetrating the 9/11 attack and then blaming it on Muslim terrorists and then demonising all Muslims as terrorists by inciting them to revolt against US and Israeli aggressions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, a global "atmosphere" is being crafted that will allow for the igniting of a major nuclear conflagration. Just you wait Henry Higgins...

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Erekat Warns of 'Biggest Prison in History'
Friday, April 15 2005

"'The Israelis are trying to lock the Palestinians in Gaza and keep the key in their hands..'"

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Tuesday that Israel's position to carry out the "disengagement" plan without coordinating with the Palestine National Authority (PNA) will turn the Gaza Strip into "the biggest prison in history."

"[The Israeli government] is restraining us and throwing us to the sea," the senior Palestinian official slammed Israel's go-it-alone plan in a press conference held at the Peres Centre for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Reacting to Israeli "Defense" Minister Shaul Mofaz's plan to phase out Palestinian permits to enter Israel, Erekat said that he was afraid that following disengagement, Israel would try to control all exits from the Strip by land, air and sea.

Erekat further warned that the Israel's policies are pushing the Palestinians to the edge. "The Israelis are trying to lock the Palestinians in Gaza and keep the key in their hands," Erekat said.

"If you want to leave Gaza, we are not going to stop you. But if you want a partner, questions will have to be answered regarding the border with Egypt, the passage between Gaza and the West Bank, the transition of the Gaza Strip economy away from its dependence on labor in Israel, and on third party control of borders and airports," he added.

Erekat praised US President George W. Bush for stressing in his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that disengagement should lead into the implementation of the roadmap peace plan.

He said that he believes that a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians could be reached within six months.

"Israel has nothing to lose by telling the Palestinians now that the day after disengagement, permanent-status negotiations will begin," Erekat said. "Tell us that disengagement is part of the road map and not an alternative to it, because that is what we fear."

Rice Reiterates US Opposition to Settlement Activity

In another development, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday afternoon to brief him on the Sharon-Bush talks, and on the American position regarding expansion of illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian Territory.

According to senior Palestinian sources, Rice made it clear to Abbas that Washington is against settlement expansion, and that the President's position is that the settlements issue will be resolved in the final status negotiations and not by creating a new status quo on the ground. [...]

Bush also praised the Palestinian leadership. "I appreciate the fact that they've taken some action on security," Bush said of the Palestinians. "We want to continue to work with them on consolidating security forces."

"I told the [Israeli] prime minister not to undertake any activity that contravenes the Roadmap or prejudices final status obligations," Bush added.

Comment: Talk is cheap. Even as the Israeli leadership and lobby groups cry "never again", the Israeli government, with the full support of Jewish and Israel lobby groups and the US government, is pushing forward with plans that appear to be a carbon copy of the actions of the Nazis in WWII in relation to minority groups. The Gaza pullout is being portrayed as a concession towards peace by Sharon, yet, in reality, it is simply one part of his final solution to "the Palestinian question." If you do not see this then you find yourself in the same position as ordinary Germans during WWII who also denied that which was staring them in the face.

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Israeli minister voices opposition to further pullout from W. Bank 2005-04-18 22:56:56

JERUSALEM, April 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has voiced opposition to any further pullout from the West Bank, the Jerusalem Post reported on its website Monday.

Netanyahu praised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for denying a report that Sharon intended to initiate a second disengagement planfrom the West Bank.

Netanyahu said a further withdrawal will be interpreted by Israel's enemy as a surrender to terror.

Israel will pull out forces and settlers from all 21 settlementsin the Gaza Strip and four out of 120 in northern West Bank, a process starting from July 20.

The plan has already drawn strong opposition from extremist Jewish groups, which said the move might be seen as capitulation toPalestinian attacks.

Netanyahu said Israel should make efforts to end Palestinian terror, violence and incitement following the disengagement which costs 1.5 billion US dollars.

Meanwhile, reports said Monday that Sharon is mulling a request by head of the government's Disengagement Administration, Yonaton Bassi, to postpone the pullout plan by three weeks.

Bassi proposed the pullout be delayed until after the traditional mourning over the destruction of two ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem.

If Bassi's proposal is accepted, the disengagement will begin onAug. 15.

Jewish rabbis also pressed for the postponement, citing Orthodoxtradition.

Sharon has previously turned down military and governmental requests to delay the disengagement for logistical and planning reasons, fearing any postponement might give ultranationalists moretime to block the pullout.

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Virginia Offers Incentives to Lure Israeli Companies
Sun Apr 17, 2:17 PM ET

JERUSALEM - Virginia's governor on Sunday unveiled a plan aimed at strengthening business collaboration between Israel and U.S. agencies through a series of incentives to Israeli companies.

As part of the "Norfolk Program," Virginia will offer financial grants of $5,000 to more than $1 million and other incentives to Israeli companies who build technology centers, or production, assembly and distribution centers in the state.

The plan was presented by Gov. Paul Fraim, who is in Israel this weekend meeting with Israeli companies and attending a conference in Jerusalem.

Norfolk "has emerged as a growing complex of security and technologies industries. Its location on the east coast of the United States makes it an excellent springboard for starting business operations across the United States," Fraim said in a statement.

Virginia will send a team of officials to Israel in early May to meet with Israeli companies specializing in homeland security and marine technology. Six Israeli companies found eligible for the program will be invited for a second round of talks in the United States in June.

Fraim said that Israeli companies can respond to numerous unmet business, industrial and technological needs in the United States. He said that, for example, the Virginia Port Authority is looking for solutions to revamp the communication systems of its policing department as part of fortifying its Internet security.

The state's new homeland security division is currently allocating large resources to protect critical infrastructures.

"The Division's 2005 budget has earmarked $145 million for funding protection systems for railway, truck and public transportation infrastructures," Fraim said. "For 2006, it plans to expand this initiative to protection of power plants as well. I am certain that with the assistance we offer, Israeli companies will find ample opportunities for doing business in Virginia."

The Norfolk Program is sponsored and organized by the Virginia Israel Advisory Board, a unit in the Office of the Governor of Virginia dedicated to promoting the commonwealth of Virginia's trade and business ties between the state and Israeli companies.

Comment: The Virginia Israel Advisory Board?? There's nothing like getting the state of Virginia to pay Mossad to set up front companies involved in homeland security in the US.

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Scare stories about terrorist threat blown away
by Duncan Campbell
The Irish Times

Evidence prosecution lawyers tried to link to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda in trials of terrorist suspects has been shown to be false.

04/15/05 "The Irish Times" - - Colin Powell does not need more humiliation over the manifold errors in his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations. But on Wednesday a London jury brought down another section of the case he made for war - that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe, including a London ricin ring.

Wednesday's verdicts on five defendants, and the dropping of charges against four others, made it clear there was no ricin ring. Nor did the "ring" make or have ricin. Not that the government shared that news with the British public. Until today, the public record for the past three fear-inducing years has been that ricin was found in the Wood Green flat occupied by some of Wednesday's acquitted defendants. It was not.

The third plank of the al-Qaeda/Iraq poison theory was the link between what Powell labelled the "UK poison cell" and training camps in Afghanistan. The evidence the British government wanted to use to connect the defendants to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda was never put to the jury. That was because last autumn a trial within a trial was secretly taking place. This was a private contest between a group of scientists from the Porton Down military research centre and myself. The issue was: where had the information on poisons and chemicals come from?

The information - five pages in Arabic, containing amateur instructions for making ricin, cyanide and botulinum, and a list of chemicals used in explosives - was at the heart of the case. The notes had been made by Kamel Bourgass, the sole convicted defendant. His co-defendants believed that he had copied the information from the internet. The prosecution claimed that it had come from Afghanistan.

I was asked to look for the original source on the internet. This meant exploring Islamist websites which publish Bin Laden and his sympathisers, and plumbing the most prolific source of information on how to do harm: the writings of the American survivalist right and the gun lobby. The experience of being an expert witness on these issues has made me feel a great deal safer on the streets of London. These were the internal documents of the supposed al-Qaeda cell planning the "big one" in Britain. But the recipes were untested and unoriginal, borrowed from US sources. Moreover, ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is a poison which has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted killings.

It was the discovery of a copy of Bourgass's notes in Thetford in 2002 which inspired the wave of horror stories, and government announcements and preparations for poison-gas attacks. It is true that when the team from Porton Down entered the Wood Green flat in January 2003, their field equipment registered the presence of ricin. But these were high-sensitivity field detectors, for use where a false negative result could be fatal.

A few days later, Dr Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, found that there was no ricin. However, when this result was passed to London, the message reportedly said the opposite.

The planned government case on links to Afghanistan was based solely on papers which a freelance journalist working for the Times had scooped up after the US invasion of Kabul. Some were in Arabic, some in Russian. They were far more detailed than Bourgass's notes. Nevertheless, claimed Porton Down chemistry chief Dr Chris Timperley, they showed a "common origin and progression" in the methods, thus linking the London group of North Africans to Afghanistan and Bin Laden. The weakness of Dr Timperley's case was that neither he nor the intelligence services had examined any other documents which could have been the source. We were told that Porton Down and its intelligence advisers had never previously heard of the "Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, containing recipes for ricin and much more". This document, written by veterans of the 1980s Afghan war, has been on the internet since 1998.

All the information roads led west - not to Kabul, but to California and the US midwest. The ricin recipes now seen on the internet were invented 20 years ago by survivalist Kurt Saxon, who advertises books and videos on the internet. Before the ricin ring trial began, I called him in Arizona. For $110, he sent me CDs and videos on bombs, missiles, booby-traps - and ricin. We gave a copy of the ricin video to the police. When, in October, I showed that the chemical lists found in London were an exact copy of pages on an internet site in Palo Alto, California, the prosecution gave up on the Kabul and al-Qaeda claims.

The most ironic twist was an attempt to introduce an "al-Qaeda manual" into the case. The manual - called the Manual of the Afghan Jihad - had been found on a raid in Manchester in 2000. It was given to the FBI to produce in the 2001 New York trial relating to the first attack on the World Trade Centre.

But it was not an al-Qaeda manual. The name was invented by the US department of justice in 2001 and the contents were rushed on to the internet to aid a presentation to the Senate by the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, supporting the US Patriot Act. To show that the manual was written in the 1980s during the US-supported war against the Soviet occupation was easy. The ricin recipe it contained was a direct translation from a 1988 US book - The Poisoner's Handbook by Maxwell Hutchkinson.

We have all been victims of this mass deception. I do not doubt that Bourgass would have contemplated causing harm if he was competent to do so. But he was an Islamist yobbo on his own, not an al-Qaeda-trained super-terrorist.

Comment: In the above we have proof enough that the US and British governments are deliberately lying about the extent and nature of the terrorist threat, so why is it so hard to believe that the entire war on terror, and that which gave rise to it, was also fabricated?

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The road to hell
Saturday February 12, 2005
The Guardian

Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats is grimly prescient in light of the US torture revelations in Abu Ghraib, says Albert Scardino

This book is Jon Ronson's attempt to understand the path that led to Abu Ghraib and the interrogation methods used there. On the way, he plays the fool, letting us laugh nervously at the outlandish ideas concocted by American psychological warfare researchers since the 1950s. They try to kill goats by staring at them. They attempt to walk through walls by concentrating on lining up the atomic particles in their own bodies with the atomic spaces in the wall. They play music from children's educational TV shows very loudly at a prisoner in a shipping container on a disused railway siding to make him more willing to answer questions.

We laugh at the outlandishness, but knowing what we know now it all takes on the tone of concentration camp humour. We know the music and the flashing lights came first at Abu Ghraib. After the "Barney the Dinosaur" song, though, came what the International Committee of the Red Cross describes as torture. Victims received forced enemas in their cells to make them shit on themselves, then were left to wallow in it for days. They were stripped, hooded, shackled, abandoned cold and hungry, then attacked by dogs. Some were strangled to death. According to Ronson's witnesses, the senior military officers at the prison were having sex with the junior personnel while the prisoners were raping each other.

Ronson does not tell all the details of that story. He tells the 15 chapters that went before. He lets the daily headlines write his conclusion, but he takes us far enough down this path that there is no avoiding the end. He searches for the origins of the philosophy of American military torture and then lets us follow the string he finds.

What he finds leaves no doubt about the worst abuses, about the approval of the torture by Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez and Bush. Rumsfeld visited the prison, so did one of Rice's aides. Ronson found at least one person who knew they had been there and when. This individual worked the night shift in charge of the super-classified computer system. They all had to go to him for their user names and passwords. He describes the Rumsfeld-level visitors as being on a torture tour.

The psy-ops, as the non-traditional warriors are known, had been preparing for Abu Ghraib for a long time. Ronson describes one CIA programme from the 50s that involved getting prisoners addicted to heroin, then stopping the fixes to see if the stress of withdrawal would make them more cooperative. The enlisting of doctors to monitor the acceptable level of torture, as revealed recently, seems a clear derivative of these programmes. Ronson finds a Dr Oliver Lowery of Georgia who has patented a method of using subliminal sounds to "silently induce and change the emotional state in a human being". Lowery appears to work for the CIA. Whether Lowery's ideas are workable (a man identifying himself as Lowery in a telephone interview suggests they have been widely used), the FBI adopted a subliminal sound approach to the siege at Waco, Texas, in 1993.

The flower children of military intelligence, the ones who thought subliminal sounds offered an alternative to warfare, lost out in the 90s. Sadists gained control of the system. Ronson meets one of them at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego, California: Pete Brusso. He shows off a new weapon that looks like a child's toy, a yellow plastic blob with a hole in the middle. It is designed as an information extraction machine, a torture tool. It is being carried by the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, Brusso says.

He rammed Ronson's finger through the hole in the device and then lifted him nearly off the floor with it. He pressed a serrated edge against Ronson's temple, causing him agony. "You can take eyeballs right out with this bit," he said, pointing to another edge. A tiny hook allows the interrogator to reach inside a victim's ear canal and lift him up with extraordinary pain but no visible wound.

Despite its black humour, this is a chilling story. The cranks, the hare-brains, the half-baked have indeed given way to the sadists, functionaries of an elected leadership waging a messianic war.

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US set to maintain naval forces in Gulf region: commander 2005-04-18 00:01:33

ABU DHABI, April 18 (Xinhuanet) -- US naval forces in the Gulf region will be maintained for the next one year at the same heightened levels of the past two years, David Nichols Jr., commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, said here on Monday.

The US naval forces will keep coordination with navies of Gulf states, as Gulf countries have become more aware of terrorist threats in the region, Nichols told reporters.

Regarding coordination with the United Arab Emirates Navy and navies of other Gulf states, he said that all the states in the region are now more aware of the terrorist threat and are doing what is required, adding that the US navy will maintain coordination with navies in the region as much as possible.

He said that due to globalization and the international nature of terrorist activities, no country could tackle the problem alone.

A mission of coalition naval forces is reportedly here in the Gulf region to help prevent terrorists from using the waters.

The coalition forces include navies of the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Australia and Pakistan. The forces survey all kinds of maritime activities.

The US commander said he was confident that the coalition would deter any terrorist from trying to use the waters of the Gulf region.

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Rice: UN Needs Overhaul to 'Survive as Vital Force'
By Saul Hudson
Fri Apr 15, 7:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the United Nations needed to be overhauled "to survive as a vital force," in the strongest criticism yet from a senior U.S. official amid a debate on U.N. reform.

Rice, who has chosen John Bolton, a longtime critic of the organization, to be her U.N. ambassador, said Washington needed to lead changes to fix an institution dogged by scandals over corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program and sexual abuse by peacekeepers.

"It is no secret to anyone that the United Nations cannot survive as a vital force in international politics if it does not reform -- if it doesn't reform its organizations, if it doesn't reform its secretariat, if it doesn't reform its management practices," she told a newspaper editors' conference.

Last month, Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed the most wide-ranging overhaul of the United Nations since its creation in 1945. He recommended the expansion of the U.N. Security Council, a radical program to combat poverty, a new human rights body and a condemnation of all forms of terrorism and a series of management and watchdog reforms.

"As important an institution as it is, one has to say that there are some things that are not so great about the United Nations right now. And everybody recognizes that. And we've got to fix it," Rice said.

President Bush has had strained relations with the United Nations. In his first term, he challenged it to avoid becoming irrelevant and ordered the invasion of Iraq without explicit U.N. approval before increasingly turning to the organization for support after the war.

Bolton, a hardline conservative who once said the United States should only make the United Nations work to benefit U.S. interests, has pledged to work to improve U.N. accountability and complained of overlapping programs and mandates.

"He is going to be a force for what is always needed in the United Nations: American leadership to update and reform and strengthen this great institution," Rice said. [...]

Comment: The problem in the eyes of Bush and the Neocons is not the corruption in the UN, but rather the fact that the UN is not always inclined to pat the US on the back and agree with everything the nation does. If the UN is reformed under "American leadership", it will truly become an irrelevant institution in the eyes of much of the rest of the world.

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Man throws bottle, sets himself on fire at Chinese Consulate in western Japan
Associated Press
April 17, 2005

TOKYO (AP) - A man set himself on fire after throwing a bottle at a Chinese consulate in western Japan Sunday in apparent anger at violent anti-Japanese rallies in China.

The unidentified man was stopped by two police officers when he approached the consulate early Sunday.

When questioned, he suddenly threw a glass bottle toward the consulate gate and burst into flames, said an Osaka prefectural (state) police spokesman on condition of anonymity.

The policemen extinguished the fire, which was believed to have been fueled by some kind of flammable liquid, he said.

The man suffered burns on his left hand and across his body and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, the spokesman said.

China has lodged a protest to the Japanese government over rising incidents of harassment directed at Chinese interests here amid escalating tensions between the two countries.

Postal packages containing razor blades, empty pistol shells and white powder have been sent to Chinese diplomatic missions across the country, according to police and media reports.

Vandals also smeared red paint on the Chinese ambassador's residence in Tokyo last week. [...]

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Toothpaste cancer alert
By Mark Prigg Science Correspondent And Rebecca Lawrence, Evening Standard
15 April 2005

Dozens of toothpastes sold at supermarkets are at the centre of a cancer alert today.

Anti-bacterial cleaning products, including dishwashing liquid and handwash, are also affected.

Researchers have discovered that triclosan, a chemical in the products, can react with water to produce chloroform gas. If inhaled in large enough quantities, chloroform can cause depression, liver problems and, in some cases, cancer.

An Evening Standard investigation found dozens of products on supermarket shelves containing the chemical, from brand names including Colgate, Aquafresh, Dentyl and Sensodyne.

Marks & Spencer confirmed today it was removing products containing triclosan from all its stores and has been working with Greenpeace to develop alternative products.

Asda said it was investigating the problem and would be urgently talking to its suppliers.

Giles Watson, a toxicology expert at wildlife charity WWF, warned that the long-term effects of exposure to chloroform were still unknown and advised consumers to check the bottles before buying products.

"These products produce low levels of chloroform, but that adds up over time. The amount of gas formed is very low but I think the key thing is that we just don't know what the effects are. However, manufacturers do have to list triclosan on their ingredients, so if consumers are worried the best advice is to avoid products with the chemical."

A Tesco spokesman said: "We do not use triclosan in any of our own-brand products, apart from one anti-bacterial handwash, which is being reformulated, and our toothpaste. We believe that triclosan is a very effective ingredient in toothpaste as it helps fight gum disease and improve overall oral care."

The Department of Trade and Industry said use of triclosan was tightly controlled under EU laws brought in last year, but that they were under constant review.

Researchers in the US found that the chlorine added to water in Britain reacted with triclosan to produce chloroform-gas. They found that it was possible for the chloroform produced when soap containing the chemical mixes with chlorinated water to be absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

Professor Peter Vikesland, of Virginia Tech University, who carried out the research, said: "This is the first work that we know of that suggests that consumer products, such as antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of chloroform." He has called for governments around the world to regulate the chemical more closely.

Products affected

Triclosan is in:

Dentyl mouthwash
Colgate Total fresh stripe
Colgate Total
Sensodyne Total Care
Tesco own brand toothpaste
Mentadent P; Aquafresh

Comment: In the US, triclosan is used in many other products, such as plastic antibacterial cutting boards.

There are countless chemicals in products we use every day that cause cancer, and much of the time we have no idea how harmful they are to our health. Nevertheless, the US government's primary concern is to stamp out smoking as the number one cause of cancer.

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Scientists say evidence mounting that chemical in plastic is dangerous
By Marla Cone
Seattle Times

Evidence is mounting that a chemical in plastic may be risky in the small amounts that seep from bottles and food packaging, according to a report to be published this week in a scientific journal.

Authors of the report, who reviewed more than 100 studies, urged the Environmental Protection Agency to re-evaluate the risks of bisphenol A and consider restricting its use.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been detected in nearly all human bodies tested in the United States. It is a key building block in the manufacture of hard, clear, polycarbonate plastics, including baby bottles, water bottles and other food and beverage containers. The chemical can leak from plastic, especially when containers are heated, cleaned with harsh detergents or exposed to acidic foods or drinks.

The plastics chemical is the focus of one of the most-contentious debates involving industrial compounds that can mimic sex hormones. Toxicologists say exposure to man-made hormones skews the developing reproductive systems and brains of newborn animals, and could be having the same effects on human fetuses and young children. [...]

In an interview yesterday, vom Saal, a reproductive biologist at University of Missouri, Columbia, said there is now an "overwhelming weight of evidence" that the plastics compound is harmful.

"This is a snowball running down a hill, where the evidence is accumulating at a faster and faster rate," vom Saal said. "You can't open a scientific journal related to sex hormones and not read an article that would just floor you about this chemical. ... The chemical industry's position that this is a weak chemical has been proven totally false. This is a phenomenally potent chemical as a sex hormone."

In their study, vom Saal and Hughes suggest an explanation for conflicting results of studies: 100 percent of the 11 funded by chemical companies found no risk, while 90 percent of the 104 government-funded, nonindustry studies reported harmful effects. [...]

There has been an escalating battle between vom Saal and the plastics industry since 1997, when vom Saal was the first to reveal low-dose effects in mice exposed to BPA. His discovery triggered a rash of new scientific studies by industry and government.

The chemical, used in polycarbonate plastics manufactured for half a century, is not subject to any bans.

Polycarbonate plastics, useful in items such as baby bottles because they are durable, lightweight and shatter-resistant, cannot be made without BPA.

Comment: But remember, we are told that we should blame it all on smoking...

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US study finds H-bomb tests still causing cancer in Marshalls 50 years on
Sun Apr 17, 4:49 PM ET

MAJURO - A US study has found that the number of cancers caused by hydrogen bomb testing in the Marshall Islands is set to double, more than half a century after the tests were conducted in the tiny Pacific nation.

The study by the US governments National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimated 530 cancers had already been caused by the tests, particularly the explosion of a 15 megaton hydrogen bomb codenamed Bravo on March 1, 1954.

It said another 500 cancers were likely to develop among Marshall Islanders who were exposed to radiation more than 50 years ago.

"We estimate that the nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands will cause about 500 additional cancer cases among Marshallese exposed during the years 1946-1958, about a nine percent increase over the number of cancers expected in the absence of exposure to regional fallout," the NCI study said.

The study said because of the young age of the population when exposed in the 1950s, more than 55 percent of cancers have yet to develop or be diagnosed.

The NCI completed the study in September last year but it was only publicly released last week after officials from the Marshall Islands noticed a reference to it in a US Congressional report and requested a copy.

It was prepared for the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is scheduled to launch hearings next month to review a petition from the Marshall Islands seeking more than three billion dollars in additional compensation for nuclear test damages and health care.

At the time of the Bravo test at Bikini Atoll, US officials played down the health implications for islanders.

Bikini Islanders were not evacuated despite their lands being engulfed in snow-like radioactive fallout for two-to-three days after the Bravo bomb, which was equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Although many islanders developed severe radiation burns and had their hair fall out as their land was engulfed in fallout, US Atomic Energy Commission authorities issued a statement following the test saying "there were no burns" and the islanders were in good health.

US officials later allowed islanders to return home to live in radioactive environments without performing any cleanup work on their islands.

The US paid 270 million dollars in a compensation package in the mid-1980s part of which went to the Majuro-based Nuclear Claims Tribunal.

But the tribunal says only a limited amount was made available for payouts and has described the original settlement as "manifestly inadequate".

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Most Samples Of Flu Strain Are Destroyed
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page A03

Most of the samples of a dangerous flu virus sent to laboratories around the world have been destroyed, easing concerns that the specimens might trigger a deadly pandemic, health officials said yesterday.

At least 15 of the 19 countries that received the virus confirmed that they had eliminated all samples, and officials were hopeful the remainder would be accounted for soon.

Bermuda, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Lebanon, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore and Taiwan confirmed that they had neutralized all their samples, along with a newly identified U.S. military lab in Britain, WHO said. Officials also determined that samples sent to labs in Lebanon, Chile and Mexico that never arrived had either been secured or already destroyed.

Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the only countries still tracing samples, Stohr said.

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Viagra ruled 'kosher for Passover'
Jerusalem Post

Rabbis have risen to the occasion and found a way for men who want to enjoy their Passover to take the erectile dysfunction medication Viagra without violating the laws about consuming hametz (leaven) leaven during the holiday.

Four years ago, The Jerusalem Post revealed in a widely quoted story that taking Viagra during Passover was forbidden by Jewish law because its coating was made with hametz.

Rabbi Menahem Rosenberg, the rabbi of Clalit Health Services, then confirmed that Viagra (sildenafil citrate) was not kosher for Passover because of the coating.

He noted that all drugs taken for life-threatening conditions, even if they contain leaven, can - and must - be taken during the holiday. Since impotence can hardly be considered a life-threatening condition, few rabbis approved its use during the holiday.

But now former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu has issued a ruling after receiving a query from Rabbi Menahem Burstein, a rabbinical expert in the field of fertility and head of the the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine According to Halacha in Jerusalem.

Burstein received queries from Pfizer Pharmaceuticals-Israel and religious men on whether the drug can be taken on Passover.

Eliahu replied that men who need Viagra can do so if they purchase before the holiday special empty capsules made from kosher gelatin, insert the blue pill into the capsule and swallow it. The company explained that since the capsule is not in direct contact with the body, it is permissible to swallow it on Passover.

Comment: Just when we thought organised religion couldn't get any more ridiculous and hypocritical...

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Victims blacklist potential popes
From correspondents in Los Angeles

A GROUP of US victims of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests have named five potential papal candidates they say are "morally unacceptable" to be the next Pope.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (Snap) released the list today, three days ahead of the keenly-anticipated start of the conclave at which a successor to the late Pope John Paul II will be chosen.

The cardinals targeted are Italian Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state; Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras; Norberta Rivera Carrera, of Mexico; Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, who is the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, of Colombia; and Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, cardinal of the Chilean capital of Santiago.

The group claims the five possible papal candidates "have indicated, in essence, that they will protect pedophile priests and do not understand or will not take the sexual abuse crisis seriously", the group said.

"We likely may have a very small impact, if any, but we know every time we come forward and speak out, victims are finding more truth and (are) able to find the courage to come forward and report their abuse," said Mary Grant, a group member who lives near Los Angeles. [...]

Comment: Don't mind the nature of the man behind the curtain and what he is doing to that young boy, just believe what we tell you and you'll get your rewards in heaven. Is there any better way to manipulate millions of people than to claim that you are "god's spokesperson on earth", despite all of the evidence pointing to the fact that you are in fact a corrupt megalomaniac, and demand blind obedience from your flock?

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Cardinal Speaks Out Against "Dictatorship Of Relativism"
Holier than thou - Cardinal Ratso
Vatican City -- As cardinals prepare to choose Pope John Paul's successor, there's some blunt talk from a Vatican official often mentioned as a leading candidate.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany delivered the homily Monday as cardinals held a pre-conclave Mass. In his message, Ratzinger spoke against "a dictatorship of relativism;" the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

He and other cardinals will sequester themselves inside the Sistine Chapel in a few hours.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists are expected to converge on St. Peter's Square to watch the chapel chimney for the white smoke that will tell the world the church's 265th pontiff has been elected.

At a Mass on Sunday, an Italian cardinal told believers that "The new pope has already been chosen by the Lord. We just have to pray to understand who he is."

Comment: Of course! The conclave is NOT about a bunch of power-mad psychopaths getting together and choosing the best person to continue the millennia-old deception, rather, it's all about listening for the sweet murmurings of the lord as he informs the world who his "chosen one" is. What a load of BS! The zinger of a Rat in robes wants us all to believe that relativism is evil, which is just another way of saying that using your god-given ability to detect horse hockey when you smell it might expose the liars. Just put your trust in the Catholic Church - a monolithic propaganda and deception machine - and believe that absolute truths really exist, specifically the "absolute truth" that the Pope is god's spokesman on earth. Thankfully, the lord really does work in mysterious ways. We can see his plans for this screwed up planet in the mysterious orbit of a meteorite...

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Mystery of asteroid orbit baffles experts
April 18th 2005

SCIENTISTS are warning they cannot predict where a giant asteroid will go after it passes close to the Earth.

The huge ball of rock, labelled 2005 MN4, will pass within 25,000 miles of our planet on Friday, 13 April, 2029. The asteroid is large enough to flatten the state of Texas or part of Western Europe.

After the near-miss, the Earth's gravity may deflect the asteroid into a new orbit.

Dr Benny Peiser, an anthropologist and asteroid hazard expert from Liverpool's John Moore's University, said: "In all likelihood it will produce an orbit that will not intercept the Earth, but we don't know, and that's the problem."

Comment: Given the recent "hail" of bolides and meteorites the earth has been experiencing, we suspect that by 2029, those left alive on the planet will find themselves scavenging through the detritus that was once our "highly evolved" society and seeking shelter from the perpetual cold wind.

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Islanders flee as volcano erupts
April 17, 2005 8:50 PM
By Ahmed Ali Amir

MORONI (Reuters) - A volcano erupted on the Indian Ocean Comoros islands on Sunday, forcing hundreds of villagers to flee in fear of poison gas as the crater spewed ash and flung boulders over molten lava, witnesses said.

Darkness enveloped homes near the summit of Mount Karthala as black rain pounded the mountainside, sparking panic among residents afraid of the kind of noxious fumes that seeped from the volcano a century ago, killing 17 people.

"Villagers are in total darkness, gritty rain is falling and visibility is zero," a resident from the village ofIdjinkoundzi on the western flank of Mount Karthala, who gave his name as Charif, told Reuters by telephone.

The 2,361-metre (7,746-ft) Mount Karthala and its forested slopes form most of the land mass of GrandeComore, the main island in the Comoros chain which lies 300 km (190 miles) off east Africa, and which haswitnessed periodic eruptions.

Jean Marc, a pilot with Comoros Aviation, who flew over the summit, said: "I saw the start of a lava flow, but for the moment it's confined to the inside of the volcano."

Families from the villages of Trelezini and Tsorale piled into taxis and buses and headed for the capital Moroni, which lies on the west coast of Grande Comore, about 15 km (9 miles) from Karthala's crater, whichtowers above the Indian Ocean.

"Dust is still falling, with torrential rains and high winds sweeping across the region," said Ibrahim Youssouf,a resident in the town of Fomboni on the southeastern coast of Grande Comore who visited the scene.

Defence Minister Houmed Msaidie warned residents to avoid the area to avoid the risk of exposure to dangerous gases.

"The volcano has started to erupt and two regions are exposed for the moment, Dimani and Badjini,"Msaidie told reporters. "We cannot rule out the risk that gases could escape and it would be wise to notapproach the zones at risk."

Dry river beds turned to raging torrents as rainwater coursed down the volcano's slopes, according to residents.

"The ground has started trembling and we have seen cracks appearing," said one official near the flanks of the volcano, which are frequently draped in white cloud.

Residents who made the two hour hike to the summit from Idjinkoundzi said they had seen parts of the sidesof the 3 km (1.8 mile)-wide crater collapse and enormous chunks of rocks hurled for several kilometres. [...]

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Quake sparks panic on Indonesia's Nias island
17 April 2005 0335 hrs

GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia : A powerful undersea earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Nias late Saturday night causing widespread panic, officials said.

The quake measured an estimated 6.3 on the Richter scale and struck about 220 kilometres (136 miles) out to sea south-southwest of the city of Medan at 11:44 pm (1644 GMT), the Hong Kong Observatory said in a statement.

Wijayanto, a Meteorology and Geophysics Agency official based in the town of Gunung Sitoli, on the eastern side of Nias island, said there was no tsunami threat from the tremor.

The quake cut off the town's electricity supply and caused widespread panic for residents in the town, with many women seen running for the hills clutching their babies, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

The town was blackened out for about 30 minutes after the quake but electricity was restored and police used megaphones to urge residents to remain calm.

It was the second quake to hit the area on Saturday after a tremor measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale shook the seabed 256 kilometres (159 miles) west of Sumatra island in the middle of the afternoon. [...]

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Minor earthquake rocks Tokyo

A MODERATE earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale was felt in Tokyo and its vicinity but there was no fear of tsunami tidal waves, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or property damage resulting from the quake which occurred at 8:09pm Tokyo time.

The quake's epicentre was in the Boso peninsula, some 80km southeast of Tokyo.

Its focus was about 70km underground, the government agency said.

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Magnitude-5.1 earthquake strikes Kern County
Posted on Sat, Apr. 16, 2005
Associated Press

MARICOPA, Calif. - A magnitude-5.1 earthquake struck in Kern County on Saturday and could be felt as far away as downtown Los Angeles, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The quake struck at 12:18 p.m. and was centered about 13 miles east of Maricopa and 25 miles south-southwest of Bakersfield, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey. [...]

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Slight quake hits Cairo, no damage reported 2005-04-17 06:20:09

CAIRO, April 16 (Xinhuanet) -- An official from Egyptian Meteorological and Geophysics Institute said a slight earthquake hit Cairo Saturday evening, causing no damage, the Egyptian MENA news agency reported.

Anas Othman Ibrahim, Chairman of the institute said only dwellers of high floors could feel the tremor.

The epicenter of the quake was 10 kilometres beneath the earth, some 57 kilometres southeastern Cairo, with the direction to the Red Sea, an area known for its several slight earthquake activities.

Sources of the institute said the tremor reported earlier measured 4.2 on the Richter scale.

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Small earthquake hits western France
La Rochelle, April. 18 (AP)

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake struck western France on Monday and could be felt dozens of kilometers (miles) from its epicenter, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

The quake struck at 8:42 a.m. (0642 GMT) and was centered near the port of Marennes, 100 km. (60 miles) north of the city of Bordeaux, the Observatory for Earth Sciences in Strasbourg said.

It was the second minor earthquake in this seismically active region this month. A magnitude 4.1 quake hit Ile d'Oleron, an island lying just off the French coast south of the city of La Rochelle, on April 4.

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Moderate earthquake strikes off coast of Sumatra

HONG KONG (AP) - A moderate earthquake has struck off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island, Hong Kong seismologists said Monday.

The 5.5-magnitude tremor hit 340 kilometers (210 miles) west-northwest of the city of Padang and was recorded in Hong Kong 9:49 p.m. Sunday (1349 GMT Sunday), the Hong Kong Observatory said in a statement.

It wasn't immediately clear if the temblor resulted in any casualties or damage. Indonesia has seen a spate of earthquakes since a massive tsunami-producing tremor off its coast on Dec. 26.

The disaster killed at least 127,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province and more than 40,000 in 10 other countries across the Indian Ocean.

A 6.1-magnitude quake struck near Sumatra late Saturday, prompting residents who feared another tsunami to flee to higher ground. - AP

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4.9 earthquake shakes Southcentral
Daily News Staff
Published: April 17th, 2005
Last Modified: April 17th, 2005 at 05:52 PM

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.9 jolted Southcentral Alaska on Sunday, according to the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer.

The light quake struck at 1:33 p.m. local time. The epicenter was 45 miles north of Seward and 35 miles southeast of Anchorage. The quake was felt most strongly in Girdwood, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. People in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Chugiak and other parts of Southcentral also felt the jolt, the warning center reported.

The earthquake was centered 22 miles deep into the Earth's surface. The magnitude was light enough that a tsunami was not generated. No reports of injuries were received, according to the earthquake information center.

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Quake jolts Qouchan in northeast Iran
Monday, April 18, 2005 - ©2005

LONDON, April 18 (IranMania) - A minor earthquake hit the city of Qouchan in the northeastern province of Razavi Khorassan Sunday night. According to IRNA, it was measuring 3.7 points on the open-ended Richter scale.

According to the seismological base of the Geophysics Institute, affiliated to Tehran University, the tremor occurred at 23:27 hours local time (1857 GMT).

The base located the epicenter of the quake on the outskirts of Qouchan, 37.09 degree latitude and 58.16 degree longitude.

There are no reports of damage to property caused by the quake.

Iran is situated on some of the world's most active seismic fault lines and quakes of varying magnitudes are of usual occurrence.

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Prepare now for 'the big one'
Seattle Post Intelligencer
April 15 2005

You probably already know that we can have an earthquake similar to the December 2004 disaster that struck Sumatra, or the smaller, but still enormous quake last month in the same area that killed hundreds more. But do you know what that would really mean?

From Vancouver Island to northern California, an area known as Cascadia, the Juan de Fuca plate meets, and sinks under, the North American plate. This meeting has created an 800-mile-long fault called the Cascadia subduction zone, which typically produces magnitude 8 to 9 earthquakes. These quakes have occurred anywhere from 200 to 1,000 years apart, with an average of 500 years between them. The last one was on Jan. 26, 1700.

Ground shaking, landslides, tsunamis, fires, hazardous material spills and building damage are some of the hazards we would face as the result of a subduction earthquake. The Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW) brought together scientists, business leaders and others to draw up a reasonable subduction zone earthquake scenario for our region. The ground could shake for four minutes, even more in some places. Different areas will have vastly different experiences, but it is expected that there will be thousands of casualties and unprecedented damage in the region from such an enormous quake.

Coastal communities will be subjected to strong shaking, landslides and tsunamis. Buildings, roads, bridges and utility lines will suffer varying amounts of damage and many may be destroyed. Hundreds to thousands of deaths are possible depending upon the season and time of day. Within minutes, a tsunami may arrive, making it essential that people understand the need to head for higher ground or inland as soon as the shaking stops. Highway 101 may be impassable over large stretches, and landslides through the Coast Range will prevent highway travel between the coast and inland areas. Destruction of roads, runways, ports and rail lines may leave individual cities isolated. Residents and visitors will have to do much of the work of rescuing those trapped in the rubble and may need to take the initiative for the early cleanup and organization to distribute relief supplies.

Along the Interstate 5/state Route 99 corridor, utilities and transportation lines in some areas could be disrupted, perhaps for months. This type of earthquake is especially hazardous to tall buildings, which could lead to significant fatalities in downtown areas. Buildings that would be unscathed in a more typical 30-second quake might be severely damaged after several minutes of shaking. Long bridges and utility lines also are at unusual risk, which could create serious long-term economic losses due to interruptions in critical infrastructure. Landslides could block east-west travel through the Cascades. As the backbone of our regional transportation network, closures at any point along I-5 could have far-reaching consequences.

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Severe weather hits France, Italy, Switzerland: 15 die in bus crash
(AFP) Apr 17, 2005

PARIS - Heavy snowfall and torrential rain have caused serious disruption in much of eastern France, the south of Switzerland and across Italy, and may have contributed to a serious accident in Switzerland in which 12 people died when their a bus skidded off a wet road.

The Italian authorities have issued a nationwide warning, stressing the risk of avalanches in the Alps after heavy snowfalls and of downpours and gales in the south of the country caused by a deep depression centred on the Mediterranean.

Heavy snowfall in the French Alps and other southeastern regions left some 78,000 homes in the Rhone-Alpes region without power late Sunday as rainstorms also caused rivers to burst their banks, French authorities said. Earlier 145,000 households had been without power. [...]

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Southwestern Utah Braces for Flooding
Sun Apr 17, 4:41 PM ET

CEDAR CITY, Utah - As the weather warms, this scenic high-desert town is rushing to make preparations before an enormous accumulation of waterlogged snow begins to melt in the mountains and creates a threat of spectacular flooding.

Crews have started raising the bed of a state highway and fortifying ditches, city officials are praying for gradual warming that would melt the snow slowly, and officials of two counties already have declared states of emergency they may not need for a month.

Snow has accumulated to as much as 372 percent of normal at some higher elevations, nearly 13 feet deep at some spots on the high sprawling plateau above Cedar City, home of more than 20,000 people and Southern Utah University.

"That snowpack - it's scary," City Manager Jim Allan said of Midway Valley, a 9,800-foot mountain saddle near Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is still snowed in. [...]

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Only 100 homes still lack electricity, SaskPower says
Last Updated Apr 16 2005 11:30 PM CDT
CBC News

REGINA – Saskatchewan's utility restored power to about 3,000 buildings on Saturday, saying that only about 100 customers would remain in the dark for another day.

Strong winds and wet snow on Thursday night and early Friday morning toppled about 135 power poles in the province and at one point left about 10,000 people – mostly in rural areas – without electricity. [...]

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Freak wave damages cruise ship
From correspondents in Washington

A FREAK wave towering a reported 21 metres has struck a luxury cruise ship in the mid-Atlantic.

The ship, which can carry 2200 passengers, was forced into a South Carolina port for repairs after the drama at the weekend.

The 294m Norwegian Dawn was sailing for New York from Miami and the Bahamas when the wave struck, smashing two windows and flooding 62 cabins, said Norwegian Cruise Lines, the ship's owner.

Four passengers were injured with cuts and bruises.

The New York Daily News reported that the wave was 21m-high. [...]

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A long history of killer crests
NY Daily News
April 17, 2005

Rogue waves like the one that slammed into the Norwegian Dawn yesterday are more common and more dangerous than scientists first thought.

The waves, which can reach 15 to 80 feet high, have been responsible for the loss of more than 200 ships - including giant tankers and container vessels - in the past 20 years.

They also have caused damage to countless others, contradicting the long-held belief that only rare meteorological events could create the moving mountains of water. In fact, radar-based images last summer revealed 10 such waves in just a three-week period in the Atlantic Ocean.

In January, one such renegade wave smashed into the research vessel Explorer carrying nearly 1,000 people, including hundreds of students on a semester at sea program about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Pacific Ocean. [...]

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Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the world
By David Keys and Nicholas Pyke
The Independent
17 April 2005

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, described the new works as "central texts which scholars have been speculating about for centuries".

Professor Richard Janko, a leading British scholar, formerly of University College London, now head of classics at the University of Michigan, said: "Normally we are lucky to get one such find per decade." One discovery in particular, a 30-line passage from the poet Archilocos, of whom only 500 lines survive in total, is described as "invaluable" by Dr Peter Jones, author and co-founder of the Friends of Classics campaign.

The papyrus fragments were discovered in historic dumps outside the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish") in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Running to 400,000 fragments, stored in 800 boxes at Oxford's Sackler Library, it is the biggest hoard of classical manuscripts in the world.

The previously unknown texts, read for the first time last week, include parts of a long-lost tragedy - the Epigonoi ("Progeny") by the 5th-century BC Greek playwright Sophocles; part of a lost novel by the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian; unknown material by Euripides; mythological poetry by the 1st- century BC Greek poet Parthenios; work by the 7th-century BC poet Hesiod; and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War. Additional material from Hesiod, Euripides and Sophocles almost certainly await discovery.

Oxford academics have been working alongside infra-red specialists from Brigham Young University, Utah. Their operation is likely to increase the number of great literary works fully or partially surviving from the ancient Greek world by up to a fifth. It could easily double the surviving body of lesser work - the pulp fiction and sitcoms of the day.

"The Oxyrhynchus collection is of unparalleled importance - especially now that it can be read fully and relatively quickly," said the Oxford academic directing the research, Dr Dirk Obbink. "The material will shed light on virtually every aspect of life in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and, by extension, in the classical world as a whole."

The breakthrough has also caught the imagination of cultural commentators. Melvyn Bragg, author and presenter, said: "It's the most fantastic news. There are two things here. The first is how enormously influential the Greeks were in science and the arts. The second is how little of their writing we have. The prospect of having more to look at is wonderful."

Bettany Hughes, historian and broadcaster, who has presented TV series including Mysteries of the Ancients and The Spartans, said: "Egyptian rubbish dumps were gold mines. The classical corpus is like a jigsaw puzzle picked up at a jumble sale - many more pieces missing than are there. Scholars have always mourned the loss of works of genius - plays by Sophocles, Sappho's other poems, epics. These discoveries promise to change the textual map of the golden ages of Greece and Rome."

When it has all been read - mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian - the new material will probably add up to around five million words. Texts deciphered over the past few days will be published next month by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which financed the discovery and owns the collection. [...]

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Man upset with penile surgery mails bomb
Associated Press
April 16, 2005

STEVENS, Pa. (AP) - A man allegedly unhappy with penile-enlargement surgery he underwent mailed explosives to a Chicago plastic surgeon, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

Blake R. Steidler, 24, allegedly made an explosive device that included a model-rocket engine igniter inside a jewelry box, the federal indictment said.

Steidler drove to North Bloomfield, Ohio, on Feb. 10 and mailed the box, but then drive home to Lancaster County, called 911, and turned himself in, according to the indictment.

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And Finally...

Heaven Less Opulent than Vatican, Reports Disappointed Pope
The Onion
April 18, 2005

HEAVEN - The soul of Pope John Paul, which entered heaven last week following a long illness, expressed confusion and disappointment Saturday, upon learning that the Celestial Kingdom of God to which the departed faithful ascend in the afterlife is significantly less luxurious than the Vatican's Papal Palace, in which the pope spent the past 26 years of his earthly life.

"Where are all the marble statues, sterling-silver chalices, and gem-encrusted scepters?" the visibly disappointed pope asked. "Where are the 60-foot-tall stained-glass windows and hand-painted cupolas? Where are the elaborately outfitted ranks of Swiss Guards? Why isn't every single surface gilded? This is my eternal reward?"

Heaven, according to the New Testament, has "brilliance like a very costly stone... of pure gold, like clear glass..." with "twelve gates... each gate a single pearl." Yet the pope, who spoke from the afterlife, said heaven is nothing like the "solid-gold city" detailed at length by John of Patmos in the Book of Revelations.

"Evidently, the Bible was not intended to be taken literally, after all," John Paul II said. "Don't get me wrong: It's very nice up here - quite beautiful and serene. It's just not as fancy as what I'm accustomed to. If I'd known heaven was going to be like this, I would've taken one last tour through my 50 rooms of velvet-draped thrones and priceless oil paintings before saying 'Amen' and breathing my last."

According to the pope, heaven is merely a place of unending peace and happiness, wherein all the spirits of the Elect live together forever in perfect harmony and goodness, basking in the rays of God's divine love.

"Up here, everyone is equal," John Paul II said. "No one has to go through an elaborate bowing ritual when they greet me. And do you know how many times my ring has been kissed since I arrived? None. Up here, I'm mingling with tax collectors, fishermen, and whores. It's just going to take a little getting used to, is all."

The pope said it is amusing to think that he has been waiting for this "so-called Paradise" his entire life.

"I spent almost 84 years reciting novenas and Hail Marys to get to this restful place," John Paul II said. "If I'd wanted peace, quiet, and pretty clouds, I could've moved to the Italian Riviera. Frankly, this afterlife represents a significant drop in my standard of living."

"Well, they always said you can't take it with you," he added.

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