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The Gathering Storm
©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

"Protecting Our Interests" - Argentina, A Case History Of US-Sponsored Terrorism

Today the Guardian reports on the conviction of an Argentinian former naval officer for throwing people from a plane during the Argentine military junta in the 1970's and 80's.

Argentinian jailed for throwing prisoners from plane

Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Wednesday April 20, 2005
The Guardian

An Argentinian former naval officer who threw prisoners, drugged and naked, to their death from planes was convicted of crimes against humanity and jailed for a total of 640 years by a Spanish court yesterday for his part in the "dirty war" against dissidents conducted by the Argentinian military regime in the 1970s.

Captain Adolfo Scilingo killed 30 leftwing prisoners, who were thrown out at 4,000 metres (13,000ft) above the Atlantic, on two flights.

Scilingo, 58, will serve a maximum of 30 years.

The judgment, reached by three judges in the national court in Madrid, described how naval officers tortured victims with electric shocks which burned their flesh. The torture sessions were called "barbecues".

Judge José Ricardo de Prada said, delivering the judgment, said: "As a macabre joke they would make them [the prisoners] dance to Brazilian music."

Scilingo is the first officer of the Argentinian military junta to be jailed by a foreign court for crimes against humanity.

The prosecuting lawyer, Carlos Slepoy, told the Guardian: "This shows that, wherever they go, people like this can and should be pursued."

Carla Artes, a witness in the case, whose mother disappeared and may have been thrown alive into the sea on one of the many regular death flights, said: "I won't say I am happy, but I feel satisfaction. This is a very, very important sentence.

"This is a serious warning to people who do these things that they should be careful never to set foot out of their own countries."

Scilingo blew the whistle on the death flights himself in a series of recorded interviews with the Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky 10 years ago.

He said that every week for about two years groups of up to 20 prisoners held at the infamous Naval Mechanical School in Buenos Aires were drugged and taken to the airport, where they were put on board a plane, flown out to sea and pushed out.

"We took their clothes off and, when the commander gave the order, opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one," he said at the time.

He eventually agreed to give evidence in a case against the Argentinian regime being assembled in Madrid by the examining magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who tried to extradite the Chilean former dictator General Augusto Pinochet from London in 1998.

Once in Madrid, Scilingo was arrested and, although he gave numerous interviews confirming the story of the death flights, he later claimed that he had made it all up.

His trial was the first successful prosecution under a Spanish law which allows crimes against humanity committed in other countries to be tried in Spain.

Relatives and friends of victims of the junta, some wearing stickers with pictures of missing or murdered loved ones, hugged one another in court when the verdict was announced.

"Murderer, rot in jail," a man in the gallery shouted at Scilingo, who sat quietly as the sentence was read out.

His lawyer said that he would appeal against the conviction.

He was sentenced to 21 years for each of the 30 people thrown from plane, five years for torture, and five years for illegal detention.

The verdict bodes badly for Miguel Angel Cavallo, another alleged Argentinian naval torturer awaiting trial in Spain after being extradited from Mexico.

Shocking, isn't it? That one human being should treat another with a cruelty that we would be hard pushed to find among the animals that we share this planet with, and above which we claim to sit on the evolutionary scale.

While not excusing their brutality, there is the argument that the culpability of people like Scilingo is to some extent mitigated because they "were only taking orders", that they were merely useful idiots, easily manipulated, themselves victims of their superiors who, unlike Scilingo, played their part with a clear understanding of what they were doing, and continued on because they correctly understood that, if there were ever a price to be paid, it would be people like Scilingo that paid it. But if we are to take such a stance and assign ultimate blame to those responsible for directing the actions of people like Scilingo, then we must follow the line of command right to the top.

In 1976, the Argentine military's top generals staged a coup d'etat and put then President Isabela Peron under house arrest. In the following 8 years, four generals mercilessly tortured and murdered approximately 30,000 people who were in some way suspected of posing a threat to their rule. The US government had long since asserted itself as a key player in South American politics offering economic and political incentives to South American regimes in exchange for access to ensure that its vital interests were protected, (vital interests being drugs and oil). On several occasions the CIA intervened directly to remove a government (usually socialist and democratically elected) that did not meet with its approval, usually leading to the rise of totalitarian regimes whose members possessed a better understanding of US government interests.

On March 28, 2003, the National Security Archive at George Washington University published declassified U.S. documents showing that the Argentine military junta received mixed signals from America on human rights, in effect giving the [Government of Argentina] the impression that it had carte blanche to pursue terrorism.

It should be stated that the problem of the US government carrying on relations with a cruel military regime in Argentina would never have been raised if the Argentinean generals were a little less zealous in their repression of any opposition. As it was, news reports were reaching the US and members of congress were calling for sanctions to be imposed.

The US embassy in Argentina held frequent meetings with representatives of the Argentine regime to express their governments concern. These meetings prompted the Argentine Generals to seek clarification from those US government representatives who could provide clarification on the matter. And who better to consult on the legalities of mass murder than Henry Kissinger

The documents revealed that the US Embassy reported to Washington that after Mr. Kissinger's 10 June 1976 meeting with Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti, the Argentine government dismissed the Embassy's human rights approaches and referred to Kissinger's "understanding" of the situation.

After a second meeting between Kissinger and Guzzetti in Washington, on 19 October 1976, Ambassador Robert Hill wrote "a sour note" from Buenos Aires complaining that he could hardly carry human rights demarches if the Argentine Foreign Minister did not hear the same message from the Secretary of State. "Guzzetti went to U.S. fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human rights practices, rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the USG over that issue," wrote Hill.

The documents are complemented by Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Patricia Derian's striking notes of the time when she wrote, "Through these [U.S. military and intelligence] agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy."

At the time, President Reagan chastised Darien for her human-rights protests, saying she should "walk a mile in the moccasins" of the Argentine generals before criticizing them. Apparently Darin was unwilling to engage in the torture of innocent men women and children in order to better understand the Argentinean generals penchant for torturing those that disagreed with them or the US government's feeling that they should be allowed to continue.

The Embassy reported to Washington that after Mr. Kissinger's 10 June 1976 meeting with Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti, the Argentine government dismissed the Embassy's human rights approaches and referred to Kissinger's "understanding" of the situation.

The documents also show how, despite strong language and action on human rights, the Carter Administration entered into secret negotiations with Junta President Rafael Videla and Army Chief Roberto Viola trading U.S. military transfers for human rights improvements. In September 1978, after Vice-President Walter Mondale met Videla in Rome, U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro reported that

"General Viola received me smiling broadly and immediately volunteered the observation that he believed the Rome meeting had gone very well... Viola clearly indicated he had received some positive signals from the USG [U.S. government] referring to the release of FMS [Foreign Military Sales] purchases."

And here we get to the crux of the matter.


As has been noted elsewhere, "this peace business is not very profitable". The position of the US as the most powerful nation on earth has been built on the exploitation of the resources of other countries. Unsurprisingly, it is quite often the case that the people and political leaders in these countries are unwilling to allow such exploitation of their resources in order to line the pockets of Americans. "Naturally" therefore, the US government is left with no other option but to use other methods to gain access to this "untapped" resource. One such method is to encourage and support "grass roots" rebellion and/or facilitate the rise sale of those more ethically challenged political aspirants. The US military can either take an active role in such "regime change" or it can be facilitated covertly. Either way, large amounts of cash are generated for the US economy through the sale of armaments to the US military itself or to the militaries of other nations and access is afforded to US interests in the countries in question.

It was also very important for the US government to demonise what they called "Communist" governments. With the help of the government owned US media, in the minds of most Americans the term "Communism" was already synonymous with something akin to fascism, it was easily used to demonise every government that did not share the imperialist views of the US. The reality however, is that very few governments that were overthrown with the help of the US were actually Communist. Many were lead by progressive Socialist politicians who were, at least to some extent, concerned about the welfare of the citizenry and the country as a whole. A good example of the type of government that was, and remains, America's ideological opposite is the current government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

So certainly the spread of "Commie" leftist governments throughout Latin America had to be halted by the US government, but not because they posed a threat to the American people but rather because they threatened the US' position as the unchallenged leader of the world and the power and wealth that a small group of US politicians were able to accrue to themselves as a result. It is this fact that makes a mockery of the idea that there was or ever will be any change in US policy, both domestic and foreign, as a result of a change of administration. Each administration, on assuming power, is fully aware that there is no choice but to continue the decades-old policy of global exploitation and conquest.

In the case of Argentina in the late 1970's and 80's, the problem for the Carter and Reagan administrations was how to avoid appearing to support a terrorist regime engaged in serious human rights abuses while at the same time safeguarding America's "interests." In the end the solution was simple: if the American people did not know that their elected representatives were aiding and abetting a brutal dictatorship they would have no reason to complain. Kissinger, and people like him, reasoned that the intricacies of global politics were too complicated for the average citizen to understand, and in any case, middle and upper class Americans were benefiting greatly from the buoyant economy that Kissinger's foreign policy produced, they really didn't need to know how many people had to die to make it so.

While initially a significant number of US representatives called for sanctions against the Argentinean junta, US intelligence, specifically the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence, was called in to provide "facts" that would justify the actions of the Argentinean Generals and the US support they were enjoying. In a July 1976 report they declared that the reality on the ground in Argentina was that there was "a murderous three-cornered battle going on amongst left-wing terrorists, government security personnel and right wing goon squads." On 23 July 1976 however, Deputy Chief of the US embassy Maxwell Chaplin cabled Washington to inform them that in reality "the battle is a two-sided affair, not tri-cornered" since "the only 'right-wing assassins' operating in Argentina at that point, were members of the Government of Argentina's security forces."

Given the recent intelligence fiasco over the Iraq invasion (another illegal and immoral regime change) it seems that, in the world of US foreign policy, some things never change.

All of this leads us to the simple and uncomfortable fact that the brutal Argentinean regime that murdered over 30,000 people in 7 years would not have been able to continue to carry out its atrocities unless they had the tacit approval of the US, on which it was dependent for financial and military aid. And just to clarify exactly who the Argentine generals and their assassins were targeting; the consensus is that most were "subversives", real or imagined, including thousands of labor leaders, workers, clergymen and women, human rights advocates, scientists, doctors, and political party leaders.

A few did survive to tell their tale, among them was an American woman whose testimony at the time was passed on to Kissinger:

I was blindfolded, my hands were tied and I was put up against the wall. An electric device touched my hands. Next I was on the floor...I was being hit...My clothes were being ripped off. Then I think I was on a table held down by four or five guys. They started using the picana [an electric prod]. Then they tied me down and threw water on me... They questioned me but it was more just "give it to her". There. There. There. In [the] genital area... They said they'd fix me so I couldn't have children.

She testified that another girl held in the same facility was hung upside down, naked and shocked repeatedly with the electric prod. The torturers burned her body with cigarettes and pulled out her pubic hairs. The girl was not a member of a political organization, but happened to be found in a house that the police raided.

At least 30,000 of these innocents were not so lucky. 10,000 were either tortured to death or tortured and then shot and buried in mass graves, the other 20,000, having been tortured beforehand, were thrown from a plane, at night, over the Atlantic, from 13,000 feet, naked, alive and aware. And just in case you missed it, most would be alive today if had not been for the US government's need to "protect its interests".

The next time you hear Bush talk of spreading "freedom and democracy" around the world, spare a thought for these people and the many hundreds of thousands of others who have suffered a similar fate as a result of the liberating influence of "the greatest democracy on earth."

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Theologian calls for response to 9/11
By Samara Kalk Derby
April 19, 2005

David Ray Griffin asks the tough questions about Sept. 11, contending U.S. officials had some knowledge of what was coming and possibly orchestrated the attacks.

Griffin, whose book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," came out a year ago, drew an enthusiastic standing ovation from the majority of the 400 or so people who packed his lecture Monday night at Bascom Hall.

A retired Christian theologian, Griffin, 65, taught for more than 30 years at the Claremont School of Theology in California.

His comments Monday night were directed at religious people, who he said need to respond to Sept. 11 - and the American empire that has ensued - based on the moral principles of their religious traditions.

Drawing laughter from the crowd, Griffin said he had in mind principles like: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' oil" and "Thou shalt not murder thy neighbors in order to steal their oil."

While Griffin noted that his books and talks have not received attention from the mainstream media, C-SPAN had a cameraman at the event and plans to air the lecture at a future date. Madison's public access cable television station, WYOU-TV/Channel 4, meanwhile, will air the talk at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Americans interpret the events of Sept. 11 in one of four ways, Griffin said:

• A first group accepts the official interpretation that Sept. 11 was a surprise attack by Islamic terrorists. It is easy for these people "to think of America's so-called War on Terror as a just war," Griffin said.

• A second group accepts the official line but thinks Sept. 11 has been used opportunistically by the Bush administration to extend the American empire. People who hold this view often believe that America's response to Sept. 11, which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, is far worse than the attacks themselves, he said.

• A third group believes the Bush administration knew the attacks were coming and let them happen. It shows the government as "deliberate and cold-blooded," advancing its imperial designs while hypocritically portraying itself as promoting a "culture of life," Griffin said.

Although there has been no national survey, a Zogby poll taken last year indicated that almost half of the residents of New York City share this view, he said.

• A fourth group believes that the government orchestrated the attacks. While no poll shows how many Americans believe this, polls in Canada and Germany have found as many as 20 percent of those populations do, Griffin said.

In his follow-up book, "The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions," Griffin examines the questions that he and others in the "9/11 Truth Movement" charge were never examined by the federal government's 9/11 Commission.

Evidence to support the theory that U.S. officials had at least had some foreknowledge of the attacks comes from David Schippers, the chief prosecutor for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, who reportedly received warnings from FBI agents about the attacks six weeks earlier, Griffin said.

Other government officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, would not respond to the warnings, he added.

There was the extraordinarily high volume of "put options" purchased in the three days before the attacks, Griffin said, with investors betting that stock in United and American Airlines - the two airlines used in the attacks - would go down. There were also a suspiciously high number of put options for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which occupied 22 stories of the World Trade Center.

"U.S. intelligence agencies monitor the market, partly to look for signs of impending attacks," Griffin said. "One wonders how information could be much more specific than this."

Griffin then made a case that government officials planned and executed the attacks.

For one, the United States military neglected to send fighter jets to intercept the hijacked planes. Such interceptions usually occur within 10 to 20 minutes after the first signs of trouble and are routine, happening about 100 times a year, Griffin said.

It seems implausible, he said, that the Pentagon was struck by Flight 77, since it is "surely the best defended building on the planet." The U.S. military has the best radar systems in the world and "does not miss anything occurring in North American airspace," he added.

Griffin also made a case that the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was brought on by thousands of explosives placed throughout each of the buildings. They went straight down, at free-fall speed, as in controlled demolitions, and many people in the buildings reported that they heard or felt explosions, he added.

"High-rise steel-frame buildings have never - before or after 9/11- been caused to collapse by fire," he said.

Sue Adams, 50, introduced herself to Griffin after the talk, calling him heroic. "I think some day we may really know the truth," she said, adding that it will likely be after the Bush administration is gone.

Orion Litzau, a UW freshman studying engineering, agrees that the answers the government put out through the 9/11 Commission were more than a simple deception.

"They were not only partly false but a complete, bold face lie," he said. "David Ray Griffin brings out interesting points about what could be the true story behind the 9/11 attack."

Jim Goulding, 67, who teaches religious studies at Edgewood College, admitted at first he wondered whether Griffin was a crackpot, but instead found he had a "tremendous reputation as a theologian."

Goulding has read both of Griffin's Sept. 11 books.

"I think he makes a convincing case - well documented, well footnoted," he said.

Comment: Griffen's book The New Pearl Harbor is an excellent introduction to the problems raised by the official story, probably the best choice to recommend for someone who, while still believing that 19 Arab terrorists hijacked four planes and avoided the most powerful national defense system in the world to carry out their attacks, is open to learning more. Obviously, the card-carrying Bushists will never believe a word spoken against their Commander-in Chief.

Griffen's book is low-key and well-reasoned, not offering any answers, but simply putting forward a wealth of detail about the holes and contradictions in the story we have heard from the government mouthpieces in the media. The sheer accumulation of facts is impressive and may well crack the façade of belief of an open reader.

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An Examination of the Propaganda of Nomenclature
Tue Apr 12, 7:58 PM ET
By Ted Rall

NEW YORK--If you read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television, you know that the media has assigned Muqtada al-Sadr a peculiar job title: radical cleric. "Gunmen fired on supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday," reports the Associated Press wire service. National Public Radio routinely refers to "radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr." "The protesters were largely supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr," says CNN. Even Agence France-Press refers to him the same way: "Followers of a radical Shiite cleric marched in Baghdad."

I wonder: Does he answer his phone with a chipper "Muqtada al-Sadr, radical cleric!"? Does it say "radical cleric" on his business card?

It's a safe bet that neither al-Sadr nor his Iraqi supporters considers him particularly "radical." And, if you stop to think about it, there's nothing inherently extreme about wanting foreign troops to leave your country. Radical is a highly subjective word that gets thrown around without much reflection. What's more radical, invading another nation without a good excuse or trying to stop someone from doing so? But that's the problem: the media has become so accustomed to absorbing and regurgitating official government propaganda that they never stop to think.

A Google News search of the terms "Muqtada al-Sadr" and "radical cleric" brought up 616 news and opinion stories, the latter derived from the former. Despite the prime minister's obvious status as an American-appointed puppet, "Iyad Allawi" and "collaborationist" yielded zero results. The message is clear: al-Sadr, and by extension Iraqis who oppose the U.S. occupation, are marginal wackos. Those who support it are referred to by questionable legitimatizing honorifics--prime minister, in Allawi's case--because the U.S. government called a press conference to announce him as such.

Repetition is key to successful advertising. The American media uses repeated arbitrary labeling in its supposedly impartial coverage in a deliberate campaign to alter public perception. Americans were meant to feel less sympathy for an kidnapped Italian woman shot by U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint in Iraq after the talking heads repeatedly referred to her as a "communist journalist." A Fox News reporter in the same story would never have been dubbed a "neofascist journalist." John McCain (R-AZ) might become president someday but "maverick senator John McCain" probably won't. Ralph Nader's name rarely appears in print without the unappealing word "gadfly" or a form of "crusading." Why not describe figures in the news using terms that aim for neutrality, like "Italian reporter" or "former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader"?

Labeling bias works to marginalize political outsiders while powerful elites receive their full honorifics. Howard Dean was antiwar firebrand Howard Dean but George W. Bush was never referred to as pro-war crusader George W. Bush. The press calls the founder of the Moral Majority "the Reverend Jerry Falwell," not "radical cleric Jerry Falwell." Even the word "cleric" implies foreignness to a xenophobic public; American religious leaders are the more familiar "ministers" rather than clerics. Instead of telling readers and viewers what to think with cheesy labels, why not let public figures' quotes and actions speak for themselves? Besides, well-known players like al-Sadr and Falwell don't require an introduction.

Loaded labels are commonly used to influence the public's feelings about groups of people as well as individuals. Under Ronald Reagan the Afghan mujahedeen, who received CIA funding and weapons that they used to fight Soviet occupation forces, were called "freedom fighters." Iraqis who take up arms against U.S. occupation troops, on the other hand, are called "insurgents," a word that implies rebellion for its own sake. This was the same term used by the New York Times and other mainstream media to refer to anti-U.S. fighters in Vietnam during the 1960s. Only later, when the Vietnam War became unpopular, did American newspapers begin calling the former "insurgents" members of an infinitely more patriotic-sounding "resistance."

Editors and producers who value balance ought to establish a consistent policy--either negative smears or positive accolades for both sides. Anti-occupation forces should always be called insurgents, guerillas, etc., while pro-occupation troops are dubbed collaborators. Either that, or call them freedom fighters and government loyalists, respectively.

Perhaps the most absurd labeling sin is the media's inconsistent treatment of nations that decide to change their names. When the Khmer Rouge, who went on to kill an estimated four and half million people, renamed their country Kampuchea in 1975, the international media had so little trouble adapting to the new name for Cambodia that they continued using it well into the 1980s, even after Pol Pot had fled into the jungle. Notorious tyrant Mubutu Sese Seko easily convinced the press to start referring to the Congo as Zaire in 1971; his equally despotic successor got them to switch right back. When the SLORC military junta changed the former British colony of Burma to Myanmar in 1989, however, journalists followed the U.S. State Department's refusal to accept the new name. Even "liberal" outlets like NPR still call it Burma or "Myanmar, formerly Burma." We need a consistent rule here, too. Either countries get to call themselves whatever they want or they should be stuck with their current names for eternity.

What hits home hits hardest. I too have been victimized by the idiotic practice of repeat labeling. "Controversial cartoonist Ted Rall" garners no fewer than 58 hits on Google. Care to guess the results for "patriotic cartoonist Ted Rall"?

Comment: A reader sent us this article with the following comment:

[This] article, an Op-Ed piece by Ted Rall, a political cartoonist who has been discriminated against and libeled badly by the propagandist press, has done a SUPERB ANALYSIS of exactly how, and with what words and kinds of phrases, the government's media shills taint every word of information that is available to the American people. This guy has done the BEST "what is being done to our perceptions and how they are doing it" I have yet encountered.

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Bush's UN nomination hits snag
Wednesday 20 April 2005, 9:08 Makka Time, 6:08 GMT

Unexpected cracks in Republican support have thrown into limbo US President George Bush's high-profile nomination of John Bolton to be the country's representative to the United Nations.

A delay in a Senate committee vote on Tuesday handed Bush a political defeat, at least in the short term, and opened the possibility that the nomination could fail.

A few Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined Democrats in asking to delay a vote.

Both Democrats and Republicans had earlier predicted the Republican-controlled committee would vote along party lines to recommend Bolton for the job.

"The dynamic has changed," said Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. "A lot of reservations surfaced today. It's a new day."

The Bush administration stood by Bolton and called allegations of abusive personal behaviour unfounded. There was no indication on Tuesday that Bolton might withdraw his name, but it was clear his nomination was in some trouble.

"My own hope is that the president decides to nominate someone else for this important position of UN ambassador," Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California said after Tuesday's tense committee meeting.

"Surely there must be many other men and women who could fulfil this post with honour."

Abuse allegations

The Senate committee set no new date for a vote, but a delay of at least two weeks seemed likely.

Democrats plan to use the time to investigate new allegations that Bolton abused his authority and mistreated subordinates, and to look into his unusual request for the names of other US officials whose communications were secretly picked up by a US spy agency.

The decision to postpone a vote closed a rancorous session in which some Democrats bluntly questioned Bolton's truthfulness and repeatedly appealed for more time to investigate him.

"We'll all have to trust each other," said Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee's Republican chairman, in sealing the unanimous agreement.

Democrat objection

Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the panel, and Lugar had sounded confident early in the session that he had the votes to prevail. He pushed hard for an immediate vote, over loud objection from Democrats.

"Shocking," muttered Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as Lugar tried to hustle the process along.

The tide turned when Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich spoke for the first time. He did not attend Bolton's two-day confirmation hearing last week, but had been presumed to be a supporter.

"I don't feel comfortable voting today," Voinovich said.

Republicans Chafee and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also expressed reservations about a quick vote, and Hagel warned that he might not support Bolton's nomination if it should move to the full Senate.

Unfounded allegations

"What's happening is that some Democrats on the committee are continuing to raise unfounded allegations," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

"We believe John Bolton has addressed all these issues. He's testified for more than eight hours. He's responded to many questions in writing as well, and we look forward to addressing any questions the committee members continue to have."

Bolton is currently the State Department's arms control chief. If approved, he would replace John Danforth as the US ambassador to the United Nations.

Comment: Gosh, Senator Kerry was shocked! Reminds of us the scene in Casablanca when Renault, the French prefet, uses as an excuse to close Rick's Café the fact the there was gambling in the back room... as he is given his night's winnings to stuff in his pocket.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you, very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

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Castro presses for arrest of terrorist in US 2005-04-20 11:12:44

HAVANA, April 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro has called on the US government to immediately arrest Luis Posada, whom he described as a terrorist, and proceed with his deportation to Venezuela, where he has to stand trial, the local press reported Tuesday.

In his first public comments on the issue this month, Castro said Monday evening that the most convenient thing for the White House and the combat against terrorism is to arrest Posada, who is of Cuban origin.

Castro said Cuba would accept that Posada be sent to an international tribunal or Venezuela, stressing that his country is not interested in either bringing him back to Cuba for trial or having him sentenced to death. "We are not going to ask for him, the whole world knows we won't," he said.

"What we are demanding is that justice be done," he added.

Posada, a Cuban native who has Venezuelan citizenship, was tried and acquitted twice in connection with the 1976 Cuban Airlines bombing which killed 73 people aboard. He is wanted for escaping from a prison in Venezuela in 1985 while awaiting a prosecutor's appeal in that case.

Posada and three associates were then imprisoned in Panama for their roles in an alleged plot in 2000 to kill Castro at a conference in that country. They were pardoned last year.

His whereabouts had not been known until he reappeared in Marchin Miami, the United States, where he illegally entered and requested political asylum.

Posada's attorney Eduardo Soto said on April 13 that his client had entered the United States in March and was seeking asylum on the grounds that his life would be in "immediate danger" if he were deported.

Comment: Any connection between this article and the next?

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Flashback! Yesterday!

Democrats: HSD Omits Right-Wing Threats
Tue Apr 19, 7:42 PM ET
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department is focusing on possible terror threats from radical environmental and animal rights activists without also examining risks that might be posed by right-wing extremists, House Democrats said Tuesday.

A recent internal Homeland Security document lists the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front with a few Islamic groups that could potentially support al-Qaida as domestic terror threats.

The document does not address threats posed by white supremacists, violent militiamen, anti-abortion bombers and other extremists that Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (news, bio, voting record), D-Miss., called "right-wing hate groups."

ALF and ELF "are the left-leaning groups that they identified," said Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "But they absolutely left out any of the other groups."

"If your responsibility is to protect the homeland from these domestic terrorists, then you have an obligation to identify all of them - not just some of them," Thompson said. [...]

Comment: Inspector Lohmann makes the following remarks on this story at his blog:

Of course this makes sense - right-wingers, as the modern-day incarnation of the nation's founders, are real patriots and thus, by definition, cannot constitute a threat to the government (especially when one considers that they now control the government); enviro-fascist liberals, on the other hand, are all terrorists on a par with al Qaeda.

Harry says (in comments here):

...I'd say torching a parking lot full of SUVs is pretty much the same as shooting ob-gyn doctors, morally speaking. While one is vandalism and [the] other is murder, they're both meant to save lives. Grafitti is actually terrorism, too, if you think about it. Some of it coerces people into thinking about things that make them feel bad.

But he's mistaken. Torching a parking lot full of SUVs is an act of terrorism (and maybe he's right - maybe graffiti is too); sniping ob-gyn doctors baby killers in their own home is the brave, selfless act of a Patriot, and cannot be construed as any sort of threat to the nation's security by right thinking people - at least so far as real Murkans are concerned, that is.

I think Murkans should be proud that their government has their priorities right!

Another point is that there are probably hundreds of thousands of Americans that have learned the skill of killing while serving in the military overseas. They'll be another 140,000 new units out on the streets in a few years, primed and ready to go. In the neoliberal climate, it is important not to allow such assets to go to waste. When rationalizing, in both uses of the term, you have to squeeze as much profit out of your resources as possible in order to maximize the bottom line, be it economic or just winning the argument.

Moreover, millions if not billions of dollars have been spent over the years perfecting mind control technologies turning many more Americans into ticking time bombs, ready to go at the trigger word or appropriate HAARP beam. Perhaps the occasional rampage and killing spree we see are Greenbaumed individuals going off randomly ...or not. These will be important assets when the time comes to bring out the brown shirts to control the hungry, unemployed, and homeless.

The next story suggests that plans are right on schedule...

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Riotous Real Estate
By Mike Davis

Last February the sirens howled in Hollywood as the LAPD rushed reinforcements to the 5600 block of La Mirada Avenue. While a police captain barked orders through a bullhorn, an angry crowd of 3000 people shouted back expletives. A passerby might have mistaken the confrontation for a major movie shoot, or perhaps the beginning of the next great L.A. riot.

In fact, as LAPD Captain Michael Downing later told the press: "You had some very desperate people who had a mob mentality. It was as if people were trying to get the last piece of bread."

The bread-riot allusion was apt, although the crowd was in fact clamoring for the last crumbs of affordable housing in a city where rents and mortgages have been soaring through the stratosphere. At stake were 56 unfinished apartments being built by a non-profit agency. The developers had expected a turnout of, at most, several hundred. When thousands of desperate applicants showed up instead, the scene quickly turned ugly and the police intervened.

A few weekends after this tense confrontation in Hollywood, another anxious mob -- this time composed of more affluent home-seekers -- queued up for hours for an opportunity to make outrageous bids on a single, run-down house with a cracked foundation in a nearby suburb renowned for its good schools. "The teeming crowd," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, "was no surprise given the latest evidence that California's public schools are dropout factories."

Los Angeles' under-funded, overcrowded, and violent schools, according to a recent report by Harvard researchers, currently fail to graduate the majority of their Black and Latino students, as well as one-third of whites. Parents, as a result, are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices to move their children to suburbs with functioning public education. This gives the old adage that "location is everything" in real estate a new twist: Housing in Southern California is universally advertised and graded by the prestige of local school districts.

The Southern California housing crisis, of course, has a sunnier side as well. In the last five years median home values have increased 118 per cent in Los Angeles and an extraordinary 137 per cent in neighboring San Diego. Homes, as a result, have become private ATM machines, providing their owners with magical, unearned cash flows for purchasing new sports utility vehicles, making down payments on vacation homes, and financing increasingly expensive college educations for their kids. Second mortgages and home refinancings, according to a Wharton Business School survey, have generated an astounding $1.6 trillion in additional consumption since 2000.

The great American housing bubble, like its obese counterparts in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Australia, is a classical zero-sum game. Without generating an atom of new wealth, land inflation ruthlessly redistributes wealth from asset-seekers to asset-holders, reinforcing divisions within as well as between social classes. A young schoolteacher in San Diego who rents an apartment, for example, now faces an annual housing cost ($24,000 for a two-bedroom in a central area) equivalent to two-thirds of her income. Conversely, an older school bus-driver who owns a modest home in the same neighborhood may have "earned" almost as much from housing inflation as from his unionized job.

The current housing bubble is the bastard offspring of the stock-market bubble of the mid-1990s. Housing prices, especially on the West Coast and in the East's Bos-Wash corridor, began to rocket in the second half of 1995 as dot-com profits were ploughed into real estate. The boom has been sustained by sensationally low mortgage rates, thanks principally to the willingness of China to buy vast amounts of U.S. Treasury bonds despite their low or negative yields. Beijing has been willing to subsidize American mortgage borrowers as the price for keeping the door open to Chinese exports.

Similarly, the hottest home markets -- Southern California, Las Vegas, New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C. -- have attracted voracious ant columns of pure speculators, buying and selling homes in the gamble that prices will continue to rise. The most successful speculator, of course, has been George W. Bush. Rising home values have propped up a stagnant economy and blunted criticisms of otherwise disastrous economic policies.

The Democrats for their part have failed to address seriously the crisis of millions of families now locked out of home-ownership. In a bubble city like San Diego, for instance, less than 15% of the population earns enough to finance the cost of a median-value new home.

Accordingly, if "values" were the basis for the Bush victory last November, they were property values not moral principles or religious prejudices. In the face of the perverse housing bubble, the Kerry campaign, as with healthcare costs and the export of jobs, was simply running on empty. It offered no compelling alternative to the status quo. But the Republicans have more serious things to worry about than Democrats. As the real-estate bubble reaches its peak, George Bush may discover that he has been surfing a tsunami and that a towering cliff looms ahead.

The bubble has already burst in San Francisco, and the April 11th issue of Business Week headlined fears that a general deflation – perhaps of international magnitude – is nigh. What will life be like in the United States (or Britain or Ireland) after the home-equity ATM shuts down?

The business press, as always, reassures passengers that they are headed for a "soft landing," a slowdown rather than a crash, but even a mild jolt may be sufficient to end the current anemic recovery and throw all the dollar-pegged economies into recession. More ominously, some eminently respectable Wall Street economists, like Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley, have been warning of a dangerous negative-feedback loop between the foreign-subsidized housing bubble and the huge U.S. trade and budget deficits. ("The funding of America," he has written, "is an accident waiting to happen.")

At the end of the day, American military hegemony is no longer underwritten by an equivalent global economic supremacy. The housing bubble, like the dot-com boom before it, has temporarily masked a mess of economic contradictions. As a result, the second term of George W. Bush may hold some first-class Shakespearian surprises.

Comment: Various analysts, including our own Signs economic reporter, Don Hunt, have been looking at the reasons why the US economy is due for a serious crash sometime in the next year. When the bubble bursts, they are going to need more than the LAPD to keep order.

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MER FLASHBACK - APRIL 2000 - 5 Years Ago


As major arms sales, extreme public threats, and intense behind-the-scenes war preparations all escalate the convolutions of contemporary international affairs are more difficult to understand than ever. These articles were all published by MER in April 2000, now five very long years ago:


No other country could even attempt to twist and manipulate the United States as does Israel. But then this is the same country that attacked a U.S. military ship in 1967, killing many, and to this day refuses to pay up. This is the same country that used an American Jewish U.S. Navy employee to spy on the U.S.'s most top secret affairs. Indeed, this is the same country that has given us everything from Deir Yassin to the Lavon Affair to the Liberty Ship to Jonathan Pollard -- and of course what we don't yet know is for sure far far more than this.

Now we also know about Israel and China. Having gotten away with everything else the Israelis assume they can get away with this too. Indeed, the cowardly and hypocritical Congress of the United States is also "occupied Israeli territory".


By Eric S. Margolis

The first-ever visit by a Chinese head of state to Israel last week seemed at first glance rather curious. China, a longtime political and military supporter of the Arabs and Iran, used to denounce Israel as a 'running dog of US imperialism' and 'a racist-fascist state?' So what was President Jiang Zemin doing hobnobbing in Israel?

Jiang had two objectives: a. deepen the secret 20-year military relationship between China and Israel; b. by openly befriending Israel, counteract growing anti-Chinese feeling in Congress that threatens both China's exports to the US, and its admission to the World Trade Organization. . .

The normally pro-Israeli Clinton Administration, however, is not pleased. William Cohen, the US Secretary of Defense, recently unleashed an unprecedented public blast at Israel for selling advanced military technology to China that could threaten American forces in the event of a clash with China over Taiwan.

Cohen demanded Israel cancel the US $1-2 billion sale of 3-5 AWACS airborne radar aircraft to China. Israel refused, though it may only sell China one of the Russian aircraft equipped with an Israeli 'Phalcon' advanced radar/electronic warfare system, developed from the US 'Hawkeye' AWACS system, at least until the heat subsides

Former CIA Director James Woolsey testified Israel has covertly sold 'several billions' of dollars worth of top-secret US technology to Israel since 1983. The Inspector General of the US State Department found, in a 1992 report, a 'systematic and growing pattern' of Israel selling American military technology in direct violation of US law. That report concluded Israel was supplying arms based on restricted American technology to China, Chile, Ethiopia, and South Africa, all of whom then under US arms embargo.

The Pentagon has claimed since the mid-1980's that Israel simply copies or reverse engineers secret US defense technology and then exports it - even on occasion, its is whispered, to Russia. Until now, Israel's influential friends on Capital Hill managed to downplay or cover up these serious charges.

The transfer of billions worth of advanced US military technology to Israel, under the innocuous title of 'Technical Data Packages,' was arranged by Israel's American supporters, beginning in 1970. This massive infusion of secret US weapons and electronics technology- the largest ever to another nation - allowed Israel to develop state-of-the art military industries that exported some $1.5-2 billion annually (40% of its total exports by the late 1980's), and which became the nation's largest employer. Israel is now the world's sixth largest arms exporter. In some cases, Israel improved on US weapons and electronics systems.

Pentagon sources charge Israel 'backdoored' US technology to China for the Patriot AA missile, other surface-to-air missiles; the PL-8 air-to-air missiles; C-802 anti-ship missiles; advanced composite tank armor and tank guns; aircraft avionics and ground radar systems; and the J-10 fighter, which is based on secret US technology used in Israel's cancelled 'Lavi' fighter. Israel denies these charges. A Pentagon investigation of the Patriot sale, cleared Israel. Critics charged it did so under intense political pressure from Israel's supporters.

Israel insists its high-tech arms exports are all 100% of Israeli origin. But American defense claim the Israelis often only make minor modifications to basic US-supplied technology and weapons, then sell them clandestinely. Israeli intelligence agents are known to have targeted specific advanced US defense technology.

Israel has also sold considerable quantities of arms, electronics, and US technology to Taiwan, including a reverse-engineered US Lance missile, and anti-ship missiles. Singapore is another major recipient of Israeli arms and discreetly co-produces weapons with Israel. Israel has become a major military supplier to India, including nuclear weapons and missile technology.

Ironically, some of Israel's arms and technology sales have returned to haunt the Jewish state. This column learned in 1994 that nuclear technology Israel had bartered for enriched uranium to South Africa, was resold by South Africa to Iraq in exchange for oil. Iraq's infant nuclear program, designed as a counter-force to Israel's nuclear arms, thus originated, in part, from Israel. Missile technology sold by Israel to China found its way into tactical missiles sold by China to Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and, reportedly, into CSS-2 ballistic missiles sold by China to Saudi Arabia.

American defense and state department officials are furious at Israel for so flagrantly violating the US embargo of high-tech arms to China, particularly as tensions between Washington and Beijing rise. There have even been angry demands in Congress for the value of the Israeli AWACS aircraft sold to China to be deducted from the $3-5 billion in aid Israel receives annually from the US. Fears are being expressed that US technology for Israel's new 'Arrow' anti-missile system, developed with nearly $1 billion in US aid, may also be sold to China.

Israelis claim their weapons sales to China motivate Beijing to keep a leash on its ally, North Korea, which, says Israelis, ships missiles to Iran and the Arabs. Russia remains China's main arms supplier. Sales by Israel keep Russia and China apart, say Israeli partisans. Nonsense, retorts the Pentagon. But in an election year, New York City is far more important than China. So Israel will probably only get its wrists slapped - if that.

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Violence kills 12, wounds over 50 in Iraq
April 19, 2005, 10:23AM
Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomb outside an Iraqi army recruitment center and other attacks killed a dozen people today and wounded more than 50. Iraq's parliament adjourned in protest after a legislator linked to a militant Shiite faction claimed he had been roughed up at a U.S. checkpoint. [...]

Iraq's National Assembly briefly delayed its session to protest the alleged mistreatment of a Shiite legislator by a soldier at a U.S. checkpoint outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, where parliament meets in central Baghdad.

In an emotional speech to the legislature, a sobbing Fattah al-Sheik, whose small party has been linked to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said the American soldier had kicked his car, mocked the legislature, handcuffed him and held him by the neck.

"What happened to me represents an insult to the whole National Assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people. This shows that the democracy we are enjoying is fake," he said. "Through such incidents, the U.S. Army tries to show that it is the real controlling power in the country, not the new Iraqi government, and that it can impose its rules on every Iraqi."

Before the session resumed, lawmaker Salam al-Maliki read a statement from the assembly to reporters, demanding an apology from the U.S. Embassy and the prosecution of the U.S. soldier who allegedly had mistreated al-Sheik.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani said: "We reject any sign of disrespect directed at lawmakers. The National Assembly members ... should be treated in an appropriate way."

U.S. forces said they were investigating. [...]

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US Troops Humiliate Member of Parliament
Juan Cole
Informed Comment

A tearful member of the Iraqi parliament, Fattah al-Shaikh, stood up before other MPs and told the story of how he was attacked and detained by US troops when he attempted to enter the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area near downtown Baghdad where parliament is held and the US embassy is situated. Wire services report that he said, '"I don't speak English and so I said to the Iraqi translator with them, 'Tell them that I am a member of parliament', and he replied, 'To hell with you, we are Americans.'" '

Al-Hayat reported that al-Shaikh, a member of the Muqtada al-Sadr bloc, said the US troops put their boots on his neck and handcuffed him. The Iraqi parliament was thrown into an uproar by the account, and demanded a US apology from the highest levels of government. Others demanded that the site of parliament meetings be changed. (This is not the first complaint by a parliamentarian of being manhandled).

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hasani condemned the assault, saying that members of parliament are symbols of national honor and must be respected.

Parliament adjourned on hearing the news.

The incident will seem minor to most Americans and few will see this Reuters photograph reprinted from al-Hayat (which is not the one featured at the Reuters story on the incident on the Web). But such an incident is a serious affront to national honor, and Iraqi male politicians don't often weep.

It should be remembered that someday not so far from now, the US will come to the Iraqi parliament for a status of forces agreement (SOFA), and Fattah al-Shaikh and his friend will vote on it.

Comment: Iraqis suffer such humiliations daily at the hands of US troops and the occupying administration. They are no longer masters in their own home. As Riverbend suggests in the following interview, it looks as if the US and its closest ally, Israel, are working to set Iraqis against one another by emphasising their cultural and religious differences.

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Riverbend Is a Blogger, "Embedded" in the Real Baghdad, Telling It Like It Is, Helping Us See With New Eyes
[...] BuzzFlash: How have your attitudes toward the occupation of Iraq changed in the past two years?

Riverbend: I think two years ago, there was a sort of general hope that in spite of the difficulties, things would improve drastically in a relatively short time. For example, we never expected that two years after the war we'd still have major problems with electricity, water and infrastructure. It's utter disappointment at this point that security issues haven't been sorted out and Iraq is still a very dangerous place. People wonder now how long this situation will last and just what is being done to improve things.

I think that two years after the war, we're also seeing more inter-factional friction between Sunnis and Shia and Arabs and Turkomen and Kurds. There are certain politicians and parties that are cultivating this friction because it helps promote them amongst their own people. [...]

BuzzFlash: You often state that, among Iraqis, there is a strong sense of nationhood that supercedes ethnic or religious differences. You point out that your family is a fairly typical Iraqi family in that it includes members of various ethnic and religious groups. But isn't Iraq, as a nation, an artificial construct created by Western powers at the end of the last colonial era?

Riverbend: I think many Iraqis don't care so much about how the nation was formed as they do about it remaining a united country. Iraq has a long and rich history and historically, people of different religions and ethnicities have been very able to live together in peace. The important thing to us right now is that we remain united as one country. We've been able to live together, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, in the past -- it shouldn't be any different now. Though the language may differ in some places, we share similar cultures and beliefs -- there is nothing that should stand in the way of internal peace and unity. I know for a fact that the majority of Iraqis don't like being labeled as Sunni, Shia or Kurd. These labels are being promoted by the current new government and the Bush administration and many Iraqis believe they are being used to divide and conquer. [...]

BuzzFlash: The American military successfully kept reporters from describing what was clearly a devastating assault on Fallujah, as well as some other cities. But, again, from reading the foreign press, it appears Fallujah was decimated and that countless civilians were killed. Do you have any information on Fallujah or other cities that the American military assaulted without allowing the media to cover their activities?

Riverbend: Many cities are assaulted by the military without proper press coverage. The latest is Qaim, for example. There has been a siege and assault that has lasted several days already. Last week it was Haditha and Mash'had. We know things are not going well in these areas when we get refugees in Baghdad -- often women and children of men who have been detained for no reason or killed. Very few media sources are actually covering it, and the only casualties discussed are the deaths of 'insurgents' and 'terrorists.' Very few media outlets report about the deaths of women and children -- only when they are caused by roadside bombs or terrorists. Even Arab news networks aren't reporting casualties like before.

Comment: The complete interview, as well as Riverbend's blog, are well worth the read.

Reporting on the situation in Fallujah is severely controlled by the occupiers. It is clearly not in their interests that the truth be told of the devastation and destruction of that city, of the homes and livelihoods of its people, not to mention the horrifying death toll -- remember that US troops took out the hospitals first so that no accurate tallies of the dead could be done.

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You Call This Normal?
The New York Times in Fallujah
Seattle, Washington

"Things are almost back to normal here. We have teachers and books. Things are getting better."

New York Times 3-26-05 "Vital Signs of a Ruined City Grow stronger in Falluja"

"I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"my own government."

Rev. Martin Luther King

Cameras aren't allowed in Falluja; neither are journalists. If they were then we would have first-hand proof of America's greatest war crime in the last 30 years; the Dresden-like bombardment of an entire city of 250,000. Instead, we have to rely on eyewitness accounts that appear on the internet or the spurious reports that sporadically surface in the New York Times and Associated Press. For the most part, the Times and AP have shown themselves to be undependable; limiting their coverage to the details that support the overall goals of the occupation. For example, in the last few weeks both the NYTs and the AP ran stories on the alleged progress being made in Falluja. The AP outrageously referred to the battered city as "the safest place in Iraq"; a cynical appraisal of what most independent journalists have called nearly total destruction. One can only wonder if the editors at the AP would approve of similar security measures if they were taken in their own neighborhoods.

The NYTs also ran a lengthy story, "Vital Signs of a Ruined City Grow stronger in Falluja", which portrayed Falluja as a city on the mend' after a healthy dose of imperial medicine: "Classes have started again two months ago and the cheerful shrieks of children can be heard in the hallways." This was just one of the more contemptuous quotes lifted from the NYT's story of "rebirth" from the epicenter of American devastation. The quote was accompanied by a picture of a Marine in full-combat gear bending over to tie the shoe of a seven or eight year old Iraqi boy; a threatening image used to convey the spirit of American generosity.

The truth about Falluja is far different than the bogus reports in the AP and Times. The fact that even now, a full 6 months after the siege, camera crews and journalists are banned from the city, tells us a great deal about the extent of America's war crimes. Just two weeks ago, a photographer from Al Aribiyya news was arrested while leaving Falluja and his equipment and film were confiscated. To date, he is still being held without explanation and there is no indication when he will be released. This illustrates the fear among the military brass that the truth about Falluja will leech out and destroy whatever modest support still exists for the occupation. Journalists should realize that Falluja may turn out to be the administration's Achilles heel; a My Lai-type atrocity that turns the public decisively against Bush's war.

The fairytales in the Times and AP are typical wartime propaganda; no different from the fabrications about Jessica Lynch's heroics or the Dear Leader larking-about in Baghdad with a plastic turkey in tow (Bush's "surprise" Thanksgiving day visit) The articles suggest that the administration has settled on a strategy for concealing the unpleasant facts about the obliteration of the city. Along with an active disinformation campaign featured in the nation's leading newspapers, the administration has put together a PR operation to shape public perceptions. This explains why the State Dept's number two official, Robert Zoellick, popped up in Falluja last week for a photo-op at a bread-making factory and a water-pumping station. Zoellick's visit was supposed to draw attention the progress being made in Falluja's restoration. Instead, his plans were disrupted by threats to his personal safety and he was hustled-off to a fortified military compound in the center of town. There he was beset by the cities tribal leaders' complaining about the dismal pace of reconstruction.

Zoellick's appearance was intended to highlight the alleged return of 90,000 Fallujans to the city and the reparations that have been made to the city's water system. In fact, there's no way to verify the administration's claims about the numbers of returning residents, and its doubtful that there have been any measurable improvements to the water-treatment plants, sewage facilities, electrical grid or hospital; all of which were intentionally bombed during the siege.

Zoellick's "confidence-building" trip turned out to be just another in a long list of bungled public relations gambits. If anything, it only further proved that the US still has no control over the security situation on the ground, and that the majority of Iraqis were better off under Saddam.

The Bush administration claims that the military is slowly providing compensation to the people whose homes were destroyed during the Falluja offensive but, again, there's no independent source that can verify those claims and it seems inconsistent with the existing policy. Zoellick summarized the Bush policy succinctly in his remarks to the Fallujan leaders, "I know it won't be easy. There will be many days of frustration, even threats. We can help, but YOU have to make it happen."

Zoellick's comments are little more than a distillation of the Bush ethos, "You're on your own;" the underlying theme of "compassionate conservatism".

It's doubtful that anyone in Falluja is so naïve that they believe the administration will actually help-out with the reconstruction. Two years have passed since the initial invasion and Baghdad is still limited to three or four hours of electricity per day. The problems with water and sewage systems are equally grave. Only one in five Iraqis has access to clean water and there are still many places in Baghdad where raw sewage can be seen on the city streets. As a result there have been reports of outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea and other more obscure water-borne illnesses.

Falluja is undoubtedly doomed to the same fate as Afghanistan. The media will create the illusion of improvement for the American public; celebrating the meaningless trappings of democracy (sham elections, claims of sovereignty, and the writing of a constitution) while the nation remains fractured and under the brutal rule of the regional war-lords. Afghanistan is a lawless, drug-colony run by gangsters and narco-smugglers. By any standard of measurement, our involvement there has been a complete failure. The real Afghanistan bears no resemblance to the flourishing democratic republic that graces the pages of American newspapers.

Falluja and the rest of Iraq can expect the very same treatment. There is no Plan B; the Bush strategy for toppling regimes and replacing them with the Neoliberal model is a cookie-cutter approach to governance; a one-size-fits-all formula for global rule.

In Naomi Klein's article "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", Klein points out that there really is no intention on the part of the US to rebuild Iraq or anywhere else for that matter. When the State Dept gets involved, through its Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) "the mandate is not to rebuild any old states, but to create democratic and market-oriented' ones". That entails selling off "state owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy" and, thereby, "changing the very social fabric of a nation."

There it is! Deregulation, privatization and control of resources; the same model applied over and over again. The real goal is a radical, fundamental change to the system; "shock therapy", the all-purpose antidote prescribed by the global banking and financial establishment. These changes are facilitated through their political surrogates in the Bush administration, and executed by their own private security apparatus (aka; the US Military). After Iraq has passed through this vicious transition from semi-socialist government to deregulated capitalist colony, it will be entered into the new world order of American protectorates; stripped of its resources and subjected to the tyranny of foreign rule. All government properties and services will be controlled by multi-national corporations and all assets will be held by the foreign lending institutions that own the majority shares of the Iraqi National Bank.

The real story of Falluja will never appear in the pages of the New York Times; the banned weapons, the bloated corpses, the thousands of dead animals killed by illicit chemicals, the wasteland of rubble and ruined lives. The magnitude of the crime simply won't fit within the paper's glib account of benign intervention. Rather, the Times is focused on promoting a credible story of "rebirth amid the ruins"; of lives patched together by a kindhearted father in Washington and his heavily-armed disciples.

They're wasting their time. The cruelty of the siege and the vastness of devastation will eventually be brought to light and the Time's feeble apologetics will amount to nothing.

The Times remains the command center of the imperial chronicle; the indispensable shaper of the colonial digest. Its pages furnish the muddled logic for the invasion of defenseless nations, the rationale for continued repression, the requisite smokescreen for American war crimes, and the dubious justification for the ongoing occupation. Their work in Falluja is just one of many services they carry out as the information-annex of the defense establishment. They perform subtler assignments others as well. They continue to be an invaluable cog in the machinery of state-terror; executing their function with extraordinary skill.

Comment: Remember that Italian reporter Guiliana Sgrena -- yes, yes, the communist one -- was working on the story of Fallujah when she was kidnapped?

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A Math Lesson
The Killing of Nicola Calipari

It was reported a few days ago:

"U.S. soldiers reportedly have been cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting of an Italian journalist and an intelligence agent last month in Baghdad.

"The car was about 130 yards from a checkpoint when the soldiers flashed their lights to get it to stop. They fired warning shots when the car was within 90 yards of the checkpoint, but at 65 yards, they used deadly force. Calipari was killed and Sgrena wounded."

Sgrena has told CBS that the car she was in was going 30 mph. At 30 mph, a car is going 15 yards per second. So, according to the U.S. military, they fired warning shots within 2.7 seconds of flashing a warning light, and used "deadly force" 2.3 seconds after that. And actually, if the U.S. military story were true and the car were really travelling at "high speed", let's be generous and call that only 45 mph, that's 22 yards per second, meaning 1.8 seconds between warning lights and warning shots, and 1.6 seconds between warning shots and deadly shots.

Now, there are variables, but typical perception plus reaction times are of the order of 1.5 seconds, that is, the time it takes to perceive a problem (such as a warning signal) and move your foot to the brake. That means that, according to the military's story, shots were fired at the vehicle less than 0.3 seconds after the vehicle could possibly have begun to slow down, even if they were paying close attention and they had immediately perceived that the alleged flashing light was meant as a signal to stop.

However that 0.3 second is actually overstated, because the gunman (or gunmen), attempting to perceive if the car was responding to their warning signal to slow down, have perception and reaction times of their own, so in fact, they were pulling the trigger before they could possibly have perceived if the car were slowing down. And likewise, if the so-called warning shots were supposed to have served any purpose whatsoever, once again the "deadly force" shots were being squeezed off well before the warning shots could possibly have had any effect.

And on that basis, the military has "exonerated itself" from any wrongdoing.

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Six killed in Baghdad car bomb as insurgents pick off Iraqi army targets
19 April 2005 2337 hrs - AFP

BAGHDAD : A suicide bomber killed six people outside an Iraqi army recruitment centre in Baghdad, as insurgents stepped up attacks on targets ranging from would-be recruits to top military officers in their homes.

The latest attacks came as politicians continued to wrangle over the make-up of the next government, more than 11 weeks after general elections, a delay that many fear plays into rebel hands.

In the fourth such attack in the capital in less than a week, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside a palace of ousted president Saddam Hussein, now used by the army, killing six people and wounding 40, a defence ministry spokesman said.

Most of the victims were soldiers or would-be recruits.

The Al-Qaeda-linked group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an Internet site which it habitually uses to claim operations in Iraq, said it carried out the attack in Baghdad.

The defence ministry spokesman said another attack against an army patrol in Khalidiyah, west of the capital, killed at least three more soldiers.

In a chilling raid underlining insecurity in post-Saddam Iraq, several men in army uniforms late Monday forced their way into the southern Baghdad home of Major General Adnan Faush Farawni, a senior advisor to the defence ministry.

Both he and his son, Captain Alladin Farawni, who worked in intelligence, were shot dead, the interior and defence ministries told AFP.

In another Monday evening attack, an inspector general responsible for southern provinces, Brigadier General Hussein Hato al-Jabeeri, and his driver were shot dead in their car in Amara, some 350 kilometres (210 miles) southeast of Baghdad, a police captain said.

On Sunday, another top ranking officer, Brigadier General Yunis Mohammed Sulaiman, was murdered on his way to work in the main northern city of Mosul.

In the continuing bloodshed that leaves civilians unspared, three men in a car on Tuesday gunned down Fuwad Ibrahim al-Bayatie, head of the German language department at Baghdad University outside his west Baghdad home, an interior ministry official said. [...]

Angry MPs suspended a sitting of parliament for an hour Tuesday and then passed a motion demanding an official apology from the United States after an MP was manhandled by a US soldier at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

They called for the soldier to be disciplined.

The US army said a 51-year-old man detained at Camp Bucca, in the south of the country, died Tuesday, apparently of natural causes.

Camp Bucca, the country's largest US-run detention facility, has more than 6,000 inmates. US and Iraqi forces are currently holding more than 17,000 people. [...]

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Iraqis raise fears of "conspiracy theory"

BAGHDAD - Religious and civic leaders expressed fears of a conspiracy yesterday after a reported kidnapping siege in an Iraqi town ended without resistance and in the apparent absence of any hostages.

For some leaders, the mysterious standoff in the town of Madain was part of a self-serving campaign by some politicians or, worse, a sinister plot to start a sectarian war.

"We want the area to be spared the foolish actions of some in the government," said Sheikh Abdul Hadi al-Darraji, spokesperson for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

US-backed Iraqi forces took control of the town south of the capital yesterday without a fight and found no hostages.

The three-day standoff around Madain - marked by rumour, suspicion and conflicting reports - had threatened to spiral into an all-out national crisis as Sunnis and Shiites negotiate on the formation of a new government.

It started on Friday with Shiite residents who fled the mixed town speaking of Sunni militants holding up to 100 people hostage and threatening to kill them unless the Shiites left.

Darraji said there was tension in the area and confirmed that a Shiite mosque had been blown up in Madain.

But influential Sunni clerics, including those in the Committee of Muslim Scholars, said the whole affair was staged to justify a military operation against Sunnis in the area.

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Iraq officials retract statements on assassination
Updated: 2005-04-19 08:43
An Iraqi soldier guides a 16 year-old detainee following his arrest during a joint security operation in the town of Madaen south of Baghdad, April 18, 2005.

Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said a senior official was assassinated in his home on Monday, adding they had misidentified the official earlier.

They named the dead man as Major-General Adnan Midhish Kharagoli, an adviser to the defense minister. He was killed along with his nephew when 10 gunmen burst into his Baghdad home.

Interior Ministry officials had earlier said the victim was Major-General Adnan Thabet, hours after he told the media that a hostage crisis was exaggerated.

"We made a mistake," said one of the officials, who declined to be named.

Such reports of an assassination could fuel sectarian tensions during a time of widespread violence and political uncertainty gripping Iraq.

The comments added to the confusion over reports of a hostage crisis in the town of Madaen, near Baghdad, and reinforced fears of a political vacuum.

Iraq's bickering leaders have failed to form a new government 11 weeks after Jan. 30 elections that politicians promised would deliver stability after two years of suicide bombings, kidnappings and rampant crime.

Senior officials in a leading Shi'ite party have been insisting that Sunni insurgents took up to 150 Shi'ites hostage over the weekend and threatened to kill them unless all Shi'ites left the area.

Those claims were supported by comments by caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Minister of State for National Security Kassim Daoud and Iraqis who waited outside Madean and said they were relatives of the hostages.

But doubts have been growing over the affair since raids by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops failed to produce any evidence of kidnappers or hostages.

Some Iraqis accused their new leaders of fabricating the hostage drama for political aims and urged them to focus on tackling relentless violence and unemployment instead of making comments that could fuel sectarian tensions.

Thabet said of the hostage affair: "The number of hostages has been greatly exaggerated."

Police cautioned from the start that perhaps only a few people were being held and said the situation was the result of weeks of tit-for-tat kidnapping between rival tribes.

Despite those findings, Shi'ite politicians in Baghdad maintained that abuses had occurred in and near Madaen.

They put Reuters in touch with Shi'ite villagers from the town of Suwayra, south of Madaen, who said scores of bodies had been found dumped in the Tigris river over the last few days.

Some had been moved to a local military hospital by Iraqi troops, they said.

A Reuters cameraman visited Suwayra, spoke with village residents and police and toured the hospital but found no evidence of bodies.

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Cardinal Ratzinger - Could the Next Pope Be a Nazi?
Tim Boucher

With all this talk of the prophecies for the next pope, I'd like to make a little papal prediction of my own. My money happens to be on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - mainly because his name has come up time and again in unrelated research over the past year, and he just so happens to be a very scary candidate.

Before I get into any kind of speculation or possible mud-slinging, I'd like to take the opportunity to quote directly from a (not tongue-in-cheek) website titled "The Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club." On their front page, it proclaims boldly:

As Grand Inquisitor for Mother Rome, Ratzinger keeps himself busy in service to the Truth: correcting theological error, silencing dissenting theologians, and stomping down heresy wherever it may rear its ugly head […]

Remember - that is from his fan club… The reason they call him "Grand Inquisitor" and talk about him "stamping out heresy" is because in 1981, Pope John Paul II named him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In case you're not familiar with the CDF, they used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition (or, according to some: Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition), until their name was changed to something more friendly in 1908 by Pope Pius X.

This rather severe role has landed Ratzinger the nickname "The Enforcer." From a BBC profile of him:

To others, he is an intimidating "Enforcer", punishing liberal thinkers, and keeping the Church in the Middle Ages. […]

While many theologians strive for a Catholic Church that is more open and in touch with the world around it, Ratzinger's mission is to stamp out dissent, and curb the "wild excesses" of this more tolerant era.

He wields the tools of his office with steely efficiency. By influencing diocese budgets, bishops' transfers and even excommunications, what an opponent calls "symbolic violence", Ratzinger has clamped down on the more radical contingent of the Church.

He has even claimed the prime position of the Church of Rome over other Christian Churches. Although he has apologised for this, he has never been so contrite about excluding liberation theologians, more progressive priests or those in favour of the ordination of women.

To me, it only makes sense (though I don't like it by any means) to bring in somebody who is a Fundamentalist Catholic, since the world right now seems to be caught between the Fundamentalist Christianity of America, and the Fundamentalist Islam of the Arab world. A moderate or even - dare I say - progressive pope would be awash in a sea of hard-line all-or-nothing stances and ultimatums.

Ratzinger is also said to be the author of the leaked memorandum last year which laid out the principles under which a bishop or other minister could deny the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion) to any politician supporting abortion - namely John Kerry. Here's an online copy of the Memorandum.

Even more fun than that though is that as a young man, Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth in Bavaria, and was drafted into the Wehrmacht, the Nazi army. And yes it was "mandatory" but that doesn't absolve people of responsibility for their lives. Also, it's been pointed out he was never a member formally of the Nazi party. Again, yes and? Anyway, some claim he deserted the Wehrmacht, but either way, he ended up in an Allied POW camp in 1945. As counterpoint - here's a Catholic page about how Ratzinger hated the Nazis and resisted them. Also, here's a thread on the forum on the Ratzinger fan club site about his Nazi past. (It's also addressed on the FAQ of that site)

Also have a look at this quote from a Washington Post article from November of last year:

Observers said Ratzinger's views have been heavily influenced by the harrowing experience of two contending ideologies: fascism, which he experienced as a youth in Germany, and the Marxism rife in German universities during the 1960s.

"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesial totalitarianism. In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes," wrote John Allen, a journalist and biographer of Ratzinger.

In his early years in office, Ratzinger moved to stamp out vestiges of liberation theology, a current of Catholic thought born in the 1960s that emphasized grass-roots organization to free people from poverty. Its association with Marxist groups and revolutionary movements appalled both John Paul II and Ratzinger.

[I also have a post on Liberation Theology, Christian Anarchism & the Emergent Church, for anyone interested.]

This rigid anti-Communist stance fits very much in line with Ratzinger's involvement also in the Fatima mysteries. If you'll recall, the Virgin Mary herself supposedly appeared to peasant children in Portugal during the first World War to warn of the rise of Communist Russia. The so-called "Second Secret" she revealed at Fatima went:

"Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will suffer much and various nations will be annihilated."

On that note, Ratzinger is the titular author under whom the "Third Secret of Fatima" was revealed by the Vatican in 2000. Kept in silence for decades, Ratzinger proclaimed that this secret was a prophesy of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II (coincidentally, this was the year Ratzinger became Grand Inquisitor). The actual substance of the vision though is extremely different from the 1981 incident. Take a look at the actual report on the Third Secret on the Vatican's own website. The vision goes (in part):

[…] the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. […]

Rather than the 1981 failed assassination attempt, this reminds me much more of the papal prophecy of Malachy, who states the following in regards to the reign of the final pope, nicknamed in Latin, Petrus Romanus (Peter of Rome):

Amidst external persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep in many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed, and the terrible Judge will judge his people. The End.

Not a perfect match, but rather more interesting and likely - that is if we're going to dip into the wells of prophecy. I also found this quote from a site on prophecy:

Pope John Paul II, when asked about the Third Secret in Germany, stated that "we must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not too distant future, trials that will require us to be ready to give up our lives…" Pope John Paul II, as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, elaborated this theme during a visit to the United States in 1976: "We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American Society or wide circles of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. It is a trial which the Church must take up."

Coming back to hard facts though, Wikipedia points out that Cardinal Ratzinger is in charge of both John Paul II's funeral, as well as the Papal Conclave of 2005, where the next pope will be chosen. At 77, Ratzinger is the oldest of the eligible candidates for pope, but he's long been considered the Pope's right hand man. From the Washington Post article quoted above:

"Cardinal Ratzinger is a singular figure in the history of his office and perhaps the church," said Gianni Baget Bozzo, a theologian who specializes in the Vatican. "He takes the initiative on a wide range of subjects in a way that is usually reserved to the pope. That's not to say he acts against the pope. He is trusted. But he is a kind of vice pope."

"He is certainly very visible," said Thomas J. Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. "He has always been extremely strong, given the pope's friendship and confidence. He keeps his finger in everything."

Ratzinger's visibility and the pope's frailty have reawakened the question of who is in charge at the Vatican. Some observers predicted that he would be a strong candidate to succeed John Paul II. His conservatism fits with the thinking of most of the cardinal electors picked by John Paul II. But at 77, Ratzinger is the oldest of the so-called papabili, cardinals frequently mentioned as papal candidates.

"In spite of his age, Ratzinger has recently jumped to the top of the list of candidates," wrote one Vatican watcher, Sandro Magister, in L'Espresso magazine recently. "Some look at him as if he were already de facto pope, the stony defender of the faith in a church under attack from modernity."

It's also been suggested (notably in a Time article) that Ratzinger's age, 77, is a plus, because the Conclave will actually be seeking a shorter-term "transitional" pope, after John Paul II's unusually long reign. (Here's a list of the ten longest reigning popes - JP2 is #3) The article Post ends:

Ratzinger, who has sought ways to adapt church governance for modern times, might be willing to agree to an age limit and pass on the job after a few years.

Oh, and speaking of leading a church threatened by modernity, I almost forgot to point out that it's one of Ratzinger's deputies, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who is leading the attack against Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.

Whoo! Anyway, for more info on Ratzinger, there's also a rather good list of articles online about him kept at the official Ratzinger Fan Club site. Bon apetit!


A wonderful reader also just pointed out the following horrendous tidbit about Ratzinger:

Ratzinger is also the author of a May 2001 letter to bishops stating that the "Crimine solicitationies" law (regarding strict secrecy in sex abuse cases) is still in effect.

For more info on this, we turn to an article on the Guardian's website. Ratzinger in 2001 reminded everyone this rule was still in effect. It referred back to a 40 year old church document:

The 69-page Latin document bearing the seal of Pope John XXIII was sent to every bishop in the world. The instructions outline a policy of 'strictest' secrecy in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and threatens those who speak out with excommunication.

They also call for the victim to take an oath of secrecy at the time of making a complaint to Church officials. It states that the instructions are to 'be diligently stored in the secret archives of the Curia [Vatican] as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries.'

[…] Bishops are instructed to pursue these cases 'in the most secretive way… restrained by a perpetual silence… and everyone… is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office… under the penalty of excommunication'.

They also provide a link to the actual document itself (PDF). I have absolutely no idea why I never heard about this, and why this simply didn't explode across the media. To me, this pretty much trumps all the other negative things I've compiled above about Ratzinger. There's simply no justifiable reason for priests to be fucking kids, and for anybody to be protecting those who are doing it. Even if this order came from elsewhere, Ratzinger's name and responsibility are still on it.

The weirdest part of all the Ratzinger stuff, I think, is that I didn't really even need to dip into any alternative or questionable sources to find it. All this shit is waaay out in the open. I wonder what he's got on his hands that isn't such common knowledge?

Comment: For more on Papal prophecy and what it may mean during these seemingly "end times", don't miss St Malachy and The Toil of the Sun by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

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Battlespace America
By Peter Byrne
May/June 2005 Issue
Mother Jones

The new Pentagon can peruse intelligence on U.S.citizens and send Marines down Main Street.

In early 2004, Sahar Aziz, a law student at the University of Texas at Austin, organized a conference called "Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism." The seminar attracted several hundred people. Unbeknownst to Aziz, who is Muslim, in the audience were two Army lawyers in civilian attire. They reported to military intelligence that three Middle Eastern men had asked them "suspicious" questions about their identity during a refreshment break. A few days later, two military intelligence agents materialized on campus, demanding to see a video-tape of the seminar along with a roster of attendees.

Aziz didn't respond and instead helped arrange a press conference. When the Wall Street Journal highlighted the episode in a story about domestic intelligence gathering by the military, the Army's Intelligence and Security Command acknowledged that the agents "exceeded their authority" and introduced "refresher training" on the limits of the military's jurisdiction.

As it turns out, though, it may be the public that needs a refresher course on the role of its military forces. In 2002, the Defense Department updated its Unified Command Plan, which made the already blurry lines between civilian and military even less legible. Since then, all over America, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been making information about the public available to a Pentagon power center most people have never heard about: U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Hidden deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, more than 100 intelligence analysts sift through streams of data collected by federal agents and local law en- forcers–continually updating a virtual picture of what the command calls the North American "battlespace," which includes the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as 500 miles out to sea. If they find something amiss, they have resources to deploy in response that no law enforcement agency could dream of. They've got an army, a navy, an air force, the Marines, and the Coast Guard.

The creation of NORTHCOM, as part of the "unified plan" in the wake of 9/11, established the military's first domestic combatant command center. This precedent departs from a long-standing tradition of distinguishing between the responsibilities of the military and those of law enforcement. Since 1878, when Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act in response to interference in elections by federal troops, an underlying assumption of U.S. democracy has been that soldiers should not act as police officers on American soil. While the Chinese army might send tanks to Tiananmen Square and the Liberian military might man checkpoints in the capital, the presence of National Guardsmen, carrying firearms and dressed in camouflage, patrolling American territory in the weeks after 9/11 was a striking anomaly.

The new NORTHCOM is designed to take command of every National Guard unit in the country, as well as regular troops, and wield them as a unified force. It has a variety of jobs, including fighting the war on drugs and supporting civilian authorities in cases of natural disaster, civil disorder, or terrorist attack. But it also has the less straightforward task of locating terrorists before they strike, which means, first and foremost, coordinating intelligence work. To this end, the command has been forging a national surveillance system directly linking military intelligence operations to local law enforcement intelligence operations and private security and information companies. These partnerships allow the military to skirt federal privacy laws that restrict its ability to maintain files on ordinary people–prohibitions that apply to the Pentagon but not to private data miners, such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis Group, or state and local police departments. In addition, personal data is culled from public records, confidential sources, and other repositories routinely cultivated by more than 50 government agencies. For example, NORTHCOM taps into one law enforcement intelligence-sharing network into which local, state, and federal law enforcement can upload information on individuals they've surveilled.

Because most of its activity takes place in secret, and because the Pentagon has still not fully clarified its mandate, very little is known about exactly what kind of information NORTHCOM is gathering, and on whom. A review of documents and interviews with military and civil liberties experts makes clear, however, that the command's domestic intelligence ambitions are more far-reaching than anything the U.S. military has undertaken in the past and that the hope is to "fuse" disparate government databases so they can be readily accessed by NORTHCOM's leadership.

Not surprisingly, all of this worries civil liberties advocates. "There is no explicit prohibition in any law to the effect that the Pentagon may not engage in domestic intelligence," says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, D.C. To place a wiretap or to search a home of a suspected terrorist without their knowledge, Martin notes, officials need a secret warrant from an intelligence court–but other than that, they have a great deal of leeway. "The military can follow you around," she notes. "It can use giant, secret databases of linked networks to gather a picture of the activities of millions of Americans, mapping all of their associations, and the only restriction is that such surveillance be done for purposes of foreign intelligence, counterterrorism, the drug war, or force protection."

Indeed, to beef up protection of its "battlespace," the new command also includes "influence operations specialist[s]," who work on psy-ops "themes" and "deception plans," as first reported in Congressional Quarterly last year. Although the category of "enemy combatant" muddies old definitions of foreign and domestic subjects, NORTHCOM spokesman Sean Kelly assured Mother Jones in an email that the command draws "distinctions between domestic operations and operations conducted outside of U.S. territory....

The idea that the American public would ever be the target of psychological operations or deception by NORTHCOM is completely inconsistent with U.S. law and our mission."

Critics of NORTHCOM say they recognize the need to protect America from terrorist attack, but argue that the delicate task of domestic intelligence gathering should be left to law enforcement. Military affairs expert William Arkin–who recently broke the news that NORTHCOM had established a set of domestic commando teams who were, among other things, deployed at President Bush's inaugural–observes that "once you cross the threshold of believing that databases are going to reveal illegal behavior, it is only steps away from getting into the business of domestic intelligence…and supplanting the role of the National Guard, which has traditionally been in charge of domestic security."

Concern about NORTHCOM's expanding powers is not limited to civil liberties watchdogs. Former CIA lawyer Suzanne Spaulding was the executive director of the National Commission on Terrorism under L. Paul Bremer III in 2000 and now works as a national security consultant. She worries that military intelligence services won't always distinguish between people who are fair game–such as foreign terrorists–and ordinary people who are going about their lives with an expectation of privacy. "People will say, 'Hey, wait a minute, you can't do that!'" she says. "And the military may say, 'This is not law enforcement, this is a military operation against a group of enemy combatants.'" She points out that constitutional safeguards against surveillance of individuals by law enforcement may apply differently to defense activities under NORTHCOM. "This issue needs discussion and debate," she says, "and the public ought to know about it."

More troubling than being watched, though, is what might happen after the spying is over. NORTHCOM is still prohibited from doing much of the work police departments and the FBI do, but it could end up doing work that its parallel commands do overseas. Joseph Onek of the Constitution Project in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan nonprofit focused on civil liberties during wartime, puts it this way: "We're worried that some hotshot military intelligence guy gets back from the Middle East and goes to work with NORTHCOM, using some of the same interrogation methods used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay."

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Army, eager to use PR in Iraq, tries it out at Fort Ord first
Posted on Sat, Apr. 16, 2005
By Jessica Portner
Mercury News


Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Logan Griffith, wearing fatigues and armed with a fake rifle, passed out leaflets to Iraqi villagers with photos of exploding limbs to warn them about land mines.

Down a dirt road, a fellow soldier was telling the town's mayor through an Arabic interpreter that the insurgents -- and not the American soldiers -- were their enemy. Then a grenade exploded, gravel flew, and everyone scattered.

There were no casualties, though. The ''village'' actually was a cluster of old buildings on the decommissioned Fort Ord in Monterey County. The ''Iraqis'' were actors, some of them Iraqi immigrants, others from the military's Defense Language Institute down the road. And the 52 Reserve soldiers, who were real, were training for the interpersonal and salesmanship skills they'll need when they get to the real Iraq and mingle with real townspeople.

Elite group

The U.S. Army Reserve's 7th Psychological Operations Group based at Moffett Field is one of three in the country charged with getting jittery civilians to obey U.S. commands through persuasion rather than guns.

''They are learning how to be salespeople,'' said Lt. Col. Steve Goto, deputy commander of the Mountain View unit. ''It's the military version of Madison Avenue.''

At Fort Ord, the purple-flowered hillside with a fake town is an ideal spot to practice such fictional scenarios.

A tall, broad-shouldered Staff Sgt. Chester Byrd sidled up to the ''mayor'' of the town and shook hands. Byrd started up a conversation through an Arabic interpreter while his two buddies fanned out to guard the perimeter. The man groused about the lack of basic services such as sewers and water, and said residents were rattled about the violence that plagues the town.

''If you help us and work with us then we will be able to assist you,'' Byrd said, holding his gun downward in a non-threatening manner. ''What we need to do is find out where insurgents are hiding.''

Committed volunteers

Majed Yousif, who volunteered for the role of an angry villager through a Michigan-based contractor, said he did it for more than the $20-an-hour fee and trip to California.

''I want to help both my country, Iraq, and my new country,'' he said. ''Hopefully this will reduce the casualty rate and lead them to get used to people yelling at them.''

Military psychological operations -- or psy-ops to those who practice it -- have been used historically both to fool and demoralize the enemy, and to pacify and reassure civilians in conquered territory. In World War II, operatives fooled the Nazis about the planned site for the D-day landing, and helped establish order in demolished German and Japanese cities.

In Iraq, U.S. jets have flown over Al-Fallujah, depositing more than a million handbills urging the city's insurgents not to fight. Iraqi police officers, meanwhile, passed out leaflets featuring graphic pictures of injured Iraqi children.

Since World War II, the Army's regular active-duty psy-ops unit has been headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C., with Reserve units stationed in Cleveland and Mountain View. In all, about 5,000 soldiers are trained in these skills.

Sgt. 1st Class Matt O'Keefe, one of the leaders of a group of soldiers training Friday who will be deployed in June, said this kind of mental exercise was essential when he was in Kuwait, Somalia and Baghdad.

''This is a different form of affecting behavior. It's like media advertising,'' said O'Keefe, 33, from Minneapolis. ''You can do so much good with all these messages and we need to be very careful when we use force.''

Learning the culture

John Pike, director of, said the best soldiers must steep themselves in cultural nuances. They must learn how to show proper honor and avoid being offensive.

''It's Local Culture 101 and you have to have a gift for gab,'' said Pike. ''Every culture has a particular set of rules. But many foreigners do not understand.''

Cultural ignorance can be deadly. ''Thousands of civilians have been killed because they appeared to be offensive and then the victims' relatives join the insurgency to get revenge,'' said Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information.

Critics, though, say the tactics have a dark side. There often is a blurred distinction between trying to destabilize an enemy force while also trying to stabilize civic functions among non-combatants.

Bill Hackwell, a Vietnam veteran who works with an anti-war coalition in San Francisco, said psy-ops were a failure in Vietnam and argued that they are failing in Iraq.

''Everything is always cloaked in a threat,'' said Hackwell. ''Unless you do this, we are going to destroy your village. How can they ever trust the U.S. after that?''

Critics point to a CNN report last year that prematurely announced an attack on Al-Fallujah. The source was a Pentagon press release, and the intent of the false report was to allow the military to gauge how guerrillas would respond to an invasion.

Still, the soldiers training in Monterey were thankful for the experience. Better to get used to the confusion here than in Iraq, where the bullets and blood are real.

Griffith's foray into the ''village'' involved sounds of Arabic prayers and a reading of the Koran blasting from loudspeakers, mobs of civilians shouting ''Give me some cash'' while others defended the soldiers and shouted ''Give them a chance.''

And in the middle of it all, a soldier playing an insurgent opened fire and had to be subdued without harming civilians.

'''This was hard,'' said Griffith, ''because everyone was talking at once. And you always have to watch what you say.''

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Bomb threat at Rice hotel in Moscow
19 April 2005 2354 hrs - AFP

MOSCOW : A bomb threat at the Moscow hotel where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to stay disrupted her arrival in the Russian capital where she was due to hold talks with Russian leaders, a US official said.

The official, who asked not to be named, said there was a bomb threat at the Renaissance Hotel in the centre of Moscow. "The Russians have responded and are doing a sweep," he said.

"Rice was diverted to the residence of the US ambassador, while the rest of her entourage was taken to the US embassy," he said.
"We are waiting for the all clear."

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Earthquake hits southern Japan
April 19, 2005 

TOKYO (AP) - A strong earthquake struck southern Japan on Wednesday, injuring at least 13 people and shattering windows in swaying buildings, officials said.

There was no threat of a tsunami. The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 5.8, hit at 6:11 a.m. local time and was centred in the ocean just west of the city Fukuoka on Kyushu island, the Central Meteorological Agency reported.

Police said a 41-year-old woman broke her shoulder while trying to stop a Buddhist altar from falling from its stand. A dozen other people were slightly injured.

Officials are assessing the extent of the damage from the quake, which was followed by several weaker jolts, said Yoshihiro Nakamura, a regional spokesman. The quake shook large areas of Kyushu and was most strongly felt in Fukuoka, 900 kilometres southwest of Tokyo.

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Mild earthquake rocks Laoag
Tuesday, April 19 2005 @ 08:04 PM BST

Provincial A mild earthquake rocked Laoag City late Monday but caused no injury or damage, Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology (PHIVOLCS) said Tuesday.

The agency said the quake measured 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale and was tectonic in origin. The tremor center was estimated 125 km northeast of Laoag City, PAGASA said.

The quake was recorded at intensity 3 in Aparri, Cagayan; Intensity 2 in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte and Intensity 2 in Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur.

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Western Manitoba battered by windstorm
Last Updated Apr 19 2005 03:58 PM CDT
CBC News

WINNIPEG – A roofing company in Swan River has been blown away by the number of calls for help it's received after a severe windstorm in the area.

Strong winds blasted the area for more than a full day last Friday, with wind speeds sometimes surpassing 100 kilometres an hour.

Dale Anderson of Kendale Roofing says he has never seen a storm like it in the 30 years he's been working on roofs. [...]

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Fears grow that Comoros volcano poisoned well water

IDGIKOUNDZI, Comoros - Fears that volcanic ash poisoned drinking water mounted on Tuesday among 10,000 Comoros islanders who fled an eruption that poured black rain into wells supplying their homes.

Peering into a once sparkling pool in a circular stone tank high on the slopes of Mount Karthala, villagers said they were afraid even to wash in the now greyish water before their daily Muslim prayers.

"We are living as if there is a drought," said Abdurahman Mkoufunde, 45, one of the few men who stayed behind to watch over the village of Idgikoundzi, abandoned by 4000 people who fled after Sunday's eruption.

"If the water is dirty, the government will have to do something," he said in the village of corrugated iron shacks now inhabited mainly by goats and chickens, where residents rely on tanks to catch rainwater for drinking.

Karthala erupted after more than a decade of silence on Sunday, causing parts of the sides of the giant crater at the 2,361-metre summit to collapse into a cauldron of lava and hurling burning boulders into the sky that streaked like shooting stars.

So far, the 230,000 people on the island of Grande Comore, about 300km off east Africa, have been spared their worst fear: that a river of lava will bulldoze villages on mountainsides blanketed with tropical foliage, or release a cloud of deadly gas as it did a century ago, killing 17 people. [...]

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Typhoid outbreak in Fiji
Last Updated Tue, 19 Apr 2005 18:51:24 EDT
CBC News

SUVA, FIJI - Fiji's Ministry of Health is concerned that an outbreak of typhoid fever that has been detected in a number of different islands in the Fiji group could spread.

Government health facilities have confirmed 39 cases of typhoid since January.

One person has died of a complicated condition where typhoid was a contributing factor.

The Health Ministry says that while most of the other people diagnosed with typhoid have been treated successfully, others are still being monitored closely.

The ministry lists nine separate islands or districts in Fiji where typhoid cases have been detected, with 25 cases confirmed in the Central Eastern Division, 13 from the Northern Division and one from the West.

The Health Ministry says it is doing its best to contain the spread of typhoid but that anybody suffering from a fever should seek medical help.

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Yukon forecast for next 100 years: warmer
Last Updated Fri, 15 Apr 2005 19:11:37 EDT
CBC News

WHITEHORSE - Temperatures were warmer than normal over the winter in the Yukon. Climatologists said the trend could continue for the next century, reinforcing the territory's reputation as an international focus for climate change.

Environment Canada said temperatures for the winter months in the Yukon were anywhere from one to four degrees above what was considered normal.

The balmy trend has been consistent for the last nine years. A map of the country showing temperature changes shows the greatest increase in warmth over the Yukon.

"The weather service is still compiling figures from over the winter. But it looks like much of the winter was substantially warmer than normal," said Bob Van Dijken of the Northern Climate Change Office in Whitehorse, a group that educates, monitors, and helps develop responses to climate change.

Van Dijken said the trend appears to be caused by complex weather patterns giving the Yukon and adjacent areas the most dramatic temperature changes in the world.

The territory has a reputation for being the first to experience climate change, with the worst impacts, he added.

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Low oxygen Likely Made 'Great Dying' Worse, Greatly Delayed Recovery
Terra Daily

Not only was atmospheric oxygen content dropping at the end of the Permian, the scientists said, but carbon dioxide levels were rising, leading to global climate warming.

The biggest mass extinction in Earth history some 251 million years ago was preceded by elevated extinction rates before the main event and was followed by a delayed recovery that lasted for millions of years.

New research by two University of Washington scientists suggests that a sharp decline in atmospheric oxygen levels was likely a major reason for both the elevated extinction rates and the very slow recovery.

Earth's land at the time was still massed in a supercontinent called Pangea, and most of the land above sea level became uninhabitable because low oxygen made breathing too difficult for most organisms to survive, said Raymond Huey, a UW biology professor.

What's more, in many cases nearby populations of the same species were cut off from each other because even low-altitude passes had insufficient oxygen to allow animals to cross from one valley to the next.

That population fragmentation likely increased the extinction rate and slowed recovery following the mass extinction, Huey said.

"Biologists have previously thought about the physiological consequences of low oxygen levels during the late Permian period, but not about these biogeographical ones," he said.

Atmospheric oxygen content, about 21 percent today, was a very rich 30 percent in the early Permian period.

However, previous carbon-cycle modeling by Robert Berner at Yale University has calculated that atmospheric oxygen began plummeting soon after, reaching about 16 percent at the end of the Permian and bottoming out at less than 12 percent about 10 million years into the Triassic period.

"Oxygen dropped from its highest level to its lowest level ever in only 20 million years, which is quite rapid, and animals that once were able to cross mountain passes quite easily suddenly had their movements severely restricted," Huey said.

He calculated that when the oxygen level hit 16 percent, breathing at sea level would have been like trying to breathe at the summit of a 9,200-foot mountain today.

By the early Triassic period, sea-level oxygen content of less than 12 percent would have been the same as it is today in the thin air at 17,400 feet, higher than any permanent human habitation. That means even animals at sea level would have been oxygen challenged.

Huey and UW paleontologist Peter Ward are authors of a paper detailing the work, published in the April 15 edition of the journal Science.

The work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Astrobiology Institute.

Not only was atmospheric oxygen content dropping at the end of the Permian, the scientists said, but carbon dioxide levels were rising, leading to global climate warming.

"Declining oxygen and warming temperatures would have been doubly stressful for late Permian animals," Huey said.

"As the climate warms, body temperatures and metabolic rates go up. That means oxygen demand is going up, so animals would face an increased oxygen demand and a reduced supply. It would be like forcing athletes to exercise more but giving them less food. They'd be in trouble."

Ward was lead author of a paper published in Science earlier this year presenting evidence that extinction rates of land vertebrates were elevated throughout the late Permian, likely because of climate change, and culminated in a mass extinction at the end of the Permian.

The event, often called "the Great Dying," was the greatest mass extinction in Earth's history, killing 90 percent of all marine life and nearly three-quarters of land plants and animals.

Ward said paleontologists had previously assumed that Pangea was not just a supercontinent but also a "superhighway" on which species would have encountered few roadblocks while moving from one place to another.

However, it appears the greatly reduced oxygen actually created impassable barriers that affected the ability of animals to move and survive, he said.

"If this is true, then I think we have to go back and look at oxygen and its role in evolution and how different species developed," Ward said.

"You can go without food for a couple of weeks. You can go without water for a few days. How long can you go without oxygen, a couple of minutes? There's nothing with a greater evolutionary effect than oxygen."

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Geothermal eruption leaves 50m crater
20.04.05 12.00pm
When his cows started stampeding up the hill, farmer Phil Morgan knew something wasn't quite right.

But he couldn't have imagined the huge geothermal eruption which was taking place just behind him -- throwing huge stones into the air and leaving a crater more than 50m wide.

Yesterday morning's eruption on Department of Conservation land at Reporoa about 42km southeast of Rotorua is believed to be one of the biggest in New Zealand in 50 years.

Mr Morgan said he turned around after the cows started stampeding and saw "a massive cloud heading up into the heavens".

He added: "It hurled some big rocks a fair distance so it must have had a bit of grunt."

Geologist Ashley Cody was called to the farm after the eruption and was stunned by the extent of it.

The crater the eruption left is about three times the size of the 2001 Kuirau Park eruption.

Mr Cody said rocks thrown out of the crater were up to 60cm in diameter and more than a hectare of land had been destroyed.

The land within 20-30m of the crater was covered with ash and mud more than four metres thick. About a hectare of land has been left barren.

Mr Cody said it was both unusual and exciting to see such an event as they often happened when nobody was around.

While the major eruption came about 10.30am the area was still erupting at 3.30pm yesterday with stones being shot about 15m into the air and the steam column rising almost 50m.

Mr Cody said geologists would be keeping an eye on the eruption and it was likely it would weaken as it lost its energy. This could take hours or even days.

Mr Cody said it was possible that had someone been within 20m of the eruption, they "may have come to grief".

Before the eruption, head-high blackberry covered the land but now there was "not a skerrick of vegetation" left.

The eruption has blocked the neighbouring stream which is expected to "run muddy" for days.

Mr Cody said while the area was not really thought of as a place for eruptions, it had been heating up over the past year, with trees dying and new springs breaking out. An almost identical eruption happened in the area in 1948.

There had been no obvious triggers for the eruption, such as earthquakes, heavy rain or changes in air pressure.

"Almost every geothermal field does this from time to time."

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And Finally...

Faithful see Mary on underpass wall
By Jennifer Lebovich
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 19, 2005

For some in crowd at Kennedy viaduct, seeing is believing

Obdulia Delgado turned toward the on ramp of the Kennedy Expressway when she saw something in the middle of traffic that made her stop.

She saw the image of the Virgin Mary in a large yellow and white stain on the concrete wall at the Fullerton Avenue entrance last week.

"I was so stunned I couldn't move. People were honking," said Delgado, 31. "It was a dream. I don't even know how I got home."

By Monday morning, dozens had gathered to see what they believe is the image of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the underpass. Groups of people filtered past the site all day, some lighting candles and leaving flowers, others praying the rosary. Most snapped pictures with digital cameras and cell phones.

To some who saw it, the image appeared as a white outline of the Holy Mother's face wearing a shadowy cloak. To others, it looked like an ivory pawn from a game of chess.

As believers came to the spot throughout the morning, police put up temporary barricades to prevent people from driving and parking in the area on the north side of Fullerton Avenue.

Delgado said she had been praying to the Virgin Mary to help her pass a final in culinary school when she saw the image.

"There are many people here who believe in her. She's here for a reason," she said. "For me, it's not a watermark, it's the Virgin Mary."
It is not unusual for people to claim to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in unusual places.

In November 2004, a piece of popcorn shaped like the Virgin Mary was auctioned on eBay. A Canadian woman also said she saw the Blessed Mother and baby Jesus on a Lay's Smokey Bacon Chip. Thousands of Greek Orthodox flocked to Athens in 2001 to see a "bleeding" Virgin Mary statue.

For now in Chicago, the image will be allowed to stay on the wall, surrounded by less identifiable water stains and paint marks.

"We're treating this just like we treat any type of roadside memorial," Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said. "We have no plans to clean this site."

Apparitions of Mary hold different meanings for believers, but people may draw connections to current events, like the death of Pope John Paul II, said Cristina Traina, an associate professor of religion at Northwestern University.

"Most often, the people who see the image interpret it as a sign of affirmation of an event or behavior or a condemnation of an event or behavior," she said. "What is miraculous is that a natural event like a stain from leaking water and a supernatural event like seeing Mary converge."

Michael Grzesik, who leads people on religious pilgrimages, said that when he first looked at it, he saw nothing unusual.

"I was looking at it and thought it might be an oil spill. But as I got closer it resembles Our Lady," he said. "It really struck me . . . I think Our Lady is always with us, and this is another sign she is with us."

Grzesik compared the image under the expressway to an apparition of the Virgin Mary that appeared more than a century ago in a grotto in Lourdes, France.

"This is like Our Lady appearing in Chicago in a grotto under the Kennedy," he said.

But he was also light-hearted about the image: "There's a little graffiti around that says 'Go Cubs,' so it looks like Our Lady is rooting for the Cubs."

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not received any requests to authenticate the image, spokesman Jim Dwyer said.

"These things don't happen every day," Dwyer said. "Sometimes people ask us to look into it. Most of the time they don't. [The meaning] depends on the individual who sees it. To them, it's real. To them, it reaffirms their faith."

Victor Robles, 36, who got a close look, remained skeptical.

"I see just a concrete wall and an image that could happen anywhere," he said. "It makes me feel good that there are people with faith . . . If that image helps more people feel closer to God than maybe that is a good sign."

Irene Munoz, 30, walked past the crowd before deciding to see what everyone was looking at.

"It's very emotional," she said. "It's very real. I never believed anyone who saw these things. But I believe now."

As word of the image spread, a teacher from Holy Trinity High School sent students to look.

"If you look, you see her face popping out and the veil and her hands," said 17-year-old Luis Flores. "That's the image that's portrayed in the Bible. Many miracles have happened, but this is one that just appeared."

Some of those who gathered felt the appearance of the image had special significance as the papal conclave meets in Rome.

"It's amazing it's the same day they're picking a pope," said Juan Soria, who rushed to the site with his family. He saw the image as "a message from above. It's a cry for peace and hope to get rid of tyranny in the world."

Comment: Our lady of the underpass.... Isn't that GW hiding there under the name of Satan? It is! Look, Martha, it's George!

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