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The Great Depression

Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
May 16, 2005

In the U.S. stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,140.12 on Friday, down 2% from the previous Friday’s close of 10,345.40. The NASDAQ closed at 1976.80, up 0.48% from the previous week’s 1967.35. The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury bond closed at 4.13% down from the previous week’s 4.26%. The dollar closed at .7933 euros, up 1.8% compared to the previous Friday’s close of .7791. That put a euro at 1.2606 dollars compared to last week’s 1.2824. Oil fell last week, closing at $48.67 a barrel, down 4.7% from $50.96 a week earlier. In euros, the price of oil closed at 38.61 euros a barrel, down 2.9% from the previous Friday’s close of 39.74. Gold closed at $420.60 an ounce on Friday, down 1.5% from $426.80 the previous Friday. Gold in euros would be 333.66 an ounce, down just 0.26% from last Friday’s 332.81. Gold did better against oil last week. At Friday’s close an ounce of gold would buy 8.64 barrels of oil, up 2.5% from the previous week’s 8.43.

The announcement recently by IBM that it was cutting thousands of jobs in western Europe, brought into relief the fact that, while lagging a bit behind the United States in this, the more advanced economies of Europe are seeing the outsourcing and offshoring wave begin to crest. (Note, while we often lump both under the term ‘outsourcing’, it is worth keeping in mind the difference: ‘outsourcing’ refers to firms contracting out various business processes to other companies, while ‘offshoring’ refers to companies moving jobs to low wage countries, whether or not those jobs remain within the firm in question):

Major Job Losses At Computer Giant IBM

Computer giant IBM has announced plans to shed thousands of workers. Up to 13,000 jobs are expected to go - most of them from its struggling European operations. The company signalled the job cuts were part of efforts to reinvent itself after it ditched its personal computer unit.

It said it foresaw reducing its 329,000-strong workforce through "voluntary and involuntary" cuts by 10,000 to 13,000 employees worldwide.

"The majority of the overall workforce reductions are planned for Europe, and the company has initiated discussions of these changes with local consultation bodies," a statement said.

IBM said the success of the revamp depended "on reducing bureaucracy and infrastructure in lower-growth countries and creating teams that can work across country borders."

"This eliminates the need for a traditional pan-European management layer to co-ordinate activity.

"As a result, IBM will create a number of smaller, more flexible local operating units in Europe to increase direct client contact."

This process will put considerable pressure on the social safety net of which Europeans are so justly proud. Here’s Business Week:

May 23, 2005


U.S. multinationals are scaling back their presence in Western Europe in favor of more promising venues

David N. Farr, chairman and chief executive of St. Louis industrial group Emerson Electric Co., keeps a close eye on Europe. That makes sense. The region accounts for about one-fourth of Emerson's $15.6 billion revenues and 16% of its worldwide assets. But more and more, Farr is discouraged by what he sees. Western European sales have been flat for months, as corporate customers delay purchasing the power networks, air-conditioning systems, and other big-ticket capital goods Emerson sells. Come to think of it, there hasn't been much life in these markets for years. "The European economies have continued to weaken and weaken," Farr laments. Even worse, a strong euro and stringent anti-layoff laws make it tough to trim costs.

Now, Emerson has had enough. It has halted new investment in Western Europe, while pouring money into faster-growing, more lightly regulated economies in the old Soviet bloc. Vacant jobs in Western Europe are not being filled. "As we need more capacity, we're putting it in Eastern and Central Europe," says Edward L. Monser, Emerson's chief operating officer.

It's hardly news that Western Europe is a tough place to do business these days. Growth for the euro zone economy is forecast to be below 1.5% this year, less than half the rate in the U.S. and Asia. Unemployment averages 8.9%, retail sales are sagging, and euro zone manufacturing production shrank in April. High oil prices only add to the gloom. U.S. multinationals from McDonald's to Caterpillar to Wal-Mart complain that their European operations, particularly in Germany, are dragging down companywide sales and profits.

But as Europe heads into a fifth year of economic anemia, some U.S. multinationals are finally concluding that a robust recovery won't arrive soon -- if ever. Like Emerson, they're scaling back longstanding operations and diverting investment to more promising venues. Until now, many U.S. companies have hesitated to reduce European payrolls because of local laws requiring cumbersome, expensive layoff procedures. But more and more are concluding that it's worth the trouble. IBM says that the bulk of the 10,000 to 13,000 worldwide job cuts it announced on May 5 will be in Western Europe, while the company is hiring in Hungary and Slovakia. General Motors Corp. plans to eliminate up to 12,000 Western European jobs by 2006, even as it expands manufacturing in Poland.

The big numbers tell the story most clearly. Foreign direct investment in the European Union's 15 longstanding member countries fell almost 50% in 2004, to $165 billion, with every one of the EU's major economies except Britain posting a decline. By contrast, in the eight Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU last year, foreign investment rose by one-third, to $36 billion. Foreign direct investment in the U.S. also rose sharply last year.

Of course, the U.S. is losing manufacturing and service jobs to lower-wage countries, too. And European companies are doing plenty of offshoring themselves. A survey by Woodlands (Texas)-based consulting firm TPI found that European companies accounted for 49% of all major outsourcing contracts last year, ahead of U.S. companies, which had 44%.

There are two trends at work here, neither of which bode well for western Europeans. First, the neoliberal corporate project to use transnational bodies like the WTO to undermine national sovereignty in the area of economic and social policy proceeds apace. The project is to punish Europe for showing that you can have an advanced, dynamic economy with many elements of socialism in place. That will not be allowed to continue if the capitalist globalisers have anything to say about it. Second, we can also see the development of economic spheres of influence, with much of the western European offshoring going to eastern Europe, rather than Latin America or India as is the case in the United States (which is not to say that many European jobs will not be lost to India or China).

For readers of these pages it is old news, but there are increasing signs that mainstream commentators are thinking in apocalyptic terms, especially when it comes to the economy. We would like to welcome The New York Times to the doomsday club!

The Perfect Storm That Could Drown the Economy


We seem to be living in apocalyptic times. On NBC's "Revelations," Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone seek signs of the End of Days. In the Senate, gray-haired eminences speak of the "nuclear option."

The doomsday theme is seeping into the normally circumspect world of economics. In April, Arjun Murti, a veteran analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, warned that oil could "super-spike" to $105 a barrel. And increasingly, economists are prophesying that the American economy as a whole may be sailing into choppy waters.

Just look at the many obvious and worrisome portents. The government each year spends much more than it brings in, and so the nation has a large budget deficit ($412 billion in fiscal 2004, and growing). Americans also import far more goods than they export, and so the nation has record trade and current account deficits.

As consumers, Americans personally spend significantly more than they earn. Worse, some imbalances are eerily reminiscent of conditions that helped touch off recent economic crises: Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998 and Argentina in 2002. Throw in rising interest rates, warnings of a housing bubble and the potential for higher inflation and slower growth (a k a stagflation) - and you can understand why some economic analysts may be plumbing the New Testament for inspiration.

The forces propelling and buffeting the economy are like a series of interrelated and interconnected weather systems. Could they be setting the conditions for a perfect storm - a swift series of disturbances that causes lasting damage? If so, what would it look like?

"There's a pattern that is familiar from so many other countries that have gotten into debt problems," said Jeffrey A. Frankel, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "A simultaneous rise in interest rates, fall in securities prices and depreciation of the currency."

Of course, economists, always armed with bandoliers of caveats, are quick to warn that the economy is relatively healthy. Job growth numbers released on Friday were strong, with 274,00 new jobs created in April.

And they warn against drawing parallels too sharply between the mighty United States and emerging markets. The dollar remains the world's reserve currency, and the United States is a global military and political hegemon. And the nation has been able to borrow huge amounts for years without suffering a crisis.

That said, how might a perfect storm be created? It would likely gather overseas, and wouldn't necessarily take the form of a terrorist strike or oil shock. The United States finances its spendthrift ways by selling dollars and dollar-denominated securities (like Treasury bills) to foreign creditors, mostly to central banks in Asia. To sustain growth, the United States needs foreign creditors to continue to add to their piles every day.

Any signs to the contrary are worrisome. In February, when the Korean government suggested that the Bank of Korea might diversify its foreign exchange holdings, "this seemingly innocuous statement set off a small panic in our stocks and bond markets," said James Grant, editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer.

If the Bank of China, which has been accumulating dollars at the rate of $200 billion a year, decides to cut back on new purchases, either to diversify or to let its currency appreciate, the United States would quickly have to offer sharply higher interest rates to retain existing investors and entice new ones. Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, estimates that if China cut its rate of accumulation by half, long-term interest rates in the United States could rise by 200 basis points over a few months and the value of the dollar would fall.

Such a rising tide - the yield on the 10-year bond shooting from 4.25 to 6.25, the average 30-year mortgage rising from 6 percent to 8 percent - would mean instantly higher borrowing costs for the government, businesses and consumers. It would drench Wall Street, soaking the stocks of giant interest-rate-sensitive blue chips like Citigroup and making life difficult for speculative, debt-ridden companies. Some highly leveraged hedge funds or investment banks caught on the wrong side of trades would incur significant losses.

The United States weathered a sharp decline in the stock market just a few years ago, in large part because of the housing market's strength. But a sharp rise in interest rates would literally hit home. For new home buyers, or for people with adjustable rate mortgages, 200 extra basis points of interest on a $400,000 mortgage would represent $8,000 a year in extra payments. If mortgage rates were to rise sharply, housing prices would level off and perhaps do the unthinkable: fall.

Suddenly, the mechanisms that have allowed consumers to keep the economy afloat - the ability to realize profits from selling homes, to refinance mortgages at lower rates and to borrow cheaply against home equity - would be broken. In the absence of sharply rising wages, that $8,000 in extra interest would be $8,000 less to spend at Home Depot, or at the Cheesecake Factory, or at Disney World.

"Personal expenditures in the past 15 months have been largely financed by borrowing," said Wynne Godley, a Cambridge University economist who is affiliated with the Levy Institute at Bard College. "And even a reduction in the pace of debt creation will force people to start spending less, on a big scale."

If the dollar weakens and consumption falls, the trade and current account deficits would start to narrow. But the United States economy would slow and, perhaps, even shrink.

"The result would not be a full-blown financial crisis most likely, but it would still be a major recession," said Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California at Berkeley.

What would create the full-blown crisis? When the slowdown starts to radiate across the globe, said Catherine L. Mann, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for International Economics.

For years, the American consumer has been the engine of global growth, by gobbling up the output of oil wells in Saudi Arabia and factories from Mexico to China. "The slowdown in consumer spending is going to have a negative influence on the global economy through reduced international trade," Ms. Mann said.

What's more, a recovery would be comparatively slow in coming. When the global economy came to a screeching, synchronous halt in 2001, the United States led much of the world back to growth because the federal government went on a stimulus binge for several years: Congress significantly increased government spending while cutting taxes, and the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to historic lows, and held them there.

But in the perfect economic storm, none of these three powerful levers would be readily available. Today's deep budget deficits make both significant tax cuts and spending increases unlikely. And rising interest rates would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Federal Reserve to reduce the cost of borrowing.

It sure sounds alarming. But as the clouds gather and the wind stiffens, we sail onward, with no apparent adjustment in course, full steam ahead.

We are seeing now a blitzkrieg, a shock and awe attack on those who work for a living. Medicaid is being cut. Corporations are slipping out of their commitments to retired workers. One wonders how much the ballyhooed financial problems of General Motors are smokescreens for their attempt to break their promises on pay and healthcare to their retired workers. A reader wrote in with the following:

Many more worthless promises will be exposed before this cycle of economic chaos ends.

Other companies are waiting in the wings to unload their pension promises to workers as part of the effort to make American business more "competitive". GM and Ford, Delta, and many others will now see this ruling as a green light to declare bankruptcy and rid themselves of the obligations and promises they made to their employees over the years.

And I'll wager that executive pension plans will be unaffected by this ruling.

But something even more insidious is at work here than just a pension plan scam.

This is just another step in the ruination of the American middle class. While the corporation gets to slide out of its pension obligations by declaring bankruptcy, under the new personal bankruptcy law just passed, the individual won't be able to escape their debt obligations as easily as this. The personal bankruptcy revision has made it harder and more complicated to do so.

Step 1: Lure people into taking on greater and greater loads of debt. Place ads for EZ loans everywhere, on computers, in the mail, on TV, in newspapers, everywhere.

Encourage everyone to buy overpriced homes and to refinance those loans as often as possible to keep people spending.

Promote adjustable rate mortgages and interest only home loans so everyone can participate.

Status of this step: in place

Step 2: Change the personal bankruptcy laws to make it harder for individuals to have debt excused.

Status of this step: in place, due to be fully implemented around Sept-Oct 2005.

Step 3: Allow corporate pension liabilities to be erased or modified as part of keeping America competitive.

Pretend that the government will see to it that pensions will never be allowed to fully default.

Get people used to making sacrifices for the good of the economy.

Status of this step: in progress right now.

Systematically, all the exits are being sealed for the middle class American and any hope of financial independence. When the time is right, the trap door will open and down the hatch they'll go, probably expressing shock and awe that something like this could ever happen in the greatest nation in the world.

The next step will be for them to crawl on their hands and knees to the government seeking "help".

I suspect that the Sept-Oct 2005 time frame is ripe for the trap door to be opened. That's when the new personal bankruptcy law will be in place and binding.

The scandal of the pensions is compounded by what these corporations did with the pension profits in the 1990s. Then, when the stock market was soaring, corporations counted the paper gains of their pension funds as revenue. Companies like General Motors probably were not making much money selling cars, but they could count the increases of their pension fund as revenue and, adding to that the profits of their financial arm, GMAC, they could appear to be a healthy company and enjoy stock price increases as a result. Now, with the stock market stalled, they are trying to get out of their commitments to their retired workers.

United Airlines pension default sign of growing pressures

The 6.6 billion dollar pension plan default by United Airlines may have been the largest in US history. But it won't be the last, analysts say.

And it is likely that many Americans who get company-sponsored pensions will end up with significantly smaller retirement incomes than they had been counting on.

Company-funded defined benefit pension plans, which cover 44 million Americans, are underfunded to the tune of 450 billion dollars, according to data from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the government insurer of private pensions.

The US government insurance program, designed to protect workers from pension plan defaults, is also in trouble.

At the same time, President George W. Bush's proposal to create private accounts within the Social Security system could pose additional risks for retirees.

"It's a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and the longer we wait the larger the blast will be," said Randall Krozner, an economics professor at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business who has advised Bush on pension reform.

The crisis with the defined benefit pension system could cost taxpayers as much as the 125-billion-dollar bailout of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Krozner said.

United's default could easily force other airlines to take similar actions in order to remain competitive. The nation's top two automakers, Ford and General Motors, may also be at risk of defaulting on their massive pension plans if there are unable to revitalize weak sales and recover from recent credit downgrades to junk status, Krozner added.

The trouble began when the stock market started sliding in March of 2000. Pension funds took a massive hit and companies already struggling with weak economic performance cut back their contributions.

Then the bankruptcies started. By the end of 2004, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. had a 23.3 billion dollar deficit.

While future stock market growth will help many underfunded pension plans recover their losses, reform of the insurance program is needed to help prop up the system, said Cary Burnell, a researcher with the United Steelworkers of America.

"Defined benefit plans are one of the pillars that have built the American middle class and brought seniors out of poverty," said Burnell, who worked on the 3.7-billion-dollar Bethlehem Steel pension plan default.

"Pension plan termination is a terrible thing," he said.

Further complicating matters is the fact that US corporations have been moving away from defined benefit pension plans and have instead offered defined contribution plans, known as 401k plans, which are tax-sheltered savings accounts.

While these easily transferable plans are popular with the nation's highly mobile workforce, they are not insured and shift all of the risk onto individual workers.

The Bush administration is also promoting a system that would shift Social Security contributions to personal accounts.

Even the Catholic Church is doing this. Pension fund abandonment has even reached the Catholic Church! The Boston Archdiocese, under the corporate-style leadership of Archbishop O’Malley, has seen plant closings (closing of parish churches) and now we hear them saying that the Archdiocesan pension fund is “underfunded.” They want to cut back on health benefits for retired priests!

Retirement changes eyed for priests

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff  |  May 12, 2005

The cash-strapped Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is considering significant changes in its expectations of senior priests that would encourage clergy to continue to work after they retire and require priests with financial assets to help pay for nursing-home or assisted-living care.

The archdiocese says that it remains committed to taking care of its clergy and that it will guarantee that no retired priests are without shelter, healthcare, or income. But the archdiocese says it must change benefits or risk running out of money in its pension fund.

The adjustments, which were circulated in a draft policy to all priests and are being discussed at meetings with clergy around the archdiocese, are being proposed as many private companies are eliminating or reducing pension benefits.

The archdiocese says it faces a $55 million unfunded liability in its pension fund for priests. Actuaries say that is the amount the archdiocese has promised to retirees, an amount that it does not have in the bank. The archdiocese attributes the problem to poor investment performance and longer average life span and says the shortfall is unrelated to the costs of settling abuse cases or closing parishes.

Given the pattern we have been noticing wherein some bogus good economic news is released on Friday afternoon of a week with a lot of bad news, there was some reason to doubt the reliability of the “strong” U.S. jobs report that came out the previous Friday. Sure enough, sceptics have shown that when you look beneath the surface of the report, the picture does not look so good. Here is Paul Craig Roberts:

America is Losing

More Phony Jobs Hype


Careless journalists and commentators are hyping the 274,000 new April payroll jobs as evidence of the health of the US economy. An examination of the details of the new jobs puts a different view on the matter.

April's job growth is consistent with the depressing pattern of US employment growth in the 21st century: The outsourced US economy can create jobs only in domestic nontradable services.

Of the 274,000 April jobs, 256,000 were in the private or nongovernment sector, and 211,000 of these were in the service sector as follows: 58,000 in leisure and hospitality (primarily restaurants and bars), 47,000 in construction, 29,200 in wholesale and retail trade, 28,000 in health care and social assistance, 17,300 in administrative and support services (primarily temps), 11,700 in transportation and warehousing, 8,800 in real estate. A few scattered jobs in other service categories completes the picture.

Americans regard themselves as “the world's only superpower,” but the pattern of American job growth in the 21st century is that of a third world economy. The US economy has ceased to create jobs in high tech sectors and in export and import-competitive sectors. Offshore outsourcing of manufacturing and of engineering and professional services is dismantling the ladders of upward mobility that made the American Dream possible.

Related to the pattern of exporting high paying jobs while keeping low paying ones, wages fell in the United States at the sharpest rate since 1991, at the end of another Bush’s run at power, according to the Financial Times:

Wages in US show steepest fall in rate since 1991

By Christopher Swann in Washington
May 11 2005

Real wages in the US are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years, according to data surveyed by the Financial Times.

Inflation rose 3.1 per cent in the year to March but salaries climbed just 2.4 per cent, according to the Employment Cost Index. In the final three months of 2004, real wages fell by 0.9 per cent.

The last time salaries fell this steeply was at the start of 1991, when real wages declined by 1.1 per cent.

Stingy pay rises mean many Americans will have to work longer hours to keep up with the cost of living, and they could ultimately undermine consumer spending and economic growth.

Many economists believe that in spite of the unexpectedly large rise in job creation of 274,000 in April, the uneven revival in the labour market since the 2001 recession has made it hard for workers to negotiate real improvements in living standards.

Even after last month's bumper gain in employment, there are 22,000 fewer private sector jobs than when the recession began in March 2001, a 0.02 per cent fall. At the same point in the recovery from the recession of the early 1990s, private sector employment was up 4.7 per cent.

“There is still little evidence that workers are gaining much traction in their negotiations,” said Paul Ashworth, US analyst at Capital Economics, the consultancy. “If this does not pick up, it raises the prospect of a sharper slowdown in consumer spending than we have been expecting.”

The amazing thing is that in the United States there are many analysts who keep saying that offshoring is good for the economy. Common sense, on the one hand, or sophisticated, non-linear analysis on the other will tell you that that can’t be true, but neo-classical economics has neither common sense nor the understanding of non-linear dynamics. Furthermore, neo-classical economics feeds into the dangerous tendency in the United States to believe in American Exceptionalism, the notion that the normal workings of cause and effect do not apply to the United States. The idea that “things are different here” is not much different than the belief that drove the stock bubble of the internet era: “things are different now.”

We may be reaching the end of the line for American Exceptionalism. Empires fall by overreaching. At some point the money spent on the military goes to protect old gains rather than bringing new wealth in. Often, the leaders choose to bet everything in order to avoid collapse, a “double or nothing” strategy of desperation. Watching the money go down the Iraq sinkhole, one can’t help but wonder if the United States is poised for a complete collapse, not just an economic one. According to Willam S. Lind:

When people ask me what to read to find an historical parallel with America's situation today, I usually recommend J.H. Elliott's splendid history of Spain in the first half of the 17th century, The Count-Duke of Olivares: A Statesman in an Age of Decline. One of the features of the Spanish court in that period was its increasing disconnection with reality. At one point, Spain was trying to establish a Baltic fleet while the Dutch navy controlled the Straits of Gibraltar.

A similar reality gap leapt out at me from a story in the May 3 Washington Post, “Wars Strain U.S. Military Capability, Pentagon Reports.” Were that the Pentagon's message, it would be a salutary one. But the real message was the opposite: no matter what happens, no one can defeat the American military. According to the Post,

The Defense Department acknowledged yesterday that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stressed the U.S. military to a point where it is at higher risk of less swiftly and easily defeating potential foes, though officials maintained that U.S. forces could handle any military threat that presents itself . . .

The officials said the United States would win any projected conflict across the globe, but the path to victory could be more complicated.

“There is no doubt of what the outcome is going to be,” a top defense official said. “Risk to accomplish the task isn't even part of the discussion.”

It isn't, but it certainly should be. The idea that the U.S. military cannot be defeated is disconnected from reality.

Let me put it plainly: the U.S. military can be beaten. Any military in history could be beaten, including the Spanish army of Olivares's day, which had not lost a battle in a century until it met the French at Rocroi. Sooner or later, we will march to our Rocroi, and probably sooner the way things are going.

Why do our senior military leaders put out this "we can't be beaten" bilge? Because they are chosen for their willingness to tell the politicians whatever they want to hear. A larger question is, why do the American press and public buy it? The answer, I fear, is "American exceptionalism" ­ the belief that history's laws do not apply to America. Unfortunately, American exceptionalism follows Spanish exceptionalism, French exceptionalism, Austrian exceptionalism, German exceptionalism and Soviet exceptionalism.

Reality tells us that the same rules apply to all. When a country adopts a wildly adventuristic military policy, as we have done since the Cold War ended, it gets beaten. The U.S. military will eventually get beaten, too. If, as seems more and more likely, we expand the war in Iraq by attacking Iran, our Rocroi may be found somewhere between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers.

If the United States invades one more country, things like the monthly jobs numbers will have little to do with what happens to the world economy.

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Always Low Wages. Always.
Published: May 13, 2005

Last week Standard and Poor's, a bond rating agency, downgraded both Ford and General Motors bonds to junk status. That is, it sees a significant risk that the companies won't be able to pay their debts.

Don't cry for the bondholders, but do cry for the workers.

Standard and Poor's downgraded GM and Ford sooner rather than later because it believes that the public is losing interest in S.U.V.'s. But the companies were vulnerable because they still pay decent wages and offer good benefits, in an age when taking care of employees has gone out of style. In particular, they are weighed down by health care costs for current and retired workers, which run to about $1,500 per vehicle at G.M.

So the downgrade was a reminder of how far we have come from the days when hard-working Americans could count on a reasonable degree of economic security.

In 1968, when General Motors was a widely emulated icon of American business, many of its workers were lifetime employees. On average, they earned about $29,000 a year in today's dollars, a solidly middle-class income at the time. They also had generous health and retirement benefits.

Since then, America has grown much richer, but American workers have become far less secure.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.

True, not everyone is badly paid. In 1968, the head of General Motors received about $4 million in today's dollars - and that was considered extravagant. But last year Scott Lee Jr., Wal-Mart's chief executive, was paid $17.5 million. That is, every two weeks Mr. Lee was paid about as much as his average employee will earn in a lifetime.

Not that many of them will actually spend a lifetime at Wal-Mart: more than 40 percent of the company's workers leave every year.

I'm not trying either to romanticize the General Motors of yore or to portray Wal-Mart as the root of all evil. GM was, and Wal-Mart is, a product of its time. And there's no easy way to reverse the changes.

What should be clear, however, is that the public safety net F.D.R. and L.B.J. created is more important than ever, now that workers in the world's richest nation can no longer count on the private sector to provide them with economic security.

When they reach 65, most Wal-Mart employees will rely heavily on Social Security - if the privatizers don't kill it. And many Wal-Mart employees already rely on Medicaid to pay for health care, especially for their children.

Indeed, a growing number of working Americans have turned to Medicaid. As the Kaiser Family Foundation points out, that's why children have for the most part have retained health coverage, despite a sharp decline in employer-based health insurance since 2000.

Yet our current political leaders are trying to privatize Social Security and reduce benefits. And they are slashing funds for Medicaid even as they give big tax cuts to people like Mr. Lee.

The attack on the safety net is motivated by ideology, not popular demand. The public isn't taken with the vision of an "ownership society"; it seems to want more, not less, social insurance. According to a poll cited in a recent Business Week article titled "Safety Net Nation," 67 percent of Americans think we should guarantee health care to all citizens; just 27 percent disagree.

The question is whether the public's desire for a stronger safety net will finally be seconded by corporations that haven't yet adopted the Wal-Mart model of minimal benefits and always low wages.

Last year Richard Wagoner Jr., G.M.'s chief executive, gave a speech about the costs of America's "Kafkaesque" health care system that sounded a lot like my recent columns. And his company has made it clear that it likes Canada's system: in 2002 the president of General Motors of Canada and the head of the Canadian Auto Workers signed a joint letter declaring that "it is vitally important that the publicly funded health care system be preserved and renewed."

But according to The Journal Register News Service, which covered Mr. Wagoner's speech, he "stressed later to reporters that he was not proposing a national health care plan." Why not?

Comment: In Canada, the neoliberals have been waging an intense propaganda war in the media as well as a financial war in government to cut health services. The goal appears to be to render the Canadian health system so inefficient that the population starts demanding private health care. Wal-Mart has preferred to close its stores where workers successfully unionise rather than provide a living wage.

In the United States, a national health care system, rather than being recognised as a mark of a modern civilised society, is seen as evidence of creeping socialism, an infringement on the rights and freedoms of capital. We have never seen any capital in the emergency room needing care nor struggling to keep its family fed after being struck by a medical emergency or long-term disease. The rights of workers take a backseat to the rights of money to go and do as it pleases. Of course, the idea that capital does as it pleases isolated from the desires and whims of those who control it is an illusion that forms a cornerstone of the American Way of Life, the fairy tale of the free market, oh, excuse us, the Free Market.

That Way of Life is in jeopardy, as the next article discusses.

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After the oil is gone
By Katharine Mieszkowski

Say goodbye to your suburban house, yoke up that horse, and stand by to repel pirates! Author James Howard Kunstler talks about the dire world of his new book, "The Long Emergency."

May 14, 2005 | Suburbs will collapse into slums. Farmhand will be a more viable career choice than public relations executive. And avoiding starvation will replace avoiding boredom as the national pastime.

Those are just a few of the predictions that James Howard Kunstler makes in his new book. "The Long Emergency" paints a dystopic view of the United States in the wake of what Kunstler dubs the "cheap oil fiesta." It's a future the author insists is not apocalyptic. Calling it the end of the world would be too easy.

No, Kunstler believes the human race will survive as we slip down the other side of Hubbert's Oil Peak. But the high standard of living we've built by gorging on cheap oil will not. America, as a political entity, will be history too.

When will the doom begin? It already has. "There have been no significant discoveries of new oil since 2002," Kunstler says. And the Saudis have screwed up their super-giant Ghawar oil field, long a fossil-fuel font for the U.S. "They have damaged it by pumping enormous amounts of salt water into it; in fact, the field itself may be entering depletion," he says.

A former journalist turned novelist turned social critic, Kunstler is best known for his book excoriating the suburbs, "Geography of Nowhere." Now he foresees the end of the entire artifice of American life, from the suburbs to the interstate highway to Wal-Mart and the global supply chain that supports it.

In Kunstler's world, a teenager will be better off learning how to yoke up a horse-drawn buggy than how to change the oil in a car. Woodshop will be more important than computer literacy. Among Kunstler's predictions: The South will devolve into agricultural feudalism and the Pacific Northwest will be beset by a plague of pirates from Asia. Forget about sleek hydrogen-powered cars coming to the rescue. For that matter, quit tilting your hopes toward wind power.

Kunstler displays a kind of macabre wit about the unpleasantness and strife that await us all. Talking to him is like trying to argue with a prophet. His assertions have a neat way of doubling back to anticipate your critiques. If you express doubt about his views, then you may well be among the deluded masses too addicted to your McSUV and McSuburb to accept the reality that lies ahead.

Salon spoke to Kunstler at his home in upstate New York, mindful that in the future such an hour-long, cross-country telephone call, undertaken so casually, could be a remote luxury, a quaint remnant of a bygone era rich in the splendors of oil.

Plenty of analysts are confident that in coming decades we'll switch from oil to another form of energy, like Europeans switching from burning wood to burning coal when forests became scarce. Why aren't you?

That's been a pattern in the last several hundred years, but it has followed a supply of mineral resources that we've exploited to their logical end. When a society is stressed, when it comes up against things that are hard to understand, you get a lot of delusional thinking.

There are at least two major mental disturbances in the collective American mind these days that can be described with some precision. One is the Jiminy Cricket syndrome -- the idea that when you wish upon a star your dreams come true. This is largely a product of the technological achievements of the last century, which were themselves a product of cheap energy: namely, things like our trip to the moon, combined with the effects of advertising, Hollywood and pop culture.

We have now become a people who believe that wishing for things makes them happen. Unfortunately, the world just doesn't work that way. The truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or so-called renewables will allow us to run the U.S.A. -- or even a substantial fraction of it -- the way that we're running it now.

There's another mental disturbance that Americans are suffering from. It's the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing -- unearned riches, free energy, perpetual motion -- and it's exemplified by Las Vegas. Combine the Jiminy Cricket syndrome and the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing and you end up with a population that's thoroughly deluded and unable to deal with reality. That's precisely where we're at.

You point out that there are all sorts of ways that we're dependent on oil that we don't think about.

We have evolved a cheese-doodle agriculture system run by large corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, which grow immense amounts of corn by using fossil fuels to produce immense amounts of corn-based junk food. The prospects are poor that we will continue living this way. The implications are enormous. We will have to grow much more of our food closer to home.

Also, our national retail chain system -- otherwise known as Wal-Mart and Co., Wal-Mart and wannabes, Wal-Mart and imitators -- is unlikely to survive both the rising costs of oil and far more volatile price fluctuations. Their economic equation requires them to predict the cost of transport because their margins are so razor thin. And they won't be able to anymore.

Remember: These immensely hypertrophic organisms like Wal-Mart are products of the special economic growth of the late 20th century, namely an unusually long period of relative world peace and extraordinarily cheap energy. If you remove those two elements, all large-scale enterprises --corporate farming, big-box shopping, big government, professional sports -- are going to be in trouble.

So, the collapse of the cheap oil fiesta is going to...

I wouldn't call it "collapse." That's the cause of a lot of misunderstanding. What we're talking about is the process of heading down the arch of depletion, not the catastrophic cutoff of oil. Heading down the arch implies that we will not have the normal growth of industrial economies anymore. And that has tremendous implications for capital-finance instruments to produce wealth, namely securities and bonds. All the financial paper in the world is essentially based on the increasing accumulation of wealth.

You argue that we won't know we've hit the global oil peak until a few years after it's happened. There will be hangover.

The rearview-mirror effect.

What will be the first signs of the long emergency?

We're already seeing them. The two clearest signs are serious geopolitical friction and the volatility in the oil markets. A third one, which hasn't quite gotten traction, will be disruptions in the financial markets. But that could happen at any moment.

And the real estate bubble?

Absolutely. The housing bubble is a perverse form of financial behavior. It's a consequence of capital desperately seeking a way to increase in an industrial economy that has ceased to grow. America is no longer producing wealth in the conventional sense. And so the housing bubble is a way for residual capital to produce wealth. But like all bubbles, it's a delusional thing that will probably end in tears.

You write that even the educated minority in the U.S. is clueless about its role in geopolitical problems, like the family in your neighborhood that had a sign in their yard that said, "War Is Not the Answer," and two SUVs in the garage.

Or all my politically progressive friends who drove their SUVs to the peace rallies of 2003.

Why do you think that there's such a disconnect?

Because we haven't been challenged for such a long time. The last challenge we experienced was the OPEC oil disturbances of the 1970s, which thundered through our economy and caused a lot of problems. But they were short-lived and the cheap oil fiesta was able to continue because the final great discoveries of the oil age came online in the 1980s, namely the North Sea and the Alaska North Slope. And that allowed us to go back to sleep for another two decades.

Does the Iraq war presage the kind of resource wars that you see in the future?

The Iraq war is not hard to understand. It wasn't an attempt to steal Iraq's oil. If that was the case, it would have been a stupid venture because we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars occupying the place, not to mention the lives lost. It was not a matter of stealing the oil; it was a matter of retaining access to it. It was an attempt to stabilize the region of the world that holds two-thirds of the remaining oil, namely, the Middle East.

We opened a police station in the Middle East, and Iraq just happened to be the best candidate for it. They had a troublesome dictator. They were geographically located between Iran and Saudi Arabia. So we went to Iraq to moderate and influence the behavior of the two countries --Iran and Saudi Arabia -- that are so important to us. We desperately wanted the oil supplies to continue coming out of them in a reliable way. So the Iraq venture was all about stabilizing the Middle East. It raises the obvious question: How long can the U.S. hope to occupy unfriendly nations? The answer is, not forever.

Why do you skewer Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who promotes the idea of a futuristic hypercar, which would get 100 miles per gallon?

I regard Lovins hypercar venture as a stupid distraction, if for no other reason that it tends to promote the idea that we can continue being a car-dependent society. Clearly we can't, no matter how good the gas mileage is. I wrote three other books about the fiasco of suburbia before I even got a bug up my ass about the energy issues.

What's wrong with trying to make a more efficient car?

I'm not against efficient cars. I'm against the idea that somebody in Amory's position would focus on cars at the expense of something else like promoting walkable communities. The New Urbanist movement, for example, was campaigning for a much more intelligent response to suburbia at around the same time. And the solutions that they were promoting made a lot more sense than underwriting the continuation of the suburban fiasco. I think that this was perhaps an unintended consequence of Lovins' venture. It shows the limits of our imagination.

Is your basic critique of renewable energy that wind, solar and biomass all depend, to some extent, on fossil fuels?

That's one critique. I'm not trying to militate against them. We are going to use them. But we're not going to run the interstate highways and Disney World on them. Suburbia is not going to run on biodiesel. The easy-motoring tourist industry is not going to run on biodiesel, wind power and solar fuel. The point I would repeat is this: We don't know whether we can fabricate the components for these things absent a fossil-fuel economy.

My beef with the alt-fuel people is not the renewable or alt-fuel ideas themselves. Sooner or later, there's no question we're going to have to rely on them. For me, it's an issue of scale. As far as I can tell, we're much more likely to use these things on a very small neighborhood or town basis.

We're going to have to make tremendous readjustments in every aspect of how we live. Let me give you an example. One of the main characteristics of the suburbs is that everyone can lead an urban life in a rural setting. But land is simply not going to be available for suburban development anymore. So what we're going to see in the years ahead is the return of a much firmer distinction between what is urban and what is rural, between what's the town and what's the country. Because we're going to have to grow so much more of our food close to home, we're going to have to value rural land differently than we have for the past half century.

How will this affect our livelihoods?

We will no longer be a nation of public relations executives living 38 miles away from town. The future that I see tells me that the larger cities will be in big trouble and the action will be in the smaller cities and smaller towns. They will have resilience. It will be very important to live close to places that have viable agriculture, and the places where this is not possible are going to be in trouble.

The huge suburban metroplexes like New York and Chicago are not going to function very well. They're products of the oil age. They are oversupplied with skyscrapers and mega-structures that have poor prospects in a society with scarce energy. We will see a painful contraction in these places.

The Southwest is going to be real trouble. And the problem of contracting big cities will be real. I would also hasten to point out that many of them have already entered an advanced state of contraction: Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Louisville and Cincinnati. The list is very long of cities that have been in contraction for quite a bit of time. The difference, of course, is that they have been enjoying hyper-mega-growth in their suburbs, and that's going to stop.

What kind of reaction have you been getting when you say we're better off learning how to operate a horse-drawn plow than becoming a P.R. executive?

To put it mildly, a lot of people have trouble processing these ideas.

What if you put it not so mildly?

It tends to conflict with their picture of reality.

Do they take you seriously?

There is a good term for this and I hasten to point out that I did not invent it, although I couldn't tell you who did. It's really what's called "an outside context problem." It's so far from our normal realm of experience that we are collectively having a hard time processing it. In fact, we can't process it. Talking about these things tends to induce waves of denial, fear, ridicule.

But a great philosopher said new ideas are often greeted in three stages. First, they're ridiculed. Second, they're violently opposed. And finally they're accepted as self-evident.

What stage do you think that you're in?

I think we're in the ridicule stage, for sure. One thing that I'm predicting is that there will be a vigorous and futile defense of suburbia and all its entitlements, no matter what reality is telling us to do. And this will translate into a lot of political mischief. You can quote me: Americans will vote for cornpone Nazis before they will give up their entitlements to a McHouse and a McCar.

If there is such a massive threat to the American way of life, why are our government and civic institutions unable to foresee it and make any changes to address it?

You will now be enlightened: The dirty secret of the American economy for more than a decade now is that it is largely based on the continued creation of suburban sprawl and all its accessories and furnishings. And if you remove that from our economy there isn't a whole lot left besides hair cutting, Colonel Sanders' chicken, and open-heart surgery.

So it would take down the American economy?

If we had to actually reform the way that we live, or let go of some of it, the losses would be politically untenable. No politician, whether it is the gallant John Kerry or George W. Bush, will go near the issue. They know that if the suburban-sprawl economy is challenged there isn't a whole lot left behind it.

But we're going to have to let those things go, whether we like it or not. Just don't expect to be led through this in an orderly way. The key to understanding what we face is turbulence. We're going through big changes attended by a lot of turbulence, disorder and hardship.

The reason that I called this book "The Long Emergency" is precisely because it describes an interval of trouble. I'm not saying that the world is coming to an end. I'm saying we're going to pass through a period of history that's going to be very difficult. There's a distinction between calling something the apocalypse and calling something an epochal discontinuity.

But won't the political landscape change in reaction? If the lights aren't coming on because natural gas is scarce, don't you think that a lot of the barriers to, say, nuclear power, will drop pretty quickly?

They will shift the political landscape, and the shift will include a great deal of turbulence and mischief. That's precisely why the quixotic attempt to defend suburbia will probably produce a lot of political trouble. Politically, we will try to save it. We will try to take measures, whether that means engaging in more overseas adventures.

What I don't understand is why you're so confident that any political change will be futile.

I think that we've overshot our window of opportunity to have an orderly transition.

It's too late to invest heavily in nuclear energy?

No, we may do that. If we want to keep the lights on after 2020, we may have to seriously consider building more nuclear power plants. But even under the best circumstances, it would take five or 10 years to get them built.

Here is my talk show question: What do you think people should do?

People have to ask themselves about where they're living, whether that place has a viable future. If I was living in the Atlanta suburbs, I would give serious consideration to relocating, ditto Las Vegas or Tucson. If I was a young person, I would rethink my expectations to make public relations my career, or indeed have a corporate future at all. If I was a local politician, I would think very seriously about stopping the sprawl-approval system in my town. And I would turn my attention to local self-sufficiency. The bottom line is this: All these things point to the fact that we're going to have to live a lot more locally and profoundly in the years ahead.

The end of the cheap oil fiesta is going to destroy the suburbs and create a simpler, community-based future?

Let me draw a parallel for you. A lot of people point out that the kind of predictions I've made about the post-oil world seem to resemble the Pentecostal Christian scenario about apocalypse. It happens that I'm not a born-again Christian. My view of the future is no more a matter of anti-suburban religion than it is a matter of being a Christian. It was simply self-evident that the American way of life was moving into a kind of terminal stage, whether you liked it or not. And I think that there will be a lot of benefits for us.

What are the benefits?

I think that we will return to many social relations and social enactments that we lost and that were of great value to us, such as working closely with other people on things that really matter to us.

Like farming, so we can eat?

I'm not saying everybody is going to be a farmer. In the book, I think that I went to great pains to say that we were going to have to reconstruct whole networks of local economic relations and interdependences.

As opposed to the globalized situation we have now?

Yeah. People are working for large entities that they don't care about and that don't care about them. I think that people will be working on things that will tend to be more meaningful, that will tend to have meaning for their neighbors and the places that they live.

One of the great tragedies of the Wal-Mart fiasco has been the destruction of the social and economic roles of businesses in communities. Those roles were pretty complex and created deep webs of culture that we've allowed to be systematically dismantled and destroyed. We're going to get some of them back.

I also think we will cease to be a nation of TV zombies who are merely entertaining ourselves to avoid being bored.

So, much as we may resist, there will be upsides?

Yes. It's possible to boil them down to the idea that we will not be living in the kind of narcissistic isolation that was so pervasive in recent decades. Geopolitically, the world is going to be a larger place. But our individual worlds may become smaller places. American life will be much more about staying where you are than about ceaseless and endless and pointless mobility.

And that will resonate. We're afflicted by so many places that are simply not worth caring about anymore. This is having a tremendous effect on us. It's corroding our spirits. And, if pressed, I would have to say that it's led directly to the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing and if you wish upon a star your dreams come true.

Americans are suffering so much from being in unrewarding environments that it has made us very cynical. I think that American suburbia has become a powerful generator of anxiety and depression. If we happen to let it go, we won't miss it that much. Very few people are going to feel nostalgic about the parking lot between the Chuck E. Cheeses and the Kmart.

Why do you think we resist this transition?

I think the notion behind your question is that we've become so accustomed to leisure and comfort that we're afraid to let them go and enter a world of less comfort and greater toil. I myself am a fairly cheerful person. I made certain choices years ago that have led me to lead a rewarding and purposeful life. At 56 years old, I've already outlived Babe Ruth and Mozart. I've enjoyed the cheap oil fiesta. I barely made a living until I was over 40 years old as a professional writer. I've experienced a moderate amount of hardship myself. And I'm not afraid of it. But I also feel fortunate.

Fortunate for what?

I feel fortunate that I enjoyed the blandishments of modernity. I had hip replacement and root canal. I was able to travel on airplanes. I was able to take cheap food for granted. I went to the movies. I enjoyed rock 'n' roll. And now I'm ready to move on.

Comment: While we think that the whole "Peak Oil" hysteria is based more on the need to manipulate the population than on any actual end to oil supplies, we think the scenario outlined here may be close to accurate. The ability to continue supplying the US economy with oil could be disrupted in many ways: the emptying of the wells as "Peak Oil" predicts; political and military instability in the Middle East; natural catastrophes that devastate either the production or distribution of fuel; or even the implementation of a preconceived plan for depopulating the world — that is, the purposeful killing off of the population by the powers that be that hides behind the necessity of "no more oil".

And Kunstler doesn't even address the other potentials for economic chaos or disruption discussed in today's Signs' Commentary.

He does raise important issues, however. His "wishing upon a star" and "something for nothing" are certainly two important traits of 21st century US life, as is the depth of the illusion, what he refers to as "an outside context problem". The truth of what is going on in the US and the world does indeed "tend to conflict with their picture of reality". The day will come, however, when the picture will be rudely forced to match the real world.

We think, therefore, that Kunstler is a mite optimistic on how the country would fare in his scenario. There is a strong current of intolerance in the extreme right in the United States. Of course, there are also many Americans who would prefer to live in a just and tolerant society where American individualism was tempered with a strong strain of social conscience. But who has the power and who has the guns? To what lengths will the individuals who form the two poles be willing to go to impose their vision?

When resources become scarce, should we expect a coming together in communal harmony in the country that can't even give its people a national health care programme or should we be preparing ourselves for something darker? Kunstler quickly slides over this possibility in his statement that Americans "will vote for cornpone Nazis before they will give up their entitlements to a McHouse and a McCar". We think he should dwell on the implications a little longer, as does the following article.

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The undertow of totalism
David Neiwert
Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. The Brotherhood, its name was supposed to be. There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book. But one knew of such things only through vague rumours. Neither the Brotherhood nor the book was a subject that any ordinary Party member would mention if there was a way of avoiding it.

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O'Brien's heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out 'Swine! Swine! Swine!' and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein's nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

-- George Orwell, 1984, (Chapter 1)
Totalitarianism is always a two-part dynamic: there are the totalitarian leaders, and there are their followers.

The success or failure of any kind of totalitarianism always comes down to the symbiotic relationship between them, that is, how skilled the would-be leaders are at gathering and maintaining a flock of True Believers. This depends not only on the leaders' skills, but on how many people are willing to become followers, and the conditions that affect their willingness.

When coming to terms with totalitarian trends like the rise of pseudo-fascism, it's reasonable and necessary to focus on the leaders, political and civic, who promulgate them. But in the process we often overlook the role played by the other half of the dynamic: the members of the public who not only participate in it, but ardently embrace it.

These followers are totalists, and recent events make clear that American society is increasingly awash in them.

The most notorious case that recently made national headlines involved the congregation in North Carolina where Democrats were chased out:
Nine members of a local church had their membership revoked and 40 others left in protest after tension over political views recently came to a head, church members say.

Some members of East Waynesville Baptist Church voted the nine members out at a recent scheduled deacon meeting, which turned into an impromptu business meeting, according to congregants.

Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville, had been exhorting his congregation since October to support his political views or leave the church, said Selma Morris, a 30-year member of the church.

"He preached a sermon on abortion and homosexuality, then said if anyone there was planning on voting for John Kerry, they should leave," she said. "That's the first time I've ever heard something like that. Ministers are supposed to bring people in."
The case caught a lot of people's attention because it was one of the first really public examples of the embrace of totalitarian exclusionism and eliminationism. But it represents, I think, the tip of the iceberg.

I've been hearing from a broad range of readers, mostly through e-mail, about similar incidents in which bosses, pastors, school officials, and other low-level but everyday figures of authority used tactics of intimidation and pressure to not only promote but enforce the conservative movement's agenda in general, and support for George W. Bush in particular.

One of those readers described an interesting case of Big Brotherism:
I had another experience last night that I felt was worth sharing. On a liberal chatboard I was suprised to find a conservative taking information from chatter's profiles. He claimed that whenever someone spoke against the United States occupation of Iraq, or President Bush in general he'd contact his local Homeland Security and FBI offices to report terrorist activities on the part of the democrats. Though I wasnt there with him, he told me this in a private chatroom. I had been posing as a conservative when he contacted me. It reminded me a great deal of the children in 1984 who reported their families for thoughtcrimes. It would likely be funny, if part of me didn't have the suspicion that his reports may one day be acted upon. Luckily my fears were removed after he mentioned 1,244 (i have no clue how he got that number) American "Liberal Traitors" have been tried for sedition in 2004. He felt proud to take credit for one of the "sedition arrests," a chatter whom I had interviewed personally only days before.
This shouldn't be surprising, considering how widely the notion that Democrats by nature are traitors has been repeated by movement conservatives, most notably Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. Of course, mainstream conservatives like to dismiss figures like Coulter as being unrepresentative of their movement, someone "no one takes seriously" -- an easy way of eluding the reality of the depth and breadth of her actual influence among the ordinary footsoldiers who comprise their ranks.

Similarly, another reader from a "red state" describes her local milieu:
My child goes to an excellent private school and I am very pleased with the education they offer. However, the majority of parents are very wealthy, powerful (at least in our small "fishpond") and conservative. Anyone, even children, who dare to voice a dissenting opinion about our "glorious leader, George Bush" are immediately labeled as trouble makers and the kids are subtly ostracized by not being invited to birthday parties etc. Most of the teachers aren't right-wing radicals but the administration is and they dare not disagree with anything that the headmaster says for fear of losing their jobs. I know this because I taught in the preschool there for 2 years and finally quit because I couldn't stand the "zip your lip" culture that the teachers have to follow. The principal even set up a celebration rally for the kids when Bush "won." They were allowed to skip wearing their school uniforms for a day as long as they wore red, white and blue street clothes. They had cake and ice cream for lunch to celebrate his election. My daughter, who was 7 at the time, knows that we don't like Bush but she was afraid to say anything to her little friends because she knew that she would be an outcast.

Our local public school system is very, very bad and there aren't many choices in private education in our area. Our area is home to a massive military base and it's rare to see a car without a "W" sticker on the bumper. I don't dare to put any Democratic stickers on my car because I've heard of other cars that have been vandalized for having pro-Kerry stickers. I've been tolerating this Republican-glorification for the sake of my daughter's education and at home we teach her about what our family sees as the trampling of civil rights in both her school and the country in general. I am so, so sad to see how Bush is dismantling our great land from top to bottom.
The reader's anger at Bush is not misdirected. There's little doubt that the Republicans both in the White House and in Congress have done their level best to encourage and inflame this kind of ground-level totalitarianism -- most often leading by example. All you have to do, really, is look at their public appearances.

Though it showed up throughout his first term, especially in the form of "First Amendment Zones," it really manifested itself during the 2004 campaign, when it became routine for the Bush campaign to exclude, often with a real viciousness, anyone deemed a non-supporter. The nadir of this behavior came when some schoolteachers in Oregon wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Protect Our Civil Liberties" were unceremoniously removed and threatened with arrest. For that matter, even soldiers returned from Iraq were prevented from entering if they were deemed insufficiently supportive. Towards the end, there was the bizarre phenomenon of the "Bush Pledge", which Billmon acutely described as "truly sinister."

Rather than ending with the election, this behavior has seemingly only escalated since. The most noteworthy example was the incident in Denver in which two people attending a Bush "town hall" forum were ejected and threatened with arrest because they had arrived with Kerry bumper stickers on their car. Unsurprisingly, it later turned out it that it was, in fact, a Republican operative posing as official security who had engaged in this faux-official thuggery.

But then, we've known all along that Bush's roadshows are not real exercises in town-hall democracy, but are completely phonied-up propaganda events, Potemkin gatherings for Potemkin audiences.

At the same time, anyone who dares dissent, especially in any kind of noticeable way, is likely to invite a visit from the Secret Service, as Matthew Rothschild at The Progessive (via Jillian at Slyblog) recently reported.

The most striking feature of this cauldron of totalism is its distinctly religious cast, which makes it innately alloyed with likeminded followers inclined to join in line. This has become especially evident in recent manifestations of the trend, especially the Terri Schiavo dustup and the campaign against the judiciary, embodied by the recent "Justice Sunday" event (or, as Nancy Goldstein called it, "the Passion of the Frist").

Mainstream conservatives pooh-pooh such talk, but I think the Rev. Carlton W. Veazy had it exactly right, after "Justice Sunday," in describing the nation as being on the "brink of theocracy":
There is a right way and a wrong way to engage religious voices in the public square. I believe "Justice Sunday" reflects the latter and highlights several disturbing trends. I agree with the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, who called "Justice Sunday" sacrilegious and said, "The radical religious right turned a sanctuary into a political platform." As a Baptist minister for more than 40 years with a profound respect for religious freedom and pluralism, I fear it will get worse. In fact, I think we are teetering on the brink of theocracy and the Christian Right could conceivably use the battle over the judiciary and weakening support for reproductive rights to push us over the edge. Unfortunately, although Frist has been vigorously, and appropriately, criticized for his poor judgment and political opportunism in taking part in the telethon, the greater problem of sectarian religious manipulation of public policy debates has been minimized. President George W. Bush brushed off a question about the role of faith in politics at his April 28th press conference with the innocuous response that "people in political office should not say to somebody you're not equally American if you don't agree with my view of religion." Rather than give a high school civics lesson, he should have had the courage to disavow the religious arrogance and extremism of "Justice Sunday."
There is also a media component to this right-wing evangelical takeover. As Mariah Blake recently reported for Columbia Journalism Review, the religious right is clearly succeeding in its long-term plan to construct its own media counter-universe of "Christian" media. The heavyweight in this is the National Religious Broadcasters organization, where in recent years politics has become the name of the game, and anyone dissenting from that direction, unsurprisingly, gets the usual treatment:
In the sixty-one years since its founding, the NRB has grown to represent 1,600 broadcasters with billions of dollars in media holdings and staggering political clout. Its aggressive political maneuverings have helped shape federal policy, further easing the evangelical networks’ rapid growth. In 2000, for instance, the Federal Communications Commission issued guidelines that would have barred religious broadcasters from taking over frequencies designated for educational programming. The NRB lobbied Congress to intervene, at one point delivering a petition signed by nearly half a million people. Legislators, in turn, bore down on the FCC, and the agency relented.

At least one mainstream media mogul has taken note of religious broadcasters’ political might. In 2002, Rupert Murdoch met with NRB leaders and urged them to oppose a proposed Echostar-DirecTV merger, which they did. After the FCC nixed the deal, Murdoch’s News Corporation bought DirecTV and gave the NRB a channel on it.

The NRB has taken a number of steps to ensure it remains a political player. The most dramatic came in 2002, after Wayne Pederson was tapped to replace the network’s longtime president, Brandt Gustavson. He quickly ignited internal controversy by telling a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter that he intended to shift the organization's focus away from politics. "We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized," Pederson lamented. "To me the important thing is to keep the focus on what’s important to us spiritually." That didn’t sit well. Soon members of the executive committee were clamoring for his ouster. Within weeks, he was forced to step down.

Frank Wright was eventually chosen to replace Pederson. He had spent the previous eight years serving as the executive director of the Center for Christian Statesmanship, a Capitol Hill ministry that conducts training for politicians on how to "think biblically about their role in government." Wright acknowledges that he was chosen for his deep political connections. "I came here to re-engage the political culture on issues relating to broadcasting," he says. "The rest is up to individual broadcasters."
Amy Goodman recently had a fascinating interview with Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, who discussed the potency and significance of the religious right as a political force:
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, this is the annual gathering of the most powerful religious broadcasters in the country. Over the last few decades these radical religious broadcasters, who have essentially taken control of the airwaves, have built a parallel information and entertainment service that is piped into tens of millions of American homes as a way of essentially indoctrinating listeners and viewers with this very frightening ideology. I would second most of what your previous guest said, except that I don't believe, and -- I just, you know, for your listeners and viewers, will reiterate that I grew up in the Church. My father was a Presbyterian minister. I have a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, which is what you get if you are going to be a minister, although I was not ordained. For me, this is not a religious movement. It's a political movement.

If you look at the ideology that pervades this movement, and the term we use for it is dominionism, it comes from Genesis, where the sort of founders of this movement, Rousas Rushdoony and others, talk about how God gave man -- this is a very patriarchal movement -- dominion over the land. And dominionists believe that they have been tasked by God to create the Christian society through violence, I would add. Violence, the aesthetic of violence is a very powerful component within this movement. The ideology, when you parse it down and look what it's made up of, is essentially an ideology of exclusion and of hatred. It is a totalitarian ideology. It is not religious in any way. These people quote, as they did at this convention, selectively and with gross distortions from the Gospels. You cannot read the four Gospels and walk away and tell me that Jesus was not a pacifist. I'm not a pacifist, but Jesus clearly was. They draw from the Book of Revelations the only time in the Bible, and that's a very questionable book, as Biblical scholars have pointed out for centuries, the only time when you can argue that Jesus endorsed violence and the apocalyptic visions of Paul. And they do this to create an avenging Christ.

They have built a vision of America that is radically -- and a vision of this -- and latched onto a religious movement or awakening that is radically different from previous awakenings, and there have been several throughout American history. In all religious revivals, Christian religious revivals in American history, the pull was to get believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society. This one is very, very different. It is about taking control of secular society. And, of course, I think, as you and others have done such a good job of pointing out, they have built this dangerous alliance with the neoconservatives to essentially create across denominational lines. And we saw this at the convention with the, you know, radical Catholics with -- even there were even people from the Salvation Army; they have recently begun reaching out to the Mormons -- a kind of united front. Those doctrinal differences are still there and still stock, but a front to create what they term a "Christian America."

And this is an America where people like you and me have no place. And you don't have to take my word for it, turn on Christian broadcasting, listen to Christian radio. Listen to what they say about people like us. It's not a matter that we have an opinion they disagree with. It's not a matter of them de-legitimizing us, which they are. It's a matter of them demonizing us, of talking us -- describing us as militant secular humanists, moral relativists, both of which terms I would not use to describe myself, as a kind of counter-militant ideology that is anti-Christian and that essentially propelled by Satan that they must destroy. Listen to their own language. You know, when in "Justice Sunday," listen -- you know, I urge everyone to go back and look closely at what James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, said. He talked about Roe v. Wade causing the biggest holocaust in the 20th century. There is a frightening kind of revisionism and a kind of moral equation of a magnitude that, you know, having lived through disintegrating states in Yugoslavia and other places, essentially divides -- destroys the center, divides the American public, and creates a very dangerous and frightening culture war. And that's what these people are about.
The popular conception of totalitarianism, however, has often tended to view it as something almost extrinsic to the society on which it is imposed, usually through brainwashing or propaganda. But in reality, totalitarian systems are almost invariably empowered by people who ardently seek and support authoritarian social rule, for a variety of reasons, many of them directly related to psychological needs: that is, totalists.

The most significant work on totalism was pioneered by Erik Erikson, whose work I've discussed previously in a similar context. One of Erikson's chief disciples and descendants is Robert Jay Lifton, who has done some of the most thorough work examing the totalist mindset. Lifton describes it as consisting of eight key themes, notably:
Milieu control

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also -- in its penetration of his inner life -- over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.

Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can -- when permeated by outside information -- become subject to discordant "noise" beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of "incorrect" use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. At the center of this self-justification is their assumption of omniscience, their conviction that reality is their exclusive possession. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this "truth." In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control.
Perhaps the trait that progressives seem to be observing on the ground a great deal is the Demand for Purity:
In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgments. All "taints" and "poisons" which contribute to the existing state of impurity must be searched out and eliminated.

The philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of this purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition.

At the level of the relationship between individual and environment, the demand for purity creates what we may term a guilty milieu and a shaming milieu. Since each man's impurities are deemed sinful and potentially harmful to himself and to others, he is, so to speak, expected to expect punishment -- which results in a relationship of guilt and his environment. Similarly, when he fails to meet the prevailing standards in casting out such impurities, he is expected to expect humiliation and ostracism -- thus establishing a relationship of shame with his milieu. Moreover, the sense of guilt and the sense of shame become highly-valued: they are preferred forms of communication, objects of public competition, and the basis for eventual bonds between the individual and his totalist accusers. One may attempt to simulate them for a while, but the subterfuge is likely to be detected, and it is safer to experience them genuinely.

People vary greatly in their susceptibilities to guilt and shame, depending upon patterns developed early in life. But since guilt and shame are basic to human existence, this variation can be no more than a matter of degree. Each person is made vulnerable through his profound inner sensitivities to his own limitations and to his unfulfilled potential; in other words, each is made vulnerable through his existential guilt. Since ideological totalists become the ultimate judges of good and evil within their world, they are able to use these universal tendencies toward guilt and shame as emotional levers for their controlling and manipulative influences. They become the arbiters of existential guilt, authorities without limit in dealing with others' limitations. And their power is nowhere more evident than in their capacity to "forgive."

The individual thus comes to apply the same totalist polarization of good and evil to his judgments of his own character: he tends to imbue certain aspects of himself with excessive virtue, and condemn even more excessively other personal qualities - all according to their ideological standing. He must also look upon his impurities as originating from outside influences -- that is, from the ever-threatening world beyond the closed, totalist ken. Therefore, one of his best ways to relieve himself of some of his burden of guilt is to denounce, continuously and hostilely, these same outside influences. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, and the more threatening they seem. In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward "projection" is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of heretics, and to political and religious holy wars. Moreover, once an individual person has experienced the totalist polarization of good and evil, he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality. For these is no emotional bondage greater than that of the man whose entire guilt potential -- neurotic and existential -- has become the property of ideological totalists.
Lifton, notably, emphasizes that totalists are only too ordinary, and in many regards reflect long-honored human traits:
Behind ideological totalism lies the ever-present human quest for the omnipotent guide -- for the supernatural force, political party, philosophical ideas, great leader, or precise science -- that will bring ultimate solidarity to all men and eliminate the terror of death and nothingness. This quest is evident in the mythologies, religions, and histories of all nations, as well as in every individual life. The degree of individual totalism involved depends greatly upon factors in one's personal history: early lack of trust, extreme environmental chaos, total domination by a parent or parent-representative, intolerable burdens of guilt, and severe crises of identity. Thus an early sense of confusion and dislocation, or an early experience of unusually intense family milieu control, can produce later a complete intolerance for confusion and dislocation, and a longing for the reinstatement of milieu control. But these things are in some measure part of every childhood experience; and therefore the potential for totalism is a continuum from which no one entirely escapes, and in relationship to which no two people are exactly the same.
It does not take much reflection, however, to recognize that totalism is not a healthy phenomenon -- especially not in a democracy. Combating it requires understanding it, but understanding does not mean succumbing.

Comment: As society starts to break down, the tendency among many people is towards a strong ideology that provides answers and the promise of security. As most people cannot think, either because they never learned or their natural faculties have withered away under the barrage of drugs, EM waves, junk food, television, or the struggle to stay alive, they want answers handed to them: Something for nothing. They want the strong leader who will fix things: Wishing upon a star. They want the cornpone Nazi.

The blame for the collapse and the loss of their way of life must be transferred to a clearly defined enemy so that the accumulated anger at their lot in life can be let off towards a straw target and not the real culprits — who are still in power. It is not an environment for the flourishing of a many-sided appreciation of the problem, of diverse voices debating and discussing how to move forward, a meeting of the minds seeking to involve as many people as possible in defining and implementing solutions.

On the contrary, the dissenting voices will be the ones identified as the problem, and they will be silenced. No room for free will in a totalist state.

In the US many people are turning to the Bible for the answers, or a narrow interpretation of the Bible fused with an end times ideology that is perfect for social control. The true believers go so far as to anticipate that Jesus will take them off to Heaven before the real troubles hit. Imagine talking reality to people caught up in that illusion!

Those in power, well aware of the ability of the Bible to serve as a set of controls, are making use of this trend. They may even go so far as to base their strategy on manufacturing events that will appear to confirm the prophetic power of Revelations in order to better anchor their power over the believers. They have already manufactured 9/11.

As fears of the rise of an American theocracy grow among the non-believers, The Washington Times chimes in with a reassuring article on "why it can't happen here".

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Why theocracy can't happen here
By Ernest W. Lefever

Recently, Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and former Pennsylvania Democratic congressman, warned a conference of People for the American Way and 500 other secular liberals the religious right was hell-bent on imposing a "theocracy" on America.

Another speaker, Joan Bokaer, founder of Theocracy Watch, said the U.S. was "not yet a theocracy." Earlier, Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman, lamented: "Are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do?" He did not define "highest powers."

The American Civil Liberties Union and other secular left voices keep warning us that if Protestant evangelicals got their way, America would become a theocratic state. Nonsense. Their dire prediction is as plausible as another giant meteorite crashing into Earth like the one killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Comment: Does this guy know more than he is letting on? Or is his comparison just another one of the little jokes the universe enjoys sending our way from time to time in the form of a meaningful coincidence?

The democratic West has long rejected theocracy, once known as Caesaropapism, a state in which Caesar and the pope are one. Two thousand years ago in a Roman outpost when the issue of conflicting loyalties was raised, Jesus of Nazareth said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" -- an eloquent forecast of the American Founders' "separation of church and state."

The current film "Kingdom of Heaven" dramatically portrays the arrogance and bloodshed of zealous Christian medieval crusaders who attempted to impose their rule over Jerusalem, then held by Muslims.

Today, no serious Christian or Jewish leader in America advocates a theocratic state. They recognize welding political and ecclesiastical power would corrupt both religion and politics and lead to tyranny, chaos, or both.

America's Founders were committed to a democratic and pluralistic state where every citizen is free to believe as he wishes. Whether Calvinists or Unitarians, they held liberty was a gift from the Creator or Nature's God. "The God who gave us life," said Thomas Jefferson, "gave us liberty at the same time." As long as we are faithful to the Founders' dream, America will not become a theocracy.

Further, Article I of the Constitution rejects the "establishment of religion" and any act of Congress "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. All citizens are free to worship in churches, synagogues or mosques and to educate their children as they see fit as long as they don't violate the law.

Early on, the Congress authorized the words "In God We Trust" on our coins and currency. We have government chaplains in the Congress and the armed forces. The Lincoln Memorial, Library of Congress and Supreme Court display numerous religious images and quotations. And the Pledge of Alliance, recited in public schools, carry the words, "one nation under God," that reflect the spirit of the Mayflower Compact of 1620 that began with: "In the name of God, amen."

These time-honored manifestation of religion in American life have not curtailed freedom of belief or conscience, nor pointed to a theocracy. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic and atheist citizens have equal rights and opportunities.

Some Americans erect symbols of their "faith" in the public square, but others seek to banish the Ten Commandments, Christian creches and the Menorah from public spaces. If secular humanism became the established "religion" perhaps the only thing liberals would have to fear is liberalism itself.

Modest government grants to "faith based" social service agencies, such as the Salvation Army, are hardly breaches of the separation of church and state. After all, since the republic's beginning, church property has been tax-exempt.

In addition to the Founders' safeguards against a theocracy, that dire outcome is made virtually impossible by America's religious and cultural diversity and the fact no religious leader wants his "church" or any other religion to run the government. When citizens of any faith support the phrase "under God" in the Pledge or insist the Bible be taught as literature in public schools they do not call for theocratic government.

On the other hand, when some Evangelicals insist "evolution" should not be taught in public schools and "creationism" should, they attempt to stifle diversity and debate. Some literalists believe Earth was created 6,000 years ago, but they should not insist public schools teach only their views. They can freely teach their beliefs in their churches and religious schools.

On reflection, religious citizens and secular humanists may not be that far apart. They all are beneficiaries of the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Many secularists drink from wells they did not dig and are refreshed by water they are reluctant to acknowledge.

Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of "The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power."

Comment: Unfortunately, a number of very influential religious leaders have been working very long and hard for decades to impose a Christian state. Look at the Christian media that has sprung up in the last two decades and is discussed in Dave Neiwart's article above. Not that these Christian leaders are religious or Christian in any sense other than they use religion as their means to attain power.

If Mr Lefever is sincere in his belief that his country is safe from theocracy, then we suggest he take a closer look and read something other than The Washington Times; we suggest he investigate the incoherence of the official story of 9/11, the influence of the evangelical Christian lobby in the corridors of American power, the influence of The Fellowship with its vast and secretive interconnection with people in government, the National Prayer Breakfast, as well as the blind devotion offered to George W. Bush by the Christian Right who see in him God's personal choice for President as well as their Commander-in-Chief. American exceptionalism has strong roots in many Americans. Although every empire that has risen to power has met its end, they believe that the United States will be different. Some, the most extreme Christians, even believe the US will play a role determinant in the Second Coming of Jesus.

Furthermore, Mr Lefever is not taking into account the other events on the agenda that may well influence the course of American destiny over the next decade, events that we have looked at above: economic collapse, natural disaster, war, and the refuge in authoritarianism when the current Way of Life is no longer possible. We think that Bush and those around him are setting up the President to be such a leader. True, those in power may be no more sincere believers in the teachings of Christ than are the tele-evangelists who profit so heartily from their "faith". Yet the strictures of their narrow interpretation of the Good Book could be put into place as a means of social control even if those pulling the strings are leading lives by rules other than those set down in the Gospels. Think Jeff Gannon.

The changes in American life since the coming of King George are far beyond those imagined before the stolen election of 2000. The speed at which events are moving is faster than the ability of the opposition in the US to keep up. The opposition still hasn't cottoned on to the fact that 9/11 was in inside job. How can they effectively oppose the designs of the Bush Reich when they don't see it for what it is? The 9/11 truth movement, as it is called (and we use it in its broadest sense of including everyone who raises questions about the official story), is still a small number of Americans. It is nonetheless beleaguered by agents sent in to disrupt it and turn it away from getting at the truth. A portion of it is being led by Pied Piper Michael Ruppert down the path of "Peak Oil" right back into the arms of Dick Cheney and the energy lobby.

The shadow government has learned from the social experiments carried on since the assassination of JFK over forty years ago; the people seeking the truth have not. The bad guys are way out in front; the good guys haven't yet saddled their horses.

Of course, the question is: What can be done? We doubt that the majority of Americans are happy with their president. The ever tightening noose of Homeland Security likely means that those in power are aware of this fact; the Potemkin town meetings where the brain dead parrot praise of their Great Leader do, too. While the hard-liners are probably a very small percentage of the overall population, they appear to hold all the cards at the moment. They hold the White House, the Congress, the Judiciary; they are in the intelligence agencies, the police, and the military. For all the rumours coming from the Patriot movement of patriotic generals ready to arrest the war criminals in office and take back the country in the name of the constitution, it has been remarkably quiet on that front.

So, again, what to do?

The answer depends upon what you see. If you think that it can be fixed, then get involved fixing it. Find the most important problem and work on it, but work on it as if your life depended upon it.

If you do not believe that it can be fixed, is it because you think the situation is too far out of hand, that if only we had intervened earlier, we could have done something?

Or is it because you see that in our world it could never be otherwise? That selfishness and self-importance, material success and material solutions are the limit of our field of action?

Or do you still believe that Love is the answer, projected out on a world that is neither asking for it nor ready to receive it? Hmmm, our point of view is showing through. That's known as a loaded question.

We do what we will do. Our actions are a reflection of our being and our level of being determines what we see which permits us to act accordingly. But it all starts with knowledge. What do I know? Not, what has someone else told me? Not, what have I been taught? Not, what do I believe?

But what do I know?

We are all a microcosm, and we do not know ourselves. Perhaps, then, that is where we must start, getting to know ourselves.

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Guantanamo Controversies
The Bible and the Koran

Juan Cole
Informed Comment

The report in Newsweek that the US military desecrated the Koran as part of an attempt to break the Muslim prisoners there with humiliation techniques has provoked demonstrations, angry sermons, riots, and over a dozen deaths in Afghanistan, with demonstrations also in Gaza, Pakistan, Indonesia, and now Yemen. Both the chief Sunni Muslim cleric in Lebanon and its Shiite Grand Ayatollah, Muhammad Husain Fadlallah have now condemned it. The former threatened jihad or holy war. The latter said, "The desecration of the holy Koran in the terrifying Guantanamo detention center that America created under the title of fighting terrorism against the Muslims who have been arbitrarily rounded up there, is one of the American methods of torture . . . This is not an isolated act carried out by an American soldier but is part of an American program...of contempt for Islam, to disfigure its image in the minds of American." Shaikh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, the rector of al-Azhar seminary and the chief Sunni authority in Egypt, called the desecration of the Koran "a great crime." But he dismissed it as the work of "a bunch of kids, criminals . . ."

The Pentagon has claimed that the incident did not occur. Although the corporate media are now reporting that Newsweek had "backed off" the report, that isn't true.

Newsweek explains that in response to Pentagon queries,

"On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report."
Isikoff's source, in other words, stands by his report of the incident, but is merely tracing it to other paperwork. What difference does that make? Although Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita angrily denounced the source as no longer credible, in the real world you can't just get rid of a witness because the person made a minor mistake with regard to a text citation. It is like saying that we can't be sure someone has really read the Gospels because he said he read about Caiaphas in the Gospel of Mark rather than in the Gospel of John.

Newsweek has, in other words, confirmed that the source did read a US government account of the desecration of the Koran.

Nor is this the first such indication of this sort of incident. On August 18, 2004, ANSA, the Italian news agency, wrote of the families of detainees from Bahrain at Guantanamo:
"The families' anxiety grew after the publication of a report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), which contained information about tortures and maltreatment of prisoners. The report, based on testimony by three former Guantanamo prisoners,
Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmad, defines as brutal the methods of the U.S. jailers. According to the report, prisoners were brutally beaten and compelled to watch other prisoners sodomising each other by force. The 150-page document says reptiles were taken to the cells in an attempt to force prisoner confessions, while the Koran was thrown into the toilets before the eyes of the detained."
This diary and discussion at Daily Kos gives a number of other newspaper and other citations for the practice of Koran desecration.

Of course, one can hardly take the word of jihadis reporting on the United States, which they hate and would be happy to defame. But Newsweek had an independent source for the incident, a US government official, who continues to maintain that he saw documentation of it.

Moreover, Guantanamo translator Erik Saar, in his co-authored Inside the Wire indicates that techniques of religious humiliation were used at Guantanamo. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

'In his book, Saar describes a tumultuous atmosphere made more intense than usual because of religious tensions. US personnel, he wrote, routinely tempted detainees to look at pornographic magazines and videos, which Islam forbids. Female interrogators, sometimes dressed provocatively, violated Islamic strictures by rubbing against detainees and even leading one to believe he was being wiped with menstrual blood. "Had someone come to me before I left for Gitmo and told me we would use women to sexually torment detainees to try to sever their relationships with God, I probably would have thought that sounded fine," writes Saar. "But I hated myself when I walked out of that room.... We lost the high road.... There wasn't enough hot water in all of Cuba to make me feel clean." The Army, which cleared Saar's book for publication, says the policy is to treat detainees humanely, and an investigation into his allegations is under way. '

As a professional historian, I would say we still do not have enough to be sure that the Koran desecration incident took place. We have enough to consider it plausible. Anyway, the important thing politically is that some Muslims have found it plausible, and their outrage cannot be effectively dealt with by simple denial. That is why I say that Bush should just come out and say we can't be sure that it happened, but if it did it was an excess, and he apologizes if it did happen, and will make sure it doesn't happen again (if it did).

The controversy, however, seems to me to have focused on all the wrong things. The question is why all those prisoners are still being held at Guantanamo. Saar makes clear that the majority of them just had the misfortune to be dragooned onto the battlefield by the Taliban, and aren't dangerous terrorists. There are very bad characters among them, who should be tried and kept behind bars.

A reader with military experience in this area wrote me his own experience, with the Bible being trashed in a similar way. I was able to google this reader in such a way as to compare autobiographical statements and dates (stripped from the below) to the Web record, and they all check out. Even the history of attitudes, as revealed in letters to the editor, are confirmatory. So I'm sure of the authenticity of these comments.

"I'm a former US [military officer], and had the 'pleasure' of attending SERE school--Search, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.

The course I attended . . . [had] a mock POW camp, where we had a chance to be prisoners for 2-3 days. The camp is also used as a training tool for CI [counter-intelligence], interrogators, etc for those running the camp.

One of the most memorable parts of the camp experience was when one of the camp leaders trashed a Bible on the ground, kicking it around, etc. It was a crushing blow, even though this was just a school.

I have no doubt the stories about trashing the Koran are true.

I'm sure you must also realize that Gitmo must be being used as a "laboratory" for all these psychological manipulation techniques by the CI guys. Absolutely sickening . . .

1. My gut feeling tells me that the SERE camps were 'laboratories' and part of the training program for military counter-intelligence and interrogator personnel. I heard this anecdotally as far as the training goes, but have not dug into it. This is pretty much common sense.

2. Looking at Gitmo in the 'big picture', you have to wonder why it is still in operation though they know so many are innocent of major charges. A look through history at the various 'experimentation' programs of the DOD gives a ready answer. The camp provides a major opportunity to expose a population to various psychological control techniques. Look at some of the stuff that has become public, and this becomes even more apparent. Especially the sensory deprivation--not only sleep, but there are the photos of inmates in gas masks or sight/hearing/smell deprivation setups. There has already been voluminous research into sensory deprivation, and it seems this is another good opportunity for more. One note is that sensory deprivation is used to some degree in military basic training and to a greater sense in the advanced training courses--Rangers, SEALS, etc. All part of the 'breakdown' process before recruits are 'remade'.

3. This incident with the bible trashing. Camp was [in the late 1990s]. It was towards the end of the camp experience, which was 2-3 days of captivity. We were penned in concrete cell blocks about 4' x 4' x 4'--told to kneel, but allowed to squat or sit. There was no door, just a flap that could be let down if it was too cold outside (which it was--actually light snow fell). Each trainee was interrogated to some extent, all experienced some physical interrogation such as pushing, shoving, getting slammed against a wall (usually a large metal sheet set up so that it would not seriously injure trainees) with some actually water-boarded (not me).

The bible trashing was done by one of the top-ranked leaders of the camp, who was always giving us speeches--sort of 'making it real' so to speak, because it is a pretty contrived environment. But by the end it almost seemed real. Guards spoke English with a Russian accent, wore Russian-looking uniforms. So the bible trashing happened when this guy had us all in the courtyard sitting for one of his speeches. They were tempting us with a big pot of soup that was boiling--we were all starving from a few days of chow deprivation. He brought out the bible and started going off on it verbally--how it was worthless, we were forsaken by this God, etc. Then he threw it on the ground and kicked it around. It was definitely the climax of his speech. Then he kicked over the soup pot, and threw us back in the cells. Big climax. And psychologically it was crushing and heartbreaking, and then we were left isolated to contemplate this.

And all of these moods and thoughts were created in this fake camp--just imagine how it is for these guys at Gitmo.

So many have tried to commit now they all must have some serious psychological problems. This is without a doubt torture. Premeditated, planned....a fine lot of criminals we have in charge of the USA these days. Gitmo is so Orwellian--so Room 101. They are playing on the deepest feelings and fears."

This informed former officer has suggested the real reason for which some in the Pentagon are so angry about the Newsweek story. It may well so focus international outrage on Guantanamo that Rumsfeld will lose his little psych lab.

Comment: While the rest of the media presents us with headlines announcing Newsweek's apology, leaving us with the impression that the facts reported were erroneous, Juan Cole gives ample evidence to show that the truth is elsewhere. Of course, depending upon the US media for news is like eating only McDonalds....

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Unmanned drone kills al-Qaida operative

By Dana Priest
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — An al-Qaida figure killed last week by a missile from a CIA-operated unmanned aerial drone had been under surveillance for more than a week by U.S. intelligence and military personnel working along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a U.S. official and two counterterrorism experts said yesterday.

The U.S. team was hoping Haitham al-Yemeni would lead them to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said two counterterrorism experts, both former senior U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of events surrounding the attack.

But after Pakistani authorities captured another al-Qaida leader this month, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, CIA officials became concerned that al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to kill him instead, the counterterrorism experts said.

Al-Yemeni's importance in the al-Qaida organization could not be learned yesterday. He is not listed by that name in either the FBI or Pakistani "Most Wanted" list.

The CIA declined comment. Pakistan denied the incident happened.

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US against giving veto to nations seeking Security Council seats: report 2005-05-15 22:42:40

WASHINGTON, May 15 (Xinhuanet) -- The United States has warned Japan, India, Germany and Brazil, the four nations seeking permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, that it will not support their cause unless they agree not to ask for veto power, the New York Times said in a report on Sunday.

Officials in the administration of President George W. Bush fear that giving the new members veto power might paralyze the Security Council, the report said.

The four nations are unhappy with the US position. "The Security Council is not like an aircraft, with first class, business and economy seats," Ryozo Kato, Japan's ambassador to the United States, was quoted by the report as saying.

The United Nations Security Council currently has five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, and each has the veto power in council decisions. This has been the format since the creation of the United Nations in September 1945.

Comment: What about removing veto power from everyone and making it a majority vote, pure and simple? Or getting rid of the Security Council altogether and giving the General Assembly the decision-making authority?

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Three Iraqis working for Kuwaiti TV killed 2005-05-16 14:37:06

BAGHDAD, May 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Three Iraqis working for Kuwaiti television were killed south of Baghdad, the Iraqi military said on Monday.

The victims were two journalists and their driver, the military said, adding that the three were on their way to Baghdad from the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

The incident took place in an area near the town of Muhmudiya and Latifiya, a rebel area known as the "triangle of death." [...]

Comment: An effective way of keeping the world from learning the truth about the occupation of Iraq is to kill off the journalists who are attempting to get that truth out. The US has been remarkably successful in doing just that.

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America is Being Kept in the Dark:
Iraq on brink of civil war, analysts say
Toronto Star
May 14, 2005. 01:00 AM

WASHINGTON - [...] a spike in insurgent violence has placed the country on the precipice of civil war.

More than 450 Iraqis have been slaughtered in the past two weeks in a direct challenge to a new Iraqi government, making those heady days of the January election seem like something from the distant past. The euphoria of the purple thumb, the symbol of the bravery of voters, has given way to a river of blood-red in some of the worst violence in the post-Saddam era.

"We are on the edge of civil war," said Noah Feldman, a New York University professor and chief U.S. adviser to Iraq on the writing of the country's new constitution.

Yet, somehow this sharp surge in deadly bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in Iraq has occurred largely under the radar in the United States.

No public figures have risen this week to decry this most recent carnage, no one is breaking into regular programming on cable news shows.

Perhaps Americans have simply become numb to the background hum of Iraqi violence. Perhaps the lack of graphic images on television mean that medium doesn't know how to cover the story. Perhaps, more cynically, Iraqis killing Iraqis is not as compelling a story.

The left-leaning American Progress Action Fund said in a statement
yesterday America's most important foreign policy venture is teetering on the edge of civil war, but it is being ignored by television networks.

"Television media - still the primary source of news for most Americans - is failing miserably," it said. "America is being kept in the dark."

While American TV viewers turn to runaway brides, fast-food fingers and the daily Michael Jackson aberration, they are missing the story of an increasingly massive foreign policy failure.

The number of car bomb attacks in Iraq jumped from 64 in February to 135 in April, a record, according to U.S. military statistics. Insurgents are reported to have stockpiled car bombs and the attacks are becoming more brazen as Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters try to provoke civil war with the Shiite majority.

"There is an apparent free flow of suicide bombers into Iraq," a Western diplomat told the London-based Guardian newspaper.

The U.S. death toll is at 1,611 and U.S. legislators this week approved funding which pushes the cost of the Iraq war beyond $250 billion (US).

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, called again this week for patience. [...]

While U.S. authorities say they believe most of the jihadists are foreign fighters - and have launched a major offensive near the Syria border to try to choke off the influx - J. Patrick Lang, a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defence Intelligence Agency, told National Public Radio this week that he believed the insurgents are 90 per cent home-grown.

He said they're a mix of former military, intelligence, police personnel and Baath party functionaries taking directions from a government-in-exile.

David Phillips of the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations and author of Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, said the spike in the insurgency can be blamed on three factors.

He said the delay of Iraqis in convening a new government to validate the January elections, the preponderance of Shiites and Kurds in the government plus the intensification of the de-Baathification process simply backed the Sunni view that there is no role for them in the new government.

But, Phillips also points to statements from the White House that U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had intervened to try to break the cabinet stalemate as another spark.

"It reinforced the view in Iraq that (Prime Minister Ibrahim) Jaafari was merely a proxy for those people in Washington," he said. [...]

Phillips is even more pessimistic. When asked about the chances that the brakes could be put on the insurgency in the short term, he answered: "None. This insurgency will go on for years and years, regardless of what the U.S. does."

The insurgency can never be defeated by military force, he said. Instead, Iraqis have to believe that their institutions are worth defending and that defence has to come from Iraqi troops.

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Over 30 Mutilated Bodies Discovered in Iraq
Report: Al-Zarqawi Severely Wounded
Adam E. Stahl

At least 34 bodies have been discovered in Iraq. All of the bodies show signs of multiple gun shot wounds to the head. The discovery also comes just one day after U.S. forces wrapped up Operation Matador, which targeted militants on Iraq's Eastern border.

According to reports, 13 of the 34 bodies were discovered in the capital city of Baghdad. All of the 13 were tied, blindfolded, and shot in the head. The men were wearing only underwear and those that had worn beards were shaven clean. Iraqi police officials have stated that the wounds provide evidence that the men were killed no later than Saturday evening.

On Saturday at least 10 Iraqi soldiers were found in Ramadi, in western Iraq. According to Iraqi Defense officials, the soldiers were all Iraqi and all had been shot to death.

Another gruesome find was made just south of the capital city in al-Huqoul. 11 more men were found in nearly identical fashion as the 13 in Baghdad. All but four of the men had their hands tied, blindfolded, and shot at close range in the back of the head. The other four were beheaded. All of the 11 men were employees at a poultry farm in al-Huqoul.

Iraqi officials believe that the men are truck drivers that were kidnapped over one month ago. Al-Huqoul is in the center of the district of Latifiya, known to be a militant stronghold. Two trucks were found near the site, with multiple bullet holes. Iraqi police found ID of at least two men, owners of the truck, who were also among the dead.

According to one British newswire Iraq's alleged al-Qaíida mastermind, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was wounded sometime last week. The doctor that treated the terrorist leader has been taken in for questioning by U.S. forces. According to the doctor, Zarqawi was bleeding profusely. Men with Zarqawi requested a prescription and names of medicine. Zarqawi and his men have not been seen since.

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Cannes premiere of 'Star Wars' raises questions of U.S. imperialism
May 16, 2005

CANNES, France - For some Europeans, George Lucas' latest "Star Wars" film is invoking comparisons to today's political climate.

Audiences viewing "Episode Three -- Revenge of the Sith" at the Cannes Film Festival are comparing the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and the rise of an emperor through warmongering to President Bush's war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.

Among the lines they cite is when Anakin tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy." After the Nine-Eleven attacks, Bush said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Lucas says he created the "Star Wars" story long before the Iraq war.

Comment: Actually, that's not all Lucas said...

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Lucas jabs at 'Bush's empire'
Japan Today
Monday, May 16, 2005 at 07:29 JST

CANNES - The last episode of the seminal sci-fi saga "Star Wars" screened at the Cannes film festival Sunday, completing a six-part series that remains a major part of popular culture - and delivering a galactic jab to U.S. President George W Bush.

"Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" was seen ahead of a celebrity- laden evening screening to be attended by its creator and director, George Lucas, and its cast, including Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.

Reaction at advance screenings was effusive, with festival-goers, critics and journalists at Cannes applauding at the moment the infamous Darth Vader came into being.

But there were also murmurs at the parallels being drawn between Bush's administration and the birth of the space opera's evil Empire.

Baddies' dialogue about bloodshed and despicable acts being needed to bring "peace and stability" to the movie's universe, mainly through a fabricated war, set the scene.

And then came the zinger, with the protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, saying just before becoming Darth Vader: "You are either with me - or you are my enemy."

To the Cannes audience, often sympathetic to anti-Bush messages in cinema as last year's triumph here of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" attested, that immediately recalled Bush's 2001 ultimatum, "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."

Lucas, speaking to reporters, emphasised that the original "Star Wars" was written at the end of the Vietnam war, when Richard Nixon was U.S. president, but that the issue being explored was still very much alive today.

"The issue was, how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship?" he said.

"When I wrote it, Iraq (the U.S.-led war) didn't exist... but the parallels of what we did in Vietnam and Iraq are unbelievable."

He acknowledged an uncomfortable feeling that the United States was in danger of losing its democratic ideals, like in the movie.

"I didn't think it was going to get this close. I hope this doesn't come true in our country."

Although he didn't mention Bush by name, Lucas took what sounded like another dig while explaining the transformation of the once-good Anakin Skywalker to the very bad Darth Vader.

"Most bad people think they're good people," he said.

The political message, though, was for the most part subsumed by the action and heroics the series - set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" - is known for.

And for fans hungry for a last look at "Star Wars" elevated above the disappointing two other films that preceded "Sith," it was satisfying closure.

"Whatever one thought of the previous two installments, this dynamic picture irons out most of the problems, and emerges as the best in the overall series since 'The Empire Strikes Back,'" the Hollywood trade magazine Variety said.

The buzz meant the movie was the hottest ticket at Cannes this year. It also signalled the end of a cinematic era for a generation of filmgoers.

"Revenge of the Sith" is the last of three prequels to the landmark trilogy that burst onto the screens in 1977, 1980 and 1983.

It is in fact the middle episode of the epic story arc, explaining the events that led young Luke Skywalker to battle Darth Vader in order to save Princess Leia, before going on to vanquish the Empire.

Its success could be measured in the claps and smiles in the theatre, which were light years away from the tepid response engendered by the first two prequels, released in 1999 and 2002, widely panned for their boring exposition and wooden dialogue.

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Flashback! UK film at Cannes says terror fears exaggerated
By Erik Kirschbaum
May 14, 3:01 AM (ET)

CANNES, France - A British documentary arguing U.S. neo- conservatives have exaggerated the terror threat is set to rock the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, the way "Fahrenheit 9/11" stirred emotions here a year ago.

"The Power of Nightmares" re-injected politics into the festival that seemed eager to steer clear of controversy this year after American Michael Moore won top honors in 2004 for his film deriding President Bush's response to terror.

At a screening late on Friday ahead of its gala on Saturday, "The Power of Nightmares" by filmmaker and senior BBC producer Adam Curtis kept an audience of journalists and film buyers glued to their seats and taking notes for a full 2-1/2 hours.

The film, a non-competition entry, argues that the fear of terrorism has come to pervade politics in the United States and Britain even though much of that angst is based on carefully nurtured illusions.

It says Bush and U.S. neo-conservatives, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are exaggerating the terror threat in a manner similar to the way earlier generations of leaders inflated the danger of communism and the Soviet Union.

It also draws especially controversial symmetries between the history of the U.S. movement that led to the neo-cons and the roots of the ideas that led to radical Islamism -- two conservative movements that have shaped geopolitics since 1945.

Curtis's film portrays neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld as counterparts to Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in the two respective movements.

"During the Cold War conservatives exaggerated the threat of the Soviet Union," the narrator says. "In reality it was collapsing from within. Now they're doing the same with Islamic extremists because it fits the American vision of an epic battle."


In his film, Curtis argues that Bush and Blair have used what he says is the largely illusory fear of terror and hidden webs of organized evil following the September 11, 2001, attacks to reinforce their authority and rally their nations.

In Bush's government, those underlings who put forth the darkest scenarios of the phantom threat have the most influence, says Curtis, who also devotes segments of his film to criticize unquestioning media and zealous security agencies.

He says al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has a far less powerful organization than feared. But he is careful to avoid suggestions that terror attacks won't happen again. Included are experts who dismiss fears of a "dirty bomb" as exaggerated.

"It was an attempt at historical explanation for September 11," Curtis said, describing his film in the Guardian newspaper recently. "Up to this point, nobody had done a proper history of the ideas and groups that have created our modern world."

But Curtis said there were worlds of difference between his film and Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the "Golden Palm" and gave the festival a charged political atmosphere that prompted this year's return to a more conservative program.

"Moore is a political agitprop filmmaker," he said. "I am not. You'd be hard pushed to tell my politics from watching it."

"The Power of Nightmares" was a three-part documentary aired in Britain and won a British film and television industry award (Bafta) this year.

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Bush Sold the War on WMDs, Not Regime Change
By Greg Mitchell
May 15, 2005

With embarassing new revelations on WMDs emerging, and Bush poll numbers slipping, the president's supporters in the press argue that he actually sold the war to the public on the basis of freedom for the Iraqis, not on a WMD threat to Americans. A look at Bush's final messages to the public and to Congress just before the war began prove otherwise.

Ever since it became apparent, almost two years ago, that Saddam Hussein held no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq--the most prominent reason offered by the Bush administration for going to war against him--defenders of the U.S. invasion and occupation in the media have flailed away, attempting to uphold the president's honor.

First they claimed the weapons would still be found in Iraq. Months later, bitterly disappointed, they reluctantly admitted they had been proven wrong, but suggested that the WMDs must have been spirited out of the country, to Syria, or maybe in Michael Moore's backyard.

When that fantasy went nowhere, they claimed that, well, that wasn't Bush's only, or even his main, declared point in going to war--he had highlighted others, such as getting rid of a brutal dictator and bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. That's what he was really after. He did not sell the war to the American people and the press primarily on the chemical, biological and nuclear WMD threat.

We've read this argument more and more often in the press and among online pundits in the wake of the Iraqi elections. Even so, the latest Gallup polls find that 57% of Americans still feel the war is "not worth it" and 50% believe the president "deliberately misled" them on WMDs. But what about the explanation that Bush's case for the war really didn't rise and fall on WMD?

I haven't seen many editorials exploring this rationale, or articles that actually went back and looked at what Bush actually said in the days before going to war, so I decided to do it.

To test the pro-warriors' argument that Bush, highlighted other issues, particularly regime change, at least as much as he was pushing the bogus WMD threat., I went back and studied the president's address to the nation on March 17, 2003, in which he famously gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of Dodge City, or else.

Doing this, I half-expected to find that Bush's defenders would be proven correct. In my memory, just before the war, the White House did indeed begin to de-emphasize the WMD and mushroom cloud imagery, after United Nations' inspectors in Iraq failed to find anything. Alas, this was not the case at all.

Bush's key March 17 address, in printed form (available at, runs 27 paragraphs. For those keeping score at home, exactly 18 of those paragraphs mention or emphasize the WMD threat. Five raise the "freedom" issue.

And the WMD warnings receive much higher priority; Bush does not "bury the lead." The first four paragraphs discuss nothing but WMDs, in 10 separate sentences. Only after that, in one short paragraph, does Bush mention that Saddam's regime "has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East" and has "deep hatred" of America. He then linked Saddam to al-Qaeda, another charge now widely discredited.

Then it was back to WMDs for eight more paragraphs, before mentioning a "new Iraq that is prosperous and free."

Walking down memory lane here, it is tempting to quote Bush assertions, such as "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised" and "Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed," but I will not stoop to that.

But surely the president mentioned regime change and freedom for the Iraqis in his formal letter to Congress the following day, outlining why he was justified in going to war?

Well, no. All he listed was the "continuing threat" posed to the U.S. by Iraq, Saddam's failure to comply with U.N. resolutions on WMD, and Iraq's links to international terrorists "including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Even Vice Prresident Cheney has now given up on the 9/11 link.

Today, with the so-called "Downing Street Memo"--the July 2002 British document which suggests that the U.S. was determined to go to war and would "fix" intelligence on WMD to support that goal--finally gaining wide press attention, Bush's vulnerability on the argument for war grows even greater. Is the press ready to join that debate in earnest?

As someone intimately involved in this controversy once said, "Bring it on."

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Where's All the News That's Fit to Print?
May 2005

To the Editors of the NY Times:

On the front page of every issue of your publication you proclaim that we will find "All the News That's Fit to Print." Unfortunately you have not lived up to that proclamation for quite some time.

I have a serious question for you people at the NY Times. Where the hell have these headlines been? (See below). Why have we had to cherry pick our news? Why to we have to read buried stories or international publications in order to know what is going on in our own country?

Here are some of the news HEADLINES that have been fit to print, only to be printed by the independent journalist, the blogger and various international publications. While on occasion these blockbuster stories end up buried somewhere in your 5 pound Sunday edition, they should be splattered all over the headlines until the issues that face our nation get addressed.























Our nation is in deep trouble. Our democracy is being decimated by the Bush administration. We are virtually living under a coup. Evidence exists that supports the allegation that the past 3 elections including the midterm elections were tampered with. There is overwhelming evidence that our President lied to Congress and to the world for the purpose of starting a war. The Patriot Act, or more accurately the Anti-Constitution act is in essence transforming this nation into a police state, and our news media, the NY Times included, have not only shirked their responsibility to preserve democracy, but have empowered the eradicators of our democracy.

All this while we have as our leaders a group of individuals who had planned this radical agenda years before 9/11/2001. They had openly stated that their agenda would not be accepted by the American people unless there was a "catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor!" These men were responsible for preventing such an event when one took place. As journalists, do you not see the need to look into this? Do you not understand that at the very least, if we take the official story as truth, the events of 9/11 were very preventable. VERY preventable! As journalists can you not identify motive when you see it?

Your failure to act as our guardian has resulted in the creation of a new breed of journalists. Some are called bloggers, others consolidate news from alternative sources. These people have had to assemble the truth from multiple sources because our nation no longer has a single reliable news organization that is either capable or willing to carry the torch of the journalist, our guardian of democracy. For over 5 years you have lied to the American public by intentionally leaving a false impression with them. While you have thrown us bits and pieces of information, we have had to rely for truth on the international journalist and the few dedicated independent journalists scattered around the globe.

The rest of the world should take notice. The American journalism cancer is now spreading to the UK. The BBC has just had their budget slashed by the very people whom they are supposed to hold to account. At the same time, the mind melting FOX News brainwash machine is moving in. Soon, there will be nobody to save us. Soon, only the lone blogger, who has been wrongfully maligned by the uninformed masses with the help of the deceptive and betraying news media, will be the only hope for our future.

And so, I am appealing to the editors of the NY Times to remember Watergate, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and the real journalists who protected the freedoms and democracy that you are so willingly helping to destroy.

You have the power. Look up the word journalism, reach back to the reasons you became journalists and start practicing journalism once again. Save the world. It's your responsibility.

Comment: While the US media is certainly filtering the news presented to Americans, each of us individually also has the power and the responsibility to become "journalists" and seek the truth behind world events. As the author mentions, many bloggers have picked up the ball and become a refreshing alternative to publications like the New York Times. While we at Signs of the Times really don't think it's very likely that we are going to save the world, we do think it is important to shine the light of truth upon a world that has fallen under the shadow of lies and deception.

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Bush league media behave like lap dogs
By David Rossie
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
May 15, 2005

Imagine, if you will, Teresa Heinz Kerry or Hillary Clinton going on national television and telling a joke about her husband masturbating a horse.

And had that happened, imagine the reaction of some of our more ardent moral preceptors such as Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Falwell, Dobson, Savage and Bennett. The outpouring of pious flapdoodle would have been of tsunami proportions.

But since it was Laura Bush who laid that shopworn gag on the crowd at the White House Correspondents' Association's annual dinner, it was acceptable, because, well, because she and her husband go to church regularly, and because Republicans are exemplars of moral values, the odd off-color joke notwithstanding.

Laura didn't create the joke; it was put in by the man who wrote her script; she just read the lines. Sure, the whole thing was rehearsed and rehearsed again, but so what? Mrs. Bush handled it splendidly. She even got in a shot at her battleaxe mother-in-law. Given her flawless performance, Karl Rove might want to consider letting her handle the next presidential live press conference. If there is one.

As good as Laura Bush was, the event's funniest line wasn't delivered that night. It came a couple of days later from Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times' White House correspondent. Writing of Mrs. Bush's performance, Bumiller said: "She brought down a very tough house." Right. The grandest collection of timorous toadies ever to cover the White House.

That said, we owe those "tough" journalists a single debt of gratitude. Their obsequious treatment of Bush and Cheney since the day they took office has done more to dispel the myth of a liberal media elite than all the disclaimers in The Nation and American Prospect combined.

As Robert Kennedy Jr. pointed out in a recent Vanity Fair article, the far right not only has control of the legislative and executive branches of government, it has virtual control of most of the mass media. The extreme right controls talk radio. Conservative corporations control the purse strings of the major television news operations, not just Fox News, which is an unabashed organ of the Republican Party.

It was not by chance that Bob Schieffer was named moderator of the final presidential debate last fall. As Kennedy noted, Schieffer asked not a single question about the environment, concentrating instead "on abortion, gay marriage and the personal faith of the candidates, an agenda that could have been dictated by Karl Rove."

And who's to say it wasn't?

Shortly after he was named interim anchor of the CBS evening news, Schieffer told a late night interviewer that if Bush can bring our troops home from Iraq by Christmas he will go down in history as a great president. Sure, forget what he and Cheney have done to the economy, the environment, health care, the treasury and thousands of American families mourning the loss of their sons, daughters and spouses. This disaster of a president is one step away from becoming one with Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson. Just ask Bob.

Kennedy quotes Bill Moyers, recently chased to the margins of a newly Republican-dominated Public Broadcasting System: "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."


Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin.

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Assassinating the Intelligensia
By Meryl Lipman of Portland, Oregon
May 2005

A few weeks ago the World Affairs Council's Young Professionals met in the upstairs room of a Portland brew pub to ponder the definition of "civil society." The conversation wandered like a Bedouin, touching on questions of health and elder care and personal freedom vs. social order. But by the third microbrew all had agreed on one thing: a civil society cannot exist unless critical thought is promoted, from kindergarten through the university level.

The subject came up again last weekend at PSU, where a panel of academicians spoke calmly but urgently on the matter of "Academic Freedom Under Siege." Unbeknownst to most of us, the neo-conservatives have been taking a mighty swipe at academia, that last American bastion of critical thought. They've targeted female, foreign and minority professors, "outing" them as leftist liberal intellectuals. [...]

Hostility toward intellectuals is nothing new among power-hungry regimes. Take, for example, the Khmer Rouge, who, emulating Stalin's model, murdered thousands of doctors, lawyers, philosophers, writers and university professors a mere 30 years ago. As for Stalin, the "intelligensia class" was among the first groups targeted in his Great Purges of the 1930s and 40s. Survivors (and those with the foresight to flee) came, in large part, to America, where they found thriving academic and scientific communities. With the exception of the McCarthy era, the US has always been a refuge for inventors, innovators and progressive thinkers. Although the NEH, acting under the influence of the current administration, cannot be compared to the tyrannies of Stalin and Pol Pot, we would be wise to watch this issue closely. Otherwise, the result could be similar: a brain drain, or dumbing down of American higher learning, which would leave us struggling for generations to regain the civil society we have lost.

Comment: The cases of Ward Churchill and David Graeber come to mind...

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Witnesses describe bloodbath outside Uzbek school
15 May 2005 12:35:09 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Dmitry Solovyov

ANDIZHAN, Uzbekistan, May 15 (Reuters) - Uzbek soldiers fired into a crowd, including women, children and their own police comrades begging them not to shoot, when they crushed an uprising in the town of Andizhan, witnesses said on Sunday.

Soldiers later moved in among "literally hundreds" of bodies, finishing off some of the wounded with a single bullet, said one witness to Friday's killings outside School No. 15.

The two independent eyewitness accounts to Reuters, both by men who live nearby but who asked not to be identified, could not be independently verified. President Islam Karimov said on Saturday he had forbidden the use of force against women, children and the elderly.

Two days after an uprising in the mostly Muslim Central Asian state's Ferghana Valley, blood and body parts, hastily sprinkled with soil, still lay on the pavements, streets, and gutters in the centre of this leafy town of 300,000 people.

A human rights campaigner from Andizhan, Saidzhakhon Zaidabitdinov, has said up to 500 were killed, including police and soldiers, in the Friday violence.

The first to die outside School No. 15, the witnesses told Reuters, were a group of policemen who had been seized by rebels. Some rebels seen in Andizhan on Friday were carrying guns.

"About 10 policemen were pushed ahead of the crowd as hostages," said one of the witnesses, a 35-year-old businessman. He said an armoured personnel carrier (APC) and troops took up position in front of them.

"'Don't shoot! Don't shoot!' they (the police) begged. But then the APC opened fire from about 150 metres (yards) away."

It was not clear from witness accounts to what extent those in the crowd were armed, or returned fire.

Panic broke out as troops continued firing from rooftops and people fled down narrow alleyways, some pursued by soldiers.

The rebels, whom Karimov says are Islamic militants, had earlier taken 10 police officers hostage and seized a state building in the central square. Protesters, some calling for Karimov to resign, staged a demonstration outside.

When troops opened fire in the square, the rebels took their hostages and mingled with a large crowd, including casual onlookers, that made its way 1,200 metres (less than a mile) down Cholpon Avenue, a broad tree-lined street, to the school, the witnesses said.

School No. 15's facade was pockmarked on Sunday with at least 20 bulletholes and there were pools of blood in the blocked open drains.


On Saturday, soldiers started removing corpses and the wounded, but a handful who tried to escape were shot dead, the witnesses said.

"Those wounded who tried to get away were finished with single shots from a Kalashnikov rifle," said the businessman. "Three or four soldiers were assigned to killing the wounded."

The second witness, a 42-year-old driver, said he saw soldiers later loading corpses onto trucks and buses.

"At about 5:00 a.m. (on Saturday) the dead women and children were the first to be removed from the street," he said. "I could not count all the dead, there were literally hundreds."

"There were many bodies lying on top of each other, and smashed brains on the pavement."

Karimov said on Saturday that no order had been given to fire on the crowd.

"I categorically banned the use of physical force against women, children and the elderly," he added. "In Uzbekistan, no one fights against women, the elderly and children."

He said 10 police and "many more" rebels had been killed, but made no mention of civilian casualties.

A third witness, a man in his 20s who did not see the shooting outside the school, said he helped remove bodies to a makeshift morgue in the school building.

"When the soldiers left, we saw that around 30 dead people were left lying on the pavement and I was among those who took them to School No. 15," he said.

Faizula Shakirov, 67, said his 33-year-old son Said, himself a father of three, had been killed in another part of town on Friday.

"My son wanted to look at what was going on," he said after burying his son. "He walked out of the courtyard, turned a corner into a neighbouring street and was shot in the leg and stomach by a soldier."

"He lay wounded there until (Saturday) morning," Shakirov said. "None of the neighbours could help him because people were afraid they would be shot if they left their homes."

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Uzbek refugees flood into Kyrgyzstan
Last Updated 16/05/2005, 04:51:39

Hundreds of refugees from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan are now living in a camp across the country's border after fleeing last week's military crackdown.

News agencies say 900 people have crossed the border into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Health officials say many are injured.. some with bullet wounds.

Thousands more are reportedly waiting to leave the country.

On Friday, troops opened fire on a crowd of thousands in the eastern city of Andijan.

The demonstrators were protesting against the trial of a group of businessmen on charges of religious extremism.

Officials say about 30 people were killed.. but witnesses say the death toll was much higher.

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Three hurt in Spanish Basque blasts
15 May 2005 2104 hrs

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain : Four small explosions rocked the Spanish Basque region overnight targeting businesses in the area and slightly wounding three people, anti-terrorism officials said.

The blasts occurred between 3:00 am (0100 GMT) and 4:00 am (0200 GMT), in the Basque towns of Beasain, Bergara, Elgoibar and Soraluze, they added.

Two regional police officers and a security guard of the Felix Gabilondo company suffered breathing difficulties after one of the blasts caused a spillage of corrosive liquid.

The assessment of material damage was not completed, but most damage was done to windows and company doors, the officials said.

The Basque interior ministry said the armed Basque separatist group ETA was to blame.

Anti-terrorist officials said the explosions came without advance warning and involved bombs containing 1.5 kilogrammes (3.3 pounds) of chloratite, an explosive similar to ammonium nitrate.

They added that the blasts were part of an ongoing campaign of blackmail by ETA against regional businesses.

Firefighters said one blast hit a zinc concentrate depot outside a building at the Felix Gabilondo plant, triggering a spillage of 15,000 litres of toxic liquid.

Three other firms also sustained major damage, including shattered windows and broken doors, Basque interior ministry officials said.

ETA has been blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people in its four-decade armed campaign for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. [...]

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Durban pedestrian mutilated
May 12, 2005, 16:00

(South Africa) - Durban police are trying to establish the identity of a person who was knocked down and run over by five cars near Westville's Pavilion shopping centre last night. Rani John, a spokesperson for the police, said: "They actually had to close the road off to pick up the person's body parts. We're still trying to identify if it was a man or a woman."

John said the person was knocked down while running across the road around 10pm last night. About five other cars are believed to have run over the body. Police could not establish who the person was or where the person lived. No missing person had been reported in the area, John said.

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Six dead, at least 100 missing after ferry capsizes in Bangladesh
16 May 2005 0036 hrs

DHAKA : Six people died and more than 100 were missing feared drowned on Sunday after a ferry capsized in bad weather and strong tides on a remote stretch of river in southern Bangladesh, police said.

High winds were hampering rescue efforts on the Char Kazal river near Badnatoli, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Dhaka, said a police spokesman at the scene, Shilamoni Chakma.

"More than 100 passengers were on board when the ferry, named 'Prince of Patuakhali', capsized due to strong winds and high tides," Chakma told AFP.

Emergency police and fire service teams with trained divers, rushed to the town in the Bay of Bengal and recovered six dead bodies from the river, including two children, he said. [...]

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Nineteen die as bus collides with motorcycle, plunges into ravine in Vietnam
16 May 2005 0525 hrs

HANOI : Nineteen people were killed when a bus they were travelling in collided with a motorcycle and plunged 150 metres (about 500 feet) down a ravine in northern Vietnam's Lai Chau province Sunday, state television said.

The accident occurred around mid-morning in the mountainous district of Tam Duong, about 500 kilometres (more than 300 miles) northwest of Hanoi, the report said. Two people have been hospitalised with serious injuries and police have launched an investigation, the television report said.

The bus was carrying 21 people, it said, but made no mention of the fate of the motorcycle driver.

Last week, 11 people, including two children, were killed in central Vietnam when a truck carrying rocks crashed into a passenger bus. Late last month, 32 Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam War were killed when their bus fell into a 70-meter (230-feet) ravine in nearby Kon Tum province.

Vietnam has an appalling road safety record mainly due to widespread disregard for traffic regulations and speed limits. [...]

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'The pain was so intense . . .'
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/12/05

A Gwinnett sheriff's deputy said he Taser-shocked already restrained inmate Frederick Williams five times in 43 seconds because Williams was bucking in an effort to get out of a restraint chair.

Yet two Gwinnett police officers who allowed themselves to be shocked in a videotaped police re-enactment of the May 25, 2004, altercation in the county jail reacted almost exactly the same way as had Williams.

Melvin Johnson, an attorney representing Williams' family, contends he was arching his back and trying to push out of the chair that night because he was in pain and not because he was trying to fight with deputies.

Williams lost consciousness minutes after being shocked and died in a Gwinnett hospital two days later.

"The pain was so intense that I would have done anything to get away from it," said Taser-shocked Gwinnett police Cpl. Damon Cavender in a statement to investigators after the police re-enactment. "I pulled my body away from it and it caused me to scream involuntarily."

Cavender, like the second volunteer, Gwinnett Lt. William Walsh, was stunned just twice with the stun gun, which packs a 50,000-volt charge.

Walsh's statement was similar, saying he instinctively tried to "get away from the Taser." [...]

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Grit wants explanation in cop Taser case

Liberal Justice Critic Bruce Miller says he needs at least an explanation of why a Crown prosecutor isn't recommending charges against a city cop who repeatedly Tasered a teen.

"I need an explanation," he said yesterday. "We deserve that much from the minister of justice."

Provincial court Judge Jack Easton halted Randy Fryingpan's prosecution for breaching bail in February this year after concluding Const. Mike Wasylyshen in October 2002 unnecessarily used his Taser to awaken the 16-year-old after he was found sleeping in a car near Abbotsfield Road.

Easton said Wasylyshen Tasered the crying youth at least five times more as he hauled him from the vehicle.

"That, in my conclusion, is abuse of force and cruel and unusual treatment," he said in his written judgment.

"If that was the opinion of the judge, why didn't the Crown prosecutor proceed?" asked Miller, adding he hopes to raise the issue in the legislature.

The file was reviewed by two senior Calgary Crown prosecutors and chief Crown Gordon Wong.

Wong announced Tuesday there would be no criminal prosecution against Wasylyshen because of inconsistencies in testimony from several witnesses and proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt would have been difficult. [...]

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Man dies after Taser shot
Saturday, May 14, 2005
By Sheila McLaughlin and Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writers

UNION TWP. - A 31-year-old man died about an hour after an officer with Clermont County's Union Township Police shot him with a Taser gun Friday.

Authorities are awaiting autopsy results to determine how Vernon A. Young died.

While Young is the first person in Greater Cincinnati to die shortly after being shot with the 50,000-volt weapon, he is among a growing number of people nationally who have died after being shot with a Taser.

His death comes amid mounting concern about the safety of the weapon and increased calls for further study into the effects of the weapon.

Taser International, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has maintained the weapon is safe and markets it as a less-than-lethal alternative to firearms.

Company officials say that underlying medical conditions have caused the death of suspects shot with a Taser, not the electrical jolt it administers.

In Friday's incident, police shot Young after a string of violent events at the Maple Grove Apartments, at 895 Ohio Pike, where he lived, said police Lt. Mark Griffith.

Police said Young had been hearing voices before he fired a gun into his closet, ransacked the building manager's apartment and threatened her with a knife.

Locked in her bathroom, the manager called 911 at 8:39 a.m.

Officer Greg Jasper confronted Young inside the apartment and ordered him to the floor while he waited for help. Jasper, a 12-year veteran, fired the Taser when Young started to get up, Griffith said.

There were several knives on the floor near Young, he said.

In the background of the 911 call, officers can be heard telling Young to stay on the ground after he'd been hit with the Taser's electrified barbs. Firefighters took Young to Mercy Hospital Anderson, where he was pronounced dead at 9:45 a.m. [...]

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Nicotine vaccine may stub out smoking
By: Agencies
May 16, 2005

Orlando: The world’s 1.3 billion smokers could eventually have a powerful new way to kick the habit - a vaccine against nicotine.

Nearly 60 per cent of smokers who achieved high levels of antibodies against nicotine after receiving the vaccine stopped smoking for at least six months, according to a study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando, Florida.

According to Dr Cornuz, who led the study, “The data suggests that antibodies against nicotine are effective in helping people quit smoking.’

About a third of those who received the vaccine achieved the highest levels of antibodies.

But before the vaccine is put through larger clinical trials, Cornuz said, it will have to find ways “to intensify the immunisation scheme’ so that more people achieve the necessary antibody levels.

That may mean more injections, or higher levels of the immunising agent in each dose. He estimated it would be as long as three years before new trials could begin.

Smoking is thought to be the cause of 30 per cent of all cancer deaths and 87 per cent of deaths from lung cancer.

At least four companies are testing nicotine vaccines: Cytos Biotechnology (Zurich), whose vaccine Cornuz studied, Xenova Group of Berkshire (England), Nabi Biopharmaceuticals (Florida), and Prommune (Omaha).

The concept behind the vaccines is simple. Antibodies to nicotine bind to it in the blood and remove it, preventing the drug from reaching and stimulating the brain.

“We’re taking away the positive reinforcement, which is the main reason people can’t stop smoking,’ said Dr Henrik S Rasmussen, a senior vice president of Nabi.

In the current trial, the researchers enrolled 341 patients. Two-thirds of them were given the experimental vaccine in five doses over a four-month period. The rest were given a placebo.

Of the 53 patients who developed the highest levels of antibodies, 30 stopped smoking, and those who didn’t , smoked fewer cigarettes, Cornuz said.

Researchers relied on subjects’ reports of smoking and on measurements of carbon monoxide levels in the blood, a conventional measure of smoking.

Comment: This drug amounts to a vaccine against thinking.

Gee, what is there about the month of May that brings out the vaccines against nicotine?

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FLASHBACK! Signs of the Times, May 22, 2003!

New Type Of Vaccine Against Nicotine Addiction Developed By TSRI Scientists

Scripps Research Institute

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have designed a new way to make vaccines against drugs of abuse that could become a valuable tool for treating addiction by helping the body clear the drug from the bloodstream. The latest vaccine they created using this approach induces the body to clear nicotine.

"These new vaccines greatly suppress the reinforcing aspects of the drug," says principal investigator Kim D. Janda, Ph.D. "Blocking it before it gets to the brain--that's the key."

[...] The new idea that they have developed is to take a chemical that resembles nicotine and use it to induce an active immune response. In this immune response, the body produces antibodies against nicotine that can neutralize it in the bloodstream. If a smoker later smokes a cigarette, the antibodies will clear the nicotine from the system before it reaches the brain...

Comment: It's not enough for the system to try and stamp out smoking around the world to prevent the barnyard animals from ingesting things that "spoil the meat." With this treatment, the body prevents the nicotine from reaching the brain, and special additives like mercury can be included in the vaccine to help dumb down the patient even more.

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700 Year-Old City Found in China
Published: Sunday 15, 2005

Remnants of a city in the Hebei region of China have been discovered. The city reportedly belonged to the time of the Song Dynasty, between 960 and 1279.

Archeologists reported that the city is similar to Pompei, which disappeared under lava from the Vezuv Volcano on Italy's Sicily Island. The remnants of the city were found by chance during random digs to build a highway. Archeologists indicated that the city might have been destroyed either by an earthquake or a flood.

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Tokyo Shaken By Magnitude 4.5 Earthquake; No Damage Reported

May 15 (Bloomberg) -- A magnitude 4.5 earthquake shook central Japan around Tokyo at 3:55 p.m. local time, according to NHK television news. There is no risk of a tsunami from the quake, which was centered in Tochigi prefecture, about 100 kilometers north of the capital, the state broadcaster said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries from the quake.

Japan, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, is located in a zone where the Eurasian, Pacific, Philippine and North American tectonic plates meet and occasionally shift.

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Strong quake shakes Kermadec Islands
May 16 2005 at 08:41AM

New Zealand - A strong earthquake shook the sea floor north-east of New Zealand on Monday, but was not expected to generate a tsunami, officials said.

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 and was centred 425km south-west of the New Zealand territory of Raoul Island in the Kermadec Islands - an uninhabited Pacific island group 700km northeast of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.

It occurred 10km below the surface at 3:54pm and was not felt in New Zealand. [...]

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Four killed in Taiwan after torrents cause flooding, landslides
(AFP) May 15, 2005

TAIPEI - Torrential rain in Taiwan has caused mass flooding and landslides that have claimed the lives of four people and left another four missing, fire agency and government officials said Sunday.

"The bodies of the four victims have been found," said an official from the National Fire Agency, which coordinates rescue operations in Taiwan.

A 60-year-old man was drowned in northern Hsinchu city.

Two agricultural officials were found dead after they were washed away by rising floodwater outside the city in Hsinchu county.

The fourth victim was working on a riverbed in southeastern Taitung county when he was engulfed by floodwaters, the agency said.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated from Hsinchu county and central Nantou, where at least 500 millimeters (20 inches) of rain had fallen in three days, it said.

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State of emergency declared
May 15, 2005

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency in Adams and Hall counties late Thursday after touring hard-hit central Nebraska, which is recovering from heavy rain and pounding storms.

Heineman also sent 20 soldiers from the Nebraska National Guard to help with sandbagging in the Grand Island area, as requested by city officials.

It may take days or even weeks before the state can provide an estimate of damage to the region's buildings, infrastructures and crops, Heineman said.

Heineman said officials would continue to assess damage, which could lead to more disaster declarations in other counties.

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Severe Weather Strikes The South Plains

The damage is done and now its time to pick up the pieces. Thursday was a rough day for residents across the South Plains. The storms produced 10 tornadoes across the area.

A tornado tore through a house just two miles west of Ralls. Harley Reese, 77, wasn't home at the time. The 2,500 square-foot house was ripped off its foundation and contents were found a mile-and-a-half away. [...]

Softball sized hail broke several windows, sky lights and car windshields. The most damage was done on the south side of Lake Ransom Canyon and just to the east. The storm damaged several roofs, but there were no reports of damage to any homes. [...]

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Brace for active hurricane season, meteorologists say
By John-Thor Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times

Atlantic Ocean ripe for two more decades of fostering strong storms

TAMPA, Fla. - With the onset of the 2005 hurricane season little more than two weeks away, meteorologists on Friday warned that conditions in the Atlantic Ocean again were ripe for spawning tropical storms that could slam into Florida or other parts of the Eastern U.S. or Gulf coast with potentially devastating and deadly consequences.

Last season, Florida was hit by four hurricanes in six weeks, an unprecedented succession of natural disasters in the state that was blamed for 123 deaths and more than $42 billion in property damage. Although predicting where and when storms will make landfall is impossible, forecasters attending Florida's 19th annual Governor's Hurricane Conference agreed that the Atlantic Ocean was in the throes of an active period that could last another two decades or more.

"We're in a new era now, and we're going to see a lot more major storms," said William Gray, a professor in Colorado State University's department of atmospheric science, who issues a much-awaited yearly prediction of hurricane activity. [...]

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Sumatra earthquake triggers off tremors in Singapore 2005-05-14 16:19:25

SINGAPORE, May 14 (Xinhuanet) -- An earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale off the northwestern coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island on Saturday has triggered off tremors in several areas in Singapore.

Affected areas included Toa Payoh, Balestier, the Central Business District and Geylang, which are located in southeastern Singapore, according Channel NewsAsia report.

The report quoted the National Environment Agency as saying that tremors were felt at 1:06 p.m. (0506 GMT). [...]

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'Volcano Of Fire' Erupts, Starts Forest Fires
POSTED: 3:06 pm EDT May 12, 2005

COLIMA, Mexico -- Mexico's famous Volcano of Fire has erupted again, sending up towering plumes of smoke and ash and starting forest fires.

The volcano is located 280 miles west of Mexico City.

Since it began erupting in 1999, neighbors have been keeping watch on the volcano day and night.

Tuesday's eruption was the most violent since March 2004, and sent ash into the nearby city of Jalisco.

Pieces of burning rock were sent flying more than a mile away. Some reached forests and triggered fires in nearby regions.

The Volcano of Fire is considered to be one of the 11 most active volcanoes in the world.

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Incubation date lapses with no evidence of foot-and-mouth in New Zealand
16 May 2005 0509 hrs

WELLINGTON : A blackmailer's claim to have released foot-and-mouth disease in New Zealand appeared to be a hoax as agriculture officials said the average incubation period had lapsed with no evidence of the devastating livestock virus.

But despite growing scepticism over the threat, the ministry of agriculture said it would continue to monitor livestock on Auckland's Waiheke Island where the extortionist claimed to have planted the disease.

"We have passed the average incubation date based on UK foot-and-mouth disease studies, so, had the virus been released, symptoms of the disease should have started to appear," the ministry said in a statement.

The claim the virus had been released on the island was contained in the letter to Prime Minister Helen Clark last Tuesday. [...]

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Vietnam reports its second bird flu patient in two days
Published: Sunday, 15 May, 2005, 10:52 AM Doha Time

HANOI: Doctors have confirmed a case of the deadly avian flu in a man, the second human case reported in the last two days in northern Vietnam, hospital officials said yesterday.

Ngo Manh Thanh, 58, was admitted to the respiratory ward of Hanoi's Bach Mai hospital early last week, and was transferred to the infectious diseases ward on Friday after three sets of tests showed that he was positive for H5N1, said a doctor from the hospital.

“We received confirmation from the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology late yesterday,” said a doctor from Bach Mai who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is still not yet clear how he caught the virus.” [...]

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May 15 (VNA-TNA)

JAKARTA, - Indonesian Minister of Agriculture Anton Aprioyantono said that bird flu had been transmitted to pigs in Indonesia, asking people to be alert for the disease, local media said.

The minister did not name the location of the case, but according to the press it was on Java island.

There has not yet been any confirmed case of human infection in Indonesia.

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Bird Flu Infecting Domestic Dogs in the United States?
Recombinomics Commentary
May 13, 2005

Revere's Wonderland dog track has been struck by the deadly contagion.

Two more greyhounds died there Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 18 in roughly a week. In Rhode Island, 13 dogs have died at Lincoln Park.

As vets battle the epidemic, state officials are now scrambling to nail down exactly what is killing the dogs - and to prove whether it is linked to the flu-like killer that has affected an estimated 10,000 dogs nationwide. These include a few hundred domestic dogs as well.

The flu-like killer sounds remarkably like the avian influenza isolated from a fatal infection of a greyhound. That isolate, A/canine/Florida/43/04(H3N8), was 96-99% homologous in all 8 genes to recent H3N8 equine isolates in the United Sates.

The spread of the virus to a few hundred domestic dogs would be cause for concern. Although H3N8 is an avian virus, it causes equine influenza. Last year was the first reported isolation from dogs, but fatal greyhound outbreaks have been reported in Florida earlier this season. Now the fatal infections have spread nationwide. The largest number of fatal cases appears to be in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. [...]

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Lincoln Park Zoo under scrutiny after three endangered monkeys die

CHICAGO (AP) - Officials at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago are trying to figure out what killed three endangered monkeys this week.

The deaths as well as the passing of other animals in the past month is leading some activists to call for a criminal investigation into the zoo.

The facility still has one monkey which is under quarantine.

Zoo officials say the deaths may be linked to their recent move to a new exhibit.

Since October two elephants, two gorillas and a camel have died at the zoo. Another elephant perished while it was being transferred from Chicago to Utah.

And a representative for the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says that many deaths so close together is "unheard of."

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Whale strandings linked to solar activity
Saturday, May 14, 2005. 12:47pm (AEST)
A new study finds whale beachings coincide with changes in solar activity. (Mavis Burgess)

Surges of solar activity may cause whales to run aground, possibly by disrupting the creatures' internal compasses, according to German scientists.

University of Kiel researchers Klaus Vaneslow and Klaus Ricklefs looked at sightings of sperm whales found beached in the North Sea between 1712 and 2003.

They compared the record with another set of historical data - astronomers' observations of sunspots, an indicator of solar radiation.

They found that more whale strandings occurred when the sun's activity was high.

The sun experiences cycles of activity which range from eight to 17 years, with 11 years being the average.

Short cycles are linked with periods of high energy output, while long cycles are believed to be low energy.

Changes in levels of solar radiation have a big effect on earth's magnetic field.

The most notable events are solar flares that cause shimmering lights, called aurorae, in the magnetic fields in polar regions.

Big solar flares can also disrupt telecommunications and power lines and knock out delicate electronic circuitry on satellites.

The researchers found that of the 97 stranding events reported around the coastal countries of the North Sea over the 291 years, 90 per cent occurred when the sun cycles were below average in duration. [...]

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Australian researchers revive plan to clone extinct Tasmanian tiger
15 May 2005 1359 hrs

SYDNEY : Australian researchers are reviving a project to bring an extinct animal known as the Tasmanian tiger back from the dead through cloning.

Three months after the Australian Museum shelved plans to clone the tiger -- also known as a thylacine -- a group of universities and a research institute are planning to revive the project, the Sun-Herald newspaper reported.

Mike Archer, dean of science at the University of New South Wales, was quoted as saying that researchers from NSW and Victoria states were likely to join the programme, which involves recovering DNA from a pup preserved in 1866 to breed a living specimen.

"A group of institutions is involved in moving ahead with creating new ways of getting the thylacine project back on track," he was quoted as saying, adding he would like his own university involved.

The Tasmanian tiger, a dog-like creature christened for its striped pelt, was hunted into extinction because it was seen as a threat to livestock. [...]

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Bigfoot buffs find 'evidence'
Sat, May 14, 2005

Bigfoot could indeed be stomping his way through Nelson River bush country, suggests a team of experts who came to northern Manitoba earlier this month in search of the legendary creature.

A Bigfoot expedition team assembled by American tabloid news program A Current Affair discovered "physical evidence" such as hair strands, abnormal sized footprints and an alleged Bigfoot feeding ground.

The expedition included world-renowned Bigfoot expert Dr. Franklin Ruehl, A Current Affair producer Brett Hudson and musician Cheri Currie.

A portion of the hair samples will be forwarded to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization "for a thorough DNA analysis," according to A Current Affair news release.

The television program purchased murky video footage purporting to show Bigfoot walking along the banks of the Nelson River. It was shot by Norway House resident Bobby Clarke, who runs the local ferry.

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Why, it's an ... an alien implant!
Of the News-Register
Published: May 12, 2005

Dr. Roger Leir scoffed when a UFO researcher showed him an X-ray of a woman's foot, claiming that the T-shaped spot was an object implanted by aliens.

Leir, a podiatrist, had seen similar spots in numerous X-rays. They invariably turned out to be screws or wires from an old surgery, splinters or other foreign objects.

The UFO researcher insisted. So, to prove him wrong, Leir offered to surgically remove the mysterious item.

"It was worth my time to show him this was a bunch of nonsense," Leir said.

But when Leir bent over his patient, scalpel in hand, he noticed that things were out of kilter. There was no scar or visible sign that something had entered the body. The patient was well anesthetized, yet she almost leaped from the table in pain when he touched the object. But the surrounding tissue showed no inflammation or reaction, as if nothing unusual was going on.

And when Leir retrieved the object, it became even more of a mystery: It appeared to be an unfamiliar metal-like substance, and it was encased in a tough biological membrane that resisted even the sharpest scalpel.

"I'd never seen anything like that come out of a human," he said.

That was in 1995. He subsequently has done surgery to remove 10 more objects which, despite analysis by some of the most sophisticated scientists in the country, continue to defy earthly explanation. At least one analyst compared the composition of the object to that of a meteorite; others have pointed out metallurgical anomalies. [...]

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UFO Lands In Virginia Back Yard

Martinsville, VA -- It was a busy afternoon for safety officials in Henry County.

Officers from six different agencies responded to a call in Henry County about a "suspicious object" falling from the sky into a residential back yard.

The UFO, described as a small, orange-colored parachute attached to an electronics device, first hit the roof of a home on Augusta Street before coming to rest on the ground.

The homeowner, concerned that the object might be an explosive device, contacted police. [...]

Authorities at the scene were able to determine the item was a device released by the National Weather Service, used for transmitting weather information.

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