Tuesday May 24, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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Dear God, Please protect President Bush

Things to Pray for this Week
The Presidential Prayer Team for Kids
  1. This is a really big week for President Bush because he is meeting with leaders of several countries. Pray for these meetings asking God to help the President with His widsom. Ask God to guide him and all the leaders of the world so they will honor Him and do His will. Here are the meetings on President Bush's schedule:
  • May 20, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen
  • May 23, Afghan President Hamid Karzai
  • May 25, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia
  • May 26, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
  1. Pray for peace in our world—in Iraq and all the other places where there is hurt and unrest, including Darfur, Sudan and Uzbekistan. President Bush has reminded us to pray for peace this Memorial Day—that's always a good thing to do, but especially this week as there are people who are living with danger and unrest.
  1. Saturday, May 21 is Armed Forces Day—a special holiday created just to show our appreciation for every person who has served our nation in the Armed Forces (military service). Pray that every person who bravely serves America through the military will know the appreciation of the nation. Pray for their families—especially their kids—as they have had to get along without their mom or dad or other family member. Ask God to protect all the great people serving the country in this way, that they will do their jobs well and experience the peace and love of God wherever they are.

Comment: Brainwashing for kids...

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U.S. Report on Iraqi Oil Is Conjectures and Lies — Russian Trader

Created: 23.05.2005 18:25 MSK (GMT 3), Updated: 18:25 MSK
Mikhail Berger
Yezhednevny Zhurnal

Following a U.S. Senate Committee’s allegations that President Vladimir Putin’s former Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin was involved in an illegal oil deal with Saddam Hussein as part of the oil for food program, many officials implicated in the scandal — including nationalist party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky — spoke out denying the accusations.

Yezhednevny Zhurnal interviewed Sergei Isakov of the Russian Engineering Company — a firm that was also mentioned in the report. Isakov says that his firm was the one getting all that extra oil. As for the Russian names in the report — that was all lies.

S. Isakov: Do you know who heads the presidential apparatus in the United States? I assure you that in Iraq, when I worked there, the majority had no idea who Alexaner Voloshin was. Moreover, informed people knew that the head of the Kremlin administration doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for Iraq and the deals around it. He had nothing to do with any political or business contacts with Iraq, he was never present during meetings with high-placed representatives of Saddam Hussein, when they were in Moscow. I know this as someone who personally accompanied many of them on their visits. The only representative of the administration that the Iraqis met with in Moscow was Sergei Prikhodko, presidential aide for foreign affairs. But he had no choice — that was his job. As for Tarqi Aziz — I don’t just know him, we’re friends.

So there was no reason for me to cite Voloshin in Iraq even in the interests of business or to use his name for influence. Ask our ambassadors who were in Iraq at the time… did anyone call from Voloshin, did anyone send any letters signed by him? There was nothing of the sort.

Where such delicate things as illegal oil deals or UN violations are concerned, it’s not about calling an ambassador or writing letters. But even if it were, who would admit it?

You have to understand that in making their accusations the Americans are citing so-called “high-placed” sources in Iraq. There are only four such sources: Saddam, oil minister Amir Rashid, vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan, and vice-premier Tariq Aziz. As for other high-placed Iraqi officials — they cannot exist even theoretically. Only these four dealt with oil. They are all in prison. We know what Americans are capable of doing with inmates from Abu Ghraib. I’m surprised that these “sources” have still not confessed to assassinating Kennedy in 1963.

Then, if you carefully read the report, you will not find any of these four names in the place that mentions the names and the size of the possible bribes. As for other people who were actually connected to the process — believe me, they simply could not have existed.

What about the specific numbers — so many barrels to the Presidential Administration, so many barrels to LDPR? They couldn’t have just made them up.

All the numbers in the report are true. Everything in the report that has to do with numbers is very accurate.

So the place where it says that the head of the Presidential Administration appropriated 5 million barrels of oil says that Voloshin, whom you don’t know and who was never in Iraq, got nearly $10 million worth of oil?

That’s the thing — he didn’t. The numbers are from our company. We got this oil and other oil. But how the names of Voloshin and Zhirinovsky popped up, I have no idea.

How did you end up in this program and start trading Iraqi oil?

Up until 1997, I was in the board of directors for Vnukov Airlines. We were the only company that had permission to fly to Baghdad. There were a lot of deputies who flew regularly. And not just Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whom I was also friends with, by the way. There were different parties, including, as I believe, even Yabloko who sent their representatives there. I organized all these flights. And I accompanied our politicians not just during their flights, but to the offices of the Iraqi officials.

Moreover, Vnukov Airlines were part of a consortium producing Tu-204 planes. And we even managed to sign a couple of documents agreeing that Iraq Airlines planned to buy these very airplanes after the sanctions were lifted.

The Russian Engineering Company has been working in Iraq since 1999, although in the beginning we were not involved in the “oil for food” program. We did engineering work, and traded too. Volga cars, for example, were shipped into Iraq. And then we applied to the Energy and Fuel Ministry to get included in the program, which required UN accreditation. The ministry examined our documents and sent them over to the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry sent them over to the UN. This went on for about a year. For a while, we worked through the Rosnefteimpex company, who, as far as I understand, came from Rosneft. Then we got our own accreditation, and I can tell you, were very successful in our work.

I don’t understand. If you are an engineering company, then trading in oil is not your profile. How did you get accredited?

Well, yes, oil wasn’t our business by profile. But we had an oil department. And we had world famous oil traders worker in it…. We had excellent relations with Somo — a state organization specializing in oil sales. We helped them out. For example, at a certain point there’s a ban on shipping Iraqi oil out, but the industry is working. So what do you do with the oil? You don’t just pour it into the gulf. So we shipped it on to our tanker. And then, when the ban is lifted, we ship it out.

And for these services Iraqi oil bosses didn’t grant you any special favors? Didn’t pour in an extra million barrels of oil?

We turned out to be the best who ever worked with Iraqi oil at that point. And, of course, when some extra quotes appeared, we were the first to get them. But there is nothing criminal in that. We were strictly following the rules.

But U.S. senators think otherwise.

I’m telling you — their report is a mix of exact figures, conjectures, and lies.

Comment: There's no telling what lies the Bush administration will come up with next. Of course, the idea that the man being held in Baghdad is actually Saddam himself is a big one. After telling that one, framing politicians of profiting from the Oil-for-Food programme is child's play. And we just saw what they are doing to children.

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Senators Avoid Fight Over Filibusters
May 24, 5:06 AM (ET)

WASHINGTON - Judicial nominee Priscilla Owen gets the vote she's been awaiting for more than four years, the most immediate beneficiary of a deal worked out by Senate moderates to avoid a debilitating fight over filibusters.

The Senate was voting Tuesday to end debate on Owen, currently a Texas Supreme Court justice, clearing the way for her to gain a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans. With the threat of a filibuster by Democrats removed, she was nearly certain then to get the simple majority vote needed to give her the seat that long has eluded her, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

The agreement, crafted over the past several weeks by seven Republicans and seven Democrats, also opened the way for yes-or-no votes on two other of President Bush's judicial picks who have been in nomination limbo for more than two years - William H. Pryor Jr. for the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The agreement, which applies to Supreme Court nominees, said future judicial nominations should "only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances," with each Democratic senator holding the discretion to decide when those conditions had been met.

But of greater import, the deal on the rights of the minority party to filibuster judicial nominees avoids a showdown that could have shaken the traditions of the Senate, weakened the powers of the minority and threatened the comity the Senate needs to function.

And there were other political implications, as well, including the shape of the Supreme Court, the midterm election in 2006, Bush's legislative agenda and the next presidential race, especially the prospects for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and potential GOP rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

"We tried to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice," said McCain, who led the compromise effort with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Frist, who had joined with party conservatives in pressing for an end to judicial filibusters, stressed that he was not a party to the agreement. He said he hoped it would end a "miserable chapter in the history of the Senate," but said that what he called the "constitutional option" was still on the table. He said he "will monitor this agreement closely."

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who had threatened to bog down Senate business if Republicans took away the filibuster authority, was more receptive, saying the Senate could now get back to work on the needs of the nation. He said he was willing to work with Bush on his agenda, "but he should have a little more humility."

"In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement," Republicans said they would oppose any attempt to make changes in the application of filibuster rules. But Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said the agreement was conditional on Democrats upholding their end of the deal.

The White House said the agreement was a positive development.

"Many of these nominees have waited for quite some time to have an up or down vote and now they are going to get one. That's progress," press secretary Scott McClellan said. [...]

Frist and most other Republicans said judicial nominees deserved a straight up-or-down vote, and accused the Democrats of unprecedented abuse of their filibuster power in blocking 10 circuit court judge nominees in Bush's first term.

Democrats countered that Frist's action would fundamentally undermine minority rights. Equally important, they worried that it would give Bush and his Republican allies free rein to place anyone of their choosing on the Supreme Court if, as expected, there are vacancies in the near future.

Under the terms of the agreement, Democrats said they would allow final confirmation votes for Owen, Brown and Pryor, three nominees all assailed by Democrats for what they say has been their conservative activism. There is "no commitment to vote for or against" the filibuster against two other conservatives named to the appeals court, Henry Saad and William Myers.

Apart from the judicial nominees named in the agreement, Reid said Democrats would clear the way for votes on David McKeague, Richard Griffin and Susan Neilson, all named to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 14 signers, while a small minority of the Senate, hold enough leverage to stop future filibusters or block any attempt to impose new procedures for judicial filibusters.

Dr. James C. Dobson, head of the Focus on the Family, one of the conservative groups that had made an end to judicial filibusters a top priority, said the agreement "represents a complete bailout and a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats."

Comment: In other words, the Bush administration will get its way. Today's developments could hardly be called a victory for anyone - except Bush and the Neocon gang.

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Centrist US senators help avert political crisis
Tue May 24, 4:38 AM ET

WASHINGTON - The US political class breathed a sigh of relief after a bipartisan group of 14 centrist senators announced a compromise over judicial nominees, preventing an unprecedented political crisis in the US Senate.

"The Senate won and the country won," said Republican Senator John McCain, one of the architects of the deal.

"We're here, 14 Republicans and Democrats, seven on each side, to announce that we have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution," McCain added.

The announcement came after Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist said he would urge members of the Senate on Tuesday to vote for changing Senate rules to limit filibusters, a procedural delaying tactic used by whichever party is in the opposition.

The tactic has lately been used by Democrats to block confirmation of several Republican-nominated judges they consider too conservative.

The judges were nominated by Republican
President George W. Bush during his first term in office.

Filibusters have allowed Democrats to block 10 judges nominated by the president during his first term.

Under the deal, three judicial nominations would be approved by the Senate, while two others would fall victim of a filibuster.

In the future, Democrats promised to resort to filibusters only in extraordinary circumstances, while Republicans now have to resign themselves that the tactic will continue to be used.

Without a deal, the Republicans were threatening the so-called "nuclear option" -- restrict the use of filibusters and trigger a Democrat threat to paralyze all legislative work in the chamber. [...]

Comment: The "compromise" consists of the Bush gang winning on three out of five nominations. That might not sound so bad, but the Democrats also promised to use filibusters sparingly in the future.

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Plane Violates D.C. Air Space Again
May 24, 2005

WASHINGTON - For the second time in as many weeks, military jets intercepted a plane that violated the capital's restricted air space.

The Transportation Security Administration said the plane was directed to land Monday night in suburban Gaithersburg, Md., north of the District of Columbia, in an incident that forced the Senate to briefly go into recess.

This happened less than two weeks after a private plane was redirected to Frederick, Md., after entering the restricted air space. The pilot of that plane, Hayden L. "Jim" Sheaffer, has had his flying license suspended as an "unacceptable risk to safety," the
Federal Aviation Administration said.

There was no evacation Monday, as there had been on May 11, during the earlier incident.

The Canadian-registered Cessna was intercepted by military jets after it flew into restricted airspace without the required transponder signal, according to Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Hatfield.

"There was a Canadian aircraft that had a lightning strike and an electrical failure," said Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman. "They were having radio problems.

She said the plane had changed course to steer around some bad weather.

In the earlier case, the government lifted Sheaffer's license because of the May 11 errant flight that led to the scrambling of military aircraft and the panicked evacuation of thousands of people. [...]

Though hundreds of people have mistakenly flown into Washington's restricted airspace, the FAA rarely revokes a pilot's license for such an offense. In Sheaffer's case, the agency determined Sheaffer "constitutes an unacceptable risk to safety in air commerce."

The agency said no action would be taken against Martin.

Appearing Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, Sheaffer said he and his wife checked the weather on their home computer before leaving. "When I first saw the helicopter, I knew we were some place we shouldn't have been," he said. He said he turned to a frequency that military authorities had asked him to call but that he could not get through.

The New York Times, in Tuesday's editions, reported that the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that Sheaffer was instructed to use a frequency that was not available at the time. [...]

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White House wants FBI to be able to track mail
Wired News
Mon, 23 May 2005 23:55:39 -0500

A Bush administration proposal would grant the FBI broad authority to track the mail of people in terrorism investigations, The New York Times reported in its Saturday editions.

Citing government officials who spoke on Friday, the newspaper reported that the proposal, to be considered next week in a closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee meeting, would allow the FBI to direct postal officials to turn in names, addresses and other material on the outside of letters sent to or from people connected to foreign intelligence investigations.

But the Postal Service is raising privacy concerns about the plan to carry out such operations, called mail covers, the Times said.

According to a draft of the bill obtained by the Times, the plan would effectively eliminate postal inspectors' discretion in deciding when mail covers are needed, giving sole authority to the FBI, if it decides that the material is "relevant to an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence."

The proposal would not allow the FBI to open mail or review its contents, however. According to the officials who spoke to the Times, that would require a search warrant.

The proposal is part of a larger package that strengthens the FBI's authority to demand business records in intelligence gathering without judicial or grand jury approval, the Times said.

A postal official called the move a "major step." Zoe Strickland, chief privacy officer for the Postal Service, told the Times that "from a privacy perspective, you want to make sure that the right balance is struck between protecting people's mail and aiding law enforcement, and this legislation could impact that balance negatively."

The Times quoted Strickland as saying that the new proposal "removes discretion from the Postal Inspection Service as to how the mail covers are implemented," and that she worries "quite a bit about the balance being struck here, and we're quite mystified as to how this got put in the legislation."

Officials on the Intelligence Committee said the legislation was intended to make the FBI the sole arbiter of when a mail cover should be conducted, after complaints that undue interference from postal inspectors had slowed operations, the Times said.

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US military to build four giant new bases in Iraq
By Michael Howard
The Guardian
Mon, 23 May 2005 05:58:37 -0500

Four bases with a 'more permanent character' are planned to be built in the North, West, South and Centre of Iraq

US military commanders are planning to pull back their troops from Iraq's towns and cities and redeploy them in four giant bases in a strategy they say is a prelude to eventual withdrawal.

The plan, details of which emerged at the weekend, also foresees a transfer to Iraqi command of more than 100 bases that have been occupied by US-led multinational forces since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

However, the decision to invest in the bases, which will require the construction of more permanent structures such as blast-proof barracks and offices, is seen by some as a sign that the US expects to keep a permanent presence in Iraq.

Politicians opposed to a long-term US presence on Iraqi soil questioned the plan.

"They appear to settling in a for the long run, and that will only give fuel for the terrorists," said a spokesman for the mainstream Sunni Iraqi Islamic party.

A senior US official in Baghdad said yesterday: "It has always been a main plank of our exit strategy to withdraw from the urban areas as and when Iraqi forces are trained up and able to take the strain. It is much better for all concerned that Iraqis police themselves."

Under the plan, for which the official said there was no "hard-and-fast" deadline, US troops would gradually concentrate inside four heavily fortified air bases, from where they would provide "logistical support and quick reaction capability where necessary to Iraqis". The bases would be situated in the north, south, west and centre of the country.

He said the pace of the "troop consolidation" would be dictated by the level of the insurgency and the progress of Iraq's fledgling security structures.

A report in yesterday's Washington Post said the new bases would be constructed around existing airfields to ensure supply lines and troop mobility. It named the four probable locations as: Tallil in the south; Al Asad in the west; Balad in the centre and either Irbil or Qayyarah in the north.

US officers told the paper that the bases would have a more permanent character to them, with more robust buildings and structures than can be seen at most existing bases in Iraq. The new buildings would be constructed to withstand direct mortar fire.

A source at the Iraqi defence ministry said: "We expect these facilities will ultimately be to the benefit of the domestic forces, to be handed over when the US leaves."

Comment: If Afghanistan is any indication, the US won't be leaving Iraq...

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Bush, Karzai sign pact for long-term US military presence in Afghanistan
Tue May 24, 4:09 AM ET

WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signed a "strategic partnership" enabling long-term US involvement in Afghanistan's security as well as reconstruction.

Among the key points of the agreement was allowing US military forces operating in Afghanistan to have continued access to the key Bagram Air Base as well as other military facilities as "may be mutually determined."

American access to these facilities was necessary for US forces to "help organize, train, equip, and sustain Afghan security forces" according to the joint declaration of the "US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership."

"It's a partnership we have been working on for quite a while," Bush told reporters with Karzai by his side after their meeting at the White House.

"It's a partnership that establishes regular, high-level exchange on political, security and economic issues of mutual interest," Bush said.

Since helping to bring down the Taliban in 2001, Washington has remained Karzai's biggest supporter, both in terms of reconstruction aid and its military presence, with 18,000 troops on the ground fighting remnants of the Taliban and their allies.

Karzai has been a key advocate for a permanent security relationship with the United States but had stopped short of calling for full-time American bases, a sensitive topic in the war-shattered country.

In an apparent bid to assuage any concerns, Bush said Monday that under the new pact, the United States would "consult with Afghanistan if it perceives its territorial integrity, independence or security is at risk."

"Of course our troops will respond to US commanders, but our US commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultative relationship with the government," he added.

Most of the US troops in Afghanistan are either based at Bagram airbase north of Kabul or at Kandahar airbase, which the United States uses to launch raids against insurgents still active in the south and east of the country. [...]

Karzai, on his first White House visit after winning his country's landmark presidential elections last October, said the "memorandum of understanding" he signed with Bush was for "long-term partnership" to enable Afghanistan "to stand on its own feet."

He said continued US help was vital because parliamentary elections in September would mark the end of the so-called Bonn Process, a UN-backed plan to help rebuild the poor Muslim state after the overthrow of the militant Taliban.

The two leaders also discussed the recently highlighted abuse of Afghan prisoners in US custody, with Karzai saying he was saddened over the cases but added that they were "individual acts." [...]

The key points of the strategic partnership include:

- US military forces operating in Afghanistan will continue to have access to the key Bagram Air Base and its facilities, and facilities at other locations as "may be mutually determined."

- US and coalition forces will "continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and pre-agreed procedures."

- American access to Bagram base is necessary for US forces to "help organize, train, equip, and sustain Afghan security forces as Afghanistan develops the capacity to undertake this responsibility."

- There will be consultations "with respect to taking appropriate measures in the event that Afghanistan perceives that its territorial integrity, independence, or security is threatened or at risk."

- The pact "is not directed against any third country."

- US to assist the Afghan government in security sector reform, continue counter-terrorism operations with Afghan forces, support coalition assistance to Kabul's counter-narcotics programs.

Comment: "Security sector reform" - Would that be the same kind of "reform" that US agencies conducted in many Latin American countries?

- Continue intelligence sharing, strengthen Afghanistan's ties with
NATO, support border security initiatives.

- Support democratic good governance and the development of civil society based on the rule of law and human rights and encourage broad-based political participation in Afghanistan.

- Support Afghanistan's initiative to restore the country's historic role as a land bridge connecting Central and South Asia and to "shift the pattern of regional relations from rivalry to economic and political cooperation."

- Foster cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors and "deter meddling in its internal affairs."

Comment: Meddling in Afghanistan's internal affairs is okay if the US does it, but anyone else better watch out...

- Help develop a legal and institutional framework for a thriving private sector and an environment favorable to international investment in Afghanistan.

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Indonesia eyes military ties with US as president heads to Washington
Tuesday May 24, 3:24 PM

Indonesia's president is headed to Washington, hoping his country's giant strides in democracy and tough line on terror would lead to a restoration of strategic military ties despite lingering qualms over Jakarta's rights record.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will spend two days in the United States, meeting President George W. Bush and other officials on his first White House visit since taking the helm of the world's largest Muslim-populated nation last year.

While trade and tsunami relief operations are expected to top the agenda, Yudhoyono is certain to use his visit to push for a normalisation of military relations frozen for 13 years.

Clouding his mission are unrelenting demands for Indonesia to address past human rights abuses and the excesses of its armed forces, particularly during the bloody mayhem of 1999 as East Timor broke away from the archipelago nation.

With Yudhoyono's credibility riding high on a series of West-friendly policies and support growing in Washington for renewed military bonds with the Southeast Asian giant, analysts expect the former general will be successful.

"Indonesia-US relations are moving into a stronger sphere and Yudhoyono would not be making this trip unless he expected to get something out of it," said Robert Broadfoot of the Political and Economic Research Consultancy in Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, expressed optimism his country would soon resume full military cooperation, saying Jakarta had made progress on human rights.

The United States decided in February to resume training members of the Indonesian armed forces. Washington in January also eased an embargo on the supply of US military hardware to help boost tsunami relief efforts.

Restrictions were imposed after Indonesian troops massacred pro-independence protesters in East Timor in 1991. They were tightened in 1999 when the military was blamed for about 1,500 deaths during the territory's separation.

Ties chilled further three years later after the Indonesian army allegedly blocked US investigations into the killing of two American teachers in the insurgency-hit remote eastern province of Papua.

Indonesia, which recently launched reforms to rein in its powerful military, says it needs assistance from the United States to revitalise its overstretched and poorly-equipped armed forces.

Many in Washington argue the United States will benefit from better links, with a better-outfitted Indonesia more able to secure key oil supply routes in the piracy-prone Malacca Strait, seen as vulnerable to a terrorist strike.

They say Indonesia's progress in tackling Al-Qaeda-linked extremists behind attacks including the October 2002 Bali bombings, and the country's successful transition from dictatorship to democracy weigh heavily in its favour.

But right groups oppose the move, saying Indonesia's army still commits abuses and -- after a controversial Indonesian tribunal failed to jail any high ranking Indonesians for East Timor atrocities -- continues to show no remorse.

During a visit to Indonesia earlier this month, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told Yudhoyono that the East Timor atrocities and the probe into deaths of the teachers in Papua were still stumbling blocks.

In an apparent conciliatory move, Indonesia last week granted access to a UN legal team formed to assess Jakarta's efforts to account for abuses during East Timor's separation, despite earlier declaring their mission redundant. [...]

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Car bomb blast rocks Baghdad after nationwide day of carnage
May 24, 2005

BAGHDAD - A car bomb exploded near a police patrol in central Baghdad, a day after a wave of similar attacks left at least 62 dead and scores wounded nationwide.

US forces meanwhile announced that 428 suspects have been picked up in just over 30 hours during a wide sweep for insurgents in the western surburbs of the capital.

Two died and eight were hurt in the attack on a police patrol car in central Baghdad, an interior ministry official said Tuesday.

"Two charred bodies that are difficult to identify were found at the scene of the attack," the official said, adding that one of those hurt was a policeman.

Initial reports spoke of a suicide bomber, but the official later said a parked car was detonated by remote control.

It was the latest attack in a sharp upsurge of violence in Baghdad and across the country that followed the formation of the new government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari in early May.

Many of Monday's attacks appeared to target the majority Shiite community whose representatives won a majority in January's landmark general elections and who now lead the coalition government.

The bloodiest attack came late Monday when two suicide drivers ploughed into a crowd in the northern town of Tall Afar, killing at least 35 people.

The double attack took place "a few minutes after mortar bombs were fired at two houses in the Muallimin district of Tall Afar," according to Abdel Ghani ali Yahia, an official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two political factions which control the northern Kurdish provinces.

"Local people gathered at the site to help... and two car bombs then rushed in and exploded," he added.

At least 25 people were also wounded in the attack in Muallimin, a majority Shiite and Turkmen area of Tall Afar, a town 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital.

Another 11 people were killed and 11 wounded, many of them children, when a car bomb exploded outside a Shiite prayer room in Mahmudiyah, a lawless ethnically-mixed town in an area just south of Baghdad dubbed the Triangle of Death.

The attack came against a backdrop of unprecedented tension between the newly-empowered Shiite majority and the Sunni Arab minority which was dominant under ousted dictator
Saddam Hussein.

At lunchtime in Baghdad, at least 11 died and about 100 were hurt when an explosive-ladden mini-van was detonated by remote control outside a popular restaurant in a Shiite district, Iraqi security forces said.

Another five were killed and 19 were hurt when a driver in a pick-up truck blew himself up outside the town hall in the northern Iraqi town of Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk, police captain Imad Abdallah said.

This attack came shortly after three suicide bombers -- two in cars and one on foot -- attacked a US military compound in Samarra, in the centre of the country. Four US soldiers were slightly wounded, the US military said.

Thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers continued their sweep through Baghdad's western suburbs in the largest such joint military operation to date.

The US military said the raid was aimed at quelling the upsurge in car bomb attacks in the capital, which have averaged almost one a day this month.

The operation, code-named "Squeeze Play", kicked off Sunday night and Monday involved 1,500 US and 2,500 Iraqi soldiers, including 600 commandos from the interior ministry's special Wolf Brigade, US military spokesman Major Webster Wright told reporters.

The hundreds arrested were taken to a special internment camp set up at a former army base near the international airport where they were housed in tents and disused buildings, Wright said.

Those detained included at least two Syrians, two Egyptians and two Yemenis, he said.

By late Monday, two suspected insurgents had been killed and two wounded, while one Iraqi soldier was also hurt in the ongoing operation, he said.

Dozens of car bombs have exploded in the Iraqi capital over the past four weeks, coinciding with the formation of a new Shiite-led government.

There have been nearly as many car bomb attacks in the capital this month as the 25 recorded for the whole of 2004 in Baghdad, according to US military figures.

From late February to mid-May, a total of 126 car bombs exploded or were discovered in the capital, a senior US officer said.

Iraqi authorities have suggested that more than 600 people have died this month nationwide.

Much of Monday's operation was conducted in the town of Abu Ghraib, a few miles (kilometres) west of the capital, where the notorious prison of the same name is located.

Coalition forces had a list of some 400 "targets" they were seeking, including known rebels, weapon caches and car-bomb factories, Wright said.

But he gave no details about any specific finds.

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What Really Happened at Guantanamo Bay?
By Laura Flanders
May 24, 2005

A former detainee talks openly about what he saw and heard, from abuse of prisoners to offensive treatment of the Qu'ran. And it couldn't be further from what the Bush administration is telling us.

In their first article in Newsweek since the magazine received a dressing-down by Scott McClellan, Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas quote Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, who alleges that Guantanamo commanders changed prison rules in response to prisoner complaints about treatment of the Qu'ran. But Di Rita's claims couldn't be further from the experience of Martin Mubanga, a recently freed Guantanamo Bay detainee who spoke to U.S. media for the first time this weekend.

Mubanga, a 32-year-old Londoner who was arrested in Zambia in 2002 and taken to Guantanamo, was released without charge in January 2005, after 33 months in captivity. He says that offensive treatment of the Qu'ran was ongoing, even routine, over the three years he was a prisoner. Mubanga says complaints by inmates about the desecration of the Qu'ran fell upon deaf ears, and often resulted in severe punishment, including pepper-spraying of prisoners.

Laura Flanders' exclusive interview with Martin Mubanga was produced by Christabel Nsiah-Buadi and broadcast on The Laura Flanders Show on Air America Radio on Sunday, May 22. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.

Laura Flanders: Did Newsweek lie about abuse of the Qu'ran? What did you see?

Martin Mubanga: From my own personal experience and from what I know of what occurs in Guantanamo Bay, this is actually an ongoing thing for the past three years, so we don't need Newsweek to corroborate or substantiate these accusations. We who have been in Guantanamo Bay know that these and other things occur in degradation of our religion.

You described a situation where your cell was searched by six or seven military police and a Qu'ran was thrown to the ground. Can you explain why that was so offensive to you?

In our religion, firstly, the Qu'ran is believed to be the word of God, who we refer to as Allah in our religion. Basically the Qu'ran is supposed to be treated with respect and most people believe that the Qu'ran should be placed in a high place in a house or only taken with respect in a certain condition of purification or ablution. It's never to be placed on a floor, on a dirty floor or to be treated or to be mishandled in any way.

What did those six or seven military police do?

At the time, there was a story going around that I was supposed to be a top-notch fighter, as they said, and they tried to provoke me in many ways to see what I could do. This was one of the methods that was used to see if I would fight and I believe that's why they chose me on this particular occasion and threw the Qu'ran on the floor.

So, they came in, they threw the Qu'ran on the floor, then what happened?

Well, as I was saying, there were two on either side of me, holding my wrists as I was kneeling down, and they had me in wristlocks. And one of the three that were searching took my Qu'ran. And instead of replacing it, to its place, he threw that on the floor... Rahul [Ahmed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, who was returned to Britain on March 9, 2004] from Tipton witnessed this and he was in the cage next to me. And he remonstrated the soldier, the MP who did this, which they ignored. They wanted to see if they could provoke a strong reaction from me. And obviously, I was not able to do anything at that time.

So what happened after that?

If you report it to the bloc MCO, like the commanding officer on the block or to the captain, it's maybe just words. They say that they will look into the matter and discipline will be taken, but you will not be informed of any particular action that has been taken. So you know, even after that, another brother from Saudi [Arabia], who is also a British resident from South London, tried to organize various brothers to take a stance and try to get the general -- at the time who was General Miller -- to have placed at each and every bloc, a notice stating that no MP should touch or search the Qu'ran. This, however was refused point blank by General Miller and the hierarchy in Guantanamo Bay. Subsequently, this brother and other brothers thought that they should do some sort of actions to show their anger and to try and reverse this decision, which resulted in many people being "earthed."

"Earthed" is basically when the minimum of five military policemen dressed in riot gear, with riot shields, would come in and manhandle you and put you to the floor. On occasion, you would be pepper-sprayed, you'd be tied and carried out. In this protest that took place, some brothers would be beaten, for refusing to go to interrogation, for refusing to go to shower and rec or for refusing to come out of their cell for the search and all they asked for in return was that our Qu'ran, the book of our religion, be treated with respect and that it not be searched or touched or desecrated in any way.

What other repercussions were there for detainees who tried to stand up for respectful treatment of the Qu'ran?

The officials or the hierarchies would punish us by shaving our hair or shaving our beards, or even going to the point, there was a particular bloc Qubec Bloc and Romeo Bloc, which is in Camp Three of Delta Camp, where they would give shorts to brothers. In our religion, you are not permitted to pray while your knees are uncovered. There should be a minimum amount of bodily parts that should be covered while praying. And they failed to respect this particular ruling in our religion by giving our brothers shorts to wear for 24 hours. And also on other occasions, you could lose your clothing and your mattress and your bedding for failing to comply with camp rules. And all of this could have been avoided if they showed respect for our religion, its concept and its rulings.

You had plenty of time to figure it out... can you say now, why you think the soldiers were behaving as they were? Were they just bigots? Were they receiving orders? Did they believe that they would get information from you if they pressured you around your religion? How do you make sense of it?

From my personal opinion it's about politics. Bush and those with him in the American government and around the world were just looking for scapegoats and someone to blame. And they had to put someone in the picture. Having gone to the methods, or rather the extremes that they had gone to, they had to be seen to be getting a result.

Would you say that the soldiers themselves were motivated by a hatred of religion, or what?

In my personal opinion, I would say that some of the soldiers were naïve, some of the soldiers were receiving orders and some had hatred for the religion. There were a few who were quite simply following orders and rightly or wrongly they would follow those orders because they saw no alternative other than themselves being remonstrated or reprimanded. You know, there were a few who had a hatred for the Islamic religion and the Islamic way of life and people from the East, and had a general ignorance toward the religion and anything that was not American. I mean, there were quite a few MPs who had the attitude that simply because they were born in America, they were better than everybody else.

Is it possible they genuinely thought that you were in some way responsible for killing Americans? Was that what they said to you, that they thought you were a killer, that they felt you were a high-placed terrorist? Would this explain their behavior?

There were a few MPs who had that opinion of me. I think far more, for my personal experience, that they failed to understand why I was in Cuba. Many MPs would come to me and ask about my story and ask why I was there. Quite a few saw me as being similar to themselves, being from the UK. But they had a very negative attitude toward brothers from the East -- from Saudi, from Yemen, even from Russia and China, brothers who were classified as "Eastern Muslims" or "Muslims from the East."

How has this affected you physically, psychologically?

Well, coming back to the UK, there are things that I still have to get used to and that will take some time. But I am trying to put aside those things which are causing me some pain and are causing me some distress and some discomfort. Basically, I feel it's my duty to speak out about the things that happened to me and happened to other people at this moment in time, in Cuba and around the world.

Do you have physical injuries from your time?

I have slight injury from my time, but I wish to not discuss it, but there are some things that aren't quite right. And I am currently seeking medical assistance for those things

And what about politically? The effect on your political feelings and opinions or attitudes toward the United States, toward your religion, toward this whole so-called war on terrorism?

As far as I am concerned, I have never been against the United States. However, I am not in agreement with Bush and those who are with him. I think it's fair to say that we stand at opposite sides of the fence! I don't feel that they are the right people to be in power. I don't feel that they will bring about any true justice, or that their motives are pure. And I feel that the power should be in someone else's hands; someone more worthy.

Were you a very religious person before you were picked up?

I suppose it would depend on what you would define as being religious, but definitely, my experience in Guantanamo Bay has made me understand my religion more and appreciate my religion more, and made me turn to my faith that much more.

Martin, is there anything else you would like to say to Americans in particular who might be listening to this, trying to make sense of what is being done in their name in Guantanamo, in this week of discussion about Newsweek?

What I would say basically is that, we have to ask ourselves, as individuals, why things are being done and why certain stories are arriving at this moment in time. I think basically that there is more to this story than meets the eye.

You spoke outside the U.S. embassy on Friday; can you describe the scene there? How many people were protesting?

There were a few hundred there protesting. Basically, I feel that the message was clear and the feelings of those who participated were clear. And I feel that there would have been many more except that people are afraid. And people don't want to be in detention without trial, as could be the case here. And even here we have one Muslim brother, Ahmed [Babar Ahmed, a computer programmer who has been accused by the U.S. of using websites to raise funds for the Taliban and other terrorists], who is facing extradition to the United States without any evidence being presented. So I think quite clearly that people are intimidated and are afraid to speak out. But there are some who are willing to put that on the line, as it were.

Laura Flanders is author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species. For more upbeat, progressive talk about the issues that matter, tune into the Laura Flanders Show every weekend evening between 7-10pm EST on Air America Radio.

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Indian police probe deepens after cinema blasts
Tue May 24, 3:54 AM ET

NEW DELHI - Bombs that ripped through two Indian cinemas this week may have been the work of a militant group, Indian police said on Tuesday but declined to speculate who might be behind the attacks.

As investigations into the blasts deepened, life returned to normal and people began streaming back to cinemas after Sunday's bombings of Delhi theaters as they screened a Hindi-language film condemned by some Sikh religious leaders as insulting.

Theatres across the country have stopped showing the controversial film, but there has been no anger on the streets over the blasts that killed one person and wounded dozens.

"We have assigned the job to the special cell which deals with terrorist attacks because explosions are not the handiwork of normal criminals," said Ravi Pawar, Delhi police spokesman.

"At the moment, we have kept all options open. We have to get some leads whereby we can pinpoint a particular organization."

Police were on guard in cinemas and authorities in the country's movie capital, Bombay, said they planned to provide security for the film's hero, Sunny Deol, and director Rahul Rawail.

The blasts revived memories of the Sikh separatist movement, which reached its peak in the 1980s when militants bombed buses and markets in northern India, especially in the capital New Delhi and Punjab.

The Indian Express newspaper said plastic explosives were used in Sunday's blasts, suggesting they could be the handiwork of Kashmiri militants. But police refused to confirm the report. [...]

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Defence minister says New Delhi blasts appear to be work of "terrorists"
Tuesday May 24, 4:13 PM

India's defence minister has said the weekend cinema blasts in New Delhi that killed one person and injured 49 appeared to be the "handiwork of terrorists" as police moved away from initial theories the bombs were planted by Sikhs angry with the film being shown.

"It appears to be the work of terrorists. But details will emerge only after the investigations," Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters in the eastern port city of Kolkata.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts in the heart of the capital's shopping district late Sunday. [...]

But police said they were now exploring whether Islamic guerrillas opposed to New Delhi's rule in Indian Kashmir could have planted the bombs. [...]

"Terrorists strike occasionally to make their presence felt," Mukherjee said late Monday, adding the bombers could have staged the weekend blasts to send a message to the government.

The blasts occurred on the first anniversary of the Congress-led coalition government taking power after ousting the Hindu nationalists.

"Terrorists struck in Kashmir last year when the (Congress-led) United Progressive Alliance came to power," Mukherjee pointed out.

Suspected Islamic militants have often been blamed by Indian authorities for carrying out armed attacks, not only in Kashmir, but elsewhere in India.

The explosions had stirred recollections of the spate of bombings that shook New Delhi when the Sikh guerrilla campaign for an independent homeland was at its height in the 1980s. The militancy waned in the early 1990s.

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World economy slowing, OECD says
May 24, 2005. 09:25 AM

PARIS — The OECD cut its forecast for 2005 economic growth in the industrialized world to 2.6 per cent from 2.9 per cent today, blaming a slower-than-expected recovery in Japan and another false start in Europe.

In a twice-yearly report, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also lowered its Canadian forecast from 3.5 per cent growth to 2.8 per cent for 2005.

"The marked appreciation of the Canadian dollar has continued to restrain activity. The economy may now be operating slightly below potential, although most economic fundamentals have remained sound," the organization said in its report.

"Uncertainties about the impact of the currency appreciation on activity have warranted a pause in monetary policy tightening, but further increases in interest rates will be needed from the second half of 2005 onwards."

The report comes one day before the Bank of Canada meets to sets interest rate policy.

The OECD raised its U.S. growth forecast to 3.6 per cent from the 3.3 per cent it predicted in November.

But the Paris-based club of developed countries slashed its euro-area growth forecast to 1.2 per cent from 1.9 per cent and lowered its expectations for Japanese growth to 1.5 per cent from 2.1 per cent.

High oil prices and the stronger euro were only partly to blame for the wilting of the recovery in the 12-member euro zone in the second half of 2004, said OECD chief economist Jean-Philippe Cotis.

"As time passes, it is becoming increasingly evident that circumstantial arguments ... are not sufficient to explain the string of aborted recoveries in Continental Europe," Cotis said.

As a result, he said, future growth prospects "differ widely" among regions, "ranging from solid in Asia to back on trend in the United States, and weak and uncertain in Europe."

Germany, Italy and other European states need to reform their economies and improve their poor resilience to external shocks, Cotis said. The euro zone's forecast return to a 1.7 per cent growth rate by the final quarter of 2005 was based on an assumption that there would be no more nasty surprises from exchange rates or oil prices, the OECD said.

The report comes a day after the head of the European Central Bank delivered a newly pessimistic view of the euro-zone economy. Addressing the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Trichet said he saw ``no clear signs as yet of a broadening or strengthening of the growth dynamic."

The Frankfurt-based ECB, which sets interest rates for the euro area, lowered its 2005 growth forecast earlier this year to 1.6 per cent from 1.9 per cent, and many economists expect it to do so again soon.

By contrast, the U.S. economy is on course for a soft landing, the OECD said, forecasting a growth rate of 3.4 per cent for the second quarter, compared with the 3.2 per cent it had predicted six months ago. The report predicted a 3.3 per cent expansion in 2006 after this year's 3.6 per cent and last year's 4.4 per cent.

But it warned that inflationary pressures could still lead to a ``harder landing than projected" and called on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to avoid overheating. Higher oil prices and labor costs are already feeding through into core inflation, the OECD said.

After a downturn in the second half of 2004, Japan is on track for growth of between 1.5 per cent and two per cent over the next two years, the OECD also said, predicting that rising wages and employment will end a recent bout of deflation. But it warned that ``a delayed pickup in world trade or a significant appreciation of the yen" could undermine progress.

The OECD forecast Japanese growth of 1.7 per cent in 2006 — below the 2.3 per cent it predicted last November — after this year's 1.5 per cent and a 2.6 per cent expansion in 2004.

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War leading cause of hunger, says agency
Last Updated Mon, 23 May 2005 12:37:07 EDT
CBC News

ROME - War is now the leading cause of world hunger, outstripping weather and natural disasters, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says more than 35 per cent of food emergencies between 1992 and 2003 were the result of conflict and economic problems.

That compares to 15 per cent from 1986 to 1991.

Hunger hot spots

The report was presented in Rome Monday at a meeting of the Committee on World Food Security.

It says there are now 36 hunger hot spots in the world, 23 of them in Africa.

Angola was the worst-hit. It has had an almost permanent food emergency since 1986, most of it caused by war.

"Armed conflicts are now the leading cause of world hunger with the effects of HIV/AIDS and climate change not far behind," the FAO says.

The report warned that the UN goal of reducing the world's hungry by half by the year 2015, is almost certain to be missed if current trends continue.

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53% French may vote against EU constitution
www.chinaview.cn 2005-05-24 12:48:56

BEIJING, May 24 -- French opposition to the European Union constitution rose to 53 percent, a French Ipsos survey showed on Monday.

The main reason behind the resistance is the French people think opposition to this treaty will not bring any disastrous consequences to their country.

The survey also shows that 71 percent French people have already made their voting decision. Analysts say there is increasingly small possibility for the situation to change during the French referendum on the 29th of this month.

According to a previous Ipsos poll published on May 16th, 51 percent French opposed the EU constitution treaty. There have been eight polls showing French opposition starting early this month.

Comment: The proposed consitution has been called, not a constitution, but a free-trade agreement. It is the neo-liberal noose around Europeans. Hopefully the French will vote No.

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Georgia Ruled by U.S. Billionaire Soros — Opposition

Created: 24.05.2005 17:30 MSK (GMT 3), Updated: 17:30 MSK, 5 hours 25 minutes ago

Georgian opposition Labor Party Leader Shalva Natelashvili claims the Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros is the real president of the country, while Mikhail Saakashvili is only an appointed governor, Interfax news agency reported.

Soros, the head of the Development Foundation in his name, has been actively supporting democratic movements in Eastern Europe and his foundation has succeeded in precipitating changes in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine. Several post-Soviet states have even declared him a persona non grata.

The statement against Georgia’s president was made by Natelashvili ahead of Soros’ visit to Tbilisi, which is due to take place before the end of May. He also said that Georgian Laborites have prepared a “surprise” for Soros, who, in their opinion, was the sponsor of the “Rose revolution” in the fall of 2003.

“We will not throw eggs at him and smear his face with cream, like it is done in other countries, but we have a more civilized surprise for him,” Natelashvili said, adding that it will be “refined”, “unexpected, but quite unpleasant”.

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Venezuela's Chavez rises as left's new hero
Woos neighbours with oil deals
Wants to cut U.S. dependency

May 24, 2005. 06:38 AM

BUENOS AIRES — Hugo Chavez stood dockside as 900 dairy cows plodded onto a ship bound for Venezuela. Then the Venezuelan president raced across the Argentine capital for the opening of a gas station, where leftists mobbed him like a celebrity, chanting his name and releasing balloons.

You'd think Chavez was running for something, more than 5,000 kilometres from home.

And in a way, he is.

Across Latin America, the fiery Chavez is courting a growing bloc of moderate leftist presidents, doling out oil deals and — to Washington's dismay — urging less dependence on the United States and greater unity among Latin American nations.

The Venezuelan leader's no-nonsense style, his criticism of the United States and his advocacy of revolutionary changes to benefit the poor have made him a hero to many in Latin America's resurgent left.

Chavez, 50, seems to be positioning himself as Washington's chief detractor in Latin America, a role long played by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez's 78-year-old role model. And while few Latin leaders are willing to go along with Chavez's harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric, fewer still are willing to criticize him.

"Venezuela has the right to be a sovereign country, to make its own decisions," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. Responding to criticism from Washington, he added: "We won't accept defamations against friends.''

Across the region, left-leaning political leaders have voiced support for Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" aimed at bringing down a decades-old oligarchy and helping the poor. The Venezuelan president frequently invokes independence hero Simon Bolivar when he speaks of a more politically integrated South America.

Evo Morales, a leader in Bolivia's urban Indian slums, calls himself a "follower" of Chavez.

Chavez drew ovations when he showed up at the March 1 inauguration of Uruguay's first leftist president, Tabare Vazquez.

Even former Ecuadorean president Abdala Bucaram invoked Chavez when he tried to return from exile and make a comeback last month.

"I've come to Ecuador to copy Chavez's style with a great Bolivarian revolution," Bucaram said to cheers. His comeback fizzled, and renewed unrest forced him to flee the country.

Chavez, whose nation is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and a top supplier to the United States, has the money to deal.

He has signed oil agreements with Argentina and Brazil, pursuing a joint venture called Petrosur for collective oil projects. At regional summits, he greets his counterparts with bear hugs and calls them hermanos — brothers. He talks up regional projects, such as a pan-Latin television news channel with a leftist bent.

After a recent Latin American tour, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refrained from pointed comments about Chavez but urged Latin Americans to resist what she called the growth of antidemocratic populism in the region. The statement was widely seen as a reference to Chavez.

Michael Shifter, at the Washington think-tank Inter-American Dialogue, said the United States is concerned about Chavez's "broader hemispheric project.''

"He has a lot of ambition and a lot of money, and the United States is interested in stability in the region," Shifter said. "They see a potential for Chavez trying to fuel an agenda opposed to the U.S. on every issue.''

As Washington increasingly voices concern about Chavez, he has taken to calling Rice "the imperial lady," and uses "Mr. Danger" to refer to U.S. President George W. Bush.

On Sunday, he said Venezuela might break diplomatic ties with Washington if the United States doesn't extradite a Cuban exile wanted for a 1976 airplane bombing.

Chavez also said Venezuela is interested in beginning talks with Iran on the possibility of developing nuclear energy as an alternative power source, a plan that could draw more concern in Washington.

"We are interested too, we must start working on that area ... the nuclear area. We could, along with Brazil, with Argentina and others, start investigations into the nuclear sector and ask for help from countries like Iran," Chavez said on his regular Sunday TV program.

Chavez has stepped up his criticism of Bush's proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. To counter it, Chavez has teamed up with Castro to lobby countries to join the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas," calling it a competing trade plan to resist U.S. economic domination.

It is a message that resonates in Latin America.

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Marine killed by scratch and superbug
By Simon de Bruxelles
May 24, 2005

A SUPERFIT Royal Marine collapsed and died within days of scratching his leg on a bush while on a training run - victim of a mutated superbug one doctor described as the worst she had ever seen.

Richard Campbell-Smith, 18, fell victim to pneumonia caused by a rare strain of bacteria that produces a lethal toxin that kills white blood cells.

A microbiologist who gave evidence at the inquest into his death yesterday said that she had come across two such cases since December but none in the previous 15 years.

Marina Morgan, of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, said that although cases of the toxin Panton-Valentine leukocidin were still rare, it was difficult to detect, even during post-mortem examination, and many cases might be slipping through.

Cases of the toxin have been reported in America, France, Australia and the Far East and Dr Morgan described the staphylococcus infection as the worst she had encountered.

Mr Campbell-Smith's grandmother, Edwina Fooks, said that the teenager was extremely fit and 28 weeks into his 32-week course at the Royal Marines' Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, when he was taken ill.

The recruits had spent the week on a rigorous training programme and Mr Campbell-Smith had scratched his legs on gorse bushes while running on Woodbury Common on October 31 last year.

He was admitted to the medical unit on the same day and called Mrs Fooks to let her know that he was feeling unwell.

Mrs Fooks, 74, from Bournemouth, said: "He called me and said the training had been hard that week and it had been pouring with rain and freezing cold.

"He told me he found it really hard going and he was very, very cold and his hip hurt and he couldn't walk.

"I was worried when he told me that because he never feels the cold. It was so unusual for him to be unwell."

Three days after getting the scratches, Mr Campbell-Smith was found collapsed on the floor by his bed. He was admitted to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and died shortly after arrival.

A post-mortem examination revealed that he had cardiac and respiratory failure. Dr Morgan said that victims of the superbug were unable to resist it, no matter how fit they were.

The infection spread to Mr Campbell-Smith's lungs, causing pneumonia which is fatal in three out of four cases. Dr Morgan said: "PVL is an horrendous toxin because it kills white blood cells so they can't kill the bug.

"It is the worst bug I have ever seen and people really need to know about it. It is untreatable. It multiplies very quickly. One bug will multiply into 17 million within 24 hours. Usually signs include pneumonia, coughing up blood and very high temperatures, but not everyone will look for it. [...]

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Rare Virus Kills 3 Transplant Patients
Associated Press
May 24, 2005

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - One transplant patient needed two lungs. Another needed a liver. Two more needed kidneys.

Hope for all four came in the form of a Rhode Island organ donor. But those hopes were shattered when it emerged the donor had an extremely rare rodent-borne infection - possibly from her pet hamster - when she died of unrelated causes.

A few weeks after the transplants in mid-April three patients died: a liver recipient and a double-lung recipient, both from Massachusetts, and a kidney transplant recipient from Rhode Island. Another Rhode Island patient who received a kidney became ill, but is recovering.

Public health officials who announced the deaths Monday said it was only the second documented case of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which is associated with exposure to rodent waste, being spread through an organ transplant. They stressed that the LCMV virus is rare in humans.

"We would encourage people who are on the (transplant) waiting list not to be concerned with this," state health director David Gifford said. "This is an extremely rare and unusual event." [...]

The LCMV virus is commonly found in house mice but usually produces only flu-like symptoms in humans. It has also been associated with neurological illness and miscarriage in pregnant women.

In this case, however, the victims were transplant recipients, who were taking very large doses of immunosuppresant medication as part of their treatment, which can allow viruses to grow and multiply and cause an "overwhelming infection," Gifford said. [...]

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Agreement signed by Arabs not worth paper its written on: Sharon
May 24, 2005

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that agreements signed by Arab leaders are not worth the paper they are written on.

Although Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is meant to be spearheading a drive to forge diplomatic relations with up to 10 Arab states, the premier told a closed meeting with a pro-Israel lobby in New York that he was deeply sceptical about the value of such agreements.

"Without offending the Arab world, it must be said that their agreements, declarations and speeches are not worth the paper they're written on," Sharon was quoted as saying by the Yediot Aharonot daily.

"Anyone who doesn't live in the region cannot understand that the words which are offered have a limited guarantee. What really counts is acts and deeds," he was also quoted as saying by public radio. [...]

Comment: While we disagree with Sharon's blatantly racist comment about the Arab world's agreements, declarations, and speeches, we do agree that what really counts is one's actions. Considering that more than three times as many Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, that Israeli snipers seem to enjoy shooting little Palestinian girls in the head, and that Sharon himself is spearheading the genocide against the Palestinians, it would appear that the Zionist Israeli prime minister has made his intentions quite clear. His latest comments only reinforce the understanding of his past actions, while simultaneously offering a chilling glimpse of what the future holds: less talk, even more action.

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Rights groups urge Israel to scrap citizenship law
May 24, 2005

JERUSALEM - Three leading human rights group urged MPs to scrap a controversial law which prevents Palestinians married to Israelis from obtaining Israeli citizenship and separates families.

The Israeli cabinet has approved a 12-month extension to the law, which splits families between Israel and the occupied territories and bars Palestinians from gaining Israeli nationality through marriage.

Ministers tweaked the legislation to allow around 300 Palestinians citizenship rights, by exempting Palestinian men over 35 and women over 25. The bill must be approved by the Israeli parliament by the end of the month.

But the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), London-based Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists slammed the bill for contravening international law and branded the amendment "insufficient".

"It is time for Israeli lawmakers to end the intolerable situation created by this law," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

"The law blatantly discriminates against Israelis of Palestinian origin and their Palestinian spouses," she added in a statement.

The legislation -- first adopted by parliament in July 2003 -- has been denounced as racist by both Arab Israeli and left-wing MPs.

Israel's government has defended the bill on the grounds that dozens of Israelis have been killed by Palestinians who gained citizenship and residency rights through marriage.

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Remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Annual Policy Conference
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington Convention Center
May 23, 2005

Thank you very much. Well, thank you for that very warm welcome. (Cheering.) Thank you for that warm welcome. Thank you, Bernice, for that kind introduction and for your leadership of this organization. I want to thank Amy Friedkin and Howard Kohr for inviting me to address this wonderful audience. I would also like to congratulate the new President-elect, Howard Friedman. (Applause.) And judging by how many students I see in the audience today, I know that AIPAC's future is clearly going to be bright. (Applause.)

Let me begin by saying that Israel has no greater friend and no stronger supporter than the United States of America. (Applause.) For over half a century, AIPAC has strengthened the religious, cultural and political bonds that unite our two great nations, and I thank you for that. (Applause.)

The United States and Israel share much in common. We both affirm the innate freedom and dignity of every human life, not as prizes that people confer to one another, but as divine gifts of the Almighty. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The God that gave us liberty and life gave them to us at the same time."

Moral clarity is an essential virtue in our world today and for 60 years cynics and skeptics have proven that we have been looking to false choices in the Middle East. They have claimed that we must choose either freedom or stability, either democracy or security. They have said that the United States could either uphold its principles or advance its policies.

But by trying to purchase stability at the price of liberty, we achieved neither and we saw the result of that on a fine September morning. That is why President Bush has rejected 60 years of false choices in the Middle East. And as he said last week at the International Republican Institute, "The United States has a new policy, a strategy that recognizes that the best way to defeat the ideology that uses terror as a weapon is to spread freedom and democracy." (Applause.)

Comment: Right. That's why the US tortures or "renditions" detainees in the "war on terror", and why the Bush administration has clamped down on civil liberties through laws like the Patriot Act I and II...

The President holds the deep belief that all human beings desire and deserve to live in liberty. This idea, of course, did not immediately find favor.

Comment: It didn't? Objecting to the Neocons' fascist actions and policies does not mean that one is against liberty. It means that many people can see that Condi and the rest of the Neocons twist reality to suit their needs and their desire for power - although Condi herself is quite possibly completely unaware that she is declaring 1 1=3.

Many continued to defend the false choices of the past. But we knew then and we know now America's message is clear, our principles are sound and our policies are right, and today the nations of the world are finally joining with the United States to support the cause of freedom. (Applause.)

Comment: Which nations are those? Last time we checked, the "Coalition of the Willing" was no longer so willing...

We measure our success in the democratic revolutions that have stunned the entire world: vibrant revolutions of rose and orange and purple and tulip and cedar. The destiny of the Middle East is bound up in this global expansion of freedom. The days of thinking that this region was somehow immune to democracy are over. Working with our G-8 partners, the United States has created the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative to build partnerships with people in the region who are working for greater liberty.

The flagship of this bold new policy is the Forum for the Future, an unprecedented international venue to amplify the voices of reform that are redefining the region. Together, we will tackle the urgent goals of the Forum: political openness, economic liberty, educational opportunity and the empowerment of women.

Today, nations all across the world are speaking a common language of reform and they are helping citizens throughout the broader Middle East to transform the parameters of debate in their societies. The people of this region are expressing ideas and taking actions that would have been unthinkable only one year ago.

Comment: Sure. Who'd have thought that many Arabs and national leaders would stand up and declare - quite accurately - that the US is acting like the new Nazi Germany? Yet in Iraq today, ordinary Iraqis fight for their freedom from occupation, while torture is openly approved at the highest levels of the US government.

Some in the Arab media have even asked why the only real democracies in the Middle East are found in the "occupied lands" of Iraq and the Palestinian territories. What an incredible thought. Today, citizens in the region are demanding that their governments respond to this simple, audacious question.

Comment: Apparently, Condi finds nothing contradictory about a country being a democracy while simultaneously being occupied by a foreign power that ultimately runs the nation.

And many states will have to answer their people's call for genuine reform. Jordan and Bahrain and Qatar and Morocco are all taking steps to introduce greater openness into their political systems. Egypt has amended its constitution with electoral reform. And even Saudi Arabia has held multiple elections. And just last week, remarkably, the Kuwaiti legislature granted its women citizens the right to vote. (Applause.)

Kuwait's recognition that it must include all of its people in political life is, hopefully, an example that its neighbors will follow. In Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of citizens have demanded an end to the foreign suffocation of their country. (Applause.) With strong international support, led by the United States and by France, and with an explicit mandate from the United Nations Security Council, Syria has gotten the message loud and clear that it is not welcome in Lebanon. (Applause.)

The Syrian regime has withdrawn its decades-long military presence. And at the end of this month, the Lebanese people will go to the polls and set a new course of action. But we cannot rest. Syria must also remove its intelligence forces and allow the Lebanese people to be free. (Applause.)

To be sure, a vital source of inspiration for all of these reformers comes from the people of Iraq, who defied threats of murder to vote in free elections in January. They declared with one voice that the will of the people, not the whim of a dictator, would determine Iraq's future. They declared with that same voice that no Iraqi regime would ever again torture its people, invade its neighbors, attack its neighbors and offer financial incentives to Palestinian homicide bombers. (Applause.) [...]


"They declared... that no Iraqi regime would ever again torture its people..."

Oops! Too late. To be fair, however, the current Iraqi puppet government is an American regime.

Click here to read the rest of Condi's speech.

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AIPAC's Big, Bigger, Biggest Moment
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post
Tuesday, May 24, 2005; A13

How much clout does AIPAC have?

Well, consider that during the pro-Israel lobby's annual conference yesterday, a fleet of police cars, sirens wailing, blocked intersections and formed a motorcade to escort buses carrying its conventioneers -- to lunch.

The annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has long produced a massive show of bipartisan pandering, as lawmakers praise the well-financed and well-connected group. But this has been a rough year for AIPAC -- it has dismissed its policy director and another employee while the FBI examines whether they passed classified U.S. information to Israel -- and the organization is eager to show how big it is.

Reporters arriving at the convention center yesterday were given a list of "Food Facts" for the three-day AIPAC meeting: 26,000 kosher meals, 32,640 hors d'oeuvres, 2,500 pounds of salmon, 1,200 pounds of turkey, 900 pounds of chicken, 700 pounds of beef and 125 gallons of hummus.

Another fact sheet announced that this is the "largest ever" conference, with its 5,000 participants attending "the largest annual seated dinner in Washington" joined by "more members of Congress than almost any other event, except for a joint session of Congress or a State of the Union address." The group added that its membership "has nearly doubled" over four years to 100,000 and that the National Journal calls it "one of the top four most effective lobbying organizations."

"More," "most," "largest," "top": The superlatives continued, and deliberately. In his speech Sunday, the group's executive director, Howard Kohr, said the "record attendance" at the conference would dispel questions about AIPAC raised by the FBI investigation.

"This is a test, a test of our collective resolve," Kohr said of the "unique challenge" presented by the FBI probe, "and your presence here today sends a message to every adversary of Israel, AIPAC and the Jewish community that we are here, and here to stay." (The official text has two exclamation points after that sentence.) Kohr, without mentioning the fired staffers, told participants that "neither AIPAC nor any of its current employees is or ever has been the target."

As yesterday's session showed, the scandal isn't keeping the powerful from lining up to woo AIPAC. The morning brought Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the evening brought congressional leaders, and at a luncheon "debate" in between, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and informal administration foreign policy adviser Richard N. Perle tried to one-up each other in pro-Israel views.

Perle drew cheers for denouncing Palestinian anti-Semitism and the French. Harman mentioned that an aide once worked for AIPAC, called her audience "very sophisticated" and celebrated Yasser Arafat's death as "a blessing." Debating a hard-liner in front of a pro-administration crowd, Harman heaped praise on President Bush, calling the Iraqi elections "sensationally impressive" and moving to "applaud" or "commend" Perle and the administration a dozen times. "Richard is right, and so is President Bush," she said at one point.

But after half an hour of this, Harman could not keep up. Perle provoked cheers from the crowd when he favored a military raid on Iran, saying that "if Iran is on the verge of a nuclear weapon, I think we will have no choice but to take decisive action." When Harman said the "best short-term option" is the U.N. Security Council, the crowd reacted with boos.

AIPAC is a demanding crowd, and even Rice, introduced as a "very special friend," did not satisfy universally. The participants applauded heartily her reminder that Bush did not meet with Arafat, but when she said Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, "is committed to both freedom and security," and when she mentioned more U.S. funds for Palestinians, the room was quiet.

Likewise, Rice's call for Arab states to "establish normal relations with Israel" earned an extended ovation; her reminder that Israel must not "jeopardize the true viability of the Palestinian state" did not.

There were subtle signs of dissent within AIPAC (a sticker critical of Israel's "disengagement" from Gaza, a policy supported by AIPAC) and not-so-subtle dissent from without: a group of anti-Zionist orthodox Jews with signs proclaiming, "Torah Forbids any Jewish State." But the attendees overall showed an impressive ideological discipline -- right down to AIPAC's multimedia show, "Iran's Path to the Bomb," in the convention center's basement.

The exhibit, worthy of a theme park, begins with a narrator condemning the International Atomic Energy Agency for being "unwilling to conclude that Iran is developing nuclear weapons" (it had similar reservations about Iraq) and the Security Council because it "has yet to take up the issue." In a succession of rooms, visitors see flashing lights and hear rumbling sounds as Dr. Seuss-like contraptions make yellowcake uranium, reprocess plutonium, and pop out nuclear warheads like so many gallons of hummus for an AIPAC conference.

Comment: AIPAC is the Lie Factory. First Iraq, now Iran, the phoney intelligence is building towards the overthrow of Israel's enemy. Not even accusations of spying against the United States can get the US politicians to wake up and smell the coffee. They are owned lock, stock, and barrel by Israel, either through blackmail or through Chrisitan Zionist support for the Zionist Entity.

The next article is an example of how one US politician sees the importance of Israel.

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US congressmen: Israel first in US Mideast policy
May. 22, 2005 3:43

While top Israeli and Palestinian officials met here to talk security, a US senator dispensed bitter pills to Arab leaders: The United States isn't ready to risk the prestige needed to create a Palestinian state and America's priority is to secure Israel in a way that, "if possible," is just to the Palestinians.

Sen. Gordon Smith on Saturday advised Arab leaders to worry more about injustices in their own countries.

"It's a mystery to me why Arab countries can't work on their own countries before Palestine is fixed," Smith said in a discussion at the World Economic Forum.

"Until we have someone on the other side who is willing to say 'Yes,' we're not going to continue to prostitute the American presidency to people who aren't serious," Smith said.

"Obviously one of the greatest commitments that we have is to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, to try and manage the difficult process of the peace there and securing that nation, and doing so in a way that, if possible, is just to the Palestinians," Smith said.

In contrast to the Bush Administration bureaucrats, who seemed to contort themselves to avoid mentioning Israel in this Arab-focused conference, the congressional delegation seemed comfortable declaring their allegiance to the Jewish state, an unpopular position here.

Asked why the United States was willing to anger Arab countries in favor of Israel, another Congressman, Rep. Christopher Shays, said simply that America is not a neutral player in the Middle East.

"We are Israel's strong ally," Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It would be foolish for people to think that somehow we are neutral."

But the six-member US Congressional delegation here was not marching lockstep. US Congresswoman Jane Harman, a California Democrat, said she believed an independent Palestinian state would emerge within five years, with the backing of US Congress.

"A Palestinian state is inevitable and desirable. Let's make it work," she said, calling for support for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

"In five years?" the panel's moderator asked her. "Yes, absolutely," Harman replied.

Smith urged Arabs in the panel to take seriously Washington's belief that Iran is "on the cusp" of developing a nuclear bomb. Tehran's hostility toward Israel ought to concern Arabs too, because a nuclear strike on Israel would be a regional disaster.

"Nuclear bombs are much bigger than the State of Israel," Smith said. "They affect the entire region."

Comment: Yeah, right. In five years how many more Palestinians will be dead? How many more olive groves will have been bulldozed? How many more Palestinian homes will have been razed? What will be left?

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Is it George's Fault?

Laura Bush Heckled at Wailing Wall over Pollard Affair
And at Temple Mount by Palestinians

Juan Cole
Informed Comment
Monday, May 23, 2005

I was alarmed at the tenor of the reporting about First Lady Laura Bush's close brush with both Israeli and Palestinian protesters, at the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock respectively. Suzanne Malveaux, who was with her, clearly sounded shaken from the experience. Things could have been much worse.

I blame her husband George for putting her in this danger. There have been demonstrations and counter-demonstrations at the Jerusalem holy sites for weeks, because of charges by Palestinians that a far rightwing Zionist group planned to demolish the Dome of the Rock. On another level, George W. Bush was the one who said, at his National Security Council meeting on January 30, 2001, that he intended to just "unleash Sharon", to allow all kinds of trouble between Israel and Palestine, and let conflict "clarify" things. His unconcern with the Israel/Palestine issue, which is key to US global security because of the strong feelings in the Muslim World about Israel's colonization of the West Bank, contrasts deeply with the strenuous efforts made by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, to resolve the conflict. By January of 2001, the two sides were extremely close to an agreement. Instead of pressuring incoming rightwing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to continue to negotiate, Bush "unleashed" him. Sharon predictably ran riot, mounting a campaign of murder and assassination against his Palestinian enemies (Sharon was actually once caught on mike planning out such a murder). At one point Sharon had a US-made F-16 fire a missile into a civilian apartment building to get at a Hamas official, killing 15 innocent people, including a little baby. John Bolton, by the way, tampered with the US government memo on the missile strike so as to shield Sharon from criticism.

After Laura Bush visited the Wailing Wall,

' Dozens of protesters stood nearby, shouting, "Free [convicted spy Jonathan] Pollard now" . . . The first lady was mobbed by protesters and local reporters, and Secret Service agents and Israeli police had to physically hold back the crowd as she approached the wall. '

The First Lady simply should not have been put in that kind of situation, where far-right Zionist fanatics had such physical access to her. The outcome could have been much worse-- remember what happened to Israeli Prime Minsiter Yitzhak Rabin.

As for their demand that Jonathan Pollard be freed from US prison, where he is serving a life sentence for delivering mountains of classified information to Israel (and thence to the Soviet Union), it is monstrous. Pollard inflicted incalculable damage on the United States and is one of its most dastardly traitors. High-ranking US officers with an intimate knowledge of the case told Seymour Hersh that there is no doubt that documents he provided to the Israelis ended up in the hands of the Soviets. This happened either because Israeli intelligence peddled them to Moscow or because Israeli intelligence itself was penetrated by the KGB. By sending highly classified material out of the United States (for tens of thousands of dollars in a private account), Pollard initiated its transfer to Moscow as surely as if he had just dropped it off at the Soviet embassy. Pollard should never be released, and anyone who demands his release is no friend of the United States. Giving the signal that it is all right to spy intensively on the United States would be the worst possible move in these parlous times.

This is more especially true since the pro-Israel lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is under FBI investigation for the passing of classified documents to Israeli embassy official Naor Gilon by two high-level AIPAC officials (recently fired). (Gilon, rumored to be Mossad or Israeli intelligence, is still at his cover post in Washington!) AIPAC should be made to register as an agent of a foreign power, at the very least. Like other unopposed or wealthy and focused single-interest organizations (the Cuban-American community with regard to policy toward Havana e.g., or the oil lobby that has its eyes on Alaska), AIPAC virtually sets policy for Congress in its area of interest. AIPAC is fabled for targeting any US congressmen or women who criticize Israel for un-election, and for generally succeeding. (It may not be as formidable as its reputation, but its reputation makes senators and representatives unwilling to take it on). That its officials are simultaneously spying for Israel is extremely scary. In this context, the demand that Pollard be freed functions as a demand that organizations like AIPAC be held harmless from spying on the United States of America for a foreign government.

It is George W. Bush who has encouraged the Israeli far right, by "unleashing Sharon" and letting the rightwingers know that Washington will support them no matter what. That is how they came to have the chutzpah to try to mob the First Lady. These are people that every US citizen is involuntarily taxed hundreds of dollars a year to support, and this is our thanks? We are spied on and then denounced for jailing the spy? And our First Lady is nearly mobbed?

At the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest shrine in Islam, "40 or 50" angry protesters came toward her, but the US Secret Service whisked her away. CNN says, ' As she left the mosque, one heckler yelled, "How dare you come in here?" and "Why do you hassle our Muslims?" '

Ironically, Laura Bush has been much more sympathetic to hurt feelings on the Muslim world about abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere than has her husband.

Mrs. Bush said the Newsweek report compounded anti-American sentiment stemming from the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. She said that abuse was "not any sort of typical thing from the United States." "We've had terrible happenings that have really, really hurt our image of the United States," she said. "And people in the United States are sick about it."

George W. Bush's policies have pushed approval ratings for the United States in the Muslim world on down to practically zero. It wasn't always like this. In 1999, 75 percent of Indonesians (the most populous Muslim country) had a favorable view of the US. On Sunday, 7,000 Indonesians protested at the US embassy against reports of Koran desecration by US military interrogators. The International Committee of the Red Cross says that it repeatedly presented to the US military what it felt were "credible" reports of Koran desecration. Passions were further inflamed Friday by a New York Times report on the way US military interrogators at Bagram in Afghanistan tortured two detainees to death. (The Indonesian protest was in part with reference to Bagram.)

It is George W. Bush who has set up the New Gulags, attempting to create political and legal enclaves which are completely beyond the law, where the "quaint" Geneva Conventions do not apply, where detainees do not get to see a lawyer, where they are not owed a speedy trial or basic human dignity, where they can essentially be tortured with impunity. Only low-ranking military personnel are being prosecuted for the abuses, but they were certainly authorized in at least a general way by the tone set in the White House.

We all now live in one world, on one globe. The Arab-Israeli conflict or the struggle within Islam between progressive and reactionary forces affects us all. Therefore, Bush's policies toward both affect us all. Laura Bush got a small taste of how much they affect us on Sunday.

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Mexico's 'Fire Volcano' erupts
Tuesday, May 24, 2005 Posted: 0522 GMT (1322 HKT)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Mexico's so-called "Fire Volcano" has erupted, spewing lava and glowing rocks in its biggest explosion since 1999, a director of the country's civil protection agency has said.

A huge gray column of smoke billowed into the evening air from a crater of the 3,860 meter (12,540 foot) volcano in the western state of Colima, television images show.

The "Fire Volcano" is located in a sparsely populated rural area about 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the capital, Mexico City.

There were no immediate plans to evacuate any of the tiny villages that lie around the volcano, Luis Salazar, operations director of the Civil Protection agency in Colima, said.

"There was an explosion that sent up a column of smoke some 4 kilometers(2.5 miles) into the air," Salazar told Reuters.

"We are monitoring the situation but for the moment there is no need to evacuate."

Colima University's Volcano Observatory said on its Web site that: "At 1910 local (0110 GMT) there was the biggest explosion ever registered on our monitoring systems."

The observatory did not say when it began monitoring activity at the volcano.

Villagers were last evacuated in May 2002, after a series of small eruptions.

The last major explosion of the Fire Volcano was in 1913, but it has erupted intermittently in the last decade.

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Tectonic plate 'found' under Tokyo

Last Update: Tuesday, May 24, 2005. 12:00pm (AEST)

A Japanese geologist says he has discovered a new tectonic plate under the Tokyo area, a finding that may force the Government to review its quake preparation plans.

Japan endures 20 percent of the world's powerful earthquakes as the country lies at the crossing of four tectonic plates - the Eurasian, North American, Philippine and Pacific plates.

If a quake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale were to hit the Tokyo region in the evening rush hour, it would kill 13,000 people and inflict $US1.1 trillion in damage, according to a Japanese Government estimate released in February.

Shinji Toda, chief researcher at the Active Fault Research Center of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, argued the portion of a plate believed to be part of the Philippine plate was indeed an independent tectonic plate, Kyodo News Agency said.

Mr Toda said he analysed data on 150,000 quakes with magnitudes above 2.0 between 1979 and 2004 in the Kanto region, Kyodo said.

If Mr Toda's findings are confirmed, Japan "may need to review its earthquake-related policies around Tokyo" since such polices are made on the assumption the Philippine plate is a single tectonic plate, Kyodo said.

"We need to fundamentally review our understanding of earthquake mechanisms, including the structure of tectonic plates," Mr Toda was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

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Earthquake rattles Quetta
Daily Times

QUETTA: A moderate earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale rattled Quetta on Monday but no injuries or damage was reported, an official said.

The quake was felt at 9:14am and was centred about 150 kilometres east of Quetta, near the town of Muslim Bagh, said Mohammed Akram, an official with the Peshawar seismological centre.

Residents in Quetta said they felt the tremor, which only lasted a couple of seconds.

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No Damage or Injury Reports After 4.1 Quake
From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A moderate earthquake hit the Central California coast Monday, but there were no reports of damage or injuries, according to the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Department.

The magnitude-4.1 temblor hit at 12:59 p.m. in San Luis Obispo County, about 6 miles northeast of San Simeon, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Zakynthos, 24 May 2005 (13:31 UTC 2)

An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale was recorded this morning and its epicenter was located at the sea region of the Ionian Sea island of Zakynthos alarming the local residents. The tremor was also felt in regions of the Peloponnese, southern Greece.

According to Thessaloniki's Aristotle University geophysics laboratory the earthquake was recorded at 8:51 am and the epicenter was at the sea region between Zakynthos and Peloponnese.

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Wormhole 'no use' for time travel
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter

For budding time travellers, the future (or should that be the past?) is starting to look bleak.

Hypothetical tunnels called wormholes once looked like the best bet for constructing a real time machine.

These cosmic shortcuts, which link one point in the Universe to another, are favoured by science fiction writers as a means both of explaining time travel and of circumventing the limitations imposed by the speed of light.

The concept of wormholes will be familiar to anyone who has watched the TV programmes Farscape, Stargate SG1 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The opening sequence of the BBC's new Doctor Who series shows the Tardis hurtling through a "vortex" that suspiciously resembles a wormhole - although the Doctor's preferred method of travel is not explained in detail.

But the idea of building these so-called traversable wormholes is looking increasingly shaky, according to two new scientific analyses.

Remote connection

A common analogy used to visualise these phenomena involves marking two holes at opposite ends of a sheet of paper, to represent distant points in the Universe. One can then bend the paper over so that the two remote points are positioned on top of each other.

If it were possible to contort space-time in this way, a person might step through a wormhole and emerge at a remote time or distant location.

The person would pass through a region of the wormhole called the throat, which flares out on either side.

According to one idea, a wormhole could be kept open by filling its throat, or the region around it, with an ingredient called exotic matter.

This is strange stuff indeed, and explaining it requires scientists to look beyond the laws of classical physics to the world of quantum mechanics.

Exotic matter is repelled, rather than attracted, by gravity and is said to have negative energy - meaning it has even less than empty space.

Law breaker

But according to a new study by Stephen Hsu and Roman Buniy, of the University of Oregon, US, this method of building a traversable wormhole may be fatally flawed. In a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server, the authors looked at a kind of wormhole in which the space-time "tube" shows only weak deviations from the laws of classical physics.

These "semi-classical" wormholes are the most desirable type for time travel because they potentially allow travellers to predict where and when they would emerge.

Wormholes entirely governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, would likely transport their payloads to an undesired time and place.

Calculations by the Oregon researchers show a wormhole that combines exotic matter with semi-classical space-time would be fundamentally unstable.

This result relies in part on a previous paper in which Hsu and Buniy argued that systems which violate a physical principle known as the null energy condition become unstable.

"We aren't saying you can't build a wormhole. But the ones you would like to build - the predictable ones where you can say Mr Spock will land in New York at 2pm on this day - those look like they will fall apart," Dr Hsu said.

Tight squeeze

A separate study by Chris Fewster, of the University of York, UK, and Thomas Roman, of Central Connecticut State University, US, takes a different approach to tackling the question of wormholes.

Amongst other things, their analysis deals with the proposal that wormhole throats could be kept open using arbitrarily small amounts of exotic matter.

Fewster and Roman calculated that, even if it were possible to build such a wormhole, its throat would probably be too small for time travel.

It might - in theory - be possible to carefully fine-tune the geometry of the wormhole so that the wormhole throat became big enough for a person to fit through, says Fewster.

But building a wormhole with a throat radius big enough to just fit a proton would require fine-tuning to within one part in 10 to the power of 30. A human-sized wormhole would require fine-tuning to within one part in 10 to the power of 60.

"Frankly no engineer is going to be able to do that," said the York researcher.

The authors are currently preparing a manuscript for publication.

Supporting view

However, there is still support for the idea of traversable wormholes in the scientific community. One physicist told BBC News there could be problems with Hsu's and Buniy's conclusions.

"Violations of the null energy condition are known to occur in a number of situations. And their argument would prohibit any violation of it," the scientist commented.

"If that's true, then don't worry about Hawking radiation from a black hole; the entire black hole vacuum becomes unstable."

The underlying physics was not in doubt, the researcher argued. The real challenge was in explaining how to engineer wormholes big enough to be of practical use.

Cambridge astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is amongst those researchers who have pondered the question of wormholes.

In the 1980s, he argued that something fundamental in the laws of physics would prevent wormholes being used for time travel. This idea forms the basis of Hawking's Chronology Protection Conjecture.

Comment: The trouble with studies like this is that theories in physics are a dime a dozen. It has stalled for decades with the most recent fad, string theory, diverting scientists' attention into a dead end for years. No one knows what the Grand Unified Theory of physics will look like, but we have some idea of what it won't look like. It won't be string theory.

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Meteor theory gets rocky ride from dinosaur expert
Rex Dalton
Published online: 24 May 2005; | doi:10.1038/news050523-2

US palaeontologist amasses data against Mexican crater hypothesis.

The widely held theory that a particular meteorite strike on Mexico wiped out the dinosaurs is under sharp attack, again.

The asteroid that created the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico arrived too early to have caused the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, according to evidence given on 23 May at an American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A team led by palaeontologist Gerta Keller of Princeton University, New Jersey, reported that a sediment core drilled in east Texas emphatically confirms a study that the group released two years ago. Sediments of glass sprayed out by the Chicxulub impact are separated from fossils killed during the mass extinction by a 300,000-year gap, they argue.

"I believe this is the mortal wound for the Chicxulub theory," says Keller. Scientists should mount a search for the crater left by the meteorite that was really responsible for the mass extinction, she adds.

Many geophysicists remain unswayed. Sean Gulick of the University of Texas at Austin doubts the report because it means another huge asteroid must have hit the Earth in the same era, about 65 million years ago. "The odds of that are highly unlikely," said Gulick, who chaired the Chicxulub symposium at the conference.

However, some sedimentologists are being persuaded by the core specimens. Paul Wignall of the University of Leeds in Britain calls Keller's evidence "quite convincing", although he didn't attend the meeting.

Original thought

Two years ago, Keller stunned a symposium at an American Geophysical Union meeting in Nice, France, with an analysis of a section of a 1,500-metre core drilled in the Yucatán, only 60 kilometres from the Chicxulub crater.

The Yucatán core, called Yaxcopoil-1, was the result of an international project designed to provide the most advanced record of events at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. But it was beset by strife over access to the core and subsequent interpretations (see 'Hot Tempers, Hard Core').

Keller claimed the crater preceded mass extinction by 300,000 years1. Her critics say the sediment layers she sees are actually rubble from collapsing crater walls. But her team argues that palaeomagnetic dating and minute fossil analysis rules this out.

Northern exposure

To settle the dispute, Keller drilled 2,000 kilometres north of the crater to get a sedimentary view unaffected by backwash.

The Brazos River Valley, Texas, is widely accepted as the best location to check Chicxulub impact debris from afar. In March, three 50-metre-deep holes were drilled near the small town of Rosebud to extract sediment from the time of the mass extinction.

From a 2-metre section of the best core, the Keller team charted what they say shows the 300,000-year gap. First, there is a 2 centimetre-thick layer of altered glass called bentonite that is the ejected material from the Chicxulub impact. About 50 centimetres above that lie sediments beds from the tsunami set off by the asteroid. Finally, a full 1.2 metres above these beds, there is the detritus of the mass extinction, represented by fossils of tiny plants and animals that died.

The National Science Foundation has given Keller US$40,000 to drill another core in autumn 2006. This one will be on the opposite side of the Chicxulub crater, some 7,800 kilometres south near the city of Recife in Brazil. Keller hopes to find evidence that will finally quiet her critics.

Comment: Interesting that the researcher found the interval was 300,000 years...To understand why, check out the series The Wave by Laura Knight-Jadczyk, or read the books, the much expanded Wave series in print.

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