Monday, July 04, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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Bush arrives in Scotland for the G8 Meeting
Copyright 2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte


You lied

Happy Birthday, America

SOTT Protest Music Department

The other day Bob Geldolf announced that artists participating in the Live8 concerts should stay away from criticizing President Bush.

Hmmm.

In a moment of fantasy, we wondered what kind of song we'd want to sing in those circumstances, the gauntlet having been thrown down as it were. They're a few things we'd like to say to Mr. Bush and his colleagues in Washington, not that he'd listen to us -- the Washington Post article about our Pentagon Strike flash didn't change anything and we're certain it caught the eye of the White House -- and to Mr. Geldolf who seems to be living in a lala land where mass demonstrations have an effect on the Bush administration. Didn't the millions of people in the streets prior to the illegal invasion of Iraq demonstrate clearly enough that Bush gets his orders elsewhere?

Well, the news today shows there ain't no hope for Geldolf's wishful thinking as Bush has declared he's going to put the US first, but we have never been enamoured with wishful thinking, preferring to look the world in the face and see it as objectively as possible.

Hence, this song:

You lied words & music by Signs of the Times

You told the world Saddam had chemical bombs
To kill us in our homes, and on our farms
You said he sent his men into the heavens
big planes crashing down, September 11

You lied, You lied,
People died, When Bush lied

I've got some questions, wipe that smirk off your face
Betraying your people, that's a real disgrace
See I'm having a hard time finding that plane
that you said hit the Pentagon, bursting into flames
Vapourising the aircraft, didn't leave no remains
But the bodies appear not to burn quite the same

More lies Yeah, yeah, more lies
America died, When Bush lied

And talk about mir'cles, did you see how they fell,
the three towers in New York, those charges worked well
Flattened out in a straight line, just like it was planned
Did you think we were so stupid that we wouldn't understand
And it's a pity about the folks there on Flight 93,
Just as they took back control, you blew them to smithereens

You lied, You lied
Heroes died, when Bush lied

You say Osama is living in a place you have traced
But you don't go and get him, it seems such a waste
Could it be it's because he's still one of your men
A C-I-A asset just like he was then
He endorsed your campaign in a last minute pitch
Is he just one more man who has gotten quite rich

From your lies, Your lies
Freedom died, from your lies

How about those Israelis dancing to their success,
On the rooftops of Jersey, they created a mess
So you sent them back home with a slap on the wrist
Told the cops not to bother, 'cause they don't exist

It's a lie, You lied
Justice died, when you lied

Now people are dying through your crimes in Iraq
You've killed more than Saddam, though you don't care to keep track
Cause they're only some Arabs in a faraway land
That Yahweh has promised to his chosen band
While Sharon and his cronies pull on your strings
When he opens his mouth your whole government sings

His lies, His lies
Palestinians die, With Bush lies

Next time you talk to your God, I've got a question for him
What side is he on or does it change on a whim'
There's a whole lot of people, suff'rin here in his name
What kind of pyscho is he that he's playing this game
It sounds more like the devil is guiding your hand
Destruction and death are the plagues of the land

of your lies, your lies
Children die, When Bush lies

You see, Mr President, there's something amiss
Two elections you lost, but you overcame this
By rigging the vote, not counting the blacks
You've ensured two full terms, the dry drunk is back
And now they're changing the laws to get you a third
The brown shirts are charging at the front of the herd

of your lies, your lies
Democracy dies, When Bush lies

The question remains what can we do about this
Most people refuse to consider this list
They're lost in illusion, can't recognise proof
so we offer this song to all who stand for the truth

No more lies, No more lies
Must we all die, Because of your lies

No more lies, No more lies
Must we all die, Because of your lies

Your lies...

copyright 2005 Signs of the Times

Not having the forum of a world-wide TV broadcast, we turned to what we do have, the Internet. With the help of our friends at Away With the Fairys, we offer you this song as our little gift to America on this Fourth of July. Fortunately, we don't think the song will change anything except maybe get a few people tapping their feet.

Streaming audio version

Download (Right click and "Save link as...") (8 megs)

Let us know what you think.

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Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps

Secret torture chambers, the brutal interrogation of prisoners, murders by paramilitaries with links to powerful ministries... Foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont in Baghdad uncovers a grim trail of abuse carried out by forces loyal to the new Iraqi government

Peter Beaumont
Sunday July 3, 2005
The Observer

The video camera pans across Hassan an-Ni'ami's body as it is washed in the mosque for burial. In life he was a slender, good-looking man, usually dressed in a dark robe and white turban, Imam at a mosque in Baghdad's Adhimiya district and a senior official of the Muslim Clerics Association.

When I first interviewed him a year ago he was suspected of contacts with the insurgency. Certainly he supported resistance to US forces.

More recently, an-Ni'ami had dropped out of sight. Then, a little over a month ago, relatives say, paramilitary police commandos from 'Rapid Intrusion' found him at a family home in the Sha'ab neighbourhood of northern Baghdad. His capture was reported on television as that of a senior 'terrorist commander'. Twelve hours later his body turned up in the morgue.

What happened to him in his 24 hours in captivity was written across his body in chapters of pain, recorded by the camera. There are police-issue handcuffs still attached to one wrist, from which he was hanged long enough to cause his hands and wrists to swell. There are burn marks on his chest, as if someone has placed something very hot near his right nipple and moved it around.

A little lower are a series of horizontal welts, wrapping around his body and breaking the skin as they turn around his chest, as if he had been beaten with something flexible, perhaps a cable. There are other injuries: a broken nose and smaller wounds that look like cigarette burns.

An arm appears to have been broken and one of the higher vertebrae is pushed inwards. There is a cluster of small, neat circular wounds on both sides of his left knee. At some stage an-Ni'ami seems to have been efficiently knee-capped. It was not done with a gun - the exit wounds are identical in size to the entry wounds, which would not happen with a bullet. Instead it appears to have been done with something like a drill.

What actually killed him however were the bullets fired into his chest at close range, probably by someone standing over him as he lay on the ground. The last two hit him in the head.

The gruesome detail is important. Hanging by the arms in cuffs, scorching of the body with something like an iron and knee-capping are claimed to be increasingly prevalent in the new Iraq. Now evidence is emerging that appears to substantiate those claims. Not only Iraqis make the allegations. International officials describe the methods in disgusted but hushed tones, laying them at the door of the increasingly unaccountable forces attached to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior.

The only question that remains is the level of the co-ordination of the abuse: whether Iraq is stumbling towards a policy of institutionalised torture or whether these are incidents carried out by rogue elements.

Six months ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) laid out a catalogue of alleged abuses being applied to those suspected of terrorism in Iraq and called for an independent complaints body in Iraq.

But as the insurgency has grown hotter, so too, it appears, have been the methods employed in the dirty counter-insurgency war.

To add to HRW's allegations of beatings, electric shocks, arbitrary arrest, forced confessions and detention without trial, The Observer can add its own charges These include the most brutal kinds of torture, with methods resurrected from the time of Saddam; of increasingly widespread extra-judicial executions; and of the existence of a 'ghost' network of detention facilities - in parallel with those officially acknowledged - that exist beyond all accountability to international human rights monitors, NGOs and even human rights officials of the new Iraqi government.

What is most shocking is that it is done under the noses of US and UK officials, some of whom admit that they are aware of the abuses being perpetrated by units who are diverting international funding to their dirty war.

Hassan an-Ni'ami may well have been a terrorist. Or he may have had knowledge of that terrorism. Or he may have been someone who objected too loudly to foreign troops being in Iraq. We will never know. He had no opportunity to defend himself, no lawyer, no trial. His interrogation and killing were a breach of international law.

And it is not only the case of an-Ni'ami but others too, all arrested by units of the Ministry of the Interior, many of whom were tortured and subsequently killed. Post-mortem images show a dozen or so farmers from the insurgent hotbed of Medayeen who were apparently seized by police as they slept in one of Baghdad's markets and whose bodies were discovered on a rubbish dump in shallow graves to the north of the city. Like an-Ni'ami, their bodies also bore the marks of extensive torture before execution, most with a bullet to the head.

The face of the first body is blackened by strangulation or asphyxiation. Another has bruises to his forehead where he was been hit repeatedly with something heavy. Yet another, his hands still tied with cord, has been punched in the eye and had his ankle fractured. Yet another shows signs of burning similar to an-Ni'ami's. The last two have identical puncture wounds, fist-width apart, suggesting the use of a spiked knuckle-duster.

Then there is Tahar Mohammed Suleiman al-Mashhadani, seized from the Abu Ghraib neighbourhood from early prayers outside a mosque with a number of other men, again by paramilitary police from Rapid Intrusion. When his body was found by family members in the morgue - 20 days after his arrest - he had been tortured almost beyond recognition.

These are not isolated cases. For what is extraordinary is the sense of impunity with which the torture, intimidation and murder is taking place. It is not just in Baghdad. In the majority Shia south, far from the worst ravages of the insurgency, there are also emerging reports consistent with the abuses in the capital.

If there is a centre to this horror, it is Baghdad's Ministry of the Interior, and the police commando units that operate from there.

The ministry is a strange, top-heavy building, set apart in an area of open ground off the highway. Its entrance is guarded by concrete blast-walls and endless checkpoints on the dusty road that leads to its crowded reception.

I came here almost exactly a year ago, two days after sovereignty had been handed back to Iraq's interim government. The floors were occupied by civil servants and blue-uniformed officers of the Iraqi Police Service. It was easy to wander in.

These days the ministry is a very different place. The dusty hinterland that leads to it is busy with the new paramilitary forces that most often have been accused of human rights abuses - the Rapid Intrusion brigades, most notoriously the Wolf Brigade of 'Abu Walid'. There has been no investigation or official findings over the allegations.

It was here - 12 months ago - that there was the first intimation that something was going seriously wrong. On the second day of Iraq's new government, US military police were forced to raid the Guest House to 'rescue' dozens of alleged criminals, scooped up in a sweep of the city, who were being subjected to beatings and forced confessions of their crimes.

Back then officials were happy to justify the violence - and angry at the US intervention. Criminals and terrorists expected a good beating, one official said, proud of his 100 per cent confession rate.

Now it is impossible to reach those officials as they shelter on heavily guarded floors. There are no American MPs to come to the aid of those locked in the cells.

A year ago, the worst violence was meted out in the Guest House. Now officials say the abuse happens on the seventh floor, where those suspected of terrorist connections are brought.

One of those held at the ministry for 'terrorist interrogation' is 'Zaid'. It is not his real name. Since his release, the 25-year-old Sunni from the western suburbs of Baghdad lives in fear of being brought back.

A taxi driver, the college graduate stopped his car in March to buy food in a market. When a bomb exploded nearby, he went to look at the damage. Arrested at the scene by soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard, he says he was handed over to the Ministry of the Interior.

At first, said Zaid, he was put in a room, on the seventh floor, measuring 10ft by 12ft, with 60 others. He was crammed in so tightly he could not sit. In some respects Zaid was lucky. Early in his detention, a Ministry of Justice official appeared and, furious at the conditions, demanded the men be moved. 'He said, "You can't have this many people in a room this size," so they moved us to somewhere with more air and fed us. He asked too whether there had been any beatings and some said yes.'

For his part, Zaid says he was hung by his arms, but not for so long that it caused any permanent damage. His ordeal was largely to be subjected to threats of violence as up to eight guards circled him during his interrogation. But Zaid claims he witnessed what happened to men brought from another detention facility, a barracks run by the Wolf Brigade, who were kept in the same area as Zaid until his parents paid a hefty bribe for his release.

'I saw men from Samarra [another insurgent stronghold] and from Medayeen. Some appeared to have wounds to their legs,' he recalled. 'There were others who could not use their spoon properly. They had to hold it between their palms and move their heads to the spoon.'

His month in the ministry terrified Zaid. If the police came again for him, he said, he would rather throw himself off a balcony than go back. Zaid is not the first detainee to accuse the police of taking bribes for the release of prisoners. It is a common charge, as are descriptions of prisoners being brought from other, less accountable, interrogation facilities where the worst of the violence is taking place.

What is most important about Zaid's testimony is that it makes clear a link exists between the Ministry of Interior and the torture being conducted out of sight at other centres. Iraqi and international officials named several of these centres, including al-Hadoud prison in the Kharkh district of Baghdad.

A second torture centre is said to be located in the basement of a clinic in the Shoula district, while the Wolf Brigade is accused of running its own interrogation centre - said to be one of the worst - at its Nissor Square headquarters. Other places where abusive interrogations have been alleged include al-Muthana airbase and the old National Security headquarters.

'Abu Ali', a 30-year-old Sunni scooped up in a mosque raid in central Baghdad, was taken to the latter for a week in mid-May where he says he was beaten on his feet, subjected to hanging by his arms and, when he angered his guards by refusing to confess, threatened with being sat on 'the bottle' - being anally penetrated.

It is not just in Baghdad. Credible reports exist of Arab prisoners in Kirkuk being moved to secret detention facilities in Kurdistan, while other centres are alleged in Samarra, in the Holy Cities and in Basra in the south.

'There are places we can get to and know about,' said one Iraqi official. 'But there are dozens of other places we know about where there is no access at all.'

'It is impossible to keep track of detentions, and what is happening to people when they are taken away,' complained one foreign official involved in trying to building Iraq's respect for human rights.

'On top of that we have a whole culture that is permitting torture. The impression is the judiciary are simply not interested in responding to the issue of human rights. It is depressing.'

But it is not simply the issue of keeping track of where detainees are being taken that is a problem. Accountability has also become more opaque since the formation of the Shia-dominated government of Ibrahim Jaffari with ministers and senior officials at the Ministry of the Interior refusing to meet concerned international organisations including Human Rights Watch.

'We have been trying to break through to someone responsible to express our concerns,' said another international official.

'But it is impossible to meet the people we really need to see. What is so worrying is that allegations concerning the use of drills and irons during torture just keep coming back. And we have seen precisely the same evidence of torture on bodies that have turned up after they have been arrested. There is a dirty counter-insurgency war, led on the anti-insurgency side by groups responsible to different leaders. People are not appearing in court. Instead, what is happening to them is totally arbitrary.'

There is a significance to all this that goes beyond the everyday horror of today's Iraq. In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussein's regime became more important as a subsidiary case for war.

It has been a theme that has been constantly reiterated: it was horrific then, and it is better now. The second may still just be true. In many aspects there may be some improvement, but the trajectory of Iraq now on human rights is in danger of undermining that last plank of justification.

True, there is a question of scale of the abuses. What is also different from Saddam's era is that Iraq is now host to multinational troops, to huge UK and US missions, and is a substantial recipient of foreign aid, including British and EU funds.

British and US police and military officials act as advisers to Iraq's security forces. Foreign troops support Iraqi policing missions. What is extraordinary is that despite the increasingly widespread evidence of torture, governments have remained silent. It is all the more extraordinary on the British side, as embassy officials have been briefed by senior Iraqi officials over the allegations on a number of occasions and individual cases of abuse have been raised with British diplomats.

In Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights, close to the Communications Tower and the location of one of the secret interrogation centres, they were marking the international day for the victims of torture. As officials gathered for chocolate cake and cola under posters that read 'Non to torture', some senior officials are in no doubt that torture in their country is again getting worse.

The deputy minister, Aida Ussayran, is a life-long human rights activist who returned from exile in Britain to take up this post. She concedes that abuses by Iraq's security forces have been getting worse even as her ministry has been trying to re-educate the Iraqi police and army to respect detainee rights.

'As you know, for a long time Iraq was a mass grave for human rights,' she says. 'The challenge is that many people who committed these abuses are still there and there is a culture of abuse in the security forces and police - even the army - that needs to be addressed. I do not have a magic solution, but what I can do is to remind people that this kind of behaviour is what creates terrorists.'

There is a sense of frustration too in the Ministry of Human Rights, for even as the security forces rapidly increase in size, the ministry tasked with checking abuses has only 24 monitors to pursue cases, at a time when officials believe it needs hundreds to keep Iraq's police and army effectively in check.

If Ussayran is robust about her country's problems with human rights abuses, others are convinced that, far from being the acts of rogue units, the abuse is being committed at the behest of the ministry itself - or at least senior officials within it.

'There are people in the ministry who want to use these means,' said one. 'It is in their ideology. It is their strategy. They do not understand anything else. They believe that human rights and the Convention against Torture are stupid.'

Comment: To our American readers, happy 4th of July. You might spend the day mulling over how long it'll be before you're kids are sent off to one of these new camps.

The article attempts to paint a brave face by saying that the situation is better today than it was under Saddam, however, it is clear that the situation is deteriorating. The occupation forces are already responsible for more deaths than Saddam according to the recent Tribunal on Iraq.

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"A Different Republic, a Liberated Republic"
Dylan's America
By GREG MOSES

[...] For Dylan himself, the Civil War was also a battle between two kinds of time: "In the South, people lived their lives with sun-up, high noon, sunset, spring, summer. In the North people lived by the clock. The factory stroke, whistles and bells." It must have been a Southerner who coined the term "New York minute" to describe the Northern kind of time -- yes the kind of time that forges capital into imperialism, post-colonialism, and oh-so-helpless-hand-wringing-witness to Jim Crow or Abu Ghraib, whichever.

"After a while," says Dylan, "you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course." And the archetype for this sort of story is found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. "Back there, America was put on the cross, died, and was resurrected. There was nothing synthetic about it. The god-awful truth of that would be the all-encompassing template behind everything that I would write."

Resurrection without synthesis. Crucifixion upon the cross of the Fourth of July. This is the underlying song of the great American folksinger. Why he must die in his shoes.

"In American history class," recalls Dylan, "we were taught that commies couldn't destroy America with guns or bombs alone, that they would have to destroy the Constitution -- the document that this country was founded upon. It didn't make any difference though. When the drill sirens went off, you had to lay under your desk facedown, not a muscle quivering and not make any noise."

"Living under a cloud of fear like this robs a child of his spirit," says the author of Masters of War. "It's one thing to be afraid when someone's holding a shotgun on you, but it's another thing to be afraid of something that's just not quite real. There were a lot of folks around who took this threat seriously, though, and it rubbed off on you. It was easy to become a victim of their strange fantasy."

[...]

Comment: Fear. They rule by fear, and 9/11 was the massive electro-shock to the American body public necessary to instill that fear, to remind the American public that even though the Red Menace had vanished, evil was everywhere. Be afraid, be very afraid.

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The New World Order

Tony Judt | July 14 Issue
New York Review of Books

Comments by By Sean Pau

NYRB - Those of us who opposed America's invasion of Iraq from the outset can take no comfort from its catastrophic consequences. On the contrary: we should now be asking ourselves some decidedly uncomfortable questions. The first concerns the propriety of "preventive" military intervention. If the Iraq war is wrong—"the wrong war at the wrong time"—why, then, was the 1999 US-led war on Serbia right? That war, after all, also lacked the imprimatur of UN Security Council approval. It too was an unauthorized and uninvited attack on a sovereign state—undertaken on "preventive" grounds—that caused many civilian casualties and aroused bitter resentment against the Americans who carried it out.

By Sean Paul in USA: Foreign Relations on Sun Jul 3rd, 2005 at 10:01:33 AM PDT

Judt writes:

Among democracies, only in America do soldiers and other uniformed servicemen figure ubiquitously in political photo ops and popular movies. Only in America do civilians eagerly buy expensive military service vehicles for suburban shopping runs. In a country no longer supreme in most other fields of human endeavor, war and warriors have become the last, enduring symbols of American dominance and the American way of life. "In war, it seemed," writes Bacevich, "lay America's true comparative advantage."

And this leads us to a perilous time in our history, one I do not think enough people take seriously. Too many people in America are a-historical. It seems to me they think that we are immune to history's worst impulses. But we are not, as Judt notes:

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially—brutally, contemptuously, illegally—abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country's political class have failed. Congress appears helpless to impede the concentration of power in the executive branch; indeed, with few exceptions it has contributed actively and even enthusiastically to the process.

One of the most serious problems is that the opposition in this country is almost too loyal, as Judt notes: "The "loyal opposition" is altogether too loyal. Indeed there seems little to be hoped from the Democratic Party. Terrified to be accused of transgressing the consensus on "order" and "security," its leaders now strive to emulate and even outdo Republicans in their aggressive stances."

This is why I am always beating the table on this, urging the Democrats to stand up and fight the Republicans just as nastily and dirtily as they fight against us. Of course, this is too 'frat boyish' for some people. Fine. But politics is a rough business.

And if you think the media is going to help, well, just read this. Howard Dean, the original angry man. But how about Tom DeLay and the outrageous things he says? What about some of the other thugs in the Republican Party?

But I digress.

Our fascination with all things military in this country will lead only to grief. Of that I am convinced. But what worries me more is how oblivious we are to international opinion, for example, authoritarian China is now viewed more favorably than the United States. How did this come to pass? More importantly, where does it lead:

The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerability of their republic. It would not occur to most of them even to contemplate the possibility that their country might fall into the hands of a meretricious oligarchy; that, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, their political "system is fundamentally corrupt and functions in ways inconsistent with the spirit of genuine democracy." But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.

Judt saves the best for last. And I think Judt should be applauded for saying what needs to be said:

For there is a precedent in modern Western history for a country whose leader exploits national humiliation and fear to restrict public freedoms; for a government that makes permanent war as a tool of state policy and arranges for the torture of its political enemies; for a ruling class that pursues divisive social goals under the guise of national "values"; for a culture that asserts its unique destiny and superiority and that worships military prowess; for a political system in which the dominant party manipulates procedural rules and threatens to change the law in order to get its own way; where journalists are intimidated into confessing their errors and made to do public penance. Europeans in particular have experienced such a regime in the recent past and they have a word for it. That word is not "democracy."

I can already hear some people say, "Judt's rhetoric goes to far." Whatever, because if you think our Republic is guaranteed to last throughout your lifetime, think again. People, there are no guarantees or insurance policies on this. And if they shove a radical winger Justice down our gullets, well, you know. Speaking of justices, here's the really scary part: what if Gonzales gets confirmed? Imagine it.

Yeah, I thought so.

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The American Dream in Denmark
Xymphora
Sunday, July 03, 2005
In honor of Independence Day, let us consider the American Dream, the idea that through intelligence and hard work you can move up from the social class of your parents. It still exists . . . in Scandinavia and Canada. From the Ottawa Citizen:

"Turns out, the American dream is playing out more strikingly north of the 49th parallel, says Canadian economist Miles Corak, editor of a recent book exploring generational mobility in Europe and North America."

and:

"'The U.S. dream is probably more relevant here than it is the U.S.,' Corak said.

Among rich countries studied, Corak said, Canada ranked with Denmark, Norway and Finland at the top of the pack in terms of intergenerational mobility. The U.S., the United Kingdom and France are the least mobile."

It must pain the 'wingers to think that their cherished mythology of the infinite possibilities of American upward mobility now only exists in lands controlled by gay commies. The article gives the specifics:

". . . one-fifth of the income advantage is inherited across generations in Canada. In the U.S. and the U.K., almost one-half is inherited.

Corak also cites U.S. research showing that almost one-half of children born to low-income parents become low-income adults, which means they fall in the bottom 25 per cent of income distribution. In the U.K, the tally is 40 per cent.

Children in high-income families, about four in 10, tend to become high-income adults in the U.S. and U.K., he said.

By contrast, there is significantly more movement between generations in Canada.

Corak says studies show that for every 100 people born at the bottom rung, one-third end up at the bottom, and almost one-fifth end up at the top.

For every 100 people born at the top in Canada, only one-third remain at the top."

The death of the American Dream in America has been rather quietly noted in the American press. It is entirely a matter of tax policy and government investment in access to education. Jon Talton of the Arizona Republic gets it:

"In magisterial work for the New York Times, reporter David Cay Johnston has documented the rise of the hyper-rich, the top 0.1 percent of income earners. These 145,000 people are leaving everyone else far behind, even those who would be considered wealthy. From 1980 to 2002, the latest year where data are available, the share of total income earned by the hyper-rich more than doubled. That earned by the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers declined.

Johnston's research also makes it clear that the new nobility was the chief beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts. Those helped create a deficit that will, we are told, force cuts to Social Security and college aid, among other programs.

Speaking of college aid, Jackson watchers also probably missed news that the federal government has changed the rules for Pell Grants. That, combined with declining state support for universities, will keep a record number of Americans from getting a college education.

These facts show some of the reasons the Wall Street Journal recently looked at the data and concluded that upward economic mobility has largely stalled in the United States. This historic ability to get ahead through hard work is the 'American dream.'"

The United States became the world's most wealthy nation through years of prudent reinvestment in its human capital. Since Reagan - and clearly accelerating under Bush - it has been clear American public policy to squander its advantages through ruinous tax cuts and a reduction in social spending. How does this play out in the real world? Toyota recently passed up significantly higher subsidies offered by southern American states to build a car plant in the Ontario town of Woodstock. Why?:

"'The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States,' said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, whose members will see increased business with the new plant."

and (my emphasis in bold; you have to laugh):

"Several U.S. states were reportedly prepared to offer more than double that amount of subsidy. But Fedchun said much of that extra money would have been eaten away by higher training costs than are necessary for the Woodstock project.

He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use 'pictorials' to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

'The educational level and the skill level of the people down there is so much lower than it is in Ontario,' Fedchun said.

In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson."

The knuckle-dragging hillbillies need 'pictorials'. These are the people Bush refers to as his 'base'. I could frankly care less about the stupidities of American public policy, except for the fact that it serves as such a bad influence in the rest of the world. In Canada, the 'wingers constantly use the example of American policy as the right example for Canada. The U. S. doesn't tax its rich people so Canada shouldn't. The U. S. doesn't have a functioning health care system so Canada shouldn't. The U. S. doesn't provide access to proper education for poor people so Canada shouldn't. This race to the bottom, leaving everybody poor except for a tiny hyper-rich plutocracy, is just plain stupid. The plutocrats wouldn't even go along with it except for the fact that they have found, through the miracle of 'free trade', that they don't need American economic prosperity to be rich. They can find their workers, and their consumers, elsewhere. Now that American public policy is actually costing Americans money and jobs, do you think they will grow some brains and go back to the old policies that made the United States the wealthiest country in the world? No chance! Happy Independence Day!

Comment: Unfortunately, once the myth is in place, it takes a lot for it to be displaced and replaced by another. Once the system is stable, it needs a lot of energy to induce the chaos necessary for a change of state. That energy is coming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy, but as perceptions lag behind the reality, a people need to be smacked hard in the face to see what is literally before their eyes. It's on its way.

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The Rove Factor?

Time magazine talked to Bush's guru for Plame story
By Michael Isikoff
Newsweek

July 11 issue - Its legal appeals exhausted, Time magazine agreed last week to turn over reporter Matthew Cooper's e-mails and computer notes to a special prosecutor investigating the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity. The case has been the subject of press controversy for two years. Saying "we are not above the law," Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine decided to comply with a grand-jury subpoena to turn over documents related to the leak. But Cooper (and a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller) is still refusing to testify and faces jail this week.

At issue is the story of a CIA-sponsored trip taken by former ambassador (and White House critic) Joseph Wilson to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. "Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews... that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," said Cooper's July 2003 Time online article.

Now the story may be about to take another turn. The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House. Cooper and a Time spokeswoman declined to comment. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove had been interviewed by Cooper for the article. It is unclear, however, what passed between Cooper and Rove.

The controversy began three days before the Time piece appeared, when columnist Robert Novak, writing about Wilson's trip, reported that Wilson had been sent at the suggestion of his wife, who was identified by name as a CIA operative. The leak to Novak, apparently intended to discredit Wilson's mission, caused a furor when it turned out that Plame was an undercover agent. It is a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA official. A special prosecutor was appointed and began subpoenaing reporters to find the source of the leak.

Novak appears to have made some kind of arrangement with the special prosecutor, and other journalists who reported on the Plame story have talked to prosecutors with the permission of their sources. Cooper agreed to discuss his contact with Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, after Libby gave him permission to do so. But Cooper drew the line when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked about other sources.

Initially, Fitzgerald's focus was on Novak's sourcing, since Novak was the first to out Plame. But according to Luskin, Rove's lawyer, Rove spoke to Cooper three or four days before Novak's column appeared. Luskin told NEWSWEEK that Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information" and that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Luskin declined, however, to discuss any other details. He did say that Rove himself had testified before the grand jury "two or three times" and signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him. "He has answered every question that has been put to him about his conversations with Cooper and anybody else," Luskin said. But one of the two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House told NEWSWEEK that there was growing "concern" in the White House that the prosecutor is interested in Rove. Fitzgerald declined to comment.

In early October 2003, NEWSWEEK reported that immediately after Novak's column appeared in July, Rove called MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and told him that Wilson's wife was "fair game." But White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters at the time that any suggestion that Rove had played a role in outing Plame was "totally ridiculous." On Oct. 10, McClellan was asked directly if Rove and two other White House aides had ever discussed Valerie Plame with any reporters. McClellan said he had spoken with all three, and "those individuals assured me they were not involved in this."

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Last Throes of the Lying Charlatans?

Quagmire of the Vanities
By BRIAN CLOUGHLEY
July 4, 2005

"It depends", said Bill Clinton, "on what the meaning of 'is' is" ; and he was promptly pilloried by scandalized commentators and shocked - shocked - legislators whose morals and motives were of course impeccable. But there is curious silence on the part of these paragons of semantics and virtue now that there is disagreement about the meaning of words used by two pathetic crackpots who occupy posts in the present US administration.

Washington's charlatan-in-chief, Cheney, has boasted he stands by his statement that Iraq's insurgents are in "their last throes", because it all depends on what the meaning of 'throes' is. He decided to order some deep thinking, and his researchers told him to say "If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period".

The vain and arrogant draft-dodging Cheney should know all about that. When the war in Vietnam was in its last throes, and he was obtaining deferment after deferment because he said he had "other priorities", the conflict was indeed violent. And the violence ended when the US was forced out of the country.

It is obvious that when Cheney first used the phrase "last throes" he was convinced the insurgents were in their final shuddering spasms before collapsing. He meant he was sure that the insurgents were indulging in last desperate efforts and that the débâcle would soon end in victory for the Washington warmongers. And if there were a few hundred more US troops killed in the process that wouldn't matter because, in the words of Bush, the "Mission Accomplished" president, "I'm not giving up on the mission. We're doing the right thing."

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on June 23, General John Abizaid, commander Central Command, didn't seem too keen on Cheney's smart comment. He admitted there are just as many insurgents now as there were six months ago, but when asked if they were in their "last throes" he could say only that "There's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency . . . . I'm sure you'll forgive me from criticizing the vice president." I'm not sure what that means except for one thing : if he had agreed with Cheney that the insurgency was in its last throes, he would have said so in a very loud voice. But he lacked the moral courage to answer the question.

Then there is the matter of the word 'quagmire' that so excites Rumsfeld. Webster defines 'quagmire' quite simply : "Marshy ground that gives way under the foot; a difficult situation". Oxford says it's "A hazardous or awkward situation." The sense comes through. Quagmires are nasty.

In his anxiety to portray Iraq as a non-quagmire the equally vain and foolish Rumsfeld told the Committee that the insurgents "in recent months have suffered significant losses and casualties, been denied havens and suffered weakened popular support." Nobody pointed out that in recent months US occupation troops "have suffered significant losses and casualties, been denied havens and suffered weakened popular support." In March to May there were 168 American soldiers killed and 534 wounded in Iraq. But it isn't a quagmire, of course.

Senator Ted Kennedy asked a question about quagmires and "Rumsfeld, flanked by top US commanders, responded : 'First let me say that there isn't a person at this table who agrees with you that we're in a quagmire and that there's no end in sight'." So there must, conversely, actually be an end in sight to the counter-insurgency war.

Let's think back to 1967, to the quagmire in Vietnam. The US embassy in Saigon held a New Year's party to welcome 1968. The invitation read "Come see the light at the end of the tunnel". Exactly a month later, on the night of January 31, 1968, 19 Vietnamese guerrillas arrived at the embassy and blew their way in to its compound, killing four US soldiers. The Tet offensive had begun. And on February 6 Art Buchwald's column read :

"Dateline: Little Big Horn, Dakota. General George Armstrong Custer said today in an exclusive interview with this correspondent that the Battle of Little Big Horn had just turned the corner and he could now see light at the end of the tunnel. "We have the Sioux on the run", General Custer told me. "Of course we'll have some cleaning up to do, but the Redskins are hurting badly and it will only be a matter of time before they give in."

The Senate hearing was on Thursday June 23, and the world was told by Rumsfeld that there is an end in sight to his war in Iraq. But on June 26, on Fox News Sunday, Rumsfeld said "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, ten, twelve years". So what happened in Cheney-Bush Washington between Thursday and Sunday?

One of the things that happened was a decision that Rumsfeld should get himself on the Sunday news shows to try to make up for his stumbling and embarrassing performance in front of the Committee. But his pathetic attempts to achieve credibility fell flat.

NBC's Tim Russert showed Rumsfeld a video clip of Cheney's silly claim that the US invaders would be "greeted as liberators" and was asked "Do you think this was a misjudgment?" There is only one honest answer to that question, because it was one of the most foolish misjudgments of the many made by the Cheney-Bush administration. But of course Rumsfeld couldn't give an honest answer. He got himself in deeper by avoiding the question and then claiming he had given Bush "a list of about 15 things that could go terribly, terribly wrong before the war started."

Rumsfeld declared that "oil fields could have been set aflame like they were in Kuwait, [and] we could have had mass refugees and dislocations and it didn't happen. The bridges could have been blown up. There could have been a fortress Baghdad where the moat around it with oil in it and people fighting to the death. So a great many of the bad things that could have happened did not happen." Certainly, "a great many of the bad things" didn't happen before the invasion. They happened later, as a direct result of the triumphal mindset and unthinking brutality of the conquerors.

There was no moat of oil around Baghdad. That was a ludicrous prediction. But as to the other main warnings Rumsfeld says he gave, it appears he doesn't read newspapers. It was his air force that destroyed bridges, and there have been scores of oil pipeline fires caused by guerrilla attacks since Iraq was "liberated".

Pipelines are much less risky to target than oil wells, as anyone could have told Rumsfeld if he had not been so vain and smug as to reject advice about his war. Such attacks have several effects : they deny oil, and thus national income ; the threat of interference ties up security forces ; and they demonstrate the impotence of occupation forces and the make-believe government in Baghdad. The day before Rumsfeld's talking parrot performances it was reported that guerrillas had blown up two pipelines : one in the far north, from Kirkuk to Turkey, and the other in the south, along the line from Basra to Baghdad. But Rumsfeld said Sunday that "solid progress is being made . . . economic progress is being made . . ." He must imagine that building more US prisons and military bases all over the country can be called economic progress.

Rumsfeld's alleged warning to Bush about refugees and relocations was not relevant at the time of their invasion. These disasters took place afterwards. Has he heard of Fallujah? It was his merry men who took Nazi-style reprisals on the city and reduced much of it to rubble, creating hatred of America that will last for generations. Rumsfeld doesn't want the world to know the extent of the destruction wrought by his merciless blitzes, but the State Department has revealed officially that "about 90,000 of Fallujah's 300,000 residents have recently returned to the city".

Where are the rest? -- They are despairing, bewildered, poverty-stricken, helpless, tent-dwelling refugees who have to be fed, after a fashion, by the UN and other charitable refugees' organizations. They are examples of Rumsfeld's "solid progress."

And in the north there is massive "relocation" taking place, because the Kurds are forcing out the Arab population at gunpoint, and US forces are doing nothing about it. They couldn't do anything even if they wanted to. They don't understand the problem and they haven't got the expertise or troop numbers to even begin to moderate the ethnic cleansing and slaughter that are taking place. "Solid progress"?

Then there was Rumsfeld's amazing nonsense about the full scale insurgency that has taken thousands of lives. Tim Russert wanted to know if the vain and arrogant secretary of defense had foreseen this, so asked him "Was a robust insurgency on your list that you gave the president?"

That was a very good question. In old-fashioned British military parlance (and to quote Evelyn Waugh), it was a 'swift one'. If Rumsfeld had told the truth and said "No", there would have been melt-down. If he had answered "Yes", he would have looked even more stupid. So he tap-danced round the point and said "I don't remember whether that was on there, but certainly it was discussed the possibility that you could have dead-enders who would fight."

It may be credible to some that the US secretary of defense does not remember if there was a factor as vital as post-invasion insurgency on the list of 15 likely problems he says he gave to his president. On the other hand, you could conclude that Rumsfeld is a liar.

Rumsfeld's tactics are eerily reminiscent of the Nixon era -- "Just say you don't remember". In fact the writer George Higgins summed up the Nixon presidency and was unknowingly prescient about the Cheney-Bush administration when he wrote in the Atlantic of November 1974 that "The Nixon School of Lying was erected on the premise that people will hear what they want to hear, and all you have to do is give them something." Last Sunday Rumsfeld gave the people of the United States of America the same sort of mendacious twaddle that Nixon and his people dished out about Watergate.

Rumsfeld said he didn't remember if he had mentioned the biggest single problem facing any military occupation force : the likelihood of an uprising by people who don't like their country being occupied and who do not take kindly to swaggering bullies blowing down their doors in the middle of the night, stealing their savings, humiliating men, terrifying women, torturing captives and in general behaving as barbarians. The army and marines acted and continue to act like a tribe of video-game hi-tech savages. Their conduct is a direct result of lack of training that was caused by lack of planning.

And the lack of planning was the direct result of inaction on the part of a vain, naïve and foolish man : Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. He thought he knew it all. He thought he was infallible. Perfection personified in a priggish buffoon. But at the Senate hearing he was taken down a well-deserved peg by Senator Byrd who said "Mr. Secretary, I've watched you with a considerable amount of amusement . . . I don't think I've ever heard a secretary of defense who likes to lecture the committee as much as you. You may not like our questions, but we represent the people . . . We ask the questions that the people ask of us whether you like it or not . . . The problem is we didn't ask enough questions at the beginning of this war that we got into, Mr. Bush's war . . . I don't mean to be discourteous [but] I've just heard enough of your smart answers to these people here who are elected . . . So get off your high horse when you come up here." Rumsfeld could not summon up a reply. (This splendid piece of ego-deflation was not a feature in the main newspapers or any TV reportage.)

Rumsfeld might have been shaken by such a well-merited rebuke from someone whose boots he is not fit to polish, and his dumbfounded reaction certainly indicates this possibility. But he is so absurdly convinced of his righteousness that he and his soul-mate Cheney cannot understand that anyone who disagrees with them might actually have a reasonable point to make.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush are so arrogant, ignorant and vain that they imagine they can never fail. But they have failed disastrously and in the course of their reckless self-deception they have disgraced their country. There is small comfort in the fact that hubris leads to nemesis, because countless human beings have been sacrificed to their bumptious pride. They don't yet realize it, but they are in the quagmire of their vanities.

Brian Cloughley writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com

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US air strike 'killed 17 Afghans'
BBC

The air strike by US forces in eastern Afghanistan last week killed 17 civilians including women and children, a provincial governor has said.

US planes had bombed Chechal village as part of a search for four missing US special forces servicemen.

Assadullah Wafa, governor of Konar province, said the bombing was a "mistake" and called for a US inquiry.

One of the missing US soldiers has been found safe and the search is continuing for the other three.

A US helicopter that was sent to look for the missing men was shot down by suspected Taleban militants, killing 16 US soldiers.

Mr Wafa told the BBC he thought the air strike on the village was not intentional, but said: "We would ask for an answer from the American military."

He said US planes were still flying in the area but there was no further bombing. He could not give more details on the civilian casualties.

A US military spokesman said of the bombing: "We don't have any information on that but we are still assessing the situation."

At the weekend US military sources said some civilians may have been killed in the raid. [...]

The downing of the helicopter was the biggest single US combat-related loss of life in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taleban government in late 2001. [...]

US officials said it had been a "lucky shot" by the suspected Taleban fighters that brought down the helicopter.

Escalating violence in southern and eastern Afghanistan has seen some 500 people killed in recent weeks, mainly suspected militants.

The US has sent additional troops to Konar as part of a new operation - Operation Flier - against militants in the region, ahead of parliamentary elections due in September.

Comment: US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq sounds more and more like Israeli policy in the occupied territories: when "they" get one of "ours", go in for massive reprisals. Holding a community responsible for the behaviour of individuals is against international law, but then, when have the US and Israel ever been concerned about the rule of law when they are sitting in the chair of the accused. How much better when they are judge, jury, and executioner.

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Bush says: I put US interests first
Tania Branigan, Luke Harding and Owen Gibson
Monday July 4, 2005
The Guardian

George Bush sounds a warning today to those hoping for a significant deal on Africa and climate change at Wednesday's G8 summit, making clear that when he arrives at Gleneagles he will dedicate his efforts to putting America's interests first.

The president will adopt a stance starkly at odds with the idealism professed by the performers at Saturday's Live 8 concerts around the world and their television audience of 2 billion.

"I go to the G8 not really trying to make [Tony Blair] look bad or good; but I go to the G8 with an agenda that I think is best for our country."

Further difficulties for the G8 negotiations came as Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, expressed opposition to Britain's plans to double aid over the next five years.

Berlin is refusing to increase its aid budget for Africa from €1.8bn (£1.2bn) a year to €2.4bn - as Mr Blair hoped - and has expressed scepticism over a proposed tax on air tickets to be earmarked for aid.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Let's be judged on the outcome of G8 rather than anything which happens beforehand. We are still making progress."

Jacques Chirac, the French president, sounded a slightly more promising note yesterday by saying G8 leaders were "heading towards" an agreement on climate change after a meeting with Mr Schröder and Vladimir Putin in Svetlogorsk, Russia. He did not, however, say what the deal was.

Bob Geldof, the Live 8 organiser, and stars including Sir Paul McCartney, have urged the 205,000 who attended the concert in Hyde Park, London, to step up the pressure by attending the mass demonstration in Edinburgh on Wednesday. "For God's sake, take this seriously. Don't behave normally. Don't look for compromises. Be great," they said, in a message to G8 leaders. They declared the concerts, which took place in every G8 country, an unqualified success.

Gordon Brown described Live 8 supporters and the 250,000 Make Poverty History campaigners who marched through Edinburgh as "Britain at its best" yesterday, telling the BBC they were proof that people could have power if they made their views felt.

In an interview for ITV1's Tonight With Trevor McDonald, recorded last week and to be screened this evening, Mr Bush accepted that climate change is "a significant, long-term issue that we've got to deal with" and is man-made "to a certain extent". But asked if other countries can expect US support for a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions, he replied: "If this looks like Kyoto, the answer is no. [Kyoto] would have destroyed our economy."

He sought to focus on clean technologies instead.

Guy Thompson of the Green Alliance described it as a rebuff to meaningful action on climate change, while Catherine Pearce of Friends of the Earth International said: "As much as we want to see [a deal] happening, it is clear that the US just isn't moving."

Asked if he would make a special effort to help Mr Blair in return for his support over Iraq, Mr Bush replied: "I really don't view our relationship as one of quid pro quo.

"Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for keeping the peace and winning the war on terror, as I did."

Mr Bush also said that the rich world had an "obligation" to make trade fairer, but made it clear he would not slash farming subsidies unless the European Union did the same.

He said America was "leading the world when it comes to helping Africa", despite the fact that it gives only 0.2% of its GDP in overseas aid - well below the UN's 0.7% target.

Oxfam said the development deals agreed to date fell well short of what was required.

"Given the events of this weekend, there are millions of people expecting G8 to come up with something extraordinary, and this isn't it," said Oxfam's Max Lawson.

With British-German relations at an all-time low after the failed EU budget summit, there is little incentive for a wounded Mr Schröder to support the prime minister next week. His officials blame Mr Blair for wrecking the budget deal and accuse him of exploiting the summit to improve his public image at home.

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Egypt plea for seized ambassador
BBC

Egypt has appealed to the kidnappers of its ambassador in Iraq to treat him well and view him as an Arab patriot.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt was working with Iraqi officials to secure the release of Ihab al-Sherif who was seized in Baghdad on Saturday.

He said he understood the "fury" of the Iraqi people, but stressed that Mr Sherif "is working for the benefit of the Iraqi and the Egyptian people".

Mr Sherif arrived in Iraq as Egypt's top diplomat only five weeks ago.

He was subsequently designated ambassador, making Egypt the first Arab country to upgrade ties with Iraq.

The move was praised by Iraq's foreign minister last week.

But Egypt's decision may have angered the kidnappers, says the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo.

The US has been encouraging Arab countries to appoint ambassadors to Baghdad in an attempt to strengthen the new state and undermine the insurgency.

Many withdrew their ambassadors from Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

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Basilisks in Our Midst: Kings of Serpents
By WILLIAM A. COOK
July 4, 2005

"He does not impel his body, like other serpents, by a multiplied flexion, but advances lofty and upright. He kills the shrubs, not only by contact but by breathing on them, and splits the rocks, such power of evil is there in him."

Pliny describing the Basilisk

Our post-modern world neglects the wisdom of the ancients, wisdom dressed in horrific images of crowned serpents, the Basilisks, or Bucentaur's, monsters half man and half Ox, or Chimera's, monsters with a lion's head, the body of a goat and tail of a dragon, images of human duality, reflecting the bestial, evil nature that pulses in our veins. But these monsters strut our modern stage, "lofty and upright," leaders of the "free" world extolling their own virtues to a cowed world and an obsequious press.

Consider our swaggering Basilisk as he admonished Putin to acknowledge "Russia's domination of Central and Eastern Europe," following WWII, "and its harsh occupation of the Baltic countries" when he spoke before the people of Latvia not a month ago. Consider as well how Putin held the mirror up to our crowned serpent, thus turning his venom on himself, as he acidly commented on "60 Minutes" that Bush should question his own democratic ways before looking for problems with Russia's. Why learn from the beast that occupies Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine today to express sorrow for actions taken by the beast that ran Russia years ago? What hypocrisy. Why listen to evil incarnate that treacherously lied to America and the world, feigns ignorance of the memo that describes his duplicity made public in the UK this very month, and publicly prances across Europe proclaiming his beneficence as he brings democracy, freedom and liberty to the mid-east. What hypocrisy.

What democracy exists in Afghanistan when the installed president is a former employee of our CIA, held in place by props supported by the master puppet in Washington, doomed to an early death should he irritate the Basilisk who need only breathe upon him to destroy him? What freedom flows from Bush's beneficence for the residents of Rafah or Fallujah; have they freedom of movement, of assembly, of religion? What liberties do the citizens of the West Bank, of Gaza, of Afghanistan or Iraq possess? Are they free of arbitrary control? Does the Wall free them or imprison them, captives in their own land? What hypocrisy. Yet our mainstream press and our clear channel radio stations bless this hypocrisy by sanctimoniously regurgitating his mantra as though it were the voice of God.

Mark how righteous our leader and his minions became when Senator Durbin brought to light the truth about torture, Bush style. How can a Senator cast aspirtions on America's gallant military giving comfort and aid to the enemy despite the accuracy of the disclosure; attack the credibility and patriotism of the messenger, not the accuracy or truth of the source. Mount this attack in every sector of mainstream media lest the people have to grapple with the reality that our administration defies the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture. What hypocrisy.

Consider now the waddling Ox that admonished the people at Birkenau recently "to remember that the world stood silent while six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis." Listen as this Bucentaur bellows before the assembled thousands that they must "remember the victims and never forget the murderers. Don't forget how millions of Jews were marched to their deaths while the world stood silent how the borders were closed and the Jews were herded again behind barbed-wire fences into detention camps. How so many perished." Indeed, the world should not forget, nor should the world remain silent when this same scene slides stealthily past the guard posts and roadblocks of the IOF that stand like twin towers at the gates that incarcerate the Palestinians behind this new "barbed wire fence" that keeps them "herded" like cattle in new "detention camps," "victims" guarded now by a new army, "not the German SS lusting for murder," but Israeli IOF that systematically shoot innocent children directly in the head, execution style ("The New York Times Minimizes Palestinian Deaths," Alison Weir, 4/25/05).

Indeed, we should remember the humiliation and devastation and deprivation of the Jews because no people deserve such inhumane treatment, no people. For that very reason we must remember, as Sharon so ironically commands us, the plight of the Palestinians noting as we do that he oversees a regime that denies them, the indigenous people, the land that sustained them for centuries; that he prevents humanitarian aid from reaching them even though they suffer malnutrition and disease; that he controls the erection of a heinous wall that curls like a giant snake through the ancient fields and valleys imprisoning fathers, mothers, and children like cattle; that he orchestrates the execution of his perceived enemies denying them the basic rights of people living in a civilized state, the due process of law; that he terrorizes innocent people hurling missiles from F-16s and Apache helicopters as he searches out those he would slaughter; that he demolishes homes indiscriminately forcing thousands into the streets; that he controls the lives of millions keeping them in poverty, killing thousands, wounding thousands more; but he does not ask the world to remember this genocide! No, he would rather employ a PR firm to "make over" the Israeli image. It must be, as Haaretz states, a "rebranding" of Israel so that the focus on its humiliation and destruction of the Palestinians can be forgotten (Haaretz, justice-freedom@earthlink.net, 8/5/05). How easily the Bucentaur memory forgets what it has told the world it must never forget.

This is the monster, grown fat and unmerciful with years of savagery on civilians in Lebanon and Palestine, who refuses to accept an invitation by Putin to an international conference on peace in the near east insisting that "the "Hebrew State" is against any international interference in the conflict with the Palestinians and it is indicated that only the USA can intervene with Jerusalem's agreement." (Guysen: Israel News 4/28/05); who controls the press in Israel and America so thoroughly that the New York Times, reporting Israeli deaths three times more than Palestinian deaths as standard practice, has remained moot on the 29 Palestinian children killed in March of this year, children "targeted in the head, neck, and chest," a representative sample of all children killed ("The Perversions of Daniel Okrent," Alison Weir, 4/25/05). This is the monster who prevents the world's community of nations from acting, as it has in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Somalia to name a few, to ensure humane treatment of occupied and oppressed peoples; this is the monster who would have the world remember the Israeli peoples' suffering but prevents the world from seeing or knowing about the suffering of the Palestinian people. What hypocrisy.

Now consider our third monster, the Chimera, who swaggers before his glass pulpit on scarlet Berber carpet, surrounded by rapt laity in his church of commerce in San Antonio, the Cornerstone Church, his lion mouth, blessed by the Beast, roaring against the Quran, icon of infidels. The first of the seven-headed beast to speak, he regales his brethren ­ Swaggert, Baker, Robertson, Falwell, Roberts, and Hinn ­ with proud words and blasphemies that belittle the teachings of Jesus as he makes war against the saints, forcing his congregation to bow down and worship him. How else explain a Christian minister who would bring to pass his interpretation of Biblical prophecy by coercing his brethren to give that Jewish settlers from Russia and the Diaspora can be brought to Israel to occupy illegal settlements, harass and terrorize Palestinian civilians, and murder innocent women and children? (see Hagee Ministries, Exodus II). Millions to bring millions to Israel knowing in the good Christian book that of all those brought, only 144,000 can be saved. What insidious hypocrisy to bring innocents to Israel so that the Biblical prophecy according to Hagee can be fulfilled: the world in conflagration, the Jews to Hell, the Christians raptured into heavenly bliss, and a needed handful of Jews to heaven.

Consider what this Chimera, disguised as a modern day prophet with snappy Italian silk suit holding in the goats hairy chest and bulging legs, cajoles from his flock, in carefully crafted Christian cadences, as he implores them to further the ends of Israeli settlements. He would have them extend Jesus' hand of loving forgiveness by having their hard earned dollars support the Israeli settlers who drove up to Aziz Abdul Karim Hanani, a 70 year old shepherd, who was with his sheep on Sunday April 24, 2005, in an area near Nablus, jump from their car, attack and beat him unconscious, then abandon him in Jesus' name! Hallelujah! Such wonders their dollars contribute to God's cause, the impending doom of Armageddon: the Israeli breach of the cease fire over 300 times before May 2nd; the handcuffing of a 90 year old prisoner to his bed in a hospital where he died, still in handcuffs; shooting three young children running after an errant football and killing them; building new settlements in areas forbidden by the road map, more than 50,000 new homes requiring the demolition of an existing Palestinian town and the ethnic cleansing of its inhabitants; the demolishing of 90 old Arab homes to create more Israeli homes and ensure the continuation of the illegal Wall that establishes the apartheid reality of this touted but non-existent Israeli democratic state (Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions); and, perhaps an act close to many Israeli hearts because it reflects the savagery of Sharon on the Jewish peoples' conscience, the video footage of Israeli soldiers forcing a Palestinian man, Wissam Tayem, to play his violin as they made fun of him, an incident not as brutal as that of the soldier who pumped the body of a 13 year old girl full of bullets as she walked home from school or the scene of ultra-orthodox soldiers "mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a man's head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth." (The Guardian, 4/29/04).

Perhaps our post-modern Chimera, dragon's tail extending beyond the Italian silk suit, might read to his congregation from the book of Human Rights that notes, without chapter and verse, that Israel's "disengagement plan" is a ruse and will only "facilitate Israel's continued abrogation of its legal and moral obligations under international law, including the right of return for refugees; the derailment of the implementation of the ICJ decision regarding the Annexation Wall; and the right of self determination."

Given the cynicism that attends a minister, and all his companions that stand in judgment on God's modern mount, the Sinai of TV channels, the TBN that makes possible God's blessed millionaires, we can only believe that the beast will devour its own heads with the lies of its own mouth, transforming itself into a Basilisk faced with a mirror, bringing destruction by means of its own deceit. Now that would be an apt closure to a post-modern Bible, a virtual Book of Revelations.

William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU

Comment: Amen!

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Arik's Horror Show

Uri Avnery
02-07-2005

All the world saw the horror on TV: a Palestinian boy lying on the ground, unconscious. An Israeli soldier bending over him, not knowing what to do. A settler coming up from behind and throwing a stone at the head of the injured Palestinian. Another settler dropping a big stone on him at point-blank range. A bearded medic, also a settler, approaches the wounded boy, hesitates, and then goes away without treating him, pursued by the chants of a chorus of settler boys and girls: "Let him die! Let him die!"

Before that, the settlers occupied a Palestinian house on the Gaza Strip sea shore and established an "outpost" there. It was a pretty, new three-story building, whose owners had not yet moved in. On the outer wall a huge slogan was painted: "Mohammed is a Swine!" It referred to the Prophet.

A battle of stones ensued between the occupiers and the Palestinians in the adjacent houses. Some soldiers were caught in the middle, fired into the air over the heads of the Palestinians and did not do anything against the rioters.

Two days before, army bulldozers had been sent to destroy some empty, derelict structures put up ages ago by the Egyptians. A group of extreme-right boys and girls climbed on the bulldozers, broke off parts, kicked the heads of the soldiers trying to remove them, cursed and taunted the soldiers, who stood by helplessly. (Two years ago, the 23-year old American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by such a bulldozer, when she tried to stop it from destroying a Palestinian home.)

The rampage reached its climax last Wednesday, when the settlers again blocked Israel's main arteries. The evening before, one of the chief rioters, one Shabtai Shiran, who introduced himself as "Chief-of-Staff North" of the hooligans, appeared on television. He was interviewed live and at length as a respected guest, giving out orders for paralyzing the country, as if he were a government spokesman. He was not arrested at the door of the studio for terrorism, incitement and conspiracy to commit a crime, but on the contrary, was invited to appear again the next evening to boast of his "victory".

On the morning of road-blocking day, the police made a discovery on Road No. 1 (the main Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem artery): puddles of oil and metal nails designed to puncture tires. On this road, the speed limit is 110 km/h, and many drivers exceed that. By a miracle, a disaster was avoided. But the whole country gave in to the terrorism: most drivers postponed their journeys, traffic on the roads was light, like on Shabbat.

During the day, the settlers blocked the roads in many places. The Police removed them with their bare hands. Only at one place was a water cannon used, but the weak stream was too feeble to wash away a single rioter. Still, it looked good on TV.

Not in a single one of these riots did the police use the means that are routinely used against non-violent left-wing protesters: clubs, tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and, lately, salt bullets. I can testify from my own experience at demonstrations that nobody remains where they are when tear gas grenades are shot at them.

Just as a reminder: five years ago, groups of Arab citizens tried to block some roads in the North of Israel, in a spontaneous reaction to the killing of Palestinians on the Temple Mount. In order to "protect the freedom of traffic on the roads", the police opened fire with live ammunition and 13 citizens were killed. But they, of course, were Arabs.

It would have been quite easy to put an end to all the riots this week. In the few instances where the authorities decided to remove the rioters, it was accomplished without problem.

For example, the day after the attempted lynching of the Palestinian boy (who is recovering now), police removed the thugs from the near-by hotel. The rioters had sworn to fight to the death. They were removed within 30 minutes without a single person being hurt. Their big-mouthed leaders had disappeared before it all started.

Why were the riots not put down everywhere? There is no escaping the simple conclusion: Ariel Sharon did not want this. On the contrary: it is in his interest that the TV screens in Israel and all over the world show the scenes of the terrible riots. That's how he sows in the heads of the viewers the natural question, which a Tel-Aviv taxi driver asked me, and which was repeated by all the journalists who interviewed me during the week: "If the evacuation of a few small settlements causes such a huge uproar - how can one even dream of removing the big settlements in the West Bank?"

The same question is being posed in connection with the economic price of the "disengagement". The Minister of Finance is now talking about "eight to ten billion Shekels". That means five million (5,000,000) Shekels - or about 1.1 million dollars - per family. Almost every day, the payoff extorted by the evacuees goes up. A plot of land. A new villa. Until then, a "mobile villa" that will remain their property. Compensation for lost livelihood. Participation in the costs of the move. More land for agriculturists, two or three times larger than the plot they are leaving.

By any account, if the settlers just got back what they had in fact invested, even ten times over, it would amount only to a small fraction of these sums.

All this is being promised to evacuees who are about to settle in Israel, at a distance of some 30 kilometers from their present abodes. This week, they were promised a separate regional council. This would not only be the sole regional council set up along ideological lines, but also assure sinecures for dozens of settlers, who will become employees of this council. In the West Bank many hundreds of settlers, including almost all their leaders, live at our expense, from fictitious jobs on the regional councils.

Here, too, the innocent citizen will ask: If the removal of 1700 settlers' families cost us eight billion Shekels, how much will it cost to move the 40,000 families from the West Bank settlements?

This week's performances are only a dress rehearsal for the great Horror Show that is planned in seven weeks time, when the evacuation is due to take place.

It has already been announced that huge forces will take part in the action. Three thousand media people from all over the world will provide the international echo. The event will be presented as a giant operation, Ariel Sharon will appear as one of history's great heroes, Hercules and Samson rolled into one. After such an immense effort, who will demand that he take upon himself the impossible task of removing the West Bank settlements?

Sharon himself does not hide his intentions. Quite the contrary, he announces them at the top of his voice. In two policy speeches this week, he defined them in identical words, but the superficial media were so fascinated by his denouncement of the hooligans that they did not pay any attention to the key sentence.

Sharon said that the withdrawal from Gaza is necessary so that we can concentrate on the main effort, to ensure Israeli dominance "in Galilee and the Negev, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and the security zones."

One has to put the eight Hebrew words on the map in order to get a clear picture.

"Galilee and the Negev" were included for decoration only. They have been part of Israel since the foundation of the state, and a campaign for their "Judaization" has been going on for decades. About half of Galilee's citizens are Arab, and the situation in the Negev is similar.

The term "Greater Jerusalem" is used to include not only all the Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city, but also the settlement Ma'aleh-Adumim and the territories lying between it and Jerusalem proper, referred to as E-1.

The "settlement blocs" include not only the enlarged Gush Etzion, Ariel, Upper Modi'in, Betar and Ma'aleh-Adumim blocs, but also any area that may be so defined in the future, such as Kiryat Arba and the South Hebron area.

But the most important words are "security zones". In Sharon's lexicon, these include not only the whole of the Jordan Valley and the "Back of the Mountain" (the eastern slopes of the central Palestinian mountain range), but also the East-West and North-South axes on which he himself has been cultivating the settlements throughout the years.

This sentence confirms again what Sharon has said often enough in the past: that he intends to annex 58% of the West Bank, so that the Palestinian state, to which he might or might not agree, will cover about 10% of the area of Palestine as it existed before 1948.

The current Arik's Horror Show is designed to promote this vision, which he conceives as his life's work. The settlers, who curse him and threaten his life, are only playing the role which he has allotted them. Right from the beginning of his career he has been convinced that God (or fate) has chosen him for this historic task.

The task of the Israeli peace camp is to abort this vision, by using the dynamics of the crisis to open the road to the solution of the conflict. The settlements are the main obstacle to the attainment of a compromise between the two nations. Without Sharon intending this, his Horror Show is causing the Israeli public to turn against the settlers, resulting in the isolation of the whole settler community. We have to make sure that this wave will not dissipate after the completion of the Gaza withdrawal, but on the contrary, will grow in size and strength until it sweeps away the whole infrastructure of occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

If this happens, the great Horror Show will have positive results in the end, and not at all those expected by Sharon.

Comment: When Sharon had crazies like this doing his work on the ground, it makes him appear like the Man of Peace heralded by Bush while making certain the pressure remains on the Palestinians.

A photo of the Palestinian boy discussed above is found in the next article.

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Police arrest alleged ringleader of Muasi lynch in Jerusalem
By Yuval Yoaz and Nir Hason, Haaretz Correspondents

Detectives belonging to the Southern District Police arrested on Sunday a settler said to be the ringleader of the mob that tried to lynch a Palestinian youth at Muasi beach in Gaza on Wednesday.

Police identified the suspect, a resident of a West Bank Settlement, in Beit Shemesh thanks to the media's video footage of the incident. They then followed him to Jerusalem where they moved in to arrest him.

The suspect resisted arrest and managed to escape but was caught a few minutes later, still resisting and refusing to identify himself.

The man is the only suspect to be arrested more than four days after the incident, but police sources remained confident that the other suspects will be brought into custody soon.

The bulk of the evidence against the suspects rest upon camera footage taken by the media at the site of the attempted lynching.

Video crews taped several Jewish youths tyring to lynch a Palestinian during an evacuation of Jewish disnegagement-foes that had illegally occupied a Palestinian house at Muasi beach.

In the videos Jewish youths are heard shouting "lynch him, lynch him", and seen throwing stones.

The Palestinian took a few direct blows to the head and lost consciousness. His life was saved thanks to a few IDF soldiers and journalists who took him to saftey.

Over the last few days police have received a number of videos of the attack assisting them in the investigation.

The alleged lynch ringleader will be brought before court on Wednesday to extend his remand.

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Hoon calls for compulsory voting
Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
Monday July 4, 2005
The Guardian

Voting should be compulsory in Britain as a way of ending political alienation, restoring community and addressing the dangerous issue of "serial non-voters", Geoff Hoon will say today.

In a speech that is likely to prompt a widespread debate, the leader of the Commons will also support progress towards text voting in general elections.

Mr Hoon is the first cabinet minister to back enforced attendance at the polling booth as the government continues to debate the causes of Britain's low turnout, especially among younger voters. He will stress he is expressing personal views and is aware some will attack him saying it is the fault of politicians if voters cannot be bothered to vote.

He suggests non-voters should either be fined or alternatively voters should be given a small incentive such as a council tax discount for turing up at the polling booth.

He argues that voters should be entitled to spoil their ballot paper, so long as they attend the polling station, or if voting becomes electronic at least register their decision not to vote.

Mr Hoon is known to have support from other cabinet ministers including Peter Hain, as well as the former education minister Stephen Twigg, who lost his seat at the last election.

Mr Hoon will argue that "international experience points to compulsory voting being the most effective way to increase turnout". It is "the most obvious way to bring those who feel alienated into the political process and the best means to enhance civic participation". It would also "bring back the sense that we can all work together".

Since becoming leader of the house, Mr Hoon has tried to prompt a debate about political alienation. He claims "any penalties should be modest and rather like the introduction of seatbelt legislation, would only require one or two cases to be brought to encourage everyone to participate".

Turnout in the May general election was 61.5%, slightly up on the 59% figure in 2001, but down on the 78% turnout in 1992 and well below the turnouts, often over and above 75%, seen in the period after the second world war.

Mr Hoon said: "My fear is that as the older, more regular voters die, we will be left with a significant number of people for whom voting is neither a habit, nor a duty.

"The turnout in our general election was below the 77% turnout in Afghanistan and not much higher than the 58% turnout recently in Iraq - where men and women queued in their thousands - risking their lives in defiance of fanatical terrorists - to cast a vote for their future."

Australia and Belgium have compulsory voting. Australians have been legally obliged to cast their vote since 1924 and are fined between A$20 and A$50 for failure to turn up.

Voting is mandatory for all Belgians who are 18 and above. Non-voters risk having their name removed from the electoral roll for 10 years. Elections in Belgium regularly yield a 90% turnout.

Comment: Increasing turnout does nothing to ameliorate democracy if the choices before the voters do not reflect their real interests. It is a joke, one that permits the powers that be to say, "ah, look at the great turnout", while nothing substantial has changed.

It is getting pretty bad in many democracies where the turnout is close to or below 50%. It looks bad. Mandatory voting only changes the appearance of things, but in a society that depends upon image, that's all they need.

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Report: Egyptian Imam Was a CIA Informant
By Associated Press

07/02/05 - -CHICAGO (AP) - A radical Egyptian cleric allegedly kidnapped from Italy by the CIA once provided the American spy agency with valuable information about Islamic militants in Albania, according to a published report.

The Chicago Tribune, citing the former second-ranking official of the Albanian intelligence service, reported in its Sunday editions that Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was a valuable source of information in the mid-1990s to the CIA about the close-knit community of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania, a formerly communist country in the Balkans.

Astrit Nasufi, the former Albanian intelligence officer, told the newspaper that the imam had been considered a credible source of information.

Last month, an Italian judge ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers on allegations they secretly transported the imam to Egypt from Italy as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts - a rare public admonition by a close American ally. The warrant said the cleric was sent to Egypt and tortured.

Italian officials have said they had no prior knowledge of the Feb. 17, 2003, kidnapping of the 39-year-old cleric from a Milan street.

According to the Italian prosecutor's application for the 13 warrants for the CIA agents, when Abu Omar reached Cairo on a CIA-chartered aircraft, he was taken to Egypt's interior minister, the newspaper reported.

The document said that if the imam agreed to provide information to Egypt's intelligence service, Abu Omar ``would have been set free and accompanied back to Italy,'' the Tribune reported.

The CIA has refused to comment on the case.

The newspaper said evidence gathered by Italian prosecutors ``indicates that the abduction was a bold attempt to turn him (Omar) back into the informer he once was.''

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NO TAKERS FOR VISITING FRENCH KIDS
By BRIAN HAMACHER
New York Post
July 3, 2005

Summer plans for dozens of French kids wanting to visit New York City are toast - the apparent victim of anti-French feelings here since the start of the Iraq war.

World Exchange, a nonprofit organization that coordinates a summer exchange, is scheduled to have 92 French students land in New York this week. But only 30 have a place to stay.

The organization can't find New Yorkers willing to take the rest.

"This is the biggest crisis we've faced in a long time," said World Exchange's Michael Sklaar.

He traces the backlash to France's vehement opposition to the war in Iraq.

Comment: This little gem speaks for itself.

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Signs Economic Commentary

Donald Hunt
July 4, 2005

Since Friday was the mid-point of 2005, let’s review the year so far. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,303.44 on Friday, down 4.7% from 10,783 on December 31, 2004. The NASDAQ closed at 2057.37 down 5.7% for the year so far (from 2175). The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury bond was 4.04 percent at Friday’s close, compared to 4.22 on December 31, 2004 and 3.92 a week ago. The dollar rose from 0.739 to 0.840 euros so far in 2005, a rise of 13.7% (or 1.7% for the week compared to last week’s clsoe of 0.826). Gold closed at $429.30 an ounce, dropping 2.9% for the week (it closed at $441.60 a week ago) and dropping 1.8% for the year (compared to $437.10 on Dec. 31). Gold in euros closed at 360.51 euros to an ounce of gold on Friday, down 1.2% compared to 364.90 a week ago but up 11.8% for the year compared to the close of 322.32 euros per ounce of gold on Dec. 31.  Oil closed at $58.75 a barrel on Friday, a rise of 35.2% for the year.  Oil was down 1.9% for the week compared to $59.84 on the previous Friday.  In euros, oil was up sharply for the year going from 32.09 euros on the last day of 2004 to 49.34 on Friday, a rise of 53.8% (but down slightly for the week from 49.45 a week ago). The gold/oil ratio (how many barrels of oil an ounce of gold will buy) went from 10.06 to 7.31 in 2005 (7.38 a week ago) a drop of 37.6% for the year.

Here are some charts that show the week to week fluctuations during the first two quarters of 2005.  There are 27 weeks listed because I’ve included the week ending 12/31/04 as week 1. 

Most surprising to me was the drop in the euro, which implies some strength in the dollar, but probably more weakness in the concept of the euro and of the European economy right now.  Longer-term, however, the Euro Zone still has potential to serve as an alternative highly developed core to the United States, particularly if it can work out preferential access to oil from the Russian Federation.  Competition for oil between China, Europe and the U.S./U.K./Israel/Japan/India axis, however, will be intense and the results will most likely be unpredictable.

I also expected gold to have risen in the first half of 2005, but, along with some sharp ups and downs, the price of gold in dollars fell 1.8%, also implying strength in the dollar. What this shows is that the United States has been able to keep its economy growing through continuing deficit spending and debt-driven, housing price bubble-driven consumer spending.  How long that can go on with rising short-term interest rates in the United States and with signs, increasingly hard to ignore, of a military defeat is anyone’s guess. 

Stephen Roach http://www.morganstanley.com/GEFdata/digests/20050627-mon.html#anchor0 of Morgan Stanley is now saying that the bubble-like asset inflation economy of the United States could go on for a while longer, making the ultimate reckoning even worse:

I suspect the US interest rate climate is likely to remain surprisingly benign and, therefore, supportive of yet another wave of debt-intensive asset inflation.  As a result, the housing and bond bubbles could well continue to expand, allowing asset-dependent American consumers to keep on spending.  US economic growth, in that climate, may well remain surprisingly firm -- even in the face of $60 oil.  All this would be a textbook example of another period of “bad growth” -- the last thing an unbalanced US and global economy needs.  Likely by-products of another spate of bad growth include more debt, further reductions in income-based saving, and an ever-widening current account deficit.  Eventually, the balance-of-payments constraint will take over -- triggering a renewed weakening of the dollar and a sharp back-up in real interest rates.  But the emphasis, in this case, is on the word “eventually.”  The bear case for rates that I now support is likely to come later rather than sooner -- and off lower levels of longer-term rates than I had previously thought possible.  Because of that hiatus, there’s little to stop the Asset Economy for the time being.
  Meanwhile, the excesses in the US property market are now starting to display all the classic symptoms of a mania -- underscoring the inherent vulnerability that Yale professor Robert Shiller has long warned of.  It’s not just the growing profusion of exotic financing schemes -- the interest-only and negative-amortization mortgage loans that have become the rage in the hottest of real estate markets.  Equally worrisome is evidence that “asset flipping” is now reaching Ponzi-like proportions.  The latest rage is www.condoflip.com -- a website dedicated to creating an electronic market whereby “buyers of preconstruction condos resell or assign those condos to new buyers.”  Debuting in Miami, expansion is set shortly for Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and New York.  If you hurry, you may even be able to own a “Condo-Flip” franchise of your own.  Five years later, this is nothing more than a reincarnation of the day-traders of the dot-com era.   As former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker noted recently, the saddest thing of all is that no one in a position of responsibility wants to put an end to this madness (see his 10 April 2005 op-ed in the Washington Post, “An Economy on Thin Ice”).  Congress is focused on fiscal profligacy and China bashing.  The White House is fixated on “transformational politics.”  The Fed remains steeped in denial.  And the rest of the US-centric world is begging for another spin around the track.  Sadly, bad growth begets more bad growth -- until it’s too late.  Following this week’s likely rate hike, the US central bank will have only 325 bp in its arsenal -- literally half the ammo it had five years ago when the first bubble popped.  With the aftershocks of the property bubble likely to be far more worrisome than those of the equity bubble, this time the Fed may be ill equipped to face what is shaping up to be an increasingly treacherous endgame.

The future of the United States as an economic power, however, will most likely depend on its actions as a military power, and those, unless the Bush gang can be forced from power, will most likely prove disastrous.

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Why the Bears Are Smiling
By Nat Worden
TheStreet.com Staff Reporter
7/4/2005 8:22 AM EDT

Halfway through 2005, the stock market has nothing to show for itself. And if you're waiting for the Federal Reserve to stop raising interest rates before you buy equities, don't hold your breath.

Last week, the Fed logged its ninth straight quarter-point rate hike and repeated its "measured pace" mantra, leaving no end in sight to a tightening campaign that began more than a year ago. Stocks tumbled, and the spread between short- and long-term interest rates continued to narrow, exacerbating the "conundrum" first mentioned by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Conventional wisdom dictates that when the monetary gatekeepers raise short-term rates, long-term rates should follow. This time around, they've fallen, a phenomenon that recurred on Thursday after the Fed's announcement.

Unfortunately for investors, the simplest explanation of the market's thirst for low-risk investments like 10-year Treasury notes is that people don't see good investment opportunities anywhere else.

Well, almost. The real estate market remains red hot, leaving pundits to busy themselves with bubble babble. Commodities are also producing, with crude futures making headlines at $60 a barrel. Hedge funds and private equity are in fashion, having jumped headlong into the mergers-and-acquisitions craze. And the dollar is on the mend.

Meanwhile, aside from their lack of progress in the first half of 2005, stocks remain at the tail end of a bull run. The S&P 500 has gained 31% since July 2002, when the economy was battling a recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has added 18% over that period, while the Nasdaq is up 55%. Still, none of the indices have climbed back to where they were five years ago, in the days of irrational exuberance.

So, can stocks break out of their range-bound ways in the back half of 2005? Or is a flattening yield curve signaling that the U.S. economy is headed for another slowdown? An informed guess might lean bearish: With all of the pitfalls facing economic growth, stocks might very well remain too high.

At around 1191, the S&P trades at just over 18 times Wall Street's consensus estimates for corporate earnings in 2005. That sounds cheap to traders who haven't shaken their nostalgia for the tech bubble. Back in the 1990s, the S&P soared over 28 times GAAP earnings on lower profits. Now, prices have come way down and profits have roared back, so buying stocks looks like a no-brainer.

However, compared with the S&P's average price-to-earnings ratio since 1935 of 15.7, stocks look a bit more pricey.

"Investors are conservative now compared to five years ago, but when you look back further in history, that's not necessarily the case," said Standard & Poor's market equity analyst Howard Silverblatt.

Meanwhile, economic growth appears to be on the wane. The government reported last week that GDP grew 3.8% in the first quarter, down from its annual growth rate of 4.4% in 2004. Furthermore, although corporate profits remain strong by historical standards, their growth is also slowing.

Wall Street analysts expect year-over-year growth in corporate profits for the S&P 500 to slow to 11.9% in 2005, down from 20.2% in 2004, according to consensus estimates reported by Thomson First Call. While the second quarter is expected to see the slowest growth of the year, at 7.3%, bulls have pinned their hopes on a stronger second half. Analysts expect profits to add 15.1% in the third quarter, down from last year's pace of 16.8%. For the fourth quarter, they're projecting growth of 12.2%, down from last year's 19.7%.

"We're getting negative surprises every day," said Tom McManus, an equity strategist with Banc of America. "An increasing number of companies are finding it difficult to meet expectations. At these valuations, positive surprises are not a big surprise, but negative surprises are big. I think the odds of any given company reporting a disappointing number have risen."

Along with facing high expectations, the economy is navigating myriad threats to growth. The energy market, for instance, has powered earnings growth on the shoulders of soaring crude prices. But oil prices at current levels are also an economic wild card. On some level, oil prices are a tax on consumers and businesses, and no one knows the effects of that strain.

Lending momentum to oil, the U.S. is waging an expensive war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and polls show Americans are growing increasingly doubtful about its odds for success. That exacerbates wide deficits being run by the federal government. Couple that with a sizable trade gap, and the expansion looks more precarious.

Consumers have also developed a massive debt overhang, driven mainly by soaring home prices and low interest rates that gave rise to a wave of refinancings. If long-term interest rates ever start behaving normally, many market watchers worry that it would lead to the bursting of a real estate bubble -- something that everyone agrees would amount to a huge blow to the economy.

The good news is that recent wage growth has provided a boost to consumers' balance sheets. For the first time in years, wage growth has outpaced growth in consumption spending so far in 2005, according to government statistics. Part of that comes from a 17% rise in interest payments in April taking a chunk out of consumption spending and indicating that debt levels are starting to be a headwind. But the 7.6% rise in wages that month, up from the 4.9% in the same month last year, makes up a much bigger part of the equation.

If wage growth continues to increase, consumer spending could bail out the expansion and help stocks weather whatever storms may lie ahead. Meanwhile, Greenspan's rate-tightening campaign appears poised to continue indefinitely. It may not inspire any gains in the stock market, but higher rates could at least give the Fed a lever to pull should something go wrong.

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Six Myths About the Benefits of Foreign Investment

The Pretensions of Neoliberalism
By JAMES PETRAS
July 2 / 4, 2005

There are several myths about foreign investment propounded by orthodox economists, publicists for multinational corporations, and the press:

Myth #1 - Foreign Investment (FI) creates new enterprises, gains or expands markets and stimulates new research and development of local technological 'know-how'.

In fact most FI is directed toward buying privatized and profitable existing public enterprises and private firms, taking over existing markets and selling or renting technology designed and developed at the "home office". Since the late 1980's over half of foreign investment in Latin America was directed toward purchasing existing enterprises, usually at below market valuation. Instead of complementing local public or private capital, FI "crowds out" local capital and public initiative and undermines emerging technological research centers.

With regard to market expansion, the record is mixed: in some sectors where public enterprises were starved for funds, like telecommunications, the new foreign owners may have expanded the number of users and enlarged the market. In other cases, like water, electricity and transportation, the new foreign owners have reduced the market, especially to low-income classes, by raising charges beyond the means of most consumers.

The experience with foreign invesment and technological transfers is largely negative: over 80% of research and development is carried out in the main office. The "transfers of technology" is the rental of sale of techniques developed elsewhere, rather than local design. The multinationals usually charge subsidiaries excess royalty fees, service and management costs, to artificially or fraudulently lower profits and taxes to local governments.

Myth #2 - Foreign invesement increases the export competitiveness of an industry, and stimulates the local economy via secondary and tertiary purchases and sales.

In reality foreign investors buy up lucrative mineral resources and export them with little or no value added. Most of the minerals are converted into semi-finished or finished value added goods - processed, refined, manufactured - in home countries or elsewhere, creating jobs, diversified economies and skills. The privatization of the lucrative giant iron mine Vale del Doce in Brazil in the 1990's has led to huge profits for the new owners and the sale of raw ore overseas, particularly to China in the 21st century. China converts iron ore to steel for transport, machine industries and a host of job-generating metallurgical enterprises. In Bolivia, the privatization of the gas and petrol industry in the mid 1990's has led to billions in profits in the 21st century and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in processing and conversion of petroleum and gas into value added goods, plus failure to supply local low-income consumers. The extraction of raw materials is capital intensive using few workers. Processing and manufacture is more labor intensive and job creating.

Myth #3 - Foreign investors provide tax revenue to bolster the local treasury and hard currency earnings to finance imports.

The reality is foreign investors engage in tax frauds, swindles in purchasing public enterprises, and large scale money laundering.

In May 2005, the Venezuelan government has announced billion-dollar tax evasions and frauds committed by major overseas petroleum companies which signed on to service contracts since the 1990's. The entire Russian petroleum and gas sector was stolen by a new class of billionaire robber oligarchs, associated with foreign investors, who subsequently evaded taxes, as illustrated by the trial and conviction of two oligarchs, Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky for $29 billion in tax evasion facilitated by US and European banks.

The impact of the multinational corporations on the balance of payments over the long run is negative. For example, most assembly plants in export zones import all their inputs machinery, design and know-how and export the semi-finished or finished product. The resulting trade balance depends on the cost of the inputs relative to the value of exports. In many cases the imported components charged to the local economy are greater than the value added in the export zone. Secondly most of the revenues from the export platform accrue to the capitalists since the key to success is low wages leading to the creation of personal empires.

The Brazilian experience over the past decade and a half illustratives the negative external balances resulting from foreign investment and externally funded investment. In 2004 Brazil paid foreign bankers $46 billion (USD) in interest and principle while receiving only $16 billion dollars in new loans, leading to a net outflow of $30 billion dollars. (2) Between January and April 2005 Brazil was bled for $4.6 billion (USD) in interest payments, $3.7 billion in profit remittances by multinational corporations, $1.7 billion for 'external services' and $7.3 billion in payments of principle in the debt. (3) The total drain of $17.3 billion dollars far exceeded the positive commercial trade balance of $12.2 billion dollars. (4) In other words, the FI-led export model led to new indebtedness to pay for the shortfall, the loss of employment by small and medium farmers at the mercy of the agro-business elites and the destruction of the environment.

Myth #4 - Maintaining debt payments is essential to securing financial good standing in international markets and maintaining the integrity of the financial system. Both are crucial to sound development.

The historical record reveals that incurring debt under dubious circumstances and paying back illegally contracted loans by non-representative governments jeopardized the long-term financial standing and integrity of the domestic financial system and led to a financial collapse, as displayed in he Argentine experience between 1976-2001.

A substantial part of the public external and internal debt was illegally contracted and had little development utility. A lawsuit launched by an Argentine economist, Olmos, against payment of the Argentine foreign debt revealed that the foreign private debts of Citibank, First National Bank of Boston, Deutsch Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Bank of America were taken over by the Argentine government. (5) The same is true of debts of subsidiaries of overseas banks. The Olmos lawsuit also documented how the Argentine dictatorship and subsequent regimes borrowed to secure hard currency to facilitate capital flight in dollars. The foreign loans went directly to the Central Bank, which made the dollars available to the rich who recycled the dollars to their overseas accounts. Between 1978-1981 over $38 billion USD fled the country. Most of the foreign loans were used to finance the "economic" openings, luxury imports and non-productive goods, especially military equipment. The Olmos case pointed to a perverse source of greater indebtedness: the Argentine regime borrowed at high interest rates and then deposited the funds with the same lender banks at lower interest rates leaving a net loss of several billion dollars, added to the foreign debt.

Myth #5 - Most Third World countries depend on foreign investment to provide needed capital for development since local sources are not available or inadequate.

Contrary to the opinion of most neo-liberal economists, most of what is called foreign investment is really foreign borrowing of national savings to buy local enterprises and finance investments. Foreign investors and MNCs secure overseas loans backed by local governments, or directly receive loans from local pension funds and banks ­ drawing on the local deposits and worker pension payments. Recent reports on pension fund financing of US MNCs in Mexico shows that Banamex (purchased in the 21st century) secured a 28.9 billion peso (about $2.6 billion USD) loan, American Movil (Telcel) 13 billion pesos ($1.2 billion USD), Ford Motor (in long-term loans) (9.556 billion pesos) and one billion pesos (in short term loans), and General Motors (financial sector) received 6.555 billion pesos. (6) This pattern of foreign borrowing to take over local markets and productive facilities is common practice, dispelling the notion that foreign investors bring "fresh capital" into a country. Equally important, it refutes the notion that Third World countries "need" FI because of capital scarcity. Invitations to FI divert local savings from local public and private investors, crowd out local borrowers and force them to seek 'informal' money lenders charging higher interest rates. Instead of complementing local investors FI compete for local savings from a privileged position in the credit market, bringing to bear their greater (overseas) assets and political influence in securing loans from local lending agencies.

Myth #6 ­ The proponents of foreign investment argue that its entry serves as an anchor for attracting further investment and serves as a 'pole of development'.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The experiences of foreign-owned assembly plants in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico speak to the great instability and insecurity with the emergence of new sources of cheaper labor in Asia, especially China and Viet Nam. Foreign investors are more likely than local manufacturers to relocate to new low-wage areas, creating a "boom and bust" economy. The practice of FI, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, faced with competition from Asia, is to relocate, not to upgrade technology and skills or to move up to quality products. Finally a long-term study of the impact of foreign investment on development in India has found no correlation between this foreign investment and growth. (7)

In sum, reliance on foreign investment is a risky, costly and limiting development strategy. The benefits and costs are unevenly distributed between the "sender" and receiver. In the larger historical picture it is not surprising that none of the early, late or latest developing countries put foreign investment into the center of their development scheme. Neither the US, Germany and Japan in the 19th and 20th century, nor Russia, China, Korea and Taiwan in the 20th century depended on it to advance their industrial and financial institutions. Given the disadvantages cited in the text, it is clear that the way ahead for developing countries is throughminimizing it and maximizing national ownership and investment of local financial resources, skills and enlarging and deepening local and overseas markets through a diversified economy.

Because the negative economic, social and political costs of foreign investment are evident to increasing numbers of people in the Third World, particularly in Latin America, it is a major detonator of mass social movements, and even revolutionary struggles, as is the case in Bolivia during 2005. Since FI is a direct result of political decisions adopted at the highest level of government, mass social struggles are as much or even more so directed against the incumbent political regime responsible for promoting and mollycoddling foreign investment. The increasing turn of social movements toward political struggles for state power is directly related to the increasing recognition that political power and foreign investment are intimately connected. In the 21st century, at least in Latin America, all of the electoral regimes, which have been overthrown by popular majorities, had deep structural links to foreign investment: Gutierrez in Ecuador, Sanchez de Losada and Mesa in Bolivia and Fujimori in Peru.

The leader with the greatest sustained support in Latin America, President Chavez in Venezuela, is precisely the only one who has increased regulations and taxes on foreign investment and redistributed the increased revenues to the poor, working class and peasants. The question still remains whether this new infusion of energy and class awareness can go beyond defeating pro-FI regimes to constructing a state based on a broad alliance of class forces, which goes beyond 'nationalization' and toward a socialist economy.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu

Notes

(1) Paul Doremus et al, Myth of the Global Corporation, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1998
(2) Boletin: Cedada da Divida No 12, May 31, 2005, p2
(3) Ibid p2-3
(4) Ibid p2-3
(5) Cited in Boletin p6
(6) La Jornada June 7, 2005
(7) Tanushree Mazumdar, "Capital Flows into India", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XL No 21, p2183-2189

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Homeowners Deal With Rising Property Taxes
By JOHN PAIN
AP Business Writer
July 3, 2005

MIAMI - Teri Vasarhelyi and her husband thought they would be able to afford a bigger house with more land two years ago when they left San Francisco, the most expensive home market in the country.

They figured they found a good deal in a two-bedroom house in the peaceful, leafy Coconut Grove area for $440,000 in March 2004. But the shock came when their first property tax bill came a few months later - more than $9,200 a year, nearly double what they paid in their old home.

"That's an awful lot of money, on top of your mortgage, to find that cash," said Vasarhelyi, 35, who's taking time off from her advertising career to raise their baby.

Many people are running into similar problems, a side effect of the real estate boom. As home prices skyrocket, property taxes are also going up, especially in hot markets like Florida, California and the Northeast.

"Young families simply can't afford to live here. It's very difficult for police officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses," said Lori Parrish, the property appraiser in nearby Broward County, who has pushed for more property tax breaks.

First-time home buyers are especially running into trouble as wages adjusted for inflation haven't kept pace with real estate prices, and elderly residents on fixed incomes who have lived in their homes for decades are also struggling to pay ever-increasing taxes.

The national average annual property tax collection was $971 per person in 2002-2003, up 18 percent from $822 five years earlier, according to the latest figures available from the Tax Foundation, a research organization in Washington. The median home price nationwide rose to $170,000 in 2003 from $128,400 in 1998, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The most expensive states for property taxes were in the Northeast, with New Jersey topping out at $1,872 per person in 2002-2003. The cheapest state was Alabama at $329 per person.

While rising property taxes in theory should slow down the real estate market, that hasn't happened for two key reasons: "The popular belief that real estate is the best investment and the American willingness to spend a remarkably high fraction of their disposable income on housing," said foundation spokesman Bill Ahern.

Comment: The only reason many Americans believe that real estate is the best investment is because after the dot com bubble burst several years ago, real estate was immediately touted as the "next big thing". The second key reason given, that Americans are willing to spend a high fraction of the their disposable income on housing, is directly related to the first reason. Thus, the only real reason that property taxes aren't slowing down the real estate market is because everyone believes the hype about housing, just as they believed the hype about the "New Economy" before the dot com bust.

Governments are still sensitive to complaints from homeowners. At least 48 states have tried to give homeowners relief from rising property taxes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The methods include tax freezes, restricting property taxes to a percentage of the home's market value and caps on how much a home's assessed value can increase. Many states are considering expanding property tax relief.

But local governments are also wary of cutting back on what they collect - they get more than 95 percent of all property taxes. Altogether, American businesses and home-owners paid $296.7 billion in property taxes in 2002-2003, up from $279.1 billion in 2001-2002, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers likely climbed even faster recently along with record-high home prices.

Property taxes pay for everything from schools and roads to police and fire departments. While they usually are collected by local governments, states generally write the laws that govern them. [...]

It is also becoming more difficult for people to move because they usually lose out on property tax breaks when they do. For example, the previous owner of Vasarhelyi's house paid less because the increases in assessed values are capped in Florida at a maximum of 3 percent a year. But once the house is sold, that limit is lifted.

So what options do people have when the taxman comes calling?

"The biggest thing that any individual home-owner can do is to make sure that they aren't overassessed. The errors that take place in assessing properties are rampant," American Homeowners Association president Richard J. Roll said.

Some common errors are improper calculation of square footage and incorrect number of bathrooms or bedrooms, he said.

Only 2 percent of homeowners have challenged their assessment, but many more should because about 70 percent of those who do receive a reduction, Roll said.

"There are often tremendous disparities for no apparent reason," he said.

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Arlington Cemetery Undergoes Expansion
By SIOBHAN McDONOUGH
Associated Press
July 3, 2005

ARLINGTON, Va. - An excavator uproots trees. Rakes scrape the ground. A grinder turns limbs into mulch. Deer scramble for cover. For the first time in a decade, expansion is coming to the pre-eminent military burial ground in the United States. It means a major upheaval.

As a fawn dashes away, worker Scott Mills says, "I feel bad for them. And I hate tearing trees down. But this is for a good cause."

Arlington National Cemetery is adding 26,000 graves to the roughly 215,000 already in place on the sweeping lawns across the Potomac River from the nation's capital. An additional 77,000 remains are in columbariums, tombs for urns with cremated remains.

Matt Strittmatter, 45, of Richmond, Ind., was making his fourth visit to the cemetery. He appreciated the bustle at what is normally a quiet place.

"It's important for the families to have the option to bury their loved ones who've served here because of the sacrifice they made," he said. "War affects everyone. It affects the families. They've earned the honor."

The expansion means installing roads and utilities, building a new stone wall as a boundary, landscaping and creating 5,000 cremation niches. The work is necessary to accommodate the large number of veterans from World War II.

"Their population is of an age where the passing rate is about 1,200 a day. They are the largest population of daily burials," said John Metzler, cemetery superintendent.

Arlington holds about 6,400 funerals a year, Monday through Friday. The peak year for deaths is expected to be 2008, when an estimated 30 funerals a day will be conducted.

The hilltop expansion, overlooking the Pentagon on one side and the Washington Monument on the other, was initially planned for 1990 but was delayed by money problems. It finally got under way in May.

The $12 million, 40-acre project will allow the cemetery to accommodate burials up to 2030. Two more expansions are planned, making enough space for ground burials for nearly six more decades.

Arlington was designated a military cemetery in 1864, during the Civil War. It is the final resting place for Presidents Kennedy and Taft, as well as Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren Burger, 16 astronauts, and at least 170 men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq veterans are buried here at the rate of two or three a week.

Bob Malte, 51, of Denver, brought his two kids - ages 8 and 9 - to see the cemetery "so they understand the significance of it. We want to honor people who've served our country and given their life for our country."

The last expansion was done in 1995. It involved 10 acres.

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THE PRINCIPLES WE PUSH ABROAD SHOULD BE UPHELD HERE AT HOME
By Cynthia Tucker
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sun Jul 3, 9:24 PM ET

Just as you might expect, a group of poll-watching, finger-to-the-wind conservative congressmen have pledged to fight for legislation that would allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in courthouses around the country. A pair of recent Supreme Court decisions -- one of which struck down such displays -- has handed them a chance to seize the low ground on yet another controversial issue.

These are the same congressmen, no doubt, who roar with approval every time President Bush pledges that the United States will help Iraqis install their own version of Jeffersonian democracy -- one which protects government critics, religious minorities and criminal defendants. So, if that sort of constitution is such a good idea for Iraqis, why isn't it a good idea for Americans?

Iraq, after all, has a tiny minority of Christians, men and women who still suffer oppression, even after the fall of Saddam Hussein. They dream of the day when they will be free to worship as they please, without fear of intimidation. Would they feel equal under the law if every courthouse in the new Iraq housed huge monuments of popular verses from the Quran? Would they believe they could stand before a Sunni or Shiite judge and get fairness if the wall behind him posted a declaration from the Islamic holy book?

You'd think that the brutal persecution of the Shiites under Saddam would remind Americans of the danger of mixing government and religion. (Indeed, it is quite possible that Iraq's new constitution will be one that enshrines Sharia, or fundamentalist Islamic law -- an alarming prospect.) The world is full of examples of nations whose antipathy toward one religion or another has resulted in everything from harassment to pogroms.

As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted bluntly in her concurrence with the Kentucky opinion, which struck down displays of the Ten Commandments in two of the state's courthouses: "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

Here's a truth that O'Connor no doubt understands all too well: No matter how enthusiastically we tout "our freedoms," as President Bush is fond of calling the principles of our pluralistic society, most Americans have scant appreciation for the Bill of Rights.

"It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment," O'Connor wrote.

Comment: It is interesting that O'Connor, who was widely painted in the mainstream media as the "liberal" supreme court judge, has decided to step down after her defense of the separation of church and state in the US.

The First Amendment, after all, was enacted to protect unpopular ideas. Think about it: Popular ideas hardly need protection.

Take flag-burning, an unpopular practice that many in Congress wish to prohibit. The House has already passed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to ban that form of protest; the same proposal awaits a vote in the Senate, where it has come close to passage before.

Of course, most Americans rightly find the notion of burning Old Glory repugnant. But this proposed amendment is itself a desecration of the flag. That banner is revered -- here and abroad -- because it represents a country so tolerant of government criticism that it allows even the burning of its precious symbol, the Stars and Stripes. Without that broad tolerance of dissent -- even flag-burning -- the flag loses much of its meaning.

That tolerance is now so lacking in America that if the Bill of Rights were up for a vote today, it wouldn't stand a chance. The First Amendment right of free speech -- which protects flag-burning, peace protesters and critics of Karl Rove, not to mention Rove himself -- would go down in flames. So would its prohibition against a government establishment of religion. And I can't imagine that the rights of criminal defendants would fare much better. (Given popular interpretations of the Second Amendment, every American's God-given right to own multiple assault weapons would probably survive.)

Since we're sacrificing so many lives to promote our democratic ideals in the Middle East, you'd think we'd show a little more respect for them here at home.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She can be reached by e-mail: cynthia@ajc.com.

Comment: The promotion of "democracy" by US forces overseas paired up with the reduction in civil liberties at home may seem to be a prime example of cognitive dissonance. The problem is that the "democracies" being installed in other nations are nowhere near democratic, and those who support Bush and the Neocons view the gradual elimination of their freedoms at home as a temporary and necessary evil to defeat the terrorist evildoers. In reality, the crackdowns in the US and its "colonies" fit perfectly with the notion of a New American Empire.

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Oil Facility Damages Have Cost Iraq $11B
AP
Sun Jul 3,10:30 PM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq has lost about $11.35 billion because of damage to oil sector infrastructure and lost revenue since petroleum exports resumed after the U.S.-led invasion two years ago, an Iraqi oil ministry spokesman said Sunday.

Assem Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires that there had been 300 acts of sabotage against Iraqi oil installations. He said 70 acts of sabotage took place in the first five months of 2005.

Jihad said most of the sabotage took place in the northern oil installations preventing the country from exporting around 400,000 barrels a day from its northern oil fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Before the U.S.-led invasion in April 2003, Baghdad used to export 800,000 barrels a day from the northern field around Kirkuk. Iraq has resumed sporadic pumping of crude from the Kirkuk fields to Ceyhan over the last six weeks.

Comment: Given the control of the Iraqi oil industry by certain US and British corporations, it is highly unlikely that the average Iraqi would ever have seen a penny of the lost $11 billion dollars.

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US air strike 'killed 17 Afghans'
Monday, 4 July, 2005

A hunt is still on for three missing US servicemen
The air strike by US forces in eastern Afghanistan last week killed 17 civilians including women and children, a provincial governor has said.

US planes had bombed Chechal village as part of a search for four missing US special forces servicemen. [...]

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G8 summit surrounded by a ring of steel
Gulfnews.com
4/7/2005, 08:08 (UAE)

(AP) Gleneagles, Scotland -- An eight-kilometre ring of steel, 10,000 police on standby, watchtowers, and a no-fly zone; Gleneagles Hotel was locked down yesterday as a sophisticated G8 security operation to protect the world's most powerful men came into force.

Chief Constable John Vine of Tayside Police has spent the past 18 months planning for the arrival on Wednesday of leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations in this picturesque corner of rural Scotland.

His team is braced for hundreds of anarchists and anti-globalisation protesters who intend to disrupt the three-day summit.

"Our strategy will be to try to deal with those people very quickly, very effectively, to try to separate them out from the peaceful protesters," said Vine.

"We know that this event will attract those elements to it. It always has done and it will on this occasion."

Operation Sorbus, named after the berry of the rowan tree which according to folklore wards off evil spirits, includes a two metre-high steel mesh fence around the perimeter of the exclusive Gleneagles hotel and country club, running through rolling farmland in the Perthshire countryside. It is guarded by a series of watchtowers and a network of surveillance cameras.

As well as a formidable obstacle, the fence is also a clear demarcation line; protesters who attempt to cross it face immediate arrest, Tayside police say.

Inside the perimeter, where the leaders of Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, Japan and Italy will meet from Wednesday to Friday, are further extensive security measures, which police officials declined to describe.

About 10,000 officers drafted in from across the United Kingdom are available to deal with G8 protesters - from peaceful environmental and anti-poverty campaigners to hardcore anarchists.

Some 3,000 police are assigned to Gleneagles itself, including a specialist firearms team, officers mounted on horseback and a guard-dog unit.

An airship will act as a spy in the sky to spot troublemakers and beam back video footage to officers on the ground. Two helicopters also will patrol the skies.

Vine, who has 22 years of policing experience, said an extensive intelligence operation had been under way for months, involving Britain's domestic intelligence service MI5, Special Branch and London's Metropolitan Police, gathering details on anarchist groups.

"There has been lots of speculation about what has happened at other summits, particularly Genoa," he said, referring to the 2001 G8 summit in Italy, where an officer shot and killed a protester.

"We cannot predict what will happen," he added.

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Lava Dome Falls Into Mount St. Helens
AP
July 3, 2005

MOUNT ST. HELENS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Wash. - A large part of the growing lava dome on Mount St. Helens fell Saturday, sending an ash plume above the crater rim, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

A rock fall had caused what scientists called a "substantial seismic signal" and knocked the chunk off the lava dome. The volcano was relatively quiet for the rest of the day.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington have monitored the volcano closely since it rumbled back to life Sept. 23 with shuddering seismic activity that peaked above magnitude 3 as hot magma broke through rocks in its path.

Molten rock reached the surface Oct. 11, marking resumption of dome-building activity that had stopped in 1986. On March 8, it shot ash higher than 30,000 feet, but it has since maintained low-key activity, with wispy smoke regularly floating from the crater.

Scientists have said a more explosive eruption, possibly dropping ash within a 10-mile radius of the crater, is possible at any time.

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Japan Investigates Giant Column of Steam in the Pacific
AOl News
03/07/05

Officials Think Volcanic Eruption May Have Prompted Strange Water Vapor Plume

TOKYO (July 3) - Japanese coast guard officials said Sunday they believe an underwater volcanic eruption has caused a 3,300-foot high column of steam to rise from the Pacific Ocean near Iwo Jima.

The vapor was reported Saturday after Japanese troops stationed on the small island observed the massive, cloudy plume rise from the sea about 30 miles southeast of the island, said Maritime Self-Defense Forces Hiroshi Shirai.

Defense officials who flew over the area in a helicopter said the surface of the water appeared red where the column was reported, which could indicate underwater volcanic activity, Shirai said.

On Sunday, coast guard aircraft crews flew over the site and returned with a video image confirming the earlier reports, said Shigeyuki Sato, a spokesman for the service. The survey crew also found grayish mud rising up from the bottom of the ocean, but it was not immediately known whether any volcanic gases are being released.

The location is known as Fukutokuoka-no-ba, an undersea volcano which last erupted in 1986 for three days, Sato said.

The coast guard aircraft ended the day's survey after less than two hours due to safety concerns, but plan to return to the site as early as Monday for further monitoring. The service issued an international warning for vessels, urging them to stay away from the waters.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said there was no danger of tsunamis, sometimes caused by undersea seismic activity. Iwo Jima is about 700 miles southeast of Tokyo.

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Small earthquake shakes Baja California

Jul. 03, 2005
Associated Press

CALEXICO, Calif. - A small earthquake shook northeastern Baja California early Sunday, and there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The magnitude-3.2 temblor struck at 6:16 a.m. and was centered five miles north of Guadalupe Victoria and 21 miles west southwest of San Luis, Ariz., according to preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Moderate earthquake hits north Andaman
July 3 2005(UNI)

New Delhi: An earthquake of "moderate intensity", measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, hit the north Andaman region late last night, the Meteorological Department said.

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High lake temperatures puzzle regional scientists
By Doug Guthrie and Douglass Dowty
The Detroit News
Sunday, July 3, 2005

Sweltering heat has many Metro Detroiters seeking relief in Michigan's waters, where lakes already have warmed to peak summertime temperatures.

The average surface temperatures of the Great Lakes are at their highest in five years. Readings in the 60s and 70s from all but Lake Superior already are warmer than they were during last summer's most comfortable mid-August swimming days.

Tourists have headed north and boaters have hit the waterways for the busy Fourth of July weekend. Roger Funkhouser, manager of Bayshore Resort in Traverse City, has booked a growing number of downstaters looking to escape the heat.

"We get a lot of spur-of-the-moment visits when people decide they just can't take it anymore," he said. Victoria Davis, 14, of Pontiac, took advantage of Cass Lake's warm temperatures Friday.

"I thought it was going to be really cold. It's like bath water," said Davis.

She went swimming with her mother, Nancy, 37 and sister, Brooklyn, 8, at the lake at Dodge No. 4 State Park.

But experts warn that bountiful sunshine and warm water can have a downside. It can steam up a biological soup that spells trouble for living creatures in and out of the water.

Gary Towns, Lake Erie management supervisor for the state's fisheries division, expects to see accelerated weed growth in inland lakes and the possibility of more frequent toxic blue-green algae slicks.

Towns also expects an earlier and more dramatic onset of the annual midsummer fish die-off because of low oxygen levels in some lakes. Some algae, like the blue-green variety, can cause illness in animals.

"Heat is very good for making things grow, including weeds, algae and bacteria," said Rochelle Sturtevant, a systems ecologist with the Great Lakes Sea Grant network.

Sturtevant said researchers might not make sense of current temperature data for months or even years, but there is evidence this is an unusual season. Mary Kinzer said the weeds have grown so fast in the water in front of her Orchard Lake home in West Bloomfield that she has been unable to swim this season. Residents at the lake usually have the weeds cut and hauled out in July.

"It's like a carpet. I can see the fish making tunnels up through it," Kinzer said. "The algae is terrible, too. It seems worse than ever."

The warm water is having an effect on fish. Walleye headed out to deeper, colder water in Lake Erie two weeks ago, more than a month ahead of normal, said Towns.

"People are having some trouble catching legal-sized walleye in Michigan waters. Normally, you don't see that movement until August," he said. "This year, it happened in the second week of June." [...]

Steve Lichota, associate director of the environmental division of the Macomb County Health Department, is at a loss to explain why his monitors have registered high E. coli bacteria levels so often this season at Lake St. Clair beaches.

"It's usually rain that causes fertilizer runoff and introduction of fecal material along with combined sewage and storm water overflows. But for some reason we've been getting high readings without rain events that cannot be explained," Lichota said.

"No swimming" orders were issued at Metropolitan Beach Metropark on five days so far this season due to high E. coli counts. Memorial Beach and St. Clair Shores' Blossom Heath Beach remain closed over the holiday weekend, their third shutdowns of the season. A beach at the inland reservoir lake at Stony Creek Metropark also closed for a day in mid-June.

"That was a very rare thing," Lichota said. "Was it the geese and the lack of rainfall that caused a concentration of bacteria? Whether something out there is multiplying because of heat, I can't say."

A researcher at Central Michigan University has begun a study of bacteria that may multiply in beach sand, said David Schwab, director of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Experts say the trend doesn't provide proof of global warming theories, but may point to the extremes of natural weather cycles.

"It seems the last four or five years, perhaps the last decade, have been a little bit warmer," Schwab said. "Whether that is something that will continue, we don't know. It may simply be part of a 10-year, or even a 100-year, cycle." [...]

Comment: Well, if it's simply a 10-year cycle, why hasn't anyone pointed out that the same thing happened 10 years ago? The fact of the matter is that if one gathers all the recent news of climate and earth changes, it is quite clear that something quite out of the ordinary is indeed occurring, regardless of whether we choose to see it or just sweep it all under the rug.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger: It's not a time for talk. It's a time for action

There's no doubt about the science. Now we must all gear our economies to take on global warming
The Independent
Published: 03 July 2005

I don't know how apparent it is to people in Britain, but California has long been a leader in environmental protection. We have never taken for granted the clean air, clean water and natural beauty that make our state such a desirable place to live, to work, and to raise our families. That's why, when I became Governor of California, I announced a bold agenda to continue and strengthen our commitment to meeting the many environmental challenges we face.

During the past 18 months, we created the 25 million-acre Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the largest conservancy in the nation; we opened the path to the Hydrogen Highway, which will encourage the building of hydrogen fuelling stations and the use of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles; we sponsored the first Ocean Protection Act in the nation to protect and restore our ocean resources; and we secured permanent funding to reduce emissions from dirty engines and equipment.

In addition, with our Green Building Initiative, we have put the biggest user of electricity in California - the state government itself - on an energy diet. By requiring new state buildings to use the latest environmentally friendly and energy efficient design and construction methods, we will reduce electricity and water use by more than 20 per cent in our state-owned facilities.

Now it is time for Californians to seriously address the issue of climate change and its potential to create havoc with our environment and economy. The debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat posed by changes in our climate. And we know the time for action is now. [...]

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