Wednesday, July 13, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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U.S. Terror Attack - 'Ninety Days at Most'
Fox News
Counterterrorism expert Juval Aviv spoke with FOX Fan Central about what Americans can do to protect themselves in case of a terror attack.

Do you believe another terrorist attack is likely on American soil?

I predict, based primarily on information that is floating in Europe and the Middle East, that an event is imminent and around the corner here in the United States. It could happen as soon as tomorrow, or it could happen in the next few months. Ninety days at the most.

What advice do you have for individuals that have the misfortune of finding themselves in the middle of a terror attack?

Since mass transportation is the next attack, when you travel to work have with you, a bottle of water, a small towel and a flashlight. What happened in London is exactly a point to look at. Those people who were close to the bombs died, then others were injured or died from inhaling the toxic fumes or getting trampled. The reason you take a bottle of water and a towel is that if you wet the towel and put it over your face, you can protect yourself against the fumes and get yourself out of there.

Don't be bashful. If your gut feeling tells you when you walk onto a bus there is something unusual or suspicious, get out and walk away. You may do it 10 times for no reason, but there will be one time that saves your life. Let your sixth sense direct you.

Try to break your routine. If you travel during rush hour every day, try to get up a little earlier and drive to work or take the train when it's still not full. Don't find yourself every day in the midst of rush hour. Terrorists are not going to waste a bomb on a half-empty train.

What portion of the American infrastructure do you believe is at the greatest risk for a terror attack?

We have put all of our emphasis, right or wrong, on the aviation area. What has happened, in the last two to three years, based on information we have, is the terrorists have realized that they cannot hijack a plane in America soon because the passengers are going to fight back. So they realize what they have been very successful with over the last 50 years in Madrid, London, Iraq, Israel: demoralizing the public when they go to work and when they come back from work.

What they're going to do is hit six, seven or eight cities simultaneously to show sophistication and really hit the public. This time, which is the message of the day, it will not only be big cities. They're going to try to hit rural America. They want to send a message to rural America: "You're not protected. If you figured out that if you just move out of New York and move to Montana or to Pittsburgh, you're not immune. We're going [to] get you wherever we can and it's easier there than in New York."

What more do you think the government can do to protect the public?

Number one, and this is the beef I've had with Homeland Security for the last four years, is educating the public on how to deal with those types of events. There's no education. We're raising the color code alert and that means nothing to anyone. Whether it's green, yellow, pink, no one ever educated the public how to identify suspicious items or people. In Israel, so many of them [terrorists] have been apprehended just because people have phoned in. We don't have that training on campuses, schools or kindergarten.

In Israel, it's very popular right now [amongst terrorists] to put one device to explode and time another one for five minutes later when it's all calm, people are getting up and the rescue teams have responded. You need to know all those things and think about those things. The government must pursue that. Law enforcement will never have enough people on the street to detect things. We don't have that kind of manpower. That's why the government must enlist the public.

Juval Aviv is a former Israeli Counterterrorism Intelligence Officer and President and CEO of Interfor, Inc. Mr. Aviv has also served as a special consultant to the U.S. Congress on issues of terrorism and security and is the author of "Staying Safe : The Complete Guide to Protecting Yourself, Your Family, and Your Business."

Comment: So, there you go. You've heard it from the experts at Fox Zionist News. Be scared, be very scared. Now that gas prices are climbing, avoid public transportation, because that's where they're going to strike next. Buy that Hummer you've been putting off. The economy needs your dollars, even if it's all credit, and you'll be protecting your family at the same time.

For a look at how the US media has been using the London bombing to spread fear and loathing, check out this piece from The Daily Show.

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Bush Aide Deflects Questions On Rove
By Mike Allen and Dan Balz
Washington Post
Tue Jul 12, 1:00 AM ET

President Bush's aides put up a wall yesterday when questioned about revelations that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove had discussed the role of CIA official Valerie Plame with a reporter despite past White House assertions that he was not involved in her unmasking.

Engulfed by questions at two combative briefings, White House press secretary Scott McClellan cited the continuing criminal investigation to say that he would not discuss conversations Rove had with a reporter about Plame before her name was published, or say whether Bush's pledge to fire anyone involved in leaking classified information still stands.

"No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States," McClellan said, echoing his two-year-old position on the case. "And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation."

Democrats, emboldened by having the White House on the defensive, began a campaign to pressure Rove to give up his security clearances, answer questions before Congress and even resign. [...]

In 2003, McClellan said it was "a ridiculous suggestion" that Rove was involved. "I've made it very clear, he was not involved, that there's no truth to the suggestion that he was," he said. He also said that any culprit in the White House should be fired "at a minimum."

At one point, McClellan vowed: "The president has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

Bush replied "yes" when asked in June 2004 if he would fire anyone who leaked the agent's name.

Democrats seized on that statement yesterday, urging Bush to follow through by dismissing Rove and including a call for congressional hearings. [...]

Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), last year's Democratic presidential nominee, said in an e-mail to supporters: "It's perfectly clear that Rove -- the person at the center of the slash and burn, smear and divide tactics that have come to characterize the Bush Administration -- has to go." [...]

In retrospect, it appears clear that many White House statements about the case were carefully constructed -- giving the impression of being general denials even as the words were narrowly focused on specific allegations. During briefings, McClellan repeatedly challenged reporters to provide him "specific information" when asking about Rove, and he frequently limited his answers about White House involvement in the case to mean the act of leaking classified information. On a few occasions, however, he offered broad denials about Rove and other top aides. [...]

Luskin said again yesterday that there is nothing inconsistent with what Cooper's e-mail said and what Rove has said throughout the inquiry, and he said his client continues to cooperate fully with Fitzgerald, including the prosecutor's request for Rove and his attorney not to publicly discuss the case.

"It puts Karl in a no-win position," Luskin said. "If he doesn't talk to [reporters], he subjects himself to criticisms like we're hearing from the Democrats on why he won't come forward and talk about his role. But if he does . . . he runs the risk of being accused of not cooperating with the investigation."

At a televised briefing yesterday reporters grilled McClellan repeatedly by quoting his own words back to him. "I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said," he responded, "and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time."

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CIA-backed tech can instantly spot terrorists in a crowd
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

WASHINGTON - The U.S. intelligence community is investing in new technology meant to provide instant recognition of insurgency fugitives in such crowded facilities as airports and subways.

A Los Altos, Calif. company, Pixlogic, has been developing technology meant to search for fugitives and insurgency suspects in a crowd.

Pixlogic has employed new software based on visual pattern recognition and search technologies to match archived still or video images with those gathered from security cameras or other sources, Middle East Newsline reported.

Executives said the CIA has been an investor in the development of technology by Pixlogic and other U.S. companies.

"It does a reasonable job of matching people that sort of look alike," Pixlogic chief executive officer Joseph Santucci said.

Comment: Well, that's certainly reassuring...

"Most [competing] software tools only work under constrained circumstances."

Executives said the company's software could also detect and alert investigators to anomalies in video footage provided by closed-circuit television systems. Such anomalies could include an individual carrying a large box, or a truck that returns to the same spot. They said such technology has not yet been employed in either Britain or the United States.

Comment: With the London bombings, this new technology will surely be rushed into use. Just think about how the "terrorists" could have been identified by London's numerous security cameras if this fabulous new software had been installed... Oh, and don't carry large boxes around or drive to the same spot twice, because you'll probably be arrested and indefinitely detained as a terrorist threat to society.

Industry sources said the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community was also expected to increase investment in counter-terrorism technology. They said the technology would include instant translations, particularly from Arabic to English, as well as search and text mining.

"We have put a little over 100 technologies into the intelligence community that are actively being used," In-Q-Tel chief executive officer Gilman Louie said. "Some of them you know, while other technologies we don't broadly advertise."

U.S. companies have been wooed by their counterparts in Israel for joint marketing and development projects in counter-insurgency. Several Israeli firms have been developing software and sensors to track insurgency suspects and detect bombs.

Comment: Can you see it coming? Cameras everywhere, in every country, using US and Israeli software to track everyone, everywhere, all the time...

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After the aftershock

The realisation that Britons are ready to bomb their fellow citizens is a challenge to the whole of society
Jonathan Freedland
Wednesday July 13, 2005
The Guardian

Like an earthquake, the London bombings have brought an aftershock - and it came last night. The police announcement that Thursday's explosions on the underground and on the Number 30 bus were, apparently, the work of British suicide bombers is the most shocking news to come since the attacks themselves. It is also the bleakest possible development.

Now we know that what happened on July 7 was not just the worst terrorist attack in British history, it was also a first: the first suicide bombing on British soil. That is especially depressing for a reason Israelis, Iraqis, Indians and Russians will understand well. For the suicide bomber represents a unique kind of threat; an enemy that does not fear being captured or killed is always bound to be more potent. To give one practical example, warnings about suspect packages on the tube are futile against a man ready to detonate a bomb in his lap.

More deeply, these men will have hoped their deaths will endure. One detail was striking in yesterday's police briefing: it was that property identifying the men was found in each location, including items belonging to one man found at both Aldgate and Edgware Road stations. That cannot have been an accident. It suggests these killers wanted their names to be known; they were proud of what they did.

It is hardly a surprise. For the suicide bomber aims to be a martyr, his face burned on to a thousand webpages, his action a model to be emulated. Who knows, perhaps a video - like those released by the men of Hamas and Islamic Jihad - is waiting to be found in one of those Leeds homes. The danger here is the process which represents al-Qaida's modus operandi, with one outrage inspiring others.

That these men wanted to kill and die is bad enough. That they were, it seems, born and raised in this country is even worse. If they had been a foreign cell, like that responsible for the Madrid bombing, we could have comforted ourselves that this was an external phenomenon, an alien intrusion. The remedies would have been obvious: tighter border controls, more international cooperation.

But there can be no such comfort if these killers were British citizens. We could shut out every last asylum seeker, expel every illegal immigrant, and it would make us no safer. This attack came from within.

British Asians will find that especially dispiriting. They know from harsh, direct experience what it will entail: suspicious looks and worse every time they get on a train or bus. The Met rightly called yesterday for no smearing or stigmatising of entire communities. But the danger of ostracism is great - and greater now than 24 hours ago.

British Muslims rightly insist that there can be no collective guilt - not for bombs whose victims included several Muslims - and their leaders have been vocal in their condemnation of the killings. The Muslim Council of Britain is considering a public demonstration against terror.

And yet yesterday's news will increase the intensity of a process that was already underway - the soul-searching of a community which now knows it includes suicide bombers among its young. You could see some of that introspection on these pages on Saturday, as members of the Guardian's Muslim youth forum discussed the London bombings. "It isn't good enough for Muslims to merely condemn terrorism," wrote Ehsan Masood. "We need to clamp down hard on the shoddy theology that people like al-Qaida use to justify what they do."

That kind of voice will surely be emboldened now. Fiyaz Mughal, who runs the interfaith Diverse Trust, told me an agenda is already forming for British Muslims. First item would be a stepping up of efforts to train British-born imams - rather than relying on foreign leaders with an incendiary line in rhetoric. Next, moderates will demand that British Muslims report those they suspect of spreading jihadist fury. Mughal admits that literature glorifying 9/11 and the like is easily available in the British Muslim community; now, he predicts, those handing it out could find themselves turned in. Finally, he hopes for new Muslim engagement in the political process. Their demands will be clear, calling for a change in the foreign policy areas - Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine - that they believe have ignited the extremists in their midst.

Of course, this burden cannot fall on Muslims alone. The realisation that Britons are ready to bomb their fellow citizens is a challenge to the whole of our society. One security source I spoke to yesterday, before the police revealed their findings, presciently guessed that the culprits were "a UK group, home-grown, having bypassed al-Qaida training camps". He reckoned they would have drawn on the pool of young Muslims so disconnected and disenfranchised that they are easy prey to the extremist sermons heard in some mosques, to the wild, conspiracy-theory packed tapes sold outside and to the most fire-breathing websites. The proliferation of that material represents a deep challenge to British Islam; that disconnection and disenfranchisement is a challenge to Britain itself.

How will this revelation affect London? Some may be reassured by the knowledge that the bombers are dead, rather than at large. Others will hope that, if there are more jihadist cells in Britain, the police will now have the leads to find them.

But the truth is, it is still too early to tell what exactly it is we are dealing with. Is this a one-off, as 9/11 and Madrid turned out to be? Or is this the beginning of a campaign of suicide bombing, like the one waged on Israel for nearly10 years? My hunch is that the much-discussed stoicism and resilience so far displayed by Londoners is the fruit of the first assumption: that this is a horrible event, never to be repeated.

That might explain the calmness which has so surprised Israelis and Spaniards. The Spanish newspapers have been stunned by the British failure to take to the streets, to stage a mass demonstration like theirs last March. Israeli reporters in London last week marvelled at the absence of a crowd of passers-by, bellowing into a microphone, demanding revenge - the scene that so often follows a suicide bombing in Israel, like the one that hit a shopping mall in Netanya yesterday.

We can congratulate ourselves on our phlegmatic cool so far. But we should start to wonder what would happen to us if these attacks became a fact of life, as they have long been in Israel (and are now in Baghdad). Would we find restraint as easy a policy to follow if there was a bomb on the tube or the bus every other day?

I hope never to know the answer to that question. I want it to stay hypothetical for ever. But a menace we have until now seen only from a distance has stepped right up to face us. The ground is still trembling beneath our feet.

Comment: This is the next phase of the war on terror: citizens terrified of their neighbors, everyone turning everyone else in as a potential "terrorist". The natural result would be anger, violence, and general chaos - the perfect environment for Big Brother to step in and restore order.

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Suicide bomber profile: The Teenager
The Daily Mail
07:32am 13th July 2005

The anxious mother of the youngest suicide bomber, 19-year-old HASIB HUSSAIN, rang the Scotland Yard helpline to report him missing after hearing about the London explosions.

Knowing that her son was on a trip to London "with his mates", his mother Maniza had no idea that he might have actually caused one of the blasts.

When she did not hear from her son all day, mother-of-four Mrs Hussain reported him missing to the central casualty bureau at around 10pm.

A police family liaison officer was despatched to the family home in Leeds to record details of his description and likely clothing. At that stage, he was being treated as a victim and officers were also given the names of his two friends from Leeds who were travelling south with him by car.

But subsequently some of Hussain's property including his driving licence was found on the top deck of the bus which exploded in Tavistock Square, and on Monday night he was spotted on CCTV walking across the concourse of King's Cross station with his three fellow bombers, each carrying heavy holdalls.

Hasib was one of four children born to factory worker Mahmood and his wife Maniza. Both parents were both born in Pakistan.

Leeds-born Hasib attended the Matthew Murray High School, a few hundred yards from the £75,000 four-bedroom terraced family home in a rundown suburb of the city. According to one neighbour, Hussain "went off the rails" as a young teenager but became a reformed character when he "suddenly became devoutly religious" two years ago.

A friend of the family said: "His older brother was worried because Hasib seemed to be getting into some kind of gang and started wearing white robes but he decided there was no harm in him becoming religious. He didn't realise that there might have been something more sinister to it."

Comment: What if YOUR next door neighbor is a terrorist?! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!

As the next article shows, it seems the programming is working quite nicely...

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Islamophobia blamed for attack
Vikram Dodd
The Guardian
Wednesday July 13, 2005

A Muslim man has been beaten to death outside a corner shop by a gang of youths who shouted anti-Islamic abuse at him, the Guardian has learned.

Kamal Raza Butt, 48, from Pakistan, was visiting Britain to see friends and family. On Sunday afternoon he went to a shop in Nottingham to buy cigarettes and was first called "Taliban" by the youths and then set upon.

Nottinghamshire police described the incident as racially aggravated, not as Islamophobic, angering Muslim groups and surprising some senior officers.

They say it was not connected to a backlash against Muslims following the London bombings, which has seen mosques firebombed and Muslims attacked in the street. [...]

Muslim leaders last night said the killing and the fact that it was Islamophobic would heighten anxiety in their communities, which was already high before the London bombings and which has deepened with every report of attacks.

Nine youths, some of them juveniles, have been arrested by police, who are appealing for witnesses. [...]

Mr Ali added that the murder would stoke fears among Britain's 1.6 million Muslims: "This has sent shivers down the community. People are very worried, if this is the start of an escalation."

A police source said there was no clear evidence linking the murder to the backlash against Muslims after the bombings.

Superintendent Dave Colbeck, of Nottinghamshire police, said: "It would be inappropriate to comment on the possible motive.

"It is a localised incident and we are not looking at it as anything other than an isolated incident."

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Italy police launch nationwide security sweep
July 13, 2005

ROME - Italian police have launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected radical Islamic militants following last week's deadly attacks in London, Interior Ministry officials said on Wednesday.

The blitz, involving 200 search warrants from Milan to Naples, comes a day after the interior minister warned that terrorism was "knocking on Italy's door" and urged parliament to strengthen security laws to prevent an attack.

"About 200 search warrants are currently being carried out," an official from the ministry's public security department said. "They are related to controls of radical Islam throughout the country."

The search warrants are based on the suspicion of illegal possession of arms and explosives, said the spokesman, who did not want to be named.

Another ministry source said more information would be released when the blitz was over, likely later on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu called for beefed-up controls at Italy's borders and an extension of the period a suspect can be detained for identification from 12 to 24 hours, among other measures.

Bombings last Thursday of three underground stations and a bus in London killed at least 52 people and wounded 700.

Britain and Spain, which have suffered major attacks, both supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq, stirring fears that Italy and other U.S. allies could be targeted too.

Comment: All that remains is an "al-Qaeda" attack on a country whose government did not support the US-led war in Iraq, and everyone will be properly terrified and eager to relinquish their liberties for the illusion of safety.

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US defence report eyes future uncertainties 2005-07-13 14:39:49

BEIJING, July 13 -- A United States military report calls for enabling the armed forces to manage various challenges in an uncertain future.

Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith says the future threats to the United States cannot be identified in advance.

Therefore, Feith says the country must build a flexible force which can be quickly deployed and can counter different kinds of challenges, which will be the key message of the upcoming Quadrennial Defence Review.

The quadrennial report will be presented to the Congress in February 2006.

Released by the Defence Department every four years, the report usually comes up with suggestions for fundamental defence strategy changes, to be examined by the Congress.

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Mid-East Realities

MER - MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 12 July: Last November, long before any other credible expert news and analysis media, and even as the Israeli/U.S.-chosen Palestinian leaders were strenuously denying it, MER repeatedly published articles detailing the "STEALTH ASSASSINATION" of Yasser Arafat.

Though legal proof is not and may never be available -- short of a 'Deep Throat' coming forward -- the overwhelming preponderance of circumstances, threats, and evidence traces the assassination to the Israelis with American, and in fact with some Palestinian, connivance. Multiple multi-million dollar payoffs were apparently involved to everyone from Arafat's estranged and money-hungry 'wife'; to others who have inherited the monies and power of the once strong PLO Arafat built; to those who must have be in on the poisoning, the coverup, and the quick no eulogies few dignitaries burial.

After today's article in which the current Chairman of the Palestinian Fatah organization -- the position Arafat created and held for some fourty years -- is the MER article originally published on 13 November last year with links to most of the other original and exclusive articles and commentary published by MER at that time.

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Fatah chief: Yasser Arafat was poisoned
7/12/2005 6:50:00 PM GMT

The Fatah chairman Faruq Qaddumi contends Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

The head of the Palestinian movement Fatah asserts that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was fatally poisoned by Israel.

"I can categorically confirm that Abu Ammar (Arafat) was poisoned," exiled Fatah chairman Faruq Qaddumi told reporters.

Arafat, for long the public face of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, was declared dead in a French military hospital on the outskirts of Paris on November 11 2004 where he had been treated for two weeks.

France's strict medical secrecy laws mean that the exact cause of Arafat's death has not been made public, but his nephew received a copy of his medical file.

Fuelled by the ambiguity surrounding his death, many ordinary Palestinians are convinced that Arafat's death at the age of 75 was far from natural.

Arafat's personal physician of more than 20 years, Jordanian Ashraf Al-Kurdi "attests that Abu Ammar presented the symptoms of poisoning," added Qaddumi, who succeeded Arafat as head of the Fatah movement which the late leader had founded.

"The poisoned was administered in the food and in the medication he swallowed," said Qaddumi, who was appointed Fatah chief after Arafat's death but refuses to visit the occupied Palestinian territories and lives in Tunis.

He further added that the Palestinian health minister Dhehni al-Wahidi, had visited Tunisia to meet with the doctors there who had examined Arafat prior to his transfer to Paris.

Those doctors had been rushed to Arafat's bedside as his health suddenly plunged in late October 2004, but have since kept their silence on their findings.

A special committee of doctors has been set up to study the details of Arafat's medical records after they were handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

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Ariel Sharon orders forces to target leaders of Islamic Jihad
09:42 AM EDT Jul 13

LOD, Israel (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday he ordered his security forces to target the leaders of Islamic Jihad in the wake of a suicide bombing by the Palestinian militant group that killed three people in the Israeli seaside resort of Netanya.

The bombing Tuesday came despite a shaky five-month-old truce that has greatly reduced violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Speaking to a group of new immigrants at Ben Gurion International Airport, Sharon expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and promised swift retaliation.

"Yesterday I ordered the security forces to increase our actions and hit the leadership of the Islamic Jihad. We will not stop until they stop the terrorist murders," he said.

Sharon also ordered the Gaza Strip settlements closed to all nonresidents on Wednesday to keep out protesters opposed to Israel's planned withdrawal from the communities, according to Israeli media and government officials.

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Israel raids West Bank town
Last Updated Wed, 13 Jul 2005 08:52:12 EDT
CBC News

Israel took back control of the West Bank town of Tulkarem early Wednesday, a day after a suicide bomber killed three Israelis at a shopping mall.

Troops sealed off the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after the attack in the coastal city of Netanya. The blast killed two 16-year-old girls and a 31-year-old woman.

Early Wednesday, Israeli forces stormed a Palestinian checkpoint at Tulkarem, killing a Palestinian police officer in a shootout. A wave of Israeli troops then entered the town, setting a curfew and searching homes.

The Netanya bomber, 18-year-old Sami Abu Khalil, was from a village near Tulkarem.

A recent high school graduate, Abu Khalil had been recruited by the same Islamic Jihad cell responsible for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in February that killed five Israelis, Palestinian security officials said.

Five Islamic Jihad activists were arrested in the Tulkarem raids.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Wednesday he had ordered his forces to wage a "relentless attack" on Islamic Jihad.

"I ordered the security forces to increase our actions and hit the leadership of the Islamic Jihad," said Sharon.

Sharon also closed Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank to non-residents to try to keep out protesters ahead of a planned pullout.

Israel handed control of Tulkarem to Palestinian security forces in March, 2005. It was one of five towns Israel agreed to return to Palestinian hands after a February truce reached by Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Suicide car bomb kills at least 25 in Baghdad
July 13, 2005

BAGHDAD - At least 25 people, many of them children, were killed and 25 more wounded on Wednesday by a suicide car bomb near a patrol where U.S. forces were handing out sweets in Baghdad, police sources said.

A duty policeman at the Kindi hospital said 25 dead bodies and 25 wounded had arrived there.

"Most of them are children. The Americans were handing out sweets at the time of the attack," he said.

U.S. troops said one U.S. soldier and many Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast, including at least seven Iraqi children. Three U.S. soldiers were among the wounded.

"The vehicle, laden with explosives, drove up to a (U.S. military) Humvee before detonating. Many Iraqi civilians, mostly children, were around the Humvee at the time of the blast," U.S. military spokesman Sergeant David Abrams said.

A Reuters television cameraman at the scene shortly after the bombing said the vehicle blew up in between houses, reducing parts of three houses to rubble. Women in the street screamed in anger and sorrow near pools of blood in the street.

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Pakistan train crash leaves 150 dead, 1,000 injured
July 13, 2005

GHOTKI, Pakistan - Three crowded passenger trains collided in a devastating crash at a station in southern Pakistan, killing up to 150 people, injuring 1,000 and leaving many others trapped, officials said.

The driver of one express misread a signal and ploughed into a stationary train full of sleeping passengers near the remote town of Ghotki, then a third train slammed head-on into the wreckage, according to railway officials.

Rescuers were trying to save dozens of people still imprisoned in the mangled carriages of the three trains, which lay scattered amid piles of debris and body parts.

"It's a painful scene. There are bodies scattered all over. People are crying, fathers are looking for children, husbands for their wives and brothers for their sisters," a witness told AFP by telephone.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf ordered an urgent investigation and promised to punish those responsible for the pre-dawn pile-up, the country's worst in 15 years. [...]

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WorldCom's Ebbers Gets 25 Years in Prison
Associated Press
July 13, 2005

NEW YORK - Bernard Ebbers, who as CEO of WorldCom oversaw the largest corporate fraud in U.S. history, was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in prison.

The sentence was handed down by Judge Barbara Jones of U.S. District Court in Manhattan three years after WorldCom collapsed in an $11 billion accounting fraud, wiping out billions of investor dollars. [...]

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U.S. workers say they waste 2 hours a day
Mon Jul 11, 9:08 AM ET

BOSTON - U.S. workers say they squander over two hours a day at the workplace, with surfing the Web, socializing with co-workers and simply "spacing out" among the top time-wasting activities, according to a survey released on Monday.

Most U.S. companies assume about an hour of wasted time, but workers admit to actually frittering away more than twice as much time at a cost of $759 billion in annual paid salary that results in no apparent productivity, an online survey conducted by America Online and showed.

Wasted time did not include the standard lunch hour.

Of 10,044 employee respondents, 33 percent said they engaged in time-wasting activities because they didn't have enough work to do. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they squandered their work hours because they were underpaid.

Men and women wasted an equal amount of time at work, but older workers were significantly more attentive than younger workers, the survey showed. Workers over 55 years old wasted an average of just 30 minutes a day, according to the survey.

Bill Coleman, senior vice president at, said some time-wasting activities -- such as personal use of the Internet -- can be positive, resulting in new business ideas or a happier work environment.

"There is such a thing as creative waste," said Coleman. "Not all wasted time is bad."

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White House: Deficit Plummeting to $333B
Associated Press
July 13, 2005

WASHINGTON - Surging revenues and a steady economy have led the White House to project that this year's federal budget deficit will drop to $333 billion, nearly $100 billion below earlier estimates. "We're ahead of projections now," President Bush said Wednesday. Bush said the improving deficit picture vindicated his stewardship of the economy and budget.

"These numbers indicate that we're going to cut the deficit in half faster than the year 2009 - so long as Congress holds the line on spending," Bush said following a Cabinet meeting.

Just last February, the White House predicted a $427 billion deficit for the budget year ending Sept. 30 and red ink totaling $1.1 trillion over five years. The five-year deficit improvement would total $326 billion.

Last year's deficit of $412 billion was a record in dollar terms, though many previous deficits in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were larger when measured against the size of the economy.

The new estimates reflect significant improvement in revenues, which are so far coming in at levels 15 percent higher than last year.

"The nation's budget picture has improved dramatically," said the new White House report. "Due in large part to tax relief, the economy is strengthening and the growing economy is producing the tax receipts necessary to cut the deficit far faster than was initially predicted."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also sees improvement in the deficit. It said last week that the deficit for this year could dip below $325 billion. CBO's official update will be released next month.

Despite the improvement, the deficit picture remains far worse than when Bush took office in 2001, when both White House and congressional forecasters projected cumulative surpluses of $5.6 trillion over the subsequent decade. Then, it forecast a surplus for this year of $269 billion.

Those faulty estimates assumed the revenue boom fueled by the surging stock market and Internet-fueled worker productivity gains would continue. But that bubble burst and a recession and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assaults adversely affected the books. [...]

Democrats - even before the new numbers were released - urged caution and warned that the long-term deficit picture is not as rosy as the White House projects since it leaves out the long-term costs of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and relies on cuts in programs annually appropriated by Congress that may prove unrealistic.

"We should not be lulled into complacency," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., D-S.C. "Over the last three years, the Bush administration has posted the three worst deficits in history and though the deficit for 2005 has improved, it remains among the largest on record."

On the economy, the White House foresees a 3.6 percent real growth rate for this year, slowing to 3.4 percent next year.

Comment: The White House's view of the US economy is indeed quite different than the reality of the situation. The following is an excerpt from this week's Signs Economic Commentary:

Federal Deficit Reality: An Update

by John Williams July 7, 2005

John Williams is publisher of "Shadow Government Statistics" which looks behind the government's reported economic numbers.

When the U.S. Treasury reported the official 2004 federal budget deficit at a record $413 billion last October, the hisses and boos in the financial media were unrelenting. Two months later, the Treasury reported the actual 2004 deficit using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to be an incredulous $11.1 trillion, up from $3.7 trillion in 2003, yet nary a word was heard in the financial media, from Wall Street or from any political denizen of that former malarial swamp on the Potomac. An exception, of course, was Treasury Secretary John Snow, who signed the government's financial statements, but the data release was as low key as physically possible.

The silence partially reflects the financial-market terror that would accompany an effective national bankruptcy. Such is the risk when a government's fiscal ills spin so wildly out of control that they no longer are containable within the existing system.

Consider the traditional solution of raising taxes. Putting the $11.1 trillion deficit in perspective, if the government raised individual and corporate income taxes to 100%, seizing all salaries, wages and profits, the government's 2004 operations still would have been in deficit by trillions of dollars. The deficit has moved beyond practical fiscal control! Many in government and the markets are aware of the underlying deficit reality, but few dare to sound the alarm, for the ultimate resolutions to the situation all are political or financial nightmares.

The government's GAAP-based accounting generally is as used by Corporate America. It includes accrual accounting for money not yet physically disbursed or received but that otherwise is committed. The largest differences come from the bookkeeping related to Social Security and Medicare, where year-to-year changes in the net present value (discounted for the time value of money) of any unfunded liabilities are counted. In contrast, traditional deficit accounting is on a cash basis. It counts the cash received from payroll taxes (social Security, etc.) as income, but it does not reflect any offsetting obligations to the Social Security system.

That type of accounting for Social Security would be fine as far as I'm concerned as long as they kept it separate from the rest of the budget, which they don't.  That means that the payroll taxes paid into Social Security are considered income for the whole budget.

For nearly four decades, officially sanctioned accounting gimmicks have masked federal deficit reality. Surpluses in trust accounts, such as Social Security, have been used to obscure the true shortfall in government spending. With less than one tenth of the actual deficit being reported each year, a cumulative negative net worth for the U.S. government has built up in stealth to a level that now tops $45 trillion, with total obligations of $47.3 trillion (more than four times annual GDP). The problem has moved beyond crisis to an uncontrollable disaster that threatens the existence of the U.S. dollar and global financial stability.

Indeed, the unfolding fiscal nightmare likely will entail a U.S. hyperinflation and a resulting collapse in the value of the world's primary reserve currency, the dollar. With surviving politicians looking to restore public faith in the global currency system, a new system probably will be based on gold, the only monetary asset that has held public confidence for millennia.

This article updates and expands upon our original background piece on the topic, "Federal Deficit Reality", published in September 2004, and a special economic alert, "Financial Report of the United States Government (FY 2004)", which appeared last December. Portions of those articles are revised and incorporated herein.

Current Detail and Options

While the official cash-accounting deficit for fiscal-year 2004 (year-ended September 30) widened by 10.0% to $413 billion, the broad GAAP-based deficit (including Social Security, etc.) blew up to $11.1 trillion (96% of GDP) in 2004, triple the 2003 deficit level of $3.7 trillion.

Much of the increase in the broad GAAP-based deficit was due to a set-up charge from booking the 2004 "enhancements" to the Medicare system. Net of the $6.4 trillion one-time increase in net unfunded liabilities, the annual broad deficit was about $4.7 trillion, which still would have been a shortfall with 100% taxation.        

  U.S. Government - Alternate Fiscal Deficit and Debt (Source: US
    Treasury; $s Are Either Billions or Trillions, as Indicated)
             Formal   GAAP    GAAP       GAAP         Tot.         Federal
             Cash-    Ex-SS    With SS    Federal       Gross     Obliga-
Fiscal   Based    Etc.        Etc.          Negative     Federal   tions
  Year   Deficit    Deficit   Deficit      Net Worth   Debt       (GAAP)
              (Bil)           (Bil)         (Tril)       (Tril)         (Tril)     (Tril)
             ------        ------     ------      ------        ------    ------
2004  $412.8    $615.6     $11.1*   45.9          $7.4     $47.3
2003    374.8       667.6         3.7     34.8             6.8       36.2
2002    157.8       364.5         1.5     32.1             6.2       32.7
  *$4.7 trillion, excluding one-time setup costs of the Medicare
    Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003
    (enacted December 8, 2003).

Nonetheless, the total numbers reflect something close to true liability. The new Medicare charges show how quickly politicians can make an already impossible situation significantly worse. By adding features to Medicare without setting up full funding for same, the Administration and Congress helped increase the total net present value of unfunded federal government obligations by 31%, from $36.2 trillion to $47.3 trillion in just one year.

In like manner, any "fix" to Social Security, such as raising the retirement age, would result in a one-time change to the unfunded liabilities, but the ongoing annual shortfalls would be affected only minimally. An annual minimum broad GAAP-based deficit of $4.5 to $5.0 trillion appears to be in place.

Wall Street hypesters recently have been touting how the official 2005 federal deficit will narrow from 2004, and the Administration is promising ongoing deficit reductions from the official 2004 level. First, if the economy falls into recession, which it appears to be doing, all such projections are worthless. Second, even if the promised cuts came to pass, after full reductions in an about $4.5-trillion broad GAAP-based deficit, the mere billions saved would still leave the annual deficit rounded to about $4.5 trillion.

The impossibility of the current circumstance working out happily is why lame-duck Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has been urging politicians in Washington to come clean on not being able to deliver promised Social Security and Medicare benefits already under obligation. He suggests, correctly, that there is no chance of economic or productivity growth resolving the matter. The funding shortfall projections already encompass optimistic economic assumptions.

The current circumstance also is why the Bush Administration has been pushing for Social Security reform, but the plans discussed do not come close to touching the magnitude of the problem. Most Congressional Democrats will not even admit there is a problem. Indeed, neither side of the aisle is willing even to mention the scope of the actual shortfall or talk about the Medicare problem, which is even worse than Social Security.

If the Administration and Congress were willing to address the unfolding fiscal Armageddon, only two very unpleasant general solutions are available:

* The first solution is draconian spending cuts, particularly in Social Security and Medicare, accompanied by massive tax increases. The needed spending cuts and tax increases are so large as to be political impossibilities.

* In the absence of political action, the second solution is tacit bankruptcy, with the U.S. government facing some form of insolvency within the next decade or so. Shy of Uncle Sam defaulting on debt, the most likely eventual outcome is the Fed massively monetizing the U.S. debt, triggering a hyperinflation. U.S. obligations then would be paid off in a significantly debased and devalued dollar at literally pennies on the hundred dollars.

These alternatives are politically unthinkable and unspeakable for the Administration and Congress, hence the silence. Yet, these same political bodies are responsible for the current circumstance, along with the acquiescence of the financial community and an uninformed or disinterested voting public.

Decades of Deception -- Historical Perspective

Misleading accounting used by the U.S. government, both in financial and economic reporting, far exceeds the scope of corporate accounting wrongdoing that keeps making financial headlines. The bad boys of Corporate America, however, still have been subject to significant regulatory oversight and at least the appearance of the application of GAAP accounting to their books. In contrast, the government's operations and economic reporting have been subject to oversight solely by Congress, America's only "distinctly native criminal class."

Nearly four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson's political sensitivities led him and the Congress to slough off some of the costs of an escalating Vietnam War through the use of accounting gimmicks. To mask the rapid growth in the federal government's budget deficit, revenues from the surplus being generated by Social Security taxes were added into the general cash fund, without making any accounting allowance for the accompanying and increasing Social Security liabilities. This accounting-gimmicked reporting was dubbed "unified" budget accounting.

The government's accounting then, as it is now, was on a cash basis, reflecting cash revenues versus cash expenditures. There were no accruals made for monies owed by or due to the government or to the government's trust funds at some time in the future.

The bogus accounting understated the actual deficit for decades and even allowed for claims of budget surpluses in the years 1998 to 2001. While there were extensive self-congratulatory comments between the President, Congress and the Fed Chairman, at the time, all involved knew there never were any actual budget surpluses. There has not been an actual balanced budget, let alone a surplus, since before Johnson and his cronies cooked the bookkeeping.

The doctored fiscal reporting complemented the short-term political interests of both major political parties. Additionally, the ignorance and/or complicity of Pollyannaish analysts on Wall Street and in the financial media -- eager to discourage negative market activity -- helped to keep the fiscal crisis from arousing significant concern among a dumbed-down U.S. populace.

Dollar, Debt and Hyperinflation

The financial-market counterpart to the federal deficit is federal debt, where gross federal debt was $7.8 trillion as of June 30, 2005. That level was $7.4 trillion at the end of fiscal 2004, of which $4.3 trillion was borrowed from the public and $3.1 trillion was borrowed from the government (i.e. Social Security). Therein lies the problem. There is and will be too much debt from the U.S. government for the financial markets to absorb and remain stable.

The burgeoning deficit means the U.S. government will be increasing its debt level significantly for years to come. Near term, the amount borrowed will increase more rapidly than the markets are expecting, with the economy slowing down and entering recession. The ultimate question is who will lend the money to the U.S. Treasury? The answer is not U.S. investors.

The Federal Reserve's flow of funds accounts show that foreign investors, both official and private, owned 42.5% of U.S. Treasuries at the end of 2004, up from 18.2% at the end of 1994. In 2004, foreign investors bought 98.5% of new U.S. Treasury issuance. (See "A Look at Foreign Investment Behavior in the Latest Flow-of-Funds Data," courtesy of Gillespie Research Associates.)

Part of the reason for this relates to another deficit crisis the United States faces on the trade front, where an exploding trade deficit is throwing excess dollars into global circulation. By holding dollars and investing in Treasuries, instead of converting dollars to a local currency, foreign investors have been helping to fund much of the U.S. deficit.

The combination of the rapidly deteriorating trade and budget deficits guarantee this will change. At some point, willingness among foreign investors to hold dollars will evaporate along with the reality that currency losses are more than offsetting any investment gains. When sentiment shifts away from the greenback, not only are foreign investors going to stop buying U.S. Treasuries, but also they likely will dump their holdings of existing Treasuries along with the U.S. dollar. Such actions would lead to a sharp dollar decline, a sharp spike in interest rates and a sharp sell-off in equities. The question, again, is who is going to buy the Treasuries?

With new debt continually hitting the market, eventually the Fed will have to step in to buy the Treasuries -- as lender of last resort -- effectively monetizing the debt. The more the Fed monetizes, the greater will be the growth in the money supply, the greater will be the weakness in the dollar, the greater will be the rate of inflation.

Where the numbers already are there for this to happen, fiscal pressures will get even worse. Already, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation looks like it needs a federal bailout. As the economy deteriorates, the Congress or the Fed will step in as needed to prevent the collapse of any major financial institution that would threaten the system. Such action, though, will prove fiscally expensive.

The Fed let the banks fail in the 1930s, which helped intensify a decline in the money supply. That in turn was given major credit for deepening the Great Depression. The Fed will try to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, but, in the process, it likely will end up triggering a hyperinflationary depression.

…Such has been the traditional cure for countries that borrowed so far beyond their means that they ended up with a choice between bankruptcy and hyperinflation. Hyperinflation seems to be the easier political route, although, for the first time, it will involve the world's primary reserve currency.

In a hyperinflation, the currency very rapidly becomes worthless. In the classic case of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s, a 100,000-Mark note became more valuable as toilet paper than as currency; wheel barrows full of currency were needed to buy a loaf of bread; an expensive bottle of wine one night was worth even more the next morning, empty, as scrap glass. That is the eventual environment the United States faces because of its out-of-control fiscal madness.

For decades, "The deficit doesn't matter" and "The dollar doesn't matter" have been guiding principles in Washington. The deficit and the dollar do matter, greatly, as Washington, the U.S. public and the global markets will learn shortly.

A New Gold Standard?

The dollar, as we know it, soon will be history. Dollar inflation has been through a number of cycles since the founding of the Republic, but its current perpetual uptrend -- net of some bouncing during the Great Depression -- only began once the Federal Reserve was created in 1914. Now, with fiscal policy careening beyond any chance of containment, the Federal Reserve will get to oversee the U.S. currency's demise.

It is not that the Fed wants to monetize the federal debt and trigger a hyperinflation -- the U.S. Central Bank certainly will do its utmost to avoid that outcome -- but it will have no politically acceptable alternative. The system otherwise would tend to right itself anyway through the economic shakeout of a hyperinflationary depression. While the Fed might hope to mitigate and to control the disaster, given the Fed's nature, it is more likely to exacerbate conditions rather than to improve them.

When the dollar loses most of its value, through hyperinflation and/or currency dumping, the global currency system and economy will be in shambles, and a new currency system will have to be established. Those setting up the new system will need to establish its credibility, and there is only one monetary asset that can accomplish that: Gold.

Gold is the only commodity that has held up as a liquid store of wealth over the millennia. The amount of gold used to buy a loaf of bread in Ancient Rome still buys a loaf of bread today. In like manner, the amount of gold that bought a regular haircut for a man in 1914, still buys a similar haircut today. Where the public does not trust today's politicians and central bankers, it does trust gold.

Whatever structure evolves for the new currency system, it most likely will have gold at its base. That is one reason that central banks rarely have followed through on threatened gold sales in recent years. The threats usually were nothing but jawboning aimed at depressing current market prices. Those countries holding the most gold will have the greatest advantage in any new currency system, and the central bankers know that, including Mr. Greenspan.

Timing of Related Currency and Financial Market Troubles

Central banks, OPEC, corporations and investors, both foreign and domestic -- as holders of U.S. dollars -- increasingly will sense or realize the greenback is headed for the dumpster. It only is a matter of when, not if.

The dumping of the U.S. dollar and/or U.S. debt by investors likely will hit quickly, with little advance notice. All the official actions that in turn could trigger hyperinflation would follow rapidly, with a full-fledged dollar collapse and developing hyperinflation possibly unfolding in a matter of weeks.

When this will happen is the tough question. It could be years; it could be next week. Without knowing the precise proximal trigger of the shift in sentiment against the U.S. currency, the timing is impossible to call. Nonetheless, some early warning signs may be evident in unusual anti-dollar activity in the currency markets, or in unusually sharp and unexplained spikes in the price of gold.

It would be extraordinarily surprising if the ultimate dollar collapse can be held off a decade, let alone three-to-five years. The pending global financial crisis conceivably could break in the immediate future, triggered possibly by one or more of the following developments: action by China to peg its currency to a basket of currencies instead of the dollar, OPEC pricing oil using a basket of currencies instead of the dollar, a sovereign credit rating downgrade on U.S. Treasuries, a major terrorist act, a very bad monthly trade report, a misstatement by an Administration official or some other event that may appear obvious in retrospect.

It's seems the picture isn't quite so rosy after all. It is clear that Bush is distancing himself from the big crash that appears to be unavoidable at this point.

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Part of US oil future tilts in the ocean
Tue Jul 12, 5:16 PM ET

NEW YORK - BP Plc.'s Thunder Horse platform -- the brightest short-term prospect for raising U.S. oil production -- is tilting 20 to 30 degrees after Hurricane Dennis hit the Gulf of Mexico, but the company said it's too early to tell whether initial output will be delayed.

BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said a 10-ton winch that fell off the platform as it was being evacuated ahead of Hurricane Dennis last Thursday probably did not cause the tilt.

The $1 billion platform had been expected eventually to boost U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil output by nearly 17 percent.

Chappell said it was too early to determine if inaugural oil and natural gas output, which had been expected later this year, would be delayed by the platform's listing, which was discovered early on Monday.

Thunder Horse's peak output was expected to be 250,000 barrels per day of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas.

It is the biggest hope for a small recovery in crude production in the United States, where oil output has been falling since the 1970s. The gulf currently produces about 1.5 million barrels per day of oil, about 25 percent of total U.S. output. [...]

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Dennis Leaves Many Without Power in Fla.
Associated Press
Tue Jul 12,10:35 PM ET

GULF BREEZE, Fla. - The outlook was improving for Cathy Hart and thousands of others Tuesday along the storm-battered Gulf Coast, where signs of normal life were everywhere just two days after Hurricane Dennis pummeled the region. Power was starting to come on, stores were opening their doors, and lines for ice and water were getting shorter.

Hart waited a half-hour in line for gas, and not wanting to waste what was in her tank she kept the air conditioner off - a prescription for misery with the temperature approaching 90.

Things were a little better at home. She at least has a generator to run a fan, and Hurricane Dennis spared her Gulf Breeze home, which was damaged 10 months ago by Hurricane Ivan.

"At least there are no trees on my house," Hart said. "I'll be happy to be just cleaning up branches."

"It's really quick," a relieved Deana Vess said as she drove in and out of the relief line at Gulf Breeze Middle School. Vess, who was without power six days after Ivan last year, said she hoped it will be turned back on sooner this time.

"The kids get miserable," Vess said.

Gulf Power spokesman John Hutchinson said fewer than 200,000 homes and business were without power in Florida on Tuesday - a marked improvement from a day earlier.

Most of those still without power were in Florida's two westernmost counties, Escambia and Santa Rosa. Hutchinson said the company would likely have 95 percent of the power back on within a week - except on Santa Rosa Island where the storm made landfall with 120 mph winds.

For many who lived through the aftermath of Ivan, the wait wasn't too daunting. "Mostly, it's an inconvenience," Hart said.

Restaurants in Pensacola experienced bustling business Tuesday as people without power at home went out for some food in the comforts of air conditioning. Home stores were also buzzing with people looking for chain saws and other equipment to begin their cleanup.

With few houses destroyed by Dennis, shelters also were shutting down. State officials reported that only 225 people remained in six shelters Tuesday.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, petroleum companies on Tuesday restarted scores of production platforms that had been evacuated as the storm approached.

In Alabama, more than 800 people have called the attorney general's office to complain that some businesses are charging exorbitant prices to take advantage of people affected by Dennis.

Attorney General Troy King said the complaints have included grocery stores charging $5 for a bag of ice that would normally cost less than $2. State law makes it a misdemeanor to charge more than 25 percent above what the cost was during the 30 days before the emergency. [...]

Meanwhile, attention was shifting to a new tropical storm that formed late Monday in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Emily was 530 miles east-southeast of Barbados on Tuesday afternoon and heading west. It had sustained wind of 50 mph and was expected to strengthen.

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Volcano heats up on Indonesia's most densely populated island
Jul 13, 2005, 8:37 GMT

Jakarta - Indonesian experts upgraded the alert status for Mount Merapi on densely populated Java island, warning residents living in dangerous areas to be more cautious following increased signs of activity from the volcano, officials said Wednesday.

The nearly 3,000-metre-high volcano, which looms above plains north of the city of Yogyakarta, about 450-kilometres southeast of Jakarta, emitted at least 95 tremors since Friday, forcing authorities to raise Merapi's status to the "beware" alert level, officials said.

The tremors caused local government authorities in central Java's Boyolali district to appeal to residents in Jrakah village, located on the northern slope of the volcano, to be more vigilant.

However, an official at a nearby monitoring post, identified as Rukiyo, said volcanologists still allow nearby residents to continue digging sand used in construction.

"We haven't yet issue a ban for the sand diggers to stop conducting their activity," Rukiyo told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "We have also not put the volcano off-limits for climbers. We're only appealing to beware due to the increasing signs of Merapi's activity."

Volcanologists periodically send advisory messages to local government authorities near Mount Merapi due to the volcano's recent activity, he added. The volcano has been rumbling intermittently for the past four years.

In addition to appeals to residents to remain cautious, local government authorities have also urged villagers living in the dangerous areas to practice evacuation procedures.

The Indonesian archipelago, straddling the seismically active "Ring of Fire," has the world's highest density of volcanoes. Of its 500 volcanoes, 128 are active and 65 - including Merapi - are listed as dangerous.

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New Comet Findings from Deep Impact
July 12th 2005

The Deep Impact collision with Comet Tempel 1 on July 4th revealed that the main component is too soft to be ice. Scientists once thought ice would be the main component. The comet may have been composed of a fine powder more like talcum powder, not a beach sand. A hot vapor of water and carbon dioxide was also detected by Deep Impacts flyby instruments.

Ground telescopes have had trouble viewing the comet because of thick dust that clouds the view. The amount of dust seems to indicate that the comet was not held together very tightly. This may be because there is not much mass involved, producing less gravity.

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Shuttle Countdown Enters Final Hours
Associated Press
July 13, 2005

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - With a brief but embarrassing setback behind them, NASA crews fueled Discovery for liftoff Wednesday afternoon on the first space shuttle flight in 2 1/2 years. The only possible obstacle appeared to be an increasing chance of thunderstorms.

A temporary window cover fell off the shuttle and damaged thermal tiles near the tail Tuesday afternoon. The problem was announced just two hours after NASA declared Discovery ready to return a shuttle to space for the first time since the Columbia disaster.

The mishap was an eerie reminder of the very thing that doomed Columbia - damage to the spaceship's fragile thermal shield.

Discovery and its crew of seven were set to blast off at 3:51 p.m. EDT on a flight to the international space station. The chance of acceptable weather at launch time was reduced to 40 percent, from 60 percent on Tuesday. [...]

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Idaho Boy Dies in Apparent Choking Game
Associated Press
July 13, 2005

BOISE, Idaho - A 10-year-old boy was found dead, hanging from a tree, apparently killed while trying to get high by playing the "pass-out game," authorities said.

Dalton Eby may be the second Idaho child killed in recent months while playing a choking game, trying to cut off the oxygen supply to the brain to achieve a type of "high."

Dalton's mother reported him missing last Thursday when he failed to return home after visiting a friend. Search and rescue crews found his body Friday, in a tree near his Island Park home, the Fremont County sheriff's office said in a statement.

There was nothing at the scene suggesting that anyone else was involved, the sheriff's office said.

"During the course of the investigation it was learned that there is a game that is common knowledge to many of our youth. A game known as the 'pass-out game,' the 'fainting game,' the 'tingling game,' or the 'something dreaming game' - to name a few," the statement added.

Dalton's parents had never heard of the game, and neither had the parents of his friends, the sheriff's office said.

That was also the case three months ago in Nampa, where 13-year-old Chelsea Dunn was found dead after apparently hanging herself in her closet.

An investigation was inconclusive, but Dunn's family believes she died accidentally while playing the game, which was popular with a group of girls at her school. Six girls at the school were suspended for a day after a security camera videotape showed the seventh-graders choking each other in a hallway. [...]

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Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels - Signed Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger Now Online
July 13, 2005

RIMSTING, Germany - has obtained and made available online copies of two letters sent by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was recently elected Pope, to a German critic of the Harry Potter novels. In March 2003, a month after the English press throughout the world falsely proclaimed that Pope John Paul II approved of Harry Potter, the man who was to become his successor sent a letter to a Gabriele Kuby outlining his agreement with her opposition to J.K. Rowling's offerings. (See below for links to scanned copies of the letters signed by Cardinal Ratzinger.)

As the sixth issue of Rowling's Harry Potter series - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - is about to be released, the news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed serious reservations about the novels is now finally being revealed to the English-speaking world still under the impression the Vatican approves the Potter novels.

In a letter dated March 7, 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger thanked Kuby for her "instructive" book Harry Potter - gut oder böse (Harry Potter- good or evil?), in which Kuby says the Potter books corrupt the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy.

"It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly," wrote Cardinal Ratzinger. [...]

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For UFO expert, sci-fi is real life
By Jeremy Meyer
Denver Post Staff Writer

Aurora - Two or three times a month, someone in Colorado looks into the sky and sees something he cannot identify.

Often, that's when John Schuessler's group gets a call.

Schuessler, a retired Boeing engineer who moved to Jefferson County, is the international director of the Mutual UFO Network, a 3,000-member nonprofit group that investigates UFO sightings and promotes research on the phenomenon.

His group runs a website on which people can report their experiences and sends investigators to interview people who spy something strange.

"We're not a lot of starry-eyed believers," Schuessler said. "We're a fairly skeptical group. There's no doubt in my mind about UFOs. We have firm evidence of it. We have videotapes. And the testimony by credible people is beyond question. ... Some of the most definitive documentation is by the government - 300,000 documents that all attest to the reality of UFOs."

Schuessler will speak Sunday at the Aurora History Museum, which through Sept. 18 is featuring an exhibit celebrating a century of science fiction.

He will talk about UFO sightings across Colorado - from the storm chaser in Jefferson County who reported a bowling-ball-like object flying out of clouds to a park packed with people who saw a strange craft 500 feet above Lakewood that zoomed straight up.

There seems to be an unending number of sightings in the San Luis Valley.

"They call that the 'mysterious valley,' and I can see why," Schuessler said.

He will explain how his group, in cataloging and investigating UFO sightings around the world, is building a body of evidence that "there is something real (in the skies)."

He added: "It's unusual, it's not ours, and it's something worth looking at."

Perhaps that won't be much of a surprise to the visitors to the museum's popular "Science Fiction Century" exhibit, which opened July 4.

Curator Matt Chasansky worked through various science-fiction groups in the Denver area to build the display, which includes everything from Star Wars costumes to first-edition books by H.G. Wells.

The experience has been an eye- opener for Chasansky, who was never really a sci-fi buff until the exhibit.

"At first I thought (science fiction) was escapism," he said. "People want somewhere that is totally invented that they can separate themselves from."

But he realized it was more reality- based than other pop-culture genres such as horror or fantasy. Science fiction extrapolates actual scientific discovery. For example, Jules Verne's 19th-century stories about moonshots became reality by the 1960s.

Schuessler doesn't see a conflict in talking factually about UFOs at an exhibition of science fiction.

"We are living a real science- fiction situation that most people want to just read about," he said. "It is futuristic stuff. The characteristics of the UFO sightings are beyond our technological capabilities."

Schuessler leaves conjecture - "Who is flying these vehicles?" "Why they are here?" - to the sci-fi buffs.

"They come up with ideas based on reality but beyond reality," he said. "It's where the two merge - reality merges with science fiction."

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