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Signs Economic Commentary
Donald Hunt
July 18, 2005

The U.S. stock market the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 10,640.83 up 1.8% from the previous week's close of 10,449.14. The NASDAQ closed at 2,156.78, up 2.1% from the close of 2112.18 the Friday before. The yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury bond was 4.17% on close of Friday, up seven basis points from 4.10 the week before. The U.S. dollar closed at 0.8308 euros on Friday, down 0.6% compared to 0.8357 the previous Friday. That puts the euro at 1.2036 dollars, compared to 1.1966 the week before. Oil closed at $58.09 a barrel, down 1.6% from the previous week's $59.04. In terms of euros a barrel of oil would cost 48.26 euros, down 2.2% from last Friday's close of 49.34. Gold closed at 421.70 dollars an ounce down 0.8% from $424.90 on the previous Friday. The gold/oil ratio (how many barrels of oil an ounce of gold would buy) closed at 7.26, up 0.8% from last week's 7.20.

The U.S. stock market was up again on positive sentiment in the United States (Note to our non-United States readers: What can I say? We're completely deluded optimists.):

U.S. Univ. of Michigan Sentiment Index Rose to 96.5 in July

July 15 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose in July to the highest this year as sustained job growth and rising home values encouraged Americans, a private report showed.

The University of Michigan's preliminary consumer sentiment index for the month rose to 96.5 from 96 in June, to produce the year's first consecutive gain. A reading of 95 was forecast for the month, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

Consumers have become accustomed to rising gasoline prices, which reached a record last week, economists said. They've also become adept at tapping into home equity gains, which may support spending and economic growth in the coming months.

"The recent uptick in gas prices hadn't been steep enough or sustained long enough to spook consumers, who've grown accustomed to prices going up and coming down," David Huether, director of economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, said before the report.

The 55 forecasts in the Bloomberg News survey ranged from a high of 100.2 to a low of 91. The preliminary sentiment index is based on a phone survey of about 300 households. The final report for the month, due July 29, will reflect about 500 responses.

The current conditions index, which reflects Americans' perception of their financial situation and whether it's a good time to buy big-ticket items, fell to 112 in July from 113.2 in June. The expectations index, based on optimism about the next one to five years, increased to 86.6 from 85.

"A lot of what we've seen in consumer attitude surveys this year has been dictated by energy prices, specifically gas prices at the pump which people see on a daily basis," Glenn Haberbush, an economist at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in Hoboken, New Jersey, said before the report. Still, "it's a 'watch what I do, not what I say' kind of scenario because people are spending even as they're complaining."

Energy Prices

The average price for a gallon of gasoline at the pump rose to a record $2.33 for the week ended July 11, compared with an average of $2.16 for June and $1.92 for the same week a year ago, according to the Energy Department. Oil prices reached a record $61.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange July 7 on concerns that Hurricane Dennis might interrupt production in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to government reports issued the past two days, manufacturing in is improving and retail sales are on the increase. The data suggest inflation fears are receding and economic growth is strengthening.

An index of manufacturing in New York state, which provides an early clue to U.S. factory activity, rose to 23.9 in July from 10.5 last month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said today. In June, U.S. industrial production increased 0.9 percent, the most since February 2004, and U.S. wholesale prices were unchanged, other government reports showed today.

Inflation Tame

Prices U.S. consumers paid for goods and services were unchanged in June after declining 0.1 percent in May, the government said yesterday. U.S. retail sales surged 1.7 percent in June after decreasing 0.3 percent the prior month.

Hurricane Dennis, which struck the Florida Panhandle July 10, helped spur sales of food and emergency supplies in the southeastern United States, according to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. On July 9, the world's largest retailer said sales at its U.S. stores which had been open at least a year were rising within this month's forecast range of 3 percent to 5 percent.

Job growth and higher wages are encouraging spending, said David Abella, an analyst with Rochdale Investment Management in New York.

Job creation has averaged 181,000 a month this year, compared with 182,830 in 2004, which was the most since 1999. The unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent last month, the lowest since September 2001, according to the Labor Department.

Consumer Spending

Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, will probably rise at a 3.2 percent annual pace this quarter after increasing 3.6 percent in the first three months of the year, according to the Bloomberg monthly economist survey published July 12.

"In spite of the spike in gas prices, consumer spending is holding up very well," Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics LLC in Pepper Pike, Ohio, said before the report. "We know the job picture is better and we know stock price performance has been better and we know they both go into the confidence stew."

Lower mortgage rates have also buoyed consumer attitudes, allowing many homeowners to refinance at lower borrowing costs and tap equity from increased home values, Mayland said.

Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates remain near the 14-month low of 5.53 percent reached in the the week ending July 1, according to Freddie Mac, the second-biggest purchaser of U.S. mortgages. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index reached 1223.29 July 13, its highest level since March 7.

"The shock has kind of worn off and people are finding that they can afford these oil and gas prices," Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight Inc., in Lexington, Massachusetts, said before the report. "Consumers are feeling pretty good and the numbers suggest they're spending at a decent clip."

During this politically tricky time in the United States, the ruling class is doing everything it can to keep the economy expanding, even if it means a worse crash later. For example, nothing has been done to pull back the reckless lending into the housing bubble:

A Hands-Off Policy on Mortgage Loans

By Edmund L. Andrews

WASHINGTON, July 14 - For two months now, federal banking regulators have signaled their discomfort about the explosive rise in risky mortgage loans.

First they issued new "guidance" to banks about home-equity loans, warning against letting homeowners borrow too much against their houses. Then they expressed worry about the surge in no-money-down mortgages, interest-only loans and "liar's loans" that require no proof of a borrower's income.

The impact so far? Almost nil.

"It's as easy to get these loans now as it was two months ago," said Michael Menatian, president of Sanborn Mortgage, a mortgage broker in West Hartford, Conn. "If anything, people are offering them even more than before."

The reason is that federal banking regulators, from the Federal Reserve to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, have been reluctant to back up their words with specific actions. For even as they urge caution, officials here are loath to stand in the way of new methods of extending credit.

"We don't want to stifle financial innovation," said Steve Fritts, associate director for risk management policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "We have the most vibrant housing and housing-finance market in the world, and there is a lot of innovation. Normally, we think that if consumers have a lot of choice, that's a good thing."

Economically, the United States is now enjoying the benefits of massive war spending and the attendant deficit spending. This will always provide a short term stimulus. We should keep in mind the human cost as well as the long term risks, particularly if the war is a losing one. Here is Norman Solomon on the blood-soaked nature of U.S. economic growth:

Help the Economy: Invest Your Son
War and Venture Capitalism

By Norman Solomon

During the Vietnam War, one of the peace movement's more sardonic slogans was: "War is good business. Invest your son."

In recent years, some eminent pundits and top government officials have become brazen about praising war as a good investment.

Thomas Friedman's 1999 book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" summed up a key function of the USA's high-tech arsenal. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," he wrote. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

On Sept. 12, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke this way as he defended the U.S. military occupation of Iraq: "Since the United States and its coalition partners have invested a great deal of political capital, as well as financial resources, as well as the lives of our young men and women -- and we have a large force there now -- we can't be expected to suddenly just step aside." He was voicing the terminology and logic of a major capitalist investor.

And so, it was fitting when the New York Times reported days ago that Powell will soon be (in the words of the headline) "Taking a Role in Venture Capitalism." The article explained that Powell is becoming a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a renowned Silicon Valley venture firm: "Mr. Powell acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that he has had any number of tempting job offers since leaving the State Department in January, but that the chance to work as a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins seemed too enticing to turn down."

Writ large, the balance-sheet outlook of venture capitalism is being widely applied to the current war in Iraq -- even while defenders of the war are apt to indignantly reject any claim that it's driven by zeal for massive profits. But let's take the corporate firms at their own words.

Last year, I went through the latest annual reports from some American firms with Pentagon contracts. Those reports acknowledged, as a matter of fact, the basic corporate reliance on the warfare state.

Orbit International Corp., a small business making high-tech products for use by the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines, had increased its net sales by nearly $2.4 million during the previous two years, to about $17.1 million -- and the war future was bright. "Looking ahead," CEO Dennis Sunshine reported, "Orbit's Electronics and Power Unit Segments expect to continue to benefit from the expanding military/defense and homeland security marketplace." In its yearly report to federal regulators, Orbit International acknowledged: "We are heavily dependent upon military spending as a source of revenues and income. Accordingly, any substantial future reductions in overall military spending by the U.S. government could have a material adverse effect on our sales and earnings."

A much larger corporation, Engineered Support Systems, Inc., had quadrupled its net revenues between 1999 and 2003, when they reached $572.7 million. For the report covering 2003, the firm's top officers signed a statement that declared: "As we have always said, rapid deployment of our armed forces drives our business." The company's president, Jerry Potthoff, assured investors: "Our nation's military is deployed in over 130 countries, so our products and personnel are deployed, as well. As long as America remains the world's policeman, our products and services will help them complete their missions."

The gigantic Northrop Grumman firm, while noting that its revenues totaled $26.2 billion in 2003, boasted: "In terms of the portfolio, Northrop Grumman is situated in the sweet spot' of U.S. defense and national security spending."

War. How sweet it can be.

This excerpt is from Norman Solomon's new book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, published in July 2005. For more information, go to: www.WarMadeEasy.com

Again, the economic benefits of a Spartan-like military state can continue only if the wars are successful. Military spending on losing efforts can only hasten sharp economic decline. And the resistance to the American Empire, in Iraq, in Latin America, in the statements of the leaders of China and Russia, do not bode well for continued expansion. The wishful thinking of the powerful can make it easy to overlook the beginning of the end of a system of exploitation. That end will often grow out of the areas that the dominant actor cannot comprehend. What is the one thing the corporations that embody late capitalism cannot understand? Empathy. They are psychopathic by nature and the psychopath cannot understand empathy and conscience. Here is Subcomandante Marcos of the remarkable Zapatista Movement describing the beginnings of their uprising:

And then our small history was that we grew tired of exploitation by the powerful, and then we organized in order to defend ourselves and to fight for justice. In the beginning there were not many of us, just a few, going this way and that, talking with and listening to other people like us. We did that for many years, and we did it in secret, without making a stir. In other words, we joined forces in silence. We remained like that for about 10 years, and then we had grown, and then we were many thousands. We trained ourselves quite well in politics and weapons, and, suddenly, when the rich were throwing their New Year's Eve parties, we fell upon their cities and just took them over. And we left a message to everyone that here we are, that they have to take notice of us. And then the rich took off and sent their great armies to do away with us, just like they always do when the exploited rebel - they order them all to be done away with. But we were not done away with at all, because we had prepared ourselves quite well prior to the war, and we made ourselves strong in our mountains. And there were the armies, looking for us and throwing their bombs and bullets at us, and then they were making plans to kill off all the indigenous at one time, because they did not know who was a zapatista and who was not. And we were running and fighting, fighting and running, just like our ancestors had done. Without giving up, without surrendering, without being defeated.

What the Zapatistas in Mexico, along with the Bolivian indigenous rebels and the Chavistas in Venezuela, are attacking is the heart of the system of capitalist exploitation: the alliance of international capital with local neo-feudal exploiters. But as important as the "attack" is their building of alternate systems of social welfare, their conceiving of alternate systems of economy, and even alternate systems of relating to other people globally. Here is Subcomandante Marcos again, describing the disillusionment that followed after the Mexican government decided not to honor its agreements with the Zapatista movement:

And the first thing we saw was that our heart was not the same as before, when we began our struggle. It was larger, because now we had touched the hearts of many good people. And we also saw that our heart was more hurt, it was more wounded. And it was not wounded by the deceits of the bad governments, but because, when we touched the hearts of others, we also touched their sorrows. It was as if we were seeing ourselves in a mirror.

What this indigenous movement saw was the similar suffering in communities around the world: a variety of different groups sharing the status of capitalist victims, of sufferers. As Bob Marley sang in "Babylon System:"

Babylon system is the vampire.
Sucking the children day by day.
Babylon system is the vampire,
Sucking the blood of the sufferers.
Building church and university.
Deceiving the people continually.
Me say them graduating thieves and murderers.
Look out now.
Sucking the blood of the sufferers.

Tell the children the truth.
Tell the children the truth.
Tell the children the truth right now.
Come on and tell the children the truth.

'Cause we've been trodding on the winepress much too long.
Got to rebel, got to rebel now.
We've been taken for granted,
Much too long. Rebel.

Here is the Zapatista take on capitalism and neoliberalism:

Now we are going to explain to you how we, the zapatistas, see what is going on in the world. We see that capitalism is the strongest right now. Capitalism is a social system, a way in which a society goes about organizing things and people, and who has and who has not, and who gives orders and who obeys. In capitalism, there are some people who have money, or capital, and factories and stores and fields and many things, and there are others who have nothing but their strength and knowledge in order to work. In capitalism, those who have money and things give the orders, and those who only have their ability to work obey.

Then capitalism means that there a few who have great wealth, but they did not win a prize, or find a treasure, or inherited from a parent. They obtained that wealth, rather, by exploiting the work of the many. So capitalism is based on the exploitation of the workers, which means they exploit the workers and take out all the profits they can. This is done unjustly, because they do not pay the worker what his work is worth. Instead they give him a salary that barely allows him to eat a little and to rest for a bit, and the next day he goes back to work in exploitation, whether in the countryside or in the city.

And capitalism also makes its wealth from plunder, or theft, because they take what they want from others, land, for example, and natural resources. So capitalism is a system where the robbers are free and they are admired and used as examples.

And, in addition to exploiting and plundering, capitalism represses because it imprisons and kills those who rebel against injustice.

Capitalism is most interested in merchandise, because when it is bought or sold, profits are made. And then capitalism turns everything into merchandise, it makes merchandise of people, of nature, of culture, of history, of conscience. According to capitalism, everything must be able to be bought and sold. And it hides everything behind the merchandise, so we don't see the exploitation that exists. And then the merchandise is bought and sold in a market. And the market, in addition to being used for buying and selling, is also used to hide the exploitation of the workers. In the market, for example, we see coffee in its little package or its pretty little jar, but we do not see the campesino who suffered in order to harvest the coffee, and we do not see the coyote who paid him so cheaply for his work, and we do not see the workers in the large company working their hearts out to package the coffee. Or we see an appliance for listening to music like cumbias, rancheras or corridos, or whatever, and we see that it is very good because it has a good sound, but we do not see the worker in the maquiladora who struggled for many hours, putting the cables and the parts of the appliance together, and they barely paid her a pittance of money, and she lives far away from work and spends a lot on the trip, and, in addition, she runs the risk of being kidnapped, raped and killed as happens in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

So we see merchandise in the market, but we do not see the exploitation with which it was made. And then capitalism needs many markets...or a very large market, a world market.

And so the capitalism of today is not the same as before, when the rich were content with exploiting the workers in their own countries, but now they are on a path which is called Neoliberal Globalization. This globalization means that they no longer control the workers in one or several countries, but the capitalists are trying to dominate everything all over the world. And the world, or Planet Earth, is also called the "globe", and that is why they say "globalization," or the entire world.

And neoliberalism is the idea that capitalism is free to dominate the entire world, and so tough, you have to resign yourself and conform and not make a fuss, in other words, not rebel. So neoliberalism is like the theory, the plan, of capitalist globalization. And neoliberalism has its economic, political, military and cultural plans. All of those plans have to do with dominating everyone, and they repress or separate anyone who doesn't obey so that his rebellious ideas aren't passed on to others.

Then, in neoliberal globalization, the great capitalists who live in the countries which are powerful, like the United States, want the entire world to be made into a big business where merchandise is produced like a great market. A world market for buying and selling the entire world and for hiding all the exploitation from the world. Then the global capitalists insert themselves everywhere, in all the countries, in order to do their big business, their great exploitation. Then they respect nothing, and they meddle wherever they wish. As if they were conquering other countries. That is why we zapatistas say that neoliberal globalization is a war of conquest of the entire world, a world war, a war being waged by capitalism for global domination. Sometimes that conquest is by armies who invade a country and conquer it by force. But sometimes it is with the economy, in other words, the big capitalists put their money into another country or they lend it money, but on the condition that they obey what they tell them to do. And they also insert their ideas, with the capitalist culture which is the culture of merchandise, of profits, of the market.

Then the one which wages the conquest, capitalism, does as it wants, it destroys and changes what it does not like and eliminates what gets in its way. For example, those who do not produce nor buy nor sell modern merchandise get in their way, or those who rebel against that order. And they despise those who are of no use to them. That is why the indigenous get in the way of neoliberal capitalism, and that is why they despise them and want to eliminate them. And neoliberal capitalism also gets rid of the laws which do not allow them to exploit and to have a lot of profit. They demand that everything can be bought and sold, and, since capitalism has all the money, it buys everything. Capitalism destroys the countries it conquers with neoliberal globalization, but it also wants to adapt everything, to make it over again, but in its own way, a way which benefits capitalism and which doesn't allow anything to get in its way. Then neoliberal globalization, capitalism, destroys what exists in these countries, it destroys their culture, their language, their economic system, their political system, and it also destroys the ways in which those who live in that country relate to each other. So everything that makes a country a country is left destroyed.

Then neoliberal globalization wants to destroy the nations of the world so that only one Nation or country remains, the country of money, of capital. And capitalism wants everything to be as it wants, in its own way, and it doesn't like what is different, and it persecutes it and attacks it, or puts it off in a corner and acts as if it doesn't exist.

Then, in short, the capitalism of global neoliberalism is based on exploitation, plunder, contempt and repression of those who refuse. The same as before, but now globalized, worldwide.

But it is not so easy for neoliberal globalization, because the exploited of each country become discontented, and they will not say well, too bad, instead they rebel. And those who remain and who are in the way resist, and they don't allow themselves to be eliminated. And that is why we see, all over the world, those who are being screwed over making resistances, not putting up with it, in other words, they rebel, and not just in one country but wherever they abound. And so, as there is a neoliberal globalization, there is a globalization of rebellion.

And it is not just the workers of the countryside and of the city who appear in this globalization of rebellion, but others also appear who are much persecuted and despised for the same reason, for not letting themselves be dominated, like women, young people, the indigenous, homosexuals, lesbians, transsexual persons, migrants and many other groups who exist all over the world but who we do not see until they shout ya basta of being despised, and they raise up, and then we see them, we hear them, and we learn from them.

And then we see that all those groups of people are fighting against neoliberalism, against the capitalist globalization plan, and they are struggling for humanity.

And we are astonished when we see the stupidity of the neoliberals who want to destroy all humanity with their wars and exploitations, but it also makes us quite happy to see resistances and rebellions appearing everywhere, such as ours, which is a bit small, but here we are. And we see this all over the world, and now our heart learns that we are not alone.

Much of this critique of neoliberal capitalism has been said before. But notice what is new here: the explicit emotional appeal of empathy and community. That can be a powerful weapon against a system that makes everyone alone, isolated and powerless, a system incapable of empathy or human feeling.

What we want in the world is to tell all of those who are resisting and fighting in their own ways and in their own countries, that you are not alone, that we, the zapatistas, even though we are very small, are supporting you, and we are going to look at how to help you in your struggles and to speak to you in order to learn, because what we have, in fact, learned is to learn.

And we want to tell the Latin American peoples that we are proud to be a part of you, even if it is a small part. We remember quite well how the continent was also illuminated some years ago, and a light was called Che Guevara, as it had previously been called Bolivar, because sometimes the people take up a name in order to say they are taking up a flag.

And we want to tell the people of Cuba, who have now been on their path of resistance for many years, that you are not alone, and we do not agree with the blockade they are imposing, and we are going to see how to send you something, even if it is maize, for your resistance. And we want to tell the North American people that we know that the bad governments which you have and which spread harm throughout the world is one thing - and those North Americans who struggle in their country, and who are in solidarity with the struggles of other countries, are a very different thing. And we want to tell the Mapuche brothers and sisters in Chile that we are watching and learning from your struggles. And to the Venezuelans, we see how well you are defending your sovereignty, your nation's right to decide where it is going. And to the indigenous brothers and sisters of Ecuador and Bolivia, we say you are giving a good lesson in history to all of Latin America, because now you are indeed putting a halt to neoliberal globalization. And to the piqueteros and to the young people of Argentina, we want to tell you that, that we love you. And to those in Uruguay who want a better country, we admire you. And to those who are sin tierra in Brazil, that we respect you. And to all the young people of Latin America, that what you are doing is good, and you give us great hope.

And we want to tell the brothers and sisters of Social Europe, that which is dignified and rebel, that you are not alone. That your great movements against the neoliberal wars bring us joy. That we are attentively watching your forms of organization and your methods of struggle so that we can perhaps learn something. That we are considering how we can help you in your struggles, and we are not going to send euro because then they will be devalued because of the European Union mess. But perhaps we will send you crafts and coffee so you can market them and help you some in the tasks of your struggle. And perhaps we might also send you some pozol, which gives much strength in the resistance, but who knows if we will send it to you, because pozol is more our way, and what if it were to hurt your bellies and weaken your struggles and the neoliberals defeat you.

And we want to tell the brothers and sisters of Africa, Asia and Oceania that we know that you are fighting also, and we want to learn more of your ideas and practices.

And we want to tell the world that we want to make you large, so large that all those worlds will fit, those worlds which are resisting because they want to destroy the neoliberals and because they simply cannot stop fighting for humanity.

Comment: We note again for good measure that we at Signs of the Times in no way support violence or armed uprisings. Nevertheless, it does seem that the powers that be have a certain weakness in their psychopathic inability to empathise with another's suffering. They also engage quite often in extraordinary feats of that old nemesis, wishful thinking. But while change remains a possibility, the question still remains: what will it take for enough folks to wake up to what is occurring in the world today? Just how bad do things have to get? Historically, it appears that when humankind refuses to take a stand against the entropic principle - perhaps choosing entropy by default in refusing to make the choice between creativity and entropy in the first place - disaster on a personal as well as global scale soon follows. In any case, all indications are that the US economy, and therefore the world economy, cannot remain propped up much longer...

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Phony Trauma
Roni Ben Efrat
Editorial
Challenge

ISRAEL IS SET to evacuate its settlements from the Gaza Strip in mid-August. Until recently, the right-wing opponents of disengagement were making inroads. According to a survey by Yediot Aharonot, the proportion of the plan’s supporters had declined from 64% in February to 53% in early June. Three weeks later the trend reversed. Support shot back to 62%.

What happened was this: A cabal of young Kahanists had descended on Gaza from illegal West Bank outposts, setting up in an abandoned hotel, which they dubbed “the Song of the Sea.” They sat undisturbed for a month, writing obscene graffiti about Muhammad to provoke the nearby Arabs. They were determined, they said, to stay in Gaza until the cancellation of disengagement or death. Pundits trembled at the prospect of civil war.

The turning point came on a day when other opponents of disengagement blocked the country’s highways. The Kahanists had a brawl with the Arabs they had managed to provoke. At zero range they stoned – on camera –a young Palestinian who had already been knocked unconscious. The public backed away in revulsion. Feeling new wind in his sails, PM Ariel Sharon took action the next morning: the army surrounded the “Song of the Sea.”

The rest was anticlimax. Finding no support from their settler colleagues, the Kahanists turned in their weapons. Then elite army units entered the hotel and carried them to buses. No Masada. The threat of civil war evaporated. De-gunned, the settlers turned to sheep.

On the following day (July 1), in Yediot Aharonot, Gideon Maron and Oded Shalom wrote: “The right-wing extremists who barricaded themselves in Gush Katif could have been reined in a month ago. The army knew this but turned a blind eye, acting only yesterday, after blood was spilled.”

The month-long wait served to build up the drama, which Sharon needs. In order to serve his long-range policy aim, disengagement must take on mythic proportions. The greater the resistance against it, the more impossible it will seem to follow it with any Act II. That’s why he doesn’t do what Charles De Gaulle did with the French settlers in Algeria, fixing a date to pull out the army and saying that any settler who wants to remain in Gaza may apply to the Palestinian Authority. Rather, he needs the brouhaha as a doorstop: ‘This far we shall go, no farther. We can’t. Look how traumatic it is! Even this much has torn us apart!’

The financial aspect reinforces our suspicion. Dan Ben David, a lecturer on Public Economics at Tel Aviv University, has written that the purely civilian costs of the disengagement plan amount to 5.5 billion shekels, or an average of $611,000 per family. The 7000 Gaza settlers are 3% of the total settler population (not including occupied Jerusalem). At sums like this, how could the State afford additional traumas? Never.

SHARON'S present deeds are designed to improve his chances in the next round of elections. With 1.5 million fewer Palestinians under Israel’s responsibility, and as the only Israeli leader capable of evacuating settlers, he can offer his candidacy for the Nobel Prize. At the same time he can posture as the champion of the right wing, the man who saved the important West Bank settlements from the threat of dismantlement.

But there is also a new round of fighting at the door. The political situation is clearer now – and worse for the Palestinians – than during the Oslo years. Then they signed an agreement that was open-ended, assuring them nothing. The accord was full of holes that each side could fill as it wished. Israel could claim that it had not yielded on the issues of settlements, Jerusalem or the right of return. The Palestinians could claim the opposite. It took each seven years to understand where the other side stood. Even now the Oslo agreement is obscure enough to inspire the most varied interpretations. The Disengagement Plan, on the contrary, leaves no room for doubt: Sharon repeatedly brandishes the promise he got from US President G. W. Bush: that the major settlement blocs are off the agenda. Thus he advances toward his real program: to separate Gaza from the West Bank.

The left-wing parties in the Knesset drift, meanwhile, toward oblivion. This applies both to Meretz-Yahad, which gives Sharon a parliamentary umbrella from outside his government, and also to Labor, which is inside. Professor Shlomo Ben Ami, who was part of the Israeli team at Camp David in July 2000, criticizes the Disengagement Plan as a patchwork leading nowhere: “Its backers don’t see it as a component in a broader plan for a political arrangement that will bring Israel to permanent recognized borders. In the final analysis, two senior politicians in Israel today, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, are partners in the concept that Israel does not need to advance toward a permanent arrangement and an end to the conflict.” (Haaretz June 30.)

Laborites like to boast that Sharon is implementing their platform, but that is at best an illusion, at worst sheer fraud. Labor is merely preparing its seats in the next government, which it hopes Sharon will assemble – and not Binyamin Netanyahu. It has backed away from the challenge of building an alternative to the Likud.

THE OBSESSIVE preoccupation with the misery of the settler-evacuees, and with the difficulties faced by Sharon, conceals what is happening in the background. After seven months as PA President, Abu Mazen has reached the end of his rope. He never quite understood that disengagement curtails his days. After Israel has left Gaza, it won’t need him anymore. Many, it is true, still wag their fingers at him, complaining that he ought to collect the weapons of Hamas, but this is a smoke screen. Since the start of the second Intifada, Israel has known that it must not place its security in the hands of a Palestinian authority. Where the border between Gaza and Egypt is concerned, for instance, it wants Egypt to police it, not the PA, and it is now engaged in the final stages of a deal.

The army waits eagerly for the first Kassam rocket that will fall after disengagement. It will then demonstrate that by getting rid of the settlements, it has improved its military position. It will be able to invade the Strip by land, sea and air without having first to take account of a vulnerable Jewish population there.

It is not just Israel, however, that will undermine Abu Mazen. Hamas has rejected his call to join his government. Thus it expressed its annoyance with him for delaying the parliamentary elections. Hamas understands why Abu Mazen wants it inside: so that he can avoid the moment of truth at the polling booth. Hamas also knows where its power resides. It is waiting for disengagement so that it can pluck the fruits by taking command of the Strip. There is a whiff of historical dialectic in this: Sharon, it would seem, is improving the position of Hamas!

The proponents of disengagement are wrong. The US is wrong in telling Abu Mazen to refrain from making conditions and simply allow Israel to leave. Abu Mazen is wrong to sit on his hands while Israel secures the tools it needs to continue ruling the West Bank. And finally, Sharon and his supporters are wrong. Their Disengagement Plan contains the seed of the third Intifada. The Palestinian people will not accept the new reality imposed by Israel: the imprisonment of millions, without means of livelihood, behind a fictive border of separation enhanced by actual fences and walls. The flames of the third Intifada will overcome all fences and walls.

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What May Come After the Evacuation of Jewish Settlers from the Gaza Strip

A Warning from Israel

July 15, 2005
By URI DAVIS, ILAN PAPPE, and TAMAR YARON

We feel that it is urgent and necessary to raise the alarm regarding what may come during and after evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in 1967, in the event that the evacuation is implemented.

We held back on getting this statement published and circulated, seeking additional feedback from our peers. The publication in Ha'aretz (22 June 2005) quoting statements by General (Reserves) Eival Giladi, the head of the Coordination and Strategy team of the Prime Minister's Office, motivated us not to delay publication and circulation any further. Confirming our worst fears, General (Res.) Eival Giladi went on record in print and on television to the effect that "Israel will act in a very resolute manner in order to prevent terror attacks and [militant] fire while the disengagement is being implemented" and that "If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people."

We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm's way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.

The scenario could be similar to what has already happened in the past - a tactic that Ariel Sharon has used many times in his military career - i.e., utilizing provocation in order to launch massive attacks.

Following this pattern, we believe that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz are considering to utilize provocation for vicious attacks in the near future on the approximately one and a half million Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza Strip: a possible combination of intensified state terror and mass killing. The Israeli army is not likely to risk the kind of casualties to its soldiers that would be involved in employing ground troops on a large scale in the Gaza Strip. With General Dan Halutz as Chief of Staff they don't need to. It was General Dan Halutz, in his capacity as Commander of the Israeli Air Force, who authorized the bombing of a civilian Gaza City quarter with a bomb weighing one ton, and then went on record as saying that he sleeps well and that the only thing he feels when dropping a bomb is a slight bump of the aircraft.

The initiators of this alarm have been active for many decades in the defence of human rights inside the State of Israel and beyond. We do not have the academic evidence to support our feeling, but given past behavior, ideological leanings and current media spin initiated by the Israeli government and military, we believe that the designs of the State of Israel are clear, and we submit that our educated intuition with matters pertaining to the defence of human rights has been more often correct than otherwise.

We urge all those who share the concern above to add their names to ours and urgently give this alarm as wide a circulation as possible.

Circulating and publishing this text may constitute a significant factor in deterring the Israeli government, thus protecting the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip from this very possible catastrophe and contributing to prevent yet more war crimes from occurring.

Please sign, circulate, and publish this alarm without delay!

Please send notification of your signature to Tamar Yaron tiyaron@hazorea.org.il

WE WOULD ALSO APPRECIATE RECEIVING NOTIFICATION IF THE ALARM WAS PUBLISHED IN ANY MEDIA AND/OR IF IT WAS SENT TO A GROUP DISTRIBUTION LIST.

Comment: The writers end this plea with a call to circulating the petition. They want to believe that "Circulating and publishing this text may constitute a significant factor in deterring the Israeli government", which as far as we can tell is wishful thinking in the extreme. Since when has Sharon ever let other people's opinions influence him? He and Bush are peas in a pod when it comes to listening. If he appears to take them into account, it is only to organise the kind of "provocation" this article so well describes. But why not circulate it? In an open universe, every movement of the butterfly's wings has potential.

But if the writers are engaged in wishful thinking about the outcome, they are very likely absolutely correct about Sharon's intentions. Clearing the Gaza strip of Israeli settlers opens the area up for some serious military action, without worrying about "collateral damage" of settlers.

What can be done about this? If you were a Palestinian living in Gaza, what would you do? What are your possibilities?

What hope would you have for a life for your children? If you saw your homes and farms destroyed, your families murdered, wouldn't you consider taking up arms to fight back?

However, if you consider the question from a larger perspective, that of the future of the planet as a whole given climate change and the high probability that in several years there will not be enough food to feed the earth's people, if you consider that whether or not oil is running out, we are being conditioned to think that it is, and that there will likely be energy shortages as well as climate change (and how will we heat our homes?), if you consider the heating up of the ring of fire in the Pacific and of the possibility of other tsunamis or major earthquakes, then in a certain sense our future is not much different than that of the Palestinians. And we haven't even mentioned the possibility of the neo-con "clash of civilisations" becoming real, and it coming "home" to the USA with American blood, not just Arab, being shed. Of course, to suggest such a thing is to open yourself up to criticism because some people don't see the real dangers ahead and would think that we were belittling the situation confronting the Palestinians. On the contrary, we think the situation is dire for everyone.

We're all in hot water and the temperature is rising daily.

And with the world in the hands of psychopaths, it isn't about to change.

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2 religious soldiers suspected of placing J'lem fake bomb
By Jonathan Lis <mailto:jlis@haaretz.co.il> , Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 19:01 18/07/2005

Two Israel Defense Forces soldiers from an infantry regiment of ultra-Orthodox troops were arrested on suspicion of placing a fake bomb at the Jerusalem central bus station last week, it emerged on Monday. A Jerusalem court extended the remand of the two soldiers by eight days.

According to police, the two Nahal Haredi unit soldiers, both 20 years of age, used their uniform to smuggle into the complex a bag containing the device. It was also said that the suspects were caught on security cameras at the station, and were detained following a joint investigation of Israel Police and Military Police.

During the course of the investigation, police discovered that the two suspects entered the station through the Jaffa Street entrance at approximately 6 P.M.

The primary suspect is said to have carried a military backpack containing the dummy bomb. A few minutes later, he was met by his accomplice who entered the station. Both men proceeded upstairs to the third floor men's room, where they left the bag.

The fake bomb placed by the suspects to protest against the disengagement, included a bag with a gas balloon, a clock and some wires. A note was also placed in the bag reading "the disengagement will blow up in our faces."

Passersby who noticed the 12-kilogram canister called the police, who sealed off the bus station for more than an hour before determining that the device was harmless. Traffic quickly jammed the area around the bus station and the entrance to the city, and bus service was interrupted.

After an intensive investigation during which authorities succeeded in conclusively ascertaining the identity of the two suspects, one of the suspects was arrested in his Jerusalem apartment while the other was taken into custody at his army base.

Security is high at the bus station, which routinely X-rays packages and requires people to pass through a metal detector.

Since the beginning of March, right-wing extremists have planted six dummy bombs: two in a Tel Aviv train station and four in Jerusalem. In those incidents the fake bombs also bore notes reading, "The disengagement will explode in our faces."

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Palestinians shut out from their farms

By Lawrence Smallman
Tuesday 12 July 2005, 14:50 Makka Time, 11:50 GMT

Israeli occupation forces are preventing Palestinians from passing through gates in the separation barrier to work their farms, according to a human rights activist.

Khalid Yassin of Ram Allah Human Rights Centre told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday that farmers in the West Bank village of Mas'ha had in effect been banned from their properties since 4 July due to the closure of Gate 46.

"Entry was always difficult - Israeli troops only allowed access at a couple of times during the day.

"But now occupation forces have shut the gate for good, even though cattle still need to graze and crops need to be tended to. The olive harvest in October and November will be impossible," Yassin said.

No access

Yassin added that other gates, such as Gate 45, had been shut for more than 18 months and that farmers had no practicable access to their own land or any say about who might have access to it on the other side of the wall.

"Soldiers told people in Mas'ha to use Gate 48 - which is an 11km walk. Is it reasonable to expect farmers to walk 44km every day just to visit their own farms on the other side of the wall?

"In any case, they will not have the right permits to enter 48 - and will have next to no chance of successfully obtaining one," Yassin concluded.

Delayed response

Aljazeera.net contacted Israel's District Coordination Office in Qalqilya, the Civil Administration and a spokesman for Israeli occupation forces to explain why Gate 46 was shut.

No one could give an immediate response.

The separation wall was built through the Palestinian village of Mas'ha in September 2003.

The built-up residential and business areas ended up on one side, with 92% (or 5700 dunams) of the agricultural land on the other.

Comment: While Israel claims the apartheid wall is there to ensure its security, the facts on the ground speak to other intentions: to uproot the Palestinians from their land and drive them out. That is why the wall was built well inside the green line. It amounts to de facto expropriation and seizure of land. Of course, the entire history of Jewish settlements in Palestine is one long, drawn out process of stealing land from its original inhabitants.

Israel was created following WWII under the banner of giving the Jews a land where they would be safe. How ironic is it that the leaders of this country behave in ways to ensure that their population is reviled, where there have been decades of fighting, where Israelis are targets of attacks both from Palestinians attempting to free their land and from Israeli intelligence agencies operating suicide bombers to maintain the level of fear and justify ever increasing repression.

Because of the existence of Israel, the Middle East is a proverbial powder keg, and whether it is conventional weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, or ethnic specific weapons, one day it is going to blow, taking not only the new "demons", the Arabs, but also the Israelis. Reflecting on the probability of such an explosion bearing in mind the collaboration of the Zionists with Hitler and the Nazis to populate Palestine in the thirties, leads to some interesting conclusions.

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Israel poised for ground assault, Gaza mass demo planned
AFP
July 18, 2005

JERUSALEM - Israeli troops remained poised for a possible ground assault in the Gaza Strip to end Palestinian rocket attacks as 20,000 security officers braced for a mass rally against the Gaza pullout.

For a second day running, thousands of extra soldiers and armoured vehicles remained deployed across the border with Gaza, awaiting the green light for a threatened large-scale assault, should rocket attacks continue.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has said he is determined to stop militant strikes "at all costs" while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said there was no restriction on Israel's defence establishment to halt them.

On Monday, a close aide to Sharon reiterated that Palestinian attacks would not be allowed to hinder next month's historic Gaza pullout, but appeared to rule out a full-on offensive until diplomatic efforts had been exhausted.

"We don't want an escalation and we are taking into account the position of our friends," he said, alluding to the expected arrival of US Secretary Condoleezza Rice later this week and Egyptian mediators holding talks in Gaza.

Prime minister Ahmed Qorei said that the Palestinian administration was determined to impose order after talks with Egypt's deputy intelligence chief, Mustafa al-Buheiri, in Gaza to help restore a troubled seven-month-old truce.

"We want to impose the rule of law, we want security for our people," Qorei told reporters, warning that any Israeli ground offensive would "create a very serious problem, not to us only, to us and to Israel and to the region".

Buheiri was locked in meetings with representatives of most armed groups and the governing Fatah party, after meeting Hamas on Sunday.

The Islamist movement -- the principal group behind rocket attacks -- said it remained committed to the informal cool down, but reiterated that it reserved the right to retaliate for Israeli fire.

The level of violence appeared to have scaled back, with only one mortar round and one anti-tank shell fired on Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip since day break, the army said.

Six suspected Hamas militants were arrested overnight in the
West Bank.

Around 20,000 police and soldiers were deployed in southern Israel to prevent thousands of opponents of the Gaza pullout from holding a mass protest rally later. [...]

Security forces are under strict orders from Sharon to prevent the protestors from reaching the border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip in a bid to force their way into the sealed-off Jewish settlements.

Ultra-nationalist opponents of the pullout -- due to begin on August 17 -- have vowed to impede the withdrawal by flooding the settlements with radicals bent on sabotaging the evacuation.

With chances of success practically zero, the authorities fear extremists will resort to increasingly radical tactics, leaving the threat of violence looming over the rally.

Although organisers from the Yesha settlers' council have called for a peaceful protest and are banking on a turnout of around 100,000, the liberal newspaper Haaretz warned that "violence will be virtually unavoidable".

Police have refused permission for the rally to near Kissufim with access to the settlements barred to all except residents, journalists and security personnel.

"We will try to get to Kissufim by every means possible without resorting to violence and to join our brethren in Gush Katif, who are under blockade," said Yesha spokesman Emilie Amroussi.

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Blair under pressure after think-tank link London attacks to Iraq war
AFP
July 18, 2005

LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair came under fresh pressure for supporting the Iraq war after a respected think-tank linked the invasion to Britain's worst terror attack in which at least 55 people died.

The comments -- rejected by the government -- came as interior minister Charles Clarke prepared to meet his opposition counterparts to discuss planned anti-terrorism laws, and as a global hunt for clues into who planned the July 7 bombings in London forged on.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, concluded in a report that the war in Iraq gave a "boost" to Al-Qaeda and made Britain especially vulnerable to attacks -- a theory that clashed with Blair's belief that there is no link with the July 7 bombings.

"There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism," said the London-based research centre in its study, "Riding Pillion for Tackling Terrorism is a High-risk Policy".

"It gave a boost to the Al-Qaeda network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising," Chatham House said, arguing that it also provided an ideal training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and deflected resources that could have gone to help bring terror mastermind
Osama bin Laden to justice. [...]

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Key terror law talks set to start
BBC

The government is in talks with opposition parties to win support for new terror laws in the wake of the London bombings.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke is meeting his Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts to thrash out details of the proposed legislation.

A series of consultative meetings are taking place throughout the week.

Mr Clarke, David Davis and Mark Oaten will discuss new offences of preparing, training for and inciting terror acts.

Opposition support

The opposition parties support the new proposals in principle, but want to discuss the details with Mr Clarke.

The talks come as a report says the UK's involvement in the Iraq invasion heightened the risk of attacks.

Supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq put the UK more at risk from terrorist attack, the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Economic and Social Research Council said.

The report also said the invasion boosted al-Qaeda's recruitment and fund-raising.

Conservative shadow home secretary Mr Davis wants to look again at using phone tap evidence in court, BBC political correspondent James Landale said.

Consensus

Party leader Michael Howard said: "I do hope we can reach agreement with the government - that remains to be seen.

"We will obviously have to look at the details of what they propose, but we shall be approaching these meetings, these discussions, in a spirit of consensus."

Mr Oaten told the BBC he was concerned about how incitement to terrorism will be defined.

"Are we talking about speeches, articles? What are the kind of words that somebody would use which could then be implied to be incitement?" he said.

"This will be hard legislation to draft, and of course, we don't want to introduce legislation which could then have the knock on consequences that we hadn't really thought about."

Costly surveillance

On Sunday it emerged one of the London bombers was investigated by MI5 last year but was deemed not to be a threat.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, was subject to a routine assessment by the security service because of an indirect connection to an alleged terror plot.

He was one of hundreds investigated but was not considered a risk by the security services.

More than 50 people died and 700 were injured in the blasts. Four bombers are also believed to have died."

Khan, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, killed himself and six other passengers in the Edgware Road bombing on the London underground.

Hasib Hussain, 18, from Holbeck, Leeds was responsible for the Number 30 bus bombing, in which 13 people died; Shehzad Tanweer, 22, from Beeston in Leeds for the Aldgate Tube blast, which killed six, and Germaine Lindsay, 19, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, for the King's Cross Tube explosion in which 26 people were killed.

Former Scotland Yard Commander Roy Ramm told the BBC the news about Khan and MI5 was not surprising.

"It doesn't surprise me that this man has been identified in MI5's operation because this thing is like concentric circles, the further out they are the less likely MI5 are to have resources that they can apply to them in terms of surveillance, and surveillance is very costly."

Comment: First, once any legislation is put into place that impinges on the rights of citizens, it will be used by the powers that be to go further than we could imagine. The Patriot Act in the United States is now being used to detain US citizens with no charges being brought forward.

Second, where is the evidence that the four men accused were in fact the bombers? We are still waiting, four years after the fact, for the US government to provide hard evidence that the 19 men they accuse of hijacking the planes on 9/11 were actually the perpetrators. That seven of the men are still alive should provoke questions as to the identities of the others.

It has been established way beyond any reasonable doubt that Bush and Blair lied prior to the invasion of Iraq. Why should we trust what they say now?

A photo from closed circuit television showing one of the accused with a backpack doesn't prove anything. They could be patsies, set up in the way Oswald was used for the assassination of JFK.

The only sure thing is that the Blair government will use this opportunity to pass more "anti-terrorist" legislation, that they will try and impose a national ID card with arguments that it will make us safer.

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Detainee Trials Are Upheld
Court Backs Bush On Military Panels
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 16, 2005; A01

A federal appeals court yesterday backed the Bush administration's plan to let special panels of military officers conduct trials of terrorism suspects detained in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, overturning a lower-court decision that has blocked the "military commissions" for the past eight months.

The decision clears the way for the Defense Department to use the commissions to try some of the hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It was hailed by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday as affirming the president's "critical authority" to determine how to try detainees deemed "enemy combatants" in the war on terrorism.

The ruling was an important test of the government's strategy of denying such detainees access not only to civilian courts but also to the more formal proceedings of military courts-martial, in which they would enjoy additional rights and legal protections. One of the judges on the deciding panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, John G. Roberts, is said to be on the administration's list of possible Supreme Court nominees.

The decision followed an appeal by the Justice Department of a district court decision last November that had blocked a military commission trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 34, a Yemeni mechanic with a fourth-grade education who admits that he served as Osama bin Laden's driver. Hamdan has been detained in Guantanamo Bay for the past 17 months and accused of being a member of al Qaeda. Three other detainees have been designated to stand trial before military commissions.

The lower court had concluded that Hamdan and others at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to hearings in advance of a criminal trial in which military officers would decide whether they qualified as prisoners of war. This procedure is required by the Geneva Conventions, the international treaties that protect people detained by military forces.

Prisoners of war are supposed to be tried in courts-martial rather than by the less formal military commissions. Hamdan, who has claimed that he took his job solely for money and not for ideology, has sought a court-martial. But the administration has vigorously sought to avoid courts-martial, which have rules that make it more difficult to keep defendants from knowing all the evidence against them.

The appellate court swept aside the lower court's decision in what amounted to a general endorsement of a legal theory that the president has broad powers under the Constitution to decide how military detainees are to be handled during a time of conflict.

"On the merits, there is little to Hamdan's argument" that the president's establishment of the commissions illegally tramples the prerogatives of Congress, the three-member panel said in a decision written by Judge A. Raymond Randolph and joined by Roberts and Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams.

The panel said courts should defer to President Bush's decision in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to detainees Bush declares as enemy combatants and that, in any event, the conventions are not enforceable by U.S. courts in lawsuits brought by foreigners.

"This decision is a major win for the Administration," a Justice Department news release said. The Defense Department itself declined to comment.

Hamdan's lead civilian counsel, Georgetown University professor Neal Katyal, denounced the decision as "contrary to 200 years of constitutional law." He said it "places absolute trust in the president, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress and longstanding treaties." He added that it undermines the protections of the Geneva Conventions in ways that could harm U.S. interests in the future.

Katyal expressed particular concern over what he described as the panel's conclusion that the president can "set up an entire architecture of justice as he sees fit," and that under the military's rules for the commissions, those on trial could be forced to leave the room while the proceedings against them continue. Noting that he has not even been allowed to speak to his client, Katyal said the decision will be appealed.

The legal battle, being waged on terrain scarcely visited by U.S. courts in the past century, has been closely watched by human rights advocates, legal scholars, British and European Union parliamentarians, and current and former military lawyers -- including many who submitted their own briefs.

Passions on both sides have run high. The Justice Department argued in April that if the commissions are not allowed to go forward, security breaches could result and the war on terrorism could be slowed.

Hamdan's military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, last year denounced the commission set up to try him as a "kangaroo court." Seven retired senior military officers and lawyers warned in a joint statement that if the commissions are allowed to proceed unchecked, foreign tyrants will organize similar court hearings for U.S. military personnel and "hide their oppression under U.S. precedent."

A group of 305 current and former European politicians, who asserted that they span "the political spectrum," said in their court brief that letting the commissions proceed as planned would place the United States in breach of international law and undermine the due process rights of individuals affected by the war on terrorism.

The new ruling is the first in which the administration's plan for using military commissions to conduct criminal trials has been reviewed at the appellate level. It carries less weight than if it had come from a full appellate court.

Comment: So we have a decision that:

"places absolute trust in the president, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress and longstanding treaties" and allows the president to "set up an entire architecture of justice as he sees fit".

which reminds of of this idea expressed by Bush on numerous occasions:

  • It would be a heck of a lot easier to be a dictator than work in a democracy. (1996 - referenced in J.H. Hatfield's "Fortunate Son", when Dubya was governor of Texas - date unknown)
  • You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier. (Jul. 1, 1998)
  • If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier... just so long as I'm the dictator. (shortly after his contentious victory in the Supreme Court that resulted in his becoming president - Dec. 18, 2000)
  • A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it. (Jul. 26, 2001)
  • It's not a dictatorship in Washington, but I tried to make it one in that instance. We are beginning to see some success in opening up federal coffers for faith-based programs. (Jan. 15, 2004)

Bush's ponderings on how much easier things would be if he had total power appear to be recurring, something of an idée-fixe, perhaps even an obsession. His actions certainly go in this direction as he is mean-spirited and unable to forgive or forget if someone crosses him. The accumulation of power in the office of the president since Bush took over and arranged to have himself doted with the honours of the commander in chief thanks to 9/11 will remain even if Bush's handlers decide to replace him with another. The fascist takeover is all be complete, just awaiting the moment to shed its last skins of democracy - another terror attack perhaps. Then, again, given the lack of organised opposition to the Bush regime, there may never need to be such open declaration of tyranny. As long as the black forces can do as they please, there is no need to push things further. The slow burn is working so well.

The neo-cons have no love for democracy. Michael Ledeen is a prominent member of the neo-cons, and his reflections on politics in the following article should be considered when looking at what has happened in the US under Bush.

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Everything You Need to Know About Michael Ledeen

By Katherine Yurica
April 7, 2005

Would you be surprised to find that a man who was deeply involved in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan Administration, a man who is the darling of the Bush White House and is an adviser to Karl Rove, a man who loves Machiavelli and studies him, a neo-conservative who has close ties to one of America’s leading “Christian” Dominionists—Pat Robertson, and a man who called Pearl Harbor “lucky” and a providentially inspired event—may be the man who is behind the forging of the Niger documents that convinced America to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq?

Ian Masters, host of Background Briefing, in Los Angeles, interviewed Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of Counterterrorism operations at the CIA. Cannistraro came close to naming the man who forged the Niger documents. When Masters asked, “If I said ‘Michael Ledeen’?” Vincent Cannistraro replied, “You’d be very close.”

Who is Michael Ledeen? Or perhaps more importantly, what does he believe? Here are just a few quotes from his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago. (Truman Talley Books (St. Martin’s Press), 1999.) Ledeen wrote:

“When Jimmy Carter was president, he was so appalled by the assassinations that had been carried out by American officers and agents that he issued a stern executive order forbidding the practice. This had the unanticipated consequence of favoring the forces of evil, because we could not go after individual terrorists….In his moralistic attempt to make murder less likely, Carter made it more likely, by both our enemies and ourselves.” (pp. 94-95)

“There are several circumstances in which good leaders are likely to have to enter into evil: whenever the very existence of the nation is threatened; when the state is first created or revolutionary change is to be accomplished; when removing an evil tyrant; and when the society becomes corrupt and must be restored to virtue…Saving a state that has sunk into corruption is Machiavelli’s most passionate concern…” (pp. 101-102)

“Moses created a new state and a new religion, which makes him one of the most revolutionary leaders of all time…The execution of the sinners was necessary to confirm Moses’ authority.” (pp. 102-103)

“The winning formula is threefold: good laws, good arms, good religion. We are back to Moses.” (p. 111)

“Good religion teaches men that politics is the most important enterprise in the eyes of God. Like Moses, Machiavelli wants the law of his state to be seen, and therefore obeyed, as divinely ordered. The combination of fear of God and fear of punishment—duly carried out with good arms—provides the necessary discipline for good government.”(pp. 117-118)

“American evangelical Christianity is the sort of ‘good religion’ Machiavelli calls for. The evangelicals do not quietly accept their destiny, believing instead they are called upon to fight corruption and reestablish virtue.” (p. 159)

“Once corruption has taken hold of a free nation, it is headed toward tyranny.” (p. 172)

Notice that in the next quote, Ledeen’s presupposition is that only liberals are “corrupt.” He criticized Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in 1996 for refusing to attack Bill Clinton’s character during the campaign.

“Refusing to hold public officials accountable for their corrupt practices reinforces the people’s perception that turpitude and power are inextricably linked, and undermines even the best laws and institutions. Inevitably, with the passage of time, liberty itself is crushed.” (p. 173)

“Paradoxically, preserving liberty may require the rule of a single leader—a dictator—willing to use those dreaded ‘extraordinary measures, which few know how, or are willing, to employ.’ (p. 173)

“Machiavelli…has not lost his democratic faith. His call for a brief period of iron rule is a choice of the lesser of two evils: if the corruption continued, a real tyranny would be just a matter of time (making it even harder to restore free institutions), whereas freedom can be preserved if a good man can be found to put the state back in order. Just as it is sometimes necessary temporarily to resort to evil actions to achieve worthy objectives, so a period of dictatorship is sometimes the only hope for freedom.” (p. 174)

“Machiavelli’s favorite hero…Moses exercised dictatorial power, but that awesome power was used to create freedom.” (p. 174)

“We should not be outraged by Machiavelli’s call for a temporary dictatorship as an effective means to either revivify or restore freedom.” (p. 174)

Speaking of Germany following W.W. II, Ledeen wrote:

“We ‘denazified’ the country, hung many of the major leaders of the Third Reich, and forced all adults to answer detailed questionnaires about their activities and associations during Hitler’s rule.” We barred from positions of power and civic influence those who had actively participated in the Nazi regime.” (p. 175)

It would be foolish for America’s political strategists and congressional leaders to ignore Michael Ledeen and his interpretation of Machiavelli. Mr. Ledeen speaks from the cutting edge of a group of men and women who desire nothing more than to reconstruct America in their own image. This nation is in grave danger. Ledeen belongs to a group of men, including Harry Jaffa, Pat Robertson, Willmoore Kendall to Allan Bloom, who, according to Shadia Drury, scholar and author of Leo Strauss and the American Right, share “the view that America is too liberal and pluralistic and that what it needs is a single orthodoxy that governs the public and private lives of its citizens.”[1]

The belief in a single voice that governs the public should cause all Americans to understand these men want to convert this nation to a permanent dictatorship. Their inspirer was Leo Strauss, a professor who taught Machiavellian methods to many of them at the University of Chicago. In fact, Paul Wolfovitz earned his doctorate under Strauss and many of the neo-cons in the White House studied under him. Strauss believed every society needs a “single public orthodoxy.” As Drury put it, “a set of ideas that defines what is true and false, right and wrong, noble and base.” Strauss believed that the role of religion was indispensable to the political success of a nation. For a political society had to hold together and act as a unit in lock step with the leader. Strauss believed that religion was the means to inculcate the desired ideas into the minds of the masses. He didn’t care what religion—just as long as it was a religion that could link itself to the political order.

Michael Ledeen singled out the evangelicals as most like the “Machiavellian” model described by Strauss. Evangelicals, while decrying the aberrant power of a Jim Jones over his congregation, have always had little Jim Joneses telling them what to do and how to live from their pulpits all over America. Evangelicals thirst for power, submit to power, and now are harnessed to a power that is driving them toward the completion of the take over of the USA. Our only hope is to wake up the churches and call them to repentance. And the irony is, as Ledeen points out, if we will stand up and attack the immorality and corruption within the Republican Party, which has reached the lowest depths in the history of our nation, and which the GOP supports, the bedraggled verbally abused Democrats will sit up and notice at long last that they are recognized as the moral leaders they have always been. What Leo Strauss and Michael Ledeen and the other dominionists really hate, is the loving Christian ethics that established FDR's New Deal. You see, the great success of Christian liberalism is that it threatens their greed and that’s what the fight is all about.

[1] Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia Drury, St. Martin’s Press, 1999, New York.

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CounterPunch Diary
Don't You Dare Call It Treason
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Treason, no less! A leading Democrat, Rep Henry Waxman howls in Congress that "The intentional disclosure of a covert CIA agent's identity would be an act of treason. If Rove was part of a conspiracy and intentionally disclosed the name ­ then that jeopardizes national security"

Liberal columnists like Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times join the Waxman chorus. Of White House political adviser Karl Rove's efforts to discredit Joe Wilson by outing his wife Valerie Plame as a covert CIA employee, Scheer bellows furiously that that Rove might have even endangered Plame's life and that "this partisan game jeopardizes national security. This is the most important issue raised by the Plame scandal."

But suppose one of Valerie Plame's covert CIA missions, until outed by Karl Rove, had been to liaise with Venezuelan right-wingers planning to assassinate president Hugo Chavez, possibly masquerading as a journalist and using her attractions to secure an audience with the populist president and then poison him, just as the CIA tried to poison Castro. In an earlier incarnation Scheer would surely have been eager to jeopardize national security by exposing Plame's employer.

Thirty-eight years ago Scheer was one of the editors of Ramparts and in February of 1967 that magazine ran an expose of covert CIA funding of the National Student Association, prompting furious charges that it had endangered national security which, from the foreign policy establishment's point of view, it most certainly had. Of course Ramparts, and the left in general, derided the very phrase "national security" as a phony rationale for covering up years of covert CIA operations entirely inimical to any decent definition of what "national security" should properly mean.

The CIA's covert wing is not in the business of advancing world peace and general prosperity. The record of almost 60 years is one of uninterrupted evil. So we should drop all this nonsense about treason and clap Rove warmly on the back for his courageous onslaughts on the cult of secrecy. By all means delight in the White House's discomfiture, but spare us the claptrap about national security and treason.

To thread one's way through coverage of the Plame affair, the jailing of Judy Miller, the contempt citations of four journalists (though not,alas, of Jeff Gerth of the New York Times) and the AIPAC/Franklin spy case is like strolling past distorting mirrors in a fun house. Go from one to the next and the swollen giant of "treason" in the west wing of the White House shrinks to the dwarf-like status of a "leak", which is how AIPAC's defenders like to categorize the transmission of a top secret Presidential Directive on Iran from Larry Franklin in the Pentagon to AIPAC officials and thence to a spymaster, Naor Gilon, in the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Judy Miller too has had an image make-over, from the warmongering fabricator of yesterday to today's martyr to the First Amendment, with years of profitable speaking tours beckoning after she is released from the incarceration she surely knew would winch her reputation out of the mud.

But why is prosecutor Fitzgerald going after her? She wrote no story about Plame.

Now, as a prime propagandist of the war faction Miller had every reason to be as keen to discredit Wilson as was Rove. Suppose it was she who relayed from her pal and prime disinformant, Ahmad Chalabi, the news that it was CIA employee Plame who assigned her husband the Niger mission to assay the veracity of charges that Iraq had bought uranium yellowcake there. Relayed to whom? Maybe to one of the State Department's neocon warmongers, like John Bolton or EliottAbrams, who duly passed the news on to Scooter Libby and Rove in the White House. Remember, Rove told the prosecutor that he learned about Plame from two journalists. What a joke it would have been to have him behind bars for refusing to disclose his sources.

Stroll on to the next set of mirrors, apropos Wen Ho Lee's suit to discover who leaked the false accusations about his supposed acts of treason at Los Alamos, allegedly transmitting nuclear secrets to China. Four journalists, including James Risen of the New York Times and Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, may join Miller behind bars for refusing to divulge their sources.

One can understand why Wen Ho Lee is unmoved by charges that he is sabotaging the First Amendment. His case displayed the FBI and the press which smeared him ­ primarily Risen and Gerth in the New York Times ­ in a disgusting light. He spent nearly a year in solitary confinement, with FBI agents telling him he might face the death penalty for being a traitor.

Who in fact was the betrayer of secrets, if one has to be found? On July 7 Steve Terrell reported in The New Mexican that the leaker so eager to disclose a top secret government probe of Wen Ho Lee at Los Alamos, may well be a the current governor of New Mexico and possible White House aspirant, Bill Richardson, who was Clinton's Energy Secretary at the time and who had spent a large portion of his political career nurturing the interests of Los Alamos as a nuclear research lab.

I doubt Waxman will start calling for his blood as a compromiser of national security, leaking secrets as part of a political maneuver to shift blame for the appalling mess at Los Alamos to a person of Chinese origin whom he falsely accused of being a spy, then denied he had done any such thing. This guy wants to be president of the United States.

If you want to start waving words like "treason" around, the AIPAC spy case is surely a better target than Karl Rove. Here we have a four-year FBI probe of possible treachery by senior US government officials, as well as by Israel's premier lobbying outfit in the United States, AIPAC. Yet compared with the mileage given to the Plame affair, coverage of the AIPAC spy case in the press has been sparse, and the commentary very demure, until you get to Justin Raimondo's pugnacious columns on Antiwar.com.

Raimondo's been comparing the AIPAC spy case to the indictment of State Department official Alger Hiss back in the 1940s, claiming that just as the foreign policy apparatus was allegedly riddled with Communist spies in the 1940s, the same apparatus is now riddled with Israel's agents today. I'd reckon that when it comes to agents of influence the USSR back then couldn't hold a candle to Israel today (or then, for that matter, though in that distant time Zionist and Communist were often hats on the same head).

One answer in the McCarthyite era to accusations of spying was that the Soviet Union was an ally and the supposed transmission of "secrets" was just a routine exchange of information on such matters as the schedule for the Dumbarton Oaks conference laying the groundwork for the UN (in which Hiss was involved.)

Similar talk about "allies" and "routine exchanges" pops from the mouths of Israel's supporters here, denouncing the FBI probe as some latterday equivalent of the persecution of Dreyfus.

It's perfectly obvious that Israel exerts huge influence on US policy. Men and women working in Israel's interest throng Washington. But on the left, in the spy case just as in the Plame affair, we should be leery of words like traitor and "national security". They cut both ways.

Here's a useful parable on the fetishization of secrecy. Jeffrey St Clair unearthed it in Ernie Fitzgerald's The Pentagonists, essential reading for anyone interested in how US politics really works.

In 1973, Nixon fired Pentagon auditor Ernie Fitzgerald for exposing the tidal wave of cost overruns associated with Lockheed's useless C-5A cargo plane. One of the accusations hurled against Ernie at the time was that he had "leaked" to a congressional committee "classified information" about the scandal. The charge was made by Robert Seamons, Nixon's Secretary of the Air Force. When Fitzgerald sued (and won his job back and a major settlement, which he used in part to found the Fund for Constitutional Government), his lawyers deposed Seamons, who retreated a little.

Here's how Ernie describes it:

"Later, after I was fired, Senator William Proxmire forced Seamons to retract this accusation. In his apologia pro vita sua to the official tape, he produced this wonderful waffle: 'At the time I was testifying, I really thought that Ernie had given them classified material, marked 'Confidential.' Later on, when we still had the opportunity of going over the testimony, it wasn't so clear as to whether any of the material was classified or not. So we changed the word from Confidential with a capital "C" to confidential with a small "c".

Comment: The emphasis on the "national security" aspects of the Plame affair show how the media works to co-opt the discussion and keep it within the confines of a discourse friendly to the powers that be. National security for the US has become synonymous with national insecurity for everyone else in the world. As long as the US-centric discourse continues, Americans will never have the information necessary to see the real role of their country in the world over the past decades.

Not that we think there is any hope of this changing.... Just take a gander at the next story....

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How Comcast Censors Political Content
Or Why My Comcast Horror Story Is Better Than Yours
By David Swanson

Most Comcast internet customers seem to have horror stories, but in my humble opinion this one is a doozie and may even suggest threats to freedom of speech more significant than the jailing of a court stenographer.

I'm working on a campaign headquartered at www.afterdowningstreet.org that seeks to draw attention to the Downing Street Minutes and to lobby Congress to open an investigation into whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. According to a recent Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans favor impeachment proceedings if the President lied about the reasons for war, and according to a recent ABC News / Washington Post poll, 52 percent think he did. But this story is nowhere to be found in the corporate media. So, our website attracts a lot of traffic.

In addition, July 23rd is the three-year anniversary of the meeting on Downing Street that produced the now infamous minutes, and we are organizing events all over the country on that day. Or, we're trying to. But we noticed about a week ago that everyone working on this campaign was having strange Email problems. Some people would get Emails and some wouldn't, or they'd receive some but not others. Conference calls were worse than usual (I can't stand the things anyway) because half the people wouldn’t get the info and know where to call in. Organizing by internet is super easy, but when you have to follow up every Email with a phone call to see if someone got it, it becomes super frustrating. Volunteers have been complaining all over the country – especially now that we've figured out what the problem was and they know what to complain about.

We didn't know it, but for the past week, anyone using Comcast has been unable to receive any Email with "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of the Email. That has included every Email from me, since that was in my signature at the bottom of every Email I sent. And it included any Email linking people to any information about the upcoming events.

From the flood this evening of Emails saying "Oh, so that's why I haven't heard anything from you guys lately," it seems clear that we would have significantly more events organized by now for the 23rd if not for this block by Comcast.

Disturbingly, Comcast did not notify us of this block. It took us a number of days to nail down Comcast as the cause of the problems, and then more days, working with Comcast's abuse department to identify exactly what was going on. We'd reached that point by Thursday, but Comcast was slow to fix the problem.

During the day on Friday we escalated our threats to flood Comcast's executives with phone calls and cancellations, and we gave them deadlines. Friday evening, Comcast passed the buck to Symantec. Comcast said that Symantec's Bright Mail filter was blocking the Emails, and that Symantec refused to lift the block, because they had supposedly received 46,000 complaints about Emails with our URL in them. Forty-six thousand! Of course, Symantec was working for Comcast, and Comcast could insist that they shape up, or drop them. But Comcast wasn't interested in doing that.

Could we see two or three, or even one, of those 46,000 complaints? No, and Comcast claimed that Symantec wouldn't share them with Comcast either.

By the time Comcast had passed the buck to the company that it was paying to filter its customers Emails, Brad Blog had posted an article about the situation and urged people to complain to Comcast.
http://www.bradblog.com/archives/00001602.htm

Brad quickly added Symantec phone numbers to the story on his website, and we called Symantec's communications department, which fixed the problem in a matter of minutes.

So, why does this matter?

Comcast has a near monopoly on high-speed internet service in much of this country, including much of the Washington, D.C., area. Many members of the media and many people involved in politics rely on it. Three days ago, I almost decided to put a satellite dish on my roof. There's no other way for me to get high-speed internet, unless I use Comcast.

Comcast effectively censors discussion of particular political topics, and impedes the ability of people to associate with each other, with absolutely no compulsion to explain itself. There is no due process. A phrase or web address is tried and convicted in absentia and without the knowledge of those involved.

Now, did Comcast do this because it opposes impeaching the President? I seriously doubt it. Apparently the folks at Symantec did this, and Comcast condoned it. But why?

Well, we have no evidence to suggest that these 46,000 complaints actually exist, but we can be fairly certain that if they do, they were generated by someone politically opposed to our agenda. There's simply no possible way that we've accidentally annoyed 46,000 random people with stray Emails and mistyped addresses. We've only been around for a month and a half, and we haven't spammed anyone. In fact, during the course of trying to resolve the problem, Comcast assured us that they knew we hadn't spammed anyone. And once we'd gotten Symantec's attention, they didn't hesitate to lift the block.

But it had taken serious pressure to find out what the problem was and who to ask for a remedy. We only solved this because we could threaten a flood of negative attention.

This state of affairs means that anyone who wants to stifle public and quasi-private discussion of a topic can quite easily do so by generating numerous spam complaints. The victims of the complaints will not be notified, made aware of the accusations against them, or provided an opportunity to defend themselves. And if the complaints prove bogus, there will be absolutely no penalty for having made them.

And this won't affect only small-time information sources. If the New York Times or CNN attempts to send people Email with a forbidden phrase, it won't reach Comcast customers or customers of any ISP using the same or similar filtering program.

And there is no public list posted anywhere of which phrases are not permitted. This is a Kafkan world. This is censorship as it affects a prisoner who sends out letters and does not know if they will reach the recipient or be destroyed.

What if I had tried to Email someone about a serious health emergency during the past week, but they had been using Comcast and I had been including the address of my website in my Email signature? Is this not a safety issue?

Above all, though, this is a First Amendment issue, as is well laid out in this excerpt of a statement released today by People-Link.org, the organization hosting the www.afterdowningstreet.org site:

"This goes far beyond the normal anti-spam measures taken by major providers and represents an effective blocking of constitutionally protected expression and the fundamental right to organize and act politically on issues of concern.

"Most spam blocking measures focus on the email address or the IP address of the suspected spammer. While there are anti-spam measures directed at the body of the email, these usually target attachments that could contain virus programs.

"Targeting the inclusion of a website url can only have one outcome: that communications about that website and the issue it is presenting will be blocked from large numbers of people and that the communications from that site's administrators and the campaign's organizers will not reach their full constituency.

"Whether Comcast's intention or not, this is effectively political and unconstitutional.

"It keeps people from getting valuable information about a campaign that is, in the opinion of many, critical to the future of this country's political system.

"It disrupts the organizing of this campaign and cripples the campaign's ability to use its most effective communications tool: the Internet.

"It damages people's confidence in this campaign since many people who write the campaign can't receive the response they expect and that the campaign has sent.

"Perhaps the worst part of this development is that Comcast has been reportedly doing this without the knowledge of the managers of this website or anyone affiliated with this campaign. In fact, no Comcast customer has received any indication that email to him or her containing this url was blocked."

DAVID SWANSON is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997.

Comment: It is easy to censor the web. Our sites are on restricted lists for some companies. PayPal has frozen our account in the past (which is why we no longer use them), and Google clearly has political censorship in their page rankings. Bloggers who write against the Bush Reich have found their pages disappearing from Google returns.

But how does one prove that there is censorship in fact taking place? With Google, they send an explanation that they have just changed their algorithms for determining page ranking, and so how can you prove the new rankings are politically motivated?

Step back, however, and see the de facto censorship in the mainstream press, the self-censorship on the part of journalists who want to keep their jobs, as well as the curious pages that somehow manage to stay on top no matter how often the ranking algorithms change, and you get a wider perspective.

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FBI Monitored Web Sites for 2004 Protests

Groups Criticize Agency's Surveillance for Terror Unit
By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005; A03

FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counterterrorism unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to the documents as evidence that the Bush administration has reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States by blurring the distinction between terrorism and political protest. FBI officials defended the involvement of counterterrorism agents in providing security for the Republican and Democratic conventions as an administrative convenience.

The documents were released by the FBI in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil rights, animal rights and environmental groups that say they have been subjected to scrutiny by task forces set up to combat terrorism. The FBI has denied targeting the groups because of their political views.

"It's increasingly clear that the government is involved in political surveillance of organizations that are involved in nothing more than lawful First Amendment activities," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. "It raises very serious questions about whether the FBI is back to its old tricks."

A Sept. 4, 2003, document addressed to the FBI counterterrorism unit described plans by a group calling itself RNC Not Welcome to "disrupt" the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. It also described Internet postings from an umbrella organization known as United for Peace and Justice, which was coordinating worldwide protests against the convention.

"It's one thing to monitor protests and protest organizers, but quite another thing to refer them to your counterterrorism unit," said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice.

Another document, addressed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which coordinates anti-terrorist activities by the FBI and local police forces, described threats to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Responding to the lawsuit filed in May in U.S. District Court in Washington, the FBI said it had identified 1,173 pages of records relating to the ACLU and 2,383 pages relating to Greenpeace. The content of the records, which were generated since 2001, is not known.

FBI spokesmen declined to discuss the case on the record on the grounds that it is being adjudicated. Speaking on background, an FBI official said that many of the records were routine correspondence. He said the FBI counterterrorism unit received reports on possible threats to the 2004 political conventions because of its role in ensuring security.

Comment: There is indeed a huge difference between simply monitoring protests and referring the matter to counterterrorism units. There are many countries in the world where protest is allowed and even expected. Law enforcement officials in such countries simply monitor the progress of the protests and ensure everyone's safety by doing things like stopping traffic when the marchers reach busy intersections.

The simple fact of the matter is that if peaceful protests and publicly expressing a dissenting view are now considered to be synonymous with terrorism, then democracy is dead in the US. Not to worry, though - with the London bombings, it seems the rest of the world is being slowly herded in the same direction. The following flashbacks are a taste of what is to come for all of us:

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Flashback: Let Freedom Ring!

Demonstrators Steer Clear of Their Designated Space
By JOHN KIFNER
Published: July 26, 2004

BOSTON, July 25 - The streets around the Democratic National Convention site resembled an armed camp on Sunday - helicopters overhead, bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers, police officers and soldiers lining the intersections, many kinds of barriers, and an officially designated "Free Speech Zone" sealed off with cyclone fencing and razor wire.

It looked like an empty cage.

The designated demonstration area, a dank place under abandoned elevated tracks, failed its first test on Sunday when what will probably be the largest demonstration of the convention period simply walked right by it.

"We never intended to use it," said Rachel Nasca of Boston Answer, the main protest coalition, marching at the head of the line. "We never even bothered to take it to court. Did you see that thing?"

Indeed, the Free Speech Zone is rapidly becoming the hottest local issue of the convention, with most of the protest groups vowing to boycott it. The only protesters to embrace it were members of a pro-Palestinian group that says the cyclone fencing and barbed wire provide an ideal visual backdrop to their message of opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

"We want to draw attention to what Palestinians have been subjected to for years," said Marilyn Levin of the group, United for Justice With Peace. "We can leave our cage, but Palestinians cannot leave theirs."

Sunday's demonstrators, mostly antiwar, numbering about 3,000 by police estimate, marched for about two hours in a big circle from the Boston Common over the top of Beacon Hill past the FleetCenter, the convention site, proceeding back past Government Center to the common, without serious incident. There was a brief scuffle with one of many anti-abortion protesters, who were also out in force.

[...] The demonstrators were escorted by hundreds of city and state police officers, preceded by policemen on bicycles pedaling at a gruelingly slow pace, and trailed by police S.U.V.'s, correction department detention wagons and even school buses, to be used in case of large-scale arrests. Lines of police - city to the left, state to the right - moved alongside, flanking the demonstrators, and there were phalanxes of officers at the intersections.

The police turnout was only one indication of the security precautions that have turned the FleetCenter into a virtual fortress. Helicopters and jet fighters patrol overhead, and Coast Guard and police gunboats cruise the harbor. National Guardsmen in camouflage patrolled around the convention center, which is surrounded by double rows of iron fencing.

[...] While the labor dispute was settled, the battle over the Free Speech Zone continues. After the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild filed suit against the zone, Judge Douglas P. Woodlock of Federal District Court toured the site last week and said that while he intitially doubted the lawyers' claim that the site resembled "an internment camp," he concluded that the comparison was "an understatement."

"One cannot concieve of other elements put in place to create a space that's more of an affront to the idea of free expression than the designated demonstration zone," he said in a ruling on Thursday.

Nevertheless, Judge Woodcock said, there was no alternative. He told the lawyers: "There really isn't any other place. You're stuck under the tracks."

Comment: Is there a better symbol for Bush's America? The judge admits that to compare it to an internment camp is "an understatement", it is "an affront to the idea of free expression", and yet, ah, yes, and yet, "There really isn't any other place. You're stuck under the tracks"! All Americans are now "stuck under the tracks", but to change metaphors, they are the tracks of the fascist express steamrolling over American rights and liberties.

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Flashback: Report from a Boston Demo

Arresting the Curious
By MITCHEL COHEN
Boston, July 25, 2004 4 pm

Half-an-hour ago, around 3:30 pm, plainclothes Secret Service pulled a Mid-Eastern looking fellow out from the permitted demonstration as around 1,000 antiwar protesters marched past a check-point, and arrested him.

A crowd of around 25 people followed the police through an alleyway that opened onto a large mall, where the "detained" person sat on a stairway hands cuffed behind his back, surrounded by police.

While the crowd chanted, "This is racial profiling" and "let him go", a lawyer for the demonstration, John Pavos, arrived, but was not afforded much time and no privacy to talk with the arrestee. The police maintained at first that he was not under arrest, but that if he'd allow them to take his picture they'd run in through their computers and let him go. He allowed them to take his picture. A few minutes later the police decided not to let him go.

What was the crime? Police spokespeople say he was arrested for walking past a checkpoint and looking around "a little too curiously."

The fact that we were ALL looking around curiously at the enormous fencings surrounding the Fleet Center where the Democratic National Convention begins tomorrow did not seem to matter to the police, who were clearly under orders from federal officials. The person -- who to me appeared like any Graduate Student at the New School in NY -- was detained solely because of his Middle-Eastern appearance, male and bearded.

He was taken to a nearby police center to be questioned by the Secret Service. A reporter for Binghamton IndyMedia recorded the whole thing on camcorder, and will shortly be up on the web.

The demonstration itself was very vibrant and full of energy, challenging both parties' support for the war against Iraq and decimation of the Bill of Rights. I carried a sign -- one of many -- that said "Expose the Truth about 9-11", and was interviewed on NY 1, for any New Yorkers interested in checking it out. I was also interviewed on Japanese television, in which I began by saying "The Democratic Party is the Roach Motel of Politics; the progressive people go in, and they never come out."

The press were mostly focused in their questions about the potential for violence by the demonstrators. I told them that as a participant in Chicago in 1968 and Seattle in 1999, and many antiwar protests in between, that it has generally been the police and the government that initiated violence, clubbing people, teargassing them, shooting them with electric stun guns, and so forth. It is the government and military that are bombing the hell out of Iraq and other countries, not the protesters, and the same people that are committing the violence abroad are perpetrating it here at home, while orchestrating fear and mass hysteria to put into place fascist mechanisms.

Just also got word that they just evacuated the building at Staples due to suspicions of some package that they found. (Nothing, of course.) All done to perpetrate panic.

While the demonstrators stood around the police chanting "Let Him Go," a group of Bostonians stood on top of the steps and counter-chanted: "Let's go Red Sox."

"Go Reds, Smash State," I muttered (secretly rooting for the NY Yankees, who are here at Fenway Park this afternoon).

Comment: There you have it: Middle-Eastern people can be arrested in the US for simply looking at things.

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War protester pulled from Oswego County parade, arrested
By Charles McChesney
Republished from Post-Standard (Syracuse)
Sun, 17 Jul 2005 22:48:19 -0700

Mark Harris, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force, was not pleased to see a sign-carrying Iraq war protester in Thursday night's Mexico Volunteer Fire Department Field Days parade.

What he saw happen to the man, though, raised some questions for him and, he said, his children.

An Oswego County sheriff's deputy pulled Joshua A. Davies, 23, of 25B North St. in Mexico, out of the parade and charged him with disorderly conduct. Davies had been walking in the parade carrying, Harris said, an "Impeach Bush" sign and another sign calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

Harris said he saw Davies get searched, handcuffed and put in a sheriff's patrol car. Harris said Davies was kept in the car until the parade ended about 45 minutes later.

"My kids watched it," said Harris. "Some asked, 'Can they do that?' "

They were talking about what the deputy did, not the protester. And it wasn't just children asking the question, Harris said. "There were older people, senior citizens, saying it too."

Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd said Davies was arrested because he was a spectator who jumped into the middle of the parade. "He was not entered in the parade," Todd said.

"We had a complaint that he disrupted the parade," Todd added. "He was arrested and released on an appearance ticket."

A man who answered the phone at the Mexico fire station, who declined to give his name, said Friday that all anyone had to do to be in the parade was ask permission.

"I felt bad that he was there," Harris said of Davies, "but I thought he had the right to his opinion."

"This was a signal to the kids that you can't do that here," Harris said. "Dissent, I mean. I thought that's what being an American means – the right to protest, to speak your mind."

Davies could not be reached for comment.

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Governors Voice National Guard Concerns
By ROBERT TANNER
AP National Writer
July 17, 2005

DES MOINES, Iowa - The nation's governors voiced sharp worries Saturday for the National Guard troops they share with the federal government, saying changes caused by the huge demands of the war in Iraq need more examination.

More than 30 governors gathered here for their summer meeting, where they were scheduled to meet privately on Monday with top officials of the Guard, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the
Homeland Security Department.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Republican incoming chairman of the National Governors Association, said more attention must be paid to the needs of Guard members returning from overseas deployments, especially younger members who need to find work.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Round, a Republican, said the Guard's recruiting system still works, but the stresses of the war are showing.

He is concerned that troops returning from the war zone may resign if their spouses and parents raise objections to continued service. "The second time around, will they be allowed to re-enlist? That's the question," he said.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said leaders need to consider ways to accommodate older members of the Guard and Reserves who want to do their part but cannot be expected to undertake long-term, overseas deployment when they have careers and families.

States often rely on their Air and Army Guard units to help in emergencies such as hurricanes, earthquakes or riots. The part-time soldiers are not often brought under federal control for missions such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There has been an easing of worries among governors that the overseas demands would leave states without the National Guard members needed to respond to state emergencies. Warner said Guard officials have offered assurances they would limit call-ups.

But bigger questions remain, he said. "I don't feel we've had the full deliberations about what the role of the Guard will be," said Warner, who has been exploring a possible presidential bid.

"Most governors would say we're putting more strain on our Guard and Reserves than many people are fully comfortable with," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican.

More than 250,000 National Guard troops have been mobilized for active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, the Army general in charge of National Guard forces.

"You haven't seen these kinds of participation from the states since the Civil War," Idaho's GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said.

National Guard soldiers represent about 40 percent of the U.S. ground force in Iraq. That is scheduled to drop significantly next year when the Army deploys two newly expanded active-duty divisions - the 101st Airborne and the 4th Infantry.

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Weekend of slaughter propels Iraq towards all-out civil war
From James Hider in Baghdad
Times Online
July 18, 2005

IRAQ is slipping into all-out civil war, a Shia leader declared yesterday, as a devastating onslaught of suicide bombers slaughtered more than 150 people, most of them Shias, around the capital at the weekend.

One bomber killed almost 100 people when he blew up a fuel tanker south of Baghdad, an attack aimed at snapping Shia patience and triggering the full-blown sectarian war that al-Qaeda has been trying to foment for almost two years.

Iraq's security forces have been overwhelmed by the scale of the suicide bombings - 11 on Friday alone and many more over the weekend - ordered by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"What is truly happening, and what shall happen, is clear: a war against the Shias," Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a prominent Shia cleric and MP, told the Iraqi parliament.

Sheikh al-Saghir is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shia spiritual leader and moderate who has so far managed to restrain powerful Shia militias from undertaking any outright attack on Sunni insurgents. His warning suggests that the Shia leadership may be losing its grip over Shias who in private often call for an armed backlash against their Sunni assailants.

The sheikh also cautioned Sunni clerics supporting the insurgency against American forces and the Shia-Kurdish Government elected in January. "I am very keen to preserve the Sunni blood that would be shed due to the irrational acts of some of their leaders, who do not see that they are leading the country into civil war," he told the national assembly.

On the streets of Baghdad, al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda organisation in Iraq unleashed one suicide bomber after another and promised no respite.

"The Hassan Ibrahim al-Zaidi attack continues for the second day in a row, with rigged cars, martyrdom attacks and clashes," an al-Qaeda internet statement said. "We warn the enemies of God of more to come." One of the suicide bombers, a Libyan, was arrested at the mass funerals of 32 Shia children killed last week by a car bomber.

But the worst attack occurred in the mixed town of Musaib, in the area south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death, when a fuel tanker blew up in a crowded market near a mosque on Saturday evening. The death toll rose to 98 yesterday, making it one the deadliest attacks yet.

Relatives searched the shattered market for the body parts of missing loved ones. "I saw a lot of burnt bodies after the explosion and many people throwing their children from the windows and balconies because the buildings were on fire," Ammar al-Qaragouli said.

Iraqi soldiers have set up checkpoints to try to rein in the bombers, only to become sitting ducks. Two dozen more people died yesterday in four suicide bombings targeting US and Iraqi security forces.

At least one desperate parliamentarian called for the population to form local militias to defend their neighbourhoods - a move that many see as prelude to a sectarian war.

"The plans of the Interior and Defence ministries to impose security in Iraq have failed to stop the terrorists. We need to bring back popular security committees," Khudair al-Khuzai, a senior parliamentarian who claimed that 50 fellow MPs supported him, said. But with the streets of Baghdad seething with fear, anger and rumours of impending conflict, confidence in anything that the Government says has plummeted. A poll in the state-sponsored al-Sabah newspaper indicated that 51 per cent of Iraqis see the Government's performance as weak, while only 32 per cent approved. Fuelling the sectarian tension, leaflets are being distributed in southern Baghdad threatening named Shia "collaborators" with execution. Increasingly hardline Shia militias, such as the outlawed Mahdi Army of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are patrolling large parts of Baghdad, often rounding up suspected Sunni insurgents and imprisoning or even killing them. With the country in turmoil, much of the Government, including Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shia Prime Minister, was on a landmark trip to try to repair relations with Iran, where President Khatami hailed a "turning point" in relations between the neighbours. He promised that his country would do all in its power to rebuild Iraq. But closer ties with Iran's Shia theocracy has alarmed Iraqi Sunnis, who accuse Iran of interfering.

John Reid, the British Defence Secretary, told CNN yesterday that Britain could start to reduce its troop levels in Iraq over the next 12 months. He said that neither Britain nor America had any imperialist ambitions and were anxious that Iraqi forces should assume responsibility for security. [...]

Comment: Italy recently announced it might begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq in September, Britain is now saying its troop levels will be reduced in the next year, and US leaders continue to claim that American soldiers will be slowly pulled out despite the escalating violence. It appears that the plan is to make sure that Iraq is plunged into a civil war. Such a conflict would provide fertile ground for the rise of the budding fascist security forces. A new brutal Iraqi regime - employing Saddam's torturers and loyal to the US, of course - will take over, freeing up the Coalition of the Billing to continue the battle on other fronts in the war on terror.

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Mt. St. Helens Still Kicking
July 15, 2005
By KOMO Staff & News Services

MOUNT ST. HELENS NATIONAL MONUMENT, WASH. - A magnitude 3 earthquake rattled Mount St. Helens on Friday, triggering rockfall and sending an ash plume above the crater rim, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The quake occurred at 5:22 a.m., the largest recorded at the volcano in several months. Its cause was not immediately known.

In the past two days scientists have placed new Global Positioning Systems and a seismic station on the east and west sides of the glacier. Gas-emission readings earlier this week showed little change.[...]

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Earthquake shakes Big Island
By The Associated Press

HILO, Hawaii (AP) -- An earthquake shook the Big Island early Friday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The magnitude 5.5 quake, which hit at 5:49 a.m., was centered in the Pacific Ocean off the Big Island's northeast coast, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. No tsunami was expected, the center said.

Lanny Nakano, acting administrator of the Hawaii County Civil Defense, said police officers across the island, as far away as Kailua-Kona on its west coast, reported feeling tremors.

Nakano said there were no immediate reports of damage.

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Moderate earthquake jolts southern Pakistan port city, no injuries reported
2005/7/16
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP)

A moderate earthquake jolted the southern Pakistan city of Karachi early Saturday just hours after a smaller tremor awoke residents in the port city, an official said. There were no reports of injuries.

The magnitude 5.5 quake struck at 7:17 a.m (0217 GMT) and was centered about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of Karachi in the mountains of neighboring Baluchistan province, said Abdul Hameed, an official at the seismological center in Karachi.

Nasir Mahmood, a seismological official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said the temblor was felt in Karachi and other parts of Baluchistan.

Hours earlier, a magnitude 4.3 quake awoke residents in many parts of Karachi. Hameed said the epicenter of that quake was not immediately known. No injuries or damage were reported in either of the tremors.

Moderate earthquakes are common in Pakistan and many are often centered in the Hindu Kush mountains in neighboring Afghanistan.

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Two small temblors hit eastern San Bernardino County
The Associated Press
(Updated Saturday, July 16, 2005, 1:55 AM)

BARSTOW, Calif. (AP) - Two small earthquakes hit eastern San Bernardino County late Friday, but there were no reports of damage or injuries, authorities said.

A 3.8-magnitude quake struck just before 10 p.m. about 40 miles east of Barstow and a second 3.5-magnitude temblor hit at 11:46 p.m. in the same area, according to preliminary reports from the U.S. Geological Survey.

There were no reports of damage or injury from either earthquake, according to a San Bernardino County dispatch operator.

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Moderate earthquake jolts Kupang eastern Indonesia
The Jakarta Post

Jakarta (DPA): A 5.6-magnitude earthquake jolted the eastern Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara on Monday morning, but there were no reports of casualty or damage, officials said.

The quake shook Kupang, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara on the western part of Timor island at about 8:05 a.m. local time, said Wijayanto, an official at Jakarta's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG).

Wijayanto said the tremblor's epicenter was in the sea, 33-kilometers beneath the seabed, about 104 kilometers east of Kupang, which lies about 2,160 kilometers east of Jakarta.

He said there were no reports of injury or structural damage.

In November 2004, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook the nearby island of Alor and other regions, leaving at least 27 people dead and injuring dozens of others.

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Earthquake shakes historic Myanmar temples
Press Trust of India
Yangon, July 18, 2005|18:20 IST

A moderate earthquake shook Myanmar's main archaeological site in the ancient capital of Bagan today, an official said. No damage was reported.

The magnitude-5.5 quake hit at 7:35 a.M. (0635 IST), the official at the government's Seismic Department said. Residents of Bagan contacted by phone said they hardly felt the tremor.

The quake was centered near Nyaung-U, 430 kms north of Yangon, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Nyaung-U is about 11 kms from Bagan, which has thousands of 11th and 12th century Buddhist stupas and temples.

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Another earthquake shakes the Big Island
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — For the second time in less than a week an estimated 5.2 magnitude earthquake shook the Big Island.

No injuries or damage were reported as the result of the quake, which struck about 9:15 a.m. Sunday and was felt throughout the Big Island and as far away as Maui and Oahu.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory located the quake about 69 miles south of Hilo. The quake is the biggest recorded in that area since the observatory began monitoring 43 years ago.

The latest quake was not related to another magnitude 5.2 earthquake off the northeast coast early Friday morning, said Jim Kauahikaua, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge.

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Hurricane Emily Lashes Yucatan Peninsula
By MARK STEVENSON
Washington Post
Monday, July 18, 2005; 2:10 AM

CANCUN, Mexico (AP) -- Hurricane Emily roared over the island of Cozumel early Monday and lashed Cancun's famous white-sand beaches with rain and punishing waves, ripping down billboards and forcing thousands of tourists to evacuate to higher ground.

The Category 4 storm caused heavy flooding that swept four people to their deaths in Jamaica on Saturday. In Mexico, it downed signs, toppled trees and whipped white sands from the beaches in Cancun.

Power outages were reported in Cancun and in Playa del Carmen, a resort town south of Cancun, as well as on the islands of Cozumel and las Mujeres.

Emily's winds decreased from 145 mph to 135 mph as it bore down on the Mexican coastline Sunday evening. Forecasters say it will likely weaken further as it heads across the peninsula and enters the Gulf of Mexico.

Two people also were killed in a helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico as more than 15,500 workers were evacuated from offshore oil platforms, raising to seven the number of people killed in the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season.

Emily was likely to make landfall again on Wednesday anywhere from northeastern Mexico to southern Texas, said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He cautioned it was too early to make a precise prediction.

In Cancun, hundreds of buses moved more than 25,000 tourists, many clutching pillows, to temporary shelters, part of the nearly 60,000 people being evacuated from resort towns like Tulum and Playa de Carmen.

Cancun's airport closed Sunday afternoon after thousands lined up at ticket counters, trying to get flights out before the storm hit.

"We're not going to sleep tonight," Cancun Mayor Francisco Alor said.

By late afternoon, heavy winds tugged at palm trees and sent the last people at the beach running for their cars.

One Cancun resident, 23-year-old Christopher Espinoza, braved howling bursts of wind to look out over the pounding surf. "The waves are already starting to take away part of the beach," he said.

Erosion has long been a problem for Cancun, and waves were starting to lap almost at the doorsteps of some hotels.

Hundreds of mostly foreign tourists lay shoulder-to-shoulder on thin foam pads in a sweltering gymnasium near the center of Cancun, one of Mexico's most popular tourist destinations known for its white-sand beaches, sprawling hotel complexes and all-night discos. [...]

Cancun's mayor, Francisco Alor, said the city was preparing for a near-direct hit by Emily.

"This hurricane is coming with the same force as Gilbert," he said referring to a notorious 1988 hurricane that killed 300 people in Mexico and the Caribbean.

The city's last big evacuation was for Gilbert. But in 1988, the city and surrounding resort areas had only about 8,000 hotel rooms. That number has since grown to over 50,000. [...]

In Jamaica, torrential rains drenched the south coast and washed away at least three houses, while a man, a woman, an infant boy and his 5-year-old sister were swept away in a car Saturday night. Searchers on Sunday found the four bodies trapped inside the car, which was filled with mud and other debris, police said.

The Cayman Islands escaped major damage Saturday. The islands and a handful of other Caribbean countries were devastated last year when three catastrophic hurricanes _ Frances, Ivan and Jeanne _ tore through the region with a collective ferocity not seen in years, causing hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

Late Sunday, the center of the storm was 50 miles southeast of Cozumel, an island just south of Cancun, and was approaching the peninsula at about 20 mph. [...]

State oil company Pemex removed the last few hundred workers from oil platforms on the Gulf of Mexico. Strong winds downed a helicopter participating in the evacuation on Saturday night, killing a pilot and co-pilot, the company said.

The platform evacuations closed 63 wells and halting the production of 480,000 barrels of oil per day.

Emily has unleashed heavy surf, gusty winds and torrential rains across the Caribbean, hitting hard Thursday at Grenada, where at least one man was killed when his home was buried under a landslide.

The storm trailed Hurricane Dennis, which killed at least 25 people in Haiti and 16 in Cuba earlier this month.

Forecasters have predicted up to 15 Atlantic tropical storms this year, including three to five major hurricanes. The hurricane season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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China evacuates 600,000 after typhoon lashes Taiwan
By Richard Dobson
Reuters
July 18, 2005

TAIPEI - China evacuated over 600,000 people from coastal areas on Monday after typhoon Haitang slammed into Taiwan, killing up to four people, injuring 25 and forcing offices, schools and markets to shut across the island.

At 1300 GMT, Haitang was packing maximum winds of 144 km/h (89 mph), down from a previous 184 km/h, and gusts of up to 180 km/h, weaker than the earlier 227 km/h, said Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau.

If the typhoon stays on its present course, it will hit China's southeastern coast on Tuesday afternoon.

"Based on our current forecast data, it should make landfall in mainland China around 2 p.m. local time," said Daniel Wu, director of the bureau's forecasting center, noting the margin of error was around two to three hours.

The official death toll in Taiwan stood at one -- a man killed by falling rocks -- but the National Fire Agency said another three bodies had been found. They were not included in the official tally as the cause of death is still being investigated.

Another person was swept away while fishing, the agency said, and 25 people had been injured in the storm, which was weakening as it swept southwest across Taiwan toward China's coastal rice-growing provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian.

Weather forecasters warned torrential rain would continue to hammer the island through to Wednesday, but Taipei and most local governments said business will resume on Tuesday.

LANDSLIDES AND FLOODS

Haitang has already dumped over 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) of rain on mountainous areas in the northeast, prompting the government to warn of potentially deadly landslides and flash floods.

Across the strait, authorities in China's Fujian and Zhejiang provinces ordered back to port some 17,000 fishing and merchant ships with a total of more than 300,000 aboard, the Xinhua news agency reported.

On land, officials in the rice-growing region evacuated 600,000 with homes in the storm's projected path, Xinhua said.

Travel services were suspended and seaside hotels in Fujian closed to guests.

In normally bustling Taipei, the lashing winds emptied streets for most of the day as residents hunkered down at home to ride out the first typhoon to make landfall this year.

The northern city is Taiwan's political and financial center and home to the world's tallest building, the 508 m (1,667 ft) Taipei 101, which was built to withstand the strongest typhoon in a 100-year cycle, or gale-force winds of 216 km/h.

Howling winds uprooted trees. Street signs and billboards lay toppled on the roads. Sandbags lined the doors of shops and homes. International and domestic flights were suspended, railways stopped running and seaports stopped loading.

Taiwan's oil refineries were operating normally, however.

"There were strong gusts of wind every five or six minutes, forcing me to stop my scooter when I was riding to work," said David Lin, a security guard in Taipei. "Every time I heard a loud noise I was afraid I would be hit by debris," he said.

In 2001, one of Taiwan's deadliest years for storms, Typhoon Toraji killed 200 people. A few months later, Typhoon Nari caused Taipei's worst flooding on record and killed 100.

Among Chinese cities threatened by the storm is the manufacturing hub of Wenzhou -- which churns out everything from cigarette lighters to shoes -- where heavy rain was expected from Monday evening and nearly 80,000 people were evacuated.

Typhoons gather strength from warm sea waters and tend to dissipate after making landfall. They frequently hit Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and southern China during a season that starts in early summer and lasts until late autumn.

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France faces drought, locusts
The Washington Times
Jul. 17, 2005 at 9:41PM

On top of a severe drought, France is fighting a plague of hundreds of thousands of locusts.

The locusts are devouring everything from crops to window-box flowers, reported the Observer.

"At the beginning they seem small, insignificant insects but they grow very quickly," said Aveyron region farmer Gerard Laussel. "They eat everything that is green, leaving only stalks, and when they have finished they leave some kind of scent so the cattle do not want to graze on what is left."

The French environment ministry said drought could be felt across most of France, but it mostly impacted from the Atlantic Ocean to Paris.

"There is nothing we can do for the 700 or 800 farmers affected," said Patrice Lemoux, an agriculture official. "The locust has no known predator and the only insecticides which might make a difference are banned."

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Texas A&M Leads World in Cloning Animals
By JUAN A. LOZANO
Jul 17, 5:40 AM (ET)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Eighty-six Squared has never been in a hurry. The Black Angus bull was born 15 years after cells from his genetic donor, Bull 86, were frozen as part of a study on natural disease resistance. When Bull 86 died in 1997, scientists thought his unique genetic makeup was lost. But researchers at Texas A&M University were able to clone him from the frozen cells in 2000.

Now 5 years old, 86 Squared spends his days grazing on a rural area of the A&M campus. He was in no rush to greet recent visitors, slowly sauntering from deep inside his large metal pen.

Similarly, Texas A&M researchers know animal cloning can't be rushed. Through painstaking experimentation, A&M is the world's first academic institution to clone six species in six years: cattle, a boer goat, pigs, a deer, a horse and - most famously - a cat named cc.

"Generally the way these things go is you do an experiment and then you do another experiment, then you do another experiment," said Mark Westhusin, lead researcher with the A&M cloning team. "It's slow, painstaking work to get little bitty pieces of information that you hope will one day help and improve the technology."

A&M scientists say the cloning research could result in the creation of disease-resistant livestock, saving the agriculture industry millions of dollars and increasing food production.

Yet A&M's success has fueled the debate about the growing use of cloning, whether it is unnecessarily cruel to animals and whether the potential benefits are overblown.

The cloning team, working in a nondescript one-story brick building on the A&M campus, harvests eggs from animal ovaries. The delicate procedure is performed with micromanipulators - a high-tech microscope that holds an unfertilized egg in place while its nucleus is removed and a cultured cell is put inside.

The cell and egg are then fused through electric stimulation to create an embryo that is implanted in the uterus of a surrogate mother.

"We've just been very good at being able to manage every single aspect of that from beginning to end," Westhusin said.

But for all the technological breakthroughs, Westhusin said cloning remains an inefficient process. A&M researchers say only 1 percent to 5 percent of cloning procedures succeed. [...]

A&M researchers are focused on trying to create livestock resistant to disease, particularly foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease. Bull 86 was naturally resistant to brucellosis, tuberculosis and other diseases. Eighty-six Squared has the same qualities. [...]

"Animal cloning has resulted in a lot of issues with deaths and deformities that have been the norm, not the exception," said Lisa Archer, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, the U.S. arm of an international environmental group.

She said an A&M study released in 2002 documented a 94 percent failure rate in efforts to clone pigs. Twenty-eight piglets were born without an anus and tail, a fatal condition. [...]

Comment: The article fails to mention their greatest success. By combining a donkey cell with a human egg and zapping it to life à la Dr. Frankenstein, researchers were able to engineer the first humanimal: George W. Bush.

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Thousands Gather to Celebrate Megachurch
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
Associated Press
Sun Jul 17,12:43 PM ET

HOUSTON - America's largest church celebrated its move into the former arena for the Houston Rockets with a capacity crowd of 16,000, an upbeat sermon from its televangelist pastor and a spirited welcome from the governor of Texas.

"How do you like our new home?" Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen asked to thunderous applause. "It looks pretty good doesn't it? This is a dream come true."

The new home for the nondenominational Christian church is the former Compaq Center, once home to the Rockets.

There were no vacant spots in the arena as Lakewood, which recently became the first church in the United States to average more than 30,000 worshippers weekly, held its first service there Saturday night. The service also was televised live.

Gov. Rick Perry praised the church's new look and told the crowd, "As lawmakers we do a lot of things, but only the church can teach people to love.

"This is nothing short of amazing," Perry said. "It is so great to look across this crowd and see the wonderful diversity of this great state we call Texas."

It took more than 15 months and $75 million to complete the renovations - which included adding five stories to make more room.

"I couldn't believe how beautiful it was," Osteen said afterward when asked to describe how he felt when he first entered what he called the "Texas-sized" sanctuary. "It almost felt surreal." [...]

The service was highlighted by a 25-minute sermon by Osteen, who told the crowd that he and his wife, Victoria, went on their first date in the arena 19 years ago.

The crowd roared with approval throughout the message and was often brought to its feet as Osteen spoke in front of a large golden-colored globe that rotated slowly.

Members of the choir swayed happily, belting out several different songs below pictures of a crisp blue sky with puffy white clouds.

While collection plates were passed, video messages from people around the world, including Pastor T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House in Dallas, welcomed Lakewood to its new location.

"It is overwhelming, unbelievable, fantastic," Ann Bell, one of the church's original members, said after the service. "Words can't even describe it."

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