Friday, August 19, 2005                                               The Daily Battle Against Subjectivity
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"You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism." - Cindy Sheehan

 

P I C T U R E   O F  T H E  D A Y


Cercle de Gavarnie
©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte


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For Helping Signs of the Times!

One month ago, we began our first ever Signs of the Times fundraiser. The final results are shown above.

We are extremely thankful for the generous support we received from our readers. While we did not reach our goal, your support will certainly help us to continue to produce and improve the Signs page.

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NEW! Signs Commentary Books are Now Available!

For the first time, the Signs Team's most popular and discerning essays have been compiled into book form and thematically organized.

These books contain hard hitting exposés into human nature, propaganda, psyop activities and insights into the world events that shape our future and our understanding of the world.

The six new books, available now at our bookstore, are entitled:

  • 911 Conspiracy
  • The Human Condition
  • The Media
  • Religion
  • The Work
  • U.S. Freedom

Read them today - before the book burning starts!


Bush to do some heavy reading
Associated Press
Aug 19, 2005

WHEN he is not biking up hills or slashing overgrown brush, US President George W. Bush has 1,500 pages of reading material to fill his free time this month.

The White House said Mr Bush took three heavy books with him on his five-week stay at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

One is The Great Influenza: The Epic Story Of The Deadliest Plague In History. It tells the story of the virus that killed more than 50 million people worldwide in 1918 and argues that the US government ignored the crisis and created conditions that allowed it to thrive.

Another is Salt: A World History which tells the history of salt and how this rock shaped the world.

The third is Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar. This book by celebrated Russian playwright Edvard Radzinsky does not go on sale until October.

Apparently, a perk of the presidency is getting advance copies of anticipated biographies.

Comment: Given the recent flu outbreaks (see below) along with the talk of a possible worldwide flu outbreak, Bush's first choice in vacation reading material is rather curious...

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Flashback: Flu is killing our kids
By KELLY ANDREW
22 June 2005

A deadly strain of influenza B has claimed three young lives in the past six weeks and is now an epidemic among children in the North Island.

The Health Ministry appealed for vigilance yesterday after revealing that the flu outbreak, which has struck thousands of children and swept through schools around the country, had killed a third victim.

All three young people died after developing complications from the Hong Kong B strain of the virus. [...]

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Flashback: Flu epidemic hits hospital hard
NZ Herald
23.06.05 1.00pm

Elective surgery has been postponed as Hawke's Bay Hospital reels from the impact of the flu bug and other viruses which have hit staff and patients and filled its beds.

The hospital is "full to capacity", Hawke's Bay District Health Board's chief operating officer Ray Lind said.

It was the second time in as many months that the hospital has been hit hard by people suffering from seasonal illnesses.

Mr Lind urged people to take steps to look after themselves.

"If you or your children are sick, take time off to recover before going back to work or sending your children back to school," Mr Lind said.

"It's vitally important to seek medical attention early, from your GP or medical centre. In many cases a trip to the doctor for expert advice and treatment can stop people getting so sick that they have to be admitted to hospital," he said.

Mr Lind also made a plea to the local community to rally round and support elderly family and neighbours. [...]

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Flashback: No protection against virulent flu strain
22/06/2005 8:24:02

New Zealand - This year's flu vaccine did not not offer protection against a virulent strain which has infected thousands.

Three young people have died from complications after contracting the Hong Kong strain of influenza B.

Ministry of Health Chief Advisor Pat Tuohy says the World Health Organisation did not issue a warning about this particular strain, so it was not included in this year's vaccination. He says the current outbreak is significant, with thousands of children affected.

The outbreak comes as a new campaign is launched, to reduce the spread of viruses amongst children.

Virologist Dr Lance Jennings says children are particularly susceptible to viruses and on average, have one respiratory infection every two months. He says germs spread through schools like wildfire.

Dr Jennings suggests the use of anti-viral tissues which kill bugs as soon as they hit the tissue. [...]

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Flashback: School reopens after mystery bug

Classrooms commercially cleaned over weekend and St Marks Church School reopens after unidentified virus caused illness
NZCity
30 May 2005

St Marks Church School in Wellington reopens this morning after more than a quarter of its pupils were off sick last week, due to an unidentified virus.

It is one of several schools in the region to struck by the illness, which has not yet been identified.

The school's classrooms were commercially cleaned over the weekend to help stop the bug spreading.

Schools across Auckland are also battling a winter virus outbreak and hundreds of students have been stricken. [...]

Comment: It looks like New Zealand is a sort of "petrie dish" and has been "breeding" stuff for awhile...

From the September 24, 2001 Cassiopaean Transcripts:

Q: (L) Are there going to be any other kinds of violence, such as bombs or airplanes being flown into buildings, or release of anthrax, or small pox, or any other kind of chemical or germ warfare activities. Any of those?
A: Yes.
Q: (L) Which ones?
A: Fair chance of germ disbursement.
Q: (L) What kind of germ?
A: Influenza.
Q: (L) Do you mean a deadly form of flu?
A: Yes.

From the August 6, 2005 Cassiopaean Transcripts:

Q: Is there any update on the possibility of some form of germ disbursement and is something like that imminent?
A: Expect a good round this fall
Q: Is this germ warfare going to be strictly in the US?
A: It's already starting.
Q: Is it going to be worldwide?
A: Spottily.
Q: Are we talking about a deadly form of flu?
A: It will be eventually.

See also our Flu Threat Signs Supplement.

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Deadly avian flu on the wing
By Mike Davis

The first bar-headed geese have already arrived at their wintering grounds near the Cauvery River in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Over the next 10 weeks, 100,000 more geese, gulls and cormorants will leave their summer home at Lake Qinghai in western China, headed for India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and, eventually, Australia.

An unknown number of these beautiful migrating birds will carry H5N1, the avian flu sub-type that has killed 61 people in Southeast Asia and which the World Health Organization (WHO) fears is on the verge of mutating into a pandemic form like that which killed 50 to 100 million people in the fall of 1918.

As the birds arrive in the wetlands of South Asia, they will excrete the virus into the water, where it risks spreading to migrating waterfowl from Europe, as well as to domestic poultry. In the worst-case scenario, this will bring avian flu to the doorstep of the dense slums of Dhaka, Kolkata, Karachi and Mumbai.

The avian flu outbreak at Lake Qinghai was first identified by Chinese wildlife officials at the end of April. Initially it was confined to a small islet in the huge salt lake, where geese suddenly began to act spasmodically, then to collapse and die. By mid-May it had spread through the lake's entire avian population, killing thousands of birds. An ornithologist called it "the biggest and most extensively mortal avian influenza event ever seen in wild birds".

Chinese scientists, meanwhile, were horrified by the virulence of the new strain: when mice were infected they died even quicker than when injected with "genotype Z", the fearsome H5N1 variant currently killing farmers and their children in Vietnam.

Yi Guan, leader of a famed team of avian flu researchers who have been fighting the pandemic menace since 1997, complained to the British Guardian newspaper in July about the lackadaisical response of Chinese authorities to the unprecedented biological conflagration at Lake Qinghai.

"They have taken almost no action to control this outbreak. They should have asked for international support. These birds will go to India and Bangladesh and there they will meet birds that come from Europe." Yi Guan called for the creation of an international task force to monitor the wild bird pandemic, as well as the relaxation of rules that prevent the free movement of foreign scientists to outbreak zones in China.

In a paper published in the British science magazine Nature, Yi Guan and his associates also revealed that the Lake Qinghai strain was related to officially unreported recent outbreaks of H5N1 among birds in southern China. This would not be the first time that Chinese authorities have been charged with covering up an outbreak. They also lied about the nature and extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic, which originated in Guangdong but quickly spread to 25 other countries. As in the case of SARS' whistleblowers, the Chinese bureaucracy is now trying to gag avian-flu scientists, shutting down one of Yi Guan's laboratories at Shantou University and arming the conservative Agriculture Ministry with new powers over research.

Meanwhile, as anxious Indian scientists monitor bird sanctuaries throughout the sub-continent, H5N1 has spread to the outskirts of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet; to western Mongolia; and, most disturbingly, to chickens and wildfowl near the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk.

Despite frantic efforts to cull local poultry, Russian Health Ministry experts have expressed pessimism that the outbreak can be contained on the Asian side of the Urals. Siberian wildfowl migrate every fall to the Black Sea and southern Europe; another flyway leads from Siberia to Alaska and Canada.

In anticipation of this next, and perhaps inevitable, stage in the world journey of avian flu, poultry populations are being tracked in Moscow; Alaskan scientists are studying birds migrating across the Bering Straits, and even the Swiss are looking over their shoulders at the tufted ducks and pochards arriving from Eurasia.

H5N1's human epicenter is also expanding: in mid-July Indonesian authorities confirmed that a father and his two young daughters had died of avian flu in a wealthy suburb of Jakarta. Disturbingly, the family had no known contact with poultry and near panic ensued in the neighborhood as the media speculated about possible human-to-human transmission.

At the same time, five new outbreaks among poultry were reported in Thailand, dealing a terrible blow to the nation's extensive and highly publicized campaign to eradicate the disease. Meanwhile, as Vietnamese officials renewed their appeal for more international aid, H5N1 was claiming new victims in the country that remains of chief concern to the WHO.

The bottom line is that avian influenza is endemic and probably ineradicable among poultry in Southeast Asia, and now seems to be spreading at pandemic velocity among migratory birds, with the potential to reach most of the earth in the next year.

Each new outpost of H5N1 - whether among ducks in Siberia, pigs in Indonesia or humans in Vietnam - is a further opportunity for the rapidly evolving virus to acquire the gene or even simply the protein mutation that it needs to become a mass-killer of humans.

This exponential multiplication of hot spots and silent reservoirs (as among infected but asymptomatic ducks) is why the chorus of warnings from scientists, public-health officials, and finally, governments has become so plangently insistent in recent months.

The new US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the Associated Press in early August that an influenza pandemic was now an "absolute certainty", echoing repeated warnings from the WHO that it was "inevitable". Likewise, Science magazine observed that expert opinion held the odds of a global outbreak as "100%".

In the same grim spirit, the British media revealed that officials were scouring the country for suitable sites for mass mortuaries, based on official fears that avian flu could kill as many as 700,000 Britons. The Blair government is already conducting emergency simulations of a pandemic outbreak ("Operation Arctic Sea") and is reported to have readied "Cobra" - a cabinet-level working group that coordinates government responses to national emergencies, like the recent London bombings, from a secret war room in Whitehall - to deal with an avian flu crisis.

Little of this Churchillian resolve is apparent in Washington. Although a sense of extreme urgency is evident in the National Institutes of Health, where the czar for pandemic planning, Dr Anthony Fauci, warns of "the mother of all emerging infections", the White House has seemed even less perturbed by migrating plagues than by wanton carnage in Iraq.

Prevention and cure

As the president was packing for his long holiday in Texas, the Trust for America's Health was warning that domestic preparations for a pandemic lagged far behind the energetic measures being undertaken in Britain and Canada, and that the administration had failed "to establish a cohesive, rapid and transparent US pandemic strategy".

That increasingly independent operator, Senate majority leader Bill Frist, had already criticized the administration in an extraordinary (and under-reported) speech at Harvard at the beginning of June. Referring to Washington's failure to stockpile an adequate supply of the crucial antiviral oseltamivir (or Tamiflu), Frist sarcastically noted that "to acquire more anti-viral agent, we would need to get in line behind Britain and France and Canada and others who have tens of millions of doses on order".

The New York Times on its July 17 editorial page, a May 26 special issue of Nature and the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs have also hammered away at Washington's failure to stockpile enough scarce antivirals - current inventories cover less than 1% of the US population - and to modernize vaccine production. Even a few prominent Senate Democrats have stirred into action, although none as boldly as Frist at Harvard.

The Department of Health and Human Services, in response, has sought to calm critics with recent hikes in spending on vaccine research and antiviral stockpiles. There has also been much official and media ballyhoo about the announcement of a series of successful tests in early August of an experimental avian flu vaccine.

But there is no guarantee that the vaccine prototype, based on a "reverse-genetically-engineered" strain of H5N1, will actually be effective against a pandemic strain with different genes and proteins. Moreover, trial success was based on the administration of two doses plus a booster. Since the government has only ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, this may provide protection for only 450,000 people. As one researcher told Science magazine, "it's a vaccine for the happy few".

At the least, gearing up for larger-scale production will take many months and production itself is limited by the antiquated technology of vaccine manufacture, which depends on a vulnerable and limited supply of fertile chicken eggs. It would also likely mean the curtailment of the production of the annual winter flu vaccine that is so often a lifesaver for many senior citizens.

Likewise, Washington's new orders for antivirals, as Frist predicted, will have to wait in line behind the other customers of Roche's single Tamiflu plant in Switzerland. In short, it is good news that the vaccine tests were successful, but that does little to change the judgment of the New York Times that "there is not enough vaccine or antiviral medicine available to protect more than a handful of people, and no industrial capacity to produce a lot more of these medicines quickly".

Moreover, the majority of the world, including all the poor countries of South Asia and Africa where, history tells us, pandemics are likely to hit especially hard, will have no access to expensive antivirals or scarce vaccines. It is even doubtful whether the WHO will have the minimal pharmaceuticals to respond to an initial outbreak.

Recent theoretical studies by mathematical epidemiologists in Atlanta and London have raised hopes that a pandemic might be stopped in its tracks if 1 to 3 million doses of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) were available to douse an outbreak in a fail-safe radius around the early cases.

After years of effort, however, the WHO has only managed to inventory about 123,000 courses of Tamiflu. Although Roche has promised to donate more, the desperate rush of rich countries to accumulate Tamiflu will be certain to undercut the WHO's stockpile.

As for a universally available "world vaccine", it remains a pipe-dream without new, billion-dollar commitments from the rich countries, above all the United States, and even then, we are probably too late.

"People just don't get it," Dr Michael Osterholm, the outspoken director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, recently complained. "If we were to begin a Manhattan Project-type response tonight to expand vaccine and drug production, we wouldn't have a measurable impact on the availability of these critical products to sufficiently address a worldwide pandemic for at least several years."

"Several years" is a luxury that Washington has already squandered. The best guess, as the geese head west and south, is that we have almost run out of time. As Shigeru Omi, the Western Pacific director of WHO, told a UN meeting in Kuala Lumpur in early July: "We're at the tipping point."

Comment: Bird flu and plans for population reduction, do we think there might be a link?

It is no secret that there are proponents for the need to reduce the world's population by several billion people in order to establish a viable, sustainable economy. From Maurice Strong to Mike Ruppert, from the Club of Rome to Lambda Corporation, to name but a few, the arguments have been circulating for many years. They cite diminishing resources, especially oil, as one of the reasons. Climate change is offered as another, with visions of snow and ice covered fields reducing the arable land to the point that those not lucky enough to be living protected in underground cities will be fighting for food.

Mike Ruppert grabbed the bull by the horns and launched a call for the formation of a group, including such luminaries as the Dalai Lama, that would work out humane ways of reducing the population.

And into the breach rides, or should we say flies, the solution: bird flu.

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'Peace Mom,' Her Mother Ill, Leaves Camp
By ANGELA K. BROWN
Associated Press
Thu Aug 18, 7:21 PM ET

CRAWFORD, Texas - The grieving woman who started an anti-war demonstration near President Bush's ranch nearly two weeks ago left the camp Thursday after learning her mother had had a stroke, but she told supporters the protest would go on.

Cindy Sheehan told reporters she had just received the phone call and was leaving immediately to be with her 74-year-old mother at a Los Angeles hospital.

"I'll be back as soon as possible if it's possible," she said. After hugging some of her supporters, Sheehan and her sister, Deedee Miller, got in a van and left for the Waco airport about 20 miles away.

Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey died in Iraq, said the makeshift campsite off the road leading to Bush's ranch would continue.

The camp has grown to more than 100 people, including many relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq. After Sheehan left, dozens of the demonstrators gathered under a canopy to pray for her mother.

Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., had vowed to remain at the camp until Bush met with her or until his monthlong vacation ended.

Her protest inspired candlelight vigils across the country Wednesday night, and she has drawn sympathy for the loss of her son, which says tore apart her marriage as well.

Bush has also said he sympathizes with Sheehan. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said earlier Thursday that the president said Sheehan had a right to protest but that he did not plan to change his schedule and meet with her. Bush is scheduled to return to Washington on Sept. 3.

Two top Bush administration officials talked to Sheehan the day she started her camp, and she and other families met with Bush shortly after her son's death and before she became a vocal opponent of the war.

Michelle Mulkey, a spokeswoman for Sheehan, said Sheehan hoped to be back in Texas within 24 to 48 hours. Mulkey said Sheehan's mother, Shirley Miller, was in a hospital emergency room and Sheehan didn't yet know how serious her condition was.

Sheehan and the other demonstrators have camped in ditches along the road to Bush's ranch since Aug. 6. After complaints from some neighbors, they planned to start moving the camp site Thursday and Friday to a private one-acre lot owned by Fred Mattlage, who opposes the war and offered his property to give them more room and safety.

FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley and Sen. Becky Lourey, a Minnesota lawmaker whose son died in Iraq, were expected to join the demonstrators later Thursday.

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Memo to Drudge, et al: It's Not About Me, It's About the War
Cindy Sheehan
08.18.2005

Even after my repeated attempts to keep the focus of my protest on the war, the Drudge Report and others continue to try to make the issue about me. But I am not the issue. The issue is a disastrous war that's killing our sons and daughters and making our country less secure. They attack me because they can no longer defend this war.

I've come to Crawford to bring to the president's doorstep the harsh realities of a war he's been trying so hard to avoid. But no matter what they say or how many shotguns they fire or how many crosses they destroy, they're not going to stop me from speaking out about a war that needlessly killed my son.

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US expats in Paris hold anti-war vigil
AFP
August 17, 2005

PARIS - A handful of US expatriates living in France held a small protest Wednesday under the Eiffel Tower, their way of participating in a night of vigils against the Iraq war taking place later the same night across the United States.

The 16 people at the Paris gathering said they and the US-based demonstrators were showing support for Cindy Sheehan, the US woman who has been camped outside US President George W Bush's Texas ranch in protest against the US-led occupation of Iraq. Sheehan's son, a soldier, was killed in Iraq last year.

"We're also thanking the French government for not having joined the Iraq war," said one of the expatriate protesters, who identified herself only by her first name, Karen.

A fellow protester, who said his first name was Arnie, added: "I think these kind of things isolate the (Bush) administration."

The group sat quietly on the steps of a monument to peace located at the far end of a park from the Eiffel Tower, which loomed over the expatriates and hundreds of picnicking French people and tourists.

Anti-war movements supporting Sheehan organised hundreds of similar candle-lit vigils Wednesday across the United States.

They hope the media attention surrounding Sheehan's one-woman campaign will fuel the increasing disapproval of the war registered in US public opinion surveys and force Bush to bring home the 138,000 troops he has deployed in Iraq.

More than 1,850 US soldiers have died in Iraq since Bush ordered the March 2003 invasion of the country to rid it of a supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

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Outside View: Neo-Racism - No Other Name
by Bouthaina Shaaban
UPI
August 16, 2005

Damascus, Syria - MP George Galloway said in a lecture at the Assad Library in Damascus last week: "I came to declare that I am a friend to Arabs, at a time when it is not easy to be friend to Arabs, because nowadays those who have ambitions and interests would not befriend Arabs."

It is very true, as befriending Arabs and Muslims would brand one as a "suspect" associate of a group of people who prefer death to life due to incomprehensible reasons. In spite of the industrious effort of think tanks and research centers, this incomprehensibility has reached an alarming edge demanding a prudent solution.

One of the repercussions has been depriving Muslims and Arabs, wherever they were, of their civil and human rights, passing discriminating laws against them, and entrapping them in peculiar interrogations: "Do you feel more European or more Muslim? More British or more Muslim? Which feeling overwhelms the other the most?"

Hate-crimes have prevailed against the colored "suspects" in Western countries, giving new life to the racism and xenophobia the world has been fighting in Europe, the United States and South Africa over the last century. Today, it is a neo-racism against Arabs and Muslims.

Only last week, Anthony Walker was killed in Liverpool for his brown skin, and four Arabs on a bus near the city of Shafa Amro in occupied Palestine were killed in a vivid translation of the Israeli Prime Minister's mother's advice "Don't trust Arabs." No condemnation resonated anywhere in the civilized West.

Some Universities in the West have also started eliminating Muslim applicants, especially seekers of sciences, in fear they might use their education to produce bombs and feed terrorism.

The seventy's academic triumph in celebrating scholarly achievement regardless of race, color, religion or nationality has come to an end. As for travel, it has become a tormenting and humiliating hustle for the black haired, dark eyed or brown colored. It has become indeed, as PM Galloway put it "not easy to be friend to Arabs," to Muslims or truth.

Arabs and Muslims are required everywhere to abide by international rules and regulations; however they don't seem to enjoy any right under those very same rules and regulations. While newspapers casually refer to the heavy water supply to Israel's nuclear weapons production, they threaten and caution against any Muslim development of nuclear programs.

So, as long as the target was Arabs and Muslims, any nuclear threat is safe to maintain. The world cannot permit those who do not share the same level of "rationality and responsibility" to possess nuclear weapons. This is the driving logic behind legitimizing racism and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, and the very same logic that will eventually undermine the value system of "freedom" and "democracy."

Turning a blind eye on the oppression and occupation feeding Arab and Muslim frustration with the West is not the road to safety, neither are the racist crimes and statements used by western leaders to gather votes for an election or support for a policy.

The worst calamity of all is that the terrorists, who claim avenging Islam, are themselves the most lethal weapon in the hands of those who profit from locking Arabs and Muslims up behind the bars of suspicion and depriving them of their lands and resources.

The world should re-examine the core of such ideological policies of hate and pay more heed to the prudent, moderate truth-seekers like MP George Galloway, the late Robin Cook, Ken Livingston, Noam Chomsky, Henry Sigeman, Avi Shliem and their like, in stead of bypassing them as suspicious pro-Arab and pro-Muslim advocates.

Humanity has paid a high price fighting racism and discrimination over centuries; how could we loose the battle today to similar ideologies covered up in the cloaks of "freedom" and "democracy?" Whether President Bush's advisors concur to call it "international struggle against violent extremism" or "war on terrorism," prudence demands they listen first to the words of General Wallace Grigson of the American Marines base in the Pacific: "winning hearts and minds is more important than arresting and killing people."

The great majority of Muslims and Arabs today feel they are victims to the American war on terrorism; this majority will inevitably be decisive in how the war ends. This is a risk factor alarming enough for the United States to reconsider not names and titles, but more importantly policies and ideologies.

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Israeli Riot Police Storm Gaza Synagogues
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
Associated Press Writer
Aug 18 8:06 PM US/Eastern

(KFAR DAROM, Gaza Strip) -- Riot troops stormed synagogues in two hardline Jewish settlements Thursday to evict hundreds of militant holdouts who locked arms in a human chain and pelted soldiers with acid, oil and sand, the most violent clashes in Israel's historic Gaza pullout.

By the close of the day, 14,000 unarmed forces had cleared all but four of Gaza's 21 settlements - including Kfar Darom and Neve Dekalim, pillars of resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to cede Gaza to the Palestinians and alter the course of Mideast peacemaking.

Dozens of protesters at Kfar Darom sequestered themselves behind razor-wire on the synagogue roof, at first singing and waving flags, then attacking soldiers below with their arsenal of caustic liquids and objects, including paint-filled lightbulbs. Police and soldiers stripped off their clothes after being doused. Comrades poured water on their heads and torsos to wash them.

Breaking the siege, army cranes lowered metal cages filled with helmeted troops onto the roof, as cannon sprayed protesters with blasts of blue-tinted water. Other troops carrying wire cutters climbed ladders that became slick with oil.

At Neve Dekalim, troops wrestled for hours against some 1,500 extremists making their last stand inside Gaza's largest synagogue. Protesters lay on the floor with their arms linked, kicking against the Israeli forces while supporters held their shoulders in a tug-of-war.

After breaking the human chain, troops dragged protesters out of the synagogue one by one, holding them by their arms and legs as they twisted and squirmed. Other protesters chanted "blasphemy, blasphemy." One religious soldier, who wore a skullcap, suffered a panic attack and was taken away by medics.

Outside, teenage girls confronted a wall of troops surrounding the building, waving their fists and screaming, "You're driving Jews out of a synagogue. The last time this happened was the Holocaust. ... You're Jews, you have a Jewish heart, you don't have to do this."

For years, 8,500 Israelis lived among Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians in perpetual tension and frequently lethal violence. The standoff at the synagogues was a symbolic climax to the withdrawal operation that started early Wednesday, since many of the settlers are Orthodox Jews who believe Gaza is the biblical birthright of the Jewish people.

Palestinians watched the drama in satisfaction from the rooftops of their nearby homes. "I'm standing here without any fear that Israelis will shoot at me because their battle today is against themselves," said Mohammed Bashir, a farmer in the town of Deir al-Balah, near Kfar Darom.

Thursday's evictions leave several hundred people still in Gaza. Evictions of the remaining four settlements, which will be suspended before Friday evening for the Jewish Sabbath, could be completed by next week, officials said - far earlier than planned.

President Bush was receiving regular updates on the withdrawal, White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, told reporters in Crawford, Texas.

"We understand the deep sentiments that are felt and the difficulty one feels when leaving their home," she said. "We agree that the disengagement will only make Israel stronger. We agree with Prime Minister Sharon on that. And the president has also said that this will bring our two countries closer together."

At least 41 police and soldiers and 17 civilians were injured during Thursday's raids on six settlements, including Neve Dekalim and Kfar Darom, police said. In Kfar Darom, about 50 people were arrested.

"What we saw here crossed all boundaries," said Maj. Gen. Dan Harel. "Everybody who was now on the roof will be arrested and put in prison." He said several troops were wounded by acid.

The daylong rooftop standoff recalled images from 1982 when Israeli troops evacuated Yamit, an Israeli town build on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula that was being returned to Egypt under a peace treaty between the two countries. That was the first time Israelis saw their army fighting their own civilians, and the army was equipped only with ladders to storm the roof - a lesson learned this time. [...]

Some Israelis were offended that the extremists chose houses of worship as their last redoubt. But experts on Judaism say it's not necessarily taboo for a synagogue to be used as a place of refuge.

In another standoff, at the beachfront settlement of Kfar Yam, settler Aryeh Yitzhaki clambered onto his roof at with an M-16 rifle slung over his shoulder. Three other extremists accompanied him.

"No one can ask me to hand over my weapon," he told Israel's Channel Two TV, speaking by mobile phone. "I have said very clearly that I will do everything to stop the uprooting, to stop it with my body."

He held off police for hours before negotiators persuaded him and the others to surrender and get on an evacuation bus.

Most of the extremists battling the troops Thursday came from Israel or the West Bank to reinforce the resistance. Faced with the threat of a loss of government compensation for their houses, the majority of settlers left Gaza before a deadline Sunday or during the two following days of grace before the forced evictions began.

Residents of Netzer Hazani set fire to homes, garbage and tires as columns of soldiers entered the settlement.

In Shirat Hayam, a small but hardline settlement, troops brought in a hydraulic platform to bring down more than a dozen protesters singing and chanting on a rooftop. In a nursery school, one young girl screamed, "You can't throw us out of our house."

The army sent in a bulldozer to douse flames raging from a barricade at the entrance. When the bulldozer arrived, settlers threw balloons with red and white paint at it.

One man collapsed in the sand in tears after soldiers came to evacuate him. "This is the land of Israel, people, this is the land of Israel," he shouted. "I just want to stay here."

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Pope Warns of Increase in Anti-Semitism
Friday August 19, 2005 1:01 PM
By DAVID McHUGH
Associated Press Writer

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI warned Friday of rising anti-Semitism and hostility to foreigners during a visit to a synagogue that was rebuilt after being destroyed during the Nazis' infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938.

Benedict became only the second pope to visit a synagogue, praying and remembering Holocaust victims with Cologne's Jewish community - Germany's oldest.

``Today, sadly, we are witnessing the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of a general hostility toward foreigners,'' he said.

He reaffirmed his commitment to continue in the path of his predecessor, John Paul II, who made the first papal visit to a synagogue in Rome in 1986 and improved relations between Catholics and Jews.

Benedict said progress had been made, but ``much more remains to be done. We must come to know one another much more and much better.''

He did not elaborate on his warning except to call for more vigilance, receiving loud applause from the audience after his remarks.

Earlier, Benedict stood quietly with his hands clasped during a Hebrew prayer before a memorial to the 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany, and strode into the main hall as the choir sang, ``Shalom alechem,'' or ``peace be with you.''

Comment: While the Arabs are being portrayed in the West as blood-thirsty, sub-human killers, certainly a racist portrayal, the Western media is still selling the idea that "anti-Semitism" is the real danger. While most of the so-called "terrorist" attacks around the world are the work of Mossad, we are being told over and over again that it is the Arabs who are the terrorists.

The past week, the media has been full of close-ups of grieving Israeli settlers mourning the loss of their government-built illegal homes. The coverage is almost exclusively from the point of view of the settlers, even though they have stolen the land their houses were built upon, even though the settlements are illegal under international law, even though their Palestinian neighbours live in shacks that can be bulldozed at a moment's notice by the IDF, even though they are being well-paid to "give up" the houses, even though they will be resettled in new illegal homes on the West Bank, and even though the whole thing is being orchestrated to portray Ariel Sharon as a man of peace.

Which has to make you wonder why the Israelis are always being favoured in the press and why the Israelis are always being supported by the US.

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The 51st State
bilmon
18 August 2005
The New Pravda has fingered one of the unnamed U.S. government officials implicated in the AIPAC spy scandal -- while bending over backwards to make it clear the whole thing is really just a great big fuss about nothing. I mean, we're talking about Israel, for Christ's sake, not some foreign country.
The second-highest diplomat at the United States Embassy in Baghdad is one of the anonymous government officials cited in an Aug. 4 indictment as having provided classified information to an employee of a pro-Israel lobbying group, people who have been officially briefed on the case said Wednesday.

The diplomat, David M. Satterfield, was identified in the indictment as a United States government official, "USGO-2," the people briefed on the matter said. In early 2002, USGO-2 discussed secret national security matters in two meetings with Steven J. Rosen, who has since been dismissed as a top lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, who has been charged in the case.

Now if you read the indictment filed against Rosen, his AIPAC colleague Keith Weissman, and Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, you'll see that "USGO-2" is just one of a rather large cast of uncredited actors who appear in this movie. Others include:

  • "USGO-1," which the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has suggested is someone "recently appointed to a senior Bush administration post."
  • DoD employees "A and B," who accompanied Franklin on some of his clandestine meetings with AIPAC's dynamic duo.
  • "A senior fellow at a Washington D.C. think tank."
  • FO (foreign officials) 1, 2 and 3 -- all alleged diplomats at the Israeli embassy in Washington. FO-3 has been positively identified as Naor Gilon, former head of the embassy's political department, and a guy who, for a political officer, took an awfully keen interest in intelligence matters.
  • "A person previously associated with an Israeli intelligence agency, now running a think tank in Israel." This individual has also been identified as ex-Mossad official Uzi Arad.

Like Satterfield, none of the American members of this supporting cast have been indicted, or disciplined, or even hindered in their career progress -- as Satterfield's posting to Baghdad indicates. Neither have any of Rosen and Weissman's fellow AIPACers, even though the indictment claims that classified information obtained from both Satterfield and Franklin was distributed to others within the organization -- continuing a pattern that stretches back to at least the early 1980s, according to this report and this one in the New York Jewish Week.

On the face of it, it's hard to grasp the legal logic for giving USG-01, USG-02 and DoD employees A and B a pass from prosecution (I kept waiting for the indictment to mention Little Cats C, D and E, but apparently the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't read Dr. Seuss.) In Satterfield's case, for example, the indictment clearly states he leaked classified information -- including secret stuff about Al Qaeda -- to Rosen, who then passed it along to the Israelis. This is cited as one of the overt acts backing up the conspiracy charge against the AIPAC lobbyist.

But if Rosen committed a crime by promptly passing that information along to the Israelis, what about Satterfield, the guy who gave it to him? Or what about USGO-1? According to the indictment, Rosen was overheard in 1999 boasting that USGO-1 had given him "code-word protected intelligence." Such codes are normally used to protect what the spooks call SCI -- or "sensitive compartmentalized information" -- the highest possible level of classification.

According to the indictment, this particular SCI consisted of "national defense information concerning terrorist activities in Central Asia," which I'm guessing was code worded to prevent the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods (the most common use of the SCI designation). That ain't chicken feed -- nor is it the kind of harmless "policy-related" leaking that AIPAC and its media apologists have tried to portray in their spin on the scandal.

There are still other leakers who are not specifically listed in the cast, but whose existence can be deduced from the indictment. In June of 1999, for example, Weissman (Rosen's sidekick) told an Israeli official he had obtained a "secret FBI, classified FBI report" on the Khobar Towers bombing from three different sources, including at least two U.S. government officials. Who are these people? Does the FBI know? If not, does the Justice Department have any particular interest in finding out?

If it does, you sure can't tell from the statements and actions of Jay McNulty, the U.S. Attorney handling the case. As the New Pravda notes, USGO-2 (Satterfield) is "not believed to be the subject of a continuing investigation," and McNulty ruled out any further delving into AIPAC's activities when he announced the indictments against Franklin, Rosen and Weissman:

“We have no basis for charging anyone else for unlawful disclosure of classified information,” he said. “And I might add also that AIPAC as an organization has expressed its concern on several occasions with the allegations against Rosen and Weissman, and, in fact, after we brought some of the evidence that we had to AIPAC’s attention, it did the right thing by dismissing these two individuals.”

Yeah, sure. They were fired all right -- eight months after news of the investigation first broke, and long after it became clear the FBI had been tailing Rosen and his Israeli contacts (or should I say handlers?) for years. Of course, this hasn't stopped the usual fools and tools, like neocon fanatic Joel Malbray, from dismissing the whole scandal as a figment cooked up by the liberal media and (you had to expect this part) those sneaky pro-Arab diplomats in the State Department:

Now that the election is history—as are the secretary and deputy secretary of state who allowed such anonymous character assassinations—the smearing has stopped. No stories have run since September . . . Here’s what loyal readers of the Post won’t know: Mr. Franklin is back working for the Department of Defense. And he still has not been arrested, let alone charged. His security clearances remain pulled, but it would seem significant that after using up a combination of vacation and leave—though he was never suspended—he’s back at work.

That was a rather spectacular bit of bad timing on Mowbray's part, since Franklin was arrested and charged about three weeks after his column ran. But Mowbray's hardly the only media stooge trying to deny the obvious.

With few exceptions (I'll get to them later) the corporate media -- and the New York Times in particular -- have also rigidly toed the party line, with increasingly absurd results. Today's Times story, for example, professes to be "puzzled" by the FBI's focus on such a well-established (if informal) exemption from the rules normally applied to the handling of classified information:

The investigation is one of the more puzzling national security cases in recent years, focusing on the interactions between foreign affairs lobbyists and officials of the United States and other governments, who over the years, have routinely traded gossip and sometimes classified information. Under the Justice Department's theories of the case, it is no longer clear whether such conversations are legally permissible.

It would be interesting to hear the Times describe some of the other "interactions" between U.S. officials and lobbyists that somehow or another have resulted in highly sensitive compartmentalized information being passed to a foreign government that is:

a.) not a NATO ally,

b.) not bound by any formal defense treaty with the United States, and

c.) has been known to trade sensitive intelligence materials (like the satellite recon photos it received from Jonathan Pollard) with hostile foreign governments.

I won't hold my breath.

It's also amusing to note that the two U.S. officials quoted to back the Times's assertion that passing secret materials to Israel is an old and accepted custom inside the Beltway are former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, an ex-AIPAC staffer, and Dennis Ross, former lead U.S. negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" and the director of a pro-Israel Washington think tank created by AIPAC.

Nobody here but us chickens.

But there's nothing new about making excuses for Israel's espionage activities in the United States, and nothing partisan about aiding and abetting it. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have been doing it for years, as Stephen Green, a former UN official and a diligent user of the Freedom of Information Act, makes clear in this article, which covers the unauthorized leaks -- and subsequent cover ups -- of many of the usual suspects (Perle, Feith, Wolfowitz, Ledeen, etc.) as well as some players most people have never heard of, like Stephen Bryen, ex-Senate Foreign Affairs Committee staffer, ex-deputy assistant secretary of Defense, and current member of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which is charged with monitoring the flow of advanced technology to the People's Republic.

Bryen had been overheard in the Madison Hotel Coffee Shop, offering classified documents to an official of the Israeli Embassy in the presence of the director of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. It was later determined that the Embassy official was Zvi Rafiah, the Mossad station chief in Washington. Bryen refused to be polygraphed by the FBI on the purpose and details of the meeting; whereas the person who'd witnessed it agreed to be polygraphed and passed the test.

Update: 8/19 12:30 am ET: A well-informed source tells me that Rafiah was not, in fact, the Mossad station chief in Washington, but rather the head of Israel's defense procurement mission. Which, in light of Bryen's later career, is even more interesting.

A few years later, in his role as director of the Pentagon's Defense Technology Security Administration, Bryen was involved in an attempt to transfer extremely sensitive ballistic missile technology to Israel -- "without the usual consultations with the tech transfer officials of the Army and Air Force."

Other Pentagon officials (including one of Mowbray's "character assassins," then-DoD assistant secretary Dick Armitage) intervened and the deal was cancelled. But, according to Green:

Two senior colleague in DOD who wish to remain anonymous have confirmed that this attempt by Bryen to obtain klystrons for his friends was not unusual, and was in fact "standard operating procedure" for him, recalling numerous instances when U.S. companies were denied licenses to export sensitive technology, only to learn later that Israeli companies subsequently exported similar (U.S. derived) weapons and technology to the intended customers/governments.

I could go on to explore the potential links between Bryen's current job on the China Commission and the long-running dispute over Israeli sales of military technology to Beijing. But I'm not trying to write a comprehensive history of the "special relationship" here -- just making the point that conduct that would be considered criminal, or even borderline treasonous, in any other context, has been a routine feature of U.S.-Israeli diplomacy for going on 25 years now, if not longer. To the point where you really have to wonder why the FBI got such a bug up its ass about Larry Franklin and his lunch buddies.

I mean, Ross and Weissman must have been flabbergasted when they were finally confronted by the gumshoes. It seems to have taken them a few days even to process the fact that they were in big trouble -- otherwise it's hard to believe they would have continued leaking the stuff Franklin gave them even after they were contacted by the FBI:

52. One or about August 9, 2004, WEISSMAN was interviewed by FBI agents and falsely told the agents Franklin had never discussed classified information with him and had never provided him with classified information.

53. On or about August 20, 2004, WEISSMAN contacted another member of the media and disclosed to that person classified national defense information obtained on July 21, 2004 from Franklin. WEISSMAN further advised that he was trying to arrange a meeting (!) between Franklin and the member of the media.

I'm not trying to make excuses for espionage here, but when you put the Franklin-Rosen-Weissman spy ring in the context of the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, you do start to see the point their apologists are trying to make.

Israel, for all intents and purposes, is no longer treated like a foreign country in Washington, but more like Puerto Rico -- an affiliated territory that enjoys most of the benefits of U.S. statehood, without actually being one. Except unlike Puerto Rico, Israel has nukes, and the upper hand in the relationship. To the point where when Franklin wanted a job at the White House, he knew who to ask:

19. On or about February 14, 2003, FRANKLIN and ROSEN discussed FRANKLIN's prospects for a position on the National Security Council (NSC) staff, and ROSEN told FRANKLIN that by working at the NSC that he would be "by the elbow of the president." FRANKLIN asked ROSEN to "put in a good word" for him, and ROSEN said "I'll do what I can."

It isn't clear from that paragraph whether Franklin was asking Rosen to put in a good word at the White House -- or the Israeli embassy. Nor is it clear that it would have made much of a difference.

This is all quite embarrassing for those who like to argue that there's nothing peculiar, nothing at all, about the behavior of the Israel lobby and its affiliates in the U.S. government -- and that anyone who thinks otherwise is a raving anti-Semite. (Or rather, it would be embarrassing, if the Washington press corps was devoting more than perfunctory coverage to the story.) But the minnows now wriggling in the net hardly seem to justify the effort and expense that clearly were poured into the FBI's big fishing expedition.

Did the guys in the shiny blue suits really spend six years (maybe more) following Israeli diplomats around Washington and New York in order to snag one low-level analyst with an obsession about Iran and a couple of pro-Israel lobbyists who never learned not to talk about their clandestine activities on their cell phones?

One theory is that the indictment is supposed to serve as a warning -- or, as one, ex-prosecutor puts it, a "brush back pitch," to let the Israelis and their U.S. agents know that while the relationship may be special, it's not that special:

"If I am the prosecutor, what I really want to prosecute is not AIPAC," says Rishikoff. "I want to start prosecuting anyone who thinks they can give information to AIPAC. I want to use this as a test case, to stop people feeling the US has a special relationship with this group."

On the other hand, a few establishment journalists have been treating the story like a legitimate spy scandal, and they've intimated that the FBI's fishing hole may contain much bigger trophies than the ones hauled up so far. Last September, the Washington Post's Steno Sue Schmidt, of all people, suggested that secret NSA intercepts -- the crown jewels of the American intelligence community -- might be involved:

The counterintelligence probe, which is different from a criminal investigation, focuses on a possible transfer of intelligence more extensive than whether Franklin passed on a draft presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran, the sources said. The FBI is examining whether highly classified material from the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic intercepts of communications, was also forwarded to Israel, they said.

Hmmmm . . . access to leaked NSA intercepts, a pro-Israel official recently appointed to a senior position in the Bush administration -- a conspiratorially minded person might try to connect the dots.

But there are already so many dots in plain view, clearly connected, that it hardly seems worth the effort. Like a grizzled old investigative reporter once told me: It's not the stuff they try to hide that's the real scandal; it's the stuff they think they can get away with right out in the open. And after more than 25 years of this particular stuff, the lines between Israeli influence peddling and Israeli espionage have gotten awfully blurry.

The Franklin case isn't likely to make them any clearer. It might, if USGO-1 and USGO-2 -- and the rest of the alphanumeric cast of characters -- were required to testify in court, or if the FBI decided to follow the trail a little higher up the bureaucratic food chain. But those avenues of investigation now appear to be blocked. And the smart money is betting that, rather than risk seeing all the beans spill out in court, the Justice Department eventually will settle for plea bargains from Rosen and Weissman. That would leave Franklin (a bit player in a minor sideshow) to take the fall -- something like 40 years worth. Maybe he and Pollard can become pen pals.

So: problem solved, harmony restored, a special relationship (which one particularly ardent pro-Israel Senator -- Frank Lautenberg -- once compared to a marriage) preserved. 'Til death do us part.

But while the marriage may look like perfect conjugal bliss from the Washington end, the Jerusalem end has a different point of view -- and always will. The Israelis understand, even if their American patrons do not, that they live in another country, one with its own national interests, its own strategic ambitions and its own enemies, none of which necessarily overlap with America's.

They don't even make much of an attempt to hide it, as this writer for David Horowitz's Frontpage (to Israel what the Daily Worker once was to the Soviet Union) makes clear:

A more independent Israel is determined to make its own mark on the world -- questioning US authority more frequently in order to establish its own autonomous relations with other countries.

A good idea. It's just a shame our own political lap dogs and their media water carriers won't do likewise.

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California Prison Riot Leaves One Dead
By DON THOMPSON
Associated Press
August 19, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Inmates at a maximum security prison in Southern California jumped guards in the prison yard, sparking a riot that left one inmate dead and at least 30 inmates and 20 guards wounded, officials said.

The riot at Calipatria State Prison near San Diego began Thursday afternoon when a guard was slashed in the head as he tried to search an inmate he suspected of concealing a weapon, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Prisoners rioted in the yard for about 45 minutes before guards could bring them under control. Another group of inmates then jumped into the yard and attacked the staff about 20 minutes later, said prison spokesman Lt. Ray Madden.

Some inmates attempted to breach a control booth by "throwing brooms and shoving sticks in," said Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

He said a tower guard broke up the rioters by firing his gun.

The inmate who died had been shot in the abdomen, officials said. Five inmates were taken to outside hospitals, while at least 25 inmates were treated at the prison.

Sixteen guards were treated at hospitals and released Thursday night, including the two most seriously wounded. Four others suffered minor injuries.

The prison in Imperial County east of San Diego houses more than 4,000 inmates. Ninety inmates were placed in administrative segregation after the riot, which means they will be locked up for 23 hours a day until they have an administrative hearing, Madden said.

The incident follows a riot at San Quentin Prison on Aug. 8 that left 42 inmates injured. That fight broke out between white and Hispanic inmates in a medium security dormitory-style unit that houses but only last six minutes, officials said.

Comment: Two prison riots occurred within a week and a half of each other, and both happened in California. In Los Angeles, it seems some teenagers also decided to beat some homeless men...

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Teens Allegedly Beat Homeless Men
AP
Aug 18 12:53 PM US/Eastern

LOS ANGELES -- Two homeless men were attacked with baseball bats and one of them critically injured, allegedly by teens inspired by videos of homeless people brawling that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the Internet.

The alleged attackers told officers they had recently seen the DVD "Bumfights" and wanted to do some "bum bashing" of their own, police Officer Jason Lee said.

The first victim told authorities he was attacked early Tuesday while sleeping on a sidewalk. About 90 minutes later, a private security guard saw two men beating another homeless man with a bat, police said.

William Orantes and Justin Brumfield, both 19, were arrested for investigation of attempted murder. Bail was set at $500,000 for each man.

One homeless man was treated and released after the attack, but the other, Ernest Adams, suffered severe head trauma and was in critical condition at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, Lee said.

More than 300,000 copies of the "Bumfights" DVDs were sold over the Internet, authorities said earlier this year. But its producers were charged with crimes related to the filmed fights, which the participants said they joined in exchange for money and alcohol.

Four men pleaded guilty in 2003 to misdemeanor conspiracy to stage illegal fights. Two later were jailed for six months because authorities said they did not perform their community service.

Adams was a well-known sight in downtown Los Angeles, acquaintances said. Leo Tolano, an outreach worker with the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said transitional housing had been arranged for him but he refused to go because he feared the bad people he had spent time with in the past.

Robert Mallano, an associate justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals, said he saw Adams regularly while walking to work and would occasionally give him money even though Adams never asked for it.

"He would talk to people and smile. He was always polite and smiling," Mallano said. "I never saw him in a black mood or anything. He was always groomed. He had dignity."

"I read what happened to him in the paper, and I was just sick about it," Mallano said.

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China sets up squads to combat terrorism
By Richard McGregor in Beijing
Financial Times
August 18 2005 21:59

China has set up a new police force in large cities, equipped with helicopters and armoured vehicles, to combat the threat of terrorism and the rising incidence of rioting and social unrest across the country.

The squads, to be stationed in 36 large cities, reflect the need for a more professional police force amid concerns that it is currently ill-equipped to manage such issues, scholars and analysts said on Thursday.

Combating urban and rural rioting has traditionally been the preserve of the People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force formed in 1983 to relieve the military of any internal security responsibilities.

But the Public Security Bureau, the mainstream policing body, has in practice been forced to handle an increasing number of incidents of domestic unrest and under a powerful minister, Zhou Yongkang, may have been able to make a case for funds for a new force.

"The new squads are aimed at improving the ability of the police to handle terrorist crimes, riots and other emergencies," said a statement on Xinhua, the official news agency.

Mr Zhou said the authorities dealt with 74,000 protests and riots nationwide last year, involving more than 3.7m people, compared with 10,000 incidents in 1994.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics, which may make the capital and other cities a target for attacks, has also focused on China's anti-terror and anti-riot capability.

The new squads will consist of 600-strong units in large urban centres such as Beijing and Shanghai, and slightly smaller groups in second-tier cities.

They will also be well equipped, according to Xinhua, with plans to arm the squad in Zhengzhou, the capital of the poor province of Henan, with three helicopters and an armoured vehicle.

Nicolas Becquelin, Hong Kong-based research director for Human Rights in China, said there were many "political and institutional reasons" to establish such a force, ranging from the global war on terror to worries about increasing protests. "It is legitimate for China to have an anti-terror force but the problem is the context in which it is used and how you define terror," Mr Becquelin said.

China is also drafting a new anti-terror law, which is due to be released later this year.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, was sceptical about the ability of any new force to have a real impact on the root cause of unrest. "The crux of the problem lies in an unbalanced society which lacks justice and equality," he said.

Mr Zhou went on: "As the income gap widens, and officials become more and more corrupt, better equipped police will only be used to protect the rich people and residents of big cities.

"The only way out is to actively and steadily implement a reform of the political system."

Comment: Add another country to the list of those who have jumped on the "anti-terror" bandwagon...

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Moroccan jailed in 9/11 retrial
BBC

Mounir al-Motassadek insisted he knew nothing about the plot
A Moroccan man who was friends with three of the 9/11 suicide hijackers has been found guilty in Germany of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Mounir al-Motassadek, 31, was sentenced to seven years in prison following a year-long retrial.

However, the court in Hamburg ruled there was no proof that he knew about the 11 September 2001 plot.

Motassadek was originally convicted of those charges in 2003 but the verdict was overturned and a retrial ordered.

After the original conviction was quashed by Germany's Supreme Court last year, the retrial heard new evidence - excerpts of interviews with key al-Qaeda suspects provided by the US.

One of these told how Motassadek had taken part in vitriolic anti-US discussions in the home of hijacker Mohammed Atta, but also insisted he was not aware of the 9/11 plot.

Prosecutors argued that Motassadek provided key assistance to the "Hamburg cell", pointing out that he signed the will of Atta - believed to be the ringleader of the 19 suicide hijackers - and held power of attorney on the bank account of another hijacker.

While the hijackers were attending flight training schools in the US, he used that power of attorney to handle the transfer of small amounts of money for them.

Motassadek had also admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in early 2000.

But he has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the attacks on New York and Washington, saying that the favours he did for the hijackers were just part of being a good Muslim.

US criticised

When Motassadek was originally convicted, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Following the quashing of that conviction he was released on bail.

Announcing the fresh verdict, Judge Ernst-Rainer Schudt did not explain the reasons, but he criticised the US for not giving more evidence.

Washington had refused to let the court question captured al-Qaeda suspects, citing security concerns, and released only excerpts of information the prisoners revealed during interrogation.

"The point is we would have liked to have questioned them ourselves," said Judge Schudt

He said the summaries released by the US did not constitute "sufficient proof in either direction".

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says the latest verdict is something of a surprise as there had been an expectation that Motassadek would be acquitted, after a fellow Moroccan was cleared of having links to the 9/11 hijackers.

Abdelghani Mzoudi was cleared by the same Hamburg court in February 2004 and the decision upheld by Germany's federal appeals court in June.

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Brazil team to probe Tube death
BBC

Mr Menezes was shot a day after the failed London bombings
Brazilian investigators will fly to London next week for talks with their British counterparts over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by police.

Brazil wants the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to clarify conflicting reports of how Mr Menezes died at Stockwell station on 22 July.

Investigation papers leaked to the media this week seemed to contradict the police version of events.

Despite pressure, Met Police chief Sir Ian Blair has said he will not resign.

Sir Bill Morris, who chaired an inquiry into professional standards in the Met Police, has warned the row is "detracting from the fight against terrorism".

The IPCC has said Scotland Yard "initially resisted" its attempts to launch an investigation into the shooting.

Graphic images

Mr Menezes was shot after police mistook him for a suicide bomber. The incident came a day after the failed 21 July attacks on the London Underground and a bus.

Graphic photos of Mr Menezes' dead body lying on the floor of the Tube train have appeared in most of Brazil's newspapers.

The papers also reported claims from the leaked documents that the Brazilian electrician had not fled from police as initially claimed, nor had he hurdled a ticket barrier.

A statement from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry on Thursday night said the press coverage had heightened the government's sense of indignation at the shooting.

As a result, two top judicial officials would fly to London next week to meet members of the IPCC.

Significant shift

The Brazilian government wants an explanation as to how the two versions could differ so dramatically.

BBC's Brazil correspondent Tom Gibb said the move was a "significant shift" in the government's position.

Officials in the South American country had said they would wait for an end to the British investigation before commenting.

The move comes as the Met Police handling of the incident is subject to scrutiny in the UK, with claims Scotland Yard tried to delay the IPCC inquiry.

IPCC deputy chairman John Wadham said: "[Scotland Yard] initially resisted us taking on the investigation - but we overcame that. It was an important victory for our independence."

Sir Ian Blair has strongly defended his actions and those of his officers in the aftermath of the shooting.

He told the BBC: "At that stage I and my officers thought the dead man was a suicide bomber and we were in the middle of the biggest counter-terrorist operation."

Clarity

Sir Bill Morris told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Met was "squabbling" with the IPCC.

"What is required now is a statement of clarity which puts a lot of these issues beyond doubt," he said.

Jean Charles de Menezes' body after he was shot dead
An image leaked to ITV shows Mr de Menezes lying dead on the Tube
He said it was vital people didn't lose confidence in the police.

"There is strong support for the police service. They need that support, they need our trust and they need our confidence in the fight against terrorism, but we need to be told the truth about exactly what's happened, because these things have been done in our name.

"If we ask our police officers to carry out the most severe act in operational policing then they at least need to know there is clarity and there is support and that is not the situation that we face."

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Brazil "outraged" at new info on wrongly killed man
www.chinaview.cn 2005-08-19 10:01:29

BRASILIA, Aug. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that new reports about the killing of a Brazilian man who was allegedly mistaken for a terrorist by British police have "outraged" the government.

"The most recent information," together with images linked to the killing, "worsen the Brazilian government's feeling of outrage," the ministry said in a statement.

Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was shot eight times by a British policeman in a London subway station on July 22, a day after suspected terrorists carried four bombs into London's subway system.

But British news reports this week, citing documents apparently based on closed-circuit footage, suggested that Charles de Menezes did not act suspiciously or disobey police instructions.

London police said previously that Charles de Menezes ran away from police officers because his work permit had expired. And seeing that Charles de Menezes was running, police officers mistook him for a terrorist, chased him, overpowered him and killed him. The police expressed sorrow for this incident but said it would do so again under similar circumstances.

The British press said on Wednesday that Charles de Menezes might have been killed not by mistake, but because of a series of ambiguities tainted with racist elements.

Contradicting the initial police statement, the images obtained from the subway's closed-circuit video show that the Brazilian was not wearing winter clothes and was not carrying a suspicious backpack.

The British press reported that Charles de Menezes did not know he was being followed by the police and did not run away from the agents; nor did he jump over the Stockwell subway station gates. He walked calmly and even took a free newspaper before boarding the train.

Such information seems to refute chief of London police Ian Blair's statement that the Brazilian man, a 27-year-old electrician, was directly linked to the unsuccessful July 21 attacks in London.

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said the country will send a team to London next Monday to help with the investigation.

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The events at Stockwell tube station
By George Galloway MP

08/18/05 "The Guardian" -- -- The leaked statements from witnesses to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes refute the account spun to a compliant press in the immediate aftermath of his killing (Reports, August 17). It was claimed he was wearing a heavy jacket, implying he could have been concealing bombs on his body, that he vaulted a barrier, ran from the police and refused to stop.

Now we learn he was wearing a light denim jacket, used his oyster card at Stockwell station, descended to the platform by escalator, had time to pick up a paper and, most damning of all, was being restrained by a surveillance officer when police officers pumped him full of bullets. In addition we are told surveillance broke down when one officer went to relieve himself, that mysteriously and culpably no CCTV cameras were working on Stockwell station just two weeks after 7/7. This is appalling.

If the original story we were spun had had some truth in it, then it could have been argued the police might have had some excuse for shooting Jean Charles in what was a tragic accident. But if the statements that have been leaked are true, serious consequences must follow. The police officers who shot Jean Charles must be prosecuted with the full rigour of the law. Those who fed the initial pack of lies to the press must be exposed and sacked. And Ian Blair and the government ministers who were responsible for sanctioning the shoot-to-kill policy which produced the utterly avoidable death of this young man, must resign.

There was a time when ministers would have resigned automatically when far less serious events occurred on their watch. In the culture of lies and spin under this government, we seem to have lost that idea of responsibility. It's high time it was reestablished.

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Britain Rejected Russian Aid in London Terrorist Attack Investigations — FSB Head

Created: 19.08.2005 12:20 MSK (GMT 3), Updated: 12:51 MSK
MosNews

British secret forces have rejected Russia’s proposal to help in the investigation of London terrorist attacks, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Friday.

“I contacted the heads of local secret service, proposed them our efforts,” Nikolai Patrushev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying. “They thanked us but rejected our service.” The director of the FSB said at the same time that “as regards providing information, they (British special services — Interfax) are interested, and we will be providing information to them”.

Patrushev took part in the joint exercises Kaspiy-Antiterror-2005 that finished on Friday. The drill started in July and took place in several CIS countries, mostly in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. For the first time, observers were invited from the United States, China, Germany, Iran and Pakistan. “We will continue these practices. We are open enough and we must cooperate with the secret forces of CIS and other leading countries of the world in the area of the fight against international terrorism,” Patrushev said.

He added that Russian secret services had helped their colleagues in Uzbekistan to investigate the clashes in Andijan that took place in May and took hundreds of lives. “First of all, it was an opportune exchange of information. We presented it. Also, we sent experts (to Uzbekistan) who worked directly with our colleagues.”

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US rejects Putin's Iraq timetable call
Friday 19 August 2005, 1:28 Makka Time, 22:28 GMT

The United States has rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's call to set a timetable for pulling its troops out of Iraq and withheld comment on his proposal for an international conference.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday echoed President George Bush's refusal to lay out a calendar for withdrawing the 138,000 American troops battling an uprising 28 months after the removal of Saddam Hussein.

"As Iraqis stand up their capabilities, we and the multinational forces will be able to stand down," McCormack stated.

"We have a robust training programme for Iraqi police and security forces that's progressing under the leadership of General [David] Petraeus working very closely with the Iraqis."

Putin told reporters after meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II earlier on Thursday that "we deem it necessary to work out a schedule for the staged withdrawal of foreign troops" in Iraq.

Perception

"Many Iraqis perceive these forces as occupying forces, and this is a reality that should be taken into account," the Russian leader said.

He also said an international conference this year "would give a new impulse to the normalisation of the situation" in the war-battered country.

But McCormack withheld a response on that, saying: "I haven't seen President Putin's comments so I haven't had a chance to take a look at them and analyse what our thoughts on that might be."

The spokesman added that a Russian delegation already attended an international conference on Iraqi reconstruction that was held in Brussels on 22 June.

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Unmanned Remote Sensing Aircraft Takes Flight
Xinhua News Agency
Aug 19, 2005

Beijing (XNA) -- China's first high-end and multi-functional remote sensing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its successful test flight on Monday in Huangguoshu Airport, Anshun City, southwest China's Guizhou Province.

The remote sensing system, jointly developed by Peking University and Guizhou Aviation Industry (Group), adopts intelligent and high-definition data retrieving technologies. According to experts, it is of a world-class standard in terms of flight function, navigation accuracy, communications, equipment as well as manufacturing cost.

The Institute of Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System of Peking University is one of the pioneering units to have engaged in developing remote sensing technologies and application research in China.

Guizhou Aviation is China's largest aviation development and production base. It has been researching and developing UAVs for many years. The coaching and unmanned planes developed by it made successful maiden flights on December 12, 2003.

In recent years, the institute and the company have cooperated in research and development, making breakthroughs in remote sensing facilities, image recognition and processing, image resolution and downsizing facilities.

According to experts, the UAV remote sensing technology has great development potential in China. It could be widely used for land and environment surveys, meteorological research and natural disaster monitoring.

Remote sensing technology is a tool that is widely used to study, for example, the Earth's surface and atmosphere, from a distance from an aircraft or satellite.

Comment: Yes, it will only be used for monitoring the environment. The new UAV certainly has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that China is forming an "anti-terror" force and will soon introduce new anti-terror laws.

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UK Becomes First International Customer For LockMart's Guided MLRS Rockets
SPX
Aug 17, 2005

Dallas TX -- Lockheed Martin has received a $55 million Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rocket contract from the United Kingdom. This contract represents the first international sale of GMLRS.

The initial contract calls for the production of GMLRS rockets with the Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) warhead, with an option to migrate to other GMLRS variants in the future.

It was procured under a Foreign Military Sales agreement with the U.S. Army. Delivery of the rockets is expected to be completed by March 2007. [...]

"Lockheed Martin is dedicated to providing warfighters around the world with technologically advanced equipment necessary to complete their missions, and we're very pleased to have our U.K. partners now fielding GMLRS rockets." [...]

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Want a Wal-Mart job? Join the crowd

11,000 apply for 400 openings at retailer's new Oakland store
Pia Sarkar, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 17, 2005

For all the criticism that Wal-Mart receives for its low wages and minimal health benefits, the retail giant says more than 11,000 people in the Bay Area are clamoring to get a job at its new Oakland store.

The country's largest employer plans to welcome customers into its 148,000-square-foot store on Edgewater Drive next Wednesday, and it says it already has filled 350 of its 400 openings.

Wal-Mart has accepted more than 11,000 applications from Bay Area job seekers, marking the largest volume of interest it has received at any of its Northern California stores, said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Cynthia Lin.

"I needed a job ASAP, and they had their doors open," said Virginia Ford, 19, of Oakland, who had applied for 25 jobs in three months before she landed one as a cashier at Wal-Mart in Oakland on Tuesday.

Stephen Levy, an economist for the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, said the pent-up demand for work reflects the Bay Area's slow recovery from the dot-com crash. [...]

Comment: Um, somehow we think that the huge response to Wal-Mart's job openings is the result of a lot more than just the dot-com crash years ago...

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Disney sweatshops alleged

Anti-sweatshop advocacy group charges that workers make books under oppressive conditions
CNN
August 18, 2005: 2:54 PM EDT

NEW YORK - The National Labor Committee, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group that once exposed labor abuses in apparel produced for Kathie Lee Gifford's clothing line, made new charges Thursday against The Walt Disney Company, releasing a videotape alleging that two Chinese factories making books for Disney operate under unsafe conditions.

At a press conference, Charles Kernaghan, director of the NLC, released an 11-minute videotape in which workers -- their faces hidden -- in the Hung Hing and Nord Race factories say they have been injured by unsafe equipment and show their bandaged fingers and cut hands.

"There's blood on this book," Kernaghan said as he held up a copy of a child's book made in China and published by Disney (Research).

On the video, some workers describe the oppressive conditions under which they are forced to work, including heat, long hours and unpaid, forced overtime. Still pictures show the machines, which workers describe as lacking basic safeguards.

One woman holds up a Mickey Mouse book, "Haunted Halloween," and describes the dangers of the machines that press and glue the binding together.

Plant workers also describe how visiting businessmen are given show tours at Hung Hing where everything is cast as rosy.

Kernaghan called for Disney to release the names of all of its factories in China and to make their monitoring system more open to review.

When contacted for comment, Disney spokesman Greg Foster said he had not seen the tape, but Disney "takes claims such as those raised today by the NLC very seriously."

And in a written statement, Disney said, "We have a strong International Labor Standards Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and conduct regular social compliance audits of the independently run factories that produce Disney branded merchandise."

The statement went on to say, "The Walt Disney Company has contacted Verité, a non-profit social auditing and training firm, to conduct an investigation of the claims regarding the Hung Hing and Nord Race factories."

Disney, which does not own the factories, but subcontracts to them, said in the statement that its officials "have conducted approximately 20 ILS audits at these factories since 1998."

According to the statement, "These audits reflect instances of noncompliance followed by remediation. However, these audits at no time revealed the severity of the violations reported by the NLC today."

"Disney and its licensees will work closely with Verité to ensure a thorough investigation of these claims and take the appropriate actions to remediate violations found. Disney will also work with local civil society organizations in China with which we maintain an existing relationship to determine whether a role in the investigation or any subsequent remediation efforts would be appropriate," the statement added.

Foster said Disney does audits both announced and unannounced.

The videotape was made by a Hong Kong-based group called Students and Academics against Corporate Misbehavior, and passed along to the NLC.

Both Kernaghan and the Chinese workers say these factories never take action until prodded by international pressure.

Comment: Isn't capitalism wonderful? Of course, this is not just a US problem. "Civilized" western countries have been selling goods produced in horrible conditions by virtual slaves in "third world" countries for a long, long time. Go out and buy any article of clothing or electronic device in any country, and guess where it was made? China, perhaps? Or how about Taiwan?

The simple fact of the matter is that we all convince ourselves that those "poor people over there" are fortunate to have jobs. We tell ourselves that by buying this new toy, we are supporting the growth of our own nation's economy as well as that of the "poor people". In other words, we lie to ourselves.

Of course, we will undoubtedly ask, "So, what should I do? Stop buying clothes and run around naked?!" Obviously, that is not a useful solution, because it would probably result in being arrested and thrown in jail, and that doesn't do anyone any good. Similarly, protesting against the Iraq war and the fascist plans and laws of our leaders is not a bad idea, but doing so in a violent way will only result in us being hurt, imprisoned, or even killed. What good does that do anyone? Who will speak out then?

When we realize the terror of the situation, we are inclined to react emotionally and to want to change reality to something that we think would be better. Others do not want to change anything. As such, the best thing we can do is to educate ourselves even more, and become aware of as much of the often grim details of this world as possible - and then share that knowledge with those who are open to it.

We often state on the Signs page that one little butterfly flapping its wings can have extraordinary effects, since reality seems to operate in a nonlinear fashion. Look at the effect that one grieving mother of a killed American soldier has had on those who oppose the Bush Reich, or the results of our Pentagon Strike flash, viewed by about 500 million people worldwide.

This concept may not be a very satisfying course of action to some people, but if we join the control game that people like Bush play in trying to force their version of what is real on humanity by "creating reality", we are no better than they. Real change requires learning, knowledge, and above all, patience - and it's a lot harder to do than a pointless violent uprising or the hijacking of the soul of an entire nation.

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Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Georgia meet on closer ties
www.chinaview.cn 2005-08-19 10:19:14

KIEV, Aug. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Heads of state of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Georgia met on Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula Thursday to discuss how to improve their relations and regional cooperation.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, met for one-to-one talks Thursday and discussed the issue of neighboring Belarus, which is now in dispute with Poland over the status of ethnic Poles there.

Yushchenko then met with Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus on ways to boost trade and cooperation in the Baltic and Black Searegions.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili joined the three presidents later.

One day before, Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka expressed his hope to set up a working group with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia to coordinate their policies toward Belarus.

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Water Park Closes After Hundreds Fall Ill
By CANDICE CHOI
Associated Press Writer
Aug 19 1:39 AM US/Eastern

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gastrointestinal illness possibly stemming from a state-run water playground has sickened more than 700 people, mostly children and teenagers, the state Health Department said Thursday.

"The numbers are growing significantly," said department spokesman Rob Kenny.

Seneca Lake Park's Sprayground, which has water jets shooting up from a hardtop surface, was closed after tests showed the tank system that feeds the water jets was contaminated with a common waterborne disease called cryptosporidiosis.

The disease is highly contagious and can cause diarrhea, nausea and fever that can last for weeks. It usually goes away without treatment in healthy individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Five of the illnesses from the Sprayground have so far been confirmed as cryptosporidiosis.

No deaths have been associated with the outbreak, and many of the people connected with the outbreak have already recovered, Kenny said.

The Sprayground averages more than a thousand visitors a day in August. It is in the Finger Lakes region, about 45 miles southwest of Syracuse.

The water is monitored several times a day for proper chlorine levels and tested monthly for bacteria like E. coli, said Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the state parks department.

The Health Department at first temporarily shut down the Sprayground on Tuesday after receiving more than 100 reported cases of illness dating to early July. After the public was notified of the outbreak, the number of reported illnesses jumped to 746.

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Storms, Tornado Hit Wisconsin, Kill 1
By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press
Fri Aug 19,12:53 AM ET

STOUGHTON, Wis. - A tornado killed one person and damaged dozens of homes as it roared through this southern Wisconsin city late Thursday.

At least eight other people were hospitalized as the severe storms blasted their way across the central and southern parts of the state, authorities said.

"The sky just exploded. It was debris everywhere," said David Murray, 43, who captured the Stoughton tornado on his camera phone. "When it went across the road and it hit all the houses over there ... it was something you can't explain. It just exploded."

State Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter said one person died in the tornado and five others were hospitalized; she had no further information about the victims. The tornado destroyed 15 homes, and 35 others had moderate to severe damage, she said.

Getter said a natural gas leak caused the evacuation of about 200 residents.

The storms also damaged homes in Viola, about 70 miles northwest of Madison. Getter said three people there were treated for injuries and about 70 to 80 homes were damaged.

"There's houses half gone. All the trees in town are gone," said Bill Bender, owner of the Viola Quick Stop. "There was stuff flying by the building, like big chunks."

Storm debris traveled eastward in clouds, depositing papers, shingles and other materials in the Milwaukee area, some 60 miles from Stoughton.

Murray described seeing a smashed truck upside down in the middle of a wrecked house, and debris, including an engine block, strewn across the nearby Stoughton Country Club. [...]

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Malaysia facing water crisis

Prospect of water rationing looms as severe dry spell causes dam levels across the country to drop drastically
By Reme Ahmad
Malaysia Bureau Chief
August 19, 2005

KUALA LUMPUR - A WATER crisis is looming in Malaysia, with Johor being among the worst hit of several states facing a prolonged drought.

Two of Johor's three main dams are running below critical levels and the dry spell, the worst in a decade across the country, could last till October, officials say.

Across the country, water levels at seven of the 14 dams and lakes were close to or slightly above 'alert' levels, the Department of Irrigation and Drainage said on its website.

The affected dams are on the populated west coast of the peninsula, from Kuala Lumpur to Perlis.

Water rationing has been imposed in the central state of Negeri Sembilan and in the central Johor area of Kluang.

Unless rain comes down hard in the water catchment areas in the next few weeks, officials are not ruling out the possibility of water rationing in some other areas around the country.

'This is a prolonged dry season we are going through, especially in Johor,' a senior official at the Department of Irrigation and Drainage told The Straits Times.

'If a severe drought were to happen instead of a rainy season, rationing may well happen again.'

Water rationing would be a double whammy for Malaysians who last week went through the haze crisis, the worst in eight years. There is a feeling of deja vu among Kuala Lumpur and Selangor residents for there was also water rationing in 1997 after the haze crisis.

But officials are loath to mention the 'R' word - rationing - as it would affect everyone from housewives to factories, from mamak restaurants to swanky malls.

The data on the irrigation department's website shows that two dams in Johor and one in Perak are below the critical levels. Water levels at the other dams around the country are not far from dropping below the critical levels, at which point officials must act to slow any further fall.

The action could range from initiating cloud-seeding to induce rains, to telling the public to take active steps to save water.

Cloud-seeding began yesterday near Johor's Sembrong dam and will continue today and tomorrow, said Mr Tan Kok Hong, the Johor official in charge of energy, water and communications.

The water levels at the Sembrong and Bekok dams in Johor fell below the critical levels several weeks ago.

But Mr Tan said the public should not be unduly worried as there is 'plenty' of surface water left in Johor.

'There's nothing to worry about for Singapore as its water supply comes from the Linggui dam. We also have plenty of surface water in Johor,' he said.

But the dry beds of some lakes are naturally a cause for concern.

In Taiping - Malaysia's wettest town - a small puddle surrounded by dried mud is the only evidence left of Jungle Lake, one of 10 lakes badly hit by the dry spell.

In Kedah's Lake Pedu, a huge body of water used for irrigation and water supply, water sports have stopped for about a year.

'The water is so low these days that you can see branches of old trees sticking out from the lake's bottom at some places,' said Mr Roslan Abdul Karim, resident manager of the Desa Utara Lake Pedu Resort.

While there is rain in many areas around the country, not enough falls in the water catchment areas near dams, lakes and rivers that supply drinking water.

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Animal ripper wreaks havoc
News24.com
17/08/2005 21:16

Geneva - Authorities and farmers in northern Switzerland have put up a reward of Sf 26 000 ($20 700) after a string of blood curdling and sadistic assaults on farm animals in recent weeks that have baffled police.

Police from three Swiss regions have joined forces in an "intense" manhunt amid warnings that the mysterious culprit or culprits could be extremely dangerous because of the cruelty involved in the mutilations of cows, sheep, horses, rabbits and cats.

The 43 confirmed attacks since late May in rural areas south of the city of Basel have a similar pattern, mainly involving surgically excised genitalia or mammary organs.

Many of the animals died or had to be put down.

Some bore traces of zoophilia or sexual assault, according to the police forces at the centre of the hunt, which have imposed a partial news black-out on their investigation.

In their latest weekly report on the "emotionally-charged" attacks, police in the canton of Basel-Country said on Wednesday that three people had been detained, but were later cleared.

One of the suspects was spotted while he was masturbating in his car near a meadow, another turned out to be a burglar, while the third had been on the run for eight years, police said.

"If this pervert comes back to my land he won't leave alive," the owner of one of the animals said.

Speculation about the profile of the attacker has been rife, ranging from someone from nearby Germany, to a vet or a farmer because of their apparent skill in approaching and dealing with animals.

"Above all this is someone who takes pleasure in mutilating, spilling blood and killing, that's their main characteristic," prison psychologist Bruno Gravier said.

"I think the cruelty and violence are far more significant in this affair than the choice of victims.

"And cruelty towards animals is a characteristic found in the profile of many psychopaths," Gravier told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

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Idol Taufik prefers women who don't smoke

The singer, HPB's smoke-free ambassador, hopes to influence Malay women to kick the habit
By Tracy Sua
Straits Times
Aug 19, 2005

SINGAPORE Idol Taufik Batisah is hoping his star appeal will help convince the increasing number of Malay women taking up smoking to quit the habit.

The 24-year-old singer, a former smoker himself, was named the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) smoke-free ambassador at the fashionable Gallery Hotel on Wednesday night.

In front of about 40 mostly female fans, the star said he personally preferred women who do not smoke - which in itself might have been enough to persuade several fans to give up.

"It is about how you smell. So when you stink, it is a problem and if you smoke I don't think you will smell good," he said.

According to a national health survey, smoking among young women aged 18 to 29 went up from 5.2 per cent in 1998 to 6.6 per cent last year. Malay women make up the majority of new smokers.

"Taufik has a large following among young Malay women and we want to get as much mileage as we can," said Dr Theresa Yoong, the board's director for adult health promotion.

The singer will be appearing at a number of events and touring schools to spread the anti-smoking message.

He told fans on Wednesday that he was a smoker for 12 years. But in February, he had a throat infection and feared it might be a cancer that would ruin his voice.

The fear drove him to quit smoking. He has stopped smoking since March.

"This is my rice bowl, so why should I destroy my voice for the sake of smoking," said Taufik.

Like many teenagers, he said he thought smoking was cool while he was in school and even pretended to smoke in front of a mirror to see how it looked.

Peer pressure got him hooked on the habit and, before long, he was smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

"Before, I was not too focused in life and I was just sailing. I thank God for the Singapore Idol competition. Now that I know what I want to do in life and I have found my focus, I don't take life so lightly," he said.

Comment: Wow, an article that not only promotes the anti-smoking campaign, but mindless television as well! What will they think of next?

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US father won't return child to French mother
AFP
August 17, 2005

NICE - The US father of a five-year-old girl said Wednesday he would defy a French court order to hand her back to his estranged French wife pending their divorce, deepening a transatlantic tug-of-law over the child.

David Washington told the French newspaper Var Matin that his daughter, Charlotte, "will stay with me" in New York state, in the latest twist in a case that has tested an international convention on binational family cases.

On Tuesday, a French family court judge ordered Washington to provisionally return the girl to her mother living in southern France, Sophie Maumousseau, until a divorce she has instigated is completed.

The judgement was a legal victory for Maumousseau, who was forced to give custody of Charlotte to Washington last year in line with a 1980 Hague Convention that obliges signatory states to return a child to his or her usual residence in another country in case of an illegal abduction by one of the parents.

Maumousseau had taken her daughter to France with her in 2003, after her three-year-old marriage to Washington started breaking up.

"This is maybe the end of a nightmare that I've been living every day for the past six months," Maumousseau told the newspaper Le Parisien.

But Washington, in his interview from New York, made it clear he had no intention of obeying the French court order.

"I know pertinently that if Charlotte goes back to France, I will never see her again," he said. "American justice has decided, above everything, even before Charlotte was returned to me under the Hague Convention, that I alone had custody of my daughter. The French court knows that. Its decision doesn't mean anything."

One of his lawyers, Lionel Escoffier, told AFP that it was likely Washington would appeal the French verdict.

Comment: When an American couple gets a divorce, the court generally favors the mother's right to raise her child, and the father gets visiting rights. It is therefore rather interesting that in this case, the US court system favors the father more than the mother.

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The luckiest numbers: Lille family wins lottery twice with same numbers
AFP
August 17, 2005

LILLE, France - In a feat that will have statisticians shaking their heads, a French family has twice won a national lottery -- using the same numbers each time.

The lucky clan, who were not identified, picked up EUR 1.5 million (US $1.8 million) in an August 3 lottery using the same selection of numbers it marks down every week, said Beatrice Vandersype, the wife of the tobbaconist who sold the winning ticket.

She added that those same numbers netted the family 900,000 French francs back in 1978, a sum equivalent to around EUR 500,000 in today's money, taking into account inflation.

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