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"You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism." - Cindy Sheehan
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©2005 Pierre-Paul Feyte

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The QFG 2006 Agenda

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Comment: Supplies are very limited - once they are gone, they are gone!

By Mary Maxwell, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Dec 28, 2005
Six of the scandals about the US government that are currently making the rounds of the Internet are simply breathtaking. No one has ever heard of a democratic government being so bold in harming its own people, and thus there is an automatic reluctance (or refusal) to accept these.

Here's a list of horrible things that 'they' are doing to us:

1. They damage the environment, virtually for the fun of it, by causing earthquakes, hurricanes, and forest fires.

2. They instill fear and panic by actually carrying out a terrorist incident, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

3. They kill off potential leaders such as Sen. Paul Wellstone who died in a plane crash (Note: bumping someone off used to mean shooting them or arranging a car accident, nowadays it can include giving them cancer, heart attack, or infections).

4. They deliberately destabilize society, both by planting drugs among young people and by imprisoning millions, which breaks up families.

5. They outright attack us with biological or chemical weapons for example, it is said that about 50 percent of the American soldiers who went to the Gulf in 1991 are very ill from an intentionally harmful vaccination that was supposedly to protect them against anthrax.

6. They disrupt normal communication and thought via a barrage of lies, hoaxes, and disinformation.

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Comment: As Mary sez "If it is perfectly believable to envision a group harming its enemy, do we Americans today need to merely relabel the people of the United States as an enemy in the eyes of their government? Would that solve the problem of the unbelievability of the six conspiratorial scandals? Indeed it would."

Amen, sister!

Jane Smiley
Sat Dec 17,2005
Is Bush in a bubble? Is Bush a dry drunk? Is Bush a drunk drunk? Is Bush a narcissist? Is Bush an idiot? Is Bush a madman? Does Bush have an “Authority Problem”? Theories abound about why Bush does the things he does, but most of them assume that he is making mistakes that he could or would correct if he understood how misguided he was.

On Monday, there was an editorial in the New York Times lamenting the apparent indifference of the Bush administration to the rebuilding of New Orleans, the levees in particular. On Tuesday, there was another editorial, excoriating the shameful behavior of the Bush negotiators at the Montreal conference on global warming. The gist of both editorials was that without national leadership, two chances are about to be lost--the chance to rebuild the city of New Orleans and the chance to mitigate the effects of global warming. Then at the end of the week, we learned that Bush has been wiretapping the phones of his own citizens--an impeachable offense. The Times writes as if it is possible still to alter the direction of Bush administration policy, but obviously it is not.

The Bushies have a pattern and they stick to it in spite of every apparent reason to change course. It’s not as if we don’t know what pattern it is, and it’s not as if they haven’t advertised what the pattern will be--it is to break down the government so completely that it can’t be put back together again. Let’s take a look at the “mistakes” the Bush administration is said to have made, and, instead, ask ourselves if they are actually realized intentions:

1. Hobbling the government with debt by combining an expensive, prolonged war with perennial rounds of tax cuts.

2. Destroying the bureaucracy by making it impossible for neutral, expert, or objective bureaucrats to keep their jobs, replacing them with incompetents.

3. Destroying the integrity of the election system, state by state, beginning with Florida and Ohio.

4: Defanging the media by paying fake reporters, co-opting members of the MSM (why did the New York Times refrain from publishing stories unfavorable to the Bush administration before the 2004 election?) and allowing (or encouraging) huge mergers and the buying up of independent media operations by known conservative media conglomerates.

5. Destroying the middle class by changing the bankruptcy laws and the tax laws.

6. Destroying the National Guard and the Army by deploying them over and over in a futile war, while at the same time failing to provide them with armor and equipment.

7. Precipitating Iraq into a civil war by invading it.

8. Accelerating the effects of global warming by putting roadblocks in the way of mitigating its effects.

9. Denying healthcare and prescription medication to an increasing number of Americans, most specifically by ramming the prescription drug legislation through Congress, but also by manipulating Medicare and Medicaid so that fewer and fewer citizens are covered.

10. Encouraging the people in the rest of the world to associate the US with torture, military incursion, and fear, by a preemptive attack on a sovereign nation, by vociferously maintaining the right of the US to do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and by refusing to accept international laws.

Or, to put it another way, the Bush administration apparently wishes for and is working toward a chaotic Iraq, a corrupt American election structure with openly corrupt influence-peddlers like Delay and Abramoff in charge of policy, a world in which people suffer and die from weather-related catastrophes, a two-tiered economic structure in the US (with most people in the lower tier), and the isolation of the US as a rogue state from the other nations of the world.

How else are we going to interpret the satisfaction the President continually expresses in the results of his policies so far? As an example, when Bush said, “Heckuva job, Brownie”, outsiders generally assumed he was making a mistake--that he didn’t know what a bad job Brownie was doing. But let’s say that he knew perfectly well that Brownie had abandoned new Orleans to the forces of nature, and that THAT was the essence of the heckuva job he was doing.

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by Sydney H. Schanberg
December 27th, 2005
The Village Voice
The domestic spying controversy is a story of immense importance. President Bush, by secret directive a few months after 9-11, allowed the National Security Agency, restricted by law to monitoring only foreign communications, to carry out a domestic spying program as well. This directive, now uncovered, is the latest clear confirmation that the president has been conferring more power on himself—without any checks or balances by Congress or the judicial system.

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by Andy Ostroy
28 Dec 2005
As reported in the NY Times Wednesday, several captured terror suspects with ties to Al Qaeda are planning to challenge their cases and sue the government claiming the Bush administration used illegal wiretapping in criminal prosecutions that resulted in conviction. The challenges are being mounted in Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Oregon, and including cases involving Iyman Faris, who plotted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

At issue is the Busheviks' skirting of the courts and Congress in its post-911 power-grab under the guise of protecting America from the terrorist threat.

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by Jason Leopold
27 Dec 2005
President Bush and other top officials in his administration used the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap the home and office telephones and monitor private email accounts of members of the United Nations Security Council in early 2003 to determine how foreign delegates would vote on a U.N. resolution that paved the way for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, NSA documents show.

Two former NSA officials familiar with the agency's campaign to spy on U.N. members say then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice authorized the plan at the request of President Bush, who wanted to know how delegates were going to vote. Rice did not immediately return a call for comment.

The former officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also participated in discussions about the plan, which involved "stepping up" efforts to eavesdrop on diplomats.

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John Crewdson
Published December 25, 2005
The CIA's special operations teams that specialize in renditions are drawn from the agency's paramilitary unit, largely composed of former Special Forces personnel, plus career CIA intelligence officers and specialists in surveillance, communications and even behavioral sciences.

From Italian and Spanish police reports and court documents, the Tribune was able to identify the names, and in some cases the post office box addresses, used by 67 suspected CIA rendition specialists who registered at hotels in Milan and on the island of Mallorca.

Those post office boxes, in turn, led to scores of other names that share the same addresses, most of which are in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Some of the bogus identities appear to be inside jokes, with surnames such as "Grayman" and "Bland," or those of former CIA directors. One of the bogus identities is an apparent homage to Douglas Neidermeyer, the authoritarian ROTC commander in the movie "Animal House" who later is killed by his own troops in Vietnam.

A search of commercially available databases reveals no evidence that any of the named individuals ever has had a spouse, a residence, a telephone, a previous address, a mortgage, a credit history or a family.

Even though their listed birth dates place them in their 30s, 40s and 50s, none appears to have had a Social Security number before 1998.

The CIA requested that the Tribune not publish the names because some are in use abroad.

A senior U.S. official acknowledged that while the cover system had served the agency well for many years, it had not been designed to withstand the scrutiny made possible by the Internet.

After learning of the extent to which the Tribune had cracked the CIA's cover network, CIA Director Porter Goss ordered sweeping changes in the way the agency's covers are created, according to government sources who asked not to be named.

by David Swanson
28 Dec 2005
A new report looks into instances in which the Bush Administration leaked classified information to support its case that Iraq was a threat to the United States.

While that case was, of course, ridiculous and the information falsified, the leaking of it was illegal. And the leaks appear to have been part of a coordinated effort. Immediately following important leaks, top administration officials appeared on talk shows to discuss information that they could not have legally discussed had it not appeared in a newspaper that morning.

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By Robert Steinback
Miami Herald
If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat -- and expect America to be pleased by this -- I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas -- and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security -- I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy -- and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy -- I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.

That's no America I know, I would have argued. We're too strong, and we've been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.

What is there to say now?

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by Doug Thompson
28 Dec 2005
While die-hard Republicans try to present a unified front in support of President George W. Bush’s evasion of the law and Constitution in ordering nonstop spying on Americans, splits are showing in the GOP ranks.

“What's wrong with it is several-fold,” former GOP Congressman Bob Barr says of the domestic spying. “One, it is bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without a court order.”

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by Robert Parry
28 Dec 2005
Dear Readers,

The United States is facing a political crisis almost unparalleled in our history, a crisis uniquely dangerous because at its center it is not about a loss of power but about a loss of principle – and even morality.

Instead of following the guideposts of a democratic republic, the U.S. government has veered off into delusions of empire. Instead of promoting international law, it has adopted theories of “preemptive” war. Instead of standing for human rights, it has become known for torture techniques, detentions without trial, and secret prisons.

Yet, this American crisis is also about the manipulation of information – and the failure of the U.S. news media to do its job. Indeed, it is hard to envision that the United States would be in this fix if reporters had asked the tough questions, if they had held dishonest political leaders accountable, if reporters had shown more courage.

But this failure of the U.S. media wasn’t an accident or simply a reaction to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Taming the news media has been a longtime goal of the neoconservative operatives who now dominate George W. Bush’s administration.

For years, these neoconservatives have understood that before they could transform the United States into their dream of a uni-polar empire, they had to gain effective control of the information that flows through Washington – and they had to neutralize the honest journalists who got in the way.

The neoconservatives knew the power that would come from controlling how Americans saw the world, a process they called “perception management.” So, over the past quarter century, the neocons and their political allies invested heavily in building their own news media and intimidating the mainstream press.

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By John Nichols
December 27, 2005
As President Bush and his aides scramble to explain new revelations regarding Bush's authorization of spying on the international telephone calls and e-mails of Americans, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee has begun a process that could lead to the censure, and perhaps the impeachment, of the president and vice president.

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by Velvet Revolution
27 Dec 2005
We want Congress to hear what you have to say about this issue and this bill, and therefore, we have made it simple to fill in the form below to quickly send your personal message to both of your Senators and your House Representative. We'll even look them up based on your address, and send them to all the right ones! Better yet, take the time to write a REAL letter and deluge congress with paper!

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December 28, 2005
MILWAUKEE - A motorist who was kicked, punched and left alone in the street after honking at a group of people suffered severe head trauma and may not survive, police said.

City officials asked for the public's help in finding the assailants, believed to be between 16 and 23 years old. It was the latest in a string of mob beatings in the city since 2002.

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Speech at the First Unitarian Church on Nov. 13, 2005 in Portland, Oregon
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of Media Studies at New York University. He has written articles for The Nation, the New Yorker. He’s been on many different national radio and television shows... He is a real champion for election integrity and for getting the word out about what we need to do to save our Democracy.

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28 Dec 2005
The Coalition for Visible Ballots is a non-partisan,
grassroots movement of unprecedented unity on
a single issue. That issue is very simple: Invisible
ballots are a bad idea. These organizations and
individuals are united on the proposition that "We at the Coalition for Visible Ballots believe that the only way to restore fair and honest elections to our country is to set aside ALL machines, including electronic of any type, touchscreen, optical scan counters--and use PAPER BALLOTS, HAND-COUNTED IN PUBLIC VIEW.

To some, unused ballots left over from the contested 2000 election are of deep historical significance. To others, they're just stacks of paper in the way.

Is this a perfect system? No. But as one of our foremost knowledgeable members, Bev Harris has said, elections conducted in this manner have perhaps five or six "attack vectors", whereas those conducted with electronic equipment have about 50 or 60. Many of the expert researchers, journalists, computer programmers and security engineers, mathematicians and statisticians who have been studying this critical issue have come to the same conclusion, and we stand with them: PAPER BALLOTS, HAND-COUNTED in PUBLIC VIEW.

Will we ever see this happen? Maybe not. Is it an uphill battle? Probably. But we will accept nothing less as a "repair" or "temporary fix" to our election systems."

28 Dec 2005
When Samuel Alito was a Justice Department lawyer in the 1980s, he wrote that he saw no legal problem with a police officer shooting and killing an unarmed 15-year-old who was fleeing from a $10 burglary.

Alito, now nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the shooting "can be justified as reasonable" and advised his bosses that the courts shouldn't interfere with police discretion to use deadly force. But the Supreme Court thought otherwise - by a 6-3 vote. Justice Byron White noted that the Constitution bars "unreasonable" searches and seizures, adding acidly that "a police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead."

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Comment: Starting today, write your congress people and demand that Alito be rejected!

28 Dec 2005
AUSTIN - The state's highest criminal court has agreed to hear Tom DeLay's latest request for a quick resolution to money laundering charges that forced him to give up his leadership post in the U.S. House, his spokesman said Tuesday.

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Comment: The gall of the man is astonishing. That he is not embarrassed is astonishing. But then, that's typical of psychopaths.

Richard Drayton
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
The tragic irony of the 21st century is that just as faith in technology collapsed on the world's stock markets in 2000, it came to power in the White House and Pentagon. For the Project for a New American Century's ambition of "full-spectrum dominance" - in which its country could "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major-theatre wars" - was a monster borne up by the high tide of techno euphoria of the 1990s.

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Comment: For a good overview of the Neocon philosophy and ideology, read the new Signs of the Times Special article: Neoconservatism, the Israeli Lobby,and other Power Relations .

Tribune Media Services
December 22, 2005
"Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." — Albert Einstein

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Comment: We aren't inclined to disagree with the notion of evil, however everything depends on your definition. To an Evil person, a good person is "evil." See Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes

December 27, 2005
NY Times
DULUTH, Minn.- As those thinking of becoming soldiers arrive on the slushy doorstep of the Army recruiting station here, they cannot miss the message posted in bold black letters on the storefront right next door.

"Remember the Fallen Heroes," the sign reads, and then it ticks off numbers - the number of American troops killed in Iraq, the number wounded, the number of days gone by since this war began.

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By Mahir Ali
December 28, 2005
Ushered into the White House under the strictest security, Santa Claus had his hands full listening to all of George W. Bush's wishes. According to this op-ed article from Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, after his recent eavesdropping, the President was also quite interested in telling Santa who had been naughty.

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Associated Press Writer
December 27, 2005
CRAWFORD, Texas - Read nothing into President Bush's current choice in books, the White House says.

The president is reading "When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House," but presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush is not thinking about his post-Oval Office days.

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13:31:43 EST Dec 27, 2005
LONDON (AP) - The lawyer for a Canadian man who says he was tortured in Syria after being detained in New York sharply criticized the U.S. ambassador to Britain on Tuesday for his comments on the case.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Tuttle said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview last week that there was no evidence the United States had been involved in removing terror suspects to Syria, a process known as "extraordinary rendition."

The U.S. Embassy later issued a statement clarifying Tuttle's comments, saying he was aware there had been a media report of a rendition to Syria.

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By James Petras
27 Dec 2005
The national debate, which the indictment of Irving Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice has aroused in the mass media, has failed to address the most basic questions concerning the deep structural context, which influenced his felonious behavior.

The most superficial explanation was that Libby, by exposing Valerie Plame (a CIA employee), acted out of revenge to punish her husband Wilson for exposing the lies put forth by Bush about Iraq's "importation" of uranium from Niger.

Other journalists claim that Libby acted to cover up the fabrications to go to war. The assertion however raises a deeper question -- who were the fabricators of war propaganda, who was Libby protecting? And not only the "fabricators of war", but the strategic planners, speech-makers and architects of war who acted hand in hand with the propagandists and the journalists who disseminated the propaganda?

What is the link between all these high- level functionaries, propagandists and journalists?

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By Robert Fisk
Los Angeles Times
I FIRST REALIZED the enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East when I went some years ago to say goodbye to a colleague from the Boston Globe. I expressed my sorrow that he was leaving a region where he had obviously enjoyed reporting. I could save my sorrows for someone else, he said. One of the joys of leaving was that he would no longer have to alter the truth to suit his paper's more vociferous readers.

"I used to call the Israeli Likud Party 'right wing,' " he said. "But recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of our readers objected." And so now, I asked? "We just don't call it 'right wing' anymore."

Ouch. I knew at once that these "readers" were viewed at his newspaper as Israel's friends, but I also knew that the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu was as right wing as it had ever been.

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East.

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Palestine Chronicle
The class action lawsuit is in connection with the hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries in the 1996 bombing of a United Nations compound in Qana.

If Israeli Gen. Moshe Ya’alon had thought that retiring from the Israeli Defense Force after almost four decades of zealous military service, would allow him to gracefully spend his time without any cares, he miscalculated.

While in New York recently, his nightmare commenced when families of the victims of the Qana massacre charged him for war crimes and human rights violations in a US court.

The class action lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights [CCR] is in connection with the hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries in the 1996 bombing of a United Nations compound in Qana, in the south of Lebanon.

Gen Ya’alon who retired in June 2005 as the IDF’s Chief of Staff, was then the head of the IDF Intelligence Branch, when the IDF deliberately bombed a place crowded with civilians seeking refuge from Israeli attacks in neighboring towns and villages.

CCR Attorney Maria LaHood said that despite knowing that hundreds of civilians had fled their homes to seek shelter at the UN compound, Ya’alon and the Intelligence Branch he headed then targeted its bombardment directly at the compound. “Almost ten years later, the hundreds of victims of the IDF shelling have an opportunity to seek justice.”

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Saed Bannoura
IMEMC & Agencies
Tuesday, 27 December 2005, 18:42
The Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Freed Detainees, reported that 9200 Palestinian detainee are still detained in more than 28 Israeli prisons, detention facilities, and interrogation centers.

The ministry released a report on Tuesday and revealed that 270 detainees were arrested during November, and are currently placed in interrogation centers.

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Last Updated Tue, 27 Dec 2005 22:35:42 EST
CBC News
Israel carried out an airstrike in Lebanon early Wednesday in retaliation after militants fired rockets into a northern Israeli town, an army spokesperson said.

The Israeli military said the planes attacked a militant training base south of Beirut.

The military said the base belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been battling against Israel for decades.

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Staff and agencies
Wednesday December 28, 2005
Three British citizens were kidnapped today as they entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, Palestinian witnesses and security officials said.

The hostages are thought to be a man, a woman and their child, according to reports. The woman worked with a local human rights group, a police source told Reuters.

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Wed Dec 28, 3:47 AM ET
GAZA - Palestinian gunmen briefly exchanged fire with police outside an election office in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as internal fighting grew ahead of a January parliamentary election.

An election official said employees at the Central Election Committee office in Gaza City took cover as the fighting erupted outside. It took several minutes until police restored order and the gunmen, from President Mahmoud Abbas' mainstream
Fatah faction, left. There were no reports of casualties.

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Last Updated Wed, 28 Dec 2005 04:52:03 EST
CBC News
Eight people were shot to death at a Baghdad jail when a prisoner grabbed a guard's assault rifle and opened fire in what is believed to be an attempt to escape.

The prisoner fired the AK-47 indiscriminately. Four of those killed were guards; the other four were inmates, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Jalil al-Mehamadawi. Another three people were wounded.

The incident took place in the northern suburb of Kazimiyah and is under investigation, said U.S. military authorities.

Wed Dec 28, 1:36 AM ET
TOKYO - Nearly three-quarters of Japanese people want their troops pulled out of Iraq by mid-2006 at the latest, according to a new poll.

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December 28, 2005
BRUSSELS - The European Union said on Wednesday that Egypt's decision to allow a rival to President Hosni Mubarak to be convicted and sentenced to prison called into question the country's commitment to democratic reforms.

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December 28, 2005
BERLIN - Known Islamic militants should be electronically tagged so their movements can be tracked, a regional German interior minister proposed on Wednesday.

"This would allow us to monitor the roughly 3,000 Islamists who are prone to violence, hate preachers and fighters trained in terrorist camps," Lower Saxony Interior Minister Uwe Schuenemann said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

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Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
2005 was supposed to be the year of Africa. Tony Blair committed Britain to ambitious targets on aid and debt relief. Museums staged major exhibitions dedicated to the continent's art. And one of the biggest popular movements ever - spurred on by a very big pop concert - called on eight world leaders in a Scottish hotel to make poverty history. But what, in the end, did it all achieve? Bob Geldof looks back on a year of 'world-saving bollocks' and argues that whatever his critics say, we really did change things.

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Comment: Trouble is, politicians have a very short memory when it comes to promises made to their constituents. Plans now for what to do next year, the year after, or in five years are simply that: plans. What will happen to those plans of spending money in Africa when the economic crash comes? The United States is becoming a third world country itself.

Moreover, politicians come and go while the corporations and political structures that feed on the African people remain. Yes, it is good that people in the West spend some time learning about Africa, about the situation there and put pressure on their politicans. These are noble deeds, but when they leave the concert or close their newspapers, they are still part of the system that is exploiting the continent.

Furthermore, if solutions for Africa come, short of the West falling into an economic collapse that turns them into homebodies, they will not come from the West. They must come from the many and diverse peoples of Africa themselves, based upon their wants ansd needs.

Helena Smith in Athens and Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
The Greek government faced mounting pressure last night to investigate claims that a senior MI6 officer masterminded the arrest and torture of Pakistani immigrants in Athens by local intelligence agents after the July 7 London bombings.

After a prominent weekly newspaper named the operatives allegedly involved at the weekend, the conservative government of prime minister Costas Karamanlis was confronting growing accusations of a cover-up. Yesterday, in a display of rare unanimity, Greece's political opposition called for the issue to be urgently debated in parliament.

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Dale Fuchs in Madrid
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
The annual number of abortions in Spain has nearly doubled in the last decade, prompting calls for improved sex education in schools.

About 85,000 Spanish women terminated their pregnancies in 2004, compared with 49,000 in 1995, according to the ministry of health. Some 15% were teenagers.

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Barbara McMahon in Rome
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
Italy's image as a family-centred society has taken a knock with the revelation that thousands of grandparents spent a lonely Christmas in hospital because their families did not want them at home.

According to doctors, some 10% to 20% of over-70s on Italian hospital wards could have been discharged for the festive season but relatives made excuses to keep them in care. Middle-class families in the north were twice as likely as working-class families in the poorer south to abandon their relatives, research found.

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Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
A former Chinese cabinet minister was sentenced to life in prison yesterday in a high-level bribery case that has exposed rampant corruption in the country's profit-oriented dictatorship.

Amid leadership fears that endemic corruption is undermining the legitimacy of the Communist party, a Beijing court convicted Tian Fengshan, who was fired as minister of land and resources in 2003, of accepting bribes of 4.4m yuan ($545,000).

The highest level bribery trial in four years was hailed by the state-controlled media as a sign that the authorities were cracking down on influence-peddling and illegal land transfers, which are increasingly the target of violent protests.

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Dec 28, 2005
NEW DELHI - India successfully tested its nuclear-capable, short-range Dhanush ballistic missile Wednesday, defence officials said.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005
TORONTO, Ontario (AP) -- Canadian officials, seeking to make sense of another fatal shooting in what has been a record year for gun-related deaths, said Tuesday that along with a host of social ills, part of the problem stemmed from what they said was the United States exporting its violence.

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Wed Dec 28, 1:44 AM ET
SEATTLE - A 12-inch hole in the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines jet caused the plane to lose cabin pressure, forcing the pilots to make an emergency descent and return to the airport, authorities said Tuesday.

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John Ezard
Wednesday December 28, 2005
The Guardian
A group of statisticians has laboured for months to crack the secret of producing best selling novels - only to find that under their formula The Da Vinci Code should have been a flop.

This year's runaway bestseller should have had only a 36% chance of reaching the charts, according to Alvai Winkler and his team. Their model fits work by some topselling authors but gives only middling marks to the Harry Potter titles and rules out almost everything by Charles Dickens except for his lesser-known Christmas story The Battle of Life.

However, Dr Winkler, a former academic at Middlesex University who works intensively for large companies, says he does not think the method is a turkey. It was developed to help customers of the UK wing of the self-publishing website hone their books for the market. It assumes that much of success lies in the title. The team of three statisticians, helped by programmers, studied 54 years of fiction number ones in the New York Times and the 100 favourite novels in the BBC's Big Read poll.

Comparing these with a control group of less successful novels by the same authors, they found that the winning books had three common features; they had metaphorical, or figurative titles instead of literal ones; the first word was a pronoun, a verb, an adjective or a greeting; and their grammar patterns took the form either of a possessive case with a noun, or of an adjective and noun or of the words The ... of ...

By this formula the most perfect titles were Agatha Christies' last thriller Sleeping Murder (1976) and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, both with 83% marks. The poorest was Patricia Cornwell's thriller Cause of Death, with 9%.

British authors produced the highest-scoring titles in both studies. John Le Carre was the most consistent with Smiley's People, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, the Tailor of Panama and others.

Dr Winkler said: "When we tested our model on 700 titles published over 50 years, it correctly predicted whether a book was a bestseller or not for nearly 70% of cases. This is 40% better than random guesswork. It is far from perfect but given the nature of the data and the way tastes change 70% accuracy is surprisingly good."

Yet the Harry Potter books score only 51% because their titles count as literal, though with correct grammar patterns. The Da Vinci Code is written off for being literal, as is Catch-22 and Dickens' Bleak House and a number of others.

Dan Brown however, can take heart. The Lulu team predicts he will have a real bestseller next year with The Solomon Key. Though its title structure is identical to The Da Vinci Code, they count it as figurative "due to its reference to the Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon, medieval books about black magic".

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By Liu Kin-ming
The Standard
December 20, 2005
President George Bush is a man with 'deep convictions,' who has risked his presidency to institute democracy in Iraq. But the President's doctrine of opposing dictatorships doesn't seem to apply to China. Sadly, according to this op-ed article from Hong Kong's The Standard, even a man like George W. has succumbed to 'The China Exception.'

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Comment: For a clear and concise explication of the "Bush Doctrine," read the new Signs of the Times special article:
Neoconservatism, the Israeli Lobby,and other Power Relations

December 27, 2005
Four months ago I wrote an article, "Doomsday; the Final Months of the Housing Bubble" that predicted a dramatic fall in housing prices that would have a catastrophic effect on the American economy.

In truth, I'm a lousy forecaster and simply collected the relevant data from a number of sources that convinced me that the end was quickly approaching. Now, it seems that dismal day is upon us and the Grim Reaper has begun churning out the disappointing statistics that we've dreaded from the very beginning.

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By Fred Weir
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
28 Dec 2005
MOSCOW – Call it PetroKremlin. A vast state-run energy conglomerate has been assembled over the past year, some experts say, to fuel Russia's bid to revive Soviet-style great power status.

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Comment: Well, looks like the neocons have gone and done it: Detente is over, the Power race is on again.

Wed Dec 28, 6:21 AM ET
ORLANDO, Fla. - The timeshare unit of Marriott International Inc. is notifying more than 200,000 people that their personal data are missing after backup computer tapes went missing from a Florida office.

The data relates to 206,000 employees, timeshare owners and timeshare customers of Marriott Vacation Club International, the company said in a statement Tuesday. The computer tapes were stored in Orlando, where the unit is based.

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By Mimi Hall
Tue Dec 27, 7:29 AM ET
Scientists at a Georgia laboratory have developed what could be a low-tech, low-cost weapon in the war on terrorism: trained wasps.

The tiny, non-stinging wasps can check for hidden explosives at airports and monitor for toxins in subway tunnels.

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By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
The Independent
28 December 2005
A daily dose of vitamin D could cut the risk of cancers of the breast, colon and ovary by up to a half, a 40-year review of research has found. The evidence for the protective effect of the "sunshine vitamin" is so overwhelming that urgent action must be taken by public health authorities to boost blood levels, say cancer specialists.

A growing body of evidence in recent years has shown that lack of vitamin D may have lethal effects. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis are among the conditions in which it is believed to play a vital role. The vitamin is also essential for bone health and protects against rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly.

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HealthDay News
Tue Dec 27,11:47 PM ET
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a widely used class of antidepressant drugs that include Celexa, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, boost nerve fiber growth in key parts of the brain, according to a study with rats.

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Comment: There, see? Antidepressants may cause you to commit suicide, but at least they're making you smarter! Strangely enough, there is one widely available - and highly demonised - chemical that appears to work wonders for the brains of many people: nicotine.

Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
Tue Dec 27, 5:00 PM ET
MSN Messenger users who may think they're getting a sneak peak at the latest version of Microsoft's instant messaging client are in for a nasty surprise, a Finnish security firm is warning.

A variation of the Virkel instant messaging virus has been circulating amongst MSN users, posing as a leaked beta version of MSN Messenger 8, according to F-Secure.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Forty-nine people have been indicted in a scam to pocket Red Cross hurricane relief funds and more indictments are expected, according to Justice Department officials.

Authorities said 22 people working for a Red Cross contractor at a call center in Bakersfield, California, filed false claims worth tens of thousands of dollars. They are also accused of involving family members and friends in the alleged scheme, bringing the number of people under indictment to 49.

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03:50:21 EST Dec 28, 2005
KENNEDALE, Texas (AP) - Rancher Dean Dillard was able to save his 72-year-old mother's home by soaking the land before fires roared through his hometown. Many of his neighbours weren't as lucky.

Wildfires fuelled by dry brush and driven by gusty wind damaged scores of homes as they raced across Texas and Oklahoma Tuesday, leaving one person dead and forcing a small town to evacuate.

"It looked like we had been bombed in a big war, the whole city was on fire everywhere," said Dillard, whose town of Cross Plains, about 240 kilometres southwest of Dallas, had 25 homes and a church burned. The town's 1,000 residents were told to leave.

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December 28, 2005
PORTLAND, Maine - The Maine coast has dozens of methane gas fields on the ocean bottom where mud-trapped gas occasionally bubbles to the surface, according to a team of University of Maine scientists.

There are 70 known gas fields between Portland and Eastport, and the rising bubbles create craters or pits, according to the scientists, who are publishing their findings in Marine Geology magazine. The largest crater is the size of a football stadium.

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Tue Dec 27, 2005 11:24 PM GMT168
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's Volcano of Fire erupted on Tuesday, sending rivers of lava down its slopes and a huge cloud of ash and smoke into the sky.

About 25,000 local residents were put on alert. Emergency teams said there was no immediate need for evacuations but they might be necessary if there were more eruptions.

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12:29 28-12-2005
Kyrgyzstan - On December 28, 2005, at 07: 54 AM the earthquake at rate 4, 5 occurred in the north of the country. It was stated by Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) of KR.

According to Institute of earthquake station “Bishkek”, the earthquake occurred in Bistrovka at rate 4, in Tokmok- 3, 5, Kant- 3.

It has to be mentioned that there are already two earthquakes registered in this day. In the morning of December 27, 2005, the earthquake occurred in Kemin district at rate 4, and then at 16:45 PM another earthquake occurred in the south of the country. In Uzgen district the earthquake was at rate 3, 5- 4, in Jalalabad- 3.

Associated Press
Ankara (Turkey), December 28, 2005
Moderate earthquake shakes central Turkey
A moderate earthquake shook central Turkey early on Wednesday, the Kandilli Observatory said. No injuries or damage were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 4.2, struck near the town of Kastamonu at 04.11 am, the observatory said.

Quakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies atop the active North Anatolian fault. Two devastating earthquakes killed about 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey in 1999.

James Sturcke and agencies
Wednesday December 28, 2005
Freezing conditions across parts of northern Europe caused travel chaos today as forecasters warned that more snow and colder temperatures were expected over the next two days.

British motoring organisations urged people only to make essential journeys, while hundreds of drivers in France spent the night in their cars after 30cm of snow fell in parts the country.

In Austria, a blizzard resulted in power cuts to homes and was blamed for numerous road accidents across eastern parts of the country.

In the UK, Kent and eastern England suffered the worst of the freezing conditions, which brought road closures and train cancellations.

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By Tom DiStefano
Clarion News writer
WILLIAMSBURG, PA -- “It’s not the birds doing it,” said Joe Billotte of the mysterious substance he found on property he owns in Williamsburg .

Billotte says he found a “pinkish-purple” liquid spattering the ground and the side of a mobile home along State Route 68 south of Exit 62. Billotte lives across the highway from the mobile home.

What he found looked a lot like what he saw on the evening television news regarding an incident near Saxonburg.

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Comment: The incidents mentioned in this article are not rare events. Check out our "Mystery Muck" Signs supplement for more information.

Dec 27 10:55 PM US/Eastern
Alongside tragedies, wars and natural disasters the year just ending brought its share of unusual, outrageous, tragi-comic and just downright silly news items. A selection:

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December 28, 2005



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