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Sunday, February 8, 2004

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The Guardian recently published a review of the book, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, by Francis Wheen:

Wheen's thesis is simply stated. Reason is on the retreat. The values of the Enlightenment - "an insistence on intellectual autonomy, a rejection of tradition and authority as the infallible sources of truth, a loathing for bigotry and persecution, a commitment to free inquiry, a belief that (in Francis Bacon's words) knowledge is indeed power" - are daily being betrayed. And, armed with a sizzling pen, a filing cabinet as big as the Albert Hall, and a banner bearing the legend "skepticism and sobriety", the crusading Wheen has come to open our eyes to the dangers of that betrayal.

A thesis that is difficult to disagree with, at one level, although reason may have always been the domain of the few. From reading the review, it appears Wheen then proceeds to attack rather easy targets, or at least the author of the review points out some of the more high strangeness as practiced by the more public figures.

One can easily gain the impression that Wheen advocates some idealized reactionary solution of embracing past values rather than taking what is best from the past, using the tools now available, and examining reality with a reasonable, open mind. Nostradamus, "UFO believers", and "academics preaching the End of History" also apparently take a hit in Wheen's book.

Refusing to examine something merely because it appears strange is no virtue. Particularly, since strange is merely relative with no objective scale of measure. There must be some middle ground between an extreme skeptic and a "believer." There really is no need to believe anything. Belief is always the enemy. Reason alone is not enough either, since very often it is colored by belief. Even the idea that you should be able to "reason" with people is not always true. If people have formed ideas or beliefs on the basis of other foundations, such as thinking that is heavily influenced by the emotions, reason alone will have no chance. The emotional rock will not budge, unless it is shocked. Shocks are emotional. They may break up the emotional bedrock and thus permit reason to to enter. What Wheen fails to realize is that the things that he might term "reasonable" may simply be conventions established by others in the past.

Refusing to consider something because it is "too crazy" is an example of an emotional block which leads to prejudice. A skeptic is not someone that disbelieves something because it sounds "too crazy", that is the definition of a bigot. A true skeptic uses critical thinking rather than consensus reality to judge an idea's merits.

Many of us may not be entirely aware of various discussions that occur in the physics world, certainly the domain of the "strange" at times:

Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology (pdf file)

Recent developments in cosmology indicate that every history having a nonzero probability is realized in infinitely many instinct regions of spacetime. Thus, it appears that the universe contains infinitely many civilizations exactly like our own, as well as infinitely many civilizations that differ from our own in any way permitted by physical laws. We explore the implications of this conclusion for ethical theory and for the doomsday argument. In the infinite universe, we find that the doomsday argument applies only to effects which change the average lifetime of all civilizations, and not those which affect our civilization alone. [...]

We now introduce some input from the theory of inflation. As we review in the next subsection, it follows from this theory that the universe is spatially infinite. It can therefore be subdivided into an infinite number of regions of any given size. Thus, we have an infinite number of regions and only a finite number of histories that can unfold in them. Every possible history has a nonzero probability and will therefore occur in an infinite number of regions. [Joshua Knobe, Philosophy Department, Princeton University, Ken D. Olum and Alexander Vilenkin, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Tufts University]

We offer this tidbit not because we are certain that the authors are correct. Maybe they are; maybe they are not. However, it is an example of something that would be preceived as outrageous, as "too crazy," by many people, perhaps including Mr. Wheen.

It can be extremely comfortable being a human. Encased in our flesh and bones, we can focus in the minutia of life and declare it important. We can pretend there is no unknown and no mystery, and feel safe - for a time. It does not make the possible reality of multiple worlds go away, nor the implications that something having a non-zero probability means that it will probably occur somewhere. The above paper ties in multiple realities and doomsday scenarios. Makes one wonder what Wheen would say, particularly when you add the concept of extra dimensions:

Are there parallel worlds?

DAN FALK details how string theory -- the so-called theory of everything -- might explain the structure of the universe. Of course, for it to work, there have to be a few extra dimensions.

Also Discover Magazine recently published an article, "Before the Big Bang: Maverick cosmologists contend that what we think of as the moment of creation was simply part of an infinite cycle of titanic collisions between our universe and a parallel world."

Cosmologists Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok have a radical idea that could wipe away these mysteries. They theorize that the cosmos was never compacted into a single point and did not spring forth in a violent instant. Instead, the universe as we know it is a small cross section of a much grander universe whose true magnitude is hidden in dimensions we cannot perceive. What we think of as the Big Bang, they contend, was the result of a collision between our three-dimensional world and another three-dimensional world less than the width of a proton away from ours—right next to us, and yet displaced in a way that renders it invisible. Moreover, they say the Big Bang is just the latest in a cycle of cosmic collisions stretching infinitely into the past and into the future. Each collision creates the universe anew. The 13.7-billion-year history of our cosmos is just a moment in this endless expanse of time. ["Before the Big Bang", Michael D. Lemonick, DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 02, February 2004]

How can any of us say for certain we know how reality works? We can only get relatively close. We can only have working hypotheses, which usually suffice for a time, until new data enables us to reformulate the hypothesis or to supplant it with an entirely new one. Do any of us know how multiple realities, dimensions, or parallel worlds impact our particular reality? Can we say for certain they do not? Certainly when you talk of realities colliding, that implies some sort of interaction.

Blind Skepticism is easy. Blind Belief is easy. Much more difficult is to examine questions rationally, sorting through the available data, seeing where more questions need to be asked, and then continuing the search. For those who are seekers, this idea is freedom. Freedom to seek and to understand there are a great many mysteries yet to explore. We can examine ideas and phenomena with an open mind, even if most prefer to live as if we live in a closed system. We don't have to defend the consensus reality, to protect our well constructed artificial construct of what we think reality should be.

We also need to understand that we live in a reality based on control even if we do not know or understand who is at the top of this control hierarchy. Understanding the why and the who of this control is another mystery for which we can seek answers.

Tom Van Flandern received his Ph.D. degree in Astronomy, specializing in celestial mechanics, from Yale University in 1969. He spent 20 years at the U.S. Naval Observatory, where he became the Chief of the Celestial Mechanics Branch, and he still has to be very careful the questions he asks for fear of ruining his career, such as his proposal regarding the famous face on Cydonia:

Meta Research recognizes that publishing a paper in support of artificiality comes with consequences. We are aware that this may impact our credibility in support other alternative research, regardless of the scientific merit of this paper. However, scientific integrity requires that findings be released when ready, without regard for their popularity.

We live in a world where talk about sending mouse-tronauts to Mars is considered brilliant and receives funding, while considering that there may be artificially constructed objects on an ancient planet in an open universe with infinite possibilities may ruin your career. Wheen is correct - mumbo-jumbo has conquered the world - just perhaps in a far more vast and sinister manner than his premise entails. We may not have the Catholic Church jailing Galileos anymore, instead we have something far more insidious and underhanded.

We have to ask the question, what status quo is protected by an ignorant populace today? Who benefits? These questions are not rhetorical by the way; we don't entirely know. We have hints, clues, and working hypotheses. We can see the manifestations in our environment, as can anyone who is paying attention. It seems that there is a deliberate attempt to keep certain knowledge out of the public domain.

COINTELPRO activities have long used the the tactic of guilt by association. "Mumbo-jumbo" pushers, of which there are many, serve at least two purposes: one, to side track those who have a natural interest in our reality and its inherent mysteries, and two, to provide material so that real work can be associated with ignorance, such as the tabloids, thereby removing it from public discourse. Who or what is working with the premise that knowledge equals power over the ignorant?

Ark added an addendum some time ago to the article Mysterious Smoke Rings or When is a Cloud not a Cloud? in response to a reader:

It's interesting how the Cassiopaea staff regularly discounts rational explanations for phenomena. For instance, the smoke ring was caused by lightning hitting a transformer , producing a mushroom cloud which, as it dissipated, produced the smoke ring.

As for the dust cloud, the National Weather Service says it's brought from Africa by the same winds that drove Hurrican Claudette

Now, what's so hard to believe about all that?


Dave probably did not read Laura's article carefully, or he missed the point, or, most probably, both. Which is in no way his fault.

While it is true that finding "rational explanational" of phenomena is always useful, it is not always the case that a "rational explanation" explains everything away. There are no rational explanation of quantum phenomena, as anybody can find from my homepage and my papers . And yet many non-scientists will think that there is one.

While physicists discuss alternative explanation, and there is no one theory that has no counter-theory, laymen think that physicists KNOW how and why things happen. With smoke rings, weather and other non-linear and dissipative phenomena the situation is similar.

While "standard and rational" interpretation is always there, ready for laymen, experts go deeper. They would discuss "synchronicity", they would duscuss "multi-dimensional time". They would discuss faster-than-light propagation, acausal links, Kozyrev's ideas, Lawrentev's and Eganova theories and experiments etc. etc.

The above article just draws attention to some things that are similar and speculates how easy it is to state that the cause was a lightning strike of a transformer, rather than being open to the possibility that such lightning - as well as other phenomena - could have a different cause than what is offered as "rational explanations."

Indeed. And so the search continues..

CIA created the al-Qaeda network

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter was one of the key architects of the Al Qaeda network, created by the CIA at the onslaught of the Soviet Afghan war (1979-1989).

The "catastrophic and catalyzing event" as stated by the PNAC is an integral part of US military-intelligence planning. General Franks, who led the military campaign into Iraq, pointed recently (October 2003) to the role of a "massive casualty-producing event" to muster support for the imposition of military rule in America. (See General Tommy Franks calls for Repeal of US Constitution, November 2003,)

Franks identifies the precise scenario whereby military rule will be established:

"a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event [will occur] somewhere in the Western world - it may be in the United States of America - that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event." (Ibid)

The triggering of "war pretext incidents" is part of the Pentagon's assumptions. In fact it is an integral part of US military history.(See Richard Sanders, War Pretext Incidents, How to Start a War, Global Outlook, published in two parts, Issues 2 and 3, 2002-2003).

In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had envisaged a secret plan entitled "Operation Northwoods", to deliberately trigger civilian casualties to justify the invasion of Cuba:

"We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," "We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington" "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation." (See the declassified Top Secret 1962 document titled "Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba" (See Operation Northwoods)

Terrorists building bombs in mid-flight?

Intelligence indicates dry runs in attempt to blow up airliners

February 8, 2004

Islamic terrorists are trying to get past airport security screeners by placing only the components needed to assemble explosive devices onboard and then building the bombs in mid-flight.

Intelligence souces believe they've already conducted ''dry runs'' of the new terror tactic on planes flying between the Middle East, North Africa and Western Europe, reports the London Observer.

Middle Eastern intelligence services have warned Western agencies that scores of terrorists have been trained in the new tactic and at least 12 dry runs have been successfully completed in preparation for an attempt to bomb a transatlantic route.

According to the paper, the warning is based on interrogations of Islamic terrorists captured in the Arabian Gulf and is corroborated by intercepted communications between terror cells and interviews with prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay.

One of the masterminds of the suicide bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last May, Ali Abd Rahman al-Ghamdi, is among those who have reportedly revealed the bomb-making plans. His statements prompted the Transportation Security Administration to issue a memo warning terrorists in teams of five might try to hijack commercial airliners using common items like cameras modified as weapons, reports the Observer.

An FBI bulletin last November warned: ''Terrorists are considering the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) assembled on board to hijack an aircraft or, alternatively, destroy it over heavily populated areas in the event of passenger or crew resistance.

''Components of IEDs can be smuggled on to an aircraft, concealed in either clothing or personal carry-on items such as shampoo and medicine bottles, and assembled on board.

''In many cases of suspicious passenger activity, incidents have taken place in the aircraft's forward lavatory.''

Concerns terrorists might assemble a bomb or another weapon on board airliners were reportedly a factor in last weekend's decision to cancel several international flights from Europe to the United States.

U.S. officials warned specific flights on British Airways and Air France could be a terrorist target.

''We remain concerned about al-Qaida's desire to target aviation, especially international aviation,'' said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Comment: It appears that government officials are determined not to let us forget about the clear and present danger that "terrorists" pose to our very lives. Regardless of the "security measures" that are put in place in airports and on airplanes, those darn terrorists will still find a way. In fact, the insistence on the airliner-bomb threat is so persistent that we wonder if it is perhaps designed to vector public attention away from other potentially vulnerable targets. If an attack were to come "out of left field", who could blame the government when it is apparently doing so much to protect the public?

Bush proposed cuts to research on same day ricin sent to Senate

Friday February 6, 2004
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush asked Congress to eliminate an $8.2 million research program on how to decontaminate buildings attacked by toxins - the same day a poison-laced letter shuttered Senate offices.

Critics said Thursday they were surprised by Bush's request, included in his 2005 budget proposal. Its release coincided with the discovery of the poison ricin in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office on Monday.

"It is a stunning example of the budget choices this administration has made, where tax cuts for elites are more important than public health or adequate homeland security,'' said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Daschle's office was the target of an anthrax-laced letter in October 2001 when he held Frist's job.

A US political agenda item to ponder: risk

If I could set the American political agenda for a day, I would ask US President George W. Bush and his Democratic presidential challengers to explain how they think about risk. That’s not the normal Meet the Press fodder, but bear with me ­ because the issue goes to some of the central questions that ought to be debated in this campaign, starting with our difficulties in Iraq.

Iraq teaches us that even when we think we know what we are doing ­ even when we think we have the relevant facts ­ we don’t.

[...] As it happens, the Pentagon sponsored a two-day conference in November on risk. I’ve been sampling some of the papers presented at that conference, and they make very provocative reading.

[...] A wise contrarian analysis of risk comes from a Lebanese-born mathematician and financial trader named Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote a best-selling book called Fooled by Randomness. He presented a remarkable paper to the Pentagon conference titled The Black Swan: Why Don’t We Learn That We Don’t Learn?

Taleb’s basic point is that the events that drive history are outliers ­ “black swans” that don’t meet our expectations because we’ve only seen white ones. We tend to assume risks are distributed with the same type of randomness as height, weight or blood pressure. But in fact, the events that really matter don’t follow those predictable rules at all. They embody what Taleb calls the “power law” of all or nothing.

“Our ability to predict large-scale deviations that change history has been close to zero,” he notes. We tend to get our guidance about what to do in the future from our experience of the past - which is actually irrelevant. Taleb likens it to a driver who only looks in the rear-view mirror, and inevitably runs into walls.

Another problem with risk, beyond its unpredictability, is that it tends to skew. If one bad event happens, that may actually increase the likelihood of another ­ because of network effects we don’t understand.

G7 finance ministers reach compromise on U.S. dollar

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

BOCA RATON, Fla. (CP) - The United States and other leading world economic powers softened differences Saturday over whether to let the U.S. dollar fall freely under market pressure or prop it up with government intervention.

A joint statement allowed all sides to claim at least partial victory.

The U.S. administration won support for retention of language supporting "more flexibility" in exchange markets, a phrase first used by the Group of Seven wealthy countries last September.

The G-7 endorsement of flexibility has been interpreted by currency traders as giving them a green light to push the exchange value of the dollar lower without fear the United States or other members of the G-7 would try to fight the moves with massive government intervention to brake the dollar's decline.

Canada continued to argue in favour of flexible exchange rates that allow currencies - including the trend-setting U.S. dollar - to move according to market demands.

The U.S. administration is counting on a declining value of the dollar to boost U.S. exports by making them cheaper on foreign markets. Stronger export sales are expected to lift the fortunes of battered U.S. manufacturing companies, who have been forced to lay off 2.8 million workers over the last 3½ years.

But to meet complaints of European countries that the dollar's decline has been too rapid and too severe and is threatening their companies' export sales, the G-7 inserted a new phrase expressing concerns about "excess volatility and disorderly markets."

Europe hopes that phrase will serve as a warning that some countries may be willing to intervene in currency markets to fight too large a decline in the dollar's value in coming months.

Comment: This is a revealing article. The proponents of neo-liberalism tell us that the market should be left to itself, without the intervention of governments. This article clearly shows what this means. Rather than having currency trading guided by government policy, it is in the hands of "currency traders," people whose full-time job is to move money in order to profit from differing exchange rates. This money pushing does absolutely nothing to create anything new in the economy: no goods, no services, nothing of value to anyone but the people profiting from the sale. So leaving this trading to "market pressure" does not mean leaving it to some invisible hand that, through its impartiality, will magically produce benefits for those worthies who work for them - it means leaving the reins in the hands of a small clique of people who are then able to manipulate the market for their own limited and individual interests.

University, Peace Activists Receive Subpoenas

FBI Asking For Records Of New York Based Legal Group

DES MOINES, Iowa -- In what may be the first subpoena of its kind since Sept. 11, 2001, a federal judge has ordered a university to turn over records about a gathering of anti-war protesters.

Subpoenas have also been served on four antiwar protesters who attended a Nov. 15 forum at Drake University to appear before a grand jury next week.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment, but the subpoenas were served by a local sheriff's deputy who works on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

In addition to records about who attended the event, the subpoena asks the university to divulge all records relating to the local Chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild, a New York based legal activist organization which sponsored the forum.

The group, once similarly targeted for alleged ties to communism in the 1950s, announced Friday that it will ask a federal court to quash the subpoena.

Guild president Micahel Ayers says the law is clear that the use of the grand jury to investigate protected political activities or to intimidate protestors exceeds its authority.

Feds Win Right to War Protesters' Records

Associated Press Writer

In what may be the first subpoena of its kind since the Communist-hunting days of the 1950s, a federal judge has ordered a university to turn over records about a gathering of anti-war activists.

In addition to the subpoena of Drake University, subpoenas were served this past week on four of the activists who attended a Nov. 15 forum at the school, ordering them to appear before a grand jury Tuesday, the protesters said.

Federal prosecutors refuse to comment on the subpoenas, served by a local sheriff's deputy who works on the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

In addition to records about who attended the forum, the subpoena orders the university to divulge all records relating to the local chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild, a New York-based legal activist organization that sponsored the forum.
The group, once targeted for alleged ties to communism in the 1950s, announced Friday it will ask a federal court to quash the subpoena on Monday.

"The law is clear that the use of the grand jury to investigate protected political activities or to intimidate protesters exceeds its authority," guild President Michael Ayers said in a statement.

Representatives of the Lawyer's Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union said they had not heard of such a subpoena being served on any U.S. university in decades.

Those served subpoenas include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002.

They say the subpoenas are intended to stifle dissent. [...]

Iraqi exile admits he never checked WMD intelligence

Technical experts were baffled by weapons data that 'did not fit in'

By Raymond Whitaker and Kim Sengupta
08 February 2004
The Independent

The Iraqi exile who passed on the controversial "45-minute" claim about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons to British intelligence has insisted he did so in good faith, but had no means of checking it himself, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. [...]

Denied hemisphere free trade, U.S.A. tries side deal with Canada, 12 others

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

WASHINGTON (AP) - Still unable to agree on a hemispheric free trade agreement, the United States is negotiating a side deal within the overall negotiations with Canada and 12 other countries, a U.S. trade official said Saturday.

[...] A bloc headed by Brazil and Argentina has been holding out for more concessions from in several categories, particularly market access. As stated at Puebla, the official said, that position would make no significant improvement in market access for services but would demand major concessions by the United States and others on market access for merchandise.

Countries in the talks on a side deal are the United States, Canada, Mexico, all of Central America and Panama, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.

Germany, France cool on NATO role in Iraq, Rumsfeld unapologetic on war

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

MUNICH, Germany (CP) - The French and German foreign ministers expressed skepticism Saturday about a U.S. proposal for NATO to play a role in Iraq peacekeeping, threatening a new transatlantic dispute.

With U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld listening, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's warning at an annual defence conference recalled some of the sting of their sharp exchange a year ago in the buildup to war.

"The risk of failure and the potentially very serious, possibly fatal consequences for the alliance absolutely must be taken into consideration," Fischer told the gathering of leading security officials and experts from about 50 countries, including Canada's Defence Minister David Pratt.

Fischer said such a move poses the danger of overstretching the alliance, still recovering from deep rifts over the war itself. But he said Germany would not block a mission if there were a general NATO consensus.

However, Germany will stand by its refusal to send soldiers to Iraq, he said.

Rumsfeld did not respond directly to Fischer's challenge, but the United States proposed a NATO role in Iraq in December. Rumsfeld on Friday suggested the alliance could take command of zones now run by Poland and Britain.

France, which like Germany opposed the war, said the idea is premature.

"We could not accept deployment of a NATO force now," French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters. "France is not hostile in principle, but it hasn't been discussed because it's much too early."

NATO's new secretary general also insisted the alliance should not rule out a role in Iraq.

"If a legitimate Iraqi government asks for our assistance, and if we have the support of the United Nations, NATO should not abdicate from its responsibilities," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the conference.

Returning to the scene of a dramatic clash with Fischer last year, Rumsfeld gave a spirited defence of the Iraq war, saying it had made "the world a safer place."

Rumsfeld did not mention the failure to find banned weapons in Iraq. And Fischer reasserted that Germans "were not, and are still not, convinced of the validity of the reasons," using phrasing that angered Rumsfeld at the conference a year ago.

While conceding little ground over the necessity for the war, Rumsfeld and Fischer emphasized that both camps now want to look to the future.

Fischer called for Europe and the United States to join together in a broad effort to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.

A major push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fight terrorism and promote economic development in the Middle East would help heal the transatlantic rift, Fischer said.

"Neither the United States nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer," Fischer told the audience, which included Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld expressed support for Fischer's proposals, saying NATO could help Mideast countries beef up their security forces and serve as a catalyst for economic and democratic change such as those in eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

The Munich conference has for 40 years given top policymakers and experts an informal forum to discuss and air differences.

It's also attracted antiwar and anti-NATO protests. A few blocks from the heavily secured hotel, at least 5,000 demonstrators marched through central Munich on Saturday, carrying banners reading Stop The Warmongers and No To Global War By NATO Countries.

Police tussled with some of the protesters, arresting four for suspected illegal possession of weapons.

Hundreds march to protest France's planned head scarf ban in schools

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

PARIS (CP) - About 900 people marched through central Paris on Saturday to protest a law that would ban Islamic head scarves and other religious apparel from schools.

Embattled Chirac faces party coup

Minister acts as Juppé scandal triggers polls backlash

Paul Webster in Paris
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

Supporters of Jacques Chirac will gather in their thousands today in a desperate move to curb a high-level revolt against the President's campaign to save the party chairman and former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, from being banned from politics for corruption.

Although the special UMP - presidental majority party - congress was planned to show rightwing unity before regional elections next month, it has underlined a threat to presidential authority by Nicolas Sarkozy. The ambitious Interior Minister is being encouraged to carry out an internal coup as the Gaullist-centrist movement faces an expected devastating electoral backlash.

Seeking U.S. Nod, Israel Redraws West Bank Barrier

By Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller
Sun Feb 8, 6:27 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is redrawing the route of a barrier going up in the West Bank to cut out most of the controversial loops around Jewish settlements to try to secure U.S. support for the project, political sources said on Sunday.

They said the new route would be presented to U.S. officials due in Israel this week to hear a plan by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to separate from the Palestinians.

A Sharon security adviser, Giora Eiland, acknowledged at a security conference in Germany that the barrier's course placed hardships on the Palestinians and should be changed.

Sharon is widely expected to cement the disengagement plan, which he said would leave the Palestinians with less land than they are seeking for a state, in a trip to Washington. [...]

Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Shahdi al-Kashif
Saturday February 7, 09:48 PM

GAZA (Reuters) - An Israeli helicopter gunship has slammed a missile into a car in Gaza City, killing a top Islamic Jihad commander and a 12-year-old bystander and drawing vows of revenge by Palestinian militants.

The attack on Saturday coincided with the start of a military trial in Gaza of Palestinians accused of killing three Americans and an impending mission by U.S. officials to discuss Israeli plans to "disengage" from the Palestinians.

The Israeli army confirmed it had targeted the vehicle carrying Aziz al-Shami, who was a top commander in Islamic Jihad's "Jerusalem Brigades" armed wing and a brother-in-law and bodyguard of Islamic Jihad leader Abdallah al-Shami. [...]

Our revenge will be in Tel Aviv, Jihad warns Israel after assassination

Sun Feb 8, 7:23 AM ET

GAZA CITY (AFP) - Islamic Jihad warned that it would wreak its revenge within Israel as thousands of people gathered for the funeral of one of the organisation's military leaders who was assassinated in an air strike.

"Your blood will not flow without a price being paid. Our answer will be in Tel Aviv," senior Jihad leader Abdullah al-Shami told mourners by loudspeaker in central Gaza after the death of his cousin Aziz al-Shami on Saturday.

"Our resistance and jihad will continue until the end of the occupation on our land, all of the land of Palestine.

"The enemy will leave Gaza by your hands and military operations, just as the Israelis left Lebanon," he said in reference to Israel's pullout from southern Lebanon after a lengthy struggle with the Hezbollah militia. [...]

Offending Valerie: Dealing with Jewish Self-Absorption

February 7, 2004

It's most challenging to go where the silence is and say something.
- Amy Goodman

I was kidding a couple of Muslim Palestinian-American friends the other day about being barbarians, by the lights of Israeli historian Benny Morris. This was a day or two after this paragon of dispassionate Israeli scholarship had expostulated in an interview published in Ha'aretz on the benefits (if you're Jewish) of ethnic cleansing, the critical miscalculation of David Ben-Gurion in not having completed the total ethnic cleansing of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River in 1948 when he had a chance, and the barbarity of Arab and Muslim culture. "The Arab world as it is today is barbarian," Morris declared. Islamic and Arab culture is "a world in which human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West," in which freedom and democracy are alien, in which there are "no moral inhibitions." He was speaking in sweeping terms, of entire cultures, of the mass of individuals in the Arab and the Muslim worlds, not merely of governments that are oppressive or undemocratic. Palestinians in particular, Morris believes, are barbaric, "a very sick society," and should be treated "the way we treat individuals who are serial killers. . . . Something like a cage has to be built for them."

My friends have a good sense of humor, and so we laughed uproariously at the notion that they and every last Arab and Muslim throughout the world are barbarians. Hilarity is the way you often react when confronted with utter horror. What was so particularly horrifying about Morris's pronouncements was their resonance, their representativeness, the banality of the evil they reflect. Meir Kahane, the assassinated Israeli-American rabbi and politician who made a career out of propounding racist views, always used to say that his anti-Arab pronouncements and policy positions were simply what other Jews thought in their hearts but did not quite dare to say out loud. Benny Morris -- who still considers himself a leftist, still favors establishment of a Palestinian state in part of Palestine, still exposes Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians in his examination of early Israeli history -- is one of those people Meir Kahane was describing, and he speaks for large numbers of his fellow Israelis and his fellow Jews throughout the world.

Morris's blunt soul-bearing has lifted the last barrier of propriety to the open expression of raw Arab hatred. One longs for some gigantic outcry of opposition or disgust over this confession of deep bigotry, but there has been none. Except for a few letters to the editor of Ha'aretz from American Jews, the interview has aroused little attention in the Jewish-American community: no denunciation, no shock, little or no discussion on any but the most progressive Jewish e-mail lists. You have to assume that, however awkward Morris's blunt language may be, he is speaking for a large segment of American Jews who say they oppose the occupation, say they hate Sharon, say they hate Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, but who do nothing about any of these things and who in the end would not grieve, either for the Palestinians or for the Jewish soul, if Israel wiped the Palestinians off the map.

One of Morris's fellow revisionist historians, Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, observed when Morris first came out as an Arabaphobe in leftist clothing a couple of years ago that Morris was wallowing in self-pity. Self-pity over the supposed victimization of Israel and total absorption in a world in which only Jewish interests matter rang out loud and clear in Morris's interview. Although he lectures about what he sees as Arab and Muslim moral failings, Morris thinks it impractical to demand morality of Jews. "I'm trying to be realistic," he said. "Preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts." This self-absorbed focus on Jews, Jewish interests, Jewish self-preservation is characteristic of a substantial subset of American Jews who I have to assume secretly do not disagree with Morris's world view.

Take Valerie. Valerie is an actual person (although not her actual name); she is also the perfect representation of a large number of American Jews who seem to approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from an identical script: they are at pains to tell you they don't like Ariel Sharon, have "always" opposed the occupation, and support two states in Palestine-Israel, but if anyone else ventures to describe what the occupation is really like on the ground in Palestine or what Palestinians endure at the hands of Israel’s occupation administrators, they react with bristling hostility and respond that they cannot "hear" such Israel-bashing. Jews are suffering in Israel, they tell you, and that is what takes precedence.

It is obviously politically dangerous to talk about any group of Jews who seem to think or act alike. One is immediately attacked for labeling all Jews as identical, for stereotyping, and of course the notion that one is anti-Semitic always hangs over the discussion, either explicitly or implicitly. These days it is almost impossible even to discuss "Israel" and its actions and policies without being criticized for generalizing and failing to take account of those Israelis and American Jews who oppose the Israeli government's policies. I want to make it clear that I am very well aware that Jews come in all varieties -- all political inclinations, all degrees of dedication to Israel, all degrees of religiosity and of ethnic self-identification. I am not by any means declaring that all Jews are like Valerie, or like Benny Morris, simply that Valerie represents a line of thinking about Israel that I have found quite common among many American Jews. [...]

Although they call for balanced presentations, condemning Palestinian terrorism is not enough for them; they appear to appreciate only speakers who will also express their love for Israel and their deep understanding for Israel as victim. One of Valerie's colleagues in the local Tikkun leadership, a thoughtful man named Daniel who has been agonizing for the last two years over how to call Israel to some account for its occupation policies and actions without seeming to criticize too harshly (after having been totally uninterested in Israel’s oppressive rule for the previous 30-plus years of the occupation), wrote in a recent e-mail circulated to the group, "What I have missed of late in Tikkun is the love" -- which he specified as love of Judaism, love of Israel, criticism of Israel only from a perspective within Judaism. "Who among us loves us [i.e., Jews] enough to say what needs to be said with a heart that will open rather than close ours?" he wondered rhetorically. His answer: "Only the prophetic call working from within Judaism itself, only Jews themselves doing the hard work of returning to themselves." [...]

Although I had naively believed that my logic would convince Daniel, he was not satisfied. I heard from a friend that he felt he still could not "hear" me. He later told me that he wanted to continue the dialogue but was just too busy. I refrained from observing that this had been the problem all along: supporters of Israel had always been just too busy, or just too disinterested, or just too much concerned with Jewish pain to care about Palestinians, to recognize Palestinians as a people with a stake in Palestine and a stake in independence. Daniel's response told me a great deal about him, primarily that he was not so much interested in hearing expressions of empathy for Jewish pain as he was in simply not hearing any criticism of Israel.

Two years later, Daniel is still at the same point. Although he thinks he is open-minded, he still writes long messages to the Tikkun group about the need to speak only from a perspective of a love for Jews. He seems to have an excuse for every inconvenient reality. When at a meeting last year Uri Avnery's name was raised as a credible Israeli voice standing in moral judgment over Israel's occupation, Daniel demurred. He had heard something or other about Avnery's supposedly shady past; he did not know the details, of course. [...]

Sometimes I think these people all went to the same debate school. Almost universally, they engage in the same tactics of argumentation: when confronted with facts, blithely deny them; when faced with reality, deny it or minimize it or create an elaborate excuse for it, and then turn on the interlocutor as an Israel-hater or a Jew-hater. Or sometimes they deny it and use reassurance to undermine the interlocutor's point: everything will soon work out; many of us have always opposed the occupation; the Jewish people are intrinsically just and humane, never deviate seriously from Jewish values, and in the end will correct the unfortunate hiccup that Sharon represents in the practice of those deeply imbedded values; Jewish suffering has attuned Jews to the universal attributes of justice; and so on. [...]

Sometimes it is difficult to get over the frustration. I want to demand of these people, where were you in the 34 years of occupation before the intifada broke out and you suddenly became interested? Or in the years of occupation before terrorism hit U.S. shores and you suddenly had to think about why people have such deep grievances against the U.S.? To the rabbi: if you have really been a member of Peace Now for 20 years, what were you doing in those years, and where were you for the decade of the occupation before Peace Now even came into existence, and what about the decades before that when no one, no one, cared about the grievances of Palestinians dispossessed for Israel's benefit? If you have truly "always" been opposed to the occupation, what have you done to end it? What have any of these people done; where were they when Israel, pretending to be negotiating a final peace agreement throughout the 1990s, well before the intifada erupted, was proceeding with the settlement expansion, the roadblocks, the checkpoints, the highway construction, the land confiscation, the settler increases, the apartheid that were the principal spark for the intifada? Or, I want to ask them, did your silence and your revulsion at criticizing Israel because it is Jewish simply help to perpetuate and consolidate occupation and injustice? [...]

Quraya: I will meet Sharon

Sunday 08 February 2004, 16:15 Makka Time, 13:15 GMT

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya has said he plans to hold his first ever meeting with Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon by the end of the month.

The PM told journalists after talks with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak on Sunday that he was certain "there will be a meeting … before the end of February."

Time to negotiate

Cairo says the Palestinians and the Israelis must sit at the same table and hammer out their differences. Nevine Khalil reports

Egypt dispatched two top envoys to the West Bank and Israel last week to speak with the Palestinians and Israelis. By late in the week, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher had briefed President Hosni Mubarak on their findings. His advise for both sides: "Don't waste time. Go to the negotiating table; there's no other way."

Hell walking on earth

Under the world's clouded gaze the State of Israel is ethnically cleansing the citizens of Rafah. Not a single excuse remains for inaction, writes Mustafa Barghouti

The disastrous cycle of violence gripping Israel and Palestine receives plentiful news coverage. Largely unreported however, are the more insidious aspects of the conflict. Israel has committed a litany of atrocities during its occupation of Palestine, but the crimes visited daily upon the innocent civilians of Rafah are among the most heinous. Even in the wider context of the occupation as a whole, Rafah's situation is particularly tragic, and the conditions imposed on its citizens increasingly desperate. There can be no doubt that Israeli policy in Rafah amounts to a process of ethnic cleansing, and, as has been so often the case throughout history, a humanitarian catastrophe is being allowed to continue unimpeded. The world sits idly by.

The most populous district of one of the most overcrowded regions on earth, the people of Rafah continue to find the land beneath them dwindling as repeated Israeli incursions systematically rob them of their homes, livelihood and dignity.

Formally one complete city, Rafah was divided in two following the Camp David settlement in 1978, with one half now part of Egypt. Since then, Israeli settlements have been established along the coast, cutting further into the already divided city. Today, the Palestinian half of Rafah is a disparate collection of squalid camps, hemmed in by a ring of steel, its infrastructure effectively destroyed and its people destitute. Unemployment in the area stands at over 80 per cent. Israel has conspicuously targeted the city's infrastructure leaving sanitation in the camps in a deplorable condition.

On the fringes of the city, one row of houses after another has been erased, Israeli destruction moving at a pace that the crippled local infrastructure cannot hope to counter. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has helped rebuild 200 houses in Rafah, and the Palestinian Ministry of Housing has managed 34. But these figures pale in comparison to the 1,643 buildings demolished and 16,000 Palestinians left homeless by the Israelis.

Last week, Israeli occupying troops went on yet another destructive rampage on the edge of the city, demolishing 31 Palestinian houses and wounding 38 local workers in the process. This one raid alone has left over 400 people homeless. A neighbourhood mosque was also razed in the invasion, another clear symbol of the casual disregard in which the Palestinians are held.

As well as the demolition of property, the Israeli military grip on Rafah has also been steadily tightened to disastrous effect. Due to its position on the border with Egypt, Rafah is of vital strategic importance to the Gaza Strip's impoverished economy. As such it has, in the egregious logic of the Israeli government, been a natural target for Israel's flagrant intention to crush any semblance of economic self-government in the occupied territories. Local workers seeking access to their jobs in Egypt are repeatedly denied passage at the border, or refused re-entry to the city in the evenings. Likewise, access to other towns and cities in Gaza is frequently restricted, disrupting the local economy as much as possible.

With the available farmland rapidly disappearing, local produce is more and more scarce, with Palestinians increasingly forced to rely on Israeli imports. Meanwhile, the poverty rate in Rafah, established by the World Bank to include those living on less than $2 a day, stands at 75 per cent.

As usual, the Israeli army's specious justification to the international community for the systematic degradation of Rafah has been the ongoing search for tunnels used by militants and smugglers extending from the city across the Egyptian border. The fact that Israel possesses ample equipment to discover and unearth these tunnels without resorting to widespread destruction and violence is conveniently ignored.

As the citizens of Rafah are crammed into a smaller and smaller portion of land, stripped of their homes, and enslaved in grinding poverty, the fallacy of Israel's stated objectives is clear. The incursions into Rafah, as elsewhere in the occupied territories, are merely an ongoing land-grab masquerading as a justifiable security operation. New ground for settlement expansion is being prepared and Israeli control of the border is tightened. At some points in Rafah, the incursions have cut up to 150 metres into Palestinian-owned territory, widening the buffer zone along the border at no cost to Israel, but to disastrous effect for the destitute local population.

The deaths in Rafah last year of international peace activists Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, as well as the BBC cameraman James Miller, have caused ripples of concern across the international community and raised the media profile of the situation in Rafah and the occupied territories as a whole. Nonetheless, it remains a sad indictment of attitudes abroad that Sharon's government has only been called to account when a foreign worker suffers the same tragic fate as the thousands of innocent Palestinians killed in the last three years. Tom Hurndall's family has had the grace and dignity to acknowledge this, even at a time of unbearable grief.

The Israeli actions in Rafah are a crime; a reign of terror on innocent civilians. The world has looked on too many times when such crimes have occurred in the past, reacting only when it was too late. Now it runs the risk of not reacting at all as the Sharon administration, already steeped in blood, plunges the civilians of Rafah into further carnage. Alert to the growing "demographic threat" posed by an increasing Palestinian population, the ethnic cleansing has already begun. Unsatisfied with reducing the city to terrified penury, Rafah it appears is to be steadily eliminated. The world must respond.

Mass resignations hit Fatah movement

Sunday 08 February 2004, 9:40 Makka Time, 6:40 GMT

About 300 members of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement have resigned, protesting against lack of reforms within the organisation.

The signatories, in a message to Arafat and the Fatah Central Committee, condemned the "dramatic situation" within the movement which had failed to respond to calls for reforms.

[...] The turmoil in Fatah coincided with more violence in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian late on Saturday.

[...] The latest death brought to 3741 the number of people killed since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada or uprising in September 2000. It included 2798 Palestinians and 878 Israelis.

Comment: This is a war of attrition. The Israelis keep going at it, day after day, killing Palestinians, destroying their homes, uprooting their olive groves. By and large it is done one small bite at a time. But one small bite day after day, year after year, is enough to finish the largest meal given enough time. This is what the Israeli government is doing.

Ayoon wa Azan (Comments)

Jihad Al Khazen Al-Hayat 2004/02/7

Sharon and Netanyahu are both racists. No peace is possible peace with either of them. However, I think that President Bush would embrace Ariel Sharon when he visits him, forgetting he is a murderer and accused of corruption. I will add nothing more other than it would be humiliating for Sharon's victims, if he falls due to an ordinary bribe, and not due to his crimes of killing women and children throughout his stinking life.

Sharon’s Bet

Abdulwahab Badrakhan Al-Hayat 2004/02/7

This year seems already lost for the Middle East. It is a waiting year, and the Arabs do not know how to wait, because they do not prepare for such circumstances. Israel has ready alternatives, and always has the ability to produce them. That is why it might be very concerned about George W. Bush's reelection. If he lost, his successor will find himself invited and obliged to deal with Israel, the only strategic "ally" in the region. This "alliance" is of the constants of American policy in the Middle East. As for Arabs, nothing but waiting. After the waiting, there are no surprises, but more of the same. The Arabs are betting on a "historical change" in American diplomacy. Israel does not bet on illusions but it participates in policy and decision-making.

The year is lost because the U.S. needs time to digest the repercussions of the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Hence, the Palestinian file is excluded and closed, or more precisely, it is left in Ariel Sharon's hands. In light of the American absence and inaction, and without any restrictions, it is possible to imagine the havoc that Sharon could wreak. It is enough that he practically achieved most of the goals that he set in the last three years: forbidding Washington from dealing with the Palestinian Authority, placing the Palestinian cause in the terrorism file, frustrating any plan or initiative in which Israel might be obliged to change its plans, blocking any European, or even Arab, effort without any willingness to build any dual cooperation with the Palestinians to solve a dilemma, which is also dual, and both parties are suffering from its obstruction. The difference being that Israel kept the freedom of movement, even if towards a purely damaging direction.

More Dead Top Microbiologist Scientists

Patricia Doyle, PhD

Dr. Mike Patrick Kiley, Ebola, Mad Cow Expert, top of the line world class, dies of massive heart attack.

Dr. Robert Shope, Virus Expert Who Warned Of Epidemics dies in the same week.

Coincidently, both Dr. Shope and Dr. Kiley were working on the lab upgrade to BSL 4 at the UTMB Galvaston lab for Homeland Security. The lab would have to be secure to house some of the deadliest pathogens of tropical and emerging infectious disease as well as bioweaponized ones.

I have also noted a commonality of most of the now, 44 scientists who met their demise since 9/11/01 and that is all were expert in emerging infectious diseases especially Ebola, Mad Cow, HIV. Dr. Shope had accumulated his own collection of virus samples gathered from all over the world. [...]

Strain of bird flu outbreak in Delaware

Sunday, 8 February, 2004

Japan and South Korea have suspended imports of US chicken as details of an outbreak of bird flu in the state of Delaware are investigated.
The US authorities have confirmed the outbreak but say it is not the same strain of flu which has swept through Asia and cannot be passed to humans.

Japan and South Korea saw outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 avian flu in December but so far have seen no human victims.

This variant has killed 18 people, mostly Vietnamese, in the region.

Comment: The current bird flu, H5N1, is lethal to humans, but not as yet transmissible from human to human. The only way a human can get the virus is from direct contact with an infected bird. For the virus to be transmissible between humans it would require that it mutate, possibly from coming into contact (within a human body) with normal human flu of the H5 type. The human flu vaccine is essentially a small dose of the actual flu virus. This year's vaccine was administered to millions throughout the world. Governments are now manufacturing a bird flu vaccine, that will contain a dose of the bird flu in a non lethal form...

Flashback: UK 'developing bird flu vaccine'

Friday, 30 January, 2004

A UK laboratory is one of just three in the world working to develop a vaccine which would combat the spread of bird flu.
Researchers at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control are using genetic technology to create the vaccine.

It would be essential if the virus began to spread between people.

However, so far, avian flu has only been passed from birds to humans through close contact.

Our main concern is that it will acquire the ability to spread widely

Dr Alan Hay, World Health Organization
Researchers are "building" a vaccine by combining avian and human flu genes. They first take a cell from the bird flu virus and then alter its genes to make it safe.

Genetic material is then taken from a human flu virus. The resulting man-made combined virus should then provide the basis for a vaccine.

Researchers hope to reach this stage in around two months' time.

Flashback: Was 1918 epidemic related to bird flu?

Virus behind deadly outbreak appears to be avian strain

Feb. 05, 2004 WASHINGTON - The 1918 flu virus, which killed 20 million people around the world, was probably so deadly because of a unique bird-like protein, U.S. and British scientists reported Thursday.

Like a current outbreak of bird flu in east Asia, the 1918 influenza appears to have jumped from birds to people with little change, they wrote in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

But unlike the 1918 flu, the current bird flu, which has killed 16 people, so far has not developed the mutation that allowed influenza to decimate human populations 80 years ago. [...]

Influenza viruses are highly unstable and have the ability to mutate rapidly, potentially jumping from one animal species to another. Scientists fear the bird flu virus could evolve into a form that is easily spread between people, resulting in an extremely contagious and lethal disease. This could happen if someone already infected with the human flu virus catches the bird flu. The two viruses could recombine inside the victim’s body, producing a hybrid that could readily spread from person to person.

The resulting virus likely would be something humans have never been exposed to before. With no immune defenses, the infection could cause devastating illness, such as occurred in the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 40 million to 50 million worldwide.

If the virus mutates and combines with a human influenza virus, it could be spread through person-to-person transmission in the same way the ordinary human flu virus is spread. [...]

Virus dug up from past

Skehel’s team and another led by Ian Wilson at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., looked at bits of the virus extracted from the bodies of victims, some buried in Alaska permafrost and others saved in laboratory jars.

They looked specifically at a part of the virus called hemagglutinin, which is a protein the virus uses to infect cells. Each strain of virus has a unique hemagglutinin structure, and scientists believe small mutations of the protein are what allows the virus to infect new species. [...]

Anyone But Bush

Walid Choucair Al-Hayat 2004/02/6

What if the scenario that "saves" Bush from collapsing became a fact: 1- putting a schedule to withdraw from Iraq, which starts in the summer with the help of NATO and a role for the UN. 2- Increasing the taxes again on the rich to win back a part of the poor public, whose grudge on the administration increased because it made them equal to the rich in decreasing these taxes. 3- "Fixing" the finding of traces of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq… etc

Only the Palestinian cause is not in the considerations of any coming scenario related to the coming American presidency, except from the angle of guaranteeing Ariel Sharon's help for Bush to beat his enemies. The Democrats barely mention it.

As long as Bush's popularity decline brought him back to what looks like equality with the Democrats, this means that all the possibilities will remain open. Arab rulers have no choice but a little steadfastness for a minimal protection for the Palestinians.

UN Tries to Resolve Election Impasse in Iraq

By Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff
Sat Feb 7,11:32 AM ET

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations electoral experts went to Baghdad on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to resolve an impasse on how Iraq can end the U.S.-led occupation this summer.

Their arrival, announced by the United Nations in New York, marks a political re-engagement of the world body in Iraq after withdrawing international staff after the devastating bombing at its Baghdad headquarters last summer that killed 22 people.

"I hope the work of this team will help resolve the impasse over the transitional political process leading to the establishment of a provisional government for Iraq," U.N. Annan said in a statement on Saturday. [...]

Explosion Rocks Iraq Town Near Baghdad

Sun Feb 8, 2:35 AM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An explosion rocked a central Iraqi town on Sunday, and witnesses said there were casualties.

The explosion occurred outside a police station in Suwayrah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, the witnesses said. They said there were some casualties but this could not be independently confirmed. [...]

Japanese troops enter Iraq

By Haitham Haddadin and Michael Georgy
Sunday February 8, 08:05 AM

IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER (Reuters) - The first troops of a main contingent of Japanese forces have entered Iraq from Kuwait in Japan's most controversial and risky deployment since World War Two.

Some 80 members of the Ground Self-Defence Force crossed the border into southern Iraq early on Sunday morning in a convoy of trucks and armoured vehicles emblazoned with Japanese flags. [...]

The deployment is expected to involve up to 1,000 army, air force and navy personnel in Iraq and nearby countries. It could have serious political consequences for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi if there are casualties.

Japanese troops have not fired a shot in combat since 1945 and the Iraq mission has been criticised by some in Japan as a violation of the country's pacifist constitution. [...]

Bush: CIA Director Tenet's Job Is Secure

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
February 8, 2004

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Saturday that CIA Director George Tenet's job is not in jeopardy despite election-year questions about the accuracy of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

"I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet," Bush said in an Oval Office interview to be broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." May of 2003 at USC Berkley [...]

President Revises Rationale For War

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2004; Page A04

President Bush and Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the war in Iraq was justified because Saddam Hussein could have made weapons of mass destruction.

The new rationale offered by the president and vice president, significantly more modest than earlier statements about the deposed Iraqi president's capabilities, comes after government experts have said it is unlikely banned weapons will be found in Iraq and after Bush's naming Friday of a commission to examine faulty prewar intelligence.

"Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman," Bush said yesterday in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" that will be broadcast today. "He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum." [...]

Before the invasion of Iraq 11 months ago, Bush and Cheney both argued that Iraq was an urgent threat to the United States, stating with certainty that Iraq had chemical and biological arms and had rebuilt a nuclear weapons program. "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," Bush said in March 2003. [...]

Comment: Once again, they are "stating with certainty" - although this time, the statement is that Saddam at least had the capability to produce WMDs. And, once again, the American people are buying the lie.

Britain spied on UN allies over war vote

Security Council members 'illegally targeted' by GCHQ after plea from US security agency

Martin Bright and Peter Beaumont
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

Britain helped America to conduct a secret and potentially illegal spying operation at the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war, The Observer can reveal.

The operation, which targeted at least one permanent member of the UN Security Council, was almost certainly in breach of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations, which strictly outlaw espionage at the UN missions in New York.

Translators and analysts at the Government's top-secret surveillance centre GCHQ were ordered to co-operate with an American espionage 'surge' on Security Council delegations after a request from the US National Security Agency at the end of January 2003. This was designed to help smooth the way for a second UN resolution authorising war in Iraq.

The information was intended for US Secretary of State Colin Powell before his presentation on weapons of mass destruction to the Security Council on 5 February.

Sources close to the intelligence services have now confirmed that the request from the security agency was 'acted on' by the British authorities. It is also known that the operation caused significant disquiet in the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic.

An operation of this kind would almost certainly have been authorised by the director-general of GCHQ, David Pepper. But the revelation also raises serious questions for Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who has overall responsibility for GCHQ.

Details of the operation were first revealed in The Observer on the eve of war last year, after the leaking of a top-secret memo from the NSA requesting British help.

But until today it was not known whether British spy chiefs had agreed to participate.

Well, the fix, as they say, is in.

Joshua Micah Marshall
Talking Points Memo
February 06, 2004 -- 07:14 PM EDT

Here's the executive order the president just signed authorizing his commission which he "established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity."

The commission doesn't appear to have any subpoena power, only the right to "full and complete access to information relevant to its mission as described in section 2 of this order."

If I read this right -- and needless to say I'm no lawyer, notwithstanding that summer in grad school I wasted prepping for the LSAT -- what's 'relevant' is at the discretion of the department heads of the various executive branch agencies.

And if you read the "mission" as defined in the order it seems narrowly framed as looking at pre-war CIA analyses (actually the whole Intelligence Community) and how they stack up against what Kay's guys found on the ground after the war.

Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep's office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi's mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president's speechwriters -- that's all beyond their brief.

Tariq Ali speaks on the subjects of War, Empire, and Resistance (Real Player required)

Information Clearing House

May of 2003 at USC Berkley: Famed author and commentator Tariq Ali speaks on the subjects of War, Empire, and Resistance. Using models such as the Roman and British Empires to illustrate his argument Tariq Ali paints a vivid picture of the American Empire, as he sees it, and the NeoCon engine driving it forward.

He cautions us not to laugh too much at the NeoCons, or the simple mindedness of Bush, because as he points out, there is a very sincere method in their all too obvious madness. A riveting lecture punctuated with bursts of humor, this is a must see video.

A Boom Year for Corporate Crime
The 10 Worst Corporations of 2003

February 5, 2004

2003 was not a year of garden variety corporate wrongdoing. No, the sheer variety, reach and intricacy of corporate schemes, scandal and crimes was spellbinding. Not an easy year to pick the 10 worst companies, for sure.

But Multinational Monitor magazine cannot be deterred by such complications. And so, here follows, in alphabetical order, our list for Multinational Monitor of the 10 worst corporations of 2003.

Bayer: 2003 may be remembered as the year of the headache at Bayer. In May, the company agreed to plead guilty to a criminal count and pay more than $250 million to resolve allegations that it denied Medicaid discounts to which it was entitled. The company was beleaguered with litigation related to its anti-cholesterol drug Baycol. Bayer pulled the drug - which has been linked to a sometimes fatal muscle disorder -- from the market, but is facing thousands of suits from patients who allege they were harmed by the drug. In June, the New York Times reported on internal company memos which appear to show that the company continued to promote the drug even as its own analysis had revealed the dangers of the product. Bayer denies the allegations.

Boeing: In one of the grandest schemes of corporate welfare in recent memory, Boeing engineered a deal whereby the Pentagon would lease tanker planes -- 767s that refuel fighter planes in the air -- from Boeing. The pricetag of $27.6 billion was billions more than the cost of simply buying the planes. The deal may unravel, though, because the company in November fired for wrongdoing both the employee that negotiated the contract for Boeing (the company's chief financial officer), and the employee that negotiated the contract for the government. How could Boeing fire a Pentagon employee? Simple. She was no longer a Pentagon employee. Boeing had hired her shortly after the company clinched the deal.

Brighthouse: A new-agey advertising/consulting/ strategic advice company, Brighthouse's claim to infamy is its Neurostrategies Institute, which undertakes research to see how the brain responds to advertising campaigns. In a cutting-edge effort to extend and sharpen the commercial reach in ways never previously before possible, the institute is using MRIs to monitor activity in people's brains triggered by advertisements.

Clear Channel: The radio behemoth Clear Channel specializes in consuming or squashing locally owned radio stations, imposing a homogenized music play list on once interesting stations, and offering cultural support for U.S. imperial adventures. It has also compiled a record of "repeated law-breaking," according to our colleage Jim Donahue, violating the law -- including prohibitions on deceptive advertising and on broadcasting conversations without obtaining permission of the second party to the conversation -- on 36 separate occasions over the previous three years.

Diebold: A North Canton, Ohio-based company that is one of the largest U.S. voting machine manufacturers, and an aggressive peddler of its electronic voting machines, Diebold has managed to demonstrate that it fails any reasonable test of qualifications for involvement with the voting process. Its CEO has worked as a major fundraiser for President George Bush. Computer experts revealed serious flaws in its voting technology, and activists showed how careless it was with confidential information. And it threatened lawsuits against activists who published on the Internet documents from the company showing its failures.

Halliburton: Now the owner of the company which initially drafted plans for privatization of U.S. military functions -- plans drafted during the Bush I administration when current Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense -- Halliburton is pulling in billions in revenues for contract work -- providing logistical support ranging from oil to food -- in Iraq. Tens of millions, at least, appear to be overcharges. Some analysts say the charges for oil provision amount to "highway robbery."

HealthSouth: Fifteen of its top executives have pled guilty in connection with a multi-billion dollar scheme to defraud investors, the public and the U.S. government about the company's financial condition. The founder and CEO of the company that runs a network of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imagery and rehabilitative healthcare centers, Richard Scrushy, is fighting the charges. But thanks to the slick maneuvering of attorney Bob Bennett, it appears the company itself will get off scot free -- no indictments, no pleas, no fines, no probation.

Inamed: The California-based company sought Food and Drug Administration approval for silicone breast implants, even though it was not able to present long-term safety data -- the very thing that led the FDA to restrict sales of silicone implants a decade ago. In light of what remains unknown and what is known about the implants' effects -- including painful breast hardening which can lead to deformity, and very high rupture rates -- the FDA in January 2004 denied Inamed's application for marketing approval.

Merrill Lynch: This company keeps messing up. Fresh off of a $100 million fine levied because analysts were recommending stocks that they trashed in private e-mails, the company saw three former execs indicted for shady dealings with Enron. The company itself managed to escape with something less than a slap on the wrist -- no prosecution in exchange for "oversight."

Safeway: One of the largest U.S. grocery chains, Safeway is leading the charge to demand givebacks from striking and locked out grocery workers in Southern California. Along with Albertsons and Ralphs (Kroger's), Safeway's Vons and Pavilion stores are asking employees to start paying for a major chunk of their health insurance. Under the company's proposals, workers and their families will lose $4,000 to $6,000 a year in health insurance benefits.

Chechens disown Moscow bomb

Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

Nationalist politicians expressed their anger over the attack. Dmitry Rogozin, a pro-Putin MP, said there should be a state of emergency and that 'an ethnic criminal community that evidently supports the terrorists' should be tackled, while the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said: 'All people who look suspicious must be sent away from Moscow.'

President Vladimir Putin has blamed Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen separatist leader who has fought to regain a foothold in the war-torn republic since the second Chechen war in 2000, and vowed not to negotiate with terrorists.

Akhmad Zakayev, a spokesman for Maskhadov, yesterday denied Chechen responsibility in a statement from London, where he has been given asylum. He also condemned the bombing.

Rwanda struggles with street children

[...]Esperance, 11, has been on the streets since her parents were killed during the genocide. With her elder sister, Alphonsine, 16, she survived by begging. Like many girls on the street, Esperance was raped. She is now HIV positive.
Esperance and Alphonsine were among those caught by police in the recent round-ups. They were taken to the Gitagata transit centre outside Kigali.

"It was not a good life there, we were beaten and the food was not good," said Alphonsine.

Many of the children try to escape from the Gitagata centre, and return to the streets complaining of mistreatment.

[...] We are now coming up to the 10th aniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, a part of Africa many outside Africa had never heard of until about 800,000 people were massacred in a period of 100 days in 1994. The following article relates how some are ensuring the world never forgets.

The Guardians of Rwanda's dead

[...]A deep indentation on Emmanuel's forehead shows where the Hutu militia shot him. He survived by hiding under a pile of corpses.

A year later people in this area began to deny the genocide had happened. Emmanuel and others exhumed the bodies.

Most were reburied but 800 were left preserved in lime on public display.

"They killed my wife and children, my brothers and sisters. Then they started saying there was no genocide. The bodies we've left in these classrooms are the proof. The world needs to see this," he said.

[...] But people do forget. About 60 years ago, similar genocides were occuring in Europe and apart from the plight of some 6 million Jews, abandoned to their fate by Zionist zealots, the world seems to have forgotten that many many others suffered too.

The Sudetan German's forgotten fate

[...]It is arguable that the Sudeten Germans had some reason not to want to belong to a Czechoslovakia that, before the war, did not always treat them as equal citizens.

Be that as it may, the Sudeten Germans found themselves squeezed between the Nazis who were false friends, the Czechoslovaks who wreaked disproportionate vengeance, and the victorious Allies who simply washed their hands.

It may be too late to right the historic wrongs, but it is never too late to remember one of Europe's less honourable episodes.

New World Order required - Mbeki

[...]Speaking at the opening of Parliament — in his State of the Nation speech — the president said: "All major current international developments emphasise the importance of constructing a new world order that is more equitable and responsive to the needs of the poor of the world, who constitute the overwhelming majority of humanity."

Americans, Africans share Common Spirituality Rep. Royce Says

"This is one of the things we always notice when we travel to the continent," the chairman of the House Africa Subcommittee told the Washington File after attending the 52nd Annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington February 5. "And I think the recognition of the importance that God plays in our lives is a common bond between Africans and Americans."

After listening to the Watoto Children's Choir of Kampala, Uganda, President George Bush urged the attendees at the breakfast, as well as all Americans, "to recognize our dependence on God and pray with one voice for his blessings."

Niger: Legal Ban on Female Circumcision Widely Ignored

Niger's Minister for Social Development and Women's Affairs called on Friday for a government crackdown of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), widely known as female circumcision.

The practice was made illegal in this poor West African country three years ago, but it remains widespread and no-one has ever been prosecuted for performing the crude operation.

[...]FGM generally involves the removal of a woman's clitoris and parts of the external genitalia, to reduce the woman's sex drive. Many in Niger, including some women, see this as a good thing.

"In effect the removal of the clitoris, a very sensitive organ, reduces the sex drive of a woman and guarantees a woman is faithful in her marriage," explained Mariam Adamou, an old woman who also lives in Niamey.

American Fined in Brazil for Gesture

Sat Feb 7

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A second American paid a hefty fine for making an obscene gesture during fingerprinting procedures for U.S. citizens in Brazil, police said Saturday.

Douglas A. Skolnick will be allowed to leave the southeastern resort town of Foz do Iguacu with his tour group Sunday after paying $17,200 for raising his middle finger when he was fingerprinted and photographed, said federal police spokesman Marcos Koren.

The customs requirements were imposed in response to similar U.S. rules for citizens of Brazil and many other countries. The United States says its rules will help prevent terrorists from entering the country.

Skolnick, who arrived in Brazil on Friday, was taken before a judge early Saturday after being arrested and jailed for hours on the charge of showing contempt to authorities.

Skolnick, 55, of New Jersey, said he made the gesture as a joke, agreed to pay the fine and told the judge he was sorry, Koren said. Skolnick's hometown was not immediately known.

Skolnick "said he knew what happened with the pilot but said he had no intention of insulting the Brazilian (news - web sites) authorities or the Brazilian people, but we don't think that's true," Koren said.

Globo TV aired footage Saturday showing Skolnick entering a jail cell and telling Brazilian journalists, "I'm an American citizen. I'm not a monkey."

Comment: One has to feel sorry for Americans that have fallen prey to the arrogant jingoism that forms such an integral part of American culture and socialisation. Most are unaware that they are deliberately programmed in this way to accept and support the aggressive foreign policies of their successive governments. Of course, when it is suggested to Americans that they might be programmed in this way, most will simply reject the idea out of hand, which is also a natural part of the all-encompassing programming.

Two charged for offering to circumcise girls

Los Angeles - A Los Angeles couple accused of offering to circumcise young girls for $8 000 (about R60 000) were indicted on federal charges on Friday in what prosecutors say is the first US case of its kind.

Sri Lanka president dissolves Parliament, plunging island into crisis

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Sri Lanka's president dissolved Parliament on Saturday, paving the way for elections nearly four years ahead of schedule, a top presidential official said.

Report: 20 killed, 40 wounded in fighting between Afghan factions

07:59 AM EST Feb 08

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Rival armed factions continued to clash in northeastern Afghanistan on Saturday, a government official said, and a state television report said 20 people were killed.

The fighting broke out on Thursday evening near Orgo in Badakhshan province between forces loyal to the district chief and a local militia commander, the report said, without citing sources.

Deputy Interior Minister Hilalludin Hillal confirmed the fighting, but said the reported toll of 20 dead and 40 wounded was not correct. He did not say how many people died.

MoD forces Radio 4 to cancel 'Stakeknife' author interview

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

The BBC confirmed last night that it was pulling the plug on a Today programme interview with a former British Army intelligence officer over fears of a Ministry of Defence injunction.

The decision prevents another major row breaking out between the MoD and the Radio 4 programme following the criticism of the BBC in the Hutton Report. [...]

Ingrams, one of the Army's most infamous whistleblowers, has alleged the FRU and RUC Special Branch knew the Ulster Defence Association were about to assassinate the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 but did nothing to stop the murder.

China tightens net around online dissenters

30,000 web police are thought to be monitoring chatrooms and sites

'Betrayal' by literary bible

New York Times hits back as Manhattan's intellectual elite accuses paper's Book Review of dumbing down

Paul Harris in New York
Sunday February 8, 2004
The Observer

A classic literary spat has gripped the salons of Manhattan and cast a spotlight on the world of New York book publishing. At its heart is one of the most hallowed institutions in the world of books, the New York Times Book Review, which stands accused of dumbing down for the mass market.

To many of New York's literary elite, this is tantamount to betrayal. And the pencils of people of letters are rarely sharper than when they are stabbed into someone's back.

The argument began when Bill Keller, new executive editor of the NYT, was interviewed on an internet book website. Keller mused that the Book Review needed to be taken in a new direction. He wanted more non-fiction reviewed, fewer literary works and a closer look at 'potboilers', for the benefit of people choosing books at airports.

UFOs call town home


THE tiny town of Beveridge, north of Melbourne, is fast earning a reputation as Australia's UFO hot spot.

Since Whittlesea Council released a photograph purportedly showing a UFO, other locals have come forward claiming to have seen flying objects.

Kilmore resident Peter Christie said he was taking his daughter, Elise, to a friend's house about 10pm on Saturday, January 10, when he noticed something flying in the west.

"I saw this round thing in the sky with lights coming out of it," she said. "It was sort of moving. It wasn't going very fast or anything.

"It had big, round lights coming out of it, it was too wide to be a plane . . . and it was nothing like a helicopter." She said there were several lights beaming outwards from the side of the object, parallel to the ground.

"We both said, 'no, that's definitely not a plane'," she said, adding that the object was in view for several minutes.

"We were going over a hill and there was one stage when we couldn't see anything. Then it appeared again. I wasn't scared. I was a bit shocked."

Mr Christie, who was driving, managed a few short glances at the object but agreed it was definitely not a plane.

"We didn't know what it was . . . and then we heard the news the other day," he said.

Elise said several people had greeted her comments about the sighting with scepticism. So she stopped talking of it until Whittlesea Council's photograph, with a disc-shaped object in the sky, was widely publicised late last month.

The release of Whittlesea Council's UFO photo sparked much interest and the council's website recorded more than 37,000 hits over three days.

Council traffic engineer Roland Rozario, who took the photo, was interviewed reporters from across the globe and websites reprinted his photograph.

Freight train derails in rural Maryland

Town evacuated after phosphoric acid leak

On this day in 1885

The incident known as The Devil's Footprints incited panic and paranoia among the residents of Devon, England and received extensive newspaper coverage throughout England. For more information see The Devils Footprints by Michelle Desrosiers:

Imagine awakening one cold February morning and looking out upon the wintry horizon. As you view the heavy blanket of snow that has freshly fallen, you are startled to find strange hoof-shaped prints scattered across the countryside. [...]

The prints themselves were ‘U’ shaped and measured to be 4 inches long by 2 3⁄4 inches wide. They were also found to be 8 1⁄2 inches apart, made in-line with one another, indicating that a 2-legged creature created them. The tracks spanned a hundred mile course through the towns of Topsham, Lympstone, Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth.

These mysterious hoof-shaped prints were reported as being seen in various inaccessible places. They were found on rooftops, going up the sides of houses, in and out of barns, within gardens and courtyards enclosed by high walls and through solid walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side as if there were no barrier. There was even a report that a set of prints were found to have crossed a two mile span of the river Exe, continuing on the other side as if the creature had walked right over the water. [...]

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