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Thursday, March 04, 2004

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NEW ARTICLE: Is the World Coming to An End?
Not necessarily - but the future doesn't look bright!
- Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Picture of the Day

©2004 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Regular readers of the Signs page will be aware that, for quite some time now, we have been sounding the warning bells that all is not well or as it seems on the big blue marble. We did not come to this conclusion as a result of any specific information that we received, but rather by simply looking objectively at the global political, social and environmental scenes as they have developed over the past number of years. Often, we delve into history, since it serves very well to show that events currently taking place should not be taken in isolation. In fact, the current state of our planet appears to be the culmination of a series of connected events that go back hundreds or even thousands of years.

Our task here on the Signs page, and on the web site in general, is to attempt to put the pieces of this global and historical jigsaw puzzle together, in order that we and our readers might get a clearer view of the nature and reality of the world in which we live. With each new piece of the puzzle that we have found and put in place, the picture has become clearer, and the gravity of the picture that it presents has become undeniable.

Ideally then, there should be no need for us to "bang the drum" on a daily basis. In an ideal world, everyone would be conscious enough to see and accept the Signs that are so evident all around us. Yet it appears that this is not the case, and now is not the time for wishful thinking on our part.

People are asleep. The sleep is REAL. It is not the "sleep" which we associate with bed and nighttime. It is a waking sleep.

We are all aware of the experience of daydreaming. Think back to the times when you have daydreamed. Do you remember how "spaced out" you were, how distant the real world was, even if only for a moment? Do you remember how you only realised when you came to your senses just how far into a dream world you were? If you understand this, then understand also that the state of daydreaming is an excellent analogy for the state of waking sleep of which we speak, and which we all suffer from to diiffering degrees. Understand also that it is extremely difficult for a person immersed in such an illusory world to realise that they are in it.

To awaken, first there must be acceptance of the fact that we are asleep, that it is an inherent aspect of the human condition. This can be verified by simply looking at some of the most common personal issues in our lives. Have you ever suffered emotional pain as a result of a relationship? If so, undoubtedly this pain was a result of your wishful thinking about another. You were not seeing reality as it really was. You were in a state of waking sleep.

We must accept, then, the fact that we cannot trust ourselves to see that we are asleep. There will be an automatic rejection of the very idea that we could be fooling ourselves in this way, that we are not really in control of ourselves. We will resort to all sorts of theories and rationalizations to convince ourselves that we are still the "masters of our own ship."

This is the first "rock of belief" which we cling to, and which many perish upon before they even begin to awaken.

Objectivity then is essential, yet we cannot rely on ourselves to be fully objective. Others who have committed to a similar goal of awakening can help greatly in the process, they can provide the much needed objectivity that we are unable to provide for ourselves. Of course, we must be prudent in who we trust to provide us with this "mirror", but this trust can be achieved through careful observation of others, the very type of observation that they can later provide for us.

In collecting and producing the Signs page every day, we attempt to retrain ourselves to see reality as it is; this is our primary motivation. We publicise the results of our work on this page, and in doing so we honor the ideals of truth and freedom that we hold dear.

At this stage in our evolution, reading these Signs points to the stark reality that there is no scope for further wishing or hoping that "things will work out fine in the end". We may actually be living at the tail end of the possible evolution of our species in its current form. Does that sound "doomsdayish"? Well, what is wrong with doomsday? If the Big Bang happened, can the "Big crunch" not happen? Or for the religiously-minded, if god said "let there be light," can he not as easily say "Lets turn it out"? Would he tell us before hand? Perhaps. How would he do it? By way of "Signs" perhaps?

However, we are not "predicting the end of the world." The Signs, rather, suggest that the world will pass through a cataclysm and emerge on the other side greatly changed: billions dead, the great cities leveled, life as we know it will be over. Pockets of people may survive. Or perhaps only one hemisphere, or one continent will be affected. But with the integration of the world economy, with the emergence of the Global Village, even if only a part of the world were to suffer such a great destruction, it would affect us all.

Darwin tells us that we are little more than glorified monkeys, little more than members of the animal kingdom. At present many species of animals are facing extinction, many have in recent years become extinct. Do we really think we are so special? Can we not become "extinct" also? Could it not be argued that animals without the ability for independent self-reflection, and therefore consciousness, are actually LESS likely to become extinct since they do not possess the abilities to produce weapons capable of exterminating their entire species? Where does that leave us? At present we are facing any combination or all of the following:

Nuclear annihilation

Manmade viruses

Ethnic Specific Weapons

A perpetual worldwide "war on terror" that kills civilians and "terrorists" alike.

Social decline

A vast array of "natural" impending cataclysms brought to our attention by the Pentagon itself

And yet some still criticise us, insisting that we are overreacting - or even worse, they accuse us of being some sort of " cult", simply because, as a result of observing all the above, we suggest that all is not well and that the future of the human race seems to be rather tenuous!

The core point which we wish to make is that it appears that this is not a game, it is not a drill. The gravity of the situation is such that our very existence may be in peril. We state again that this conclusion is not drawn from any unique information that we are in possession of, but rather as a result of looking objectively at the world in which we live and at the actions and nature of the people that appear to be at the "helm".

It is time to wake up.

To network further in an open and honest environment on the issues pertaining to life and reality, inner and outer, and the perilous situation in which we find ourselves, you may sign up to yahoo and then subscribe to our discussion group, or post to our forum linked on the left bar of this page.

l'Affaire AZF

The story continues. More information is coming out today about the "terrorist" threat in France. Liberation and Le Figaro published articles today detailing the contacts between the group AZF and government officials. The group has been writing letters and making telephone contact from pay phones in and around Paris. The government has been responding via the Personal Ads in Liberation. An attempt to deliver the ransom failed on Monday when night fell before the police located the drop-off point. Since then, there has been no communication from the group. On Wednesday, the story broke in the press revealing details on the means of communication, and the authorities are upset that their one means of contact has been made public.

Other "facts" are emerging. The AZF claims to be a "lay brotherhood" with "political and ethical concerns." Right. What kind of ethics permit people to threaten to blow up the French train system causing the deaths of possibly thousands of people?

According to Le Monde, the group defines itself as a "pressure group of a terrorist character" and evokes their membership in a cult or a brotherhood.

According to Liberation, a source in the Ministry of the Interior says the group's letters to the government are an "incoherent mix of inflamed words" that denounce wholesale the economy, the education system, consumerism, the media, and politicians who are more preoccupied with themselves than the state. They claim they wish to put into place sociopolitical systems that favour the individual.

Sure. And the way to do this is through extortion and threat.

This smacks more and more of a counter-intelligence campaign. The problems raised by this group listed above are raised by many people in France, citizens who are upset with the changes occurring in their country. These are the main issues in any developed society: the economy, education, control of the media, etc. The AZF are now attempting to associate dissatisfaction with these issues with "terrorism" and with "cults," but these issues are the basis for any political discussion between different members of the body politic.

The demand for a ransom is also evidence that the "political discourse" is bogus. It sounds more like self-interest.

We think any real and lasting change must come from the ground up. It cannot be imposed from the top-down, nor by a small group capitalising upon the inflamed passions of the crowd to seize power and to impose their vision of the world upon others. Lasting change can only come through work on the self, through ridding oneself of the those characteristics that are negative in the society around us, that is, that are expressions of these characteristics within the members of that society.. Unfortunately, for some people, the years of patient and continual work to achieve this is too long to wait. They want to impose their vision of how the world should be right now. Any attempt such as this is bound to fail.

We think the two most likely options for this operation are the following: It may be a small group of crooks who, seeking to capitalise on the world-wide fear of "terrorism" and "terrorists", have no other interest than to line their pockets with the ransom money. The political-fraternal discourse is a cover to distract the authorities from the gang's rather more self-interested motives. The other option we think is possible is that this is an affair of counter-intelligence, carried out by a country or countries that do not have the interests of the French at heart. They are trying to associate cults with terrorism in the public's eye.

Cover of Le Nouvel Observateur
no. 2051, week of 26 February - 3 March, 2004.

We think that there are extremely dangerous cults in the world who focus on death. They not only focus on prophetic claims of the end of the world, but they are in a position to bring about the death and destruction of millions, if not billions, of people. The French newsmagazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, ran this cover on last week's edition. The title says: Evangelicals: The Cult that wants to conquer the world.

At the head of this cult stands George W. Bush. Bush has said that he gets advice from God, friendly and helpful advice such as orders to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. We wonder whether Bush's God has an office next to Rumsfeld's at the Pentagon.

This is a cult that believes their savior is going to return very soon, that they, themselves, will be saved, whisked off to safety before the bombs start to fall, and those left behind will face the Tribulations. They believe that by aiding in creating the conditions for their savior's return, that is, by bringing on Armageddon, the "End Times," they are doing "the Lord's work."

How sick is that?

Yet a man who fervently believes these fairy tales is at the head of the most powerful country in the world, a country that spends more on arms than the next twelve combined!

Ah, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

To understand what is happening on our planet, we need to understand the hyperdimensional character of our reality. It is science that can help us understand this reality, science married with work on the self, a joint raising of one's knowledge and one's being so that one has the understanding necessary to put into practice one's knowledge. The explanations that such scientific work deliver, such as the possibility that there are many different realities coexistent with our own, and many different dimensions, both above and below our own, may appear completely crazy, especially when slander campaigns and disinformation attempt to reduce this scientific understanding to the level of a tabloid by associating it with vulgar stories of "space brothers." When these slander campaigns are orchestrated by the same powers that buy into the Christian "End Times" scenario, one is forced to admit that things are completely upside down, reason has been thrown out, and we are facing a horrible mass hallucination that has taken in most of the people on the planet and threatens to destroy the world as we know it.

Why is it that scientific work attempting to explain the truth of our multidimensional universe is debunked and ridiculed while the entire monotheistic world-view is accepted by billions without question? Note that monotheism comes complete with miracles, prophecies, God parting the waters to set his people free, covenants thousands of years old used to justify genocide today, teachings that being a martyr for one's religion will bring you to the side of God, which depends upon BELIEF, and no means to verify any of it! It may have to do with the educational system, the media, consumerism, and our economic structures, but, hush, don't talk about it, because you can be accused of being a "terrorist."

It is also clear from following the news that Bush's "War on Terror" is the main motor creating "terror." This fact is not lost on the populations of Canada and Europe:

Canadians, Europeans say U.S. invasion of Iraq worsened terror threat: polls

08:17 AM EST Mar 04

WASHINGTON (AP) - A majority of people living in Canada and in five major European countries said they think the war in Iraq increased the threat of terrorism in the world, Associated Press polls found.

In the United States, people were evenly divided on whether the war has increased or decreased the terror threat. The AP polls were conducted by Ipsos, an international polling firm, in Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Spain and the United States.

While a majority in each of the countries polled, except the United States, said the terrorism threat is greater now, fewer than one in 10 in any of the European countries said the terror threat had been decreased by the war.

In Canada and France, just over one-half said it had been increased, whereas in Germany, three-quarters said the Iraq war has made the terror problem worse.

[...] The polls found people living in all the countries except the United States have an unfavourable view of the role President George W. Bush plays in world affairs. Only in the United States did a majority, 57 per cent, have a positive view of the role played by the U.S. president.

The logical thing to wonder after recognizing this is whether Bush and friends created the war on terror in order to create the more dangerous conditions that justify their growing repression. And might a "terrorist threat" in France help along those who wish to do the same thing there?

Israel, US 'main beneficiaries'

AFP – Tuesday March 3, 2004

The head of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hizbollah said Israel and the United States were the main beneficiaries of the deadly attacks in Iraq and pointed to the al-Qaeda terror network as their author.

"Israel and the United States are the principal beneficiaries of the attack that killed dozens of people in Baghdad and Karbala," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said at a ceremony in southern Beirut marking the Ashura holy day of mourning.

"The objective is to sow discord among Muslims, between Sunnis and Shi'ites," a visibly shaken Sheik Nasrallah told a crowd of more than 100,000.

"Israel, which wants to destroy Iraq, has provided a lot of money and agents and formed sabotage networks in Iraq," he alleged.

"The American administration wants to dominate Iraq and pillage its oil and other resources."

Sheik Nasrallah also speculated about the political nature and program of the Iraqi "resistance" which, he said, "kills more Iraqis than Americans".

He indirectly accused the al-Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden of attacking Iraqi civilians.

"Groups exist which act under the name of Islam, who live in the Middle Ages, deprived of all reason and who spill the blood of Muslims. That is the big danger," he said.

A leading Lebanese Shi'ite cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, warned another gathering in southern Beirut against a US plan to create divisions in Iraq.

"The United States is working to provoke major hostilities on the Iraqi scene in a bid to prolong its occupation," he said.

All This Talk of Civil War, Now This

Robert Fisk – The Independent March 3, 2004

Odd, isn't it? There never has been a civil war in Iraq. I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq.

Al-Qa'ida has never uttered a threat against Shias - even though al-Qa'ida is a Sunni-only organisation. Yet for weeks, the American occupation authorities have been warning us about civil war, have even produced a letter said to have been written by an al-Qa'ida operative, advocating a Sunni-Shia conflict. Normally sane journalists have enthusiastically taken up this theme. Civil war.

Somehow I don't believe it. No, I don't believe the Americans were behind yesterday's carnage despite the screams of accusation by the Iraqi survivors yesterday. But I do worry about the Iraqi exile groups who think that their own actions might produce what the Americans want: a fear of civil war so intense that Iraqis will go along with any plan the United States produces for Mesopotamia.

I think of the French OAS in Algeria in 1962, setting off bombs among France's Muslim Algerian community. I recall the desperate efforts of the French authorities to set Algerian Muslim against Algerian Muslim which led to half a million dead souls.

And I'm afraid I also think of Ireland and the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, which, as the years go by, appear to have an ever closer link, via Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries, to elements of British military security.

But the bombs in Karbala and Baghdad were clearly co-ordinated. The same brain worked behind them. Was it a Sunni brain? When the occupation authorities' spokesman suggested yesterday that it was the work of al-Qa'ida, he must have known what he was saying: that al-Qa'ida is a Sunni movement, that the victims were Shias.

It's not that I believe al-Qa'ida incapable of such a bloodbath. But I ask myself why the Americans are rubbing this Sunni-Shia thing so hard. Let's turn the glass round the other way. If a violent Sunni movement wished to evict the Americans from Iraq - and there is indeed a resistance movement fighting very cruelly to do just that - why would it want to turn the Shia population of Iraq, 60 per cent of Iraqis, against them? The last thing such a resistance would want is to have the majority of Iraqis against it.

So what about al-Qa'ida? Repeatedly, the Americans have told us that the suicide bombers were "foreigners". And so they may be. But can we have some identities, nationalities? The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has talked of the hundreds of "foreign" fighters crossing Saudi Arabia's "porous" borders.

The US press have dutifully repeated this. The Iraqi police keep announcing that they have found the bombers' passports, so can we have the numbers?

We are entering a dark and sinister period of Iraqi history. But an occupation authority which should regard civil war as the last prospect it ever wants to contemplate, keeps shouting "civil war" in our ears and I worry about that. Especially when the bombs make it real.

German court overturns world's first Sept 11 verdict

Thu Mar 4, 6:16 AM ET

KARLSRUHE, Germany (AFP) - A German appeals court threw out the conviction of the only man found guilty anywhere in the world over the September 11 attacks and ordered a new trial.

The federal appeals court in Karlsruhe said Thursday that the evidence against Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan student, was not sufficient for conviction and pointed to the refusal of US authorities to release key witness testimony.

The ruling deals another stinging blow to German federal prosecutors, just weeks after a fellow suspect was acquitted on similar charges.

"The fight against terrorism cannot be a wild, unjust war," presiding judge Klaus Tolksdorf said.

"A conflict between the security interests of the executive and the rights to defence of the accused cannot be resolved to the disadvantage of the accused."

While accepting that Motassadeq remained a "deeply suspicious" character, Tolksdorf said "he cannot be judged based on his radical fundamentalist views or his shocking statements.

"A suspect can only be convicted on the standards that apply in a criminal case." [...]

In their appeal, his lawyers argued that his defence had been hindered by the repeated refusal of US justice authorities to release testimony from Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected senior Al-Qaeda operative now in US custody, on the grounds of national security interests. [...]

Furor over Bush's 9/11 ad

By MAGGIE HABERMAN in New York and THOMAS M. DeFRANK in Washington

'After 3,000 people were murdered on his watch, it seems to me that that takes an awful lot of audacity. Honestly, it's in poor taste.' - Kristen Breitweiser, with her husband's ring.

The Bush reelection campaign yesterday unveiled its first three campaign commercials showcasing Ground Zero images, angering some 9/11 families who accused President Bush of exploiting the tragedy for political advantage.

"It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people," said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin tower attacks. "It is unconscionable."

Gabrielle and several other family members said the injury was compounded by Bush's refusal to testify in open session before the 9/11 commission.

"I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty," said Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on doomed American Airlines Flight 11. "But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat." [...]

Alleged statement claims Al Zarqawi dead

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Jordanian extremist suspected of bloody suicide attacks in Iraq was killed some time ago in U.S. bombing and a letter outlining plans for fomenting sectarian war is a forgery, a statement allegedly from an insurgent group west of the capital said.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in the Sulaimaniyah mountains of northern Iraq "during the American bombing there," according to a statement circulated in Fallujah this week and signed by the "Leadership of the Allahu Akbar Mujahedeen."

There was no way to verify the authenticity of the statement, one of many leaflets put out by a variety of groups taking part in the anti-U.S. resistance.

The statement did not say when al-Zarqawi was supposedly killed, but U.S. jets bombed strongholds of the extremist Ansar al-Islam in the north last April as Saddam Hussein's regime was collapsing.

It said al-Zarqawi was unable to escape the bombing because of his artificial leg. [...]

Troops in Iraq get high-tech noisemaker to keep enemies away

Michael P. Regan – Associated Press March 3, 2004

NEW YORK — U.S. soldiers in Iraq have new gear for dispersing hostile crowds and warding off potential enemy combatants. It blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam.

The equipment, called a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is a so-called "non-lethal weapon" developed after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships.

The devices have been used on some U.S. ships since last summer as part of a suite of protection devices.

Now, the Army and Marines have added this auditory barrage dispenser to their arms ensembles. Troops in Fallujah, a center of insurgency west of Baghdad, and other areas of central Iraq in particular often deal with crowds in which lethal foes intermingle with non-hostile civilians.

The developer of the LRAD, American Technology Corp. of San Diego, recently got a $1.1 million contract from the U.S. Marine Corps to buy the gadgets for units deployed to Iraq. The Army also sent LRADs to Iraq to test on vehicles.

Some of the Iraq-bound devices will be used by members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, both recently deployed to the western province of Al Anbar, a largely barren, predominantly Sunni Muslim area.

Though not officially part of the military's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, the 45-pound, dish-shaped device belongs to a developing arsenal of technologies intended not to kill but to deter.

Another such weapon, expected to be tested in the field soon, is the Active Denial System. It seeks to repel enemies with a painful energy beam.

Carl Gruenler, vice president of military and government operations for American Technology Corp., said LRADs are "in the beginnings of being used in Baghdad," though he said he lacked "initial feedback" on how they are working.

Dubbed "The Sound of Force Protection" in a company brochure, the devices can broadcast sound files containing warning messages. Or they can be used with electronic translating devices for what amounts to "narrowcasting."

If crowds or potential foes don't respond to the verbal messages, the sonic weapon, which measures 33 inches in diameter, can direct a high-pitched, piercing tone with a tight beam. Neither the LRAD's operators or others in the immediate area are affected.

The devices "place distance between the Marine and their threat, giving him/her more time to sort out a measured and appropriate response," Lt. Col. Susan Noel, force protection officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said in an ATC statement announcing the contract.

Gruenler compares the LRAD's shrill tone to that of smoke detectors, only much louder. It can be as loud as about 150 decibels; smoke detectors are in the 80 to 90 decibel range.

"Inside 100 yards, you definitely don't want to be there," said Gruenler, adding that the device is recommended for a range of 300 yards or less.

Hearing experts say sound that loud and of that high a frequency — about 2,100 to 3,100 hertz — could be dangerous if someone were exposed to it long enough.

"That's a sensitive region for developing hearing loss," said Richard Salvi, director of the Center for Hearing and Deafness at the University at Buffalo. "The longer the duration, the more serious it is."

Gruenler concedes that permanent hearing damage is possible if someone were exposed to the sound for lengthy periods.

But he said the high-pitched tone is intended to only be used for a few seconds at a time.

U.S. May Make Highest Level Visit to Libya Since 1972

By Arshad Mohammed
March 4, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns is considering traveling to Libya this month in what diplomats believe would be the highest-level U.S. visit in more than three decades, officials said on Wednesday.

As part of a rapprochement after Tripoli's shock Dec. 19 decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs, Burns told lawmakers on Tuesday he planned to meet Libyan officials this month but did not say when or where.

U.S. officials said Burns was weighing the visit to Libya as part of a broader Middle East trip in late March, a powerful gesture after years of enmity that is beginning to dissipate with Tripoli's decision to end efforts to build weapons of mass destruction and its admission of responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The visit could also signal further progress in dismantling U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Libya over the last quarter century that, among other things, have barred U.S. oil companies from working there for more than a decade. [...]


By Arianna Huffington

Mel Gibson’s screenwriting partner the Good Lord thought “Thou shall not kill” was important enough to qualify for his Top Ten list. If he’d had a little more room on those tablets, he might have added: “. . . and, while you’re at it, thou shall not grant immunity to those who help arm killers.”

Yet that is exactly what the Bush administration, which has so aggressively claimed the biblical high ground, tried to do this week — backing a deeply immoral new bill that would shield reckless gun dealers and gun makers from lawsuits, denying the victims of gun crimes their day in court.

Despite the opposition of many of America’s top police chiefs and mayors, the House passed its version of the legislation last year. The Senate was poised to do the same on Tuesday, until a pair of reasonable gun control amendments was added to the bill — at which point the measure’s original backers reversed course and killed the legislation. At least for now. The immunity bill is the NRA’s top priority — and those guys don’t give up very easily.

Disarmingly named the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” the staggeringly irresponsible bill should more accurately be called the “Get Away with Murder Act” since it would have protected even those dealers who have made a profitable habit of selling guns to people who kill.

Here’s a nasty little stat: Just 1 percent of gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes. These are dealers like Washington’s Bull’s Eye Shooting Supply, which supplied the assault rifle the D.C. snipers used to gun down their victims — as well as guns traced to 52 other crimes including homicides and kidnappings. But if this bill ever becomes law, the families of those murdered by Muhammad and Malvo would be denied the right to hold Bull’s Eye accountable in court.

Bush has violated another commandment by bearing false witness. Through the years, he has repeatedly expressed pro forma support for extending the 10-year-old ban on assault rifles (due to expire in September) and shutting down the gaping loophole that allows unlicensed gun dealers to sell their deadly weapons without background checks at gun shows.

But when gun control advocates in the Senate moved to add these measures to the Murder Inc. bill, the president made it clear where his loyalties really lie and tried to shoot down the added protections by letting it be known that he considered such amendments “unacceptable.” Despite this presidential warning shot, the Senate narrowly approved both amendments. Thanks, in great part, to the Brady campaign. That’s when the immunity-backers turned their weapons on themselves.

Now it’s hardly surprising that the president would say one thing and do another — it’s what he always does around campaign time. Who can forget 2000’s vows to protect the rain forest, eschew nation building, and be a uniter not a divider?

What is surprising is how the Bush administration has been willing to do the bidding of the gun lobby even when it’s meant sabotaging the president’s oft-professed top priority — homeland security.

Witness his attorney general’s astonishing refusal to allow FBI agents to scan the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to see if suspected terrorists have recently bought a firearm. How’s that for perverse priorities? John Ashcroft has absolutely no problem with the government snooping around in the private medical records of law-abiding women, but a G-man wanting to make sure suspected terrorists haven’t gotten their hands on a gun is somehow waging an unconstitutional assault on the Second Amendment.

I guess Ashcroft missed the al-Qaida training manual our soldiers found in Afghanistan, which included a chapter on how easy it is to stock up on a whole sleeper cell’s worth of weapons in the United States.

Apparently Osama and his murderous charges have been brushing up on their Lenin: Not only will capitalists sell you the rope with which to hang them, they will also set up a nice gun show to sell you the Uzis and TEC-9s with which to mow us down.

Bush continues to campaign like a moderate and govern like an extremist. If the Democratic nominee is smart, he’ll pull out the big guns and lay waste to Karl Rove’s attempts to present the president as our great protector. In truth, homicides and violent crimes are on the rise for the first time in nearly a decade. That’s right: Crime has gone up on George Bush’s watch.

I can hear the TV spot now: “Are you safer today than you were four years ago?” It’s an armor-piercing election-year issue, one that could score a bull’s-eye directly in W’s most vulnerable area.

Israeli Forces Raid Gaza Town, Kill Boy

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli forces raided the southern Gaza town of Rafah early Thursday, killing a 14-year-old boy, bulldozing houses and damaging the water and electricity networks, Palestinian officials said.

The Israeli army said it was searching for secret tunnels Palestinian militants use to smuggle weapons across the border with Egypt. Military sources said the soldiers were attacked by militants shooting rifles and throwing hand grenades, but had no reports of the soldiers returning fire.

Residents said there were some clashes in the town and reported fire from tanks and Israeli watchtowers. Hospital officials said six Palestinians were wounded. No soldiers were reported injured, the army said.

The raid followed an Israeli helicopter attack on a car driving through the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday afternoon that killed three Hamas militants in the second such strike in five days.

The stepped up Israeli operations came ahead of a proposed withdrawal from much of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the helicopter strike and Rafah raid.

"They say they want to leave Gaza, but before leaving they are increasing their massacres against our people," he said. "These actions are a part of sabotaging the peace process and continuing the brutal attacks on our people day and night."

Bystanders to the missile strike near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim tried to put out the fire raging throughout the car with sand and by beating the wreckage with jackets and scarves. One man, using a blanket, lifted a charred body out of the car and heaved it onto a stretcher.

The Israeli military said one of those killed, 24-year-old Tarad Jamal, was behind several roadside bombings and rocket attacks on Israelis. The other two were identified as Ibrahim Deri, 34, and Amar Hassan, 21.

On its Web site, Hamas indicated that the three were about to carry out an attack. "The three martyrs were on a holy mission when the Zionist U.S.-made helicopters fired two missiles toward their vehicle," the statement said.[...]

Jews find home again in Russia

More leave Israel for Moscow, spurred by economic opportunity and a decline of anti-Semitism.

By Fred Weir
The Christian Science Monitor

[...] Often with mixed motives and identity angst, some former Soviet Jews who rushed for the exit as the USSR crumbled are trickling back to Russia. About 50,000 have made the move in recent years, with numbers rising sharply during the Putin era.

Some cite disappointments with life in Israel, economic hardship, and the threat of terrorism since the second intifada began three years ago. [...]

Sharon faces new corruption scandal

Thursday 04 March 2004, 17:00 Makka Time, 14:00 GMT

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has denied allegations he acted improperly in negotiating the release of an Israeli spy with Lebanese Hizb Allah resistance fighters.

Sharon dismissed the Maariv newspaper claim on Thursday, that he had failed to disclose business ties dating to the 1970s with the father-in-law of Elhanan Tannenbaum - who was freed by the Lebanese resistance group on 29 January.

Various politicians have called for the right-wing leader, already under investigation in two corruption scandals, to resign or face an official inquiry.

Opposition parties requested a no-confidence vote in parliament, which is expected on Monday.

Volcano spews 6km ash plume

From correspondents in Brades, Montserrat
March 04, 2004

A MAJOR eruption at Montserrat's volcano sent a massive cloud of ash about 6000m into the sky today, but no injuries or damage were reported, officials said.

Pyroclastic flows went down the eastern flank of the Soufriere Hills volcano after the 3pm (6am AEDT) explosion, said Peter Dunkley, director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

A helicopter was sent around the volcano to gather information, scientists said.

The eruption came more than seven months after a major lava dome collapse July 12. No one was reported injured in the collapse, but volcanic ash settled on the ground up to 10 centimetres deep in places and left coatings of grit on surrounding Caribbean islands.

Residents shaken by early-morning earthquake

AN EARTHQUAKE rocked homes in Oldham in the early hours of Sunday morning [29/02/04].

Experts said the “significant” tremor, which struck at 5am, measuring 3.1 on the Richter scale, was the biggest in the region this year. Despite its size, only a handful of people reported it to the British Geological Survey, as it is believed that not many people felt it because it was so far underground - 12.4 kilometres down.

A seismologist from the Edinburgh-based BGS said: “This was quite significant because we get these between 10 and 15 times a year in the UK. If it was more shallow then I imagine we would have taken more calls.”

[...] Between October and November, 2002 Greater Manchester was struck by more than 100 earthquakes with the largest being recorded at 3.9 on the Richter scale. The phenomenon amazed experts who concluded that the sequence was an earthquake swarm.

Last month Leigh near Wigan was affected by a quake, which measured 1.6 on the scale.

75000 décès par catastrophes naturelles en 2003: catastrophes naturelles 2003 : 7 fois + de morts

Paris, 27/02/04.

Les catastrophes naturelles sont à l’origine d’un bilan humain particulièrement lourd en 2003, puisqu’elles ont fait plus de 75000 morts – dont 40000 dans le tremblement de terre iranien de décembre. Et cette tendance devrait se poursuivre, si l’on en croit la plus grosse société mondiale de réassurance, Munich Re.

Comment: According to this article in Le nouvel Observateur, there were 7 times the number of deaths due to natural catastrophes in 2003 than in 2002. The causes include the heat wave last summer and the tragic earthquake in Bam. The article suggests that global warming will bring about more of the same in the future.

Insurer warns of global warming catastrophe

By Thomas Atkins
Wednesday March 3, 11:40 PM

GENEVA (Reuters) - The world's second-largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, warned on Wednesday that the costs of natural disasters, aggravated by global warming, threatened to spiral out of control, forcing the human race into a catastrophe of its own making.

In a report revealing how climate change is rising on the corporate agenda, Swiss Re said the economic costs of such disasters threatened to double to $150 billion (82 billion pounds) a year in 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, or the equivalent of one World Trade Centre attack annually.

"There is a danger that human intervention will accelerate and intensify natural climate changes to such a point that it will become impossible to adapt our socio-economic systems in time," Swiss Re said in the report.

"The human race can lead itself into this climatic catastrophe -- or it can avert it."

The report comes as a growing number of policy experts warn that the environment is emerging as the security threat of the 21st century, eclipsing terrorism. [...]

Comment: The remainder of this article illustrates how global warming is becoming more and more accepted as a reality among the masses. Very few people, however, seem to be discussing the eventual result of a warmer planet: a new ice age. Even fewer are discussing recent reports related to meteors, asteroids, comets, and NEO's.

The Asteroid that Almost Hit

For a few hours on January 13, 2004, astronomers thought a 30-meter wide asteroid might hit the Earth. The asteroid AL00667 seemed to be on a direct course for the Northern Hemisphere, due to strike in less than two days.

A 30-meter asteroid is larger than a tennis court. An asteroid of this size would have broken up in the atmosphere, creating a one-megaton blast. If it exploded high enough, the asteroid probably wouldn't have caused any damage. The shock wave from the blast would have become a sonic boom by the time it reached the ground. But an explosion lower in the atmosphere could have caused considerable damage.

Astronomers who knew about the asteroid believed an impact was not likely, but they couldn't rule out the possibility, either. So they faced a dilemma - should they warn others about something that could end up passing us by?

President Bush was preparing to make a speech at NASA headquarters the next day. He planned to talk about sending a man back to the moon and then on to Mars, but news of an approaching asteroid may have caused him to make a very different kind of announcement.

The asteroid, which has since been renamed 2004 AS1, actually passed by at about 12 million kilometers away, or 32 times the Earth-moon distance. The asteroid also turned out to be 10 times larger than first thought (about 300 meters wide - or about the height of the Eiffel Tower).

Some recent news reports say that Clark Chapman, an astronomer with the Southwest Research Institute, was moments away from calling President Bush and warning him about the asteroid. Chapman, however, adamantly denies this.

"It is absurd to think that any of us in the loop would have called the White House," states Chapman. "Hell, we wouldn't even have gotten through. All I was thinking about was recommending to Don Yeomans, who is in charge of JPL's [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's] Near Earth Object Program office, that he inform people at NASA. It would have had to go through several layers of hierarchy before it got to anyone who would have been in a position to go higher than NASA. And Yeomans says that he wouldn't have acted on my advice, preferring to wait for further confirmation of the object."

The difference between the initial estimates and the final result highlights the difficulty of monitoring the skies for small Near Earth Objects (NEOs). For 2004 AS1, astronomers knew the asteroid could be either big and far away, or small and close by.

"It's rather like noticing something in the sky out of your car window that appears to be moving along with you," explains Alan Harris of the Space Science Institute. "It could be a bird close to your car flying along at close to the same speed, or it could be a plane in the distance that only seems to be pacing your car."

Over the next few weeks after January 13, the asteroid came even closer to Earth, but it still passed many times farther away than the moon. There are many asteroids that routinely pass much closer to the Earth, says Harris, and asteroids the size and distance of 2004 AS1 are "a dime a dozen." [...]

Although there are no current plans to establish a program to track the numerous small NEOs, Chapman says there have been proposals to do so. Such surveys would be able to track asteroids in the 150 to 500 meter range, and would find even smaller asteroids as well.

Russia to evacuate crew of sunken Arctic research station

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia will within a week evacuate the crew of a floating Arctic research station most of which sank after ice underneath it cracked.

None of the 12 researchers on Russia's North Pole-32 station were hurt when ice beneath it gave way late Wednesday night, sending most of its installations and supplies into the freezing waters, television and news agency reports said Thursday. [...]

Climate findings let fishermen off the hook

Overfishing isn't the only reason fish have disappeared.

4 March 2004

Overfishing is not the sole cause of dramatically declining fish stocks in the north Atlantic Ocean, or worldwide, said marine biologists at a Royal Society meeting last week in London. Environmental changes such as climate warming may be just as important, they said, urging governments to consider these factors when managing fisheries.

"Marine ecosystems, particularly in the northern Atlantic, are much more vulnerable to natural fluctuations than previously realized," says Michael Heath, a biologist at the Scottish Fisheries Research Services' Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, and UK chair of the international project Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC). [...]

"There is evidence for significant decadal-scale biological changes, which have major consequences for the abundance of natural resources," says Grégory Beaugrand, a marine biologist at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth. [...]

Ozone Depletion Three Times Worse Than Predicted

According to a new study, the shrinking of the ozone layer over the Arctic is much worse than previously believed. In Climate change set to poke holes in ozone , Nature tells us it is a side-effect of global warming, the polar stratospheric clouds absorbing more and more industrial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). [...]

If the upper reaches of the Arctic atmosphere get colder -- a predicted consequence of climate change -- then the rate of ozone depletion could be three times greater than currently forecast, according to Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam , Germany, and his co-workers. [...]

Earth observation

Cape Town - Senior government officials and scientists from more than 30 countries agreed at a meeting in Cape Town last week on the outline of an ambitious plan to link together thousands of earth observation facilities based on land, on sea and in space.

The hope is that this integrated system will eventually enable both rich and poor countries to improve their ability to monitor global warming and other environmental trends. This in turn should help improve the prediction of phenomena such as climate change and the expansion of deserts, as well as assisting countries to manage natural disasters such as storms and droughts.

But the meeting was also warned that developing countries will only benefit from such data-sharing if developed countries provide them with financial assistance to improve their capacity to make use of earth monitoring data, both in terms of human capital and infrastructure. And such data must be made available to developing countries at affordable rates.[...]

Tsunami alert creates wave of dry humor in Gypsum

Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Mountain Bureau

As the station's phone lines lit up with calls from concerned residents and deejays fumbled for emergency numbers, a Teletype message came across: "The civil authorities have issued a tsunami alert for Pitkin and Eagle counties."

The warning drew immediate skepticism high in the Rockies, more than 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean. [...]

As it turns out, it seems that someone at the county's communication center hit the wrong button during the weekly test and accidentally broadcast the intentionally fake emergency message, according to the center's manager, Paul Smith. [...]

He expressed some concern about creating a "Chicken Little" atmosphere with the false alarm and noted the serious responsibility of informing the public in case of a real emergency. [...]

Evidence Bubbles Over To Support Tabletop Nuclear Fusion Device

Science Daily

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers are reporting new evidence supporting their earlier discovery of an inexpensive "tabletop" device that uses sound waves to produce nuclear fusion reactions.

The researchers believe the new evidence shows that "sonofusion" generates nuclear reactions by creating tiny bubbles that implode with tremendous force. Nuclear fusion reactors have historically required large, multibillion-dollar machines, but sonofusion devices might be built for a fraction of that cost.

"What we are doing, in effect, is producing nuclear emissions in a simple desktop apparatus," said Rusi Taleyarkhan, the principal investigator and a professor of nuclear engineer at Purdue University. "That really is the magnitude of the discovery - the ability to use simple mechanical force for the first time in history to initiate conditions comparable to the interior of stars." [...]

Target Phasing Out 'Smart' Visa Cards

By Nicole Maestri

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Retailing giant Target Corp. is phasing out computer chips on its Target Visa cards due to limited shopper use, dealing a setback to proponents of "smart card" technology. [...]

Grocery store goes to fingerprint payments

Piggly Wiggly debuts feature, privacy expert slams new technology

March 4, 2004

The Piggly Wiggly grocery chain has announced it will begin offering a high-tech payment feature allowing customers in several stores to pay using their fingerprints.

With a touch of the finger to a light-sensitive pad, patrons will be able to pay for their groceries, provided they have an account in the store's system that can be debited, reported the Columbia, S.C., State. [...]

Have your thumb ready to ride the bus

By NORA KOCH, Times Staff Writer
Published February 28, 2004

The Pinellas school system is ready to approve a new technology that uses student fingerprints to keep track of who is riding school buses.

Beginning in the fall, the fingerprint system would identify students as they board and leave. The goal is to ensure they are getting on the right bus and getting off at the right stop.

School officials say the $2-million project will save money and dramatically improve safety for students, whose fingerprints will serve as authorization to board and disembark.

If the School Board approves the proposal March 9, Pinellas will become one of four Florida school districts in the process of implementing Global Positioning Systems with a student-tracking system.

"This is Management 101 in transportation. Now we will have good, factual information that we can use in a very timely manner to make our services as good as humanly possible," said Terry Palmer, the district's transportation director.

But some parents and national organizations are concerned about the implications of fingerprinting 45,000 bus riders, some as young as 5. [...]

Mexico lobbies for alien amnesty

By Jerry Seper
March 4, 2004

The Mexican government is lobbying U.S. lawmakers and civic leaders for amnesty or guest-worker status for millions of illegal aliens now in the United States, working through a coalition of U.S.-based immigration rights associations, Mexican-American organizations and grass-roots Hispanic groups.

This growing political alliance, which also seeks expanded education and health care benefits for Mexican nationals in this country, along with additional programs for labor, community development and access to services, is led by the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, also known as the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior.

Known by the Spanish acronym IME, the institute was created by presidential decree and reports to a counsel of Mexican government officials headed by President Vicente Fox as a branch of Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has called U.S. immigration reform a major priority, recommending policy changes that respect "the needs and rights" of Mexican nationals living and working in this country. [...]

Trade war between EU and US for 30 years

Thursday, March 04, 2004

From Mar. 1 the EU for the first time began levying additional punitive tariffs on imported US products with WTO authorization in a bid to force the United States to annul its Foreign Sales Corporation designed to subsidize American exports.

In line with the resolution passed by the EU Ministerial Council in December last year, from March this year the EU began levying an additional 5 percent tariff on more than 1600 kinds of imports from the United States. From now on, 1 percentage point will be added monthly to this punitive tax rate which will reach 17 percent by March 2005.

The EU estimated that this would generate an extra tariff of US$315 million for the EU this year. The figure would rise to US$666 million in 2005. A spokesperson for the EU indicated that the EU would stop its punitive measure once the United States repealed its Foreign Sales Corporation.

Lawsuits in 30-year disputes

Rows between the EU and the US over the Foreign Sales Corporation have a long history. In 1971, the US government enacted "Domestic Foreign Sales Corporation" in order to encourage exports and reduce trade deficits, under which US external sales companies were given the preference "permanent delayed payment" of 50 percent tax on their export profits. [...]

Irish PM casts doubt on fresh talks on EU constitution

March 4, 2004

DUBLIN (AFP) - Work on the European Union's first constitution is unlikely to resume after the next EU summit in Brussels later this month, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said.

"I don't think we will move to the situation of recommending an IGC (inter-governmental conference) unless we could make ... more ground than we are at the moment," said Ahern in Dublin. [...]

Ireland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, is to report on prospects for resuming work on an EU constitution when the leaders of the 25 current and future EU member states convene on March 25-26. [...]

International force patrols Haitian capital

US and French troops have staged a show of force in Haiti's capital following the deaths of at least three people in the town centre.

The deaths occurred when police tried to re-establish control in the La Saline slum, a bastion of pro-Aristide militias.

The incident comes less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Yvon Neptune declared a state of emergency in the country.

A close ally of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Neptune has remained in office and continues to condemn several illegal groups "fomenting terror in the capital".

The veiled reference was to the rebels patrolling Port-au-Prince after making a triumphant entrance into the capital after Aristide left the country on Sunday.

Although insurgents led by Guy Philippe had agreed to disarm, deadly gun battles between rebels, police and gangs loyal to ex-president Jean Bertrand Aristide continue. [...]

Haiti violence continues as inquiry sought

American and French forces have begun patrolling the streets in armoured vehicles in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in a bid to establish law and order.

It comes as Carribean nations call for a United Nations inquiry into president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure.

Residents of the capital continue to die in revenge attacks between rebels and militia loyal to the deposed president.

However rebel leader Guy Philippe has undertaken to disarm his men after getting what he said were security guarantees from the Americans.

"Just as we promised the Haitian people and the international community we are going to put down our weapons because the situation is over," he said.

"Right now there are international troops in Haiti which are guaranteeing the security of the Haitian people."

Meanwhile leaders of Caribbean nations have called for a United Nations inquiry into the circumstances of Mr Aristide's departure.

Mr Aristide has accused the United States of forcing him to leave and talked of being the victim of a coup d'etat.[...]

Aristide finds a temporary home in Africa

Bangui - Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has traded in his presidential honours for temporary asylum in another coup-ridden, impoverished nation. For days, he hasn't ventured outside a heavily guarded compound, officials say.

The Central African Republic is housing Aristide in a villa inside the freshly renovated presidential palace, a 1960s building surrounded by a barbed wire fence and guarded by armed soldiers in camouflage. He is sharing his new quarters with his wife, a brother-in-law and two aides, Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui said on Wednesday.

Aristide is free to move around, though he has chosen to stay inside the presidential compound for his own security, Wenezoui said. He is passing the days by reading the papers, watching television and sleeping a lot.

Authorities say they have urged Aristide to keep a low profile, following his recent allegations that he was forced to leave the country on Sunday by the United States military - a claim denied by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others. Officials here were worried Aristide's remarks to the media could harm their small nation's diplomatic standing with the United States and other countries.[...]

African press draws Haiti lessons

Many African papers have described the ousting of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as an example of the inconsistency of the international community.

One Ugandan commentator says it serves as a warning against hoping for purely humanitarian interventions in Africa, while another in the Ivory Coast worries that France will want to repeat there what it has achieved in Haiti.

And though Mr Aristide's final destination is still unclear, the prospect of it being South Africa brings little delight to commentators there.

Lessons from Haiti should not be lost on those looking to the international community to solve the 18-year conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda, says the country's New Vision.

Though the war there has been devastating, it means little to North America and Europe, the paper says.

"The international community will loathe undertaking a mission simply for its humanitarian values... the prevailing attitude is that there must be some intrinsic return for sending your troops abroad."[...]

Nigeria's Guardian is also doubtful the intervention will have positive results, saying that Haiti's future "is hanging in the balance, with the prospect of more misery for the people", while Cameroon's Le Messager calls the international involvement in Haiti "double-dealing".

Though there is little cheer for the intervention in Haiti, there is less for President Aristide who "helped seal his own fate", says South Africa's This Day.

"The man of God, turned politician, had also become an unpredictable dictator ... Expelled from power like an uncouth fellow, he has gone into exile again," says the Ivory Coast's 24 Heures.

It bids the former president: "Adieu, Mr Wolf dressed in a cassock."[...]

Indian police 'kill Assam rebels'

Indian police say they have killed four rebels in the north-eastern state of Assam.

They say they also recovered a large number of arms, including an anti-aircraft gun, in raids on two rebel hideouts in the area.

Indian officials, however, say that many more rebels have managed to evade the police and the army.

They said the rebels entered Assam from Bhutan, after apparently surviving a Bhutanese military offensive last year.[...]

Labour party threatens vocal ex-minister

The former minister who revealed that Britain spied on the UN has been threatened with expulsion from the ruling political party.

Clare Short is to be given a formal warning about her conduct and told she may lose Labour membership for her scathing public criticism of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The threat follows her most recent claim that the British government put pressure on its top legal official to give a licence to wage war on Iraq.[...]

Legal reforms: Government to press on

The Government is to press ahead with controversial constitutional and asylum procedure reforms despite fierce criticism from the country's most senior judge.

In a speech yesterday Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said proposals for a new supreme court to replace the House of Lords as the highest court in the land would create a "second class" institution which was the "poor relation" of others around the world.

[...] He went on: "I am not over-dramatising the position if I indicate that, if this clause (to remove asylum seekers' appeal rights) were to become law, it would be so inconsistent with the spirit of mutual respect between the different arms of government that it could be the catalyst for a campaign for a written constitution.

"Immigration and asylum involve basic human rights.

"What areas of government decision-making would be next to be removed from the scrutiny of the courts?

"What is the use of courts if you cannot access them?"

Man in court on five terror charges

Detectives investigating the Omagh bombing have charged a 34-year-old man with five terrorist offences.

The charges against the South Armagh man relate to incidents in Armagh, Banbridge and Blackwatertown in 1998 - the same year the Real IRA attacked Omagh.

Police chief due before Soham inquiry

The Chief Constable of the police force that failed to keep records of a series of sex offence allegations against Ian Huntley is due before the Soham inquiry in London today.

David Westwood, of Humberside Police, will be questioned over his force's decision to delete files on Huntley well before he was cleared to be a school caretaker in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

It was while there that Huntley abducted and murdered ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in August 2002.[...]

Chinese Democracy Activist Wang Released

BEIJING - A longtime Chinese activist who helped organize the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and later co-founded a democracy party was released from prison on Thursday and left for the United States, a human rights activist said.

The medical parole of Wang Youcai, on the heels of another prisoner release and a sentence reduction for a third activist, suggests the Chinese government is moving on cases the United States has identified as priorities.

Wang left the Zhejiang No. 1 prison in southern China early Thursday, said goodbye to his family and boarded a plane for San Francisco, according to John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a rights group. Wang had been sentenced in 1998 to 11 years for activities related to his founding of the China Democracy Party.

Envoy seeks AIDS cash

The world can either "thumb its nose at the apocalypse" today — or bury the corpses of three million AIDS victims tomorrow.

So far, says Stephen Lewis, the United Nation's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, the world seems to be taking the cemetery route.

"This is the best chance we've had in more than 20 years to turn the pandemic around," Lewis said yesterday in New York City, where he delivered a heartfelt appeal on behalf of an ambitious global program to extend treatment against AIDS to three million people around the world by the end of 2005.

Lewis, Canada's former ambassador to the U.N., said he recognizes that the logistical challenges are immense — a 10-fold increase in the number of people receiving AIDS treatment worldwide, in just two years — but he called the initiative both feasible and necessary.

"It would be the first time the world could thumb its nose at the apocalypse," he said.[...]

Comment: There are forces that want the Apocalypse, who are working very hard for this Apocalypse. The Pentagon has issued a warning of rioting and wars as the climate changes. A few million mouths less to feed is seen by these people as a good thing. War will take care of some of them. Disease will deal with others.

Angola: Red Cross reaches out to re-unite families

Sovica Ricardo Justo is trying to keep his composure, attempting to look nonchalant. It's not cool for a 17-year-old to get soppy and soft at a family reunion.

But his laid-back demeanour crumbles when he sees his older brother, Satuma, across the street. Sovica clasps his hand over his mouth and the tears well up in his eyes.

Satuma dodges the traffic in the ever-busy Angolan capital, Luanda, to get to the younger brother he hasn't seen since 1992, "when he was just a baby". In what has become a traditional greeting, he hoists Sovica into the air.

For staff at the Angolan Red Cross and the national delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), scenes like this are now familiar.

The humanitarian organisation has spent almost two years helping reunite families separated by 27 years of civil conflict, bringing 836 children back together with parents, aunts, uncles and siblings.

It's an emotionally trying job - albeit in a happy way - but even burly security guards at the Red Cross offices are forced to wipe their eyes as Sovica's older brother, Castro, hugs him to bursting point.[...]

Study Warns US Faces Asbestos Disease Crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ten-thousand Americans die each year from asbestos-related diseases and the number appears to be increasing in a growing public health crisis, according to a report by an environmental research group released on Thursday.

The analysis by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group also projects that more than 100,000 people in the United States will die of four asbestos-related diseases -- mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and gastrointestinal cancer -- over the next ten years.

The nonprofit research organization said it based its analysis on 25 years worth of U.S. government data on asbestos mortality and examined the toll from just two causes of asbestos deaths -- mesothelioma and asbestosis.

[...] "We're at the beginning of a tidal wave of asbestos diseases and mortality that needs to be brought to the attention of the public, federal policymakers and health officials," the report's author, Richard Wiles, said in an interview.

Among recommendations to address what it says is a public health problem of epidemic proportions, the EWG report calls for an immediate ban on asbestos.[...]

Children to get protection 'czar'

Major changes to child protection legislation aimed at preventing abusers from slipping through the net are being unveiled by the Government.

A Children's Commissioner to act as their champion will be created and the new law will require much closer co-operation between everyone involved in childcare, including police, social, health and youth workers, and schools.

The Children's Bill was expected to pave the way for records and ID numbers to be created for every child in England, to aid information sharing between those responsible for their safety.

Report slams use of girl soldiers

Girls have been part of government militia or opposition fighting forces in more than 50 countries over recent years, a Canadian human rights organisation has said in a new report.

The organisation, Rights and Democracy, said many of the girls had taken part in armed conflict, were abducted or had to join to survive.

Sexual abuse was widespread.

The report, called Where are the Girls, focuses on northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique. [...]

'My life as a child prostitute'

Children in South Africa have been speaking out about human rights violations, including child prostitution.

A non-governmental organisation based in Cape Town called Molo Songololo organised the event to highlight the plight of thousands of victims of child abuse in South Africa and other parts of the world.

According to a 2000 report by the NGO there were estimated to be around 38,000 child prostitutes in South Africa. Some of them are known to have been abducted at shopping malls.

One victim, Chantal, told how, after running away from a reformatory eight years ago at the age of 13, she fell into the clutches of a gang leader a little over a year later.

She described forced tattooing, a knife attack by a client and finally her escape.

"Two other girls and I decided to run away from the reform school.

...Every night the other two girls went to the road. At that time I didn't know what prostitution is. They did the work every night.

Then I saw Zunaid. We had to walk past him in the evenings. He used to chase me and I would wonder who this man is. I was a little scared of him. I didn't respond to him.

One Friday night, we were sitting at the corner and he and two other girls approached us.

He asked if we didn't want to go with them... I said I wasn't going with him because I don't know him...

I shared a bed with two of the girls that night and he got up during the night and wanted to pull me out of bed because he wanted to have sex with me. I screamed and told him that I did not want to have sex with him because I did not know him.[...]

'Children raped, beaten for weeks'

Two young women, who as teenagers were allegedly held and repeatedly raped in a city house, spoke out yesterday to warn teenagers as naive as they once were.

"I want everybody to know. They must be careful. They must watch out," said 23-year-old Letitia, who had to stop telling her story several times to fight back tears.

Letitia and Stacey* spoke at the Kenilworth premises of Molo Songololo, the child rights organisation that has given them counselling and is liaising with police about child prostitution cases.

"What happened has made my life dark," said Letitia. "I left school. It still breaks me."

[...] One of the girls told the men that Stacey and her friend planned to escape.

"That's when the horror began. One night the owner of the house, the pimp, kicked my friend so hard. He raped her in front of everyone. A second guy raped her. They hit her with beer bottles, ashtrays, anything they could get hold of. She was crying out to me for help, but I could do nothing.[...]

Elderly pair in the dock over alleged rape

Two men, aged 68 and 84, were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly repeatedly raping two teenage girls since November 2003, Limpopo police said on Thursday.

The men had allegedly taken turns raping the girls, both aged 15 at the time, in Thenga near Makhado, and then given them money not to tell anyone, Captain Ailwei Mushavhanamadi said.[...]

US is 'fighting Zimbabwe with condoms'

Harare - The United States was trying to remove Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe from power with millions of condoms as weapons, state radio in that country said on Wednesday.

It said American President George Bush's regime was behind the "rebranding" of prophylactics that carry a bright red and yellow sticker advertising "revolutionary condoms" and a message urging Zimbabweans to "get up, stand up!"

A bulletin said condoms carrying a sticker with "an oppositional political message" were being distributed throughout Zimbabwe "in what appears to be collusion between opposition groups and a US-based condom manufacturer."

The radio said the appearance of the redecorated condom packets was "not surprising, since the United States government has made it clear it is working toward changing of the regime in Zimbabwe, using, among other things, the media."[...]

Daily News in court to fight closure

Harare - A Zimbabwean newspaper fighting government closure urged the country's highest court on Wednesday to strike down some of the laws used to shut it, saying they were unconstitutional.

The Daily News, Zimbabwe's largest private daily and a frequent critic of President Robert Mugabe's government, has been closed for much of the past five months while its legal status is before the courts.

It is challenging a new law compelling media organisations to register with the government's media commission - a requirement condemned by Zimbabwean and international rights groups as an attack on press freedom.[...]

South African poacher brought to book in the US

Former Cape Town fishing company boss Arnold Bengis has pleaded guilty in the United States to massive poaching and smuggling, and has agreed to forfeit millions of dollars.

Man's amputated arm attached to his groin

Madrid - Spanish doctors have amputated an injured arm, attached it to the patient's groin for nine days and replanted it on its stump in an unprecedented operation, news reports said on Thursday.

Truck driver Israel Sarrio had his lower arm torn off in a traffic accident.

Doctors at the Levante Rehabilitation Centre in Valencia sutured the arm to its stump, but the stump became infected.

In an effort to save the arm, surgeons amputated it and attached it to the patient's groin, which acted as a "nanny" and fed the arm with blood, doctor Pedro Cavadas explained.

The operation was the first in the world in which a reattached limb was amputated in order to join it with another part of the body, doctors said. [...]

The Girl Who Feels No Pain

Gabby Gingras has a disease so rare she's the only person her parents and doctors can find in the U.S. suffering from it. Like any other three-year-old, Gabby takes her share of slips and falls. Her reaction to each is predictable — at least for her family.

For no matter how hard Gabby hits the ground, she will not shed a single tear. Hard as it is to fathom Gabby Gingras feels no pain. There is no cure, nor will she outgrow it.

"She fell down the stairs the other day in the garage," her dad says. "She just picked herself up and started climbing up the stairs again like nothing had happened."

"She never cried," her mother adds.

Gabby was born with a genetic defect called "Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy Type-5. It is so rare her doctors don't know of another person with it in this country. Research done for her parents turned up a dozen known cases in the world.

"A dozen in the world," Trish Gingras says. "There are no support groups, there are no Web sites, there are not parents who can tell us what we might expect. Nothing."

It was the last thing Trish and Steve Gingras expected when Gabby became a little sister to their daughter Katie three years ago.

"Oh, she was the sweetest little baby," Trish says.

But something didn't seem right when their little baby kept scratching her face. Things got worse when Gabby started teething.

"She (was) severely gnawing on her hands, when the teeth come through even a little bit — biting, biting, biting, so they looked like raw hamburger," Trish says.

They were the first puzzling symptoms of Gabby's disorder later diagnosed by neurologist Stephen Smith of Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

"Little tiny nerve fibers, the smallest of the nerve fibers, that are supposed to record pain, send that signal to the brain, so you can interpret what it is. Those fibers are not working," Smith says.

So often we think of pain in a negative way. But it is pain, that protects us. Because Gabby feels no pain, she no longer has any teeth.

"Didn't hurt her at all getting a tooth ripped out," Steve Gingras says. The teeth she didn't break off while biting toys were removed by an oral surgeon after Gabby chewed up her mouth and tongue so badly she had to be hospitalized.

"Pain is the protective mechanism, and she doesn't have that," Dr. Smith says. Gabby didn't have pain to save her eyes either. She scratched them so severely, that at one point doctors sewed them shut to keep her fingers out. But, the damage was already done.

Last week Gabby's family was at Fairview University Medical Center to discuss the removal of her left eye, now swollen and blind from glaucoma brought on by the scratching.

The vision in Gabby's scratched right eye, her good eye, has been measured at 20-300.

"There are days where you look at (baby) pictures and you see those bright eyes ... and you wish you knew then what you know now. We wish we'd have thought of the idea a little bit sooner for the goggles," Trish says.

The swim goggles she wears around the clock were her dad's idea. They provide a layer of protection that is quite possibly the only reason Gabby can see her beloved princesses — her dolls and the characters in movies — at all anymore.

"She is awesome about wearing them. They're just part of her," Trish says. The goggles are part of Gabby's wardrobe wherever she goes, including pre-school in Monticello where Gabby has been assigned a paraprofessional who makes sure she doesn't get hurt.

Caution seems justified. Gabby broke her jaw a year ago and no one knew it for more than a month. Last fall, she snuck out of bed, stood in front of a hot steam humidifier and suffered second-degree burns.

"She never felt the pain of the burn," Trish says. But if Gabby was cursed by genetics, she was blessed with some wonderful tools for coping. Witness a conversation between Gabby and her mom when the child is caught on the family couch with a beverage."

"I'll have to take your milk, because we're not supposed to have chocolate milk in the living room right?"

"Too late now," Gabby teases. "She's got attitude and I think that will serve her well," Trish says. "She needs a little bit of attitude," Gabby's attitude and spirit win over everyone she meets. Earlier this month she was crowned Princess for a Day at a royalty brunch in Becker.

Gabby's parents have no idea what's ahead for their daughter — but they are determined the girl who can't feel pain will know what it feels like to be happy.

'Thrown to the crocodiles'

Sydney: Two Thai prostitutes working in Australia's rugged Northern Territory had their legs bound before being thrown into a crocodile-infested river where they drowned.

The two women, aged 27 and 58, were found yesterday by tourists on a crocodile cruise of the Adelaide River outside the tropical city of Darwin.

'Heartbroken' cat makes the long journey home

Hong Kong - A homesick cat walked a hundred kilometres back home after being given away by its Beijing owner, a news report said on Thursday.

The three-year-old cat ran away from its new home and spent 40 days finding its way back to its old owner in the Chinese capital, according to the Hong Kong edition of the China Daily.

Six-legged pets steal the limelight in Berlin

Berlin - Ants by the thousands have taken over apartments all across Germany - as the latest craze in house pets.

A country where more than eight percent of the population live in apartments, Germany and the Germans have always been keen on small lap dogs, kittens, budgies and gold fish.

But in increasing numbers, Germans are opting for the tiniest of the tiny - a queen ant and her workers.

But gone are the days of the small plastic ant farm with a dozen or so orphaned worker ants milling about aimlessly.[...]

It was the beginning of a life-long interest in beings that are so numerous that they account for about 20 percent of the total animal biomass on the planet Earth.[...]

Sailing the Cinnamon route

History books tell us that Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz was the first seafarer to round the Cape, in 1488. It remains a towering achievement during that golden era of discovery when adventurers from the Iberian Peninsula redrew the map of the known world. But yet... some things just don't fit into the picture.

For instance, how did yams, taro, bananas and Asian rice - originally from Indonesia - end up in West Africa by the first millennium? It was understood from Roman times that cinnamon arrived in Europe via East Africa by the way of epic sea voyages across the Indian Ocean. It is also undisputed that significant human migrations took place from Indonesia to Madagascar. Although there is no evidence that the cinnamon trade was conducted further south than Mozambique, there can be no disputing that Indonesians brought their spices to African shores.

All this was whirling through Philip Beale's mind in 1982 as he stood gazing at reliefs depicting eighth century sailing vessels on the walls of Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist temple, in Java. Surely these large ocean-going craft were capable of completing the voyage to West Africa?[...]

Husband knocked out by flying teargas grenade

- A Jordanian woman hurled a teargas grenade at her husband during a family argument, knocking him unconscious, in an act described by the press on Thursday as "bold and unprecedented" in this conservative country.

[...] The couple had a loud and violent argument that was heard by the neighbours, who called the police.

When the authorities arrived they found the husband unconscious on the ground, tears streaming down his face and the grenade near him.

The two dailies noted that the incident was the "first of its kind" to take place in conservative Jordan.

It was not clear if the woman was arrested but the police were interrogating her to find out where she got the grenade.

Woman jailed for stabbing husband 193 times

Wednesday March 3, 07:56 PM

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A woman who prosecutors say lured her husband into bed, then stabbed him 193 times and buried the body in their backyard has been found guilty of murder by a Texas jury.

Susan Wright, 27, showed no emotion as state judge Jim Wallace read the verdict reached after less than six hours of deliberation on Wednesday .

She could face up to 99 years in prison for the crime that she testified was an act of revenge and self-defence after years of abuse at the hands of husband, Jeffrey Wright.

Prosecutors charged that Wright used seductive techniques developed while working as a topless dancer to lure her husband into their candle lit bedroom on January 13, 2003, where she tied him to the bedposts, then stabbed him to death.

In an unusually graphic presentation, they brought in the Wrights' blood-stained bed, tied a male prosecutor to it, then had lead prosecutor Kelly Siegler straddle him to re-enact their version of the crime while she continued questioning a witness. [...]

Comment: "Unusually graphic"? How about downright bizarre...

Family Says Human Waste Fell On Home

Health Department Tests For Fecal Matter

CHESTERVILLE, Ohio -- A Morrow County family said their home was peppered from the air with human waste.

The local health department believed the substance splattered over the house came from an airplane. The local sheriff, health department and Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident, which happened nearly three weeks ago in Chesterville. Evidence still can be seen on Judy Jordan's house and sidewalk.

"It was a swath about 75 feet wide by 100 feet long," said Scott Pauley of the Morrow County Health Department. "It peppered the sidewalk, the house, the porch."

"I looked down and saw the black slimy spots," Jordan said. It was just peppered everywhere."

Pauley said the substance tested high "for fecal strep, so it seems to us to be a human indicator."

Jordan said her first thought was that it was a flock of geese that flew over her home. But health officials doubt that because of the high fecal count.

"It was too much to be geese," Pauley said.

Could it have been a prank? Did someone drive by and throw the substance on the home? Jordan is sure the stuff came from an airplane.

"The wind was blowing that day, and it had to have come straight down," Jordan said. "It couldn't have been thrown at the house, the way it was hit. ... The only possible thing I think it could possibly come from would be an airplane."

Jordan said she called the FAA, which told her that, "1,000 geese could fly over at the same time, and if an airplane scared them, that's what would happen."

The FAA also told her that airplanes don't ordinarily drop that kind of substance, and that they had no way of tracking it.
"It really frightens me that this could happen in this day and age, because of the terrorists," Jordan said. "Anybody could have done this over a school ground, a dairy farm."

The FAA also told Jordan that her house is not in the direct flight path of any commercial airlines.

No other homeowners in the immediate area reported anything falling from the sky.

Comment: We have been covering these strange reports for some time now on the Signs page. The reports first started pouring in from New Zealand, where the phrase "duck muck" was born, even though there is little evidence linking these reports to ducks. Something similar occurred in the seventies not too far from this current incident:

William Franklin Leviness of Route 60 near Covington, Ky., reported in late August 1973 that mud balls were dropping out of the sky onto his car. While he hasn't actually seen them falling he finds them scattered over his car in the morning, even when there hasn't been any rain. He said they were small pellet-like particles of mud which turned liquid when combined with the morning dew. On his white car they left stains which were difficult to remove. he showed reporters a sample of the mud balls - yellowish-tan in color and about half the size of a pencil eraser. Leviness has no idea where they come from and he hasn't found anyone else who knows. [Chris Fuller, Fate Magazine, Vol. 27, No. 1, Issue 286, January 1974]

Scientists behaving badly

Journal editors reveal researchers' wicked ways.

4 March 2004

They lie, they cheat and they steal. Judging by the cases described by a group of medical journal editors, scientists are no different from the rest of us.

Last week's annual report 1of the Committee on Publishing Ethics details the misdemeanours that the group of journal editors grappled with in 2003. Although the number of cases - 29 - is tiny compared with the tens of thousands of papers published in medical journals every year, the cases cover a wide range of unethical activity, from attempted bribery to potential medical malpractice.

Many of the tricks will be familiar to schoolchildren. Two complaints concern cases where researchers were accused of copying someone else's work. When editors investigated, they agreed that the papers were almost identical versions of previously published material, and that plagiarism was the most likely explanation.

Confronted with the evidence, researchers behind one paper insisted that their paper contained only 5% overlap with the original. Another author, when eventually reached by mobile phone, admitted some similarities; but at that point the call ended abruptly.

A 2003 survey of opthalmology journals estimated that at least 1.5% of all papers are duplicates. Some researchers seem to have perfected the art: a study released last month identified two papers that had each been published five times. [...]

Man with fake bomb robs bank

A robber terrorized two bank employees in southeast Denver Wednesday, forcing them to hold pieces of a device he said would explode if they let go. [...]

Arrest made in dog burnings

A 19-year-old man suspected of stealing puppies from an animal shelter, wrapping them in duct tape and setting them ablaze was arrested Wednesday. [...]

World's Richest People: Scandals

Lea Goldman

Two members of the Forbes World's Richest People list and one former billionaire are behind bars: Russian billionaires Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev , who made their money from oil giant Yukos , and Italy's Calisto Tanzi , the former billionaire and Parmalat chief accused of masterminding one of the largest corporate frauds in history. All three await trial.

Japanese billionaire Yasuo Takei recently pleaded guilty to wiretapping and agreed to pay a fine to be released from police custody. In the meantime, billionaire ex-convicts like Leona Helmsley and former Sotheby's Chairman A. Alfred Taubman enjoy their freedom. [...]

Many robbers do it for the kick

Norwegian research indicates that people committing robberies do not commit them for the money, but for the thrill.


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