Monday, November 27, 2006

Death Knell of the US Dollar...

By: Clive Maund

-- Posted Sunday, 26 November 2006

originally published November 26th, 2006

The dollar plunged with startling ferocity late last week, driven by heavy selling. This was very bearish action that signals panic, and the probable onset of a severe downtrend. A break below the crucial support at 80 on the dollar index is expected to mark the transition from a clandestine unloading of dollar assets to an all-out stampede to “get what you can for them” before it’s too late.


Ecuador's Correa says he won't renew lease for US military base

Mon Nov 27, 1:12 PM ET

Leftist Rafael Correa, unofficially the winner of Ecuador's presidential election, reiterated he would not renew the US lease for a military air base in the South American country.

"The agreement is valid until 2009, but in 2009 we will not renew the agreement," Correa said of the Manta base the United States uses as its main anti-drug trafficking post on the Pacific.
Speaking to reporters in the coastal city of Guayaquil, Correa said Ecuador would use the base's air strip to build a major international airport that would serve as a hub for flights originating in Asia and Australia and headed to destinations throughout the Americas.

A 10-year lease agreement signed in 1999 allows US forces to operate from their base located within Ecuador's Eloy Alfaro military base, near Pacific Port city of Manta.

Palestine's Struggle Can Teach America About the Middle East

Historian Rashid Khalidi discusses what the history of the Palestinian struggle for statehood can teach Americans about our wrong-headed approach to conflicts in the Middle East.

Palestine's Struggle Can Teach America About the Middle East
By Liv Leader
, AlterNetPosted on November 27,

With inter-Palestinian violence on the rise, and the Bush administration's hands-off approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rashid Khalidi's new history of Palestine calls for a retrospective look into the major decisions -- both within and outside the Middle East -- that sculpted the Palestinian conflict during the last century.

Khalidi, the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies at Columbia University, asks a simple question: In the wake of the colonial Middle East, why have Palestinians failed to achieve statehood? A cursory look into Palestinian history shows that it's not for a lack of desire. But as their Arab neighbors have gained independence, it remains an elusive goal for the Palestinians.
In "The Iron Cage," Khalidi argues that since the British took administrative control of Palestine in 1922, Palestinians have been forced to play politics with some of the world's most significant powers. In their uphill battle for statehood, Palestinian leaders have faced not only the British, but the well-organized Zionist movement, and what Khalidi calls the "shark-infested waters of Arab politics."

Khalidi visited San Francisco recently during his national book tour, and met me at Union Square to discuss his new book.

Liv Leader: Your last book "Resurrecting Empire" was published a year into the war in Iraq. Many of your dismal predictions about the Iraq war have proven true. So why did you choose to write about Palestine when Iraq is on everyone's mind?

Rashid Khalidi: You're right, Iraq is a timely issue. I've been working on "The Iron Cage" for more than 10 years. I actually interrupted this book to work on "Resurrecting Empire" because I just couldn't focus on this issue in the wake of 9-11. I saw that a number of disastrous wars were coming at us and that people were going into them completely, totally and utterly blind. I wrote "Resurrecting Empire" as an attempt to affect the public debate on the Iraq war.

In a way The Iron Cage doesn't fit as well into the current political season as would another book on Iraq. In a way I think it's germane. Our policy in the Middle East is so utterly wrong-headed and our policy on Palestine is a part of it. American policy is not just rooted in the history of American policy towards Palestine since the 1940s, but in the history of great powers policies since the 1920s.

One of the things that has to be looked at is the responsibility of the international community and of the dominant powers, whether Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, and the United States since World War II, to creating this situation. So I think it actually is timely and speaks directly to what I think should be a major issue.
Why is the U.S. so loathed and hated by the people in the Middle East, who actually have nothing against our freedoms, democracy, and love our economic system They are dying to go to Disneyland, but they cannot stand our foreign policy. Could it possibly be that fact that they think that what we do in terms of Palestine is stupid and morally wrong?
Leader: I've been traveling to Palestine since the later years of the Oslo peace process and the change in public opinions towards America has been remarkable.
Khalidi: It goes far beyond Palestine. I've been spending more time in the Gulf, Egypt and Lebanon, and the degree to which people judge us -- not just our utterly misguided Iraq policy -- but also our policy on Palestine and Israel is astounding.
There has been an important majority of Americans opposing this administration's policies on Iraq since a year into a half of the occupation. The American people have figured it out, but our policy hasn't changed a whit, nor will it under this president. That leads to enormous misunderstanding and anger and frustration worldwide, but also in the Arab world and in Palestine.
Leader: Looking at the path of Israel's separation barrier, it's not hard to understand your metaphor of the "Iron Cage." But this is really a book about Palestinian history and not contemporary politics. How have the Palestinians faced previous incarnations of this cage?
Khalidi: What I'm referring to is the way I see the British Mandate as creating a whole series of constraints around the Palestinians which proved to be inescapable. In a book in which my focus is the decisions that the Palestinians made -- the good, the bad, the indifferent -- all of this takes place in a context that I would argue is one of extraordinary constraints. That's really what the title is a reference to. The constitutional structure the British created to prevent the Palestinians from getting self-determination and statehood.

Leader: One of the most important concepts your book touches on is the question of agency for the Palestinians. When have Palestinians been able to make real decisions to affect their future?
Khalidi: Within extraordinary constraints there were some moments when I think the Palestinians did have some choices. In the late 1920s and early 1930s is one point where I think they could have done things differently than they did. Another is in the 1936-1939 great revolt against British rule, when the British issued a white paper in which they revoked some of their commitments to Zionism. It was very disadvantageous to the Palestinians in a variety of ways, but I think they would have been well advised to accept it. This is not a great choice, but this is a distinction between a bad and a much worse choice.

Under the Palestinian Liberation Organization and during the Oslo period the Palestinians had really important choices that they could have made differently. I argue that in 1947-1948 there was not much they could have done, the leadership had been scattered, the backbone of the armed resistance had been crushed by the British, and they had made the wrong decisions before and during World War II.

I argue that the Palestinians were defeated in 1936-1939 and the after-effects included the Nakba, the catastrophe wherein half the Palestinian population was driven from their homes of forced to flee in 1948. There were not many choices the Palestinians could have made; it was too late.

Leader: In 1948 when Israel achieved statehood, Palestinians lost both their national struggle for control of the land, but also their physical cohesion as a community. How did they manage to build a sense of identity and continue the national movement in exile?
Khalidi: To some extent I address this in my book "Palestinian Identity." What I focus on is the achievements and failures of the PLO leadership. The people who led Fatah and came to dominate the PLO and later created the Palestinian Authority.
If you were to point to one great achievement of this generation of leadership it was managing to resuscitate Palestinian nationalism on an entirely new social basis in the wake of this catastrophic defeat. To reknit a Palestinian identity that had shared collect a national trauma in 1948, but which could have easily been dispersed. It didn't happen, partially because the social resilience of Palestinian society, but also because of the efforts of this generation of leaders who managed to reknit, restructure, rebuild the Palestinian national movement in the extraordinary disadvantageous conditions of exile, operating in what I call the shark-infested waters of Arab politics.

Leader: What were the key components that allowed the Palestinian leadership to build a national movement while being scattered across the Middle East?

Khalidi: It's the typical classical national movement: an obsessive focus on armed struggle, self-reliance. "The independent Palestinian decision" was the Fatah slogan. There was a deep addiction to clandestine activity that was absolutely necessary in the environment of Arab politics. The Arab regimes were terrified of being dragged into a conflict with Israel. From their perspective, Israel was a very powerful local rival. In the United States we think of tiny, isolated Israel amidst the seas of fanatical, raging Arabs. In fact Israel had decisively beaten the Arab armies in 1948, and that joined the British and French crushing Egypt in 1956, and that handily destroyed the armies that faced it in 1967. So the Arab governments were right to be scared.
The Palestinians had to operate in this difficult environment. And the sad thing is that the clandestine activity and the forms of organizations that developed in exile proved to be particularly ill suited to the process of state-building.

Leader: From the failure of Oslo Accords, and the subsequent Palestinian uprising, it's pretty clear that the PLO's clandestine ethos didn't prepare them to skillfully play the negotiating table. It seems there's been a legacy of poor decision-making in the peace process. Where did such poor decision-making come from?

Khalidi: It came from an obsessive desire to maintain control of everything that transpired and a lack of ability to delegate and to trust subordinates. It was a characteristic of Yasser Arafat, and it was a disaster for the Palestinians. There was a terrible misjudgment of what was happening in the Occupied Territories by this leadership that has not been there since the 1960s.
The PLO leadership didn't understand when the leadership of delegation to Washington [in the early 1990s] said to them that under no circumstances should we continue to negotiate in a situation where American assurances are ignored. The Israeli settlement expansion continues, and this disastrous closure of Jerusalem is being implemented as we negotiate. When the PLO leadership ignored the recommendation of the delegation, they were making a colossal mistake.
Leader: But after 1995 when the PLO leadership returned to the West Bank and Gaza, couldn't Arafat see that the negotiations were going on while Israel was expanding settlement of the West Bank?

Khalidi: But Arafat was already trapped in another iron cage. This appallingly bad accord which he himself had signed in 1993 -- which not only allowed Israelis to continue settlement, and not only allowed Israel to build these Israel-only bypass roads that turned the West Bank into tiny little open-air prison camps -- but he was himself committed to accepting the deferral indefinitely of the negotiations of everything of importance: statehood, sovereignty, settlements, water, Jerusalem, refugees.

Arafat was obliged to negotiate the details of the management of the expansion of the occupation. Because that is what the interim self-governing authority was. All the Palestinians were allowed to do was a means for managing the affairs of the Arabs while the occupation of the West Bank continued, and continues. Arafat was in a situation largely of his own making, but which he was unable to effect positively. It was a terrible, terrible mistake accepting Oslo.
Leader: Since the failure of Oslo, it's been a downward spiral for the Palestinians: the corruption of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the failure of Camp David, the international sanctions against the Hamas government and now the increased violence between Hamas and Fatah. What next?
Khalidi: I think firstly that if the trends that are ongoing in the Palestinian territories -- continual Israeli enforcement over every decision in the lives of three million people, of the expansion of settlements -- if these trends are not reversed, there is no possibility of a two-state solution.

Hamas and Fatah have about equal shares of the Palestinian electorate. Fatah does not have a god-given right to rule and to steal -- which they seem to think that they do. And Hamas does not have a god-given right to rule just because they won 40-odd percent of the vote in the election. Moreover, in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections of 2006, Hamas agreed to operate within a certain set of rules. They are not rules I would have chosen; I didn't agree to the Oslo accords. But certain things are incumbent upon them when they accept those conditions. And they have behaved in my view, utterly irresponsibly in terms of allowing enormous harm to the Palestinian people because of their inability to get their act together within Hamas. Certainly some leaders in Hamas understand the responsibility, they have a duty to the Palestinian people to see to it that certain governmental services function and that means accepting some things that they don't want to accept.
Israel is behaving just the way the British did, exploiting differences between the Palestinians, selective targeted assassination here, a selective provocation there. But in the last analysis this is a Palestinian issue and it's up to the Palestinians to show forbearance, as Hamas did for 18 months in observing a unilateral ceasefire. Clearly things are falling apart on the Palestinian side.
Leader: You've recently been involved in the controversial debate over the role of the Israeli lobby in the United States. How does that fit in between teaching at Columbia and a national book tour?

Khalidi: I think it is important that the debate not be squelched about what the U.S. does in the Middle East. There are those who really are doing everything possible to label anyone who criticizes American policy in blind support of Israel or Israeli policy as anti-Semitic, which is the ultimate silencing tool. They don't want the debate to be opened up.

I think it is symptomatic; there are certain things that should be said about a one-state solution, about a two-state solution, about Zionism, about colonialism, about settlements, about suicide bombings. Palestinians should be critical of themselves, Israelis should be critical, American Jews should be critical, and Arab Americans should be self-critical. There should be an open debate about how our foreign policy grossly disserves our national interests, as well as any possible human interest in the Middle East.

We have a grossly misshaped, misguided, wrong policy, not just in Iraq, not just in support of the most evil dictatorships in the Middle East, and also in respect to Palestine. And those who would shut down this debate are doing everyone dissolved a terrible, terrible disservice.
Liv Leader is a San Francisco-based writer. She has previously reported from Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at:

The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict

The complete text of The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict

Published byJews for Justice in the Middle East

As the periodic bloodshed continues in the Middle East, the search for an equitable solution must come to grips with the root cause of the conflict. The conventional wisdom is that, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians are irrational "terrorists" who have no point of view worth listening to. Our position, however, is that the Palestinians have a real grievance: their homeland for over a thousand years was taken, without their consent and mostly by force, during creation of the state of Israel. And all subsequent crimes—on both sides—inevitably follow from this original injustice.

This paper outlines the history of Palestine to show how this process occurred and what a moral solution to the region's problems should consist of. If you care about the people of the Middle East, Jewish and Arab, you owe it to yourself to read this account of the other side of the historical record.


The standard Zionist position is that they showed up in Palestine in the late 19th century to reclaim their ancestral homeland. Jews bought land and started building up the Jewish community there. They were met with increasingly violent opposition from the Palestinian Arabs, presumably stemming from the Arabs' inherent anti-Semitism. The Zionists were then forced to defend themselves and, in one form or another, this same situation continues up to today.

The problem with this explanation is that it is simply not true, as the documentary evidence in this booklet will show. What really happened was that the Zionist movement, from the beginning, looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population so that Israel could be a wholly Jewish state, or as much as was possible. Land bought by the Jewish National Fund was held in the name of the Jewish people and could never be sold or even leased back to Arabs (a situation which continues to the present).

The Arab community, as it became increasingly aware of the Zionists' intentions, strenuously opposed further Jewish immigration and land buying because it posed a real and imminent danger to the very existence of Arab society in Palestine. Because of this opposition, the entire Zionist project never could have been realized without the military backing of the British. The vast majority of the population of Palestine, by the way, had been Arabic since the seventh century A.D. (Over 1200 years)

In short, Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn't matter. The Arabs' opposition to Zionism wasn't based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.

One further point: being Jewish ourselves, the position we present here is critical of Zionism but is in no way anti-Semitic. We do not believe that the Jews acted worse than any other group might have acted in their situation. The Zionists (who were a distinct minority of the Jewish people until after WWII) had an understandable desire to establish a place where Jews could be masters of their own fate, given the bleak history of Jewish oppression. Especially as the danger to European Jewry crystalized in the late 1930's and after, the actions of the Zionists were propelled by real desperation.

But so were the actions of the Arabs. The mythic "land without people for a people without land" was already home to 700,000 Palestinians in 1919. This is the root of the problem, as we shall see.

Click on the next chapter
Early History of the Region
The British Mandate Period 1920-1948
The UN Partition of Palestine
Statehood and Expulsion—1948
The 1967 War and Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
The History of Terrorism in the Region
Jewish Criticism of Zionism
Zionism and the Holocaust
General Considerations
Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Intifada 2000 And The "Peace Process"
Views Of The Future
Conclusion I For Jewish Readers
Conclusion II

For free printed copies write to: Jews for Justice in The Middle EastP.O. Box 14561Berkeley CA 94712

Israelis break ceasefire


Palestinians shot dead by Israeli Occupation forces in West Bank


Islamic Jihad members taken prisoner near Jenin

Saed Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies - Monday, 27 November 2006, 19:28

Israeli sources reported on Monday that the army took prisoner several members of the Al Quds brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad in Qabatia town, near the West Bank city of Jenin. The offensive was carried out by under-cover units of the Israeli army, and regular military units.

The attack, according to an Israeli army spokesperson, was carried out to counter the activities of the Islamic Jihad.

The invasion was carried out on Monday at dawn and lasted for several hours.

Troops took several members of the Brigades prisoner and claimed uncovering combat tools, weapons and explosives.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources reported that four members were taken prisoner after the army surrounded a building for more than four hours. At least 30 military vehicles, military helicopters, and three military bulldozers, supported the under-cover troops were operating in Qabatia.

The sources added that the military offensive took place on Sunday night after midnight, after the army surrounded several areas and houses while troops broke into several houses using ladders and other tools.

One of the residents said that he was awakened by the soldiers who infiltrated into his home, ordered him to wake his family up, and rounded them in the kitchen.

Soldier used the same method to break and control several houses. Resident Fakhri Thiab, said that soldiers forced him, his children and wife, in a small room and did not allow them to leave it until the operation was concluded and the army was ready to leave.

Army broke into dozens of homes during the attack, and used military dogs in searching them while the soldiers used loud speakers calling the “wanted residents” to surrender.

Later on, soldiers surrounded several barracks, and surrounded the area around them before breaking into the barracks and abducting four residents after firing rounds of live ammunition, flares and after threatening to burn the barracks if the residents hiding in them do not surrender.

The four were taken prisoner and moved to an unknown destination; the barracks were bulldozed.

After the operation was concluded, the army said that four members of the Al Quds brigades were taken prisoner.

The Islamic Jihad said that this attack will not stop it from resisting the occupation, and vowed retaliation.

Video: Recovering American

Recovering American Must See Video


Olmert demands the Palestinians to drop the Right of Return

Olmert obviously doesn't want peace.


Saed Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies - Monday, 27 November 2006, 14:47

Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Monday that Israel insists on unilaterally drawing its borders, totally rejecting the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees, and that Israel will implement the Road Map plan but with the implementation of “the letter of assurances” Israel received from the American president in April 14, 2004.

The letter of assurances, sent by Bush to the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, includes modifying the Road Map Plan in a way that will not oblige Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, and assures the country that it could retain the large settlement blocs and reject the Right of Return.

Olmert demanded the Palestinians to form a government that abides by Quartet’s conditions to “renounce violence, recognize Israel and recognize the previous peace deals”.

The statements of Olmert as the government met at Kibbutz Sde Boker, to commemorate the founder of Israel, Minister David Ben-Gurion, who died 33 years ago.

During the ceremony, Olmert claimed that Israel plans to reduce the number of checkpoints in the occupied territories and will facilitate the movement of goods and residents.

He also said that Israel will evacuate some settlements and occupied West Bank “in return for a real peace”. This evacuation does not include the large settlements blocs, and the big settlements, but only includes evacuating illegal settlement outposts.

He claimed that what he proposes will allow the creation of a Palestinian state with geographical contiguity, in spite the fact that he did not declare that Israel is willing to evacuate from all of the occupied territories.

Commenting on the Saudi Initiative, Olmert said that parts of the initiative are good, and that Israel should seek to improve its relations with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, Olmert added that Israel is ready to take a series of measures in the occupied West Bank, in order to ease the distress of the Palestinian people.

He demanded the safe release of the captured Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, and in return the Israeli government “will be willing to release many detainees, including those who are sentenced to lengthy terms”, according to Olmert.

The Israeli Prime Minister did not specify a number of detainees to be freed, and did not talk about guarantees of freeing those detainees, and easing the restrictions imposed on the Palestinians.

Incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call for Iraq partition

Capital Sources: Biden on Iraq
The incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has his own answer to Baker-Hamilton on Iraq.


By Michael Hirsh
Updated: 8:40 a.m. MT Nov 27, 2006

Nov. 27, 2206 - Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware is poised to retake the chairmanship of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, after the new Democrat-controlled Congress is sworn in. Biden discussed his plans for stabilizing Iraq by creating a federal system of three autonomous regions—Kurd, Shiite and Sunni—and for addressing Iran’s nuclear program, among other issues, in an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Michael Hirsh. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: I understand you’re planning to hold hearings on Iraq in January as your first act as chairman.
Joseph Biden: I am. We’re putting it together now. It will probably amount to six weeks of hearings. We’ll have experts who are left, right and center, neocons, internationalists and isolationists, to come in and dissect the various elements of our Iraq policy. For example, the never-examined premise upon which we say we’re going to stand up Iraqis and stand down ourselves. It’s not a question of getting them to stand up; it’s getting them to stand together … I’ve gone back and looked at hearings from the past to get some sense of how this is done from a historical perspective. We’re going to try to do something that is sound.

Will the hearings examine the report of the Iraq Study Group being co-chaired by former secretary of State James Baker and former House member Lee Hamilton, which is expected to be out by then?
I think that’s only part of it. It depends on whether Baker and Hamilton remain relevant. I’ve asked Baker and Hamilton to appear, along with former secretaries of State and Defense and other officials.

Will you produce your own, separate report with a set of recommendations?
That’s one of the things we’re considering.

Senator, how would you address the problem of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric, who may be the most powerful and dangerous man in Iraq today, and his militia, the so-called Mahdi Army?
There are three elements to thinking about Sadr. First, dealing with Sadr’s aberrations directly. Making it clear to [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-] Maliki that he had better not tell our military that we can’t respond specifically to Mahdi Army attacks on our forces. This is why federalization is so critical. That’s the second element. That will have the healthy effect of forcing Sadr to compete for territory within his own region. When the Iraqis were debating federalism in the Parliament, the only people who voted against the implementing legislation were Sadr’s bloc and the Sunnis. Why would that be? Sadr knows that if there were a larger Sunni region in the center, a Kurdistan and a Shia region in the south then he becomes marginalized within the pool in which he has to swim. He has to deal with the Badr Brigade [a rival Shia militia.] He has to deal with the two major political parties in there for ascendancy. Read the constitution. So few people have read those actual portions. If you have federal system you get local police control. That’s what this is about. The third piece is what I would be doing to make sure elements of genuine Iraqi military are in place. There are 10 divisions now; five are serious, five are not. What we should do is give the central government the power vet and turn that army into a real army. Ultimately the central government has to have ability to control them. What we’re doing now, we’re not separating out the militia. Number one, we’re not going into a full blown vetting operation … When people criticize my plan, I say, "Do you think in the next 10 years there is any likelihood that no matter how well trained Iraqi police are that people in the Sunni region will allow Shia police to roam in their territory or that Kurds will allow the Sunnis to do so?" About 930,000 people have self-ethnic cleansed already.

What are the prospects for John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to be confirmed in your committee?

Bolton’s gone. These guys have got to get real. They can’t even get him out of a Republican-led committee. All they keep floating is the prospect that they’re going to come up with a construct to keep him there—make him a deputy [which wouldn’t require Senate confirmation] but not send anybody else up. I wish they’d grow up.

What should President Bush do about Iran and its nuclear program, now that it seems Tehran has successfully divided the United States, Europe and Russia on the issue of sanctions in the U.N. Security Council? Does he need to move to broad direct talks that will link up the nuclear and Iraq issues, among others?

I think he’s going to end up talking to Iran because he has no alternative. The terms [of the talks] should be wide open. This administration spends too much time arguing over the shape of the table. They don’t get anything done. But guessing what this administration is going to do is like reading the entrails of goats in ancient times. I think this is the gang that can’t shoot straight.

You don’t think Bush will attack Iran in the end?
I don’t think so … The reason being, we have no capacity to do that. Even with airstrikes, now that you’ve energized the Iranian population, what do you do then?

What about Mideast peace? Some within the administration have hinted in recent months they are hoping to get the Israelis and Palestinians back together.
I hope they’re moving in that direction. We’ve been AWOL on that issue. My view is there’s paralysis in Israel. It seems to me there are enough people to speak to in all parts of the Israeli government, and this may be an opportunity to deal with Syria in a way that advances our mutual interests. We should be acting as a catalyst, offering private initiatives. We should also be significantly increasing our aid to the Lebanese government.

What would you do about North Korea, which is showing few signs of backing down from its progress toward becoming a nuclear power?

Again, you’ve got to talk. The North Koreans aren’t all stupid. The idea that you are going to say to any country, "Change your behavior, and after you do we’re going to change your regime," when in fact you have no option to change the regime, doesn’t make any sense. These guys have got to get in the real world here. In order to change [North Korean] behavior you have to give up regime change and pre-emption as the only two prongs of our foreign policy … But nothing else happens unless you get Iraq squared away.


A group of settlers attack and injure one child in Hebron

IMEMC & Agencies - Monday, 27 November 2006, 15:32

A group of illegal settlers attacked Palestinian school kids going back home to the Tell Rumeida neighborhood in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday afternoon.

Wourod Shabanah, 9, was admitted in the city hospital after sustaining several cuts and broses due the settler attack. Doctors described her wounds as moderate.

Shabanah said that she was walking back home with a group of kids from her neighborhood when a group of settlers attacked them. The kids ran away while she was caught by the settlers who beat her up. Local residents said that the settlers came from the nearby illegal settlement of Ramat Shai, built on stolen Palestinian land.

How Al-Sadr May Control U.S. Fate in Iraq

How Al-Sadr May Control U.S. Fate in Iraq

He can deal out death through his black-clad followers and roil the government any time he chooses. Why Moqtada al-Sadr may end up deciding America's fate in Iraq.

By Jeffrey Bartholet


Dec. 4, 2006 issue - One way to understand Moqtada al-Sadr is to think of him as a young Mafia don. He aims for respectability, and is willing to kill for it. Yet the extent of his power isn't obvious to the untrained eye. He has no standing army or police force, and the Mahdi Army gunmen he employs have no tanks or aircraft. You could mistake him—at your peril—for a common thug or gang leader. And if he or his people were to kill you for your ignorance, he wouldn't claim credit. But the message would be clear to those who understand the brutal language of the Iraqi Street.

American soldiers who patrol Sadr's turf in Baghdad understand. They can spot his men. "They look like they're pulling security," says First Lt. Robert Hartley, a 25-year-old who plays cat and mouse with the Mahdi Army in the Iraqi capital. The Sadrists use children and young men as lookouts. When GIs get out of their Humvees to patrol on foot, one of the watchers will fly a kite, or release a flock of pigeons. Some of Sadr's people have even infiltrated top ranks of the Iraqi police. Capt. Tom Kapla, 29, says he knows who they are: "They look at you, and you can tell they want to kill you."

Sadr is a unique force in Iraq: a leader from the majority Shiites who has resisted American occupation from the start. He's a populist, a nationalist and an Islamic radical rolled into one. Part of his power is simply that he's powerful. Large numbers of impoverished Shiites view Sadr as their guardian—the one leader who is willing not just to stand up for them but to strike back on their behalf. "People count on the militias," says Lieutenant Hartley, who deals with Sadr's thugs on a regular basis. "It's like the mob—they keep people safe."

The longer Sadr has survived, the greater his prestige has grown. Iraqis and foreigners who meet him are impressed by the transformation. He's more diplomatic and commands more respect. He used to greet visitors at his Najaf office sitting on pillows on the floor. Now he has a couch set. His concerns are high-minded: he speaks of fuel shortages and cabinet politics. In the past, Sadr was shrugged off as a rabble-rouser and a nuisance. Now he is undeniably one of the most popular leaders in the country. He is also its most dangerous, for he has the means to wage political or actual war against any solution that is not precisely to his liking. He is driven by forces America has long misread in Iraq: religious sentiment, economic resentment and enduring sectarian passions.

And he is now a primary target of Sunni insurgents bent on provoking all-out civil war. Last Thursday, Sunni militants carried out their deadliest attack since 2003. Multiple car bombs, accompanied by mortars, killed more than 200 people in Sadr City, a Shiite slum of 2 million people in Baghdad that is dominated by the Mahdi Army. Shiite forces responded immediately by firing mortars at a revered Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and by torching other holy places. Only the presence of U.S. troops—and a wide curfew over the city—prevented far bloodier revenge attacks.

More than anyone, Sadr personifies the dilemma Washington faces: If American troops leave Iraq quickly, militia leaders like Sadr will be unleashed as never before, and full-scale civil war could follow. But the longer the American occupation lasts, the less popular America gets—and the more popular Sadr and his ilk become.

To many, Sadr's brand of Shiite politics—homegrown, populist and ruthless—seems a natural outgrowth of the ruin left in Saddam Hussein's wake, and a powerful part of what Iraq has become. The United Nations calculates that an unprecedented 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October. Death squads connected to the Mahdi Army, as well as to other Shia and Sunni groups, capture and execute civilians in cold blood, sometimes dragging them out of hospitals or government ministries. Corpses turn up on the street with acid burns on their backs, or electric-drill holes in their knees, stomachs and heads. Among ordinary Iraqis, the United States bears much of the blame for the bloodshed—just for being there. As Sadr put it to NEWSWEEK earlier this year, "The occupation is the decision maker ... any attack is [America's] responsibility."

The story of the U.S. confrontation with Moqtada al-Sadr is, in many ways, the story of American folly in Iraq. It's a story of ignorance and poor planning, missteps and confusion. Key policymakers often disagreed about the importance of Sadr and about how to deal with him. The result was half-measures and hesitation. But the story isn't just about past failures. It also contains lessons—and warnings—about the future.

Little More Than 'Mullah Atari'
Moqtada al-Sadr did not appearon anyone's radar screen ahead of the 2003 invasion. Even among Iraqis, although he came from an important clerical family he was seen as a weak figure. Moqtada's father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, had been a leading ayatollah, a rival to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and other top clerics. But gunmen—assumed to be working for Saddam—murdered the elder Sadr along with two of his sons in 1999. Moqtada was 25 at the time.

On the evening after his father's funeral, Moqtada presided over a memorial service at the Safi al-Safa Mosque in Najaf. A storm was raging outside. At about 8 p.m., three men wearing suits and ties swaggered into the mosque. Their jackets bulged where handguns were holstered. They were smirking, recalls Fatah al-Sheikh, a family friend who was present. Everyone in the mosque knew they were Saddam's men. One of the visitors offered Moqtada a package: a brick of bank notes wrapped in crisp white paper. "It was a message from Saddam Hussein," Sheikh recalls. "They wanted to tell Sayyid Moqtada, 'We killed your father.' They wanted to see if Sayyid Moqtada could be bought."

Moqtada declined the money, refused to shake hands and told the men to leave the mosque. A cleric followed the men out, apologized on Moqtada's behalf and accepted the money—knowing that to refuse it would mean a death sentence. Fearing immediate retribution anyway, Moqtada cut short the memorial and canceled two days of official mourning.

Sheikh says that for the next four years, Saddam's secret police followed Sadr wherever he went. One hot summer day, Sheikh recalls seeing Sadr leave the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. Sheikh walked up and said hello. Sadr squeezed Sheikh's hand tight and opened his eyes wide. "He was trying to give me a signal." Then Sheikh saw why: two men dressed in dishdashas, standing behind Sadr and near a Toyota with tinted windows, were watching.

Saddam kept a close eye on Sadr because the young man inherited a wide network of mosques, schools and social centers built up by his father. The network was focused on the impoverished masses of Iraqi Shiites—the sort of people other religious and secular leaders didn't have much time for. Even some educated Shiites dismissed Moqtada as a zatut, or ignorant child. Some called him "Mullah Atari," because he apparently enjoyed videogames as a kid. He certainly lacked his father's stature: in his theological studies, Moqtada never reached beyond the level of bahth al-kharij (pregraduation research), according to a study by the International Crisis Group. But it's clear now that most everybody underestimated him.

The Time Bomb Starts to Tick
Top American officials may have been misled, as in so many other things, by depending heavily on well-heeled Iraqi exiles for advice. The outsiders, who had lived for many years in London or Washington or Tehran, disagreed vehemently with each other on what an invasion would mean. But some told Americans what they wanted to hear: you will be greeted as liberators, especially by the Shiites and Kurds long oppressed by Saddam.

American officials listened to Ahmad Chalabi, the well-known scion of a secular Shiite banking family. Another prominent exile was Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who was supposed to be a key guide to the Shia religious community. Both had been away from Iraq for many years, and were strangers to the place they had left behind.

Al-Khoei paid with his life. The London-based exile returned to the holy city of Najaf, where he was born and raised, under U.S. military protection. He quickly organized a local council to get electricity and water flowing again, apparently with CIA money. (The CIA declined to comment.) But al-Khoei's father had been Iraq's top ayatollah—and a bitter rival of Sadr's father—during Saddam's rule. Now the sons were competing for power and influence. Sadr castigated al-Khoei as a U.S. agent, and demanded that he turn over the keys to the tomb of Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law. A gilded cage surrounding the tomb contains a box for pilgrims' donations, a huge and vital source of income for religious leaders.

As al-Khoei and a colleague visited the shrine on the morning of April 10, 2003, an angry mob attacked them with grenades, guns and swords. "Long live Moqtada al-Sadr!" the mob cried out. Al-Khoei was stabbed repeatedly, then tied up and dragged to the doorstep of Sadr's headquarters in Najaf, where he was still alive. A subsequent investigation by an Iraqi judge found that Sadr himself gave the order to finish him off: "Take him away and kill him in your own special way."

Yet it wasn't clear at the time of the killing what Sadr's personal role was, and "we didn't want one of our first acts in country to be taking out one of the most popular leaders," says a U.S. military officer familiar with Army intelligence on Sadr. The officer, who did not want to be named discussing intelligence matters, says the Army was worried about provoking riots. When Sadr's father was killed in 1999, Saddam violently crushed protests by angry Shia mobs. "We thought that tens of thousands would take to the streets in Nasiriya, Karbala and Baghdad. It always comes back to that—not enough guys on the ground."

One courageous Iraqi judge, Raid Juhi, doggedly investigated the case. He exhumed the bodies of al-Khoei and his colleague, and wrote up a confidential arrest warrant for Sadr in August 2003. "From that moment through April 2004, the issue was whether we were going to enforce the arrest warrant," says Dan Senor, a senior official in the Coalition Provisional Authority at the time.

The CPA, the Pentagon and the military on the ground were in disagreement. The Marines in southern Iraq were particularly wary of stirring up trouble. As it was, the United States was preparing to hand off the area around Najaf to a multinational force with troops from Spain and Central America. Still, the Coalition had a secret arrest plan, and momentum toward nabbing Sadr was building. "The pivotal moment was Aug. 19, 2003," says Senor. "We were down to figuring out the mechanisms of ensuring that the operation was seen as Iraqi, executed on an Iraqi arrest warrant. I remember it was late afternoon and we had just received a snowflake from [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld ... with nine different questions, rehashing how we were going to do this, to make sure it was not seen as an American operation." (A "snowflake" was a Rumsfeld memo.)

Suddenly word came that insurgents had detonated a massive truck bomb at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Senor recalls rushing to the scene with Hume Horan, a top U.S. diplomat and Arabist. Horan leaned over to Senor and said, "We should take down Sadr now, when no one's looking." But there was enough chaos to deal with already. The U.N. bombing was "a huge distraction," says Senor, "and the Sadr operation was forgotten."

Taking On Iraq's New Taliban
The U.S. invasion had destroyed an economy already crippled by years of international sanctions. Countless young men were unemployed, invigorated by the atmosphere of violent change but also poor and fearful. They wanted to be part of the new order—whatever it would be. The country was also awash in guns and other weapons, including those looted from Saddam's vast and unsecured arms depots. The Sadrist network was perfectly positioned to capitalize on the situation. Sadr himself wasdetermined to lead a national movement—using a potent mixture of anti-occupation militancy and millennial preaching about the coming of the mysterious 12th imam, who Shiites believe will save mankind. "Moqtada is absolutely hooked on the concept of the reappearance of the Mahdi," says Amatzia Baram, the director of the Ezri Center at Haifa University.

The first sighting of black-clad militiamen identifying themselves as part of Mahdi Army seems to have come in September 2003 in the southern town of Kufah. "I do not care what the Americans have to say about this, and I never did," said Sadr when asked about the new militia by reporters later that month. "Only the Iraqi people can choose who they want to protect their country." The U.S. military, fighting an ever-growing insurgency by the minority Sunnis, who had lost power with Saddam's downfall, didn't want to instigate a two-front war. But that left the United States without a strategy. If American forces weren't going to fight Sadr, it made sense to try to entice him into a political process. But other Iraqi leaders, including prominent Shiites, may have opposed that idea.

In the winter of 2004, a senior adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Iraq, was traveling in the south, meeting with friendly clerics and community leaders. "I could see how frightened they were of [Sadr] and his Mahdi Army," recalls the aide, Larry Diamond. "I was driven past an area, a kind of compound where his black-clad army was training for the upcoming revolution to seize power and take over. It just dawned on me that these people were going to make this place an authoritarian hell of a new sort, Taliban style, and would murder a lot of our allies in the process."

Diamond went to Bremer and gave him his assessment: the United States urgently needed to act against Sadr. Bremer responded that he was waiting for a new plan from Coalition forces. "I first wanted to go after him when he had probably fewer than 200 followers," Bremer recalled in an interview with NEWSWEEK last week. "I couldn't make it happen ... the Marines were resisting doing anything." But in the meantime, on March 28, 2004, Bremer suspended publication of Sadr's newspaper after it ran an editorial praising the 9/11 attacks on America as a "blessing from God."

The response was swift: mass demonstrations, which led to the first of two Sadr uprisings in 2004. In a final meeting between Diamond and Bremer on April 1, Diamond pressed the point that the United States needed more troops in Iraq. It was around 8 p.m., and Bremer's dinner was sitting on a tray uneaten. He looked exhausted. "And he just didn't want to hear it," says Diamond. "In retrospect, I think he had gone to the well on this issue of more troops during 2003, had gotten nowhere ... and had just resigned himself to the fact that these troops just weren't going to come. I think the tragedy is that everyone just gave up."

When fighting did break out, American forces hammered the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and Najaf—first in the spring and then again, after a broken ceasefire, in the late summer. Some of the worst fighting came in August, as Sadr's militiamen made their stand around the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. They turned the area into a no-go zone, sniping at any sign of movement. U.S. forces retaliated by laying waste to large swaths of central Najaf. In the end, Ayatollah Sistani brought his influence to bear on the renegade cleric and encouraged a ceasefire. Attempts to enforce the arrest warrant against Sadr and several aides were dropped, and Sadr's forces disarmed in Najaf or headed out of town. They were badly bloodied, and some militants were shellshocked. Others bragged about how they had fought back tanks with AK-47s, or disabled Humvees with a single grenade. Scores of militiamen were dead, but Sadr's prestige was, if anything, enhanced: he had fought the mighty United States to a stalemate.

Getting Sadr Inside The Tent
Sadr needed a new strategy, however. He wasn't strong enough to defeat the occupier head-on, nor could he eliminate his Iraqi rivals. So he took up what he calls "political resistance"—working from within the system. Chalabi played an important role here. Washington's favorite Iraqi had found that he had little popularity in his homeland, so he was seeking alliances. Chalabi also felt, as did many other Iraqis and Americans, that it was better to bring Sadr inside the process than to have him trying to destroy it. "Sadr is respected because of his lineage and because he speaks for the disenfranchised, the scared and the angry," says a Chalabi aide, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. "In that sort of situation, it makes absolute sense to try to get him inside the system."

Sadr made the most of the opening. Politicians in his Sadr bloc won 23 of 275 seats in the January 2005 elections and, after fresh voting nearly a year later, now hold 30 seats. In both cases, because of divisions between other large Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties, Sadr was able to play kingmaker. Two prime ministers since 2005—Ibrahim Jaafari and the current Iraqi leader, Nuri al-Maliki—have depended on his swing votes for their majority. But Sadr himself stayed out of government, and kept his distance. That way he could pursue a dual strategy—rebuilding his militia even as he capitalized on his control of key ministries, like Health and Transportation, to provide services to the poor and jobs to his followers.

The Sunni insurgents were pursuing a new strategy, too. In early 2004, U.S. forces had intercepted a worried letter from the Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, to Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi fretted that his fight against American forces was going poorly. But he had a plan: "If we succeed in dragging [the Shiites] into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger," he wrote.

Throughout 2005, Sunni insurgents launched increasingly vicious attacks on Shiite civilians and holy places. Sistani regularly called on his followers to exercise restraint, which they did with remarkable forbearance. But Sadr, who had long positioned himself as an Iraqi nationalist—and who had cooperated with Sunni fighters in the early stages of the insurgency—now publicly called for Sunnis to disavow Zarqawi. New battle lines were being drawn.

The turning point came on Feb. 22, 2006, when assailants bombed the golden-domed Askariya Shrine in Samarra. This was the burial place of the 10th and 11th imams, and one of the holiest sites of the Shia faith. After the Samarra bombing, many Shiites felt compelled to lash back. Caught in a vicious street fight against Sunnis, they decided that they'd rather have a dirty brawler in their corner (like Sadr) than a gray-bearded holy man (like Sistani). "We have courage, large amounts of ammunition, good leaders, and it is a religious duty," says Ali Mijbil, a 26-year-old mechanic who serves in the Mahdi Army. "So why don't we fight them? We've been kept under Sunni rule for more than 14 centuries. It is the proper time to rule ourselves now."

Sadr still insists his main fight is with foreign invaders. He's the one Shia leader who has opposed the U.S. occupation from the beginning, and who has continued to call for a strict timetable for American withdrawal. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis now agree with him. A September poll by found that 63 percent of 501 Iraqi Shiites surveyed supported attacks against Americans. Even in Baghdad, where ethnic tensions are worst, Shiites agree with Sunnis on one thing: the poll found that 80 percent of the capital's Shiites wanted U.S. forces to leave within a year. That number has changed dramatically in a matter of months. A January poll found that most Shiites wanted U.S.-led troops to be reduced only "as the security situation improves."

In Washington, some politicians still talk about "victory," while others aim only to stabilize the country and leave with some semblance of dignity. Many in the U.S. capital are dusting off yesterday's proposals for tomorrow's problems—more training, more troops, disarming the militias, more stability in Baghdad. The GOP presidential front runner for 2008, John McCain, would prefer to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 20,000, at least temporarily. He has also called for Sadr to be "taken out." But it may be too late.

The movement may now be more important than the man. Sadr "is faced with a common problem," says Toby Dodge of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "He can't control the use of his brand name, the use of his legitimacy." Some elder followers of Sadr's father have broken away, disillusioned with the son. And some young toughs seem to be freelancing where they can. Renegade factions could eventually threaten Sadr's power. If he were to fall, "you'll end up with 30 different movements," says Vali Nasr, a scholar and author who has briefed the Bush administration on Iraq. "There are 30 chieftains who have a tremendous amount of local power. If you remove him, there will be a scramble for who will inherit this movement ... It's a great danger doing that. You may actually make your life much more difficult."

How the Mahdi Army Works
For now, Sadr and his Mahdi Army have the initiative. They can stir up trouble without much fear of retribution. A case in point: When kidnappers grabbed an Iraqi-American translator in Baghdad last month, U.S. soldiers sealed off the Sadr City neighborhood where they believed he was being held. But Prime Minister Maliki—who depends on Sadr for political support—quickly ordered the Americans to remove their roadblocks. Maliki has also forced the U.S. military to release men picked up during raids in Sadr City on suspicion of belonging to Shiite death squads.

When the U.S. fails to respond to provocation, it loses credibility. And when it does respond, it can also lose. Last week, before the massive car-bomb attacks, U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out a pinprick raid in Sadr City to get intelligence on the kidnapped military translator, Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie. Like so many other U.S. military strikes in Iraq, however, it came at a price. American forces captured seven militiamen, including one who might have information on al-Taayie. But police said a young boy was among three people killed in the raid. A member of Parliament from Sadr's movement promptly showed up at the morgue, and held the corpse of the boy in his arms as he railed against the American occupation.

U.S. forces have tried hard to win hearts and minds. They've spent $120.9 million on completed construction projects in Sadr City, for instance—building new sewers and power lines—and projects worth an additional $197 million are underway. But the United States doesn't always get credit for the good works. When the Americans doled out cash to construct four health clinics in Sadr City during the past year, Sadr's men quickly removed any hint of U.S. involvement. They also put up signs giving all credit to their boss, according to Lt. Zeroy Lawson, an Army intelligence officer who works in the area.

The Mahdi Army has other sources of cash. It's taken control of gas stations throughout large parts of Baghdad, and dominates the Shia trade in propane-gas canisters, which Iraqis use for cooking. Sometimes the militiamen sell the propane at a premium, earning healthy profits; at other times they sell it at well below market rates, earning gratitude from the poor and unemployed.

A key source of Sadr's income is Muslim tithes—or khoms—collected at mosques. But his militiamen also run extortion and protection rackets—demanding money to keep certain businesses and individuals "safe." One Iraqi in a tough neighborhood, who did not want to reveal his name out of fear, says he pays the local Mahdi Army the equivalent of $13 a month for protection.

Analysts believe that Iran has also provided support to Sadr, but not much. Tehran began supplying Shia insurgents, including the Mahdi Army, with a special type of roadside bomb, using a shaped charge, in May 2005. These are often disguised as rocks and are easy to manufacture locally. But diplomats say they are made to the exact design perfected by Iranian intelligence and supplied to Lebanese Hizbullah in the 1980s.

Yet Tehran's main Shiite clients in Iraq are rivals of Sadr, who is often critical of Persian influence. Sadr worries that Iran may be trying to infiltrate his movement, and he's almost surely right. Fatah al-Sheikh, who is close to Sadr, says the boss sent a private letter to loyal imams around Baghdad in the past two weeks identifying 10 followers he believed were suspect. They had been using the Mahdi Army name, but Sadr believes they're really tools of Iranian intelligence, says Sheikh.

Sadr has tried to distance himself from atrocities, insisting that they're carried out by renegades or impostors. Many Sunnis, to whom Sadr has become a dark symbol of Shiite perfidy, don't buy it. "If he says, 'Kill Alusi,' I will be killed," says Mithal al-Alusi, a moderate Sunni member of Parliament. "If he says, 'Don't kill Alusi,' I will not be killed ... Nobody can go against his orders or wishes." The Association of Muslim Scholars, which is loosely linked with Sunni insurgents, says the Mahdi Army has attacked some 200 Sunni mosques, and killed more than 260 imams and mosque workers.

All the killings will be remembered, and it will be a miracle if they go unanswered. Memories of martyrdom—and the desire for revenge—can last forever. Last Friday marked the anniversary, on the Islamic calendar, of the killing of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr and his two eldest sons. After the previous day's bombings, Moqtada told government officials that he was out of the country. But that seems to have been a feint—to keep possible enemiesoff balance. In fact, heappeared at the Kufah Mosque, where his father used to lead worshipers in chants of "No, no to America; no, no to Israel; no, no to the Devil!"

As word spread that Moqtada would lead prayers, people crowded into the mosque, most of them clad in black as a sign of mourning. Sadr asked worshipers to pray for his dead relatives, and also for those who had been killed in Sadr City. He again called for the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. He urged a top Sunni sheik to issue three fatwas: one against the killing of Shiites, another against joining Al Qaeda and the third to rebuild the shrine in Samarra. He compared his father's followers to those of the Prophet Muhammad. "After the prophet died," he intoned, "some of his followers deviated from his teachings, and the same has happened with followers of my father." The "cursed trio"—Americans, British and Israelis—were trying to divide Iraq. "We Iraqis—Sunnis and Shia—will always be brothers."

No one in Iraq talks about arresting Sadr for the murder of al-Khoei anymore. That seems like ages ago—back when Sadr's armed supporters were estimated in the hundreds, compared with many thousands today. Now diplomats speak of trying to keep Sadr inside the political system, hoping he can tame his followers. He's a militant Islamist and anti-occupation, they say, but he's also a nationalist, and not as close to Iran as some of his rivals. Nobody knows whether Sadr is dissembling when he speaks about Iraqi unity, or preparing for all-out war. What is clear—more today than ever before—is that it's time to stop underestimating him.

This story was written by Jeffrey Bartholet with reporting from Kevin Peraino and Sarah Childress in Baghdad; Michael Hastings in Amman; Dan Ephron, Michael Hirsh and John Barry in Washington; Christopher Dickey in Paris; Melinda Liu in Beijing; Rod Nordland, Stryker McGuire, Mark Hosenball and Rebecca Hall in London; Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut; Scott Johnson in Cape Town; Christian Carylin Tokyo, and Malcolm Beith and Karen Fragala Smith in New York


Israel's land-rights problem


By James Carroll
November 27, 2006

THE WORSENING conflict between Israelis and Palestinians reached a rare point of clarification last week, but an ominous one. It involved leaked Israeli government documents apparently showing that significant parts of Israeli settlements in the West Bank are on land unjustly appropriated from Palestinians.

"One Third of Jewish Area Is on Private Property," read the Page 1 headline in The New York Times. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in "settlements" that are in politically disputed territory, but the Israeli government has long insisted that the private property rights of individual Palestinian owners have been respected. The official line is that settlements are only created on land that has been legally purchased. But is that so?

Complications of ownership records are part of the story, and so, perhaps, is occasional Palestinian reluctance to openly acknowledge the sale of land to the government of Israel. But the leaked report draws attention back, nevertheless, to the foundational mistake that Israel made decades ago -- creating the massive settlements in the first place. Whether individual rights were respected or not, the communal rights of Palestinians were trashed. And now this injustice has backfired, with the ownership dispute laying bare Israel's larger problem.

Surrounded by hostile populations across the region from the start, the State of Israel, by taking land after the 1967 war, licensed and funded settlements that drew that hostility right into the polity of Israel itself. Local Arab resentment reinforced Arab hatred everywhere.

The negative consequences of the settlements have been multi-faceted. The requirement to support the many Jewish settlers has led the government to create unequal civic institutions, like roads and water sources. Inequities in infrastructure contribute to steadily worsening Palestinian conditions. Protection of settlers involves broad, and often cruel, restrictions on Palestinians. The plight of their cousins in occupied territories has pushed Arab Israelis further away from any identification with Israel. Many Israeli Jews, including members of the Israel Defense Forces, refuse to associate with their government's settlement policies. The inequities fuel local rage among Palestinians, and regional resentment among Arabs.

The fact that the settlements apparently violate individual Arab property rights only exacerbates the broader violation of Palestinian territorial claims. But from the point of view of Israel, the most important fact may be that all of this, undertaken in the name of security, has probably done more to jeopardize the future of the democratic Jewish state than anything its enemies have done.

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the on going Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel's word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

Now, with the controversial security barrier, which amounts in many places to a huge cement wall, Israel is openly appropriating disputed land precisely to protect major settlement enclaves. That wall-and-fence is justified as a block to terrorist incursions, and may be succeeding as such, but it also amounts to a unilaterally drawn de facto border. The barrier makes Israel's initial self-defeating mistake a permanent one. That such a construction could enhance Israel's long-term security is shown to be folly by this year's mobilization from Lebanon and Gaza of relentless rocket fire. No wall will stop that.

Today's Middle East is marked by political despair. In the near term, no benign outcomes suggest themselves in Iraq or in Lebanon. Syria and Iran are poised for further mischief. Palestinians are led by factions that regard one another as enemies. Israelis have reason to feel isolated and threatened, especially after their government's wild miscalculations last summer, and the repetition of such miscalculations in Gaza. But the impasse need not last forever, and the greatest mistake would be to shape policy as if it will.

The security barrier must not be accepted as a border. Early Israeli government definitions of the barrier as temporary must be insisted upon. Its route, even temporary, should be redrawn to respect Palestinian rights and requirements. Palestinian property claims should be adjudicated promptly. Extremist calls for the "removal" of Palestinians from Israeli areas must not be allowed to become mainstream.

Today, there may be, as many Israelis insist, no partner with whom to make peace, but no actions should be taken that make the emergence of such a partner impossible.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe

Security expert says Iraq 'worse than Vietnam'

ABC Online

27/11/2006. ABC News Online

Last Update: Monday, November 27, 2006. 10:51pm (AEDT)

A security expert says more troops should be sent to Iraq to deal with the situation.

Security expert says Iraq 'worse than Vietnam'

A security expert says he believes coalition forces face the prospect of defeat in Iraq with serious consequences.

Former soldier and military historian Robert O'Neill says it is likely the coalition will pull its troops out early.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney tonight, Professor O'Neill, who served during the Vietnam War, described Iraq as "an even worse problem than Vietnam".

He says the coalition invaded Iraq with a flawed strategy, insufficient troops to do the job, and no policy in place for responding to the insurgency and chaos that would follow the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

"I don't think that our Government had any idea of the morass that is was about to set foot into," he said.

Professor O'Neill says the coalition should have foreseen the need for a much greater number of troops to restore order to Iraq.

"People who'd known a bit of history would have, first of all, expected the place to blow up mightily once Saddam's authority was removed," he said.

"Second, that it was going to take a lot more than 150,000 troops to restore law and order - it was going to take twice that or more."

He says more troops should be sent to Iraq to deal with the situation, but with no public support for such a move it is more likely they will be withdrawn early.

He says that will result in further chaos and a protracted civil war.

Palestinian homes abandoned in flight across Israel’s wall


© Tom Spender/IRIN

JERUSALEM, 27 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Israel began building an eight-metre high, 703km-long concrete barrier through the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2002. To date, some 670km of it is completed.Israel says the wall is a security measure to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attacks by Palestinian militants. When the barrier is completed, about 10 per cent of the West Bank will be inside Israel.In July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ruled that the barrier’s route, which weaves around the western border of the occupied territory, was illegal under international humanitarian and human rights law because it "gravely" infringes on a number of rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank.In five articles, IRIN examines the human consequences of the wall for both Israelis and Palestinians.


If the Barrier is completed based on the current route, 60,500 Palestinians living in 42 villages will reside in areas between the Barrier and the Green Line (unofficial border), not including East Jerusalem residents.

Of these, 12 villages and about 31,400 Palestinians are particularly affected as they will be completely encircled by the Barrier.

An additional 124,300 Palestinians living in 28 villages will be located on the east side, but surrounded by the Barrier on three sides and controlled on the fourth with an associated physical structure.

The Shehada family remember living in their big house on the outskirts of Jerusalem, with a large garden boasting plum, olive and fig trees. It was a happy Palestinian home, but when Israel began building an eight-metre high wall between them and the city, Fyass Shehada knew he and his family would have to abandon it. For the past two years, they have crammed themselves into a dilapidated two-room flat in the depths of Jerusalem’s Old City. “I’m angry that we have to live here. But we needed to keep our Jerusalem IDs. If we don’t have the ID, we will be walled out of the city,” said the 46-year-old father.To qualify for a Jerusalem ID, they must satisfy the Israeli authorities that Jerusalem is the centre of their lives, meaning they must work or study in the city.“I have nerve damage and I need to go to an Israeli hospital for treatment. And it is the same for all of us – we moved for our futures,” said Fyass.Construction of what Israel calls its ‘Security Fence’ has sparked a desperate scramble for space inside East Jerusalem, where it is thought that tens of thousands of Palestinians have had to move home. "The urgent security imperative of preventing suicide terrorism dictates that a fence must be erected," said the Israeli army in a statement to IRIN.The wall’s tall, grey concrete slabs wind around East Jerusalem to include Jewish settlements but separating the homes of about a quarter of the 240,000 Jerusalem Palestinians from the city, according to the Palestinian refugee rights group Badil, which has studied displacement caused by the wall.In suburbs like Al Ram - where the Shehadas used to live - streets are deserted. No lights shine behind the windows of big, comfortable Palestinian homes. Shopkeepers say up to a third of the suburb’s residents have left to avoid being caught on the wall’s West Bank side.

Paying a heavy price

The Shehadas have paid a heavy price for the move. Fyass and his wife Khitam, 40, sleep on the floor of one room between sofas which their two daughters Leila, 18, and Sharouk, 14, sleep on. Their three sons Mohammed, 20, Ahmed, 16, and Mahmoud, 9, sleep in the other room, which doubles as a kitchen. Chaotic wiring hangs loose throughout the apartment, and rainwater leaks through the roof of an outside toilet, where a frame without a door looks out over a vacant lot several metres below, strewn with rubbish and glass.

Because Israel's wall cut them off from their livelihoods, the Shehada family have moved to Jerusalem's Old City “We had such a lovely place before. Now we never see the sun. We have no space and no privacy. Everyone is sick all the time because the building is damp. It aggravates the rheumatism in my joints. The children can’t study in peace,” said Khitam.“I cry a lot because we are all fighting so much with each other. We fight about everything; the TV, the computer. There is no freedom here.” The different family members cope with their new lives in different ways. Khitam said she spends hours wandering around nearby Haram Al Sharif, the area around Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, because she cannot bear to remain in the flat.Teenager Ahmed, however, spends his free time chatting on the internet, where he has struck up an online friendship with a Syrian girl from Damascus. “I hate this place – it’s filthy and disgusting. I don’t go outside to see my friends because if the Israeli soldiers see me, they stop me because I am big and tall,” he said.“He never goes out and has barely seen a girl for two years,” said his mother.Increase in divorcesDivorce among displaced Palestinians is rising because of the stress families are now under, according to Karine MacAllister, a Badil lawyer.The Shehadas are relatively lucky. Fyass moved them early on in the building of the wall, and so at least they found a place to live. He pays just under US$300 a month for the rent and earns about US$830 a month working as a gardener in West Jerusalem.

Other Palestinians who want to move say rents have rocketed, with landlords increasing them to US$800 or US$1,000 a month. “Some landlords are even asking for the entire year’s rent to be paid all at once in advance. I can’t afford it,” said 35-year-old Ruweida Saadi in an area on the northern edge of Jerusalem.Those left behind face an uncertain future. Israel is building new facilities for Palestinian Jerusalemites outside the wall. Hana Kirreh, a women’s rights activist, believes it is a trap.“They are building a health centre and a post office at Qalandiya. Then they will turn around and tell people that they no longer need to go to Jerusalem and will give them West Bank IDs,” she said.Israel insists it is building the barrier for security reasons only. It says it has the right to do so and that the barrier’s route is determined by security concerns balanced with the desire to cause minimal disruption to Palestinian lives.But Badil’s MacAllister suggested to IRIN that chopping Jerusalem Palestinians out of the city amounted to population transfer, which she said was a war crime and a crime against humanity.“Displacement is the root cause of the conflict. It is taking land and clearing it of people. The wall is just one aspect of a pattern of making life so difficult that people will eventually want to move,” she said.“One has to ask – is this the goal of Israeli policy?”

Justice demands it

Depriving the Palestinians of self-determination in their own territories deserves condemnation by all, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Ted Honderich

November 27, 2006 08:00 AM

We cannot settle such fundamental questions of right and wrong as that of Palestine and so on by the common recourses to international law, UN resolutions, doctrines of human rights or our hierarchic democracy. Rather, for consistency and other reasons, we need a fundamental principle of right and wrong. This is the principle of humanity. It is, in short, that we must take actually rational steps, as distinct from political pretences and the like, to get and keep people out of bad lives, the latter being defined in terms of lacks and denials of the great human goods.
This morality of humanity includes certain propositions. It justifies Zionism, not vaguely understood but taken as the founding and maintaining of Israel in roughly its original 1948 borders. The morality of humanity also condemns neo-Zionism, understood as the taking from the Palestinians at least their freedom in the last fifth of their homeland. It gives to them a moral right to their liberation-terrorism against neo-Zionism in historic Palestine, including Israel.
The morality of humanity judges 9/11 to have been monstrously wrong, an irrational means to ends that included resistance to neo-Zionism. It condemns our Iraq war as moral barbarism for our intentional killing of many thousands of innocents. It as entirely condemns the terrorism of 7/7 in London. It maintains that Blair is not effectively an enemy of such horrors as 7/7, since he is not tough on both terrorism and the causes of terrorism.

All this involves the judgement that neo-Zionism and American and British policies and actions in support of it have been a part, one part, of the explanation of 9/11 and of a good deal else. They have, of course, not been the whole explanation. They have been necessary conditions rather than a sufficient condition. Certainly, they have been necessary conditions of particular significance.

But if you state this common belief, you may find other propositions assigned to you: "Al-Qaida isn't the fault of poverty, it turns out. It's the fault of the Jews."

Thus the journalist Nick Cohen in a recent piece on me in the New Statesman. This is more than the raising of the question of whether the common belief is anti-semitic. It is more than the raising of the question of whether I am an anti-semite. Yet more is done by what follows, the report that I blame all of a lot of violence on "the Jew".

What this comes to, then, is an unveiled, if safeguarded imputation of anti-semitism based on a ludicrous falsehood about my common beliefs as to the explanation of 9/11, the weighting of necessary conditions, shares of responsibility, and so on.

In a television programme, another journalist, David Aaronovitch, was first concerned to argue that judgment on neo-Zionism is inconsistent with a lack of judgment on other crimes against humanity.

Well, there is a uniqueness about neo-Zionism. There have been 39 years of the violation of the only indigenous people of a place by another people, violation by a people of knowledge and experience, in two centuries of history when the violation could be seen for what it is. A violation of the weak by the strong. A violation unhidden by impertinent pretences about the course of ancient history. A violation whose attempted justifications lack numbers for populations at relevant times and also for deaths. A violation not made weakly defensible, even, by the proposition that it has been required for the good or security of a larger society of the same people, as in the case of the Russian crime against Chechnya. A violation almost without precedent for wider consequences in the world. A violation supported by religious affirmations of the sacredness of Jewish lives against others.

To come round to Iraq, not much consideration is needed of the piece of moral stupidity that to do a thing in the knowledge that it will kill innocents is not intentionally to kill innocents - and so we are not killing innocents in Iraq. An introductory word will do.

Think for a start of the husband whose wife leaves him and who cannot handle the fact. He goes to the house she is in, with glue for the door locks and petrol to start the fire. He sees a cleaning woman go into the house. He goes ahead anyway. Think a little of the judge's verdict on his claim that he only intended to kill his wife, and so is guilty of only one murder, and is sorry about the cleaning woman. Think a little about the family of the cleaning woman and their view about his prate of his intention, and his note of condolence.

It needs asserting and repeating that it is Jews first of all who must, without equivocation, condemn that necessary condition of Iraq that is neo-Zionism. They can have a little more effect on it than others. They have the special obligation that comes with that fact. They have a special obligation that must overcome the plain fact of kinship, loyalty and other connection that understandably unites Jews, owed in one part of the history of anti-semitism. They have more obligation than anyone else to resist change away from decent Jewish moral attitudes, to maintain their membership in the high tradition of Jewish realism and compassion - to resist change in those attitudes owed to the pressure of being Jewish.

They need to look to their proper and great leaders, including leaders of us all, Noam Chomsky at their head. Those who are of a reflective turn of mind need to get onto their bookshelves The Case Against Israel by Professor Michael Neumann. It offers the clarity, perhaps the Jewish clarity, that the Palestinian problem is not complex, not difficult, not a problem. The decent solution is simple, without need for bargaining or hesitation or qualification.

It is, of course, that Israel withdraws without negotiation or any other delay from the last fifth of the historic homeland of its indigenous people, the Palestinians. To declare that, without caveat, is the part of Jews actually against neo-Zionism.

Ted Honderich is the Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London. He was born and educated in Canada, and studied philosophy as a postgraduate with the celebrated logical positivist AJ Ayer in London. He has spent most of his academic career at University College London, although he has also held a variety of visiting professorships. Among his many books are: Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War (2006), On Determinism and Freedom (2005), On Consciousness (2004), On Political Means and Social Ends (2003), and Philosopher: A Kind of Life (2001). He is presently chairman of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.

The Right to Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory Issue Statement

Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory(oPt)
A Grassroots Campaign for the Protection of Foreign Passport Holders Residing in and/or visiting the oPt

The Issue An undeclared Israeli policy is currently in effect. It denies entry and/or re-entry to foreign nationals, who want to visit, live, or work in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Israel is arbitrarily turning away foreign nationals at Israeli ports of entry, which are the only way to reach the oPt, causing unjustified hardships: families are being separated, investors are exiting the country, educators are unable to reach their schools and universities, students' education is being disrupted, and elderly are being left without caretakers, to state but some of the ramifications.

While Israel’s restrictive entry policy has negative consequences for an entire population and opens up for an array of interrelated socio-economic, political, and humanitarian issues, the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-entry to the oPt identifies two main target groups.

I: Family Unification Applicants:

More than 120,000 foreign nationals have applied for family unification as per Israeli-defined regulations, but have been unable to gain permanent residency due to the Israeli refusal to process these applications (the so-called freeze on family unification, which began shortly after the outbreak of the al- Aqsa Intifada in 2000).

II: Visitors:

This refers to foreign nationals, both of Palestinian and non-Palestinian descent, destined for the oPt for short- or longer-term visits. They include relatives, brides and grooms, and also students, teachers, human rights workers, business people, NGO staff etc, who are vital parts of the productive sectors of society.


Until the time that the Israeli occupation of the oPt ends, Israel must immediately begin to process all pending applications for family unification in a transparent and accountable fashion. Furthermore, Israel must introduce a visa status that allows for visitors to freely enter/exit the oPt via Israel without the fear of being denied entry or the hassle of having to continuously make short-term renewals. Also, Israel has no right to define who is permitted to be employed in the oPt, and thus should not be permitted to define right of entry for employees in the oPt.

International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws are the guiding bodies of law that Israel must be forced to apply to the oPt. It is the responsibility and obligation of the international community, especially the signatories of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to intervene to ensure international law is being properly applied in the service of safeguarding the ‘protected’ Palestinian people.

Peace processes are long in the making. In the meantime, Israel’s unilateral measures, including the attempt to empty Palestine of its population of foreign nationals, whether they be Palestinian or non- Palestinian of origin, are illegal and a threat to peace, stability and prosperity in the whole region.

Did you know that...

...since 1967, Israel has maintained complete control over the population registry of the oPt, and over the granting of permits to visit the oPt. This control continues to extend to the Rafah border crossing in the Gaza Strip even after Israel’s disengagement in 2005. The Palestinians may merely administer the Rafah border crossing as per Israeli rules and regulations.

Did you know that...

...since the end of 2000, Israel has stopped accepting requests for family unification for Palestinian residents of the oPt married to foreign nationals. Unification applications previously submitted to Israel by the Palestinian Authority have been almost completely frozen. PA’s Ministry for Civil Affairs estimates that it has received more than 120,000 requests for unification since the end of 2000.

Did you know that...

...since the end of 2000 Israel has also stopped granting visitor’s permits to the oPt and by doing so closed the only legal way open to non-resident spouses to live with their resident families.

Did you know that...

...17.2% of Palestinian residents have at least one first-degree relative (spouse, parent, child or sibling) who has not been able to register in the population registry and therefore does not hold an Israeli-issued Palestinian ID-card. 78.4% of these families are affected by the current Israeli prohibition and freeze on family unification.

Did you know that...

...due to Israel’s policy since 2000 and the fear of being separated from their families, tens of thousands of foreign nationals and spouses of residents have become “persons staying illegally” in the oPt. If caught at Israeli checkpoints, these people may be immediately detained and deported.

Did you know that...

... due to the restrictions on family unification and the granting of visitor’s permits, foreign passport holders have for years been relying on a system of continuously renewable 3-months (or shorter) tourist visas. Although such frequent visa renewals are time-consuming and costly, at least they used to be possible. This year there has been a dramatic increase in reported denied-entry cases. Israel is now refusing to accept these foreign nationals living and working in the oPt as “tourists” while having effectively closed off all other options to legally reside in the area.

Did you know that...

...since May 2006, the biggest university in the West Bank, Birzeit University, has seen a 50% decline in employees with foreign passports and lists the recent rise of visa-refusals as a significant attributable factor. Birzeit University hosts 400 non-resident students, all of whom are at risk of deportation or denial of entry upon their next visa-renewal.

Loans for honours: Tony Blair could lose his seat

By Marie Woolf, Political Editor

Published: 26 November 2006

Tony Blair could be forced by law to stand down from Parliament if he did not reveal the full truth about millionaire Labour donors whom he nominated to the House of Lords.

The law governing elections, brought in by Mr Blair, calls for full disclosure of loans and the "person or body making such a donation".

Any MP found guilty of withholding such information from the party treasurer would have to resign his seat. Mr Blair, the member for Sedgefield, did not tell Jack Dromey, the party's honorary treasurer, about the loans.

Mr Blair's deputy, John Prescott, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and members of the party's ruling body, the National Executive Committee, were also kept in the dark. The party auditors, who formally signed off the accounts, were not told about the loans until almost a year after they were received.

The Prime Minister also did not reveal the identity of the lenders, including Dr Chai Patel and Sir David Garrard, to the party's former general secretary, Ian McCartney, although he had to verify nominations to the House of Lords.

Under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act, an MP who "withholds from the treasurer of a registered party any material information" about donations will have to "vacate the seat or office".

The Labour Party's registered treasurer, Matt Carter, has already been interviewed by police. He has not disclosed whether he knew of the loans and the nomination of the lenders to the Lords. Their peerages were blocked by the House of Lords' Appointments Commission. A prosecution under the Elections Act would not require the blessing of the Attorney General.

This week, the party will be forced to publish the terms of the loans, including repayment dates and the interest terms of their borrowing from banks. The loans from backers proposed for peerages were made at 2 per cent above base rate, which Labour says is a commercial rate. Some City experts disagree.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a pension fund manager and the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokes-man, said: "Early in 2005, Labour was already £2m into negative equity; in other words they had a 123 per cent mortgage... a £12m black hole in their balance sheet and operating losses of over £10m over the past four years."

Tony Blair could be forced by law to stand down from Parliament if he did not reveal the full truth about millionaire Labour donors whom he nominated to the House of Lords.

The law governing elections, brought in by Mr Blair, calls for full disclosure of loans and the "person or body making such a donation".

Any MP found guilty of withholding such information from the party treasurer would have to resign his seat. Mr Blair, the member for Sedgefield, did not tell Jack Dromey, the party's honorary treasurer, about the loans.

Mr Blair's deputy, John Prescott, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and members of the party's ruling body, the National Executive Committee, were also kept in the dark. The party auditors, who formally signed off the accounts, were not told about the loans until almost a year after they were received.

The Prime Minister also did not reveal the identity of the lenders, including Dr Chai Patel and Sir David Garrard, to the party's former general secretary, Ian McCartney, although he had to verify nominations to the House of Lords.

Under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act, an MP who "withholds from the treasurer of a registered party any material information" about donations will have to "vacate the seat or office".
The Labour Party's registered treasurer, Matt Carter, has already been interviewed by police. He has not disclosed whether he knew of the loans and the nomination of the lenders to the Lords. Their peerages were blocked by the House of Lords' Appointments Commission. A prosecution under the Elections Act would not require the blessing of the Attorney General.

This week, the party will be forced to publish the terms of the loans, including repayment dates and the interest terms of their borrowing from banks. The loans from backers proposed for peerages were made at 2 per cent above base rate, which Labour says is a commercial rate. Some City experts disagree.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a pension fund manager and the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokes-man, said: "Early in 2005, Labour was already £2m into negative equity; in other words they had a 123 per cent mortgage... a £12m black hole in their balance sheet and operating losses of over £10m over the past four years."

Timing Couldn't Be Worse for Putin

Monday, November 27, 2006. Page 1.

By Nabi Abdullaev and Maria Levitov
Staff Writers

The poisoning death of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko threatens to damage further the Kremlin's reputation in the West regardless of who masterminded it and why it was carried out.

The timing couldn't have been worse for President Vladimir Putin.

Litvinenko, who on his London deathbed accused the president of poisoning him, died just hours before Putin met Friday with European leaders in Helsinki for an annual European Union-Russia summit. Putin also faced uncomfortable questions during his last meeting with European leaders at an informal EU summit on Oct. 9, just two days after journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Putin, was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building.

"The excessive number of coincidences between the deaths of people opposed to the Russian authorities and major international events involving Vladimir Putin is a source of concern," Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin's aide for EU relations, said in Helsinki.

"I am hardly someone who believes in conspiracy theories, but in this case I think that we are witnessing a well-rehearsed plan to discredit Russia and its leader," he said.

The Kremlin, which is seeking to establish a strategic partnership with the EU, needs to be accepted by its European partners more than ever as relations have cooled with the United States, analysts said.

"Coupled together, these deaths will intensify criticism of the Kremlin abroad," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Litvinenko's death will strain British ties, already frosty over refusals by British courts to extradite one-time Kremlin powerbroker Boris Berezovsky and Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev to face terrorism and other charges at home. Berezovsky and Zakayev were friends of Litvinenko. Before Litvinenko sought asylum in Britain in 2000, he had publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill Berezovsky.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the deaths of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, and in both instances it has pointed an accusatory finger at Berezovsky.

Without a smoking gun in either case, the amount of damage that will be inflicted on the Kremlin will be determined largely by how the poisoning plays out in the Western media, which is now offering the most critical coverage that Putin has faced during his six-year presidency. Britain's Sunday Times had eight articles alone, including a 4,300-word investigative piece that raised claims by Litvinenko that a video exists of Putin "caught in a compromising sexual assignation."

Western media have made very few references to the ties between Litvinenko and Berezovsky, said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. He said Berezovsky was playing his "PR cards perfectly," noting that the businessman's suggestion that the Kremlin might be behind the poisoning was receiving prominent coverage in the Western media.

While Western media reports have been filled with speculation about a Kremlin connection, Russian state media have highlighted speculation that Berezovsky was behind the poisoning.

"Theories about the former FSB colonel's death are in one way or another linked with Berezovsky," Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported. The government newspaper speculated that Berezovsky "masked the crime to bring suspicion on the FSB" or that Berezovsky's associates killed Litvinenko as a warning to the businessman in a commercial dispute. It described Litvinenko as violent and unintelligent, and said he "made his choice and drank his poison ... when he betrayed those he worked for."

Television channels had few reports about Litvinenko's death.

State Duma Deputy Valery Dyatlenko insisted on Channel One television on Friday that the state had no reason to kill him. "The death of Litvinenko -- for Russia, for the security services -- means nothing," said Dyatlenko, a former FSB officer. "I think this is another game of some kind by Berezovsky."

"Possibly, there was a conflict," Nikolai Kovalyov, a fellow deputy and former FSB director, said on the same channel. "In untying this knot called the relationship between Berezovsky and Litvinenko, it was necessary to derive the maximum benefit -- and the benefit here for Boris Abramovich [Berezovsky] is ... the accusation of Russia's involvement in the killing."

In an interview, Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Duma's Security Committee and an FSB colonel, said he believed Berezovsky or his entourage was involved in the poisoning.

Other former intelligence officers, including Oleg Kalugin, "are alive and well," even though they knew more classified information than Litvinenko, Gudkov said.

"There was probably some internal strife" in Berezovsky's inner circle, Gudkov said, stressing that this was his personal opinion.

Analysts agreed that the Kremlin had little motive to kill Litvinenko, since the fallout from his death promises to prove more damaging than any of Litvinenko's criticism or even his private investigations into Politkovskaya's death and Russia's 1999 apartment bombings.

"Litvinenko wrote a book accusing the FSB of blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999, but the media attention in the West cannot be compared to that drawn by his death," Markov said.

Negative coverage in the British media "is more of a symptom than a cause of worsening relations" with Russia, said Mark Galeotti, director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime unit at Britain's Keele University.

"There is a rising attitude of suspicion about Russia," he said.

Earlier this year, the FSB accused British diplomats of passing secret messages via specially equipped rocks. The Kremlin also is fuming that British courts have granted asylum to Berezovsky and Zakayev.

Galeotti predicted that Litvinenko's death would not have a long-lasting effect on Russian-British relations unless strong evidence emerged of the Kremlin's involvement.

Close the Window, I Feel a Draft

Nov 27, 2006

By Cindy Sheehan

There is a sort of conventional "wisdom" among some people who are against the chaos and confusion of an occupation that gets more nightmarish by the minute, that a forced conscription would end the war quickly. These same people see it as a panacea to get the college students and their parents out protesting, like during the Vietnam war.

Although, I admire Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who himself, served during the Korean conflict and has been serving America, honorably, as a Congressman for many years, I am 100%, categorically opposed to forced conscription and think that Mr. Rangel is seriously misguided on this issue.

First of all, we had forced conscription during the entire outrage that was the Vietnam War. That war lasted 13 years and cost the lives of millions of people. A draft didn't stop that war and, in fact, provided fresh and continual cannon fodder for the war profiteers. Escalation of that conflict was horrific as the proposed escalation of Iraq will only beget new slaughter on a heretofore unprecedented and unimaginable scale. Forced conscription deals out the death and destruction at a greater and more deadly pace.

Secondly, a draft will never be fair and balanced. The children of the wealthy (who oftentimes are war profiteers themselves) will always be able to get out of war. Children of presidents, future presidents, Congressional Reps and Senators will never be forced to serve in the wars that their fathers and mothers commit other children to. A draft will not equalize what we have for the most part in our country, now, a poverty draft. The children of the poor and marginalized of our society are the ones who always have to pay for the greed of a very few.

Finally, a draft will only give the war machine more of our children to consume to generate its wealth. As Rep. Rangel said, we can't fight wars and Iran without a draft. I say "Amen!" we can't fight wars in North Korea and Iran without a draft! More bullet sponges for two more needless wars: Please, God, no!

I know many of our children joined the military to pay for college or because there were no other options in their communities due to the fact that the Pentagon sucks the very marrow of life from each and every American. Why would we force feed this monster that steals our children and bleeds our pocketbooks dry? We should never force our children into the mouth of the behemoth, but we should also do everything in our power to stop them from volunteering for the same duty. Putting more of our bodies under the control of irresponsible maniacs, is just, well, irresponsible!

I realize that our troops are stretched thin and to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan and many are on their way back for an obscene fourth tour of duty when they should never have been required to go even once. The solution is not fresh flesh and blood, but to bring the troops home immediately, if not sooner.

If we can't pull our troops out of the quicksand soon, then I propose a couple of equitable and alternative solutions to the draft.

The hypocritical right, who still support George and his messy morass in the Middle East, need to quit making excuses and putting "Support our Troops" magnets on their cars, and start putting their so-called money where their ill-informed mouths are by enlisting to go and take the place of our tired and abused troops. If there is a draft, it should only be conducted in Congressional districts that voted for pro-war candidates. No more tough-talking about fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here. Here's a message for warniks: Go and fight them over there, or send your children, if you think the mission is so righteous. This includes presidential party girls and the previously untouchable children of Congress.

The oldest reservist that I have heard of being called back to complete his/her service to the country is incredibly a 65 year old doctor who was in the military at the end of Vietnam and was able to leave because the war was over. George Bush did not complete his military obligations to the USA and should be immediately re-called to finish his stint. I think FOB Liberty in Sadr City would be a great place for George to experience first hand the horrors and sorrows of war. Any other member of the administration or Congress who did not serve their country in the armed forces should be drafted before they draft my 18 year old nephew or (over my dead body) my 23 year old son. Any radio or TV commentator who is still propagandizing America with their lies, deceit, and hate should also be deployed to a hot war zone and maybe share office space with al-Jazeera to show their real support of BushCo and, let's face it, cold-blooded murder. Any child or grandchild of any Congressional rep who votes to continue the carnage by way of funding the same carnage, should be required to don the uniform of the war racketeers that line their parents'/grandparents' pockets.

I know hundreds of people all over the world who have put their entire lives on hold and have forfeited so much to make peace-work a full-time activity. Most of the time, the pay isn't even as good as a buck private and the benefits package is non-existent, but we believe so strongly in true peace that we are willing to make these sacrifices. It is time that the right shows the same kind of courage and commitment.

Put up or shut up...either way. If you support George, go to war. If you support peace, go to Congress to demand peace.

Realistically, any kind of forced conscription would be political suicide for any party and the last time Rep. Rangel's bill came up for a vote, it received just two "yea" votes and 402 "nays," but, instead of even considering Rep. Rangel's bill, we should be insisting that our elected officials support Rep. Jim McGovern's (D-Ma) HR4232 that ends funding for the genocide. When Congress cut the funding for Vietnam, that's what stopped that war. No matter how accomplished BushCo are at committing war crimes, even George can't wage a war with no money. It's time to close off the column in the budget that says "Iraq War" and open some up that say "jobs' programs for teens and young adults in marginal communities; college grants and tuition assistance; day care; sustainable energy policies; really and truly, No Child Left Behind; Gulf Coast rehabilitation; universal health care, etc."

Join Gold Star Families for Peace in Congress for our Walk for Change on January 3rd and 4th. If you live near House Speaker, Pelosi's office in San Francisco, or Senate Majority Leader Reid's place in Nevada, go vigil or demonstrate in these locations until they lead in the direction that we want to follow. Make nuisances of yourselves for peace at your local elected reps' offices.

The only sane and true direction is out of Iraq and towards impeachment and accountability.

Populism, Politics and Governance

By Big Tent Democrat

Section Other Politics Posted on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 12:32:40 PM EST

A necessary and fascinating debate is now beginning to emerge in the Left blogs about the role of populism in politics and governance. Max Sawicky, Matt Yglesias and atrios have interesting thoughts on this. But I really like Stirling Newberry's take:

Populism is the easiest to make the case for, we would all like to believe that what we do is for "the people". But history . . . shows - it is far from easy to separate out what is good for "the people" from what is good for "my people", who are not "your people". . . The reason for this is that populism desires, even demands, that actions taken be consonant with the emotional logic of the public at large. . . .

I have argued the following on populism and governance:

A few weeks ago in my post What Obama Needs To Learn, I wrote:

[T]hat is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle. . . . FDR governed as a liberal but politicked like a populist. When LBJ rightly and to his everlasting credit removed one of the Dem pillars of paranoia - racism, the GOP co-opted populist racism, added the Jeffersonian notion of government and institutional hatred, throw in a dash of paranoid Red scare, now terrorism scare, and you get political victories. The lesson of Hofstadter is to embrace liberal governance and understand populist politics. It may sound cynical, but you must get through the door to govern. Lincoln knew this. FDR knew this. Hofstadter knew this. I hope Obama can learn this.

A debate about populism has been ongoing among some very smart folks. Brad DeLong has been in the middle of it, in particular in debate with Paul Krugman: . . . DeLong describes one of his disagreements with Krugman as follows:

Right now Paul Krugman and I seem to have two disagreements. . . . Second, while I am profoundly, profoundly disappointed and disgusted by the surrender of the reality-based wing of the Republican policy community to the gang of Republican political spivs who currently hold the levers of power, I do think that there is hope that they will come to their senses and that building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward will be possible and is our best chance.

Paul, I think, believes otherwise: The events of the past decade and a half have convinced him, I think, that people like me are hopelessly naive, and that the Democratic coalition is the only place where reality-based discourse is possible. Thus, in his view, the best road forward to (a) make the Democratic coalition politically dominant through aggressive populism, and then (b) to argue for pragmatic reality-based technocratic rather than idealistic fantasy-based ideological policies within the Democratic coalition.He may well be right.
It is not clear to me that the idea that the Republican Party may return to its senses is incompatible with the political prescription Krugman advances. Indeed, as I described earlier, the political prescription Krugman advances is, in my view, FDR liberalism, both as to policy and politics.
I have previously argued that Richard Hofstadter has provided us a roadmap for the political psyche of our nation. With this insight, like Digby, I argue for a politics of contrast that not only highlights what Dems are about, but also highlights what Republicans are about. This view has placed me in conflict with the Lakoffian view of outreach to conservatives, as I advocate an agressive negative branding of conservatism and Republicanism - to wit, to an attempt to redefine the political middle.

Democrats are reclaiming their common man populist brand. But governance, as Stirling points out, can not be pure populism. Because "populism desires, even demands, that actions taken be consonant with the emotional logic of the public at large." But that does not lead to the right policies. The values of populism we must embrace but not necessarily the kneejerk policy prescription that populism, in its emotional logic, leads to. Populism identifies the goals, not the prescriptions.

I point to FDR's political use of populism coupled with his pragmatic problem solving approach to reaching the goals and values of populism without the kneejerk embrace of its emotional logic:
[O]ne overlooked insight of Hofstadter that is highlighted and yet curiously devalued by Professor Wilentz. To me it holds one of the central principles of a triumphant liberalism, one that even today's conservatives can not challenge:

The Age of Reform's greatest achievement, often overlooked, is in its reappraisal of the New Deal, reviving and reinforcing the more positive passages in The American Political Tradition. Whereas most historians (and many New Dealers) saw Roosevelt's reforms as a continuation of Populism and Progressivism, Hofstadter affirmed the New Deal as a sharp break with the past. The old sentimental, quixotic, and self-deluding forays against capitalism gave way to Keynesian policy and the provision of social welfare. Nineteenth-century individualism and anti-monopolism fell before a fuller appreciation of the inevitable size and scope of American business. Cities and urban life, including the party political machines, which had been the bane of Jeffersonian liberalism, became an accepted, even vaunted element in the New Deal coalition. Under FDR, in short, American liberalism came of age.

Following the long-term abandonment, at least philosophically, of New Deal liberalism by both major political parties, Hofstadter's account of the New Deal's spirit repays a new look--not as an exercise in nostalgia but in order to help recover and refurbish a suppressed but still essential American political tradition. . . . Hofstadter called the New Deal's "chaos of experimentation" as a sign of vibrancy, not weakness . . . For that, apart from everything else, Hofstadter's book retains some of its old luster--and has even acquired a new urgency.

Wilentz is both incisive and dull in this passage. Incisive in recognizing the sharp break that the New Deal represented and dull in misunderstanding that while the ideals of the progressive movements that predated The New Deal nourished it, the fundamental rethinking of the role of government, particularly the federal government was, in many ways, revolutionary. . . .

How did FDR do it and can Democrats defend FDR liberalism today? Maybe not by calling it FDR liberalism but they surely can and do when they have the courage of their convictions. The most prominent of these instances was the fight to save Social Security Faced with Media hostility, Republican demagogy and flat out lies, Democrats rallied to the FDR liberalism banner and crushed the Republican attempts to roll back the clock. FDR would have been proud of Democrats in that fight. No triangulation. Good old fashioned political populism won the day.
Yglesias views populism as a bargaining chip. This is completely wrong. Populism is the political device by which Democrats proclaim their values, their brand. It can not be the basis of the mechanics of policymaking - rather it tells us what we are, what we believe in and what we want. Hardheaded pragmatism and fact based analysis then lead us to the policies that best forward those values. Max Sawicky invests populism with an intellectual vigor that it does not possess in my view. I think they are both wrong and that FDR got it right. I think Stirling gets it right too.

Scholars agree Iraq meets definition of 'civil war'; It is put among the worst in 60 years

Scholars agree Iraq meets definition of 'civil war'

By Edward Wong

The New York Times

Is Iraq in a civil war?

Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of U.S. and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq in every way meets the standard definition of civil war.


The Storm Perfected

November 27, 2006

Last week, I had one of those clarifying moments when the enormity of the American fiasco stirred my livers and lights again. I was riding in a car at sundown between St. Cloud and Minneapolis on I-94 through a fifty-mile-plus corridor of bargain shopping infrastructure on each side of the highway. The largest automobile dealerships I have ever seen lay across the edge of the prairie like so many UFO landing strips, with eerie forests of sodium-vapor lamps shining down on the inventory. The brightly colored signs of the national chain fried food parlors vied for supremacy of the horizon with the big box logos. The opposite lane was a blinding river of light as the cars plied north from the Twin Cities to these distant suburbs in the pre-Thanksgiving rush hour.

All that tragic stuff deployed out on the prairie was but the visible part of the storm now being perfected for us. On the radio, Iraq was coming completely apart and with it the illusion of America being able to control a larger set of global events -- with dire implications for all glowing plastic crap along the interstates, and the real-live people behind the headlights in those rivers of cars.

The main fresh impression I had amidst all this is how over it is. The glowing smear of auto-oriented commerce along I-94 (visible from space, no doubt) had the look of being finished twenty minutes ago. Beyond the glowing logos lay the brand new residential subdivisions full of houses that now may never be sold, put up by a home-building industry in such awful trouble that it may soon cease to exist. If suburbia was the Great Work of the American ethos, then our work is done. We perfected it, we completed it, and, like a brand new car five minutes after delivery, it has already lost much of its value.

The chief failure in American politics lately has been the inability to appreciate the relationship between how we live here and how other people in other lands support us with their resources -- oil from the Middle East, human labor and money saved from the fruits of human labor from the Far East. The oil obviously runs all the cars and the money from China and Japan supports our debt (and incidentally pays for building ever more big box stores and fried food emporia). The Middle East is now so close to exploding that we may not get so much oil from them in the years ahead. China and Japan have stepped back from buying American debt in the form of US Treasury certificates.

Even if there were no exogenous forces operating, the proverbial Man-From-Mars casual observer would have to conclude that America has built all the shopping venues it will ever need (and far beyond), and certainly more single-family housing subdivisions useful only in a happy motoring meta-system. But the exogenous events are out there and they are going to assert their power to make us uncomfortable and to alienate us from the very stuff that we have poured all of our wealth and spirit into.

The New York Times headlined yesterday that the US government might try to start negotiations with Iran and Syria over the fate of Iraq -- an idea so preposterous that it might have been a wire-story from The Onion. Iran and Syria have no interest in the matter whatsoever except in the failure of America to control events, and the humiliation entailed by that failure, which is happening on its own. So the story is a clear signal of our desperation that we are even pretending to make overtures.

For the US military this is a tragedy of classical Greek dimensions, a playing out of implacable forces despite its heroism or even good intentions. But for the American public, back home, enjoying the bright lights of the WalMarts and the steaming heaps of baby back ribs, and the comfort of the ride home with the latte plugged into the cup holder and Jay-Z's inspirational thoughts playing on the car stereo -- it's really the end of the road.

I've been saying for a long time that as our illusions dropped away, the US economy would fall on its face. I think the process is underway, especially with last week's movement of the dollar against the Euro. All the elements are now set for a full-throttle depression in which currency loses value while credit dries up and incomes are lost. You get a fire-sale of assets that behaves like a deflation while the dollar itself inflates. The Federal reserve can't possibly drop interest rates if foreigners will not buy our bonds.

Losing your house to the re-po man is a major illusion-breaker. The housing bubble has popped and entered a downward self-reinforcing feedback loop that will be understood as a death-spiral of valuation. Even if nominal house prices stayed close to where they are, dollar inflation would signify a real drop in value. The jobs associated with the bubble -- everything from the legions of house-framers to the realtors to the creative mortgage hawkers to the Crate-and-Barrel furniture elves -- will drop into a black hole. Mortgage obligations will not be met, credit card payments will stop, house refinancings will no longer be possible as equity dissolves, the WalMart associates will get their pink slips, the vacancy signs will go up in the strip malls, and a mighty sob will be heard above the prairie wind.

This is really a tight spot. Wider war in the Middle East is hardly out of the question, with Iran and a broad array of jihadistas emboldened by America's flounderings in Iraq. A year from now, perhaps, or less, we will lose our access to a substantial portion of the imported oil that we run all our stuff on. The sodium vapor lamps will flicker out. The last taco will be served. The US public will have to start paying attention and making other arrangements. I believe what Garrison Keilor says about the people in Minnesota. Scratch below the surface, you'll find a thoughtful, practical mentality. I believe that when they can't do anymore of what they're doing now, they'll turn around and do something else.

November 27, 2006

Somalia: US proposal 'would trigger war'

Sending African troops into Somalia 'would trigger war'

Xan Rice, east Africa correspondent

Monday November 27, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

A US-backed proposal to send African troops into Somalia to support the weak government raises the risk of triggering an all-out war with the Islamic courts that could destabilise the entire region, a leading thinktank said today.

The International Crisis Group warned that approval of the draft US resolution, to be presented to the UN security council on Wednesday, would be viewed by the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (Sics) as tantamount to a declaration of war.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, which have backed the government and courts respectively with both troops and weapons, would be further sucked into the conflict, the group said.

Backed by the African members of the security council, the draft resolution calls for the deployment of a regional military force to support the transitional federal government (TFG), which has no army of its own and is vying for power with the heavily armed courts militias. Countries that contribute troops, including Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, would be exempted from the UN arms embargo on Somalia.

While the mission's goal would be to strengthen the government and dissuade Sics- which enjoys local goodwill and controls most of south-central Somalia - from further expansion, the crisis group said the strategy would backfire.

Most Somalis, including a significant chunk of the government, are deeply opposed to any foreign intervention. Sics has repeatedly stated it will wage "jihad" on any outside troops. "Actual deployment would be likely to fracture the parliament beyond repair and reinforce the impression that the TFG is simply a proxy for Ethiopia. The loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali public would be irreversible," the ICG statement said. "Rather than wait for the TFG to arm itself, [Sics] might well launch a pre-emptive attack on [the government's] seat in Baidoa."

The US's support for the resolution has caused consternation among western diplomats dealing with Somalia, most of whom share the thinktank's prognosis if regional troops are to deployed. Previous US foreign policy decisions in the Horn of Africa have not helped engender trust.

Washington's bungled policy of funding the Mogadishu warlords against the courts - which it accuses of harbouring al-Qaida militants - is credited with speeding the rise of Sics, which gained control of the capital in June and has since expanded rapidly.

In July, the US formed the International Contact Group on Somalia, along with Britain, Italy, Norway, Tanzania and Sweden, in an attempt to help find a peaceful solution. On October 19 in Nairobi, the International Contact Group issued a joint statement declaring that it supported dialogue between the Somali government and Sics, which is scheduled to resume in Khartoum next month, as the best way forward.,,1958383,00.html

Darfur rebels attack oil field in rare push eastward

Rebels attack oil field in Darfur

By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press Writer

19 minutes ago

Darfur rebels attacked an oil field in a rare extension of their campaign east toward the Sudanese capital and said Monday the military garrison guarding the field had surrendered. But the government said its forces repelled the assault and were in full control of the Abu Jabra oil field Monday.

The attack on the field on the edge of South Darfur appeared to be another sign that Darfur's violence was spreading across the region.

"The government garrison guarding the oil field was totally destroyed," the National Redemption Front rebel group said in a statement. "Numerous soldiers, including high-ranking officers and generals, have surrendered," the rebels said, claiming to have shot down an army helicopter and to have captured a "substantial amount" of weapons and military vehicles.

A Sudanese military spokesman denied the army had surrendered, saying its troops had "inflicted heavy causalities on the rebels, who withdrew from the area." He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policy.

A Sudanese official in the oil industry said Abu Jabra's capacity had been damaged in the attack, but insisted it would not affect overall production. The state-owned facility pumps up to 10,000 barrels per day — a relatively small output. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The rebel raid came amid heightened violence in Darfur, where pro-government janjaweed militia have been accused by the United Nations of forcing 60,000 people to flee their homes this month. Violence in Darfur over three years has killed 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

Observers fear Darfur's violence threatens to destabilize the entire region. Neighboring Chad accuses Sudan of backing a rebel raid that briefly took a large Chadian town and threatened the capital in recent days.

To the south of Darfur, the Central African Republic also alleges Sudan is backing a local rebellion. Khartoum denies both charges, but aid workers in the west Darfur town of El Geneina said they had seen Chadian rebel groups operating freely in the area. The aid workers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Sudanese officials say the country produces about 500,000 barrels per day and that oil revenue should be at least $4 billion this year, more than half of the government's income.

Most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the south of the country, which is now semi autonomous under a separate peace agreement that southern rebels signed with the government in January 2005.

Web Tool Said to Offer Way Past the Government Censor

Posted Nov 27, 2006

by jaymz.

TORONTO, Nov. 21 — Deep in a basement lab at the University of Toronto a team of political scientists, software engineers and computer-hacking activists, or “hactivists,” have created the latest, and some say most advanced tool yet in allowing Internet users to circumvent government censorship of the Web. From New York Times

So why won't the New York Times cover Project Censored?

November 22, 2006

Repeating: So why won't the New York Times cover Project Censored?

This is an important journalistic and public policy question. The Times claims to be the world's pre-eminent newspaper, it publishes the International Herald Tribune, has a major news service, and owns a batch of media properties, including the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the daily "of record" for the project, which is housed at nearby Sonoma State University.

Yet, in the project's 30 year history, the Times has neither published nor written about the Censored Project and its list of serious stories the mainstream media censored or ignored. Peter Philips, the project director, told me that the awards ceremonies were held for a number of years in New York (l996-2000) and that Times reporters would often attend. Phillips remembered one reporter in particular who said, "Keep it up, we post your list in the newsroom every year."

No representative from the PD ever came to any of the Project's ceremonies or programs at Sonoma State, except for the reporter Paul Payne who came to a lecture on Nov. 3.

And he came, not to do a real story on Project Censored's stories of the year or its history, but to do a hatchet job on Censored Story No. l8, "Physicist challenges official 9/ll story." (See previous blogs.) Phillips and the project founder, Carl Jensen, retired and living in Cotati, and the Guardian, which has published the project as a major front page story for years and sent it out to the alternative press nationwide, all complained to the PD and asked for an explanation and an apology. The PD did run an op ed by Phillips but gave no explanation nor apology.

Obviously, the Times and the Post Democrat don't like the project, but it is after all a local journalism/media criticism project at a local university done by local professors and local students that has gained national acclaim over a 30 year period. Don't the Times and the PD cover local news any more?

So I put the question to Jensen.

"I am often asked, " he said, "why hasn't the New York Times ever written about Project Censored? My response is always the same: 'You should ask the New York Times why it hasn't written about Project Censored.'

"After all, Project Censored is the longest running national news media research project in the country. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Ih fact, Project Censored may well be the longest running academic research project in the country with the exception of health-oriented longitudinal studies.

"It expanded the definiton of news from the three original categories--religioius censorship, political censorship, and censorship of obscenities--to include the concept of news media self censorship which is now widely accepted. It also institutionalized the term 'junk food news' to describe the tabloid-type news thqat appears in the mainstream media. More than a hundred students, faculty, and other volunteers review up to a thousand news stories annually to locate the 25 most important stories that were overlooked, under-covered, or censored.

"Now why wouldn't the New York Times want to report on that?"

Yes, why? I will query the New York Times public editor Byron Calame and editor Bill Keller, and other editors if necessary, to try to get an answer. Meanwhile, take a look at the link below and the website that has archived 30 years of Project Censored and see what an incredible array of 750 or so issues and stories they represent. Note the stories have synopses, sources, and updates by the authors. And note that the site includes Censored books, pamphlets, and indices from l976 through 2007. The Censored archives and web display were created by Gary Evans, of Sebastopol, who Jensen describes as "an extraordinary fan and honorary archivist of Project Censored." The site makes clear that Project Censored is truly a unique and outstanding journalistic and academic achievement.

"All the news that fits in print," proudly trumpets the Times masthead. Surely there's some news somewhere in this project that would fit in print in the New York Times. If not, Phillips, Jensen, the Guardian, and lots of other faithful Censored supporters around the world would like to know why. B3, who wonders why the Times runs Jayson Blair, Judith Miller, her stories on fictitious weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and backup editorials justifying the invasion, and still won't write about Project Censored .

Posted by sfbg at 11:39 AM Permalink

Bush Blew up the Twin Towers

Originally published by The Pitch 2006-11-23©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bush Blew up the Twin Towers And other 9/11 conspiracies, thought up right here in Kansas City.

By Ben Paynter

Larry Sells wants people to read some of what's in his private library.

Who / What:9/ President Bush South Park Uptown Theater

In a recent episode of South Park, the elementary-school-aged troublemakers spend most of the half-hour figuring out whether the U.S. government planned the attacks of September 11, 2001. As they close in on the answer, a squad of poorly drawn, machine-gun-toting Secret Service agents kidnaps Kyle and Stan, along with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. All of them are whisked away to the Oval Office, where President Bush confesses to everything.

"We've all worked very hard to keep our involvement in 9/11 a secret, but you just had to keep digging," Bush cackles. Then the president pulls out a handgun. He sticks the muzzle in the conspiracy theorist's mouth and blows his brains out. The cartoon blood splatters on a black shirt with the words ""

Bush then explains that he planted explosives in the base of the World Trade Center towers. The missing planes were diverted to an airport in Pennsylvania. Two military jets filled with explosives flew into the twin towers. Then he blew up the Pentagon with a cruise missile. Bush boasts: "It was only the world's most intricate and flawlessly executed plan ever ... ever."

By the end, the show has mocked everybody involved. But the following day, Web traffic to multiplied by five times, spiking the site's number of views to 58,000 a day. A fact omitted from the South Park episode — and from the Web site itself — is that is run by Janice Matthews, a single mother of six from Kansas City, Missouri.

Matthews has become well-known nationally within what's called the truth movement: those who believe that Bush and his buddies were behind 9/11. The idea that the World Trade Center fell in order to fuel President Bush's war machine has become the trendy conspiracy theory, replacing such old standards as aliens in Area 51 and government agents on the grassy knoll.

But those behind the 9/11 conspiracy theories aren't comics-store nerds lamenting the loss of The X-Files. In Kansas City, they include the owner of a popular theater, a dentist, and a group of conservatives that meets every week.

Mostly, truthers, as they call themselves, meet online. The Internet has become their way to spread a message they say is suppressed by the mainstream media and ignored by those who provide research funding. Of course, Matthews knows many people ignore the truth movement because it includes a whole lot of kooks posting some bizarre theories. "We have a whole society to remake," she says. "You go, 'God, people, focus.'" Matthews fights back tears in the children's section of the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She's surrounded by hundreds of brightly bound bedtime stories. Nearby, sunshine filters through a row of large windows.'

She has short brown hair streaked with gray and piercing blue eyes that are intently focused, despite the tears. She has a silver stud in her nose and a Disney Pooh watch strapped to one wrist. She wears a baby-blue version of the shirt featured on South Park.

On this early Monday morning, she has just returned from dropping off her kids at school. Sometimes, the weight of her mission just gets to her. She's surrounded by mothers who are still oblivious to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the U.S. government.

She explains that she began crying when she thought of the 9/11 victims: the rescue workers, the orphans, the family members of those who died.
"It is just the pain," she says, "that our society isn't even looking at what these people are living through and dying through, that we could be so callous to this depth of pain on so many levels."

The mothers circling the stacks ignore Matthews. She says she's positive that she's being watched.

"I don't have some sense that they are out to persecute truth seekers," Matthews says of the phantom G-men she thinks she's seen around town. "I think they are just doing their jobs."

Matthews wasn't always this way. She earned a psychology degree from the University of Kansas in the '80s and trained as a midwife. A conservative Christian, she voted for Bush in 2000. On 9/11, Matthews was raising her children in the small central Kansas town of Lindsborg. "I had a gradual reawakening," she says.

In November 2001, she moved to Kansas City to work as a secretary. Then she read The 9/11 Commission Report. She says the congressional document found that a large number of stock shares in United Airlines had changed hands before the attack, which shows that certain segments of big business knew to expect the attacks.
Two years later, Matthews helped found the national 9/11 Visibility Project, a group that encourages people to protest government cover-ups. It's now active in 35 cities. She organized rallies on the Plaza but realized that most people wanted to avoid the stigma that came with protest marches. A year later, she founded, which serves as a networking forum, a research hub and an independent news source.

In July 2005, she organized the D.C. Emergency Truth Convergence in Washington, D.C. The conference pulled together various watchdog groups, including Project Censored and the Oklahoma City Bombing Committee. She says their cell phones didn't work at the event, their remote-control car-door openers failed and their computers crashed. "Then we realized it was all electronic jamming," she says. Returning to Kansas City, Matthews found her front door unlocked. She believes her computer was hacked.
She says she learned a month later that her house was bugged, after a friend called and left her a prank message, pretending to have been captured by G-men. "You got me! You got me!" the friend shouted into her answering machine. But after the friend hung up, the machine kept recording. Matthews says she heard two people laughing. "They said, 'Yeah, we got her. We got her,'" she says.

In September, she joined a public-records request filed by peace organizations. The groups asked the government for documents detailing government surveillance of Kansas City-area anti-war activists ("Granny the Terrorist," September 21).
After the South Park slam, Matthews received hundreds of e-mails calling her "retarded," the same word that the show's characters had used to describe the truth movement. The tone of her usual hate calls shifted. "The reaction is much stronger," she says. "It went from 'you are fucking lying' to 'you are going to burn in hell, and your children are going to burn in a fire, you fucking cunt.'"

The calls excited Matthews. They were evidence that people were taking notice — even if the attention came with threats and the occasional c-word. "It reflects people's panic," Matthews says. "People feel much more reactionary about this recently, and the ones who can't let go of their belief structure are much more desperate."

Matthews sees her role as providing a public forum for others to post theories about what happened on 9/11. "We don't want to control what people do," she says.

But that leaves users free to push any theory. Some think planes never actually hit the towers but were superimposed on newscasts. Others believe that the planes carried explosives. Some claim that aliens abducted everyone from the twin towers.
Including everyone's voice has been a liability for the fledgling movement. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, a corps of truthers rallies at the Uptown Theater. They have been directed there by a post on The event culminates a weekend of activities headlined by showings of independent films, including one that uses physics to make an argument that it's impossible for jets to have brought down the twin towers.

Outside, protesters shout and shake signs that read "9/11 was an inside job." They hand out copies of the low-budget films to commuters stuck at traffic lights.
"Steel buildings don't just fall down," shouts Ed Kendrick, a heavyset dentist with a practice on Independence Avenue. Kendrick believes that the buildings actually collapsed because of what he calls a "controlled demolition" from bombs already set inside the towers.

Inside, the lobby resembles a traveling carnival. Tables are littered with pamphlets and petitions that go as far as advocating presidential impeachment. A giant American flag dominates the faux-Mediterranean interior. The mingling conspiracy theorists, some dressed in tie-dyed clothing, refer to one another in religious terms — "brothers" or "believers" who spread "the word." In a corner of the room, a man talks about the 40 astrological signs that keep us from understanding our inner impulses. A cell-phone ring tone emits The X-Files' theme song.

Uptown Theater owner Larry Sells stands away from the crowd to monitor the action. He provided the venue free of charge. Sells has been questioning government party lines since the John F. Kennedy assassination. In the '60s, he was student body president and head of the Young Democrats at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He served as a Marine during the Vietnam War and has a black belt in karate. Sells imported custom furniture until he bought the Uptown in 1993.

For the past few months, Sells has been playing the conspiracy-theory documentary Loose Change in his lobby during concerts and events. He has handed out 1,500 copies of the movie and other 9/11-related DVDs.
Click the link above to see the trailer for the movie Loose Change.

To that end, Sells thinks that he has found a new way to spoon-feed his message. He recently gutted the vacant lobby space abutting the south end of his theater. Sometime next year, he hopes to open a reading salon and a themed restaurant called The Conspiracy. Plans include something of an adult arcade where visitors can try to hit a target with a vintage replica of Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle. Many of the library books will be stocked from Sells' personal 2,200-square-foot library, which spans a four-car garage inside his large home in the Valentine neighborhood.

Sells has investigated the similarities between the World Trade Center collapse and Germany's 1933 Reichstag fire. Each event empowered its country's leader to suspend civil liberties, build up a military and launch invasions. He often compares Bush with Adolf Hitler. "What we are talking about now is as bad as it ever was in Nazi Germany," he says.

At the Uptown on the 9/11 anniversary, a guy reeking of booze stumbles into the reception. Dave Nicholson, a 29-year-old server at Fred P. Ott's, has been canvassing midtown with fliers advertising a drinking book club. Standing outside trying to talk to the protesters, Nicholson grows agitated when they keep handing him "propaganda" videos. "I don't seem to be able to get anyone to talk to me," he says loudly.

Stuart Auld approaches Nicholson. Auld is a member of the Constitution & Freedom Society, a Johnson County group that opposes what it sees as a new world order. As a real-estate and insurance broker in Leawood, Auld considers himself a staunchly conservative Republican. But over the past five years, he has learned to loosen his party loyalties and standards. Nicholson might be drunk and antagonistic, but he receives an open invitation to join the rebellion nonetheless. Auld hands Nicholson a copy of 9/11 Revisited. "I bought that for you," Auld says. On a rainy autumn Wednesday night, 35-year-old Jason Littlejohn waits in a community room in the Department of Motor Vehicles building in Mission. Littlejohn runs a weekly meeting for Midwest Concerned Citizens, a conservative Christian political action group. A former Navy officer, he also is host of a weekly talk show called Lives in the Balance on KCXL 1140 in Liberty. On-air, he talks about issues such as the pending energy crisis and the need to guard the Mexican border.

He believes that the U.S. government had prior knowledge of the attack but simply allowed it to happen. "As far as direct complicity, I don't think the proof is there," he says. Still, he's interested in an independent investigation of 9/11. And he says he's concerned about the legislation meant to keep us safe that tramples civil liberties.

"Our country is moving in a certain direction that is beneficial to a handful of people but detrimental to our country and other countries around the world," Littlejohn says. He has slicked-back hair and broad shoulders. As usual, he wears a pair of tinted aviator shades, though he is indoors and it's well after dark. "I'm trying to create more of a broad base from which I can project this message."

Littlejohn spent the anniversary of 9/11 at the Uptown but, unlike the lefties, shares ideals with the far right. At this Midwest Concerned Citizens meeting, it's clear that the truth movement spans both sides of the aisle.

"A lot of Christians believe that there are very powerful forces that are in control of government around the world," he says. "It was foretold in the Bible. If you actually look at what's been said, as opposed to what's occurring, you can draw some parallels that are rather convincing."

Finally, Littlejohn opts to start the meeting. He expected about a dozen people tonight, but the rain has kept away all but four believers: 79-year-old retiree Esther Miller, 74-year-old part-time file clerk Shirley Mignon, and Roger and Judy Tucker. Roger is 67 and retired. Judy is 50 and between jobs.

The crew skips the usual pledge of allegiance and gathers in a semicircle of chairs. A few large tables are stacked with file folders and satchels filled with photocopied news clippings with blaring headlines ("Fatal Vision — The Deeper Evil Behind the Detainee Bill," "The New World Disorder: 'Shadow' Agency to Issue N. American Border Pass").

"What will happen is, a lot of these articles will come out in newspapers, but when you go back to look for them, they will be gone," Littlejohn says. He stores thousands of duplicated pages at his home in Lawrence.

The five take turns reading long passages from the articles, shuffling their stacks between turns. Sometimes, two people read over each other.

"I'm sure of this," Littlejohn tells the group. "I know what's coming. See, 9/11 was bad. But what's coming out is a whole lot worse."

He asks to borrow Mignon's bottled water. She nods, and he takes it. Everyone in the room looks excited. They've seen him do this before. Littlejohn places the bottle in front of him like a prop. "In the Bible, it says there will come a time when no one will be able to buy or sell something unless it has the mark of the beast," he says, paraphrasing Revelations 13:17.

"The mark of the beast," Mignon echoes.

Littlejohn turns the bottle until he can see its bar code. He says the symbol's longer lines represent the sign of the devil. "Six, six, six," he says.
"If we don't do something," Littlejohn continues, "our way of life as we know it could come to an end."

As usual, they've gotten off the subject of 9/11. Miller adds that three sixes occur in a congressional bill limiting the rights of prison detainees. Everyone agrees that this, too, might be a sign of the coming apocalypse. Kendrick thinks that the woman who enters his dental office on a cool Friday afternoon might be a closet truth-movement sympathizer. She has arrived early for a regular tooth cleaning, and Kendrick has invited her back to his small office to share the word.

The woman faces a screen glowing with a PowerPoint presentation. Kendrick used this for a Communiversity class he taught at UMKC a few weeks ago, "9/11, an Inside Job." The daylong seminar drew 40 people. He reaches over his patient to click the mouse, and President Bush appears on the screen, repeating the word terrorism over and over during various speeches. Kendrick explains that he uses this footage to desensitize his audience to the hot-button words that the Bush administration uses to manipulate Americans.

Kendrick, dressed in brown scrubs, a pair of magnifying goggles around his neck, flips through a series of slides depicting national tragedies that he believes were acts of "state-sponsored terrorism": Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing.

When an image of the collapsing World Trade Center appears on the screen, he points to the "squibs" — signs of controlled demolition — of air blasting out of the sides of the buildings.

The 50-something woman stares, slack-jawed, at the computer. She's a nurse at a local hospital. She has tousled hair and wears thick glasses and a rainbow-colored shirt that clashes with her red slippers.

"Yeah, I'm trying to think," she says. She looks around the room. It's filled with anti-Bush magnets and dental X-rays. Four spools of blank CDs await Kendrick's truth-movement videos and PowerPoint presentation, which he will pass out to patients.

"So what's the purpose? Just for evil?" she asks.
"What it's about is control," he says.

A hygienist in a white coat arrives outside his door with a noticeable sigh. "Excuse me, I need my patient," she tells Kendrick.

Kendrick hands the patient a copy of the two videos, "9/11 Revisited" and "Terrorstorm," and a six-page handout listing 14 parallels between fascism and the Bush administration. So far, he has handed out nearly 500 CDs.

When everyone leaves the room, he becomes somber. "We don't have much time," he says. "I can't help but wonder whether there may be another horrific event."
Kendrick knows that personally delivering his message to patients will get the word only so far. Unlike most people in the movement, he has been trying to find a way to reach people who aren't already inclined to agree. His plan: Hit the streets to find them. Standing at the entrance to the UMKC Student Center, Kendrick looks like a desert commando. He's clad in a beige sweat suit with a canvas vest, and he carries an oversized backpack. His beard is trimmed, and he has a sharp flattop.

To talk to students in the cafeteria, he must get past the food-court manager, a Hispanic guy in a blue polo shirt who stands guard at the cash register. Kendrick greets the manager and launches into his canned speech about how the World Trade Center collapsed by demolition.

The manager cuts him off. "I believe it. I very much believe it," the manager says earnestly. The man steps aside to grant Kendrick entrance.

Kendrick approaches a girl eating a fruit salad by herself. She wears diamond earrings and a glittery barrette in her hair. He asks her if he can talk politics.
"I know nothing about politics," she says dismissively.

Kendrick asks her a series of questions anyway. "How many buildings came down on 9/11?"

"Two," she says.

"It was three. I want to give you this." He slips her a CD of his PowerPoint presentation, like a consolation prize.

"Did you know that a third building came down by controlled demolition?"

Finally, she cuts him off. "Thank you," she answers flatly. "It was informative."

The next table is occupied by a trio of chemistry students. Kendrick introduces himself and slaps down his CD. He waves his dentist's clipboard up and down to demonstrate how the towers fell.

Kendrick repeats the words terrorism and 9/11 over and over, imitating the slides in his PowerPoint presentation. "That has become this administration's mantra," he says.
Kendrick's last stop is a table with two members of the UMKC women's basketball team, one blond and the other brunette. The blonde tells him that she plans to be a history teacher. The brunette wants to be a broadcast journalist.

"People in the towers were murdered," he tells them.

"I've never heard this before. This is new to me," the brunette says. She takes a long sip of soda.

He says that just days before the towers fell, they had been leased by Larry Silverstein, a businessman who took out a huge insurance policy on them. He says President Bush's brother Marvin was a principal at Securacom, the agency in charge of security at the World Trade Center, Dulles Airport and United Airlines.

The blonde stops him. The president's brother —she asks, "That guy in Florida?"

He adds that he believes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Flight 93 shot down.

The brunette, too, has a question: "Who is Donald Rumsfeld?"

After his speech, the students gladly accept Kendrick's CD and business cards, which he asks them to give to their professors. "Tell them there's this crazy dentist," he says, "who wants to stir up campus riots."

The young women tell him that they totally sympathize. They'd join the truth movement, they say, if it wasn't for their constant basketball practices.

It's replay of Vietnam, say GOP & Dem pols

WASHINGTON - Politicians on both sides of the aisle compared Iraq to Vietnam yesterday, signaling they'll take a hard look when President Bush asks soon for as much as $160 billion in emergency funds to keep footing the bill for the war.

Democrats, who take control of Congress in January, have said they will not cut off money for the ever-more unpopular war, but Bush's expected request will push the cost well over $400 billion.

The total cost for the war on terror, including the conflict in Afghanistan, will be well over $500 billion and surpass the cost of Vietnam, adjusted for inflation.

Democrats and Republicans alike were critical of how that money is being spent.

"Clearly, we need to have some accountability," said Senator-elect Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on CBS' "Face the Nation." "People have gotten rich off this war. I want to make sure that we put a stop to that."

McCaskill was echoed by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who said the administration has been funding the war "dishonestly" with so-called "supplemental appropriations" to pay for war efforts outside the regular budget process.

But Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said on CNN that one way to improve oversight of the President is to increase the size of the armed forces and take into account the war on terror.

Michael McAuliff

Originally published on November 27, 2006

In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning

November 26, 2006
Everybody's Business

In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning



Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.

Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. He had each of them make a fraction; the numerator was how much they paid in federal income tax and in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and the denominator was their taxable income. The people in his office were mostly secretaries and clerks, though not all.

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. “How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. “How can this be right?”

When we see money in the street, most of us will stop and bend over to pick it up. But as we get older and become more successful there starts to be a threshold - an amount that makes it worth our bother to stop and bend over. (The speaker was successful in his field - I would guess making somewhere between $100-200,000 - probably at the lower end). The speaker noted - "I don't bother with pennies.... I pretty much ignore nickles. But I'll probably stop for a dime - if it's easy to grab ... and will make an effort to stop for a quarter." For Bill Gates a comparable threshold - an amount averaging say 15 cents - would be $47,000.

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Grim forecast for retailers' Xmas sales: "teetering on the edge" of worst Christmas in 25 yrs

Grim forecast for retailers' Xmas trade

Fiona Walsh, business editor

Monday November 27, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Retail analyst Richard Ratner warned today that the stores sector is "teetering on the edge" of its worst Christmas for a quarter of a century, as interest rate rises and higher utility bills finally begin to bite.

Mr Ratner, of Seymour Pierce, bases his grim forecast on mounting anecdotal evidence from the retail sector.

The past two weeks particularly appear to have been "something worse than a disaster" for clothing retailers: "We are hearing suggestions that the bulk of the trade was down between 10-20% in this period."

Stories about individual companies, which he believes to be true, suggest that Debenhams' "2-Day Sale" was a "near disaster" and that fashion chain Next is rumoured to be trading towards the bottom (worse) end of the minus 10%-20% range.

"We now believe that Christmas in 2006 will be worse than 2005, and could be as difficult as, or even softer than, 2004, which was the worst Christmas for 23 years," he says.

"If the latter is the case, it will make it the worst for 25 years."

As well as the unseasonal weather, clothing retailers are having to cope with the lack of a strong fashion trend this autumn. But there is a wider malaise affecting the whole of the sector, he said, with retailers such as WH Smith, Woolworths and Boots all said to be having a "torrid" time in the past fortnight.

"We therefore wonder whether the pressure on the consumer from higher interest rates, levels of debt, council tax bills and other stealth taxes, and fuel bills, both for the house and the car, have begun hitting home?"

Overall, he said, there will be more pre-Christmas discounting this year than last, as retailers desperately try to clear their stock.

He expected a strong final week, and overall spending to be ahead in the end, but said many retailers are likely to lose their nerve and start to slash prices before December 25.

He singled out M&S and John Lewis as among the better performers, along with the food retailers. And some smaller companies such as Theo Fennell, ASOS, Jacques Vert, Halfords and Findel also appear to be bucking the trend.

But, he warned, the market could see a series of pre-Christmas profit warnings from the sector - "highly unusual because in the past most would have argued that they do not know the likely outcome until after the first week of the sales.

"However, this time around, with sales and margins in some cases being so far behind expectations, we may well see some cautious announcements over the next few weeks."

Moving into next year, there will be little sign of relief, he said: "We expect 2007 to be extremely difficult once the post Christmas sales are over - and last year they fell off very quickly - with pressure on the consumer accelerating, and structural issues, such as costs, new space (4% growth forecast between now and 2009), the internet and product deflation all hitting hard."

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Niall Ferguson: Some civil wars never end


Lebanon and Iraq show that some long-fought civil wars only have cease-fires.
Niall Ferguson

November 27, 2006

IT WAS THREE YEARS AGO that a prescient Beirut journalist I know predicted that Iraq would end up as "Lebanon to the power of 10" — meaning Lebanon during its 16-year civil war between 1975 and 1991. This year, his prophecy has been fulfilled as Iraq has spiraled into bloody internecine strife.

By contrast, my friend was quite optimistic about Lebanon's future. But last week's assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel raises the grim possibility that Lebanon may now go the way of Iraq.

Civil war is the disorder of the day in the Middle East. Unfortunately, politicians in the United States and Europe remain chronically incapable of understanding how civil wars work. As a result, they not only struggle to stop them once they get going, sometimes they also inadvertently fan their flames.

The big idea was that, by overthrowing Saddam Hussein and "liberating" Iraq, the United States could unleash a wave of democratization throughout the Middle East. It was in those terms that many commentators interpreted the mass demonstrations in Beirut in March last year — the so-called Cedar Revolution — that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Those events were also triggered by an assassination, that of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. It will be ironic indeed if this latest political murder plunges Lebanon back into cedar-burning civil war.

The dream of a democratized Middle East had its origins in another bad idea: the notion that the main conflicts in the post-Cold War era would be clashes between civilizations, in particular those of Islam and the West. Turning Iraq into a democracy was supposed to initiate a fundamental transformation of Islamic civilization.

The reality, however, is that the majority of conflicts in our time have been within civilizations, not between them — civil wars, not holy wars. And, as the cases of Lebanon and Iraq clearly illustrate, such wars tend to be fought by neighboring ethnic groups. Only occasionally are the Muslims all on one side and the "Westerners" — shorthand for Christians and Jews — all on the other.

Take Lebanon. It certainly would be easy if the population could be divided into Islamist bad guys and "pro-Western" good guys. Officially, it's true, Muslims account for just under 60% of the population and Christians just under 40%. But the former can be subdivided into Druze, Ismaili, Alawite or Nusayri, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, while the latter include Catholics (Armenian, Maronite, Melkite, Roman and Syrian) and Orthodox (Armenian, Greek and Syrian) — not forgetting the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Copts and Protestants.

Thursday's funeral scenes in Beirut perfectly illustrate the complexity of the conflict that is now simmering. The murdered man was himself a Maronite (Christian), the grandson of the founder of the Falangist Party that once allied itself with Israel (Jews) to fight the Palestine Liberation Organization (Muslims). But the mourners spat on pictures of Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian who has aligned his party with Hezbollah (Muslims).

Ominously, one woman demonstrator was quoted as saying: "There will come a day when we have revenge." One of Gemayel's Maronite relations? No, a 39-year-old Muslim woman who attended the demonstration with her seven children. She is almost certainly a supporter of the Future Movement, a Sunni party whose leader, Saad Hariri, is the son of the former prime minister whose assassination began the Cedar Revolution.

Remember how the 1970s comedy "Soap" used to begin: "Confused? You will be."

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the younger Bush is realizing just why the elder Bush did not march all the way to Baghdad back in 1991. For regime change in Iraq has unleashed Lebanese-style centrifugal forces. Here, once again, it's not a clash between civilizations. Thursday's lethal car bomb explosions in the Shiite district of Baghdad known as Sadr City were just the latest and biggest of a succession of sectarian attacks that date to the bombing of the Golden Mosque at Samarra last February.

The key is that each such attack begets another attack, in an almost unstoppable cycle of tit-for-tat killing. In retaliation for the Sadr City car bombs last week, militiamen belonging to the Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi army fired mortars into the Sunni neighborhoods of Adhamiya and Ghazaliya.

In civil wars, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And often more than equal. In Baghdad these days, Al Mahdi army thugs drive around with kidnapped Sunnis in their car trunks, offering on-the-spot revenge to bereaved Shiites. Three Sunnis for a dead brother is the going rate. That is the psychology that made October the bloodiest month in Iraq since the American-led invasion.

The bad news, as James D. Fearon of Stanford University explained to members of Congress in September, is that withdrawing American troops from Iraq will only accelerate Iraq's descent into the abyss. The worse news is that increasing troop numbers may only slow the descent. The worst news is that civil wars like these tend to last a long time. Of 54 major civil wars since 1945, half lasted more than seven years. And most such wars don't end with power-sharing agreements but in victory for one side or the other — often as a result of foreign intervention.

Did I say "end"? The real lesson of Lebanon — and, indeed, of Bosnia — may be that some civil wars never really end. There are merely cease-fires. And then the cycle of killing resumes.,0,6963089.column?coll=la-opinion-center

The Perils of Escalation in Iraq: A Grim History Lesson

The gruesome lesson from the Korean War and Vietnam show that nothing will be accomplished by sending more troops to Iraq, other than adding to the 2,876 soldiers killed and leaving more dead civilians.

By G. Pascal Zachary, AlterNet

Posted on November 27, 2006

Editor's Note: Despite the clear reality that the American public is completely fed up with the occupation of Iraq demonstrated in the November 7 election, we are witnessing the shocking reality that increasing our troops and commitment, not setting the stage for withdrawal, is receiving much attention in policy discussions and media coverage post election.

While there were other factors which influenced election results like Republican corruption and economic fears brought on by neo-liberal trade policies, exit polls showed little doubt that large majorities of voters want out of Iraq... and soon, and surely not an escalation of the war, as John McCain is calling for.

This anti-Iraq occupation sentiment comes amid rising US military casualties and extraordinarily violent daily events. Public disgust with US Iraq policy comes against the backdrop of 2,876 American soldiers killed, as well as the highly professional study of Iraq civilian deaths published in the journal Lancet -- a study praised by leading epidemiologists -- which shockingly concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict.

What will escalation do to our troops and to the people of Iraq?

The answer seems pretty clear. Escalation, as Greg Zachary points out in the following article, is often a step of military and political desperation. And as Zachary writes, when more troops get sent in they invariably get worse.

-- Don Hazen, AlterNet Executive Editor

The Perils of Escalation in Iraq: A Grim History Lesson

The perils of escalation can be found in the pages of American history. These perils demand a greater appreciation as the nation ponders the option of escalating the war in Iraq.

Escalation is always a seductive option when war aims go unmet. After taking casualties and losing ground, an occupying army can look on the prospect of reinforcements with enthusiasm. For the political overlords of a war going badly, escalation carries an immediate appeal by raising hopes of ultimate victory, as the enemy collapses in the face of increased forces and firepower. Of course, talk of escalation can be abused by political cynics. One appeal of favoring escalation is prospective: critics of a failed war can always argue later that if only their side committed more forces, defeat would have turned into victory.

In the case of the Iraq war, the appeal of escalation is linked to the widespread, if erroneous, belief that the U.S. never committed adequate troop levels to pacify Iraq. Arizona Senator John McCain, the chief proponent of the escalation scenario, argues that only through an escalation of the war can Americans for the first time stand a decent chance to win. With U.S. forces facing defeat in Iraq, and with Iraqi civilians suffering even more terribly than the foreign occupiers, McCain's escalation scenario holds out the possibility of lowered American casualties (a consequence of "strength in numbers") and a safer Iraq safer for the locals.

Escalations can backfire, however. Let's consider the escalations in the two wars that most resemble the Iraq war.

The first is the Korean War, waged by the U.S. on the Korean peninsula from 1950 to 1953. In the first half of the 20th century, Japan conquered Korea and, with Japan's defeat at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union and the U.S. -- allies during the war and now victorious -- split Korea between north and south. Under the sway of the Soviet Union, North Korea adopted communism as an ideology and in June 1950, without warning, attacked South Korea. U.S. forces intervened to save the south, evicting the North Koreans.

The U.S. then faced a momentous decision. Having restored the status of the two Koreas prior to the war, should the U.S. military now stand down. Or should the U.S. escalate the war in the hopes of forever ending any threat from the North. Under the leadership of Army general Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. invaded North Korea with the stated aim of "liberating" it.

The escalation tragically backfired when China sided with North Korea and sent their own battle-hardened troops against U.S. forces. For a brief time when China threatened to overwhelm the Americans, and MacArthur was famously fired for his over-reach (the episode has echoes of Donald Rumsfeld's recent humiliation as Secretary of Defense). The war then settled into a bloody stalemate, and even today, more than 50 years later, two Koreas remain, with military tensions high.

The escalation solved nothing and cost much. More than 60,000 Americans were killed in the Korean war, which finally ended through negotiations, not military action.

The Vietnam War saw two escalations. Like Korea, Vietnam was a small Asian nation divided in two as a consequence of decolonization fostered by the end of World War II. Also like Korea, Vietnam was invaded by the Japanese, who supplanted France as the colonial power. With Japan's defeat in 1945, France returned, only to find a nationalist leader, Ho Chi Minh, entrenched in the north of Vietnam. Minh was renown for his resistance to the Japanese invaders and would likely had united the southern part of the country under his common rule had not the French resisted.

When France tired of fighting in Vietnam, the U.S. took over the role of reinforcing the South Vietnamese government. By the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, however, the so-called policy of "Vietnamization," or training the south Vietnamese to fight in their own defense against the northerners, was a failure.

Faced with the triumph of Ho Chi Minh, the new president Lyndon Johnson vowed, "I will not lose in Vietnam." In 1965, he tried to make good on his promise, vastly expanding the number of U.S. troops, which rose first to 300,000 (and then to 500,000 in 1968). Johnson also ordered a massive air bombing of North Vietnam so that within two years American planes had dropped more tonnage on the Vietnamese than they had during Germany, Japan and Italy during World War II.

With more troops and more bombing, Johnson confidently spoke of "light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam.

In response, the North Vietnamese, and their supporters in the south, mounted a devastating Tet offensive in January 1968. Attackers even penetrated the U.S. embassy compound in Saigon.

Though American and South Vietnamese forces eventually turned back the Tet invaders, and even inflicted heavy losses on the North, the prospect of a quick end to the war was exposed as a delusion. The failure of Johnson's escalation of the war was a double tragedy since not only did his decision cost many American lives and much money, the failure of escalation undercut support for his campaigns against institutionalized racism and poverty in America.

Even worse, new evidence unearthed historian Fredrik Logevall, author of Choosing War: the Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam, suggests that the south and the north could well have negotiated an end to the war and a government national unity as early as 1965, sparing all sides 10 years of deadly fighting.

The second escalation came after President Nixon took office in 1968. Nixon had campaigned on promises to end the war and he tried to do so -- by escalating the war. His decision to secretly bomb North Vietnamese supply lines in Cambodia de-stabilized that small neighboring country and directly led to the rise of the dreaded Khmer Rouge, who in the late 1970s were responsible for the killing of a million of the Cambodian comrades.

When expanding the war failed too, Nixon sought to negotiate what he called "peace with honor," and in 1973 the U.S. withdrew its troops. Two years later, South Vietnam collapsed and the country united around a single government based in Hanoi and led by Ho Chi Minh.

The past is not always prologue of course. But the failed escalations in Korea and Vietnam are surely warnings against any escalation of the war in Iraq. And surely the failed escalations of the past should cast doubt on any premature euphoria over escalating the Iraq war. The escalate scenario should only be met with dread -- and the hoary reminder that people who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

G. Pascal Zachary, a frequent contributor to AlterNet, is the author of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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U.S. Embassy Asks Bush Twins to Leave Country

November 27, 2006 1:18 PM
Joe Goldman and Rhonda Schwartz Report:

Amid a growing barrage of front-page headlines, U.S. embassy officials "strongly suggested" President Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush, cut short their trip to Buenos Aires because of security issues, U.S. diplomatic and security sources tell ABC News.
But the girls have stayed on, celebrating their 25th birthday over the weekend and producing even more headlines about their activities.

Officials say the media coverage upstaged publicity plans for the new U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne, who had only recently arrived in the country.


Vote Are the Bush Daughters Vulnerable?
First Daughter Barbara Robbed in Argentina

Neither the White House nor the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires responded to requests for comment.

The Argentinean press blitz followed a report on "The Blotter" last week that Barbara Bush's purse and cell phone were stolen last weekend while dining at the popular San Telmo outdoor marketplace despite being guarded by the Secret Service.

Stories of the twins' visit took on wild proportions in the Argentinean press. One tabloid headline had the young women running nude in the hallway of their hotel, a report the hotel staff denied to ABC News.

According to sources, the U.S. embassy encouraged the two girls to cut their stay short because the added attention was making their security very difficult.

But to the dismay and anger of some U.S. embassy and security staff, the girls stayed on.
Thursday night, an ABC News producer was able to walk into their hotel unchecked and engage Barbara Bush in conversation while she checked her e-mail on a computer in the lobby. Jenna sat talking with friends on a sofa nearby. No Secret Service agents were anywhere to be seen in the lobby, according to ABC News' Joe Goldman.

And yesterday the Bush twins were spotted at the Sunday soccer matches, wearing team jerseys and sitting in the owner's box, watching Argentina's top team Boca Juniors compete. Several games have been canceled due to violence in the crowds this year. In fact, last weekend no spectators were allowed to attend the match other than season ticket holders.
Sources tell ABC News the twins plan to stick to their original itinerary and stay in Buenos Aires until Thursday.

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Senior Rice aide, Philip Zelikow resigns from post


WASHINGTON - Philip Zelikow, one of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's closest advisers on Iraq and the Middle East, plans to resign his post, a State Department official said on Monday.

"He is going back to the University of Virginia at the beginning of the year," said the official, referring to Zelikow's former job.

Zelikow, who was counselor to Rice and had an office down the hall from the top U.S. diplomat, was involved in many of the major issues facing the United States. In addition to Iraq and the Middle East, he helped craft U.S. policy on terror detainees held without trial at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

In September, Zelikow caused some ripples when he suggested during a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that to build a coalition for dealing with Iran, the United States needed to make progress on solving the Arab-Israeli dispute.

"For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about," he said in the speech.

The Bush administration sought afterward to reassure the Israelis that there had not been a change in policy.

Asked whether his speech had contributed to the decision to leave, the official said this was not the case. "This is one of those rare cases in Washington where someone is leaving on their own terms," said the official.

Before joining Rice's staff last year, Zelikow was director of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. He was also executive director of the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

Copyright 2006 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

U.S. auto sales slowing say forecasts: report

U.S. auto sales slowing say forecasts: report

Mon Nov 27, 2006 7:40 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After a string of strong years, U.S. auto sales are slowing and an increasing number of forecasts say sales could fall next year to their lowest in nearly a decade, the Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site on Monday.

Slowing growth in the overall U.S. economy and a slump in the housing industry, particularly in big markets such as California, come at a bad time for General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, the paper said.

IRN, a Michigan market researcher, forecasts U.S. 2007 sales of 16.3 million light vehicles, or cars and trucks. That would be the lowest since 1998 and a drop of 300,000, or 1.8 percent, from this year's expected sales of 16.6 million vehicles.

Some auto makers are more optimistic, the paper says, with both GM and Toyota Motor Corp. forecasting 2007 industry sales of 16.5 million cars and trucks.

But analysts at Bank of America, Wachovia Corp. and Citigroup expect a sharper decline, as does investor Wilbur Ross, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past 18 months buying battered auto suppliers, the WSJ says.

Congressional Republicans worry Bush will put his legacy ahead of party goals

November 27, 2006

White House Memo

In Need of New Moves, but in Which Direction?



Senior Republican staff members in Congress have voiced the fear that Bush will now put his legacy over the party's immediate future, and take his cues from President Bill Clinton by "triangulating" when opportunity strikes -- that is, making deals with Democrats, over Republican objections, on immigration, health care or Social Security," Times reporter Jim Rutenberg writes.

"While the White House is trying to define their legacy, they'll try to triangulate us," said one senior Republican leadership aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly. "There is no sense of wanting to defend the Bush administration right now."

Bush's rhetorical olive branch to Democrats has made conservatives nervous, prompting visions of a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act that will increase spending or a new immigration system granting legal status, which many conservatives consider amnesty, to illegal immigrants," Rutenberg adds later in the piece. "One Democratic leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush was "most animated" during a meeting with the incoming Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, when the subject of immigration came up.

Republicans close to the White House said Rove was already arguing that Bush should move to bolster his support with conservatives, who make up his base and will compose a greater proportion of the Republican congressional caucus after an election in which many moderate Republicans lost their seats, some to conservative Democrats," Rutenberg continues.

But there's a caveat, according to Rutenberg's Washington memo analysis: The White House will "dig in hard" when it comes to congressional efforts to probe Bush's national security programs. Vice President Dick Cheney has vowed to rebuild executive power, he notes, and is unlikely to cede ground over a single congressional election cycle.


Lou Dobbs’s populist crusade.

Issue of 2006-12-04
Posted 2006-11-27

Regular viewers of “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” on CNN, might be surprised at the venue that Dobbs chose for lunch not long ago: the Grill Room of the Four Seasons, a midtown bastion of the very same political and business “élites” that he denounces daily on his television program. The Four Seasons is the enduring commissary of the Old Guard, where Henry Kissinger waves to the former Citigroup C.E.O. Sandy Weill, there is limo-lock at the side door, and the regulars have their checks sent to the office. Dobbs’s Town Car left him at the door, on East Fifty-second Street, and the restaurant’s co-owner, Julian Nicolini, embraced him that day as warmly as when he welcomed, among others, Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group; Nelson Peltz, the C.E.O. of Trian Partners; Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the former chairman and C.E.O. of Seagram; and Mortimer Zuckerman, the real-estate developer and publisher of the News. Nicolini led Dobbs to one of five choice banquettes, and Dobbs settled in, looking very much at home.

Dobbs is sixty-one, and his chubby face has a rosy glow. His blond hair is lacquered in place, his black wing tips are impeccably buffed. Other club members having lunch that day—the Nobel Prize winner James Watson, Bronfman, Peltz, the movie producer Harvey Weinstein—stopped at the table to say hello. It is the kind of welcome that one might have expected for an earlier incarnation of Lou Dobbs—the Harvard-educated anchor of CNN’s “Moneyline,” which in the nineteen-nineties served as a sort of video clubhouse for corporate America. But, in the past four years or so, Dobbs has been reborn as a populist—a full-throated champion of “the little guy,” an evangelical opponent of liberal immigration laws. His hour-long program, which airs at six, features Dobbs in a role that combines Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. On the air, he boomingly assails the upper management of corporate America for its “outrageous” greed, pay packages, and corruption, its opposition to increasing the minimum wage, its hiring of “illegal aliens,” its ties to “Communist China,” and its eagerness to send American jobs overseas.

The new Lou Dobbs often surprises those who recall the old Lou Dobbs of “Moneyline.” Daniel Henninger, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, wrote, “Old admirers are aghast. It’s as if whatever made Linda Blair’s head spin around in ‘The Exorcist’ had invaded the body of Lou Dobbs and left him with the brain of Dennis Kucinich,” a reference to the left-wing Ohio congressman and former Presidential aspirant. After an angry altercation on the show with James Glassman, a former New Republic publisher and current conservative supply-sider, Glassman said of Dobbs, “How did he transform from a business sycophant to a raving populist?” Glassman’s answer was that Dobbs had begun to “demagogue these issues.” (In questioning Glassman’s economic theories on his program, Dobbs accused him of talking “like a cult member.”) As if to answer such critics, Dobbs has recently published a book whose title is almost as long as the menu at the Grill Room: “War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and HOW TO FIGHT BACK.”

On the cover, Dobbs is standing—hands in pockets, feet apart—like a sentry protecting the boundaries of decency and the nation. At CNN, alone among the cable network’s anchors, he is allowed to express his opinions without borders. “I’m never neutral on any issue that affects the common good, our national interest, and working men and women of this country,” he writes. In many ways, Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, who in 2003 wrote a book entitled “Who’s Looking Out for You?,” are kindred spirits. Dobbs, who lives on a three-hundred-acre farm in a prosperous part of New Jersey, admires his own capacity for compassion and self-effacement. His audience, he writes, knows that he cares “more about them and their lives than about being invited to the White House or playing golf with C.E.O.s and celebrities.”

For most of its first half hour, “Lou Dobbs Tonight” contains more domestic and international news than does each of the three major network’s broadcasts, and Dobbs fills the role of the well-informed anchorman. Yet he also teases his audience, with headlines from stories that run in the second half hour, which is dominated by what Dobbs’s executive producer, Jim McGinnis, refers to as “brands”—segments with names like “Broken Borders,” “Homeland Insecurity,” “War on the Middle Class,” “Exporting America,” and “The Best Government Money Can Buy.”

“It’s very different from any program you’ll see on TV, by intention,” Dobbs said, as we ordered the fifty-six-dollar Dover sole. “What you won’t see on our broadcast is ‘fair and balanced journalism.’ You will not see ‘objective journalism.’ The truth is not ‘fair and balanced.’ There is a nonpartisan, independent reality that doesn’t give a damn, frankly, what two Democrats and two Republicans think about anything or say about anything.”

The cable-news universe is relatively small. About eight hundred thousand people watch “Lou Dobbs Tonight” (about nine million watch the “Nightly News,” on NBC), and in its time slot it lags behind Brit Hume’s show, on Fox, which has about a million and a half viewers. But Dobbs is narrowing the gap, and his news program is one of the handful on cable whose audiences are growing, rather than shrinking. The highest-rated cable news program is “The O’Reilly Factor,” on Fox, which averages about two million viewers, and Fox continues to lead CNN in the ratings, with MSNBC a distant third. A program’s ranking is affected by the length of time that viewers stay with it, and news shows that do best tend to have opinionated anchors, like Fox’s O’Reilly and Sean Hannity; MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, whose audience has increased by two-thirds in the past year; and Dobbs, whose broadcast has drawn twenty-two per cent more viewers in the past twelve months. In October, the network announced that “Lou Dobbs Tonight” would expand from five nights to seven, and Dobbs was named one of CNN’s four Election Night anchors.

Dobbs has been with CNN since Ted Turner launched the cable network from Atlanta, in 1980, and both Dobbs and CNN have changed in the intervening years. Turner once liked to contrast CNN with the broadcast networks by saying that “news was the star” and that CNN expunged opinions from its news. Today, CNN heavily promotes its star anchors—particularly Dobbs, Larry King, whose show airs at nine, and Anderson Cooper, who comes on at ten. Cooper regularly travels to trouble spots and shares with viewers his personal responses to situations, and one longtime CNN employee said of his show, “It’s almost a fact-free zone. It’s a feeling zone.”

Unlike Fox, whose identity among its core viewers is often described as a celebration of conservatives, CNN seems to have adopted a “We’re on your side” stance as a way to boost ratings. It was encouraged by Dobbs, but also by Cooper, who expressed his outrage at the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and by Jack Cafferty, in cranky commentaries on Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room.” For nine nights in October, CNN ran a series called “Broken Government,” as well as two hour-long Dobbs town-hall meetings—the first on the “forgotten middle class,” the second on illegal immigration. CNN’s ratings improved dramatically, particularly among the most desirable demographic, twenty-five- to fifty-four-year-olds.

Jon Klein, the president of CNN in the United States, told me that when he arrived at the cable network, soon after the 2004 election, there was a perception that CNN would become more like Fox and that news, as he put it, “had to be glitzy and a diversion”—a series of tabloid narratives with constant updates. “No one wanted to cover Natalee Holloway, but they thought they had to,” Klein says, referring to the teen-ager who disappeared in Aruba. “That’s not said from some moral high ground. It’s business. If everyone else on television is doing it, don’t you want to do something else?” With its excitable coverage of these stories, Klein believed that CNN “was alienating its audience,” and damaging its credibility. From the digital world, where he once worked and where he could chart what people watched and when interest waned, he “learned that people get tired of stories easily.” Although CNN hardly ignores the more diverting stories, Klein wanted people at the network to “decide for ourselves what is important,” and CNN to distinguish itself through what he called “differentiation.”

Klein, who is forty-eight, spent nearly two decades in various capacities at CBS News, where he produced both serious work (overseeing “60 Minutes” and winning a Peabody Award for “48 Hours,” which is emphasized in his official biography) and less-serious news (the softening of “48 Hours,” which goes unmentioned). In 1999, after leaving CBS, he founded a broadband video company, the FeedRoom, which tells companies how to use video on the Internet.

With a worldwide staff of four thousand, CNN had more reporting resources than any of its competitors. When the tsunami struck Southeast Asia in December of 2004, Klein says, he worked with his CNN international counterpart, and “We gang-tackled the story. We asked correspondents not to do standups but to find real human stories, to do storytelling.” He says that he quickly took note of Anderson Cooper’s talent for displaying empathy (Cooper replaced Aaron Brown in November 2005), and also decided that Dobbs’s program was fine as it was. “I committed ‘benign neglect’ on Lou,” Klein told me.

For some years, CNN has billed itself as “The most trusted name in news.” (A recent Pew poll, however, suggested that there is little difference in credibility among the cable news networks; the poll also noted that the number of Americans who said they believed “all or most” of what CNN reported has fallen from forty-two per cent to twenty-eight per cent since 1998.) Under Klein, CNN has, once again, placed greater emphasis on its chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and given more airtime to John King, the chief national correspondent. After largely abandoning documentaries in recent years, the network plans to produce twenty-four hours in 2007; among the topics that the scheduled programs will cover are Iraq and the environment. After it became clear that CBS would choose Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather as anchor, Klein hired the CBS White House correspondent John Roberts, who had once been in contention for Rather’s job. He recruited Time’s Baghdad bureau chief, Michael Ware, as well as senior broadcast network-news producers: David Doss, formerly of ABC and NBC, to executive-produce Anderson Cooper; and Victor Neufeld, a veteran of CBS and ABC, to executive-produce Paula Zahn, who anchors the news at 8 P.M. He also replaced “Inside Politics” and the shouting match “Crossfire” with the more news-oriented “Situation Room.”

The showman in Klein competes with the newsman and, in the atmosphere of cable news, the showman often wins the contest. “There’s no question that Jon Klein wants more edge,” a senior CNN employee told me. “Klein is the most personality-driven manager we’ve had.” This employee respects Klein “as a leader” for returning the network to its news roots but worries that Klein is drawing the wrong conclusion from Dobbs’s improved ratings. “When we did the ‘Broken Government’ series,” the senior employee said, “in the first conference call he said, ‘I don’t want preconceived solutions, but, when you reach a conclusion, don’t be afraid to express it. I don’t want ‘He said, she said.’ ”

CNN’s news coverage coexists uneasily with its Dobbs-led populism. Among the viewers who are less than happy with the network’s current direction is Ted Turner, who told me, “CNN in the U.S. is quite a bit different than it was. They’ve gone more into emphasizing personality, and to some degree, particularly in the case of Lou Dobbs, they’ve encouraged him to promote himself and his own ideas to create a cult of personality to increase the ratings.” Turner paused for a moment before adding that Lou Dobbs is “a very talented newscaster, and he’s personally a friend of mine. Having said that, I personally think he’s gone too far inserting his opinions, for my taste.”

Dobbs often describes himself as “a kid who grew up poor” in rural Texas. He was the younger of two sons, born in September, 1945, in Childress (pop. 6,000), not far from Amarillo. His father was a partner in a small propane business, and his mother was a bookkeeper. When Lou was twelve, the propane business collapsed and the family, in search of a better livelihood, moved to a farm in Rupert, Idaho, where Lou attended public schools. His teachers encouraged him to apply to Harvard, from which he graduated in 1967, with a degree in economics.

His first job was working in federal anti-poverty programs in Boston and Washington, D.C. Dobbs recalls, “I decided to go out and make some money. I decided I wasn’t changing the world.” He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a cash-management specialist for Union Bank, earning what was then an excellent salary of thirty thousand dollars a year to come up with ways for companies to manage their capital more efficiently. In 1969, he married a former high-school sweetheart; in 1970, the first of their two sons was born. But Dobbs grew restless at the bank, particularly after spending time with two friends who were journalists, and who, he says, “seemed to be having so much fun.” He had been saving money, and moved his family to Yuma, Arizona, where he’d heard about a job as a police and fire reporter for a radio station. His imposing physical presence and booming voice had been quickly noticed, and he soon began working with the affiliated television station. “I found what I really loved to do,” he says. His starting salary was seventy-five dollars a week. In the mid-seventies, he was hired as a television anchor-reporter, first in Phoenix and then in Seattle. At the end of 1979, a recruiter called to ask if he would be interested in the all-news cable network that Ted Turner was starting. Dobbs liked the idea of challenging the three broadcast networks, and Turner hired him to anchor a half-hour business newscast. On the Chicken Noodle Network, as CNN was sometimes called then, Dobbs was the youngest anchor. He is the only one from that period who is still with CNN.

Dobbs soon became a member of the network’s executive committee, and eventually supervised a staff of more than three hundred, overseeing all of CNN’s business coverage. He was also put in charge of business news on, and became the president of CNNfn, a business cable network. His main job, however, was to anchor the half-hour “Moneyline” program, which in 1984 moved to New York. In 1998, it was given an additional half hour, and renamed the “Moneyline News Hour with Lou Dobbs,” allowing Dobbs to offer a wider range of reports.

Dobbs’s personal life had undergone a few changes during these years. In 1981, he divorced his wife. The following year, he married Debi Lee Segura, a sports anchor and a reporter for CNN; in 1988, Segura gave birth to twin girls. Dobbs bought his farm in Sussex, New Jersey, a ninety-minute commute to CNN’s studios in Manhattan, where he raised and rode horses, joined a country club, and collected guns. (His two sons, both businessmen, live in nearby Sparta; his daughters were recently accepted at Harvard.)

On the air, Dobbs celebrated capitalism and helped conjure the Internet bubble of the nineties. In the 2000 book “The Fortune Tellers,” Howard Kurtz wrote that “Moneyline,” like CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and much of the financial press, sought “a nonstop flow of tips, touts, picks, and pans to lure consumers with the idea that they just might get in on the Next Big Thing.” CNN billed “Moneyline” as the business-news program watched “by more C.E.O.’s than any other,” and its audience was so demographically desirable that CNN was able to charge advertisers some of the steepest cost-per-thousand rates in television.

Dobbs flew on a private plane and befriended the well-to-do—among them Henry Kravis, the billionaire and leverage-buyout specialist. He accepted speaking fees to appear at corporate retreats. He was paid to do promotional videos for Shearson Lehman Brothers, Paine Webber, and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, and when these relationships became public and Dobbs was asked if this wasn’t a conflict of interest, he said, “That is a silly, silly question. Would I do it if I thought I were compromising anything?” Nevertheless, Dobbs said that he would return the money, and insists that his practice today is to donate such fees to charity. Tom Johnson, the chairman and C.E.O. of CNN News Group, expressed full confidence in Dobbs.

Inside CNN, Dobbs was known for his intelligence as well as for having a nasty streak. There were stories of how he verbally abused people, including the time, reported by Howard Kurtz, that he was said to have ordered a short producer to stand on a chair so that he—Dobbs is six-feet-two—could scream at him standing eyeball to eyeball. “It’s absolute bullshit,” Dobbs says. “It never happened,” although he concedes that he was “a very tough editorial manager.”

Dobbs met his volatile match in Rick Kaplan, who became CNN’s U.S. president in 1997, and by 1999 the two were barely speaking. Dobbs was leery of Kaplan, who had been a news producer at CBS and the executive producer of both “World News Tonight” and “Nightline,” at ABC, but who also happened to be a friend of President Clinton’s. “I didn’t agree with the journalism he was doing,” Dobbs said. “In my judgment, he was clearly partisan. He was pushing Clinton stories.” Kaplan responded by saying that most of CNN’s Clinton stories were negative. He thought that Dobbs was a prima donna—“just a very difficult person to deal with.” He added, “Lou doesn’t think he’s opinionated. He just thinks he’s stating the truth.”

Their final clash came in May of 1999, while Dobbs was anchoring “Moneyline.” CNN, like Fox and MSNBC, had planned to cover a speech that Clinton was giving in Littleton, Colorado, after the shootings at Columbine High School, where two teen-age gunmen killed twelve students and a teacher, and then committed suicide. Clinton’s speech fell in the middle of Dobbs’s program, and the broadcast cut away to Colorado. Kaplan was watching at home and heard Clinton say to the families, “There’s something you all can do,” and then the President was cut off and CNN returned to “Moneyline.” Dobbs says that he considered the President’s speech a staged event, and ordered his producer to return to the studio. Kaplan told me, “Tell me what journalistic reason there was not to cover the President at Columbine soon after the shootings? Everyone else was covering it. . . . There are two sides to almost every story in the world, but not to that one.” Kaplan countermanded Dobbs’s order, and Dobbs, at that point, looked into the camera and told his audience, “CNN President Rick Kaplan wants us to return to Littleton.”

Several days later, Dobbs announced that he was leaving CNN to start a Web site,, devoted to collecting news about space: technology, astronomy, NASA missions, and more; a co-investor in this effort was Venrock Associates, the venture-capital firm affiliated with the Rockefeller family. “I’d had it,” Dobbs says. “I just couldn’t take the hassle. I was not having fun.” There was another, unspoken reason for his departure: Dobbs wanted to stay on the air at CNN while also investing in, and CNN officials believed that this would entail a clear conflict of interest. How could he objectively cover the dot-com world when he had a stake in its success? Ted Turner could not persuade Dobbs to back down, and he quit.

Dobbs had other reasons to be unhappy: CNBC, the NBC business cable network, was building an audience throughout the day, and by evening it often had more viewers than “Moneyline.” Many C.E.O.s now appeared first on CNBC. Maria Bartiromo, a reporter whom Dobbs had declined to make a correspondent, and who had been given her own show on CNBC, was drawing a large audience. Dobbs was annoyed that Time Warner, CNN’s corporate parent, had refused to invest more in CNNfn. Dobbs became the C.E.O. of, and soon signed on with NBC to produce a financial newsletter, host an NBC radio program, and become a “guest” financial commentator on both NBC and CNBC, apparently allowing him to skirt a non-competitive clause in his severance agreement. At CNN, meanwhile, “Moneyline” continued, but it was slowly losing viewers.

By April, 2001, the dot-com bubble had burst and Rick Kaplan had left CNN. That month, Dobbs announced that he was ending his association with NBC, stepping down as the C.E.O. of, and returning to CNN to be the anchor and managing editor of “Moneyline.” Dobbs says, “I never dreamed I’d miss news. I watched the 2000 coverage of the Presidential campaign, and it drove me nuts not to be able to report that story. CNN approached my agent to bring me back.” Jeff Gralnick, the executive producer whom Dobbs had recruited to “Moneyline,” in 1999, had a somewhat different version of events. In Electronic Media in May of 2001, Gralnick wrote that because of new competition from CNBC, Fox News, MSNBC, and Bloomberg News, Dobbs’s comeback “is dicey, and achieving success has to be seen as problematic. . . . So why would Dobbs abandon what appeared to be his growing relationship with CNBC and NBC?” Gralnick mentioned the temptation of a high salary, but his conclusion was that “anyone who knows Dobbs or has competed against him or crossed him knows there has to be more to this than just the dollars. Dobbs’ return to CNN in the role of ‘savior’ is the ultimate gotcha.” (Today, Dobbs is paid about six million dollars a year by CNN for his TV work and a weekly column that he writes for never became an Internet triumph, but it remains alive. Gralnick has since become a consultant for NBC News, among others, on new media.)

At first, the impact of Dobbs’s return on the program was slight. The ratings for “Moneyline” went up only slightly. Dobbs says that his new, more aggressive tone was prompted by a series of events: corporate scandals (Enron, M.C.I., Adelphi, Tyco); tax cuts that Dobbs felt benefitted the rich at the expense of the middle class, and also generated enormous budget deficits; and, above all, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After September 11th, Dobbs began wearing a flag pin on his lapel; other changes came gradually.

Dobbs and his producers agreed that the C.E.O. interviews were too soft. “We were doing—I don’t want to say puff pieces—but we were just scratching the surface,” Jim McGinnis, who has worked with Dobbs for two decades, says. They noticed that their e-mails spiked every time they did pieces on jobs going overseas or on illegal immigration. They began talking about adding more edge to the program. “I was determined to drive the broadcast very hard on issues that affect the quality of life of most Americans,” Dobbs says. As the managing editor, he already enjoyed editorial control. He decided that he also needed more freedom to express his views, and says that he went to Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide, who agreed to relax the network’s no-opinion strictures. “Take it as far as you want,” he says that Walton told him, although viewers had to be informed at the beginning of the program that it would include opinion. Walton confirms this conversation. Opinion is fine, he told me, “if it’s clearly labelled. One of the things our critics said years ago was that CNN is the same”—boring. What Dobbs is doing demonstrates that “CNN is not the same.”

Five correspondents work for Dobbs, and during the second half hour they usually report on a story that Dobbs treats as a scandal, and that he invariably describes as “outrageous,” “alarming,” “idiotic,” “disgusting,” or “sickening.” On the air, Dobbs’s reporters appear deferential. On August 16th, Christine Romans filed a report describing how the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, “decided to fight illegal immigration itself” by fining landlords a thousand dollars a day for knowingly renting to illegal aliens and by denying business permits to companies that hire them. In an interview with an A.C.L.U. official who opposed the law, she allowed him a single on-camera sentence; the mayor, who supported the measure, had seven lines and the last word. In a colloquy with Romans in the studio, Dobbs was told that the A.C.L.U. said that if voters were unhappy with federal laws they could always vote for new members of Congress. “Why doesn’t that apply, then, to the local community,” Dobbs asked, “and why are they interfering there, I wonder?”

“That’s a very good point, Lou,” Romans said.

On September 12th, Lisa Sylvester reported from rural Taneytown, Maryland, where the town council was debating whether to legislate English as the official language. Two people who favored the proposal were interviewed, and only one opponent. Dobbs, betraying impatience with those who were opposed to such legislation, said, with a smirk, “As we can often say on this broadcast with seemingly greater frequency, ‘Only in America.’” On October 2nd, the correspondent Casey Wian began his report from California, “Lou, there are an estimated seven million illegal aliens now working in the United States. Neither they nor their employers have much to worry about in Congress’s latest efforts to secure the border.” Wian interviewed two critics of corporations who hire illegal aliens and said that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “refused to provide” a rebuttal, but its Web site says that new regulations would unduly burden employers and would either be “unworkable or cost too much money.” Dobbs thanked Wian and concluded the segment by saying that most lobbyists in Washington try to keep everyone from being “overly burdened; that is, everyone except working men and women and their families in this country.” CNN’s regular correspondents often appear during the first half hour, but not always comfortably. Two days after the midterm elections, at the conclusion of a report from John King, Dobbs looked into the camera and said that he hoped the public had finally “had a bellyful of wedge issues.”

“We can hope, John, can’t we?” Dobbs said.

“We sure can, Lou,” King said, looking uneasy.

The changed emphasis of the program was probably brought about by a mixture of conviction and commerce. With so many choices, McGinnis observes, “there’s a blur out there. If you don’t stand for something and people don’t see what you are, you’re passed by. . . . It’s a business.” By May, 2002, the anniversary of Dobbs’s return, the “Moneyline” ratings had doubled. A year later, the title of the program was changed to “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” When he was asked to describe his ratings success, Dobbs, anticipating skepticism, said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to the numbers. I can tell you the trend is up.”

Dobbs’s actual politics are not easily categorized, and his book, like his nightly program, contains opinions that are both satisfying and infuriating to the right and the left. On Dobbs’s office wall is a framed drawing with a note from Kurt Vonnegut: “You, as the only big-time television personality capable of not only feeling but experiencing sorrow for American working stiffs, are our hero.” The left, to which Vonnegut belongs, can embrace Dobbs for his opposition to big corporations and his support for a higher minimum wage, national health insurance, and abortion rights. The right likes him for his views on immigration, political correctness, gun control, the United Nations, and all efforts to limit American sovereignty. Dobbs believes that the middle class, which he has described as being composed of two hundred and fifty million Americans, is taken for granted, an argument that could be challenged by those who point to the growth of middle-class entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, or to the unwillingness of elected officials to offend this constituency by curbing entitlements.

Although Dobbs opposes gun control and supports a woman’s right to an abortion, he calls these fake “wedge issues” designed “to excite a certain base.” He opposes holidays that celebrate a group rather than a nation, and on his program last spring, when a Hispanic-rights activist defended the displaying of the Mexican flag as an expression of ethnic pride, like that exhibited on St. Patrick’s Day, he told her, “Let’s be clear. I don’t think there should be a St. Patrick’s Day.”

Dobbs sometimes seems oddly formal; he does not roll up his sleeves, and he puts on a jacket when he leaves his office area. In conversation, he does not harbor much doubt. One day, in his fifth-floor office at CNN’s Columbus Circle headquarters, I mentioned that Henry Kissinger has said that many of the decisions he made as Secretary of State were sixty-forty choices, meaning that the opposing argument could claim forty per cent of the truth. Did the “rock hard” truths that Dobbs once told me he believed in exclude the possibility that the other side could claim twenty per cent, or even forty per cent, of the truth?

“In free trade?” he said. “In illegal immigration? In education? No. Everything I believe, I believe unequivocally.”

Bill Tucker, a correspondent, has worked with Dobbs for twenty-three years. “There are a lot of dumb bastards in the world,” Tucker told me. “Lou is one of the smart ones. There’s a big difference working for someone who is smart and engaged.” On some issues, Dobbs’s program has taken strong positions, Tucker acknowledged, adding that the reporters who work for Dobbs “are expected to file reports within that editorial point of view. The opinions are left to Lou.” The correspondents try to get all sides, Tucker went on, but on many of the stories “the quote unquote other side often makes it difficult, because they don’t want to coöperate if they know I’m with Dobbs.”

One of Jon Klein’s stated aims has been to persuade the producers of CNN’s various programs to widen their vision (he speaks of them climbing out of their “silos”)—to make sure that, say, when Anderson Cooper travelled to Africa other CNN programs, from “The Situation Room” to Paula Zahn’s broadcast, would welcome his reports. Yet the dispatches filed by Dobbs’s correspondents are rarely welcomed. The senior CNN employee says that “other shows are not comfortable with them,” because too many of these reports are on Dobbs’s pet subjects and the reporters are widely perceived to be Dobbs’s acolytes, feeding him the alarming news that he wants.

“I think he’s the most influential political reporter of the time, certainly over the last year,” Klein told me. “He’s someone politicians ignore at their peril.” Klein cited Dobbs’s response to the Dubai ports deal: for fifteen evenings, Dobbs spoke about “the outrage” of allowing a Middle Eastern country “with ties to the September 11 terrorists” to operate six American ports. Dobbs certainly was not the only person to raise questions, but the resulting furor eventually prompted Dubai to abandon the plan. Slate recently wrote that Dobbs’s brand of economic nationalism had been reinforced by the results of the midterm elections, in which many Democrats expressed Dobbsian viewpoints. As for the “illegal immigration” story, Dobbs provided a nightly stage for like-minded members of Congress to express their opinions, an exposure that he believes helped to shift Congress’s agenda. Dobbs became so closely identified with the issue that it prompted the humorist Andy Borowitz to offer this fake news story:

In his toughest stand yet against illegal immigration, President George W. Bush today announced that he would move CNN anchorman Lou Dobbs to the United States’ border with Mexico.
For Mr. Bush, who one day earlier had announced that he was moving 10,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border, the decision to dispatch Mr. Dobbs means that the deployment of Guard troops was no longer necessary.

Dobbs’s program also features letters that usually echo his views, as well as poll questions that appear to be slanted, such as “Do you believe illegal aliens who have anchor babies in the United States should be immune from deportation?” In August, ninety-three per cent of those who were asked this question opposed granting immunity. When two U.S. border agents were convicted for shooting at an unarmed man who was smuggling more than seven hundred pounds of marijuana across the Mexican border, Dobbs was incensed. (A jury had found the agents guilty of various counts of assault, among other charges, for firing fifteen shots at the man.) Dobbs returned to this story in many broadcasts. He solicited contributions for the agents. In an August 16th report, he entertained the possibility that “somebody is paying off the government of Mexico” to protect the drug smuggler. He pressed the president of the National Border Patrol Council by asking, “Why isn’t there more of a show of support from your members and for other Border Patrol officers?” He inserted the issue into his poll, asking, How many viewers thought this was “a travesty of American justice?” Ninety-six per cent of Dobbs’s viewers agreed that it was an outrage.

Dobbs’s rabidness provokes his critics. Not long ago, the Times columnist Thomas Friedman told a law-school audience, “And then you have a blithering idiot like Lou Dobbs, in my view, who’s using the platform of CNN in a news frame. . . . This is not news. And so we have a political class not making sense of the world for people and that’s why the public . . . is so agitated.” The Economist said that one might expect “CNN’s flagship business-news programme . . . to strive for economic literacy,” but, instead, Dobbs greets “every announcement of lost jobs as akin to a terrorist assault”; The Nation accused him of “hysteria and jingoism”; the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Dobbs “failed to present mounting and persistent evidence of anti-Hispanic racism” in his reports on anti-immigration groups like the Minutemen; one Hispanic group urged Time Warner to take Dobbs off the air.

In his new book, Dobbs says of Friedman, “His name calling would bother me more if he were anything more than a tool of international corporatism and a card-carrying member of his own Flat Earth Society.” In a weekly column for, Dobbs wrote:

I will tell you it does make a fellow think when attacked so energetically and so personally. But in none of the attacks on my position on outsourcing has a single columnist or news organization seen fit to deal with the facts.
Number one: We’re not creating new jobs in the private sector, and that’s never happened before in our history. . . . Number two: We haven’t had a trade surplus in this country in more than two decades, and our trade deficit continues to soar. Number three: We’ve lost three million jobs in this country over the last three years. . . . That seems to me, at least, to be more than sufficient evidence for all of us.

Some journalists at CNN worry that Dobbs harms the network’s credibility. John King says that he likes Dobbs and admires his talent, but adds, “Lou clearly has strongly held beliefs, and he’s decided to share these beliefs. In doing that, does it sometimes cause concern in the company? Yes.” Klein admits that he wants to “increase the audience’s intensity,” but not in the way he believes that Fox has. “They have a clear brand identity,” he says of Fox, “which does not afford them as many places to go when their viewership dips. They have a definite right-of-center view of the world. Most of their hard-core viewers are older; sixty-five-plus is their median age”—CNN’s median age is about sixty-one. “When you define yourself that way, it’s very hard to move to the center without alienating the core audience. I’d rather be playing our hand now. By focussing on news, there is much more we can do.” In response to Klein’s remarks, a senior Fox executive called him hypocritical for saying that he was pushing serious news, when, according to the executive, he was still running soft news and taking CNN “on a hard tack to the left.” The executive said of Dobbs, “He has tapped into strong opinion. He’d be good on Fox.”

Klein’s immediate goals include boosting the ratings of CNN’s “American Morning,” which has gained viewers but badly trails “Fox and Friends.” (CNN’s morning program attracts about half a million viewers; NBC’s “Today,” the leader among the broadcast networks, reaches six million.) And Klein must give some thought to a replacement for Larry King, who is seventy-three, when King retires. “There isn’t going to be another Larry King,” Klein says. “And it’s not clear that we’ll have another interview show.” There has been published speculation that he might make a bid for Diane Sawyer, the co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” who is eager to escape morning television and seems now to be blocked from an anchor chair at ABC, CBS, or NBC. Klein appears interested; they worked together at CBS. “She has a lot of attributes that would help her fit into CNN,” he says. She also has a salary of about twelve million dollars, which CNN could not easily justify for a program whose audience is so much smaller.

CNN’s challenge is how to balance its credibility with the emotive direction of cable news. “If you’re going to fill 24/7, you have to look for other angles after the basic facts,” Rick Kaplan, who, until June, was the president of MSNBC, said. Ted Turner takes a different view. He believes that traditional television news, like print media, is at risk. “We’re moving into a ‘Brave New World,’ like Huxley,” Turner says, with “a dramatic reliance on wireless.” Turner believes that “somebody has to gather the news,” and that CNN has held “the high ground.” He remembers that, when he started CNN, it was said that the public didn’t want twenty-four-hour cable news. “I certainly hope they are able to maintain its position as the world’s most important and trusted network,” he told me. “That’s a hell of an important position to have. If CNN does keep its quality image above all the temptations to become more ‘edgy,’ I think they have a very bright future. If they go over the line too far, they risk losing their pole position.”

Turner recently criticized journalists who fail to convey a sense of “covering the news from an unbiased” perspective. Turner didn’t single anyone out, but Dobbs is sure that he was referring to him. Dobbs says that his old friend and former boss “is an American citizen, and he has a right to say what he thinks,” but he rejects the journalistic “neutrality” advocated by Turner. According to Dobbs, viewers expect him to take positions, and like his program because he draws attention to issues that are often ignored by the mainstream press. “I hope that every time the government lies, our broadcast grabs them by the scruff of the neck,” he says.

Leftist economist wins Ecuador election

By MONTE HAYES, Associated Press Writer

Mon Nov 27, 6:29 AM ET

A leftist economist who called for Ecuador to cut ties with international lenders appeared to have easily won the presidency of this poor, politically unstable Andean nation, strengthening South America's tilt to the left.

Partial returns from Sunday's voting showed that Rafael Correa — who has worried Washington with calls to limit foreign debt payments — would join left-leaning leaders in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela, where he is friends with anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez.

The returns showed Correa with as many as twice the votes recorded as for his banana tycoon rival, who claimed the polls were rigged.

Correa was a fresh face in a field of established politicians, and won a place in Sunday's runoff by pledging a "citizens' revolution" against Ecuador's discredited political system.

During the campaign, he called for Ecuador to cut ties with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Correa, who has called President Bush "dimwitted," also wants to hold a referendum to rewrite the constitution to reduce the power of traditional parties and limit U.S. military activities in Ecuador.

"We receive this triumph with deep serenity and humility," the 43-year-old, who has an economics doctorate from the University of Illinois, told a news conference. "When we take office it will finally be the Ecuadorean people who are assuming power."

With 31 percent of the ballots counted, Correa had nearly 67 percent compared to 33 percent for Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal said before dawn Monday. Election officials said more returns were expected later Monday but that final results may not be known until Tuesday.

But Noboa, a Bible-toting billionaire who counts the Kennedys and Rockefellers among his friends, declined to concede defeat, saying he would wait for the final vote results.

"There has been a scenario in which they are preparing to commit fraud," Noboa told dozens of his supporters in the coastal city of Guayaquil. He said he instructed his campaign chiefs "to go to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and demand that they open the ballot boxes to count vote for vote so there can be no doubt."

Ecuador has had eight presidents since 1996, including three who were driven from office by street protests.

Correa pledged to construct 100,000 low-cost homes and copied Noboa's promise to double a $36 "poverty bonus" that 1.2 million poor Ecuadoreans receive each month.

Correa began his campaign identifying with Chavez, but backpedaled when he feared the comparison was hurting him in the polls. That appeared to change somewhat Sunday night.

"Hopefully, we will get much, much closer to Chavez," he told Channel 8 television in an interview. "Chavez is my personal friend, but in my house, my friends aren't in charge, I am. And in Ecuador, it will be Ecuadoreans in charge."

He said he would not rule out also seeking stronger ties to other more moderate leftist presidents like Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and with Washington, if President Bush makes it worthwhile for Ecuador.

Correa stood firm, however, on not signing a free-trade deal with the United States, "because, among other things, it would destroy our agriculture, cattle and poultry" industries.

At his first news conference following the election, Correa said Ecuador could rejoin the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

"If it is possible we will rejoin OPEC," he said. Ecuador, which produces some 535,000 barrels of oil a day, left OPEC in 1993.

He also announced that leftist economists Ricardo Patino and Alberto Acosta, whom he had mentioned earlier as possible Cabinet ministers, would be appointed to head the ministries of economy and energy.

Correa was favored to win the first round but came in second to Noboa in the field of 13 after his comments on Bush and threat to reduce payments on Ecuador's $16.1 billion foreign debt rattled investors.

Prior to the second round of voting, he softened his radical rhetoric and began to make populist promises of his own.

Correa served just 106 days last year as finance minister under interim President Alfredo Palacio, who replaced Lucio Gutierrez in the midst of street protests in April 2005.

Noboa, who was seeking the presidency for the third time, had run an old-fashioned populist campaign, crisscrossing Ecuador handing out computers, medicine and money.


Arlen Specter’s about-face.

Issue of 2006-12-04
Posted 2006-11-27

President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in Maryland on April 27, 1861, two weeks after the Confederate attack on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. “Lincoln could look out his window at the White House and see Robert E. Lee’s plantation in Virginia,” Akhil Reed Amar, a professor at Yale Law School and the author of “America’s Constitution,” said. “He was also facing a rebellion of so-called Peace Democrats in Maryland, meaning there was a real chance that Washington would be surrounded and a real threat that the White House would be captured.” On Lincoln’s order, federal troops arrested Baltimore’s mayor and chief of police, as well as several members of the Maryland legislature, who were jailed so that they couldn’t vote to secede from the Union.

Since the Middle Ages, habeas corpus—“You should have the body”—has been the principal means in Anglo-American jurisprudence by which prisoners can challenge their incarceration. In habeas-corpus proceedings, the government is required to bring a prisoner—the body—before a judge and provide a legal rationale for his continued imprisonment. The concept was so well established at the time of the founding of the American Republic that the framers of the Constitution allowed suspensions of the right only under narrow circumstances. Article I, Section 9, states, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Such suspensions have been rare in American history. The most recent occasion was in 1871, when President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to South Carolina to stop attacks by the Ku Klux Klan against newly emancipated black citizens. This fall, however, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, a new law banning the four hundred and thirty detainees held at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and other enemy combatants, from filing writs of habeas corpus.

The law, known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006, was a logical culmination of an era of one-party rule in Washington. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the executive branch, with the eager acquiescence of its Republican allies in Congress, has essentially dared the courts to defend the rights of the suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, who have been held at Guantánamo, some for as long as four years. The Supreme Court has twice taken up that challenge and forced the Administration to change tactics; the new law represented a final attempt to remove the detainees from the purview of the Court. Now, of course, Republicans no longer control Congress, but the change in the law of habeas corpus may be permanent.

Arlen Specter was an unlikely steward of the demise of habeas corpus. The Pennsylvania Republican, a senator since 1980, has long been known as a moderate in his caucus, one of the few remaining in a party that has shifted sharply to the right during his career. (The Wednesday Lunch Club, a group of liberal and moderate Republican senators, once had a dozen members. Now, after the defeat in this month’s election of Senator Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island, it will have three: Specter and the two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.) Moreover, for all his years as a legislator, Specter remains by temperament a litigator and an iconoclast. In his autobiography, “Passion for Truth” (2000), he writes with pride about his work as a young investigator for the Warren Commission; as a crusading Philadelphia district attorney; and as an aggressive cross-examiner of Anita Hill in Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. He has, he wrote, a “fetish for facts,” and faith in proceedings like habeas corpus to protect individual rights.

Yet it was Specter who, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, after leading the fight to preserve habeas corpus, at the last moment voted for the Administration’s plan restricting it. At seventy-six, Specter, having survived several bouts of life-threatening illness, has lost some of the abrasiveness that earned him the nickname Snarlin’ Arlen, but he generally says what he means, even when it might give offense. His self-confidence sometimes verges on arrogance; his most common expression is a knowing smirk. (It is evident in the cover photograph of his autobiography.) With some justification, and with typical bravado, Specter asserts that the debate over habeas corpus could have been avoided, if only his Republican colleagues had listened to him.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, and the American invasion of Afghanistan, Specter proposed that Congress develop a set of rules for handling the prisoners—the so-called “enemy combatants”—who were captured there. Along with Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, Specter introduced the Military Commission Procedures Act of 2002, which would have established a system of trials for the alleged Al Qaeda detainees, with defendants guaranteed, among other things, the presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. “The whole idea never really went anywhere,” Specter told me. “Nobody was much interested in it.”

The Bush Administration, believing that the treatment of the detainees was a matter that belonged under the exclusive control of the executive branch, was disdainful of attempts by Congress to address the issue. “I went down to Guantánamo with a group of senators shortly after it opened, and Dave Addington was also on the trip,” Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, recalled, referring to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s counsel, who has been a leading advocate in the Administration for a broad view of Presidential power. “As we were flying back to the States, I pulled Dave aside on the plane and said, ‘You really need to come over and draft some legislation with us, and, if you do that, the Supreme Court will be much more likely to uphold what we do. It would be better to work in concert with each other when it comes to wartime decision-making about how you try and interrogate a prisoner.’

“I remember Dave had a copy of the Constitution he carried around with him,” Graham went on. “He took it out, and he said the Administration didn’t need congressional authorization for what it was doing. The President had the inherent authority to handle the prisoners any way he wanted. And I said, ‘ That may be a good legal argument, but it’s not a good political argument. The more united the nation, the better it is for everyone.’ But Dave said, ‘ Thanks but no thanks.’ And after that we never had much dialogue.” Or, as Specter put it, “We still had discussions with the Department of Defense—perhaps in part because the general counsel was interested in a judgeship—but they didn’t go anywhere.”

In the meantime, though, some of the detainees at Guantánamo, in an effort to force the government to provide legal justification for the incarcerations, began filing petitions for habeas corpus in federal courts. The first group of cases reached the Supreme Court in the spring of 2004, and the government’s position was clear: the detainees had no right even to bring such cases in federal court. As Theodore B. Olson, the Solicitor General at the time, put it in the oral argument, for “an alien who had never had any relationship to the United States and who was being held as a result of a combat situation or a war situation in a foreign jurisdiction, there was no jurisdiction under the habeas statute.”

But the Supreme Court soundly rejected the Administration’s argument, ruling in June, 2004, that the detainees had the right to sue for their freedom. Justice John Paul Stevens, in his opinion in Rasul v. Bush, observed pointedly, “Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.” Or, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, a related case that was also decided in 2004, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President.”

In her opinion, O’Connor all but invited the Bush Administration to collaborate with Congress on a plan for the detainees. “Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake,” she wrote. But, in the months that followed, the Bush Administration continued to ignore proposals for legislation on Guantánamo by Specter and others in Congress. Addington’s view—that the executive branch alone could dictate the detainees’ treatment and define the rules of their trials—remained the government’s position. (Addington declined to comment for this article.)

The Administration, meanwhile, drafted a plan for military commissions or tribunals for the prisoners, which could, of course, result in the imposition of the death penalty. The detainees challenged this plan, too, and another group of habeas-corpus petitions arrived at the Court last spring. The Administration’s views had hardly changed since Rasul and Hamdi. As the government argued in its brief, “one of the powers inherent in military command was the authority to institute tribunals for punishing enemy violations of the law of war.”

But the Court again rejected the White House’s position, ruling, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that Congress, and not just the President, must establish the rules for trying the prisoners. The decision in Hamdan was announced on June 29, 2006, and Specter had been waiting for it. “I pretty much knew what it was going to say, or thought I did. And we had legislation all ready to go,” Specter told me. “It came down in the morning, and I introduced the legislation in the afternoon.”

In crafting legislation, especially legislation related to the war on terror, Specter had less room to maneuver than most Republican committee chairmen. His record as a moderate nearly cost him the leadership of the Judiciary Committee before he had a chance to assume it. At a press conference on the day after he was reëlected in 2004, Specter repeated a view he had expressed many times, saying that he regarded the protection of abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade as “inviolate,” and suggesting that “nobody can be confirmed today” who didn’t share that opinion. Almost immediately, conservative groups in the Republican Party demanded that Specter be denied the chairmanship. Protesters chanted outside his office and inundated the Senate switchboard with telephone calls.

After a series of tense meetings with his Republican colleagues, Specter was allowed to take over as chairman of the committee, but he had to make certain promises, especially about Bush’s nominations to the Supreme Court. “I have voted for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees in committee and on the floor,” Specter said in a carefully worded statement at the time. “And I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy of nomination.” In the subsequent two years, Specter was as good as his word, shepherding the nominations of John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to confirmation to the Supreme Court. Nearly two decades earlier, Specter had provided a key vote against Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Court, but as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he became an advocate for two new Justices whose views resembled Bork’s. (In a speech earlier this month to the Federalist Society, the conservative lawyers’ organization, Specter said of the confirmation of Roberts and Alito, “Certainly it was the highlight of the Judiciary Committee under my chairmanship, and it may turn out to be the highlight, certainly one of the highlights, of the Presidency of George Bush.”)

Specter’s own beliefs appear to have changed little over the years, but he has been forced to work in an environment in which the Republican Party, especially in Congress, has imposed ever-tighter discipline. “When Lyndon Johnson became Vice-President, he wasn’t welcome at Senate Democratic caucus meetings anymore, because it was for senators only,” Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told me. “But every Tuesday since Bush has been President it’s been like a Mafia funeral around here. There are, like, fifteen cars with lights and sirens, and Cheney and Karl Rove come to the Republican caucus meetings and tell those guys what to do. It’s all ‘Yes, sir, yes, sir.’ I bet there is not a lot of dissent that goes on in that room. In thirty-two years in the Senate, I have never seen a Congress roll over and play dead like this one.”

Specter is about to begin his twenty-seventh year in the Senate, and, as its sixteenth most senior member, he has one of the grander offices in the Capitol. His elegant hideaway, behind an unmarked door a few steps from the Senate floor, includes the customary grip-and-grin politician’s photographs, but the space is dominated by a more peculiar display: a large blowup of an Op-Ed piece that Specter wrote for the Times just before President Clinton’s impeachment trial. In the article, Specter proposed a novel solution to the Lewinsky scandal. Congress should abandon its impeachment investigation, Specter asserted; instead, Clinton should face a possible criminal prosecution after his term ended. During the impeachment trial in the Senate, Clinton’s lawyers presented Specter’s article as a defense exhibit, to encourage Congress to drop its case against the President. “You should have heard the gasps among my colleagues on the Republican side when they introduced it,” Specter told me with a laugh.

Specter played a characteristically quirky role in the impeachment saga and, in the process, managed to irritate nearly everyone. Once it was clear that the Senate was going to weigh Clinton’s fate, Specter argued in favor of holding a full trial, with witnesses, among them Lewinsky, appearing in front of all the senators. (Democrats, who wanted a quick trial, objected to this idea.) But Specter also appeared unimpressed by the Republican congressmen who served as prosecutors, or managers, of the case against Clinton. He even referred to Lindsey Graham, then a congressman, as “Congressman Lindsey.” In the end, Specter cast the most famous vote at Clinton’s trial, neither “guilty” nor “not guilty” but, rather, what he called the “Scottish verdict” of “not proven.” (It was recorded as a vote against conviction and, thus, for Clinton.) As Specter recounted in his autobiography, a reporter asked him when he left the Senate floor after casting his vote, “Did you anger both sides by doing it this way?”

“ ‘I’ve had some experience with that,’ I replied,” he wrote. “The room broke out in laughter.”

For Specter, there was another postscript to the Clinton trial. The congressman to whom Specter had condescended during the testimony soon became his colleague in the Senate. And Graham, a former lawyer for the Air Force, became Specter’s most determined adversary on the issue of habeas corpus.

“The war on terror is not like any other war,” Graham told me. “It’s a war without end. There are no capitals to conquer, no navies to sink. The Geneva Conventions say that you need a procedure in place with an independent arbiter making a decision about whether detainees belong in prison. My goal was to create that kind of process, but not in a way that has federal judges making determinations about who is an enemy combatant. I don’t think they’re competent to make those decisions in a war that is going to go on for a long time. I think that decision belongs to the military.”

Unlike Specter, Graham has little apparent reverence for the Senate’s recondite procedures and seniority rules. In 2005, as a freshman senator, he bypassed the Judiciary Committee and went straight to the Senate floor with a proposal to ban habeas cases by Guantánamo detainees. After the Supreme Court issued its decision in Hamdan, earlier this year, Graham raised the issue again.

This time, Graham sought to ban habeas cases by the detainees at a moment when Congress was considering a host of other legal changes pertaining to their treatment. Under the Administration’s initial plan to hold military trials at Guantánamo, evidence obtained through torture could be admissible. Graham, along with his Republican colleagues John Warner and John McCain, rejected that notion and proposed an alternative. The Bush Administration responded by offering several concessions, including allowing detainees to see all the evidence against them and outlawing the use of evidence that had been obtained by torture or “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”—a change meant to assure compliance with the Geneva Conventions. (In the final version of that measure, however, the three Republican legislators agreed to let the military determine whether the conventions had been violated, a significant concession to the Bush Administration.)

In light of these new rules for trials at Guantánamo, Graham thought that the habeas-corpus filings by the prisoners should stop. “My goal was to create some form of due process that was not as invasive as a habeas trial, because I do believe they impede the running of the jail,” he said. Graham proposed that rulings against the detainees be appealed only to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. (His legislation thus avoided the district court for the D.C. Circuit, which has generally looked more favorably on detainee claims than has the court of appeals.) In Graham’s view, the court of appeals is an adequate substitute for habeas corpus. “The way I read what the Supreme Court said was that, if there was no system in place to decide someone’s confinement status, you had to let them file habeas petitions,” Graham said. “But I think if you give them the D.C. Circuit, that’s enough. That’s a legitimate alternative. Arlen disagrees. He thinks it’s a constitutional right to file a habeas case. I think our statute gives you enough. That’s what Specter v. Graham is about.”

“That’s just ridiculous,” Specter told me, referring to Graham’s position. “Graham’s legislation does not allow the D.C. Circuit to make any fact-finding at all about what happened to the detainees and whether they are, in fact, enemy combatants. It’s not a ‘streamline’ review; it’s no kind of review at all.” The legislation will almost certainly come before the Supreme Court, but it’s impossible to know whether the Court will uphold it. “The D.C. Circuit would have to be an adequate and effective judicial remedy for reviewing the lawfulness of any detention, because that’s the basic definition of habeas corpus,” Gerald L. Neuman, a professor at Harvard Law School, said. “The law itself isn’t very clear about what the D.C. Circuit should do.”

The scene in the hearing room of the Dirksen Senate Office Building anticipated, in a small way, the spirit of rebellion that would animate the electorate seven weeks later. The session began with bipartisan expressions of outrage at the Administration’s (and Graham’s) plan. “It is inexplicable to me how someone can seek to divest the federal courts of jurisdiction on constitutional issues, just inexplicable to me,” Specter said in his introductory remarks. “If the courts are not open to decide constitutional issues, how is constitutionality going to be tested?” Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat, spoke next. “Today we’re addressing the single most consequential provision in this much discussed bill,” he said. “This provision would perpetuate the indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals, against whom the government has brought no charges and presented no evidence and without any recourse to justice whatsoever. That is un-American. This is un-American.” At that moment, a group of protesters wearing T-shirts saying “Shame,” “End Torture,” and “Save Habeas Corpus” rose from their seats and cheered.

Specter rebuked them gently. “There will be no demonstrations from the people in the room,” he said. “We want you to be here. We want you to listen. But that’s out of order.”

Until this point, the debate over the Senate bill had focussed on the rules for the commissions, or trials. But Thomas Sullivan, a veteran Chicago lawyer and former United States Attorney, turned the senators’ attention to a different subject. Sullivan, who represents several Saudi nationals held at Guantánamo, pointed out that the government planned to give about eighty of the four hundred and thirty detainees full trials. The rest would receive only an abbreviated hearing known as a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (C.S.R.T.). At these proceedings, detainees are not allowed to call witnesses (unless the witnesses are other detainees at Guantánamo), have no attorneys present, and are presumed guilty of being an enemy combatant based on evidence that they are not allowed to see.

With barely concealed rage, Sullivan lectured Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who was defending the Administration’s position at the hearing. “The question is whether they are enemy combatants. And when they started out in these hearings, these C.S.R.T.s, they were presumed guilty. There had already been a finding they were enemy combatants. The determination had been made. No witness or evidence was presented by the government. They would call in and they’d say, ‘O.K., Mr. Cornyn, here’s the charge against you. What have you got to say about it?’ That was it. That was all that they did. And then they put in some classified evidence. I’ve been down to the secure facility. It’s a joke. It’s a sham.”

The ban on habeas cases was likely to have a dramatic effect on the detainees at Guantánamo, but for a less than obvious reason. The procedure for military trials, brokered by Graham, Warner, and McCain, has won a measure of support from some of the human-rights advocates and lawyers who have been representing the prisoners. “If they were to charge them under the military commissions, it’s a pretty good substitute for a criminal trial,” Sullivan told me later. “They have to put evidence on the stand, right to a lawyer, subpoena power, and you can see and confront the evidence against you. But what most people don’t understand is that the government has said they are not going to try more than about eighty of the prisoners who are there. The real question is what happens to the three hundred other detainees? All they got are those pathetic C.S.R.T.s.”

In introducing the C.S.R.T.s, in 2004, the Department of Defense announced that, as part of the process, “detainees will also be notified of their right to seek a writ of habeas corpus in the courts of the United States.” Because of the new bill, this will no longer be the case. “You’re talking about people who have been in custody for four years, some of them haven’t even been questioned in two years, and the C.S.R.T. is all they have got in terms of a hearing, and it’s all they’re likely ever to get,” Sullivan said. “Their only hope was habeas, where the government would have to justify in some way why they’re being held year after year.”

Kyl asserted that “the consequences of the Specter amendment are unimaginable. We cannot allow enemy war prisoners to sue us in our own courts. Such a system would make it simply impossible for the United States to fight a war.” But Specter had an answer. “Mr. President,” he said, addressing the chair. “I only need one sentence to refute the arguments of the senator from Arizona, and it comes back to Justice O’Connor’s opinion again: ‘All agree that, absent suspension, the writ of habeas corpus remains available to every individual’—every individual—‘detained within the United States.’ Guantánamo was held to be within that concept. But she talks about ‘every individual.’ That includes citizens and noncitizens.”

The outcome of the Specter amendment was in doubt until the day the vote was cast. The final tally was fifty-one to forty-eight against Specter. (Olympia Snowe was absent, attending a funeral.) When the result was announced, Specter, visibly angry, left the Senate chamber. He told reporters that he thought the habeas ban was “patently unconstitutional” and vowed to vote against the detainee bill.

In the chaotic few days before the vote, the Administration’s allies in the Senate had toughened the habeas provision of the law. The bill had originally applied only to alleged enemy combatants who were held at Guantánamo. The final version stated that any alien (that is, non-American citizen) who had been seized anywhere and charged with being an enemy combatant would be denied the right to petition for habeas corpus. The definition of “enemy combatant” was also expanded, to include not just those who took up arms but financial supporters of the terrorist cause as well. Accordingly, the bill made clear that aliens arrested in the United States and charged with knowingly giving money to an alleged terrorist organization would be forbidden to sue for their freedom.

Nevertheless, on September 28th, Specter joined all his Republican colleagues (except Lincoln Chafee) in voting for the Military Commissions Act, which passed by a vote of sixty-five to thirty-four. President Bush signed the law on October 17th, and the next day the government began filing court papers asking for the dismissal of all the petitions for habeas corpus filed by detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

It is hard to believe that the Arlen Specter of the nineteen-eighties—the maverick who defied his party on an issue of the magnitude of the Bork nomination—would have considered yielding on a question as fundamental as habeas corpus. “I was madder than hell when the habeas-corpus amendment went down and was a little hot and spoke prematurely on the vote,” Specter told me. “If we had not passed the bill, we would be going on into next year without having a procedure to try these people.” Thus, he said, he felt obligated to vote for the bill.

If Specter has accommodated his views to his party’s, his leisure habits have not changed: he still plays squash seven days a week, a routine that he has maintained since the nineteen-seventies. “I think of playing squash as making deposits in the ‘health bank,’ ” Specter told me shortly after dawn one recent morning in the locker room of the gym at the Federal Reserve bank, in Washington. “That’s a good thing, because I’ve made a lot of withdrawals, too.” In 1993, Specter was found to have a brain tumor and was told that he had three to six weeks to live. However, he recovered quickly after surgery. Then, just after his reëlection in 2004, he was given a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, and during the first several months of his tenure as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he received chemotherapy.

Specter completed his treatment in 2005, and never stopped playing squash. The therapy cost him his bushy curls, but his hair is full again, only straight this time. Wearing a ratty sweatshirt, a souvenir from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, he looked at least a decade younger than his age. He still bears the scars of his years as a bruiser on the squash court—Senator Robert Packwood once gave him a swat that took six stitches to close—but he now plays more of a finesse game, built around a deadly drop shot. I won our first game, 16–14, but Specter took the next three, to win the match. He plays the same old-school, hardball version of the game as the capital’s other celebrated septuagenarian squash enthusiast, Donald Rumsfeld, but the two men have never met on the court.

Specter was about to head to Rhode Island, to campaign for Lincoln Chafee. “I’m going up there to say that Chafee could hold the balance of power in our caucus,” Specter told me. “That’s what those of us in the middle can do.” But in the habeas debate, at the crucial moment, Specter tipped the balance of power toward those who, at the time, already had it. Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling the debate Specter’s “John Kerry moment.” (He was against the habeas bill before he was for it.)

Of course, Specter’s vote on habeas, like his support of Roberts and Alito, forestalled another possible conservative revolt against his chairmanship (which, in the event, the election cost him). Specter is hoping the courts will restore the rights of the detainees to bring habeas cases. “The bill was severable. It has a severability clause. And I think the courts will invalidate it,” he told me. “They’re not going to give up authority to decide habeas-corpus cases, not a chance.” Others are less sure.

“It’s a pretty odd position for Specter to take,” Amar, of Yale Law School, said. “He trusts the courts to take care of a problem when he’s voting for something that strips them of their jurisdiction to do it. It’s like saying, ‘I shot at her, but I knew I was going to miss.’ Still, he may be right. The Court might strike it down.” According to Amar, the election that cost Specter so much of his clout makes it more likely that his legal position will ultimately be vindicated on habeas corpus.

“The Justices always want to protect their own power, and they hate the idea of any kind of jurisdiction-stripping,” Amar said. “But if they can avoid it they also don’t want to pick fights with the President and the Congress, especially about anything related to national security. But, with the Democrats in control of Congress, the Court will know that if they strike this down it’ll never get passed again in anything like this form. The Republicans would just come back at them and pass the same thing again and again. The Democrats never will. The irony is, thanks to the election, the Court now has plenty of running room to do the right thing.”

In the meantime, however, the Administration has moved swiftly to use the new powers granted by Congress in the Military Commissions Act. In acting to dismiss the pending habeas cases filed by Guantánamo detainees, the Justice Department has adopted Lindsey Graham’s reasoning, that the bill does not amount to a “suspension” under the Constitution but merely substitutes the D.C. Circuit appeals court for the habeas cases. In a brief filed on November 13th in the D.C. Circuit, the government asserted that the new law “plainly affords an adequate and effective substitute for any applicable habeas right.”

The Administration has sought to apply the new law outside Guantánamo. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a forty-one-year-old citizen of Qatar, was studying at Bradley University, in Peoria, Illinois, when he was detained shortly after September 11, 2001. He has been held in a Navy brig as an enemy combatant for more than three years, and had filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, asking to be freed. On November 13th, the government filed a brief saying that the new law bars Marri’s lawsuit: the act “removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions and any other actions filed by or on behalf of detained aliens determined by the United States to be enemy combatants.” If this motion is granted, Marri could remain in custody on American soil indefinitely, without any further legal recourse.

Leahy, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, voted against the Military Commissions Act and denounced its habeas provisions in especially harsh terms. But there are no signs that the new Democratic majority will take on habeas corpus anytime soon. Few Democratic politicians seem enthusiastic about proposing legislation that will principally benefit accused Al Qaeda terrorists, and, in the unlikely event that Democrats passed such a bill, it would face a certain veto from President Bush. The Supreme Court—not Congress—is likely to be the only hope for a change in the law. “This is definitely not going to be the first thing out of the box for us,” one Democratic Senate staffer said. “We make fun of Specter, but we’re basically leaving it up to the Courts, too.”

Bringing Bush to Court

Nov 27, 2006

Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, Bringing Bush to Court

Keep in mind, I've run for only a few years, but I've been a book editor in mainstream publishing for over 30 years. Sometime last spring, I was on the phone with former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega talking about books she might someday write, when she suddenly said to me, "You know what I'd like to do?" When I asked what, she replied, "What I've done all my life."

"What's that," I wondered innocently enough.

"I'd like to draft an indictment of President Bush and his senior aides, and present the case for prewar intelligence fraud to a grand jury, just as if it were an actual case of mine, using the evidence we already have in the public record. That's the book I'd like to do."

With those three decades of publishing experience, I never doubted that this was an idea whose time should come -- and now it has. De la Vega has drawn up that indictment -- a "hypothetical" one, she hastens to add -- convened that grand jury, and held seven days of testimony. Yes, it's a grand jury directly out of her fertile brain and the federal agents who testify are fictional, but all the facts are true. She understands the case against the Bush administration down to the last detail; and she's produced, to my mind, the book of the post-election, investigative season: United States v. George W. Bush et al.

It's a book project, produced in conjunction with Seven Stories Press, a superb independent publisher, and officially published on December 1st. I think it's simply sensational. It makes a "slam dunk" case for the way we were defrauded into war; despite the grim subject matter, it's a beautifully designed little book, a pleasure to hold in your hand; and, because de la Vega is a natural as a writer, it's also thoroughly enjoyable reading. With genuine pride, I'll be turning the website over to excerpts from the book this week, beginning with the posting of De la Vega's introduction on the Enronization of American foreign policy today. The actual "indictment" will be posted on Wednesday; the first day of grand jury testimony on Thursday.

I assure you, this is must-read event; no less important, this is a must-buy book that must be given over the holiday season to friends, relatives, those who politically disagree with you, and even perhaps sent to Congressional representatives. Please get the investigative ball rolling by purchasing the book at or, if you want to give all involved a few extra cents, directly at the Seven Stories website.

Today, United States v. George W. Bush et al remains in the realm of fiction, but tomorrow, if you lend a hand… who knows? Tom

A Fraud Worse than Enron
By Elizabeth de la Vega

Elizabeth de la Vega, appearing on behalf of the United States. That is a phrase I've uttered hundreds of times in twenty years as a federal prosecutor. I retired two years ago. So, obviously, I do not now speak for any U.S. Attorney's Office, nor do I represent the federal government. This should be apparent from the fact that I am proposing a hypothetical indictment of the President and his senior advisers -- not a smart move for any federal employee who wishes to remain employed. Lest anyone miss the import of this paragraph, let me emphasize that it is a DISCLAIMER: I am writing as a private citizen.

Obviously, as a private citizen, I cannot simply draft and file an indictment. Nor can I convene a grand jury. Instead, in the following pages I intend to present a hypothetical indictment to a hypothetical grand jury. The defendants are President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The crime is tricking the nation into war--in legal terms, conspiracy to defraud the United States. And all of you are invited to join the grand jury.
We will meet for seven days. On day one, I'll present the indictment in the morning and in the afternoon I will explain the applicable law. On days two through seven, we'll have witness testimony, presented in transcript form, with exhibits.

As is the practice in most grand jury presentations, the evidence will be presented in summary form, by federal agents -- except that these agents are hypothetical. (Any relationship to actual federal agents, living or deceased, is purely coincidental.)

On day seven, when the testimony is complete, I'll leave the room to allow the grand jury to vote.

If the indictment and grand jury are hypothetical, the evidence is not. I've prepared for this case, just as I would have done for any other case in my years as a prosecutor, by reviewing all of the available relevant information. In this case, such information consists of witness accounts, the defendants' speeches, public remarks, White House press briefings, interviews, congressional testimony, official documents, all public intelligence reports, and various summaries of intelligence, such as in the reports of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the 9/11 Commission. I've discarded any evidence, however compelling, that is uncorroborated.
Then, using a sophisticated system of documents piled on every surface in my dining room, I've organized and analyzed the reliable information chronologically, by topic, and by defendant. I've compared what the President and his advisers have said publicly to what they knew and said behind the scenes. Finally, I've presented the case through testimony that will, I hope, make sense and keep everybody awake.

After analyzing this evidence in light of the applicable law, I've determined that we already have more than enough information to allow a reasonable person to conclude that the President conducted a wide-ranging effort to deceive the American people and Congress into supporting a war against Iraq. In other words, in legal terms, there is probable cause to believe that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell violated Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States. Probable cause is the standard of proof required for a grand jury to return an indictment. Consequently, we have more than sufficient evidence to warrant indictment of the President and his advisers.

Do I expect someone to promptly indict the President and his aides? No. I am aware of the political impediments and constitutional issues relating to the indictment of a sitting president. Do those impediments make this merely an empty exercise? Absolutely not.

I believe this presentation adds a singular perspective to the debate about the President's use of prewar intelligence: that of an experienced federal prosecutor. Certainly, scholars and experts such as Barbara Olshansky, David Lindorff, Michael Ratner, John Dean, and Elizabeth Holtzman have written brilliantly about the legal grounds for impeachment that arise from the President's misrepresentations about the grounds for an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. But for most Americans, the debate about White House officials' responsibility for false preinvasion statements remains fixed on, and polarized around, the wrong question: Did the President and his team lie about the grounds for war? For many, the suggestion that the President lied is heresy, more shocking than a Baptist minister announcing during vespers that he's a cross-dresser. For many others -- indeed, now the majority of Americans -- that the President lied to get his war is a given, although no less shocking.

So my goals are threefold. First, I want to explain that under the law that governs charges of conspiracy to defraud, the legal question is not whether the President lied. The question is not whether the President subjectively believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The legal question that must be answered is far more comprehensive: Did the President and his team defraud the country? After swearing to uphold the law of the land, did our highest government officials employ the universal techniques of fraudsters -- deliberate concealment, misrepresentations, false pretenses, half-truths -- to deceive Congress and the American people?

My second goal is to supplement the scholarly analyses already written, by moving beyond exposition, beyond theory, to the inside of the courtroom, or more precisely, the grand jury room. By presenting the President's conspiracy to defraud just as a prosecutor would present any fraud conspiracy, I hope to enable readers to consider the case in an uncharged atmosphere, applying criminal law to the evidence that they believe has been proved to the standard of probable cause, just as grand jurors would in any other case.

Why is it important to do this? Because whether the President and his senior officials conspired to defraud the United States about the grounds for war is, at least on one level, a legal question, but, without a shift in political will, there will never be any reasoned consideration of it as such. The President will not be held accountable for misrepresenting the prewar intelligence unless and until Congress conducts hearings similar to the Watergate hearings. As yet, however, we seem painfully incapable of reaching that point. We are like inept tennis partners, collectively letting the ball slip by in the no-man's-land between the service line and the baseline, or in this case, between the legal and the political.

Perhaps more important, however, is that, although the evidence of wrongdoing is overwhelming, the facts are so complicated -- far more so than those that prompted the Watergate hearings--that it's impossible to have a productive debate about them in the political sphere. Indeed, modern-day spin has vanquished substance so thoroughly that even the most well-grounded charge of deliberate deception is often considered more despicable than the deception itself.

One forum where that's not true is the courtroom. The court system is far from perfect, but there we at least expect that people will not substitute personal attacks for argument. We expect a reasoned exploration of fact versus fiction, honest mistake versus deliberate fraud. We also expect, and the law requires, that people hear all the evidence before deciding, thereby avoiding the rapid volley of sound bites that so regularly masquerades for debate on television. Hence, this hypothetical grand jury presentation: it is a vehicle to deliver a message.
My third goal is to send the message home -- to whomever will listen. And this is it:

The President has committed fraud.

It is a crime in the legal, not merely the colloquial, sense.

It is far worse than Enron.

It is not a victimless crime.

We cannot shrug our shoulders and walk away.

Why? Because We Are All Kitty Genovese's Neighbors

As an Assistant U. S. Attorney in Minneapolis, a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force in San Jose, and Chief of the San Jose Branch U.S. Attorney's Office, I prosecuted all manner of criminal cases. There were bank embezzlements, government frauds, violent takeover robberies, piloting a commercial passenger flight while under the influence--the pilot had had twenty rum and (diet) Cokes and four hours' sleep before takeoff--and investment frauds, to name a few. Most were interesting; some downright loopy. One hapless fellow, for example, stole a truck filled with frozen turkeys and drove it across state lines to Wisconsin, thereby landing himself in federal prison rather than in county jail. For good measure, the following week -- before he'd been apprehended for the frozen-turkey heist -- he stole a truck filled with packaged frozen broccoli and drove it to Iowa.

Unquestionably, though, the most compelling cases were those that involved victims -- of violent crimes, robberies, or fraud. So I was not surprised to hear the lead Enron prosecutor's comment after the jury convicted former Enron CEOs Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling: "What inspired me," John Hueston said, "was just that, that I had spoken to so many employees, so many victims who lost their savings, people who pleaded with me and the other prosecutors to see justice done."

Thanks to Hueston and his team, the victims of the Enron fraud -- a $68 billion dollar crime that left 20,000 people without jobs, pensions, and life's savings -- have obtained some measure of justice. They will never be made whole, but at least the CEOs who orchestrated the fraud have been held accountable. In the case of the largest corporate fraud ever prosecuted in the United States, the system has worked, albeit imperfectly.

Thus far, however, in the case of the vastly broader and more devastating Iraq war fraud orchestrated by the CEO of the United States and his management team, the system has failed. And we are all victims of this fraud. George W. Bush exploited the vulnerability of an entire populace reeling from the September 11, 2001, attacks to manipulate them into supporting a war based on false pretenses. If the financial cost of the President's fraud is astronomical -- $340 billion in direct war costs alone as of August 2006 -- the human cost is incalculable, and far more profound: over 2,500 American soldiers killed and 19,000 wounded; possibly many more than 50,000 Iraqis killed; untold numbers of grieving Iraqi and American family members; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis homeless; and a million soldiers who have been sent to this war and will never be the same.

While we are all victims of the President's crime, we are also all bystanders. The crime is ongoing, happening right before our eyes, and we are all onlookers; we are all, in a sense, Kitty Genovese's neighbors.

As Malcolm Gladwell recounts in his book The Tipping Point, Kitty Genovese was viciously assaulted, stabbed three times, and finally killed, on the way to her Queens, New York, home one night in 1964. Thirty-eight neighbors heard or watched her ordeal, but no one called the police until the attack was essentially over. The murder was universally seen as a horrifying example of modern-day indifference to the plight of others. But, Gladwell explains, psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley conducted experiments that led to a far different explanation:

"When people are in a group . . . responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem . . . is not really a problem." Ironically, then, it was not that no one called to help Kitty Genovese "despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it's that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her scream."

For over a year now, polls have shown that the majority of Americans believe President Bush deliberately misrepresented prewar intelligence. Executive branch officials who deliberately mislead Congress and the public intending to influence congressional action have committed a federal crime. That means that roughly 100 million Americans believe Bush has committed a crime, yet most, like Kitty Genovese's neighbors, are just passive bystanders--although not, I believe, due to indifference.

Indeed, many of us are just watching it happen because we feel powerless to stop it. Hundreds of thousands of people have, in effect, called 911, but not even Democrats in Congress have been willing to answer the phone. It is not that they don't have enough information; it is, our Democratic representatives say, because it is not good political strategy.

The proposition that it is not good political strategy to insist that government officials obey the law is highly debatable. More important, strategizing in the face of an ongoing crime is wrong. Ask any legislator whether he would strategize about possible political fallout before intervening to stop a crime that was occurring in front of his eyes and the response would be, "Of course not." But that is exactly what's happening right now.

So, consider this my 911 call. I'm calling on Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing. And I'm calling on everyone else to do whatever you can to convince Congress to do the right thing. I am not talking about bringing people to justice in the vengeful sense that President Bush employs. I am talking about effecting justice. I am talking, finally, about holding our highest government officials accountable for a complex and calculated program of false pretense, misleading statements, and material omissions -- a criminal betrayal of trust that is strikingly similar to, yet far worse than, the fraud committed by Enron's top officials.

Enron: Misleading Statements and Material Omissions

In July of 2002, President Bush stood before a snappy blue-and-white banner marked "Corporate Responsibility" and announced that he was opposed to fraud. With the enactment of the new Corporate Corruption Act, the President declared, there would "not be a different ethical standard for corporate America than the standard that applies to everyone else. The honesty you expect in your small businesses, or in your workplace . . . will be expected and enforced in every corporate suite in this country." CEOs would now have to personally vouch for the truth of their public statements.

Bush's speech announcing a higher standard for CEOs was itself misleading. Hearing it, one might easily conclude that if the President hadn't pushed for this new law, corporate officers would be legally entitled to lie, cheat, and steal. Not true, of course. The new law, also called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, did not suddenly, for the first time in United States history, require corporate officials to be truthful, forthright, and fair with the public. Such obligations have been inherent in criminal fraud and other statutes for years.

Indeed, the Enron prosecution did not involve the Sarbanes-Oxley Act at all. The main charge was conspiracy to defraud: that is, conspiring to deceive investors by manipulating financial data, making false and misleading statements, and deliberately omitting important facts, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Manipulation of data, false and misleading statements, and material omissions -- sound familiar?
At trial, former Enron CEOs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling claimed they were not responsible for the deception because they had no idea what their underlings were doing. As the jury was instructed, however, anyone who makes representations intending that the public will rely on them, has an affirmative obligation to make sure that they are true and accurate.

Representations made with reckless indifference to their truth are as false as outright lies.
After four months of complex testimony, the jury reached a simple conclusion: Lay and Skilling were responsible for what went on their company. As school principal Freddie Delgado put it: "I can't say that I don't know what my teachers were doing in the classroom. I am still responsible if a child gets lost."

In other words, the Enron jurors concluded that, legally, the desks of CEOs Lay and Skilling were the final repositories of the proverbial buck. Those jurors were average Americans -- office workers, educators, engineers, a nurse -- and they knew, even without the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, that CEOs should be held to the same standards of honesty and accountability that they would apply to themselves in their own lives. Faced with evidence that Lay and Skilling had repeatedly made public statements that were seriously undermined, if not flatly contradicted, by information and warnings they had received behind the scenes, the jury refused to allow them to avoid responsibility by blaming their subordinates.

Iraq: Misleading Statements and Material Omissions

The techniques of deception used by George W. Bush and his aides are identical to those used by Lay and Skilling. In his July 2002 speech announcing the signing of the Corporate Corruption Bill, the President said, "The only fair risks are [those] based on honest information." The President and his top advisers were acutely aware of the solemn risks posed by an invasion of Iraq, but instead of debating those risks honestly, they developed slogans, including the familiar "risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action" that simultaneously usurped and deflected counterarguments while providing no information whatsoever, honest or otherwise.
Such propaganda, cynical and craven as it is, might not qualify as criminal fraud, but the propaganda alone was insufficient to convince Congress and the American people to invest in the plan for war. To remedy this deficiency and close the deal, the President and his top aides made hundreds of representations, both general and specific, that were carefully crafted to manipulate public opinion. As we now know, many of those assertions were false and misleading. More important, we also now know that President Bush and his advisers had notice and direct knowledge that their representations were seriously undermined and in some key instances, disproved by information that was available to them. Consistently, the President and his aides knowingly conveyed false impressions, concealed important information, made deliberate misrepresentations, and professed certainty about facts that were speculative at best. Such is the definition of criminal fraud -- whether committed by the President of the United States or the CEO of a major corporation.

The only difference between the fraud committed by the Enron officers and the fraud committed by the President is that the latter was far more comprehensive and far more calculated. Even as President Bush stood center stage endorsing honesty that July four years ago, he and his company were setting the stage for another show. If the "only fair risks" speech was a perky Frank Capra clip, the White House's next production would be twenty-first-century H.G. Wells.

As of July 30, 2002, Bush had directed the creation of the White House Iraq Group, a public-relations operation whose sole purpose was to market the war. This team, collectively called WHIG, was co-chaired by the President's closest aides and long-term political consultants, Senior Adviser Karl Rove -- whom Bush has described as "the architect" of his 2004 reelection campaign--and former Counselor to the President Karen Hughes.

By July 30, 2002, the White House Iraq Group had already begun fabricating an ominous scenario that blurred together the September 11 tragedy, mushroom clouds rising over American cities, and terrorists releasing strains of smallpox, interspersed with the shadowy face of a mad Iraqi dictator spring-loaded to attack the United States. They were collecting props--anthrax vials and undated photos showing centrifuge components and unidentifiable buildings where something ominous might be happening, but we can't afford to wait to find out. They were writing the script: power phrases like "Grave and gathering danger" and "We can't afford to let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud," designed less to inform than to inflame. And, finally, Rove, Hughes, and company were scheduling appearances for the President's War Council members that would begin just a month later, in early September 2002.

It was to be a bravura performance by the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, and many supporting cast members. The production was so well done, in fact, that, like the radio audience terrified into hysteria by the infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast of 1938, most of us were fooled. Admittedly, we resisted buying the duct tape and plastic sheeting; we may not have wrapped our heads in wet towels to ward off Martian gas like the 1938 radio audience. What happened, however, was much worse: because of Bush's fiction, we agreed to bomb people 8,000 miles away whose only "crime" was that they were oppressed by a violent and cruel dictator.
Undoubtedly, Americans were panicked by H. G. Wells's radio play in part because they were exhausted and nervous in those tough Depression years. But Orson Welles' breathless report of a Martian invasion was never intended to cause panic, nor was it ultimately harmful.
The President's elaborate production was, and still remains, an entirely different story. It was a deliberate effort to create a permanent state of fear in America. And to say it was harmful is like saying that it hurts to get hit by a Mack truck.

Federal sentencing guidelines recognize that one who defrauds a vulnerable victim, such as a salesman who falsely represents the curative benefits of an elixir to a cancer patient, has committed an even more serious crime than one who defrauds a person who is not so "particularly susceptible." The President knew that Americans were "particularly susceptible" in 2002. We were exhausted, and justifiably terrified, not only because of September 11 but also because of the anthrax murders and the random Washington, DC, sniper killings that coincided with the Bush-Cheney administration's push for war.

President Bush and his White House Iraq Group did not merely exploit this fear; they magnified it. Worse yet, the President was the very person upon whom the public relied to protect it from danger and, one would hope, from omnipresent fear itself. Having used the authority of the Oval Office to make people more afraid, having created an even darker backdrop of fear, our highest officials exploited that reliance and the trust they enjoyed by virtue of their positions to sell something they knew the American public would not otherwise have bought. It was as if the cancer victim's trusted personal physician had convinced him that his disease was more advanced than it really was, and then used the same fraudulently heightened fear to manipulate him into buying a bogus cure-all.

In the language of criminal law, the President and his senior advisers have abused a position of trust to defraud the most vulnerable of victims. How would such a case be presented for prosecution? I invite you into the grand jury room to observe:

Ladies and Gentlemen, tomorrow begins our presentation in the case of United States v. George W. Bush et al. Please remember that you must decide the case based solely on the evidence that's presented and the applicable law, without regard to prejudice or sympathy. In other words, your politics, and any personal feelings you have toward the defendants -- positive or negative -- should have no bearing on your deliberations.

I will begin by passing out the indictment, so don't forget your reading glasses . . .
[Coming Wednesday: Part 2 of United States v. George W. Bush at -- the indictment of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell.]

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and Chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in the Nation Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for Tomdispatch. This is the introduction to her new book, United States v. George W. Bush et al. She may be contacted at

Excerpted from United States v. George W. Bush et al. by Elizabeth de la Vega, published December 1, 2006 by Seven Stories Press and

Copyright 2006 Elizabeth de la Vega

Israeli soldier indicted for rape of 12-year-old girl

Last update - 20:41 27/11/2006

IDF soldier indicted for alleged rape of 12-year-old girl

By Eli Asheknazi
, Haaretz Correspondent

The State Prosecution on Monday filed an indictment at Nazareth District Court against an Israel Defense Forces soldier for the alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl and the attempted rape of three others.

Tiberias police officers arrested Felix Taubman, 21, early December after a hitchhiker complained he had tried to rape her.

According to the indictment, Taubman tried to rape a number of female hitchhikers.

In one incident, the defendant is said to have picked up a 12-year-old at the entrance of her village in the Lower Galilee. During the drive, he took a detour under the pretense he had to urinate and then tried to rape her. The girl struggled and only after her cell phone rang did he desist.

Taubman tried the same method on at least three other occasions over a period of six months, the prosecution claim. In all three cases the complainants managed to escape without injury.

Taubman is also being charged with sexual molestation and abduction.

UN Human Rights Council urges Israel to dismantle settlements

Last update - 20:29 27/11/2006

By The Associated Press

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which has censured only Israel during its six-month existence, overwhelmingly urged Israel on Monday to halt expansion of settlements on occupied land as a first step towards their removal.

A total of 45 countries, including European Union members, Latin American states and Japan, voted in favor of the resolution proposed by Arab and other Islamic countries, with only Canada voting against and Cameroun abstaining.

The resolution, similar to others approved in the past by the old Human Rights Commission which the Council replaced earlier this year, called on Israel to take "serious measures" to prevent settlers attacking Palestinians.


It urged parties in the area to renew efforts to achieve peace and a comprehensive political settlement in order to create a situation "which will allow two states, Israel and Palestine, to live in peace and security".

In a speech urging the 47-member Council to reject the resolution, Israeli Ambassador to the UN's international offices in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, said he had asked the Palestinian delegation to support its withdrawal in the light of the weekend ceasefire agreement between the two sides.

This would have given "an indication of their positive and constructive intention", he declared.

The resolution, Levanon said, failed to take account of Israel's dismantling of settlements in Gaza and the north of the occupied territories last year - "unilateral moves which only served to create an ever-worsening security situation for Israeli civilians".

Rights council votes against Israeli annexation of Golan
The council earlier Monday passed a resolution criticizing Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights.

The council voted 32-1 with 14 abstentions to declare illegal Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights and demand that Israel rescind its decision to impose its laws and jurisdiction on the area, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Canada, which said the resolution was unbalanced, was the only no vote, and European Union members abstained.

The United States and Israel are not members, but Levanon said Syria had proposed the resolution "purely to draw attention away from its ... own deplorable human rights record."

"Under Syrian possession, the Golan Heights were used to launch constant
attacks against Israeli civilians," Levanon said. "Today, the Golan Heights is more peaceful than ever, stable and thriving. The economy is booming, fields are blossoming, and everyone is enjoying the benefits of democracy."

The resolution said Israel should "desist from changing the physical
character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan" and allow the displaced population to return to their homes.

The vote came as the council considered resolutions proposed at its September three-week session.

Earlier China, Cuba, Arab and African countries had already demonstrated their dominance of the new council by forcing through a resolution recommending a "code of conduct" for UN human rights experts.

The council approved the resolution proposed by Algeria on a 30-15 vote with two abstentions, overriding objections from the European Union, Canada and Latin American countries.

The vote gave an indication of the strength of countries which some human
rights organizations say are determined to rein in the experts who submit
critical reports on countries to the 47-nation council.

The measure doesn't spell out what should be in the code of conduct, but
requests that an intergovernmental group reviewing the work of the "special rapporteurs" assigned to different countries and issues should draft such guidelines taking into account suggestions made by council members.

The independent experts, who have been assigned to some of the world's worst rights abusers, often anger the governments they report on.

There already have been moves in the UN General Assembly to discourage UN
human rights bodies from adopting resolutions condemning the human rights
situation in any country.

Israel is the only country criticized by the council since it replaced the widely discredited Human Rights Commission last June. The new body has passed resolutions in regular session and in three emergency sessions, blasting the Israelis for the invasion of Lebanon and treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

All-Day Permanent Red: Alex Cox and the Long March of American Militarism

By Chris Floyd

t r u t h o u t UK Correspondent

Monday 27 November 2006

I. Echoes From the Past and Future

The images look familiar, even comforting in a way, steeped in the heroic black-and-white tints of classic movies and World War II newsreels. Unshaven, wisecracking GIs slogging gamely through urban combat. Tanks crawling over broken walls, past burned-out buildings. Quick cut to the skies: lumbering bombers releasing their payloads over sprawling cities, while fighters dart in and out around them and black clouds of ack-ack explode with sudden menace. A brief sweep of the enemy dead, frozen in their final agonies across a churned-up field. Then a long line of refugees, plodding along the edge of a highway while American troop trucks, jeeps, and half-tracks roar past them in the opposite direction.

But there's something slightly wrong, something askew in the pictures. The shop signs in that ruined city - they're all in English. The road signs in that shot of the highway are in Spanish. And those refugees aren't white German burghers or French villagers; they're ... brown, like Mexicans, maybe. And look, the fighters swooping in to strafe our bombers - they've got maple leafs painted on their fuselages. And there, amongst the enemy dead, a corpse still clutching his battalion's flag: a Union Jack.

This is the kind of cognitive dissonance evoked by a new screenplay from renowned director Alex Cox: "Our War Against Canada." The British-born Cox - long resident in the United States - is planning a three-part, 90-minute documentary on the all-too-true story of serious American plans to wage war against Canada, Mexico and Great Britain in the years before World War II. These detailed schemes are filled with "echoes from the future," in Pasternak's apt phrase: eerie prefigurements and deep-rooted patterns that have been played out - in reality, not just on paper - over and over down through the decades, and now confront us once again, most starkly and horribly, in Iraq.

"War Plan Red" dealt with a proposed war against Great Britain, then considered America's chief rival for economic dominance in the world. The 1935 plan envisioned major strikes on UK interests around the world, with the primary focus on nearby Canada, which was to be subjected to a full-scale invasion and occupation, with aerial bombing of cities, massed infantry and armor attacks - and the use of poison gas. The capture of Canada's vast mineral wealth was another goal of the attack. How serious was this plan? Serious enough to be the object of the largest war games in US history up to that time: 50,000 troops on a detailed dry run of the cross-border assault.

"War Plan Green" was a similar plan drawn up for an attack on Mexico. This was to be a "regime change" operation designed to seize oil fields and protect US economic interests if an unfriendly government sought to challenge American hegemony. The plan began with economic sanctions to soften up the recalcitrant Mexicans, followed by the concoction of a suitable pretext for "defensive" military action. After a blitzkrieg assault on Mexico City, the regime would then be handed over to local collaborators, with an American-trained "national army" to keep the populace in line.

There is a general misconception that the US military has always turned out plans like these to cover almost every possible contingency, every country; thus you're bound to run across off-the-wall scenarios, such as an invasion of Canada, that would never be implemented. But this is just a myth. In fact, war plans at this level of detail are never drawn up unless there are very serious policy considerations behind them. For example, the now-advanced plans for an airstrike on Iran are not simply contingency exercises churned out by Pentagon analysts, they were ordered directly by George W. Bush, as were the pre-war plans for the Iraq invasion.

As Cox notes in the documentary's conclusion: "These war plans tell us some disturbing things about the world's last superpower - about America's attitude toward its allies, about the motivation behind its lofty sentiments, and its inexplicable acts of terrorism and war." Like some grand cinematic mashup, the film will force past and present into a strange, disturbing harmony whose resonances will almost certainly, tragically, echo far into the future.

II. Follow the Money

Alex Cox is something of a mashup himself - director, writer, actor, a unique combination of artistic integrity and political insight rarely seen in the cinematic world. His widely varied, multi-leveled work - encompassing everything from early Eighties "cult" hits like "Repo Man" and "Sid and Nancy" to the more recent surrealist "Three Businessmen" and his mind-bending, Liverpudlian update of "The Revenger's Tragedy" - is characterized by an unflagging sense of subversion: overturning, undermining, examining, recasting the dominant paradigms of power and convention. Far outside the Hollywood mainstream, based in rural Oregon with his wife and creative/business partner, screenwriter Tod Davies, Cox's reputation draws an array of top talent to his projects, including Derek Jacobi, Joe Strummer, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Ed Harris, Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard and many others.

In recent years, Cox has also been directing documentaries on such diverse subjects as Japanese film icon Akira Kurosawa and the Seventies soft-porn "Emmanuelle" phenomenon - the latter made for British TV. It's unlikely that "Our War Against Canada" will be backed by the corporatist American networks anytime soon, but Cox was keen to talk about the project in an email exchange as he was scouting film locations around the American West for his next feature.

Cox said the idea for the documentary sprang from an article by Floyd Rudmin in Counterpunch earlier this year. "I read it, and was fascinated," said Cox. "Rudmin's conclusion - that the US military's plan for the invasion of Mexico was the same as the invasion plan for Iraq (cause chaos, set up an ineffective puppet government, and create permanent military bases among the oil fields) - is stunning in its simplicity and its conviction. It suggests that the Iraq war, far from being a failure or a misadventure, is going exactly the way its authors planned. A documentary film - if anyone sees it - can bring that information to a wider audience."

The film also drives home another telling point: that there were no similar plans for a possible war with Nazi Germany - a nation that one might think posed a greater potential threat than America's close allies Britain, Canada and Mexico. But there's nothing strange about this to Cox; it simply underlines the elitist economic interests that have remained the driving force behind US foreign policy for generations.

"The war plans were to cripple potential economic rivals and to seize the natural resources of Mexico and Canada. Germany was viewed entirely as an ally by the US military, and thus, one assumes, by the American oligarchy: the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Duponts - not to mention a very minor US oligarch named Prescott Bush, whose firms had extensive dealings with the Nazis, even after America had entered the war. The moral here is that a nation as powerful as the United States didn't - and doesn't - need allies. It has vassal states, instead. Step forward my own dear Britain!"

And the American media have been eagerly complicit in masking the true nature of this corporatist agenda, Cox noted. "The Washington Post ran an article based on Rudmin's research into the war plans at the National Archives. As Rudmin pointed out, there was a code name for Germany: Black. But the Post reporter outright lied, pretending there was also a 'War Plan Black.' There wasn't. There were too many American corporations - IBM, Ford, DuPont, Standard Oil - doing business with the Nazis to permit such possibilities. So apparently it's the Washington Post's job to reverse the truth, via scurrilous, lazy fudges."

The plans didn't stop at aggressive war and economic terrorism, however. They also envisioned internment camps for British and Canadian nationals in the States, along with homegrown "pacifists" and other troublemakers. Nor did they draw the line at conventional weaponry; as noted, WMD attacks of poison gas were part of the scenario. Here too, Cox sees disturbing continuities.

"I suppose all countries were guilty of this," he noted of the WMD plans. "Both sides used it in the First World War. Churchill viewed poison gas as an excellent option, as I recall. Mussolini used it in North Africa. Today most civilized nations eschew gas, germ warfare, and landmines (though not the US on the latter) - but there are no international prohibitions against napalm, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, or cluster bombs: equally insidious weapons, even crueler than the phosgene and mustard gas they've replaced."

As for the planned concentration camps - which were actualized less than a decade later, in the internment of Japanese-Americans - "there were such plans in the Eighties too, at the time of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran civil wars - Rex-84 and other mass-roundups planned by Ollie North," said Cox. "But all that stuff gets forgotten very quickly - just as Clinton and Gore's support of the Contra terrorists, or Jimmy Carter's creation of the Islamic extremist army in Afghanistan - vanishes quickly from the 'official' record."

Indeed, such inconvenient truths reveal another salient fact about America's corporatist militarism, from "War Plan Red" to "Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Cox: its bipartisan nature. "That's why the American electorate gets a choice of two oil-related warmongers like Gore and Bush," he said. "It's easy and lazy to pretend that Kerry or Clinton would have done things differently. But a million Iraqi children died on Clinton's watch - a price that Madeline Albright said was perfectly acceptable."

Confirmation of this joint responsibility for decades of murderous mischief comes from an unexpected source: Robert Gates, the new Secretary of Defense for Bush Junior (and ex-CIA chief for Bush Senior). "Robert Gates wrote a book called From the Shadows in which he said that, having served in six administrations, Democrat and Republican, he saw no difference between the parties' foreign policies," Cox said. "Carter created the Afghan terror network and the Contras. Bush and Reagan just enhanced them. And FDR signed off on the invasion of Mexico and Canada. Gates is part of that small intelligence-related crew which has dominated US politics since the JFK assassination: people who keep showing up in different guises. John Dimitri Negroponte is another. Rumsfeld another. Gates knows his stuff."

"We - as sentient citizens or individuals - need to get past the idea that a choice of two almost-identical parties will fix things," Cox went on. "Both parties in the US - like the Tories, New Labour, and the Liberal Democrats in England - represent the needs and desires of the oligarchy and the big corporations. There is no difference between any of them. As long as they control oil in the Middle East, water resources in Bolivia, and uranium on the Navajo reservation, they're happy. The only solution is another party. And that, for me - based on what I've seen in England and Scotland - is the Greens."

At the same time, Cox is fully aware of the fickleness of political factions - even the most "progressive" ones. One of his most striking films, "Walker," was a darkly comic look at a 19th century American intervention in Nicaragua. He shot the film in Nicaragua itself, with the cooperation of the Sandinista government, in 1987, at the height of the Contra terrorist war. The Sandinistas returned to power this month with Daniel Ortega's presidential victory. But Cox sees little to celebrate in this political sequel.

"I can't rejoice at all in Ortega's victory, despite the energy and time I put into supporting the Sandinistas - including giving them millions of Universal Picture's dollars. Ortega has made too many compromises with the oligarchy and the Catholic Church. He has discredited the party and the movement. The weekend before his election victory, a young woman died in a Managua hospital because a doctor was afraid to give her a therapeutic abortion. What does anyone have to celebrate in Nicaragua?"

Still, Cox keeps moving, seeking out new ways to "inoculate the world with disillusionment," as Henry Miller once described the role of the artist. "Our War Against Canada" is part of that effort. "Paul Lewis, who was Dennis Hopper's producer, said that films should be punishment inflicted on people looking to be entertained. I subscribe to that philosophy," Cox said, then added: "Unfortunately, we were thinking about an improving punishment, rather than the current crop of Hollywood films."


Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, CounterPunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many others. He is the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and is co-founder and editor of the "Empire Burlesque" political blog. He can be reached at

While Iraq Burns: BOB HERBERT


The New York Times

While Iraq Burns

Published: November 27, 2006

There is something terribly wrong with the juxtaposition of Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians.


"The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.

They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop."


Wise words, but the die is cast

Leading article

Published: 27 November 2006

The news that Hans Blix is lecturing today in Britain on nuclear weapons must surely raise at least a few hackles on the back of the Prime Minister's neck, for this is Round Two of the Blair versus Blix contest. Round One saw the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq urging Tony Blair and George Bush not to jump to conclusions about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Messrs Blair and Bush famously knew better and the rest is history.

So it is with a certain déjà vu that one senses the outcome of Round Two, in which Mr Blix will urge certain countries - no prizes for guessing which - not to update and develop their nuclear weapons systems, pointing out that they are undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty and fuelling enormous resentment among nuclear "non-haves".

As before, Mr Blair will say he knows better. So will Parliament. Forget any idea of a real debate there. All the big guns in the Labour hierarchy, from Gordon Brown down, have lined up behind the Prime Minister on this issue. The Tories will also cheer on Mr Blair. Prepare for grandiose talk about how an updated Trident enables us to keep "punching above our weight", maintain "a seat at the top table", and all the other tired old phrases.

But once again it is Mr Blix who is right and Mr Blair who is wrong on the subject of weapons of mass destruction. Firstly, the modernisation of Trident is ruinously expensive. Even worse, it is money wasted, for most military strategists do not believe a Cold War system, designed to hit fixed targets in the Soviet Union, has much to offer us in this very different era. Trident offers no answer to - or security against - the challenges posed by rogue states and mobile, cell-based terrorist groups, some operating within, as well as outside, the West. One wonders what enemy Mr Blair has in mind when he insists a new Trident remains so essential to Britain's defence needs.

Domestic political considerations rather than long-term strategic thinking play a significant role in this decision. Mr Blair lacks the courage to be the man who pulled the plug on Britain's nuclear weapons, while the French cling like limpets to theirs and conventional wisdom says this is the only way to be a player on the global diplomatic stage. Never mind that is a useless deterrent. Never mind that Britain cannot use these weapons without the agreement of the US. Never mind the hypocrisy of encouraging other nations down the non-nuclear route even as we blow billions on the latest models.

It doesn't matter now, and nor ultimately do Mr Blix's wise words, for the die is cast. It is a shame, of course - Britain should be leading the way in lowering the nuclear threshold. Instead we are raising it.

The news that Hans Blix is lecturing today in Britain on nuclear weapons must surely raise at least a few hackles on the back of the Prime Minister's neck, for this is Round Two of the Blair versus Blix contest. Round One saw the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq urging Tony Blair and George Bush not to jump to conclusions about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Messrs Blair and Bush famously knew better and the rest is history.

So it is with a certain déjà vu that one senses the outcome of Round Two, in which Mr Blix will urge certain countries - no prizes for guessing which - not to update and develop their nuclear weapons systems, pointing out that they are undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty and fuelling enormous resentment among nuclear "non-haves".

As before, Mr Blair will say he knows better. So will Parliament. Forget any idea of a real debate there. All the big guns in the Labour hierarchy, from Gordon Brown down, have lined up behind the Prime Minister on this issue. The Tories will also cheer on Mr Blair. Prepare for grandiose talk about how an updated Trident enables us to keep "punching above our weight", maintain "a seat at the top table", and all the other tired old phrases.

But once again it is Mr Blix who is right and Mr Blair who is wrong on the subject of weapons of mass destruction. Firstly, the modernisation of Trident is ruinously expensive. Even worse, it is money wasted, for most military strategists do not believe a Cold War system, designed to hit fixed targets in the Soviet Union, has much to offer us in this very different era. Trident offers no answer to - or security against - the challenges posed by rogue states and mobile, cell-based terrorist groups, some operating within, as well as outside, the West. One wonders what enemy Mr Blair has in mind when he insists a new Trident remains so essential to Britain's defence needs.

Domestic political considerations rather than long-term strategic thinking play a significant role in this decision. Mr Blair lacks the courage to be the man who pulled the plug on Britain's nuclear weapons, while the French cling like limpets to theirs and conventional wisdom says this is the only way to be a player on the global diplomatic stage. Never mind that is a useless deterrent. Never mind that Britain cannot use these weapons without the agreement of the US. Never mind the hypocrisy of encouraging other nations down the non-nuclear route even as we blow billions on the latest models.

It doesn't matter now, and nor ultimately do Mr Blix's wise words, for the die is cast. It is a shame, of course - Britain should be leading the way in lowering the nuclear threshold. Instead we are raising it.

The rise and rise of gold and oil

The current condition of lower oil and stable gold prices is bound to be short-lived. They will be undermined by these inexorable trends: continuing geopolitical instability; declining production at major oilfields; greater output discipline from resource countries; and a falling US dollar coupled with rising inflation.

Nov 28, 2006


By Jephraim P Gundzik

Recent consolidation of gold prices and sliding crude-oil prices will be short-lived. Politically motivated dollar depreciation, rising US inflation, and mining-industry consolidation are expected to push gold above US$800 per ounce in 2007. And despite gathering US economic weakness, intensifying global geopolitical instability, declining natural oil production and greater output discipline among major petroleum producers will send oil prices back above $70 per barrel.

In the past month, gold has consolidated above $600 per ounce, leading many analysts to believe that prices have peaked in the current cycle. However, significant changes in US economic policy and an overly dovish Federal Reserve are expected to induce dollar weakness and higher inflation in 2007, pushing the price of gold much higher.

The Democrats' victory in the November mid-term elections has put several economic-policy changes into motion in the United States. The most important of these will be efforts to push the value of the dollar lower against other major currencies to boost flagging economic growth and reverse America's long-term decline in manufacturing employment.

While dollar depreciation may help boost exports and manufacturing output, it will also have the untoward effect of increasing inflation by making imports of many goods more expensive. Higher import prices will increase upward pressure on core inflation, which is already above 2.5% and rising.

Contrary to popular expectations, increasing core inflation in the US will not be reversed by temporary weakness of energy prices. This much was clear in recent inflation statistics, which showed core inflation has continued to increase despite the sharp late-summer drop of energy prices.

Continued complacency at the Federal Reserve will allow core inflation to move higher in 2007. In 2006, political considerations surrounding the election forced the Fed to stop what was an exceptionally gradualist approach to monetary-policy tightening. These political considerations have been replaced with growing fear among Fed officials that higher short-term interest rates could exacerbate the collapse of the housing market, greatly increasing systemic risk to America's financial system, which is heavily exposed to the housing sector.

With recent statistics showing no let-up in dramatic downturns in housing starts, building permits and home prices and an unprecedented increase in real-estate foreclosures, the Federal Reserve has reason to be concerned with systemic risks. Concern over the solvency of America's financial system will increasingly trump concerns over rising inflation in 2007, leaving monetary policy too loose and propelling core inflation higher in the months ahead.

Accelerating inflation will further undermine the value of the dollar, increasing the appeal of gold to investors worldwide, including many of the world's central banks. Growing investor demand for gold will be met with falling supplies. Consolidation in the gold-mining industry, which began in earnest in 2001, is likely to continue as cash-rich metal producers swallow rivals, as indicated by the just-announced buyout of Phelps Dodge by Freeport McMoRan. Such consolidation, combined with internal consolidation of output among individual gold-mining companies, will reduce supplies, also supporting higher prices.

Oil to trend higher
Though Democrats will soon control Congress, giving them much greater power over economic policy, they will refrain from influencing America's foreign policy. Rather, Democrats will be content to let the administration of President George W Bush continue to strangle popular support for the Republican Party in pursuit of its conflict-ridden agenda. The resulting intensification of global geopolitical instability will underpin oil prices.

No real change is forthcoming in Washington's Iraq policy. Though both the Pentagon and the independent Iraq Study Group are conducting reviews of how to win the war in that Middle Eastern country, neither is expected to come up with a groundbreaking solution. More likely, these reviews will simply justify the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy with minor tweaks in troop levels, Iraqi-military training efforts, and methods to enhance internal security.

Any suggestion from the Iraq Study Group that Washington engage Iran and Syria will be quietly discarded. Confrontation rather than engagement has been President Bush's hallmark since 2000 and has been fundamental to keeping America's religious right on the side of the Republicans. Without engagement, there will also be no new initiatives from the administration to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, which, along with Iraq's increasingly bloody civil war, will further destabilize the entire Middle East in 2007.

Confrontation will also continue to characterize Washington's efforts to thwart the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. As demonstrated with North Korea after its recent nuclear test, the Bush administration will try to contain Iran with punitive sanctions over the next several months. This will do nothing to halt the advancement of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, setting the stage for a military confrontation with Iran in late 2007 or early 2008.

Intensifying instability in the Middle East and escalating confrontation between Washington and Tehran will inevitably disrupt the region's oil production and exports in 2007, reducing world oil supply. At the same time, declining production among the world's oldest and largest oilfields will further crimp world oil supplies.

In the Americas, oil production from mature fields in Canada, the US and Mexico is rapidly declining. Canada's oil sands, which are being touted as another new source of petroleum reserves, have not been proved commercially viable. Mature oilfields in the Middle East, most notably at Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, are also experiencing diminishing production. The same is true in Europe's North Sea.

Though a few new oilfields, such as in Central Asia and South America, have recently come online, this new production will not be enough to offset declining oil production in the rest of the world. Finally, production discipline among the world's largest oil producers is much greater than many believe. In Russia, the world's foremost oil exporter, the Kremlin continues to extend its control over oil production, most recently by revoking the operating permits of foreign oil majors on Sakhalin Island.

The same is true in Venezuela, which has begun to nationalize the operations of foreign oil majors in the Orinoco region - an area that holds what may be the largest untapped crude-oil reserves in the world.

Many investors have taken the recent weakness of oil prices, in spite of announced production cuts, as an indication that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will be unable to deliver. However, OPEC production cuts as well as cuts among non-OPEC countries, including Russia, will not impact prices for a few more weeks when actual deliveries begin to decline.

World oil supplies are likely to shrink more significantly in 2007 than world demand despite weakening US and global economic growth. This will ensure that crude-oil prices move higher in the months ahead. At the same time, higher energy prices will contribute to higher US inflation, aggravating dollar weakness.

The bull runs for gold and oil prices are far from over. In contrast, the global equity and bond bull markets are becoming exhausted.

Jephraim P Gundzik is president of Condor Advisers. Condor Advisers provides investment risk analysis on developing countries to individuals and institutions worldwide. Visit for more information.

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.

The only party that benefits from Gemayel's death is Israel

Cheney and the neocons win, too.


Even though Syria has previously been linked to assassinations in Lebanon, it is difficult to see what Damascus - or Hezbollah - would gain from the killing of Christian leader Pierre Gemayel. The only party that benefits from Gemayel's death is Israel.

Nov 28, 2006

Playing with death in Lebanon
By Mark LeVine

In the wake of the latest political assassination to rock Lebanon - last week's shooting of Pierre Gemayel, a scion of one of the foremost Christian Maronite political families - suspicion fell on the Syrians, and perhaps Hezbollah, as the most likely culprits.

There is some logic to this view, given Syria's likely involvement in the assassination in February 2005 of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Gemayal's is the fifth assassination since Hariri's; most every victim was critical of the Syrians, and to a lesser extent Hezbollah.

But even if we grant that Syria was behind Hariri's assassination, and there is very good evidence to support this assessment, it is hard to see what Syria or Hezbollah gains from Gemayel's killing. Syria is in a stronger regional position than it has been in years. The administration of US President George W Bush has been forced to eat crow and contemplate negotiations with Damascus to gain its help in easing the insurgency in Iraq. Syria's main sponsor, Iran, is similarly in its strongest geostrategic position in decades, and its ally Hezbollah emerged as the political winner of this summer's war with Israel.

So why would Syria risk upsetting this favorable balance by killing a Maronite politician when Hezbollah had already bolted the government and was threatening massive demonstrations to bring down the post-Cedar Revolution political arrangement in favor of one that would better reflect its - and thus Syria's - increasing power? The same question can be asked of those who would link Hezbollah to the Gemayel assassination, which sapped the energy out of its latest political machinations.

Of course, even if neither Syria nor Hezbollah had much to gain from Gemayel's assassination, it's not hard to imagine Bashar al-Assad or Hassan Nasrallah miscalculating the impact of such an act, as the Syrian president might well have done if he in fact ordered Hariri's assassination, and the Hezbollah leadership admitted doing when they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers this past July on the assumption that Israel's response would be in keeping with the rules of the game then in place.

But before we look to who might have miscalculated in ordering the hit on Gemayel it's worth asking who actually benefits from his assassination. And from this perspective the one party that clearly benefits from Gemayel's murder is the Israeli government.
Israel was the main loser in the summer war, at least politically and strategically. The country's leaders began threatening a new round of fighting even before they began pulling troops out of the south of Lebanon. Hezbollah's postwar ascendence was the most visible and troubling sign of Israel's seemingly unprecedented military weakness and strategic blundering.

Pulling off an assassination like this, which is by no means beyond Israel's ability, would serve several goals. First, it would turn the chaos that Hezbollah was trying to create in the Lebanese political system against it. Instead of Hezbollah managing the postwar chaos to strengthen its position, the movement is now forced on to the defensive and must react to a new dynamic in which Christians (with the exception of the breakaway Michel Aoun faction) and Sunnis are more united than ever in their desire to block Hezbollah's takeover of the system.

Second, if Lebanon descends into civil war, which is a frightening if still distant possibility, Hezbollah would in effect be neutralized, and Israel could rely on Maronites and perhaps Sunnis to attack Hezbollah without Israel facing the international condemnation it received during the war.

Third, suspicion against Syria - and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has publicly accused Damascus of being behind the assassination - has already stopped the momentum towards normalization with the Assad regime by Europe and the United States in order to bring it on board in Iraq. As important, if the crisis deepens, it will foreclose the possibility that the Bush administration (now under the tutelage of the only American diplomat to stand up to Israel since Dwight Eisenhower, James Baker) would force Israel to negotiate a deal for the Golan Heights in the near future.

It is true that the Gemayel family and Maronite community more broadly was once aligned to Israel; but that was a generation ago. The Maronites proved unable to maintain power in Lebanon or serve Israel's interests. Pierre Gemayel's uncle, Bachir, was assassinated days before he was to assume the country's presidency in 1982, and his father, Amine, was unable to cement a peace treaty with Israel because of Syrian pressure. The unofficial alliance was abandoned once it was clear that Israel's days in Lebanon were numbered.

Participating, or otherwise benefiting from the killing of an old ally at a moment when the blame would be placed on one's enemies may seem far-fetched, but at least as far back as the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu "to mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy" has been one of the most well-regarded axioms of warfare. The death of Pierre Gemayel could well push Lebanon to the brink of civil war and lead to further alienation of Syria and Hezbollah from the international community. This might well be the unintended consequence of actions taken by either party; but if the question is to be asked "Who benefits from Pierre Gemayel's assassination?", it is hard not to include the Israeli government among the parties which have the most to gain from the scenario now unfolding in Beirut.

Mark LeVine, PhD, is a professor in the department of history, University of California-Irvine.

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.

The Saudis strike back at Iran

Saudi Arabia views with disquiet the rapid ascendancy of Iranian influence in Iraq, and the Shi'ite claim of political empowerment in the region haunts Riyadh. This latent Saudi-Iranian rivalry is likely to play out in Lebanon, where, unlike Iraq, there is a convergence of Saudi and US interests.

Nov 28, 2006

The Saudis strike back at Iran
By M K Bhadrakumar

If ever the need arose to differentiate between brothers and friends, that was last week when Saudi King Abdullah bin-Abd al-Aziz al-Saud spoke of Iran as a "friend" of the Saudi state.

The king said this while receiving Iranian Ambassador Hossein Sadeqi during the latter's farewell call on the conclusion of an eventful two-year tour, which witnessed, arguably, a steady rise in the warmth and coziness of Saudi-Iranian relations.

The king praised the trend in the relations between the two countries in recent years, and stressed the importance of bolstering Saudi-Iranian relations "in all fields", adding that Saudi Arabia had "confidence" in Iran. But what stood out was Saudi Arabia's characterization of ties between the two most important countries of the Muslim world as being between "friends".

Nevertheless, Iran's sense of unease about the shadows falling on Saudi-Iranian ties and the potentially deleterious trust deficit developing between them over issues of regional stability and peace was apparent in its decision last week to keep out Saudi Arabia from the trilateral summit that Tehran proposed, involving the heads of states of Syria and Iraq. What has led to a chill in Saudi-Iranian relations is the eruption of vicious sectarian strife in Iraq, apart from the crisis unfolding in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has viewed with disquiet the rapid ascendancy of Iranian influence in Iraq since the US invasion. The reasons are several, but primarily the Shi'ite claim of political empowerment in the region haunts Riyadh, coupled with the prospect of Iran's seemingly unstoppable march as the premier regional power in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East. The disquiet has turned into dismay as the incipient murmurs of a likely shift in the United States' strategy in Iraq have lately become audible, and given the likelihood of the shift involving a constructive engagement of the regimes in Tehran and Damascus by Washington.

Despite sustained Saudi (and Egyptian) efforts to carve out a niche of influence in the fragmented Iraqi political landscape, the desired results haven't been forthcoming. The latest Saudi attempt was the Mecca Document of October 20, endorsed by 29 Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite senior clerics who assembled in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. They vowed to God in front of the blessed Kaaba "not to violate the sanctity of Muslim blood and to incriminate those who shed [it]".

But not only has the Mecca Document not arrested Shi'ite-Sunni hostilities within Iraq, the sectarian divide has since dramatically widened. Iran alleges that conspiracies pitting the Sunnis against Shi'ites are afoot. The powerful Speaker of the Iranian majlis (parliament), Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, while visiting the eastern province of Sistan-Balochistan (bordering Pakistan's restive Balochistan province), said on Saturday, "Today the enemies wish to sow the seed of discord among Shi'ites and Sunnis and make them insult each other ... The enemies of Islam are attempting to disrupt Muslim vigilance, lay their hand on the wealth of Muslim lands and plunder their oil reserves. To achieve this goal, they are attempting to sow the seed of discord among Muslims."

Indeed, Western media have also reported that in recent months US and Israeli intelligence have been working together in equipping and training Kurdish, Azeri and Baloch tribesmen to undertake covert operations in Iran's northern and southeastern provinces. Tehran already visualizes that in Lebanon, too, in the latest confrontation, the battle lines will fast assume a Sunni-Shi'ite dimension.

The latent Saudi-Iranian rivalry is likely to play out in Lebanon. Unlike with the Iraq problem, there is a convergence of Saudi and US interests over Lebanon. Saudi commentators have been counseling Washington not to compartmentalize Iraq and Lebanon as separate issues.

From the Saudi perspective, any US-Iranian engagement in the region should not be limited to a US "exit strategy" in Iraq. The fear of a resurgent Iran is palpable. The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper recently compared Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Osama bin Laden as two renegades equally bent on destabilizing the region.

That is why Saudi diplomacy worked in tandem with the US to get a "global consensus" over the setting up of an international tribunal to look into the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Saudi commentators heaved a sigh of relief when Moscow decided to delink from Syria's (and Iran's) dogged opposition to the tribunal. But what was extraordinary was that the Saudis publicly commended the "significant and remarkable cooperation" from China in making it clear to the Russians that China was "on the side of the US, France and Britain" in the United Nations Security Council negotiations over the decision to set up the tribunal.

A Saudi commentator boasted, "By doing so, China left Russia with the sole option of cooperating and not obstructing." Indeed, the People's Daily recently took note of Washington's realization of the need of a "new direction" in its Middle East policy - "a new Middle East plan, which aims to unite moderate Arab countries who are concerned about the rise of Iran and rampant extremist forces, to form an anti-Iran and anti-extremist alliance" - though it doubted what a mere course correction could do in "extricating the US from the quagmire it created by itself in the Middle East".

The Saudi expectation is that the UN decision to set up the tribunal (which was promptly approved by the Lebanese cabinet of Saudi-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Friday, despite warnings from Hezbollah) signifies a development of historic proportions in redrawing political alignments in the Middle East.

From the Saudi point of view, the tribunal will inexorably lead to the unraveling of the Ba'athist regime in Damascus; the breakup of the Iranian-Syrian nexus in the region; the return of Syria to the mainstream Arab fold; the near-total isolation of Hezbollah within Lebanon, which in turn could pave the way for its eventual co-option (once it is cleansed of militancy and sanitized from Iranian influence); and the overall weakening of Iran's standing as the Shi'ite powerhouse in the region, especially in Iraq.

Equally, the Saudis are displaying in Lebanon their true grit as a US ally in the region. They are showing that in countering Iranian influence they are prepared to dig in, no matter what it takes. Riyadh has cast aside its proclivity to remain on the sidelines while the Iraq crisis matured in the critical 2003-05 period, which led to its disastrous isolation (and Egypt's).

Riyadh expects Washington to take note that Iran's rising regional influence can still be arrested. Significantly, US Vice President Dick Cheney lost no time arriving in Riyadh on Saturday for a hurried two-hour meeting with King Abdullah. During the meeting, to quote the Saudi Press Agency, the two sides discussed "the whole range of events and developments on the regional and international scenes ... the Palestinian problem and the situation in Iraq in particular".

The choice of Cheney to undertake such a sensitive mission at this point speaks something of the thought processes of President George W Bush regarding Iraq. It also speaks something about the importance of Cheney in the last two years of Bush's presidency. Three things must be said about Cheney's beliefs. First, he is steadfast in his belief that the Iraq war is still a "doable" job. Second, he consistently maintains that an Iraq settlement is inconceivable without a regime change in Iran.

Most important, Cheney believes that when it comes to Israel's security, US politicians are alike. Name them, they are all "friends of Israel" - Democratic presidential hopefuls Senators Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, and the incoming chairman of the House Committee on International Affairs, Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos.

Thus it is of immense consequence that Bush decided to give Cheney a chance to perform (rather than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) in the center stage of the Middle East's geopolitics at this crucial turning point. The United States' strategy in the Iraq war is under intense scrutiny, and the White House should soon receive the report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton.

Cheney's consultations in Riyadh mesh with what Seymour Hersh wrote in the current issue of The New Yorker: "Sources with direct knowledge of the [ISG] panel's proceedings have told me that the group, as of mid-November, had ruled out calling for an immediate and complete American withdrawal but would recommend focusing on the improved training of Iraqi forces and on redeploying American troops."

What does this portend for Tehran? Certainly, what is becoming clear is that it is small change for Iran, even if the ISG recommends that Syria and Iraq should be brought into a regional conference to help stabilize Iraq, and if Bush accepts such a recommendation.

The point is Iran is inherently at a disadvantage with regard to the Saudi stratagem. The specter of a Shi'ite crescent is a useful rallying cry for the beleaguered regimes in Riyadh (and Cairo and Amman), whereas for Tehran it is a huge embarrassment and a major obstacle. For Iran, Shi'ite empowerment is a means to an end. Iran considers its manifest destiny to be the leader of the Islamic world.

As Tehran sees it, it has been a long wait but Iraq and Syria are finally emerging as a new center of gravity in the Arab world. And Iran is in alliance with it. Also, Iran sees a historic opportunity in that almost 100 years after the Sykes-Picot agreement carved up the Middle East, the regional powers may finally be able to fill the power vacuum to ensure the US withdrawal from Iraq. The process is no doubt cataclysmic and, therefore, imperfect, stuttering and difficult. Iran nonetheless must pursue it to its optimal potential.

But the brusqueness with which Washington moved last week to stifle the Iranian initiative on the trilateral summit with Iraq and Syria also underscores what Tehran is up against. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani just couldn't emplane for Tehran on Saturday. The Americans clamped a curfew on Baghdad and simply shut down the city's airport.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also stayed in Damascus on Saturday instead of proceeding to Tehran. The Iranian initiative seems all but stillborn. Iran has since clarified that the tripartite summit would be "good" but no such meeting had been planned "of the kind reported by certain sections of the media".

Meanwhile, the Arab League's 10-member Iraq Committee came up with an announcement on Saturday that it would hold a foreign minister-level meeting in Cairo on December 5 with a view to finding a way to end the "cascades of blood in Iraq".

No doubt, neither Iran nor Syria is likely to take lying low the US attempt to isolate them in the region. As prominent Middle East commentator Rami Khouri put it, they are "unlikely to behave like Libya by caving into the pressure and unilaterally giving the US what it wants ... They will demand a high price for cooperating with the US and helping it leave Iraq."

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether an international process in the form of the tribunal over Lebanon was a judicious move after all. In a region where assassinations form part of the political culture (and often, as for Israel, constitute an instrument of state policy), the setting up of a tribunal over Lebanon smacks of cynicism. Besides, such processes often acquire a momentum of their own, and it may so happen that the tribunal over Lebanon may spin out of US control. In essence, the international tribunal is a "new form of neo-colonial behavior" (to quote Khouri), even if the US is acting in league with Britain and France, two veteran battle-scarred colonial powers in the region, and despite China and Russia having acquiesced for reasons of their own.

To be sure, Iran and Syria will resist with all their capacity. For the present, though, the Iranians find themselves somewhat in the same predicament as Banquo in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth when "through the fog and filthy air", the noble warrior heard the witches' prophesy, "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none."

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.

Nato urged to plan Afghanistan exit strategy as violence soars

By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Kim Sengupta in Kabul

Published: 27 November 2006

Nato's fragile unity over Afghanistan has begun to crack ahead of an important summit - with one public call to discuss an exit strategy from the Allied forces' bloody confrontation with the Taliban.

While heads of government are to make a show of unity over Afghanistan at tomorrow's alliance summit in Riga, Belgium's Defence Minister has questioned the future of Nato's most important mission.

And heads of the alliance's 26 nations are unlikely to agree to send reinforcements to Afghanistan - dealing a blow to Tony Blair's hopes that others will take up more of the increasingly heavy burden.

In the bloodiest day of violence to grip the country in many weeks, a series of fierce clashes between Nato forces and Taliban fighters and a suicide bombing left 76 people dead and more than 45 injured yesterday, many of them children.

Though Belgium only makes a small military contribution to the Nato mission, the Minister's comments will alarm senior figures at the alliance's headquarters where there is already concern that France is getting cold feet about its role in Afghanistan. Paris has remained publicly committed to the mission but Nato sources are concerned about the possibility of an eventual French withdrawal. They are pressing for an enhanced UN profile in Afghanistan to reassure the French who are suspicious about an expanded role for Nato because of Washington's hold over the alliance.

André Flahaut, the Belgian Defence Minister, brought anxieties about the Afghan mission into the open when he suggested that, at the Riga summit, "we finally reflect on an exit strategy". Five years after the start of Western involvement in Afghanistan, Mr Flahaut calls into question its prospects of success.

In an interview with Le Vif-L'Express magazine, Mr Flahaut argued: "The situation is deteriorating and, over time, Nato forces risk appearing like an army of occupation." Discussions of an exit strategy are the last thing the Nato top brass wants to hear because it is hoping to use this week to reinforce a message of unity on Afghanistan.

The summit in Riga - the first to be held on ex-Soviet territory - will be attended by, among others, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair.

The rising violence in Afghanistan could be seen yesterday, with Nato reporting the loss of one soldier and 57 insurgents killed during four separate attacks in the south. Local people said at least 12 civilians died during an air strike.

Just hours after the fighting in Oruzgan province, a suicide bomber destroyed a restaurant in the Orgun district of Paktika. The blast is believed to have been aimed at an Afghan military commander but among the 25 dead and 20 injured were a number of children.

With 37 countries, including a host of non-Nato nations, contributing to the operation in Afghanistan a total of about 32,000 troops have been assembled .

In Riga, Nato is hoping for progress on one of the main problems facing commanders in the field: restrictions placed by national capitals on the use of their troops.

Nato's fragile unity over Afghanistan has begun to crack ahead of an important summit - with one public call to discuss an exit strategy from the Allied forces' bloody confrontation with the Taliban.

While heads of government are to make a show of unity over Afghanistan at tomorrow's alliance summit in Riga, Belgium's Defence Minister has questioned the future of Nato's most important mission.

And heads of the alliance's 26 nations are unlikely to agree to send reinforcements to Afghanistan - dealing a blow to Tony Blair's hopes that others will take up more of the increasingly heavy burden.

In the bloodiest day of violence to grip the country in many weeks, a series of fierce clashes between Nato forces and Taliban fighters and a suicide bombing left 76 people dead and more than 45 injured yesterday, many of them children.

Though Belgium only makes a small military contribution to the Nato mission, the Minister's comments will alarm senior figures at the alliance's headquarters where there is already concern that France is getting cold feet about its role in Afghanistan. Paris has remained publicly committed to the mission but Nato sources are concerned about the possibility of an eventual French withdrawal. They are pressing for an enhanced UN profile in Afghanistan to reassure the French who are suspicious about an expanded role for Nato because of Washington's hold over the alliance.

André Flahaut, the Belgian Defence Minister, brought anxieties about the Afghan mission into the open when he suggested that, at the Riga summit, "we finally reflect on an exit strategy". Five years after the start of Western involvement in Afghanistan, Mr Flahaut calls into question its prospects of success.
In an interview with Le Vif-L'Express magazine, Mr Flahaut argued: "The situation is deteriorating and, over time, Nato forces risk appearing like an army of occupation." Discussions of an exit strategy are the last thing the Nato top brass wants to hear because it is hoping to use this week to reinforce a message of unity on Afghanistan.

The summit in Riga - the first to be held on ex-Soviet territory - will be attended by, among others, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair.

The rising violence in Afghanistan could be seen yesterday, with Nato reporting the loss of one soldier and 57 insurgents killed during four separate attacks in the south. Local people said at least 12 civilians died during an air strike.

Just hours after the fighting in Oruzgan province, a suicide bomber destroyed a restaurant in the Orgun district of Paktika. The blast is believed to have been aimed at an Afghan military commander but among the 25 dead and 20 injured were a number of children.

With 37 countries, including a host of non-Nato nations, contributing to the operation in Afghanistan a total of about 32,000 troops have been assembled .

In Riga, Nato is hoping for progress on one of the main problems facing commanders in the field: restrictions placed by national capitals on the use of their troops.

Released draft report of the Baker Commission's(Iraq Study Group) holds no surprises: no pullout

November 27, 2006
Panel to Weigh Overture by U.S. to Iran and Syria


Among the ideas are embedding far more American training teams into Iraqi military units in a last-ditch improvement effort. While numbers are still approximate, phased withdrawal of combat troops over the next year would leave 70,000 to 80,000 American troops in the country, compared with about 150,000 now.

“It’s not at all clear that we can reach consensus on the military questions,” one member of the commission said late last week.

The draft report, according to those who have seen it, seems to link American withdrawal to the performance of the Iraqi military, as President Bush has done. But details of the performance benchmarks, which were described as not specific, could not be obtained, and it is this section of the report that is most likely to be revised.

While the commission is scheduled to meet here for two days this week, officials say the session may be extended if members have trouble reaching consensus. ...

Mr. Bush’s nominee for secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, resigned from the commission after his nomination this month, and was replaced by Lawrence S. Eagleburger, another Republican who once was secretary of state. Mr. Gates has said little about his thoughts on military strategy, other than to express amazement when he visited Iraq with the study group over Labor Day that the administration had let the situation spin so far out of control.

Mr. Bush spent 90 minutes with commission members in a closed session at the White House two weeks ago “essentially arguing why we should embrace what amounts to a ‘stay the course’ strategy,” said one commission official who was present.

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