Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'Twenty-five years after Reagan's Star Wars speech' - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Twenty-five years after Reagan's Star Wars speech

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan made his famous Star Wars speech, announcing his plan to develop a missile defense system that would make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete." His vision of a "shield that could protect us from nuclear missiles just as a roof protects a family from the rain" was both seductive and audacious.

It was seductive because it offered an easy answer to the omnipresent threat of a massive Soviet nuclear attack at a time when the Soviets and the United States maintained 60,000 nuclear warheads between them. It especially appealed to those who believed in the supremacy of U.S. science and technology but did not understand technical issues.

At the same time, Reagan's speech was audacious because it flew in the face of all that the United States had come to understand about missile defenses over the previous 30 years. The Pentagon had been working on defenses against ballistic missiles since the 1950s--almost as long as it had been working on ballistic missiles. By 1972, both Washington and Moscow concluded that offense had significant inherent advantages over defense and that an effective defensive system wasn't feasible. They also believed that building defenses could lead to an arms race by inducing each country to build more missiles to overwhelm the other's defenses. Thus, under the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, both nations gave up the possibility of defending against each other's nuclear-armed missiles.

Twenty-five years later, antimissile technology has come a long way. Guidance and homing have improved so much that all current U.S. missile defense systems use hit-to-kill technology intended to destroy the incoming target by ramming into it. Previous defenses against long-range missiles were designed to use nuclear-tipped interceptors to destroy a warhead at a distance.

In recent years, the United States has also built and fielded a significant amount of hardware as part of its ground-based missile defense system, including 24 silo-based interceptors in Alaska and California and a new sea-based X-band radar in the Pacific Ocean. It has also upgraded the Cobra Dane radar in Alaska and two early-warning radars--in California and Britain--and fielded a transportable X-band radar in Japan.

Meanwhile, the rationale has changed--and is less daunting. Defending against a few potential North Korean or Iranian long-range missiles is far less demanding than defending against thousands of incoming Soviet missiles.

Regardless, Reagan's dream of building a viable defense against long-range missiles is still simply that--a dream. And by pursuing this dream, the United States has weakened its own security instead of enhancing it.

The real legacy of Reagan's dream

Let's take a clear-eyed look at what 25 years have brought us: First, the Pentagon has yet to demonstrate that the U.S. ground-based missile defense system is capable of defending against a long-range ballistic missile in a real-world situation. The tests have demonstrated that the kill vehicle is able to home in on and collide with an identifiable target, but under highly scripted conditions. A February 2008 Government Accountability Office report, "Assessment of DOD Efforts to Enhance Missile Defense Capabilities and Oversight" PDF concluded that these tests have been "developmental in nature, and do not provide sufficient realism" to assess the system's potential effectiveness.

To permit deployment of the fledgling ground-based missile defense system, the Pentagon exempted it from the normal accounting and testing procedures that apply to all other weapons systems. For example, the system does not comply with so-called "fly before you buy" laws, which are designed to prevent the military from purchasing weapons that are unsuitable for their real-world mission or don't work as intended. Under these laws a major defense program may not produce more than a small number of weapons--generally for testing purposes--until the Pentagon's director of operational testing and evaluation issues a report stating whether the testing and evaluation was adequate and whether the results show that the weapon system is effective and suitable for combat. That won't be possible until the Pentagon conducts realistic tests, a prospect that may never occur.

To circumvent the rules, the Missile Defense Agency refers to the ground-based missile defense components as fielded rather than deployed and has claimed that they're test assets used as part of the test program.

Second, there's almost no prospect that the United States will develop a defense system that could defend against real-world long-range missiles in the foreseeable future. As a 2000 Union of Concerned Scientists/MIT technical report, "Countermeasures," concluded, any country with the capability and motivation to build long-range missiles and fire them at the United States also would have the capability and motivation to equip those missiles with effective countermeasures such as decoys.

Third, as long as the United States and Russia continue to maintain nuclear weapons to deter each other, any U.S. steps to deploy a defense system that Russia believes could intercept a significant number of its survivable long-range missile forces will undermine efforts to reduce nuclear threats. This link between offensive weapons and missile defenses was clearly demonstrated in the 1986 Reykjavik summit meeting, when Reagan's adherence to missile defense scuttled an opportunity to pursue Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's offer to negotiate deep cuts in nuclear stockpiles. Ironically, missile defense precluded taking a real step toward achieving Reagan's goal of rendering nuclear weapons obsolete.

U.S. missile defenses are an obstacle to real security

Today, the risk of a premeditated Russian or Chinese nuclear attack on the United States is essentially zero. But because Russia continues to maintain more than 1,000 nuclear weapons on high alert (as does the United States), ready to be launched within minutes, there's still a danger of an accidental or unauthorized attack or of a mistaken launch in response to a false warning. Indeed, such attacks are the only military threats that could destroy the United States as a functioning society.

Russia's incentive to maintain its weapons on alert would be strengthened if it believed that the United States was deploying a system that could threaten its ability to retaliate. In fact, when the United States tried to renegotiate the terms of the ABM Treaty in the late 1990s, it argued that Russia need not fear a U.S. defense system as long as it kept its missiles on high alert. Doing so would allow Russia, on warning of a U.S. first strike, to quickly launch a retaliatory attack large enough to overwhelm the defense.

Meanwhile, China has a small arsenal of roughly 20 long-range missiles that it relies on for deterrence. However, it could decide to offset U.S. defense deployments by increasing its arsenal, which could prompt India and then Pakistan to increase their nuclear arsenals.

On one level, the United States is aware of this linkage. It has stressed that its ground-based missile defense system is intended to protect against potential threats from developing countries and has stated that deployments would be "limited" so that Russia and China wouldn't see them as a threat to their nuclear deterrents. But from Russia's and China's perspective, the issue is whether U.S. actions match its words.

In the coming years, the United States plans to increase the number of interceptors that are capable--at least in principle--of defending against long-range missiles. Congress has allocated funds for 40 ground-based missile defense interceptors to be deployed in Alaska and California. The United States is negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic to deploy an additional 10 ground-based missile defense interceptors and one or two radars in Europe near the Russian border. Russia has strongly objected to this plan.

Within five years, the United States is also slated to deploy some 150 interceptor missiles on 18 ships as part of its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. While these interceptors are designed to defend against intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the United States plans to produce an upgraded version of the interceptor to allow the Aegis system to defend against long-range missiles as well. This could cause Russia and China to worry that they could soon face some 200 U.S. interceptors designed to destroy long-range missiles.

Compared with China's 20 long-range nuclear-armed missiles, 200 interceptors constitute a relatively large deployment. While Russia has a far larger arsenal, it may assume that most of it would be destroyed by a U.S. first strike. While the scientists in these countries may understand that these interceptors can be defeated by straightforward countermeasures, their political and military leaders, motivated by worst-case analyses and the desire for a response that is visible to its public and the United States, may build or retain larger nuclear forces than they would otherwise consider necessary, and in the Russian case may keep their missiles on high alert.

The real legacy of Reagan's Star Wars speech is that missile defense has become a high-profile, politically symbolic program, rather than a military program judged on its merits. The continued political support for a program that still offers no prospect of defending the United States from a real-world missile attack and undermines efforts to eliminate the real nuclear threats to the United States shows that Reagan's vision remains seductive--dangerously so.

David Wright

A physicist, Wright codirects the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) Global Security Program. His expertise is in national missile defense, space weapons, and U.S. nuclear weapons policy. As a primary organizer of the International Summer Symposiums on Science and World Affairs, he helps create an international community of scientists working on arms control and security issues. He has also worked for many years on projects that train technical arms control experts in other countries, especially Russia and China. In 2001, the American Physical Society awarded him with the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award for his arms control research and work with international scientists.

Lisbeth Gronlund

A physicist, Gronlund codirects the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) Global Security Program, where she is also a senior scientist. Her expertise is in missile defense, arms control, and U.S. nuclear weapons policy. She has testified before Congress on missile defense and coauthored the 2005 report "The Physics of Space Security: A Reference Manual" and the April 2000 study "Countermeasures." In addition to her position at UCS, she is a research affiliate in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at MIT.


Republicans, missile defense, and the Reagan legacy

When developing a weapons program for the Defense Department, there is normally an orderly and somewhat rational process to be followed: First, a threat is identified; research is then conducted on how best to deal with said threat; and finally, a weapon system is developed and eventually produced.

If at any time in this process the threat changes or the research demonstrates that no available technology exists to deal with the threat, or a weapon system cannot be developed in a cost-effective manner, the research is stopped, slowed down, or canceled.

There is no doubt that sometimes bias, organizational culture, or ideology becomes a part of the process. Threats can be hyped, research and development skewed, and the capabilities of a new weapons system exaggerated. But rarely does this process become completely irrational. It is possible to have a reasonable, rational debate about whether the United States should purchase the F-22 fighter aircraft, the DDG-1000 destroyer, or V-22 helicopter.

But this is not the case with national missile defense, which owes its origin to President Ronald Reagan's 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative speech challenging the country to develop a defense system that would provide the United States with the ability to destroy any and all nuclear-equipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) launched against Washington by the former Soviet Union. Reagan believed that a successful missile defense could both end the nuclear arms race and make nuclear weapons obsolete. He even went so far as to promise to share the technology with the Soviets. In what would be a harbinger of things to come, Reagan did not consult with either the military or Defense's civilian leadership before unveiling his proposal.

In the 25 years since Reagan's speech, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on missile defense, the Soviet Union has collapsed, and the national missile defense system has not undergone a realistic test. Yet, ground-based national missile defense systems have been deployed, most Republicans argue that it should be the Pentagon's top priority, and the Bush administration continues to pour tens of billions of dollars into missile defense each year. National missile defense is the only weapons system mentioned in the last three Republican presidential platforms and the Contract with America, the Republican manifesto that led to the party assuming control of Congress in 1994. Why?

For starters, it has become a litmus test of loyalty to the Reagan legacy. President Reagan has assumed the same iconic place for Republicans that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had for so many years for Democrats. For example, John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, often refers to himself as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution, as did his former opponents Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani. This revolution was based on three pillars--pro-life as opposed to pro-choice; government as the cause of society's problems as opposed to the solution; and a robust national missile defense as opposed to arms control negotiations or disarmament.

Some Republicans have difficulty completely supporting the first two pillars: The majority of Americans want to place only a few restrictions on a woman's right to choose and view government as a solution to many of our economic and social problems. But there is no political downside for a Republican to embrace missile defense. Most Americans either believe we already have a missile defense capability or really do not care much about it now that the Cold War has ended. National missile defense may be mentioned in the Contract with America or the Republican platform, but nobody reads these documents, let alone votes based on their contents.

In addition, a foolproof national missile defense would enable Republicans to go it alone in the world and not have to rely on other nations or international treaties to provide security. This philosophy can be summed up as "unilateral if we can, multilateral if we must." Thus, if national missile defense can protect the United States against North Korean, Iranian, or Chinese missiles, why negotiate or make concessions? Or if the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia prevents Washington from forging ahead with national missile defense, why not just scrap the treaty regardless of how it affects U.S.-Russian relations? Or why ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty? Instead, move ahead with the development of the bunker-buster or the reliable replacement warhead.

Consequently, when the Republicans are in power, they push missile defense relentlessly. After the Republicans won both the Senate and House of Representatives in 1995, they passed a law, the National Missile Defense Act, which said that it was U.S. policy to deploy national missile defense as soon as possible. Never mind that the Soviet Union had collapsed, that the Clinton administration had just concluded an agreement with North Korea to freeze its development of plutonium at Yongbyon, or that there was no evidence then that Iran was violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Similarly, when President George W. Bush took office, he immediately doubled missile defense spending, gave notice that Washington would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, and cut off negotiations with North Korea. Moreover, since he was not sure he would be reelected in 2004, he accelerated the deployment of ground-based missiles in California and Alaska even though the system had failed virtually all of its tests up to then.

Bush's obsession with missile defense continues today. At the recent NATO summit, the president made deployment of radars and ground-based missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic his first priority. For him, it was more important than getting NATO to provide more troops to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan or improving relations with Russia.

Richard Garwin, a distinguished physicist who helped develop the hydrogen bomb and served on the Rumsfeld Commission that Congress established in 1996 to analyze the ICBM threat, put it well when he said, "The strongest proponents of national missile defense have no technical understanding at all." Another scientist, Philip Coyle, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation from 1994 to 2001, noted that it is not in the cards to ever have a Plexiglas dome over the United States in which enemy missiles will be like hail bouncing off of a windshield. Yet, many Republicans believe that this can and will be done and continue to make national missile defense the largest single investment program in the Defense Department--i.e., $13.2 billion for missile defense in 2009. Sen. Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, summed it up best when he commented on the National Missile Defense Act in 1999: "Perhaps the real clash here is between ideology and reality."

Lawrence J. Korb

A senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Korb served as assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration from 1981-1985. In that position, he administered 70 percent of the country's defense budget; his service earned him the Defense Department's medal for Distinguished Public Service. He has written 20 books on national security issues, including The Fall and Rise of the Pentagon, Future Visions for U.S. Defense Policy, and A New National Security Strategy in an Age of Terrorists, Tyrants, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is currently a member of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board.


Japan’s hunger becomes a dire warning for other nations

"I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn't believe it — this is the first time in my life I've wanted to try baking cakes and I can't get any butter," said the frustrated cook.

Japan's acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term — perhaps permanent — reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest — a 30% increase this month — has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.
 
 

A look at some chemicals awaiting risk assessments

Some of the products for which the Environmental Protection Agency process for determining cancer and other health risks has been delayed:

- Naphthalene, a chemical used in rocket fuel and manufacturing a wide range of commercial products, including mothballs, dyes and insecticides. It is a major source of contamination at many military bases. The EPA wants to determine if it should be reclassified from a "possible" to "likely" human carcinogen. A long-standing dispute with the Pentagon over the chemical prompted the White House in 2004 to initiate a new EPA policy requiring more interagency involvement in assessing the health risks of a chemical. "Six years after the naphthalene assessment began, it is now back at the drafting stage," said the Government Accountability Office.

- Trichloroethylene, or TCE, a widely used industrial degreasing agent and a common contaminant in air, soil and both surface and ground water. The EPA in 2001 issued a draft assessment that TCE is "highly likely to produce cancer in humans." Interagency reviews have concluded more outside studies are needed. "Ten years after EPA started ... the TCE assessment is back at the draft development stage," the GAO said.

- Perchloroethylene, or "perc," a chemical widely used in dry cleaning fabrics, degreasing metal and making chemical products. The EPA began its risk review of perc a decade ago and an interagency review was completed two years ago. Since then the assessment has been in limbo because of a dispute among senior EPA officials over what the cancer risk assessment should be. The dispute has prevented the proposed assessment from being forwarded to the National Academy of Science for peer review.

- Formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable gas used to make plywood and other building materials, which the EPA has been reviewing since 1997 to determine if should be upgraded from a "probable" to a "known" carcinogen. The EPA does not expect to complete that review for another two years.

- Royal Demolition Explosive, or RDX, a chemical explosive used in munitions and classified as a possible human carcinogen. The chemical is known to leach from soil to groundwater. The EPA began a risk assessment of the chemical in 2000 but has made minimal progress, the GAO said.

~ source ~

 

Guantanamo trials "Will never have the credibility that's needed"

Ex-Gitmo prosecutor alleges politics by Michael Melia for AP
 
A former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay testified Monday that he faced growing interference from his Pentagon superiors following the arrival at the Navy base of "high-value" detainees with direct links to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who was called to testify by lawyers for Osama bin Laden's former driver, said Pentagon officials showed increased interest in the schedule and the selection of detainees for trial once the prisoners arrived from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

"Suddenly, everybody had strong opinions about how we ought to do our job," Davis said. "If you can get the 9/11 guys charged, you get the victims' families energized, and if the case is rolling, whoever took the White House would have difficulty stopping this process."

Davis was cross-examined by the Army officer who replaced him after his resignation last October, Col. Lawrence Morris, in one of the most dramatic challenges to the first American war-crimes tribunals since World War II.

The testimony came in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who is scheduled to be the first to go to trial next month. Defense attorneys hope to use Davis' claims as the basis for a dismissal of the charges.

Guantanamo itself appeared to be on trial as defense attorneys seized on the testimony to question the fairness of a system in which confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five others allegedly involved in the 2001 attacks are now facing trial.

Davis said one Pentagon official called for charges to be brought against the detainees ahead of the November 2006 midterm elections. He claimed other officials reversed his policy against using evidence obtained through torture and told him that acquittals would be unacceptable.

Davis said he resigned hours after he was put in a chain of command beneath Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes, one of several officials who had encouraged the use of evidence even if it was gathered through waterboarding - an interrogation method that simulates drowning. Under rules for the tribunals, known as commissions, it is up to the judge to decide what evidence is admissible.

"The guy who said waterboarding is A-OK I was not going to take orders from. I quit," Davis said.

Hamdan is accused of delivering weapons to al-Qaida and its associates and training at terrorist camps. His lawyers say he had no significant role in planning or carrying out attacks against the U.S. He could get life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

The hearing in a hilltop courthouse overlooking the Caribbean was delayed for several hours after Hamdan refused to participate in the proceedings. He eventually returned to the courtroom.

Under cross-examination, Davis conceded that he never doubted Hamdan's guilt or the acceptability of the methods used to obtain evidence in his particular case.

"Colonel Davis and I won't agree on Mr. Hamdan's guilt, but we can agree that the system is not going to be full, open and fair," said Hamdan's Pentagon-appointed defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer.

The testimony from Davis marked the transformation of an outspoken defender of Guantanamo - he once compared putting detainees on trial to dragging "Dracula out into the sunlight" - into a persistent critic.

He alleged, among other things, that Haynes appeared shocked when Davis suggested in a 2005 meeting that acquittals, however disappointing, could boost the credibility of the system.

"He looked at me and said 'We can't have acquittals, we've been holding these guys for years,'" Davis testified.

Davis accused Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser to the official overseeing the tribunal system, of exerting inappropriate influence by simultaneously directing tasks for the prosecution team that was supposed to be independent.

He said Hartmann handpicked prosecutors for different cases and demanded cases that were "sexy" or "had blood on them" and would resonate with the public.

An official who oversaw the tribunals until November 2006, John D. Altenburg Jr., testified for the prosecution that he did not know of any case where Davis was subjected to unlawful influence. He also said he never heard about a conversation in which Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England allegedly told Davis that charging the high-value detainees could have "strategic political value" for the 2006 elections.

Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, said Davis' testimony "is an indication that these trials will never have the credibility that's needed as a proper response to the atrocities of 9/11."

Davis is now head of the Air Force judiciary and has filed retirement papers to leave the military.

The U.S. holds about 275 men at Guantanamo and plans to prosecute about 80 before the military tribunals. So far, none of the cases has gone to trial although the military convicted one detainee, David Hicks, through a plea agreement that returned him to his native Australia to serve a nine-month prison sentence.

Managing and Transforming Global Conflicts in the 21st Century

Enabling Peace and Effective Responses to Conflict –
Human Security, Conflict Transformation and Good Governance Nationally and
Internationally

Ottawa, Canada – May 22 – 23, 2008

A two-day seminar with one of the world's leading practitioners and
international experts in peacebuilding and national and international
negotiations and mediation

Hosted by Civilian Peace Services Canada in cooperation with the
Department of Peace Operations (DPO) and
International Peace and Development Training Centre

Managing and Transforming Global Conflicts in the 21st Century is a two-day
experts level seminar arranged for government and political leadership,
diplomats, representatives of national and international organizations, and
experienced practitioners, mediators and field workers for the UN and other
international agencies.

The seminar will provide a hands-on global overview of experiences in
peacebuilding, peacemaking and managing peace processes. Special focus will
be placed on current situations and conflicts internationally and effective
tools and methods for governments and national and international
organizations for preventing crises, transforming conflicts, and enabling
sustainable peace.

Internationally recognized as an expert and practitioner in peacebuilding
and facilitation of back-channel mediation and peace efforts, Kai Frithjof
Brand-Jacobsen has worked in Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sri
Lanka, Moldova and elsewhere. In this two-day program he will work with
participants to address key opportunities in peacebuilding and peacemaking
today, developing expert skills for managing conflicts and crises
nationally and internationally.
 
 DEADLINE for APPLICATIONS: Friday May 2nd, 2008
 

Iran takes new shot at Barbie, calling US doll 'destructive'

Iranian markets have been inundated with smuggled Western toys in recent years partly due to a dramatic rise in purchasing power as a result of increased oil revenues.

While importing the toys is not necessarily illegal, it is discouraged by a government that seeks to protect Iranians from what it calls the negative effects of Western culture.

Najafabadi said the increasing visibility of Western dolls has alarmed authorities and they are considering intervening.

"The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter ... as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to the officials in the cultural arena," his letter said.

Najafabadi said Iran is the world's third biggest importer of toys and warned that smuggled imports pose a threat to the "identity" of the new generation.

"Undoubtedly, the personality and identity of the new generation and our children, as a result of unrestricted importation of toys, has been put at risk and caused irreparable damages," he said.

10 Countries That Benefit from the Falling Dollar

 
The "weak dollar" has made headlines for several months now. Although U.S. currency has been losing value in the forex market since 2002, the current American economic troubles have driven the dollar sharply lower while making its decline seem more concerning. The main problem these days is that a weak dollar can cause inflation by compelling importers to raise prices of goods they sell to American companies and consumers. On the other hand, many countries stand to gain from the dollar's low value. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of these beneficiaries.
  1. Afghanistan: A Taliban resurgence, among other concerns, is keeping many traders away from the afghani, Afghanistan's currency. The country has many immediate challenges to face, but a solid currency will eventually be important if Afghanistan is ever to become a fully developed nation. Though historically tied to the dollar, the afghani has tended to depreciate dramatically in recent decades. Afghans able to do so have accumulated dollars due to U.S. currency's safety, thereby marginalizing the afghani. The falling dollar, along with legislation mandating that many types of transactions be conducted in afghanis, may bolster the national currency and help to position it as the currency of choice.
  2. Argentina: Argentina's efforts to prevent its currency from strengthening too quickly have helped prevent the dollar from falling against the Argentine peso. The country is now one of a few bargains left for American tourists . That holds true for American businesses considering international expansion, as well. A capital influx from North America would dramatically increase Argentina's chances of full recovery from the economic collapse of 2001.
  3. Belarus: Belarus currently pegs its currency, the ruble, to the Russian ruble. That's set to change in 2008, when the country will sever the tie with Moscow and link the Belarussian ruble to the dollar. The move has more to do with politics than monetary poilcy, but Belarus may be timing its conversion just right. The dollar is near a three-year low against the Russian ruble. If American currency continues to fall, Belarus could essentially buy in to the dollar at a particularly low value, then sit back and wait for appreciation. "Buy low" is just as true for the forex market as it is for the stock market.
  4. Canada: The U.S. dollar has recovered somewhat after bottoming out at less than 94 cents to the Canadian dollar, or "loonie," in November. Nonetheless, the Canadian dollar continues to reap the benefit of attaining some overdue respect. Gone are the days when Robin Williams joked, "Canadian money is also called the loonie. How can you take an economic crisis seriously?" The currency of such a highly developed and stable country, which maintains a GDP in the global top ten despite having a population lesser than Sudan's, may find itself playing a larger role on the world stage, thanks to its recent performance against the U.S. dollar.
  5. China: All things considered, the weak dollar is probably a losing situation for China. It puts increased pressure on the Chinese government to let the artificially weak yuan appreciate in the open market, and it forces the massive number of companies who supply U.S. imports to raise the prices they charge American buyers. But it also gives China more political bargaining power by drawing attention to the so-called "nuclear option" of economic policy. That term (which comes from the Chinese government-controlled media itself) refers to China's ability to dump some of its huge dollar holdings, thereby wrecking the dollar. Most of this threat is just posturing, of course — and even if China were to sell off it's dollars, the damage it caused would dramatically reduce the value of the dollars it hadn't yet sold — but the weak dollar is helping China show the world that it will not be bullied .
  6. India: Cheap dollars and expensive foreign currencies make American outsourcing less attractive, right? Outsourcing is basically a way to import labor (at a lower hourly wage than can be had in the domestic market). But, as with other types of imports, Americans who buy that labor are having to pay more for it than they have in the past. That would seem to harm Indian outsourcing companies, which contribute over a third of the country's service sector output. In fact, the opposite has been true. These companies now have to earn American business, rather than simply rely on the cheapness of their workers. The phenomenon is fostering a culture of innovation like the one that has always helped American businesses achieve success. In addition, the weak dollar is creating buying opportunities for large Indian manufacturers who want to reduce expenses by establishing footprints in the U.S.
  7. Mexico: The dollar has not fallen significantly against the Mexican peso yet, but a drop allow importers to buy American goods on the cheap. The country is the second largest recipient of American exports, so the benefit could be significant. At the same time, Mexican exporters would receive less for the goods they sell to the U.S. and therefore have incentive to find new trade partners. More than 85 percent of Mexican exports currently go to the U.S., representing an unhealthy lack of diversification.
  8. New Eurozone Countries" The major European economies have had more than enough of the weak dollar, but new participants in the Eurozone — those countries that use the Euro as their currency — might be getting in at the right time. It's true that, like the Euro standard bearers including Germany and France, their export sectors could suffer due to the relative expensiveness of their new currency. That problem would probably be short-lived, however, compared to the positive effects that would be realized if the strong Euro starts to replace the weak dollar as a global standard for foreign reserves. The newfound stature would increase demand for these countries' treasury bonds and thereby make government fundraising easier.
  9. Switzerland: Switzerland and its currency, the franc, seem to be enjoying the upside of the falling dollar without suffering the downside. Economists believe "the over-valued [euro] boosts Swiss exports to its most important customers and the weak dollar mitigates the rising cost of raw materials that are traded in the greenback." The current state of the dollar is helping to tame Swiss inflation, as well.
  10. The United States!: Calling the dollar "weak" certainly makes it sound undesirable, but it's not nearly as bad as it may seem. The boost for exporters outweighs the consequences for buyers of imports, and foreign companies that deal in pricier currencies are motivated to build long-term investments here. Most importantly, weakness in a country's currency does not simply translate into weakness in its economy — even though it may seem so these days.

' "We invite the police to sit-in on the exorcism classes so that they can understand the spiritual and theological dimensions of this phenomenon," said Father Barrajón'

By George Thomas

CBN News Senior Reporter

April 21, 2008

ROME, Italy - In this predominantly Catholic nation, the devil is gaining a foothold.

"There is a greater openness towards the devil," says Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist.

In fact, Rome has been called the most satanized city in Italy.

"Satanism and the occult are in fashion," declares Father Pedro Barrajón, a Catholic priest who serves in Rome.

Devil's Diabolical Influence 

There are an estimated 800 satanic cults operating in the country, with more than 600,000 followers. And according to Silvano Lilli, an evangelical pastor in Rome, their numbers are growing.

"The devil's diabolical influence is growing in so many areas of our society," says Lilli."He needs to be driven out."

Leading the battle to drive the devil out of Italy is 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth.

"This is the room where I do my exorcisms," says Father Amorth pointing to a small room.

Devil vs. The Vatican

Not too far from the Vatican, Father Amorth uses the practice of exorcism to drive out the devil from possessed souls.

"If a person is not violent I let them sit in this armchair, and I do the exorcism here. If they are violent I lay them down and if necessary I also tie them down," says Father Amorth.

Amorth is the Vatican's Chief Exorcist and the driving force behind the Catholic Church's renewed campaign against the devil.

He shows us where he works but refuses to let us tape him confronting Satan.

"I also use oil, it's the oil used for mass, the same used in a baptism and I've seen that it works," exclaims Father Amorth.

Exorcism 101

Amorth says "exorcism is God's true miracle" to confronting the devil and his handmaidens.

"Medicine and science have cases they can't solve but which are instead solved by exorcism," he added.

The devil's growing influence has even gotten the attention of the Vatican. Last year it started offering courses to its bishops on exorcisms.

Pedro Barrajón, a professor of theology, is teaching some of the exorcism classes.

"Our bishops need to know how to confront the devil," says professor Barrajón. "They need to know how an exorcism is conducted and how to help set people free from the influence of the devil."

Beasts of Satan

Italians got a taste of the devil's influence a couple of years ago when two teenagers were stabbed, bludgeoned, and buried alive here in the woods northwest Milan.

Members of a heavy metal band named the Beasts of Satan were convicted in the double murder. One of the victims was allegedly killed because she resembled the Virgin Mary.

"Despite the fact that the presence of the satanic world is fairly widespread we only knew of rituals where animals were slaughtered," said Enzo Molinaro, a detective with the Italian police. "As to rituals involving human sacrifice this was the first case."

Forsaking Priests for Magicians

Since then, Italian authorities have been grappling with a string of murders linked to devil worship. The Vatican now has priests working alongside law enforcement officers to tackle a wave of satanic crimes.

"We invite the police to sit-in on the exorcism classes so that they can understand the spiritual and theological dimensions of this phenomenon," said Barrajón, who is also an ordained Catholic bishop.

Many Italians are forsaking priests for magicians, fortunetellers and faith healers. It's A multi-billion dollar industry that employs thousands of practitioners like Sensitive Mariano.

Sensitive Mariano, who's real name is Salvatore, claims he received the powers of healing and prophecy as a child.

Today he performs an exorcism on Esperanza, a troubled housewife whose life was falling apart until she saw Mariano on TV.

"In the name of Saint Benedict, any form of evil should leave the mind of this woman," exclaims Mariano as he places a crucifix over Esperanza's forehead. Preserve Esperanza! Come out from this woman."

Freelancers Not Welcome

But the Catholic Church insists that such freelancers are not welcome.

"They are crooks; they are not exorcists," claims Father Amorth. "It's possible to pray to God to free a person - but proclaiming themselves exorcists, they are cheating people."

But Marco Dimiti says that the Catholic Church's portrayal of Satan is part of the problem.

To many Italians, Dimitri represents the devil. He heads the Children of Satan, a group that reportedly has more than one-thousand members.

"We don't have a cult of devil worship, that would be absurd because the cult of the devil would be the cult of evil - but for us, good and evil are subjective to each individual," says Dimitri.

In 1996, Dimitri was accused of raping a 2-year old boy and a teenage girl in satanic rituals. He was jailed for 14 months before being exonerated by the Italian courts.

"True Satanism puts man at the center of the universe - and is a noble expression," Dimitri said. "I want to say to Father Amorth what I say to all exorcists. Leave people in peace!"

Father Amorth is a busy man these days. He says that every week he sees up to fifty people who claim to be possessed by the devil.

"I see a very strong presence of the devil because men are following him," Father Amort said.

Can You Tell the Real Thing?

He has helped train some 300 priests in exorcism. The key says Father Barrajón is to train the priests how to differentiate between psychiatric problems and satanic possession.

"This is the key but I can tell you that those who perform exorcisms, they just have this sense, they just know," he said. "Sometimes they look for signs like if the person is afraid of the cross or baptismal water or pictures of Christ. They shake a lot or start screaming and they may poses extraordinary strength. The priests know what to look for."

Barrajón encourages Italians to pray more often, attend church and be aware of an enemy that is very real.

"The actions of the devil are not just limited to here in Italy- his evil spirit is roaming the earth, tempting people," he said. "We are trying to educate the society and families about the dangers of his influence."

An interview with Reverend David Harris, member of the Priesthood of Mendes and host of Satanism Today

From Inhotep.no [excerpts]:

For those unfamiliar, describe the history of the Church Of Satan and how and when it did form?

"The Church Of Satan was formed in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey on the 30th Of April, the date that has become known as Walpurgisnacht. It stands in any direct opposition to any and all spiritual doctrines. The word Satan by itself, when translated from the original Hebrew, means the adversary. That's exactly what we are. We are the adversary to any and all spiritual religions."

Please describe what the definition of a "true" Satanist is compared to the stereotypical devil worshiper, what are the Church's main philosophies?

"The Church Of Satan believes you need to embrace this life as the only life there is because once you are dead, you're dead. That being said, it would be…, it would say to reason that a good Satanist lives their life to the fullest, indulges in which they find pleasurable, avoid that which brings discomfort and does everything they can to be the most successful human being they can be upon themselves. Now that stands in pretty much direct opposition to your standard devil worshipper who takes the Christian concept of Satan basically and practices inverse Christianity: they take the entire Christian model and just say we're gonna worship "the bad guy" and follow that deity. In real Satanism there is no deity except yourself, you are your own god. We don't put our believes in anything that is not of this world, because there is nothing that is not of this world, this is the only world."

[ ... ]

What are the Church Of Satan's view on the teachings of others such as Aleister Crowley, the Necronomicon?

"Crowley himself was a decent poet, and probably a better mountain climber, but as an occult practitioner, he was severely lacking. One need only see that Crowley died destitute and addicted to drugs to see that. Those that follow Crowley's "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of law" philosophy fail to see that indulgence must be tempered with some intelligence, lest they become consumed by their desires, and their indulgences become compulsions.
As far as The Necronomicon goes, most people don't realize that there was never any ancient book of the dead, and that the book you commonly see on the shelves of occultniks everywhere was written by H.P Lovecraft as a prop for his fictional writings. There is a fantastic essay on this very subject on www.churchofsatan.com, written by our High Priest, Peter H. Gilmore."

Please describe the meaning and definition behind the rituals of Satanism?

"Well, all religions have rituals, and the Church of Satan is no different. When a Satanist steps into the ritual chamber, he or she does so with a very focused and intended purpose. The Satanist uses ritual to purge themselves of any excess negative emotion that may be keeping them from achieving an intended goal. It's very much a dogmatic psychodrama, and acts as a very powerful catharsis. Now, in addition to that, there are some within the Church of Satan (and I certainly count myself among them) that believe that such a powerful focusing of one's energy can have some real-world effect. However, we claim nothing is certain, save for the therapeutic value of ritual."

EU proposes Gandhian non-violence to promote human rights

From Hindustan Times :

The European Parliament (EP) in its annual report on human rights in the world has said it considers "Gandhian non-violence to be the most appropriate means of ensuring that fundamental human rights are enjoyed, upheld, promoted and respected".

The report on the status of human rights in 2007 proposed that promotion of non-violence "should constitute a priority objective in EU human rights and democracy policy", reported EuAsiaNews.

With a view to giving this idea a central political role, the EP report called for a European conference on non-violence to be convened in 2009 and that 2010 be designated the European Year of Non-Violence.

It called on EU member states to endeavour within the UN set-up to ensure that 2010-2020 is proclaimed the Decade of Non-Violence.

The EP's Foreign Affairs Committee adopted the draft report Wednesday and it will be voted on by the EP's plenary session on May 8.

Italian MP Marco Cappato who authored the report said: "This (Gandhian non-violence) concept does not only mean non-violence but it's something active like not collaborating with an authoritarian regime, a hunger strike or the sabotage of violent acts against the population."

The report criticised the human rights situation in China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

The EP expressed "its disquiet at the serious human rights violations in China and stresses that despite promises made by the regime with a view to the forthcoming Olympic Games, the situation on the ground regarding human rights has not improved".

The report noted the worsening human rights situation in Pakistan throughout 2007, in particular the threats to the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media.

An attempt by British EP member of Pakistani origin, Sajjad Karim, to include a reference to Kashmir in the report was rejected.

The report also condemned the ongoing violations of human rights and democracy by the military junta in Myanmar.

The choice of non-violence: Our strategy for Palestine

By Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
Friday, 04.25.2008
 
Sixty years after the Naqba, the catastrophe, Palestinians are still without a state. They are living under occupation, many are in refugee  camps, others are scattered around the world, and a part of the  Palestinian people are no more than second class citizens in Israel itself.
 
The Palestinian struggle to achieve freedom and independence is therefore firstly a struggle to exist as a people. In this endeavour,  resistance is essential. Resistance through memory, resistance through unwavering demands for their rights, resistance against open or covert attempts to displace them and take their land from them.

But what sort of resistance?

Armed resistance to occupation is legitimate and legal under international law, under the strict condition that it does not target civilians. But as someone who truly believes in the sanctity of human  life, and as a doctor who always puts human life first, I have an inherent belief that non-violence is a fundamental philosophical choice.

Besides this, in a more practical way, I think that armed resistance is a narrow and elitist approach, involving only a select few and  leaving the rest of the people out. And it is based on the assumption that armed force is the only force that exists in the world.

This is wrong. The decolonization struggle in India and the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa clearly proved that non-violence is a force too, and a much more powerful one. When a whole people moves, it is an irresistible force.

And this is our choice for Palestine.

I lead the Palestinian National Initiative (Al Mubadara), a political party and social movement dedicated to involving people — all people — in a mass, popular, non-violent resistance movement to obtain our  rights as Palestinians.

This choice may seem utopian after sixty years of conflict and so much violence and bloodshed. But this is only an appearance, because the  media only reports on acts of violence, creating the misleading  impression that violence prevails. This is exacerbated by the dominant  Israeli narrative which consistently portrays Palestinians as aggressors and not as a people under occupation struggling for freedom, justice and independence.

In truth, Palestinians are masters of non-violence. They have been resisting the all-pervasive violence of a forty-one year old military occupation every day since it began. Forty-one years of resilience, of silent and stubborn efforts to live a normal life, to work, to raise  children, to love and to exist, simply to exist, despite the hundreds of checkpoints, the incursions, the arrests, the killings, the house demolitions, the land dispossession, the discriminatory laws, the arbitrary and unjust actions of the Israeli military.

In such a situation building a school, choosing to become a doctor, cultivating your ancestral olive grove are all acts of resistance.

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Noam Chomsky: 'The installation of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is, virtually, a declaration of war'

 
Simply imagine how the US would react if Russia or China or Iran or in fact any foreign power dared even to think about placing a missile defense system at or near the borders of the US, let alone carrying out such plans. In these unimaginable circumstancse, a violent US reaction would be not only almost certain but also understandable. for reasons that are simple and clear.

It is well known on all sides that missile defense is a first strike weapon. Respected US military analysts describe missile defense as "not simply a shield but an enabler of U.S. action." It "will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military power abroad." "By insulating the homeland from reprisal, [missile defense] will underwrite the capacity and willingness of the United States to `shape' the environment elsewhere." "Missile defense isn't really meant to protect America. It's a tool for global dominance." "Missile defense is about preserving America's ability to wield power abroad. It's not about defense. It's about offense. And that's exactly why we need it." All quotes, from respected liberal and mainstream sources -- who favor developing the system and placing it at the remote limits of US global dominance.

The logic is simple, and well understood. A functioning missile defense system informs potential targets that "we will attack you as we please, and you will not be able to retaliate, so you cannot deter us." The system is being marketed to Europeans as a defense against Iranian missiles. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, the chances of its using them to attack Europe are lower than the chances of Europe being hit by an asteroid, so if defense is the reason, Czech Republic should be installing a system to defend the country from asteroids. If Iran were to indicate even the slightest attention of such a move, the country would be vaporized. The system is indeed aimed at Iran, but as a first strike weapon. It is a component of the escalating US threats to attack Iran, threats that are in themselves a serious violation of the UN Charter, though admittedly this issue does not arise in outlaw states.

When Gorbachev agreed to allow a unified Germany to join a hostile military alliance, he was accepting a very severe threat to Russian security, for reasons too familiar to review. In return, the US government made a firm pledge not to expand NATO to the East. The pledge was violated a few years later, arousing little comment in the West, but raising the threat of military confrontation. So-called "missile defense" ratchets the threat of war a few notches higher. The "defense" it provides is to increase the threat of aggression in the Middle East, with incalculable consequences, and the threat of terminal nuclear war.

Over half a century ago, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued an extraordinary appeal to the people of the world, warning them that they face a choice that is "stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?" Accepting a so-called "missile defense system" makes that choice, in favor of an end to the human race, perhaps in the not-too-distant future.

From a letter to Jan Tamáš
Noam Chomsky

'The debate over the historical record of communism simmers on in the European Union'

 
BRUSSELS -- Can communism be compared to Nazism? Does communism's record deserve as unequivocal a condemnation as that of Nazism? And should communism's modern-day adherents and apologists be rejected as firmly by Europe's political mainstream as those of Nazism?

The debate over the historical record of communism simmers on in the European Union.

Forced onto the bloc's agenda by its new ex-communist member states, the issue was most recently broached at a European Parliament debate in Strasbourg on April 21.

Reflecting deep-seated divisions among member states and political camps, the parliament ultimately failed to agree on a common declaration. Some argued that charging communism -- at least, in its Stalinist incarnation -- with crimes against humanity would provide long-overdue historical justice. Others, however, saw it as an attempt to rewrite history for populist gain.

These questions go to the heart of the divisions which still linger in Europe between the EU's old and new member states. Most of the "old" countries tend to see no need for a new historical reckoning. The Soviet Union is seen as an ally in defeating Nazi Germany, and communist parties still exist.

The new member states, however, tend to view the issue as a critical part of reuniting the continent. Throughout the Soviet bloc, communist oppression cost the lives of millions of people, deprived the rest of freedom, and placed their countries behind the Iron Curtain for half a century.

This line of argument also has more than a whiff of antagonism toward Russia, whose outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, has called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century."

'Difficult Historical Questions'

For those seeking to condemn communism for crimes against humanity, it's been an uphill battle. The strongest resistance comes from the EU's political left. Jan Marinus Wiersma, a Dutch socialist and a leading figure in the EU's socialist group, attacked what he described as "party-political interpretations of history."

"All too often, differing interpretations can lead to different visions, different ways of understanding things, and sometimes xenophobia [and nationalism]," he said. "This is extraordinarily dangerous in a Europe which is characterized by diversity, that includes ethnic diversity. There are no simple answers to difficult historical questions. Let's not overlook this, because quite often, people have a populist interpretation of history."

Wiersma attacked attempts at drawing "facile or glib comparisons" between totalitarian regimes -- without once, however, identifying either by name. He said such debates have no place on the EU's agenda.

The leader of the smaller European United Left, French politician Francis Wurtz, was more outspoken. He rejected the idea of a "Nuremberg of ideologies" and said putting Soviet-era crimes on a par with those of Nazism "relativizes" the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. Even if lawmakers could find a common stance on the issue, the best the body could do formally is pass a moral judgment on communism. The real powers on such matters lie with the member states.

Criminal Offense

In April 2007, EU justice ministers passed a law making it a criminal offense to publicly condone, deny, or trivialize "genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes" -- provided such crimes were recognized as such by the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1945 or the statute of the International  Criminal Court of 2002. Neither makes any reference to communist crimes. The EU's executive, the European Commission, has been instructed to study whether the need exists to augment the list of crimes.

On April 21, Vice President Jacques Barrot told the parliament additional measures are for individual member states to decide.

"During the hearing, a group of participants suggested in a document a great number of measures," Barrot said. "The [European] Commission has noted this call for a greater European involvement, but it must be stressed that each member state itself must find its own way of addressing this issue. The European Union cannot substitute itself for these national processes. The European Union does not have much competence to act in this area."

The EU's role, Barrot says, should be restricted to "facilitating dialogue and the exchange of views."

In his two statements, Barrot never once invoked either Nazism or communism by name.

During the debate, deputies from Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe angrily recounted atrocities from their countries' communist pasts. They argued that the mass executions of political opponents and deportations of civilians that took place under the Soviet yoke must be recognized as an integral part of Europe's troubled history.

'Direct Threat'

Estonia's Tunne Kelam, a conservative deputy, spoke for most when he argued for a "moral and political assessment" of the legacy of communist regimes equivalent to the judgement passed on that of Nazism.

"I am a bit disappointed with the commission's statement, because [its] main theme is that the assessment of communist totalitarianism will be an internal affair of every relevant country," he said. "I'm afraid that's going to deepen [a feeling of] double standards, because clearly, fascism and Nazism are not considered to be an 'internal' matter [for] any of the EU member states. Every emergence of neo-Nazism, or racism, is viewed as a direct threat to the common values of Europe."

Communism, Kelam noted, is by implication not seen as a threat to Europe. Its victims therefore, remain "second- or third-class victims," he said.

The new member states have received a generally sympathetic hearing among the EU's political right.

'Never before in her professional experience had she received a drug ad from a union'

First, the alarming statistics presented in the letter:

  • 1 in 3 adults has some form of CVD (cardiovascular disease)
  • About every 26 seconds, an American will suffer a coronary event
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States
  • Every 45 seconds, someone will suffer a stroke.

Then, the endorsement: "Lipitor is available to our members through their prescription plan. IAEP leadership stands behind LIPITOR as the lipid-lowering agent of choice when it is prescribed by a physician. [my emphasis] This confidence in LIPITOR is based on its proven efficacy and is supported by its vast clinical experience of more than 15 years ..."

The letter went on, at length, to praise Lipitor's benefits and to downplay the drug's risks. In clinical trials, the letter states, "The most common adverse events were constipation, flatulence, dyspepsia and abdominal pain." But while other risks may not be as "common," they are certainly worth mentioning. They include memory loss, which can look like Alzheimer's, and severe muscle pain.

A few days ago, Fernandez received a second, identical letter. Never before in her professional experience had she received a drug ad from a union.

"I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen labor endorse a drug product," she told me. "This is incredible." Unfortunately, Fernandez adds, this is not the first time that she has seen a drug company use a progressive organization to promote its product.

In this case, the Lipitor letter is signed by "Matthew Levy," the director of IAEP. "But this is clearly a joint production between the drug company and the union," Fernandez notes. "Much of the letter is written in medical language -- looks like it is written by Pfizer folks. And at the bottom of the second page of the letter there is a Pfizer copyright: '2007 Pfizer Inc. All rights reserved. Filed in USA/December 2007.' Yet it is written on the IAEP/SEIU letterhead."

~ more... ~

 

A Bad Week for Corporate Spies

If Cara Schaffer contacts you, be wary. Take emails and online comments from "activist2008" and "stopcorporategreed" with a grain of salt. Londoners, be on the lookout for Toby Kendall, a.k.a. "Ken Tobias." And activists everywhere should think twice before putting documents in the recycling or trash bins.

Over the past week, reporters and activists outed three different corporate spying operations. As John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote in their 1995 book "Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!": "Movements for social and political reform have often become targets of surveillance. ... The public relations industry has developed a lucrative side business scrutinizing the thoughts and actions of citizen activists, using paid spies who are often recruited from government, military or private security backgrounds."

Last week's revelations show that these underhanded tactics are very much in use today. And they don't just impact the groups being infiltrated. By privileging corporate interests, effectively giving them the first and last word on an issue, they distort vital public debates.

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Daughter of Burger King VP says dad wrote anti-coalition postings

As the Coalition of Immokalee Workers prepares to deliver more than 60,000 petitions to Burger King headquarters in Miami today, the daughter of Burger King's vice-president Stephen Grover confirmed her father is responsible for online postings vilifying the coalition.

The Immokalee-based group is asking Burger King to improve tomato harvesters' working conditions and pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes, which could add about $20 to a daily wage of $50, workers say.

McDonald's and Yum! Brands, the world's biggest fast-food chain and restaurant company, respectively, have agreed to the raise. Yum! signed on in 2005; McDonald's in 2007. So far, Burger King has refused, while publicly saying it wants to work with the coalition to improve labor conditions.

Yet often during the past year, when articles or videos about the coalition were posted on YouTube and various Internet news sites, someone using the online names activist2008 or surfxaholic36 would attach comments coalition member Greg Asbed has called "libelous."

This one, from surfxaholic36, is representative: "The CIW is an attack organization lining the leaders pockets ... They make up issues and collect money from dupes that believe their story. To (sic) bad the people protesting don't have a clue regarding the facts. A bunch of fools!"...

'It’s not every day that one hears a pastor exhorting his congregation to sing “God Damn America” '

From: When is a Jeremiah not a Jeremiah? by Andrew R. Murphy

When attempting to sort through the controversy over Wright's remarks, there seems little reason to linger over the comments about September 11, which do not differ greatly from those offered by a noted white pastor, Jerry Falwell. Falwell, as many will recall, laid the attacks at the feet of those who have pursued a secular public square in the United States.

The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked….[T]he pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

For both Wright and Falwell, the attacks of September 11 can be traced to some basic consequences of something the United States, as a political entity, did. For Falwell it was secularizing the public square and legalizing abortion. For Wright, it was supporting state terrorism and using atomic weapons. To be sure, Falwell was widely criticized for his remarks, and issued a rather tepid apology. But he certainly was not repudiated or renounced by leading Republicans. To the contrary, John McCain practically fell over himself this year seeking a reconciliation with Falwell, whom he had labeled as an agent of "intolerance" during the 2000 primary campaign. (McCain claimed that his earlier comments had been made "in haste.")

Far more provocative and interesting, to be sure, were Wright's suggestion that his congregation should not sing "God Bless America":

The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people…God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

 

'Disco, the Brady Bunch, the bumbling portrait of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live, the exploding Ford Pinto, Jimmy Carter's "killer rabbit" '

From: Why It's Time to Rethink the 70s by Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer

Another reason for the scholarly bias against the 1970s concerns the peculiar focus of political historians. Scholars still tend to focus on presidents, their top advisers, and the exercise of executive power. As a result, the 1960s--a period that features the Camelot of John F. Kennedy and the tragedy of Lyndon Johnson--or the "Reagan Revolution" of the 1980s attracted more interest than a decade filled with corrupt or lackluster presidencies. Bob Dole, the long-time Senate Republican Leader and 1996 presidential nominee neatly, summarized this view when he described Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon respectively as "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and just Evil." While recent scholarship is clarifying the complexity and the pivotal nature of those presidencies, the initial impressions proved very influential.

The 1970s also flew under the radar because the decade's key developments challenged the way that many left-leaning historians conceived of conservatism. Coming from political perspectives unsympathetic to conservatism, most historians depicted the movement either as a product of manipulative elites who capitalized on anger about race and taxes, or as the product of a charismatic leader such as Ronald Reagan who persuaded voters to join a cause that might not even serve their interests. But focusing on the 1970s reveals a very different picture, one that depicts conservatism as the product of a true movement mobilization. Once dismissed as an extremist ideology, the New Right emerged in the 1970s as a potent political movement; it built a formidable organizational infrastructure (foundations, political action committees, radio and television shows, think tanks), pioneered new tactics (direct mail and a host of innovative volunteer operations), and rewrote the agenda of national politics.

Over the past few years, however, many of these barriers have fallen; a wide variety of historians--scholars of politics, religion, popular culture, foreign policy, race relations, and the environment--are giving the 1970s energetic attention. Why has interest suddenly emerged? First and foremost, the field has witnessed an important generational change. The current young scholars, many of them featured in our book, came of age during the 1980s. They were not rooted in the lingering debates of the 1960s and more willing to look closely and seriously at the origins of conservatism. Because these scholars were not products of the Baby Boom, they were also willing to de-center the 1960s--to see recent United States history as something other than the replaying of that fabled decade.

That generational shift also fed a hunger for new, unexamined material and the 1970s offered the perfect venue for such ambitions. Here was a decade when big things clearly happened, with untapped archival material beginning to emerge, but one that remained wide open, a time and place where scholars had not focused their attention.

Finally, the effort to unravel contemporary conflicts--to understand the contested political and cultural terrain of the United States in the early twenty-first century--has nourished new interest in the 1970s. Just as historians of the civil rights era re-examined the legacies of slavery and segregation, today's scholars hope to solve the puzzles they find in the headlines by probing their origins. The seeming incoherence of our era--defined at once by the considerable achievements of conservatism in shaping American politics, diplomacy, and social life and the tenacity of liberal policies, institutions, and cultural attitudes--repeatedly drove scholars back to the seminal developments of the 1970s.

 

' In other words, the Agency concealed material evidence in the murder of a sitting president for 22 years and then destroyed it'

 
A small group of senior CIA officers may have been running an authorized counterintelligence operation involving Lee Harvey Oswald six weeks before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

That's the controversial but conditional conclusion I reached while writing the biography of CIA spymaster Winston Scott, the agency's top man in Mexico for more than a decade. Our Man in Mexico, argues that if there was an Oswald operation, Scott, a brash and brilliant spy, was not a participant. The CIA has never acknowledged the existence of such an operation, if there was one. Many historians will deny it. But the new JFK paper trail is clear: some of Scott's CIA associates knew much more than they ever disclosed about the man who apparently went on to kill President Kennedy in Dallas.

Newly declassified records and interviews with retired CIA officials illuminate the JFK story as it has never been seen before: through the eyes of Win Scott, long a shadowy figure in the history of the agency who was renowned for the brilliance and diligence of his espionage. In 1963, Scott was serving as the chief of the CIA's station in Mexico City. It was here his path intersected with Oswald's.

In the summer of 1963, Oswald, a 23-year old ex-Marine with a Russian wife, leftist political views and a penchant for scheming, was living in New Orleans. In the course of the next 100 days of his life, he would come in contact with four CIA intelligence gathering programs. Two of the programs that Oswald encountered were run by Scott, who operated out of an office on the top floor of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The other two were run by his colleague David Atlee Phillips, a highly regarded counterintelligence officer also stationed in Mexico City. Scott had a front row seat on the events that would culminate in the Dallas tragedy.

Historians Against the War: Georgia Conference (April 2008)

Historians Against the War (HAW) held its second national conference, titled "War and Its Discontents: Understanding Iraq and the U.S. Empire," at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta, April 11-13, 2008. The conference was co-sponsored by the Peace History Society.

Forty-six different colleges and universities and several high schools from all over the country were represented among the panelists, who also included a number of non-academic activists. The panels covered a variety of topics ranging from the history of the Middle East, to resistance in the military, to discussions of teaching.

[ ... ]

(Video and audio files of both the plenary sessions are available on the conference website. The website also has links to a number of the papers delivered at other sessions.)

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Belarusian Grads Being Sent to Work in Chernobyl Zone Against Their Will

MINSK, Belarus —  Kasya Markouskaya has just been told that when she graduates this spring with a journalism degree she'll be sent to work for two years in a town that was badly contaminated when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986.

Several thousand Belarusian university graduates are being sent against their will to areas hit by radiation 22 years ago. Some, including Markouskaya, are protesting the work assignments Saturday as part of an opposition march held annually on the anniversary of the explosion.

They are taking a risk in challenging President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed Europe's last dictator for his refusal to tolerate any dissent in the former Soviet republic.

His government has declared these regions no longer hazardous. Radiation levels have declined substantially in most areas near Chernobyl, but scientists disagree on the level of risk.

[ ... ]

Belarus suffered the most from the explosion of the Chernobyl reactor in neighboring Ukraine. Radiation was spewed over 23 percent of Belarusian territory, where 1.5 million to 2 million of the nation's 10 million people now live.

Many people from these areas moved away; Lukashenko now wants to repopulate them so agriculture and industry can be revived.

Only towns within 18 miles of the reactor are officially still considered unsafe. Critics say this has allowed the government to reduce spending on cleaning up the damage.

Buda-Koshelevo is among more than 1,000 cities and towns that the government has removed from the danger list. Doctors and environmentalists, however, say radiation dangers remain high.

"Living in the contaminated areas is linked to a huge health risk," said Professor Ivan Nikitchenko, a member of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and a leader of an anti-nuclear organization.

Statistics about illness in the contaminated areas have been classified by the government.

But doctors are in high demand. The head of a Buda-Koshelyovo clinic, Alexander Khvesko, said 10 doctors were sent last year after completing their studies and 30 more are expected this year.

Some of the young professionals sent to contaminated regions last year have already fled.

~ full article ~

 

Doomed Chernobyl Reactor to Be Buried in Giant Steel Coffin

KIEV, Ukraine —  Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, work is under way on a colossal new shelter to cover the ruins and deadly radioactive contents of the exploded Soviet-era power plant.

For years, the original iron and concrete shelter that was hastily constructed over the reactor has been leaking radiation, cracking and threatening to collapse. The new one, an arch of steel, would be big enough to contain the Statue of Liberty.

Once completed, Chernobyl will be safe, said Vince Novak, nuclear safety director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development which manages the $505 million project.

The new shelter is part of a broader $1.4 billion effort financed by international donors that began in 1997 and includes shoring up the current shelter, monitoring radiation and training experts.

The explosion at reactor No. 4 on April 26, 1986 was the world's worst nuclear accident, spewing radiation over a large swath of the former Soviet Union and much of northern Europe. It directly contaminated an area roughly half the size of Italy, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

In the two months after the disaster, 31 people died of radioactivity, but the final toll is still debated. The U.N. health agency estimates that about 9,300 will eventually die from cancers caused by Chernobyl's radiation. Groups such as Greenpeace insist the toll could be 10 times higher.

The old shelter, called a "sarcophagus," was built in just six months. But intense radiation has weakened it, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and rain and snow are seeping through cracks.

Officials say a tornado or earthquake could bring down the shelter, releasing clouds of poisonous dust.

~ read on... ~

 

The last near extinction of the human race

Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.
 
The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

"This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," said Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence.

"Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Wells is director of the Genographic Project, launched in 2005 to study anthropology using genetics. The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Studies using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through mothers, have traced modern humans to a single "mitochondrial Eve," who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago...

~ more... ~

source: history news network http://hnn.us/

 

How Hitler invaded the marketing world

A long-held taboo on using Nazi imagery to sell products appears to be weakening. Is it just ad-land's love of shock value — or something bigger?

In a South Korean television commercial, a young woman in a military trenchcoat holds a soldier's cap bearing a motif of what looks like an eagle gripping a swastika. The voiceover says: "Even Hitler could not take over the East and West at the same time." The cosmetics manufacturer Coreana was later forced to withdraw this advertisement for its skin serum after complaints from the Israeli embassy in Seoul.

It was not an isolated case. Only last month, a Ukrainian energy company was forced to apologise after it launched a billboard campaign using the image of Adolf Hitler to threaten customers who fail to pay their gas bills on time. Earlier this year, a hotel in Belgrade, Serbia, was slammed by the Anti-Defamation League after featuring an Adolf Hitler-themed suite, which had apparently proved a popular attraction.

Then there was the restaurant in Mumbai, named Hitler's Cross, which in 2006 caused fury among the Jewish community in India. And last year, in New Zealand, the Hell Pizza chain was forced to take down a billboard featuring Hitler delivering a sieg-heil salute while holding a slice of pizza, after complaints from the Jewish community.

The use of Hitler's image to sell goods and services has long been taboo, particularly in Europe. But the growing spate of examples of the Nazi dictator being used in advertising and marketing — the latest, reported in the JC last week, being a German agency's advert for Hut Weber hats — suggests that Nazis are no longer off-limits.
 
 

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image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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