Archive for January, 2007

January 27th, 2007

Bush declares open season on Iranians in Iraq

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

It seems clearly a provocation, following on the kidnapping of six Iranians last week in Ibril.

Maybe it’s prompted by the new general in charge on the ground. Maybe it’s his idea (he’s fairly well respected, it seems).  But probly not.

Bush Defends Moving Against Iranians in Iraq 

January 27, 2007

By Mark Mazzetti and David S. Cloud

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — President Bush and his senior aides on Friday justified American actions against Iranian operatives inside Iraq as necessary to protect American troops and Iraqis, and said they would continue as long as Tehran kept up what they called its support for Shiites involved in sectarian attacks.

“If somebody is trying to harm our troops and stop them from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, we will stop them,” President Bush told reporters at the White House.

President Bush decided several months ago to allow American troops to make targets of select Iranian operatives inside Iraq whom military officials have accused of helping militants build sophisticated and powerful roadside bombs. He and other officials faced repeated questioning about the policy, which was disclosed in recent weeks, after The Washington Post published articles on Friday exploring Iran’s regional influence and the administration’s approaches to containing it.

Several administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said that President Bush had given the military no new authorities to carry out the offensive, and that the Pentagon had long had permission to capture or kill foreign operatives thought to be aiding attacks against American troops.

Officials said there was no blanket authority to take action against Iranian agents, only Iranian agents thought to be directly involved in planning or carrying out attacks against American and allied forces. That is a different standard than applied to foreign fighters of Al Qaeda in Iraq, they said.

“If you are on the wire diagram as an Al Qaeda operative, you can be targeted just for reading the newspaper in your living room. These guys are not in that position,” said one senior Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said there was debate within the administration about whether to become even more aggressive toward Iranians in Iraq. Already, the arrests of Iranians have caused tensions between American and Iraqi officials, as well as heightening the strains between Tehran and Washington. Meanwhile, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that the administration might even strike militarily into Iranian territory just as Congress considers resolutions denouncing Mr. Bush’s war strategy for Iraq.

“You have to balance it,” this official said. “While you want to take care of the situation, you don’t want to cause an international incident where you provoke Iran.”

The White House has not issued a presidential finding authorizing covert action against Iranians inside of Iraq or authorized any military actions inside Iran, officials said.

President Bush kicked off a campaign of escalated rhetoric against Iran during a televised address to the nation on Jan. 10. For months, officials from across the Bush administration have accused Iran of supplying Shiite militias with high-tech explosives and training them to carry out attacks with roadside bombs.

Administration officials have thus far provided little detailed public evidence to support these claims. Officials said that Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador in Baghdad, is planning a news conference for Wednesday during which he will present a dossier of Iran’s efforts to fuel sectarian violence in Iraq.

Part of Mr. Khalilzad’s presentation, officials said, will be to show evidence found during a December raid on a compound of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri.

The officials said that among the evidence that would be presented were photographs, documents and a color-coded wall map that were seized in the raid detailing which Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad would be targets for attack.

Some leading Democrats, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV, have criticized the Bush administration for building a case against Iran when American intelligence agencies still have a murky understanding of Iran’s intentions in the Middle East.

Last week, Mr. Rockefeller said that the White House campaign was unnervingly similar to Bush administration rhetoric in the months before the Iraq war.

Some Middle East specialists point out that an effort to move against Iranian agents could backfire and prompt Iran to strike back against America troops.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road inside Iraq because it puts U.S. forces at risk and because Ahmadinejad will be more confrontational,” said Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, referring to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Military commanders in Baghdad say they have documented a rise in the number of sophisticated roadside bombs using “shaped charges” — a type of weapon that officials believe are imported from Iran. Military statistics show that the number of coalition troops killed by these weapons jumped dramatically during the last four months of 2006.

It was late last year, officials in Washington said, that Mr. Bush signed off on a more aggressive military offensive inside Iraq to counter Iranian influence. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed the policy change in an interview on Jan. 12. An article in The Washington Post on Friday reported new details about how the policy was being carried out, including some that the administration said were inaccurate, without elaborating.

One person briefed on the Bush administration strategy said officials in Washington believed that by giving assistance to radical Shiite militants in organizations like the Mahdi Army, Iran was hoping to split off hard-line elements within these organizations and make them more beholden to Tehran.

By moving against Iranians inside Iraq, the Bush administration hopes it can persuade them to stop their efforts to create rifts among Shiites and to provide aid in attacks against American troops, the person said, requesting anonymity because the briefing he had received was not intended to be made public.

“The Iranian government needs to know that whether it’s the Quds Force or any other kind of Iranian organization, we are not going to tolerate American soldiers being targeted in that fashion,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a top State Department official. He was referring to a section of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

January 27th, 2007

Gates goes Anti-Rummy at press conference

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

Great story in L.A. Times about Gates’s first press conference as Secretary of State.

Defense chief shows he’s no Rumsfeld

By Julian E. Barnes , Times Staff Writer
January 27, 2007

If there was any question that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would go to almost any length to demonstrate he was the anti-Rumsfeld, he dispelled it Friday.

In his first-ever Pentagon news conference, Gates’ manner and method could not have been more different than those of his controversial predecessor — starting with the room.

Donald H. Rumsfeld made the Pentagon briefing room so much his own, Gates has evidently decided he has no intention of using it. Instead, Gates met the media in his private dining room, seating reporters and himself around a large conference table.

And the answers he offered could not have been more dissimilar to Rumsfeld’s.

Stylistically, Gates refrained from scoffing at reporters, from restating their questions on more favorable terms and from challenging the premises of inquiries. He avoided any metaphysical lectures or expositions on the electricity supply of North Korea. Instead, he took the questions as they came, working his way through 32 of them, quickly and concisely.

Substantively, there were some sharp differences. Indeed, Gates came close to blaming Rumsfeld for many of the problems in Iraq.

The new Defense chief offered strong words of support for the nomination of Gen. George W. Casey Jr. to become the next Army chief of staff and said Casey was not to blame for the problems of Iraq. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has criticized Casey’s leadership of the war and said he would vote against the general’s nomination.

Asked if commanders should be held accountable for Iraq, Gates seemed — almost — to throw Rumsfeld under the bus.

“I think that one has to look at this in the context of the decisions made by the civilian superiors of officers and how the battlefield they face was shaped by those decisions,” Gates said.

Rumsfeld always insisted in his news conferences that his commanders were free to ask for more forces. But military planners had said privately that Rumsfeld created an atmosphere where such requests were unwelcome. On Friday, Gates took pains to demonstrate that he was listening to his military commanders. Although he would not say whether he might send more than 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, he said military commanders could ask for more.

“What we have done, I hope, is create an environment in which the commanders feel open to requesting what they think they need,” Gates said.

During a Senate hearing this week, a slight strategy difference seemed to emerge between Gates and the man he recommended to become the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus. Gates said on Jan. 12 that some of the additional forces on their way to Baghdad might end up not being needed. But Petraeus said Tuesday that he would not know if the strategy was working until all the forces were in place.

Gates did not completely back off Friday but stated emphatically that Petraeus would get the troops he wanted, and said the department was looking to get them to Baghdad sooner than spring. “As long as he feels he needs them,” Gates said, “they’re all going to flow.”

Members of Congress often accused Rumsfeld of painting an overly rosy picture of the situation in Iraq. Here again, Gates pledged to be a different kind of defense secretary.

“My hope is to establish a record with the Hill going forward, regardless of what may have been the case in the past, where we have a reputation for candor and for saying — calling things exactly as they are, for good or for bad,” Gates said.

January 26th, 2007

Palestinian initiative at Davos squashed

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

Boycott of Israel Call Creates Fracas at Davos Forum

January 27, 2006, Friday

A magazine article calling on nations to boycott Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians has provoked a tempest at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting here, prompting the organizers to pull the magazines from the forum’s shelves here and issue an apology. The article, which appeared in Global …

January 26th, 2007

Chinese women murdered to become Ghost Brides

Posted in Death by ed

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police have arrested three men for killing two young women to sell their corpses as “ghost brides” for dead single men, a Chinese newspaper reported, warning the dark custom might have claimed many other victims.

Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old farmer in western China’s Shaanxi province, confessed to killing a woman bought from a poor family for 12,000 yuan ($1,545) last year.

She thought she was being sold into an arranged marriage, but Yang killed her in a gully and sold her corpse for 16,000 yuan, the Legal Daily reported Thursday. He and two accomplices then killed a prostitute and sold her for 8,000 yuan before police caught them.

“I did it for the money; it was a quick buck,” Yang said, according to the paper. “If I hadn’t slipped up early, I planned to do a few more.”

The women were victims of an old belief, still alive in the yellow-earth highlands of western China, that young men who die unmarried should go to their graves accompanied by deceased women who will be their wives in the afterlife. Often these women die natural deaths.

January 25th, 2007

Pentagon unveils Heat-Ray Gun

Posted in These United States by ed

Great new “crowd control” weapon! (BBC story below.) A Reuters
journalist volunteered to try it out and says it feels like a blast from a hot oven — “too painful to bear without diving for cover”! But Pentagon says it’s harmless. Gonna make “escalations of force” so much easier and more efficient. “Active Denial System” — great name. Gonna need these babies when the hurricanes start kicking up again. Keep people in line. Keep’m where they’re supposed to be. Pentagon says jump — how high? Where would we be without our great patriotic scientists and generals? Scientists and generals must be the wisest people on the planet. So glad they’re in charge. So proud to see american tax dollars hard at work.

US military unveils heat-ray gun

The US military has given the first public display of what it says is a revolutionary heat-ray weapon to repel enemies or disperse hostile crowds.

Called the Active Denial System, it projects an invisible high energy beam that produces a sudden burning feeling.

Military officials, who say the gun is harmless, believe it could be used as a non-lethal way of making enemies surrender their weapons.

Officials said there was wide-ranging military interest in the technology.

“This is a breakthrough technology that’s going to give our forces a capability they don’t now have,” defence official Theodore Barna told Reuters news agency.

“We expect the services to add it to their tool kit. And that could happen as early as 2010.”

‘Blast from an oven’

The prototype weapon was demonstrated at the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

A beam was fired from a large rectangular dish mounted on a Humvee vehicle.

The beam has a reach of up to 500 metres (550 yards), much further than existing non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets.

It can penetrate clothes, suddenly heating up the skin of anyone in its path to 50C.

But it penetrates the skin only to a tiny depth – enough to cause discomfort but no lasting harm, according to the military.

A Reuters journalist who volunteered to be shot with the beam described the sensation as similar to a blast from a very hot oven – too painful to bear without diving for cover.

Documents given out during the demonstration said more than 600 volunteers were exposed to the ray a total of more than 10,000 times since testing began over 12 years ago. They said there had been no injuries requiring medical attention during the five-year advanced development programme.
Crowd control

Military officials said the weapon was one of the key technologies of the future.

“Non-lethal weapons are important for the escalation of force, especially in the environments our forces are operating in,” said Marine Col Kirk Hymes, director of the development programme.

The weapon could potentially be used for dispersing hostile crowds in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

It would mean that troops could take effective steps to move people along without resorting to measures such as rubber bullets – bridging the gap between “shouting and shooting”, Col Hymes said.

A similar non-lethal weapon, Silent Guardian, is being developed by US company Raytheon.

January 24th, 2007

Wm Rodriguez still talking re WTC explosions

Story below re Wm Rodriguez, who worked in the WTC and has spoken at length re hearing and experiencing explosions in the building well before the collapses.

Here he says the first occurred circa 830 am and 22 other people in a basement office with him heard and felt them. Who are the 22 people?

I didn’t realize that his testimony to the 9/11 commish was closed session — and that Zelikow then blacked him out of the 911 Commish Report entirely. Another black mark re the Report.

Nor did I know (but am happy to see) that Hillary has dared pose with him.

May come back to haunt her.

Key 9/11 survivor in Lancaster
THE last man to leave the World Trade Center building alive is coming to Lancaster on Thursday, February 8, to speak on his experiences during and since 9/11

WILLIAM Rodriguez was working as a janitor in the World Trade Center on the ninth of September 2001 when he heard explosions – from below.

But William didn’t just try to save his own skin; as the only key holder for the North Tower stairwell where he was working, he unlocked doors and helped firefighters to rescue hundreds of people.

William was also the last survivor to leave the building. He spent the rest of 9/11 helping out as a volunteer in the rescue efforts, and at dawn the following morning, was back at Ground Zero continuing his efforts.

After 9/11 William lost his job and has worked ever since to help others who were affected by the atrocities.

In February William is coming to Lancaster to tell his side of the story; a story the US Government would not let him tell in full.

William, a native of Puerto Rico, a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey, was employed as a maintenance worker at the 110-storey World Trade Center building for 19 years.

William with Hillary Clinton.

Arriving at 8.30am on the morning of 9/11, he went to the maintenance office located on the first sub-level, one of six sub-basements beneath ground level.

Fourteen people were in the office at that time. As he was talking with others, he says there was an incredibly loud and powerful explosion which seemed to emanate from between sub-basement B2 and B3. There were 22 people on B2 sub-basement who also felt and heard that first explosion.

At first William thought it was a generator that had exploded, but the cement walls in the office cracked from the explosion.

“When I heard the sound of the explosion, the floor beneath my feet vibrated, the walls started cracking and everything started shaking,” said William, who was crowded together in the office with 14 other people, including Anthony Saltamachia, supervisor for the American Maintenance Company.

Just seconds later he says there was another explosion high above which made the building oscillate momentarily. This, he was later told, was a plane hitting the 90th floor.

Then he says there were other explosions just above B1 and individuals started heading for the loading dock to escape the fires caused by the blasts.

Unlocking doors for the firefighters as he went, William got to the 39th floor before he was turned back by the firefighters. As he began his descent he heard a plane hit the south tower.

Down at ground level he saw the mangled and bloodied bodies of people who had jumped. William says he will never forget the anguish that hit him, or the sight of the senseless carnage.

The Twin Towers were the only known steel frame buildings in history claimed to have failed because of fire. Other steel frame buildings have been known to burn for hours and hours and not collapse. The cause of the Twin Towers’ failure is not known because the evidence was rendered unavailable for investigation.

Independent investigators said both towers suspiciously fell “like a house of cards,” claiming that William probably heard pre-arranged detonated bomb blasts, strategically placed and timed to make it appear that the plane was the cause of the collapse.

After the trauma of losing many of his close friends and the sheer horror of the events of 9/11, William looked forward to his appearance at a closed-door hearing of the 9/11 Commission.

But he started changing his opinion as he saw how the commission worked, and also when the American media edited out his testimonies about hearing bomb blasts in the buildings, whilst the Spanish media reported his claims unedited.

William was one of the last people to testify to the commission and spoke behind closed doors, unlike other witnesses. His testimony was not included in the final report

He said the commission didn’t answer his questions and avoided the issues he was presenting. When the administration started to link the 9/11 attacks with the preparations of the 2003 Iraq war, he said he felt “manipulated and used”.

He also sought out the National Institutes of Technology, which was investigating the collapse of the WTC, but was sent packing.

And the FBI was not interested in his claim that he’d met one of the hijackers ‘casing’ the buildings several months before 9/11.

In October 2004, William filed a civil lawsuit directed against George W Bush, Richard B Cheney, Donald H Rumsfeld and others, including a total of 100 defendants, together with Ellen Mariani and lawyer Phil Berg. The RICO Act is normally used by the US government to nail organised crime as a conspiracy, but this time it was used against the government itself, claiming a conspiracy on its part.

The government filed a motion to dismiss, or at least transfer, the case on grounds of national security. Berg answered by filing an affidavit that alleged the defendants “had knowledge that the attacks were impending… but they failed to (take countermeasures), not by reason of mere negligence, confusion, or ineptitude, but because they affirmatively desired such attacks to occur.”

William said: “I have tried to tell my story to everybody, but nobody wants to listen. It is very strange what is going on here in supposedly the most democratic country in the world. In my home country of Puerto Rico and all the other Latin American countries, I have been allowed to tell my story uncensored. But here, I can’t even say a word.”

January 24th, 2007

Jimmy Carter at Brandeis, somewhat shaken

The New York Times

January 24, 2007
At Brandeis, Carter Responds to Critics

WALTHAM, Mass., Jan. 23 — In his first major public speech about his controversial book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” former President Jimmy Carter told an audience at Brandeis University on Tuesday that he stood by the book and its title, that he apologized for what he called an “improper and stupid” sentence in the book and that he had been disturbed by accusations that he was anti-Semitic.

Although controversy had preceded his visit here, Mr. Carter was greeted with a standing ovation and treated with obvious respect by the audience, even as students asked questions that were critical of his assertions.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist,” Mr. Carter told the crowd of about 1,700 at Brandeis, a nonsectarian university founded by American Jews, where about half the students are Jewish. “This is hurting me.”

He added, “The fact that they deteriorate into ad hominem attacks on my character has probably been a greater barrier to progress than the fact that I chose a particular word in the title.”

Mr. Carter said he realized his use of the word “apartheid” “has caused great concern in the Jewish community.” He said he had used it “knowing that it would be provocative.” He said he had intended to describe conditions not in Israel but in the occupied Palestinian territories, and had not meant to “equate Zionism with racism,” but to point out “that this cruel oppression is contrary to the tenets of the Jewish religious faith and contrary to the basic principles of the state of Israel.”

But he said a sentence in which he seemed to suggest that Palestinians would not have to end their suicide bombings and acts of terrorism until Israel withdraws from the territories “was worded in a completely improper and stupid way,” adding: “I have written my publisher to change that sentence immediately. I apologize to you personally, to everyone here.”

While many students and professors said they disagreed with elements of the book, they said they welcomed the opportunity to hear Mr. Carter.

“I’m happy to have a contrary viewpoint, I’m happy to have a former president, I’m happy to have controversy,” said Daniele Kohn, 21, a fine arts major, who asked Mr. Carter why, in a television interview, he had seemed to suggest that the Palestinian condition was worse than the Rwandan genocide. (Mr. Carter responded that he had not meant to suggest that.) “I think this school hasn’t gotten publicly upset in far too long.”

Mr. Carter’s book has prompted criticism from many American Jews and some Middle East experts, who say it contains factual errors and misrepresents the role of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. In addition to the word apartheid, with its implication that Israel’s actions resemble the racist policies of South Africa, these critics object to Mr. Carter’s assertion that Israel has committed human rights abuses against the Palestinians, that pro-Israel lobbyists have stifled debate in the United States and that American newspaper editorials are overwhelmingly pro-Israel.

The book prompted the resignations of 14 of Atlanta’s business and civic leaders from the Carter Center’s advisory board. Kenneth W. Stein, a professor at Emory University who was the first executive director at the Carter Center, resigned his position as a fellow there in December. And Dennis Ross, a former envoy to the Middle East who is now a news analyst, has accused Mr. Carter of using maps that Mr. Ross created without his permission, and mislabeling them in the book, accusations Mr. Carter has denied.

Mr. Carter initially rejected an invitation to speak at Brandeis because it suggested that he debate Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who has sharply criticized the book. Wanting the university to welcome contrary views, more than 100 students and faculty members signed a petition contending that Mr. Carter should be invited without conditions. Questions were preselected by the committee that invited Mr. Carter, and the questioners included an Israeli student and a Palestinian student.

After Mr. Carter left, Mr. Dershowitz spoke in the same gymnasium, saying that the former president oversimplified the situation and that his conciliatory and sensible-sounding speech at Brandeis belied his words in some other interviews.

“There are two different Jimmy Carters,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “You heard the Brandeis Jimmy Carter today, and he was terrific. I support almost everything he said. But if you listen to the Al Jazeera Jimmy Carter, you’ll hear a very different perspective.”

Mr. Carter started his Brandeis speech by calling it “the most exciting invitation” he had received since his inaugural address 30 years ago, and enumerating his years of pro-Israel stances and involvement in the Middle East peace process.

Responding to one of the criticisms of him, he said: “I have never claimed or believed that American Jews control the news media. That is ridiculous to claim.” He said “a lot of support for Israel comes from Christians like me who have been taught since they were 3 years old to honor and protect God’s chosen people from whom came people like our Christian Savior, Jesus Christ.”

But he said he believed there was too little willingness in Congress and elsewhere to debate or accept his premise that “Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors’ land and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights.”

Despite the warm and dignified welcome, several students said they were disturbed by the book and Mr. Carter’s conclusions.

“He did some great work in the past,” said David Kuperstein, a junior, but “it has made me a little bit angry, the unfounded skew and bias that he specifically shows in his book toward Israel.”

January 24th, 2007

WTC cop dies of lung disease

January 24, 2007
A former New York City police officer died of a lung disease last night, hours before his son attended the State of the Union address to draw attention to the plight of 9/11 rescue workers like him who became ill after they were exposed to toxic dust at ground zero.
The police officer, Cesar A. Borja, 52, died around 6:15 p.m. at  Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he was enrolled in a monitoring and treatment program for ground zero workers, said Lauren Woods, a hospital spokeswoman.

Officer Borja died of pulmonary fibrosis, a type of chronic lung disorder that involves scarring of the tissue between the air sacs.

Officer Borja had been in intensive care and had been accepted as a potential candidate for a lung transplant, but his critical condition, complicated by infection, precluded him being listed to receive a lung, said his physician, Dr. Maria L. Padilla.

A Congressional official briefed on the officer’s case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of federal health privacy rules, said that federal officials had approved government financing for virtually all of Officer Borja’s care — an acknowledgment that his condition was linked to work at ground zero.

Officer Borja’s 21-year-old son, Ceasar, had been invited to attend President Bush’s address as a guest of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. On Monday at ground zero and again yesterday in Washington, the young man stood next to Mrs. Clinton and discussed the need for federal financing for treatment of 9/11 workers.

“It is really painful for me to be here, so close to where my father contracted this disease,” Ceasar Borja said in New York on Monday, wearing a dark blue coat and speaking slowly and softly. He said he was trying to stay strong for his mother and two younger siblings and added, “9/11 did not end that day.”

Last night, the son was at a dinner at Bullfeathers, a Capitol Hill restaurant, when he received a phone call notifying him of his father’s death, according to an official briefed on the situation.

Four Congressional aides were at the dinner, along with several other guests invited to attend the presidential address in order to draw attention to 9/11 responders. Those at the dinner tried to comfort Ceasar Borja, the official said, and he decided to go through with his plan to attend the address.

Officials warned last month that money for two major monitoring and treatment programs — one run by Mount Sinai and the other by the city’s Fire Department — would run out in a matter of months.

Representative Vito J. Fossella, the only Republican House member from New York City, has urged White House officials to support the workers, but so far he has evidently not met with success. President Bush did not mention the 9/11 workers in his address last night

January 24th, 2007


Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

I grew up in Lebanon, New Jersey.

The NY Times is hardly covering the outbreak two days ago of what threatens to be the beginning of a civil war. Doesn’t fit with the Feel Good About the Mideast in 2007 prom theme perhaps.

But I guess everyone knows to read Robert Fisk at The Independent. He’s lived in Beirut 30 years or so.

January 24th, 2007

When statistics go bad

Posted in Money by ed

What the heck is going on with the numbers?!

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The American Petroleum Institute reported a fall of 4.2 million barrels in distillate supplies for the week ended Jan. 19. The Energy Department had reported a rise of 700,000 barrels.

Motor gasoline supplies were down 2 million barrels, the API said, contrary to the government’s reported rise of 4 million.

Crude supplies fell 832,000 barrels, the API said, but the government posted a 700,000-barrel climb.

How’s a felly to know when to buy and sell his pork bellies?

January 23rd, 2007

Big brains at Davos re “climate change”

Posted in Earth Agony by ed

“Climate change” seems to have become, across 2006, the authorized euphemism in the corporate press, where “global warming” is now rare.

Opinion at Davos seems mixed re global warming seems mixed:

A.  John McCain is on one of 17 panels on “climate change” at the annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland of the brutish masters of business administration who run the so-called western democracies. Apparently “the environment” is atop the To Do List. Busy beavers.

B.   January 23, NY TIMES:Where are the snows of yesteryear? That is a question that many attendees of this year’s conference are pondering as they arrive in Davos and notice that the scenery looks a lot less wintery than in previous years. Coincidentally or not, the strange weather comes as Davos has put the issue of climate change high on its agenda, scheduling 17 sessions to discuss it.

Floyd Norris of The New York Times was struck by the difference even before he pulled into town. He sent us this report:

The first thing I noticed as the bus approached Davos for this year’s World Economic Forum was how green and beautiful the hillsides are. There are patches of snow, but it looked like a magnificent spring.

But it isn’t spring.

“It’s a catastrophe,” sad the shuttle bus driver taking me to my hotel. “It should be 10 degrees colder.”

There is skiing in the mountains above Davos, but in town most of the roads and sidewalks are clear. This is my fourth forum, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

C.   January 24 NYT
The Times’s Floyd Norris spoke with one Davos attendee, PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Sam DiPiazza, about climate change and sent us this account:

It is not just the politicians in the United States who are unconcerned about global warming.

PricewaterhouseCoopers does a survey of chief executives every year, and this year it asked if they were concerned about climate change. For the world as a whole, 40 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned. In the United States, the figure is 16 percent.

Sam DiPiazza, the chief executive of PWC, had one explanation: “It won’t affect next quarter’s earnings.”

But he said some chief executives were showing more concern, and added: “Maybe the North American C.E.O.’s will notice there is a lot more green outside than snow.”

January 23rd, 2007

Amazing Israeli Speech — Influenced Olmert turn?

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

This speech — published by America’s best periodical, The New York Review of Books — was given in Tel Aviv last November at the annual memorial for Itzak Rabin, rest in peace, by an Israeli novelist whose son was killed during Israel’s summer invasion of Lebanon. The embattled prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was there listening.

I’ve been dubious about Israel’s abrupt turnaround late last year — when after absolutely pounding the Gaza strip for weeks with tanks they suddenly pulled out and began to at least go through the motions of renewing the peace process.

I tended to think (and I guess still so tend) that the turn had something to do with the apparently pending attack on Iran — that Saudi Arabia and other Sunnis within the U.S. camp have made an address of the Palestinian question a prerequisite for their consent to making war on Iran.

But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe the turnaround is more than publicity, and perhaps even had something to do with the following having hit home. Stranger things happen weekly.

Looking at Ourselves

By David Grossman

At the annual memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, we pause to remember Yitzhak Rabin the man, and the leader. We also look at ourselves, at Israeli society, at its leadership, at the state of the national spirit, at the state of the peace process, and at our place, as individuals, within these great national developments.

This year, it is not easy to look at ourselves.

We had a war. Israel brandished its huge military biceps, but its reach proved all too short, and brittle. We realized that our military might alone cannot, when push comes to shove, defend us. In particular, we discovered that Israel faces a profound crisis, much more profound than we imagined, in almost every part of our collective lives.

I speak here, this evening, as one whose love for this land is tough and complicated, but nevertheless unequivocal. And as one for whom the covenant he has always had with this land has become, to my misfortune, a covenant of blood.

I am a man entirely without religious faith, but nevertheless, for me, the establishment, and very existence, of the state of Israel is something of a miracle that happened to us as a people—a political, national, human miracle. I never forget that, even for a single moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives enrage and depress me, even when the miracle disintegrates into tiny fragments of routine and wretchedness, of corruption and cynicism, even when the country looks like a bad parody of that miracle, I remember the miracle always.

That sentiment lies at the foundation of what I will say tonight.

“See, land, that we were most wasteful,” the poet Shaul Tchernichowski wrote in 1938. He grieved that in the bosom of the earth, in the land of Israel, we have interred, time after time, young people in the prime of their lives.

The death of young people is a horrible, outrageous waste. But no less horrible is the feeling that the state of Israel has, for many years now, criminally wasted not only the lives of its sons and daughters, but also the miracle that occurred here—the great and rare opportunity that history granted it, the opportunity to create an enlightened, properly functioning democratic state that would act in accordance with Jewish and universal values. A country that would be a national home and refuge, but not only a refuge. It would also be a place that gives new meaning to Jewish existence. A country in which an important, essential part of its Jewish identity, of its Jewish ethos, would be full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.

Look what happened.

Look what happened to this young, bold country, so full of passion and soul. How in a process of accelerated senescence Israel aged through infancy, childhood, and youth, into a permanent state of irritability and flaccidity and missed opportunities. How did it happen? When did we lose even the hope that we might someday be able to live different, better lives? More than that—how is it that we continue today to stand aside and watch, mesmerized, as madness and vulgarity, violence and racism take control of our home?

And I ask you, how can it be that a people with our powers of creativity and regeneration, a nation that has known how to pick itself up out of the dust time and again, finds itself today—precisely when it has such great military power—in such a feeble, helpless state? A state in which it is again a victim, but now a victim of itself, of its fears and despair, of its own shortsightedness?

One of the harsh things that this last war sharpened for us was the feeling that in these times there is no king in Israel. That our leadership is hollow, both our political and military leadership. I am not speaking now of the obvious fiascos in the conduct of the war, or of the way the rear echelon of the army was left to its own devices. Nor am I speaking of our current corruption scandals, great and small.

My intention is to make it clear that the people who today lead Israel are unable to connect Israelis with their identity, and certainly not with the healthy, sustaining, inspiring parts of Jewish identity. I mean those parts of identity and memory and values that can give us strength and hope, that can serve as antidotes to the attenuation of mutual responsibility and of our connection to the land, that can grant meaning to our exhausting, desperate struggle for survival.

Today, Israel’s leadership fills the husk of its regime primarily with fears and intimidations, with the allure of power and the winks of the backroom deal, with haggling over all that is dear to us. In this sense, our leaders are not real leaders. They are certainly not the leaders that a people in such a complicated, disoriented state need. Sometimes, it seems that the public expression of their thinking, of their historical memory, of their vision, of what really is important to them fills only the tiny space between two newspaper headlines. Or between two police investigations.

Look at those who lead us. Not at all of them, of course, but all too many of them. Look at the way they act—terrified, suspicious, sweaty, legalistic, deceptive. It’s ridiculous to even hope that the Law will come forth from them, that they can produce a vision, or even an original, truly creative, bold, momentous idea. When was the last time that the Prime Minister suggested or made a move that could open a single new horizon for Israelis? A better future? When did he take a social, cultural, or ethical initiative, rather than just react frantically to the actions of others?

Mr. Prime Minister, I do not say these things out of anger or vengeance. I have waited long enough; I am not speaking on the impulse of a moment. You cannot dismiss my words tonight by saying “a man should not be held to what he says when he is mourning.” Of course I am mourning. But more than I am in pain, I hurt. This country, and what you and your colleagues are doing to it, pains me. In all sincerity, it is important to me that you succeed. Because our future depends on your ability to rise up and act.

Yitzhak Rabin turned to the path of peace with the Palestinians not because he was fond of them or their leaders. Then also, if you remember, the common wisdom was that we had no partner among the Palestinians, and that there was nothing for us to talk about with them. Rabin decided to act because he detected, with great astuteness, that Israeli society could not long continue in a state of unresolved conflict. He understood, before many people understood, that life in a constant climate of violence, of occupation, of terror and fear and hopelessness, comes at a price that Israel cannot afford to pay.

All this is true today as well, and much more sharply. In a bit we’ll talk about the partner that we do or don’t have, but first let’s look at ourselves. For more than a hundred years we have lived in a conflict. We, the citizens of that conflict, were born into a war, we were educated within it, and in a sense we were educated for it.

Perhaps for that reason we sometimes think that this madness that we’ve been living in for a century now is the only true thing, that it is the life we are destined for, and that we have no way, even no right, to aspire to a different kind of life. We will live and die by the sword, and the sword shall devour forever.

Maybe that explains the apathy with which we accept the total cessation of the peace process, a moratorium that has lasted for years now, and has cost ever more casualties. That can also explain how most of us have failed to respond to the brutal kick democracy received when Avigdor Lieberman was appointed a senior cabinet minister. It’s the appointment of a compulsive pyromaniac to head the country’s firefighters.

And these are some of the reasons that, in an amazingly short time, Israel has degenerated into heartlessness, real cruelty toward the weak, the poor, and the suffering. Israel displays indifference to the hungry, the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped, equanimity in the face of, for example, trafficking in women, or the exploitation of foreign workers in conditions of slave labor, and in the face of profound, institutionalized racism toward its Arab minority.

When all this happens as if it were perfectly natural, without outrage and without protest, I begin to fear that even if peace comes tomorrow, even if we eventually return to some sort of normality, it may be too late to heal us completely.

The calamity that my family and I suffered when my son Uri fell in the war last summer does not give me any special privileges in our national debate. But it seems to me that facing death and loss brings with it a kind of sobriety and clarity, at least when it comes to distinguishing the wheat from the chaff, between what can and cannot be achieved. Between reality and fantasy.

Every thinking person in Israel— and, I will add, in Palestine as well— knows today precisely the outline of a possible solution to the conflict between the two peoples. All thinking people, in Israel and in Palestine, know deep in their hearts the difference between, on the one hand, their dreams and wishes, and on the other, what they can get at the end of the negotiations.

Those who don’t know that, whether Jews or Arabs, are already not part of the dialogue. Such people are trapped in their hermetic fanaticism, so they are not partners. Let’s look for a minute at our potential partners. The Palestinians have placed Hamas in their leadership, and Hamas refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can we do in such a situation? What more can we do? Tighten the noose even more? Continue to kill hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the great majority of them innocent civilians, like us?

Appeal to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert. Appeal to them over Hamas’s head. Appeal to the moderates among them, to those who, like you and me, oppose Hamas and its ideology. Appeal to the Palestinian people. Speak to their deepest wound, acknowledge their unending suffering. You won’t lose anything, and Israel’s position in any future negotiation will not be compromised. But hearts will open a bit to each other, and that opening has great power. Simple human compassion has the power of a force of nature, precisely in a situation of stagnation and hostility.

Look at them, just once, not through a rifle’s sights and not through a roadblock. You will see a people no less tortured than we are. A conquered, persecuted, hopeless people. Of course the Palestinians are also guilty of the dead end we’ve reached. Of course they bear part of the blame for the failure of the peace process.

But look at them for a moment in a different way. Not just at their extremists. Not just at those who have an alliance of mutual interest with our own extremists. Look at the great majority of this wretched nation, whose fate is bound up with ours, like it or not.

Go to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert. Don’t look for reasons not to talk to them. You’ve given up on unilateral disengagement. And that’s good. But don’t leave a vacuum. It will fill up immediately with violence and destruction. Talk to them. Make them an offer that their moderates can accept (there are far more of them than the media shows us). Make them an offer, so that they will have to decide whether to accept it or instead remain hostages to fanatical Islam. Go to them with the boldest, most serious plan that Israel is able to put forward. A plan that all Israelis and Palestinians with eyes in their heads will know is the limit of refusal and concession, ours and theirs.

If you hesitate, we’ll soon be longing for the days when Palestinian terrorism was an amateur affair. We will pound ourselves on our heads and shout, why did we not use all our flexibility, all our Israeli creativity, to extricate our enemy from the trap in which he ensnared himself?

Just as there is unavoidable war, there is also unavoidable peace. Because we no longer have any choice. We have no choice, and they have no choice. And we need to set out toward this unavoidable peace with the same determination and creativity with which we set out to an unavoidable war. Anyone who thinks there is an alternative, that time is on our side, does not grasp the profound, dangerous process that is now well underway.

Perhaps, Mr. Prime Minister, I need to remind you that if any Arab leader sends out signals of peace, even the slightest, most hesitant ones, you must respond. You must immediately test his sincerity and seriousness. You have no moral right not to respond. You must do so for the sake of those who will be expected to sacrifice their lives if another war breaks out.

So if President Assad says that Syria wants peace, even if you don’t believe him—and we’re all suspicious—you must propose a meeting that very same day. Don’t wait a single day longer. After all, when you set out on the last war you didn’t wait for even an hour. You charged in with all our might. With every weapon we have. With all our power to destroy. Why, when there is some sort of flicker of peace, do you immediately reject it, dismiss it? What do you have to lose? Are you suspicious of the Syrian president? Go offer him terms that will reveal his trickery. Offer him a peace process lasting several years, only at the end of which, if he meets all the conditions, lives up to all the restrictions, will he get the Golan Heights. Force him into a process of ongoing dialogue. Act so that his people will be made aware of the possibility, help the moderates, who must exist there as well. Try to shape reality, not to be its collaborator. That’s why you were elected. Precisely for that reason.

Of course not everything depends on what we do. There are great and strong forces acting in this region and in the world, and some of them, like Iran, like radical Islam, wish us ill.

Nevertheless, so much does depend on what we do, and what we will be. The differences between right and left are not that great today. The decisive majority of Israel’s citizens now understand—of course, some of them without enthusiasm—what the shape of a peaceful solution will look like. Most of us understand that the land will be divided, that there will be a Palestinian state.

Why, then, do we continue to sap ourselves with the internal bickering that has gone on now for almost forty years? Why does our political leadership continue to reflect the positions of the extremists and not of the majority? After all, we’ll be much better off if we reach this national consensus on our own, before circumstances—external pressures, or a new Palestinian uprising, or another war— force us to do so. If we do it, we will save ourselves years of erosion and error, years in which we will shout again and again, “See, land, that we were most wasteful.”

From where I stand at this moment, I request, call out to all those listening — to young people who came back from the war, who know that they are the ones who will have to pay the price of the next war; to Jewish and Arab citizens; to the people of the right and the people of the left: stop for a moment. Look over the edge of the abyss, and consider how close we are to losing what we have created here. Ask yourselves if the time has not arrived for us to come to our senses, to break out of our paralysis, to demand for ourselves, finally, the lives that we deserve to live.

—Translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman

January 21st, 2007

Pending Iraq oil “privatization” law central to US policy

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

The (slightly) new Bushvision for Iraq seems to be martial law for Baghdad (no political interference to be tolerated by new shock’n'awe boots on ground) — to prop the failing quasi-puppet government — perhaps just long enough to allow Iraq’s (hardly) new American-made OIL LAW to pass.

The Guardian this week published a cri de coeur re the new law by Kamil Mahdi. The concluding words:

The US, the IMF and their allies are using fear to pursue their agenda of privatising and selling off Iraq’s oil resources. The effect of this law will be to marginalise Iraq’s oil industry and undermine the nationalisation measures undertaken between 1972 and 1975. It is designed as a reversal of Law Number 80 of December 1961 that recovered most of Iraq’s oil from a foreign cartel.

Iraq paid dearly for that courageous move: the then prime minister, General Qasim, was murdered 13 months later in a Ba’athist-led coup that was supported by many of those who are part of the current ruling alliance — the US included. Nevertheless, the national oil policy was not reversed then, and its reversal under US occupation will never be accepted by Iraqis.

END QUOTE. (The full piece is linked above and copied below as a comment.)

Regime Change in Iraq was on the agenda at Bush’s first Nat’l Security meeting in January 2001. But dividing the Bushmen from the start was the question as to whether Iraq’s oil production facilities should be kept in the hands of the newly installed government or “privatized.”

The Likud Lobbyists running Bush’s foreign policy were for privatization, as a means to challenge (on behalf of Israel) the Saudi-dominated OPEC status quo in the region.

(That is:

– For 50 years saggy-gutted Uncle Sam had enjoyed a menage a trois in the mideast with local nubility Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Likud Lobby wanted to kick the Saudis out of bed — by taking Iraq’s vast reserves outside of OPEC, via privatization and then using that free-market oil to bust OPEC (Saudi) control of oil production and prices.

– But the primary Oil Mob corporations themselves — OPEC’s sisters since 1960, partners in controlling the global oil flow — wanted nothing to do with the Likud Lobby’s plan. Instead wanted something akin to the status quo, with technical ownership retained by whatever new (and well controlled) Baghdad government the Bushmen might install, as the best means of continuing to control production, distribution and thus price.

See Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast (2006) for a badly written, ill-supported but nevertheless worthwhile account of this Likud Lobby/Oil Mob infighting since 2001. It seems (but is not clear) that the LL plan was akin to the Yukos wonderama in Russia: for entrepreneurs outside the corporate Oil Mob core to purchase and then pump Iraq’s oil at will, ushering in a brave new mideast where Saudi Arabia and the southern gulf emirates would wield considerably less power.)

Whatever the sordid details may be, ’twas certain a marriage of convenience that baby Bush blessed upon installation in the White House: Likud Lobby strangeloves leading a radical war-mongering foreign policy. While old family Oil Mob pals massaged the bony presidential shoulder counselling conservative global gansterism.

Each group wanted Saddam gone, it seems (although the mind of the Oil Mob on this remains, from my armchair, a mysterious House of Many Rooms). But the Likudists wanted conquest pure and simple (they promised), while known elements of the Oil Mob, supported by bureacratic bulk in the Pentagon and State Department, favored a quick coup that would install a new saddam (a new Man We Can Work With sans begrudgments re Bush pere betrayals) but leave the existing power and social structures in place.

On February 7, 2002, baby Kristol, son of Irving, betook his self-eminent self to the Senate, where he announced to an astonished world that Iraq was Next in the War on Terror. Even so, baby Bush dragged his feet. Then in August a whole passel of moderate Republican strangeloves — led by Bush pere consigliere Brent Scowcroft — mounted an Op-Ed and Sunday talk show campaign to persuade boy George to (take off that damn ten-gallon hat and) Just Say No to cracking open Chaos in Mesopotamia.

The trembling president finally pushed a button in early 2003. And by means yet mysterious from this armchair, it was the Likud Lobby plan — total war — that he chose.

It had taken a while for Rumsfeld to find a piece of brass in the Pentagon to lead the charge, recall. Three or four guys with scrambled eggs on their shoulders were dispatched to well-endowed retirement before Myers of the Air Force — by far the zaniest of the four Pentagon tribes — said “Sure, why not?”

And presumably the Oil Mob gave its grudging consent, having lobbied for the quick coup and somehow lost.

But the Oil Mob never agreed on how to handle the Iraq oil business post conquest, and eruptions occurred (remember Bremer?) in the aftermath of declared victory, leading to what at least seemed the ouster of the prominent Likud Lobby leaders in both the White House and Pentagon. In particular (as Palast details), the early push by the LL in late 2003 to pass a privatization law was crushed by Oil Mob emmissaries in Baghdad and D.C.

Soon the task of maintaining a puppet government, any puppet government, overwhelmed the American occupiers. And now (if Mahdi’s alarm and anonymous whispers are roughly true) the privatization law is back on the drawing board, and heading for the Iraqi cabinet for approval.

(Vile foonote: The primary organ pushing for the New Law Now is the World Bank. Which since June 2005 has been headed by none other than Paul Wolfowitz. wolfowitz.jpg Who as Rumsfeld’s lieutenant in the Pentagon was the Bushman perhaps most responsible for selling the Iraq war. And now is in position to craft the so-called peace, via drafting of reconstruction plans and control of funds for same.)

What does the apparently imminent passage of the new oil law mean? More questions.

Have the Oil Mob bosses — in face of the patent failure of the Bushmen to install a puppet goverment with working moving parts — now agreed to the Likudist privatization idea?

The Pentagon has built permanent bases to protect Iraq’s oil production facilities. Once the new law and privitization have come, will the US boots retreat to the new bases, to defend the oil zones, and abandon Baghdad? Abandoning the “Iraqi government” to “sectarian violence”? Abandoning the odd very idea of Iraq that was stitched together of diverse peoples post World War I to allow Britain and France to best probe and squat upon the oil fields?

And are the Saudis and the petty Arabian emirates now on board with privatization, having stridently opposed it (to protect the OPEC/Oil Mob structure) heretofore?

Why, during these few new weeks of 2007, has Saudi Arabia’s magisterial oil minister, Naimi, abruptly turned tail to talk down the price of oil? Unhappy with $60 a barrel in December, this past week he declared $51 “fine” and suggested OPEC needn’t even meet in February?

And why did Israel, after blasting away in Gaza for a month, abruptly yank out its tanks in December and begin, the next day, expressing such care for the life, liberty and happiness of its Palestinian underclass?

In light of Bush’s speech on mideast policy two weeks ago it may be the best guess that all this cosmic harmony west of the Tigris asudden falls under the heading: “Get Yer Ducks in Line Before the Attack on Iran.”

Perhaps this is what Cheney and King Fahd spoke about during his unscheduled and intially unreported two-hour visit to Saudi Arabia in December. The Decider has decided to push the Attack Iran button and so it’s time for all those who fear the Shia to settle up and stand shoulder to shoulder.

That the Attack Iran idea is alive and well among the Bushmen is an apprehension that, in the ten days since Bush’s speech, has crossed over from the Scott Ritters and Daniel Ellsbergs of the world to the newly repopulated corridors of power. Both Henry Reid (new leader of the Senate) and John D. Rockefeller (new head of the Senate Intelligence Committee) have now explicitly warned the White House about Iran.

The initial strike on Iran does, again, seem likely, but, just as likely, to be executed by Israel alone.

If it comes, however it may come, it will tend to bring the Saudi/emirate nexus, Israel and the Sunni so-called insurgency in Iraq, all shoulder to shoulder, old cocks into the breach, in the effort to keep angry Shia east of the Tigris. The Samara-Baghdad-Basra line may become the front in a war that — as Kissinger daydreamed in the 80s re Round One — may never end.

Israel seems to have the power to ignite this new regional war with the air strikes it has planned against the Iranian nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz. These plans (Israeli generals told the BBC on January 7) feature the use of “mini-tactical” nuclear bombs, which are to be dropped down holes blasted by conventional bombs to destroy underground bunkers. That the nukes will explode beneath the surface is said to be expected to limit the spread of poisonous fallout.

The Likud Lobbyists in Washington first dreamt of these mini-tactical nukes in Project for the New American Century screed during the 90s. Bill Clinton then warned the world during his speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004 that the Bushmen had actually built the bombs and were talking about using them in first strikes.

The right-wing in Israel this week won the head of the general who showed so poorly in Lebanon this past summer. They now take aim at the embattled premier, Ehud Olmert, who inherited Ariel Sharon’s breakaway Kadima party just a year ago, after Sharon suffered … whatever it is he suffered.

I confess myself feeling sorry for Olmert. If the Kadima coalition fails a vote of confidence, and the Likud under Netanyahu retakes power atop a right-wing coalition likely to include Avigdor Leiberman’s russki-israeli Beitenu, the voice of fascistic anti-Arab policy rooted in the Soviet life and mindset … Then it seems the green light for making nuclear war in the mideast will start flashing.

US participation in this bigger and better Iran-Iraq War would be a given, since we already have boots on the ground (not quite people) at the faultline, and now are sending more. Thus, questions raised this week by Senators Reid and Rockefeller, as to whether or not Bush-Cheney may be construed to have been authorized to make war on Iran, may be moot.

The bulk of Iran’s oil goes to China. Both Russia and China have been providing material and diplomatic support to Tehran since the 90s, and more so each year. Together, via the Shanghai Cooperatoin Organzation, they have pushed the Americans back in central Asia.

Perhaps then China’s surprising demonstration, two days ago, of its ability to shoot satellites out of orbit in space might be taken as an expression of its concern over the redux of the Attack Iran idea in Washington and Tel Aviv.

January 20th, 2007

Le Pen invades SECOND LIFE cyberuniverse

Posted in Arts & Private Life by ed

Exploding pigs and volleys of gunfire as Le Pen opens HQ in virtual world

Violent clashes have erupted in an online world over the arrival of Le Pen’s national front

Oliver Burkeman in Porcupine
Saturday January 20, 2007
The Guardian

The streets of Porcupine were tranquil yesterday; a handful of locals strolled through its shopping malls, the sun was shining, and a light breeze blew in from over the hills. There were few hints of the fact that, only days before, the neighbourhood had been the scene of violent clashes between rightwing extremists and anti-Nazi protesters – running battles involving gunfire and bombs that might easily have cost lives were it not for the fact that Porcupine does not, in most commonly accepted senses of the term, exist.
A lesson you quickly learn upon entering the online virtual world of Second Life, however, is that non-existence is less of an impediment than might be supposed.  It hasn’t stopped the development of a fully-featured alternative universe in which Second Life’s 2.4 million registered users build houses, set up businesses, form clubs and societies, hold parties and have sex. And it did not prevent protest from spilling over into aggression when the Front National, the far-right French group led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, became the first European political party to open a headquarters within Second Life.
“The first night I arrived at the protest … it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute,” wrote James Au, whose website, New World Notes, reports on events in Second Life. “By the second night I came … the conflict had become more literal, for many residents had armed themselves. Multi-coloured explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine.” Some activists threw exploding pigs.

“This nationalist idea that Front National is advocating is something that has spread all over Europe like a virus,” a protester, using the name Ichi Jaehun, told Mr Au. “It’s [as if] the history of the 20th century has already been forgotten. It is time to say enough!”

A group calling itself Second Life Left Unity issued press releases explaining that it had purchased land next to the Front National office, and would be “manning a protest there until FN go or are ejected. Wherever fascists are, we will ensure they get no peace to corrupt and lie to decent people”.

A few days later, the Front National building had vanished altogether, leaving only a few protest placards showing Mr Le Pen – who made it through to the final round of the last real-world French presidential election in 2002 – wearing a Hitler moustache.

It was probably inevitable that political confrontation would arrive in Second Life in the end. It is already home to one of the most potentially revolutionary developments on the internet in recent years – a vibrant economy in which residents use a virtual currency, Linden dollars, to buy and sell goods and services, including clothes for their online characters, works of art, buildings, and financial advice.

Because users retain legal ownership of the things they create, and because Linden dollars can be turned into US dollars via an exchange operated by Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, the virtual-world businesses have real-world value. Numerous real firms have opened outlets in Second Life, and a woman living in Germany has reportedly become its first dollar millionaire – from the property development business she runs inside Second Life.

And so it was not such a stretch to imagine that political parties might soon want to get in on the action. The US Congress held an opening ceremony in Second Life earlier this month to coincide with the one in Washington – an event marked by a discussion forum held “in-world,” to use Second Life’s jargon, by a character controlled by the senior Democratic congressman George Miller. (The news was reported by Reuters, which operates a bureau inside Second Life.)

The UK Independence Party has also promised to open a headquarters in-world. “The other parties are devoid of fresh thinking, and I fully expect them now to copy us and follow our lead,” said Ukip supporter Chad Noble, who is in charge of the project.

The Guardian’s “avatar”, or on-screen character, tracked down the Front National to Axel, another region in Second Life, where they had rebuilt their headquarters and were engaging a handful of opponents in relatively restrained debate. “Le Pen is the son of Hitler,” one protester ventured. “I know lots of people descended from immigrants who vote for the Front National because they’re not ashamed to be French,” a Le Pen supporter countered, “and I think you’ll be surprised at how many people of an immigrant background vote for Le Pen at the next election.”

Debate has raged in Second Life as to whether the Front National’s presence violates the terms of service that all users must accept on signing up. (Linden Lab was not commenting yesterday.) Race hate is against the regulations. But while Front National members including Mr Le Pen have been convicted of inciting racial hatred in France, it wasn’t clear that any avatars had been guilty of it inside Second Life. Should a conviction in one universe carry over into another? Does the question even make sense?

Where do the boundaries of reality lie? And do you have a throbbing headache yet?

Cyber spaces

The growing buzz around Second Life has convinced businesses, politicians and charities to join in:

· Computer giant IBM believes virtual worlds will have a huge impact on business and society. It runs workshops, parties and even business meetings in Second Life

· The BBC ran a series of concerts in the game last spring, with Muse, Razorlight, left, and Gnarls Barkley

· Reuters runs its own news bureau, with virtual reporter Adam Reuters .

· The Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California has bought its own island in Second Life to see how productive political work inside cyberspace can be

· Save the Children runs a “Yak Shak” where charitable Lifers can spend 1,000 Linden dollars (£1.80) to buy a digitised yak

· Californian Democrat George Miller held an in-game press conference on a virtual Capitol Hill to mark the start of the new congressional period this month

· TV production firm Endemol is reported to be creating a virtual Big Brother show – though it is not clear whether Jade Goody will be making a virtual appearance

January 20th, 2007

Feuding Brooklyn Couple Builds Wall to Divide House

Posted in New York City by ed

This from the BBC:

Chana and Simon Taub, both 57, have endured two years of divorce negotiations, but neither is prepared to give up their Brooklyn home. Now a white partition wall has been built through the heart of the house to keep the pair apart.

The Taubs’ divorce has been rumbling through the New York divorce courts for two years. But despite owning another home — just two doors away — the unhappily married couple have decided to carry on living under the same roof.

“It’s my house,” said Simon Taub, who requested the building of the wall. “And emotionally, in my age, I want to be in my house.”Chana Taub maintains that she has as much right as her partly-estranged husband to stay in the Borough Park house.”I need a house to live and money to live on. I worked very hard for him, like a horse, like a slave for him.”Eventually, after negotiations led nowhere, a judge ordered that the partition wall be built inside the house. It divides the ground floor of the house, and keeps husband and wife penned into separate sections on different floors. One door linking the rival sections of the house is barricaded shut to prevent any accidental contact between the pair.But therapist Kimberly Flemke interpreted the Taubs’ acrimony as evidence of a still-flickering flame.

“It’s clear that if they’re going to go to this length, there’s still far too much connection. I would hope they’d both go to therapy.”

January 20th, 2007

Wilkerson says Bush-Cheney snubbed 2003 Iranian peace plan

Posted in Mideast & Oil by ed

Larry Wilkerson is a retired US army colonel and served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff when Powell was baby Bush’s first Secretary of State.

Wilkerson has gone public (ruining his friendship with Powell, he says) about

– the falseness of the supposed evidence that Powell presented to the United Nations to help launch the Iraq war (despite his opposition to the idea) (which evidence Wilkerson helped Powell to gather from various ill-intentioned organs of the government — Pentagon, CiA, etc.)

– more generally, the lies and disinformation Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith et al orchestrated out of the Pentagon to launch the Iraq war

– the foundations (at the very top) of the American war crimes and misdemeanors at Abu Grahib prison.

– the arrogation by Cheney, as vice president, of executive power in the White House

Wilkerson, then, for Regular Army, is a refreshing cat.

And reports now (to the BBC) that there was a clear proposal for something like peace from the Iranian government in 2003 after Bush had declared victory from the flight deck of the USS Lincoln. The BBC story:

Washington ‘snubbed Iran offer’

Iran offered the US a package of concessions in 2003, but it was rejected, a senior former US official has told the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilise Iraq following the US-led invasion.

Offers, including making its nuclear programme more transparent, were conditional on the US ending hostility.

But Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office rejected the plan, the official said.

The offers came in a letter, seen by Newsnight, which was unsigned but which the US state department apparently believed to have been approved by the highest authorities.In return for its concessions, Tehran asked Washington to end its hostility, to end sanctions, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and repatriate its members.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had allowed the rebel group to base itself in Iraq, putting it under US power after the invasion.

One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan – but was over-ruled.”We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that,” Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight.

“But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil’… reasserted itself.”

Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.

January 20th, 2007

Crumbland, France

Posted in Goodbye to All That by ed


Report in NY Times today (copied as comment below in case link dies) of cartoonist Robert Crumb, wife Aline and entourage thriving in an old mansion somewhere west of Nimes in France.

I still remember seeing the 1994 documentary on his life and work, Crumb, at Film Forum here in New York. What a hoot.


They seem happy to have said “Goodbye to all that”:

They moved to France 16 years ago, sickened, they said, by the infiltration of their once sleepy California town, Winters, by newcomers who bulldozed hilltops for McMansions. The Crumbs also wanted to shield their daughter, Sophie, from a growing conservative and fundamentalist Christian influence while continuing to educate her in what they consider the classics. They reared her on “Little Lulu” comics from the 1940s and ’50s and Three Stooges videos.


January 20th, 2007

Czechs provoke Russia re Son of Star Wars

Posted in Geopolitics by ed

Czechs give go-ahead for US ‘son of stars wars’ base

· Prague says move is good for European security
· Russia threatens to review its own missile defences

Ian Traynor, Europe editor
Monday January 22, 2007

The Czech government has announced that it wants to host a large US military site for the Pentagon’s much-criticised missile shield system, confirming for the first time that Washington had asked Prague for permission to build a radar site for the national missile defence programme.

Russia had warned earlier this month that any extension of the US missile project to eastern Europe would force it to review its military planning.

In one of his first acts as the new Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek said that building the facilities in the Czech Republic, the first extension of the “son of star wars” project beyond the US, would boost European security.

Mr Topolanek referred only to a radar site, a strong indication that the Pentagon is hoping to locate the bigger part of the European project – a large missile interceptor silo that would theoretically fire off rockets to destroy incoming missiles – in neighbouring Poland.

Russia warned earlier this month that any US extension of its missile defence project to eastern Europe would force it to review its military planning to counter the perceived threat.

The American demand was one of the first issues Mr Topolanek has had to handle after becoming prime minister. The Czech Republic has effectively been without a government since elections became deadlocked seven months ago.

The centre-right leader cobbled together a weak coalition and won a parliamentary confidence vote on Friday courtesy of two opposition defectors.

As soon as Mr Topolanek won the vote, the Americans tabled their request. “We are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest,” he said.

“It will increase the security of the Czech Republic and Europe.”

The new defence minister, Vlasta Parkanova, a Christian Democrat, reinforced support for the contentious scheme, while acknowledging public reservations. “I am aware that locating an allied radar site on our territory is a sensitive issue for Czech citizens. Some threats can be confronted only in cooperation with our partners, and an attack by a ballistic missile is among them………We should not consider this issue ideologically but consider whether it raises the security of the Czech Republic and all its citizens.”

The US has been quietly negotiating with the Czechs and the Poles for four years, while scouting Poland and areas east of the Czech capital, Prague, for suitable missile defence sites. Both centre-right governments in Prague and Warsaw are pro-American. If the US plan gets a green light, the spending on the Polish and Czech projects is likely to total $1.6bn (£810m) with the bases built by 2011.

The Americans have already built two missile interceptor sites, in California and Alaska, but the proposed project in the Czech Republic is the first in Europe. It has alarmed Russia, which claims it and not “rogue states” in the Middle East or Asia is the target of the missile shield. The US says the installations are aimed at thwarting potential North Korean long-range missiles, while the European sites guard against long-range missiles from Iran or other regional foes.

Up to two-thirds of Poles and Czechs are against taking part in the missile shield, according to opinion surveys, and the government in Warsaw, while in favour, has opposed the US terms. The Pentagon insists both would-be sovereign US bases with the staff stationed there, some 500 in total, not subject to Polish or Czech law.

“I approach the problem of extra-territoriality with reserve, I won’t hide that,” the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, said last year.

Poland said it had no comment on a report that a final deal had been agreed. Foreign ministry spokesman Andrzej Sados told Reuters: “Consultations concerning that issue have been going on for months… We need more consultations, which we are conducting with our American friends through diplomatic channels.”

Although discussions have been going on for years to reassure Russia, the Kremlin argues that the missile shield is in any case doomed to failure, and will merely succeed in stoking tension and mistrust.

Nikolai Solovtsov, the officer in charge of Russia’s strategic missile command, said this month that a US extension of its missile defence project to eastern Europe would affect Russia’s military planning.

“Russia will have to take additional measures to counter missile defence systems to prevent its strategic deterrent potential being downgraded,” he said.

The Russian top brass dismiss assertions that the scheme is aimed purely at countries such as North Korea and Iran, pointing out that the project deals with intercontinental ballistic missiles, which neither North Korea nor Iran possesses.

January 19th, 2007

Ney goes to jail

Posted in These United States by ed

What’s he expect with a name like that? Nay? Neye? Never give a sucker an even break.

Former Rep. Ney Sentenced to 30 Months

By Jonathan Allen — NY Times January 19, 2007

Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, the only member of Congress to face criminal prosecution in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison.

Ney, 52, pleaded guilty on Oct. 13, 2006, to making false statements and conspiracy to commit fraud. He resigned from the House on Nov. 3.

January 19th, 2007

Jennifer Strange, 28, died of drink

Posted in Death, These United States by ed

Many the wonders but nothing more strange than man


Here are radio clips that tell the sad story of Jennifer Strange, mother of three, who drank herself to death, with water, hoping for a video game to give her kids.

A local ambulance chaser has announced he’ll be filing a wrongful-death suit. Maybe he’ll run down the vulgar DJs,

kdndcrew.jpg  Maney, Trish and Lukas.

Despite what would seem an obivous liability, there’s not much action in the stock (ETM) of the company that owns the radio station. Entercom Communications Corp. Seems to be a mini Clear Channel. That is, seems to own all the stations in Sacramento, and to specialize in that kind of anti-American, discourse- and music-killing market monopolization. I hope it goes to $5.

But ETM popped up a bit today. Perhaps some covering by people who sold short on the news in midweek but by Friday were unhappy the stock hadn’t tanked. The chart looks decent for a mild downturn. So I bought some puts near the close. I hope it goes to $5.

The Associated Press reported (near the end below) a few banal words from her husband:

January 16, 2007 SACRAMENTO — Two participants in a radio station’s water-drinking contest with a 28-year-old mother of three who later died said they were not warned they could be putting their health at risk, a newspaper reported Monday.

Gina Sherrod said that family members listening to the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest on KDND-FM told her that a nurse called into the program to warn that drinking too much water was dangerous, but that she did not worry until she learned of Jennifer Lea Strange’s death.

“I was so scared,” Sherrod told the Sacramento Bee on Sunday. “I had the hardest time going to sleep last night because I was afraid I wouldn’t get up.”

Strange was one of about 18 people who vied for a Nintendo Wii gaming console early Friday by seeing how much water they could drink without going to the bathroom. She was found dead several hours later.

The Sacramento County coroner said she died of water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, which occurs when the body’s sodium level falls below normal.

Overdrinking dilutes the sodium in the bloodstream, causing the brain to swell and push against the skull. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weakness and, in severe cases, seizures, coma and death.

During the contest, participants were given two minutes to drink an 8-ounce bottle of water and then given another bottle to drink after a 10-minute break.

Contestant James Ybarra said he quit after drinking eight bottles, but Strange, who placed second, and others kept going, even after they were given larger containers.

Strange showed other participants photographs of her two sons and daughter, for whom she was hoping to win the prize, Ybarra said.

“It is sad that a mother had to lose her life to get something for her kids,” he told the newspaper. “None of us knew this could be a risk to our health.”

Contestants qualified for the event by recounting the worst Christmas gifts they’d received. Strange said her worst gift was a set of champagne flutes wrapped like roses that shattered when she opened them, Sherrod said.

Strange also mentioned that she and friends had sixth-row tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert that night.

Sherrod said she managed to drink half of a larger bottle before she became nauseated and had to leave.

“I felt drunk and really out of it,” she said.

Strange’s mother found her daughter’s body at home Friday in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova after Strange called her supervisor at her job to say she was heading home in terrible pain.

Strange’s husband, William Strange, 27, issued a written statement late Sunday in which he described his wife’s giving nature.

“Friday, Jennifer was just her bright, usual self,” he wrote. “She was trying to win something for her family that she thought we would enjoy…. We miss her dearly. She was my girl.”