Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another U.S. war crime in Baghdad

Workers World statement on the execution/assassination of Saddam Hussein
Published Dec 29, 2006

I'd really enjoy someone - anyone - to take me to task for posting this article to my blog, because I'm ready! This is a first-rate travesty of justice, no matter who the defendant happens to be, but since he is in fact a long-time "friend" of the U.S., it rings out of the sort of media manipulation so favored by the corporate cognoscenti. Too bad the political climate wasn't exactly to the current occupation administration's liking - though it isn't too far from where it was before November - since the political assassination had to be done quickly and behind the scenes. Shameful!--Pete

The U.S. government has committed another war crime against the Iraqi people, one of many, with its execution of President Saddam Hussein. In reality, this is an assassination of the head of state of the nation of Iraq, which is currently occupied and ruled by U.S. imperialism.

Forget the fiction that this killing is a sovereign act of the current Iraqi "government," a puppet regime set up by the U.S. occupiers that can't even control the Green Zone of Baghdad.

U.S. forces arrested Saddam Hussein. They have kept him on a U.S. air base—Camp Cropper—since his arrest. They tried him with no legal basis in a kangaroo court under U.S. tutelage. They sentenced him according to the Bush administration's schedule to attempt to influence the November 2006 elections in the U.S. And now they have executed him to fit Bush's propaganda offensive aimed at re-escalating a war the U.S. has already lost.

This act only adds to the suffering of the Iraqi people and of those young soldiers sent by the politicians to do the dirty work of U.S. imperialism.

Bush will attempt to use this murder of the Iraqi president to show that he is back in control of the situation. The leader of the world's largest imperial power is now parading the head of his adversary on a pike in an effort to obscure the fact that U.S. military deaths are about to top 3,000. He hopes to obliterate the Iraq Study Group's judgment that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a disaster.

The Pentagon, which in fact is against any Iraqis who fight for their sovereignty, has also launched an offensive against the Shiite-based Mahdi Army. The Bush gang is scrambling to come up with a way of sending more troops to Iraq than those available in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, National Guard and Reserves.

Washington, not Saddam Hussein, is responsible for the deaths of over 2 million Iraqis during 16 years of wars and sanctions. No one should be fooled by Bush's statements of sympathy with any sector of the Iraqi people. No one should be fooled into thinking that the U.S.-ordered murder of Saddam Hussein will end the Iraqi resistance to Washington's occupation or will put the U.S. occupation forces or the puppet Iraqi regime in greater control.

The future of Iraq will be determined by Iraqis who are free from U.S. control and who now are fighting against the occupation.

Whatever one's evaluation of Saddam Hussein's role as president of Iraq, his role in history has been set by this murder. He died as an Iraqi leader who stood up to invaders from the most powerful empire the world has known.

Only when George W. Bush and the other war criminals in Washington are put on trial will the Iraqi people begin to obtain justice.

Workers World, Dec. 30, 2006

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Saturday, December 30, 2006


NANCY VOGEL, LA TIMES - The cities of Davis, Calif.; Oakland and Minneapolis, as well as Pierce County, Wash.; have passed ballot measures that will lead to "instant runoff" or "proportional representation" voting in city and county elections. There was no organized opposition to the measures.

Their success has energized election reform advocates, who say the United States should join most other democracies and pick politicians in a way that doesn't shut out the 49% of voters who may have favored someone other than the majority winner. . .

For decades, Cambridge, Mass., has been the only American city to use the system. But in November, voters in Davis and Minneapolis approved proportional voting in city elections. . .

"It produces more of a mix of Democrats and Republicans that represent more of what we call purple California than red and blue California," said Steven Hill, political reform director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan New America Foundation. . .

In a November poll of 600 California voters, the foundation found that 52% said instant runoff voting sounded like a good idea. Half of those surveyed favored proportional voting. Nearly 70% said they feel like they often must vote for "the lesser of two evils."

Almost every democracy outside of Britain, Canada and the United States uses some version of proportional voting, including Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. The new voting systems in Afghanistan and Iraq are proportional too.

In the United States, two dozen cities used the system in the early 1900s. All but Cambridge had abandoned it by the 1960s, and Illinois voters stopped using it to elect state lawmakers after a 1980 initiative . . .

According to a history written by Douglas Amy, a Mount Holyoke College politics professor, some cities jettisoned proportional voting along with other corruption-busting Progressive Era reforms such as replacing mayors.

New York City, where a Communist was elected to the City Council in the 1940s, abandoned the method during the Cold War era after Democrats decried it as a "political importation from the Kremlin."

Cincinnati rejected the system in 1957 after a campaign in which opponents asked whether the city wanted a "Negro Mayor." Proportional voting had allowed African Americans to win seats on the City Council for the first time in the city's history. . .,1,4207139,full.story


Consultant Teaching Democrats How to be Religious Hypocrites - Just Like Republicans!

DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, NY TIMES - Party strategists and nonpartisan pollsters credit the operative, Mara Vanderslice, and her 2-year-old consulting firm, Common Good Strategies, with helping a handful of Democratic candidates make deep inroads among white evangelical and churchgoing Roman Catholic voters in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Exit polls show that Ms. Vanderslice's candidates did 10 percentage points or so better than Democrats nationally among those voters, who make up about a third of the electorate. . .

Democratic officials in several states said Ms. Vanderslice and her business partner, Eric Sapp, pushed sometimes reluctant Democrats to speak publicly, early and in detail about the religious underpinnings of their policy views. They persuaded candidates to speak at conservative religious schools and to buy early commercials on Christian radio. They organized meetings and conference calls for candidates to speak privately with moderate and conservative members of the clergy.

In Michigan, they helped the state's Democratic Party follow up on these meetings by incorporating recognizably biblical language into its platform. In Michigan and Ohio, they enlisted nuns in phone banks to urge voters who were Catholic or opposed abortion rights to support Democratic candidates, with some of the nuns saying they were making the case in religious terms.

But Ms. Vanderslice's efforts to integrate faith into Democratic campaigns troubles some liberals, who accuse her of mimicking the Christian right. Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said her encouragement of such overt religiosity raised "red flags" about the traditional separation of church and state.

"I don't want any politician prostituting the sanctity of religion," Mr. Gaddy said, adding that nonbelievers also "have a right to feel they are represented at the highest levels of government."

Oil Companies Set to Pirate Iraqi Reserves

JOSHUA GALLU, SPIEGEL.DE - The Iraqi government is considering a new oil law that could give private oil companies greater control over its vast reserves. In light of rampant violence and shaky democratic institutions, many fear the law is being pushed through hastily by special interests behind closed doors. . .

The draft law lays the ground work for private oil companies to take large stakes in Iraq's oil. The new law would allow the controversial partnerships known as 'production sharing agreements'. Oil companies favor PSAs, because they limit the risk of cost overruns while giving greater potential for profit. . .

It's also dangerous. It means governments are legally committing themselves to oil deals that they've negotiated from a position of weakness. And, the contracts typically span decades. Companies argue they need long-term legal security to justify huge investments in risky countries; the current draft recommends 15 to 20 years.

Nevertheless, Iraq carries little exploratory risk -- OPEC estimates Iraq sits atop some 115 billion barrels of reserves and only a small fraction of its oil fields are in use. By signing oil deals with Iraq, oil companies could account for those reserves in their books without setting foot in the country -- that alone is enough to boost the company's stock. And, by negotiating deals while Iraq is unstable, companies could lock in a risk premium that may be much lower five or ten years from now.,1518,456212,00.html

Friday, December 29, 2006


Wages that an average CEO earns before lunchtime: more than a full-time minimum wage worker makes in a year

Ratio of the average U.S. CEO's annual pay to a minimum wage worker's: 821:1

Total compensation in 2005 of Barry Diller of IAC - Interactive, the highest paid CEO in the US today: $469 million

Percentage of Americans who feel chronically overworked: 30

Years of unused vacation time that American workers collectively give back to their employers each year: 1.6 million

Percentage of women earning less than $40,000 per year who receive no paid vacation time at all: 37

Payment per episode that Donald Trump receives to host The Apprentice: $3,000,000

Average amount that companies spend to recruit a new CEO from outside the company: $2,000,000

Probability that the newly hired CEO will either quit or be fired within the first eighteen months: 1 in 2

Estimated number of people lined up outside the new M&M store set to open in Times Square responding to ads for "on-the-spot" hiring for 200 jobs, 65 of which were fulltime: between 5,000 and 6,000

Starting salary that drew them there: $10.75 per hour

Fee Paris Hilton is seeking to host a New Year's Eve party in NYC, Miami, or L.A.: $100,000 plus a private jet

Amount that Ms. Hilton is set to inherit from the Hilton Hotel fortune: $350 million

Number of times that Congress has reduced the estate tax since it last raised the federal minimum wage: 9

Number of workers who would directly benefit from an increase in the minimum wage: 5.6 million

Number of very large estates that would directly benefit from a reduction in the estate tax: 8,200

Number of households using credit to cover basic living expenses: 7 in 10

Amount in tax breaks and subsidies that last year's energy bill paid out to the gas and oil industry during a period of record profits and higher prices at the pump: $6 billion

Campaign donations that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who voted for the energy bill, received from the oil and gas industry: $500,000, making her the top recipient of oil contributions in the 2006 election cycle

Percentage of U.S. workers who are confident they will be able to live comfortably after retirement: 68

Percentage who have saved less than $25,000 toward their retirement: 53

Percent of African-American and Latino families that have zero or negative net worth, respectively: 31 and 38

Total Wal-Mart received in government subsidies, sometimes called "corporate welfare" by activists, in 2005: $3.75 billion

Projected total in Christmas bonuses that the five largest investment banks in New York City will pay out in 2006: $36 billion

Estimated additional amount U.S. workers would receive annually if all employers obeyed workplace laws: $19 billion

Percentage increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses for the average American in the past 5 years: 93

Estimated amount the U.S. would save each year on paperwork if it adopted single-payer health care: $161 billion

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fox captions 2006

Although these are not examples of specific conservative commentators making outrageous comments, Fox News made a regular practice of attacking Democrats or repeating Republican talking points in on-screen text during its coverage of political issues. Some examples:

"All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could It Be a Good Thing?" [2/23/06]

"Attacking Capitalism: Have Dems Declared War on America?" [2/18/06]

"Dems Helping the Enemy?" [5/22/06]

"A Lamont Win, Bad News for Democracy in Mideast?"

"Have the Democrats Forgotten the Lessons of 9/11?"

"Is the Democratic Party Soft on Terror?" [8/8/06]

"The #1 President on Mideast Matters: George W Bush?" [8/14/06]

"Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?" [8/16/06]

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Parable For Our Times

Bill Moyers
December 22, 2006 Article Here

Bill Moyers is president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. The center's senior fellow, Lew Daly, was his accomplice in this essay, written exclusively for

The Christian story begins simply: A child is given, a son. He grows up to be a teacher, sage, healer and prophet. He gains a large following. To many he is a divine savior; to the rich and powerful he is an enemy. They put him to death in brutal fashion, befitting his humble beginnings in peasant Galilee and his birth in a stall thick with the raw odor of animals.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus preached in the Temple to large crowds, reaching the height of his power. There he told the parable that likely sealed his fate. He said there was a man who created a prosperous vineyard and then rented it to some tenants while he went away on a journey. At harvest time, the owner of vineyard sent a servant to collect a portion from the tenants, but they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. Another servant came, and they struck him on the head. Another they killed. Finally, the owner sent his own son to collect the back payments. “They will respect my son,” he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, and knew him to be the heir, they saw their chance to take full possession of the harvest. And so they killed the son, thinking now they would owe nothing from the vineyard to anyone.

The listeners understood the symbolism: God, of course, is the owner of the vineyard, and the vineyard is Israel or the covenant, or, more broadly, the whole creation. It is all that God entrusts to the leaders of his people. And what is in question is their stewardship of this bounty.

In the parable, the “tenants” are the leaders of Israel. They hoard the fruits of the vineyard for themselves, instead of sharing the fruits as the covenant teaches, according to God’s holy purposes. And the holiest of God’s purposes, ancient tradition taught, is helping the poor, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the stranger—all who do not have the resources to live in a manner befitting their dignity as creatures made in God’s image, as children of God.

When he finished the story, Jesus asked the people what the owner of the vineyard will do when he comes back. “He will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others,” Jesus tells them. In the Gospel of Matthew, the people themselves answered: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called “tax relief”; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the “War on Terror"; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.

• • •

The story is told of the devil and a companion walking along the streets. The companion saw a man reach down and pick up the truth from the sidewalk. "You're finished," the companion said to the devil. "I just saw that man pick up the truth from the street, and that means you are finished." The devil smiled and answered, "Don't worry. He's a human, and in 15 minutes he will have turned the truth into a concept and no one will know what it is."

From theories stubbornly followed in defiance of truth on the street comes ruin. Laissez-faire was never a good idea; in practice it is ruinous.

This is the season to recall Walt Whitman. He wrote in Democratic Vistas, around 1870:

The true gravitation-hold of liberalism in the United States will be a more universal ownership of property, general homesteads, general comfort—a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth. As the human frame, or, indeed, any object in this manifold universe, is best kept together by the simple miracle of its own cohesion, and the necessity, exercise and profit thereof, so a great and varied nationality, occupying millions of square miles, were firmest held and knit by the principle of the safety and endurance of the aggregate of its middling property owners.

How prophetic to see anything like that in the aftermath of the Civil War, in which Whitman had volunteered as a nurse. But in a time of great upheaval, countered by popular mobilization after mobilization, the great poet’s took hold in the people's imagination. Whitman’s liberalism had neither the cultural elitism of those identified with the term on the left, nor the laissez-faire extremism of the free-market “liberals” on the right. Liberalism meant “the safety and endurance of the aggregate of middling property owners.” Its consummation was the New Deal social compact we inherited from five presidents and from substantial voting majorities for a generation after the Great Depression, and the result was the prospect of a fair and just society—a cohesion—that truly made us a democratic people.

Equality is not an objective that can be achieved but it is a goal worth fighting for. A more equal society would bring us closer to the “self-evident truth” of our common humanity. I remember the early 1960s, when for a season one could imagine progress among the races, a nation finally accepting immigrants for their value not only to the economy but to our collective identity, a people sniffing the prospect of progress. One could look at the person who is different in some particular way—skin color, language, religion—without feeling fear. America, so long the exploiter of the black, red, brown, and yellow, was feeling its oats; we were on our way to becoming the land of opportunity, at last. Now inequality—especially between wealth and worker—has opened like an unbridgeable chasm.

Ronald Reagan once described a particular man he knew who was good steward of resources in the biblical sense. “This is a man,” Reagan said, “who in his own business, before he entered politics, instituted a profit-sharing plan, before unions had ever thought of it. He put in health and medical insurance for all his employees. He took 50 percent of the profits before taxes and set up a retirement program, a pension plan for all his employees. He sent checks for life to an employee who was ill and couldn’t work. He provided nursing care for the children of mothers who worked in the stores.”

That man was Barry Goldwater, a businessman before he entered politics. It’s incredible how far we have deviated from even the most conservative understanding of social responsibility. For a generation now Goldwater’s children have done everything they could to destroy the social compact between workers and employers, and to discredit, defame, and even destroy anyone who said their course was wrong. Principled conservatism was turned into an ideological caricature whose cardinal tenet was of taxation as a form of theft, or, as the libertarian icon Robert Nozick called it, “force labor.” What has happened to us that such anti-democratic ideas could become a governing theory?

• • •

Of course it’s hard to grasp what really motivated this movement. Many of the new conservative elites profess devotion to the needs of ordinary people, in contrast with some of their counterparts a hundred years ago who were often Social Darwinists, and couldn’t have been more convinced that a vast chasm between the rich and poor is the natural state of things. But after 30 years of conservative revival and a dramatic return of the discredited “voodoo economics” of the 1980s under George W. Bush, it’s reasonable to follow the old biblical proverb that says by their fruits you shall know them. By that realistic standard, I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow’s analysis sums it up well: What it’s all about, he simply said, is “the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

I grew up in East Texas, in a county that once had more slaves than any other in Texas. It is impossible to forget that as the slave power grew in the South and King Cotton catapulted the new nation into the global marketplace, the whole politics of the country was infected with a rule of property that did not—indeed could not—distinguish the ownership of things from the ownership of human beings. Drawing from the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation, the abolitionists simply said this: the rule of law has become moral anarchy. God’s light clarified that the rule of law had become moral anarchy.

Something was wrong in the very foundation of things, and so the foundation had to be rebuilt on sounder principles. But no mere parchment of words divulged the principles that ultimately preserved the union. They were written in blood—thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dead Americans. And so by untold sacrifice the rule of law was righted to exclude human property. Then, of course, the slave power simply rejected the rule of law and established rule by terror. The feudal south became the fascist south. It did happen here, to answer Sinclair Lewis’s famous riddle of the 1930s.

What is finally at the root of these reactionary forces that have so disturbed the social fabric and threatened to undo the republic? If a $4 billion dollar investment in chattel labor was worth the price of civil war and 600,000 dead in 1860, is it really any wonder that the richest Americans would not suffer for too long a political consensus that pushed their share of national income down by a third, and held it there—about at the level of their counterparts in “socialist” Europe—for a generation? Make no mistake about it, from the days of the American Liberty League in 1936 (the group Franklin Roosevelt had in mind with his crowd-pleasing battle cry, “I welcome their hatred!”) they never gave up on returning to their former glory. They just failed to do it. Ordinary people had powerful institutions and laws on their side that thwarted them—unions, churches, and, yes, government programs that were ratified by large majorities decade after decade.

The scale of the disorder in our national priorities right now is truly staggering; it approaches moral anarchy. Alexander Hamilton, the conservative genius of the financial class, warned this could happen. Speaking to the New York State legislature in 1788, he said:

As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as others.

Conservatives who revere the founding fathers tend to stress the last point—that there is nothing to be done about this "common misfortune." It is up to the rest of us, who see the founding fathers not as gods but as inspired although flawed human beings—the hand that scribbled "All men are created equal" also stroked the breasts and thighs of a slave woman, whom he considered his property—to take on "the tendency of things " to "depart from the republican standard," and hold our country to its highest, and most humane, ideals.

As stewards of democracy, we, too, have a covenant—with one another.

Friday, December 22, 2006

'Christian' Game Leaves Behind A Pile of Corpses

By Matt Taibbi,
Posted on December 20, 2006

Left Behind: Eternal Forces allows you to command the tribulation force, uncover the truth about worldwide disappearances, and save as many people as possible from the antichrist.
Lead the Tribulation Force from the book series, including Rayford, Chloe, Buck and Bruce against Nicolae Carpathia -- the antichrist.
Defend yourselves from the forces of the antichrist. Engage in physical and spiritual warfare!
Use Prayer and Special Abilities to boost the Spirit of your forces! Command over 30 unit types through dozens of missions and online player action!
Defend against the spiritual influences and physical warfare of the antichrist's army through the power of prayer and worship!

-- Left Behind: Eternal Forces game synopsis

It's been a long time coming, but this week I finally received the Christmas gift I've been waiting for for what seems like ages -- my "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" video game.

This is the first Christmas gift I've ever bought for myself. Normally, I hate Christmas. In fact, I make it a point each year to search out and print out all the news stories from around the world involving thefts from/desecrations of nativity scenes. When I'm finished, I plaster my office area with all the photos of the glum Yuletiders standing around the now-headless Josephs and Marys, and I make this news-mural my private sanctuary, the place I run to when the holidays (and particularly the holiday commercials) get to be too much to take.

The very happiest Christmas of my life, in fact, came two years ago, when some as-yet-unapprehended genius in Knoxville, Tennessee not only beheaded a nativity scene baby Jesus, and not only threw said head through a glass door, but scrawled an upside-down cross on Mary's chest and doused her face with dark paint. It's the paint on Mary's face that got me, and still gets me. What does that mean? What is the culprit trying to say? A great mystery. Every time I think I hate Christmas, I think of that person, and I realize that compared to him, I'm just a puppy fresh out of the womb, crawling around blind on the floor of the world. There is still a Long Way To Go, even for me.

This year's offerings, incidentally, are slightly above average. In Canada there is a developing serial crime story involving an enormous nativity scene in Old Montreal, a scene that goes up every year as part of the Fete de Noel. Last year, thieves boosted the baby Jesus; his body was never recovered. This forced the Fete organizers to literally anchor Jesus to his cradle this year. The precautions were to no avail, however, as this past weekend bandits sawed off the legs of several of the wise men at the knees. Now they are still wise, but about 30% shorter. Some of the huge fiberglass figures also had their eyes poked out. Joseph's cane was also stolen, pried out of his hands. I am amused by the image of a fiberglass Joseph, eyes completely blank and staring straight ahead, fighting and eventually losing a battle with a living human being to keep hold of his fake cane -- and ultimately left standing there in the dark night, empty hand extended.

Then there is this story in Naples: thieves made away with over a million Euros worth of figurines from a nativity scene in the Chiesa di San Nicola alla Carita church. Normally nativity thefts with a monetary motive don't really count for me, but this one was interesting because the only figures the thieves left behind were Jesus and a donkey -- apparently because they were worth significantly less than the others. This, to me, is a cheering holiday detail. So is the article I recently read in the Daily Southtown, one of the Chicago Sun-Times papers, which reported that General Foam Plastics, a North Carolina company that makes nativity scenes, has been besieged this year with calls for replacement Jesus dolls. The same story claimed that police in New Jersey found 27 stolen Jesus dolls in the back of a single car. The article, however, was staunchly pro-Jesus. "Christ is the center of our Christmas," it quoted one theft victim as saying. "You can steal him from our porch, but you can't steal him from our hearts."

This, certainly, is one of the downsides to the nativity-desecration phenomenon. Almost every community has one such incident and it almost always makes the town's local newspaper, accompanied by a sad-looking photo of the ravaged nativity, with its empty manger surrounded by a plastic-eyed Joseph and Mary staring blankly ahead in inanimate bereavement. The community subsequently makes a public appeal to the thief, usually a gothed-out teenager who ends up getting caught by a vigilant parent who finds an unexpected bounty while searching for junior's pot stash in his closet. The teen is then dragged by his eyebrow-stud across the street and forced to re-deposit little plastic Jesus in his manger, at which point the newspapers are contacted and the whole ordeal is re-sold to the community as a "Christmas miracle." You may even see this story reported as a "Second Coming." When I become Minister of the Interior in post-revolutionary America, the reporters who write those stories will be fitted with concrete moccasins and sent to work in logging camps in the Alaskan tundra.

Anyway, back to the Left Behind game, which is the first gift I've ever gotten that actually fills me with Holiday Spirit. For those of you who are not familiar with Left Behind, it is an enormously popular Christian book series which depicts an Armageddon scenario in which the true believers are whisked up to heaven at the Second Coming, literally vanishing out of thin air even as they do things like pilot commercial jet-liners, leaving the rest of us amoral nihilists on earth to bathe in our own blood and generally massacre each other. In the video game, the Believers roam a desecrated New York City landscape (it is highly amusing that both al-Qaeda and the makers of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" chose to make their masterpiece against a canvas of a burning Manhattan) wasting the forces of the antichrist, leaving huge piles of bodies everywhere they go. It is hard to imagine a product that better encapsulates, in one package, the spirit of both modern American capitalism and modern American Christianity. If you have a serious gore Jones, it's also not a bad video game. The sound track (especially the "Street Fight, Main Theme" kicks ass.

Those of you who were not on the original Left Behind mailing list really missed out, as the emails the company sent out in anticipation of this video game launch are easily some of the greatest examples of unintentional comedy ever to grace the internet. From the start, the company asked its customers to assist them with prayer, and as such sent out regular "prayer requests," for instance this letter asking us to pray for a good reception at a Christian retail convention:

Left Behind Eternal Forces for the PC is getting closer to completion everyday, and we appreciate your prayers!
We would ask that you keep the Left Behind Games staff in your continued prayers as we get closer to our release date, from spiritual warfare, and protection for our families.
We will be attending the 2006 International Christian Retail Show in Colorado on April 10th to the 13th, please pray that God will bless our presence at his show.

The company was a little quiet after that, but as the release neared and it began focusing on the inevitably problematic marketing campaign, it increasingly asked for prayer help with its promotional efforts. Here's one from October:

Left Behind Prayer Requests:

  1. Wisdom as we prepare our promotional strategies
  2. Travel safety as our team attends meetings and interviews
  3. Unity as a team and that our efforts bring glory to our Lord

Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. God bless you!

As the launch neared, the requests began to be directed towards the reviewers:

Left Behind: Eternal Forces will be available at stores this weekend! Thank you for helping to make this happen. We are praising God! Please keep the game in your prayers.

  1. Critics and reviewers will give positive feedback on the game
  2. Church and youth leaders will see the potential of using the game as an outreach tool.
  3. Players will multiply as they invite their friends to play with them online.
  4. God will bless this game and it will honor Him.

But when the date arrived, the company's "Prayer Team leader," Annette Brown, began to get more and more specific in her corporate prayer goals:

  1. Pray God will put it on the heart of the consumers to purchase our product at select Walamart [sic] Stores (top 100 stores) that have our invetory [sic].
  2. Next weekend is the biggest shopping weekend of the year, pray the game hits record sales for PC Games.
  3. The press is still reviewing the game, pray they will be kind in their reviews.

I mean, how twisted do you have to be to pray that consumers will buy your product at select Wal-Mart stores? Wouldn't you hesitate and call a psychiatrist before sending that out into cyber-space?

The requests from Thanksgiving week:

Please pray that our sales will sky rocket this weekend. We have a big God that promises to surpass all that we could ask of Him.

Once reviewers got hold of the game, and started to point out the odd dichotomy between its supposedly Christian message and its corpse-strewn video landscape, the company began to pray for good media appearances:

Prayer requests:

  1. God will give Troy, Robilyn and Jeff wisdom during their many interviews.
  2. God will use these interviews to open the hearts and minds of the listeners to the true intentions and purpose of the game.
  3. God will bless us as we develop and choose our sales force.

Anyway, if you haven't bought it already, I strongly advise everyone reading this to log on to and buy the game. It is the perfect American holiday gift. Celebrate the birth of Jesus by wasting dozens of people at a time, using a provocative variety of Christ-sanctioned weapons! You can even operate tanks to destroy whole areas of New York City! Who knows, you might even get to kill Ethan Hawke ("slumming" in a ball cap and dirty jeans) in a Marxist bookstore-coffeeshop on 8th street! Kill, kill, kill!

Merry Christmas, America.

Watch the video trailer HERE.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone.

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

Related Story:
Kids Kill In Violent Christian Videogame

FBI sting operation sets up black youth

Published Dec 21, 2006 10:35 PM

On Dec. 8, federal authorities in Chicago announced charges against Derrick Shareef, a young Black Muslim male who also goes by the name Talib Abu Salam Ibn Shareef. The indictment against the 22-year-old alleges a plot that validates the so-called “war on terror.”

What an affidavit of the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force agent in charge of the investigation reveals is that the young man’s anger and frustration with racist U.S. society and U.S. imperialism were taken advantage of and directed by a paid informant.

Just as in the arrests of five African-American and two Haitian men in Florida earlier this year, it seems that a federal informant directed and delivered an oppressed youth to federal authorities.

The official charges against Shareef are one count of attempting to damage or destroy a building by fire or explosion and one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The alleged weapons of mass destruction are four grenades, shrapnel from metal garbage cans and a 9-millimeter handgun.

The investigators said that Shareef was acting alone. Robert Grant, the agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office, said, “He fixed on a day of December 22nd on Friday ... because it was the Friday before Christmas and thought that would be the highest concentration of shoppers that he could kill and injure.”

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a news release, “While these are very serious charges, at no time was the public in any imminent peril.”

Even according to the official story, the plan to attack a mall on Dec. 22 during the shopping rush was not Shareef’s idea, but the idea of the FBI’s “confidential source.” The affidavit says the informant asked Shareef if it would be better to “hit the mall,” and further says, “I mean, alright, we gotta look at it this way, we want to disrupt Christmas.”

Shareef had no connections to get weapons other than the informant. The informant fed him plans about what to do and how to do it and what would be most effective, and it was the informant who drove him and whose car was to be used on the day of the supposed attack.

While the affidavit says Shareef was under investigation since September 2006, it makes no mention of how the informant came into contact with the young man.

Was Derrick Shareef angry? That is to be expected. Any truly compassionate person need only look at life for an oppressed youth under capitalism to understand the young man’s anger, given the daily indignities of his life.

This arrest, as well as the round-ups of Arab, Southeast Asian and Muslim people shortly after 9/11 and the recent roundups of immigrant workers, along with increased state repression being felt in poor and communities of color around the country, shows the hardening of U.S. rulers’ state agents in wake of a rising global rebellion and a deepening capitalist crisis.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, some of the same policy makers behind the current Bush regime began plotting what they felt would be an unimpeded assault on the global working class.

The oil reserves and other riches in Arab lands, Africa and South America were up for grabs, and “rogue states” that dared defy U.S. imperialism would feel its weight.

Reality now has smashed those well-laid plans. The Iraqi resistance has shown a people’s resolve cannot be simply ground into dust by tank treads or blown to bits by high-tech weaponry, but is forged by history and is stronger than the aims of Western world imperialism and the designs of capitalist rulers.

Though not yet at movement pitch, the workers’ struggle and the struggles against racism and imperialist war in the U.S. have been emboldened by the courage and strength of immigrant workers, who have much to lose.

On May Day of this year, immigrant workers launched the first general strike against oppressive federal legislation. The response from the Bush administration has been more oppression and round-ups, using the racist and vile excuse of the “war on terror” as part of its reasoning.

This latest arrest of Derrick Shareef is part of the Bush regime’s ploy of repression and obfuscation to whip U.S. workers into a frenzy. But whether headed by Republicans or Democrats, the government’s policies are driven by the nature of capitalist production.

While the U.S. wages war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia and supports oppressive regimes around the world, it wages a constant war here at home. The police are occupiers in communities of color and terrorize the inner city as part of a nationwide trend of gentrification of urban areas.

What is needed is for the movement to engage youth, many of whom face a bleak future, as part of a struggle of the masses against a common oppressor. That struggle should take up the banner of socialism and show that there is an answer to the ills of capitalism—and the answer is socialism.

Copyright © 1995-2006 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan Leader, Dies

Turkmen President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov has died, Turkmenistan state-controlled television said on Thursday confirming an earlier report from a government source.

"Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) the Great has died," said a news presenter on Turkmen state-controlled television.

He said the 66-year-old leader had died of a sudden cardiac arrest. The TV ran still images of a national flag in a black-bordered frame.

Niyazov, 66, had been in power in his reclusive Central Asian state -- the second largest natural gas producer in the former Soviet Union -- since 1985 before independence from Moscow.

He tolerated no dissent and enjoyed a flourishing personality cult with thousands of portraits and statues to him throughout the country.

His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.

A Reuters correspondent in the Turkmen capital said the situation was calm but workers were seen removing New Year decorations from fir trees in the streets.

Poll: Venezuelans Have Highest Regard for Their Democracy

By Gregory Wilpert

Venezuelans view their democracy more favorably than the citizens of all other Latin American countries view their own democracies, except Uruguay, according to a new survey released by the Chilean NGO Latinbarometro last Saturday. Also, Venezuela is in first place in several measures of political participation, compared to all other Latin American countries.

According to the Latinobarometro survey, Venezuelans rank their democracy as being more fully realized than the citizens of all other surveyed countries do except Uruguay. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means a country that is not democratic and 10 is a country that is completely democratic, Venezuelans, on average, gave their own democracy a score of 7.0. The Latin American average was 5.8, with Uruguay having the highest score, of 7.2, and Paraguay the lowest, at 3.9.

Similarly, Venezuelans say more often than the citizens all other countries except Uruguayans that they are satisfied with their democracy. 57% of Venezuelans are happy with Venezuelan democracy, which is the second highest percentage, with 66% of Uruguayans expressing satisfaction. The average for all countries surveyed was 38%, with citizens of Peru, Ecuador, and Paraguay, expressing the least satisfaction, of 23%, 22%, and 12% respectively.

For Venezuela, the percentage of citizens surveyed who indicated satisfaction increased more since 1998, the year Chavez was elected, than any other country. The percentage expressing satisfaction increased from 32% to 57% in those eight years.

In terms of political participation, Venezuelans indicate that they are more politically active than the citizens of any other surveyed country. Venezuelans have the highest percentage of citizens that say they discuss politics regularly (47%, average is 26%), who say that they try to convince others on political matters (32%, average is 16%), who participate in demonstrations (26%, average is 12%), and who say they are active in a political party (25%, average is 9%).

With regard to whether they believe that elections in their country are 'clean,' Venezuelans answer in the affirmative 56% of the time, which puts them in third place, after Uruguay (83%) and Chile (69%). These were the only three where over half said they believed elections were clean. On average, only 41% of Latin Americans expressed confidence in elections in their country. Paraguayans (20%) and Ecuadorians (21%) expressed the least confidence in their elections.

According to Latinobarometro, Venezuelans and Uruguayans expressed the highest percentage of confidence that elections were the most effective means to promote change in their country (both 71%), compared to 57% for all of Latin America.

Latinobarometro has been conducting an annual poll in Latin American countries for the past 13 years. The polls are financed by a variety of multilateral agencies, such as the European Union, the Inter- American Development Bank, and the World Bank. The 2006 poll was conducted in 18 countries in the month of October 2006 and involved interviews with over 20,000 people. Its margin of error is about 3% (varies from country to country).

The Latinobarometro report contradicted the common perception that Latin America was heading towards more authoritarian regimes with the recent political shift towards the left. 'It is clear that there is no authoritarian regression [in Latin America], which is demonstrated by the fact that 14 presidents were substituted, for various reasons and due to popular pressure prior to the end of their mandate and within the valid legal framework in each of the countries,' said the report.

According to Latinobarometro, 'An important part of the errors of perception about the evolution and development of the region are produced by the false expectations that international elites have about what the region should be doing.'

Countries included in the survey were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Link: 2006 Latinobarometro Survey (Spanish, PDF file) Ongoing News and Analysis from Venezuela

Dobson slammed on "fiction[al]" anti-gay Time Mag column

Dear Dr. Dobson:

I am writing to ask that you cease and desist from quoting my research in the future. I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine. Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.

From what I understand, this is not the first time you have manipulated research in pursuit of your goals. This practice is not in the best interest of scientific inquiry, nor does bearing false witness serve your purpose of furthering morality and strengthening the family.

Finally, there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article. My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can't raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.

I trust that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.


Carol Gilligan, PhD, New York University, Professor

U.S. and Britain to Add Ships to Persian Gulf in Signal to Iran

Does anyone else want to scream and tear their hair out?!--Pete

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 — The United States and Britain will begin moving additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region in a display of military resolve toward Iran that will come as the United Nations continues to debate possible sanctions against the country, Pentagon and military officials said Wednesday.

The officials said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was expected this week to approve a request by commanders for a second aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran by early next year.

Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might well call the growing presence provocative. One purpose of the deployment, they said, is to make clear that the focus on ground troops in Iraq has not made it impossible for the United States and its allies to maintain a military watch on Iran. That would also reassure Washington’s allies in the region who are concerned about Iran’s intentions.

The officials said the planned growth in naval power in the gulf and surrounding waters would be useful in enforcing any sanctions that the United Nations might impose as part of Washington’s strategy to punish Iran for what it sees as ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. And the buildup would address another concern: that Iran could try to block oil shipments from the gulf in retaliation for United Nations sanctions or other American-led pressure.

Steps are already being taken to increase the number of minesweeping vessels and magnetic “sleds” carried by helicopters to improve the ability to counter Iranian mines that could block oil-shipping lanes, Pentagon and military officials said.

As part of future deployments after the first of the year, the British Navy plans to add two mine-hunting vessels to its ships that already are part of the international coalition patrolling waters in the Persian Gulf.

A Royal Navy news release said the ship movements were aimed at “maintaining familiarity with the challenges of warm water mine-hunting conditions.” But a senior British official said: “We are increasing our presence. That is only prudent.” Military officers said doubling the aircraft carrier presence in the region could be accomplished quickly by a shift in sailing schedules.

As opposed to ground and air forces that require bases in the region, naval forces offer a capacity for projecting power in parts of the world where a large American footprint is controversial, and unwanted even by allies. Many of the ships could be kept over the horizon, out of sight, but close enough to project their power quickly if needed.

Vice Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander of naval forces across the military’s Central Command, said that while “Iranian tone and rhetoric creates an environment of intimidation and fear,” the United States “must be careful not to contribute to escalation.” In an interview from his headquarters in Bahrain, Admiral Walsh declined to discuss the specifics of future deployments. “To assure our friends, we have to have capabilities to secure the critical sea lines of communication,” he said.

“They need reassurances that we expect to be part of the effort here for the long term, that we will not run away from intimidation and that we will be part of the effort here for security and stability at sea for the long term,” he added. “Our position must be visible and it must have muscle in order to be credible. That requires sustained presence.”

Other military and Pentagon officials did describe specifics of the planned deployments in order to clarify the rationale for the movement of ships and aircraft, but they would not do so by name because Mr. Gates had not yet signed any deployment orders.

Pentagon officials said that the military’s joint staff, which plans operations and manages deployments, had recently received what is called a “request for forces” from commanders asking for a second aircraft carrier strike group in the region, and that a deployment order was expected to be signed by the end of the week by Mr. Gates. That specific request was mentioned in various news accounts over the past few days.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group — including three escort ships, an attack submarine and 6,500 sailors in all — entered the Persian Gulf on Dec. 11 after a naval exercise to practice halting vessels suspected of smuggling nuclear materials in waters across the region. A carrier had not been inside the gulf since the Enterprise left in July, according to Pentagon officials. The next carrier scheduled to sail toward the Middle East is the Stennis, already set to depart Bremerton, Wash., for the region in late January, Navy officers said.

Officials expressed doubt that the Stennis and its escorts would be asked to set sail before the holiday season, but it could be ordered to sea several weeks earlier than planned. It could then overlap for months with the Eisenhower, which is not scheduled to return home until May, offering ample time to decide whether to send another carrier or to extend the Eisenhower’s tour to keep the carrier presence at two.

Doubling the number of carriers in the region offers commanders the flexibility of either keeping both strike groups in the gulf or keeping one near Iran while placing a second carrier group outside the gulf, where it would be in position to fly combat patrols over Afghanistan or cope with growing violence in the Horn of Africa.

But these same officials acknowledge that Iran is the focus of any new deployments, as administration officials view recent bold moves by Iran — and by North Korea, as well — as at least partly explained by assessments in Tehran and North Korea that the American military is bogged down in Iraq and incapable of fully projecting power elsewhere.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, has made the case that the United States should seek to create “a thousand-ship Navy.” That would be impossible for the United States alone given current budgets, so instead it would be accomplished by operating more closely with allied warships to better cover critical areas like the Persian Gulf.

He said that such a cooperative naval concept would be a “global maritime partnership that unites navies, coast guards, maritime forces, port operators, commercial shippers and many other government and nongovernment agencies to address maritime concerns.”

As an example, at present there are about 45 warships deployed in the Persian Gulf and waters across the region from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, with a third of those supplied by allies, which this month include Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan and Britain.

Vermont soldier offers troops baked goods, way to speak out against war

By Shay Totten |Vermont Guardian

Posted December 19, 2006

QUANTICO, VA — A Vermont soldier at the center of a national effort to help active-duty military personnel find ways to tell members of Congress they want the United States to pull out of Iraq is now handing out care packages at several military bases around the country that make it easy for troops to speak out.

The care packages include informational flyers and baked goods, as well as copies of the movie, Sir No Sir, a documentary about military resisters during the Vietnam War, and The Ground Truth, which follows soldiers from basic training to deployment to Iraq to their homecoming and reintegration.

“The main purpose of the care packages though, is to carry an appeal for redress in a pre-addressed envelope to the troops,” said Liam Madden, a Bellows Falls native, and U.S. Marine sergeant.

Madden said if 100 care packages can be distributed at each of the bases, he would consider that a success. The idea was kicked around on a conference call regarding the appeal for redress several weeks ago.

An “appeal for redress” is a legal means by which service members can appeal to members of Congress to urge an end to a U.S. military occupation. Under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, active-duty military, National Guard and reservists can send a protected communication to a member of Congress regarding any subject without reprisal.

“We saw the holidays as a great opportunity to reach out to the troops and simultaneously show our support and deliver our message to the active duty,” Madden said.

There are volunteers working at the following bases: Fort Carson in Colorado; Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona; Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; Groton Naval Base in Connecticut; Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia; and the cluster of bases in southern California, as well as bases near Washington, DC.

“We are working with a few dozen volunteers. Some are getting their first taste of this type of participation,” said Madden. “The project is a coalition of active service members who have submitted appeals for redress, veterans and veterans organizations, military families, and concerned citizens throughout the country.”

Madden said he has not received any hostile responses from his fellow service members or his chain of command.

“I've found that very few people support the occupation, but that many have reservations about us withdrawing too quickly or they feel we now owe the Iraqi people our help,” said Madden. “I also get the impression that the idea of being socially and politically involved is something very foreign to most of the fellow service members I've encountered.”

Madden hopes the packages will be delivered before the new year, and hopefully before Christmas.

Madden, a 2002 graduate of Bellows Falls High School, is currently stationed in Quantico, VA, after serving in Iraq's Anbar province from September 2004 until February 2005. He currently has two months left on duty and does not plan to re-enlist.

To date, more than 1,200 U.S. servicemen and women have signed these appeals, which state: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”

The idea for the redress appeals originated in January when Seaman Jonathan Hutto of Atlanta, GA, was deployed to Iraq.

An old buddy of Hutto’s, who was a member of the G.I. movement to resist the Vietnam War back in the early 1970s, sent him a 30th anniversary copy of Soldiers in Revolt written by David Cortright. The book chronicles the movement within the military during the Vietnam War who advocated to end that war and bring the troops home. One of the avenues they used was appealing to political leaders in Washington.

By 1971 more than 250,000 of these active duty servicemen appealed to Congress. Reading this gave Hutto an inspiration to speak out.

During the Vietnam War era, many credit the outspoken words of veterans and active-duty soldiers for bringing about an end to that war, rather than any politician or citizen-led movement.

Madden, and others, hope that their speaking out will help bring a quick end to the Iraq War.

For more information

The group is looking for contributions to help pay for the packages, and is looking for additional volunteers.

To donate, checks can be mailed to: Appeal for Redress Holiday Project, P.O Box 53052, Washington, DC 20009-3052, or at

The ingredients of the care packages are:

• An appeal for redress in a pre-addressed envelope;
• The "bait," otherwise known as baked goods and other treats;
• Where they are available we are incorporating DVDs of the films Sir No Sir and The Ground Truth; and,
• Each regional team is in charge of all other "gifts" in the care packages such as informational flyers about the supporting organizations.

Powell pressed on one of the more blatant U.N. tetimony lies

Saudi Royals Snub Bush, Fund Opposition to U.S. Troops

By Jeffrey Klein and Paolo Pontoniere, New America Media
Posted on December 21, 2006

Early in November, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, in a memo leaked to the press recommended that Saudi Arabia play a leadership role in talks about Iraq's future. But even before the memo landed on Bush's White House desk, the Saudis were positioning themselves to directly influence strategy in Iraq:

  • While the debate about negotiating with the Iranians and the Syrians raged in America's leading circles, Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Riyadh for talks. Topic of conversation? The safety of Iraq's Sunni minority should American forces disengage. Simply put: the king read the riot act to the vice president.
  • A few weeks later the Iraq Study Group asserted that Saudi private citizens, and probably a few members of the Saudi royal family, have been financing the Sunni opposition in Iraq all along. This is the same opposition that is targeting U.S. troops. Last week, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah confirmed that his loyalty must lie with Iraq's Sunni tribal chiefs, even if his support also helps insurgents who have been fighting Americans and the Brits.
  • Early in November, the Saudis announced their intention to build a $10 billion wall (give or take a few billion) on the border with Iraq, with Raytheon as the top bidder. Raytheon, one of America's premier weapons manufacturers, has close ties to the neocons, including Richard Armitage, former undersecretary of state and Sean O'Keefe, secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. Raytheon's stock price is hovering near a seven-year high.

The Saudis are clear about their bottom line: If the United States isn't careful about withdrawing from Iraq, the Sunni kingdom will have no other choice but to arm Iraqi's Sunnis, especially if the Saudi's arch-rival, Iran, which has already destabilized the regional power equilibrium by launching a nuclear program, rushes into a military vacuum left by the Americans.

Last week in Riyadh, at the end of a two-day summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (a six-country organism including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates), the Saudis announced their interest in developing a joint nuclear energy program. Publicly, Arab officials said the program would be directed at meeting the burgeoning demand for electricity in the region. According to Gulf officials, despite their enormous oil reserves, which power everything from electricity generation to water desalination, the Gulf States need a new source of energy.

"Nuclear technology is an important technology to have for generating power," said Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, at the conclusion of the summit meeting, "and the Gulf states will need it equally."

Few observers doubt that promoting the idea of a joint atomic energy program between the predominantly Sunni Arab states is a way for Saudi Arabia to send a message to the United States that the Arab state will match Tehran's nuclear power if it needs to.

For years now the international press has been awash with reports about a Saudi collaboration with Pakistan to develop a Saudi nuclear program. Early in 2006, the German periodical Cicero reported that satellite imagery obtained by Germany's secret service indicated that Saudi Arabia has set up in Al-Sulaiyil, south of Riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles. According to Cicero, those silos may be already armed with long-range Ghauri-type missiles of Pakistani origin. This information was corroborated by John Pike, one of the United States' foremost military analysts. According to Pike, a great part of the financing for the so-called Islamic Bomb, Pakistan's nuclear program, has been provided by Saudi financiers.

How hard can the White House push back on the Saudis? It's the Saudis who are now doing the pushing. Last week Saudi financiers showed their political power by forcing Tony Blair to peremptorily cancel his own government's investigation of a slush fund reportedly kicking back 32 percent to Saudi royals on their military purchases from Great Britain. The Saudis reportedly told Blair they'd never buy British weaponry again if their Swiss bank accounts were investigated by the Brits.

"The Saudis think a nasty civil war in Iraq could quickly sour into an even nastier regional war," Pike says, "so they're not in a real patient mood."

Jeffrey Klein, a founding editor of Mother Jones, this summer received a Loeb, journalism's top award for business reporting. Paolo Pontoniere is a New America Media European commentator.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'Cut off funding for Iraq war'

SF Labor Council:
Published Dec 19, 2006 10:03 PM

On Dec. 11, the San Francisco Labor Council adopted the following resolution by unanimous vote:

Whereas the war in Iraq is continuing, and

Whereas the American people in the last election have clearly stated their opposition to this war, and

Whereas the war can’t continue without war funding, and

Whereas a major factor in ending the Vietnam war was the cut-off of funding by Congress, and

Whereas the Bush administration will ask for further funding for war early next year—up to $160 billion on top of the $70 billion approved by Congress last October; therefore,

Be it resolved that the SF Labor Council communicate its opposition to continued war funding directly with Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Tom Lantos and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein by setting up delegations to discuss the issue of ending war funding in order to bring the troops home now.

Submitted by Allan Fisher, David Welsh and Rodger Scott.

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USDA Stocks Organics Board with Business Reps

by Megan Tady

Dec. 20 – Food-safety activists are protesting the government's attempt to stack an organic-food advisory board with representatives of corporate agribusiness and food commerce.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the appointment of four new members to the National Organic Standards Board. The Board assists the USDA in determining what substances officially qualify as organic.

The USDA tapped individuals who represent Campbell Soup Company, General Mills, Phillips Mushroom Farms, and Stahlbush Island Farms to join the fifteen-member panel.

According to its charter, the Board is to include up to seven business representatives and three environmentalists, three consumer advocates, and a scientist. However, while all of the new appointees come from the business world, three of them are designated to fill seats reserved for an environmentalist, a consumer advocates and a scientist.

Phillips Mushroom Farms is the largest grower of specialty mushrooms in the United States. Out of fifteen cultivated mushroom varieties sold by Phillips, five are listed as organic. Tina Ellor, the USDA's choice to fill an "environmentalist" slot on the Board, is the technical director at Phillips. Ellor will replace outgoing member Nancy M. Ostiguy, from the Department of Entomology at Penn State. Ostiguy did not have any listed ties to industry.

Stahlbush Island Farms is a 4,000-acre farm in Oregon. While the farm's website says it uses sustainable farming practices, these appear to include the use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides in growing some crops. The site says, "If chemicals are necessary, we look to the organically approved chemical list first." Tracy Miedema, national sales and marketing manager of Stahlbush Farms, was appointed to represent consumer- and public-interest groups on the Board.

Both Campbell and General Mills manufacture food with genetically modified ingredients, though the companies also offer organic food. The USDA appointed Steve DeMuri, a senior manager at Campbell and technical expert of the company's organic production, to fill an organic food "handler/processor" position on the Board.

Meanwhile, Katrina Heinze, who manages global regulatory affairs for General Mills, was tapped as a scientist member of the Board. She holds a PhD in chemistry, but she will replace a scientist with no listed industry ties.

Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, said Americans should be concerned with the appointees' industry ties because the National Organic Standards Board is in a powerful position to help weaken or strengthen national organic standards. "A [National Organic Standards Board] that makes decisions in favor of big business will undoubtedly hurt organic family farmers and consumers as the organic standards are weakened by those that are simply profit motivated," Craig told The NewStandard.

With the new appointees, at least twelve of the Board's fifteen seats will be held by members with clear industry interests.

The Organic Consumers Association is urging Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and members of Congress to intervene and "work with the USDA to remove inappropriate appointees and reopen the appointment process to unbiased and non-industry-related candidates," according to a press statement.

In a written statement, the USDA told TNS the appointees are "extremely well qualified" and "represent organic production in Eastern, Midwestern, and the Pacific regions of the United States."

According to a USDA press statement, the agency solicited more than 11,000 certified organic producers and handlers for board nominees.


GEORGE MONBIOT, GUARDIAN, UK - In early December, defense lawyers acting for Jose Padilla, a US citizen detained as an "enemy combatant," released a video showing a mission fraught with deadly risk -- taking him to the prison dentist. A group of masked guards in riot gear shackled his legs and hands, blindfolded him with black-out goggles and shut off his hearing with headphones, then marched him down the prison corridor.

Is Padilla really that dangerous? Far from it: his warders describe him as so docile and inactive that he could be mistaken for "a piece of furniture." The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for over three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had no human contact,
except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there. . .

That the US tortures, routinely and systematically, while prosecuting its "war on terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, a coalition of academics and human rights groups, has documented the abuse or killing of 460 inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. This, it says, is necessarily a conservative figure: many cases will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced to maintain "stress positions," and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.

The New York Times reports that prisoners held by the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were made to stand for up to 13 days with their hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep" while kept, like Jose Padilla and the arrivals at Guantanamo Bay, "in black hoods or spray-painted goggles.". . .

Padilla's treatment also reflects another glorious American tradition: solitary confinement. Some 25,000 US prisoners are currently held in isolation -- a punishment only rarely used in other democracies. In some places, like the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, they are kept in sound-proofed cells and might scarcely see another human being for years on end. They may touch or be touched by no one. Some people have been kept in solitary confinement in the United States for more than 20 years.

At Pelican Bay in California, where 1,200 people are held in the isolation wing, inmates are confined to tiny cells for 22-and-a half hours a day, then released into an "exercise yard" for "recreation." The yard consists of a concrete well about 12 feet in length with walls 20 feet high and a metal grill across the sky. The recreation consists of pacing back and forth, alone. . . As National Public Radio reveals, 10% of the isolation prisoners at Pelican Bay are now in the psychiatric
wing, and there's a waiting list. . .

President Bush maintains that he is fighting a war against threats to the "values of civilized nations": terror, cruelty, barbarism and extremism. He asked his nation's interrogators to discover where these evils are hidden. They should congratulate themselves. They appear to have succeeded.


AP - A Southern California fence-building company and two executives pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and agreed to pay a combined penalty of $5 million). The executives could also go to prison. The penalty is one of the biggest fines ever imposed in an immigration case, and the case represents a rare instance in which prosecutors brought criminal charges over the hiring of illegal


`WE WERE TERRIBLE TO ANIMALS,' recalled [Bush childhood pal Terry] Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush borne turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out.
`Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,' Throckmorton said. `Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.'- Nicholas D. Kristof, Midland Life,

SCIENCE NEWS - Psychopaths lack a conscience and are incapable of experiencing empathy, guilt, or loyalty. Descriptions of psychopaths callously manipulating, intimidating, or harming others go back hundreds of years.

Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley wrote The Mask of Sanity, a classic textbook on psychopathy. Cleckley portrayed psychopaths as superficially charming, intelligent people who don't feel deep emotions and lie about almost everything because they neither understand nor care about others.

Two conditions - sociopathy and antisocial personality disorder - often get confused with psychopathy. Sociopathy refers to criminal attitudes and behaviors viewed as normal in certain groups, such as street gangs. Sociopaths have a sense of right and wrong that is based on the values of their criminal group.

Antisocial personality disorder, an official psychiatric ailment, is a diagnosis applied to people who commit a broad range of aggressive and criminal acts. Some qualify as psychopaths, but many don't.

Although psychiatrists don't currently label psychopathy as a formal personality disorder, a wave of new research has yielded insights into how psychopaths think and suggested biological and temperamental roots of this condition. . .

In 2002, psychologist Stephen Porter of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, interviewed 125 men who were serving time in two Canadian prisons for murder. The 34 men with high scores on a psychopathy test gave him a surprise. Despite many investigators' assumption that psychopathic criminals lack self-control and often act impulsively, most of the psychopathic Canadian killers had planned the ruthless, cold-blooded murders that they had committed. . .

Porter measured psychopathy using a tool called the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. This clinical-rating scale, devised by psychologist Robert D. Hare of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has served as the gold standard of psychopathy tests for about 20 years.

In this approach, a psychologist or psychiatrist interviews a person and reviews his or her criminal record. The rater then judges whether any of 20 psychopathy-related traits applies to that person. These traits include being superficial, acting grandiosely, lying frequently, showing no remorse, lacking empathy, refusing to accept responsibility for misdeeds, behaving impulsively, and having committed many crimes. . .
There's currently a bull market in corporate psychopaths, according to psychologist Paul Babiak of HR Back Office, an industrial-consulting firm in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. Organizations undergoing major changes, such as downsizing or mergers, provide a chaotic atmosphere that savvy psychopaths exploit, Babiak holds. They cozy up to a firm's power brokers, manipulate coworkers, and intimidate underlings on their way up the corporate ladder, stealing everything possible along the way.

In today's rapidly changing business world, "increased corporate rewards for risk taking and nonconformity can offer the psychopath faster career movement than before," Babiak says. . .

Psychologist Paul J. Frick of the University of New Orleans recalls a boy who was recently referred to the mental health clinic where Frick works. The 10-year-old had trapped a cat and killed it by slowly slicing it with a knife. The youngster calmly explained to Frick that he wanted to see how much he could cut the animal before it died. "He wasn't upset by the incident at all," Frick says. "He was a bit annoyed about being brought to me, though."

The boy might be a future surgeon, but it's more likely that he's headed for psychopathic pursuits, in Frick's view. The child's callousness and lack of emotion, seen in a small proportion of children and teenagers, probably foreshadow serious behavior problems, and perhaps even a psychopathic personality, in adulthood.

In such children, Frick finds a lack of guilt, an unemotional demeanor, little concern about others' feelings or about school, a refusal to keep promises, and difficulty forming lasting friendships.

Although about 1 in 100 kids displays such traits, nobody knows how many of them will grow up to become psychopaths. . .

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Six Foreigners Face Death Sentence in Libyan H.I.V. Case

PARIS, Dec. 19 — A Libyan court again sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to be shot by a firing squad for deliberately infecting 400 children with H.I.V., further complicating the country’s efforts to improve relations with the West.

Today’s verdict drew expressions of anger and alarm from Bulgaria and its supporters in the nearly eight-year-old case, which now appears likely to drag on for months more, if not years. Lawyers for the medical workers said they would appeal the sentence to Libya’s Supreme Court.

“We are going to urge the Libyan political leadership to engage in the process,” said Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Ivailo Kalfin, from Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hours after the verdict was announced.

Mr. Kalfin said that his country was working through the Libyan foreign ministry to ask the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the country’s political institutions to intervene, because Libya’s inefficient and biased judicial system had failed to deal with the case credibly.

The case began in February 1998 when the nurses arrived to work at the Al Fateh Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city. By August 1998, children at the hospital had begun testing positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Health authorities soon realized they had a huge problem.

An official investigation concluded that the infections had been concentrated in the wards where the Bulgarian nurses had been assigned. Dozens of Bulgarian medical workers were arrested, and a videotaped search of one nurse’s apartment turned up vials of H.I.V.-tainted blood.

According to a Libyan intelligence report submitted to the court, the nurse, Kristiyana Vulcheva, later confessed that the vials were given to her by a British friend who was working for the KBR subsidiary of Halliburton at the time. The nurse was quoted in the report as saying that she and her colleagues used the vials to infect the children.

Col. Qaddafi subsequently charged that the health care workers had acted on the orders of the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

KBR is primarily an engineering and construction company, but it undertakes many kinds of contract work for the United States Department of Defense and other agencies, and its activities in Iraq and elsewhere have sometimes been controversial.

A Benghazi court eventually convicted five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor of deliberately injecting the children with the virus. But two of the five nurses said they were tortured into confessing, and international AIDS experts — including Luc Montagnier, the French virologist whose team is among those credited with discovering the H.I.V. virus — concluded that the virus predated the nurses’ arrival and was more likely spread through the use of contaminated needles.

The medical workers were sentenced to death in May 2004 in a verdict that was widely condemned in the West. That began a period of difficult negotiations among Libya, Bulgaria, the United States and the European Union to find a solution.

Eventually, the four sides announced in December 2005 that they were setting up an international fund to cover medical care and other costs incurred by the families of the H.I.V.-infected children. Libya’s Supreme Court quashed the death sentences two days later and called for a retrial, this time by a court in the capital, Tripoli.

The families have asked that Bulgaria or other donors provide $10 million for each child, the same amount that Libya agreed to pay each of the families of the 270 people who were killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Libya has accepted responsibility for the bombing.

Under Libyan law, crime victims’ families have the power to grant clemency in return for compensation. The families of the infected children have said that they would agree to release the medical workers from the criminal charges if their request was satisfied.

But only a few million dollars in cash, services and equipment has been donated to the fund so far. Talks over further donations stalled while the second trial was underway — apparently, the Libyan families say, because Bulgaria hoped the new court would acquit the nurses.

In a seven-minute court hearing in Tripoli today, the presiding judge, Mahmoud Hawissa, read out the verdict and sentence in the latest trial.

Bulgarian officials and the defense lawyers for the nurses argue that the latest trial was as flawed as the first.

“The whole court case was compromised, and covers up the real cause that sparked the AIDS epidemics in Benghazi,” said a joint statement issued today by Bulgaria’s president, Georgy Parvanov, and prime minister, Sergey Stanishev.

Emmanuel Altit, a French lawyer in Paris who worked on the defense team, said: “The question of torture by electricity, proof that the nurses had been beaten, sexually harassed, kept for six months without contact, the question of fabricated evidence — none of this was discussed at all. The court refused to hear our experts.”

Amnesty International issued a statement condemned the trial as “grossly unfair.” “We deplore these sentences and urge the Libyan authorities to declare immediately that they will never be carried out,” said Malcolm Smart, the director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program.

Mr. Smart’s statement raised a number of complaints about the fairness of the trial, and noted that the evidence produced by Libyan medical experts was called questionable by international medical experts.

The European Union’s justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, called on Libyan authorities to rethink their handling of the case, calling it “an obstacle to cooperation with the E.U.” Bulgaria will become a member of the union on Jan. 1.

Outside of the Libyan court, families of the children, about 50 of whom have since died, rallied to call for the sentence to be carried out immediately, news agencies reported.

But for the Libyans who believe the nurses are guilty, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, even if their execution is not.

Ramadan al-Faitore, whose 4-year-old stepsister was among the first to die, predicted earlier this month that the medical workers would be sentenced to death.

“But no one will kill the nurses,” Mr. Faitore said in Paris, echoing a statement made by Col. Qaddafi’s son, Seif, two years ago. “After the trial, negotiations will start again.”

Mr. Kalfin, the Bulgarian foreign minister, said today that his country was committed to the making sure that the fund would “provide lifelong medical treatment for the children, and create conditions that would prevent this from ever happening again.”

But he bristled at the suggestion that Bulgaria would pay “blood money” for the release of the nurses, calling such talk “cynical.”

“We feel a great deal of sympathy for the children and the families,” Mr. Kalfin said. “But making a linkage between this tragedy and the work of the Bulgarian nurses has absolutely no foundation.”

Standing in a muddy field across the street from the Libyan Embassy in Sofia, Zorka Anachkova, Ms. Vulcheva’s mother, said she wasn’t surprised by the verdict.

“What kind of negotiations can you have for innocent people?” she asked. “All the evidence proves their innocence. Their innocence is axiomatic. What else is there to talk about?”

Matthew Brunwasser contributed reporting from Sofia, and Christine Hauser contributed from New York.