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Israel cannot ensure Jewish survival
By Tony Karon, Haaretz, May 19, 2006

The idea that the modern State of Israel expresses some ageless desire among Jews across the Diaspora to live in a Jewish nation state is wishful thinking. Before the Holocaust, Zionism had been a minority tendency among Western Jews, and scarcely existed among those living in the Muslim world. And a half century after Israel's emergence, most of us choose freely to live, as Jews have for centuries, among the nations. That choice is becoming increasingly popular among Israeli Jews, too: 750,000 at last count - hardly surprising in an age of accelerated globalization that feeds dozens of diasporas and scorns national boundaries.

The State of Israel was created by an act of international law in 1948, largely in response to the Holocaust. It was violently rejected by an Arab world that saw it as a new Western conquest of the territory over which so much blood had been spilled to defend Muslim sovereignty during the Crusades, so like most nation states Israel had to fight its way into existence. Its victory came at the expense of another people, whose dispossession was the precondition for Israel achieving an ethnic Jewish majority. And the conflict fueled by the unresolved trauma of its birth has condemned the Jewish state to behave in ways that mock the progressive Zionist dream of Israel fulfilling the biblical injunction to Jews to be a "light unto the nations." [complete article]
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Israel and U.S. at odds over nuclear treaty proposal
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, May 19, 2006

The United States on Thursday published a draft of a new international treaty that would forbid the production of fissionable materials for use in nuclear weapons, overriding Israel's objections to the proposed document.

The draft, which was presented to the UN Disarmament Commission in Geneva, aims to "freeze" existing stocks of fissionable materials worldwide in order to keep them from expanding.

Although Washington sent messages to Israel assuring it that it has nothing to fear from the treaty, Jerusalem is worried by any move that might erode its policy of nuclear ambiguity and generate future pressures on it over its nuclear program. [complete article]

U.S. proposes new disarmament treaty
By Alexander G. Higgins, AP (via WP), May 18, 2006

In Washington, Wade Boese, research director at the private Arms Control Association, said the United States, Russia, France and Britain already have officially declared they have stopped production for nuclear weapons and China is understood to have done so as well.

"The value of the agreement would be getting India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and potentially Iran to sign on to this agreement, but the likelihood is very small," Boese said.

One reason, he said, is the lack of verification measures, which most countries at the conference want in any treaty. "It is essentially a nonstarter" Boese said. "The prospect of negotiations starting on this is about nil." [complete article]

See also, Arms Control Association: U.S. fissile material production proposal flawed.
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The weapon Iran may not want to use
By Steven Mufson, Washington Post, May 19, 2006

So far, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to be banking on the oil weapon even as European countries try to avoid testing it. On Wednesday, he rejected a potential European offer of incentives, including a light-water nuclear reactor, to give up uranium enrichment. "Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in central Iran.

The reason Iran has any leverage is the change in the world oil balance. As recently as four years ago, the world had 7 million barrels a day of spare oil production capacity, but today that cushion between supply and demand is smaller than Iran's 2.5 million barrels a day of exports. Losing Iran's exports would spell disaster, with soaring prices and limited supplies.

"There is no cushion that is that great," said Edward Morse, executive adviser of Hess Energy Trading Co. in New York. Saudi Arabia's spare capacity could cover 1.2 million to 1.5 million barrels a day of any shortfall, though that would be heavy oil unsuited for many refineries. Morse added, "If there were peace in Iraq or Nigeria, they could produce more. But there isn't peace in either place."

Fear of the oil weapon is "one of the reasons the U.N. Security Council is tiptoeing around this one," said Gary Sick, who dealt with Persian Gulf affairs at the Pentagon and then the National Security Council through most of the 1970s. "I think this is something that's got to be in people's minds and I assume in the minds of folks in Washington. The price of gas is not making them real popular. If they thought about that price going up another $1 a gallon, that has got to be a sobering thought."

Mere tension between Tehran and the West has added, by some estimates, $10 to $15 a barrel to the price of crude oil. That's been a boon to Iran, which announced on Tuesday that its oil revenue this year would hit $55 billion, up $10 billion from the previous year. Every day, Iran is making $156 million in oil sales. [complete article]

Comment -- The oil weapon isn't the possibility of Iran cutting off or reducing its oil production; it is the fear of that possibility - a fear that Iran and its allies are using to their advantage every single day.
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Iran's secrecy widens gap in nuclear intelligence
By William J. Broad and Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, May 19, 2006

South of Tehran, the desert gives way to barbed wire, antiaircraft guns and a maze of buildings, two of them cavernous underground halls roughly half the size of the Pentagon.

International inspectors could once roam the 20 or so main buildings there, at the Natanz uranium enrichment complex. Operating more like detectives than scientists, they combined painstaking sleuthing with physics and engineering in an effort to ascertain the site's true mission, war or peace.

But in February, after three years of unusual openness, Iran drastically reduced access to Natanz and dozens of other atomic sites, programs and personnel.

No longer can the inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, swab machines, scoop up bits of soil, study invoices, monitor videotapes, peek behind doors and gather seemingly innocuous clues. Now they can track only a narrow range of operations involving radioactive material, and then only with cumbersome restrictions.

As a result, the world is losing much of its ability to answer pressing questions about Iran's nuclear ambitions: how fast Tehran could make an atom bomb, and whether it harbors a program to do so. [complete article]

Doubts over Iran nuclear capacity
BBC News, May 18, 2006

Doubts have been raised about how technically advanced Iran's nuclear programme is, after it emerged Tehran may have used material from China.

Western diplomatic sources told the BBC the material used in Iran's recent uranium enrichment experiments probably came from materials supplied in 1991. [complete article]
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Iran: breaking the cycle of escalation
By Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, May, 2006

Since talks between Iran and three leading European states fell apart last August, the impasse over Iran's nuclear program has steadily worsened. Each time Washington and its European partners ratchet up international pressure on Iran to slow its nuclear efforts and provide greater transparency, Tehran has pushed back and accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, which could eventually be used to produce bomb-grade material.

Consequently, the main antagonists are moving further away from the diplomatic solution both say they want. As a result, we may eventually see a military confrontation, a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, or both. If such perilous outcomes are to be averted, Washington and Tehran need to engage in direct talks aimed at a grand bargain that addresses each of their concerns. [complete article]
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Managing cruelty
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram, May 18, 2006

With the scourge of starvation beginning to take its toll on impoverished Palestinians also tormented by unrelenting Israeli campaigns of violence and ruin, the Hamas-led government is searching for options to surmount one of the worst threats faced in the occupied territories since 1967.

Hamas government officials as well as thousands of Islamic scholars and preachers have been urging an increasingly frustrated population to be steadfast and resilient. The appeals, renewed every Friday through traditional sermons and congregational prayers in hundreds of mosques throughout the occupied territories, have so far been successful. Tens of thousands attended "defiance rallies" organised by Hamas and until now there is no street movement against the government.

Indeed, Hamas's refusal to yield to Israeli- American blackmail has strengthened the movement's standing in the eyes of most Palestinians who have come to view their government as epitomising and embodying heroic Palestinian resistance in the face of Western-Zionist arrogance and aggression. [complete article]

Israel should face sanctions
By Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain, The Guardian, May 19, 2006

Western leaders are frustrating democratic elections in Palestine by withholding aid, and using collective punishment, an economic siege and starvation as political weapons in their efforts to get the Hamas government to accept their terms of business with Israel.

Never in the long struggle for freedom in apartheid South Africa was there a situation as dramatic as in Palestine today: even though children were killed for resisting a second-class education; the liberation movement's leaders were locked up for decades on Robben Island; new leaders were assassinated; church leaders were poisoned; house demolitions and forced removals were frequent; and western governments told South Africans who their leaders should be, and what their policies should be.

The African National Congress confronted the military, economic and social power of white rule with a small guerrilla army, the mass support of the people and a moral authority that won it a following among millions around the world. Many now forget that the abhorrent apartheid system was treated as normal in the powerhouses of the world: entrenched interests meant the western media produced a sanitised version of its suffering and injustice.

Today western moral authority in the Middle East is gone, as much because of years of double standards in Palestine as because of the current disastrous war on Iraq. There is no excuse for not knowing the truth about what is now happening to the Palestinians. And the most recent diplomatic moves by the Quartet - the US, the EU, the UN and Russia - to alleviate suffering, while keeping up the ban on dealing with the Palestinians' elected leaders, are totally inadequate. [complete article]
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Is Arab-American irrelevance our goal?
By Hussein Ibish, Daily Star, May 19, 2006

Joseph Massad of Columbia University and Asaad Abu Khalil of Californian State University, Stanislaus, have dismissed the Walt-Mearsheimer paper and agree that the pro-Israel lobby is basically irrelevant.

In a widely-circulated article in Al-Ahram Weekly, Massad agued that the real problem was the "imperial policies" of the United States, which exist independently of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. There are surely American imperial interests that have been pursued in very damaging ways in the Arab and post-colonial worlds. But Massad does not attempt to explain how, why, or by whom these interests are defined, except that he is sure the lobby has virtually no role in it.

Such arguments are deterministic, a-historical, and profoundly disempowering. This thinking has led the Arab-American community to largely exclude itself from the political system, ensuring its own irrelevance in shaping political behavior, while also granting the pro-Israel lobby an open field without any substantial opposition.

One finds here a profound ignorance of, or more precisely complete disinterest in, the process of American policy-making as it actually takes place. There is no sense that the U.S. government is the sum of its constituent parts that vie for influence in a system designed precisely to be lobbied if any faction seeks to effect policy and law.

In place of these mundane realities are the amorphous "imperial policies" described by Massad in the language of a divine absolute, floating above a Kabuki-show political fray. His is a simplistic version of American politics in which power is exercised in an automatic and irresistible manner by an imperial hidden hand - a caricature of the old Marxist idea of a social superstructure. [complete article]
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A hot paper muzzles Harvard
By Eve Fairbanks, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2006

Did you think there was a controversy in academia over "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," the paper by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer contending that a shadowy "Israel Lobby" -- including everyone from the New York Times and Hillary Clinton to Pat Robertson and Paul Wolfowitz -- has seized control of American foreign affairs? I did too, but let me tell you: We were wrong.

When professors Walt and Mearsheimer (of Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively) went public with their paper in the London Review of Books on March 23, it seemed the whole world started screaming. From columnists Richard Cohen and Max Boot to historian Tony Judt and Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, public figures battled in the pages of the major papers. Accusations of anti-Semitism and divided loyalties flew. The magazine I work for published three articles on the paper in a single week.

Of course, if the paper caused such uproar in the public sphere, you'd think academia (and particularly the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where Walt is the academic dean) would be, as the Harvard Crimson put it, the ultimate "field of battle." And as far as conspiratorial rumors and unexplained reversals go, it has been.

The Kennedy School pulled its name off the article, nervous to be associated with the argument that an expansive lobby is undermining American interests on behalf of the Jewish state. Bob Belfer, the fabulously wealthy (and Jewish) oil baron who endowed Walt's chair at the Kennedy School, was hopping mad. Angry donors reportedly threatened to retract gifts. Whispers began that faculty relationships were fraying, and gossip circulated that campus forces were plotting to oust Walt from panels and boards. Harvard had to deny that his decision to step down as dean had anything to do with the paper.

But something else happened at Harvard, something strange. Instead of a roiling debate, most professors not only agreed to disagree but agreed to pretend publicly that there was no disagreement at all. At Harvard and other schools, the Mearsheimer-Walt paper proved simply too hot to handle -- and it revealed an academia deeply split yet lamentably afraid to engage itself on one of the hottest political issues of our time. Call it the academic Cold War: distrustful factions rendered timid by the prospect of mutually assured career destruction. [complete article]
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As death stalks Iraq, middle-class exodus begins
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 19, 2006

Deaths run like water through the life of the Bahjat family. Four neighbors. A barber. Three grocers. Two men who ran a currency exchange shop.

But when six armed men stormed into their sons' primary school this month, shot a guard dead, and left fliers ordering it to close, Assad Bahjat knew it was time to leave.

"The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq," said Mr. Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.

In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class. [complete article]

Comment -- This is what the "liberation" of Iraq has come to mean: the ability to flee.

No one in Baghdad wants to talk about U.S. Embassy project
By Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, May 18, 2006

Don't ask about the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It's a secret - security reasons.

But it's hard keeping a 104-acre complex rising on the banks of the Tigris River hidden. Anyone who cares to know can easily see four giant construction cranes towering over the river at the largest such project ever undertaken by the United States - a symbol of American presence that will last well into the future.

When the complex is completed by June 2007 - this one apparently is on schedule, unlike most construction projects here - it will be an American oasis in the heavily fortified Green Zone, away from the fear and lack of services that permeate the rest of Baghdad. Among the 21 buildings will be a recreation center to rival any in the United States with, among other amenities, a pool, gym, food court, beauty salon and, of course, the American Club. [complete article]

Iraqi journalists risk their lives to get the story
By Sharon Behn, Washington Times, May 19, 2006

The recent killings of six Iraqi journalists have rattled the country's fledgling press corps, a battle-worn crew that has persisted in covering the nation's turmoil while suffering dozens of dead at the hands of insurgents, government troops and even American forces.

"We are scared working as journalists," said Thamer, a burly radio reporter, sitting in the threadbare cafe of the al-Hamra hotel. "There is no protection and we are well-known people, easy to get to."

Reporters Without Borders counts 68 reporters and cameramen killed so far trying to cover Iraq at war; if translators and other assistants are counted the total is 86, making this the deadliest conflict for journalists since World War II. [complete article]

Iraqi leader acts to defuse Shiite rivalry in Basra
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, May 19, 2006

President Jalal Talabani convened an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the southern port of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and the heart of a growing, lethal power struggle among some of the Shiite Muslim religious parties that lead Iraq's governing coalition.

Violence in the south Thursday included a bombing at the home of Basra's police chief. In Najaf, another major city in the Shiite-dominated region, the head of local militias loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was shot dead by police allied with a rival Shiite party. [complete article]
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The (lack of) intelligence underpinning Bush's Iraq policy
By Ken Silverstein, Harper's, May 18, 2006

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's Information Minister became the butt of a million jokes for proclaiming that American soldiers were being routed, even as U.S. troops were quickly closing in on Baghdad. "Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad," Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf—aka Baghdad Bob -- said as Saddam's end neared. "Be assured, Baghdad is safe."

Now, on the subject of Iraq the Bush administration has roughly the same credibility as Baghdad Bob, and for similar reasons: the administration covers its ears when it gets bad news and anyone bold enough to deliver it is sent to face the firing squad. "This administration," Bob Graham, the former Senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me, "does not seek the truth as a basis for its judgments, but tries to use intelligence to validate judgments it has already made." [complete article]
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Down to the Fourth Estate
By Jonathan Turley, USA Today, May 17, 2006

This month, Congress is faced with a most inconvenient crime. With the recent disclosure of a massive secret database program run by the National Security Agency involving tens of millions of innocent Americans, members are confronted with a second intelligence operation that not only lacks congressional authorization but also appears patently unlawful. In December, the public learned that the NSA was engaging in warrantless domestic surveillance of overseas communications -- an operation many experts believe is a clear federal crime ordered by the president more than 30 times.

What is most striking about these programs is that they were revealed not by members of Congress but by members of the Fourth Estate: Journalists who confronted Congress with evidence of potentially illegal conduct by this president that was known to various congressional leaders.

In response, President Bush has demanded to know who will rid him of these meddlesome whistleblowers, and various devout members have rushed forth with cudgels and codes in hand.

Now, it appears Congress is finally acting -- not to end alleged criminal acts by the administration, mind you, but to stop the public from learning about such alleged crimes in the future. Members are seeking to give the president the authority to continue to engage in warrantless domestic surveillance as they call for whistleblowers to be routed out. They also want new penalties to deter both reporters and their sources.

The debate has taken on a hopeful Zen-like quality for besieged politicians: If a crime occurs and no one is around to reveal it or to report it, does it really exist? [complete article]
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U.N. panel tells America to end torture and close Guantanamo
By Simon Freeman, The Times, May 19, 2006

A powerful United Nations panel today made the strongest call yet on the United States to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and to disclose the locations of all of its rumoured secret prisons abroad.

The committee said it was "deeply concerned" that detainees were being held at the prison camp in Cuba for protracted periods without proper legal safeguards or reliable judicial justification.

The ten members of the UN Committee Against Torture also called upon President Bush to end the use of torture and cruel treatment in interrogation of detainees, citing sexual humiliation, mock drownings and the use of dogs to induce fear.

In a troubling 11-page report published today, the panel ordered the US to reveal the location of any of the secret prisons, believed to be in Egypt, Jordan and Eastern Europe, to which suspects are allegedly transported by special rendition for interview under conditions which violate human rights conventions. [complete article]

U.S. rejects German's case against CIA
Der Spiegel, May 19, 2006

A US judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by German citizen Khaled al-Masri, who claims he was abducted and tortured at secret CIA prisons. The case, says the judge, could harm America's war on terror.

Khaled al-Masri, the German citizen of Lebanese descent who was allegedly kidnapped and tortured in secret CIA prisons, has failed in his attempt to be compensated for the ordeal. A US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia rejected the case he brought against former CIA director George Tenet and other spy agency employees involving kidnapping, torture and mistaken identity. The court argued the case would risk exposing national security secrets that are key to Washington's efforts to battle terrorism.

The ruling by US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III did not consider the validity of the claims made by Khaled al- Masri, who says he was abducted on New Year's Eve 2003 in Macedonia and detained in various secret overseas prisons often referred to as "black sites." His five month ordeal finally ended when he was dumped on an abandoned road in Albania.

"In the present circumstances, al-Masri's private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets," Ellis wrote in the ruling. The judge did say if the charges made by al-Masri were true, he deserved compensation, although he did not explain how such a deal would come about. [complete article]

Poster for Guantanamo documentary is censored
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

The Motion Picture Association of America has censored a poster advertising a film about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The image that ran afoul of the MPAA is tame by the standards set by the amateur photographers of Abu Ghraib. It shows a man hanging by his handcuffed wrists, with a burlap sack over his head and a blindfold tied around the hood. It appeared in advertisements for the new film "The Road to Guantanamo," a documentary with some reenacted scenes, that follows the fate of three British men imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than two years before being released with no charges ever filed against them. [complete article]
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By Lebanon's twisted logic: How calls for disarming Hizbullah block urgent reforms
By Reinoud Leenders, SyriaComment, May 17, 2006

When the last Syrian soldier left Lebanese territory in April 2005, jubilant crowds gathered at Beirut's Martyr Square to celebrate the coming of a new era. Adding to the festive mood were American and French statements praising Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" as the first in what was to inevitably be a series of popularly led regime changes and reforms awaiting the region at large. Discussing an expected upsurge of democratic aspirations in the Middle East, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated confidently, Lebanon's "supporters of democracy [were] demanding independence from foreign masters [and] called for change. It is not only the Lebanese people who desire freedom [..]." Yet one year has now passed and the once joyous atmosphere in Lebanon has turned unmistakably sour. Gone are the Lebanese flags draped over Beirut's balconies in the midst of last year's dazzling events. Gone, too, is the widespread optimism over comprehensive political and economic reforms. Instead of national unity, sectarian tension is currently running high. Moreover, exasperation over perpetual political bickering and socio-economic malaise is now common. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators are taking to the streets of Beirut to protest against the government's economic reform plans. Yet the international community seems undeterred. On 17 May the UN Security Council adopted yet another forceful resolution amplifying an already daunting list of demands laid down in Resolution 1559 (2 September 2004). [complete article]
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NSA surveillance is the president's Star Wars!
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

The government is listening in on this or that call, combing through telephone records, tracking Emails and other transactions, instantly detecting anomalies and patterns in communications, building enemies lists.

I spoke to a friend in the business yesterday, a retired military intelligence officer who works at some beltway corporation that contracts big time with NSA.

He cautions that I shouldn't get ahead of themselves worrying about an all-seeing government and a seamless surveillance culture. Billions are being secretly spent annually for software development, network infrastructure, database management, etc., to build a dreamed for system that will be able to autonomously connect the dots and detect terrorists before they strike. But a seamless system, my always reliable and level headed friend assures, is still far away.

So that got me thinking: a fantastic system costing billions of dollars roping in scores of companies butting up against orthodoxy and even legality with the dreamed for end result of autonomous and perfect defense.

Data mining is the Bush administration's Star Wars. [complete article]

See also, NSA killed system that sifted phone data legally (Baltimore Sun).

Comment -- The knee-jerk reaction to the NSA surveillance story, has been, predictably, to view it in terms of national security vs. civil liberties. Ever since America broke loose from the overbearing power of the British monarchy, Americans have remained alert to the dangers posed by an intrusive, unaccountable government. Couple that heritage with the current political landscape -- America's unrivalled status as a superpower, its technological prowess, and the current administration's desire to engender in everyone's mind a perpetual sense of emergency -- and it's natural that many citizens will fear the creation of a national security state.

The Bush administration has indeed laid the legal, technical, and military foundations for such a state, but as we imagine how this state might evolve, it's easy to get caught up in images of an all-powerful state akin to the one depicted in the Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where criminals are caught before they've committed a crime.

Ironically, to the extent that we harbor such fears, we make it easier for the administration to plead its case. All it has to do is convince people that it wields its power wisely and in the interests of the nation, and many people will in large measure give their consent to living under the protection of the government's beneficent might.

But what if -- as William Arkin implies and much of the evidence confirms -- the almighty security structure currently under construction is nothing more than a fabulously expensive facade; a fantasy of national security that does as much to combat terrorism as Ronald Reagan's dreamed of missile defense shield could actually do to thwart a Soviet ballistic missile assault?

On September 11, 2001, in a moment of reflection when (as I continue being prone to do) I overestimated the current administration's capacity for rational behavior, I concluded that a silver-lining to that day's devastation would be that no one would subsequently bother wasting a nickel on missile defense. Five years later, President Bush has yet again defied my overly rational expectations by proposing spending another $10.4 billion on that foolish enterprise.

Now, as many people remain vexed about the possibility of the government prying into their lives, perhaps what we should be more concerned about is the likelihood that yet again our taxes are being thrown down the drain by an administration that wants to appear more powerful than it really is. Instead of fearing that this is becoming a state like the one envisioned in the futuristic Minority Report, the images of menacing incompetance from Terry Gilliam's Brazil, are probably closer to the truth.
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K is for vendetta
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, May 17, 2006

When the not-altogether-unexpected announcement came this week that the Bush administration was taking Libya off the list of states supporting terrorism and the United States would renew full diplomatic ties for the first time in 34 years, I asked a Saudi friend what he thought.

I figured he'd be interested because, well, the Saudis accused Libyan agents of plotting to murder Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah bin Abdelaziz in Mecca with a rocket-propelled grenade in November 2003. That was just months after Libya swore to the United Nations it had given up terrorism. The Libyans have denied any part in the plot, of course.

Tripoli's motive appears to have been, in the twisted vision of "Brotherly Leader" Muammar Kaddafi, a matter of honor. At an Arab summit in March 2003, he had accused Crown Prince Abdullah of supporting the Americans who were about to lead the invasion of Iraq. Abdullah was "making a pact with the devil," Kaddafi said. To which Abdullah responded with courtly ferocity, "Your lies precede you and your grave is in front of you."

In another age, swords might have been drawn. But in this case Kaddafi allegedly responded by calling in his covert operators and putting the murder plot in motion. [complete article]
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Pentagon report said to find killing of Iraqi civilians deliberate
By Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, May 17, 2006

A Pentagon report on an incident in Haditha, Iraq, where U.S. Marines shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians last November will show that those killings were deliberate and worse than initially reported, a Pennsylvania congressman said Wednesday.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during a news conference on Iraq. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."

Murtha's comments were the first on-the-record remarks by a U.S. official characterizing the findings of military investigators looking into the Nov. 19 incident. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and an opponent of Bush administration policy in Iraq, said he hadn't read the report but had learned about its findings from military commanders and other sources. [complete article]
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British troops involved in upsurge of Afghan violence
By Simon Freeman, The Times, May 18, 2006

British troops provided back-up to evacuate Afghan casualties after some of the fiercest violence since the fall of the Taleban erupted across Afghanistan today.

Up to 105 people were killed in the violence, which included two suicide car bombs, multiple firefights and a massive rebel assault on a small village.

Much of the bloodshed occurred in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where thousands of extra British troops are due to deploy this summer to counter attacks from by insurgents.

In total, the Taleban death toll from fighting last night and today ranged up to 87, US and Afghan officials said. Also, 15 Afghan police officers, one US civilian, a Canadian soldier and an Afghan civilian were killed in the attacks. [complete article]

See also, Taliban wooed as violence spreads (IPS).
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U.S. said to weigh a new approach on North Korea
By David E. Snager, New York Times, May 18, 2006

President Bush's top advisers have recommended a broad new approach to dealing with North Korea that would include beginning negotiations on a peace treaty, even while efforts to dismantle the country's nuclear program are still under way, senior administration officials and Asian diplomats say.

Aides say Mr. Bush is very likely to approve the new approach, which has been hotly debated among different factions within the administration. But he will not do so unless North Korea returns to multinational negotiations over its nuclear program. The talks have been stalled since September.

North Koreans have long demanded a peace treaty, which would replace the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War.

For several years after he first took office, Mr. Bush vowed not to end North Korea's economic and diplomatic isolation until it entirely dismantled its nuclear program. That stance later softened, and the administration said some benefits to North Korea could begin to flow as significant dismantlement took place. Now, if the president allows talks about a peace treaty to take place on a parallel track with six-nation talks on disarmament, it will signal another major change of tactics. [complete article]
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Police beat pro-democracy protesters in Egypt
AP (via Fox News), May 18, 2006

Police beat up pro-democracy activists and arrested 240 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including two of its leaders, in a crackdown against protests Thursday in support of two pro-reform judges.

As the violence broke out in the streets of the capital, a disciplinary court reprimanded one of the judges and cleared the other. The two were referred to the panel after speaking out against fraud during last year's parliamentary elections, making them heroes to reform advocates.

In another blow to the pro-democracy movement, a separate court rejected the appeal of Ayman Nour, the runner up in last year's presidential elections. That means he will have to serve a five-year sentence for a forgery conviction on what he claims were trumped up charges to eliminate him from the political scene. [complete article]

U.S. government urges Congress not to cut Egypt aid
By Sue Pleming, Reuters, May 17, 2006

The Bush administration urged Congress on Wednesday not to cut U.S. aid to Egypt, arguing such punishment for Cairo's democracy crackdown would damage U.S. national interests.

Since 1979, the United States has pumped more than $60 billion of aid into Egypt, but many in Congress are growing impatient with Cairo over the slow pace of democratic reform and a pattern of crushing political dissent.

While acknowledging U.S. concern over Egypt's reforms, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said Cairo was a "formidable" partner, from fighting terrorism to allowing U.S. overflight rights to Iraq and providing troops for Sudan's Darfur region. [complete article]

A growing political force in Egypt
By Michael Tackett, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2006

No one doubts that the Muslim Brotherhood, which would like to see Egypt transformed into an Islamic state, is a growing political force.

But there is widespread disagreement about the group's overall reach. In an effort to shape Western perception of them, three leaders met with a group of American journalists in their second-floor offices of a nondescript building in downtown Cairo.

Looking at the Muslim Brotherhood opens a window onto the enigmatic narrative of Egyptian politics. [complete article]
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U.S. cannot withdraw from Iraq
AFP (via, May 18, 2006

U.S. and coalition forces cannot yet be withdrawn from even Iraq's most stable regions, despite progress made in building up Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military chief said Wednesday.

Testifying alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Peter Pace was asked whether coalition forces could withdraw within the next three months from any of 14 Iraqi provinces that he had described as calm and stable.

"No, sir," Pace told members of a Senate appropriations subcommittee considering an administration request for 66.3 billion dollars in additional military funding, most of it for Iraq. [complete article]

Italian leader calls Iraq occupation 'grave error'
By Fred Barbash, Washington Post, May 18, 2006

Another U.S. ally in the war in Iraq distanced itself from the U.S.- led effort today when Italy's new prime minister, Romano Prodi, called the invasion and occupation a "grave error" and said he would propose a withdrawal of Italian troops.

"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error," Prodi told the upper house of Parliament, wire services reported. "It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of security." Italy has about 3,000 troops in Iraq in peacekeeping roles. They are already due to be withdrawn in groups before the end of the year. Prodi did not set forth a timetable for withdrawal and it was unclear whether he would speed up the departure. [complete article]

Continued violence, kidnapping grips Iraq
By Bassam Sebti and Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post, May 18, 2006

Four American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter died Thursday when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle northwest of the capital, the U.S. military command announced. The names of the dead were not released.

The explosion was one of three deadly attacks launched around the country as Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki was preparing to unveil his new cabinet.

Maliki said Wednesday that he will inform parliament of his cabinet appointees this weekend. But talks were ongoing on who would head the critical Interior and Defense ministries, which control the police and army respectively. Those choices are seen as crucial to any effort to resolve the bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. [complete article]

A "safer" weapon, with risks
By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2006

The U.S. military is deploying a laser device in Iraq that would temporarily blind drivers who fail to heed warnings at checkpoints, in an attempt to stem shootings of innocent Iraqis.

The pilot project will equip thousands of M-4 rifles with the 10 1/2 -inch-long weapon, which projects an intense beam of green light to "dazzle" the vision of oncoming drivers.

"I think this is going to make a huge difference in avoiding these confrontations," said Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq. "I promise you no one -- no one -- will be able to ignore it."

But so-called tactical laser devices have been controversial in the past. A protocol to the Geneva Convention bans the use of lasers that cause blindness, and human rights groups have protested previous U.S. attempts to employ such weapons. [complete article]
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Israel's half-plan
By Gershom Gorenberg, Washington Post, May 18, 2006

...the settlements that Olmert wants to dismantle include most of those deep in the West Bank, wedged between Palestinian towns, creating an artificial Bosnia of hostile ethnic entanglement. Removing them would alleviate some of the daily friction between occupier and occupied. For Israel, it would mean pulling one leg out of the quagmire.

But it wouldn't resolve the conflict. If the barrier became the border, Israel would retain a tenth of the West Bank. A thin tendril of Israeli-held land would stretch up through the West Bank hills to the settlement of Ariel, and another tendril to Kedumim, near Nablus. Driving from one part of Palestinian land to another -- to visit a brother, deliver a truckful of produce to market or hold a meeting between officials -- is likely to remain an odyssey. By one estimate, 30,000 Palestinians would remain under Israeli rule (as unwilling citizens? as permanent aliens?) and more would live in pockets surrounded by Israeli land.

If it continues to invest in the remaining settlements, Israel will be pushing its other leg deeper into the quicksand. Without peace, it will be burdened with defending those tendrils. Even the most moderate of Palestinians won't consider the partial pullback an end to occupation. [complete article]

Saudi warns against isolating Hamas
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 18, 2006

The Bush administration's policy of isolating the Hamas-led Palestinian government is based on a "twisted logic" that will end up only radicalizing the Palestinian population against a peaceful solution, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said yesterday. [complete article]

Hamas-led government deploys security force, defying Abbas
By Greg Myre, New York Times, May 18, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian government on Wednesday deployed a new security force in the Gaza Strip, a direct challenge to the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, who last month vetoed the creation of the force.

Mr. Abbas, who has been traveling in Europe this week, responded Wednesday night by ordering a large number of members of the security forces under his command to be placed on the streets in Gaza, Reuters reported. [complete article]
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Why the Pentagon has turned on the makers of 'Baghdad ER'
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, May 18, 2006

This Sunday, subscribers to the American cable channel Home Box Office will be treated to a film about the Iraq war unlike any other. Almost at the start, you see a medical orderly carrying a human arm, amputated above the elbow, which he puts into a red plastic bag.

Welcome to Baghdad ER, the unvarnished, unexpurgated truth of what war is really like.
Mr Bush stresses constantly that America is at war, and maybe so for decades to come. But for all the bumper stickers proclaiming "Support Our Troops", this has been a war unlike any other. Wars usually demand belt tightening, tax increases or some other form of deprivation, however modest, for the citizenry. In the "war on terror", like other wars, military spending has soared. But the last few years have been a festival of tax cuts - at least for the better off - despite record deficits. "Spend, spend, spend," might have been the official advice on how the home front should comport itself in this proclaimed time of national testing.

Baghdad ER disposes with the illusion of normality as brutally as an IED. [complete article]
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The billion-dollar gravestone
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 17, 2006

Recently, a number -- one billion -- in the New York Times stopped me in my tracks. According to a report commissioned by the foundation charged with building Reflecting Absence, the memorial to the dead in the attack on the World Trade Center, its projected cost is now estimated at about a billion dollars and still rising. According to Oliver Burkeman of the British Guardian, "Taking inflation into account, $1bn would be more than a quarter of the original cost of the twin towers that were destroyed in 2001." [complete article]
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Court deals AT&T a setback
By Ryan Singel, Wired News, May 17, 2006

A federal judge Wednesday shot down telecom giant AT&T's efforts to recover and suppress internal documents that a former AT&T technician says demonstrate the company's collusion in illegal government surveillance.

The documents, portions of which were published Wednesday by Wired News, are Exhibit A in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The EFF alleges that the company illegally turned over vast troves of phone-record data to the National Security Agency, and has wired its internet backbone to secret NSA surveillance equipment. [complete article]

How the NSA does "social network analysis"
By Alexander Dryer, Slate, May 15, 2006

Network analyst Valdis Krebs set out to prove after 9/11 that networks could help uncover terrorist cells. Working from publicly available information, Krebs showed that all 19 hijackers were within two connections of the al-Qaida members the CIA knew about in early 2000. Krebs' network map also showed that Mohamed Atta was a central figure. It's not clear whether such analysis could have been performed in advance, when researchers wouldn't have been certain which links were significant connections to another terrorist and which were casual connections to an acquaintance. [complete article]

See also, More lawmakers to be privy to classified briefings (WP) and Spy tools in need of a law (David Ignatius).
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Basra carnage escalates as one person killed every hour
ByPatrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 17, 2006

One person is being assassinated in Basra every hour, as order in Iraq's second city disintegrates, according to an Iraqi Defence Ministry official.

And a quarter of all Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition, a survey of 20,000 households by the Iraqi government and Unicef says.

The number of violent killings in Basra is now at a level close to that of Baghdad, and marks the failure of the British Army's three-year attempt to quell violence there. [complete article]

Iraqi gunmen kill 23 in bus stop attack
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, May 17, 2006

Gunmen opened fire with machineguns at a bus stop outside a market in Baghdad yesterday, killing 23 people in an apparent sectarian attack.

The area was filled with shoppers when the armed men pulled up in two minibuses and opened fire, killing five. As bystanders came to the aid of the injured the second minibus exploded, killing another 18. More than 37 people were injured. The unidentified gunmen escaped in the first vehicle. [complete article]

Iraq's resistance evolves
By Mathieu Guidère and Peter Harling, Le Monde diplomatique, May, 2006

Iraq is simultaneously descending into both a civil war and a war of resistance against foreign occupation. The United States has been hoping to exploit the divide between Iraqi patriots and global jihadists, but the Sunni opposition is growing more structured and unified as it adapts to changing conditions, and may transcend those divisions. [complete article]

Officials hopeful on Iraqi cabinet
By Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

U.S. and Iraqi officials said Tuesday that Iraq's prime minister-designate was likely to reveal the composition of his cabinet ahead of a Monday deadline, a step they hope will allow the new government to begin seriously addressing the country's problems. [complete article]
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"Any attack on Iran will be good for the government"
By Michelle Goldberg, Salon, May 15, 2006

Shirin Ebadi's new book, "Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope," opens with a chilling scene that underlines just how hazardous her human rights activism has been. In the fall of 2000, Ebadi, one of Iran's leading reformist lawyers, represented Parastou Forouhar, whose parents, dissident intellectuals, were butchered by government assassins. Their killings, part of a string of murders of regime critics carried out by the Ministry of Intelligence in the late '90s, were perpetrated with particular sadism -- the aging couple were stabbed repeatedly and then hacked to pieces.

In 2000, some of those involved in the murders were finally brought to trial. "The stakes could not be higher," writes Ebadi. "It was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that the state had acknowledged that it had murdered its critics, and the first time a trial would be convened to hold the perpetrators accountable."

The victims' lawyers were given 10 days to review massive stacks of government files on the case. Recalling an afternoon bent over the dossier, Ebadi writes, "I had reached a page more detailed, and more narrative, than any previous section, and I slowed down to focus. It was the transcript of a conversation between a government minister and a member of the death squad. When my eyes fell on the sentence that would haunt me for years to come, I thought I had misread. I blinked once, but it stared back at me from the page: 'The next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi.' Me." As she recounts, she didn't have time to process the shock, because she needed to keep working. "Only after dinner, after my daughters went to bed, did I tell my husband. So, something interesting happened to me at work today, I began."

Neither death threats nor incessant harassment were ever able to stop Ebadi, 59, from challenging the Iranian regime on behalf of its most beleaguered citizens, and in 2003, her advocacy for Iranian women and human rights activists earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. In her often fascinating memoir, she tells of fighting for justice in a country where the rule of law has disappeared, replaced by a brutal, arbitrary absurdism worthy of a Persian Kafka. [complete article]

Groups to Bush: Drop Iran-Israel linkage
By Ori Nir, The Forward, May 12, 2006

Communal leaders say that although they deeply appreciate the president's repeated promises to come to Israel's defense, public declarations to that effect do more harm than good. Such statements, they say, create an impression that the United States is considering a military option against Iran for the sake of Israel — and could lead to American Jews being blamed for any negative consequences of an American strike against Iran.

Jewish activists are concerned that "there would be [a scenario] just like with Iraq: the idea that somehow the Jewish community and the neoconservatives have dragged the United States into a conflict with Iran," said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a policy coordinating organization that brings together 13 national Jewish agencies and 123 local Jewish communities. "And if things go badly and our people are killed, then who is to blame?" [complete article]

Iran shuns EU 'reactor incentive'
BBC News, May 17, 2006

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed a possible European offer of incentives to induce Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.

He likened the incentives, which European negotiators are said to be considering, to the offer of "walnuts and chocolates" in exchange for gold. [complete article]
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Web community rallies to free Egyptian blogger
By Ursula Lindsey, Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2006

"Today it hit me, I am really in prison. I'm not sure how I feel," began the May 10 entry on Alaa Abdel-Fatah's popular Egyptian blog

A pro-reform activist and prolific online critic of the Egyptian government, Mr. Abdel-Fatah's account from his Cairo jail cell appeared - it was smuggled out - three days after he was arrested by Egyptian security forces.

He is just one among hundreds of demonstrators detained over the past few weeks while protesting the treatment of two judges who claimed recent Egyptian parliamentary elections were rigged. But his detention has rights groups and fellow activists concerned that Egypt is extending its violent crackdown on demonstrations on the street to free expression on the Internet, which is being used more and more throughout the Middle East as a tool to organize and a forum for open political discussion. [complete article]
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Hamas security force deployed in Gaza
The Guardian, May 17, 2006

A new security force consisting of around 3,000 Islamic militants was deployed by the Hamas-led Palestinian government across the Gaza Strip today.

The creation of the force is Hamas's most fierce challenge yet to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas, of the Fatah party, had officially vetoed the creation of the force. But Hamas said it was needed to bring order to the chaotic Gaza Strip and to confront marauding gangs of armed men who have been terrorising citizens. [complete article]
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Afghan Lawmakers Review Court Nominees
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 17, 2006

Afghanistan's Parliament, with most of the cabinet approved and its budget recommendations drafted, has turned to its next task: trying to confirming the nine Supreme Court judges appointed by President Hamid Karzai.

Perhaps more than any other appointments, the Supreme Court nominations reflect the direction of the country and the pace of reform set by Mr. Karzai. As shown by the recent case of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert who faced the death penalty for abandoning Islam, the Supreme Court lies at the heart of some of the most contentious issues in this religiously conservative country trying to establish Western-style democratic institutions.

In a move that drew Western criticism, Mr. Karzai reappointed Fazel Hadi Shinwari as chief justice and head of the Supreme Court. He is a 73-year-old religious conservative who was neither a trained judge nor a recognized Islamic scholar. He has also been accused of corruption and nepotism in recent months. [complete article]
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U.S. secretly backing warlords in Somalia
By Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.

The latest clashes, last week and over the weekend, were some of the most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded. Leaders of the interim government blamed U.S. support of the militias for provoking the clashes.

U.S. officials have declined to directly address on the record the question of backing Somali warlords, who have styled themselves as a counterterrorism coalition in an open bid for American support. Speaking to reporters recently, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would "work with responsible individuals ... in fighting terror. It's a real concern of ours -- terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another safe haven for terrorists created. Our interest is purely in seeing Somalia achieve a better day." [complete article]

Comment -- So America returns to the place where Dick Cheney would have us believe, all its troubles began. Withdrawing from Somalia in 1993, supposedly created "the perception of weakness." Would Cheney now claim that backing warlords is a way showing strength? Or is this just the good old American way of supporting the enemy of my enemy -- the kind of support that the Mujahadeen and Contras of bigone decades knew so well? Tell us all the success stories of all those other secret wars, Mr. Cheney!
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U.S. angered by Ecuador takeover of Oxy assets
By Hal Weitzman and Richard Lapper, Financial Times, May 16, 2006

The US said on Tuesday it was "very disappointed" at Ecuador's decision to revoke the operating contract of Occidental, the country's biggest foreign investor, and take over $1bn of the US-based oil company's assets.

The move comes weeks after Ecuador imposed a 50 per cent tax on the “extraordinary profits” of foreign oil companies, and follows a more hardline approach towards foreign investors in Bolivia and Venezuela. [complete article]

See also, Palacio bows to populism in confiscating Oxy assets (FT).

Latam nationalisation threatens oil supplies
By Matthew Robinson, Reuters, May 16, 2006

Recent moves by Latin American countries to increase state control of oil resources may cause production to fall as governments siphon off cash needed to keep fields pumping, analysts said.

High energy prices have emboldened oil and natural gas producers to change deals with foreign companies in order to fill state coffers, with Ecuador on Monday announcing it was taking over oil fields operated by U.S. Occidental Petroleum.

Bolivia sent troops to take control of its natural gas fields earlier this month to nationalise the energy sector. Venezuela took over two fields from European oil firms ENI and Total.

But experts said states that take over their oil industries often cut back on exploration and production efforts to feed government programs, leaving output levels to stall or drop off as petrodollars roll in. [complete article]
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Syrian oil draws Asian help
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2006

With Asian economic powerhouses such as China and India aggressively hunting for new sources of energy to fuel their expanding economies, opportunities beckon for sanctions-hit Syria.

Syria's petroleum wealth, although limited by Mideast standards, is attracting the growing interest of oil-hungry Asian nations, even as some American oil majors pull out to minimize their investment risks.

"The majority of Western companies are not interested in investing in Syria because any country that is under sanctions or could face sanctions is going to be regarded as a higher risk," says Samir Saifan, a Syrian economist. "Naturally, Syria will look for other sources, and they are China, India, Malaysia, and other Asian countries." [complete article]
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Verizon denies it gave NSA local phone records
By Ken Belson and Matt Richtell, New York Times, May 16, 2006

Verizon Communications, the country's second largest telephone company, said today that it had not provided local phone records to the National Security Agency as part of the agency's efforts to amass a database of call data to thwart terrorists.

The announcement, a day after BellSouth issued a similar statement, came in response to a report in USA Today last Thursday that the three biggest Bell companies had handed over their customer calling records -- including data on local calls -- to the security agency without warrants. [complete article]

Comment -- It's noteworthy that what Verizon is denying is that it "provided customer records or call data" to the NSA. The only holdout company in issuing such a denial is AT&T, the reason being -- I suspect -- the class action lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF lawsuit alleges that "AT&T Corp. has opened its key telecommunications facilities and databases to direct access by the NSA and/or other government agencies..." With direct access, the NSA could compile its own records -- no need for complete records to be provided by any of the telcos. Verizon's statement makes the point that no records are made of local calls (thus no records could be passed on to the NSA) -- further confirmation that this is a denial about providing records, not a denial about providing direct access.
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The NSA's math problem
By Jonathan David Farley, New York Times, May 16, 2006

News that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth gave customer records to the National Security Agency has set off a heated debate over the intricacies of espionage law. But legal or not, this sort of spying program probably isn't worth infringing our civil liberties for — because it's very unlikely that the type of information one can glean from it will help us win the war on terrorism. [complete article]

See also, BellSouth denies giving phone-call records to NSA (WP).

Federal source to ABC News: we know who you're calling
By Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, The Blotter, May 15, 2006

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation. [complete article]
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Where is the global outcry at this continuing cruelty?
By Ghada Karmi, The Guardian, May 15, 2006

Israel is 58 years old today. Israelis have already celebrated with barbecues and parties. And so they should, for they've pulled off an amazing stunt: the creation of a state for one people on the land of another - and at their massive expense - without incurring effective sanction. Some of those not celebrating, the Arab citizens of Israel, were also there, demonstrating to remind the world that Israel displaced 250,000 to take their land without compensation. Millions more Palestinians will demonstrate today in the refugee camps of Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring Arab states against their expulsion by Israel. The world, however, is not listening, any more than it did in 1948, when most of Palestine's inhabitants were expelled to make way for Jewish immigrants. [complete article]

See also, The Palestinian tipping point (The Guardian), Peretz defends wave of attacks on Palestinians (The Guardian), and For Israel and Hamas, a case for accommodation (Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller).

I call it an apartheid state
By Daphna Baram, May 16, 2006

At the end of last week the high court of justice went beyond the boundaries even of its own ambivalent tradition on human rights, and acted as a rubber stamp for blatantly racist legislation. In a majority of six to five the high court of justice refused to overrule a parliament law which determines that Palestinian citizens of Israel will not be able to grant their citizenship to their spouses. (To all apologists, yes, I did notice that there was a big minority opposition. But that was not good enough.)

The court decided that the compromising of human rights is balanced by the needs of "security". What really lies behind it is the bad old Israeli "demography problem", which in any other civilised country would be called what it really is: racism. The facts are simple. 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinians. The rest are mostly Jews. Jews are allowed to bring their spouses into Israel and grant them their citizenship through matrimony to non-Israeli spouses. Palestinians can't.

Not only can a non-Israeli spouse of a Palestinian not get Israeli citizenship, they can not even enter the country. What this means in practice is that a Palestinian who opts to marry a non-Israeli has to leave the country. As one of the majority justices wrote: "the citizen's right to have a family does not necessarily have to materialise in Israel of all places". What cynicism! [complete article]

See also, Supreme disgrace (Haareztz).
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Chavez cautious on prospects for U.S.-Iran war
By Stephen Fidler, Financial Times, May 16, 2006

Hugo Chavez on Monday stopped short of saying Venezuela would cut off oil to the US if it attacked Iran -- but declined to predict what he would do if that happened.

"We don't want to suspend oil exports to anywhere and we've never done that... but I can't answer if Venezuela would suspend oil to the US if there was a war with Iran," President Chavez said in London. Iran is the second largest oil producer in Opec, and Venezuela produces similar volumes to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, in joint third place. [complete article]

Europe to offer Iran conditional incentives
By Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, May 16, 2006

The European Union said Monday that it would offer a new incentives package to Iran, including technology to build nuclear power plants for civilian energy production.

But Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said Iran would first have to gain international confidence by ceasing any nuclear enrichment, which Iran defends as part of its nuclear energy program but which the United States and the European Union view as camouflage for a nuclear weapons program. [complete article]

Iran must halt enrichment effort, China official says
By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2006

Iran should halt its uranium enrichment activities and all related research and development, a senior Chinese official said Monday, even as he advised the United States to drop its push for sanctions in order to ease the nuclear dispute.

Tang Jiaxuan, a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee, called in an interview in Zhongnanhai, the country's seat of power, for Iran to take a more accommodating line in United Nations discussions of its nuclear program. [complete article]
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Scores are killed in heavy fighting south of Baghdad
By Nelson Hernandez and Hassan Shammari, Washington Post, May 16, 2006

U.S.-led forces killed more than 40 Sunni Arab fighters in a series of ferocious battles south of Baghdad, military officials said Monday. Officials also announced the deaths of four U.S. service members, including two soldiers killed when insurgents shot down their helicopter in the area of the insurgent clashes. [complete article]

Iraq Sunnis accuse US of "atrocity" over raids
Reuters, May 15, 2006

Iraq's main Sunni religious grouping accused U.S. forces on Monday of killing 25 civilians in raids near Baghdad in the past two days, rejecting the U.S. account that only suspected insurgents had died.

"We hold the Iraqi government and the occupiers responsible for this brutal atrocity," the Muslim Clerics Association said in a statement.

The U.S. military earlier on Monday said its forces had killed more than 41 insurgents in and around the villages of Latifiya and Yusifiya, south of the capital, on Saturday and Sunday. It also said a U.S. helicopter was shot down, killing two soldiers. [complete article]

Malnutrition among Iraqi children alarming--survey
Reuters, May 15, 2006

Malnutrition among Iraqi children has reached alarming levels, according to a U.N.-backed government survey showing people are struggling to cope three years after U.S.-forces overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Nine percent -- almost one in 10 -- of children aged between six months and five years, suffered acute malnourishment, said the report on food security and vulnerability in Iraq. [complete article]

As the bombs fall, Iraq's Kurds have 'no friends but the mountains'
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 16, 2006

The old saying of the Kurds that they "have no friends but the mountains" is truest here among the towering peaks along on the frontier with Iran. For the first time in their tragic history the Kurds believe they are close to being recognised as a nation within Iraq but they fear that their powerful neighbours - Iran, Syria and Turkey - will snatch away their victory at the last moment. [complete article]

Patronage roils Iraqi unity
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2006

Five months after Iraq's last election, the effort to create a national unity government to reconcile warring factions by sharing cabinet posts among Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Arabs is foundering. The latest impediment is squabbling among the dominant Shiites parties.

The country's new Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was expected to unveil his cabinet Sunday. Instead, a member of the Shiite Islamist United Iraqi Alliance confirmed it was pulling out of the government, angry at the way seats are being distributed. [complete article]

Iraq begins to rein in paramilitary force
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 14, 2006

Iraq's Interior Ministry has taken its first steps to rein in the Facilities Protection Service, a unit of 4,000 building guards that U.S. officials say has quietly burgeoned into the government's largest paramilitary force, with 145,000 armed men and no central command, oversight or paymaster.

Last month, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr accused the Facilities Protection Service, known as the FPS, of carrying out some of the killings widely attributed to death squads operating inside his ministry's police forces. A senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition that he not be identified further, said Saturday he believed that members of the FPS, along with private militias, were the chief culprits behind Iraq's death squads. [complete article]

One home tackles Iraq's Sunni-Shiite divide
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2006

Ibrahim Mohamed and his wife Khuthar happily dote on their baby. They are openly affectionate and laugh warmly at each other's jokes. But if they had to do it over, they wouldn't have married.

"If I could go back in time, I'd never marry a Shiite," Ibrahim says. "It's not about her as a person. The problem is the clerics she follows." [complete article]
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Mubarak's son met with Cheney, others
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, May 16, 2006

The son of Egypt's president made a secret trip to Washington last week to meet with Vice President Cheney and other senior U.S. officials a day after thousands of Egyptian riot police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration back in Cairo, U.S. and Egyptian officials said yesterday.

Gamal Mubarak, 42, a powerful political player and widely considered a possible heir to his father, Hosni Mubarak, told the U.S. officials that Egypt is committed to further democracy but said it would be a long-term process that will include setbacks. "There was no tension at all," Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmi said in an interview. "They listened to his explanation of what was happening." [complete article]

Regime, judges, and public: take five
By Baheyya, May 12, 2006

"The streets of downtown looked as if a foreign country had declared war on Egypt," quipped a judge. Indeed, Thursday 11 May was even more brutal than Thursday, 27 April, as security forces deployed maximum and indiscriminate force to sunder the growing bonds between judges and public.

While the head of state was busy surveying Pharaonic artefacts in Berlin, security forces in Cairo were busy quashing peaceful demonstrators showing their support for judges. [complete article]

Egypt finds democracy can wait
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 16, 2006

President Hosni Mubarak's enforcers have a particular way of dealing with female demonstrators: they sexually humiliate them. The case of journalist Abir al-Askari is but one example. When she arrived at Cairo's high court last week for a disciplinary hearing against two pro-democracy judges, she was grabbed by several men.

"They drove me to Sayyida Zeinab police station. I screamed and resisted and they beat me and pulled my hair and my veil," Ms Askari said. "Right in front of the police station they kicked me. When people gathered and told them to stop they replied: 'She's been committing adultery.'"

Ms Askari told Human Rights Watch investigators that she was taken to a room where three female activists from the Kifaya reform group had previously been abused. "'Nobody will know where you are,' the officer said. 'You are lost.' They tore at my clothes, my shirt buttons. They continued to slap and punch me ... I was lying on the floor. He placed his shoe on my face." She was later released. [complete article]

See also, All rise for the judges of Egypt (CSM) and Secularists are not the problem (Qassim Lotfi).

Comment -- When President Bush stopped by to shake hands with Gamal Mubarak and send greetings to his father, was this a friendly gesture from one head of state to the family's representative of another, or was it Bush as president-and-son-of-president seeing his own likeness in a would-be president-son-of-president?

If the White House is truly disturbed by the Egyptian regime's disdain for political freedom, having Mubarak meet with Cheney, Hadley, Rice, and Bush, is a strange way of showing it. Much more likely, I imagine, Mubarak proffered some hollow assurances about things moving in the right direction even while democracy "cannot be rushed", while White House officials responded with some equally hollow "expressions of concern." On one thing they must all surely concur: democracy is not worth enough to merit the Mubarak's relinguishing power to the Muslim Brotherhood. Much better to continue family business as usual. After all, the value of an independent judiciary must (at least to the Bush-Mubarak's of this world) seem greatly overrated.
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U.S. restores full diplomatic ties with Libya
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 16, 2006

The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya yesterday, marking the end of a quarter-century of enmity and signaling to Iran and North Korea that similar rewards await countries that scrap their weapons of mass destruction.

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi agreed to end his nation's nascent chemical and nuclear weapons programs in late 2003, capping years of talks between Tripoli and Washington over how Libya could end two decades of international isolation. Libya also took responsibility that year for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and agreed to pay as much as $10 million to the family of each of the 270 dead.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would reopen its embassy, shuttered after a mob set fire to it in 1979, and remove Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism within 45 days. "Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people, so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea," Rice said, calling Libya "an important model" for resolving the disputes with Tehran and Pyongyang. [complete article]

Comment -- The Bush administration might like the idea that the restoration of ties between Washington and Tripoli is being viewed by some observers as a diplomatic fairy tale ("happy ending" -- not "make-believe"), but few could argue that it reflects the reemergence of realpolitik. As Libya's foreign minister, Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, told AP, this is all about "mutual interests." To raise questions about democracy and human rights in Libya would at this moment be awfully impolite.

The rapproachment supposedly sends a message to Tehran and Pyongyang, but the timing suggests that Washington might equally be concerned that Gaddafi understands that he is now expected to choose his friends carefully. But as Hugo Chavez arrives in Tripoli today, it seems clear that none of the oil producers are in any doubt that their collective strength is worth far more than their individual relations with the United States. All recognize the need for good customer relations, but none are likely to be confused about the difference between a valuable (and needy) customer and a good friend.
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U.S. history lesson: stop meddling
By Stephen Kinzer, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2006

The United States is facing a major crisis in Iran, where the clerical regime, despite its denials, is evidently embarked on an effort to develop nuclear weapons. Because American leaders say they will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, this has led to intense speculation that the Bush administration is preparing a military attack.

History suggests, however, that such an attack would have disastrous long-term consequences. Iranians know as well as anyone how terribly wrong such foreign interventions can go.

Iran was an incipient democracy in 1953, but Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh -- chosen by an elected parliament and hugely popular among Iranians -- angered the West by nationalizing his country's oil industry. President Eisenhower sent the CIA to depose him. The coup was successful, but it set the stage for future disaster.

The CIA placed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi back on the Peacock Throne. His repressive rule led, 25 years later, to the Islamic Revolution. That revolution brought to power a clique of bitterly anti-Western mullahs who have spent the decades since working intensely, and sometimes violently, to undermine U.S. interests around the world.

If the Eisenhower administration had refrained from direct intervention against Iran in 1953, this religious regime probably would never have come to power. There would be no nuclear crisis. Iran might instead have become a thriving democracy in the heart of the Muslim Middle East. [complete article]
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Season of the wolf
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, May 12, 2006

By early 2003 virtually all of the operational planners responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been caught and spirited away to secret interrogation centers, where they languish to this day. Osama bin Laden might still be at large, but the war on those terrorists who attacked New York and Washington was won. In fact, it was all over so quickly that it provided no argument for vast increases in defense spending, and oil prices remained low. In December 2001, they were running between $17 and $20 a barrel. A year later, they'd edged up to the $25 a range.

It was only in 2003 as the Bush administration committed irrevocably to invade and occupy Iraq, that you started to see the stock of Halliburton and ExxonMobil climbing dramatically month after month, and now year after year, fueled by the soaring price of oil (currently more than $70 a barrel) and the hundreds of billions of extra dollars pumped into the defense industry. Meanwhile, "War President" Bush and his party won big victories at the polls in 2002 and 2004.

Does this kind of superficial analysis prove that this administration is addicted to war, which serves its own political interests and lines the pockets of key supporters? Does it prove, for instance, that the misinformation about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction was a conscious plot to lie to the American people, as many critics now believe? No.

But it is damn suspicious, especially if you are looking at the United States from afar. And whether the ordeal of Iraq is the result of self-delusion, bad intelligence, willful ignorance, political expediency, corporate cupidity, plain incompetence -- or all of the above -- does not much matter at this point. America's enemies like Ahmadinejad and potential rivals like Putin, find it all too easy to convince audiences at home and around the world that they are up against a U.S. regime, Comrade Wolf, that will stop at nothing to serve its own interests. [complete article]

Comment -- Conspiracy theorizing seems in some sense to contain an element of magical thinking -- a conviction that the world is mostly shaped by human thought and intention with little room allowed for the intrusion of chaos.

Rather than posing the question, who benefits? -- as though this is sure to crack the code of all political machinations -- it's probably better to ask, who suffers? The answer to this question surely explains how the current administration is able to blithely continue down its chosen path despite such a string of failures.

Suffering is the call of adaptation, yet the Bush administration's knack -- a curse to the rest of the world -- is in making sure that the burdens resulting from its recklessness and incompetance, are burdens that always fall on others. For as long as this president -- against all odds -- can sustain his own lightness of being, he will remain convinced that the misery around him is not of his own making. For as long as Bush remains inwardly untroubled, trouble for everyone else will abound.
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They hate us, they really hate us
By Robert Wright, New York Times, May 14, 2006

You wouldn't expect to find good news for President Bush in a book by Andrew Kohut, a pollster and commentator who seems to divide his time between quantifying America's Bush-era plunge in the world's esteem and quantifying Bush's plunge in America's esteem. Then again, you also wouldn't expect to find good news for President Bush in a book by Julia E. Sweig, a liberal senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. But Sweig's "Friendly Fire" joins Kohut's "America Against the World" (written with the columnist Bruce Stokes) in showing that Bush isn't the only one to blame for the world's dim view of the United States. And these days that counts as good news for Bush.

Whether it's good news for the United States is another question. Once you see the deep and diffuse roots of current anti-Americanism, you realize there won't be an easy fix. Still, these two books -- especially "Friendly Fire," the more prescriptive of the two — offer insight into how we might avoid what Sweig calls "the Anti-American Century."

The strain of "American exceptionalism" that President Bush has made internationally infamous is hardly new, Sweig notes. A Latin America specialist, she can list a century's worth of examples of the dubious idea that "America could throw its weight around -- willy-nilly of international law or the sovereignty of other states -- because its goals were noble, its values universal in their appeal."

And she doesn't stop with Latin America. More obviously germane to current headlines than the 1954 coup America sponsored in Guatemala is the one it sponsored in Iran in 1953, ushering in the secular authoritarianism that would in turn usher in the fundamentalist revolution of 1979. This, like so much American support for oppression during the cold war, made less of an impact on Americans than on the oppressed. "The dramas that contained the seeds of today's rebellion played out in obscurity, as yet imperceptible to the naked American eye," Sweig writes in the course of her sweeping and pungent review of abrasive American foreign policies. [complete article]
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Will the real traitors please stand up?
By Frank Rich, New York Times, May 14, 2006

When America panics, it goes hunting for scapegoats. But from Salem onward, we've more often than not ended up pillorying the innocent. Abe Rosenthal, the legendary Times editor who died last week, and his publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, were denounced as treasonous in 1971 when they defied the Nixon administration to publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret government history of the Vietnam War. Today we know who the real traitors were: the officials who squandered American blood and treasure on an ill-considered war and then tried to cover up their lies and mistakes. It was precisely those lies and mistakes, of course, that were laid bare by the thousands of pages of classified Pentagon documents leaked to both The Times and The Washington Post.

This history is predictably repeating itself now that the public has turned on the war in Iraq. The administration's die-hard defenders are desperate to deflect blame for the fiasco, and, guess what, the traitors once again are The Times and The Post. This time the newspapers committed the crime of exposing warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (The Times) and the C.I.A.'s secret "black site" Eastern European prisons (The Post). Aping the Nixon template, the current White House tried to stop both papers from publishing and when that failed impugned their patriotism. [complete article]
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The perils of soft power
By Josef Joffe, New York Times, May 14, 2006

There may be little or no relationship between America's ubiquity and its actual influence. Hundreds of millions of people around the world wear, listen, eat, drink, watch and dance American, but they do not identify these accouterments of their daily lives with America. A Yankees cap is the epitome of things American, but it hardly signifies knowledge of, let alone affection for, the team from New York or America as such.

The same is true for American films, foods or songs. Of the 250 top-grossing movies around the world, only four are foreign-made: "The Full Monty" (U.K.), "Life Is Beautiful" (Italy) and "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle" (Japan); the rest are American, including a number of co-productions. But these American products shape images, not sympathies, and there is little, if any, relationship between artifact and affection.

If the relationship is not neutral, it is one of repulsion rather than attraction — the dark side of the "soft power" coin. The European student movement of the late 1960's took its cue from the Berkeley free-speech movement of 1964, the inspiration for all post-1964 Western student revolts. But it quickly turned anti-American; America was reviled while it was copied. [complete article]
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The real story of pricey oil
By Fareed Zacharia, Newsweek, May 22, 2006

For all the talk about China and India, America remains the gorilla of global gas. India consumes 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. America burns 10 times that amount. The single biggest shift in global demand over the past decade has not been the rise of China but the rise of SUVs. Since the mid-1970s the demand for petroleum in Western Europe and Japan has been flat. In the United States it has doubled.

This ever-rising economic demand in America is fueled by politics. Without a loophole in the law, SUVs would be banned. Without artificially low gas prices, Americans would not guzzle as much gas. The American government subsidizes gas in many different ways, big and small. As consumers, we do not pay for the enormous expense involved in policing the Middle East, an expense we would almost certainly not incur if its chief export was carrots. We do not pay for the environmental fallout from burning gasoline. We get free roads and a free ride. And it might get freer. American politicians are jumping all over themselves to provide tax relief because a gallon of gas might hit $4 -- while prices in Japan and Europe are close to $7. I understand why the Saudi regime keeps gas cheap to bribe its citizens. But must America do the same? [complete article]
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Not such a light unto the nations
By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Haaretz, May 12, 2006

A.B. Yehoshua is still fighting the good old Zionist fight of the 20th century to convince world Jewry that they really ought to be living in Israel in order to have an authentically Jewish life. However, the challenge posed to world Jewry in the 21st century is a dramatically different one, and it is one which neither Yehoshua nor many of his critics are ready for.

Whether you approach an understanding of life from an economic, political, technological or ecological point of view, the central truth of the 21st century is that we live in an increasingly interconnected world. And whether it is looking at the possibility of nuclear proliferation and war, or an impending environmental catastrophe, more people are coming to understand the central moral insight of our time: that our well-being, as individuals, families, religious communities and nations depends on the well-being of the entire world, and on the well-being of the planet itself.

So there is no "individual solution" for you or me as people, and there is no "national solution" for Israel or the Jewish people that doesn't depend on providing for the economic, cultural, political and spiritual fulfillment of everyone else. [complete article]
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Spies 'hid' bomber tape from MPs
By David Leppard and Richard Woods, The Sunday Times, May 14, 2006

MI5 is being accused of a cover-up for failing to disclose to a parliamentary watchdog that it bugged the leader of the July 7 suicide bombers discussing the building of a bomb months before the London attacks.

MI5 had secret tape recordings of Mohammad Sidique Khan, the gang leader, talking about how to build the device and then leave the country because there would be a lot of police activity.

However, despite the recordings, MI5 allowed him to escape the net. Transcripts of the tapes were never shown to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC), which investigated the attacks.

The disclosures prompted allegations of a "whitewash" from politicians and victims of the attacks this weekend. [complete article]
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The pipes carry clout with the oil
By Jad Mouawad, New York Times, May 14, 2006

Transnational pipelines have been around for more than a century, but with low prices and supplies aplenty, they had lost much of their strategic significance over time. Supertankers, first built in the early 1950's, allowed producers to ship anywhere around the world, and freed consumers from the whims of a single seller. About two-thirds of the oil trade is now carried by tankers.

But matters have changed in recent years: higher demand has put pressure on energy networks, supplies have had trouble catching up with consumption, and tensions have risen. Today, every drop counts.

"Pipelines play a critical role in an age of increased tightness in energy markets, terrorist threats to energy infrastructure, and political use of energy resources," said Anne Korin, the co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a research center based in Washington.

Consider the case of Iran, which wants to build a natural gas pipeline to India and is even considering extending the route all the way to China. The project, spanning about 1,600 miles at a cost of $7 billion, would provide Iran with a large market for its substantial gas reserves while helping India meet its growing energy needs. The pipeline would also add to Iran's political clout. [complete article]
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Beirut bombshell
By Mitchell Prothero, Fortune, May 4, 2006

Last year, when Syrian intelligence operatives were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, their motive seemed clear: to neutralize a political opponent of Syria's three-decade occupation of Lebanon.

But United Nations investigators and other sources have told FORTUNE there may have been an additional reason for the hit. The February 2005 car bombing in Beirut, the sources say, may have been partly intended to cover up a corruption and bank fraud scandal that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars to top Syrian and Lebanese officials.

Bank documents, court filings, and interviews with investigators and other sources show that some of the officials were deeply involved from the late 1990s until early 2003 in a kickback scheme that supplied them with cash, real estate, cars, and jewelry in exchange for protecting and facilitating a multibillion-dollar money laundering operation at Lebanon's Bank al-Madina that allowed terrorist organizations, peddlers of West African "blood diamonds," Saddam Hussein, and Russian gangsters to hide income and convert hot money into legitimate bank accounts around the world. [complete article]
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Tensions simmer as Kurds reclaim Kirkuk
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2006

Surrounded by half-built housing developments, crowded tenements and congested roads, the tiny storefront office of Zakariya Real Estate is booming with business.

Maps of subdivisions hang like gridded wallpaper. Shelves display tile samples and colorful pictures of modular homes, priced to fit a range of budgets.

"Seventy percent of our clients are Kurds who were displaced by Saddam Hussein," proprietor Zakariya Tahir Ali said in a recent interview. "Now they are coming back."

As Kurds with means construct new houses, thousands of others who have returned to Kirkuk are demanding that their old houses be vacated by Arabs who moved there under Hussein's ethnic policies, heightening tensions in one of Iraq's most diverse cities. [complete article]
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Back from Iraq
Washington Post, May 14, 2006

After three years, there are at least 550,000 veterans of the Iraq war. The Washington Post interviewed 100 of them -- many of whom were still in the service, others who weren't -- to hear about what their war was like and how the transition home has been.

Their answers were as varied as their experiences. But a constant theme through the interviews was that the American public is largely unaffected by the war, and, despite round-the-clock television and Internet exposure, doesn't understand what it's like.

You can't understand unless you were there.

It's a timeless refrain sounded by generation after generation of soldiers returning from combat. But what sets Iraq war veterans apart is not just the kind of war they are fighting but the mood of the country they are coming home to. It is not a United States unified behind the war effort, such as in World War II. There's no rationing, no sacrifice, no Rosie the Riveter urging, "We Can Do it!" Nor is it the country that protested Vietnam and derided many vets as baby killers.

The United States that Iraq veterans are returning to is relatively indifferent, many said. One that without fear of a draft seems more interested in the progression of "American Idol" than the bombings in Baghdad. Sure, there are the homecoming parades, the yellow-ribbon bumper stickers, the pats on the back -- they continue as troops arrive back home.

But for many vets, those moments of gratitude were short-lived or limited to close friends and family. Soon they were joined by bitter impressions of a society that seems to forget that it is living through the country's largest combat operation in more than 30 years. [complete article]
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U.S. military is split on insurgency strategy
By Solomon Moore and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2006

In the region around Qaim, a northwestern Iraqi town near the Syrian border, Marines are fanning out from their main base and moving into villages as part of a new strategy to root out insurgents who enter the country here.

The troops have set up 19 small base camps throughout the area and begun routinely patrolling insurgent hot spots north of the Euphrates River. The deployment follows a strategy favored by a new generation of counterinsurgency experts: disperse, mingle with the population and stay put.

But the shift comes as the Pentagon appears to be moving the overall U.S. military effort in the opposite direction across much of the country. Army units are being concentrated in "super bases" that line the spine of central Iraq, away from the urban centers where counterinsurgency operations take place.

The two approaches underscore an increasingly high-profile divergence -- some say contradiction -- on how best to use U.S. forces in Iraq, and are evidence of a growing debate in the upper ranks about the wisest course of action. [complete article]
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Despite political pressure to scale back, logistics are pinning down U.S. in Iraq
By David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 14, 2006

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld regularly says he wants major troop withdrawals from Iraq, if possible this year. But he rarely mentions the daunting challenges beyond the volatile security situation that are preventing a rapid withdrawal.

Discussions of when, how fast and how far to draw down American troops in Iraq will no doubt be influenced by the domestic political mood, with Congressional elections approaching in November. Yet those pushing for significant withdrawals will run into an undeniable law of military operations: the American combat troops who remain in Iraq, and the growing number of Iraqi security forces, will still require substantial numbers of supporting American forces to remain, too, to supply food, fuel and ammunition and otherwise support combat operations.

As the Bush administration considers how and when to draw down the nearly 133,000 American troops still in Iraq, those logistical factors, among many other pressures and counterpressures, will weigh heavily toward keeping a sizable force there, delivering supplies, gathering and analyzing intelligence and providing air support to Iraqi security forces. [complete article]
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Fired officer believed CIA lied to Congress
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, May 14, 2006

A senior CIA official, meeting with Senate staff in a secure room of the Capitol last June, promised repeatedly that the agency did not violate or seek to violate an international treaty that bars cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees, during interrogations it conducted in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But another CIA officer -- the agency's deputy inspector general, who for the previous year had been probing allegations of criminal mistreatment by the CIA and its contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was startled to hear what she considered an outright falsehood, according to people familiar with her account. It came during the discussion of legislation that would constrain the CIA's interrogations.

That CIA officer was Mary O. McCarthy, 61, who was fired on April 20 for allegedly sharing classified information with journalists, including Washington Post journalist Dana Priest. A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that "CIA people had lied" in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading.

Whether McCarthy's conviction that the CIA was hiding unpleasant truths provoked her to leak sensitive information is known only to her and the journalists she is alleged to have spoken with last year. But the picture of her that emerges from interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues is of an independent-minded analyst who became convinced that on multiple occasions the agency had not given accurate or complete information to its congressional overseers. [complete article]

Comment -- Hmmm... As a federal employee, doesn't this mean that McCarthy would be protected under the law the protects individuals from unfair dismissal for whistleblowing?
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A fresh focus on Cheney
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, May 14, 2006

The role of Vice President Dick Cheney in the criminal case stemming from the outing of White House critic Joseph Wilson's CIA wife is likely to get fresh attention as a result of newly disclosed notes showing that Cheney personally asked whether Wilson had been sent by his wife on a "junket" to Africa.

Cheney's notes, written on the margins of a July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed column by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, were included as part of a filing Friday night by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the perjury and obstruction case against ex-Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The notes, Fitzgerald said in his filing, show that Cheney and Libby were "acutely focused" on the Wilson column and on rebutting his criticisms of the White House's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence. In the column, which created a firestorm after its publication, Wilson wrote that he had been dispatched by the CIA without pay to Niger in February, 2002 to investigate an intelligence report that Iraq was seeking uranium from the African country for a nuclear bomb. Wilson said he was told Cheney had asked about the intelligence,but the White House subsequently ignored his findings debunking the Niger claims. [complete article]
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Karl Rove indicted on charges of perjury, lying to investigators
By Jason Leopold, truthout, May 13, 2006

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, did not return a call for comment. Sources said Fitzgerald was in Washington, DC, Friday and met with Luskin for about 15 hours to go over the charges against Rove, which include perjury and lying to investigators about how and when Rove discovered that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative and whether he shared that information with reporters, sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators. [complete article]
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Cheney pushed U.S. to widen eavesdropping
By Scott Shane and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 14, 2006

By several accounts, including those of the two officials, General Hayden, a 61-year-old Air Force officer who left the agency last year to become principal deputy director of national intelligence, was the man in the middle as President Bush demanded that intelligence agencies act urgently to stop future attacks.

On one side was a strong-willed vice president and his longtime legal adviser, David S. Addington, who believed that the Constitution permitted spy agencies to take sweeping measures to defend the country. Later, Mr. Cheney would personally arrange tightly controlled briefings on the program for select members of Congress.

On the other side were some lawyers and officials at the largest American intelligence agency, which was battered by eavesdropping scandals in the 1970's and has since wielded its powerful technology with extreme care to avoid accusations of spying on Americans.

As in other areas of intelligence collection, including interrogation methods for terror suspects, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Addington took an aggressive view of what was permissible under the Constitution, the two intelligence officials said. [complete article]
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Phone calls are just the start
By Simson L. Garfinkel, Washington Post, May 14, 2006

On Thursday, news accounts revealed that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have been sharing the telephone records of millions of Americans with the National Security Agency. According to USA Today, the NSA is using this information to create a database of every phone call being made within the nation's borders. The spy agency would then mine this database to uncover hidden terrorist networks. "It's the largest database ever assembled," a source told the newspaper.

The news spurred outrage on Capitol Hill. However, telephone records are just a sliver of the data on individuals that the government could assemble. Through our movements, transactions and activities, residents of industrialized societies throw off megabytes of data each day. Gathering this data is technically straightforward, and the potential for authorities to build much larger databases -- relying on sources we may not have contemplated before -- is quite real. Such databases would require extensive protections to prevent abuse from low-level insiders and senior government officials.

Building these databases can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive, and doing something useful with that data -- turning countless facts into actionable information -- is even more complicated. Data mining on a broad scale may indeed help the government in its professed goal of fighting terrorism. But are the costs involved and the risks to privacy from data-collection "mission creep" worth the effort? [complete article]
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Langley, we have a problem
By Tim Weiner, New York Times, May 14, 2006

The men who dreamed up the Central Intelligence Agency 60 years ago had one idea in mind: to pull together all the information the United States could gather about the rest of the world, analyze it, and present it to the president. They would produce strategic intelligence -- the big picture of the intentions and abilities of America's enemies -- to prevent the next Pearl Harbor.

They founded a small, weak, unfocused organization, scattered around Washington in shoddy barracks and outbuildings. They set out to know the world. During the cold war, the C.I.A. built an empire of intelligence. But now it finds itself back where it began. The question now at hand is whether the world's most famous intelligence service is ready for the wrecking ball.

The Pentagon always hated the idea of an independent civilian intelligence service. But the founders of the national security system after World War II thought it wise to have civilians, rather than the military, gathering and analyzing foreign intelligence to aid diplomats and soldiers, balancing the Pentagon's mandate to prepare for war.

Now the battle begins over whether the C.I.A. will continue to be the central source of intelligence analysis. If the agency's analytic heart is transplanted, as some propose, the C.I.A. of old will cease to be. The mission for which it was created could be lost. Would it matter? It might matter enormously. These civilians are supposed to warn the White House of mortal threats from afar, and ripping apart their offices might make a hard job only harder. [complete article]
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Bush tops Nixon: The most despised president in history
By David Swanson, Counterpunch, May 12, 2006

This day has been long coming. The trendlines have shown it would soon be upon us. Now, here we are. With this new Harris poll, available through the Wall Street Journal , President Bush claims the titlelong held by Richard Nixon: Least Liked President Ever (or at least since there have been polls). And this data comes to us from before the USA Today reported on Bush's NSA secretly monitoring our phone records.

Bush's approval rating is now at 29%, and disapproval at an astonishing 71%. Well, it's astonishing that it took so long to get there. But it's also record-setting. The best Nixon could do was 66%. Nobody else comes close. Bush is breaking new ground. [complete article]

Bush's ratings hit new low, poll shows
Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2006

President Bush's approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll.

Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April. [complete article]
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At Falwell's university, McCain defends Iraq war
By Adam Nagourney, New York Times, May 14, 2006

With the Rev. Jerry Falwell at his side, Senator John McCain offered a spirited defense of the Iraq war on Saturday, telling graduating students at Liberty University that victory there was crucial to world security. But Mr. McCain urged opponents of the war to vigorously "state their opposition" in the interest of critical debate on this increasingly unpopular conflict.

"If an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition and argue for another course — it is your right and obligation," Mr. McCain said, adding, "But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty." [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iran nuclear conflict is about U.S. dominance
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via, May 12, 2006

How Iran will win a sanctions war
By Jephraim P Gundzik, Asia Times, May 11, 2006

Iran's nuclear program: the way out
By Hassan Rohani, Time, May 9, 2006

Putin versus Cheney
By Anatol Lieven, International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2006

The energy wars
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, May 7, 2006

All the president's books (minding history's whys and wherefores)
By Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, May 11, 2006

Telephone records are just the tip of NSA's iceberg
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

Secrecy privilege invoked in fighting ex-detainee's lawsuit
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, May 13, 2006

Killing the CIA
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, May 11, 2006

Israel's personal superpower
By William Pfaff, IHT, May 6, 2006

Joint Hamas-Fatah plan implies acceptance of 1967 borders
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, May 12, 2006

Inside Hamas
PBS Frontline, May 9, 2006

More than half of Israelis want gov't to help Arabs emigrate
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz, May 9, 2006

Muslims and Jews: common ground
By Robert Eisen, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

Three Iraqs would be one big problem
By Anthony H. Cordesman, New York Times, May 9, 2006

Displaced Iraqis 'living like animals'
By Oliver Poole and Ahmad Ali, The Telegraph, May 12, 2006
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