Saturday, May 13, 2006

Return Of The (AMERICAN TRAINED AND SUPPORTED) Death Squads - Iraq's Hidden News

The Salvador Option has been invoked in Iraq

The American public is being prepared. If the attack on Iran does come, there will be no warning, no declaration of war, no truth.
By John Pilger

The lifts in the New York Hilton played CNN on a small screen you could not avoid watching. Iraq was top of the news; pronouncements about a "civil war" and "sectarian violence" were repeated incessantly. It was as if the US invasion had never happened and the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Americans was a surreal fiction. The Iraqis were mindless Arabs, haunted by religion, ethnic strife and the need to blow themselves up. Unctuous puppet politicians were paraded with no hint that their exercise yard was inside an American fortress.

And when you left the lift, this followed you to your room, to the hotel gym, the airport, the next airport and the next country. Such is the power of America's corporate propaganda, which, as Edward Said pointed out in Culture and Imperialism, "penetrates electronically" with its equivalent of a party line.

The party line changed the other day. For almost three years it was that al-Qaeda was the driving force behind the "insurgency", led by Abu Musab al-n seen alive and that only a fraction of the "insurgents" followed al-Qaeda. For the Americans, Zarqawi's role was to distract attention from the thing that almost all Iraqis oppose: the brutal Anglo-American occupation of their country.

Now that al-Zarqawi has been replaced by "sectarian violence" and "civil war", the big news is the attacks by Sunnis on Shia mosques and bazaars. The real news, which is not reported in the CNN "mainstream", is that the Salvador Option has been invoked in Iraq. This is the campaign of terror by death squads armed and trained by the US, which attack Sunnis and Shias alike. The goal is the incitement of a real civil war and the break-up of Iraq, the original war aim of Bush's administration. The ministry of the interior in Baghdad, which is run by the CIA, directs the principal death squads. Their members are not exclusively Shia, as the myth goes. The most brutal are the Sunni-led Special Police Commandos, headed by former senior officers in Saddam's Ba'ath Party. This was formed and trained by CIA "counter-insurgency" experts, including veterans of the CIA's terror operations in central America in the 1980s, notably El Salvador. In his new book, Empire's Workshop (Metropolitan Books), the American historian Greg Grandin describes the Salvador Option thus: "Once in office, [President] Reagan came down hard on central America, in effect letting his administration's most committed militarists set and execute policy. In El Salvador, they provided more than a million dollars a day to fund a lethal counter-insurgency campaign... All told, US allies in central America during Reagan's two terms killed over 300,000 people, tortured hundreds of thousands and drove millions into exile."

Although the Reagan administration spawned the current Bushites, or "neo-cons", the pattern was set earlier. In Vietnam, death squads trained, armed and directed by the CIA murdered up to 50,000 people in Operation Phoenix. In the mid-1960s, in Indonesia, CIA officers compiled "death lists" for General Suharto's killing spree during his seizure of power. After the 2003 invasion, it was only a matter of time before this venerable "policy" was applied in Iraq.

According to the investigative writer Max Fuller (National Review Online), the key CIA manager of the interior ministry death squads "cut his teeth in Vietnam before moving on to direct the US military mission in El Salvador". Professor Grandin names another central America veteran whose job now is to "train a ruthless counter-insurgent force made up of ex-Ba'athist thugs". Another, says Fuller, is well-known for his "production of death lists". A secret militia run by the Americans is the Facilities Protection Service, which has been responsible for bombings. "The British and US Special Forces," concludes Fuller, "in conjunction with the [US-created] intelligence services at the Iraqi defence ministry, are fabricating insurgent bombings of Shias."

On 16 March, Reuters reported the arrest of an American "security contractor", who was found with weapons and explosives in his car. Last year, two Britons disguised as Arabs were caught with a car full of weapons and explosives; British forces bulldozed the Basra prison to rescue them. The Boston Globe recently reported: "The FBI's counter-terrorism unit has launched a broad investigation of US-based theft rings after discovering that some of the vehicles used in deadly car bombings in Iraq, including attacks that killed US troops and Iraqi civilians, were probably stolen in the United States, according to senior government officials."

As I say, all this has been tried before - just as the preparation of the American public for an atrocious attack on Iran is similar to the WMD fabrications in Iraq. If that attack comes, there will be no warning, no declaration of war, no truth. Imprisoned in the Hilton lift, staring at CNN, my fellow passengers could be excused for not making sense of the Middle East, or Latin America, or anywhere. They are isolated. Nothing is explained. Congress is silent. The Democrats are moribund. And the freest media on earth insult the public every day.

As Voltaire put it: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

"The End of This War Will Be Very, Very Messy" - Seymour Hersh versus the Bush Administration (and the DC Press Corps) By ROBERT FISK

Sy Hersh is an ornery, cussed sort of guy, not one to suffer fools gladly. As the man who broke the My Lai story and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, I reckon he has a right to be ornery from time to time--and cussed.

He's dealing with powerful folk in Washington, including one--George W Bush--who would like to cut him down. And when Hersh wrote--as he did in The New Yorker this month--that "current and former American military and intelligence officials" have said Bush has a target list to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and that Bush's "ultimate goal" in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change--again!--you can see why Bush was worried. "Wild," he called the Hersh story. Which must mean it has some claim to veracity.

So when I cornered Hersh at Columbia University in New York and dropped him a note during a Charles Glass presentation asking for an interview, I expected a stiff reply. "Anything you ask," he scribbled obligingly on a piece of paper.

His own lecture was frightening. Bush has a messianic vision--and intends to go down in history (probably he has chosen the right direction) as the man who will have "saved" Iran. "So we're in a real American crisis ... we've had a collapse of congress ... we have had a collapse of the military ... the good news is that when we wake up tomorrow morning, there will be one less day (of Bush). But that is the only good news."

Hersh might have said that we'd also had a "collapse" of the media in the United States, a total disintegration of the Ed Murrow/Howard K Smith/ Daniel Elsworth/Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward school of journalism. The greying, bespectacled, obscenity-swearing Hersh is about all we have left to frighten the most powerful man in the world (save for the jibes of Maureen Dowd in The New York Times).

So it's good to know he's still doing some fighting, including other journalists on his target list. "I know some serious generals," he says. "I can't urge them to go public. They'd be attacked by Fox (TV), and the (New York) Times and The Washington Post would wring their hands. It's a mechanism. You don't get rewarded in the newsroom for being a malcontent." Journalists on the mainstream papers are largely middle-class college graduates--not reporters who came up the hard way like Hersh's street reporting in Chicago in his early days. They have largely no connection to the immigrants' society. "They don't know what it's like to be on social welfare. Their families weren't in Vietnam and their families are not in Iraq." The BBC, too, has "fallen off the way".

So what is the Hersh school of journalism? "In my business, I get information I check it out and I find it's not true--that's what my business is. Now there is (also) stuff in the military from people I don't know--I don't touch it ... I was seeing (President) Bashar (Assad of Syria) at the time of the assassination of (former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq) Hariri. There was obviously bad blood between Bashar and Hariri. Bashar was saying that Hariri wanted to take over the cell-phone business in Damascus. To this day I don't know what happened. I saw Bashar from 11am until 1pm (on February 14, 2005). He talked about what a thief Hariri was. I didn't write it."

And there goes a scoop about bad blood, I said to myself. But on Iran, it was something different for Hersh. He was talking to a contact. "I brought up Iran. 'It's really bad,' he said. 'You ought to get into it. You can go to Vienna and find out how far away (from nuclear weapons production) they are.' Then he told me they were having trouble walking back the nuclear option with Bush. People don't want to speak out--they want the shit on my head."

As Hersh said in his New Yorker report, nuclear planners routinely go through options--"we're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years," he quotes one of them as saying--but once the planners try to argue against all this, they are shouted down. According to another intelligence officer quoted by Hersh, "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you'." In other words, once the planners routinely put options on the table, the options become possibilities to be considered rather than technical reports.

"That whole Johns Hopkins speech," Hersh goes on, referring to the address in which Bush attacked Hersh's own article, "he talked about the wonderful progress in Iraq. This is hallucinatory--and there are people on a high level in the Pentagon and they can't get the President to give this up. Because it's crazy.

"In the UK, you might have some crazy view--but you knew it was. But these guys (in Washington) are talking in revelations. Bush is a revelatory at bedtime--he has to take a nap. It's so childish and simplistic. And don't think he's diminished. He's still got two years ... he's not diminished. We've still got a Congress that can't articulate opposition. This is a story where I profoundly hope, at every major point, that I'm wrong."

Hersh has also been casting his wizened eye on the Brits. "Your country is very worried about what Bush is going to do--your people"--Hersh means the British Foreign Office--"are really worried. There are no clearances ... no consultations."

In Washington, "advocating humanity, peace, integrity is not a value in the power structure ... my government is incapable of leaving (Iraq). They don't know how to get out of Baghdad. We can't get out. In this war, the end is going to be very, very messy--because we don't know how to get out. We're going to get out body by body. I think that scares the hell out of me."

It's all put neatly by one of Hersh's sources in the Pentagon: "The problem is that the Iranians realise that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the US. Something bad is going to happen." What was that line from Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, when he asked Sam, his pianist, what time it is in New York? Sam replies that his watch has stopped, and Bogart says, "I bet they're asleep in New York. I'll bet they're asleep all over America."

Except for Hersh.

Depleted Uranium - Far Worse Than 9/11 by Doug Westerman

Depleted Uranium - Far Worse Than 9/11
Depleted Uranium Dust - Public Health Disaster For The People Of Iraq and Afghanistan

by Doug Westerman

If terrorists succeeded in spreading something throughout the U.S. that ended up causing hundreds of thousands of cancer cases and birth defects over a period of many years, they would be guilty of a crime against humanity that far surpasses the Sept. 11th attacks in scope and severity. Although not deliberate, with our military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have done just that. If the physical environment is so unsafe and unhealthy that one cannot safely breath, then the outer trappings of democracy have little meaning. At least under Saddam, the Iraqi people could stay healthy and conceive normal children. Few Americans are aware that in getting rid of Saddam, we left something much worse in his place.

Rumsfeld is a pathological liar.

Nothing he says can be trusted. In 6 years, he’s never uttered a completely reliable statement, just convoluted pronouncements that have to be parsed by experts. That’s why it was so satisfying to see him skewered by Ray McGovern's questions. McGovern had Rumsfeld backpedaling like he’d just been harpooned. Honesty has that kind of effect on people like Rumsfeld; that’s why they surround themselves with goons like a Mafia kingpin. They need a human-shield to protect them from the truth.

The American people have been ripped off big-time by Rummy. From the onset, it's been one wretched excuse after another. Nothing is ever his fault; not the occupation; not the lack of soldiers; not the looting in Baghdad, not the faulty-armor, not the resistance, nothing. Ever!

Every errant bomb, every wayward missile, every downed helicopter, every dead soldier, is someone else's fault.

Teflon Don; the biggest buck-passing narcissist the country has ever produced.

When the photos showed up from Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld feigned surprise. "A few bad apples", he moaned. Now we know he did everything except fit the prisoners with women's underwear.

Nice touch, eh?

Now he's deployed troops in the United States and has a regional headquarters in Colorado (NorthCom) to spy on American citizens; all part of a sick plan to militarize the country and show everyone what a smart guy he is.

Chávez is a threat because he offers the alternative of a decent society BY JOHN PILGER

Venezuela's president is using oil revenues to liberate the poor - no wonder his enemies want to overthrow him

John Pilger
Saturday May 13, 2006
The Guardian

I have spent the past three weeks filming in the hillside barrios of Caracas, in streets and breeze-block houses that defy gravity and torrential rain and emerge at night like fireflies in the fog. Caracas is said to be one of the world's toughest cities, yet I have known no fear; the poorest have welcomed my colleagues and me with a warmth characteristic of ordinary Venezuelans but also with the unmistakable confidence of a people who know that change is possible and who, in their everyday lives, are reclaiming noble concepts long emptied of their meaning in the west: "reform", "popular democracy", "equity", "social justice" and, yes, "freedom".

The other night, in a room bare except for a single fluorescent tube, I heard these words spoken by the likes of Ana Lucia Fernandez, aged 86, Celedonia Oviedo, aged 74, and Mavis Mendez, aged 95. A mere 33-year-old, Sonia Alvarez, had come with her two young children. Until about a year ago, none of them could read and write; now they are studying mathematics. For the first time in its modern era, Venezuela has almost 100% literacy.

This achievement is due to a national programme, called Mision Robinson, designed for adults and teenagers previously denied an education because of poverty. Mision Ribas is giving everyone a secondary school education, called a bachillerato. (The names Robinson and Ribas refer to Venezuelan independence leaders from the 19th century.) Named, like much else here, after the great liberator Simon Bolivar, "Bolivarian", or people's, universities have opened, introducing, as one parent told me, "treasures of the mind, history and music and art, we barely knew existed". Under Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is the first major oil producer to use its oil revenue to liberate the poor.

Mavis Mendez has seen, in her 95 years, a parade of governments preside over the theft of tens of billions of dollars in oil spoils, much of it flown to Miami, together with the steepest descent into poverty ever known in Latin America; from 18% in 1980 to 65% in 1995, three years before Chávez was elected. "We didn't matter in a human sense," she said. "We lived and died without real education and running water, and food we couldn't afford. When we fell ill, the weakest died. In the east of the city, where the mansions are, we were invisible, or we were feared. Now I can read and write my name, and so much more; and whatever the rich and their media say, we have planted the seeds of true democracy, and I am full of joy that I have lived to witness it."

Latin American governments often give their regimes a new sense of legitimacy by holding a constituent assembly that drafts a new constitution. When he was elected in 1998, Chávez used this brilliantly to decentralise, to give the impoverished grassroots power they had never known and to begin to dismantle a corrupt political superstructure as a prerequisite to changing the direction of the economy. His setting-up of misions as a means of bypassing saboteurs in the old, corrupt bureaucracy was typical of the extraordinary political and social imagination that is changing Venezuela peacefully. This is his "Bolivarian revolution", which, at this stage, is not dissimilar to the post-war European social democracies.

Chávez, a former army major, was anxious to prove he was not yet another military "strongman". He promised that his every move would be subject to the will of the people. In his first year as president in 1999, he held an unprecedented number of votes: a referendum on whether or not people wanted a new constituent assembly; elections for the assembly; a second referendum ratifying the new constitution - 71% of the people approved each of the 396 articles that gave Mavis and Celedonia and Ana Lucia, and their children and grandchildren, unheard-of freedoms, such as Article 123, which for the first time recognised the human rights of mixed-race and black people, of whom Chávez is one. "The indigenous peoples," it says, "have the right to maintain their own economic practices, based on reciprocity, solidarity and exchange ... and to define their priorities ... " The little red book of the Venezuelan constitution became a bestseller on the streets. Nora Hernandez, a community worker in Petare barrio, took me to her local state-run supermarket, which is funded entirely by oil revenue and where prices are up to half those in the commercial chains. Proudly, she showed me articles of the constitution written on the backs of soap-powder packets. "We can never go back," she said.

In La Vega barrio, I listened to a nurse, Mariella Machado, a big round black woman of 45 with a wonderfully wicked laugh, stand and speak at an urban land council on subjects ranging from homelessness to the Iraq war. That day, they were launching Mision Madres de Barrio, a programme aimed specifically at poverty among single mothers. Under the constitution, women have the right to be paid as carers, and can borrow from a special women's bank. From next month, the poorest housewives will get about £120 a month. It is not surprising that Chávez has now won eight elections and referendums in eight years, each time increasing his majority, a world record. He is the most popular head of state in the western hemisphere, probably in the world. That is why he survived, amazingly, a Washington-backed coup in 2002. Mariella and Celedonia and Nora and hundreds of thousands of others came down from the barrios and demanded that the army remain loyal. "The people rescued me," Chávez told me. "They did it with all the media against me, preventing even the basic facts of what had happened. For popular democracy in heroic action, I suggest you need look no further."

The venomous attacks on Chávez, who arrives in London tomorrow, have begun and resemble uncannily those of the privately owned Venezuelan television and press, which called for the elected government to be overthrown. Fact-deprived attacks on Chávez in the Times and the Financial Times this week, each with that peculiar malice reserved for true dissenters from Thatcher's and Blair's one true way, follow a travesty of journalism on Channel 4 News last month, which effectively accused the Venezuelan president of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran, an absurd fantasy. The reporter sneered at policies to eradicate poverty and presented Chávez as a sinister buffoon, while Donald Rumsfeld was allowed to liken him to Hitler, unchallenged. In contrast, Tony Blair, a patrician with no equivalent democratic record, having been elected by a fifth of those eligible to vote and having caused the violent death of tens of thousands of Iraqis, is allowed to continue spinning his truly absurd political survival tale.

Chávez is, of course, a threat, especially to the United States. Like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, who based their revolution on the English co-operative moment, and the moderate Allende in Chile, he offers the threat of an alternative way of developing a decent society: in other words, the threat of a good example in a continent where the majority of humanity has long suffered a Washington-designed peonage. In the US media in the 1980s, the "threat" of tiny Nicaragua was seriously debated until it was crushed. Venezuela is clearly being "softened up" for something similar. A US army publication, Doctrine for Asymmetric War against Venezuela, describes Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution as the "largest threat since the Soviet Union and Communism". When I said to Chávez that the US historically had had its way in Latin America, he replied: "Yes, and my assassination would come as no surprise. But the empire is in trouble, and the people of Venezuela will resist an attack. We ask only for the support of all true democrats."

· John Pilger's new book, Freedom Next Time, is published next month by Bantam Press


Despite receiving no coverage in the US, a bloody drama is unfolding south of the border. In the current Latin American climate of a radicalized mainstream and against a local backdrop of a hotly contested election and the Zapatistas' "other campaign" a small Mexican town has exploded in violence.

On May 3rd state police attacked unlicensed street vendors in the town of Atenco. The vendors had ignored police warnings and counted on support from local land rights activists to resist the police. What began as a pretty standard state-vs.-squatters type struggle escalated into a mini-revolution as the activists defeated the initial police assault. Mainstream press accounts state some fifty cops were injured, one gravely, and six were taken hostage. The hostages were later released to the Red Cross, but the police ratcheted up the violence in "retaking" Atenco -- they turned the situation into a bloodbath by basically attacking the general population of the town.

Three-thousand police reportedly executed a house to house sweep, smashing windows and breaking down doors. Foreign journalists were beaten and later deported, and two dozen detained women report rapes and sexual abuse. The BBC reported "television images of police beating bound demonstrators." Quetzal Belmont writes in NarcoNews of "200 people arrested; others beaten, injured, and disappeared; and the death of 14-year-old Javier Cortés", of a 20-year-old economics student now in a coma, and compares the situation to a witch hunt.

Spanish human rights activist María Sastres described the assault as follows:

We came to Mexico to work with indigenous communities in Chiapas, and later joined the Other Campaign, to work as human rights observers and photographers. When we found out what was happening in Atenco, we went there. We arrived at night and saw that the town was already surrounded by barricades. The police entered at about 6:00 AM. [...]

There were 3,000 police, and there were 300 of us. They came after us with everything: tear gas, bullets, everything. We ran all over town, trying to get away from the police, but there wasn’t a single street without police. But finally, a woman opened her door and let us hide in her house with eight other people.

[After hiding in the woman's house for two hours] We could hear that the police were starting to bang on doors, supposedly looking for the police who had been taking hostage. That’s how they finally found us and grabbed us. They pushed our faces into the dirt. They covered our faces with hoods, and they bound our hands right there in the yard. They were asking for our names, they recorded us on video, and that’s when the first insults and beatings began.

While the mainstream press blames the violence on the Zapatistas; for example, a Houston Chronicle editorial informs us,

Since last week, when Spanish-language television aired extensive, horrifying footage of the violence, Mexicans have been trying to work out where this event fits in a country in which political violence has faded. The short answer may lie in nearby Mexico City, where 1990s rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos arrived for a May 1 march that may have inspired the vendors and their friends to riot.

Simon Fitzgerald of La Luchita places Atenco in context in a less biased and cartoonish manner:

Why in San Salvador Atenco?

The populace of the area had already been radicalized and organized in 2002 when the local, state and federal governments wanted to confiscate the farmlands of Atenco in order to build a new airport for Mexico City. During that fight, the people waged a popular campaign of struggle when it became clear that all three levels of government were colluding against them. Their marches, yielding machetes as symbols of their rural labor, were met with police violence. After police detained, beat and arrested marchers, one slipped into a coma and died from lack of treatment in police custody.

Narco News has a two part series on the 2002 confrontations here and here. There is also a video at Salon Chingon.

Furthermore, activists from Atenco had been participating in the Zapatista's "Other Campaign," the attack on the vendors (who are becoming an important yet marginalized part of the new "post-Fordist" economy and have been important in other political organizing such as the Bolivian uprising that swept Evo Morales into power) came as Marcos was arriving in Mexico City.

While the Zapatistas' spokesperson Marcos (or Delegate Zero) is promising to remain in Mexico, D.F. until the detained people of Atenco are freed (even if it keeps him there through the elections). Meanwhile mass media like the BBC areforecastingg more election violence based on the Atenco experience.

While perhaps attempting to marginalize the "Other Campaign," the Mexicangovernmentt may be giving it legitimacy. As the Zapatistas call for all of its supporters to open a campaign of non violent resistance on behalf of the people of Atenco, there actions may be winning them alliances and earning them relevance beyond theindigenouss enclaves of rural Chiapas.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Gas and Bolivia: Nationalization = Negotiation

Since I arrived back in Bolivia early Monday morning I have gotten a flurry of media calls and emails asking for comment on President Morales's dramatic May Day move to "nationalize" Bolivia's gas and oil. Reporters have been quite taken by images of Bolivian soldiers occupying gas fields and the rhetoric of the government declaring the nation's gas and oil reserves to be sovereign property of the people.

To be sure, all this is a dramatic development in the ongoing saga of Bolivia's #1 public policy issue. Friends and readers, it was intended to be dramatic. But let us not lose track of the big picture: At the end of the day Bolivia will develop its gas and oil through some kind of partnership between the Bolivian government and foreign oil companies. That’s just a fact. What is going on is a very high stakes negotiation over what those partnerships will look like. I don’t think you can properly analyze the events in the news unless you keep that in mind. Nationalization = Negotiation.

Nothing exemplifies that more than the twin headlines yesterday and today in the Cochabamba daily, Los Tiempos. Both days the paper led with the dialogue over gas between Bolivia and Brazil. Brazil's s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, is the major player in Bolivia's energy market, far more than any of the US, UK, or Spanish interests.

Yesterday the morning headline was based on the revelation that during Brazil-Bolivia-Argentina-Venezuela summit last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva supposedly told Higo Chavez and Evo Moreles, his Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts, that Brazil was getting plenty tired of Venezuela's deepening involvement in the Bolivia gas issue. Today’s headline reveals that Brazilian and Bolivian officials met all day yesterday to look at how to reshuffle the two nation’s gas and oil deals to reflect the terms of Morales’ nationalization decree last week.

Understanding what is going on here is as simple as our memories of our kindergarten sandbox.

If you don't play they way I want you can't play with my toys.

If you don't play the way I want I won't play with you at all.

Turn it into a negotiation with billions of dollars of oil and gas reserves at stake and it turns into:

Either be a partner in developing our gas and oil on our terms or we will just turn to other investors.

Either give us the control and profits we want or we will cutback on our investment.

Morales sends in the troops for a symbolic takeover of oil fields. Repsol, Petrobras and others announce cutbacks in their Bolivian investment. One is a flipside of the other. Of course the companies play that card. That is what corporations always do. Taco Bell threatened to move its corporate headquarters from California to Texas if California didn’t give them a tax break, a bluff lawmakers almost fell for. It is how the game is played. The job of governments is to sort out when the threat is real and when it is just a negotiating ploy.

It is also worth noting that Morale’s nationalization dramatics last week were probably designed more for his domestic audience, not a foreign one. How all those images would play in the foreign press (with the effect of making Morales seem more radical than he is) was, I suspect, a secondary concern if it was one at all.

Both sides are playing hardball and ought to. The stakes in this reshuffling of the cards on gas in Bolivia are enormous. A few modifications here and there in tax rates and the like translates into many millions of dollars.

In the end though, both sides – Bolivia and the foreign corporations – need the other and know they need the other. The corporations don’t want to walk away from the second largest oil and gas reserves in South America and Bolivia still needs investors and partners.

I believe, that despite the drama of the nationalization decree last week, the essential policy questions to watch for remain the same that they have been:

1. Who controls the volume of production and the price, foreign oil companies or Bolivia?

2. How will Bolivia and the companies involved share the profits – through taxes, royalties, etc.?

3. What is the appropriate role for the Bolivian government’s oil company (YPFB)?

4. How will Bolivia invest the funds it gets from gas and oil to benefit the people of Bolivia in the best way?

5. How will indigenous rights and the environment be protected?

6. How will all these arrangements be made transparent and enforceable so that what it says on paper becomes what actually happens in reality.

The debate over gas and oil in Bolivia, as dramatic and important as it is, remains what it has been from the start – a negotiation over what a new approach will look like, one in which the Bolivian people receive the control and benefits they expect from a key national resource under their feet.

Experts see new Diebold flaw - They call it worst security glitch to date in state's voting machines and a 'big deal'

Computer security experts say they have found the worst security flaw yet in the oft-criticized touch-screen machines that Maryland voters will use in this year's elections, leaving one computer scientist to warn that the state should have "stacks of paper ballots" on hand in case of a complete Election Day breakdown.

The machines, made by Diebold Elections Systems, are "much, much easier to attack than anything we've previously said," said Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer science professor who first cast doubt on the reliability of the technology in a 2003 report.

"On a scale of one to 10, if the problems we found before were a six, this is a 10. It's a totally different ballgame," he said.

The new problem is being described as an intentional hole left in the system to allow elections workers to update voting software easily. Instead of using pass codes or other security protocols, anyone with access to a voting machine could install new software that could easily disable a precinct full of machines, Rubin said.

Diebold officials say they are aware of the situation and, although they say any problem can be avoided by keeping a close watch on voting machines, they are developing a permanent fix.

Still, said company spokesman David K. Bear, "it's one more what-if scenario. ... It's becoming somewhat ridiculous."

Maryland elections officials said they have known about the latest concerns for two weeks and will have an independent security consultant look into them next week to ensure that the state's Diebold machines are safe.

"We are taking steps," said state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone. She said she is confident that the problem will have little effect in Maryland because of strict rules about who is permitted to handle voting machines in the state. "Everyone that has access to them has to undergo a criminal background check," she said.

Before the Diebold machines were distributed statewide about two years ago, questions arose about whether hackers might be able to get into the automated-teller-like computers and alter their software, allowing multiple votes, vote-switching and other problems.

Computer experts, including Rubin, said security measures were insufficient and poorly designed. Activists pushed to add a paper ballot component to the machines in case a recount was needed.

Still, the state moved forward and nearly every voter in Maryland used a touch-screen machine in the 2004 presidential election. There were few complaints or problems.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called on the state this year to abandon its touch-screen machines, saying he had no confidence in the technology, in part because lawmakers adopted other voting changes such as early voting.

He put money into his budget to pay for optical scan machines, which were used in the state for years before 2004. The General Assembly did not approve a voting machine switch during this year's session, which ended last month.

Rubin said he fears that the latest security problem could be serious enough to cause an Election Day "meltdown" that could put precincts of machines out of action. He recommends that counties have a pen-and-paper alternative on hand as insurance.

Joseph M. Getty, the governor's legislative and policy director, called the newly disclosed security flaw "not really a new problem."

"It's the same problem of vulnerability to outsiders," he said.

Getty said the latest Diebold problem bolsters the administration's case against early voting, which was approved by the legislature last year. He said any security risk can be minimized in one day of voting but is multiplied when machines are in public use for six days.

Michael Shamos, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a Pennsylvania voting machine examiner, pushed his state, which will have a primary election next week, to lay out strict new rules for installing software and sealing machines for safety.

"It's a big deal. It's a very big deal," Shamos said. "The good part is it's very easy to fix. You have to repair it. You can't just do nothing. ... It's not just like leaving the key to your door under the mat. It's like leaving the key dangling from a string" from the door.

The temporary fix, Shamos said, involves reinstalling the proper software just before the election, preferably in a public setting, then locking the machines to keep them from being tampered with before voting begins.

In 2004, Shamos testified on behalf of the state of Maryland in a suit filed by a citizens group asking a court to compel the state to address possible security problems and give voters the option of using paper ballots instead of the new machines. The state won.

"If I had known about this problem then, I wouldn't have had good things to say," he said.

The latest security hole was discovered by Finnish computer scientist Harri Hursti, who was doing work in Utah for Black Box Voting Inc., a nonprofit group that has focused on computerized voting.

Most computer scientists don't want to disclose too many details about the problem because they fear that would provide hackers with the tools needed to cause havoc during an election. They waited many weeks before making their findings public.

"We were worried the threat was so serious that if the details were to get out, someone could actually do it," Rubin said.

"They Ordered Me to Lay My Head In a Pool of Blood": A Letter from Valentina Palma, Chilean Student Who Was Beaten, Tortured and Deported

"They Ordered Me to Lay My Head In a Pool of Blood"
A Letter from Valentina Palma, Chilean Anthropology Student and Filmmaker Who Was Beaten, Tortured and Deported After the Violence in Atenco

By Valentina Palma Novoa
May 12, 2006

My name is Valentina Palma Novoa. I am 30 years old, and I have spent the last 11 years of my life in Mexico. I am a student at the National School of Anthropology and History, currently in my fourth year studying Cinematography at the Center for Cinematographic Study. I have an FM 3 student visa.

I would like to share with you the events that I witnessed during the violent incidents that occurred in the town of San Salvador Atenco on Thursday, May 4, 2006, which ended with my unjust and arbitrary expulsion from the country.

DU's effect on DNA established

The dangers of depleted uranium are well known, and little discussed (though well covered by GNN). Now, research by University of Arizona biochemist Diane Stearns has established the basic means by which DU promotes cancerous cell mutation and causes mass deaths. Hopefully, her work will not be brushed under the carpet and the thousands (millions?) of victims of DU contamination worldwide can use it to bring their abusers to justice.

Biochemist reports that DU binds with cells, heightening risk of deadly mutations
The use of depleted uranium in munitions and weaponry is likely to come under intense scrutiny now that new research that found that uranium can bind to human DNA. The finding will likely have far-reaching implications for returned soldiers, civilians living in what were once war-zones and people who might live near uranium mines or processing facilities.
Uranium - when manifested as a radioactive metal - has profound and debilitating effects on human DNA. These radioactive effects have been well understood for decades, but there has been considerable debate and little agreement concerning the possible health risks associated with low-grade uranium ore (yellowcake) and depleted uranium.

Now however, Northern Arizona University biochemist Diane Stearns has established that when cells are exposed to uranium, the uranium binds to DNA and the cells acquire mutations, triggering a whole slew of protein replication errors, some of which can lead to various cancers. Stearns' research, published in the journals Mutagenesis and Molecular Carcinogenesis, confirms what many have suspected for some time - that uranium can damage DNA as a heavy metal, independently of its radioactive properties. "Essentially, if you get a heavy metal stuck on DNA, you can get a mutation," Stearns explained. While other heavy metals are known to bind to DNA, Stearns and her team were the first to identify this characteristic with uranium.

Depleted uranium – what is left over when the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium are removed – is widely used by the military. Anti-tank weapons, tank armor and ammunition rounds are just some of the applications. "The health effects of uranium really haven't been studied since the Manhattan Project (the development of the atomic bomb in the early 1940s). But now there is more interest in the health effects of depleted uranium. People are asking questions now," Stearns said.

Her research may shed light on the possible connection between exposure to depleted uranium and Gulf War Syndrome, or to increased cancers and birth defects in the Middle East and Balkans. And closer to home, questions continue to be asked about environmental exposure to uranium from mine tailings; heavily concentrated around Native American communities. "When the uranium mining boom crashed in the '80s, there wasn't much cleanup," Stearns said. Estimates put the number of abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation in Arizona at more than 1,100.

Mossad murdered 530 Iraqi scientists. The Plight of Iraqi Academics.

Assassinations of Iraq academics in Iraq never existed prior to April 2003.

Numerous reports for many months have stated that with collaboration from American occupation forces, Israel’s espionage apparatus, Mossad, slaughtered at least 530 Iraqi scientists and academic professors.

Assassinations of Iraq academics in Iraq never existed prior to April 2003. Persistent Israeli hit squads against Iraqi scientists had been active in Iraq since April 2003, but the latest chapter was uncovered on Tuesday, 14 June 2005 by the Palestine Information Center which, citing a report compiled by the United States Department of State and intended for the American President, stated that Israeli and foreign agents sent by Mossad, in cooperation with United States, to Iraq, killed at least 350 Iraqi scientists and more than 200 university professors and academic personalities .

Happy Meals and Mickey - our legacy

The New York Times "All The Lies They Deem Fit To Print"

I haven't written about innumeracy in more than a year, so it's overdue. Consider this from The New York Times:
Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike demanded answers from the Bush administration on Thursday about a report that the National Security Agency had collected records of millions of domestic phone calls.
But, as the article continues, the records of "tens of millions" of customers were involved. Now, I don't know about you, but I probably make a thousand phone calls a year, easily. Some people make more than that, obviously, and others fewer, but let's go with a thousand, and let's be generous and say there were only ten million customers' records turned over (it quite likely was a hundred million). That adds up to billions of domestic phone calls, not "millions." Only three orders of magnitude off. At a minimum. It could well be more.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Students Torture Vietnam Vet

It's no surprise that in a country, where torture is condoned by our GOP leaders, that a bunch of high-school kids thought it would be fun to lure a 53-year-old mentally ill Vietnam veteran onto school grounds with money and food, and then force the man to strip naked while they all stood around pointing and laughing. It's no surprise that in a country, where the lawlessness of our GOP leadership goes unpunished, the kids responsible received little more than a slap on the wrist. It is also no surprise that in a country, where our lawless GOP leaders thumb their noses at the rule of law, these kids had the balls to brag about this despicible act on their own Web sites. Finally, I must add that it's no surprise that in a country, where our GOP leaders treat our veterans as bad as these kids treated this veteran, I'm sad to say - I am not surprised.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin under full scale neo-con attack.

French Prime Minister under full scale neo-con attack. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, under fire for carrying out an order from President Jacques Chirac to investigate neo-con Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's financial sources and discovered links to a Luxembourg-based clearinghouse called Clearstream. Sarkozy was suspected of illegally receiving kickbacks involving the sale of six French frigates to Taiwan in 1991. According to informed French and Italian sources, Sarkozy, who is being defended by the global neo-con media as the victim of a "smear campaign," appears to be up to his neck in suspicious foreign financial connections and that is what prompted DeVillepin, Chirac, and French intelligence to investigate the right-wing and vociferously anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Interior Minister. Sarkozy is suspected of links to the same Russian-Israeli mafia syndicates that have been connected to Jack Abramoff, Dick Cheney, and leading Israeli politicians.

Sarkozy: not as clean as he and his neo-con friends claim

In fact, the recent attacks on DeVillepin from the neo-cons are said to have more to do with his opposition to any attack on Iran than on Luxembourg money tranches. European intelligence sources report that the attacks on DeVillepin (and Chirac) and the recent tirade against Russian President Vladimir Putin by Vice President Cheney, are all part of a coordinated attack against European leaders who oppose military action against Iran. With the loss of Italy, the neo-cons are trying to establish new bridgeheads in France and Russia. What has particularly piqued the neo-con anger with deVillepin is this recent quote from the French Prime Minister concerning an attack on Iran, "My conviction is that military action is certainly not the solution . . . We have already lived through this type of scenario and we know that not only does it settle nothing, but it can raise risks. We have seen this in the most clear way with Iraq." The neo-cons are using Clearstream and their man Sarkozy to hammer DeVillepin as a way of clearing the path for Sarkozy to become the next French President. Neither DeVillepin, Chirac, or the French intelligence services, all aware of Sarkozy's connections to the neo-cons, want to see the Interior Minister move into the Elysee Palace and steer France into the neo-con camp. DeVillepin is refusing to resign because he holds the trump card on Sarkozy and his friends, which include members of the neo-Nazi French National Front. Chirac recently said there are legitimate reasons to investigate Clearstream and lashed out at the neo-cons and their fellow travelers who are trying to sink the investigation of Sarkozy. Chirac said "Democracy is not the disrespect and exploitation to outrageous lengths of legal procedures under way."

Israeli Gestapo-like security personnel intimidate travelers from Europe coming to the United States.

Israeli Gestapo-like security personnel intimidate travelers from Europe coming to the United States. According to European journalists, Israeli citizens and European nationals who are employees of the airport passenger screening firm ICTS -- International Consultants for Targeted Security -- an Israeli firm based in the Netherlands, routinely intimidates journalists who are visiting the United States, demanding to know what stories they are working and with whom they will be talking. ICTS currently has contracts with Delta Airlines at Paris Charles deGaulle, Gatwick in London, Continental out of Milan and Barcelona, and 100 other airlines operating out of 50 European airports in 12 countries and the firm employs some 5000 personnel. Many of the firm's officers are ex-Mossad and Shin Bet officers.

In one incident, an Israeli ICTS screener at deGaulle accused a boarding journalist of being like all other journalists in "causing disruption" by spreading untrue stories and being "arrogant." The passenger was repeatedly warned by the screener and the manager that an "instant deportation" from the U.S. Homeland Security Department would be in store for failing to answer questions about the nature of the story being investigated. When passengers shows "arrogance," ICTS screeners place red ICTS tags on their luggage and ticket envelope.

U.S. airlines and "Kapo" Chertoff's Homeland Security Department should be forced to explain why American and foreign journalists are being subjected to such blatant Mossad intelligence collection operations and who authorized these operations.

These tactics are baring wide open the cowardly global agenda of the neo-cons. This editor would like an explanation why Israelis are representing (or misrepresenting) the policies of the United States government abroad and who gave them the right to determine who can and cannot visit the United States.

AmeriKKKa is a wolf that "swallows without listening to anyone."

Russia Aims to Counter US With Bigger Arsenal

Putin speech compares America to a wolf that "swallows without listening to anyone."

Moscow - President Vladimir V. Putin, in a blunt response to U.S. criticism of his domestic and foreign policies, declared Wednesday that Russia would boost its military strength to ensure its ability to resist foreign pressure.

In an annual address to parliament, Putin said new nuclear and high-precision weapons would enable the country to maintain a strategic balance with the United States, which he compared to a wolf - the archvillain of Russian fairy tales - doing as it pleases in the world.

"As they say, 'Comrade Wolf knows whom to swallow,'" Putin said. "He swallows without listening to anyone. Nor does he intend to listen to anyone, judging by all appearances."

Despite the strong language on international and military issues, the bulk of the speech focused on domestic policies. Putin called for wide-ranging measures to reverse Russia's sharp population decline, including giving nearly $10,000 to women who have a second child.

Putin's comments did not seem to signal a return to Cold War hostility so much as a bid by an increasingly self-confident nation to engage in tough bargaining on international issues and to reject interference in its domestic politics.

"We have slipped toward Cold War rhetoric quite a while ago, and such passages in Putin's speech are nothing new in that sense," said Georgy Satarov, president of the INDEM Foundation, a Moscow think tank that seeks to promote democratic values.

In Washington, the White House reacted sharply to Putin's address.

"We're still analyzing the speech, but we are disappointed that it did not address the concerns that many people have raised about Russia's commitment to democracy and its use of economic pressure against its neighbors," it said in a statement.

"The U.S. continues to work together with Russia on a number of important security and economic issues, even as we raise these concerns," the statement said.

Moscow's fresh assertiveness comes in part from rising oil prices, which have fueled strong economic growth in the energy-rich nation for the last seven years.

Putin said that even with Russia's recent increases in military funding, the United States spends nearly 25 times more. "This is what is described in the defense sphere as 'Their home is their fortress,' " he said. "Well done, guys," he added.

"But this means that we should also build our own home to be strong and reliable, because we can see what is happening worldwide," Putin said.

He ridiculed those who claim "the need to fight for human rights and democracy" when they actually have "the need to realize their own interests."

His remarks implied criticism of U.S. actions such as the invasion of Iraq, which Russia opposed. They also appeared to be a response to American accusations that Moscow has curtailed democratic freedoms at home and attempted to bully neighboring former Soviet states on issues such as energy supply and territorial integrity.

Speaking to Eastern European leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 4, Vice President Dick Cheney said Russia's government had "unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people," and he accused Moscow of using the country's gas and oil reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail." Cheney also criticized Russia's support for separatist enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.

Putin said Wednesday that because the United States so heavily outspends Russia in the military sphere, Moscow's aim was not to match U.S. forces in quantitative terms.

"We should not burn money uselessly," he said. "Our responses should be based on intellectual superiority. They will be asymmetric, less costly, but they will undoubtedly make our nuclear triad [ground, naval and air] more reliable and effective."

Over the next five years, Russia will "substantially increase the provision of strategic nuclear forces with modern long-range planes, submarines and launchers," Putin said. "Along with the means of overcoming the systems of antimissile defense, which we already have, new types of weapons enable us to preserve what is undoubtedly one of the most important guarantees of lasting peace - namely, the strategic balance of forces."

Putin said Russia was developing "unique high-precision weapons" and missiles "whose trajectory is unpredictable for the potential enemy."

Grigory A. Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, issued a statement saying the speech left Russia with an uncertain place in the world.

"The foreign policy set out in the address is a policy of a besieged fortress, mistrust of partners and the feeling of superiority over neighbors," Yavlinsky said. "There is still no answer to the question as to what Russia will be like, where it is going and with whom."

Putin stressed the need to develop the economy's technological side and acknowledged that Russia had not solved the growth-inhibiting problem of corruption in business and the government bureaucracy.

But he called the nation's post-Soviet demographic decline, a population loss of about 700,000 a year, the "most acute problem," and cited better healthcare, increased birthrates and the encouragement of immigration by "educated and law-abiding people" as ways to address it.

Putin put particular emphasis on financial incentives for women to have a second child, because many couples, faced with the difficulty of paying for housing and education in the new market-oriented economy, limit their families to one child.

His most dramatic proposal, that women be paid nearly $10,000 if they have a second child, could help defray those costs, Putin suggested.

He recited a list of other financial incentives for mothers. Special maternity payments, he said, should be boosted to $56 a month for the first child and $113 a month for the second, from the current $26 a month. Working women on maternity leave for up to one and a half years should receive from the state at least 40% of their previous salary, he said. Certificates for care at maternity clinics should increase to $263 from $188.

Putin also called for efforts to encourage the domestic adoption of Russian children. "I think foreigners adopt more of our children than our own citizens inside the country," he said, and he proposed that monthly payments to guardians and adoptive parents be nearly doubled, to at least $150 a month.

Parliament should act quickly so the population-boosting measures could take effect Jan. 1, Putin said.

Satarov, of INDEM, questioned how much the measures would affect birthrates. "To simply give people more money will not help resolve the demographic crisis," he said. "I think that is a very naive approach to this most complex issue."

But Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov had strong praise for the proposals in the speech, which included a 20% boost in pensions for the elderly.

"The message was stunning, pleasant and very businesslike," Luzhkov told reporters in the Kremlin, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Leonid D. Ivashov, a former Russian Defense Ministry official who is vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, a Moscow think tank, said that in his view the Cold War never really ended, and was merely transformed into geopolitical rivalry.

"For a long time Russia didn't pursue an independent economic policy, nor did it pursue an independent policy on defense and security," Ivashov said. "By way of one-sided concessions, we were just giving up our positions one after another. President Putin made it clear today that this trend is over."

Same Shit, Different Asshole

Stephen Colbert: New American Hero

When Colbert turned up the heat on Washington's elite, he revealed the big split between those basking in power and those fighting for change.

Virtually overnight, Stephen Colbert became a hero to countless Americans, following his April 30 performance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

Since then, millions of people have either watched the video or read the transcript of his skewering of both the president and the press corps, and have discussed it avidly. Tens of thousands of people have gone to the website and written letters of appreciation. Talk about water-cooler chatter; the event crashed internet servers across the land. It truly was one of those moments of media shock and delight.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Venezuela Increases Taxes on Oil Companies in Orinoco Oil Belt By: Michael Fox

Caracas, Venezuela, May 9, 2006--On his weekly television show Alo Presidente, on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced a new "extraction" tax of at least 33% for all oil companies operating in Venezuela. Chavez said the tax could create over $1 billion in new revenue.

According to the Venezuelan daily El Universal, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum will introduce a reform to the hydrocarbons law to the National Assembly today. The change will ensure that at least one-third the value of every barrel stays in the hands of the Venezuelan state. As such, the tax is nearly identical to a royalty.

For some companies, the change will be minimal. El Universal reported that for PDVSA's own production, they will continue to charge the royalty of 30%, plus the extraction tax, will make the total tax 33%. For now, the newly formed joint venture operations with Venezuela's PDVSA will be exempt from the new tax, as they are already paying 33% in royalties. While, the associations in the Orinoco belt will have to pay 16% in the new tax, on top of the 17% royalty they currently pay, to equal 33%. It was reported that the additional revenue from this extraction tax could equal $1.34 billion in its first year alone - if petroleum prices remain at their present value.

Other tax hikes are in the planning stages for natural gas companies and for the oil companies operating along the Orinoco River, which is believed to have extra-heavy crude reserves of up to 235 billion barrels. Among the companies that operate along the Orinoco belt are the North American ExxonMobil and Chevron, which currently pay 34% in income taxes. Chavez announced that they are going to increase that "to 50%, but in order to do so we need to modify the Hydrocarbon Law."

"In the Hydrocarbon Law, that we approved, one has to remember that we were infiltrated, there still was the old PDVSA when we approved it. They were able to get in to the law and that's how it was approved that the companies of the Orinoco belt pay income taxes not at 50%, but at 30% or 34%, we are going to modify this law." Chavez said on Sunday.

Although the timeline for this modification appears to be still undefined, it was reported that such a tax increase could generate additional revenue of $785 million annually.

Chavez first raised the royalty two years ago on the Orinoco belt companies. The royalty increase from 1% to 16% led to $1.28 billion in revenue last year.

Chavez said on Sunday that new taxes are a result of the fact that with oil prices at record highs, oil companies operating in Venezuela are making "a lot of money."

The large revenues that Venezuela is receiving from its petroleum reserves have helped it to fund various social programs both in Venezuela and abroad, such as the popular social programs known as "missions," and the discounted heating oil program for North Americans in situations of poverty. So far, 180,000 North Americans have benefited from the low-priced heating oil supported by CITGO subsidiary of PDVSA.

These new taxes come just days after the latest South-American energy summit and almost a week after Bolivia nationalized its oil and gas reserves, a move which Chavez has applauded.

Further details regarding the taxes are expected in the following days.

Associated Press falsely portrays Chavez as seeking 25-year term By Justin Delacour

A little scrutiny of a recent Associated Press report about Venezuela provides a lesson in how the English-language press often gets the story wrong. Take the first sentence: "President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that Venezuelan voters should have the chance to decide whether he should govern the country for the next 25 years."

No, such a referendum would not be about "whether he should govern the country for the next 25 years." A referendum would be about whether Chavez would be permitted to run every six years and --in the event that he were to continue winning elections-- serve multiple presidential terms. The AP report's opening sentence makes it sound as if such a referendum would do away with elections in Venezuela, as if its intent would be to grant Chavez a new 25-year term in office! The website of The Calgary Sun even titles the wire report "Chavez seeking 25-year term"!!

This is obviously an extremely poor piece of reporting. Chavez made it clear that, if the opposition committed to participating in the upcoming presidential election, he would not convoke a referendum to end presidential term limits. He explained that the intent of his threat to convoke such a referendum was not to perpetuate himself in power but rather to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.

Fortunately, Agence France Press (AFP) got the story right. The opening sentence of AFP's Spanish-language report reads, "Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez claimed Saturday that, if the opposition decides not to run candidates in the December presidential election, he could decree a referendum to permit his reelection for multiple terms until 2031."

So the choice for the opposition is simple. If they don't want a referendum that would end presidential term limits, they shouldn't pull out of the upcoming presidential election. As far as I'm concerned, the threat of a referendum is a perfectly reasonable (and democratic) way to dissuade the opposition from trying to delegitimize Venezuela's electoral process.

When Venezuela's opposition knows it's going to lose an election, it has a tendency to try to delegitimize the electoral process. Instead of facing up to the fact that it is unpopular, the business-led opposition tries to shift the blame for its electoral misfortunes to the National Electoral Council (CNE). The opposition claims that the CNE could commit "fraud" and that the vote might not be secret. Opposition conspiracy theories of this nature are legion. Never mind that there have been international observers on hand that have testified to the fairness of Venezuela's elections. Never mind that even the opposition's own polls show that Chavez is much more popular than they are.

In other words, many members of the opposition aren't really interested in trying to win elections because they know that they lack popular support. Many in the opposition prefer, instead, to try to create the impression internationally that Venezuela's electoral process is illegitimate.

One has to understand that, given the combination of the opposition's economic interests and political incompetence, it is very desperate. Since it is unable to attract popular support domestically, the opposition resorts to attempts to draw more U.S. hostility toward Chavez in hopes that such hostility might somehow weaken or destroy his presidency. Electoral boycotts are part and parcel of this strategy. The opposition wants to create the (false) impression internationally that Venezuela is another Ukraine and that Chavez wins elections by "fraud," etc. etc. That's what Chavez is up against.

OAS General Secretary Jose Miguel Insulza effectively summed up the problem that Chavez faces when he said the following about the opposition's boycott of legislative elections last December:
"We had a problem with the Venezuelan opposition, which assured us that they would not withdraw from the [electoral] process if certain conditions were met. These were met and, despite this, they withdrew."

Insulza continued, "if the path of abstention is chosen, then one cannot complain that the entire parliament is in the hands of one's political adversary."

Subordinate and Non-Subordinate States - An interview with Noam Chomsky by Khatchig Mouadian

Noam Chomsky, whom the New York Times has called "arguably the most important intellectual alive," was voted the leading living public intellectual in The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll conducted by the British magazine Prospect. Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a world-renowned linguist, writer, and political analyst. He is the author of many books on US foreign policy and international affairs, the most recent of which is "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy."

Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush

Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush

The following is a translation of the letter sent in Farsi by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to US President George W Bush. This version was released by United Nations diplomats. The letter was handed by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which then handed it to the Americans.

Mr George Bush, President of the United States of America

For some time now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena - which are being constantly debated, specially in political forums and among university students. Many questions remain

unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hopes that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them.

Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH) [praise be upon his name], the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one's opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], make war and terror his slogan, and finally, work towards the establishment of a unified international community - a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time have countries attacked; the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the ... of a ... criminals in a village or city, or convoy, or for example the entire village, city or convoy, set ablaze.

Or because of the possibility of the existence of WMDs in one country, it is occupied, around 100,000 people killed, its water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed, close to 180,000 foreign troops put on the ground, sanctity of private homes of citizens broken, and the country pushed back perhaps 50 years. At what price? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent from the treasury of one country and certain other countries and tens of thousands of young men and women - as occupation troops - put in harm's way, taken away from family and loved ones, their hands stained with the blood of others, subjected to so much psychological pressure that every day some commit suicide and those returning home suffer depression, become sickly and grapple with all sorts of ailments; while some are killed and their bodies handed to their families.

On the pretext of the existence of WMDs, this great tragedy came to engulf both the peoples of the occupied and the occupying country. Later it was revealed that no WMDs existed to begin with.

Of course Saddam [Hussein] was a murderous dictator. But the war was not waged to topple him, the announced goal of the war was to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction. He was toppled along the way towards another goal, nevertheless the people of the region are happy about it. I point out that throughout the many years of the ... war on Iran [in the 1980s], Saddam was supported by the West.

Mr President,

You might know that I am a teacher. My students ask me how can these actions be reconciled with the values outlined at the beginning of this letter and duty to the tradition of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the Messenger of peace and forgiveness.

There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation, their families cannot see them and are obviously kept in a strange land outside their own country. There is no international monitoring of their conditions and fate. No one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs [prisoners of war], accused or criminals.

European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe too. I could not correlate the abduction of a person, and him or her being kept in secret prisons, with the provisions of any judicial system. For that matter, I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the values outlined in the beginning of this letter, ie the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH), human rights and liberal values.

Young people, university students and ordinary people have many questions about the phenomenon of Israel. I am sure you are familiar with some of them. Throughout history many countries have been occupied, but I think the establishment of a new country with a new people, is a new phenomenon that is exclusive to our times.

Students are saying that 60 years ago such a country did not exist. The show old documents and globes and say try as we have, we have not been able to find a country named Israel.

I tell them to study the history of World War I and II. One of my students told me that during WWII, which more than tens of millions of people perished in, news about the war was quickly disseminated by the warring parties. Each touted their victories and the most recent battlefront defeat of the other party. After the war, they claimed that 6 million Jews had been killed. Six million people that were surely related to at least 2 million families.

Again let us assume that these events are true. Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East or support for such a state? How can this phenomenon be rationalized or explained?

Mr President,

I am sure you know how - and at what cost - Israel was established: Many thousands were killed in the process.

Millions of indigenous people were made refugees.

Hundred of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed.

This tragedy is not exclusive to the time of establishment; unfortunately it has been ongoing for 60 years now.

A regime has been established which does not show mercy even to kids, destroys houses while the occupants are still in them, announces beforehand its list and plans to assassinate Palestinian figures and keeps thousands of Palestinians in prison. Such a phenomenon is unique - or at the very least extremely rare - in recent memory.

Another big question asked by people is why is this regime being supported? Is support for this regime in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH) or Moses (PBUH) or liberal values? Or are we to understand that allowing the original inhabitants of these lands - inside and outside Palestine - whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jew, to determine their fate, runs contrary to principles of democracy, human rights and the teachings of prophets? If not, why is there so much opposition to a referendum?

The newly elected Palestinian administration recently took office. All independent observers have confirmed that this government represents the electorate. Unbelievingly, they have put the elected government under pressure and have advised it to recognize the Israeli regime, abandon the struggle and follow the programs of the previous government.

If the current Palestinian government had run on the above platform, would the Palestinian people have voted for it? Again, can such position taken in opposition to the Palestinian government be reconciled with the values outlined earlier? The people are also saying why are all UNSC [United Nations Security Council] resolutions in condemnation of Israel vetoed?

Mr President,

As you are well aware, I live among the people and am in constant contact with them - many people from around the Middle East manage to contact me as well. They do not have faith in these dubious policies either. There is evidence that the people of the region are becoming increasingly angry with such policies.

It is not my intention to pose too many questions, but I need to refer to other points as well.

Why is it that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East regions is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime? Is not scientific R&D [research and development] one of the basic rights of nations?

You are familiar with history. Aside from the Middle Ages, in what other point in history has scientific and technical progress been a crime? Can the possibility of scientific achievements being utilized for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology altogether? If such a supposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. must be opposed.

Lies were told in the Iraqi matter. What was the result? I have no doubt that telling lies is reprehensible in any culture, and you do not like to be lied to.

Mr President,

Don't Latin Americans have the right to ask, why their elected governments are being opposed and coup leaders supported? Or, why must they constantly be threatened and live in fear?

The people of Africa are hardworking, creative and talented. They can play an important and valuable role in providing for the needs of humanity and contribute to its material and spiritual progress. Poverty and hardship in large parts of Africa are preventing this from happening. Don't they have the right to ask why their enormous wealth – including minerals – is being looted, despite the fact that they need it more than others?

Again, do such actions correspond to the teachings of Christ and the tenets of human rights?

The brave and faithful people of Iran too have many questions and grievances, including: the coup d'etat of 1953 and the subsequent toppling of the legal government of the day, opposition to the Islamic revolution [of 1979], transformation of an embassy into a headquarters supporting the activities of those opposing the Islamic Republic (many thousands of pages of documents corroborates this claim), support for Saddam in the war waged against Iran, the shooting down of the Iranian passenger plane, freezing the assets of the Iranian nation, increasing threats, anger and displeasure vis-a-vis the scientific and nuclear progress of the Iranian nation (just when all Iranians are jubilant and collaborating with their country's progress), and many other grievances that I will not refer to in this letter.

Mr President,

September 11 was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world. Our government immediately declared its disgust with the perpetrators and offered its condolences to the bereaved and expressed its sympathies.

All governments have a duty to protect the lives, property and good standing of their citizens. Reportedly your government employs extensive security, protection and intelligence systems - and even hunts its opponents abroad. September 11 was not a simple operation. Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services – or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess. Why have the various aspects of the attacks been kept secret? Why are we not told who botched their responsibilities? And, why aren't those responsible and the guilty parties identified and put on trial?

All governments have a duty to provide security and peace of mind for their citizens. For some years now, the people of your country and neighbors of world trouble spots do not have peace of mind. After 9-11, instead of healing and tending to the emotional wounds of the survivors and the American people - who had been immensely traumatized by the attacks - some Western media only intensified the climates of fear and insecurity - some constantly talked about the possibility of new terror attacks and kept the people in fear. Is that service to the American people? Is it possible to calculate the damages incurred from fear and panic?

American citizens lived in constant fear of fresh attacks that could come at any moment and in any place. They felt insecure in the streets, in their place of work and at home. Who would be happy with this situation? Why was the media, instead of conveying a feeling of security and providing peace of mind, giving rise to a feeling of insecurity?

Some believe that the hype paved the way - and was the justification - for an attack on Afghanistan. Again I need to refer to the role of media. In media charters, correct dissemination of information and honest reporting of a story are established tenets. I express my deep regret about the disregard shown by certain Western media for these principles. The main pretext for an attack on Iraq was the existence of WMDs. This was repeated incessantly - for the public to, finally, believe - and the ground set for an attack on Iraq.

Will the truth not be lost in a contrive and deceptive climate? Again, if the truth is allowed to be lost, how can that be reconciled with the earlier mentioned values? Is the truth known to the Almighty lost as well?

Mr President,

In countries around the world, citizens provide for the expenses of governments so that their governments in turn are able to serve them.

The question here is what has the hundreds of billions of dollars, spent every year to pay for the Iraqi campaign, produced for the citizens?

As your excellency is aware, in some states of your country, people are living in poverty. Many thousands are homeless and unemployment is a huge problem. Of course these problems exist - to a larger or lesser extent - in other countries as well. With these conditions in mind, can the gargantuan expenses of the campaign - paid from the public treasury - be explained and be consistent with the aforementioned principles?

What has been said, are some of the grievances of the people around the world, in our region and in your country. But my main contention - which I am hoping you will agree to some of it - is: Those in power have specific time in office, and do not rule indefinitely, but their names will be recorded in history and will be constantly judged in the immediate and distant futures. The people will scrutinize our presidencies.

Did we manage to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice, or just supported especial interest groups, and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship, made a few people rich and powerful - thus trading the approval of the people and the Almighty with theirs'? Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged or ignore them? Did we defend the rights of all people around the world or imposed wars on them, interfered illegally in their affairs, established hellish prisons and incarcerated some of them? Did we bring the world peace and security or raised the specter of intimidation and threats? Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world or presented an inverted version of it? Were we on the side of people or the occupiers and oppressors? Did our administration set out to promote rational behavior, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity or the force of guns? Intimidation, insecurity, disregard for the people, delaying the progress and excellence of other nations, and trample on people's rights? And finally, they will judge us on whether we remained true to our oath of office - to serve the people, which is our main task, and the traditions of the prophets- or not?

Mr President,

How much longer can the world tolerate this situation? Where will this trend lead the world to? How long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers? How much longer will the specter of insecurity - raised from the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction - hunt the people of the world? How much longer will the blood of the innocent men, women and children be spilled on the streets, and people's houses destroyed over their heads? Are you pleased with the current condition of the world? Do you think present policies can continue?

If billions of dollars spent on security, military campaigns and troop movement were instead spent on investment and assistance for poor countries, promotion of health, combating different diseases, education and improvement of mental and physical fitness, assistance to the victims of natural disasters, creation of employment opportunities and production, development projects and poverty alleviation, establishment of peace, mediation between disputing states and distinguishing the flames of racial, ethnic and other conflicts where would the world be today? Would not your government, and people be justifiably proud? Would not your administration's political and economic standing have been stronger? And I am most sorry to say, would there have been an ever increasing global hatred of the American governments?

Mr President, it is not my intention to distress anyone. If prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Joseph or Jesus Christ (PBUH) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior? Will we be given a role to play in the promised world, where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) will be present? Will they even accept us?

My basic question is this: Is there no better way to interact with the rest of the world? Today there are hundreds of millions of Christians, hundreds of millions of Muslims and millions of people who follow the teachings of Moses (PBUH). All divine religions share and respect on word and that is monotheism or belief in a single God and no other in the world.

The holy Koran stresses this common word and calls on all followers of divine religions and says: (3.64) "O followers of the Book! Come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we shall not serve any but Allah and (that) we shall not associate aught. With Him and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides Allah, but if they turn back, then say: Bear witness that we are Muslims. (The Family of Imran)."

Mr President,

According to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine prophets. To worship a God which is above all powers in the world and can do all He pleases. The Lord which knows that which is hidden and visible, the past and the future, knows what goes on in the Hearts of His servants and records their deeds. The Lord who is the possessor of the heavens and the earth and all universe is His court planning for the universe is done by His hands, and gives His servants the glad tidings of mercy and forgiveness of sins. He is the companion of the oppressed and the enemy of oppressors. He is the Compassionate, the Merciful. He is the recourse of the faithful and guides them towards the light from darkness. He is witness to the actions of His servants, He calls on servants to be faithful and do good deeds, and asks them to stay on the path of righteousness and remain steadfast . Calls on servants to heed His prophets and He is a witness to their deeds. A bad ending belongs only to those who have chosen the life of this world and disobey Him and oppress His servants. And a good and eternal paradise belong to those servants who fear His majesty and do not follow their lascivious selves.

We believe a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvations. I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (PBUH), and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth.

We also believe that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was one of the great prophets of the Almighty. He has been repeatedly praised in the Koran. Jesus (PBUH) has been quoted in Koran as well; (19,36) "And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serves Him; this is the right path, Marium."

Service to and obedience of the Almighty is the credo of all divine messengers.

The God of all people in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the Pacific and the rest of the world is one. He is the Almighty who wants to guide and give dignity to all His servants. He has given greatness to Humans. We again read in the Holy Book: The Almighty God sent His prophets with miracles and clear signs to guide the people and show them divine signs and purity them from sins and pollutions. And He sent the Book and the balance so that the people display justice and avoid the rebellious.

All of the above verses can be seen, one way or the other, in the Good Book as well.

Divine prophets have promised: the day will come when all humans will congregate before the court of the Almighty, so that their deeds are examined. The good will be directed towards Heaven and evildoers will meet divine retribution. I trust both of us believe in such a day, but it will not be easy to calculate the actions of rulers, because we must be answerable to our nations and all others whose lives have been directly or indirectly effected by our actions.

All prophets, speak of peace and tranquility for man - based on monotheism, justice and respect for human dignity.

Do you not think that if all of us come to believe in and abide by these principles, that is, monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day, we can overcome the present problems of the world – that are the result of disobedience to the Almighty and the teachings of prophets - and improve our performance?

Do you not think that belief in these principles promotes and guarantees peace, friendship and justice?

Do you not think that the aforementioned written or unwritten principles are universally respected?

Will you not accept this invitation? That is, a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?

Mr President, History tells us that repressive and cruel governments do not survive. God has entrusted the fate of man to them. The Almighty has not left the universe and humanity to their own devices. Many things have happened contrary to the wishes and plans of governments. These tell us that there is a higher power at work and all events are determined by Him.

Can one deny the signs of change in the world today? Is this situation of the world today comparable to that of ten years ago? Changes happen fast and come at a furious pace.

The people of the world are not happy with the status quo and pay little heed to the promises and comments made by a number of influential world leaders. Many people around the world feel insecure and oppose the spreading of insecurity and war and do not approve of and accept dubious policies.

The people are protesting the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots and the rich and poor countries.

The people are disgusted with increasing corruption.

The people of many countries are angry about the attacks on their cultural foundations and the disintegration of families. They are equally dismayed with the fading of care and compassion. The people of the world have no faith in international organizations, because their rights are not advocated by these organizations.

Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.

We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point - that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: Do you not want to join them?

Mr President,

Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.

Vasalam Ala Man Ataba'al hoda
Mahmood Ahmadi-Najad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The US's geopolitical nightmare By F William Engdahl

By drawing attention to Iraq and the obvious role oil plays in US policy today, the George W Bush-Dick Cheney administration has done just that: it has drawn the world's energy-deficit powers' attention firmly to the strategic battle over energy, and especially oil.

This is already having consequences for the global economy in terms of US$75-a-barrel crude-oil price levels. Now it is taking on the dimension of what one former US defense secretary rightly calls a "geopolitical nightmare" for the United States.

The creation by Bush and Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and company of a geopolitical nightmare is also the backdrop to comprehend the dramatic political shift within the US establishment in the past six months, away from the Bush presidency. Simply put: Bush and Cheney and their band of neo-conservative war hawks, with their special relationship to the capacities of Israel in Iraq and across the Mideast, were given a chance.