Sunday, March 2, 2008

Gaza residents tell of sniper attacks on homes

Go to Original

Palestinians described yesterday how civilians were killed while hiding in their homes as Israeli ground troops stormed through northern Gaza suburbs this weekend searching for Hamas militants.

Raad Abu Seif held his 12-year-old daughter in his arms as she died after she was shot in the stomach as she stood several metres from a window.

"I stroked Safa's hair," said Mr Abu Seif, his voice hoarse. "And then her eyes rolled backwards in her head."

"I tried to massage her heart for a minute, two minutes, three minutes, I don't remember. And then I felt there was nothing."

Mr Abu Seif, 40, described how his extended family had bunkered down inside their home in the Zimo Square area of Jabaliya when it was infiltrated by Israeli ground troops supported by tanks in the early hours of Saturday.

Mr Abu Seif, who used to work in a car paint shop, and his wife, Sama, 38, told their seven children to stay down and avoid looking out of the windows. But in the afternoon Safa had grown in confidence and decided to go upstairs, where her uncle and his family were also waiting for the fighting to stop.

"She was just at his front door when there was an explosion outside and the windows were blown in," Mr Abu Seif said. "She was still about four metres from a window and up on the first floor but there must have been an Israeli sniper on a rooftop because he fired one shot and hit her in the stomach."

The girl's family had called an ambulance but it came under fire and was not able to reach the house.

When he tried to carry the girl out of the house, under a white flag, he said troops in an Israeli tank fired warning shots above their heads forcing them to dive for cover. Shortly after that Safa died in her father's arms.

The young girl was one of more than 100 Palestinians killed in the past five days of intense fighting as Palestinian militants have fired around 150 rockets into Israel. One Israeli civilian and two Israeli soldiers have died.

Despite international criticism and calls for restraint on both sides, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, said yesterday that an even broader Gaza operation was possible, aimed at crushing militant rocket squads but also to "weaken the Hamas rule, in the right circumstances, even to bring it down".

But many Palestinian families described an Israeli army on the rampage in various suburbs of Gaza and claimed that Israeli snipers had shot people inside their homes.

Hatem Abu Shbek described how his nephew, Eyad, 16, and niece, Jacqueline, 17, were shot in his sitting room.

He insisted the distance to the window was several metres and said that Israeli snipers must have been targeting them.

Another Palestinian teenager said he was shot three times when he approached the Zimo Square area to see what was happening.

Ahmed Abu Radwan, 18, was speaking from a hospital bed at Kemal Adwan hospital. He said his neighbour, Jihad Abu Hilayel, also a teenager, was killed.

Yesterday, the normally bustling streets of Gaza City were empty as schools were closed and people were advised to stay at home. The sound of verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, coming from mosque loudspeakers mingled with the roar of Israeli warplanes and drones in the sky above.

Hundreds gathered outside Gaza's hospitals waiting for bodies to be brought out of morgues for burial.

Many, like schoolteacher Tawfek Shaban, a 44-year-old father of five, were holding small radios, listening to news broadcasts.

"Shame on the Arabs, shame on the Muslims, shame on humanity .. When will they act to stop Israel?"

In yesterday's fighting, Israeli aircraft struck the empty offices of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, in a pre-dawn raid in Gaza City.

No one was hurt but the attack was seen as a tough message to the Hamas leadership, which has refused to halt rocket barrages at a growing area of southern Israel.

After nightfall, Israeli aircraft struck targets around Gaza City's Shati refugee camp and at Jabaliya, further north, where five people were wounded, at least two of them militants, Palestinian security officials said.

The Israeli military said it fired at gunmen in Jabaliya, hitting one person. It had no immediate comment on any attack on Shati.

Egypt has co-operated with an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, but opened its sealed border crossing with the territory yesterday to allow some of the Palestinian wounded access to medical care.

Egypt sent 27 ambulances to the Rafah crossing to transfer between 150 and 200 wounded, said Imad Kharboush, a medical official at a hospital in El-Arish, near the Israeli border.

Bank Failures? No big deal, says CNN

Go to Original
By Chris Brunner

I really enjoyed reading this article, although I think would be much better suited publisher.
Here are some excerpts:
Banking experts say there is one thing that will save your money if your bank goes under. That's FDIC insurance. "It's the gold standard," says banking consultant Bert Ely. "The FDIC has ample resources. It's never been an issue," he says.
As loan delinquencies rise, and bank failures increase, the FDIC is shoring up its reserves.
That's fascinating, because last I checked (about five minutes ago), the FDIC had in its assets about 1.2% of the deposits it claims to "insure".
If your bank bites the dust, there's nothing to fear according to the FDIC. A healthier banking institution normally buys the failed bank according to Barr. "There is little or no interruption to the consumer," he says. "If you go to bed one night as a customer of a bank, and you wake up as a customer of a new bank, there is nothing you have to do." Your checks will still clear, you can still use your ATM card.
See? Bank failure isn't even a bad thing!

U.N. chief condemns Israel after Gaza clash

Go to original
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israel for using "excessive" force in the Gaza Strip and demanded a halt to its offensive after troops killed 61 people on the bloodiest day for Palestinians since the 1980s.

Addressing an emergency session of the Security Council in New York after four days of fighting in which 96 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, Ban also called on Gaza's Islamist militants to stop firing rockets.

The 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into the blockaded, 45 km (30-mile) sliver of coast, enjoyed a relative respite early on Sunday from Israeli air strikes and raids. Two Israeli soldiers died in a ground assault on Saturday. An Israeli civilian was killed by a rocket in a border town on Wednesday.

"While recognising Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children ... I call on Israel to cease such attacks," said Ban.

"I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism," he said.

But with public anger boiling in Israel, there was no sign the government was ready to call off an offensive that took troops deeper into Gaza on Saturday and in larger numbers than at any time since Israel ended a 38-year occupation in 2005.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which seized control of Gaza last June by routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's forces, vowed to maintain what it says is a self-defence strategy unless Israel agrees to end all military action.

Areas from which Hamas has launched rockets that have killed three Israelis in the past year saw heavy clashes on the ground on Saturday and air strikes continued to pound buildings and homes that Israel said were used by militants. In some of these attacks, children as young as six months have been killed.

Israel says militants use the population as cover by firing from built-up areas and blamed Hamas for the civilian deaths -- at least 30 occurred on Saturday.

Senior Israeli diplomat Daniel Carmon dismissed suggestions Israel was guilty of war crimes. "Hamas bears sole responsibility for the violence," he told the Security Council.

Palestinian officials said the day's bloodshed was the worst since an "intifada" or uprising against Israeli occupation broke out in 2000, halting an earlier peace process. Not since a first intifada in the 1980s had so many died in a day, they said.


Diplomats said the Security Council was unlikely to adopt a Libyan resolution that condemns Israel's killing of civilians but makes no mention of the Palestinian rocket fire.

The United States, Israel's closest ally and a veto-wielding member of the Council, made clear its understanding of the Israeli position, while regretting loss of life on both sides.

"There is a clear distinction between terrorist rocket attacks that target civilians and action in self-defence," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

European diplomats said they believed the world body should at least make some comment on bloodshed which some say jeopardises the new U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and Abbas, who holds sway now only in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas's chief peace negotiator Ahmed Qurie called off a meeting scheduled for Monday with his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli officials said.

But Abbas, who echoed widespread Palestinian outrage at Israel's tactics by calling it "more than holocaust", had taken no decision to abandon the peace process, aides said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week to try to accelerate faltering negotiations which President George W. Bush hopes can forge a peace deal before he leaves office in January.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "If Israeli aggression continues, it will bury the peace process."

At least 30 gunmen were killed on Saturday, medical staff and Hamas said. Among targets was the empty office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, formerly Abbas's prime minister.

The rocket fire has put Olmert under pressure to act. But the government, chastened by a costly war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in 2006, is wary of an outright invasion.

While Abbas would shed few tears if Israel destroyed Hamas, he risks losing already patchy support in the West Bank if he is not seen to be speaking out against the Israeli military action.

He declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

China considers changing one-child policy

Go to Original

China may consider changing its one-child policy because it has succeeded in helping to slow population growth in the past three decades, a Chinese official said Sunday.
The policy, launched in the 1970s, has produced "very good results," said Wu Jianmin spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to parliament.

There would be an estimated 400 million more people in China without it, Wu said.

"The one-child policy was the only choice we had given the conditions when we initiated the policy," Wu told reporters at a news conference the day before the CPPCC convened for its annual session. However, he added, "when designing a policy we need to take into consideration the reality."

"So as things develop, there might be some changes to the policy and relevant departments are considering this," Wu said without giving a timeline or details on which departments would be involved.

Wu's comments echo a position China's communist government has been thinking about for some time. On Thursday, a senior family planning official said changes were being considered but that family planning policies would not be scrapped altogether.

Under the current mandate, Beijing limits most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two to conserve scarce resources. Critics say the policy has led to forced abortions, sterilizations and a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio due to a traditional preference for male heirs that has prompted countless families to abort female fetuses.

There are also concerns about China's aging population, with those aged 60 or older expected to top 200 million by 2015 and 280 million by 2025, according to the government.

The CPPCC includes representatives of China's main business, religious and other non-communist groups. The session will run through March 14.

Wu said the hot topics this session include macroeconomic controls, government restructuring, employment rates, consumer price stability, climate change, and reform of the financial, educational and health care systems.

Carlyle Group Plans to Raise $4 Billion Asia Fund, People Say

Go to Original
By Joyce Moullakis

Carlyle Group, the world's second- biggest private-equity firm, plans to raise as much as $4 billion to invest in Asian companies as the credit freeze stalls U.S. and European leveraged buyouts, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
The firm expects to complete fundraising for Carlyle Asia Partners III by mid-year, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public. Washington-based Carlyle is targeting countries including China, India and Australia, they said.
Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein is competing with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Blackstone Group LP for a bigger foothold in Asia, where private-equity deals rose 40 percent to a record $87.8 billion last year, according to the Asian Venture Capital Journal. Developing Asian economies will expand an average 8.6 percent this year, compared with 1.5 percent for the U.S., according to International Monetary Fund estimates.
``We are seeing continued appetite for Asian equities,'' said Toby Nangle, a member of the strategic policy group at Baring Asset Management in London, which manages $55 billion. ``I imagine a buyout firm would tap the same people who are coming to us.''
The fund, Carlyle's third for general Asian investments, will invest across industries in countries outside Japan, according to the people. Chris Ullman, a Carlyle spokesman, declined to comment.
LBO Collapse
Private-equity deals in the U.S. and Western Europe collapsed last year along with the U.S. subprime mortgage market. Transactions announced in the second half fell to $58.9 billion from an record $240 billion in the first six months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Carlyle may find financing hard to arrange as investors avoid all but the safest government debt. Banks are struggling to clear a backlog of about $230 billion of bonds and loans they committed to buyouts, damping their interest in extending more credit. Rubenstein said today it may take as long as three years for sales of the loans that fund LBOs to return to last year's record.
``It won't come back overnight,'' he told the private- equity industry's annual Super Return conference in Munich.
Carlyle and National Hire Ltd. agreed in October to acquire Australia's Coates Hire Ltd. for A$1.7 billion ($1.6 billion), giving them 20 percent of the nation's A$3.8 billion equipment- rental market.
In December, the buyout firm used one of its smaller funds to invest $21 million in DIO F&B Group, a Chinese restaurant chain. That fund has made more than 20 investments in Korea, China, India and Japan, according to Carlyle's Web site.
JPMorgan, Blackstone
JPMorgan, the third-largest U.S. bank. will commit $750 million to private-equity investments in the Asia-Pacific region by taking non-controlling stakes in companies, the firm said Feb. 19. Blackstone, manager of the largest buyout fund, has offices in Mumbai, Hong Kong and Tokyo and last year sold a $3 billion stake in the company to China Investment Corp., a state- controlled firm.
Carlyle expanded in Asia in 1998 after opening regional headquarters in Hong Kong. The buyout firm started its first Asian fund the following year, raising $750 million, while the second vehicle, Carlyle Asia Partners II, attracted $1.8 billion by mid-2006.
To contact the reporters on this story: Joyce Moullakis in London at

Ben Bernanke's high-wire act

Fed chief, in first of two days of testimony on Capitol Hill, acknowledges troubling signs about economic growth but also raises concerns about inflation.

Go to Original
By David Ellis

For Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, running the central bank has become an increasingly challenging high-wire balancing act.

All of Wall Street was watching the Fed chairman on Wednesday when he headed to Capitol Hill to outline the trio of challenges facing the Fed: an economy at risk of falling into a recession, topsy-turvy financial markets and the rising risk of inflation.

"We do face a difficult situation," Bernanke told members of the House Financial Services Committee, marking the first day of his two-day semi-annual hearing on the Fed's monetary policy. "The challenge for us is to balance those risks and decide at any given time which is more serious."

Bernanke's prepared testimony and his comments to lawmakers, however, stressed that the economy remained the central bank's primary concern saying that "downside risks to growth remain."

Markets initially turned higher following the release of his testimony as investors read signals that the Fed was prepared to continue cutting rates, if necessary, to stimulate the economy.

But Bernanke's comments were in line with the Fed's latest economic outlook and remarks he delivered alongside Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson before a Senate panel nearly two weeks ago.

At the time, the two policymakers warned of slower economic growth in the coming year but said they believed the U.S. economy would avoid tipping into a recession, helped in part by the $170 billion economic stimulus package signed by President Bush on Feb. 13 and the most recent interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

"I don't think he broke a lot of new ground," said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo. "He stuck very close the Fed's forecast and outlook for the economy."

Among Bernanke's biggest concerns recently has been the embattled housing sector. On Wednesday he again said that he expected it to continue to weigh on economic activity in the months ahead.

"Homebuilders, still faced with abnormally high inventories of unsold homes, are likely to cut the pace of their building activity further, which will subtract from overall growth and reduce employment in residential construction and closely related industries," Bernanke said.

Fresh economic data seems to support the view that housing remains troubled. Sales of new homes fell to a nearly 13-year low in January, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday, just a day after a survey on residential real estate revealed that the decline in home prices picked up at the end of 2007

Eye on the consumer

One particularly important issue that the Fed chairman touched on Wednesday was the health of the consumer.

Bernanke acknowledged a significant slowdown in consumer spending as 2007 came to a close, and suggested that with home prices continuing to decline, a falling dollar and rising prices on a wide variety of consumer goods, the consumer could feel an even greater pinch.

"Any tendency of inflation expectations to become unmoored could reduce the flexibility of the [Fed] to counter shortfalls in growth in the future," he said. The Fed will continue to monitor inflation closely in the months ahead, he added.

Bernanke's remarks about inflation, however, marked a key divergence from his most recent remarks, noted Jane Caron, chief economic strategist at Dwight Asset Management, which manages about $70 billion in fixed-income assets.

"He did highlight that inflation pressures have increased," said Caron. "But as investors, is the Fed going to completely take their foot off the gas? How will they manage inflation risks?"

Perhaps the biggest inflation concern for Bernanke was high oil prices, which soared last year and continue to hover near record highs around $100 a barrel. While he said he did not expect such a similar increase in the price of crude during 2008, if oil prices did not moderate that could pose a serious problem for the U.S. economy, Bernanke said.

"If that happens, it will be a very tough situation," he said.

Bernanke also waded into the ongoing credit crisis, urging banks to continue to raise capital so they can continue to be able to lend and provide liquidity to the credit markets. A number of major U.S. financial institutions, for example, have been forced to look to large state-run foreign funds, or sovereign wealth funds, after suffering billions of dollars of losses.

The moves have raised protectionist fears on Capitol Hill, but Bernanke called the investments "constructive."

"I urge banks and financial institution to look to wherever they may find capitalization," Bernanke said.

Economy's warning signs

To help keep the economy from tipping into a recession, the Fed has steadily cut the federal funds rate, which affects a variety of consumer loans, since September. It slashed interest rates twice by 1.25 percentage points in just under a week last month.

Now the growing consensus among economists is that the Fed will cut interest rates by another half a percentage point when policymakers meet again on March 18 and possibly at least once more later this year.

But Bernanke stressed that the Fed would take the wait-and-see approach, saying that policymakers would carefully evaluate "incoming information on the economy outlook."

Plenty of economic reports are due out before the next Fed meeting, including next week's February employment report. The central bank will also get another reading on consumer inflation on March 14.

Lawmakers pressed Bernanke on what other actions he might consider if the economy were to worsen. He responded by suggesting that the central bank's current efforts - including the use of its "discount window" to make direct loans to commercial banks - are working.

"At the moment I'm satisfied with the general approach we are currently taking," said Bernanke.

Behold a Pale Horse


Take a look at all the cover ups by this camp of shills.

~ Provided By ~

The Monster Must Die!

Robert Lipsyte on Roger Clemens, Lame-Duck Pitcher

Go to Original

Recently, an ARG poll put George W. Bush’s job approval rating at an almost inconceivable low of 19%, giving "lame" a new meaning in the last lame-duck year of his presidency. Finally, recognizing a genuine opening, the Democratic Congress has been moving; in fact, the whole government seems to be lurching into action. Congressional hearings were held that split harshly along party lines. They focused on a big Republican pitch-man who, like so many before him in these last years, made outrageous claims and denials, while swearing that others had "misremembered" the facts. This time, however, the Democrats hung together and delivered a no-nonsense message to the White House via the Justice Department: We’re coming after your man. The FBI promptly began forming an investigation team. A prosecution now seems to be in the cards.

What makes this so remarkable is that Congress is no longer taking on lesser subjects like Iraq, torture policy, or the political staffing of the Justice Department. It’s attending to something of paramount significance to the nation, something that matters whether you live in Boston, New York, or Houston. But let Tomdispatch Jock Culture Correspondent Robert Lipsyte tell you the rest; the story of a man who actually does, in his own way, catch something essential about our last lamentable seven-plus years in Bush hell. Tom

The Monster Must Die!

Clemenstein, or the Post-Modern Prometheus
By Robert Lipsyte

"When all this happened, the former President of the United States found me in a deer blind in south Texas and expressed his concerns, that this was unbelievable, and to stay strong and… hold your head up high." -- Roger Clemens testifying before the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee.

The genius of Roger Clemens lies in the fact that he created the monster of himself. He is both Dr. Clemenstein, inventor of a more powerful man, and Clemenstein, the age-defying result, an ogre who defines ur-masculinity today. He is a big, white Republican who makes his own rules, lies, cheats, and mixes family values and intimidation. Roger Clemens also manipulated and sacrificed associates to accomplish his mission. He was able to do this not only because scientific additions made him bigger and stronger, but because subtractions enabled him to believe in the preeminence of the creature he had become. The drugs went in and the soul came out.

We will see him go down.

Of course, it’s too late to matter much; like the present President, he’s already done his damage. Clemens has proven -- as have Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, among others -- that Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) really work. This will mostly benefit Big Pharma when it renames such chemicals Health Enhancing Drugs (HEDs) and finds ways to prescribe them for the newly created disease of losing sports competitions. (Consider how the makers of Paxil made shyness into the diagnosable social anxiety disorder.)

It’s too bad that the issue has become the ethics of enhancement rather than the science of enhancement -- on which we still don’t have much useful data. Exactly which drugs do what? And what are the long-term effects? It’s amazing how little we know (or perhaps want to know) about PEDs beyond the way they have affirmed and endorsed the nation’s addiction to quick-fix upgrades. Old guys popping monkey glands, rhino tusks, and testosterone to prolong the torrents of spring seemed ridiculous until cops, rappers, mercenaries, and home-run hitters began shooting steroids.

Traditional logic might suggest that our real heroes would be found among our warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, brave men and women risking death to subdue an enemy while saving each other. But revulsion towards those wars leaves sports and Hollywood as the idol pools of choice. We get Sylvester Stallone, who used chemicals to pump himself back up into Rambo, and Clemens who became the greatest pitcher of our time… even after his time should have expired.

Clemens ruled. The images of two of baseball’s best current players, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Piazza, were badly wounded in confrontations with him. His personal trainer, Brian McNamee, and his friend and mentee, Andy Pettitte, have also been hurt.

Clemens’ signature tactic, whether on the mound or in the meeting room, is intimidation. Some of it’s a simple matter of size; Clemens is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. But Rodriguez and Piazza are 6-3/200, and Pettitte is 6-5/235, so some of it has to be force of will. The Rocket is scary because he’s evidently prepared to do anything to dominate and win. He seems to have no moral delay.

In 2000, which would put The Rocket on PEDs (if conventional wisdom is true), Clemens, then a Yankee, knocked down Rodriguez, then the Seattle Mariners’s star, twice in his first at-bat in Game Four of the American League championship series. It was bravura gamesmanship, scaring A-Rod and his teammates away from digging in at the plate. Clemens went on to dominate the game and win.

Rodriguez and Clemens argued after the head-hunting, but nothing came of it. It was at that moment, I suspect, that Rodriguez first began to be perceived as soft, as something of a whiner by the media -- an image he’s enhanced since by being slippery and shallowly introspective in his interviews. Had he stood up to Clemens, maybe even charged the mound that day and taken him on, his manhood would never have been questioned.

The Piazza story is worse. In an inter-league game during the regular season of 2000, a month after Piazza hit a grand-slam homer off him, Clemens threw an inside fastball at the popular Mets catcher. The pitch bounced off Piazza’s hand and head. He suffered a concussion. Despite some harsh words, Piazza didn’t charge the mound. One could imagine him rationally dismissing the notion of escalating the conflict, setting a poor example to his young fans, distracting his teammates.

There was anticipation of a "rematch" at the 2000 World Series. In his first at-bat in Game Two, Piazza broke his bat on a Clemens’ pitch. A piece of the bat skipped out to the mound. Clemens picked it up and heaved it in Piazza’s direction. The pitcher later ludicrously claimed that he thought he was fielding a ball coming toward him. Not surprisingly, officials didn’t believe that, fining him $50,000. It was cheap at the price; after that incident he went on to dominate the game and win.

In the machismo universe of big-league sports, not running out and belting the bully after this second blatant provocation meant Piazza, as absurd as it might seem, was looking for trouble. He got it. Soon after, rumors swirled that he was gay, the lover of a TV weatherman. Eventually, Piazza came out as a heavy metal fan, got married, had a child, and eventually left New York, finally escaping the talk-radio attacks on his manhood. He’s spent the last two years playing for San Diego and Oakland.

Clemens took Andy Pettitte, a likeable left-handed pitcher from Texas, under his wing when they were teammates for the Yankees and then the Houston Astros. Clemens included him in rigorous workouts with McNamee. When the trainer later named Clemens and Pettitte as drug users, The Rocket denied everything -- even Pettitte’s testimony that Clemens had talked to him about using HGH. Pettitte admitted using the drug himself, but only twice -- to recover from injury and thus help his team. He claimed that he had gotten the drug from his sick father, who was using it legally. The media found McNamee a pitiable hanger-on and Pettitte, once a media favorite, was tagged Andy Pathetic.

Neither of them had stayed hard like The Rocket, who continues to hang tough even as his denials lose credence. He is tough. His biological father left when he was an infant and his step-father died when he was 9. He has been quoted as saying he’s jealous of other players only when their fathers show up in the clubhouse. Maybe that’s why he became friends with George H.W. Bush, the former president who found him in the deer blind.

Clemens has been the best pitcher of our time for as long as we can remember. When the Red Sox traded him to Toronto in 1996, the Boston general manager said he was "in the twilight of his career." So Clemens, like Ronald Reagan, declared it morning again. In 1997 and 1998, he won his fourth and fifth Cy Young Awards as the American League’s best pitcher. When he won his record seventh, in 2004, he was 42, the oldest ever to win one.

Even if drugs were involved, they were nowhere near enough to account for the man’s accomplishments. Clemens had rage beyond ‘roids, and an amazing ability to channel it into discipline, hard exercise, and the demonic need to win. He could bring that rage out of his belly and send it along his right arm to his fingertips and then into a hurtling baseball.

Dominating at work, he is also lord of his breakfast table. His wife, Debra, whom he married in 1984, reportedly took HGH at his suggestion to buff up for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread. She was pushing 40 at the time and nervous about the bikini shoot. Check out the results at In one shot, Roger lounges between her legs while she holds a bat.

Roger and Debbie have four sons, Koby, Kacy, Kory, and Kody, their names signifying their dad’s passion for K’s -- baseball’s shorthand for strikeouts. Koby, who signed a pro contract three years ago at 18, once hit a homer off Roger in an exhibition game. In Koby’s next at-bat, Roger threw close to his son’s head to back him off the plate.

Oedipus wrecks. If only Papa Bush had been as tough as Roger and whacked the real monster’s head.

Robert Lipsyte is the Jock Culture Correspondent for Tomdispatch.Com. His latest Young Adult novel is Yellow Flag.

Markets Fall on Drumbeat of Grim Reports

Go to Original
By Vikas Bajaj and Michael M. Grynbaum

An outpouring of negative economic and financial reports soured the mood on Wall Street Friday as banks and other lenders further tightened credit in their struggle to contain damage from losses on mortgages, business loans and related debt.

Shares sank, and investors fled to the safety of Treasuries as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 2.71 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 315.79 points, or 2.51 percent, to 12,266.39. Both indexes capped their worst four months since 2002.

Prices of municipal bonds, bank loans and high-yield debt all fell as well.

The markets for ultrasafe debt backed by the federal government and other nations were alone in posting gains. Some commodities, including gold, were also up.

“The drumbeat of economic news has been unrelentingly bad,” said Edward Yardeni, a normally upbeat investment strategist. “The recession scenario is looking more and more credible.”

Like so many days since the credit troubles erupted in August, Friday dawned on the East Coast with ominous financial signals. A.I.G., the large insurer, had reported its worst loss ever the evening before. Reports out of London overnight suggested that a large hedge fund, Peloton Partners, was being forced to sell nearly $2 billion in mortgage-related securities after it lost the backing of its lenders.

By the time traders in New York were at their desks, economic reports issued in Washington showed consumer spending was flat in January after adjusting for inflation. Then a bellwether report on Midwestern business activity unexpectedly fell to its lowest level in more than six years, and a survey showed consumer confidence declined to a 16-year low.

If that was not pessimistic enough, Wall Street’s attention was soon riveted by a report from analysts at UBS that estimated losses to the financial system from securities backed by mortgages and other debts would total $600 billion. Until recently, many analysts had been forecasting losses in the neighborhood of $400 billion - a figure that the dwindling band of optimists in the financial markets once dismissed as vastly overblown.

“There is not any one news item that I can point to,” said Douglas Peta, chief investment strategist at J. W. Seligman & Company in New York. “We know that there is paper out there that we can’t trust. We don’t know exactly who owns it and how much. And we don’t know how they are valuing it.”

The S.& P. fell 37.05 points, to 1,330.63, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 60.09 points, or 2.58 percent, to 2,271.48.

For Mr. Peta and many others, the current turmoil in the financial system is at its core a crisis of faith and confidence.

Problems are now appearing even in markets that were considered to be safe and staid like municipal bonds.

Adding to the worries, hedge funds that borrowed billions of dollars through complicated transactions to invest in tax-exempt debt have been forced in the last few days to sell securities to meet margin calls from their banks, said Douglas A. Dachille, chief executive of First Principles Capital Management, a bond firm based in New York.

An index that tracks the municipal bond market fell sharply in February. The yield, which moves in the opposite direction of the price, has jumped to 5.42 percent, from 4.81 percent at the start of February, according to The Bond Buyer, which compiles an index of 40 municipal bonds.

“I have never seen anything like this in the 15 to 20 years that I have been involved in muni investing,” said Mr. Dachille, who said he was encouraging clients to buy at these prices.

The problems in the municipal bond market highlight the increasing reluctance of banks to lend. Burned by their laxity during the housing boom and large losses from securities that were backed by subprime mortgages, lenders are tightening up and shutting out any borrower with a taint, real or perceived.

For their part, lenders and investors are reluctant to stake their dwindling capital on new ventures or to roll over debts that are coming due because they are unsure if they will get their money back. Defaults and losses continue to rise in many corners of the credit market.

In January, 23.4 percent of outstanding subprime mortgages were either 60 days’ delinquent, in foreclosure or had already had the home repossessed, up 9 percent from December, according to Rod Dubitsky and other analysts at Credit Suisse.

He noted that in California, which is suffering more than most states, mortgage companies are holding 10 times the number of foreclosed homes as they were at the start of last year, because more borrowers are falling behind and it is taking longer to sell homes given the glut of properties on the market.

The debacle in the housing market has taken a toll on the broader economy, and in particular on consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of overall economic activity. For the second consecutive month, spending was flat in January when adjusted for inflation, the Commerce Department said on Friday.

“You can almost draw it out in a diagram,” said Bernard Baumohl, managing director at the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, N.J. “With home prices going down, consumers cut back on spending. If consumers cut back on spending, the economy weakens further. If the economy weakens further, fewer people are able to afford mortgages so home foreclosures increase.”

On a nominal basis, Americans spent more in January, as spending outlays increased 0.4 percent after rising 0.3 percent in December. But, on average, the products they bought went up in price equally fast, too. In January, prices were up 3.7 percent from a year ago, the fastest rate of growth in more than two years.

Much of the increase comes from the cost of food and gasoline, which has risen sharply in recent months. But prices have risen across the board for products ranging from clothes and medicine to computers and washing machines. Excluding energy and food, prices are up 2.2 percent from January 2007.

Rising prices are leaving many Americans financially exposed.

“We know that incomes are growing more slowly, and they’re growing more slowly because of a weakening job market,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Still, other economists note that most Americans should be able to weather the problems in the housing market if they keep their jobs. While the unemployment rate has been creeping up, it remains relatively low at 4.9 percent. But the number of jobless claims has moved up in recent weeks and is flirting with the kind of numbers that often signal a recession is imminent. The Labor Department will next publish the closely watched monthly employment report on Friday.

“From here,” said Jane Caron, chief economic strategist at Dwight Asset Management, a bond trading firm, “the key thing to watch is what happens on the employment front.”

Bush legacy: Farewell to the Monroe Doctrine?

Go to Original
By Pablo Bachelet

Washington - El Salvador's President Tony Saca, a close U.S. ally, can scarcely contain his frustration.

He calls U.S. politicians “shortsighted” for failing to reform U.S. immigration laws. He says Latin American populism is “a pendulum swing toward disaster” that deserves more U.S. attention.

“The United States, in my judgment, should invest enormous resources in Latin America, along the lines of a Marshall Plan,” he said in a recent interview. "Generally speaking, when you want to have a neighborhood that gives you peace of mind, you have to invest in that neighborhood.”

But Saca is unlikely to be satisfied. President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin America more than any of his predecessors, but his legacy may be the biggest loss of U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere in recent memory.

He remains unpopular and unable to pass initiatives that Latin Americans want, such as immigration reform and free-trade pacts. Trade between South America and China is booming. Governments from Canada to Iran are cutting deals in the region, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made challenging U.S. interests his foreign-policy mission, through everything from sweet oil deals to a TV news channel that rivals CNN.

“Requiem for the Monroe Doctrine” is how academic Daniel Erikson put it in an article for Current History, referring to the 1823 declaration by President James Monroe that put the Western Hemisphere off-limits to outside powers.

Think-tank specialists are debating whether Bush, globalization or both are to blame, and whether a change in the United States' unpopular position on Cuba might help. Democrats say the Bush White House has ignored the region.

But the reality is that whoever wins the White House in November will confront a dramatically different geopolitical situation from the one that Bush faced when he was inaugurated in 2001.

“The world has changed in fundamental ways, and the big question is whether the next administration can understand that and adjust to that,” Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, told a recent gathering in Washington.

“The United States is not as important as it used to be. A lot of countries - I'm talking about Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela - have much more complicated international relations,” he added. "There are much more options than there were before.”

In the 1990s, most of Latin America and the United States shared a common purpose of promoting free trade, democracy and free-market reforms known as the "Washington Consensus.”

Many Latin Americans, however, became disenchanted with economic reforms of the 1990s and resented the Bush administration's focus away from the region after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Iraq invasion only angered Latin Americans more.

“There was a rejection of Washington Consensus-era policies,” says Geoff Thale, with the left-leaning advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. "We haven't had anything to offer in its place.”

At the same time, other countries have stepped up their diplomatic and commercial outreach, with Europeans and Canadians pointing out that their foreign policy is more aligned with Latin America's preference for multilateral actions.

The European Union has signed trade and investment agreements with Mexico and Chile, and is negotiating similar pacts with Central America and the Andean Community of Nations, which includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The Europeans have also signed an “Economic Partnership Agreement” with the 15-member Caribbean Community.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, declaring Latin America a priority of his administration, last summer embarked on a week-long tour of Chile, Colombia, Barbados and Haiti.

He cast Canada, which is close to signing a free-trade agreement with Colombia, as a middle course between the United States' hard-edged capitalism and Venezuela's state-centered populism.

“Canada's very existence demonstrates that the choice is a false one,” he said.

Canada is the region's second-largest investor, owning assets worth more than $96 billion. The Canadians are in free-trade talks with Caribbean nations and trade more than $1 billion a year with Cuba.

Then there's China.

Bilateral trade between China and Latin America jumped from $200 million in 1975 to $47 billion in 2005. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, between 2000 and 2006 Brazil increased its imports from China six-fold, to $8 billion. China is Chile's second-biggest market.

While seeking raw materials for its industries, China has kept a low political profile, maintaining friendly ties with Cuba and Venezuela but not directly challenging U.S. interests.

China also has historic ties with big left-wing parties in Mexico, Peru and Argentina, writes Argentine scholar Sergio Cesarin in a recent Woodrow Wilson International Center report on China's rise in Latin America.

“When Chinese leaders speak out about their aims and goals in the region, they utilize concepts like growth, mutual benefits, non-interference in internal affairs and, most importantly, development,” he writes. These are more palatable to left-wing leaders than free trade or free-market reforms recommended by Washington, he adds.

In 2005, Air China started weekly flights between Beijing and Sao Paolo, the first such route between China and Latin America by a Chinese carrier. Presidents Hu Jintao of China and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva swapped visits in 2004.

Since 2005, Chavez and Iran's President Ahmadinejad have visited each other seven times, signing deals on issues as varied as tractor manufacturing and oil exploration and establishing a direct flight between Caracas and Tehran, with a stopover in Damascus. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have also visited Chavez's allies in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The United States, of course, remains the hemisphere's dominant power. Brazil imported six times more from the United States than China. Immigrants to the United States sent $45 billion in remittances to their families in the region last year.

Bush administration officials dispute the notion that they've ignored the region.

The State Department routinely lists achievements like a $3.4 billion debt-relief package for the hemisphere's five poorest countries, an ethanol-promotion deal with Brazil and a new $1.4 billion anti-drug-trafficking aid package for Mexico and Central America awaiting congressional approval.

Total U.S. aid to Latin America jumped from $1.2 billion in 2001 to - if Congress approves a budget request - $2.7 billion in 2009, according to the aid-tracking website

Bush has negotiated numerous free-trade deals and met his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva nine times. Bush's trip to Latin America last year was his eighth, more than any president in U.S. history.

The free-trade umbrella now includes Chile, Central America, the Dominican Republic and Peru, with Colombia and Panama waiting in the wings.

But all that doesn't impress the critics.

“Certainly, there is no consistent pattern of interest or concern in the administration for Latin America,” said Riordan Roett, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and an informal advisor to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign. "Maybe we can't expect this, but there's been no grand scheme, broader integration between the U.S. and Latin America. We're each kind of going our own way.”

Luigi Einaudi, a former U.S. diplomat and head of the Organization of American States, says the United States would generate more goodwill if it shuttered the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, passed a free-trade agreement with Colombia and stopped deporting 70,000 “criminal aliens” every year to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean ill-equipped to receive them.

Some critics say changing the Cuba policy also will help. A new Cuba approach, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would be a “superb opening toward refurbishing” the Latin America policy that he describes as "bordering on failure.”

One program initiated by Bush is seen as working: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which gives aid to countries that pass a set of 17 development indicators, put together by outside watchdogs like Transparency International.

John Danilovich, who heads the program, says MCC is so popular that even Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an old Cold War foe and Chavez ally, had to admit as much when he visited an MCC program in the northern town of Chinandega.

With Danilovich at his side, Ortega ended his speech at a local plaza with the words "Viva Estados Unidos!"

Western calls for sanctions against Iran ignore IAEA report

Go to Original
By Aijaz Ahmad

For the video clip, click here.



HOST, FOX NEWS: The latest report from the United Nations nuclear watchdog is a mixed bag, giving Iran credit for addressing some major issues, but contending that Iran continues to enrich uranium.


AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The way the Iran nuclear issue dealt in the international arena keeps getting more and more ridiculous. Each time the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency goes to his board with a report in hand saying he has made progress in his negotiations with Iran, the United States and a couple of its western allies go off to the Security Council demanding more and more sanctions. The result is that some sanctions are already in place, and the Security Council has even passed a resolution demanding from Iran that it stop its nuclear enrichment program. The demand is, of course, in violation of the basic requirements of the non-proliferation treaty, which gives its signatories the right to enrich uranium for civil nuclear purposes. This drama is being staged again now. Mr. ElBaradei has just submitted his most recent report to the board of the agency for its meeting on March 3 in Vienna. The report, as usual, has not been released so far. But Mr. ElBaradei's comments on international television make quite clear what the essential recommendations are.


February 22, 2008

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: Well, our task in Iran is to make sure that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.


In putting it that way, he's diplomatically saying that he's not there to implement the resolution of the Security Council demanding from Iran that it cease nuclear enrichment altogether, which as head of the IAEA Mr. ElBaradei cannot do, because he is the guardian of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gives Iran that right. He goes on then to say that except for one issue, all other issues have been settled.


ELBARADEI: In the last four months in particular, we have made quite a good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that has to do with Iran past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue. And that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past. We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues.


He is saying that he has no evidence of such a program. It is alleged that such a program existed in the past. And the allegation is of course being made by the United States. He hastens to add, however, that in all the five years of his work, he has seen no evidence that there was any such program related to nuclear materials. The only thing which he is asking Iran to do really substantially is to sign the additional protocol.


ELBARADEI: We have been asking Iran to conclude the so-called "additional protocol," which gives us additional authority to visit places, additional authority to have additional document, to be able to provide assurance not only that Iran declared activities are for peaceful purpose, but there are also no undeclared nuclear activities.


However, this is something that every state has the sovereign right to consider whether it's in its interest or not, and then decide whether it can sign this additional protocol. Iran is perfectly within its rights not to have done so so far. The most interesting part of Mr. ElBaradei's report actually comes at the end.


ELBARADEI: I hope that Iran will continue to work closely with the Security Council to create the conditions for Iran and the international community to engage into comprehensive negotiation that would lead to a durable solution. A durable solution requires confidence about Iran nuclear program, require regional security arrangement, require normal trade relationship between Iran and the international community.


Mr. ElBaradei doesn't mention either the United States or Israel, but it's very well known that these two states have threatened time and again that they might invade or intervene or bomb Iran at one time or another. So to say that there should be a security environment in the region is to say, actually, that Iran should be assured in one way or another that it will not be the object of aggression by any of these forces.


ELBARADEI: The ultimate aim should be normalization relationship between Iran and the international community.


Now, this runs directly counter to the kind of sanctions that the United States has imposed on Iran through the Security Council, but also contrary to the US policies in general, considering that the US has not had normal trade with Iran since the revolution of 1979. The onus, in other words, according to this report is for the West to take these crucial steps in order to undertake meaningful negotiations. Mr. ElBaradei has directly asked for normal trade. In response to that, Condoleeza Rice has marched off immediately, asking for the Security Council to extend the scope of the sanctions, and its allies, UK and France, have drafted a resolution to that effect, as if ElBaradei had not said in his reports what he has actually said. Condoleeza Rice says that there seems to be some progress. As a matter of fact, what ElBaradei has said is that all outstanding issues have been settled, except for what he calls the alleged issue of a weapon studies program in the past.

Man Acquitted in Terror Case Faces Deportation

Go to Original
By Peter Whoriskey

Lawyers criticize effort as retribution from US.
Miami - The case of the "Liberty City Seven" stymied jurors. After a three-month trial late last year, they deadlocked on nearly all of the charges regarding the purported plot by several men to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

The one thing jurors could agree upon, however, was that one of the men, Lyglenson Lemorin, 33, was not guilty.

"I was excited," Lemorin said of his reaction on the December day that the verdict was announced. "I wanted to see my family."

Yet more than two months after his acquittal on charges of supporting terrorism, Lemorin remains incarcerated, and U.S. immigration officials are moving to deport him to Haiti, which he left more than 20 years ago. Officials are asking an administrative judge to order his deportation based on the same charges that the jury dismissed.

The government's effort to punish Lemorin despite the acquittal is drawing fire from his attorneys and some legal observers as an attempt to seek retribution in a high-profile case that prosecutors lost after a fair trial.

Even the jury foreman - who said he had been willing to convict some of Lemorin's co-defendants - said the move to deport Lemorin seems unfair.

"It's kind of outrageous that the guy was cleared after we spent three months at trial, and now they're continuing to go after him," said Jeff Agron, 46, an educator. "They're getting a second bite at the apple. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Caught in the middle is Lemorin, a father of two, a Haitian immigrant who came here as a child and is a permanent legal resident of the United States.

"It's not just double jeopardy - it's sour grapes," said Lemorin's criminal defense attorney, Joel DeFabio. "It's a mind set at the Department of Justice: 'We don't lose - and if we can get you another way, we will.' "

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Lemorin "will get due process."

Legally, there is nothing to bar the government from pursuing immigration sanctions against Lemorin, experts said, though such action is rare after an acquittal. The immigration charges are a civil matter, and a judge will apply a less strict standard of evidence to the charges that were brought at the criminal trial.

"This is one of those unfortunate instances where common sense and constitutional law diverge," said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University who has followed the case.

David A. Martin, a University of Virginia law professor who served as general counsel at the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the late 1990s, said that "the government is perfectly within its legal rights to go ahead in two different forums even after they've lost in one." He added, "Whether it's a sound use of prosecutorial authority is a much tougher question."

Martin said being removed from one's adopted country, though it is a civil penalty, can seem little different from some of the criminal sanctions Lemorin has so far eluded.

"Obviously, for someone who's had a green card and could spend the rest of their lives here, deportation feels the same as a criminal sentence," he said.

"He's no more a Haitian than the Good Humor man," said Charles Kuck, a lawyer representing Lemorin in immigration court.

Lemorin and his six co-defendants were arrested in June 2006 in a case that Justice Department officials said demonstrated the threat of "homegrown" terrorism.

All of the men had been affiliated with a fringe religious group, the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that combines elements of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. They operated out of a ramshackle building in Liberty City, one of this city's poorest neighborhoods.

Their leader, Narseal Batiste, known as Prince Manna, proselytized on street corners, sometimes carrying a staff and wearing a white turban.

"It was on our spiritual journey that we got involved with Narseal," said Lemorin's wife, Charlene. "He was just another way of learning the Bible and the Koran. We always read interesting books."

From the immigration detention center in Georgia this month, Lyglenson Lemorin described himself as a Christian, not an Islamic fundamentalist. "I pray every night - that's one of the main things that helps me," he said by phone. "There's a great God out there."

During the investigation, two confidential informants working with the FBI posed to Batiste that they had al-Qaeda connections.

To one of the informants, Batiste outlined a far-fetched plan to topple the Sears Tower and create a tsunami in Lake Michigan, a scheme he would later describe at trial as a way of eliciting contributions from al-Qaeda.

The primary piece of evidence against Lemorin is videotape showing one of the informants leading him and his co-defendants in an oath of allegiance to al-Qaeda. He said he was misled about what was going on.

"I regret that I went along with taking the so-called oath," Lemorin said from Georgia. "It was right after that, I left."

He stopped going to the group's meetings. He and Charlene moved to Atlanta, where they took jobs at an Abercrombie and Fitch at a mall.

"He kind of distanced himself from the group," noted Agron, the jury foreman; it was a key factor in the decision to acquit him.

Roughly two months after he and his wife left Miami, however, Lemorin was arrested.

Months later, Charlene gave birth prematurely to his third child, but the baby died. Charlene now has kidney disease and is awaiting a transplant.

"The children wonder whether they will ever see their father again," she said. "It just doesn't seem right."

Asked about the most difficult part of his incarceration, Lemorin said: "I just feel like I should be there for my family. They've been going through a lot.

Ahmadinejad: Iraq-Iran Are Brotherly

Go to Original

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday his landmark visit to Iraq opened a new chapter in "brotherly" relations between the two countries, which were once bitter enemies.

Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president to visit Iraq. The trip not only highlights his country's growing influence on its Arab neighbor in the post-Saddam Hussein era, but it also serves as an act of defiance toward the U.S., which accuses Iran of training and giving weapons to Shiite extremists in Iraq.

The Iranian leader went from Baghdad's airport to a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who gave him a red-carpet welcome. The two kissed four times on the cheek in the traditional fashion and a band played the two countries' national anthems.

"We had very good talks that were friendly and brotherly. ... We have mutual understandings and views in all fields, and both sides plan to improve relations as much as possible," Ahmadinejad said in a news conference with Talabani at the Iraqi president's residence, located across the Tigris River from the new U.S. Embassy in the fortified Green Zone.

Talabani said the two discussed economic, political, security and oil issues and planned to sign several agreements later. But he said the issue of borders, including the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway between the two countries, was not discussed.

Ahmadinejad stressed that his country wanted a stable Iraq that would benefit the region.

"A united Iraq, a sovereign Iraq and an advanced Iraq is to the benefit of all regional nations and the people of Iran," he said.

Though much of the public talk focused on the warming relations between the two countries, Ahmadinejad denounced U.S. accusations that Iran was training and supplying Shiite militia fighters in Iraq with weapons designed to kill American troops.

"Such accusations increase the problems of the Americans in the region and they are not going to solve their problems," Ahmadinejad said in a separate press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after discussions with Talabani.

Al-Maliki emphasized that the Iranian leader's visit was "an expression of the strong desire to enhance the relations and develop mutual interests after the past tensions during the dictatorship era."

The news conference appeared to end abruptly after a reporter asked Ahmadinejad about the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which was allied with Saddam during the bitter 1980s war between the two countries. The group has opposed Iran's Islamic republic and has operated out of Iraq. The U.S. and European Union list it as a terrorist organization.

Talabani interjected, saying: "This issue has been discussed earlier and the presence of those as a terrorist organization is constitutionally not allowed. We will endeavor to get rid of them out of the Iraqi territory soon."

The U.S. has said it will have no involvement in Ahmadinejad's visit. Ahmadinejad arrived in Iraq a day after Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to Baghdad on an unannounced visit with commanders and Iraqi officials.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press that Ahmadinejad plans to leave Monday morning.

Though both are Shiite-majority countries, Iran and Iraq were hostile to each other throughout Saddam's regime. Their eight-year war after Saddam invaded Iran in 1980 cost about 1 million lives.

But when Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime fell and Iraq's Shiite majority took power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, long-standing ties between the Shiites of both countries flourished again, though the two neighbors have yet to sign a peace treaty.

Many of Iraq's Shiite leaders lived in exile in Iran during Saddam's rule, and Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, speaks fluent Farsi.

With the trip, Ahmadinejad also may be trying to bolster his support back home ahead of parliamentary elections later this month. They are seen as referendum on the Iranian president, who has come under criticism in his country for spending too much time on anti-Western rhetoric and not enough on Iran's economic problems.

The U.S. has tried to downplay Ahmadinejad's visit. It has said it welcomed Iran's stated policy of promoting stability but that its actions have done just the opposite.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said the Iraqi government would provide the principal security for Ahmadinejad and had the capacity and equipment to do so.

"Iraq has a responsibility as a neighbor to provide security," he said during a press conference in the Green Zone, adding that the U.S. hoped the visit "produces real and tangible results."

President Bush denied that Ahmadinejad's visit undermined U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran, but had some advice for what al-Maliki should say to the Iranian leader.

"He's a neighbor. And the message needs to be, quit sending in sophisticated equipment that's killing our citizens," Bush said.

In Tehran, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini criticized Bush.

"His remarks are an intervention in the friendly, brotherly and sincere relations between Iran and Iraq," Hosseini told reporters Sunday after Ahmadinejad left Iran. "Americans do not want the relations to grow."

Pentagon’s tanker order brings British aerospace boom

Go to Original
By Dominic O’Connell

BRITISH aerospace firms were celebrating an order bonanza this weekend, after EADS, the parent company of Airbus, won a $35 billion (£18 billion) Pentagon contract for tanker aircraft.

Senior executives said the deal was the second-largest contract for UK aerospace after BAE Systems’ 1989 agreement to supply combat aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

Airbus will make the wings for the tankers, modified versions of the A330 commercial airliner, at its UK plants in Broughton and Filton. The company said the contract would bring in $6 billion worth of work and help secure 9,000 British jobs.

Another big winner is Cobham, the British engineering group that pioneered inflight refuelling. It will make the high-tech equipment needed to safely transfer fuel between aircraft.

The deal would bring it $1 billion in sales, said chief executive Allan Cook. “This is a huge boost to our business, and to the whole UK supply chain,” he said. “We put a lot of time and effort into the bid, and I am delighted it has paid off.”

Boeing was regarded as a shoo-in for the contract, with defence pundits backing Washington’s desire to foster the domestic aerospace industry.

But late on Friday the Pentagon said it had chosen Airbus planes as its new tankers, not Boeing’s.

The initial contract is for 68 aircraft, but it is expected to be extended to 179 over the next decade, making it one of the largest aerospace orders ever.

Defence analysts think it could grow even further, noting that the US Air Force has about 500 tanker aircraft in its fleet.

As well as Airbus UK and Cobham, the British arm of GE Aerospace Systems will benefit as a major supplier.

The winning bid was led by North-rop Grumman, the giant US defence contractor. It offered an “Americanised” version of the A330, promising that 58% of the value of the tanker aircraft would come from domestic companies. Airbus will build the planes in Europe, and then fly them to a plant in Mobile, Alabama, for fitting out.

The approach is similar to that taken two years ago when Fin-meccanica, an Italian aerospace group, scooped a deal to supply new helicopters to Marine Force One, the presidential transport service. Its bid was headed by Lockheed Martin, another big American defence company.

The decision is a stunning reversal for Boeing, which had ruled the international market for military tankers. EADS has eroded its dominance in recent years with contract wins in Germany, France, Australia and the UK.

Boeing said it would study the decision before making its next move. It offered its 767 aircraft in competition with the A330. The 767 production line, in Seattle, Washington state, now has question marks over its future.

Supreme Court may rethink broadcast indecency

Awards shows have revived the issue of what may be indecent on the public airwaves. The jurists haven’t ruled on the matter in 30 years.

Go to Original
By David G. Savage and Jim Puzzanghera

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court this week may reopen for the first time in more than 30 years the debate over what qualifies as an "indecent" broadcast.

The media environment has changed dramatically since 1978, when the court last ruled on this issue: Today's viewers and listeners are exposed to the more freewheeling cable TV, Internet and "shock jocks" on satellite radio.

The issue before the court now is delicately described as the problem of "fleeting expletives" in over-the-air broadcasts, which are still regulated. TV viewers who watch the entertainment industry's awards shows may be familiar with the phenomenon.

"This is really, really f---ing brilliant," rock singer Bono exclaimed when accepting a 2003 Golden Globes Award for the best original song. His comment went live on NBC.

Upon receiving a Billboard Music Award for career achievement, Cher said the honor proved her critics wrong. "So f--- 'em. I still have a job and they don't," the singer-actress said on Fox TV.

After receiving complaints from viewers, the Federal Communications Commission moved to crack down on broadcasters who air "isolated or fleeting expletives" during daytime and early evening hours.

Last year, Fox and the other networks sued to block the new policy, and an appeals court in New York put it on hold.

Now, the FCC is asking the high court to clear the way so the crackdown can be enforced. The justices may act on the agency's appeal as soon as Monday. If they vote to hear FCC vs. Fox TV, arguments will be heard in the fall.

The appellate judges in New York said the new policy was arbitrary and vague. It does not, for example, say all expletives will trigger fines from the FCC regardless of the circumstances. News programs and movies such as "Saving Private Ryan" have been given exemptions. Including profanity from soldiers on the D-day beaches was not intended to shock or titillate, the FCC said, but help "convey the horrors of war."

At the same time, the appellate judges hinted that a true ban on all broadcast expletives would violate the 1st Amendment's free-speech guarantee.

With the agency handcuffed, U.S. Solicitor Gen. Paul D. Clement asked the Supreme Court to intervene and to revive the FCC's new rule. Unless the high court acts, he said, the TV industry will have complete freedom to air expletives during the hours children and families typically are watching.

If the justices do take on this dispute, they will be obliged to ponder the many meanings of what the lawyers call the f-word and the s-word. Federal law does not provide much guidance. It forbids the broadcasting of "any obscene, indecent or profane language." Congress has left it to the FCC to decide what that means.

In 1978, the court agreed with the FCC that comedian George Carlin's "seven dirty words" monologue, when broadcast on the radio at midafternoon, was indecent. But the 5-4 decision in FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation was narrow. As one justice said, Carlin used words that "to most people are vulgar and offensive," and he repeated them "over and over again as a sort of verbal shock treatment."

Afterward, the FCC adopted this distinction. It described "indecency" as words or pictures that focus on "sexual or excretory organs" and which "dwell on or repeat at length" the descriptions. That rule seemed to leave a loophole for the occasional vulgar word that slipped into a broadcast.

The FCC changed course after it was flooded with complaints from grass-roots groups over vulgarities on entertainment awards shows. In March 2004, a month after an outcry over the brief exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl's halftime show, the FCC commissioners adopted a near zero-tolerance policy for fleeting expletives. Their new rule said "any use of [the f-word] or a variation, in any context, inherently has a sexual connotation."

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said certain words were so offensive that children needed to be shielded from them on the public airwaves between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

"Can't a television network wait until 10 p.m. to say [the f-word]?" asked Timothy Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, whose group has pressed for a crackdown on indecency. If the courts block the new rule from taking effect, "it absolutely would open the floodgates," he said.

But broadcasters said they have no desire to air expletives, noting that they don't allow them even after 10 p.m., when they are permitted under FCC rules. They're simply trying to make sure that when an unscripted expletive is used -- most often by a celebrity who is not a network employee -- it does not result in a large fine.

Broadcasters have instituted five-second delays on awards shows and some other live programming, with employees poised to bleep out offensive language. But an occasional expletive slips through.

"It's like the Maytag repairman," said Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC Universal. "You're expecting that after sitting in front of a console for literally thousands of hours that at a particular moment, on a completely unexpected basis, a person will hear it and will react in time."

The stakes have increased dramatically for broadcasters found guilty of airing an indecency. Congress voted in 2006 to boost the maximum fine for each violation tenfold, to $325,000, in the aftermath of the Jackson Super Bowl incident. Each station that airs an indecency violation can be hit with the fine, putting networks on the hook for upwards of $35 million for incidents.

Broadcasters also say the rules on what is indecent remain confusing. Variations of the s-word, for example, are considered indecent because they are a "vulgar description of excrement." But the FCC has determined that "crap" and "poop" are not indecent.

When Bono drew complaints for his expression of delight over winning a Golden Globe, the FCC's staff initially concluded he had not violated the indecency standard because he used the f-word as an adjective, not to describe sexual "organs or activities." But the FCC commissioners disagreed and said there is no exemption for vulgar words used as adjectives or as metaphors.

But Washington attorney Carter G. Phillips, who represents Fox, said the new policy for broadcasters clashes with the 1st Amendment because it is "purely arbitrary. Why is the f-word OK in one setting and strictly forbidden in another?" he asked. He used as an example children in a cable-TV household who can easily switch between a network channel, where raunchy words are prohibited, to "South Park" on Comedy Central, where use of the words is common.

The FCC does not regulate indecency on the Internet or cable- and satellite-TV because they do not use the public airwaves.

Israel launches offensive into Gaza

It is the deepest thrust into the coastal territory in years. Twenty-six Palestinian civilians and two Israeli soldiers are among the dead.

Go to Original
By Richard Boudreaux

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces Saturday made their deepest and deadliest incursion into the Gaza Strip in years, attacking Palestinian rocket-launching squads with tanks and warplanes but also inflicting a heavy loss of civilian life in the densely populated enclave.

Fifty-five Palestinians, 26 of them civilians, and two Israeli soldiers were killed as fighting raged into the night around militant strongholds in two urban centers of northern Gaza, according to Israeli military officials and Palestinian medical workers.

Trapped inside by the fighting, some Palestinians were killed when Israeli fire tore through their homes, witnesses said. But at least one civilian, a child, may have been killed by a Palestinian rocket that fell short of its target and into her home, spraying shrapnel, according to neighbors.

Palestinian hospital officials said it was the bloodiest day of fighting in Gaza since 2000 and put the death toll since violence escalated Wednesday at 85. They listed 150 Palestinians as having been wounded Saturday.

The violence in Gaza, a coastal territory of 1.5 million people ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, prompted a threat by the rival, Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank to suspend peace talks with Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli assault as "state terrorism" and called on the U.N. Security Council to press Israel to end it. Militant leaders and commentators across the Arab world referred to the bloodshed as a "holocaust."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, later addressing an emergency session of the council in New York, criticized Israel for using "excessive" force and called on the Jewish state to cease the attacks. He also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Hamas and other militant groups bore responsibility for the civilian deaths. "They hide behind their own civilians, using them as human shields, while actively targeting Israeli population centers," he said.

Israel is "compelled to take these defensive measures" to protect 200,000 Israelis living within Palestinian rocket range, he said.

Many unarmed Gazans said they felt as though they were intentional targets of the Israeli raids.

"Houses have been hit by tank shells and gunfire from the Israeli army," Rami Mohammed Ali, a 21-year-old man huddled in an interior hallway with the rest of his family in Jabaliya, told Reuters news agency. "As a civilian, I wonder if Israel is really after rockets or is just punishing the population in general."

Israeli leaders have been debating for weeks whether to launch a large-scale ground operation to try to halt the near-daily rain of homemade Kassam rockets from Gaza. Saturday's incursion appeared to be a short-term action with the limited aim of pushing the rocket squads back from the border.

Still, it was one of the largest and deepest Israeli incursions in Gaza since the Jewish state unilaterally withdrew its military bases and settlements from the territory in 2005.

Hundreds of Israeli armored and infantry soldiers crossed into northern Gaza before dawn Saturday, advanced several miles on militant strongholds in Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya, and dug in for what was expected to be several days of fighting.

They targeted sites they said were rocket factories and bunkers manned by launch crews. An airstrike destroyed a truck carrying 160 rockets, the army said.

After dark, Israeli warplanes killed seven members of the Hamas-led police force in southern Gaza, two in a car in Khan Yunis and five in a mosque being used at night as a police barracks in Rafah.

Three missiles fired from the air early today destroyed the Gaza City building housing Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's offices, which were vacant at the time.

The militants nonetheless kept up a steady barrage of rocket and mortar attacks through the day, aiming both at the soldiers and communities in Israel. Twenty projectiles landed in Israel, wounding six people.

Israel reported seven soldiers injured in addition to the two killed. They were the first army casualties since Israel intensified an aerial campaign Wednesday and Hamas replied with a rocket blitz that killed a middle-aged student on a college campus in Sderot, southern Israel.

Kassam rockets are wildly inaccurate, but militants have fired thousands of them from Gaza over the last seven years, killing 13 people and terrorizing Israeli communities a few miles away.

Since Thursday, the militants have raised the threat level by firing more than a dozen longer-range, Soviet-designed Grad missiles into the slightly more distant city of Ashkelon, 10 miles from Gaza. Israel says the rockets were probably made in Iran and smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has come under growing public pressure to step up action. But he is reluctant to order a full-scale ground operation in Gaza, in part because stopping the rocket fire would require reoccupying most of the strip and risking a prolonged period of bloodshed.

Also, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled to visit Israel this week, a major escalation is unlikely for now.

Instead, the Israeli army is expected to limit the operation to several days, said Alon Ben-David, military affairs commentator for Israel's Channel 10 television.

"The army knows it will not bring the Palestinians to surrender nor succeed in stopping the Kassams altogether," he said. "But it is trying to push them back so as to reduce the range of fire and to keep them occupied defending themselves rather than targeting Israeli territory.

"Today's images from Gaza are images of war," he added, "but this is not war yet, not really."

That may be coming soon, however. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been signaling to Western officials that some kind of major ground and air operation is being planned for warmer weather, when the skies over Gaza clear.

If so, Saturday's fighting gave several indications of what is in store.

Hamas' armed wing showed it was prepared for a major incursion. The group said it fired armor-piercing missiles and 44 mortar shells at Israeli forces in Jabaliya on Saturday. One person said he saw an Israeli soldier, whose body had been sliced in half, being pulled from a tank.

The other Israeli soldier died in an exchange of gunfire, one of many instances in which militants engaged the army in direct combat.

Militant groups said they lost 29 fighters.

Civilians were caught in the middle, and several died in their homes.

They included Samah Asaliea, 16, and her 21-year-old sister, Sanaa, who died in their kitchen in Jabaliya after an Israeli missile strike, medical workers said. Television footage showed their father, Ziad, weeping and asking God for revenge.

Ashraf Kafarna said an Israeli missile struck a home in Beit Hanoun, killing his 4-year-old cousin, Malak Kafarna, and wounding two of her siblings. But neighbors said the missile appeared to have been fired by Palestinians.

Tarek Dardouna, a resident of Jabaliya, said ambulances coming to pick up the wounded in his neighborhood retreated under gunfire. Hospital officials said the condition of 35 wounded people was critical enough to require treatment outside Gaza, but they were unable to leave because of Israeli and Egyptian border restrictions.

Moaiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official in Gaza, said 35 ambulances were unusable because of an Israeli economic blockade that has left Gaza short of fuel.

Hamas officials closed schools in Gaza and declared three days of mourning. The group's armed wing issued a defiant message to Israel: "You will never stop the rockets."

Rice is expected to arrive in Israel on Tuesday with an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, an Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange and a reopening of the Egypt-Gaza border under European Union monitoring. Israeli officials are skeptical of a cease-fire, which they fear would allow Hamas to continue stockpiling weapons through tunnels under the Egyptian border.

Rice will have an additional challenge: rescuing the peace talks begun in December between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. They are aimed at reaching agreement on the birth of an independent Palestinian state by the end of President Bush's term.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said it was perfectly consistent for Israel to "fight terror that hurts its people" while negotiating peace with moderate Palestinian leaders.

But Ahmed Korei, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Israel was committing a "massacre" in Gaza and making it impossible for Abbas to continue peace talks.

In Debt We Trust