Saturday, April 26, 2008

'Turmoil in global credit markets is hindering the Bank of Canada's efforts to reduce borrowing costs for individuals and companies'

From: Carney warns rate relief will be slow to reach consumers

Turmoil in global credit markets is hindering the Bank of Canada's efforts to reduce borrowing costs for individuals and companies.

In its latest assessment of the economy, the central bank warned that even if it continues to lower its benchmark rate, rates lenders charge on mortgages and loans may rise.

Commercial lenders are paying more to get credit themselves in markets that remain reluctant to share money, the Bank of Canada said in its Monetary Policy Report.

Since the credit crisis kicked off last summer, banks have recovered only about three-quarters of their increased borrowing costs by charging higher rates to their customers.

That's not likely to last, Governor Mark Carney said.

"We do expect that to ultimately be passed on ... unless their funding costs come down sharply," Mr. Carney said at a press conference.

The report reinforced economists' expectations that the bank will continue to lower rates to offset the impact of a deteriorating U.S. economy.

The central bank's acknowledgment that it can only do so much to keep borrowing costs low signifies a change in a relationship that many borrowers have come to take for granted over the past decade.

Most people assume that when the central bank cuts, their own variable-rate mortgages or commercial loans will fall by the same amount.

That relationship is breaking down because commercial banks can't access credit at the low rates available before the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market last summer.

Many financial institutions were backing their loans with securities linked to those mortgages.

Those assets are now essentially worthless, leaving the banks that held them with weaker balance sheets and riskier bets to pay the yield on any bonds they issue to raise capital.

So even though the Bank of Canada has slashed its benchmark rate by 1.5 percentage points since December, the risk premium lenders are demanding is keeping the spread between the central bank's overnight target and other loans wider than under normal conditions.

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Global recession to be 'longer, deeper and wider' than 1970s

The deputy chairman of one of Singapore's sovereign wealth funds explained to staff at the weekend the US crisis has now spread the world – increasing the chance of a global crisis.

Tony Tan, of the Government of Singapore Investment Corp, also explained recent investments in UBS and Citigroup – worth $11 billion (£5.5 billion) and $6.88 billion (£3.5 billion) respectively – would be long-term investments.

"We could be facing a recession which is longer, deeper and wider than any recession that we have encountered in the last 30 years.

"The financial contagion has now spread beyond US shores, increasing the likelihood of a global financial crisis and recession," said Mr Tan.

He added the current volatility, fueled by the credit crunch, was set to continue in coming years.
 
 

Hunter S. Thompson documentary closes festival

Hunter S. Thompson luxuriated in being the center of attention. Imagine how the late journalist would have strutted, knowing that a documentary all about him was closing the San Francisco International Film Festival. He'd be first in line for "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," wearing his trademark fisherman's hat and tinted aviator glasses, and brandishing a cigarette holder with ashes piling up - never mind the ban on smoking. The only thing that would have made him happier is if "Gonzo" were opening the festival Thursday.

It somehow seems appropriate to end a 15-day marathon of 105 movies and special programs with a tribute to this occasional San Franciscan and master of gonzo journalism. He came up with "gonzo" to describe his freestyle, drugs- and booze-fueled writing found in books such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72." Chunks of both were composed in the Bay Area. While Thompson's home was in Woody Creek, Colo., his heart and soul were in San Francisco.

This was his kind of town, and he was witness to events that became part of the city and all of Northern California's tapestry. Thompson was the caretaker of the Big Sur Hot Springs in 1961, right before it became Esalen. He moved to the Haight-Ashbury in the mid-1960s, arriving just as hippies were settling in. He became a familiar, boisterous figure at local watering holes for years while churning out lengthy pieces for Rolling Stone and other publications.

In the early and middle '80s, he was a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and night manager at the O'Farrell Theatre, where the Mitchell brothers put on nudie shows. Thompson had yellow business cards printed up, although nobody was exactly sure what he did, short of hanging out with the strippers, who adored him, and making music recommendations to the DJ.

"Hunter's affection for San Francisco is greater than for any other city," said Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, who was Thompson's editor and friend for 35 years. "He loved to come out there and work in our office. We would hang out together and carouse. We were in North Beach a lot. He was a really charming guy, and he knew how to flirt with women. He was charismatic."

An early scene in "Gonzo" shows someone meant to be Thompson driving a motorcycle through Golden Gate Park late at night and continuing onto the Great Highway with no helmet and no attention paid to speed limits. A voice-over intones, "I needed the curves to clear my head." That's Johnny Depp, who narrates the documentary and played Thompson in the movie adaptation of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," speaking his buddy's words.

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Activists make last-ditch effort to save orphans from Israeli state terror

From The Palestinian Information Center :

Palestinian leaders and Christian peace activists as well as representatives of human rights organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories on Thursday made an impassioned appeal to "all men and women of conscience all over the world" to help stop Israeli army plans to close down and take over several orphanages and boarding schools sheltering thousands of orphans and impoverished students. Many of the orphans' parents had been killed by the Israeli army and paramilitary Jewish terrorists, also known as "settlers."

The appeal was made during a press conference at the main Girl Orphanage in downtown Hebron. The Israeli army has repeatedly raided the orphanages, boarding schools and affiliated institutions, vandalizing property, seizing food, cloths and shoes and confiscating several buses and cars.

The Israeli army accuses the Islamic Charitable Society, the largest and oldest in occupied Palestine, of teaching school children "radical ideas."

However, the Charity lawyer Muhammed Farrah dismisses the charges as "a big canard and a blatant lie."

"We have challenged them to produce a shred of evidence proving their claims. And so far they have failed to prove any of their allegations."

Art Arbor, a Christian Peace-maker Team (CPT) member spoke at the beginning of the press conference, saying he was pretty sure that Israeli charges against the Hebron Charity were "baseless."

"As a former headmaster in Canada, I can say I have seen here some of the finest students and teachers anywhere, I have seen good teachers and good students fully engaged. Last week I attended an English class where teachers and students were having fun, I saw teachers who produce students who will act to make the world a better place.

"But all this is threatened now. And I want to tell you that what the Israeli army is doing is not an assault on terror but an assault on innocent people who take care of each other.

"In fact, it is the IDF that is engaging in terror and we are here to try to stop it."

Taking the floor after Arbor was Nisreen Shawar, a local English teacher. She accused the Israeli state of waging "an all-out vindictive onslaught of smear, hate and vengeance against innocent Palestinians whose sole crime is their insistence on living and surviving."

"We have been wrongfully accused of being terrorists and promoting terror. We are not terrorists, and we don't teach terror. We are actually doing what school teachers all over the world do, namely making children better people for a better future. We teach kids to be kind, to tell the truth, to be mentally alert, physically sound and morally straight. We teach kids the same subjects taught anywhere in the world."

Shawar compared the "terror canard against the Palestinians with the blood libel against Jews in Europe during the Middle ages."

"The only difference is that these canards are now made by Jews in order to justify Israel's slow-motion genocide against our people."

Nago Humbert, Head of the Swiss Medecins du Mond Agency, lashed out at the immense brutality and savagery being inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state and army.

"Closure of schools, storming orphanages in the dead of night, destroying bakeries, confiscating food and clothes, throwing orphan kids onto the street…What is happening here? What is the lasting image Israel is going to leave in the minds of these kids when they grow up?"

Humbert, who spoke in French, said he couldn't really understand what the Israeli army's ultimate goal by acting in this manner.

"How can we teach Palestinian children non-violence when Israel is doing to them all this, when Israeli soldiers are throwing kids from their orphanages onto the streets. Israel is destroying all our efforts."

Paul Rehm, an American Christian peace activist from New York described the callousness inherent in the Israeli army's assault on Hebron's orphanages and other charitable institutions.

"How can we really relate to these callous acts, confiscating school buses, raiding orphanages and terrorizing innocent children?,"

Rehm quoted Martin Niemoller, the famous Nazi-era German priest, who lamented the German people's silence in the face of the enormous atrocities the Third Reich committed in the course of the Second World War.

"When the Nazis came for the Communists, I remained silent; after all I was not a Communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; after all I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; after all I was not a unionist. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

Two representatives from President Jimmy "Carter's Center" in Ramallah also showed up at the press conference and one of them delivered a statement from the former US President.

The statement urged the Israeli government to rescind military orders to shut down and expropriate school buildings, orphanages and supporting businesses.

Far from being fazed by nonviolent protests against its draconian measures in Hebron, the Israeli army last week stormed a bakery owned by the Islamic Charitable Society, seizing ovens and other equipments used to provide bread for thousands of orphans and needy students.

The occupation army also raided and weld-sealed a cloth-making facility employing grown-up orphan girls. Israeli soldiers reportedly warned the girls that they would be jailed for up to six years if they didn't heed orders to leave the small cloth factory.

Palestinian leaders in Hebron have accused the Israeli state of "resorting to a dirty game whereby all they have to do to wreck a given Palestinian institution is to invoke the name of Hamas."

"It is enough to claim that a given institution is associated with Hamas to destroy that institution. This is very much like Nazi Germany behaved toward political opponents prior to the Second World War," said Muhammed Hirbawi, a Hebron civic leader.

Hirbawi said the Israeli occupation army was acting as a policeman, a plaintiff, a General Prosecutor and a judge combined.

"This shows that non-Jews can't really obtain justice under the Israeli justice system. This is why the Palestinians need a third party to protect them from Israel's wanton criminality."

The Israeli army has not given really convincing reasons for its brutal onslaught against the Hebron charities. However, Israeli officials are saying privately at least that Israel is doing what the Western-backed Palestinian Authority wants.

Last month, an Israeli government official was quoted by the Israeli radio as saying that "what we are doing in Hebron is in the interest of (PA Chairman Mahmoud) Abbas."

The PA denies any connivance with Israel against the Hebron charities.

Niger: Radio Station Shut Down for Broadcasting Military Brutalities

Sahara FM, a privately-owned radio station based in Agadez, the largest city in the northern part of Niger, was on April 22, 2008, shut down indefinitely by the media regulator, the High Communications Council (CSC) for allegedly "inciting ethnic hatred and undermining the morale of the Army".

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)'s correspondent reported that the closure followed a complaint by the authorities over broadcast of testimonies of victims of military brutalities on Sahara FM between April 13 and April 17. Several of the victims claimed in a series of interviews, that they had suffered brutalities at the hands of Nigerien soldiers.

The complaint was filed by the Agadez Governor and Commissioner of Police and on April 18, Raliou Ahmed Assaleh, Director of Sahara FM and correspondent for Radio France International (RFI) in Agadez, was summoned to Niamey to answer the accusations

The soldiers had been deployed in Agadez's region to curb the ongoing rebellion being waged by the Tuareg's Movement of Nigeriens for Peace (MNJ), more than a year ago.

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Making a 'Killing' on the 'War on Terror'

 
Editor's Note: One of George W. Bush's long-lasting legacies may be what President Dwight Eisenhower might have called the "terror-industrial complex," a vast web of interlocking corporations, government agencies and consultancies that have turned the shock of 9/11 into a blank check against the U.S. Treasury.
 
In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ian S. Lustick looks at the ever-expanding size of this leviathan that is devouring tax dollars and American liberties:

Nearly seven years after Sept. 11, 2001, what accounts for the vast discrepancy between the terrorist threat facing America and the scale of our response?

Why, absent any evidence of a serious domestic terror threat, is the War on Terror so enormous, so all-encompassing, and still expanding?

The fundamental answer is that al-Qaeda's most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes, but to hijack our political system.

For a multitude of politicians, interest groups, professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and state governments and federal agency officials, the War on Terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, project, grant and contract proposals.

For the country as a whole, however, it has become a maelstrom of waste and worry that distracts us from more serious problems.

Consider the congressional response.

In mid-2003, the Department of Homeland Security compiled a list of 160 potential terrorist targets, triggering intense efforts by representatives, senators and their constituents to find potential targets in their districts that might require protection and therefore be eligible for federal funding.

The result? Widened definitions and blurrier categories of potential targets and mushrooming increases in the infrastructure and assets deemed worthy of protection.

By late 2003, the list had increased more than tenfold to 1,849; by 2004 it had grown to 28,364; by 2005 it mushroomed to 77,069; and by 2006 it was approximately 300,000.

Across the country, hundreds of interest groups recast their traditional objectives and funding proposals to reflect the new imperatives of the new war.

The National Rifle Association declared that the War on Terror means more Americans should own firearms to defend against terrorists. The gun control lobby argued that fighting the War on Terror means passing stricter gun control laws to keep assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

Schools of veterinary medicine called for quadrupling funding to train veterinarians to defend the country against terrorists using foot-and-mouth disease to decimate cattle herds. Pharmacists advocated the creation of pharmaceutical SWAT teams to respond quickly with appropriate drugs to the victims of terrorist attacks.

According to a 2005 report by the Small Business Administration (SBA) inspector general, 85 percent of the businesses granted low-interest SBA counterterrorism loans failed to establish their eligibility.

The SBA authorized 7,000 loans worth more than $3 billion, including $22 million in loans to Dunkin' Donuts franchises in nine states.

With a half-billion dollars in homeland security funds available for bulking up the counterterrorist and intelligence capabilities of state and local police and sheriff's departments, jurisdictions throughout the country scrambled to expand lists of potential threats.

By 2006, thanks to this flood of federal funding, more than 100 police departments had established some type of intelligence unit.

Other cities found more imaginative ways to combat terrorism.
In May 2007, Augusta, Ga., officials authorized spending $3 million to protect fire hydrants against terrorist tampering. This spending decision was recommended by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, which cited a 2004 government report labeling hydrants "a top vulnerability."

Not surprisingly, the American Waterworks Association warmly endorsed the idea of spending nearly $60 billion to protect fire hydrants nationwide.

Universities also have benefited from the ready availability of new grant and contract funds, creating graduate programs in homeland security, institutes on terrorism and counterterrorism, and proposals for academic conferences.
It is difficult to blame scientists and researchers for responding to government appeals to devote their talents to the War on Terror.

In 2004, I attended a lecture given by the official in charge of encouraging scientists to shift their research activities in this direction. We were told that no matter what topics we worked on, and whether we were natural scientists or behavioral scientists, our work likely could help in the fight against terrorism.

The official strongly encouraged us to submit grant proposals for projects based on "outside the box" thinking because, he said, there was plenty of money available.

Officially, the terrorist threat level is always and everywhere no less than elevated. The threat is constantly dangled before us: ports, border crossings, the milk supply, cattle herds, liquid natural gas tankers, nuclear power plants, drinking water, tunnels, bridges, subways.

The result: continued support for ever-increasing funding.

Within little more than half a decade America adjusted psychologically, politically and militarily to the Soviet enemy and its capacity to incinerate our cities on a moment's notice.

We came to know the Soviet enemy very well and were able to adopt prudent, realistic and successful policies in the face of genuine threats of national destruction posed by Moscow's nuclear arsenal.

Rather than let our fears and anxieties of Muslim fanatics drive policy, we need the same sober approach to the real but lesser threat posed by terrorists.

Ian S. Lustick is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Professor of Political Science and Director of Graduate Studies in the Political Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair. [This story originally appeared in The Hill.]

 

FBI wants widespread monitoring of 'illegal' Internet activity

The FBI on Wednesday called for new legislation that would allow federal police to monitor the Internet for "illegal activity."

The suggestion from FBI Director Robert Mueller, which came during a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing, appears to go beyond a current plan to monitor traffic on federal-government networks. Mueller seemed to suggest that the bureau should have a broad "omnibus" authority to conduct monitoring and surveillance of private-sector networks as well.

The surveillance should include all Internet traffic, Mueller said, "whether it be .mil, .gov, .com--whichever network you're talking about." (See the transcript of the hearing.)

In response to questions from Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, Mueller said his idea "balances on one hand, the privacy rights of the individual who are receiving the information, but on the other hand, given the technology, the necessity of having some omnibus search capability utilizing filters that would identify the illegal activity as it comes through and give us the ability to preempt that illegal activity where it comes through a choke point."

In response, Issa said: "Can you have someone on your staff designated to work with members of Congress on trying to craft that legislation?"

If any omnibus Internet-monitoring proposal became law, it could implicate the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, courts have ruled that police need search warrants to obtain the content of communication, and the federal Wiretap Act created "super warrant" wiretap orders that require additional steps and judicial oversight.

In addition, it's unclear whether "illegal activity" would be limited to responding to denial-of-service attacks and botnets, or would also include detecting other illegal activities, such as online gambling, the distribution of "obscene" images of adults engaged in sexual acts, or selling drugs without a license.

To be fair, Wednesday's discussion of the plan was geared toward cybercrime and the Bush administration's classified "cyberinitiative," which includes a shadowy program known as Einstein.

Some politicians have already raised concerns that even Einstein, which is described as dealing only with government networks and not private ones, could infringe upon the privacy rights of American citizens. It's already in place at 15 federal agencies, but Homeland Security has said it's still preparing the necessary privacy impact assessments for a proposed $293 million governmentwide Einstein expansion.

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Financial speculators reap profits from global hunger

Under conditions of growing debt defaults arising from the US subprime crisis, speculators and hedge fund groups have increasingly switched their investments from high-risk "bundled" securities into so-called "stores of value," which include gold and oil at one end of the spectrum and "soft commodities" such as corn, cocoa and cattle at the other. The article in the New Statesman points out that "speculators are even placing bets on water prices" and then concludes:

"Just like the boom in house prices, commodity price inflation feeds on itself. The more prices rise, and big profits are made, the more others invest, hoping for big returns. Look at the financial web sites: everyone and their mother is piling into commodities.... The trouble is that if you are one of the 2.8 billion people, almost half the world's population, who live on less than $2 a day, you may pay for these profits with your life."

Investment in "soft commodities" is currently highly recommended by leading market analysts. According to Patrick Armstrong, a manager at Insight Investment Management in London, "Raw materials can prove to be the best investment class for hedge funds because the market is so inefficient. This results in more chances for profit."

Much of the international speculation in food commodities takes place on the Chicago Stock Exchange (CHX), where a number of hedge funds, investment banks and pension funds have substantially increased their activities in the past two years. Since January of this year alone, investment activity in the agricultural sector has risen by a quarter at the CHX, and, according to the Chicago firm Cole Partners, involvement by hedge funds in the raw material sector has trebled in the past two years to reach a total of $55 billion.

Large-scale investors such as hedge and pension funds buy futures—shares in basic goods and foodstuffs to be delivered at a fixed date in the future. When the price of the commodity rises significantly between the time of the investment and the time of delivery, the investor is able to take home a large profit.

In light of the current food crisis, substantial returns of profit are guaranteed. According to CHX figures, wheat futures (for delivery in December) are expected to rise by at least 73 percent, soybeans by 52 percent, and soy oil by 44 percent.

Major ecological disasters, such as the recent drought in Australia, which hit food production and drive up basic commodity prices, are good news for the corporate investor.

Substantially reduced harvests in Australia and Canada this year have led to soaring wheat prices. Deutsche Bank has estimated that the price for corn will double, while the price for wheat will rise by 80 percent in the short term.

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Iraqis accuse Blackwater of shredding documents

Families of Iraqis who died in a shooting involving Blackwater Worldwide contractors accused the company Friday of shredding documents and destroying evidence.
Lawyers for the families made the accusations in court documents but identified the source of the information only as former employees. They said officials at the company's North Carolina compound shredded documents related to ongoing investigations sometime around March 18.
Company lawyers had no immediate comment Friday night, but they are quoted in court documents as saying Blackwater took appropriate steps to make sure documents were not destroyed.
Lawyers for the Iraqis do not say what investigation the documents relate to. Blackwater, a major security contractor in Iraq, is under scrutiny in several matters.
Most notably, its guards are under investigation for a September shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. There is no indication the Justice Department is investigating shredding as part of that case.
Family members are already suing the company for alleged wrongful death in connection with the September shooting, and they asked a judge Friday to let them add document destruction to that lawsuit.
The families also say Blackwater destroyed evidence by repainting and repairing its trucks after the shooting. The company has said the work was done to protect the guards from retribution and was approved by the State Department.
 
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National Bio Agro Defense Facility, The New Plum Island and a Frightening Legacy

The legacy of Plum Island Animal Disease Center is not one of promise and prosperity it is one of security breaches, enviromental releases and funding cuts. The funding and the grants will be of benefit to the business special interest, Academia and Universities not surrounding communities.  The community will be left with what New York residents are being left with, a dangerous bio hazard on a massive scale.  Ask yourself, Is the legacy of PIADC what you want for your children and  grandchildren? 

 The summary below is part of a petition. It outlines many issues that have not been part of the public debate. It appears here with the permission of the author,  Dr. Joseph Melamed,  Dr. Melamed recently had this to say about the lab, " This is not a political, economic, or race issue. It is a public health issue"

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Food Riots Erupt Worldwide

Food riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled them.

World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March -- an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone -- while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can't afford to feed themselves or their families.

Analysts have pointed to some obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.

But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.

Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral.

In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.

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B.C. shuts door on uranium projects

British Columbia has slapped an official moratorium on uranium exploration and development in the province, reinforcing a long-standing informal ban on the nuclear fuel and dashing the hopes of companies that hoped to take advantage of soaring prices for the commodity.

The ban, announced yesterday, makes B.C. a no-go zone for uranium and confirms a moratorium put in place in 1980 by a previous government responding to anti-nuclear sentiment in the province.

That moratorium lapsed in 1987 but subsequent governments did not move to update it, as companies focused their exploration campaigns on other metals and because there was a widespread view that uranium production would be unpopular in the province.

That changed in recent years, as uranium prices more than doubled and climate change concerns put emissions-free, uranium-fed nuclear power plants in the spotlight.

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Generation Rx

Generating $130,000 per second for Big Pharma



Common Radius Films is a private documentary and media development company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. GENERATION RX marks the first film partnership between the company and international award-winning writer/producer/director Kevin P. Miller. This film explores how children have been caught in the middle of an unprecedented change in Western culture: that of drugging children with psychiatric medications earlier — and more often than ever before.

GENERATION RX has already garnered the support of some of the most respected names in Hollywood, including writer/director Paul Haggis, who won back-to-back Academy Awards for "Million Dollar Baby," and "Crash." GENERATION RX, Mr. Haggis said, "is a powerful and often chilling eye-opener. Weeks after viewing, the stories continue to haunt me."

Israelis Claim Secret Agreement With U.S. - Americans Insist No Deal Made on Settlement Growth

A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office.

Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank. In an interview this week, Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed this understanding in a secret agreement reached between Israel and the United States in the spring of 2005, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza.

U.S. officials say no such agreement exists, and in recent months Rice has publicly criticized even settlement expansion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Israel does not officially count as settlements. But as peace negotiations have stepped up in recent months, so has the pace of settlement construction, infuriating Palestinian officials, and Washington has taken no punitive action against Israel for its settlement efforts.

Israeli officials say they have clear guidance from Bush administration officials to continue building settlements, as long as it meets carefully negotiated criteria, even though those understandings appear to contradict U.S. policy.

Many experts say new settlement construction undermines the political standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- who is to meet with Bush today at the White House -- and adds to Palestinian cynicism about the peace process. Palestinians view the settlements as an Israeli effort to claim Palestinian lands, and in a meeting yesterday with Rice, Abbas said settlement construction was "one of the greatest obstacles" to a peace deal.

U.S. and Israeli officials privately argue that Israel has greatly restricted settlement growth outside the settlements it hopes to retain in a peace deal with the Palestinians, and Olmert has said Israel has stopped building new settlements and confiscating Palestinian lands.

Housing starts -- not counting the Jerusalem settlements -- have declined 33 percent since 2003, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. But officials say it is politically damaging for Olmert to admit that, so instead he publicly emphasizes that he is adding to the settlements, which now house about 450,000 Israelis

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Iran invasion talk: The killing machine is revving up again

 
The nation's top military officer said yesterday that the Pentagon is planning for "potential military courses of action" as one of several options against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government's "increasingly lethal and malign influence" in Iraq.
 
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be "extremely stressing" but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said at a Pentagon news conference. Speaking of Iran's intentions, Mullen said: "They prefer to see a weak Iraq neighbor. . . . They have expressed long-term goals to be the regional power."

Mullen made clear that he prefers a diplomatic solution and does not expect imminent action. "I have no expectations that we're going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future," he said.

Mullen's statements and others by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently signal new rhetorical pressure on Iran by the Bush administration amid what officials say is increased Iranian provision of weapons, training and financing to Iraqi groups that are attacking and killing Americans.

In a speech Monday, Gates said Iran "is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons." He said war would be "disastrous" but added that "the military option must be kept on the table, given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat."

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who was nominated this week to head all U.S. forces in the Middle East, is preparing a briefing soon on increased Iranian involvement in Iraq, Mullen said. The briefing will detail, for example, the discovery in Iraq of weapons that were very recently manufactured in Iran, he said.

 

Israel's Air Force Chief: Iran Threat Real

The commander of the Israeli air force takes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats against Israel extremely seriously. Israelis must be ready for anything and ultimately trust only themselves, he believes, and for good reason: his family survived the Holocaust.

Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy speaks to 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon in a story about the Israeli air force this Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

"I think it is a very serious threat to the state of Israel, but more than this, to the whole world," Shkedy says of the Iranian leader's public animosity toward Israel. "They are talking about what they think about the state of Israel. They are talking about destroying and wiping us from the earth," he tells Simon. It reminds him of the Holocaust. "We should remember. We cannot forget. We should trust only ourselves."

The general likens ignoring Ahmadinejad today to the atmosphere that enabled the Holocaust yesterday. "In those days, people didn't believe that Hitler was serious about what he said. I suggest not to repeat this way of thinking, and to prepare ourselves for what they are planning," says Shkedy. "We should be prepared for everything."

 

Ship hired by US military fires warning shots in Gulf

A cargo ship hired by the U.S. military fired warning shots at approaching boats in the Gulf, the U.S. Navy said on Friday, underscoring tension in the region as the Pentagon sharpened its warnings to Iran.

According to American defense officials, the Westward Venture cargo ship chartered by the U.S. Defense Department was traveling in international waters when two unidentified small boats approached on Thursday.

After the boats failed to respond to radio queries and a warning flare, the cargo ship's security team fired "a few bursts" of machine gun and rifle warning shots, according to Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet.

"The small boats left the area a short time later," she said by telephone. "They were able to avoid a serious incident by following the procedures that we use."

The news helped push oil prices up more than $3 to $119.50 a barrel -- within striking distance of the record $119.90 hit earlier this week -- as traders worried escalating tensions in the region could eventually disrupt crude shipments.

U.S. defense officials, speaking only on condition of anonymity, first said they suspected the boats were Iranian.

But a Fifth Fleet spokeswoman quickly backed away from that charge.

"We cannot speculate on who they are. We just don't know. We have no proof of who they were," said Lt. Stephanie Murdoch, another spokeswoman for the Fifth Fleet.

In Tehran, an Iranian navy source denied that any confrontation had occurred with a U.S. ship in the Gulf. But the source, quoted by a journalist for Iran's state-owned Arabic Al-Alam TV channel, said any shooting that may have occurred could have targeted a non-Iranian vessel.

 

Could all this be coinciding with:

 

Pakistan, India close to finalizing accord on gas pipeline from Iran

An official says Pakistan and India are close to finalizing an agreement to build a pipeline to import natural gas from Iran.

The South Asian countries' petroleum ministers concluded the latest round of talks on the three-nation project Friday in Islamabad.

The proposed US$7.5 billion pipeline has been long delayed over Indian concerns about the safety of its portions in Pakistan.

The U.S. has opposed the project because of fears it will weaken efforts to isolate Iran, which it accuses of pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan Petroleum Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif says he expects the agreement to be concluded in a few days or weeks.

'The inside story of how the Bush administration pushed disinformation and bogus intelligence and led the nation to war'

 
It's a crisp fall day in western Virginia, a hundred miles from Washington, D.C., and a breeze is rustling the red and gold leaves of the Shenandoah hills. On the weather-beaten wood porch of a ramshackle 90-year-old farmhouse, at the end of a winding dirt-and-gravel road, Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski is perched on a plastic chair, wearing shorts, a purple sweatshirt, and muddy sneakers. Two scrawny dogs and a lone cat are on the prowl, and the air is filled with swarms of ladybugs.

So far, she says, no investigators have come knocking. Not from the Central Intelligence Agency, which conducted an internal inquiry into intelligence on Iraq, not from the congressional intelligence committees, not from the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. All of those bodies are ostensibly looking into the Bush administration's prewar Iraq intelligence, amid charges that the White House and the Pentagon exaggerated, distorted, or just plain lied about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda terrorists and its possession of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In her hands, Kwiatkowski holds several pieces of the puzzle. Yet she, along with a score of other career officers recently retired or shuffled off to other jobs, has not been approached by anyone.

Kwiatkowski, 43, a now-retired Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia (NESA) unit in the year before the invasion of Iraq, observed how the Pentagon's Iraq war-planning unit manufactured scare stories about Iraq's weapons and ties to terrorists. "It wasn't intelligence‚ -- it was propaganda," she says. "They'd take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong together." It was by turning such bogus intelligence into talking points for U.S. officials‚ -- including ominous lines in speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell's testimony at the U.N. Security Council last February‚ -- that the administration pushed American public opinion into supporting an unnecessary war.

Until now, the story of how the Bush administration produced its wildly exaggerated estimates of the threat posed by Iraq has never been revealed in full. But, for the first time, a detailed investigation by Mother Jones, based on dozens of interviews‚ -- some on the record, some with officials who insisted on anonymity‚ -- exposes the workings of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit and of the Defense Department's war-planning task force, the Office of Special Plans. It's the story of a close-knit team of ideologues who spent a decade or more hammering out plans for an attack on Iraq and who used the events of September 11, 2001, to set it into motion.

[ ... ]

The reports, virtually all false, of Iraqi weapons and terrorism ties emanated from an apparatus that began to gestate almost as soon as the Bush administration took power. In the very first meeting of the Bush national-security team, one day after President Bush took the oath of office in January 2001, the issue of invading Iraq was raised, according to one of the participants in the meeting‚ -- and officials all the way down the line started to get the message, long before 9/11. Indeed, the Bush team at the Pentagon hadn't even been formally installed before Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense, and Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy, began putting together what would become the vanguard for regime change in Iraq.

Both Wolfowitz and Feith have deep roots in the neoconservative movement. One of the most influential Washington neo- conservatives in the foreign-policy establishment during the Republicans' wilderness years of the 1990s, Wolfowitz has long held that not taking Baghdad in 1991 was a grievous mistake. He and others now prominent in the administration said so repeatedly over the past decade in a slew of letters and policy papers from neoconservative groups like the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Feith, a former aide to Richard Perle at the Pentagon in the 1980s and an activist in far-right Zionist circles, held the view that there was no difference between U.S. and Israeli security policy and that the best way to secure both countries' future was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem not by serving as a broker, but with the United States as a force for "regime change" in the region.

Called in to help organize the Iraq war-planning team was a longtime Pentagon official, Harold Rhode, a specialist on Islam who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi. Though Feith would not be officially confirmed until July 2001, career military and civilian officials in NESA began to watch his office with concern after Rhode set up shop in Feith's office in early January. Rhode, seen by many veteran staffers as an ideological gadfly, was officially assigned to the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, an in-house Pentagon think tank headed by fellow neocon Andrew Marshall. Rhode helped Feith lay down the law about the department's new anti-Iraq, and broadly anti-Arab, orientation. In one telling incident, Rhode accosted and harangued a visiting senior Arab diplomat, telling him that there would be no "bartering in the bazaar anymore. You're going to have to sit up and pay attention when we say so."

Rhode refused to be interviewed for this story, saying cryptically, "Those who speak, pay."

According to insiders, Rhode worked with Feith to purge career Defense officials who weren't sufficiently enthusiastic about the muscular anti-Iraq crusade that Wolfowitz and Feith wanted. Rhode appeared to be "pulling people out of nooks and crannies of the Defense Intelligence Agency and other places to replace us with," says a former analyst. "They wanted nothing to do with the professional staff. And they wanted us the fuck out of there."

The unofficial, off-site recruitment office for Feith and Rhode was the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose 12th-floor conference room in Washington is named for the dean of neoconservative defense strategists, the late Albert Wohlstetter, an influential RAND analyst and University of Chicago mathematician. Headquartered at AEI is Richard Perle, Wohlstetter's prize protege, the godfather of the AEI-Defense Department nexus of neoconservatives who was chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defense Policy Board. Rhode, along with Michael Rubin, a former AEI staffer who is also now at the Pentagon, was a ubiquitous presence at AEI conferences on Iraq over the past two years, and the two Pentagon officials seemed almost to be serving as stage managers for the AEI events, often sitting in the front row and speaking in stage whispers to panelists and AEI officials. Just after September 11, 2001, Feith and Rhode recruited David Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for AEI, to serve as a Pentagon consultant.

Wurmser would be the founding participant of the unnamed, secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon, set up in Feith's office, which would be the nucleus of the Defense Department's Iraq disinformation campaign that was established within weeks of the attacks in New York and Washington. While the CIA and other intelligence agencies concentrated on Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda as the culprit in the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Feith obsessively focused on Iraq. It was a theory that was discredited, even ridiculed, among intelligence professionals. Daniel Benjamin, co-author of The Age of Sacred Terror, was director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the late 1990s. "In 1998, we went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq," he says. "We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact." Indeed, that was the consensus among virtually all anti-terrorism specialists.

In short, Wurmser, backed by Feith and Rhode, set out to prove what didn't exist...

 

Ecuador’s Leader Purges Military and Moves to Expel American Base

Chafing at ties between American intelligence agencies and Ecuadorean military officials, President Rafael Correa is purging the armed forces of top commanders and pressing ahead with plans to cast out more than 100 members of the American military from an air base here in this coastal city.
 
Mr. Correa — who this month dismissed his defense minister, army chief of intelligence and commanders of the army, air force and joint chiefs — said that Ecuador's intelligence systems were "totally infiltrated and subjugated to the C.I.A." He accused senior military officials of sharing intelligence with Colombia, the Bush administration's top ally in Latin America.

The dismissals point to a willingness by Mr. Correa, an ally of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, to aggressively confront Ecuador's military, a bastion of political and economic power in this coup-prone country of 14 million people. Mr. Correa's moves mark a clear break with his predecessors, illustrating his wager that Ecuador's institutions may finally be resilient enough to carry out such changes after more than a decade of political upheaval.

The gambit also poses a clear challenge to the United States. For nearly a decade, the base here in Manta has been the most prominent American military outpost in South America and an important facet of the United States' drug-fighting efforts. Some 100 antinarcotics flights leave here each month to survey the Pacific in an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with drug traffickers bound for the United States.

But many Ecuadoreans have chafed at the American presence and the perceived challenge to the country's sovereignty, and Mr. Correa promised during his campaign in 2006 to close the outpost.

So far Ecuador's armed forces, arbiters in the ouster of three presidents in the last 11 years, have bent to the will of Mr. Correa, a widely popular left-leaning president who has sought to assert greater state control over Ecuador's petroleum and mining industries while challenging the authority of political institutions like the country's Congress.

Still, tensions persist over his clash with top generals, which emerged after Colombian forces raided a Colombian rebel camp in Ecuador last month. The raid against the rebel group, the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, put Ecuador and its ally Venezuela on edge with Colombia. Twenty-five people were killed, including Franklin Aisalla, an Ecuadorean operative for the group, known as the FARC.

 

2010: D-day for the Internet as it hits "full capacity"?

Doom-filled warnings arrive from AT&T this week. The company says that without substantial investment in network infrastructure, the Internet will essentially run out of bandwidth in just two short years.

Blame broadband, says AT&T. Decades of dealing with the trickle of bandwidth consumed by voice and dialup modems left AT&T twiddling its thumbs. The massive rise of DSL and cable modem service in the 2000s has had AT&T facing a monstrous increase in the volume of data transmissions. And that's set to increase another 50 times between now and 2015. That's enough, says AT&T, to all but crash the system.

In response, AT&T says it's investing $19 billion to upgrade the backbone of the Internet, the routers, servers, and connections where the bulk of traffic is processed.

Of course, AT&T is using this breathlessness in part to point fingers beyond simple broadband use. Web video (especially high-definition video) is the most commonly mentioned bandwidth hog. AT&T says video alone will eat up 80 percent of traffic in two years vs. just 30 percent now. One wonders how YouTube doesn't collapse under the pressure. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, many are wondering whether this is prelude to AT&T announcing (or not announcing, but doing anyway) a traffic prioritization/shaping system like Comcast has been tinkering with... and which has earned it nothing but scorn. Net neutrality (which would forbid premium pricing for certain Internet applications and destinations) is a topic that continues to be hotly debated on Capitol Hill, and telcos are anxious to kill the idea since they'd love to be able to charge additional money for different kinds of web traffic. If the whole Internet is about to crash, well, that makes AT&T's argument all the more compelling, doesn't it?

~ link ~

 

Hemp - the maligned plant

Hemp For Victory

1942 - U.S. gov't documentary

Hemp For Victory - A Global Warming Solution

Richard Davis of the USA Hemp Museum speaking on the need to use hemp to help solve the problem of global warming. The hemp plant makes a clean burning fuel and scrubs the air of excess CO2 gas.

Ford Hemp Car

Industrial Hemp can be used to produce many unexpected products. Most people know it is the sustainable alternative to cotton, but very few know it can also be used as building material or to make plastics out of. Henry Ford's hemp car is a great example of the many ways in which Hemp could be used as a sustainable alternative to petrochemical plastics.

Hemp Powered Car debuts in Washington, DC

Biodiesel from hempseed powered car rolls out at the 2001 NORML conference in Washington, DC., with tour from the owners.

Hemp History


Jack Herer explains why hemp is the #1 Natural resource


The Truth of Cannabis ( True Facts )


The Truth About Marijuana: When a Good Plant Got a Bad Name

How marijuana cures ailments, and how the lies about this plant have prevented people from seeing its true potential. "We are not talking about legalizing drugs,we are talking about giving another option to doctors who are educated enough to know what to suggest to patients" Contributing common sense advice about marijuana.

Ron Paul & Hemp for American Farmers


Ron Paul on marijuana, prohibition, and personal freedom

John Stossel's interview with Ron Paul. Ron talks about the failed War on Drugs, public perceptions , and solutions for returning to a sane policy in handling this issue.

Barack Obama Supports Marijuana Decriminalization

This is a video from 2004 in which Barack Obama expresses his support for marijuana decriminalization. Asked about this, the candidate has said this is still his position.

(Economist - 6/23/07)
Nowadays farmers are banned from growing hemp without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which usually refuses to grant one. So many hemp products in America—food, lotions, clothing, paper and so forth—are imported from China or Canada, where farmers have been allowed to grow hemp commercially since 1998.

Hemp grows so easily that few pesticides or even fertilisers are needed. "Feral" hemp is said to grow by the roadside in Iowa and Nebraska. Barbara Filippone, owner of a hemp fabric company called Enviro Textiles, says demand has rocketed—sales are growing by 35% a year. Nutiva, a California-based hemp company that sells hemp bars, shakes and oils, saw sales rise from under $1m three years ago to $4.5m last year. "Hemp is the next soy," predicts John Roulac, Nutiva's founder.

American farmers would love to grow hemp. North Dakota, which in 1999 became the first state to allow industrial hemp farming, has taken the lead. This week two farmers from the state filed a lawsuit to force the DEA to issue permits to grow hemp; the farmers had applied for permits back in February, thus far to no avail. Ron Paul, a Texas congressman and presidential candidate, could win over farmers in Iowa because of his pro-hemp lobbying. In February he introduced a bill in Congress that would allow Americans to grow it.

---------------------------------------- --

(Economist - 7/14/07)
Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, set up a special committee to come up with a solution to the nation's energy woes by July 4th, so that America's new political masters could declare "energy independence" on the same day their forebears renounced the colonial yoke.
But July 4th has come and gone, Ms Pelosi as yet has no energy bill and America is still just as firmly yoked to expensive, dirty, imported energy as ever. The price of oil is near the nominal record reached last year, and petrol costs well over $3 a gallon. Not only have the Democrats shelved any plan for limiting greenhouse emissions; they have also embraced two of Mr Bush's more pernicious ideas: using greenery as an excuse to dole out subsidies to ungreen lobbies; and claiming a bogus link between climate change and energy independence.

Sadly, however, the Senate's energy bill weds sensible steps on fuel economy and energy efficiency with all manner of less helpful, populist measures, including new anti-price-gouging rules aimed at big oil companies and hand-outs for farmers in the form of new incentives for expensive (and ungreen) corn-based ethanol.

The Democrats hold at least two suspect truths to be self-evident. Most obviously, they think that politicians should micro-manage energy policy, encouraging some technologies and neglecting others. That ignores most of the lessons of economics, but it is decidedly well grounded compared with the Democrats' other verity: that slowing global warming and reducing dependence on imported fuels go hand-in-hand. What sense does it make to give preference to American ethanol over the cheaper and more climate-friendly Brazilian sort? (Indeed, if you embrace the goal of "energy security", bigger imports of Brazilian ethanol might help, by reducing America's demand for oil from more hostile lands.)

The Democrats' leaders might calculate that it is worth dressing up an energy bill with patriotic talk and weighing it down with subsidies in order to buy political support for more contentious measures.

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