30 August 2006

This is What Happens When Trade Pacts Pit Worker Against Worker

This is What Happens When Trade Pacts Pit Worker Against Worker
By Teamsters President Jim Hoffa

July 14, 2006

Two months ago, the Teamsters sent an independent investigative reporter to Mexico to explore the inhumane conditions that drivers there are forced to endure. The findings, which will be released on www.teamster.org and to our membership next month, were startling: Most of the drivers interviewed said they had used illegal drugs to stay awake on the road. Many drivers interviewed said they had been involved in fatal accidents.

What does this mean for Americans? Right now, not much, since the Teamsters successfully lobbied Congress to require Mexican trucks to meet a series of environmental and safety requirements before they can deliver goods in the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But if the Bush administration has its way, these requirements will mean nothing. Tens of thousands of unregulated, unsafe Mexican trucks will flow unchecked through our border —a very real threat to the safety of our highways, homeland security and good-paying American jobs.

The Bush administration hasn't given up on its ridiculous quest to open our border to unsafe Mexican trucking companies. In fact, Bush is quietly moving forward with plans to build the massive network of highways from the Mexican border north through Detroit into Canada that would make cross-border trucking effortless.

The plans call for what's known as a NAFTA superhighway—a combination of existing and new roads that would create a north-south corridor from Mexico to Canada. The NAFTA superhighway would link Mexican ports with U.S. cities, bypassing U.S. entryways. It would allow global conglomerates to capitalize by exploiting cheap labor and nonexistent work rules and avoiding potential security enhancements at U.S. ports.

And Detroit is directly in the path as the busiest border crossing in the United States. Under Bush's plan, it will be the key entry point for Mexican trucks heading to Canada.

If the Bush administration succeeds, American drivers and their families will be forced to share the roads with unsafe, uninsured trucks, and millions more good-paying American jobs will be lost. And just one weapon of mass destruction in an unchecked container will be too many.

The blame does not lie with the Mexican truck drivers. They labor unconscionable hours for meager pay in a difficult struggle to support their families.

Flawed trade agreements that pit worker against worker are the real enemy. Corporations that believe profits are more important than public safety are what we should be fighting, not our exploited brothers and sisters.

NAFTA has been an unqualified disaster for working families. It hasn't lived up to the promises its advocates made in 1993. Instead of creating new jobs, American workers have lost 3 million jobs in manufacturing alone. Instead of creating trade surpluses, America is suffering through the worst trade deficits in its history.

NAFTA doesn't discriminate when it comes to hurting workers. Mexican workers have also suffered under NAFTA. Since its passage, more than a million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods. Real wages are also down significantly for workers south of the border. In fact, unfair trade agreements are devastating workers across all of Latin America.

Is it any wonder that illegal immigration is at an all-time high?

Millions of jobs and a $50 billion trade deficit later, Mexican trucking companies could soon enjoy a seamless point of entry directly into Detroit and other communities. It's exactly what large corporations want: Cheap Mexican-made goods driven by poorly paid drivers. And Bush shares these goals.

It's no surprise that the Bush administration is once again placing the insatiable greed of big business over the safety and economic security of Americans.

Mr. Hoffa's commentary originally appeared in The Detroit News on July 14, 2006.

28 August 2006

Rep. Harris: Church-state separation 'a lie'

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is "a lie" and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws."

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will "legislate sin," including abortion and gay marriage.

Harris made the comments -- which she clarified Saturday -- in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which interviewed political candidates and asked them about religion and their positions on issues.

Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

Electing non-Christians allows 'legislating sin'

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris said.

er comments drew criticism, including some from fellow Republicans, who called them offensive and not representative of the party.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, who is Jewish, told the Orlando Sentinel that she was "disgusted" by the comments.

Harris' campaign released a statement Saturday saying she had been "speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government."

The comments reflected "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values," the statement said, adding that Harris had previously supported pro-Israel legislation and legislation recognizing the Holocaust.

Harris' opponents in the GOP primary also gave interviews to the Florida Baptist Witness but made more general statements on their faith.

Harris, 49, faced widespread criticism for her role overseeing the 2000 presidential recount as Florida's secretary of state.

State GOP leaders -- including Gov. Jeb Bush -- don't think she can win against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November. Fundraising has lagged, frustrated campaign workers have defected in droves and the issues have been overshadowed by news of her dealings with a corrupt defense contractor who gave her $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Navigating the Storm: Report and Recommendations from the Atlantic Storm Exercise.

Volume 3, Number 3, 2005
©Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
After-Action Report
Navigating the Storm: Report and Recommendations
from the Atlantic StormExercise

Atlantic Stormwas a tabletop exercise simulating a series of bioterrorism attacks on the transatlantic community. The exercise occurred on January 14, 2005, in Washington, DC, and was organized and convened by the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC, the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins University, and the Transatlantic Biosecurity Network. Atlantic Stormportrayed a summit meeting of presidents, prime ministers, and other international leaders from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in which they responded to a campaign of bioterrorist attacks in several countries. The summit principals, who were all current or former senior government leaders, were challenged to address issues such as attaining situational awareness in the wake of a bioattack, coping with scarcity of critical medical resources such as vaccine, deciding how to manage the movement of people across borders, and communicating with their publics. Atlantic Stormillustrated that much might be done in advance to minimize the illness and death, as well as the social, economic, and political disruption, that could be caused by an international epidemic, be it natural or the result of a bioterrorist attack. These lessons are especially timely given the growing concerns over the possibility of an avian in- fluenza pandemic that would require an international response. However, international leaders can- not create the necessary response systems in the midst of a crisis. Medical, public health, and diplomatic response systems and critical medical resources (e.g., medicines and vaccines) must be in place before a bioattack occurs or a pandemic emerges.

read the full report at the link above.

Pitt scientists get $1.3M grant for bird flu vaccine

Pitt scientists get $1.3M grant for bird flu vaccine
By Jennifer Bails
Friday, August 25, 2006

University of Pittsburgh researchers said Thursday they have received a $1.3 million federal grant to begin production of a promising new bird flu vaccine they hope will protect people from the deadly virus.
Pitt virologist Dr. Andrea Gambotto announced in January he had genetically engineered a vaccine that protected 100 percent of mice and chickens from illness and death caused by a strain of avian influenza that has decimated poultry flocks and killed dozens of people in Asia.

For the past seven months, Gambotto has been awaiting money from the National Institutes of Health to begin clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in humans.

Thanks to the two-year grant awarded Aug. 1 by the NIH, production of a master batch and several additional lots of clinical-grade vaccine for those trials is beginning, said Gambotto, co-director of Pitt's Vector Core Facility.

We will go into production three weeks from now, and then test the quality of the vaccine," he said. "We hope that by the end of the year, or at least by early next year, we will have a product to do the clinical study."
The vaccine will be created and rigorously tested in Pitt's Good Manufacturing Practices laboratory, a "clean" facility in Hazelwood that meets the federal criteria for making biological products that will be administered to people.

It must then be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before clinical trials could begin. Meanwhile, the Pitt researchers will decide how those trials should proceed.

"We will probably compare intramuscular injection of the vaccine to intranasal use, but we have to define the number of patients and dosage escalation," Gambotto said.

Bird flu infects birds, but does not spread easily among humans.

Since 1997, 241 known human cases of infection with a strain called H5N1 have occurred in Asia and Europe, killing 141, according to the World Health Organization.

Most of the victims had contact with dead or sick birds, or their blood or excrement.

But health officials are ramping up efforts to prepare for a global bird flu pandemic, fearing the virus could mutate into a form easily transmissible from person to person.

There is no commercially available vaccine for people.

Last month, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline reported that low doses of its bird flu vaccine protected about 80 percent of 400 healthy people inoculated in Belgium.

Earlier this year, a vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur was shown to protect only about half of test subjects.

"They have not been very encouraging results," Gambotto said.

These vaccines were created by brewing a form of the H5N1 virus - stripped of the disease-causing gene - in fertilized chicken eggs.

The decades-old technology takes four to six months to complete. Another problem with these traditional killed-virus vaccines is they only protect against one viral strain - a major drawback since the bird flu virus appears to be evolving quickly.

Gambotto's first-of-its-kind vaccine is quick to make inside the controlled confines of a laboratory dish and could protect against many strains of avian influenza.

In a process that takes just a couple of weeks, he uses the genetic information from a particularly lethal strain of H5N1 to generate bits of key bird flu proteins.

Gambotto packs those protein fragments, called antigens, inside a relatively harmless cold virus that shuttles them into the body. The protein bits cannot cause disease, but are meant to prime the immune system to recognize and destroy the wild virus.

The vaccine triggered chickens and mice in Gambotto's animal studies to produce antibodies that attacked the invading virus. Unlike the other vaccines being tested, it also stimulated production of immune cells called T-cells that could give the vaccine power to target multiple strains of the ever-changing virus, he said.

"It would certainly be nice to have this vaccine should there be an outbreak of H5N1," leading bird flu expert Richard Webby, of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said when Gambotto reported his results.

Since that time, Gambotto has refined his vaccine by adding more antigens that could be used to stimulate the immune system to fight the bird flu, he said.

Gambotto is optimistic his vaccine could work, but he hopes the bird flu will never mutate into a pandemic form that makes its use necessary.

"Hopefully, our vaccine will only be a scientific exercise," he said. "This is the best vaccine."

Jennifer Bails can be reached at jbails@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7991.

Winning Hearts and Minds

Hezbollah winning battle to rebuild Lebanon
By David Enders
The Washington Times

EITA AL-SHAAB, Lebanon -- In this village near Lebanon's border with Israel, close to where Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two on July 12, almost all the houses have been damaged by Israeli shelling, air strikes or house-to-house fighting.

As Umm Ali shoveled glass and other debris from her living-room floor into a bucket, she said her family moved from room to room as different parts of the house were struck. The living room, now more of a porch, has one wall missing. The family of tobacco farmers also lost its crop.

"It's the same with every house. All houses are destroyed, every house. If not totally destroyed, they are damaged," she said. "We can't find a house to stay in. It is impossible to live in them. People are staying with their neighbors whenever there is a spot in a house."

It is estimated that 15,000 houses or apartments were destroyed across Lebanon during the monthlong hostilities and that 30,000 were damaged.

Still, Umm Ali remained undaunted.

"We will continue to sacrifice for the Sayyed," she said, referring to Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, using his religious title.

Over the weekend, Hezbollah began registering families for aid in Haret Hreik, a neighborhood in southern Beirut that housed Hezbollah offices and sustained severe damage. Bilal Naim, president of al-Mahdi Scouts, Hezbollah's youth organization, said that in Haret Hriek alone, 6,000 apartments were destroyed.

Hezbollah has been paying $12,000 in cash to cover a year's rent to families who apply -- and more if the family has more than eight members.

Hezbollah money might have come from Iran

A Western diplomat questioned on Monday whether Hezbollah could produce the amount of money it had promised -- estimated at $150 million to $180 million. The diplomat said the money Hezbollah was handing out came from Iran but offered no proof. Though Hezbollah receives money from Iran, many members of the group boast dual citizenships and collect money from inside Lebanon and from Lebanese supporters worldwide.

Hanady Salman, an editor at Al-Safir, one of the country's major newspapers, said that in addition to Hezbollah's rebuilding to strengthen its position in the country, Lebanese have been volunteering time and resources in the cleanup effort, saving the government as much as $100,000 a day.

"Hezbollah are doing a great job paying compensation and say they're getting lots of money from donations," Mr. Salman said. "Also, they have lots of people volunteering -- architects, civil engineers, people who just go there and offer to move the rubble. People who have trucks and are helping move the rubble and paying for their own petrol. We're witnessing something we've never witnessed before, this whole atmosphere of volunteering, donating, university students, housewives, Christians, Muslims."

The Lebanese state, which estimates the damage to its infrastructure at $3.5 billion, is planning its own reconstruction efforts but must wait for international donations to come through. But for now, Hezbollah remains the most direct source of help.

27 August 2006

Dark Armies, Secret Bases, and Rummy, Oh My!

This is somewhat "dated" material but worth a read:

Dark Armies, Secret Bases, and Rummy, Oh My!
Conn Hallinan | November 21, 2005

It would be easy to make fun of President Bush's recent fiasco at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. His grand plan for a free trade zone reaching from the Artic Circle to Tierra del Fuego was soundly rejected by nations fed up with the economic and social chaos wrought by neoliberalism. At a press conference, South American journalists asked him rude questions about Karl Rove. And the President ended the whole debacle by uttering what may be the most trenchant observation the man has ever made on Latin America: “Wow! Brazil is big!”

But there is nothing amusing about an enormous U.S. base less than 120 miles from the Bolivian border, or the explosive growth of U.S.-financed mercenary armies that are doing everything from training the military in Paraguay and Ecuador to calling in air attacks against guerillas in Colombia. Indeed, it is feeling a little like the run up to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Washington-sponsored military dictatorships dominated most of the continent, and dark armies ruled the night.

U.S. Special Forces began arriving this past summer at Paraguay's Mariscal Estigarribia air base, a sprawling complex built in 1982 during the reign of dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Argentinean journalists who got a peek at the place say the airfield can handle B-52 bombers and Galaxy C-5 cargo planes. It also has a huge radar system, vast hangers, and can house up to 16,000 troops. The air base is larger than the international airport at the capital city, Asuncion .

Some 500 special forces arrived July 1 for a three-month counterterrorism training exercise, code named Operation Commando Force 6.

Paraguayan denials that Mariscal Estigarribia is now a U.S. base have met with considerable skepticism by Brazil and Argentina . There is a disturbing resemblance between U.S. denials about Mariscal Estigarribia, and similar disclaimers made by the Pentagon about Eloy Alfaro airbase in Manta , Ecuador . The United States claimed the Manta base was a “dirt strip” used for weather surveillance. When local journalists revealed its size, however, the United States admitted the base harbored thousands of mercenaries and hundreds of U.S. troops, and Washington had signed a 10-year basing agreement with Ecuador .

The Eloy Alfaro base is used to rotate U.S. troops in and out of Columbia, and to house an immense network of private corporations who do most of the military's dirty work in Columbia. According to the Miami Herald , U.S. mercenaries armed with M-16s have gotten into fire fights with guerrillas in southern Columbia, and American civilians working for Air Scan International of Florida called in air strikes that killed 19 civilians and wounded 25 others in the town of Santo Domingo.

The base is crawling with U.S. civilians—many of them retired military—working for Military Professional Resources Inc., Virginia Electronics, DynCorp, Lockheed Martin (the world's largest arms maker), Northrop Grumman, TRW, and dozens of others.

It was U.S. intelligence agents working out of Manta who fingered Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leader Ricardo Palmera last year, and several leaders of the U.S.-supported coup against Haitian President Bertram Aristide spent several months there before launching the 2004 coup that exiled Aristide to South Africa.

“Privatizing” war is not only the logical extension of the Bush administration's mania for contracting everything out to the private sector; it also shields the White House's activities from the U.S. Congress. “My complaint about the use of private contractors,” says U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsy (D-IL), “is their ability to fly under the radar to avoid accountability.”

The role that Manta is playing in the northern part of the continent is what so worries countries in the southern cone about Mariscal Estigarribia. “Once the United States arrives,” Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez commented about the Paraguay base, “it takes a long time to leave.”

Life at the Triple Frontier

The Bush administration has made the “Triple Frontier Region” where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet into the South American equivalent of Iraq's Sunni Triangle.

According to William Pope, U.S. State Department Counterterrorist Coordinator, the United States has evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed spent several months in the area in 1995. The U.S. military also says it seized documents in Afghanistan with pictures of Paraguay and letters from Arabs living in Cuidad del Este, a city of some 150,000 people in the tri-border region.

The Defense Department has not revealed what the letters contained, and claims that the area is a hotbed of Middle East terrorism have been widely debunked. The U.S. State Department's analysis of the region—”Patterns of Terrorism”—found no evidence for the charge, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study found the area awash with money smuggling, but not terrorism.

It is the base's proximity to Bolivia that causes the most concern, particularly given the Bush administration's charges that Cuba and Venezuela are stirring up trouble in that Andean nation.

Bolivia has seen a series of political upheavals, starting with a revolt against the privatization of water supplies by the U.S. Bechtel Corporation and the French utility giant, Suez de Lyonnaise des Eaux. The water uprising was sparked off when Suez announced it would charge between $335 and $445 to connect a private home to the water supply. Bolivia's yearly per capita gross domestic product is $915.

The water revolt, which spread to IMF enforced taxes and the privatization of gas and oil reserves, forced three presidents to resign. The country is increasingly polarized between its majority Indian population and an elite minority that has dominated the nation for hundreds of years. Six out of 10 people live below the poverty line, a statistic that rises to nine in 10 in rural areas.

Bolivia in Focus

For the Bush administration, however, Bolivia is all about subversion, not poverty and powerlessness.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Paraguay this past August, he told reporters that, “There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways.”

A Rumsfeld aide told the press that Cuba was involved in the unrest, a charge that even one of Bolivia's ousted presidents, Carlos Mesa, denies.

A major focus of the unrest in Bolivia is who controls its vast natural gas deposits, the second largest in the Western Hemisphere. Under pressure from the United States and the IMF, Bolivia sold off its oil and gas to Enron and Shell in 1995 for $263.5 million, less than 1% of what the deposits are worth.

The Movement Toward Socialism's presidential candidate Evo Morales, a Quechuan Indian and trade union leader who is running first in the polls, wants to renationalize the deposits. Polls indicate that 75% of Bolivians agree with him.

Failed States and Intervention

But the present political crisis over upcoming elections Dec. 18, and disagreements on how to redistribute seats in the legislature, has the United States muttering dark threats about “failed states.”

U.S. General Bantz J. Craddock, commander of Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee: “In Bolivia , Ecuador , and Peru , distrust and loss of faith in failed institutions fuel the emergence of anti-U.S., anti-globalization, and anti-free trade demagogues.”

Bolivia has been placed on the National Intelligence Council's list of 25 countries where the United States will consider intervening in case of “instability.”

This is scary talk for Latin American countries. Would the United States invade Bolivia? Given the present state of its military, unlikely.

Would the United States try to destabilize Bolivia's economy while training people how to use military force to insure Enron, Shell, British Gas, Total, Repsol, and the United States continues to get Bolivian gas for pennies on the dollar? Quite likely.

And would the White House like to use such a coup as a way to send a message to other countries? You bet. President Bush may be clueless on geography, but he is not bad at overthrowing governments and killing people.

Will it be as easy as it was in the old days when the CIA could bribe truckers to paralyze Chile and set the stage for a coup? Nothing is easy in Latin America anymore.

The United States can bluster about a trade war, but the playing field is a little more level these days. The Mercosur Group of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay embraces 250 million people, generates $1 trillion in goods, and is the third largest trade organization on the planet. If the American market tightens, the Chinese are more than willing to pick up the slack.

A meeting last month of the Ibero-American heads of state turned downright feisty. The assembled nations demanded an end to the “blockade” of Cuba . The word “blockade” is very different than the word “embargo,” the term that was always used in the past. A “blockade” is a violation of international law.

The meeting also demanded that the United States extradite Luis Posada to Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 76 people.

If the United States tries something in Bolivia (or Venezuela), it will find that the old days when proxy armies and economic destabilization could bring down governments are gone, replaced by countries and people who no longer curtsy to the colossus from the north.

Conn Hallinan is a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org) and a lecturer in journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

26 August 2006

Iran, Its Neighbors and the Regional Crisis

The link above will click you to the entire PDF report from Chatham House. The report provides some very interesting insights into the perspective of the Iranians. The summary is below

Executive Summary
The Middle East is bedevilled by crises. The war between Hizbullah and Israel, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the instability in Iraq and the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme create a climate of deep unease. Iran is involved in all these crises, to a greater or lesser degree, and its regional role is significant and growing. In applying pressure on Iran to cease support for Hizbullah, to refrain from hostility towards Israel, to resist meddling in Iraq and to abandon any thoughts of nuclear military capability, the United States hopes for the cooperation of Iran’s regional neighbours. However, Iran has successfully cultivated relations with its neighbours, even those Arab and Sunni states which fear its influence, and is in a position of considerable strength.

Iran is simply too important – for political, economic, cultural, religious and military reasons – to be treated lightly by any state in the Middle East or indeed Asia. The wars and continued weaknesses in Afghanistan and Iraq have further strengthened Iran, their most powerful immediate neighbour, which maintains significant involvement in its ‘near-abroad’. The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region.
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has recently dominated its relations with the Western powers, but not those with its regional neighbours. Understanding the dynamics of Iran’s relations with its neighbours helps explain why Iran feels able to resist Western pressure. While the US and Europeans slowly grind the nuclear issue through the mills of the IAEA and UN Security Council, Iran continues to prevaricate, feeling confident of victory as conditions turn ever more in its favour. Iran’s domestic power structure is complex and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one of a number of players. His dramatic millenarian rhetoric attracts headlines, but the broader governing polity does share his robust conviction that Iran is the linchpin of a wide region and can maintain firm independent positions.

Iran views Iraq as its own backyard and has now superseded the US as the most influential power there; this affords it a key role in Iraq’s future. Iran is also a prominent presence in its other war-torn neighbour with close social ties, Afghanistan. The Sunni Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf are wary of Iran yet feel compelled by its strength to maintain largely cordial relations while Iran embarrasses their Western-leaning governments through its stance against the US. Syria and Iran enjoy an especially close relationship, as most clearly seen in their alliance against the US and Israel, and support for Hizbullah. Iran’s relationship with Lebanon is long and intricate and the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah in July-August 2006 may be partly seen in the context of the broader struggle between Iran and the US/Israel. Israel certainly views Iran as its greatest threat and the tension between the two has increased.

The relationship between Iran and Turkey pivots between friendship and rivalry but Turkey favours good relations and the avoidance of further regional instability. Russia is a significant economic partner to Iran, is heavily involved in its nuclear programme, and tends to take the role of mediator at the international level.

The recent rapprochement between Iran and Pakistan remains ambiguous while Iran and India have notably improved ties, mostly on the basis of Indian energy needs. Energy security and economic ties also dominate Iran’s relations with China and Japan.

23 August 2006

Dark Matter Exists

Dark Matter Exists
Sean at 11:52 am, August 21st, 2006
The great accomplishment of late-twentieth-century cosmology was putting together a complete inventory of the universe. We can tell a story that fits all the known data, in which ordinary matter (every particle ever detected in any experiment) constitutes only about 5% of the energy of the universe, with 25% being dark matter and 70% being dark energy. The challenge for early-twenty-first-century cosmology will actually be to understand the nature of these mysterious dark components. A beautiful new result illuminating (if you will) the dark matter in galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56 is an important step in this direction. (Here’s the press release, and an article in the Chandra Chronicles.)

You should really click through to this site... there are some very interesting clickable overlayed photo's that depict galaxies "passsing" through one another.

US made an offer Iran can only refuse

US made an offer Iran can only refuse
By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - Even before Iran gave its formal counter-offer to the permanent-five-plus-one countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China plus Germany) on Tuesday, the administration of US George W Bush had already begun the process of organizing sanctions against Iran.

Washington had already held a conference call on sanctions on Sunday with French, German and British officials, the Washington Post reported.

In Tehran on Tuesday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, delivered the official response to an international package to curb Tehran's nuclear program and suggested that Iran was prepared for "serious talks" with the six countries that extended the offer.

Details of Iran's 23-page written response have not been released, but they crucially are expected to confirm that Iran is not prepared to suspend uranium-enrichment activities without comprehensive security guarantees, especially from the US, in return.

The US has never been prepared to give such guarantees, and thus ends what appeared on the surface to be a genuine multilateral initiative for negotiations with Iran on the terms under which it would give up its nuclear program.

US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was reported to have said that his country would study the Iranian response "carefully", adding that "if it doesn't meet with the terms set by the Security Council, we will proceed to economic sanctions".

The history of the international proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, so that it could bring to a halt a multilateral diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program that the hardliners in the administration had always found a hindrance to their policy.

Britain, France and Germany (European Union Three - EU-3), which had begun negotiations with Tehran on the nuclear issue in October 2003, had concluded very early that Iran's security concerns would have to be central to any agreement. It has been generally forgotten that the November 14, 2004, Paris Agreement between the EU and Iran included an assurance by the EU-3 that the "long-term agreement" they pledged to reach would "provide ... firm commitments on security issues".

The EU-3 had tried in vain to get the Bush administration to support their diplomatic efforts with Tehran by authorizing the inclusion of security guarantees in a proposal they were working on last summer. In a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in July 2005, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy referred to the need to "make sure ... that we discuss with [the Iranians] the security of their country. And for this, we shall need the United States ..."

The EU-3 and the Bush administration agreed that the permanent-five-plus-one proposal would demand that Iran make three concessions to avoid UN Security Council sanctions and to begin negotiations on an agreement with positive incentives: the indefinite suspension of its enrichment program, agreement to resolve all the outstanding concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and resumption of full implementation of the Additional Protocol under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for very tight monitoring of all suspected nuclear sites by the IAEA.

That meant that Tehran would have had to give up its major bargaining chips before the negotiations even began. The Europeans wanted security guarantees from Washington to be part of the deal. Douste-Blazy said on May 8 that if Iran cooperated, it could be rewarded with what he called an "ambitious package" in several economic domains as well as in "the security domain".

The EU-3 draft proposal, which was leaked to ABC (American Broadcasting Co) News and posted on its website, included a formula that fell short of an explicit guarantee. However, it did offer "support for an inter-governmental forum, including countries of the region and other interested countries, to promote dialogue and cooperation on security issues in the Persian Gulf, with the aim of establishing regional security arrangements and a cooperative relationship on regional security arrangements including guarantees for territorial integrity and political sovereignty".

That convoluted language suggested there was a way for Iran's security to be guaranteed by the United States. But the problem was that it was still subject to a US veto. In any case, as Steven R Weisman of the New York Times reported on May 19, the Bush administration rejected any reference to a regional security framework in which Iran could participate.

Rice denied on Fox News on May 21 that the US was being "asked about security guarantees", but that was deliberately misleading. As a European diplomat explained to Reuters on May 20, the only reason the Europeans had not used the term "security guarantees" in their draft was that "Washington is against giving Iran assurances that it will not be attacked".

In light of these news reports, the public comment by Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif on May 27 is particularly revealing. Zarif declared that the incentive package "needs to deal with issues that are fundamental to the resolution" of the problem. "The solution has to take into consideration Iranian concerns."

Zarif seems to have been saying that Iran wanted to get something of comparable importance for giving up its bargaining chips in advance and discussing the renunciation of enrichment altogether. That statement, which departed from Iran's usual emphasis on its right to nuclear technology under the NPT, suggested that Tehran was at least open to the possibility of a "grand bargain" with Washington, such as the one it had outlined in a secret proposal to the Bush administration in April 2003.

The partners of the US made one more effort to persuade Rice to reconsider the US position at their final meeting in Vienna on June 1 to reach agreement on a proposal. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed in a talk with Russian media the following day, the issue of security guarantees for Iran was raised by the negotiating partners of the US at that meeting.

But the Bush administration again rebuffed the idea of offering positive security incentives to Iran. In the final text of the proposal, the European scheme for a regional security system was reduced to an anodyne reference to a "conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues".

The Europeans, Russians and Chinese knew this outcome doomed the entire exercise to failure. In the end, only the US could offer the incentives needed to make a bargain attractive to Iran. A European official who had been involved in the discussions was quoted in a June 1 Reuters story as saying, "We have neither big enough carrots nor big enough sticks to persuade the Iranians, if they are open to persuasion at all."

Despite the desire of other members of the 5+1 for a genuine diplomatic offer to Iran that could possibly lead to an agreement on its nuclear program, the Bush administration's intention was just the opposite.

Bush's objective was to free his administration of the constraint of multilateral diplomacy. The administration evidently reckoned that once the Iranians had rejected the formal offer, the US would be free to take whatever actions it might choose, including a military strike against Iran. Thus the June 5 proposal, with its implicit contempt for Iran's security interests, reflected the degree to which the US administration has anchored its policy toward Iran in its option to use force.

As Washington now seeks to the clear the way for the next phase of its confrontation with Iran, Bush is framing the issue as one of Iranian defiance of the Security Council, rather than US refusal to deal seriously with a central issue in the negotiations. "There must consequences if people thumb their noses at the United Nations Security Council," Bush said on Monday.

If the EU-3, Russia and China allow Bush to get away with that highly distorted version of what happened, the world will have taken another step closer to general war in the Middle East.

Gareth Porter is a historian and national-security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.

Lifting seven veils of the Iraqi illusion

Lifting seven veils of the Iraqi illusion
By Michael Schwartz

With a tenuous ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon holding, the ever-hotter war in Iraq is once again creeping back on to newspaper front pages and toward the top of the evening news.

Before being fully immersed in daily reports of bomb blasts, sectarian violence and casualties, however, it might be worth considering some of the just-under-the-radar realities of the situation in that country. Here, then, is a little guide to understanding what is likely to be a flood of new Iraqi developments - a few enduring, but seldom commented on - patterns central to the dynamics of the Iraq war, as well as to the fate of the US occupation and Iraqi society.

1: The Iraqi government - a group of 'talking heads'
A minimally viable central government is built on at least three foundations: the coercive capacity to maintain order, an administrative apparatus that can deliver government services and directives to society, and the resources to manage these functions.

The Iraqi government has none of these attributes - and no prospect of developing them. It has no coercive capacity. The national army we hear so much about is actually trained and commanded by the Americans, while the police forces are largely controlled by local governments and have few, if any, viable links to the central government in Baghdad.

Only the Special Forces, whose death-squad activities in the capital have lately been in the news, have any formal relationship with the elected government; and they have more enduring ties to the US military that created them and the Shi'ite militias who staffed them.

Administratively, the Iraqi government has no existence outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone - and little presence within it. Whatever local apparatus exists elsewhere in the country is run by local leaders, usually with little or no loyalty to the central government and not dependent on it for resources it doesn't, in any case, possess.

In Baghdad itself, this is clearly illustrated in the vast Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army and his elaborate network of political clerics. (Even US occupation forces enter that enormous swath of the capital only in large brigades, braced for significant firefights.)

In the major city of the Shi'ite south, Basra, local clerics lead a government that alternately ignores and defies the central government on all policy issues from oil to women's rights; in Sunni cities such as Tal Afar and Ramadi, where major battles with the Americans alternate with insurgent control, the government simply has no presence whatsoever. In Kurdistan in the north, the Kurdish leadership maintains full control of all local governments.

As for resources, with 85% of the country's revenues deriving from oil, all you really need to know is that oil-rich Iraq is also suffering from an "acute fuel shortage" (including soaring prices, all-night lines at fueling stations, and a deal to get help from neighboring Syria, which itself has minimal refining capacity). The almost helpless Iraqi government has had little choice but to accept the dictates of American advisers and of the International Monetary Fund about exactly how and what energy resources will be used. Paying off Saddam Hussein-era debt, reparations to Kuwait from the Gulf War of 1990, and the needs of the US-controlled national army have had first claim.

With what remains, so meager that it cannot sustain a viable administrative apparatus in Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, there is barely enough to spare for the government leadership to line their own pockets.

2: There is no Iraqi army
The "Iraqi army" is a misnomer. The government's military consists of Iraqi units integrated into the US-commanded occupation army. These units rely on the Americans for intelligence, logistics and - lacking almost all heavy weaponry themselves - artillery, tanks and any kind of air power. The Iraqi "air force" typically consists of fewer then 10 planes with no combat capability. The government has no real control over either personnel or strategy.

We can see this clearly in a recent operation in Sadr City, conducted (as news reports tell us) by "Iraqi troops and US advisers" and backed up by US artillery and air power.

It was one of an ongoing series of attempts to undermine the Sadrists and their Mehdi Army, who have governed the area since the fall of Saddam. The day after the assault, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki complained about the tactics used, which he labeled "unjustified", and about the fact that neither he nor his government had been included in the decision-making leading up to the assault.

As he put it to Agence France-Presse, "I reiterate my rejection to [sic] such an operation and it should not be executed without my consent. This particular operation did not have my approval."

This happened because the US has functionally expanded its own forces in Iraq by integrating local Iraqi units into its command structure, while in essence depriving the central government of any army it could use purely for its own purposes. Iraqi units have their own officers, but they always operate with American advisers. As US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad put it, "We'll ultimately help them become independent." (Don't hold your breath.)

3: Misleading decline in US casualties
At the beginning of August, the press carried reports of a significant decline in US casualties, punctuated with announcements from American officials that the military situation was improving. The figures (compiled by the Brookings Institution) do show a decline in US military deaths (76 in April, 69 in May, 63 in June and then only 48 in July).

But these were offset by dramatic increases in Iraqi military fatalities, which almost doubled in July as the US sent larger numbers of Iraqi units into battle, and as undermanned US units were redeployed from Anbar province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, to civil-war-torn Baghdad in preparation for a big push to recapture various out-of-control neighborhoods in the capital.

More important, when it comes to long-term US casualties, the trends are not good. In recent months, US units had been pulled off the streets of the capital. But the Iraqi army units that replaced them proved incapable of controlling Baghdad in even minimal ways. So in addition to fighting the Sunni insurgency, American troops are now back on the streets of Baghdad in the midst of a swirling civil war, with US casualties likely to rise.

In recent months, there has also been an escalation of fighting between US forces and the insurgency, independent of the sectarian fighting that now dominates the headlines.

As a consequence, the US has actually increased its troop levels in Iraq (by delaying the return of some units, sending others back to Iraq early, and sending in some troops previously held in reserve in Kuwait). The number of battles (large and small) between occupation troops and the Iraqi resistance has increased from about 70 a day to about 90 a day; and the number of resistance fighters estimated by US officials has held steady at about 20,000. The number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed - the principal weapon targeted at occupation troops (including Iraqi units) - has been rising steadily since spring.

The effort by Sunni guerrillas to expel the Americans and their allies is more widespread and energetic than at any time since the fall of the Hussein regime.

4: Most Iraqi cities have active local governments
Neither the Iraqi government nor the US-led occupation has a significant presence in most parts of Iraq. This is well publicized in the three Kurdish provinces, which are ruled by a stable Kurdish government without any outside presence.

It is less publicized in Shi'ite urban areas where various religio-political groups - notably the Sadrists, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Da'wa and Fadhila vie for local control, and then organize cities and towns around their own political and religious platforms. While there is often violent friction among these groups - particularly when they contest control of an area that is undecided - most cities and towns are largely peaceful as local governments and local populations struggle to provide city services without a viable national economy.

This situation also holds true in the Sunni areas, except when the occupation is actively trying to pacify them. When there is no fighting, local governments dominated by the religious and tribal leaders of the resistance establish the laws and maintain a kind of order, relying for law enforcement on guerrilla fighters and militia members.

All these governments - Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni - have shown themselves capable of maintaining (often fundamentalist) law and (often quite harsh) order, with little crime and little resistance from the local population. Though often severely limited by the lack of resources from a paralyzed national economy and a bankrupt national government, they do collect the garbage, direct traffic, suppress the local criminal element and perform many of the other duties expected of local governments.

5: Violence arrives with the occupation army
The portrait of chaos across Iraq that US news generally offers is a genuine half-truth. Certainly, Baghdad has been plunged into massive and worsening disarray as both the war against the Americans and the civil war have come to be concentrated there, and as the terrifying process of ethnic cleansing has hit neighborhood after neighborhood, and is now beginning to seep into the environs of the capital.

However, outside Baghdad (with the exception of the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, where historic friction among Kurds, Sunni and Turkmens has created a different version of sectarian violence), Iraqi cities tend to be reasonably ethnically homogeneous and to have at least quasi-stable governments. The real violence often only arrives when the occupation military makes its periodic sweeps aimed at recapturing cities where it has lost all authority and even presence.

This deadly pattern of escalating violence is regularly triggered by those dreaded sweeps, involving brutal, destructive and sometimes lethal home invasions aimed at capturing or killing suspected insurgents or their supporters.

The insurgent response involves the emplacement of ever more sophisticated roadside IEDs and sniper attacks, aimed at distracting or hampering the patrols. The ensuing firefights frequently involve the use of artillery, tanks and air power in urban areas, demolishing homes and stores in a neighborhood, which only adds to the bitter resistance and increasing the support for the insurgency.

These mini-wars can last between a few hours and, in Fallujah, Ramadi or other "centers of resistance", a few weeks. They constitute the overwhelming preponderance of the fighting in Iraq. For any city, the results can be widespread death and devastation from which it can take months or years to recover. Yet these are still episodes punctuating a less violent, if increasingly more rundown, normalcy.

6: Growing resistance movement in Shi'ite areas
Lately, the pattern of violence established in largely Sunni areas of Iraq has begun to spread to largely Shi'ite cities, which had previously been insulated from the periodic devastation of US pacification attempts. This ended with growing anxiety in the US administration about economic, religious and militia connections between local Shi'ite governments and Iran, and with the growing power of the anti-American Sadrist movement, which had already fought two fierce battles with the US in Najaf in 2004 and a number of times since then in Sadr City.

Symptomatic of this change is the increasing violence in Basra, the urban oil hub at the southern tip of the country, whose local government has long been dominated by various fundamentalist Shi'ite political groups with strong ties to Iran. When the British military began a campaign to undermine the fundamentalists' control of the police force there, two British military operatives were arrested, triggering a battle between British soldiers (supported by the Shi'ite leadership of the Iraqi central government) and the local police (supported by local Shi'ite leaders). This confrontation initiated a series of armed confrontations among the various contenders for power in Basra.

Similar confrontations have occurred in other localities, including Karbala, Najaf, Sadr City and Maysan province. So far, no general offensive to recapture any of these areas has been attempted, but Britain has recently been concentrating its troops outside Basra.

If the occupation decides to use military means to bring the Shi'ite cities back into anything like a US orbit, full-scale battles may be looming in the near future that could begin to replicate the fighting in Sunni areas, including the use of IEDs, so far only sporadically employed in the south. If you think US (and British) troops are overextended now, dealing with internecine warfare and a minority Sunni insurgency, just imagine what a real Shi'ite insurgency would mean.

7: Terrorism is tied to the occupation
Terrorism involves attacking civilians to force them to abandon their support for your enemy, or to drive them away from a coveted territory.

The original terrorists in Iraq were the military and civilian officials of the US administration of President George W Bush - starting with their "shock and awe" bombing campaign that destroyed Iraq's infrastructure to "undermine civilian morale". The US form of terrorism continued with the wholesale destruction of most of Fallujah and parts of other Sunni cities, designed to pacify the "hotbeds" of the insurgency, while teaching the residents of those areas that if they "harbor the insurgents", they will surely "suffer the consequences".

At the individual level, this program of terror was continued through the invasions of, and demolishing of, homes (or, in some cases, parts of neighborhoods) where insurgents were believed to be hidden among a larger civilian population, thus spreading the "lesson" about "harboring terrorists" to everyone in the Sunni sections of the country.

Generating a violent-death rate of at least 18,000 per year, the US drumbeat of terror has contributed more than its share to the recently escalating monthly civilian death toll, which reached a record 3,149 in the official count during July. It is unfortunately accurate to characterize the US occupation of Sunni Iraq as a reign of terror.

Sunni terrorists, such as those led by slain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have used suicide car bombs to generate the most widely publicized violence in Iraq - hundreds of civilian casualties each month resulting from attacks on restaurants, markets and mosques where large number of Shi'ites congregate.

At the beginning of the US occupation, car bombs were non-existent; they only became common when a tiny proportion of the Sunni resistance movement became convinced that the Shi'ites were the main domestic support for the US occupation. (As far as we can tell, the vast majority of those fighting the Americans oppose such terrorists and have sometimes fought them.)

As al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote, these attacks were justified by "the treason of the Shi'ites and their collusion with the Americans". As if to prove him correct, the number of such attacks tripled to current levels of about 70 per month after the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government supported the US devastation of Fallujah in November 2004.

Sunni terrorists work with the same terrorist logic that the Americans have applied in Iraq: attacks on civilians are meant to terrify them into not supporting the enemy. There is a belief, of course, among the leadership of the Sunni terrorists that, ultimately, only the violent suppression or expulsion of the Shi'ites is acceptable. But as Zawahiri himself stated, the "majority of Muslims don't comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it". So the practical justification for such terrorism lies in the more immediate association of the Shi'ites with the hated occupation.

The final link in the terrorist chain can also be traced to the occupation. In January 2005, Newsweek broke the story that the US was establishing (Shi'ite) "death squads" within the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, modeled after the assassination teams that the Central Intelligence Agency had helped organize in El Salvador during the 1980s.

These death squads were intended to assassinate activists and supporters of the Sunni resistance. Particularly after the bombing of the Golden Dome, an important Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, in March, they became a fixture in Baghdad, where thousands of corpses - virtually all Sunni men - have been found with signs of torture, including electric-drill holes, in their bodies and bullet holes in their heads. Here again the logic is the same: to use terror to stop the Sunni community from nurturing and harboring both terrorist car-bombers and anti-American resistance fighters.

While there is disagreement about whether the Americans, the Shi'ite-controlled Ministry of Defense or the Shi'ite political parties should shoulder the most responsibility for setting these death squads on Baghdad, one conclusion is indisputable: they have earned their place in the ignominious triumvirate of Iraqi terrorism.

One might say that the war has converted one of Bush's biggest lies into an unimaginably horrible truth: Iraq is now the epicenter of worldwide terrorism.

Where the seven facts lead
With this terror triumvirate at the center of Iraqi society, we now enter the horrible era of ethnic cleansing, the logical extension of multidimensional terror.

When the US toppled the Hussein regime, there was little sectarian sentiment outside of Kurdistan, which had long-standing nationalist ambitions. Even today, opinion polls show that more than two-thirds of Sunnis and Shi'ites stand opposed to the idea of any further weakening of the central government and are not in favor of federation, no less dividing Iraq into three separate nations.

Nevertheless, ethnic cleansing by both Shi'ite and Sunni has become the order of the day in many of the neighborhoods of Baghdad, replete with house burnings, physical assaults, torture and murder, all directed against those who resist leaving their homes. These acts are aimed at creating religiously homogeneous neighborhoods.

This is a terrifying development that derives from the rising tide of terrorism. Sunnis believe that they must expel their Shi'ite neighbors to stop them from giving the Shi'ite death squads the names of resistance fighters and their supporters. Shi'ites believe that they must expel their Sunni neighbors to stop them from providing information and cover for car-bombing attacks. And, as the situation matures, militants on both sides come to embrace removal - period.

As these actions escalate, feeding on each other, more and more individuals, caught in a vise of fear and bent on revenge, embrace the infernal logic of terrorism: that it is acceptable to punish everyone for the actions of a tiny minority.

There is still some hope for the Iraqis to recover their equilibrium. All the centripetal forces in Iraq derive from the US occupation, and might still be sufficiently reduced by a US departure followed by a viable reconstruction program embraced by the key elements inside of Iraq.

But if the occupation continues, there will certainly come a point - perhaps already passed - when the collapse of government legitimacy, the destruction wrought by the war and the horror of terrorist violence become self-sustaining. If that point is reached, all parties will enter a new territory with incalculable consequences.

Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology and faculty director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University, has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on US business and government dynamics. His books include Radical Protest and Social Structure and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo). His e-mail address is Ms42@optonline.net .

(Copyright 2006 Michael Schwartz.)

The peacekeepers of Penzance

The peacekeepers of Penzance
By Spengler

Like W S Gilbert's cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe's prospective peacekeepers have decided that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one". Europe's serious exercise in peacekeeping led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, when Dutch soldiers turned over Muslims in their charge to Serb death squads.

France offers no more than 200 engineers to join the peacekeeping force that the United Nations Security Council has mandated as a buffer on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The last time French peacekeepers ventured into Lebanon, a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 58 paratroopers. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appealed to Italy to lead the 15,000-strong UN force. The last time an Italian army confronted a well-armed and determined force in the region, at the Ethiopian battle of Adwa in 1896, the Italians suffered 70% casualties.

Otto von Bismarck pronounced the Balkans unworthy of the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, and Europe's governments seem unwilling to sacrifice a single soldier to maintain the peace in southern Lebanon. This raises the question: What is Europe's interest in the Middle East? The answer appears to be: To disappear and be forgotten with the least possible fuss.

A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. If this generation is the last, there will be no children for whom to sacrifice. Today's Europeans value their distractions and amusements more than they do prospective children. Germany's 2005 birth rate of only 8.5 per 1,000 inhabitants indicates that Europe is following the low variant of UN population estimates. These guarantee the virtual disappearance of the Europeans by the end of the present century.

Only 300 million Europeans, nearly half of them geriatric, will remain at the end of the present century against more than 700 million (including all of Eastern Europe) today. Europeans younger than 60 years of age now number about 560 million; that number will fall by only 150 million by the year 2100. This number excludes immigrants, overwhelmingly from the Middle East and Africa, who show no signs of assimilating as Europeans.

The number of Americans will exceed the number of Europeans, Russia included, by around the year 2080, although the aggregate numbers mask the true extent of the catastrophe, for nearly half of Europe's survivors will have reached retirement age. A fifth of Europeans are past 60 now; by 2050 more than a third will be above 60; and by the end of the century nearly half. The United States' elderly will number about 30%, so that the number of Americans younger than 60, at 280 million, will be close to double the number of young and working-age Europeans.

It might be objected that Europe's demographic catastrophe lies a generation hence, and that it need not determine European policy today. Just the opposite is true: it is Europe's present attitudes that dictate the demographic catastrophe. Europe began to die in the 1990s when deaths outnumbered births.

It seems unlikely that French diplomats deceived the world by promising French leadership and boots on the ground to enforce the latest UN ceasefire resolution. It simply is difficult to find volunteers to bell the cat. From this we should conclude that the so-called "international community" is an empty construct. The Europeans, Russia included, are the walking dead. Europe wants a quiet transition to the cemetery, while Russia plays spoiler indifferent to future consequences; whatever those consequences might be, very few Russians will be alive to see them. The United States is the only superpower not because no other Western country will have sufficient people to act like a superpower a century hence; the United States will have more people a century hence precisely because Americans think and feel like citizens of a superpower.

All that matters is the coming confrontation between the United States and Iran. Iran's own demographic future resembles that of Europe more than it does the United States. By mid-century, Iran's aged will compose nearly a third of its population, and its population pyramid will invert. Social and economic catastrophe threatens Iran, persuading its present leaders to establish a regional empire while they still have the opportunity.

The Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefire came into effect because Washington threatened Tehran with something extremely unpleasant if it continued to enrich uranium. Iran is not sure how far the United States will go, or how it should respond, and wants to buy time. That is why it kenneled its dogs in southern Lebanon, at least for the moment. Israel shrank before the number of casualties required to neutralize Hezbollah, and was happy to let the United States have a heart-to-heart conversation with the dogs' master. The rest of the matter, notably France's buffo part, is light farce.

What happens next is entirely up to Iran. I have predicted that Iran will remain intransigent, for it cannot abandon its last chance for a new Persian Empire. The Persians have been an annoyance since the Battle of Marathon, and it will not displease me to see them fail again. If Iran refuses to change course, nothing short of force of arms will keep it from building nuclear weapons, something the US is reluctant to employ. That would bury what is left of America's nation-building exercise in Iraq, and possibly throw the world economy into recession through much higher oil prices. The two protagonists are circling each other, while their proxy warriors - Hezbollah and Israel - lick their wounds and watch.

In the end, I believe the US will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. But the outcome is in Iranian hands. Even Nineveh repented and was saved after hearing Jonah's prophecy that it would be destroyed otherwise; who can tell if Washington's threats are as potent as the execution?

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

Venezuela’s Economy Continues Booming as Growth Hits 9.2%

Venezuela’s Economy Continues Booming as Growth Hits 9.2%
Saturday, Aug 19, 2006
By: Steven Mather - Venezuelanalysis.com
Caracas, Venezuela, August 19, 2006—Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 9.2% last quarter, while inflation and unemployment have both dropped three points over the last year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). This means Venezuela remains one of the world’s fastest growing economies. It has grown consistently for almost three years now.

Sustained high oil prices have provided a bonanza in dollars for the government and that undoubtedly fuels the rest of the economy. But growth in the oil industry—aside from actual oil production—was slow at 1.8%, while the non-oil sector grew by 9.9%. And, contradicting the socialist rhetoric of President Hugo Chávez the private sector grew by 10.3%, more than twice as fast as the public sector, which grew at only 4.6%.

However, though unemployment did fall 3 points over the previous twelve months from 12.6% to 9.6%, there aren’t enough jobs being created to absorb the young people leaving schools and universities. So, even though some 280,000 new jobs were created last year in the formal sector, 400,000 young people joined the world of work.

High growth rates are often associated with an increase in inflation due to the increase in demand for goods. And there has been an increase in that demand, but the Venezuelan government has battled with inflation, using exchange controls to fix the Bolívar (the local currency) at 2,150 to the dollar and regulating the banks so as to control the money supply. Price controls on food staples and the low price government subsidised Mercal stores also keep prices down. Mercal stores now account for about 50% of Venezuela’s grocery sales. Consequently, inflation has fallen from 14% to 11% over the last twelve months.

The artificially low value of the Bolívar has costs, however, as it makes imports cheaper relative to domestic goods. This may account for the relatively low 6.9% growth in domestic manufacturing.

"Overall, there are no significant investments in the manufacturing sector. This sector is using more than their installed capacity, but you can notice that in Maracay and Valencia (two north-central Venezuelan cities hosting major industrial zones) no new manufacturing plants have been built,” said Emilio Medina, economist at Carabobo University.

For an example of this, look no further than the balance of trade with the United States. Chávez may refer to President George W Bush as “Mr. Danger” and Bush may call Chávez a dictator, but trade between the two countries is soaring, reaching over $40 billion last year. Oil accounts for most Venezuelan exports to the US, but non-oil exports also increased by 116% in 2005.

In return, Venezuela imports many industrial products from the US. Car imports have significantly increased over the last year. General Motors sales have risen 28%. Computers and construction equipment imports have also grown from $4.8 billion to $6.4 billion.

So it would seem that capitalism is alive and kicking in Venezuela. But Chávez is a contradictory character. CANTV, the main Venezuelan telecommunications company, is in a dispute with its workers over pensions payments. The courts sided with the workers over the dispute, but the company has still failed to pay. Chávez intervened, saying, “If they don’t fulfill what is required, I’m going to nationalize CANTV.”

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Ongoing News, Views and Analysis from Venezuela

Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?

Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?
John Mueller
From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2006

Summary: Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

John Mueller is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University and the author of "The Remnants of War." He is currently writing a book about reactions to terrorism and other perceived international threats that will be published early next year.


For the past five years, Americans have been regularly regaled with dire predictions of another major al Qaeda attack in the United States. In 2003, a group of 200 senior government officials and business executives, many of them specialists in security and terrorism, pronounced it likely that a terrorist strike more devastating than 9/11 -- possibly involving weapons of mass destruction -- would occur before the end of 2004. In May 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that al Qaeda could "hit hard" in the next few months and said that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on U.S. soil were complete. That fall, Newsweek reported that it was "practically an article of faith among counterterrorism officials" that al Qaeda would strike in the run-up to the November 2004 election. When that "October surprise" failed to materialize, the focus shifted: a taped encyclical from Osama bin Laden, it was said, demonstrated that he was too weak to attack before the election but was marshalling his resources to do so months after it.

On the first page of its founding manifesto, the massively funded Department of Homeland Security intones, "Today's terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon."

But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?

One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad. But this explanation is rarely offered.


Instead, Americans are told -- often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks -- that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the United States is owed to the protective measures so hastily and expensively put in place after 9/11. But there is a problem with this argument. True, there have been no terrorist incidents in the United States in the last five years. But nor were there any in the five years before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the United States was doing much less to protect itself. It would take only one or two guys with a gun or an explosive to terrorize vast numbers of people, as the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., demonstrated in 2002. Accordingly, the government's protective measures would have to be nearly perfect to thwart all such plans. Given the monumental imperfection of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the debacle of FBI and National Security Agency programs to upgrade their computers to better coordinate intelligence information, that explanation seems far-fetched. Moreover, Israel still experiences terrorism even with a far more extensive security apparatus.

It may well have become more difficult for terrorists to get into the country, but, as thousands demonstrate each day, it is far from impossible. Immigration procedures have been substantially tightened (at considerable cost), and suspicious U.S. border guards have turned away a few likely bad apples. But visitors and immigrants continue to flood the country. There are over 300 million legal entries by foreigners each year, and illegal crossings number between 1,000 and 4,000 a day -- to say nothing of the generous quantities of forbidden substances that the government has been unable to intercept or even detect despite decades of a strenuous and well-funded "war on drugs." Every year, a number of people from Muslim countries -- perhaps hundreds -- are apprehended among the illegal flow from Mexico, and many more probably make it through. Terrorism does not require a large force. And the 9/11 planners, assuming Middle Eastern males would have problems entering the United States legally after the attack, put into motion plans to rely thereafter on non-Arabs with passports from Europe and Southeast Asia.

If al Qaeda operatives are as determined and inventive as assumed, they should be here by now. If they are not yet here, they must not be trying very hard or must be far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than the common image would suggest.

Another popular explanation for the fact that there have been no more attacks asserts that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, although it never managed to snag bin Laden, severely disrupted al Qaeda and its operations. But this claim is similarly unconvincing. The 2004 train bombings in Madrid were carried out by a tiny group of men who had never been to Afghanistan, much less to any of al Qaeda's training camps. They pulled off a coordinated nonsuicidal attack with 13 remote-controlled bombs, ten of which went off on schedule, killing 191 and injuring more than 1,800. The experience with that attack, as well as with the London bombings of 2005, suggests that, as the former U.S. counterterrorism officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have noted, for a terrorist attack to succeed, "all that is necessary are the most portable, least detectable tools of the terrorist trade: ideas."

It is also sometimes suggested that the terrorists are now too busy killing Americans and others in Iraq to devote the time, manpower, or energy necessary to pull off similar deeds in the United States. But terrorists with al Qaeda sympathies or sensibilities have managed to carry out attacks in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the past three years; not every single potential bomb thrower has joined the fray in Iraq.

Perhaps, some argue, terrorists are unable to mount attacks in the United States because the Muslim community there, unlike in many countries in Europe, has been well integrated into society. But the same could be said about the United Kingdom, which experienced a significant terrorist attack in 2005. And European countries with less well-integrated Muslim communities, such as Germany, France, and Norway, have yet to experience al Qaeda terrorism. Indeed, if terrorists are smart, they will avoid Muslim communities because that is the lamppost under which policing agencies are most intensely searching for them. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were ordered generally to stay away from mosques and American Muslims. That and the Madrid plot show that tiny terrorist conspiracies hardly need a wider support network to carry out their schemes.

Another common explanation is that al Qaeda is craftily biding its time. But what for? The 9/11 attacks took only about two years to prepare. The carefully coordinated, very destructive, and politically productive terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 were conceived, planned from scratch, and then executed all within six months; the bombs were set off less than two months after the conspirators purchased their first supplies of dynamite, paid for with hashish. (Similarly, Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City in 1995 took less than a year to plan.) Given the extreme provocation of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one would think that terrorists might be inclined to shift their timetable into higher gear. And if they are so patient, why do they continually claim that another attack is just around the corner? It was in 2003 that al Qaeda's top leaders promised attacks in Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen. Three years later, some bombs had gone off in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan (as well as in the unlisted Turkey) but not in any other of the explicitly threatened countries. Those attacks were tragic, but their sparseness could be taken as evidence that it is not only American alarmists who are given to extravagant huffing and puffing.


A fully credible explanation for the fact that the United States has suffered no terrorist attacks since 9/11 is that the threat posed by homegrown or imported terrorists -- like that presented by Japanese Americans during World War II or by American Communists after it -- has been massively exaggerated. Is it possible that the haystack is essentially free of needles?

The FBI embraces a spooky I-think-therefore-they-are line of reasoning when assessing the purported terrorist menace. In 2003, its director, Robert Mueller, proclaimed, "The greatest threat is from al Qaeda cells in the U.S. that we have not yet identified." He rather mysteriously deemed the threat from those unidentified entities to be "increasing in part because of the heightened publicity" surrounding such episodes as the 2002 Washington sniper shootings and the 2001 anthrax attacks (which had nothing to do with al Qaeda). But in 2001, the 9/11 hijackers received no aid from U.S.-based al Qaeda operatives for the simple reason that no such operatives appear to have existed. It is not at all clear that that condition has changed.

Mueller also claimed to know that "al Qaeda maintains the ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the U.S. with little warning." If this was true -- if the terrorists had both the ability and the intent in 2003, and if the threat they presented was somehow increasing -- they had remained remarkably quiet by the time the unflappable Mueller repeated his alarmist mantra in 2005: "I remain very concerned about what we are not seeing."

Intelligence estimates in 2002 held that there were as many as 5,000 al Qaeda terrorists and supporters in the United States. However, a secret FBI report in 2005 wistfully noted that although the bureau had managed to arrest a few bad guys here and there after more than three years of intense and well-funded hunting, it had been unable to identify a single true al Qaeda sleeper cell anywhere in the country. Thousands of people in the United States have had their overseas communications monitored under a controversial warrantless surveillance program. Of these, fewer than ten U.S. citizens or residents per year have aroused enough suspicion to impel the agencies spying on them to seek warrants authorizing surveillance of their domestic communications as well; none of this activity, it appears, has led to an indictment on any charge whatever.

In addition to massive eavesdropping and detention programs, every year some 30,000 "national security letters" are issued without judicial review, forcing businesses and other institutions to disclose confidential information about their customers without telling anyone they have done so. That process has generated thousands of leads that, when pursued, have led nowhere. Some 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, another 8,000 have been called in for interviews with the FBI, and over 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned in initiatives designed to prevent terrorism. This activity, notes the Georgetown University law professor David Cole, has not resulted in a single conviction for a terrorist crime. In fact, only a small number of people picked up on terrorism charges -- always to great official fanfare -- have been convicted at all, and almost all of these convictions have been for other infractions, particularly immigration violations. Some of those convicted have clearly been mental cases or simply flaunting jihadist bravado -- rattling on about taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch, blowing up the Sears Tower if only they could get to Chicago, beheading the prime minister of Canada, or flooding lower Manhattan by somehow doing something terrible to one of those tunnels.

One reason al Qaeda and "al Qaeda types" seem not to be trying very hard to repeat 9/11 may be that that dramatic act of destruction itself proved counterproductive by massively heightening concerns about terrorism around the world. No matter how much they might disagree on other issues (most notably on the war in Iraq), there is a compelling incentive for states -- even ones such as Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria -- to cooperate in cracking down on al Qaeda, because they know that they could easily be among its victims. The FBI may not have uncovered much of anything within the United States since 9/11, but thousands of apparent terrorists have been rounded, or rolled, up overseas with U.S. aid and encouragement.

Although some Arabs and Muslims took pleasure in the suffering inflicted on 9/11 -- Schadenfreude in German, shamateh in Arabic -- the most common response among jihadists and religious nationalists was a vehement rejection of al Qaeda's strategy and methods. When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, there were calls for jihad everywhere in Arab and Muslim lands, and tens of thousands flocked to the country to fight the invaders. In stark contrast, when the U.S. military invaded in 2001 to topple an Islamist regime, there was, as the political scientist Fawaz Gerges points out, a "deafening silence" from the Muslim world, and only a trickle of jihadists went to fight the Americans. Other jihadists publicly blamed al Qaeda for their post-9/11 problems and held the attacks to be shortsighted and hugely miscalculated.

The post-9/11 willingness of governments around the world to take on international terrorists has been much reinforced and amplified by subsequent, if scattered, terrorist activity outside the United States. Thus, a terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002 galvanized the Indonesian government into action. Extensive arrests and convictions -- including of leaders who had previously enjoyed some degree of local fame and political popularity -- seem to have severely degraded the capacity of the chief jihadist group in Indonesia, Jemaah Islamiyah. After terrorists attacked Saudis in Saudi Arabia in 2003, that country, very much for self-interested reasons, became considerably more serious about dealing with domestic terrorism; it soon clamped down on radical clerics and preachers. Some rather inept terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 inspired a similarly determined crackdown by Moroccan authorities. And the 2005 bombing in Jordan of a wedding at a hotel (an unbelievably stupid target for the terrorists) succeeded mainly in outraging the Jordanians: according to a Pew poll, the percentage of the population expressing a lot of confidence in bin Laden to "do the right thing" dropped from 25 percent to less than one percent after the attack.


The results of policing activity overseas suggest that the absence of results in the United States has less to do with terrorists' cleverness or with investigative incompetence than with the possibility that few, if any, terrorists exist in the country. It also suggests that al Qaeda's ubiquity and capacity to do damage may have, as with so many perceived threats, been exaggerated. Just because some terrorists may wish to do great harm does not mean that they are able to.

Gerges argues that mainstream Islamists -- who make up the vast majority of the Islamist political movement -- gave up on the use of force before 9/11, except perhaps against Israel, and that the jihadists still committed to violence constitute a tiny minority. Even this small group primarily focuses on various "infidel" Muslim regimes and considers jihadists who carry out violence against the "far enemy" -- mainly Europe and the United States -- to be irresponsible, reckless adventurers who endanger the survival of the whole movement. In this view, 9/11 was a sign of al Qaeda's desperation, isolation, fragmentation, and decline, not of its strength.

Those attacks demonstrated, of course, that al Qaeda -- or at least 19 of its members -- still possessed some fight. And none of this is to deny that more terrorist attacks on the United States are still possible. Nor is it to suggest that al Qaeda is anything other than a murderous movement. Moreover, after the ill-considered U.S. venture in Iraq is over, freelance jihadists trained there may seek to continue their operations elsewhere -- although they are more likely to focus on places such as Chechnya than on the United States. A unilateral American military attack against Iran could cause that country to retaliate, probably with very wide support within the Muslim world, by aiding anti-American insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq and inflicting damage on Israel and on American interests worldwide.

But while keeping such potential dangers in mind, it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 -- about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000).

Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist -- reminiscent of those inspired by images of the 20-foot-tall Japanese after Pearl Harbor or the 20-foot-tall Communists at various points in the Cold War (particularly after Sputnik) -- may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.

15 August 2006

U.S. Helped Israel Plan for Hezbollah Clash, New Yorker Says

This will be getting some airplay.... or will it?

Washington’s interests in Israel’s war.
Issue of 2006-08-21
Posted 2006-08-14

In the days after Hezbollah crossed fro Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidna two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack o Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bus Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s moment of clarification,” President George W Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why w don’t have peace in the Middle East.” H described the relationship between Hezbolla and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one o the “root causes of instability,” an subsequently said that it was up to thos countries to end the crisis. Two days later despite calls from several governments for th United States to take the lead in negotiations t end the fighting, Secretary of Stat Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire shoul be put off until “the conditions are conducive.
The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.
Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country’s immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”
The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, “The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

Click the link in the title above for the rest of the article. Their is more....

10 August 2006

Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth

This page features research conducted by RAND Health research staff that has been published in a scholarly journal.

Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth
Martino SC, Collins RL, Elliott MN, Strachman A, Kanouse DE, Berry SH. Pediatrics, Vol. 118, No. 2, Aug 2006, pp. e430-e441.
Read article (may require registration or payment on the Pediatrics website)

Early sexual activity is a significant problem in the United States. A recent survey suggested that most sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer to have intercourse; other data indicate that unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among those who begin sexual activity earlier. Popular music may contribute to early sex. Music is an integral part of teens' lives. The average youth listens to music 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day. Sexual themes are common in much of this music and range from romantic and playful to degrading and hostile. Although a previous longitudinal study has linked music video consumption and sexual risk behavior, no previous study has tested longitudinal associations between the content of music lyrics and subsequent changes in sexual experience, such as intercourse initiation, nor has any study explored whether exposure to different kinds of portrayals of sex has different effects.

Design and Participants
We conducted a national longitudinal telephone survey of 1461 adolescents. Participants were interviewed at baseline (T1), when they were 12 to 17 years old, and again 1 and 3 years later (T2 and T3). At all of the interviews, participants reported their sexual experience and responded to measures of more than a dozen factors known to be associated with adolescent sexual initiation. A total of 1242 participants reported on their sexual behavior at all 3 time points; a subsample of 938 were identified as virgins before music exposure for certain analyses. Participants also indicated how frequently they listened to each of more than a dozen musical artists representing a variety of musical genres. Data on listening habits were combined with results of an analysis of the sexual content of each artist's songs to create measures of exposure to 2 kinds of sexual content: degrading and nondegrading.

Outcome Measures
We measured initiation of intercourse and advancement in noncoital sexual activity level over a 2-year period.

Multivariate regression analyses indicated that youth who listened to more degrading sexual content at T2 were more likely to subsequently initiate intercourse and to progress to more advanced levels of noncoital sexual activity, even after controlling for 18 respondent characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships. In contrast, exposure to nondegrading sexual content was unrelated to changes in participants' sexual behavior.

Listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics is related to advances in a range of sexual activities among adolescents, whereas this does not seem to be true of other sexual lyrics. This result is consistent with sexual-script theory and suggests that cultural messages about expected sexual behavior among males and females may underlie the effect. Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content could help delay the onset of sexual behavior.