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« Reply #30 on: January 13, 2006, 09:53:03 PM »

Major U.S. attack may have killed Zawahri

Al-Qaida’s top operating officer thought to be at target site in Pakistan

U.S. officials told NBC News on Friday that American airstrikes in Pakistan overnight Thursday were aimed at the No. 2 man in the al-Qaida terror organization — Ayman al-Zawahri.

One official told NBC News that intelligence indicated a strong possibility that Zawahri was in the Pakistani village at the time of the airstrike, but there is no confirmation that he was killed. A senior Pakistani official told the Associated Press the target was a suspected al-Qaida hideout that may have been frequented by high-level operatives, possibly including al-Zawahri.

Pakistani officials say U.S. aircraft, apparently CIA Predator drones, fired as many as 10 missiles at the residential compound.

The attack came in the Bajur region of Northwest Pakistan, along the Afghanistan border.

The CIA Predators carry as many as four Hellfire missiles. Only last month, the CIA used a Predator to kill the No. 3 man in al-Qaida in a similar Hellfire strike in Pakistan.

Killing Zawahri would be a major victory for the United States in its war on terrorism. Zawahri, not Osama bin Laden, has emerged recently as the chief operator for al-Qaida.

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« Reply #31 on: January 13, 2006, 09:55:19 PM »

Bush, Merkel Take United Stance on Iran

 President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood together Friday in urging U.N. intervention if Iran does not retreat from a resumption of its nuclear program. The world needs to "send a common message to Iran that their behavior ... is unacceptable," Bush said.

Merkel used similar words, and she also condemned statements by Iran's leader challenging Israel's right to exist. "We will not be intimidated by a country such as Iran," she said.

 At a joint White House news conference, Bush rejected a plea by Merkel that the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be shut down. He called the four-year-old camp "a necessary part of protecting the American people."

It was one of the few disagreements the two leaders voiced after their White House meeting. It was the German leader's first visit to the United States since taking office last November.

Iran threatened earlier Friday to block inspections of its nuclear sites if confronted by the U.N. Security Council over its atomic activities. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his country's intention to produce nuclear energy.

Bush assailed what he called Iran's efforts "to clandestinely develop a nuclear weapon, or using the guise of a civilian nuclear weapon program to get the know-how to develop a nuclear weapon."

Taking the matter to the Security Council, as Germany, France and Britain recommended on Thursday, is the logical next step, Bush said.

"We want an end result to be acceptable, which will yield peace, which is that the Iranians not have a nuclear weapon in which to blackmail and-or threaten the world," Bush said.

On Guantanamo, Merkel said she raised the issue with Bush, and she described it as one of the differences between the United States and Germany. Germany opposed the war in Iraq.

"There sometimes have been differences of opinion. I mentioned Guantanamo in this respect," Merkel said.

Bush said, "I can understand why she brought it up because there's some misperceptions about Guantanamo."

He disputed reports that detainees there have been mistreated.

Bush said the prison camp would remain open "so long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there's a threat."

Ultimately, the U.S. courts will have to decide whether terror suspects can be detained in Guantanamo or must be processed through the U.S. judicial system, he said.

On another subject, Bush said he had "no idea" about the possible truth of reports that German intelligence agents actively helped U.S. forces in Iraq at the start of the war.

It was a reference to German television and newspaper reports that the government of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an outspoken opponent of the war, helped identify a bombing target in Iraq.

Germany's Federal Intelligence Agency said the reports were "wrong and distorted," although it did confirm that it had two agents in Iraq before and during the war.

"You did say 'secret intelligence,' right?" Bush said to the German reporter who asked the question. "The chancellor brought this up this morning, I had no idea what she was talking about. First I heard of it was this morning, truthfully."

On Thursday, Germany, Britain and France, backed by the United States, said talks with Iran had reached a dead end and urged that the issue be referred to the Security Council.

Trying to line up support, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone Friday to Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. But at the United Nations, China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, said referring Iran to the Security Council might toughen Tehran's position on its nuclear program.

What kind of sanctions the council might consider remained in dispute.

Both Bush and Merkel said they discussed Iran at length.

In two years of difficult negotiations between European nations and Iran, "Iran refused every offer we made," Merkel said.

"It's very important for non-transparent societies to not have the capacity to blackmail free societies," Bush asserted.

Merkel took power last November after an extremely close and protracted race with Schroeder.

Bush jokingly likened that race, which took almost two months to resolve, to his own victory in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore, which was decided only after weeks of suspense by a Supreme Court decision.

"We didn't exactly landslide our way into office," Bush said.

Eschewing the motorcade that usually transports world leaders to the White House, Merkel made the short trip to the White House from the Blair House guest quarters across the street on foot.

She and her sizable entourage walked through the White House gates trailed by empty black limousines and a fleet of silver German-made BMWs.

Schroeder's opposition to the U.S.-led war that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein so damaged the German's relationship with Bush that the president refused at times to speak to Schroeder on the telephone.

Merkel, by contrast, is more in tune with Bush's conservative politics.

Merkel also was to meet with members of Congress and planned to attend a ceremony at the newly renovated headquarters of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Despite her calls for a partnership with Washington, she has demonstrated a strong streak of independence, including her criticism of the Guantanamo Bay camp.

Germany rebuffed an appeal by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales not to release a terrorist accused of killing a Navy diver in a 1985 airplane hijacking.

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« Reply #32 on: January 14, 2006, 12:19:57 AM »

Ukraine Seizes Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Control Center

Created: 13.01.2006 13:59 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 18:21 MSK, 13 hours 55 minutes ago

MosNews

Ukrainian authorities have unlawfully seized control over the Yalta lighthouse, which is the control centre for the Black Sea Fleet’s hydrographic service, an official told the Interfax news agency on Friday. Earlier reports said that Ukraine had already tried to take control of the facility.

“At around 10-00 local time, Viktor Polishchuk, commander at the Yalta lighthouse, was denied access to the premises of the lighthouse thus being prevented from fulfilling his official duties by the Yalta port authority,” the source reported.

He reported that a group of representatives of the Ukrainian state-run company Gosgidrografiya, led by the head of the local branch of that company, Vladimir Kolpakov, had arrived at the lighthouse in three cars, with a view to seize control of the lighthouse.

“They have broken open doors to auxiliary facilities, seized the pass from the head of the lighthouse and refused to let Black Sea Fleet officials enter the territory,” the source said.

The command of the Black Sea Fleet has notified Ukraine’s authorities of the incident, the source said, adding that “the unlawful actions on the part of Ukraine were aimed at ignoring the bilateral agreements on the Black Sea Fleet and destabilizing the situation in the region”.

Earlier this month, the Black Sea Fleet said in a statement that the fleet command “does not intend to allow sites belonging to the fleet to be damaged”. The statement was made in connection with an attempt by unknown people to infiltrate the Yalta lighthouse on Jan. 6, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The statement said that “on January 6, at 1230 hours Moscow time, three men who said they were from the Sevastopol branch of the Ukrainian state company Gosgidrografiya tried to enter the territory of the lighthouse”.

Ukraine Seizes Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Control Center
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« Reply #33 on: January 14, 2006, 12:23:05 AM »

Muslims protest Christian state
13/01/2006 08:28  - (SA) 


Lusaka - Zambian Muslims on Thursday protested against the declaration of Zambia as a Christian state describing it as "irrelevant and discriminatory".

The ubgone86 Islamic Council of Zambia (HICZ) said the declaration of a Christian state would only work to despise and patronise other practicing faiths in the country.

HICZ spokesperson Sheikh Shaban Phiri said the declaration was contradictory to democratic principles. He said that with no clear-cut acknowledgement of the supremacy of God it created a serious predicament in the constitution.

The protest follows on the final draft of the republican constitution submitted to President Levy Mwanawasa on December 31 2005 which upheld the declaration of Zambia as a Christian state.

"What is this declaration serving in this constitution? One begins to wonder as to which of the two takes precedence. Is it the supremacy of God or supremacy of the Constitution?" Phiri asked.

About 80% of the 10 million Zambians are Christians belonging to various denominations, with Catholics being the most dominant and influential group. - Sapa-dpa

Muslims protest Christian state
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« Reply #34 on: January 14, 2006, 12:25:09 AM »

January 12, 2006     

A Fault Line for 'Intelligent Design'
By Louis Sahagun and Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writers

LEBEC, Calif. — Tucked in the raw folds of the Tehachapi Mountains, 63 miles north of Los Angeles and a time warp away in ambience, this town is not used to being the center of attention.

But this far-flung place, one of half a dozen close-knit communities in these mountains, has become the latest focal point in the national debate over teaching "intelligent design" in public schools.

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Usually, big news in the region is heavy snow shutting down Interstate 5. There are 15 houses of worship, all Christian, and many folks wear their religion on their bumper stickers. But plenty of big-city newcomers, who commute to jobs in Bakersfield and Los Angeles, prefer a solid gap between religion and the classroom.

The San Andreas fault literally cuts through town, and right here "red state is slamming up against blue state like tectonic plates," said Patric Hedlund, managing editor of the Mountain Enterprise, a local weekly.

"The people here are grappling with fundamental issues of free speech and separation of church and state," she said. "It's one of those divine moments where everybody is right, and we have to find out what the rules are."

Outsiders know this region as the Grapevine. Lebec, the place with the post office, was named after a 19th century pioneer killed by a grizzly bear. The local chamber of commerce refers to Lebec, Gorman, Frazier Park and other north Tehachapi hamlets as the "Mountain Communities." Locals call it "the hill."

As they ruminate and wrangle among themselves, residents feel swamped.

The TV news crews and their satellite trucks began prowling the rugged hills not long after word spread of a lawsuit filed Tuesday by 11 parents against El Tejon Unified School District, the first legal challenge to the teaching of intelligent design in California.

At the district office, secretaries say at least three dozen interview requests have poured in for Supt. John Wight, who was at a conference and unavailable for comment.

The hullabaloo erupted after disgruntled parents joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State to challenge a course at Frazier Mountain High School that they consider a minimally disguised endorsement of intelligent design.

School trustees approved the new course, "Philosophy of Design," at a special meeting on New Year's Day. Attorneys for the district suggested the course could survive a legal challenge if it was called "philosophy," the lawsuit said, and the board approved it on a 3-2 vote.

Hedlund's newspaper opened up five full pages to letters on both sides of the issue.

In one letter, Nicole Francus of Frazier Park called the course "an academic and legal disaster" that threatens to "take us all down a slippery slope."

"I'm not a biologist," countered Bob Anderson, another letter writer, "but the last time I looked, evolution was and is still an unproven scientific theory."

Intelligent design holds that some biological systems are so complex they could not have evolved through random mutations, as Darwin theorized, but must have sprung from the work of a larger master plan.

The course, which began Jan. 3, is scheduled to run for one month. The teacher is Sharon Lemburg, a special education instructor and the wife of a minister for the local Assembly of God Church, which supports fundamentalist Christian tenets about creationism.

An initial course description, which was distributed to students and their families last month, said "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

"Did God guide me to do this?" Lemburg asked, during an interview on the porch of her log house. "I would hope so."

Most of the reaction she's received has come from supporters or the media, with their e-mails and phone calls falling into three categories: "We support you, we're praying for you and … can we have you on our show?"

"It's scary," Lemburg said. "I just want to teach. I'm not out for big publicity."

A Fault Line for 'Intelligent Design'
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« Reply #35 on: January 14, 2006, 12:27:56 AM »

My favorite news story.....  Grin

Jan. 12, 2006
2:51 pm | Man uses Bible to fend off robber
AIMEE JUAREZ
ajuarez@charlotteobserver.com

A Rock Hill man leaving church Wednesday night used his Bible to shield himself from the blows of a man who tried to rob him, according to a Rock Hill Police report.

Timothy Driver, 38, was walking home from church shortly after 8 p.m., when a dark-colored vehicle pulled up to him in the 900 block of Annafrel Street, the report stated.

Someone in the vehicle asked Driver if he wanted to buy drugs, but Driver told him he did not. After parking the vehicle in the driveway of Northside School, the vehicle's driver, who was wearing a red tank top jersey and a multi-colored hat, got out and asked Driver if he had called his brother a racial epithet. Driver told them he did not, the report stated.

The driver then threatened to shoot the man if he didn't empty his pockets. The passenger got out of the vehicle as the driver pulled a wooden bat out of the trunk. The driver struck the man in the lower left leg and upper right arm. Driver used his Bible as a shield until it was knocked out of his hand, the report stated. The victim escaped toward Dave Lyle Boulevard. The suspects did not take anything from him.

The report does not say what church Driver had left. Officers checked the area, but were unable to find the men, the report stated.

2:51 pm | Man uses Bible to fend off robber Grin Grin
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« Reply #36 on: January 14, 2006, 12:37:06 AM »

Judge in biblical feud to run for Ala. governor
Roy Moore fired for refusal to rid court of 10 Commandments monument

Updated: 6:42 p.m. ET Jan. 11, 2006

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was fired in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state courthouse, officially entered the race for Alabama governor Wednesday.

Moore, 58, a fundamentalist Christian who supports school prayer and opposes gay marriage, paid a $1,927 fee to register for November’s gubernatorial race at the state Republican Party headquarters.

He is attempting to wrest Alabama’s top job from Bob Riley, a pro-business Republican. Riley has not officially registered to run again but has announced he will seek re-election, setting up a showdown with Moore in the June 6 primary.

Moore made headlines in 2003 when he defied a federal judge’s order to remove a 5,000-pound display of the Biblical Ten Commandments from a public area in the state judiciary building in Montgomery.

A federal judge ruled that the stone marker, installed by Moore and his supporters in 2001, violated the constitutional ban on government promotion of religion.

Moore, who was elected chief justice of the state Supreme Court in 2000, contended the order was unlawful because it countermanded his constitutional obligation to acknowledge God. The standoff ended when state officials removed the display.

Moore later was dismissed from his position on Alabama’s high court by a specially convened panel of mostly retired judges, but he has become a hero of the Christian right.

Judge in biblical feud to run for Ala. governor
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« Reply #37 on: January 14, 2006, 12:38:39 AM »

AP Exclusive: National ID, State Nightmare
AP Exclusive: National Uniform Driver's License Law 'Nightmare' for States
By BRIAN BERGSTEIN
The Associated Press

- An anti-terrorism law creating a national standard for all driver's licenses by 2008 isn't upsetting just civil libertarians and immigration rights activists.

State motor vehicle officials nationwide who will have to carry out the Real ID Act say its authors grossly underestimated its logistical, technological and financial demands.

In a comprehensive survey obtained by The Associated Press and in follow-up interviews, officials cast doubt on the states' ability to comply with the law on time and fretted that it will be a budget buster.

"It is just flat out impossible and unrealistic to meet the prescriptive provisions of this law by 2008," Betty Serian, a deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said in an interview.

Nebraska's motor vehicles director, responding to the survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said that to comply with Real ID her state "may have to consider extreme measures and possibly a complete reorganization."

And a new record-sharing provision of Real ID was described by an Illinois official as "a nightmare for all states."

"Can we go home now??" the official wrote.

States use a hodgepodge of systems and standards in granting driver's licenses and identification cards. In some places, a high school yearbook may be enough to prove identity.

A major goal of Real ID which was motivated by the Sept. 11 attacks, whose perpetrators had legitimate driver's licenses is to unify the disparate licensing rules and make it harder to fraudulently obtain a card.

The law also demands that states link their record-keeping systems to national databases so duplicate applications can be detected, illegal immigrants caught and driving histories shared.

State licenses that fail to meet Real ID's standards will not be able to be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building.

The law, which was attached to a funding measure for the Iraq war last May, has been criticized by civil libertarians who contend it will create a de facto national ID card and new centralized databases, inhibiting privacy.

State organizations such as the National Governors Association have blasted the law as well. Many states will have to amend laws in order to comply.

Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Real ID's principal backer, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said there is no chance states might win a delay of the 2008 deadline.

"We gave three years for this process," he said. "Every day that we continue to have security loopholes, we're at greater risk."

The August survey by the motor vehicle administrators' group, which has not been made public, asked licensing officials nationwide for detailed reports on what it will take to meet Real ID's demands.

It was not meant to produce an overall estimate of the cost of complying with Real ID. But detailed estimates produced by a few states indicate the price will blow past a February 2005 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated Congress would need to spend $100 million reimbursing states.

Pennsylvania alone estimated a hit of up to $85 million. Washington state projected at least $46 million annually in the first several years.

Separately, a December report to Virginia's governor pegged the potential price tag for that state as high as $169 million, with $63 million annually in successive years. Of the initial cost, $33 million would be just to redesign computing systems.

It remains unclear how much funding will come from the federal government and how much the states will shoulder by raising fees on driver's licenses.

"If you begin to look at the full ramifications of this, we are talking about billions and billions of dollars. Congress simply passed an unfunded mandate," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Every motorist in America is going to pay the price of this, of the Congress' failure to do a serious exploration of the cost, the complexity, of the difficulty."

The survey respondents and officials interviewed by the AP noted that many concerns might be resolved as the Department of Homeland Security clarifies its expectations for the law such as whether existing licenses can be grandfathered in before it takes effect May 11, 2008.

As of now, however, it appears little has changed since the survey described a multitude of hurdles.

Some examples:

The law demands that states mine multiple databases to check the accuracy of documents submitted by license applicants. Several states questioned how that will work, especially with confirming birth certificates. Iowa said it didn't think the states would be able to make the required vital-records upgrades within three years.

Some states' ancient computing systems will have to be overhauled in order to link to other networks. Minnesota runs a 1980s-era mainframe system; Rhode Island says its "circa 1979" COBOL-based network will require a $20 million upgrade.

Many states don't make drivers prove they are legally in the country, but the law will now demand such documentation. It also calls for states to run license applications through a federal database known as SAVE that was launched by a 1986 law aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from receiving federal benefits. One problem, though, is that the "SAVE database is notoriously unreliable ... months behind," said South Carolina's response to the survey.

After drivers submit documents to prove their identities, states will have to retain paper copies of those documents for at least seven years or digital images for 10 years. Some states fretted about the storage costs; others worried about how to capture images of all those files. Alabama's survey response called the project "massive," saying that while the state had the proper equipment at six licensing centers, "we do not have the resources to equip all of our 79 offices." Added Massachusetts: "This equipment is very expensive!"

Real ID requires that a license show someone's principal residence. But state officials object that a mailing address makes more sense for many people for "snowbirds" who spend time in two states, for example or for public officials who want to protect their privacy. "What should the procedure be for a person who lives in a RV?" asks South Dakota's report.

The law calls for a person's "full legal name," no nickname or abbreviations, on licenses. Cards have to be redesigned and databases must be reprogrammed to make room for extremely long names, likely up to 125 characters. That's not an easy process. By itself it accounts for $4 million of North Dakota's $5.9 million estimated impact.

Motor-vehicle employees will be subject to background checks, but several officials said it was unclear what would disqualify someone from being able to process licenses. Maryland's response said waiting for security clearances "could cause staffing shortage."

Real ID demands that all driver's licenses or ID cards have pictures that can be read by facial-recognition technology. That would end many states' practice of letting people with certain religious beliefs request not to have a picture. Tennessee, meanwhile, allows anyone older than 60 to get a "valid without photo" license.

"If you take any one of these things individually, you see a significant problem," Steinhardt said. "There are literally hundreds of these problems embedded in Real ID, and the statute doesn't give you a way out. It's black and white. No exceptions, no reality check.

"In many respects it's a statute that ignores reality."

AP Exclusive: National ID, State Nightmare
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« Reply #38 on: January 14, 2006, 12:54:23 AM »

Russia to Start Construction of Floating Nuclear Power Plant in 2006

Created: 13.01.2006 12:51 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 12:51 MSK, 19 hours 59 minutes ago

MosNews

The practical implementation of the floating nuclear power plant project will start in 2006, read an official statement of the Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy — Rosatom — that was published on Thursday, Jan. 12.

“In 2006, the Rosenergoatom (Russian state concern for the production of electric and heat energy at nuclear plants) will start the practical implementation of the project of a pioneer floating nuclear heating and power plant of small capacity (NHPP of SC) in Severodvinsk,” a Rosatom representative was quoted by the Itar-Tass agency.

“Before New Year’s Eve, a directorate of floating nuclear power plants under construction was set up in Rosenergoatom, which is the concern’s subsidiary and which will be overseeing the work to build the first NHPP,” Rosatom noted. The former deputy presidential representative in the Volga Federal District, Sergey Obozov, has been appointed director of this department and deputy director-general of the concern.

Rosatom stressed that the project of the pioneer NHPP of small capacity based on a floating generating set (FGS) with KLT-40S reactor blocks “has been completed and is ready for practical implementation”. The project will be implemented according to the federal targeted-development program called “Energy-efficient economy for 2002-2005 and in the long term up to 2010”. It is planned to station standard models of the plant at platforms at the Vilyuchinsk closed administrative-territorial entity in the Kamchatka region, as well as in the town of Pivek in the Chukotka Autonomous Area, Rosatom specified.

Rosatom explained that the plant’s life cycle, including its construction, use, major repairs of the floating generating set, its recycling and training of personnel, “will be fully ensured by the current infrastructure of the Russian nuclear industry”. The floating generating set will be built at a shipbuilding enterprise and will be commissioned fully ready for use. It will be serviced by way of shifts which will be changed every four months. Work needed to reload nuclear fuel and store spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste will be carried out on board the NHPP. The major repairs of the floating generating set will be carried out at a shipbuilding enterprise. Rosatom also specified that “the personnel will be trained at the navy training centre in Obninsk in the Kaluga region, where study rooms and a training machine have now been reserved”.

Rosatom noted that “the projects of reactor blocks for floating NPPs (FNPP) of 3 to 40 MW capacity for work in the conditions of the extreme north, Kamchatka and Far East have been developed” at the Afrikantova experimental design office of mechanical engineering in Nizhniy Novgorod. The cost of building a floating NPP with a capacity of 3 MW amounts to just $20 million. The service life of such a floating NPP is 50 years. Fuel is reloaded once every 10-12 years.

Rosatom noted that “the [degree of] enrichment of uranium in fuel for such floating NPPs is less than 20 percent, which meets the IAEA’s [International Atomic Energy Agency] requirements on non-proliferation and ensures the possibility of export use of such plants by Russia”.

Russia to Start Construction of Floating Nuclear Power Plant in 2006
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« Reply #39 on: January 14, 2006, 10:49:30 PM »

Ohio High School Porn Homework Canceled
Jan 13 4:03 PM US/Eastern

BROOKLYN, Ohio

A high school research assignment on Internet pornography was canceled after parents in this Cleveland suburb complained.

Superintendent Jeff Lampert said that although the teacher's apparent goal _ to discuss the harmful effects of pornography _ was well- intentioned, he agreed with parents that the assignment was inappropriate for 14- and 15-year-old freshmen at Brooklyn High.

The assignment asked students to research pornography on the Internet and list eight facts about pornography. Students also were asked to write their personal views of pornography and any experience they had with it.

Lampert said he doubted the teacher would face any punishment.

Ohio High School Porn Homework Canceled
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« Reply #40 on: January 14, 2006, 11:02:49 PM »

Bush says won't prejudge U.N. action on Iran
Fri Jan 13, 2006 9:35 PM ET173
         

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush said on Friday he was not going to prejudge what the United Nations Security Council would do if Iran is brought before the 15-member Council over its nuclear program.

"I'm not going to prejudge what the United Nations Security Council should do," Bush said, asked if he expected sanctions to be imposed on Iran.

"But I recognize that it's logical that a country which has rejected diplomatic entreaties be sent to the United Nations Security Council."

Bush, speaking to reporters after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also said the United States is seeking to resolve the crisis over Iran by diplomatic means.

"We've got an important job ahead of us to work on key issues like Iran. We spent some time talking about the Iranian issue and the desire to solve this issue diplomatically by working together," he said.

Merkel also said the Europeans and the United States should work together on Iran and that they would not be intimidated by a country that had made "totally unacceptable" comments such as questioning the right of Israel to exist.

"It's essential we feel that the EU-3 together with the United States take a common position here, become active, that we try to persuade as many other countries as possible ... to ally themselves with us, and we will certainly not be intimidated by a country such as Iran," Merkel said.

Bush says won't prejudge U.N. action on Iran
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« Reply #41 on: January 15, 2006, 12:30:20 AM »

National ID, State Nightmare

AP Exclusive: National Uniform Driver's License Law 'Nightmare' for States
By BRIAN BERGSTEIN
The Associated Press

- An anti-terrorism law creating a national standard for all driver's licenses by 2008 isn't upsetting just civil libertarians and immigration rights activists.

State motor vehicle officials nationwide who will have to carry out the Real ID Act say its authors grossly underestimated its logistical, technological and financial demands.

In a comprehensive survey obtained by The Associated Press and in follow-up interviews, officials cast doubt on the states' ability to comply with the law on time and fretted that it will be a budget buster.

"It is just flat out impossible and unrealistic to meet the prescriptive provisions of this law by 2008," Betty Serian, a deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said in an interview.

Nebraska's motor vehicles director, responding to the survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said that to comply with Real ID her state "may have to consider extreme measures and possibly a complete reorganization."

And a new record-sharing provision of Real ID was described by an Illinois official as "a nightmare for all states."

"Can we go home now??" the official wrote.

States use a hodgepodge of systems and standards in granting driver's licenses and identification cards. In some places, a high school yearbook may be enough to prove identity.

A major goal of Real ID which was motivated by the Sept. 11 attacks, whose perpetrators had legitimate driver's licenses is to unify the disparate licensing rules and make it harder to fraudulently obtain a card.

The law also demands that states link their record-keeping systems to national databases so duplicate applications can be detected, illegal immigrants caught and driving histories shared.

State licenses that fail to meet Real ID's standards will not be able to be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building.

The law, which was attached to a funding measure for the Iraq war last May, has been criticized by civil libertarians who contend it will create a de facto national ID card and new centralized databases, inhibiting privacy.

State organizations such as the National Governors Association have blasted the law as well. Many states will have to amend laws in order to comply.

Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Real ID's principal backer, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said there is no chance states might win a delay of the 2008 deadline.

"We gave three years for this process," he said. "Every day that we continue to have security loopholes, we're at greater risk."

The August survey by the motor vehicle administrators' group, which has not been made public, asked licensing officials nationwide for detailed reports on what it will take to meet Real ID's demands.

It was not meant to produce an overall estimate of the cost of complying with Real ID. But detailed estimates produced by a few states indicate the price will blow past a February 2005 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated Congress would need to spend $100 million reimbursing states.

Pennsylvania alone estimated a hit of up to $85 million. Washington state projected at least $46 million annually in the first several years.

Separately, a December report to Virginia's governor pegged the potential price tag for that state as high as $169 million, with $63 million annually in successive years. Of the initial cost, $33 million would be just to redesign computing systems.

It remains unclear how much funding will come from the federal government and how much the states will shoulder by raising fees on driver's licenses.

"If you begin to look at the full ramifications of this, we are talking about billions and billions of dollars. Congress simply passed an unfunded mandate," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Every motorist in America is going to pay the price of this, of the Congress' failure to do a serious exploration of the cost, the complexity, of the difficulty."

The survey respondents and officials interviewed by the AP noted that many concerns might be resolved as the Department of Homeland Security clarifies its expectations for the law such as whether existing licenses can be grandfathered in before it takes effect May 11, 2008.

As of now, however, it appears little has changed since the survey described a multitude of hurdles.

Some examples:

The law demands that states mine multiple databases to check the accuracy of documents submitted by license applicants. Several states questioned how that will work, especially with confirming birth certificates. Iowa said it didn't think the states would be able to make the required vital-records upgrades within three years.

Some states' ancient computing systems will have to be overhauled in order to link to other networks. Minnesota runs a 1980s-era mainframe system; Rhode Island says its "circa 1979" COBOL-based network will require a $20 million upgrade.

Many states don't make drivers prove they are legally in the country, but the law will now demand such documentation. It also calls for states to run license applications through a federal database known as SAVE that was launched by a 1986 law aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from receiving federal benefits. One problem, though, is that the "SAVE database is notoriously unreliable ... months behind," said South Carolina's response to the survey.

After drivers submit documents to prove their identities, states will have to retain paper copies of those documents for at least seven years or digital images for 10 years. Some states fretted about the storage costs; others worried about how to capture images of all those files. Alabama's survey response called the project "massive," saying that while the state had the proper equipment at six licensing centers, "we do not have the resources to equip all of our 79 offices." Added Massachusetts: "This equipment is very expensive!"

Real ID requires that a license show someone's principal residence. But state officials object that a mailing address makes more sense for many people for "snowbirds" who spend time in two states, for example or for public officials who want to protect their privacy. "What should the procedure be for a person who lives in a RV?" asks South Dakota's report.

The law calls for a person's "full legal name," no nickname or abbreviations, on licenses. Cards have to be redesigned and databases must be reprogrammed to make room for extremely long names, likely up to 125 characters. That's not an easy process. By itself it accounts for $4 million of North Dakota's $5.9 million estimated impact.

Motor-vehicle employees will be subject to background checks, but several officials said it was unclear what would disqualify someone from being able to process licenses. Maryland's response said waiting for security clearances "could cause staffing shortage."

Real ID demands that all driver's licenses or ID cards have pictures that can be read by facial-recognition technology. That would end many states' practice of letting people with certain religious beliefs request not to have a picture. Tennessee, meanwhile, allows anyone older than 60 to get a "valid without photo" license.

"If you take any one of these things individually, you see a significant problem," Steinhardt said. "There are literally hundreds of these problems embedded in Real ID, and the statute doesn't give you a way out. It's black and white. No exceptions, no reality check.

"In many respects it's a statute that ignores reality."

National ID, State Nightmare
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« Reply #42 on: January 15, 2006, 03:33:17 AM »

CDC: Flu virus resistant to two common drugs
Government urges doctors not to prescribe rimantadine, amantadine

Updated: 7:48 p.m. ET Jan. 14, 2006

ATLANTA - The government, for the first time, is urging doctors not to prescribe two antiviral drugs commonly used to fight influenza because of concerns about drug resistance, officials announced Saturday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the recommendation covers the drugs rimantadine and amantadine for the 2006 flu season.

Results of recent lab tests on influenza samples showed that the predominant strain this season — the H3N2 influenza strain — was resistant to the drugs, the agency said.

“Clinicians should not use rimantadine and amantadine ... because the drugs will not be effective,” said CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding. The two drugs have been used for years to combat type-A influenza.

Gerberding said the lab data, which CDC scientists had been analyzing since Friday, surprised health officials and the health agency rushed to get the word out Saturday.

“I don’t think we were expecting it to be so dramatic so quickly this year,” Gerberding said. “We just didn’t feel it was responsible to wait three more days during a holiday weekend to let clinicians know.”

The CDC tested 120 influenza A virus samples from the H3N2 strain and found that 91 percent, or 109, were resistant to the two drugs. Two years ago, less than 2 percent of the samples were resistant. Last year, 11 percent were, the CDC said.

Mutation, overuse may have caused resistance
Gerberding said the agency was not sure how the resistance occurred, saying it may have been the result of a mutation in the H3N2 flu strain or could have come from overuse of the drugs abroad, such as in countries that permit them drugs to be purchased without a prescription.

One flu expert, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, said the development was “disconcerting” as flu now has joined the ranks of other diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, that recently have acquired the ability to resist front-line medications.

But Schaffner said doctors have other options to fight influenza.

One is the antiviral Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir. The CDC said that all H3 and H1 influenza viruses the agency has tested so far are susceptible to the other commonly used antivirals, including Tamiflu and zanamivir, also called Relenza.

“Tamiflu is now readily available everywhere — in most places, it is the primary antiviral being used” against flu, Schaffner said. “But we’re always a bit frustrated when one of the therapeutic agents is foreclosed. It makes every infectious disease doctor worry a little bit.”

Doctors also recommend an annual flu shot to help prevent getting influenza in the first place.

The CDC said it planned to alert doctors throughout the country via its emergency Health Alert Network and through a special edition of its weekly journal, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Each year, the flu kills about 36,000 people, and some 200,000 are hospitalized because of it in the United States, the CDC said. As of Dec. 31, the latest CDC data available, flu activity was only considered widespread in seven U.S. states, mainly in the Southwest and West: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.

CDC: Flu virus resistant to two common drugs
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« Reply #43 on: January 15, 2006, 03:40:24 AM »

U.S. Faults Saudi Efforts on Terrorism
# The kingdom has gotten tough within its borders, but militants are pouring into Iraq, and money is still flowing to Al Qaeda, officials say.

By Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Although Saudi Arabia has cracked down on militants within its borders, the kingdom has not met its promises to help prevent the spread of terrorism or curb the flow of money from Saudis to terrorist cells around the world, U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and other officials say.

As a result, these critics say, countless young terrorism suspects are believed to have escaped the kingdom's tightening noose by fleeing across what critics call a porous border into Iraq.

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U.S. military officials confirm an aggressive role by Saudi fighters in the insurgency in Iraq, where over the last year they reportedly accounted for more than half of all Arab militants killed.

And millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through Saudi-based Islamic charitable and relief organizations to Al Qaeda and other suspected terrorist groups abroad, aided by what the U.S. officials call Riyadh's failure to set up a government commission to police such groups as promised, senior U.S. officials from several counter-terrorism agencies said in interviews.

Those officials said Saudi Arabia had taken some positive steps within its borders. But they criticized the Saudis for not taking a more active role in the global fight.

Daniel L. Glaser, the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, recalled attending a counter-terrorism conference in Riyadh last February at which the Saudis declared they would be an international leader in fighting Al Qaeda and in eradicating terrorism worldwide.

Nearly a year later, Glaser and other U.S. officials said, those promises are unfulfilled.

"They promised to do it, and they need to live up to their promises," Glaser said. "They need to crack down operationally on donors in Saudi Arabia. And they need to exert their influence over their international charities abroad…. They have to care not just what Al Qaeda is doing just within their own borders but wherever it is operating."

In response, a senior Saudi official vehemently insisted that the kingdom had taken strong steps to fight the terrorist network — not only at home but worldwide.

In a series of interviews last week, the official said the government was working closely with regional partners and the United States on operational and intelligence-gathering fronts.

The Saudi official spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to disturb the ongoing and "extremely sensitive" discussions with Washington on various counter-terrorism issues.

The official objected to U.S. criticism that Saudi fighters played an important role in the Iraq insurgency, and said Riyadh had done a good job of sealing off the border between the two countries. Saudis seeking to enter Iraq have to do so through other countries, he said.

By contrast, the Saudi official said, U.S. forces in Iraq have done little to patrol that country's borders with Saudi Arabia, and foreign fighters are entering Iraq through Syria and Iran.

"We have captured thousands of people coming into Saudi Arabia from Iraq, including drug dealers and people trying to smuggle explosives," the official said. "And for somebody to have the audacity to say the Saudis are not doing enough is unreasonable…. Which side is not doing enough? The side that has beefed up its border or the side that has not?"

The official acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had yet to fulfill its 2004 pledge of establishing a charity oversight commission but said the government controlled all Saudi money going to charities and relief organizations overseas.

Saudi Arabia has been under intense pressure from its longtime allies in Washington since the Sept. 11 attacks, when it became clear that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. But critics say that the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdom, long considered a nexus of Al Qaeda activities, did not begin seriously cracking down on terrorists until its own capital was rattled by a series of deadly suicide bombings in 2003.

Since then, the kingdom has killed or captured dozens of senior terrorism operatives.

The senior U.S. counter-terrorism and intelligence officials from several agencies praised Saudi Arabia for working closely with the FBI and CIA on operations within the kingdom.

But they said the Saudi effort had focused almost entirely on crackdowns on small operational cells of Al Qaeda militants at home. In interviews and recent congressional testimony, they said they had urged Saudi Arabia repeatedly, without success, to take a much more active role in the broader effort.

Some of the Saudis now in Iraq have been trained in explosives and guerrilla warfare by Al Qaeda cells in their homeland, while others are gaining the experience in Iraq and using it in attacks on U.S. troops and other Westerners, the officials said.

U.S. Faults Saudi Efforts on Terrorism
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« Reply #44 on: January 15, 2006, 01:39:47 PM »

'Divine mission' driving Iran's new leader
By Anton La Guardia
(Filed: 14/01/2006)

As Iran rushes towards confrontation with the world over its nuclear programme, the question uppermost in the mind of western leaders is "What is moving its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to such recklessness?"

Political analysts point to the fact that Iran feels strong because of high oil prices, while America has been weakened by the insurgency in Iraq.
    
But listen carefully to the utterances of Mr Ahmadinejad - recently described by President George W Bush as an "odd man" - and there is another dimension, a religious messianism that, some suspect, is giving the Iranian leader a dangerous sense of divine mission.

In November, the country was startled by a video showing Mr Ahmadinejad telling a cleric that he had felt the hand of God entrancing world leaders as he delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly last September.

When an aircraft crashed in Teheran last month, killing 108 people, Mr Ahmadinejad promised an investigation. But he also thanked the dead, saying: "What is important is that they have shown the way to martyrdom which we must follow."

The most remarkable aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's piety is his devotion to the Hidden Imam, the Messiah-like figure of Shia Islam, and the president's belief that his government must prepare the country for his return.

One of the first acts of Mr Ahmadinejad's government was to donate about £10 million to the Jamkaran mosque, a popular pilgrimage site where the pious come to drop messages to the Hidden Imam into a holy well.

All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran.

Iran's dominant "Twelver" sect believes this will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam, or righteous descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

He is said to have gone into "occlusion" in the ninth century, at the age of five. His return will be preceded by cosmic chaos, war and bloodshed. After a cataclysmic confrontation with evil and darkness, the Mahdi will lead the world to an era of universal peace.

This is similar to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse. Indeed, the Hidden Imam is expected to return in the company of Jesus.

Mr Ahmadinejad appears to believe that these events are close at hand and that ordinary mortals can influence the divine timetable.

The prospect of such a man obtaining nuclear weapons is worrying. The unspoken question is this: is Mr Ahmadinejad now tempting a clash with the West because he feels safe in the belief of the imminent return of the Hidden Imam? Worse, might he be trying to provoke chaos in the hope of hastening his reappearance?

The 49-year-old Mr Ahmadinejad, a former top engineering student, member of the Revolutionary Guards and mayor of Teheran, overturned Iranian politics after unexpectedly winning last June's presidential elections.

The main rift is no longer between "reformists" and "hardliners", but between the clerical establishment and Mr Ahmadinejad's brand of revolutionary populism and superstition.

Its most remarkable manifestation came with Mr Ahmadinejad's international debut, his speech to the United Nations.

World leaders had expected a conciliatory proposal to defuse the nuclear crisis after Teheran had restarted another part of its nuclear programme in August.

Instead, they heard the president speak in apocalyptic terms of Iran struggling against an evil West that sought to promote "state terrorism", impose "the logic of the dark ages" and divide the world into "light and dark countries".

The speech ended with the messianic appeal to God to "hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace".

In a video distributed by an Iranian web site in November, Mr Ahmadinejad described how one of his Iranian colleagues had claimed to have seen a glow of light around the president as he began his speech to the UN.

"I felt it myself too," Mr Ahmadinejad recounts. "I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there. And for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink…It's not an exaggeration, because I was looking.

"They were astonished, as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic."

Western officials said the real reason for any open-eyed stares from delegates was that "they couldn't believe what they were hearing from Ahmadinejad".

Their sneaking suspicion is that Iran's president actually relishes a clash with the West in the conviction that it would rekindle the spirit of the Islamic revolution and - who knows - speed up the arrival of the Hidden Imam.

'Divine mission' driving Iran's new leader
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