War With Iran -Is It A Practical Solution?

US President George W Bush has refused to rule out a military attack on Iran should diplomatic efforts fail to reach an agreement over Teheran's nuclear program.There is a point of view, that given its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, as well as its hostility towards Israel, this is what Iran probably deserves.

Experts however sincerely hope that the US will consider the costs of any such misadventure before embarking on this course of action.The cost of Iraq and Afghanistan has already crossed $600 billion and the conflicts are expected to cost $2.4 trillion in all till 2017. This is half of what it would cost to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years.In a conventional war Iran is expected to be less of a pushover than Iraq, which would translate into higher costs and a larger number of US troops in combat over and above the 200,000 at present. It is argued that the present level of expenditure on Iraq and Afghanistan is only about 0.5% of GDP and therefore the US can sustain it almost indefinitely, unlike the Vietnam conflict during which it had risen to almost 12% of GDP and had threatened to derail the US economy.But this reasoning is seriously flawed in as much it does not take into account the likely impact of a conflict with Iran on the price of oil.The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki Al-Faisal has said that such an event could triple the price of oil. Not only is Iran OPEC's number two oil producer, any conflict involving Iran would threaten the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Middle East nations export their oil.Tankers carry an estimated 17 million barrels of oil through the channel every day.Although the US does have an emergency stockpile of almost 700 million barrels of crude, a prolonged conflict with Iran, like in Iraq would certainly have a devastating impact on the US as well as the world economy.Given the extensive common border that Iran shares with Russia and several former Soviet Republics the US may find it difficult to cut off its supply routes.It is a foregone conclusion that all these countries are going to support Iran because of religious or economic considerations or just to keep the US out of the area.Any lengthy campaign in Iran would only wear down US troops and equipment further.It will have to be remembered that Iran is not the only country that has the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.How many countries would the US be able to discipline alone. If it wanted to discipline Iran it should have done so thirty years back.That chance has been missed.Now the only hope is to build sufficient international pressure on Iran to persuade it to accept international safeguards.The role of Russia in any such arrangement will be crucial and they will expect due credit for it.Ideally an international machinery will come into existence to sort out all such problems in the future.

More on Interesting Life

Mexico Plans To Reconquer California!

The USA as it is today includes large parts of territory which it gained from Mexico after its victory in the Mexican-American war.Under the terms of the the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo America gained what are now California,Utah,Nevada and parts of Colorado,Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Over the years US -Mexican relations have improved tremendously and with the establishment of NAFTA the US has demonstrated that it remains committed to the well being and the prosperity of the Mexican people.

However the one sore point in US-Mexican relations remains the issue of illegal immigration from Mexico into the US.

Large scale immigration from Mexico into the US is a recent phenomena.Till 1970 the number of Mexican immigrants in the US was only about 700,000 as against an estimated 7 million today.Mexican immigration is overwhelmingly unskilled,and it tends to reduce wages for workers who are already the lowest paid.Besides such immigration comes with a high cost.The modern US economy offers little opportunity for workers with limited education.Such immigration will only help in significantly increasing the size of the poor and uninsured populations as well as the number of people using welfare.

It is estimated that today there are 9 to 10 million illegal immigrants in the US.The vast majority, almost 70% of them are from Mexico.The US has more than tripled its border patrol budget over the last few years but the flow of immigrants from Mexico remains unchanged.

This large number of Mexicans in the US has led to the birth of a strong pro immigration movement in Mexico.It is openly supported by the Mexican government which calls for 'legalizing aliens.'On the far fringes of this movement some Hispanic activists openly yearn for the day when immigrants will rise up and retake the US Southwest.They call it the 'reconquista' or reconquest of Mexican lands.One only has to look at their slogans to understand what they think."We are Nican Tlaca ,the indigenous people of Canada,US.Mexico and Central America.We reject the European divisions of our continent.We reject the artificial divisions of our people.We say no to occupation.We say this is still our continent"

The theory of Mexican re-occupation of its lost territories doesn't look so ridiculous if one were to examine the demographic trends in the Southwest.In another 20 to 30 years Latinos will comprise more than 50% of the population in California.This fact and other social and cultural developments are opening the door for 'self determination'and even the idea of an 'Aztalan.' Aztalan the mythical birthplace of the Aztecs, is regarded in Chicano folklore as an area that includes California,Nevada,Arizona New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Texas.The aim is to create a sovereign state, "Republica del Norte,' the Republic of the North, that would combine the American Southwest with the Northern Mexican states and eventually merge with Mexico.

Although there is little evidence of any plot so far, it is quite possible that the pro immigration movement is being gradually taken over by the radicals.

Iraq-Is The End To The Crisis In Sight?

President Bush surprised everybody by making a secret visit, his third since the war began,to Iraq ,Monday.After talking with general Petraeus and ambassador Crocker he proudly announced that if the present rate of success continues it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces,implying that a troop reduction was possible in the near future.

His remarks were undoubtedly encouraged by the fact that US fatalities in Iraq have dropped 50%since May and are also lower than August 2006.These point to some progress since the build up in May.The new US strategy clearly seems to be working.Some also point to the fact that Iraqi security forces have taken higher casualties which reflects their increasing commitment to the present political system.

President Bush was on a visit to the Anbar province where violence abated after Sunni tribal leaders and former insurgents teamed up with US forces to hunt down Al Qaeda and other extremists.

The timing of the visit is significant as the President is under increasing pressure even from his own party to bring the troops home.

Next week Petraeus and Crocker testify before Congress.Their assessment of the conflict will determine the next phase of the war.

The US is convinced that its latest strategy is working.Now that troops have moved out of their heavily fortified bases into smaller and more numerous stations where they can interact more closely with the Iraqi population it is a taken as a sign that slowly but surely the US is succeeding in winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population.

So is the end to the Iraqi crisis in sight?Experts don't think so.They feel that the real reason why President Bush went to Iraq is because no one seems to be willing to believe him on Iraq any more!He went to Anbar because this is where the new strategy,the surge , seems to be working.Extra troops and local sheiks are helping the US. Anbar is considered very important because it is a Sunni majority area which was strongly pro Saddam.Bush hopes that now at least the Republicans will close ranks behind him.

But this strategy has a flip side to it.If Bush wants to apply the Petraeus model to entire Iraq,this would require high levels of US forces to stay in Iraq for some more time and talks of troop reduction may be just that.The fear also remains that once troops are reduced fighting will break out amongst local militias.This is because experts believe that Iraq has ceased to exist as a nation and is best described as a collection of city states each controlled by an independent militia.The minority Sunni population is distrustful of the police and Iraqi security forces which are suspected to be riddled with Shiite militiamen and forces loyal to Iran.Then the surge has been unable to stem the exodus of Sunnis from Baghdad where Iraqi policemen are openly aiding Shiite militiamen in their fight against the Sunnis.It is feared that once US troop levels are down there will be an upsurge in sectarian violence.There is clearly a wide difference in the assessment of the situation in Iraq between the President and his detractors.How things work out only time will tell.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards: Terrorists in Disguise

The Washington Post reports that the ‘United States has decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group’s business operations and finances.’

The reason? Iran’s constant and increased meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan and, well, the entire the Middle East for that matter. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is helping out terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah: with training, knowledge, and equipment. Seemingly, the US has had enough and has, therefore, decided to label the private militant group of the Mullahs terrorists.

Why is this significant? The WaPo explains:

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said — a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.

The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that “provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists.”

In other words, the US can attempt to make sure that the Revolutionary Guard does not get any money - or at least as little as possible. Of course, considering that the Revolutionary Guard is headed by the leaders in Tehran, it means that the US will make it official that Iran uses terrorism as a foreign policy. We all know this to be true, but there is a difference between knowing something and making it official (policy).

A ‘U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced,’ explained: “Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately. It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people.”

We can be sure that Tehran will not be happy with it and that the rhetoric will escalate. The financial tricks, however, the US has to fight terrorism have proven to pay off. Iran can say all it wants, the Revolutionary Guard can object all it wants, but it will suffer significantly financially. As Ed Morrissey explains at Captain’s Quarters, “it’s a brilliant escalation of the economic battle that the Bush administration has waged against the Iranians. They already have staggered under the weight of international sanctions. Now their businessmen and their partners abroad will face even more pressure, and that will eventually erode the Iranian economy even further — and the hardliner’s position will become more tenuous than ever.”

With Ed, however, I believe that it is not as simple as that. There is also a problem: “Under the Geneva Convention, the IRG fits the definition of a legitimate military force. They wear uniforms, and answer to legitimate government authority. While the Quds force undeniably works outside of those boundaries to perpetuate terrorism, the IRG as a whole has more plausible deniability.

What happens when we start labeling uniformed military as terrorist organizations?”

Although I think the move might make sense in a way, it seems to me that we cannot label armies, legitimate armies, terrorist organizations. Once we do that, the line between terrorists and armies is blurred. The result can be that captured members of the revolutionary guard will not receive the same treatment members of others armies get. This could create a firestorm and a domino effect, not to mention global outrage. Like it or not, the Revolutionary Guard is a legitimate army - not a terrorist organization (as Ed points out, one of the main differences is that RG members wear, here it comes, uniforms). They are recognizeable, they are easily identifiable… They are soldiers, not terrorists, no matter how badly they may behave.

Hillary Clinton: Strong, yes; likeable, maybe

CNN reports:

"Democrats consider New York Sen. Hillary Clinton the most electable candidate in the presidential field, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Monday afternoon.

Democratic voters polled in the new survey also consider the senator from New York to be the strongest leader and the most experienced, but Sen. Barack Obama has a light edge on likeability.

Clinton gets her lowest marks when Democrats are asked which candidate is the most honest.

Fully 59 percent of those questioned in our new poll say Clinton has the right experience to be president. Only 9 percent feel that way about Obama. Meanwhile, 47 percent say she would be the strongest leader, and 46 percent say she is the most qualified to be commander in chief."

Clinton’s weak points according to CNN:

"One appears to be honesty. Just 28 percent say that Clinton is the most honest candidate, compared to 24 percent for Obama.

The other is likeability: 34 percent say Obama is the most likeable candidate, topping Clinton on that measure by three points."

Nothing new there.

I have said it before: people do not have to like Clinton for her to win. Most people did not like Thatcher either. They did not like her, but they thought she was strong and a good leader. Same goes for Clinton. Clinton does not have to convince 51% of the American voters that she is likeable, and a good and honest person. She has to convince them that she will lead the country well.

'Bye Bye Arctic Ice'

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, and the area of the Arctic covered by ice in the summer is shrinking. The quality of the ice cover that is its thickness is also decreasing.

Using satellite data and advanced analytical tools scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be free of summer ice by 2040.

What is causing the Arctic ice to melt? It is clearly due to global warming and partly also due to a shift in wind patterns from time to time.

Hitherto the Arctic ice presented a bright surface which reflected most of the sun's energy back into the atmosphere. But with dark spaces of open water increasing the sun's energy is being absorbed by the Arctic waters thereby increasing their temperature and would not only accelerate the decay of Arctic ice but also climate change across the world.

This will have major consequences for not only wildlife in the region like the polar bears, but an Arctic free from ice will fundamentally change the lives of those who live there.

Apart from opening up new sea routes and a consequent increase in trade and commerce the world may gain access to the mineral resources that are known to lie below the Arctic sea bed. Russia's Arctic North is estimated to contain up to 25% of the world's oil and gas reserves. The total reserves may be much more. Little wonder then that the Russians have been claiming most of the Arctic as belonging to them and this also explains why only recently they planted the Russian flag below the North Pole. The Canadians too have begun to claim large parts of the Arctic.

As the world's ice disappears, glaciers would melt, fresh water supplies would reduce and sea levels rise across the world. It is high time the world got together to fight global warming.

Washington Cracks Down on Lobbying

For ages lobbyists in Washington and some lawmakers have simply had a whale of a time. Funded by annual budgets running into billions of dollars and located mainly on Washington's legendary K Street these lobbyists have over the years come to significantly influence almost every area of government. Expensive gifts for lawmakers and their staff, free vacations and lavish entertainment have been the order of the day.

What is lobbying? It is a concerted effort to get a particular result from someone in authority. Usually this means government authority. Reputed to have started during the tenure of President Ulysses S Grant, over the years the term has come to refer to the political wheelers and dealers in the capital. Nowadays it is an accepted profession. Flush as they are with funds these people are an important source of campaign funding. Since most of them are linked to big corporations the nagging fear has always lingered that lawmakers may be corrupted once in office.

A few days back Congress passed an entirely new set of ethics and lobbying rules. Lobbyists can no longer offer lavish hospitality as in the past. They face up to five years in prison and stiff financial penalties if they do so. The only exception is for "widely attended events."

Federal prosecutors are clearly on the warpath and may even end up treating certain campaign contributions as bribes.

Rules were there earlier but were meant for lawmakers and not for lobbyists. They were also rarely enforced. For instance since 1995 under the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act most professional lobbyists are required to register themselves and file reports twice a year. However there were many loopholes in these rules. Now indications are that the government means business.

These rules are the result of recent scandals which have damaged the image of the political system. However serious doubts remain as to whether, if at all, these new rules will ever be enforced. Till such rules are strictly followed ethical conduct of government will be no more than a pipe dream.

Pig Fever - The Latest Threat

It is not widely known that pig fever can infect humans and even cause death. Countries around the world till now were battling recurrent outbreaks of bird flu. In fact this disease seems to have become endemic in some nations. Till now this disease has proved to be the most troublesome to control after the mad cow disease.

Of late cattle in the UK have been affected by the foot and mouth disease.

The latest outbreak is of swine fever in Romania. This fever affects only pigs and wild hogs. It is incurable and the infected animals have to be slaughtered and their carcasses buried or burnt.Eradicating it has so far proved very tough but vaccination against the disease is possible and offers a certain degree of protection. This is not the first time that the disease has surfaced in Romania. It has occurred earlier as well and in fact Romania is banned from exporting pork to the EU.

The disease spreads via natural secretions from imported animals and is highly contagious.

This disease is known to infect humans as well. People who eat infected meat can catch the disease. In fact even inhaling the air near the sick swine is dangerous and could cause infection.
The rate of fatality in humans infected by the disease is disturbingly high.

Popularly known as the African Swine Fever epidemics have devastated pig herds in Benin, Nigeria, Togo and other African countries.In Africa it is usually controlled by major surveillance operations, strict border controls to check movement and a compensation scheme for the owners of the slaughtered animals.

In Europe outbreaks have occurred in Italy and Portugal as well, in the past.

What comes to haunt experts whenever such an outbreak occurs is that someday one virus will mutate into a form easily transmitted to humans and sweep across the world with catastrophic results. The warning bells are ringing loudly. It is time all the nations put their heads and resources together to fight these imminent dangers rather than wasting time elsewhere.

Bloggers Give Clinton a Mixed Reception

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York walked into the lion's den here Saturday, drawing applause as well as boos and hisses from an audience of progressive bloggers during a presidential candidates forum in which she became the target of sharp criticism from several of her Democratic rivals.

The forum at the second annual Yearly Kos convention drew all but one of the Democratic presidential candidates, and it helped cement the bloggers as an increasingly significant constituency inside the party. The 90-minute session displayed many of the qualities for which the blogosphere is known -- it was free-wheeling, occasionally raucous and consistently passionate, with candidates competing with one another to earn the affection of the audience.

In contrast to past debates, Clinton was on the firing line because of her often-difficult relationship with bloggers over her initial support for the Iraq war, and because her opponents saw a chance to paint her as the Establishment candidate before an audience hostile to inside-the-Beltway power politics.

Clinton emerged with some scrapes but also was praised by some prominent bloggers. She tried to court the progressive audience, praising its members for aggressively standing up to President Bush and the right, while avoiding making statements that might compromise her during a general election campaign if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

Clinton came under attack for declining to join former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who is quite popular with bloggers, and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in pledging to not take campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists.

"I think my party, the Democratic Party, the party of the people, ought to say from this day forward we will never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist," Edwards said to rising applause from the audience of more than 1,000.

Asked whether she would agree with that, Clinton said, "I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, anybody seriously believes I'm going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest."

With that there were groans and hisses, and Clinton, who had braced for such a reaction and seemingly had waited for it through nearly an hour of debate, responded: "I've been waiting for this. This gives us a real sense of reality with my being here." She added, "A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans."

When the moderator, New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai, turned back to Obama a few minutes later, the senator immediately challenged Clinton's position.

"I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don't have disproportionate influence," he said. "The insurance and drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years. Now Hillary, you were talking earlier about the efforts you made back in '93 [trying to reform health care]. Now you can't tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest."

With that the audience erupted in cheers of approval, and Edwards, sitting on Clinton's right, joined in the applause.

"I'm losing control," Bai quipped, before giving Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) the floor. Kucinich turned the issue of campaign contributions back on Edwards, asking whether he would be willing to stop taking money from hedge fund executives.

Edwards declined, saying he will continue to accept donations from people who are not Washington lobbyists.

The debate featured seven of the eight Democratic candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Kucinich, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and former senator Mike Gravel (Alaska). Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) skipped the forum because he is on a book tour.

Dodd was as animated as he has been at any debate, and he led the call for public financing of political campaigns. Richardson pressed his experience as a former United Nations ambassador and a sitting governor. Gravel derided his rivals as good people trapped in a corrupt system. "All politicians walk in the mud," he said.

When the candidates were asked about the Iraq war, Kucinich said Democrats should use the power of the purse to cut off funding. Clinton said Senate rules make it difficult for Democrats to do so because they need 60 votes to shut down debate. Dodd responded, "It's better to get 25 votes for something meaningful" than 60 votes for something that isn't.

All the candidates participated in separate breakout sessions with the bloggers, most immediately after the debate. Clinton initially said she could not do a breakout session because of a scheduling conflict, but agreed to one before the debate when it became a new point of contention with the bloggers.

She arrived shortly after noon and immediately put on a charm offensive. When her microphone malfunctioned, she quipped, "Vast right-wing conspiracy." As she began her opening remarks, she acknowledged her tenuous relationship with the bloggers. "I'm aware that, you know, not everyone says nice things about me. It's a burden I have to bear."

Then she thanked them "for caring so much and being so involved in helping us create a modern progressive movement in America. What you have done in a relatively short period of time is really to stand up against the right-wing noise machine."

She then took questions for about 30 minutes, at times associating herself with the audience's views, at times standing apart. She defended, for example, the welfare overhaul passed during her husband's administration after one questioner urged her to say she would repeal it as president.

The only time she was booed during the session was when she said she is a fan of the Chicago Cubs, not the Chicago White Sox.

Edwards, who was the leader in the most recent unscientific straw poll by the Daily Kos blog, continued his attack on Clinton during his breakout session. Highlighting the difference between himself and Clinton on taking money from Washington lobbyists, Edwards said to boisterous applause, "The choice in front of America is very clear."

Clinton's performances drew mixed reviews. "Hillary's visit was equivalent to a visit from a head of state to a country just recently recognized with diplomatic status," said Andrew Rasiej of TechPresident, the go-to site on how the candidates are campaigning online.

"Look, she's here because she's just pandering, like everyone else, to find an area of alignment," said Matt Stoller, formerly of the popular blog My DD, who recently founded Open Left.

Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, the founder of Daily Kos, for which the conference is named, gave Clinton good marks. "I think she did very well," he said after the candidate forum. "I think she's done a great job of defusing the hostility."

"We've got a ways to go," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said when it was over. "There are others here who have historically done better in this community. We obviously hope that we will continue to do better and better."

House Passes New Energy Bill

There is a growing realization that dependence on fossil fuels must simply be reduced.

One important way to do so is to reduce oil consumption by utilities. Already most US states grant subsidies for installing solar power generators. These panels can be easily fitted on rooftops and generate sufficient power to meet a substantial part of the total utilities requirement. In off peak hours the excess power generated can be fed into the local grid. Credit is received for the power contributed to the grid. Subsidies are around 20% on an average but in New Jersey it is a whopping 70%.

The US Department of Energy, in partnership with Owens Corning, launched Energy Savers in 1998. It provides useful tips to Americans save energy and money at home.

With energy consumption rising worldwide the the choices we make today about how we intend to meet our energy requirements in the future will impact our environment and our lives.

In a huge step forward the House passed a new Energy Bill on Saturday requiring most utilities to produce up to 15% of their electricity from renewable resources such as solar and wind power.

The Bill also seeks to provide money for increased research spending on development of alternative fuel technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Part of the funding for the above projects is to come from reducing tax breaks presently enjoyed by the oil industry. It thus seeks to provide an integrated energy and environmental policy for the first time.

Longer term goals include enhanced standards of energy efficiency for appliances and automobiles. A conscious decision to reduce carbon dioxide emission is also on the cards.

Fortunately, with advances in technology all these are in the realm of possibility. Although in the short term energy prices are likely to increase the longer term benefits are simply too large to be ignored.

Uncle Sam is Watching You !

The Senate yesterday approved a Republican plan which arms the government with sweeping powers to keep watch on terror suspects.The Democrats tried to reduce the sweeping powers sought to be given to the intelligence agencies.They failed because several of their party colleagues voted in favor.These agencies can now eavesdrop on suspects without a court order.

All this is fine in theory but past experience has shown that such powers have often been used against ordinary americans as well.

The Bill is not entirely new.Efforts in this direction have been going on for some time.Soon after 9/11 Congress passed the USA Patriot Act that vastly expanded the government's authority to spy on its own citizens without judicial approval or public accountability.

The Patriot Act has already given powers to the Govt. to even search private property and also to mount electronic surveillance. But the disturbing factor is that it has given powers to search through records held by third persons such as financial records, medical histories, university records etc. Now that we are living in a computerized world it means that a person's entire life is laid threadbare before these agencies. What is worse is that these sources are forbidden from disclosing to a subject that his records have been examined.

The question that arises is whether such an Act violates the Constitution or not? Experts would have us believe that it violates fundamental freedoms like freedom of liberty and speech.

Maybe, given the present global situation, it is perhaps a small price to pay for National Security. What is certain though is that the public debate on the issue promises to be a long and bitter one.

US space shuttle computer sabotaged: NASA

A computer due to be installed on the US space shuttle Endeavour for an August mission was found sabotaged, NASA said on Thursday, the latest in a string of shocks concerning the US space agency.

"One of our subcontractors noticed that a network box for the shuttle had appeared to be tampered with," NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad told AFP. "It is intentional damage to hardware."

Endeavour is due to be launched on August 7 with seven crew members on board from the NASA base at Cape Canaveral in Florida , for a mission to continue construction of the International Space Station , a manned orbiting laboratory.

The workers who discovered the damage to the computer equipment intended for Endeavour notified NASA "several days ago," Trinidad said. "There is an ongoing investigation."

Safety is a major concern in US shuttle missions after damage sustained by the Columbia craft on launching caused it to break up on re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.

"The tampering occurred at a subcontractor's facility and not while the unit was at the Kennedy Space Center ," NASA's Cape Canaveral base, Trinidad said of the damage to the Endeavour equipment.

She gave no details of who the subcontractors were nor exactly where the damage was.

"What we are trying to do now is repair that unit and try and fly it when possible."

The shuttle Atlantis successfully completed a mission to the station in June, a welcome bit of good news for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after several embarrassing incidents in recent months.

In February astronaut Lisa Nowak, a former crew member on the shuttle Discovery, was arrested, accused of a bizarre attempt to kidnap a love rival. NASA fired her in March.

Then in April, a NASA contractor Bill Phillips managed to sneak a revolver past security at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and barricaded himself inside a building at the sprawling campus, police said.

He duct-taped a female co-worker to a chair and shot a male colleague dead before turning the gun on himself.

Also on Thursday, the trade magazine Aviation Week Space Technology citing an internal NASA panel said that astronauts had been allowed to fly spacecraft while drunk. A NASA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The agency also faced political bother in May when NASA chief Michael Griffin drew fire for comments on the hot topic of harmful climate change. He publicly questioned the need to tackle global warming.

The successful Atlantis mission, meanwhile, was initially delayed by three months because the shuttle's external fuel tank was damaged during a freak hail storm as it stood on its launch pad.

The delay forced NASA to cut the number of planned shuttle flights this year from five to four.

On the August mission, astronauts are to deliver a giant truss to be attached to the ISS, along with an external stowage platform and a Spacehab module -- a pressurized cargo carrier.

Strategies For Maintaining Peace In The Niger Delta Region Of Nigeria


The Niger Delta, an area of dense mangrove rainforest in the southern tip of Nigeria, comprises nine of Nigeria's thirty-six states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. The region's oil accounts for approximately 90 percent of the value of Nigeria's exports, but the Niger Delta remains one of Nigeria's least developed regions.

Conflict, present in the region for many years, began to surge appreciably in the late 1990s. Consequently, in 2000, the government of the former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to help end the violence and spur socio-economic development. Still, during and after the run-up to the 2003 presidential election, violence between rival militia groups and against the oil corporations increased considerably. Facilitated by poverty, political disenfranchisement, and the easy availability of firearms, armed groups fought each other over the control of illegally acquired oil and engaged in violent acts against oil companies, such as kidnapping key officials of the oil companies(especially expatriates).


Efforts of successive administrations to correct these anomalies translated to minor successes. The Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, was to ensure development got to the oil producing States. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), given the promises that preceded its birth has not made the type of impact people in the region expected. The same politics and greed that have always placed the interests of a tiny few above the people, hijacked NDDC from inception. AFTER decades of obvious official neglect, it is heart-warming that a Niger Delta Regional Development master plan to be supervised by Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has been drawn up. The development plan with a duration of 15 years is to gulp $50 billion (about N6.4 trillion).

The master-plan is a comprehensive analysis of the life development imperatives, challenges and opportunities in the Niger Delta which puts into perspective the economic growth; human and community needs, institutional development, physical infrastructure and natural environment of the region.


Nothing should be allowed to stall the successful implementation of the master plan. The funding has been spelt out in the 2000 NDDC Act as follows - Ecological Fund 50 per cent; Federal Government 15 per cent; oil and gas industry three per cent; and 29 per cent from other sources. Proper development of the Niger Delta region would create more global economic opportunities in the area, stable oil and gas prices, which means more income for the government, in addition to the most needed peace.

All parties involved in the implementation of the master plan should do their best to provide the resources to remove the blight that the Niger Delta has become. Government has to provide leadership in this direction. In view of this, the partnership between one of Nigeria’s foremost banks, the United Bank for Africa Plc and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in order to ensure the success of the Master Plan should be commended.

The success of this task does not only rest on providing the necessary infrastructure for the socio-economic development of the people of the Niger-Delta, but the people themselves must be involved from the policy formulation stage. We must not assume that we know what the people need. That was the mistake made by past administrations at various levels of government and the organizers of the master plan must not allow their intervention and participation in this plan to go the same way.

The main focus of this work therefore will be to critically consider and discuss some key success management factors that may make or mar the success of the Master-Plan.


Before funds are deployed in respect of the Master Plan, the organizers should consider the following critical factors:

(a) The Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy

The organizers, in working to ensure the success of the Master Plan should lay emphasis on linking peace and development—the same strategy adopted by the oil and gas companies in the region and one that complements the work of the NDDC. Concerted efforts should be made to determine how the skills of the armed groups can be harnessed for positive purposes. In this regard, a peace and security strategy to be formed by the organisers to aid the master plan, should target the corporate, media, governmental, international, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address oil corporations' responsibility toward the Niger Delta.

It should also focus on mechanisms to reduce oil theft; media practices in reporting violence; reconciliation between groups; illegal arms importation; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of militia groups; human capital development and employment/urban youth policies; early warning systems; money laundering; and good governance.

(b) Violence and Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Niger Delta

Previous governments largely ignored the Niger Delta, partly because its geography made it relatively inaccessible. The long period of military rule in Nigeria contributed to bad governance and corruption; and the burden for the provision of government services fell to oil and gas companies, which were ill equipped to supply water and electricity and maintain road networks. The scale of this neglect has been an important factor behind the violence in the Niger Delta, which is carried out by social groups or street gangs, referred to by many as "cults."

These groups—made up of youths from the Niger Delta —originated with the intention of offering physical protection and providing its members with an opportunity to meet people with similar ethnic or social identities. In time these groups (now known as Militants of the Niger Delta) acquired arms and also began to compete with each other over oil bunkering. The most recent violence in the Niger Delta grew out of the political campaigns in 2003. As they competed for office, politicians in Rivers State—a focal point of violence in 2003—manipulated the Niger Delta Vigilantes, led by Ateke Tom, and the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, led by Alhaji Asari Dokubo. Exacerbating rivalries, political candidates used these groups to advance their aspirations —often rewarding gang members to commit acts of political violence and intimidation against their opponents. The conclusion of the 2003 electoral period did not end the violence. The Niger Delta Vigilantes and the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force continued to fight each other throughout 2004.

The hostilities peaked when over 300 commanders of the Ijaw ethnic group announced that if the government did not change conditions in the Niger Delta, they would take action against both the government and the oil installations. In September 2004, the former president Obasanjo invited Ateke Tom and Alhaji Asari Dokubo to the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja. And on October 1, 2004, a peace agreement was signed between the two groups. Following the peace agreement, various concerned groups worked with the Rivers State Government to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate members of the armed groups. More than 3,000 weapons were handed in and publicly destroyed.

In December 2004, the former combatants requested a reconciliation church service to acknowledge the violence they had inflicted. In January 2005, a camp was organized for the former combatants to help reorient and reintegrate them into society. A program beginning in February 2005 provided over 2,000 youths with technical skills and training. However, the program did not provide jobs for these youths after their training. Moreover, due to the lack of an overall strategy, a coordinating agency, and a community-based program, the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program was never completed. Thus the gains reaped in September and October 2004 gradually evaporated. Now, after the 2007 elections, many fear a resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta and worry that politicians may once again mobilize youths for political ends.

The threat of violence is exacerbated by international arms dealers who continue to find Nigeria a lucrative market and by neighboring African states that recruit Nigerians as mercenaries, creating a reservoir of people with the means and the motive to maintain a violent atmosphere.

(c) Human Capital Development and Employment/Urban Youth Policies:

Concerned that demobilization and disarmament may increase the amount of cult group and illegal activity, as former insurgents will not have options for employment, job creation strategies must be comprehensive. As such, human capital development and employment strategies pursued by the Peace and Security Working Group will include developing a profile of cults, such as incentives behind their formation, leadership, membership, and territory. Additionally, the Peace and Security Working Group, will work with oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta to develop leadership skills and the NDDC to create jobs.

As a priority, emphasis should be placed on finding economic opportunities for the youth of the Niger Delta. Below are some of the employment opportunities that can be extended to the people of Niger Delta:

- The government can look at the possibility of establishing a public works program; developing sectors outside of oil and gas, which are traditionally not labor-intensive industries; and special employment set-asides for the Niger Delta's residents.

- The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) can be made to assume the responsibility to monitor that 25 percent of management positions and 67 percent of staff positions in the oil and gas companies go to those from the Niger Delta.

- Cleaning up the Niger Delta communities might also serve as a way to engage the youth and address the environmental damage by the oil industry.

(d) Corporate Responsibility:

Oil and gas corporations remain the target of grievances by local groups in the Niger Delta. A committee on corporate practices should be formed by the organizers of the Master Plan (although it may be chaired by the senior staff of NNPC) to examine the causes of conflict and corruption, how to increase corporate transparency, and how to more effectively enforce good policies. Oil companies and the government should be encouraged to increase transparency by instituting the "publish what you pay" system where the government reports all revenues received by oil corporations. Alternatively, they can initiate and monitor a Permanent Fund system—where residents receive an annual dividend from oil's proceeds—this can be adopted as a model for the Niger Delta to increase resource transparency.

(e) Reducing Oil Theft:

Oil theft is one of the major causes of conflict between rival armed groups as illegally acquired oil is sold on black markets for high profits. Indeed, as the price of oil increases, the loss to the state increases as well. For example, when oil stood at $20 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost $3.7 billion per year; when oil prices rose to $30 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost more that $6 billion annually. There should be a working group to coordinate efforts with local, state, and federal authorities to understand the factors that facilitate oil theft. Focusing on the external markets, it will launch an international campaign against oil theft. However, the most effective strategy to stop the thievery should be to create alternative sources of income.

(f) Media Relations:

News reports play a large role in sensationalizing and thus exacerbating conflicts. Subsequently, part of the peace and security strategy is working with the media on how they report conflicts in the Niger Delta and ensuring that the media fully understands the purposes of the working group.

(g) Reconciliation Processes:

Initial reconciliation efforts will begin with the Ogoni conflict in Rivers State, which dates back to the mid 1990s. In time, this will serve as a model for settling grievances of other groups in the Niger Delta—demonstrating an alternative to violence as a means to settle disputes.

(h) Arms Importation:

The easy acquisition of small arms and light weapons in the Niger Delta undermines disarmament and demobilization efforts. There should be a Peace and Security Working Group working with local, state, federal, and international agencies, the Peace and Security Working Group will undertake efforts to reduce illegal arms importation; facilitate the exchange of information between relevant agencies; and review the accountability standards of local and international weapons' manufacturers. A particular focus will be to curb the illicit arms trade at the international level.

(i) Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration:

Previous attempts at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration did not succeed due to the absence of a coordinating body and alternative employment possibilities. In this regard, the new government should plan a more comprehensive approach that will address the incentives of groups to hold arms; implement "best practices" from successful programs; institute a process for destroying weapons; invite international observers to monitor disarmament processes; and ensure coordination between disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration efforts. In addition, the reintegration programs will include meaningful employment opportunities.

(j) Early Warning:

It is indeed necessary to design a system for early warning of conflict. Devising a comprehensive early warning system on impending violence will require the integration of local networks, investment in effective communication methods, building the capacity of governments and NGOs to respond to crises, and recruiting experts to design conflict analysis methods appropriate for the Niger Delta.

(k) Money Laundering:

Money laundering activities undermine the search for peace and the creation of legal markets in the Niger Delta. Thus, in coordination with international financial institutions, NGOs, and government agencies, the government should devise means to prevent money laundering in Nigeria and means to return money that has been stolen (as occurred with funds taken by former head of state, late General Sani Abacha). Senior government officials must be transparent in the handling and disbursement of such stolen monies.

In summary, previous governments in Nigeria had unsuccessfully tried to solve the Niger Delta problem mainly because they overlooked or ignored the above issues which are fundamental to the success of any peace and development programs in the area.


Russia warns UK over expulsions

The Kremlin has warned Britain it faces "serious consequences" after expelling four Russian diplomats from the UK.

The move followed Moscow's refusal to hand over the former KGB agent accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.

Suspect Andrei Lugovoi, who denies involvement, claimed the charges against him had a "political subtext".

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would make "no apologies" for expelling the four Russians.

Mr Brown said that because "there is no forthcoming co-operation, then action has to be taken".

The Foreign Office has not named the four Russian diplomats, but the BBC understands they are intelligence officers.

'Absolutely clear'

The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow said the expulsions would not go unanswered and that the two countries were "facing off" in way not seen since the end of the Cold War.

Moscow has warned that what it describes as "Russophobia" in British politics would damage British-Russian relations, he said. A statement from Moscow is expected later.

Mr Litvinenko, another former KGB agent, died of exposure to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November 2006.

The radioactive isotope used to poison him was found in several places that Mr Lugovoi had visited in London.

But Mr Lugovoi told Russian television that the outcome of the inquiry had been predetermined.

He said: "The British authorities have in effect emphasised yet again that the Litvinenko case actually has a political subtext.

"In all the eight months that this row has been developing in earnest, I have not received a single official invitation from the official British authorities, and all those statements that the investigation was carried out competently are lies."

Action 'necessary'

On a visit to Berlin on Monday, Mr Brown said: "When a murder takes place, when a number of innocent civilians were put at risk as a result of that murder, and when an independent prosecuting authority makes it absolutely clear what is in the interests of justice, and there is no forthcoming co-operation, then action has to be taken."

The prime minister added that he wanted a "good relationship" with Russia.

Russia's Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said: "London's position is immoral.

"Such provocative actions masterminded by the British authorities will not be left without an answer and cannot but entail the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov said: "We don't want to be provoked into a ping-pong game, although of course the Russian side will provide a necessary response."

Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina said she was "very grateful" for the British government's actions and "proud to be a UK citizen".

Right to refuse

Under the European Convention on Extradition 1957, the Russians have the right to refuse the extradition of a citizen.

The UK has the right to request Mr Lugovoi be tried in Russia, but the UK's director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, has already turned down the offer.

The Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind was foreign secretary the last time Russian diplomats were expelled.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it had always been unlikely that President Putin, himself a former KGB agent, would have allowed Mr Lugovoi's extradition.

"But you know it's important that the Russians, if they do choose to behave in this way... realise that there is a price and that price is the embarrassment, the inconvenience the difficulties caused by the expulsion of their diplomats," he said.

"Of course it will not produce the result we would ideally like, but it's important that the very, very deeply unsatisfactory nature of this event is well demonstrated."

The UK's director of public prosecutions has recommended Mr Lugovoi be tried for murder by "deliberate poisoning".

UN confirms N Korea nuclear halt

UN inspectors have verified the shutdown of North Korea's main nuclear reactor, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed.

Mohamed ElBaradei said the process of shutting the Yongbyon reactor was "a good step in the right direction".

The move is part of an deal agreed in February, in which Pyongyang pledged to disarm in exchange for fuel aid.

Analysts say that while the shutdown is important, it is just one stage in a long process to disable the reactor.

Speaking in the Thai capital, Bangkok, Mr ElBaradei said his 10-man team of experts - who arrived in North Korea on Saturday - had verified an earlier statement from Pyongyang confirming the shutdown.

"Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday," he said.

The IAEA chief said that the next step was to verify the shutdown of other nuclear facilities and then disable them, something he warned would be "a complicated process".

"It's a very important step that we are taking this week, but it's a long way to go," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

More aid

Under the terms of the disarmament agreement, struck in February after intense negotiations, Pyongyang is to receive 50,000 tons of fuel aid for shutting Yongbyon down, and another 950,000 tons for disabling all its nuclear facilities.

Last week it received its first shipment of fuel aid, and early on Monday a second shipment was dispatched, carrying 7,500 tons of fuel from South Korea's Ulsan port, bound for Nampo in North Korea.

Talks between representatives from the six countries involved in the deal - North Korea, Japan, China, Russia, the US and South Korea - are to resume this week in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

While the news of the shutdown is bound to be welcomed by the delegates at the talks, analysts know there is a long road ahead.

In the next phase, North Korea will need to declare all the nuclear material it already has, and confirm whether it has a uranium programme in addition to the plutonium produced at Yongbyon, correspondents say.

Persuading North Korea to disable the reactor completely, or give up any nuclear weapons it already has, may prove far more difficult than the initial shutdown, according to the BBC's Kevin Kim in Seoul.

Japan rocked by major earthquake

Damaged houses in Japan
The quake destroyed a number of houses in the area
A strong earthquake in north-western Japan has killed at least three people and injured more than 150.

The quake of preliminary magnitude 6.8 struck off the coast of Niigata, some 260km (160 miles) north-west of Tokyo, Japan's meteorological agency says.

A number of houses were damaged, and a fire started at the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant. But officials said there was no risk of a radiation leak.

Waves up to 50cm (20 inches) high were reported to have hit the coast.

The tremor also swayed buildings in Tokyo.

'I was so scared'

The earthquake hit the country at 0113 GMT, the meteorological agency says. The epicentre was about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Niigata.

Japan earthquake map

Some wooden buildings in the Niigata area collapsed, injuring and trapping more than 100 people, Japan's media said.

Black smoke was seen billowing from the Kashiwazaki nuclear power station, after a fire started at an electricity transformer building.

But the reactor - like several others - shut down automatically, and there was said to be no risk of any radiation leak.

One of the worst-hit areas appears to be the city of Kashiwazaki - close to the quake's epicentre.

"I was so scared - the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds. I almost fainted through fear of the shaking," local resident Ritei Wakatsuki told the Associated Press news agency.

Water and gas was cut off to the city's 35,000 households, and in Niigata 27,000 houses were without power.

TV picture of fire at Kashiwazaki reactor
A fire started in a building at the Kashiwazaki reactor

A tsunami warning was issued, but it was later lifted.

In Tokyo, buildings swayed and bullet train services were briefly suspended.

The government has set up a crisis management headquarters to deal with the impact of the tremor.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, which is situated in one of the world's most seismically active areas, and the country regularly holds safety drills.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck Niigata, killing 65 people, and in 1995 a magnitude 7.2 tremor killed more than 6,400 in Kobe.

Most foreign insurgents in Iraq are Saudis: report

Most foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia , despite attempts by US officials to portray Syria and Iran as the main culprits of violence, a US newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing an unnamed senior US military officer and Iraqi lawmakers, the Los Angeles Times newspaper said about 45 percent of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi security forces were from Saudi Arabia, 15 percent from Syria and Lebanon , and 10 percent from North Africa

Official US military figures made available to The Times also show that nearly half of the 135 foreigners in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, the report said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, the paper said.

The senior US officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 50 percent of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come as suicide bombers, The Times pointed out.

The situation has left the US military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against US forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad , the paper said.

Bush administration accused of putting ideology above science

Testimony from President George W. Bush's former surgeon general last week has fueled charges that his administration has trumped science in favor of its political and religious ideologies.

The administration has been at loggerheads with scientists since it came to power in 2001 on issues ranging from stem cell research to global warming and the theory of evolution.

It stood accused again of putting ideology over science this week after the administration's former surgeon general charged that it deliberately quashed or downplayed several important health reports for political reasons.

Dr Richard Carmona, a Bush appointee who held the post as the country's chief health educator from 2002 to 2006, told a Congressional committee Tuesday that he was not authorized to discuss certain sensitive subjects in public.

They included embryonic stem-cell research, whose federal funding Bush restricted in 2001, the controversial morning-after pill and sex education.

Carmona admitted to lawmakers that when he had taken up his post he had been "still quite politically naive" but he was "astounded" by the "partisanship and political manipulation" he witnessed.

Health department spokesman Bill Hall rejected Carmona's accusations, saying: "It has always been this administration's position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science."

Michael Halpern, a member of the influential Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said scientists believe the Bush administration is the "worst" ever in terms of political interference and censure.

"Information inconvenient to the administration's priorities is sidelined," Halpern told AFP.

In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists organized a petition signed by more than 12,000 scientists, including 50 Nobel prize winners and former senior science advisers to several US presidents, to denounce political interference by the Bush administration.

"Scientists believe that political interference is unacceptable," the petition said.

"If our policy makers are going to make fully informed decisions about our health, safety, and environment, they need access to independent science," it said. "Reforms can and should be put in place to insulate science from politics."

The petition has apparently had little impact on the White House.

In 2006, NASA's top climate expert, James Hansen, accused the administration in a New York Times interview of pressuring him to censure his research on global warming, notably during the 2004 presidential campaign.

His charges were confirmed by other staffers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, leading Democrats as well as Bush's own Republicans in Congress to call for greater scientific transparency in the agency.

A NASA press official, George Deutsch, who was close to Bush's reelection campaign, was forced to resign after being accused by Hansen for barring journalists from interviewing him.

In his book "The Assault on Reason," former vice president Al Gore said that Deutsch, who has no scientific education or university diplomat, wrote a memo to scientists saying that the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is an opinion."

"This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue," Deutsch wrote, according to Gore, the former Democratic candidate who lost the 2000 election to Bush.

New Populism Spurs Democrats on the Economy

On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year’s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, calls it “trickle-down economics without the trickle.”

Populism is hardly new in the Democratic Party. Al Gore vowed to fight for “the people versus the powerful” in his presidential campaign seven years ago, and Republicans have long accused the Democrats of practicing “class warfare.”

But the latest populist resurgence is deeply rooted in a view that current economic conditions are difficult and deteriorating for many people, analysts say, and it is now framing debates over tax policy, education, trade, energy and health care. Last week, Senate Democrats held hearings on proposals to raise taxes on some of the highest fliers on Wall Street, the people at the top of private equity and hedge fund firms.

In the House, Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Financial Services Committee, convened party leaders and economists for a searching discussion of “globalization, outsourcing and the American worker — what should government do?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, offered the participants some blunt marching orders: “The American people want to know what we’re doing about their economic security.”

Their language, and to some degree their proposals, reflect a striking contrast with the approach taken by Democrats during much of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton asserted that trade would create American jobs and that paying attention to the concerns of Wall Street would help the economy by lowering interest rates. The more populist tone is one indication of a broader debate among Democrats over economic policy and how much they should break with the careful centrism of the Clinton years embodied by Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary, who was a champion of free trade and cutting deficits.

So far, Republicans have, by and large, stuck by their free-market philosophy. They point to a rebounding stock market, declining deficits and steady if unspectacular economic expansion as evidence that conservative policies of tax cutting, less regulation and more trade are working.

But Democrats say they are responding to economic trends that the statistics in the headlines do not capture, including middle-class insecurity about jobs, the affordability of health insurance and the costs of education. The times have changed, these Democrats argue, and six years of Republican tax and economic policies have heightened the inequities.

Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband’s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that “is working only for a few of us.” She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements.

And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,” and suggested that another progressive era is — and ought to be — at hand.

Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.” Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004.

“John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,” Mr. Bonior said.

While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy — get more education for higher-skilled jobs — were losing out.

“People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, “and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”

It is not unusual for candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to move left in the primary season; Mr. Clinton himself touched on some of these populist themes in his 1992 campaign. But all the major Democratic candidates for president are promising to use government to ease the insecurity of the middle class, on issues like education and health care.

Sixteen months before the election, with their domestic platforms being formed, these candidates are proposing, for example, to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the most affluent Americans and, in some cases, redirect that money to expanded health care. On the campaign trail and in Congress, Democrats are also talking about expanding assistance for college and help for workers who lose their jobs to cheaper labor abroad.

Democrats have also been pushing for legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry, a favorite target of the economic populists.

Democratic leaders say that unless Congress restores the confidence of the middle class, it will be hard to sell Americans on more trade or even an immigration overhaul.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to do trade agreements, immigration reforms or any of these other kinds of reforms,” Ms. Pelosi said, “until we present a positive, aggressive economic agenda to the American people — until they know where they stand, now and in the future.”

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they’re losing their jobs, but they think it is.”

Democratic leaders in the House recently announced that their legislative priorities did not include the renewal of the president’s “fast track” authority to negotiate new trade agreements, which expired this month. First, they said, they want to find ways “to expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans.”

There is anxiety on both left and right of the Democratic Party about this new populism. Many on the left worry that the Democratic establishment is merely paying lip service. They are skeptical about the party leaders’ loyalties, noting that many rely on huge contributions from Wall Street, and many have a long commitment to a free-trade agenda. Democratic leaders have, in fact, tried to advance some trade agreements this year, only to meet with substantial resistance within their caucus. Many of the new populists also see the Democratic establishment as far too cautious in confronting what they see as broad inequities in the tax code.

At the same time, centrist Democrats, like those at the research group the Third Way, worry that the party is veering left away from the optimistic, pro-growth, business-friendly policies that Mr. Clinton championed.

But many Democrats argue that this is an inevitable response to the dislocation and unease in much of the country, which was a crucial factor in the party’s victory in Congress last November. The case for populism is made most powerfully by the Democrats who were elected to Congress last fall. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who defeated a Republican incumbent with a sharp attack on the trade and economic policies of recent years, said he was convinced that the populists were on the rise. He noted that he carried Ohio by 12.5 percentage points and that John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, lost the state by only about 2 percentage points, and with it the presidency.

“That’s because of the economic populist message,” Mr. Brown said. “They voted minimum wage, they voted trade, they voted student loans, they voted health care and prescription drugs, over what their traditional conservative social values might suggest. And that’s the route to winning Ohio for Hillary or Barack or anybody else.”

Even Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who is viewed as far too much of an establishment, free-trade Clintonian by many populists, says the party must respond. “The party that deals with globalization and economic security will win,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Pakistan militants end truce deal

Pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region say they have ended their truce with the government.

In a statement issued in Miranshah, the main town, the militants accused the government of breaking the agreement.

It came as Pakistan deployed more troops in the area fearing "holy war" after the storming of the militant Red Mosque last week that left 102 dead.

More than 50 Pakistanis, including soldiers and police recruits, have died in three attacks in the last two days.

Last September's truce ended two years of clashes and was aimed at stopping cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

Growing tension

"We are ending the agreement today," the Taleban Shura or Council said in pamphlets distributed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.


The council leaders released the statement Sunday amid growing tension in the area.

In a second consecutive day of violence on Sunday, at least 11 Pakistani soldiers - and three civilians - were killed in the Swat area of North West Frontier Province. Another 40 had been injured in Sunday's attack near the town of Matta, local police said.

In the city of Dera Ismail Khan, in the same province, at least 14 people died in a blast at a police recruitment centre. Dozens were wounded.

The area is well-known as a stronghold of pro-Taleban militants, they said.

On Saturday, a suicide attack on an army convoy near the village of Daznary, about 50km (30 miles) north of Miranshah, killed 24 and wounded at least 30.

There are fears the attacks could be linked to the storming of the Red Mosque.


The 102 dead there included 11 soldiers and an as yet unknown number of extremists and their hostages.

The government has sent thousands of new troops to the north-west fearing there could be a new "holy war" in revenge for the siege.

Many of the militants in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) complex were thought to have come from the north-west.

President Pervez Musharraf last week vowed to root out extremists "from every corner of the country".

Emotional front line of US war in Iraq

(l-r) Marine First Staff Sgt Chad Bilyeu with Tammy and Steven Delle
Chad Bilyeu had to break the worst possible news to Mr and Mrs Delle
Nashville, Tennessee, is the cradle of country music, home of doleful ballads about love, faith and sacrifice.

Here, as elsewhere in the US, people worry about Iraq.

But unless they have sons or daughters serving there, most of them remain emotionally detached - and they never have to think about what the arrival of a marine in a white van means.

Marine First Staff Sergeant Chad Bilyeu is a delivery man of sorts. But with a knock on the door, what he delivers is the worst kind of news.

As a casualty information officer for the 3rd Battalion of the US Marine Corps, based in Nashville, he has the task of telling families that their son or daughter, brother or sister, has died.

He has now made 11 personal visits of this kind - one of them, a little over a year ago, to Tammy and Steven Delle.


The Delles live just outside Nashville, in a middle-class neighbourhood where patriotism can be measured by the height of the flagpoles.

Tammy's 20-year-old son David Bass, a marine corporal, had been in Iraq for six weeks on his first tour when Staff Sgt Bilyeu's white van pulled up outside the house at 1100 one day.

"When we show up in our vehicle and knock on this door, they know that it's not good news," says Staff Sgt Bilyeu.

Tammy was summoned downstairs. "When I came down there were three marines standing right there," she says, describing the moment a year later with tears in her eyes.

She knew immediately that it meant her son was dead, she says.

"I felt that somehow if I could go back up the stairs I could make it not be true."

Staff Sgt Bilyeu, a reserve officer, says: "Coming in and telling that news is definitely hard. I think it's the least that I can do for him and his family - and hopefully give that family some closure."

Since that first visit, he has also provided much-needed emotional and practical support to the family, becoming almost like a surrogate son in the process.

"I cannot imagine why anybody would want to do that job but I'm very grateful that he did and that someone with such compassion is doing that job," says Tammy.

"How these marines are so tough and they have to be able to do things that the rest of us can't imagine doing and then when they're here telling me my son died, they are so gentle."

'Care for their hearts'

Preparation for the role of casualty notification and casualty assistance officers starts with a sobering lecture in the cold light of a conference room.

Marines salute fallen comrades, Camp Pendleton (file picture)
More than 3,500 US troops have died since the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Michelle Spark, with the Army Reserve's 99th Regional Readiness Command, tells a room full of trainees: "To be honest with you there isn't going to be enough training and there is no training that will actually prepare you to do the duty of casualty notification."

Reserve officers are briefed on the protocol of the process, which includes the requirement that the rank of the messenger be higher than that of the casualty.

They are also instructed to act as naturally as they can and to try to memorise the details of the casualty and how they died, so that they do not have to refer to their notes.

"Treat the family as you would like your family treated, and give them your full attention," Ms Spark says.

"There is more to being a good casualty assistance officer than the paperwork - take care of their hearts."

But there is no manual for the emotional front line of this war.

'No easier'

Back at the Delles's home, the living room has become a shrine to David. His uniform is on display and so is the flag that was draped over his coffin.

It is an austere room cluttered with memories and with symbols of David's dream, to serve as a marine.

With more than 3,500 US troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, according to Pentagon figures, it is a scene that is repeated in many homes across the country.

Staff Sgt Bilyeu, who has three young sons himself, says he believes his task is getting harder the more times he has to do it.

"When you are telling them the worst news they can possibly imagine, it takes a grind on you," he says. "It just does not get easier."

Beyond the bitter debate about this war, sons and daughters continue to die, families to grieve - and the officers delivering the bad news have many more miles to clock up.

North Koreans Say They’ve Shut Nuclear Reactor

North Korea told the United States today that it has shut down the nuclear reactor and readmitted a permanent international inspection team, completing its first step toward reversing a four-year-long confrontation with the United States during which the country appears to have built a small arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The North sent a message that the reactor at Yongbyon had been shut down through the country’s small mission to the United Nations at 9:30 this morning, according to Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state who negotiated the accord in February after gradually getting the Bush administration to reverse many of the decisions it made in the first term about how to deal with the reclusive state.

The North Korean claim, which was carefully synchronized with the arrival of a first shipment of fuel oil from South Korea, can be easily verified by the 10-member inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency. They arrived at the bleak, heavily guarded nuclear site roughly 60 miles north of Pyongyang today, to begin supervising what is envisioned as a lengthy disarmament plan.

American spy satellites will also be able to detect whether the reactor core is cooling, though that confirmation could take several days.

But Mr. Hill has said that it could be the end of the year before North Korea, in return for large shipments of additional fuel oil, completes the next critical steps required under the accord: Permanently disabling the reactor so that it can no longer produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and issuing a complete declaration of all of its nuclear assets — including how many weapons it may have produced since it threw out inspectors just before New Years Day in 2003.

“Declaration is one of the early next steps,” Mr. Hill said in Tokyo before the notification of the shutdown. “We would expect a comprehensive list, declaration, to be in a matter of several weeks, possibly a couple of months. We see it as coming before disabling of the facilities,” he said.

He cautioned that the shutdown was “just the first step.”

It may also be the easiest. Far more difficult, according to experts and former negotiators with North Korea, will be convincing the country to disgorge what the C.I.A. estimates is enough plutonium fuel for eight or more weapons. Almost all of that was produced starting in 2003, while the United States was distracted by the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

The accord signed in February commits the country to eventually ridding itself of that fuel or the weapons it may have been turned into. But it sets no deadlines, and getting the North to take those steps would require a second negotiation.

“I could imagined that the next steps could extend beyond this administration,” William Perry, the former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, who conducted negotiations with North Korea all through the late 1990s, said in an interview in his office at Stanford University on Friday. “And the North Koreans will demand a pretty high price for that.”

Still, for President Bush the announcement today constitutes a rare diplomatic victory for an administration besieged on many fronts. In recent weeks the rising demands from Congress for a date to begin the withdrawal from Iraq, the struggle to keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban from expanding new footholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a rapidly expanding nuclear challenge from Iran has created a sense in Washington and around the world that Mr. Bush is badly weakened, and could spend the last 18 months of his presidency attempting to undo steps taken in the first six and a half years.

But the shutdown of the reactor and readmitting inspectors gives him an opportunity to argue that a five-year-long strategy of negotiating alongside North Korea’s neighbors — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — is finally bearing fruit. Mr. Bush’s innovation in dealing with the North Koreans has been an insistence that all of those countries must be party to any deal.

That approach appears to have been vindicated, though in the end the administration had to drop its insistence that North Korea would not be rewarded from reversing the steps it took in 2003, when it threw out the inspectors, cranked up the production of bomb material, and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

To lure Kim Jong Il, the North’s reclusive leader, to return to the status quo of 2002, Mr. Hill and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to route around Vice President Cheney to strike a deal that called for the North to receive large shipments of oil as it took these first steps. They returned $25 million in cash that the administration had claimed was the ill-gotten gains of counterfeiting and arms sales, in the end using the Federal Reserve to get the money from a bank in Macao into the hands of the North Korean leadership. That process took months longer than anyone expected, delaying the reactor shutdown.

The administration’s critics also noted that the February agreement to provide the North with oil bore a strong resemblance to the 1994 accord between the North and the Clinton administration that Ms. Rice had denounced at the beginning of the Bush administration as an ill-conceived giveaway, and that hardliners in the administration dismantled in 2003.

The divisions over North Korea policy ran so deep that some members of the Bush Administration departed, partly in protest. Among them was Robert Joseph, the assistant secretary of state for arms control and disarmament, who told Ms. Rice that he believed the United States was helping prop up a regime that President Bush had termed evil, one that locks dissidents in gulags and whose people have starved.

Russia suspends arms control pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended the application of a key Cold War arms control treaties.

Mr Putin signed a decree citing "exceptional circumstances" affecting security as the reason for the move.

Russia has been angered by US plans to base parts of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) limits the number of heavy weapons deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Urals mountains.


The Russian suspension will become effective 150 days after other parties to the treaty have been notified, President Putin's decree says.

The suspension is not a full-scale withdrawal - but it means that Russia will no longer permit inspections or exchange data on its deployments.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said Moscow was not "shutting the door to dialogue".

"We have submitted to our partners proposals on ways out of the situation. And we continue to wait for a constructive reaction," Mr Kislyak said.

But a Nato spokesman said the alliance "regretted" Russia's decision.

"The allies consider this treaty to be an important cornerstone of European security," James Appathurai said.

He added that the move was "a disappointing step in the wrong direction".

Russia's suspension of its application of the treaty is yet another sign of a worsening relationship between the US and Russia, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus.

An informal meeting earlier in July at the Bush family's Maine home seems to have done very little to improve ties between the two leaders, he says.

It is also yet one more sign of a more assertive Russian foreign policy, our diplomatic correspondent says.

The CFE agreement of 1990 was one of the most significant arms control agreements of the Cold War years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (l) and US President George W Bush (file image from 02/07/2007)
Talks at President Bush's family home did little to defuse tensions

It set strict limits on the number of offensive weapons - battle tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery - that the members of the Warsaw Pact and Nato could deploy in Europe, stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals.

In the wake of the collapse of communism, the treaty was revised in 1999, in part to address Russian concerns.

But this revised treaty has never been ratified by the Nato countries who want Russia to withdraw all of its forces from two breakaway regions with Russian-speaking majorities - Abkhazia in Georgia and Trans-Dniester in Moldova.

"The CFE treaty and missile defence are the two major irritants between Russia and the West. It would have been easy, it still is easy, I think Nato allies feel, to move closer to ratifying the CFE treaty," the Nato spokesman added.