#0065 RRS Newsletter for October 28, 2007

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Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or suggestions you can reach me directly HERE. Or on Myspace HERE.
Stay rational,
and the RRS MI team

Table of Contents

Click on a title to view the article.

Click HERE to find your local affiliate!

Rational Response Squad News

Brian's Blog Things you can do to help us grow, and what I'm doing

RRS Affiliate News

Newest addition to the family, RRS Utah!

Science News

Volcanic Eruptions And Global Warming Likely Cause Of Great Dying 250 Million Years Ago Humans And Monkeys Share Machiavellian Intelligence St. Bernard Study Shows Human-directed Evolution At Work Missing Black Hole Report: Hundreds Found!


Lawsuit against Robinson reinstated; local woman accuses priest of rape, torture Pakistan's Bhutto visits ancestral home Inside rebel Pakistan cleric's domain Turkey: We will make Kurd rebels grieve


Turks say US pressure won't stop attack Iranians complaining about economic woes Putin warns against more Iran sanctions US levies harsh sanctions against Iran


Atheist Blood Drive Atheists for Autism Research Charity! Religious Victim of the day Matthew Chapman at AAI 07


Dubya: The Cruise Missile From Hell Louis CK on Gay Marriage I Blame Jesus Bill Hicks - Christ and Christians

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Kelly and I are going to Borders to see our story in Radar Magazine.

Sapient's picture Submitted by Sapient on Mon, 2007-10-15 10:15.

I'm in a rush, but I just wanted to tell you that the November issue of Radar Magazine has a three page story on us. You can head to Borders Books around the country today to pick up the issue, consider calling in advance to double check. Barnes and Noble stocks Radar, but both stores we visited still had last issue, and the computer didn't think they'd get it for another month. We think that was an error due to the fact that Radar was previously bi-monthly. Another user reports that his Barnes and Noble stocks it.

So... head to Borders today if you want the November issue in which our 3 page spread is shown. Hopefully Kelly and I will be able to scan the magazine in here and show it to you (after it's no longer a current issue).

Here's what they say on their site:
The No-God Squad
How a scrappy band of heathens became a media sensation—and gave godlessness a fresh new face.
By Richard Rys

Radars online story simply links to the Blasphemy Challenge vid... GREAT EXPOSURE FOR THE VIDEO!

Make sure to comment at the Radar Online story page (currently comments seem to be broken, we have a phone call in to them)!! That's another way that Radar will measure the success of the story and show that we can generate some buzz for them. I know, I know, everybody hates to register for anything, but it's free and you're supporting a good cause. You wont have to wait for email confirmation either.

If you forget... there is a split second of the writer who got the story in Radar in our opening video to the WOTM slaughter.

Link to video on Revver where you can download free: http://one.revver.com/watch/261770/flv/affiliate/78047


direct link:

You can give your copy of Radar to a friend later. We'll even personalize it. The first 15 people to upload a video attached to ours (coming soon) will be eligible to receive one of the three copies we autographed. We'll award 1 each time we get 5 video responses. Videos can consist of you checking out the magazine at a Borders, maybe include a visit to the atheist section there on film (let's give Borders some credit for making an atheism section at most stores). You could also make a video of you at home reading the mag, or talking about our story in the mag on your video. Try to give some props to Radar for being on the cutting edge, if you can. They've given a fair shake and have talked about Hitchens quite a bit.

Sapient's blog | add new comment | write to author | quote | delicious delicious | digg digg | reddit reddit | magnoliacom magnoliacom | newsvine newsvine | furl furl | google google | yahoo yahoo | technorati technorati | subscribe blog | subscribe post

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Things you can do to help us grow, and what I'm doing

Blog or Digg our post on Digg which mentions our new historic video site project.

Running alongside Margaret Downey on this whole atheist unity thing we've been helping some friends build their recognition. We've got quite a few new sites that will be coming on our network and you'll be able to hop from site to site, leave comments, rsvp for events, and participate in projects that embrace the goals and aims of The Rational Response Squad.

Brought online last week: http://www.MargaretDowney.com

Today we find out that Margaret hits the opening Alexa ranks extremely high, at around 3,000,000... about a million better than Greg Epstein (and dozens of other popular atheist sites) Greg Epstein!

The IE warning will be on all of our sites soon as well, although it will be reduced in size amongst all sites... get firefox with google toolbar now!!


Additionally please pick up the Alexa toolbar for firefox, so that your hits are counted in our page ranking. We have just recently realized with hard data that we are among the top atheist websites in the world, and much of it has come without our hits even counting. We'd easily be able to claim we are one of the top 3 most popular atheist communities in the world with just a little push in a few areas. It's those areas that we are developing a focus on right now. Sites like Stumbleupon (which delivers tons of our traffic) should be utilized by our users. You can click a thumbs up button on every page of our site very easily and submit reviews of pages (submitting reviews of pages is very helpful). Making sure to affix the tags atheist/agnostic/atheism would be nice, since we miss out on some google ranking on those words, with our rank being built more on the word "rational."

Make sure you've said something positive our main stumbleupon review page, and click that you like RationalResponders.com.

Del.icio.us is a site where you can bookmark your favorites and then see them from wherever you log in around the world, no matter where you are. The delicious add on.

We've added Digg buttons as well as a host of others. Please start using these services on our site, and use them often. Especially reddit and digg. Our site generates tons of new and fresh content, so if you use these sites to promote stories you find here, you will help take us to the next level.

We are worthy... we aren't simply out for ourselves. We will be spreading the love and working out arrangements to help, host, and bring on to our network a fleet of new sites in the next year or two.

Sites in development to be on the Rational Response Squad Network (same username and password at each site):

http://www.GreydonSquare.com (on our network in 1-3 months)
http://www.wotmwatchdog.org (on our network in a week)
http://www.comedyjesus.com (on our network in 1-3 months)
http://www.religionisretarded.com (on our network in 1-3 months)

We also have www.MargaretDowney.com up and running fairly well now.

http://www.briansapient.com will soon be a wordpress site. We are considering building 3 word press sites. http://www.RookHawkins.com and Kelly would have a site as well. These sites would be like personal bio sites, that would heavily link to stories on our network sites.

If you want to see my site in development right now check out: http://www.briansapient.com/blog

This blog on RRS will still be the main place to get all the info on my whereabouts. Please place my blog in your rss feeder, or in a feed on your site. (make reviews and click "like it" in my blog with stumbleupon)

Our activist team has been working hard to get our content on to other channels. Here are the highlights, you should get involved!

  • We now have a revenue generating lulu.tv account. Here is our homepage at lulu.tv. We will tinker with a podcast which will be a feed of old material on a sporadic basis. Lulu will be hosting every one of our videos soon, and tons of audio over the long run. We'll also release at least one book on Lulu within the next 18 months, so snoop around.
  • Another Podcast method I'm exploring is Podango. We might use Podango in conjunction with our wordpress sites (non rrs network) to show and subscribe to our podcast. Here is our page on Podango.
  • Kelly created a Last.fm group for The Rational Response Squad. Last.fm allows you to see what types of music your friends are listening to, and join groups with each other.
  • NEW GOOGLE GROUP! Join our new google group.
  • Digg all the stories that RRS website diggs! That'll be the easiest way to make sure you're doing your part on digg.
  • There is an rss feed for the posts on Digg that are important to Digg. It seems to be slow (or down), but here it is.
  • Here's our account on del.icio.us.
  • The team is loading our live video page with much of our material.
  • Here is our account on reddit. You can look at our account and rank up and comment the stories you like.

Please, you tell me. Which of the following do you use? Personally I would've never used any of them, but it seems they are vital to our site receiving more recognition.

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Newest addition to the family, RRS Utah!

We have a new chapter as of Saturday, Rational Response Squad Utah is being run by long time supporter *iVY*. So if any readers out there are in that state, be sure to look her up! You can reach her on Myspace HERE! On behalf of the rest of us local affiliates, we welcome you, and I'm sure your chapter will be a great success in the land of the Mormons.

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Volcanic Eruptions And Global Warming Likely Cause Of Great Dying 250 Million Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2007) — The greatest mass extinction in Earth's history also may have been one of the slowest, according to a study that casts further doubt on the extinction-by-meteor theory.

Creeping environmental stress fueled by volcanic eruptions and global warming was the likely cause of the Great Dying 250 million years ago, said USC doctoral student Catherine Powers.

Writing in the November issue of the journal Geology, Powers and her adviser David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences at USC, describe a slow decline in the diversity of some common marine organisms.

The decline began millions of years before the disappearance of 90 percent of Earth's species at the end of the Permian era, Powers shows in her study.

More damaging to the meteor theory, the study finds that organisms in the deep ocean started dying first, followed by those on ocean shelves and reefs, and finally those living near shore.

"Something has to be coming from the deep ocean," Powers said. "Something has to be coming up the water column and killing these organisms."

That something probably was hydrogen sulfide, according to Powers, who cited studies from the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Arizona and the Bottjer laboratory at USC.

Those studies, combined with the new data from Powers and Bottjer, support a model that attributes the extinction to enormous volcanic eruptions that released carbon dioxide and methane, triggering rapid global warming.

The warmer ocean water would have lost some of its ability to retain oxygen, allowing water rich in hydrogen sulfide to well up from the deep (the gas comes from anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the ocean).

If large amounts of hydrogen sulfide escaped into the atmosphere, the gas would have killed most forms of life and also damaged the ozone shield, increasing the level of harmful ultraviolet radiation reaching the planet's surface.

Powers and others believe that the same deadly sequence repeated itself for another major extinction 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic era.

"There are very few people that hang on to the idea that it was a meteorite impact," she said. Even if an impact did occur, she added, it could not have been the primary cause of an extinction already in progress.

In her study, Powers analyzed the distribution and diversity of bryozoans, a family of marine invertebrates.

Based on the types of rocks in which the fossils were found, Powers was able to classify the organisms according to age and approximate depth of their habitat.

She found that bryozoan diversity in the deep ocean started to decrease about 270 million years ago and fell sharply in the 10 million years before the mass extinction that marked the end of the Permian era.

But diversity at middle depths and near shore fell off later and gradually, with shoreline bryozoans being affected last, Powers said.

She observed the same pattern before the end-Triassic extinction, 50 million years after the end-Permian.

Powers' work was funded by the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, the American Museum of Natural History and the Yale Peabody Museum, and supplemented by a grant from USC's Women in Science and Engineering program.

Geology is published by the Geological Society of America.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Southern California.

Read the original story HERE!

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Humans And Monkeys Share Machiavellian Intelligence

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2007) — When it comes to their social behavior, people sometimes act like monkeys, or more specifically, like rhesus macaques, a type of monkey that shares with humans strong tendencies for nepotism and political maneuvering, according to research by Dario Maestripieri, an expert on primate behavior and an Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.

"After humans, rhesus macaques are one of the most successful primate species on our planet; our Machiavellian intelligence may be one of the reasons for our success" wrote Maestripieri.*

Maestripieri has been studying monkeys for more than 20 years and has written extensively on their behavior. He has studied them in Europe, at a research center in Atlanta, and on an island in Puerto Rico, where researchers established a rhesus macaque colony for scientific and breeding purposes.

Rhesus macaques live in complex societies with strong dominance hierarchies and long-lasting social bonds between female relatives. Individuals constantly compete for high social status and the power that comes with it using ruthless aggression, nepotism, and complex political alliances. Sex, too, can be used for political purposes. The tactics used by monkeys to increase or maintain their power are not much different from those Machiavelli suggested political leaders use during the Renaissance.

Alpha males, who rule the 50 or so macaques in the troop, use threats and violence to hold on to the safest sleeping places, the best food, and access to the females in the group with whom they want to have sex. Like human dictators intent on holding power, dominant monkeys use frequent and unpredictable aggression as an effective form of intimidation. Less powerful members of the rhesus macaque group are marginalized and forced to live on the edges of the group's area, where they are vulnerable to predator attacks. They must wait for the others to eat first and then have the leftovers; they have sex only when the dominant monkeys are not looking.

"In rhesus society, dominants always travel in business class and subordinates in economy, and if the flight is overbooked, it's the subordinates who get bumped off the plane," Maestripieri said. "Social status can make the difference between life and death in human societies too," he pointed out. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, the poorer members of the community accounted for most of the hurricane's death toll.

Male macaques form alliances with more powerful individuals, and take part in scapegoating on the lower end of the hierarchy, a Machiavellian strategy that a mid-ranking monkey can use when under attack from a higher-ranking one. Altruism is rare and, in most cases, only a form of nepotistic behavior. Mothers help their daughters achieve a status similar to their own and to maintain it throughout their lives. Females act in Machiavellian ways also when it comes to reproduction. They make sure they have lots of sex with the alpha male to increase the chances he will protect their newborn infant from other monkeys 6 months later.

"But while they have lots of sex with the alpha male and make him think he's going to be the father of their baby, the females also have sex with all the other males in the group behind the alpha male's back," Maestripieri said. They do so just in case the alpha male is sterile or he dies or loses his power before the baby is born.

Struggles for power within a group sometimes culminate in a revolution, in which all members of the most dominant family are suddenly attacked by entire families of subordinates. These revolutions result in drastic changes in the structure of power within rhesus societies, not unlike those occurring following human revolutions. There is one situation, however, in which all of the well-established social structure evaporates: when a group of rhesus macaques confronts another one and monkey warfare begins. Rhesus macaques dislike strangers and will viciously attack their own image in a mirror, thinking it's a stranger threatening them. When warfare begins, "Even a low-ranking rhesus loner becomes an instant patriot. Every drop of xenophobia in rhesus blood is transformed into fuel for battle," Maestripieri wrote.

"What rhesus macaques and humans may have in common is that many of their psychological and behavioral dispositions have been shaped by intense competition between individuals and groups during the evolutionary history of these species" Maestripieri said. Rhesus groups can function like armies, and this may explain why these monkeys have been so successful in the competition with other primates.

Pressure to find Machiavellian solutions to social problems may also have led to the evolution of larger human brains.

"Our Machiavellian intelligence is not something we can be proud of, but it may be the secret of our success. If it contributed to the evolution of our large brains and complex cognitive skills, it also contributed to the evolution of our ability to engage in noble spiritual and intellectual activities, including our love and compassion for other people", Maestripieri said.

*This is in the new book Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World.


Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago.

Read the original story HERE!

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St. Bernard Study Shows Human-directed Evolution At Work

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Top: the skull from a St. Bernard dog, donated to the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland, in 1892. Bottom: another St. Bernard skull, donated to the museum in 1976. The most obvious difference to be seen from these photos is the angle between the top of the nose and the forehead. This angle is more acute in the modern dog. (Credit: Copyright Abby Drake)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2007) — The St Bernard dog – named after the 11th century priest Bernard of Menthon – is living proof that evolution does occur, say scientists.

Biologists at The University of Manchester say that changes to the shape of the breed’s head over the years can only be explained through human-directed evolution through selective breeding, an artificial version of natural selection.

The team, led by Dr Chris Klingenberg in the Faculty of Life Sciences, examined the skulls of 47 St Bernards spanning 120 years, from modern examples to those of dogs dating back to the time when the breed standard was first defined.

"We discovered that features stipulated in the breed standard of the St Bernard became more exaggerated over time as breeders selected dogs that had the desired physical attributes," said Dr Klingenberg.

"In effect they have applied selection to move the evolutionary process a considerable way forward, providing a unique opportunity to observe sustained evolutionary change under known selective pressures."

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, are based on studies of St Bernard skulls donated by Swiss breeders to the Natural History Museum in Berne.

Compared to their ancestors, modern St Bernards have broader skulls, while the angle between the nose and the forehead is steeper in modern dogs and they have also developed a more pronounced ridge above the eyes.

"These changes are exactly in those features described as desirable in the breed standards. They are clearly not due to other factors such as general growth and they provide the animal with no physical advantage, so we can be confident that they have evolved purely through the selective considerations of breeders.

"Creationism is the belief that all living organisms were created according to Genesis in six days by 'intelligent design' and rejects the scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.

"But this research once again demonstrates how selection -- whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man -- is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet."

The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Manchester.

Read the original story HERE!

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Missing Black Hole Report: Hundreds Found!

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2007) — Astronomers have unmasked hundreds of black holes hiding deep inside dusty galaxies billions of light-years away.

The massive, growing black holes, discovered by NASA's Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes, represent a large fraction of a long-sought missing population. Their discovery implies there were hundreds of millions of additional black holes growing in our young universe, more than doubling the total amount known at that distance.

"Active, supermassive black holes were everywhere in the early universe," said Mark Dickinson of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. "We had seen the tip of the iceberg before in our search for these objects. Now, we can see the iceberg itself." Dickinson is a co-author of two new papers appearing in the Nov. 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Emanuele Daddi of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique in France led the research.

The findings are also the first direct evidence that most, if not all, massive galaxies in the distant universe spent their youths building monstrous black holes at their cores.

For decades, a large population of active black holes has been considered missing. These highly energetic structures belong to a class of black holes called quasars. A quasar consists of a doughnut-shaped cloud of gas and dust that surrounds and feeds a budding supermassive black hole. As the gas and dust are devoured by the black hole, they heat up and shoot out X-rays. Those X-rays can be detected as a general glow in space, but often the quasars themselves can't be seen directly because dust and gas blocks them from our view.

"We knew from other studies from about 30 years ago that there must be more quasars in the universe, but we didn't know where to find them until now," said Daddi.

Daddi and his team initially set out to study 1,000 dusty, massive galaxies that are busy making stars and were thought to lack quasars. The galaxies are about the same mass as our own spiral Milky Way galaxy, but irregular in shape. At 9 to 11 billion light-years away, they existed at a time when the universe was in its adolescence, between 2.5 and 4.5 billion years old.

When the astronomers peered more closely at the galaxies with Spitzer's infrared eyes, they noticed that about 200 of the galaxies gave off an unusual amount of infrared light. X-ray data from Chandra, and a technique called "stacking," revealed the galaxies were, in fact, hiding plump quasars inside. The scientists now think that the quasars heat the dust in their surrounding doughnut clouds, releasing the excess infrared light.

"We found most of the population of hidden quasars in the early universe," said Daddi. Previously, only the rarest and most energetic of these hidden black holes had been seen at this early epoch.

The newfound quasars are helping answer fundamental questions about how massive galaxies evolve. For instance, astronomers have learned that most massive galaxies steadily build up their stars and black holes simultaneously until they get too big and their black holes suppress star formation.

The observations also suggest that collisions between galaxies might not play as large a role in galaxy evolution as previously believed. "Theorists thought that mergers between galaxies were required to initiate this quasar activity, but we now see that quasars can be active in unharassed galaxies," said co-author David Alexander of Durham University, United Kingdom.

"It's as if we were blindfolded studying the elephant before, and we weren't sure what kind of animal we had," added co-author David Elbaz of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique. "Now, we can see the elephant for the first time."

The new observations were made as part of the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey, the most sensitive survey to date of the distant universe at multiple wavelengths.

Consistent results were recently obtained by Fabrizio Fiore of the Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Italy, and his team. Their results will appear in the Jan. 1, 2008, issue of Astrophysical Journal.


Adapted from materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Read the original story HERE!

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Lawsuit against Robinson reinstated; local woman accuses priest of rape, torture


An Ohio appellate court yesterday reinstated a 2005 lawsuit filed by a Toledo woman alleging that Gerald Robinson, the Toledo priest convicted last year in the 1980 murder of a nun, was part of a group that repeatedly tortured and raped her in satanic rituals when she was a child.

The 6th District Court of Appeals said the statute of limitations does not bar the woman's claims because she did could not identify her alleged abusers "until she saw their faces/names from the television and newspaper reports about them" in 2004 and 2005.

In separate court action, attorneys representing Robinson in the murder case have asked the appellate court to release the 69-year-old Catholic priest from prison on a $250,000 property bond, with electronic monitoring, pending the outcome of his criminal appeal.

"Appellant has now languished in prison for 19 months awaiting this court's merit review of his conviction," said the 92-page motion, filed on Robinson's behalf Wednesday by attorneys John Donahue and Richard Kerger.

Mr. Kerger acknowledged yesterday that it would be highly unusual for a court to let a convicted murderer out on bond, but said this case has been unusual "from the get-go."

Robinson, a longtime priest in the Toledo Catholic Diocese, was arrested in April, 2004, for the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who was strangled nearly to death and then stabbed 31 times on April 5, 1980 - Holy Saturday - in a chapel at the then-Mercy Hospital.

The priest was convicted of murder in May, 2006, after a three-week trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court and is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence at Hocking Correctional Facility in southeast Ohio.

Mr. Kerger said the motion seeking Robinson's release was filed because there are "serious issues involved and the fellow literally could die in prison before the matter is finally resolved."

Mr. Donahue filed similar motions that were re-jected by Judge Thomas Osowik, of Lucas County Common Pleas Court, in October, 2006, and a 6th District Court of Appeals panel the following month.

"This appears to be a regurgitation of what they have already filed and have been denied," Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said yesterday. "Nothing in the case has changed to justify letting this man, that the jury found to be guilty, out at this time."

In the civil case, the appellate court reversed a decision in January by Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Ruth Ann Franks to throw out the woman's suit because her claims were made after the statute of limitations had expired.

The woman sued anonymously in April, 2005, as Survivor Doe with her husband, Spouse Doe, claiming she was the victim of sexual abuse and torture during ritualistic ceremonies in the basement of St. Adalbert Catholic Church in North Toledo, starting in 1968, when she was 5, and continuing until 1975.

The woman, now in her 40s, sued Robinson; Gerald Mazuchowski, a former lay minister; the Toledo Catholic Diocese; St. Adalbert Parish, and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales alleging that Robinson, Mr. Mazuchowski, and other men dressed in nuns' habits and using women's names abused her during bizarre rituals.

Among other allegations, she said the group cut her with a knife; made her drink the blood of animals; drew an upside down cross on her abdomen, and forced her to perform sex acts on the men.

The suit also said the victim's mother participated in the abuse and was becoming a "high priestess of Satan."

Survivor Doe said she did not know the names of her abusers until she saw Robinson on TV after his 2004 arrest, and a photo of Mr. Mazuchowski accompanying a 2005 Blade article.

The appeals court cited four reasons that Survivor Doe's case was unique:

•She did not know the perpetrators' identities until years after the abuse.

•The men "successfully controlled Survivor Doe during the abusive years by threatening to kill her if she 'told.'•"

•The victim was psychologically impaired by the trauma.

•She never considered that her perpetrators could be priests "because of her indoctrination in the Roman Catholic Church belief that priests are divinely chosen as representatives of God and the parish is a protector of children."

Thomas Pletz, an attorney for the Toledo diocese and St. Adalbert, called it "a preliminary decision" and pointed to a statement in the appeals court decision that said, "Whether or not the discovery rule is applicable to this case is an issue that can only be addressed after further facts are put in evidence."

Mark A. Davis, Survivor Doe's attorney, described the ruling as "huge."

"For the last five years, the church has been able to hide behind the statutes of limitations, which prevent the merits of the case from being heard," he said.

"Now the actual facts of the case can be explored and exposed, which can make for a scary Halloween for the Catholic Church."

Contact David Yonke at: [email protected] or 419-724-6154.

Read the original story HERE!

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Pakistan's Bhutto visits ancestral home

By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer

GARHI KHUDA BAKSH, Pakistan - Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto went to her ancestral village Saturday amid tight security and sprinkled flower petals on her father's tomb on her first trip to provincial Pakistan since the bloody assassination attempt against her nine days ago.

She vowed to fight Islamic extremism — a call that came as pro-Taliban militants in another corner of the country executed 13 captives in response to a military assault against their leader.

Bhutto returned on Oct. 18 from an eight-year exile to a massive welcome rally in Karachi, shattered by a suicide bombing that killed 143 people. She has since been largely confined to her residence in that city, but eager to start her campaign for parliamentary elections slated for January.

"There is an attempt by the extremists and the terrorists to dictate who should be allowed to hold public meetings and who should not ... The agenda of the terrorists is to stop democratic parties from flourishing so they can continue to grow," Bhutto told journalists Saturday evening at her vast family compound.

Pakistan has a choice between "creeping Talibanization" or standing up to save Pakistan, she said. "I believe the message of Islam is peace, and I hope that together as a nation can work for peace."

Security was tight Saturday, but throngs of people still swarmed around Bhutto at her family's white-domed marble mausoleum in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh.

Wearing her trademark white headscarf, Bhutto smiled and waved to supporters from her SUV's sunroof with black metal sheets shielding her on the left and right, and a female aide standing in front of her. Her convoy was flanked by paramilitary troops in white pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on top. Other guards clung to the sides of the SUV.

Hundreds of armed private security guards surrounded the mausoleum and formed a tight circle around the opposition leader as she got out of her vehicle, pushing their way through a chaotic fray of supporters and journalists.

In the mausoleum she paid respects to her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first popularly elected leader who was overthrown by the military and hanged in 1979. During her 45-minute visit, she said prayers and spread pink flower petals on his tomb and those of other relatives.

She later went to a balcony and waved to about 2,000 supporters. Banners depicting Bhutto and her late father covered walls and hung from lamp posts.

"I just wanted a glimpse of Bhutto from afar," said Ali Hassan, 52. "It seems very beautiful that she has come here after being away so long."

Bhutto, whose two governments between 1988 and 1996 toppled amid allegations of mismanagement and massive corruption, came to Pakistan after talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf yielded an amnesty on pending graft cases against her. After elections, they could team up to fight Islamic extremism.

Militant violence has become increasingly common, not just in the volatile frontier region bordering Afghanistan, but in major cities such Karachi and the capital, Islamabad.

Bhutto says she is not intimidated by the Karachi attack. She has said she would visit Lahore and Islamabad, and also wants to go to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and remote areas along the Afghan border, where the Taliban and al-Qaida are tightening their grip.

She has accused elements in the government and security services of trying to kill her, and demanded that international experts join the investigation — a call the government rejected.

"Our investigators have solved all the cases of the past including those of Karachi, and I believe those involved in the Oct. 18 attack will also be arrested," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters Saturday in Karachi.


Associated Press writer Ashraf Khan in Garhi Khuda Baksh and Zarar Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

Read the original story HERE!

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Inside rebel Pakistan cleric's domain

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer

SWAT, Pakistan - Long-haired militants with assault rifles and walkie-talkies guard the approach to the stronghold of Maulana Fazlullah, the radical cleric whose mission to spread fundamentalist Islam has provoked a bloody showdown with Pakistan's government.

Beyond the checkpoint, down a narrow track winding through orchards and by the clear blue waters of the Swat River, an Associated Press reporter was granted access to a sprawling seminary beyond state control, behind the new front line in Pakistan's faltering campaign against Islamic extremists.

Inside is a mosque and a maze of dozens of rooms, many still under construction. A shop sells audio cassettes of speeches by Fazlullah, who has earned the nickname "Mullah Radio" for his pirate FM broadcasts urging followers to wage holy war against America and its allies.

Six years after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf joined the U.S.-led war on terror, pro-Taliban militants are gaining sway across a swath of the country's northwest near Afghanistan.

Officials said Saturday that Fazlullah's followers killed 13 captives — six security personnel and seven civilians — in apparent retaliation for an assault on Fazlullah's stronghold, where security forces backed by helicopters and militants traded fire using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other weapons.

At least three people died in the clashes.

Jehangir Khan, a local resident, said he saw six beheaded bodies, with notes attached reading: "It is the fate of an American agent. Whoever works for America will face the same fate."

"The civilians were killed to terrorize the people. They say they were either informers or were supporting the government side," Badshah Gul Wazir, the top security official of North West Frontier Province, told the AP by telephone from Peshawar, the provincial capital.

While scores of militants lurked outside the seminary, the concrete complex near the village of Imam Dheri was largely empty Saturday.

Fragments of rockets and shells that had been fired by security forces were displayed outside the complex, which appeared undamaged. Security forces were still posted on overlooking hilltops.

In a back room, Fazlullah's spokesman, Sirajuddin, was cagey about his leader's whereabouts. "He is here and we are in contact," Sirajuddin told an AP reporter and two local journalists. He was constantly interrupted by calls on two cell phones.

After the government deployed 2,500 paramilitary troops in Swat, once famed as a tourist resort, a suicide bomber hit a truck carrying soldiers Thursday in the district's main town, killing 20.

The gray-bearded Sirajuddin, who goes by only one name, denied his movement's involvement in the bombing, and claimed that local villagers sympathetic to the militants had executed the abducted men whose bodies were found Saturday. Still, he threatened that militants could resort to such tactics in response to government action.

"If a military operation starts against us there will be suicide attacks as well as a guerrilla war," he said.

Sirajuddin laid out Fazlullah's demands: hostilities would cease if Shariah, or Islamic law, was adopted and the government released Sufi Muhammad, Fazlullah's father-in-law who was jailed in 2002 for having sent thousands of volunteers to Afghanistan during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Muhammad had been head of the banned pro-Taliban group Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi — or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law. After his arrest Fazlullah became the new chief. The group has re-emerged this year in Swat and Malakand, another impoverished conservative region near the Afghan border.

The seminary has yet to open for religious studies but often draws thousands of worshippers at Friday prayers, residents say. Sirajuddin claimed some 80,000 devotees had gathered for prayers Fazlullah led during the recent religious holiday of Eid ul-Fitr.

As well as marshaling armed militants and enforcing Islamic law, Fazlullah has used his FM station to urge schoolgirls to wear all-covering burqas and has forced several development organizations to close their offices, accusing them of spreading immorality for using female staff, residents say.

That has irked authorities, but Sirajuddin said tensions in Swat had risen in the wake of the Pakistani army raid on the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad — which had launched a freelance, Islamic anti-vice campaign similar to Fazlullah's own efforts to dispense Islamic justice. More than 100 people died in the July assault on the mosque and neighboring girls' seminary.

"The situation in the whole country, particularly here, has changed because of Lal Masjid," Sirajuddin said, referring to the Red Mosque. "This situation is the reaction to Lal Masjid."

After the 30-minute interview, the journalists left the riverside seminary, set against a glorious backdrop of mountains, peach and apple orchards and maize and rice fields.

On the road out, a militant in his early 20s, wearing a camouflage sleeveless jacket, black turban and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle stopped and challenged the AP reporter: "What are you doing here? We don't want spies here. You know what we do to spies."

Suddenly, about 60 or 70 militants appeared. Most were young men in their teens or 20s with long hair and beards with assault rifles. Some older men carried shot guns and single-bore rifles used for hunting. One man in his 50s made a show of cocking his pistol.

The reporter called Fazlullah's spokesman by cell phone, before handing his phone to the young militant.

"Let him go," Sirajuddin said, and the reporter was allowed to pass.

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Turkey: We will make Kurd rebels grieve

By DAVID RISING, Associated Press Writer

ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey's top military commander promised Saturday to make Iraq-based Kurdish rebels "grieve with an intensity that they cannot imagine," while the prime minister said his nation would fight "when needed," regardless of international pressure.

The military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said Friday that Turkey would wait until Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Bush in Washington on Nov. 5 before deciding on any cross-border offensive.

But Erdogan said his country could not be pinned down by dates in deciding whether to attack.

"We can't say when or how we will do it, we will just do it," he said.

Clashes between government forces and guerrilla fighters have been escalating since the rebels broke a cease-fire in 2004. Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, fighters have killed at least 42 people in the past month. Those casualties included some 30 Turkish soldiers in two ambushes that were the boldest attacks in years.

"We are determined to make those who cause this sadness grieve with an intensity that they cannot imagine," Buyukanit said.

The bellicose comments come amid an increasing nationalist fervor in Turkey, with the country's red flag with white crescent and star — and images of modern Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — draped over scores of balconies, displayed in the backs of cars, and sold by vendors walking the streets.

Thousands took to the streets of several Turkish cities, condemning the PKK and pushing for action.

Some 1,000 people chanted "down with the U.S.A., down with the PKK" outside the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and said they were ready to fight the Kurdish rebels, yelling "we're all soldiers."

Hundreds more people marched in Istanbul, while another 1,500 — mostly children — took to the streets of the predominantly Kurdish city of Sirnak, in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border.

Military helicopters shuttled more troops in to the mountains near Iraq, while patrols secured roads and checkpoints.

In a show-of-force exercise about 20 miles from the border, near the village of Ikizce, a group of Turkish tanks fired 10 rounds into the mountains toward Iraq.

Elsewhere, Turkish forces shelled two Iraqi areas along the western portion of the 205-mile border, Iraqi border guard officer Col. Hussein Tamr said.

Meanwhile, the PKK indicated it was considering the release of eight Turkish soldiers it captured in an operation on Oct. 21 in response to calls by a lawmaker.

Ahmet Turk, a Kurdish member of Turkey's Parliament, called Wednesday for the soldiers to be released unharmed.

Speaking in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah, PKK spokesman Abdul-Rahman Al-Chaderchi said the group was working on a response.

"Within a short time we will end the issue of the captives," Al-Chaderchi told The Associated Press.

A military campaign in Iraq could derail one of the few stable areas in Iraq, and trap the United States in an awkward position between key allies: NATO-member Turkey, the Baghdad government and the self-governing Iraqi Kurds in the north.

But talks between Iraqi and Turkish official on Friday failed to produce any breakthroughs and the Iraqi delegation returned home on Saturday.


Associated Press Writers Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara and Douglas Birch in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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Turks say US pressure won't stop attack

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey warned Thursday that U.S. objections will not stop its troops from crossing into Iraq to pursue Kurdish separatists, while a steady stream of U.S.-made Turkish fighter jets roared across the skies along the border.

High-level Iraqi officials arrived in Turkey as part of frantic efforts to persuade the government not to order an attack on Kurdish guerrilla bases in northern Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq sent American diplomats to join the delegation.

Turkey's leaders have been demanding that U.S. and Iraqi authorities stop Turkish Kurd rebels from staging attacks across the frontier, threatening to send in a large-scale offensive if nothing is done soon.

Turkey still seems willing to refrain from a big attack until at least early next month, when it is scheduled to host foreign ministers to discuss Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to go to Washington afterward for talks with President Bush.

Turkish artillery has been periodically firing across the border, and Turkish television showed video of smoke rising from three villages in northern Iraq that were purportedly hit by shells Thursday.

Dogan news agency, which provided the footage, said there were no casualties because villagers had fled their homes. It did not cite a source. The agency identified one of the villages as Hezil, three miles from the border with Turkey's Hakkari province.

The army, meanwhile, reported a clash with rebels earlier in the week. It said a "group of terrorists" was spotted preparing an attack near a military outpost in Semdinli province close to Iraq on Tuesday and troops opened fire with tank cannon, artillery and other heavy weapons.

The report on the military's Web site also increased the official number for rebels killed since Sunday to at least 64.

The rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, denied suffering any casualties and called the military statement a "lie," the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said.

U.S. officials are urging Turkey not to launch an incursion that could destabilize Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north, the country's most stable region.

But Erdogan said the U.S. desire to protect the north would not hinder Turkey's fight against PKK guerrillas. The rebels use mountain bases in Iraq to rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to attack government forces in the heavily Kurdish southeast.

The Bush administration "might wish that we do not carry out a cross-border offensive, but we make the decision on what we have to do," Erdogan said during a visit to Romania. "We have taken necessary steps in this struggle so far, and now we are forced to take this step and we will take it."

He said the U.S. should repay Turkish assistance for the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 by supporting Turkey's struggle against the Kurdish rebels, who have demanded autonomy and more democratic rights for Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

Erdogan's government is facing growing pressure in his streets to move against the rebels, who have stepped up violence in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of Turks have joined in demonstrations or attended funerals for slain troops this week to demand tough action after a dozen soldiers were killed and eight went missing in a rebel ambush Sunday. The Kurdish rebels say they captured the eight.

"We observe that Israel went into Lebanon to save two of its soldiers," student Haluk Soysal told AP Television News at an Istanbul protest, referring to the Israel-Hezbollah war a year ago. "But here in Turkey we have eight soldiers held hostage by the PKK, and still we have done nothing."

APTN cameramen reported several batches of Turkish F-16 fighters flying out of the air base at Diyarbakir and two F-4s flying low along the frontier Thursday, a day after Turkish warplanes reportedly pounded rebel positions on the Turkish side of the border.

More than 10 attack helicopters flew over Hakkari province as government-paid village guards in camouflage, wielding AK-47 asault rifles, patrolled below on roads leading to the border.

"We are totally determined to take all the necessary steps to end this threat," President Abdullah Gul said in Ankara before the arrival of an Iraqi delegation that included Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi.

Turkey is "expecting them to come with concrete proposals — otherwise, the visit will have no meaning," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said.

Yassin Majid, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said: "The political choice will be the first solution to solve the crisis. The Iraqi government insists on dialogue and cooperation to solve the crisis."

Iraq has promised to shut down offices of the PKK. But Turkey wants Iraqi and U.S. forces to destroy the main rebel bases in northern Iraq and extradite PKK leaders to Turkey.

Erdogan's government warns of a major military offensive as well as economic measures against northern Iraq if its demands are not met. The autonomous Kurdish administration in Iraq's landlocked north relies heavily on Turkish investment and fuel imports.

On a visit to Damascus, Syria, the speaker of Iraq's parliament warned the Turks that his government would cut off the flow of oil to Turkey from northern Iraq if Ankara imposes economic sanctions.

"Iraq is a rich country, and if there are economic pressures, we will cut off the Ceyhan pipeline," Mahmoud al-Mashhadani told reporters, referring to two pipelines that carry oil from northern Iraq to Turkey's Ceyhan oil terminal on the Mediterranean.

The Iraqi parliament does not have authority to suspend oil contracts, however, although lawmakers could pressure the government to punish Turkey.

In Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Iraqi forces should do all they can to stop the resupply of PKK insurgents sheltering in northern Iraq. He also called for Iraq's government to establish a PKK "leaders look-out list."

"Folks heading up that way need to be stopped, people coming down need to be picked up — to do everything possible to interdict resupply," Crocker told reporters.

But he added that he was not recommending Iraqi military action against the PKK.

Crocker did not say which members of his embassy staff were sent to Ankara with the Iraqi delegation. He said only that they would join what he called talks to defuse the crisis.

Turkish troops have killed hundreds of Kurdish rebels since Jan. 1, the state-run Anatolia news agency said, citing military sources. It did not say how many Turkish soldiers have died, but about 30 soldiers have been killed this month alone.

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Iranians complaining about economic woes

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - Despite the government's insistence that U.S. and U.N. sanctions aren't causing any pain, some leading Iranians have begun to say publicly that the pressure does hurt. And on Tehran's streets, people are increasingly worried over the economic pinch.

The sanctions have heightened resentment of the United States among some in the public. But they are also fueling criticism among Iranian politicians that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is mismanaging the crisis with hard-line stances that worsen the standoff with the West.

Washington announced new sanctions Thursday, targeting Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, which the U.S. accuses of supporting terrorism by backing Shiite militants in Iraq. The sanctions ban U.S. dealings with the extensive network of businesses believed linked to the Guards — and put stepped-up pressure on international banks to cut any ties with those firms.

The sanctions come at a time when Iran's economy is struggling, with dramatic price rises this year. The cost of housing and basic foodstuffs like vegetables have doubled or even quadrupled. The government also has imposed unpopular fuel rationing in an attempt to reduce expensive subsidies for imported gasoline.

Word of the U.S. move angered people in Tehran.

"The sanctions will damage us, our children and our people and not the government. Prices of everything increased up to double after former sanctions by the U.N.," said Morteza Morovvati, a 45-year-old teacher. "Who in the world and the Iranian government is going to care about ordinary people?"

Hashem Nazari, a retired clerk for an electricity equipment company, said that even before the new U.S. sanctions on some Iranian banks, his son living in Germany could not send him money through the banks.

"For the past two months, he has sent me money through private money exchangers," Nazari said.

Still, much of the anger appeared focused at the West.

"This will be another step by (President) Bush toward igniting war in the region," Mansour Rasti, 28, a graduate student in political science, said of the new sanctions.

Marzieh Aghai, a 37-year-old government bureaucrat, said she would support her country no matter what. "They (the Americans) don't know the Guards. We are proud of them."

Ahmadinejad and his allies are likely counting on sanctions to rally Iranians against the United States.

"Hard-liners in Tehran were looking forward for the sanctions. It helps them hide their incompetence behind the embargo," said political commentator, Saeed Laylaz.

But the new sanctions could worsen Ahmadinejad's political woes. Many conservatives who once backed him have joined reformers in criticizing Ahmadinejad. They point to his failure to fulfill promises to repair the economy — despite increased oil revenues — and say his fiery rhetoric goads the West into punishing Iran.

Ahmadinejad's sudden replacement of Iran's top nuclear negotiator with a close loyalist over the weekend also angered many conservatives in parliament.

Worry over sanctions has been increasingly expressed by figures high up in Iran's clerical leadership. Earlier this month, Hasan Rowhani, who sits on two powerful cleric-run bodies, the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council, said that "the economic impact is felt in the life of the people." He said Ahmadinejad has just been making more enemies for Iran.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad's predecessor as president, Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who remains influential, complained that Ahmadinejad claims "problems have been resolved but we see that problems remain unresolved."

The Bush administration hopes its new sanctions will push companies around the world to cut their business ties with Iran. "It is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran you are doing business with the IRGC," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, referring to the Guards.

So far, the response of Ahmadinejad's government to sanctions, including past rounds by the United States and the U.N. Security Council, has been defiance.

Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called earlier U.N. sanctions, which similarly punish a list of Iranian companies believed linked to the nuclear program, "a pile of papers that have no value."

On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, called the new U.S. measures "worthless and ineffective" and said they were "doomed to fail as before."

But the sanctions could increase Iran's isolation from international financing.

Most notably, the new sanctions ban dealings with two major Iranian banks, Bank Melli and Bank Mellat, adding them to a list of already banned banks. That means the banks will have difficulty turning to European banks for dollars, said Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury Department terrorism expert now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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Putin warns against more Iran sanctions

By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer

LISBON, Portugal - Russian President Vladimir Putin warned strongly Thursday against imposing new international sanctions on Iran, in words that appeared to be a response to newly announced U.S. measures to punish Tehran.

Putin spoke hours after Washington cut off Iranian military and banking institutions from the American financial system. The U.S. said the sanctions were in response to Iran's defiance of U.N. demands to curb its nuclear program and its alleged support for terrorism.

Arriving for a summit with European Union leaders, the Russian leader did not make any direct reference to the U.S. announcement., but he said the standoff with Iran will have to be resolved through patient talks.

"Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action?" Putin asked. "Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation."

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, has opposed a new push for a third round of U.N. sanctions over the Iranian defiance of a Security Council demand that it suspend enriching uranium.

The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that the Tehran regime denies. Iran says it is only working to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity and insists it will not give up uranium enrichment.

Speaking at a news conference after talks with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, Putin pointed to the long negotiations with North Korea that led to an agreement earlier this year for that communist nation to begin dismantling its nuclear facilities.

"Not long ago it didn't seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea's nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means," he said.

Putin has rebuffed Western calls for more sanctions against Iran by saying he has seen no evidence the Iranians are working on atomic weapons. But he said Thursday that when he visited Tehran last week, he reaffirmed Russia's strong opposition to the spread of such weapons.

On another matter, Putin warned against independence for Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Serbia that is another difficult issue between Russia and the West.

A Western-backed plan would grant the province internationally supervised independence, but Putin said giving in to independence demands from Kosovo's Albanians would encourage separatist trends in many European nations and former Soviet states.

"Why keep rocking the foundations of the international law, encourage and develop separatism in Europe and the ex-Soviet space?" he said.

Putin's annual meeting with EU leaders Friday seemed likely to be one of the most contentious in recent years, with a long-standing series of disagreements standing in the way of any partnership agreement between Russia and the 27-nation bloc.

Their recent summits have seen a steady decline in relations because of disputes over trade, energy, human rights, conflicts in the Balkans and other issues.

Just two minor deals were expected to be announced after Friday's meeting — one to increase cooperation in fighting drug use and trafficking, the other to boost Russian steel exports to western Europe.

Negotiators were not expected to resolve disagreements over energy, aviation, trade and human rights. The issue of visas for Russians traveling to the EU also is thorny.

Putin lamented that Moscow had good relations with some countries — Romania, for example — but prickly ties with others.

"The fewer barriers there are, including visa, the better," he said.


Associated Press writers Robert Wielaard in Brussels, Belgium, and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

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US levies harsh sanctions against Iran

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON - The United States announced harsh new penalties on the Iranian military and state-owned banking systems Thursday, raising pressure on the world financial system to cut ties with a regime the West accuses of bankrolling terrorism and seeking a nuclear bomb.

The U.S. sanctions on elements of Iran's vast armed forces and its largest bank are the most sweeping since 1979, when the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran ruptured diplomatic, business and military ties.

The sanctions are the first of their type imposed by the United States specifically against the armed forces of another government. They are part of the Bush administration's two-track approach to its chief adversary in the Mideast that offsets diplomatic overtures with sanctions, bellicose rhetoric and the implicit threat of military action.

U.S. officials insisted Thursday that the new moves do not hasten war and that the United States remains committed to finding a way to talk Iran out of a nuclear program the U.S. claims is hostile.

The punitive moves directly target Iranian organizations and people the U.S. accuses of supporting terrorism or spreading weapons of mass destruction, but the main effect is likely to fall elsewhere — on European and other overseas banks and firms that do business with oil-rich Iran.

"As awareness of Iran's deceptive behavior has grown, many banks around the world have decided as a matter of prudence and integrity that Iran's business is simply not worth the risk," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.

There has been grumbling, mainly in Europe, about earlier U.S. financial sanctions on Iran that overseas bankers found heavy-handed, but Paulson is right that some of Iran's former financial partners have already distanced themselves from Tehran under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Paulson and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the penalties together, a recognition that a year-old effort to levy unilateral Treasury sanctions has had far greater effect than the diplomatic channels Rice has pursued with Iran.

"Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security," through its nuclear program and export of ballistic missiles, Rice said, along with what she charged is backing for militants in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The latest sanctions will cut off more than 20 Iranian entities, including individuals and companies owned or controlled by the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, from the American financial system.

State-owned Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat were named supporters of global terrorist groups for their activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

Any assets found in the United States belonging to the designated groups must be frozen. Americans are also prohibited from doing business with those designated organizations.

Bank Melli is Iran's largest. The United States says it provides services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Bank Mellat serves the state Atomic Energy Organization and Bank Saderat routes money to terrorist or militant groups, the administration said.

The administration did not lay out any new evidence for the allegations.

The designations put companies outside the United States on notice that doing business with the designated groups could put them at risk of U.S. financial penalty.

The United States has the world's largest economy and the most influential banking system, and much of the world's business is done in dollars.

Paulson said it is nearly impossible for overseas businesses or banks to "know one's customer" in Iran and avoid unwittingly funding terrorism or other illicit activities.

Iran's Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics were designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology.

The Revolutionary Guards is the largest component of Iran's military and has influence in business and other spheres. The defense ministry entity is the parent organization for Iran's aerospace and ballistic missile operations.

The Quds Force, which was named a supporter of designated terrorist organizations, is a part of the Guard Corps that Washington accuses of providing weapons, including powerful explosives blamed for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

In Iran, the Guards' chief shrugged off the U.S. pressure.

"They have applied all their efforts to reduce the efficiency of this revolutionary body," General Mohammad Ali Jafari said, according to the state news agency IRNA. "Now as always, the corps is ready to defend the ideals of the revolution more than ever before."

The United States has long labeled Iran a state supporter of terrorism and has been working for years to gain support for tougher global sanctions aimed at keeping the country from developing nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration has won two rounds of watered-down U.N. Security Council sanctions but has been frustrated by months of delay in seeking a third, tougher set of penalties.

Iran has ignored the U.N. sanctions and an offer from European nations that do extensive business with Iran would give the oil-rich country economic and other incentives in exchange for dropping nuclear activities that could produce a bomb.

Iran is continuing work on its nuclear program, which it says is peaceful.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday against new sanctions on Iran, saying they would lead to a dead end.

"Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end?" Putin said. "It's not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand."

Russia and China, which hold veto power at the U.N. Security Council, are allies or business partners of Iran and are the chief holdup for the new sanctions sought by the United States.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the new sanctions smack of the "chest-pounding" that preceded the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and raise "the specter of an intensified effort to make the case for an invasion of Iran."


Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Jeannine Aversa contributed to this report.

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Atheist Blood Drive

In an attempt to show the world that atheists are every bit as charitable as the religious of society, and that we need no "divine warrent" to be so, the RRS has set up a daughter organization called Atheist Volunteers. We hope you will all chip in. The most prominent of it's projects is the Atheist Blood drive.

Click HERE to get more info on this important project!

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Atheists for Autism Research Charity!

Check these guys out, and donate if you can!

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Religious Victim of the day

Twelve barbers murdered for cutting hair

The gunman was not after government officials or American collaborators. He had come because of the way Mr. Hussein cut hair. Within seconds, the masked man opened fire, fatally wounding Mr. Hussein, 23, who lived long enough to describe the attack. The gunman also killed his partner and a customer. In southern Baghdad, the hazards of life have come to this: gangs of militant Islamists are warning barbers that it is haram - forbidden - to shave men's beards or do Western-style haircuts. As many as 12 barbers have been killed, Iraqi officials say, including five in one day in late January.

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Matthew Chapman at AAI 07

Matthew Chapman at AAI 07: pt 1 of 2

Matthew Chapman at AAI 07: pt 2 of 2 (Q&A)

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Dubya: The Cruise Missile From Hell

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Louis CK on Gay Marriage

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I Blame Jesus

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Bill Hicks - Christ and Christians

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Huge thanks go to everyone that has helped me out on this endeavor. Specifically, Zombie, head of RRS Ontario for multple article submissions, Voiderest of RRS Texas, my coding guru without whom many of the features of this newsletter (like the Table of Contents) would not be in place, Brian Sapient for his guiding hand and for the space in which this is published, and all of you who have contributed articles. Cheers go out to you all!!!