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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.

MOSCOW -- For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

[Prof. Panarin]

Igor Panarin

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin's ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country's top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

Mr. Panarin's apocalyptic vision "reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today," says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. "It's much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union."

Mr. Pozner and other Russian commentators and experts on the U.S. dismiss Mr. Panarin's predictions. "Crazy ideas are not usually discussed by serious people," says Sergei Rogov, director of the government-run Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, who thinks Mr. Panarin's theories don't hold water.

Mr. Panarin's résumé includes many years in the Soviet KGB, an experience shared by other top Russian officials. His office, in downtown Moscow, shows his national pride, with pennants on the wall bearing the emblem of the FSB, the KGB's successor agency. It is also full of statuettes of eagles; a double-headed eagle was the symbol of czarist Russia.

The professor says he began his career in the KGB in 1976. In post-Soviet Russia, he got a doctorate in political science, studied U.S. economics, and worked for FAPSI, then the Russian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. He says he did strategy forecasts for then-President Boris Yeltsin, adding that the details are "classified."

In September 1998, he attended a conference in Linz, Austria, devoted to information warfare, the use of data to get an edge over a rival. It was there, in front of 400 fellow delegates, that he first presented his theory about the collapse of the U.S. in 2010.

"When I pushed the button on my computer and the map of the United States disintegrated, hundreds of people cried out in surprise," he remembers. He says most in the audience were skeptical. "They didn't believe me."

At the end of the presentation, he says many delegates asked him to autograph copies of the map showing a dismembered U.S.

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

"It would be reasonable for Russia to lay claim to Alaska; it was part of the Russian Empire for a long time." A framed satellite image of the Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia like a thread hangs from his office wall. "It's not there for no reason," he says with a sly grin.

Interest in his forecast revived this fall when he published an article in Izvestia, one of Russia's biggest national dailies. In it, he reiterated his theory, called U.S. foreign debt "a pyramid scheme," and predicted China and Russia would usurp Washington's role as a global financial regulator.

Americans hope President-elect Barack Obama "can work miracles," he wrote. "But when spring comes, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

The article prompted a question about the White House's reaction to Prof. Panarin's forecast at a December news conference. "I'll have to decline to comment," spokeswoman Dana Perino said amid much laughter.

For Prof. Panarin, Ms. Perino's response was significant. "The way the answer was phrased was an indication that my views are being listened to very carefully," he says.

The professor says he's convinced that people are taking his theory more seriously. People like him have forecast similar cataclysms before, he says, and been right. He cites French political scientist Emmanuel Todd. Mr. Todd is famous for having rightly forecast the demise of the Soviet Union -- 15 years beforehand. "When he forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976, people laughed at him," says Prof. Panarin.

[Igor Panarin]

Write to Andrew Osborn at andrew.osborn@wsj.com

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Shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist's trial postponed

BAGHDAD December 30, 2008, 06:41 am ET · The trial of a journalist who has been hailed as a hero in the Arab world after throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush was postponed on Tuesday pending a review of the case by a higher court, a spokesman for Iraq's Higher Judicial Council said.

The trial of Muntadhar al-Zeidi was to begin Wednesday on charges of assaulting a foreign leader, which his defense team said carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. But court spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said that the trial was been postponed pending an appellate court ruling on what charges the journalist should face.

Bayrkdar said the defense team was seeking a lesser charge. Two of his lawyers said they want a reduced charge of insulting a foreign leader — which carries a maximum sentence of three years.

"There is a difference between assault and insult, al-Zeidi wanted to express his objection to the occupation. So the case is within context of an insult and not an intention to kill," his lawyer Diaa al-Saadi told Associated Press Television News.

If the appellate court decides to reduce the charges, then al-Saadi said al-Zeidi could be released on bail. It was unclear when the appellate court would issue its ruling.

Al-Zeidi threw his shoes at Bush during a Dec. 14 joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The gesture of contempt for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq made al-Zeidi a folk hero in Iraq and thousands of people have demonstrated for his release.

"According to the appeals raised by Muntadhar al-Zeidi's lawyers to the Federal Appeals Court, the Central Criminal Court has decided to postpone the trial sessions until the Federal Appeals Court issues a decision about these appeals, then another date for the trial will be set," Bayrkdar said.

Before the postponement was announced, one of al-Zeidi's lawyers told Associated Press Television News that he expected a lengthy trial and a sentence of no less than three years if he is convicted.

Al-Zeidi's brother, Dhargham al-Zeidi, said that the family would turn to an international court if they found the Iraqi jurisdiction system "biased and unfair."

"If the Iraqi jurisdiction system will be fair and transparent then its fine, but if it will be politicized," he said, then "we will rely on an international court."

The case transformed al-Zeidi from a little-know television journalist into an international celebrity for defying the U.S. leader, but it also embarrassed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who was standing next to Bush when the shoes were thrown.

Last week the Iraqi leader sought to undermine the journalist's popularity by saying the he had confessed that the mastermind of the attack was a militant known for slitting his victims' throats.

Al-Maliki said that in a letter of apology to him al-Zeidi wrote that a known militant had induced him to throw the shoes. The alleged instigator has never been identified and neither al-Maliki nor any of his officials have provided further explanation. The letter was never made public.

The journalist's family denied the claim and alleged that al-Zeidi was tortured into writing the letter.

His brother Uday al-Zeidi said he met the journalist in prison about a week after the incident and that there had been no regret for throwing the shoes.

He claimed his brother had a missing tooth and cigarette burns on his ears. He also said his brother told him that jailers also doused him with cold water while he was naked.

The investigating judge, Dhia al-Kinani, has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes.

There has been no independent corroboration that al-Zeidi was abused in custody, and Iraqi officials have denied al-Zeidi has been abused.

The show-throwing incident also led to a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of parliament's abrasive Sunni speaker and delayed by a week approval of key a vote on whether non-U.S. foreign troops would be allowed to stay in Iraq beyond New Year's Eve.

The parliament speaker, who angered other parliament members during a discussion of the shoe-thrower, had tried to delay a vote on the troop agreement as a way to hold onto his job, but the effort failed.

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Mrs. Bush, Rice: Bush presidency not a failure

The two most influential women in President George W. Bush's White House — first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — are strongly defending the president's legacy against critics who are calling his administration one of the worst in history.

"I know it's not, and so I don't really feel like I need to respond to people that view it that way," Mrs. Bush said in an interview that aired Sunday. "I think history will judge and we'll see later."

Rice took a similar view in a separate interview, saying that claims that the Bush administration has been one of the worst ever are "ridiculous."

"I think generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this president for what he's done. This generation will," Rice said.

"Because I think the fact that we have really made foreign assistance not just an issue of giving humanitarian aid or giving money to poor people, but really insisting on good governance and fighting corruption," she said. "I think the fact that this president has laid the groundwork for a Palestinian state, being the first president, as a matter of policy, to say that there should be one, and now, I think, laying the foundation that's going to lead to that Palestinian state — I can go on and on."

In her interview, Mrs. Bush called the shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad an "assault." She rebuffed Bush administration critics who contend the U.S. turned its military might and resources to the war in Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Bush noted that under her husband's watch, the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein and liberated millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq from oppressive governments. She also highlighted the president's work to provide treatment for disease like AIDS and malaria to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. She said her husband responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a way that has kept the nation safe.

"I think that's very, very important," she said.

Mrs. Bush said that while the president laughed it off when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at him during a news conference earlier this month in Iraq, she was not amused. The president deftly dodged the shoes and wasn't hit. He continued the news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after security officials dragged the journalist from the room.

"The president laughed it off," she said. "He wasn't hurt. He's very quick. As you know, he's a natural athlete and ducked it. But on the other hand, it is an assault. And I think it should be treated that way. And I think people should think of it that way."

On the other hand, she said the incident reflects change in Iraq.

"As bad as the incident is, in my view, it is a sign that Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves," she said.

Mrs. Bush challenged critics who contend that Iraq was a distraction the U.S. mission in Afghanistan where heightened violence is causing renewed instability.

"Well, I don't know that I would agree with that at all," Mrs. Bush said. "I don't think that's true at all. We've stayed very, very invested in Afghanistan. Not as invested militarily, maybe, and maybe that's what the critics say, that it should have been more military. But I think we stayed very invested."

Rice said it won't be long before Bush's contributions to the world will be acknowledged.

"When you look at what this president took on in terms of AIDS relief and foreign assistance to the world, when you look at the number of countries ... and the number of people that this president has actually liberated — you know, I really am someone who believes that you don't want to pay too much attention to today's headlines," she said.

But recognition of big achievements sometimes take a long time, Rice said.

Rice noted that while Germany was reunified in 1990, the work that made it possible was done in the 1940s, "when things didn't look quite so rosy." So historians who are now making judgments about the Bush administration and its Middle East policies aren't very good historians, Rice said.

"One cannot yet judge the effects of decisions that this president has taken on what the Middle East will become," Rice said. "I mean, for goodness' sakes, good historians are still writing books about George Washington."

Mrs. Bush spoke on "Fox News Sunday," while Rice was on CBS "Sunday Morning."

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Cheney: ‘I Don’t Have Any Idea’ Why People Don’t Like Me

dc.jpgOnly 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Dick Cheney is doing as Vice President. In an interview with his hometown Wyoming newspaper, The Caspar Star-Tribune, Cheney expressed his bewilderment over his low approval numbers:

QUESTION: How do you explain your low approval rating?

CHENEY: I don’t have any idea. I don’t follow the polls.

My experience has been over the years that if you govern based upon poll numbers, upon trying to improve your overall poll ratings, people I’ve encountered who do that are people who won’t make tough decisions. And the job the president has and those who advise him is to make those basic fundamental decisions for the nation that nobody else is authorized or able to make.

In addition to his well-documented abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, Cheney’s public disapproval ratings might be explained in part by his own personal disregard for the public. When told that two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Iraq war, Cheney responded “so?,” adding that he didn’t care what the American people thought.

While he says he doesn’t follow the polls, Cheney was all too proud to state shortly after the 2004 elections: “President George W. Bush won the greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history.” (That’s no longer true.)

Cheney is still holding out hope, however, that the polls will turn his way. He said recently, “I’m personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road in light of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

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Iran orders Muslims to defend Palestinians

Dudi Cohen

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians against Israel's attacks on Gaza, state television said.

"All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world's pious people are obliged to defend the defenseless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible. Whoever is killed in this legitimate defense is considered a martyr," state television quoted Khamenei as saying in a statement outlining the fatwa.

Khamenei also criticized some Arab governments for their "encouraging silence" towards the Israel's raids on Gaza. "The Zionist regime must by held accountable by Islamic governments. The heads of this regime must be held personally accountable for these crimes and the ongoing siege," the religious leader said.

Accordingly, a state TV report late Saturday quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran will stand by the Palestinians. He also tried to garner greater support for the Palestinians by waging an informal PR campaign against Israel among Arab states.

"Israel is trying to take revenge against the Palestinians, but with God's help, it will be defeated," the president said to his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad. Ahmadinejad also spoke with Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Ramadan Abdulla to express his support for the Palestinian group.

Also condemning Israel, Iran's Foreign Ministry called the attacks "genocide" and asked international bodies to defend the Palestinians.


Anti-Israel rally in Tehran (Photo: AFP)

Alaeddin Borujerdi, a legislator and head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, endorsed these sentiments early Sunday when he compared Israel's aerial attack on Gaza to Nazi crimes.

"The Zionists are doing what Hitler did during World War II, when they attacked innocents in a barbaric manner," Borujerdi told the state-run Iranian news agency IRNA, during a pro-Palestinian rally in the nation's capitol, attended by several Iranian parliamentarians.

Israel's air strikes in Gaza on Saturday and Sunday have targeted strategic Hamas-related targets, in an attempt to put an end to unceasing rocket fire launched by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza against Israel towns. Of the some 270 Palestinians killed, most were members of the Gazan security forces.

But such facts don't seem to affect the anti-Israeli outcry in Iran. All across the country, masses are gathering for solidarity rallies, with the encouragement of the Islamic government. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, attended one such rally, held in 'Palestinian Square', in Tehran.

Larijani accused Israel of undertaking the attack because of political motivations, ahead of upcoming Israeli elections. But he also expressed anger at Israel's neighbors.

Arab nations standing silent in the face of Israel's operation "are making a strategic mistake because they think that they can change the situation on the ground in their favor," he said.

Echoing Khameini and Larijani's hints, Borujerdi called Egypt out by name and censured the Arab nation for being the primary obstacle to Iran's attempts to send aid to Gaza. "Iran asked Egypt to allow aid to be sent by sea or air and received only preliminary agreement," he said.

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* News * World news * United States CBS newsman's $70m lawsuit likely to deal Bush legacy a new blow

As George W Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement.

A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election.

He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2m on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather's report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

"CBS broke with long-standing tradition at CBS News and elsewhere of standing up to political pressure," says Rather. "And, there's no joy in saying it, they caved ... in an effort to placate their regulators in Washington."

Rather's lawsuit makes other serious allegations about CBS succumbing to political pressure in an attempt to suppress important news stories. In particular, he says that his bosses at CBS tried to stop him reporting evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to Rather's lawsuit, "for weeks they refused to grant permission to air the story" and "continued to raise the goalposts, insisting on additional substantiation". Rather also claims that General Richard Meyers, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military official in the US, called him at home and asked him not to broadcast the story, saying that it would "endanger national security".

Rather says that CBS only agreed to allow him to broadcast the story when it found out that Seymour Hersh would be writing about it in the New Yorker magazine. Even then, Rather claims, CBS tried to bury it. "CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News," he says.

The charges outlined in Rather's lawsuit will cast a further shadow over the Bush legacy. He recently expressed regret for the "failed intelligence" which led to the invasion of Iraq and has received heavy criticism over the scale and depth of the economic downturn in the United States.

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Trooper Says Election Delayed Alaska Drug Case

Associated Press

WASILLA, Alaska -- The mother of Bristol Palin's boyfriend sent text messages discussing drug transactions less than a month after the young woman's mother, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was nominated as the Republican vice presidential candidate, according to court documents filed this week.

An affidavit from an Alaska state trooper, filed Monday, states that Sherry L. Johnston referred in her messages to two police informants to "coffee" as a code for the drug OxyContin.

Johnston, 42, was arrested on felony drug charges last week after state troopers served a search warrant at her Wasilla home. She allegedly sold OxyContin tablets to the informants on three occasions this fall, the affidavit states. Police said two of the meetings were recorded by a hidden camera and a microphone.

Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston, 18. Sarah Palin announced in September that her daughter Bristol, also 18, was pregnant and that Johnston was the father. Their child was due to be born Dec. 18, her grandfather Chuck Heath told the Anchorage Daily News recently.

Authorities say the case against Sherry Johnston began in the second week of September, when drug investigators intercepted a package containing 179 OxyContin pills. That led to the arrest of the suspects, who agreed to be informants.

According to the affidavit, Johnston sent a text message to one informant Oct. 1, writing: "Hey, my phones are tapped and reporters and god knows who else is always following me and the family so no privacy. I will let u no when I can go for cof."

The trooper's affidavit indicates that Sarah Palin's candidacy factored into the investigation, with state officials delaying execution of a search warrant until this month, when Johnston was "no longer under the protection or surveillance of the Secret Service."

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Activists Detained For Taking Ash Spill Photographs