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Editor, The Konformist
Taliban support on rise in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
Mon Nov 6, 2006
For Ata Mohammad, who lost 19 members of his family during a fight
between NATO and Taliban militants, the choices ahead are bleak.
He has no particular wish to join the Taliban. He could support NATO
and President Hamid Karzai's government, but feels betrayed by the
violence in the Panjwayi district he lives in. His other options
include becoming a refugee in Pakistan or Iran.
Many in Kandahar say their confidence in the government is falling,
and some say that is helping fuel support for the Taliban.
"Should we join the Taliban? Should we join the government? We don't
know," Mohammad said. "The Taliban, they are causing problems for
us, but the government is causing problems for us too."
"We can hardly feed our family bread. We are struggling for our
life," he said. "And with the Taliban and the government and NATO
fighting, we are victims, too."
Many in southern Afghanistan had high hopes after the election of
their fellow Pashtun tribesman Karzai in 2004, but two years later
remain mired in poverty and lamenting a lack of security and
development in the south.
Heavy-handed NATO tactics, including recent airstrikes in Panjwayi
that killed civilians and hundreds of suspected militants have
only deepened suspicion of foreign forces attempting to crush a
resurgent Taliban resistance five years after its hardline regime
was ousted for hosting Osama bin Laden.
Mohammad Eisah Khan, a former judge and a tribal elder in Kandahar
with a long, white beard, rattled off the reasons support for the
government is slipping.
"There is no security, the people are not safe," he said. The
government "is plagued by corruption. There is no education. There
are very few schools. There are no good doctors in Kandahar
The Afghan government is facing a "crisis of legitimacy" because
many appointed administrators "are quite simply thugs," said Joanna
Nathan, the Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group
Gauging support for the government or for an insurgent militia known
for its suicide attacks and roadside bombs is difficult in a country
with no reliable way of conducting opinion polls. Nathan said most
Taliban fighters are not ideologically driven but pick up arms as
the result of disillusionment or powerlessness.
"Taliban sympathizers are increasing day by day," said Abdul Wadood,
a jobless 55-year-old who last year moved his family out of the
Panjwayi district, an hour's drive from Kandahar.
"Eighty percent of the people out in the districts support the
Taliban. Every house has a fighter in it supporting the Taliban. If
the government comes, they just put down their weapons," he said.
Western and Afghan officials say only a few Taliban backers support
the fighters' hard-line ideology. Poppy growers tacitly support the
Taliban because of the protection they provide, and others are only
looking for a paying job or are coerced.
Kandahar's governor, Asadullah Khalid, said all Afghans want a "good
life and peaceful life and want a good future for their children,"
which does not include supporting the Taliban.
But if the Taliban enter a remote village "and say they want food,
and if they (villagers) don't give you food, they will kill you,
what would you do?" he said.
Kandahar's streets have more horses and buggies than the shiny SUVs
so common in Kabul that signal the presence of foreign aid workers.
A local member of parliament, Khalid Pashtun, said Taliban fighters
can also now walk the streets here something they could not do two
It's a sign, he says, of the government's weakness. He estimates
that only 30 percent of the people in the Kandahar area support the
"But that doesn't mean 70 percent support the Taliban," he
said. "They hate the Taliban for sure. They will bring back their
strict lifestyle. They will ban music, they will ban TV, they will
ban women's rights. The people have already tasted these things,
they don't want to go back."
Associated Press reporter Noor Khan contributed to this report.
Britney Spears files for divorce in LA
By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ, Associated Press Writer
Britney Spears is saying bye-bye K-Fed. The pop princess filed for
divorce Tuesday from her husband, former backup dancer and aspiring
rapper Kevin Federline. The Los Angeles County Superior Court filing
cites "irreconcilable differences," said court spokeswoman Kathy
Spears, 24, married rapper Kevin Federline, 28, in 2004. They have a
1-year-old son, Sean Preston, and an infant son who was born Sept.
12. The divorce papers identify the baby as Jayden James Federline.
A message left with Spears' attorney, Laura Wasser, was not
Spears married Federline eight months after ending a 55-hour Las
Vegas marriage to her childhood friend, Jason Alexander. Her second
marriage has provided endless fodder for tabloids, which have
speculated frequently that the union was in trouble.
Federline's attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, issued a statement
"There is no statement at this time as requested by Mark's client,
Kevin Federline," said Michael Sands, spokesman for Kaplan.
In the divorce papers, Spears asks for custody of the couple's two
children, with visitation rights for Federline. The filing lists as
separate property, and thereby off-limits to
Federline, "miscellaneous jewelry and other personal affects,"
earnings and other assets to be determined later.
The filing comes just a day after Spears, back in shape after the
birth of her second child, made a surprise appearance on David
Letterman's "Late Show" in New York by popping up behind him as he
was sitting at his desk.
Federline appeared in the movie "You Got Served" and performed as a
backup dancer for singer Justin Timberlake, Spears' former
boyfriend. He was previously involved with actress Shar Jackson of
TV's "Moesha." Federline and Jackson have two children.
Born in Kentwood, Louisiana in 1981, Spears got her first taste of
fame at age 11 when she joined the "New Mickey Mouse Club" TV show.
Her fellow Mouseketeers included future superstars Justin Timberlake
and Christina Aguilera.
Five years after leaving the show she released her debut
album, "Baby One More Time." In the video for the title track,
Spears dressed provocatively in a school uniform and cemented her
reputation as a sex symbol. Yet, throughout a years-long romance
with Timberlake, Spears always proclaimed her chastity.
By 2003, she had fully embraced her sex-charged image, sharing an
open-mouthed kiss with Madonna during the MTV Video Music Awards.
Rumsfeld resigns as secretary of defense
By ROBERT BURNS and KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writers
After years of defending his secretary of defense, President Bush on
Wednesday announced Donald H. Rumfeld's resignation within hours of
the Democrats' triumph in congressional elections. Bush reached back
to his father's administration to tap a former CIA director to run
The Iraq war was the central issue of Rumsfeld's nearly six-year
tenure, and unhappiness with the war was a major element of voter
dissatisfaction Tuesday and the main impetus for his departure.
Even some GOP lawmakers in Congress became critical of the war's
management, and growing numbers of politicians were urging Bush to
Bush said Robert M. Gates, 63, a national security veteran, family
friend and currently president of Texas A&M University, would be
nominated to replace Rumsfeld.
"Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that sometimes it's necessary to
have a fresh perspective," Bush said in the abrupt announcement
during a postelection news conference.
Asked whether Rumsfeld's departure signaled a new direction in a war
that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 U.S. troops and cost
more than $300 billion, Bush said, "Well, there's certainly going to
be new leadership at the Pentagon."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Rumsfeld was not leaving
immediately. Rumsfeld planned to deliver a speech on the global war
on terrorism at Kansas State University on Thursday.
Just last week Bush told reporters that he expected Rumsfeld, 74, to
remain until the end of the administration's term. And although Bush
said Wednesday that his decision to replace Rumsfeld was not based
on politics, the announcement of a Pentagon shake-up came on the
heels of Tuesday's voting, in which Democrats captured control of
the House and could win control of the Senate if the remaining
undecided race in Virginia goes their way.
With his often-combative defense of the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld had
been the administration's face of the conflict. He became more of a
target and more politically vulnerable as the war grew
increasingly unpopular at home amid rising violence and with no end
Gates ran the CIA under the first President Bush during the first
Gulf war. He retired from government in 1993.
He joined the CIA in 1966 and is the only agency employee to rise
from an entry level job to become director. A native of Kansas, he
made a name for himself as an analyst specializing in the former
Soviet Union and he served in the intelligence community for more
than a quarter century, under six presidents.
Numerous Democrats in Congress had been calling for Rumsfeld's
resignation for many months, asserting that his management of the
war and of the military had been a resounding failure. Critics also
accused Rumsfeld of not fully considering the advice of his generals
and of refusing to consider alternative courses of action.
Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record) of Michigan and Rep. Ike
Skelton (news, bio, voting record) of Missouri the top Democrats
on the Armed Services committees said the resignation would only
be a positive step if accompanied by a change in policy.
"I think it is critical that this change be more than just a
different face on the old policy," Skelton said.
Rumsfeld, 74, has served in the job longer than anyone except Robert
McNamara, who became secretary of defense during the Kennedy
administration and remained until 1968. Rumsfeld is the only person
to have served in the job twice; his previous tour was during the
Rumsfeld had twice previously offered his resignation to Bush once
during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in spring 2004 and
again shortly after that. Both times the president refused to let
Gates took over the CIA as acting director in 1987, when William
Casey was terminally ill with cancer. Questions were raised about
Gates' knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal, so he withdrew from
consideration to take over the CIA permanently. Yet he stayed on as
Then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been a
critic of the younger Bush's policies, asked Gates to be his deputy
in 1989 during the administration of Bush's father. President Bush,
a former CIA director himself, asked him to run the CIA two years
later. The scandal had faded and Gates won confirmation.
After leaving government service, Gates joined corporate boards and
wrote a memoir, "From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of
Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War." It was published in
Gates is a close friend of the Bush family, and particularly the
first President Bush. He became the president of Texas A&M
University in August 2002. The university is home to the
presidential library of Bush's father.
Bush has considered Gates for jobs before, including in 2005 when he
was searching for a candidate to be the nation's first national
intelligence director. Gates declined to take the position,
disappointing some Republicans who hoped the veteran of Washington
would bring his expertise to this Bush administration.
Chavez Threatens to Halt Oil to U.S.
Nov 4, 2006
By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
threatened Saturday to halt oil exports to the United States and
said opponents of his leftist government are not welcome within the
military or the state-run oil company.
Also on Saturday, tens of thousands of supporters of Manuel Rosales,
Chavez's main challenger in Dec. 3 presidential elections, staged a
16-mile march through the capital Caracas. More than 1,000 police
were deployed along the route to prevent clashes between Rosales
supporters and "Chavistas" who gathered on street corners
shouting "Viva Chavez!" and "Oh, No! Chavez Won't Go!" as the
The opposition has accused Chavez's administration of political
coercion after Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez was caught on videotape
threatening to fire employees of state-run oil company Petroleos de
Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, who oppose Chavez.
"If they try to destabilize PDVSA, if the empire and its lackeys in
Venezuela attempt another coup, ignore the outcome of the elections
or cause election or oil-related upheaval, we won't send another
drop of oil to the United States," Chavez said in a speech to PDVSA
workers in the coastal city of Puerto La Cruz, 150 miles east of
Chavez - a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro - said President
Bush "had better tie down his crazies here in Venezuela" to prevent
a possible end to petroleum exports.
Venezuela supplied 12 percent of U.S. crude oil imports last year
and the U.S. remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.
On Friday, Chavez suggested anyone who does not like his leftist
policies should go somewhere else, like Miami.
Television footage released during the week by opposition supporters
showed Oil Minister Ramirez telling PDVSA workers to back Chavez or
give up their jobs. Opposition leaders said it was clear proof of
political coercion which violated rules against the use of state
institutions as campaign tools.
Earlier Saturday, Rosales urged PDVSA employees to help vote Chavez
out of office.
"They can be assured that nobody is ever going to know for whom they
voted," he told reporters during the march through the capital.
Rosales' campaign says electoral officials can impose a maximum fine
of $7,800 on Ramirez if it finds campaign rules have been broken. It
also is demanding an investigation by prosecutors.
In comments published by the Venezuelan daily newspaper Ultimas
Noticias on Friday, Ramirez said he did nothing to violate campaign
rules because there was no explicit call "to vote for one candidate
in particular but rather we backed President Chavez as head of
state." He said more internal videos would be released to quell any
Home-Delivered Pot All The Buzz
Dealers Selling High-Quality Marijuana Cheerfully Bring It To
Clients In New York City
By TOM HAYS
November 7 2006
NEW YORK -- In a city where you can get just about anything
delivered to your door - groceries, dry cleaning, Chinese food - pot
smokers are increasingly ordering takeout marijuana from drug rings
that operate with remarkable corporate-style attention to customer
An untold number of otherwise law-abiding professionals in New York
are having their pot delivered to their homes instead of visiting
drug dens or hanging out on street corners.
Among the legions of home delivery customers is Chris, a 37-year-old
salesman in Manhattan. He dials a pager number and gets a return
call from a cheery dispatcher who takes his order for potent strains
Within a couple of hours, a well-groomed deliveryman - sometimes a
moonlighting actor or chef - arrives at the doorstep of his
Manhattan apartment carrying weed neatly packaged in small plastic
"These are very nice, discreet people," said Chris, who spoke on the
condition that only his first name be used. "There's an unspoken
trust. It's better than going to some street corner and getting
ripped off or killed."
The phenomenon isn't new. It has long been the case across the
country that those with enough money and the right connections could
get cocaine or other drugs discreetly delivered to their homes and
places of business.
But experts say that home delivery has been growing in popularity,
thanks to a shrewder, corporate style of dealing designed to put
customers at ease and avoid the messy turf wars associated with
"It's certainly been the trend in the past 10 years in urban areas
that are becoming gentrified," said Ric Curtis, an anthropology
professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in
the drug culture.
The corporate model - and its profit potential - was demonstrated
late last year when the Drug Enforcement Administration announced
that it had taken down a highly sophisticated organization dubbed
the Cartoon Network. DEA agents arrested 12 people after using
wiretaps and surveillance and making undercover buys.
Authorities estimated that since 1999, the ring made a fortune by
delivering more than a ton of marijuana, some of it grown
hydroponically - without soil - in the basement of a Cape Cod-style
home on 10 acres in Vermont, where an informant reported that the
smell of the crop was overpowering.
The dealers, working out of a roving call center, processed 600
orders a day - from doctors, lawyers, Wall Street traders - even on
Christmas, investigators said.
One former customer named Lucia, a 30-year-old employee at an
entertainment cable network, recalled blatant deals done at the
company's Manhattan headquarters. Executives and employees alike
would pool their orders as if they were buying lunch together, then
await the arrival of a courier, Lucia said.
The cost was $60 for one plastic case holding 2 grams of marijuana -
a steep markup, but worth it because of convenience and quality, she
"It was kind, kind bud," she said. "Yummy stuff."
The emphasis on customer service and satisfaction was evident at one
stash house, where agents found more than 30 pounds of marijuana in
plain view, already packaged for holiday delivery, court papers
said. The packages featured the drug ring's cartoon character logo
and the greeting, "Happy Holidays From Your Friends at Cartoon!"
The operation's alleged mastermind, John Nebel, "should have been
the CEO of a Fortune 500 company," said his attorney, Steve Zissou.
Instead, Nebel, who is awaiting trial, could get a minimum of 10
years in federal prison if convicted. Prosecutors also are demanding
the forfeiture of $22 million in cash, homes, cars, motorcycles and
a boat owned by him and his cohorts.
At Lucia's workplace, employees were "bummed" by the news of Nebel's
bust, Lucia said. But worries that the office might get raided
evaporated, and other dealers stepped in, although "their product
does not hold up to Cartoon," she said.
ABCs of Plan B
BY JIM RITTER Health Reporter
November 8, 2006
An over-the-counter "morning-after" pill now being shipped to drug
stores should be available to consumers by next week, its
manufacturer said Tuesday.
The pill, Plan B, reduces the risk of pregnancy after unprotected
sex by 89 percent. It initially was available by prescription only,
but this limited its effectiveness -- the longer after sex the pill
is taken, the less effective it becomes.
Last August, the Food and Drug Administration made Plan B available
without prescription to consumers 18 and older. Barr Pharmaceuticals
began shipping over-the-counter Plan B packages last Friday, and
said the product should be widely available by next week.
There are nearly 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United
States each year. On average, a woman has an 8 percent chance of
getting pregnant after a single act of unprotected intercourse. Plan
B reduces this chance to 1 percent.
Whom is Plan B intended for?
Any woman who has unprotected sex, forgets to take her birth control
pills, uses her diaphragm incorrectly, has a condom break, is raped,
etc. Plan B is intended for emergency use only, not for routine
How can I get it?
Plan B will be sold behind the counter, and you may be asked to show
proof of your age. A girl under age 18 will need a prescription.
How much will it cost?
That's up to individual drug stores. Walgreens will charge $41.99;
Osco about $35.
What's in Plan B?
Two pills, containing the same ingredients as progestin-only birth
control pills, but in higher doses. You take the first pill as soon
as possible after unprotected sex, and the second pill 12 hours
after the first pill. Plan B works best when taken within 24 hours
of sex, but is effective for up to 72 hours.
How does it work?
It works in three ways: By preventing ovulation, fertilization or
implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.
What are Plan B's side effects?
Side effects include nausea, abdominal pain, tiredness, headache,
menstrual changes, dizziness, breast tenderness and vomiting.
How is Plan B different from the RU-486 abortion pill?
RU-486 terminates pregnancies; Plan B prevents them.
Does Plan B protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted
Can a man buy Plan B for his wife or girlfriend?
Yes, as long as he's at least 18.