Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"It was an individualist age, and she was both the midwife and the emblem of it" - Ferdinand Mount describing Margaret Thatcher

Mount first encountered Thatcher when he was working at the Conservative Research Department in 1964. "She was then 39 years old and ... looked more like one of the over-age milkmaids in the chorus of the Bath panto than someone in training to be an Iron Lady, although you could not miss the willpower," he writes. "Her voice was sharper then than it later became, when she had had voice training to bring it down a semitone after criticisms that she sounded shrill. To me, anyway, she sounded unbearably sharp as she began to slice my papers into pitiful shreds."

Despite this unpromising beginning, in 1982 Mount was invited - thanks to the intercession of Thatcher's economics adviser, Alan Walters - to be head of the No 10 policy unit. When they met again, Thatcher instantly launched into a lecture, free-wheeling but powerful. "What we really have to address are the values of society," she told him. "This is my real task, to restore standards of conduct and responsibility. Otherwise we shall simply be employing more and more policemen on an increasingly hopeless task. Everyone has to be involved. At one time, women's magazines played quite a constructive role. Now they've just caved in. Personal responsibility is the key. That was what destroyed Greece and Rome - bread and circuses. It has to stop. Ferdy, it has to stop."

Mount was swept along on the tide of her conviction. Generally seen as a Tory "wet" (he is a cousin of David Cameron and endorses his "liberal Conservatism"), he says that in those confident early days of Thatcherism he shared many of her ideals: curbing trade union power, reducing the size of the state, encouraging enterprise, rebuilding the family. "I confess I found all this both startling and thrilling," he writes of her call to arms at that audience in Downing Street. "The naked zeal, the direct, unabashed appeal to morality, the sheer seriousness ... There was none of the weary, professional cynicism I was so used to and had myself become so weary of."

He was hooked, though in the book and in person he makes a distinction between Thatcher the politician and Thatcher the human being. "She was extremely good to work for, but horrible, especially to colleagues," he says. "She'd ring up nice John Biffen and give him a tremendous rocket for refusing to appear on the Today programme because he said it was too early in the morning. Or give Francis Pym a dressing-down for saying the Tories shouldn't have too big a majority. She was very brutal."

A "strange, tense, ruthless but deeply honourable and usually honest woman" is Mount's adroitly double-edged summing up of Thatcher in the book. "She remained heroic, intolerable often, vindictive, even poisonous sometimes, but always heroic. Equally, I never became fond of her. That insistent, harsh concentration could never become endearing. 'I'm not here to be nice,' she would say, which was just as well." After a year and a half, during which he had written the Conservatives' 1983 election manifesto (he of course dismisses it as "the dullest of all time"), Mount decided he'd had enough. "You needed to have this flat, clear, blinkered approach," he says. "It's not easy to live with that over a long period."

He admired Thatcher's zeal and tenacity, but recognised - or at least recognises now - that her cult of individualism damaged Britain. "Her startling success and her relentless personality had a long-term corroding effect on her party," he writes.

~ more... ~

 

Russia, Greece to Set Up Jv to Build South Stream Gas Pipeline in Greek Territory

From Red Orbit :
 
Russia and Greece will set up a joint venture on a parity basis for building the Greek section of the South Stream gas pipeline, the Russian Industry and Energy Ministry reported.
The annual capacity of the gas pipeline section passing through Greece should be at least 10 billion cubic meters.
Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Greek Development Minister Christos Folias signed a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in building and operating the Greek portion of the South Stream gas pipeline following a high level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday.
The South Stream project envisions the construction of a gas pipeline across the Black Sea from the Beregovaya compressor station in the Dzhubga area in the Krasnodar territory to the Bulgarian city of Varna. The Black Sea stretch of the pipeline will be about 900 kilometers long. The pipeline will have an annual capacity of 31 billion cubic meters. It will be laid at a maximum depth of over 2,000 meters.
The land segment of the South Stream pipeline will further go into two directions, one to southern Italy and the other to Central Europe via Hungary and the Austrian gas hub of Baumgarten.
The Italian Eni will be Gazprom's (RTS: GAZP) partner in the construction of the sea section of the pipeline, while national gas companies or authorized state companies will help build the land portion. Russia signed relevant agreements with Serbia in January and with Hungary in February.
The construction may start in 2008 or 2009, and the pipeline's operation should begin in 2013.

Crisis in Food Prices Threatens Worldwide Starvation: Is it Genocide? - by Richard C. Cook

From The Centre for Research on Globalization :

Rising worldwide food prices are resulting in shortages, riots and protests, promises by governments to expand food aid, expressions of concern by international bodies like the World Bank, and stress on household budgets even in developed countries like the U.S. Did this just "happen" or is there a plan?

Plenty of commentators think they have it figured out and blame such factors as greater demand for high-end protein menus by the increasingly upscale populations of China and India , weather factors relating to global warming such as drought in Australia , and the diversion of animal feed crops such as corn and soybeans to ethanol production. L.H. Teslik of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks of "bubbling inflation and rising oil prices."

There is also the question of whether a role is being played by commodity speculation. The idea is that faced with the global financial crisis and the collapse of mortgage-based securities, investors are flocking to resource-based tangibles as a hedge against recession and the decline of the U.S. dollar. Hence gold is at record levels with oil keeping the same pace. How else to explain, for instance, the doubling of the price of rice in Asian markets in less than two months? Standard Chartered Bank food commodities analyst Abah Ofon says, "Fund money flowing into agriculture has boosted prices. It's fashionable. This is the year of agricultural commodities."

But the idea that speculation is at fault is disputed by no less than New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, one of the world's leading monetary economists, who writes:

"My problem with the speculative stories is that they all depend on something that holds production — or at least potential production — off the market. The key point is that the spot price equalizes the demand and supply of a commodity; speculation can drive up the futures price, but the spot price will only follow if the higher futures prices somehow reduce the quantity available for final consumers. The usual channel for this is an increase in inventories, as investors hoard the stuff in expectation of a higher price down the road. If this doesn't happen — if the spot price doesn't follow the futures price — then futures will presumably come down, as it turns out that buying futures produces losses."

Solid data in this area is hard to come by. Probably the chief common denominator among commentators, especially those advocating a supply and demand or global warming perspective, is that they have so little solid information. Thus it is refreshing to find a study that contains meaningful statistics such as one appearing on the Executive Intelligence Report website entitled, "To Defeat Famine: Kill the WTO" by Marcia Merry Baker. One particularly telling item is that after global food supplies were boosted through the Green Revolution and related programs lasting into the 1970s, more recently, world food production has actually declined.

Baker writes, "World per-capita output of grains of all kinds (rice, wheat, corn, and others) has been falling for twenty years. Whereas in 1986 it was 338 kilograms per person, it went down to 303 by 2006. This decline in no way has been made up for by increasing amounts of other staple foodstuffs—tubers, legumes, or oil crops, which likewise are in insufficient supply."

Further, "In twelve of the last twenty years, less grain has been produced than utilized that year (for all purposes—direct human consumption, livestock feed, industrial and energy uses, and reserves). Accordingly, the amount of carryover stocks of grain from year to year has been declining to extreme danger levels. The diversion of food crops into biofuels is the nail in the coffin. The latest estimate is that worldwide stockpiles of cereal crops of all kinds are expected to fall to a twenty-five-year low of 405 million tons in 2008. That is down twenty-one million tons, or five percent, from their already reduced level in 2007."

Further, an increasing proportion of food crops is being produced by large multinational corporations whose power and reach has ballooned under the World Trade Organization and spin-offs like NAFTA even as small family-run farms have lost the protection of parity pricing and been priced out of business. But the data suggest that a) the output of agribusiness has failed to match the older, more diversified systems of farming; and b) as nations lose their ability to feed themselves, agricultural pricing becomes more subject to monopolization.

The loss of agricultural self-sufficiency has been exacerbated in much of the developing world by International Monetary Fund lending policies. Under the " Washington consensus," entire nations have been forced to give up agricultural self-sufficiency and convert farmland to export commodities while displaced rural populations migrate to the slums of large cities such as Lagos , Nigeria . Today those populations are the ones most grievously threatened with starvation.

Then what is really going on?

First of all, let's get rid of the idea that we are seeing "impersonal market forces" at work. "Supply and demand" is not a "law"—it's a policy. If a seller has an article in demand it's a matter of choice whether he charges a premium when he offers it for sale. If he's a decent, honest soul, maybe he won't necessarily charge all the market will bear, particularly if the item is a necessity of life, such as food. Or maybe there will be a responsible public authority around that will prohibit price gouging or else subsidize the purchaser, as often happens in credit markets. Of course public spirited action like this is itself a declining commodity in a world afflicted with the kind of market fundamentalism and rampant privatization that has been the rage since the 1980s Reagan Revolution.

Second, let's ask the question which any competent investigator should pose when starting out on the trail of a possible crime: "Who benefits?" Indeed we may be speaking of a crime on the scale of genocide if the events in question are a) avoidable; in which case the crime is one of negligent homicide; or b) planned, where we obviously have a conspiracy among the contributing parties.

Those who benefit are obviously the ones who finance agricultural operations, those who are charging monopoly prices for the commodities in demand, the various middlemen who bring the products to market after they leave the farm, and the owners or mortgagees of the land, retail space, and other assets required to conduct the production/consumption cycle.

In other words, it's the financial elite of the world who have gained complete control of the most basic necessity of life. This includes not only the international financiers who provide capitalization, including the leveraging of trading in commodity futures up to the 97 percent level, but even organized crime groups which the U.S. Department of Justice says have penetrated world materials markets.

And is all this part of a long-term strategy by international finance to starve much of the world's population in order to seize their land, control their natural resources, and enslave the rest who fear a similar fate? Already millions of people are losing their homes to housing inflation and foreclosure. Is actual or threatened physical starvation the next part of the scenario?

And where are the governmental authorities whose job it is to protect the public welfare both at the national and international levels? These authorities long ago allowed a situation to develop, including in developed nations like the U.S. , where people in localities no longer have the simple ability to feed themselves, even in emergencies. And not one of the candidates remaining in the U.S. presidential election—John McCain, Hillary Clinton, nor Barack Obama—has addressed the food pricing issue. Indeed, all three are part of a government that has gone so far as to exclude much of the rising cost of food from measurements of inflation, an innovation that took place on Bill Clinton's watch.

It is now April. Already food has run out in some parts of the world. In a few months winter will come, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What will happen then? Are you certain food will be on your table?

And suppose you wanted to make a contribution to your own well-being and to that of your family and community by going into farming. In most parts of North America you can look around and see plenty of underutilized land.

But could you do it? Could you buy or lease land and pay taxes on it after the galloping inflation of the real estate bubble? Could you get bank loans for equipment and operating expenses under today's constrained credit conditions? Could you afford fuel for your equipment when petroleum costs over $115 a barrel? Is water readily available from developed supplies and is electricity available at regulated prices? Could you purchase anything other than genetically-modified seed? Would local supermarkets buy your produce when your prices are undercut by massive corporate distributorships importing food from abroad? Does the system even exist in your home town for marketing of local farm products?

And does anyone in power even care?

Well, whether they do or not, "We the People" should care. One of the worst aspects of the consumer society is the separation between the individual and the products of the earth we utilize. We always assume that whatever we need will be there so long as we have money in our bank account or the ability to charge on a credit card and pay later.

Such assumptions are losing their validity. Back in the 1960s people who were starting to understand these things began a modest "back to the land" movement. Today it is time to start one again. Except this time we need to do it right by demanding government policies that support it. This means low-cost credit, price supports, affordable utilities, favorable tax policies, and decisions by government and businesses to "buy local." Food production cannot safely be left in the hands of agribusiness and international finance capitalism any longer.

Richard C. Cook is a former U.S. federal government analyst, whose career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department. His articles on economics, politics, and space policy have appeared on numerous websites. His book on monetary reform entitled We Hold These Truths: The Promise of Monetary Reform is in preparation. He is also the author of Challenger Revealed: An Insider's Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age, called by one reviewer, "the most important spaceflight book of the last twenty years." His website is at www.richardccook.com.

'The results could be a catastrophic warming of the earth'

Researchers have found alarming evidence that the frozen Arctic floor has started to thaw and release long-stored methane gas. The results could be a catastrophic warming of the earth, since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But can the methane also be used as fuel?

It's always been a disturbing what-if scenario for climate researchers: Gas hydrates stored in the Arctic ocean floor -- hard clumps of ice and methane, conserved by freezing temperatures and high pressure -- could grow unstable and release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more worrisome than carbon dioxide, the result would be a drastic acceleration of global warming. Until now this idea was mostly academic; scientists had warned that such a thing could happen. Now it seems more likely that it will.

Russian polar scientists have strong evidence that the first stages of melting are underway. They've studied largest shelf sea in the world, off the coast of Siberia, where the Asian continental shelf stretches across an underwater area six times the size of Germany, before falling off gently into the Arctic Ocean. The scientists are presenting their data from this remote, thinly-investigated region at the annual conference of the European Geosciences Union this week in Vienna.

In the permafrost bottom of the 200-meter-deep sea, enormous stores of gas hydrates lie dormant in mighty frozen layers of sediment. The carbon content of the ice-and-methane mixture here is estimated at 540 billion tons. "This submarine hydrate was considered stable until now," says the Russian biogeochemist Natalia Shakhova, currently a guest scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks who is also a member of the Pacific Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok.

The permafrost has grown porous, says Shakhova, and already the shelf sea has become "a source of methane passing into the atmosphere." The Russian scientists have estimated what might happen when this Siberian permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes. They believe the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelvefold. "The result would be catastrophic global warming," say the scientists. The greenhouse-gas potential of methane is 20 times that of carbon dioxide, as measured by the effects of a single molecule.

Shakhova and her colleagues gathered evidence for the loss of rigor in the frozen sea floor in a measuring campaign during the Siberian summer. The seawater proved to be "highly oversaturated with solute methane," reports Shakhova. In the air over the sea, greenhouse-gas content was measured in some places at five times normal values. "In helicopter flights over the delta of the Lena River, higher methane concentrations have been measured at altitudes as high as 1,800 meters," she says.

The methane climate bomb is also ticking on land: A few years ago researchers noticed higher concentrations of methane in northern Siberia. The Siberian permafrost is known as one of the tipping points for the earth's climate, since the potent greenhouse gas develops wherever microorganisms decompose the huge masses of organic material from warmer eras that has been frozen here for thousands of years.

 

Catherine Austin Fitts: What can anyone do? A lot!

To accomplish our goals in a politically managed economy requires a new integration of political and market skills. From the vantage point of good old-fashioned politics, I want to talk about what we can do.

For some time we have been experiencing an extraordinary centralization of economic and political power. Economic power, political power -- the two go hand in hand.

We have watched assets shifted out of governments and central banks worldwide and moved into private hands at below-market prices -- or simply stolen -- while liabilities have been shifted back, often for free. Governments are not so much being privatized as piratized. At the heart of this piratization has been the transfer of gold stores into private hands, as gold is one of the most critical strategic assets that one must control to achieve political power --whether in one place or on an entire planet.

After almost a decade GATA and our allies have proved our point: The precious metals market is manipulated. Time and the steady bankrupting of the federal government's credit have also proved what we have long known -- that the bankers and private interests who manipulate the precious metals markets are manipulating markets and events broadly.

GATA's efforts have helped to protect the personal, family, and business assets of its growing numbers around the world.

Being right and helping a growing network of financial and natural resource leaders around the world are creating a tremendous foundation from which to build.

Yet, no doubt in anticipation of April Fools Day, on March 31 Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, announced the Paulson Plan (http://www.solari.com/blog/?p=772) -- an extraordinary proposal to expand the Federal Reserve's power -- including consolidation of control of all U.S. payments systems, enforcement powers with respect to anything that moves in the U.S. financial sector, and full authority with the President's Working Group on Financial Markets to politically and arbitrarily determine the cost of capital of every player in the economy through government-funded means.

This means that the so-called cartel can ensure that any company's cost of capital -- presuming we even have access to capital -- is many multiples of that of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase (that is, themselves), without regard to fundamental economic productivity and performance. On top of that, they can stick the bill for this politicized state of affairs back on us, whether through taxation, inflation, or regulation.

Ultimately, no real economy, no real civilization, can survive such a drain. This is the heart of the financial mechanism I refer to as "the Tapeworm." Increasing the powers of this financial parasite is a direct attack on life itself -- not just on us but on future generations as well.

In short, we grow stronger, but so does the cartel we attempt to hold accountable.

So the question before us is: What can we do? In a politically managed economy, and in the political fight unfolding before us, how do we shift the course of events in our favor and in the service of freedom and life?

~ more... ~

 

San Diego to challenge permit allowing Blackwater facility

San Diego officials say they're going to fight security contractor Blackwater Worldwide's permit to build an indoor military training facility in the city.

The Developmental Services Department granted the permit March 19 without public hearings.

City Council president Scott Peters says Blackwater used the name of a subcontractor when it filed for the permit to expand a 61,000-square-foot vocational training facility in the Otay Mesa area. His staff is researching ways to challenge the permit.

Blackwater vice president Brian Bonfiglio says his company will fight if the city tries to backpedal. He says the anti-Blackwater movement stems from anti-war sentiment, not a problem with the facility.

~ source ~

 

Infidel - 'the positions of the two women “can’t possibly be reconciled" '

 
No element more thoroughly informs the work of both women than feminism; its influence on their thinking can hardly be overstated, and in this sense they might be considered crown jewels in the history of the modern women's movement. Yet because they are risking their lives for their beliefs — constantly, every day — they may have more in common with antitotalitarian dissidents like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn than with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. As feminists, Ms. Hirsi Ali and Ms. Manji are demanding more than equality; they are very self-consciously challenging the foundations of an entire way of life.

"The most important explanation for the mental and material backlog we Muslims find ourselves in," Ms. Hirsi Ali has said, "should probably be sought in the sexual morality that we were force-fed from birth." Her first book, a collection of essays, was entitled "The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam." In the Netherlands, she devoted herself to helping Muslim women, in her words, "develop the vocabulary of resistance," and she continues the fight from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where she is a resident fellow.

Ms. Manji, too, sees feminism as the linchpin for Islamic reform. "Empowering women," she says, "is the way to awaken the Muslim world." But she is not only a committed feminist (bad enough in the eyes of Muslim conservatives). She is also an open lesbian — a rebel twice over. The difference between them "really is between those outside of a faith and those still within it," says Ms. Manji's friend the writer Andrew Sullivan. "Hirsi Ali has abandoned faith for atheism. Irshad has taken the harder path, I believe."

The two women have known each other for four years, since Ms. Hirsi Ali interviewed Ms. Manji for a Dutch newspaper, and they discussed their continuing relationship in e-mail interviews. They immediately bonded — understandably enough. "I could not believe she was not an atheist," Ms. Hirsi Ali says, "and she could not believe that I had become one." When Time magazine named Ms. Hirsi Ali one of its "100 most influential people" for 2005, it was Ms. Manji who wrote the comment on her. Ms. Manji admires Ms. Hirsi Ali's determination to speak truth to power, saying that "Ayaan's defiant distrust of Muslim authorities can help generate debates that move us closer to honesty."

But, inevitably, the differences between them create tensions since, in their eyes, what is at stake is nothing less than the future of Islam.

 

Deconstruction, Dirty Harry and French Theory

From: French Theory in America

" ... It's all an act, a confected fable, but so is Dirty Harry; so is everything. If deconstruction was something that an American male icon performed, there was no reason to fear it; truth, reason and the American way were safe.

It turned out, of course, that my conclusion was hasty and premature, for it was in the early '90s that the culture wars went into high gear and the chief target of the neo-conservative side was this theory that I thought had run its course. It became clear that it had a second life, or a second run, as the villain of a cultural melodrama produced and starred in by Allan Bloom, Dinesh D'Souza, Roger Kimball and other denizens of the right, even as its influence was declining in the academic precincts this crew relentlessly attacked.

It's a great story, full of twists and turns, and now it has been told in extraordinary detail in a book to be published next month: "French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States" (University of Minnesota Press).

The book's author is Francois Cusset, who sets himself the tasks of explaining, first, what all the fuss was about, second, why the specter of French theory made strong men tremble, and third, why there was never really anything to worry about.

Certainly mainstream or centrist intellectuals thought there was a lot to worry about. They agreed with Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, who complained that the ideas coming out of France amounted to a "rejection of the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment" even to the point of regarding "science as nothing more than a 'narration' or a 'myth' or a social construction among many others."

This is not quite right; what was involved was less the rejection of the rationalist tradition than an interrogation of its key components: an independent, free-standing, knowing subject, the "I" facing an independent, free-standing world. The problem was how to get the "I" and the world together, how to bridge the gap that separated them ever since the older picture of a universe everywhere filled with the meanings God originates and guarantees had ceased to be compelling to many.

The solution to the problem in the rationalist tradition was to extend man's reasoning powers in order to produce finer and finer descriptions of the natural world, descriptions whose precision could be enhanced by technological innovations (telescopes, microscopes, atom smashers, computers) that were themselves extensions of man's rational capacities. The vision was one of a steady progress with the final result to be a complete and accurate — down to the last detail — account of natural processes. Francis Bacon, often thought of as the originator of the project , believed in the early 17th century that it could be done in six generations.

It was Bacon who saw early on that the danger to the project was located in its middle term — the descriptions and experiments that were to be a window on the reality they were trying to capture. The trouble, Bacon explained, is that everything, even the framing of experiments, begins with language, with words; and words have a fatal tendency to substitute themselves for the facts they are supposed merely to report or reflect. While men "believe that their reason governs words," in fact "words react on the understanding"; that is, they shape rather than serve rationality. Even precise definitions, Bacon lamented, don't help because "the definitions themselves consist of words, and those words beget others" and as the sequence of hypotheses and calculations extends itself, the investigator is carried not closer to but ever further way from the independent object he had set out to apprehend.

In Bacon's mind the danger of words going off on their own unconstrained-by-the-world way was but one example of the deficiencies we have inherited from the sin of Adam and Eve. In men's love of their own words (and therefore of themselves), he saw the effects "of that venom which the serpent infused…and which makes the mind of man to swell." As an antidote he proposed his famous method of induction which mandates very slow, small, experimental steps; no proposition is to be accepted until it has survived the test of negative examples brought in to invalidate it.

In this way, Bacon hopes, the "entire work of the understanding" will be "commenced afresh" and with better prospects of success because the mind will be "not left to take its own course, but guided at every step, and the business done as if by machinery." The mind will be protected from its own inclination to err and "swell," and the tools the mind inevitably employs, the tools of representation — words, propositions, predications, measures, symbols (including the symbols of mathematics) — will be reined in and made serviceable to and subservient to a prior realm of unmediated fact.

To this hope, French theory (and much thought that precedes it) says "forget about it"; not because no methodological cautions could be sufficient to the task, but because the distinctions that define the task — the "I," the world, and the forms of description or signification that will be used to join them — are not independent of one another in a way that would make the task conceivable, never mind doable. ... "

Equally delightful: French Theory in America, Part Two

 

LHC concerns

 

To explain the concern thoroughly and accurately it has to be stated that the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is not the first particle accelerator in history. In 1929 the Cyclotron, invented and developed by Ernest O. Lawrence, was the first particle accelerator, and from that initial invention over several decades we have come into a new breed of Larger and More Powerful Particle Accelerators. Although we have had particle accelerators in the past, The luminosity at which these operate has increased dramatically, in fact it is true that prior to the construction of the RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) such theories as MBH Production, Strangelets, and several other theories were placed on the table as relevant possibilities.

So, what's different this time?

this is the point that has to be emphasized, this time things are quite different, a study was conducted after initial concerns for the RHIC were explored, and to their conclusion the amount of energy necessary for these scenarios was not sufficient. The Large Hadron Collider operates at a total combined energy of 14TeV, which is a lot higher than the energies generated by the RHIC, as such the possibility of Black Hole creation is a reality, in fact on CERN's own web site they admit it could create Black Holes, here is an excerpt from Safety at the LHC

"If the LHC can produce microscopic black holes, cosmic rays of much higher energies would already have produced many more. Since the Earth is still here, there is no reason to believe that collisions inside the LHC are harmful. Black holes lose matter through the emission of energy via a process discovered by Stephen Hawking. Any black hole that cannot attract matter, such as those that might be produced at the LHC, will shrink, evaporate and disappear. The smaller the black hole, the faster it vanishes. If microscopic black holes were to be found at the LHC, they would exist only for a fleeting moment. They would be so short-lived that the only way they could be detected would be by detecting the products of their decay."

We'll cover the theoretical problem of this statement in the next section.

So, what's the problem?

In theory (according to Hawking Radiation) any Black Hole created would evaporate in Femtoseconds, not having the chance to accrete any mass, and being essentially harmless, although this is comforting in theory, It has never been proven, and in fact has been questioned before. The problem is that although most people in the physics community believe in Hawkings Radiation, it has no basis in observation. In 2003 Adam D. Helfer Published a paper concerning Hawking's Radiation coming to the conclusion that Hawking's Radiation may in fact be incorrect, and that a Black Hole would not lose mass in such a way. (For the full text of this document go here Paper By Adam D. Helfer on Hawking Radiation.)

In fact since the LHC has been on the drawing board several studies and theories which have gained a lot of support in the scientific community such as "String Theory" and "Extra-Large Hidden Dimensions" have surfaced, which do indeed place the threshold for Black Hole Creation much lower than previously thought.

The main problem lies in believing in theory as fact, every argument for safety made concerning Black Holes and thier creation immediately references Hawking Radiation, however, if Hawking Radiation turns out to be incorrect then the Black Hole would continue to accrete mass at an exponential rate...

Medic says Army sergeant ordered him to suffocate Iraqi

After an Army medic reported that a bullet-riddled insurgent was going to die, his sergeant ordered him to suffocate the Iraqi before fatally shooting the man himself, the medic testified during the sergeant's court-martial Tuesday.

Sgt. Leonardo Trevino had asked how to speed up the Iraqi's death following a gun battle in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, Spc. John Torres testified. The medic said he was kidding when he suggested suffocating the wounded man, but when ordered to do so, he pretended by lightly holding his hand over the man's mouth.

Torres later told Army investigators that he felt bad after that night in June, although he testified Tuesday that the man was bleeding so badly that he could not have given him morphine for pain.

Under cross-examination, he denied defense attorney Richard V. Stevens' suggestion that the Iraqi was dead when he removed his hand from his mouth.

"He wasn't dead," Torres testified. "He was still ... breathing."

Trevino, of San Antonio, has pleaded innocent to premeditated murder and other charges but faces up to life in a military prison and a discharge if convicted. Authorities say he shot the insurgent in the abdomen, a nonfatal wound, before ordering Torres to suffocate him. They allege Trevino then shot the Iraqi in the head and tried to cover up the crime.

After the government rested its case Tuesday afternoon, defense attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the obstruction of justice and solicitation to commit murder charges. Col. Gregory Gross was to rule on those motions Wednesday before the defense started presenting its case.

~ read on... ~

 

Early Native American study sources

This is a primary source of information on the religious beliefs and practices of the Luiseño people, who resided in what is now North San Diego and Orange counties in California. DuBois spent years with the remaining Native Southern Californians, and her ethnological work is of continuing value. This monograph includes information on ceremonials, mythology and lore. There are descriptions of dozens of songs used in magical and ritual context. She includes two versions of the Luiseño creation myth cycle, one of the most extensive in the literature of Californian creation mythology.
 
This is an 'interrogatorio,' a survey taken in 1811 by the Spanish government of Mexico regarding the status of the Native Californians at each mission in Alta California, translated and heavily annotated by A.L. Kroeber. Along with Boscana's account, this one of the few glimpses we have of the Native Californians, when pre-contact individuals were still alive. The accounts vary from friar to friar, but some are very detailed and mention completely unknown placenames and languages. There are reasonably value-free descriptions of religious beliefs, mythology, language, dance, music and ethnobotany.
 
This is one of the few ethnographic studies of the original religious practices of the Native American residents of San Diego county. Called Diegueño by Europeans after the mission which named the city, they today call themselves Kumeyaay, a term of unknown meaning.

Be the change

'Tree' - An anthem for India



In celebration of India's 60th year of independence, the Times of India launched an initiative to inspire the search for hidden talents in everyday people. Among the results is this two-minute video, Tree, which has become an anthem for India—and is a must-see for all of us.

Gandhi, 1929. Image from wikipedia
Gandhi in 1929. wikicommons

After trying for years to achieve social change through mainstream institutional activism, I have turned to an approach deeply rooted in my own culture and history. I have spent the past nine years trying to understand how to live my values today rather than waiting for the system to change. My search for the roots of deep transformation have led me to re-engage with the seemingly mundane, the small, the slow, the inefficient, the unorganized, the invisible.

I became involved in activism in college. I focused on stopping discrimination against marginalized groups. I thought we could make the system work by reforming it to give equal rights to all. We signed petitions, held protests, issued policy reports. But despite minor gains, I felt we were losing our dignity, being made into beggars. I started to learn that the price for “redistributed benefits” to people in North America was being paid by people and nature in so-called Third World countries.

After college, I spent eight years in the belly of the beast—Wall Street, Harvard, the United Nations, NGOs—seeking to change the system from within. But I discovered that the problem was bigger than just removing a few bad apples or making some clever policy declarations. I started to question the labels we use, such as “under-developed,” “poor,” or “illiterate”; the manic logic of unlimited growth and obscene profits over all other values; and the reliance on experts and technocratic solutions, rather than on the people.

During this time I came across Hind Swaraj, a booklet written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1909. In it, he explores the nature of India's freedom struggle. He says, “It is not about getting rid of the tiger [the British] and keeping the tiger's nature [tools, systems, worldview, etc].” He calls for swaraj (rule over the individual and collective self) and urges us to look beyond “modern” colonizing systems of health, justice, and technology. I learned that non-violent political strategies require tremendous self-discipline and the courage to challenge our own comfort zones.

Gandhi's insights helped me transcend such false polarizations as capitalism vs. communism, Left vs. Right, and East vs. West. I found the courage to move beyond playing “big” power games to fix the state and market systems which, no matter how clever they were, only fueled the monster.

I started to reorient myself to a practice of honestly questioning my own complicity, fear, and insecurity, as well as searching for my own real sources of organic power. I resigned from UNESCO and moved back to India. I have been experimenting with hands-on alternatives—from self-healing to community media to urban organic farming—which reduce dependence on institutions and revalue physical labor as an essential part of intellectual growth, political activism, and spirituality. Much of my own unlearning has resulted from our family decision not to send our daughter to school.

I have met people from around the world who are working to regenerate their communities—many of whom do not call themselves activists and would never think of doing so. One is my “illiterate” grandmother, who is one of the greatest environmentalists I have ever known. She is not a member of Greenpeace, nor an environmental scientist. But she is an amazing up-cycler, taking responsibility for her own waste by finding new uses for everything from mango pits and peels to old toothbrushes. She cares for the people, creatures, and place around her, giving concrete meaning to “localization” and “zero waste” living.

For me, the most exciting change movements seek to re-legitimize and reconnect to the knowledge, imagination, and wisdom of traditional communities. Giving top priority to regenerating diverse local languages, ways of seeing, and systems of natural learning is urgent if we are to co-create our way out of the massive crises that face us today. Equally important is finding the courage to walk out of institutions and structures that reinforce violence, injustice, and exploitation. Through an active practice of non-cooperation, we can withdraw the legitimacy that they have in our minds and open up spaces of calmness from which to explore new possibilities.

It is critical that we search for real expressions of our nature, not the tiger's. Only then can we reclaim the dignity of our lives on our own terms.

Manish Jain wrote this article as part of Liberate Your Space, the Winter 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Manish lives in Udaipur, India with four amazing women to keep him honest: his loving wife, sister, daughter, and grandmother. He co-edited an e-booklet on Now Activism and invites you to dialogue on it at www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/nowact_toc.htm

Gandhi’s central belief was that the knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for their own development before getting skills from outside. The Barefoot College has done this since 1971. Only technology that can be understood and controlled by the community is widely applied and used in a sustainable way to improve the quality of life of the poor.

Gandhi believed that sophisticated technology should be used in rural India but it should be in the hands and in the control of the poor communities so that they are not dependent or exploited or it leads to replacement. This is what the Barefoot College believes and practices. Thus the technology of solar appliances, hand pumps and computers may be sophisticated but they meet this criteria.

Gandhi once said that there is a difference between Literacy and Education. Education is what children receive from the family and the village environment. The night schools were started with this as the central belief.

Gandhi believed in the equality of women. The Barefoot College has succeeded in training village women in areas that traditionally men think of as their monopoly.

Gandhi taught us how not to waste. The Barefoot College recycles waste: old tires into swings for children; agricultural waste into handicraft; paper into glove puppets and teaching aids; scrap metal into geodesic domes (minimizing wood as a building material), leaves and grass to produce bio-gas; waste cloth made into rag rugs and sold.

Is the U.S. Ready for Human Rights?

Number of U.S. documents classified as secret in 2001: 7.8 million
Number classified in 2005: 14.2 million
Cost to taxpayers for the U.S. government
to classify 14.2 million documents: $7.7 billion [1]
Number of catalogs Victoria's Secret sends out per year: 365 million
Number of virgin trees used per year for the paper in the catalogs: 74,885
Number of protests the Victoria's Dirty Secret group
has staged since 2004: 600 [2]
Number of years it took activists and the company to reach an agreement on environmental stewardship: 2 [3]
Percentage of greenhouse gases the world's air traffic was responsible for in 1992: 3.5
Percentage of greenhouse gases air traffic is estimated to be responsible for today: 10 [4]
Amount Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airways invested in 2006 to make a new ultraclean fuel for jets, cars, and trucks: $1 billion [5]
Percentage rate of U.S. personal savings in 2006: -1.4 [6]
Percentage rate of U.S. personal savings in 1933: -1.5
Number of full years in which the U.S. personal savings rate has dipped below zero: 3
Highest percentage rate of U.S. personal savings (1974): 10.7 [7]
Total amount of U.S. consumer debt for 2006: $2.16 trillion [8]
Year in which women's rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton omitted "obey" from her marriage vows: 1840
Year the first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY: 1848
Year Susan B. Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote: 1872
Year the 19th Amendment was ratified, allowing women the right to vote in federal elections: 1920 [9]
Amount of money spent per year worldwide on bottled water: $100 billion
Amount per year needed to meet the United Nations' goal of giving everyone access to drinkable water by 2015: $11.3 billion [10]
Number of days U.S. troops fought in World War II: 1,347
Number of days U.S. troops fought in the Iraq War by Nov. 30, 2006 : 1,348 [11]
Number of times diners at a Puerto Rican café touched each other per hour: 180
Number of times diners at a British café touched each other: 0 [12]
Number of hours per day spiritual leader Amma has been known to spend dispensing random hugs in her attempt to calm the world's stresses: 20 [13]
  1. Information Security Oversight Office, 2005 Report to The President, May, 25, 2006, www.fas.org/sgp/isoo/index.html
  2. Victoria's Dirty Secret, "Press Room," "Campaign Timeline," from Oct. 14, 2004 to Dec. 6, 2006, www.victoriasdirtysecret.net
  3. ForestEthics, "ForestEthics and Limited Brands (Victoria's Secret) Reach Landmark Agreement on Environmental Stewardship (US release)," Dec. 16, 2006, www.forestethics.org/article.php?id=1660
  4. Atmosfair, "The higher the altitude, the greater the impact on the climate," Nov. 15, 2006, www.atmosfair.de/index.php?id=6&L=3
  5. Carleen Hawn, "Branson's Next Big Bet," CNNMoney.com Business 2.0: The best business ideas in the world," October 2, 2006, money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2006/08/01/8382250/index.htm?postversion=2006100211
  6. Rex Nutting, "Fed's big worry gets revised away: Slower wage growth means less inflation, but also less growth," MarketWatch.com,ANov. 29, 2006, www.marketwatch.com/news/story/feds-big-inflation-worry-gets/story.aspx?guid=%7B662FC525%2D23EA%2D4B73%2D97CC%2DF8CF11E912B8%7D
  7. U.S. General Accounting Office, "National Savings, Answers to Key Questions," June 2001, www.gao.gov/new.items/d01591sp.pdf
  8. Associated Press, "Americans Have Negative Savings Rate: Consumer Credit Grows in 2005 At Slowest Pace in 13 Years," Feb. 7, 2006, CBS NEWS, www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/07/business/main1293943.shtml
  9. History.com, "Women's History Month: Timeline," The History Channel Magazine, Nov. 2006, www.history.com/minisite.do?content_type=Minisite_Generic&content_type_id=933&display_order=3&mini_id=1286
  10. United Nations, "Fact sheet on water and sanitation," International Decade for Action, Water For Life, 2005-2015, http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/factsheet.html
  11. Michael Moore, "Cut and Run, the Only Brave Thing to Do… a letter from Michael Moore," Nov. 29, 2006, www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?messageDate=2006-11-25
  12. Adam Lusher, "It's a tight squeeze as British reserve meets the cuddle party," Oct. 15, 2006, Daily Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/10/15/ncuddle15.xml
  13. Associated Press, "Spiritual Leader Visits N.Y.," July 10, 2001, www.amritapuri.org/media/usa/ap2001.php

Indonesia: House calls for inquiry into U.S. lab

From The Jakarta Post :

Members of the House of Representatives have moved to establish a special task force to investigate U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2 (Namru-2).

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) proposed the interfaction fact-finding team because of allegations the U.S. laboratory is engaging in espionage and the lack of apparent benefits to Indonesia from their research, said senior PDI-P lawmaker Sidarto Danusubroto.

"We propose the House form a task force to investigate the lab to reassure the public that it isn't spying on us and that it really benefits the country," he told The Jakarta Post.

Sidarto, a member of the House's Commission I on security, defense and foreign affairs, said the team would urge the laboratory to be transparent in its operations.

Lawmaker Hakim Sorimuda Pohan of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party supported the idea, saying Indonesian scientists could take over the work of the laboratory's researchers.

"We will summon the health minister to discuss the issue further. I see no need for the lab to continue operating here," he told the Post.

Indonesia and the United States are now negotiating a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) to extend the operation of Namru-2. The previous agreement expired in 2005.

Indonesia offered last week to grant diplomatic immunity to only two U.S. officials at Namru-2 and demanded the laboratory become more transparent.

In a response through its embassy, the United States insisted all 19 of its citizens working at Namru-2 be given diplomatic immunity.

The United States denied the laboratory lacked transparency.

Demands for Namru-2 to be closed down have been mounting in recent weeks.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari reiterated in Semarang on Monday her call for Namru-2 to suspend operations until Indonesia and the United States had concluded the MOU.

"I have demanded there be no more activity in the lab. However, it is still conducting research and receiving specimens from a number of health centers across the country," she said.

The minister said the two countries had failed to agree on six issues, including prohibitions on Namru-2 producing biological weapons, transparency and immunity status for the laboratory's researchers.

Lawmaker Mutammimul Ula of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said he supported calls for the laboratory to close and demanded clarification on allegations it conducted intelligence activities.

State Secretary Hatta Radjasa held a press conference at the State Palace to refute accusations presidential spokesman Dino Patti Dajal had links with Namru-2 and called for an end to the speculation.

Hatta invited Siti to his office last week to explain her falling out with Dino and allegations she provided data to an NGO accusing Dino of being a foreign agent.

'Estate agents' offer empty homes for squat

 At first glance, they are the sort of glossy particulars you would find in the window of any estate agent's.

But, on closer inspection, most of the properties on offer 'boast' some rather unusual features - such as boarded-up windows, possession orders and no front-door entrance.

The homes are being offered by Squatters Estate Agents, which has set up a 'shop' in a derelict warehouse near the gleaming office buildings of the City of London.

The new service is advertised on anti-capitalist websites and prospective 'tenants' are directed to the premises - squatted, of course - in the Shoreditch area of the capital.

A reporter from this newspaper met James, an 'agent' in his late 20s, wearing jeans, a T- shirt and several days' stubble, who guided us through the details of dozens of ' available properties' on printed sheets produced using a digital camera and a computer.

He explained that the service was free and designed to guide others like him into new digs.

On the agency's 'books' are scores of former pubs, abandoned flats and houses, derelict council properties and empty buildings owned by Government departments.

One squat up for grabs is a former JobCentre in East London, owned by the Department for Work and Pensions and described - in perfect estate agentspeak - as a 'huge brick building of mansion-like proportions with two side wings and a covered rear extension'.

Its proximity to a canal and a Lidl supermarket are highlighted. But in a piece of advice you would be unlikely to find in most agents' literature, it adds: "Access looks relatively easy... round the back."

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How to sing like a planet by Mark Morford

At some point we'll probably figure it all out. Science will, with its typical charming, arrogant certainty, sift and measure and quantify this "mystical" Earthly hum, and tell us it merely comes from, say, ocean movements, or solar wind, or 10 billion trees all deciding to grow a quarter millimeter all at once. We will do as we always do: oversimplify, peer through a single lens of understanding, stick this dazzling phenomenon in a narrow category, and forget it.

How dangerously boring. I much prefer, in matters mystical and musical and deeply cosmic, to tell the logical mind to shut up and let the soul take over and say, wait wait wait, maybe most humans have this divine connection thing all wrong. Maybe God really isn't some scowling gay-hating deity raining down guilt and judgment and fear on all humankind after all.

Maybe she's actually, you know, a throb, a pulse, a song, deep, complex, eternal. And us, well, we're just bouncing and swaying along as best we can, trying to figure out the goddamn melody.

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Can You Get by on Just 5 Gallons of Water a Day?

A British woman attempts for a day what most in the developing world deal with all the time -- living on just over 5 gallons of water

Full marks to those who keep a tight rein on their carbon footprint, but don't relax just yet: water is the new carbon, and our engorged water footprints need to be scrutinised before the rivers really do run dry. At the World Economic Forum in January, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, warned that water and food shortages would be the crises of 2008. Last week we watched the escalating food crisis reverberate around the globe. Conflicts fuelled by water shortages may well be next, triggered by climate change, population growth and poor water management.

The phrase "water footprint" was coined to describe the embedded or "virtual" water in a food or industrial product -- the real volume of water used to create that product. It is difficult to avoid using products which have not been involved in a water-intensive process somewhere along the line, and the figures are staggering: it takes 1,760 litres to get one pint of milk out of a cow and into your fridge; a kilogram of cheddar swallows up 5,000 litres.

There is also, of course, plenty of water embedded in everyday activities other than eating, such as washing, cooking and cleaning. The average Brit splashes about 155 litres of water each day, compared with 20 litres for most people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Water might flow freely from our taps, but our small island is not immune to global shortages. Water is a limited commodity, and is becoming more expensive as its supply grows more difficult to guarantee.

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'You would be called a commie if you suggested it might even be possible'

From MediaMatters.org :

For those who did not make it through all 7,560 words of The New York Times' killer story about how the networks and cable news stations have allowed themselves to be manipulated by a Pentagon-based conspiracy to mislead the American people about the progress of the war with ex-military men whose own financial well-being was directly tied to their willingness to play ball, it's yet another story where you would be called a commie if you suggested it might even be possible, but of course it turns out to be far worse than the critics imagined it. I did, and here are the key details unearthed by the Pulitzer-worthy reporting of David Barstow:

  • "Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks."
  • "The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."
  • "[B]usiness relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. ... [M]embers of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access."
  • "[N]etwork officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts' interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said."
  • "Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.' "
  • "Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, 'the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.' Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives."
  • " 'You could see that they were messaging,' Brent Krueger, aide to former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Torie Clarke, said. 'You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.' Some days, he added, 'We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You'd look at them and say, "This is working." ' "

Glenn Greenwald reiterates the point of the moral, intellectual, and political irresponsibility of the mainstream media honchos who invited this abuse.

 

Update on human rights worldwide

 
As the post election crisis in Zimbabwe deepens with escalating violence and systematic human rights violations against members of Zimbabwe's civic society and opposition activists, Africa Action today released a statement calling on President Robert Mugabe's administration to immediately release the presidential election results and for all parties to respect the human and civic rights of Zimbabwean voters. Further, Africa Action calls for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Africa Union (AU) to act now to resolve the deteriorating post elections crisis that has already claimed at least 10 lives according to reports coming out of Zimbabwe.

Briggs Bomba, Africa Action's Program Associate for Public Education and Mobilization, said today, " In our recent contact with Zimbabwe's civic groups they appealed for sustained support from progressive organizations in the U.S. We extend solidarity to pro-democracy forces in Zimbabwe today in fulfillment of this request and call upon people all over the U.S. to defend democracy, human rights and social justice in Zimbabwe."

Africa Action calls upon President Mugabe's administration to give democracy a chance in Zimbabwe.

"Zimbabwe can only move forward when the results of the March 29 presidential elections are released and the human and civil rights of Zimbabwean voters are respected," said Africa Action Executive Director Gerald LeMelle. "It has become clear that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has failed to release the results because of undue interference from President Mugabe's administration. Africa Action urges SADC and the AU to decisively pressure President Mugabe to immediately release the results and respect Zimbabwe's democratic process."

Africa Action noted that failure to act resolutely now will undermine SADC and the AU's standing in the region. Inaction by the international community will allow Zimbabwe to sink further into crisis and potentially destabilize the region and further undermine the integrity of the democratic process in Africa.

 

Sarkozy praise for Tunisian rights 'progress' sparks outrage

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's remark that "the sphere of liberties" in Tunisia is improving sparked outrage Tuesday among human rights groups and the Socialist opposition in France who accuse the North African state of torturing dissidents and blocking press freedoms.

"His unacceptable declaration has led him to legitimise the Tunisian regime's policy of repression," said Razzy Hammadi, the national secretary of the French Socialist party.

The French president has "sent a signal with very serious and dramatic consequences" for all human rights activists in the former French protectorate where Sarkozy is on a two-day state visit, said Hammadi in a statement.

Sarkozy's statement was a "stab in the back of the Tunisian activists who were expecting a lot from the visit of the French president," who upon coming to power vowed to put human rights at the heart of his foreign policy, said the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media rights group.

"Freedom of expression remains a utopia in Tunisia. All the press does is glorify the work of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and independent journalists and their families are the victims of constant harassment," it said.

Sarkozy, in Tunisia to clinch nuclear and aviation deals and push his plan for a Mediterranean Union, said there Monday that "today, the sphere of liberties (in Tunisia) is progressing".

"These are encouraging signs that I wish to salute," added the French leader at a dinner with his Tunisian counterpart, whose government denies breaching human rights.

"These signals, these reforms are part of a narrow and difficult but essential path, that of liberty and the respect of individuals. No country can claim to have fully taken it and nobody can position himself as censor."

Khadija Cherif, of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, said: "Sarkozy is not interested in the reality of the country.

"His priority is commerce, but he should know that development cannot be purely economic," she told AFP, adding that Sarkozy's comments were a "sign of contempt for Tunsian civil society."

Mokhtar Trifi, of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, noted that "unfortunately, on the ground, we have not noticed any notable changes, it is perhaps the opposite that it happening in reality today".

France's Secretary of State for Human Rights Rama Yade, who is travelling with Sarkozy, was scheduled to meet both Trifi and Cherif on Tuesday.

For its part, the influential Le Monde newspaper in Paris said in an editorial that Sarkozy's claim that rights were improving in Tunisia was a "falsehood".

"In a country where the president installs himself in power for life, has his opponents beaten up by thugs, imprisoned and even tortured, and who only tolerates a press at his service, 'the sphere of liberty' is regressing," it wrote.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International last November issued a stinging statement to mark the 20th anniversary of Ben Ali's arrival at the presidency.

"President Ben Ali's two decades in office have been marred by a continuing pattern of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and curbs on freedom of expression and association," it said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch was equally damning in a periodic review of Tunisia published this month.

"The government uses the threat of terrorism and religious extremism as a pretext to crack down on peaceful dissent," it wrote.

"There are continuous and credible reports of torture and ill-treatment being used to obtain statements from suspects in custody. Sentenced prisoners also face deliberate ill-treatment."

 

Taiwan's famed human rights author Bo Yang dies

The Taiwanese author and former political prisoner Bo Yang, acclaimed for his efforts advocating freedom of speech and human rights, died of respiratory failure on Tuesday, his doctor said. He was 88.

President Chen Shui-bian "is deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Bo. He had dedicated his life to literary works and he was also concerned about democratic and human rights," said a presidential statement.

"He was one of the leading thinkers in Taiwan's modern history and his writings and theories had profound impact on the later generations," it said.

In 1967, newspaper editor Bo, which was his a pen name, was arrested in the so-called "white terror" for criticising then President Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo in a translated article under the Kuomintang (KMT) regime.

The collections of his essays full of sarcasm about human nature and criticism against the bureaucratic and authoritative KMT government were among the best sellers in the 1960s.

Bo, whose real name was Kuo Yi-tung, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on sedition charges and spent nine years behind bars, mostly in the offshore Green Island which housed political prisoners.

He wrote three books on Chinese imperial history before being released in 1977.

Besides managing a prolific writing career, Bo was keen to advocate human rights and had served as Amnesty International's Taiwan office director between 1994 and 1996.

In 2000, he was named a presidential adviser by Chen of the Democratic Progressive Party, who was elected that year ending the KMT's 51-year grip on power.

Bo is survived by his poet wife Chang Hsiang-hua and two sons and three daughters from previous marriages.

 

Norwegian FM discusses human rights on Saudi visit

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Monday he met with members of a human rights group in Saudi Arabia and urged Riyadh to invite rights watchdog Amnesty International to the kingdom.

Stoere, who arrived in Riyadh on Sunday, said he had a "useful and respectful exchange of views with the Human Rights Commission," a governmental body set up in September 2005.

The Saudi government "allowed Human Rights Watch to visit Saudi Arabia and observe for themselves," Stoere told reporters during a joint news conference with Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"That, I think, is a very positive sign," he said, adding that he urged the commission to show "the same courage" and invite London-based Amnesty International to come.

Saudi Arabia is often accused by international watchdogs of violating human rights, particularly those of political dissidents and expatriate workers. Riyadh denies the charges.

A delegation from New York-based Human Rights Watch visited Saudi Arabia in late 2006, following a similar mission in 2003.

"I have invited the (Saudi) commission to visit Norway to engage with Norwegian competent groups and by that we (would be) able to raise issues where we may have different views," Stoere said.

Saudi Arabia has another human rights body considered independent from the government. The National Society for Human Rights was the first rights watchdog sanctioned by authorities in March 2004.

The Norwegian minister hailed a proposal by Saudi King Abdullah for inter-faith talks between Muslims, Christians and Jews, a first for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

"I think this is an important initiative to emphasise that religion can be a source of peace" that should not be left to those who try to portray it as "a source of violence and war," Stoere said.

 

European human rights court rules for Uzbeks

Russian rights groups cheered a rare victory on Tuesday after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that 12 Uzbek businessmen were denied due process as local police tried to extradite them to Uzbekistan.

In June, 2005 police in Ivanovo, a town in central Russia, held a group of Uzbek immigrants in a stationhouse where the men say visiting Uzbek authorities tried to coerce false confessions out of them with cattle prods and threats of torture.

The Ivanovo Uzbeks, as the men came to be known, were never charged with a crime in Russia, though one day after their detention documents from Uzbekistan arrived accusing them of murder, conspiracy to overthrow the government and terrorism.

Moscow-based rights' groups Memorial and the Civic Assistance Front took up the men's plight and appealed to the ECHR in France to prevent their extradition, saying they had proof the case was an instance of "buying and selling people".

"The European Court of Human Rights is not only the last but, as unfortunate as it is to admit, the only means of defence for people caught in these kinds of situations," said Elena Ryabinina, Memorial's Central Asia refugee aid director.

In May, 2005, witnesses said hundreds of people were killed when troops fired on a demonstration in Andizhan, Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov blamed the violence on Islamist rebels. He said 187 mostly rebels and security forces died.

Uzbek authorities eventually charged the men, who run a small textile business, with funding the events in Andizhan, though all of the men were in Russia at the time and all deny involvement.

The EHCR voted six to one on April 24 in favour of the Ivanovo Uzbeks, noting "that Uzbek officials had threatened the applicants with torture," and chastising a Russian court for failing to observe the presumption of innocence.

Karimov, in power since 1989, is criticised in the West for not tolerating dissent and violating basic liberties. The U.N. torture watchdog accused Uzbek police and prison staff of the "routine use of torture" in a November 2007 report.

Karimov has denied the allegations. The United Nations High Commission for refugees granted the Ivanovo Uzbeks mandate refugee status, meaning they have UNHCR protection in another country, in this case Switzerland.

Ryabinina said Russian complicity in the case of the Ivanovo Uzbeks was the result of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a regional treaty group meant to fight terrorism but used to solve internal political issues by nonjudicial extraditions.

"They have created this practical legal basis which, in my view, has been established in order to legally justify these expulsions," she said.

The SCO is made up of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Russia has the option to appeal the ECHR's ruling in favour of the Ivanovo Uzbeks, who were each also awarded 15,000 euros plus a small stipend for legal fees.

 

India: Fair Trial Doubtful for Honored Rights Advocate

Chhattisgarh Government Should Not Use Naxalite Issue to Silence Critics

(New York, April 29, 2008) – Criminal charges against award-winning human rights defender Dr. Binayak Sen raise serous concerns that he will not get a fair trial in Raipur district court in Chhattisgarh state when hearings begin on April 30, Human Rights Watch said today.

Chhattisgarh state officials charged Sen in February 2008 with being a member of a "terrorist organization." Sen has been in custody since May 14, 2007. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.  
 
For over two decades, Sen has provided medical care in remote tribal villages in Chhattisgarh. He has received numerous awards in recognition of his work. On April 22, the Global Health Council announced that he won the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.  
 
"Dr. Sen appears to be a victim of the Chhattisgarh government's attempt to silence those who criticize its policies and failure to protect human rights in its fight against Naxalites," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The court should ensure that this trial is not used by the state government to cover up its failures by punishing the messenger."  
 
Human Rights Watch said that likely political motivations for the charges and other fair trial concerns in Chhattisgarh merit the trial's change of venue to another Indian state. The case against Sen was brought after he called on the Chhattisgarh government to respect human rights in its campaign against Maoist armed combatants called Naxalites.  
 
The presiding judge has allowed only one of Sen's supporters to attend the hearings at a time, despite a provision in international law that trials be public. A judge may cite public order reasons to restrict the attendance of the press and public. However, the district court's limit of one supporter of the defendant at the trial is unnecessarily restrictive and raises broader concerns about the fairness of the trial.  
 
"The actions of the local authorities and the presiding judge call into serious question whether Dr. Sen will receive a fair trial," said Adams. "To ensure fairness, the venue should be moved to another state with no political axe to grind."  
 
In 2005, the Salwa Judum movement was started with state support in Chhattisgarh to oppose the Naxalites. With state backing, the Salwa Judum began committing serious human rights abuses, including killings, beatings of critics, burning of villages, and forced relocation of villagers into government camps. As a prominent leader of the human rights group People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Sen called for an end to Salwa Judum abuses. He also opposed the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, criticized human rights violations such as torture, extrajudicial killings and campaigned for improvements in prison conditions.  
 
Sen was first detained under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006. Human Rights Watch has criticized this law because it could lead to serious abuses. The law allows detention for "unlawful activities," a term so loosely defined that it can severely restrict the peaceful activities of individuals and civil society organizations in violation of the Indian constitution and international human rights law.  
 
The state's primary evidence produced in court thus far includes letters from an alleged Maoist leader, Narayan Sanyal, who Sen allegedly smuggled out of prison. The police say that Sen visited Sanyal in prison a number of times, and that documents and other materials, including his computer, confiscated after his arrest, allegedly contain unspecified subversive materials. Sen has denied all these charges and said that his meetings with Sanyal were facilitated by jail authorities to provide medical care.  
 
"The laws in Chhattisgarh make it easy for the government to prosecute human rights defenders like Dr. Sen," said Adams. "The court must fairly decide whether a real crime has been committed."
 
 
Both rebel and Government forces have killed and maimed children during ongoing conflicts in the Philippines, according to a report released today by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The report states that 19 children were killed in conflict situations between July 2005 and November 2007, while 42 were maimed. Just over half of these cases were perpetrated by Government security forces, a fifth were attributed to the Abu Sayyaf Group/Jemaah Islamiya rebels, and 8 per cent to the communist insurgents, the New People's Army (NPA).

The report also says there is evidence that Government paramilitary forces and rebel groups, including the NPA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, recruited children during the same period.

Overall, the Secretary-General's report finds that around half of verified grave violations against children were carried out by Government security forces, a third by the NPA, and 15 per cent by the Abu Sayyaf Group/Jemaah Islamiya. But the report adds that the lower number of cases reported for the rebels is most likely due to a lack of access to these groups.

The Secretary-General recommends that State and non-State actors enter into dialogue with the UN to end the recruitment of children as well as other grave violations of children's rights.

 

Congo-Kinshasa: Suspected War Criminal Wanted

Congolese officials and UN peacekeepers should take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court's (ICC) arrest warrant against a rebel leader accused of forcibly conscripting child soldiers and of other abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

The ICC on April 29 revealed the unsealing of the arrest warrant against Bosco Ntaganda, charging him with the enlistment, conscription, and active use of children in 2002-2003 during the conflict in the northeastern district of Ituri when he was chief of military operations for the ethnic Hema militia group, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). Ntaganda is now the military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) in the Congo, a position he took after leaving the UPC following internal conflicts in 2006.

Led by Laurent Nkunda, the CNDP is considered responsible for serious abuses against civilians in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo. But on January 23, 2008, the Congolese government signed a peace agreement in Goma, North Kivu, with 22 armed groups, including the CNDP. Under its terms all parties agreed to an immediate ceasefire and committed to respecting international human rights law.

"If Laurent Nkunda is truly committed to the Goma peace agreement, then he should immediately deliver Ntaganda to the international court," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch's Africa division. "Now is the time for Nkunda to put his professed commitment to human rights into action."

Ntaganda is the fourth Congolese rebel leader sought by the ICC for war crimes. Three other Congolese defendants - Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo - are already in ICC custody.

Special envoys from the African Union, the European Union, the United States, the United Nations, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region played a vital role in brokering the Goma peace agreement. A number of these diplomats meet regularly with CNDP representatives as part of the peace process. Human Rights Watch urged them to use their influence to pressure CNDP officials to swiftly hand over Ntaganda to the ICC.

The ICC issued the arrest warrant against Ntaganda on August 22 2006, but only made it public on April 28, 2008. Congolese authorities and officials in the United Nations Mission in the Congo (MONUC) have known of its existence and contents since it was first issued, but since Ntaganda remains active in a rebel group, have found it difficult to take action to arrest him.

"An alleged war criminal wanted by the world's top court should not be allowed to walk free in the Congo," said Van Woudenberg. "If Nkunda does not hand him over to the ICC, UN peacekeepers should take action to arrest Ntaganda as soon as possible."

The crimes which Ntaganda is alleged to have committed occurred when he was the chief of military operations of the UPC. He was a close associate of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former head of the UPC, whom the ICC has also charged with the enlistment, conscription, and active use of children during the same period. Lubanga's trial is due to begin in The Hague later this year.

Human Rights Watch has collected hundreds of testimonies from survivors documenting serious crimes allegedly committed by the UPC during Lubanga and Ntaganda's leadership. These crimes include massacres against particular ethnic groups - especially those from the Lendu ethnic group - murder, torture, and rape. More recently, Human Rights Watch has documented crimes allegedly committed by CNDP forces during the time when Ntaganda was military chief of staff.

"Ntaganda has a track record of inflicting unbearable suffering on civilians in Eastern Congo," said Van Woudenberg. "The ICC should charge him with the full range of the crimes for which he is responsible, allowing his victims the justice they desperately seek."

Human Rights Watch research also indicates that there was support from senior political and military officials in Kinshasa as well as in Uganda and Rwanda to the UPC and other militias operating in Ituri. Human Right Watch also has consistently urged the prosecutor to investigate these senior officials for their role in the crimes committed in Ituri.

"Ending the culture of impunity requires the ICC's prosecutor to go after those senior individuals in Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala who armed and supported the armed groups in Ituri," said Van Woudenberg. "Only then will justice be done."

Background

Bosco Ntaganda is a Congolese Tutsi who fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Army in the early 1990s and assisted in the overthrow of the Rwandan government at the time of the genocide in 1994.

Ntaganda eventually became the chief of military operations of the Forces Patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC), the military wing of the UPC in Ituri. In this capacity, he was involved in numerous massacres and other serious human rights abuses. In the town of Songolo in August 2002, UPC combatants under Ntaganda's command surrounded the town and went house-to-house killing Lendu and Ngiti civilians with firearms, machetes, or spears. From August 2002 to March 2003, Ntaganda participated in hunting down, arresting, and torturing at least 100 members of the Lendu ethnic group and other opponents in Bunia in what many described as a brutal "man hunt."

In November 2002, Ntaganda also led UPC troops in attacks on the gold mining town of Mongbwalu where at least 800 civilians were slaughtered on ethnic basis. One witness who fled the town told Human Rights Watch, "If you were Lendu, you would be exterminated." According to UN peacekeepers, Bosco's UPC was responsible for killing a Kenyan UN peacekeeper in January 2004 and for kidnapping a Moroccan peacekeeper later that year.

In October 2003, the UPC president Lubanga went to Kinshasa where he was kept under nominal house arrest by the Congolese authorities; Ntaganda took over as acting head of the UPC in Bunia and was in regular phone contact with Lubanga. In January 2005, in a failed attempt to end the conflict in Ituri, Congolese authorities appointed Ntaganda to the position of general in the newly established Congolese army, though Ntaganda refused to take up the post. He was placed on the UN sanctions list in November 2005 for breaching a UN arms embargo. In March 2006, Lubanga was taken into ICC custody and transferred to The Hague, where he is currently awaiting trial.

Sometime in 2006, following alleged differences within the UPC, Ntaganda left Ituri for his home region of North Kivu and joined Laurent Nkunda's rebel group, the CNDP. Today, he is the military chief of staff of the CNDP, a group alleged to have committed numerous human rights abuses, including recruitment of child soldiers, killing of civilians, and sexual violence.

 

Interview: EU 'credibility gap' on human rights in Russia

While negotiating a new Partnership Agreement with Russia, the EU should not neglect the fact that the country's human rights conditions seriously worsened during outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin's era, Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told EurActiv in an interview.

"The last eight years have been a very disappointing period to the extent that civil and political rights in Russia have suffered a tremendous setback - with the freedom of the media being effectively destroyed, the independent judiciary being largely compromised, the Parliament losing its independence and the system of checks and balances becoming a mere formality," Lokshina said. 

She accused the EU of violating its own principles and values by not being assertive enough on these issues, saying that a 'credibility gap' exists between words and deeds. "Cooperation and engagement should not exclude having a very strong stand on human rights […] Compromising on human rights is completely unacceptable," she said. 

Lokshina dismissed the position of those EU member states which argue they have no room for manoeuvre because of their energy dependency. "This logic is deeply flawed. It is quite feasible to have serious cooperation with Russia without compromising on human rights abuses," she pointed out. 

Under the German EU Presidency, Chancellor Angela Merkel displayed a more balanced approach towards Russia, Lokshina said, who regrets that other leaders have not followed suit. 

Asked about the prospects for the EU-Russia relationship after the handover of power from Putin to new president Dmitry Medvedev on 7 May, Lokshina said the new political cycle will provide a "new window of opportunity" to be used by the EU "for whatever it is worth". 

Her main concern was that EU leaders might let Chechnya slip off the agenda because the fighting has clamed down. "Chechnya has an impact on all aspects of Russia's social and political life, it has played a central role in transforming Russia into an authoritarian state. Having said that, I would like to stress once again that Chechnya must remain on the EU agenda in its dealings with Russia." 

The numerous victims of Russian atrocities deserve "an end to the impunity in Chechnya because without accountability for perpetrators there can be no real end to that conflict," Lokshina explained. 

She also raised awareness of the deteriorating working conditions for NGOs and independent journalists. Foreign governmental donors are already withdrawing from Russia as the climate for foreign donors is turning "very hostile" as the country's wealth grows, she claims. 

"The Yukos case and the imprisonment of the famous oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who dared to support both political opposition and human rights NGOs, certainly contributed to the fact that Russia's business community does not want to risk anything anymore," she pointed out. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.

 

Russia turns tables on West with rights watchdog

Russia has endured years of criticism over its human rights record but now it is hitting back by setting up watchdogs in New York and Paris to challenge the West over its own rights record.

Natalya Narochnitskaya, one of the leaders of the project, said the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation will offer a fresh perspective on human rights that is not hostage to the political agenda of Western governments.

"American policy under the flag of democracy and human rights in actual fact is a Trotskyist permanent revolution which serves the aim of giving them (political) mastery," she said.

"There is a double standard in that some countries are declared without sin or are surrounded by a wall of immunity," Narochnitskaya, a former member of Russia's parliament who will head the Institute's Paris office, told Reuters in an interview.

"But if the issue is with Russia or (Moscow's ex-Soviet ally) Belarus then here you will have a full hue and cry," said Narochnitskaya. She said institute was up and running and would move into premises in Paris in the next few weeks.

The initiative coincides with a growing frustration among senior Kremlin officials who believe Western governments are using human rights as a weapon to prevent Russia from reclaiming its place as a major world power.

Rights groups and Western governments have alleged that Russian elections are not free and fair, that media freedom is being suppressed and opposition activists persecuted, and that troops fighting an Islamist insurgency use brutal methods.

President Vladimir Putin, who steps down next month but will stay on as prime minister, has acknowledged his country's record is imperfect but says no country is blameless.

He has pointed to the treatment of detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib detention centre in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as well as what Moscow calls official discrimination against ethnic Russians living inside the European Union.

At an EU-Russia summit in Portugal in October last year, Putin said he wanted to set up a Russian human rights watchdog that would operate in Europe.

Narochnitskaya said her project had no links to the Russian government, though it was met with "a certain approval" in the Kremlin and it planned to apply for a government grant.

She said for now the institute had modest funding from a Russian company, which she declined to name.

One of the institute's first projects was to publish a book which argues that bloodless revolutions in ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine which installed pro-Western leaders were plotted and financed by the West.

Narochnitskaya said another project in development was to "monitor the monitors" who pass judgement on the fairness of elections. Moscow has accused monitors from European democracy watchdogs of having a political agenda.

She said the Institute also planned to send a fact-finding mission to Kosovo to assess if the rights of the Serb minority there are being respected. Russia backed its ally Belgrade in opposing independence for Kosovo.

 

 

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