May 13 (Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization is investigating a claim by an Australian researcher that the swine flu virus circling the globe may have been created as a result of human error.
Adrian Gibbs, 75, who collaborated on research that led to the development of Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu drug, said in an interview that he intends to publish a report suggesting the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines. Gibbs said he came to his conclusion as part of an effort to trace the virus's origins by analyzing its genetic blueprint.
“One of the simplest explanations is that it's a laboratory escape,” Gibbs said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. “But there are lots of others.”
The World Health Organization received the study last weekend and is reviewing it, Keiji Fukuda, the agency's assistant director-general of health security and environment, said in an interview May 11. Gibbs, who has studied germ evolution for four decades, is one of the first scientists to analyze the genetic makeup of the virus that was identified three weeks ago in Mexico and threatens to touch off the first flu pandemic since 1968.
A virus that resulted from lab experimentation or vaccine production may indicate a greater need for security, Fukuda said. By pinpointing the source of the virus, scientists also may better understand the microbe's potential for spreading and causing illness, Gibbs said.
“The sooner we get to grips with where it's come from, the safer things might become,” Gibbs said by phone from Canberra yesterday. “It could be a mistake” that occurred at a vaccine production facility or the virus could have jumped from a pig to another mammal or a bird before reaching humans, he said.
Gibbs and two colleagues analyzed the publicly available sequences of hundreds of amino acids coded by each of the flu virus's eight genes. He said he aims to submit his three-page paper today for publication in a medical journal.
“You really want a very sober assessment” of the science behind the claim, Fukuda said May 11 at the WHO's Geneva headquarters.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has received the report and has decided there is no evidence to support Gibbs's conclusion, said Nancy Cox, director of the agency's influenza division. She said since researchers don't have samples of swine flu viruses from South America and Africa, where the new strain may have evolved, those regions can't be ruled out as natural sources for the new flu.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
May 13 (Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization is investigating a claim by an Australian researcher that the swine flu virus circling the globe may have been created as a result of human error.
It was meant to be a carbon-neutral adventure to fire the imaginations of 25,000 schoolchildren.
Raoul Surcouf, 40, a landscape gardener from Jersey, and Richard Spink, 32, a physiotherapist from Bristol, shunned the polluting aircraft normally used to reach Greenland's polar ice cap and set sail in Fleur, a 40ft yacht fitted with solar panels and a wind turbine. Schools were poised to follow their green expedition online; once the duo had skied across the Arctic wastes they had hoped to boast of the first carbon-neutral crossing of Greenland.
On Friday, nature, displaying a heavy irony, intervened. After a battering by hurricane force winds, the crew of the Carbon Neutral Expeditions craft had to be rescued 400 miles off Ireland.
As if their ordeal wasn't terrifying enough, their saviour seemed chosen to rub salt in their wounds: a 113,000-ton tanker, Overseas Yellowstone, carrying 680,000 barrels of crude. In a statement from the tanker, Spink said: "We experienced some of the harshest conditions known, with winds gusting hurricane force 12 ... The decision was made that the risk to our personal safety was too great to continue."
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The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.
Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).
What's most widely agreed upon—based on the evidence available—is that the Guidestones are meant to instruct the dazed survivors of some impending apocalypse as they attempt to reconstitute civilization. Not everyone is comfortable with this notion. A few days before I visited, the stones had been splattered with polyurethane and spray-painted with graffiti, including slogans like "Death to the new world order." This defacement was the first serious act of vandalism in the Guidestones' history, but it was hardly the first objection to their existence. In fact, for more than three decades this uncanny structure in the heart of the Bible Belt has been generating responses that range from enchantment to horror. Supporters (notable among them Yoko Ono) have praised the messages as a stirring call to rational thinking, akin to Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. Opponents have attacked them as the Ten Commandments of the Antichrist.
Whoever the anonymous architects of the Guidestones were, they knew what they were doing: The monument is a highly engineered structure that flawlessly tracks the sun. It also manages to engender endless fascination, thanks to a carefully orchestrated aura of mystery. And the stones have attracted plenty of devotees to defend against folks who would like them destroyed. Clearly, whoever had the monument placed here understood one thing very well: People prize what they don't understand at least as much as what they do.
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Epigenetics: 'The most surprising thing about this revolutionary field...is that no one is talking about it yet'
From Epigenetics: A Revolutionary Look at How Humans Work
It is something called the epigenome that keeps us from "having a long tail and a snout," said Randy Jirtle, an epigenetics research pioneer at Duke University in North Carolina.
Epigenome literally means "above the genome." It is a molecular marking system that controls gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. In a sense, the epigenome is the genome's boss.
In the initial weeks after an egg is fertilized — when its cells are rapidly multiplying and developing into something like a full-fledged body — the epigenome acts as an overbearing micro-manager. Each new cell has identical DNA, but the epigenome orders some cells to work as, say, skin cells and others to become neurons.
It was once thought this nitpicking backed off after birth, except for a brief resurgence around puberty. But recently scientists have realized the boss is always watching —taking stock of not only the genome but the world at large.
"The fascinating thing about it is that the epigenome is the mediator between the genes and the environment," said Liang Liu, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
Food, pollution, toxic chemicals (such as those found in hard clear plastics), drugs, stress, even exercise and social interaction can all affect the epigenome and alter its attitude towards DNA, Liu said.
Sometimes, the epigenome responds to environmental cues by asking a gene, via a charged molecular messenger, either to start working or to work harder. For example, experiments by Michael Meaney and colleagues at McGill University have shown that when rat mothers are affectionate to their young, the baby's epigenome promotes a gene that helps the pup remain calm even in stressful situations. (Conversely, neglected rat pups grow up observably anxious.)
Other times, the epigenome demotes a gene. Many cancers, in fact, involve an irrational epigenetic firing of the gene that fights off tumors. The delivery of a molecular pink slip — often a methyl group — to the gene spurs a tight recoiling of the DNA spiral. The contraction makes it harder, or impossible, for transcription factors to interact with the gene — like stripping an employee of her Blackberry, computer and contact list.
The epigenome, however, is occasionally a wishy-washy supervisor. In some cases, epigenomic "decisions" can be reversed, Jirtle said.
Many medical treatments, Grayson said, such as those being developed for cancer and schizophrenia, try to coax the epigenome into changing its mind. Similarly, healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices can positively sway gene expression. "Food is truly medicine when you are talking about epigenetic changes," Jirtle said.
From New nucleotide could revolutionize epigenetics
The discovery of a new nucleotide in the mouse brain opens the door to a new domain of epigenetic DNA modification
Anyone who studied a little genetics in high school has heard of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine – the A,T,G and C that make up the DNA code. But those are not the whole story.
The rise of epigenetics in the past decade has drawn attention to a fifth nucleotide, 5-methylcytosine (5-mC), that sometimes replaces cytosine in the famous DNA double helix to regulate which genes are expressed. And now there's a sixth. In experiments to be published online Thursday by Science, researchers reveal an additional character in the mammalian DNA code, opening an entirely new front in epigenetic research.
The work, conducted in Nathaniel Heintz's Laboratory of Molecular Biology at The Rockefeller University, suggests that a new layer of complexity exists between our basic genetic blueprints and the creatures that grow out of them. "This is another mechanism for regulation of gene expression and nuclear structure that no one has had any insight into," says Heintz, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "The results are discrete and crystalline and clear; there is no uncertainty. I think this finding will electrify the field of epigenetics."
Genes alone cannot explain the vast differences in complexity among worms, mice, monkeys and humans, all of which have roughly the same amount of genetic material. Scientists have found that these differences arise in part from the dynamic regulation of gene expression rather than the genes themselves. Epigenetics, a relatively young and very hot field in biology, is the study of nongenetic factors that manage this regulation.
From Tough steak blamed on cows with human genes
Scientists will investigate ways to switch off a human gene that is thought to cause temperamental behaviour in both cows and humans in a new $1.35 million primary industries research project.
Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin, who announced the project ahead of the Australia's National Beef Expo 2009 in Rockhampton, says the new ground-breaking discovery could change the quality of beef.
"The genes thought to cause behavioural problems in humans are also found in cattle,'' Mr Mulherin said.
"We already know there is an association between the temperament of cattle and the tenderness of the meat, the more temperamental, the less tender.
"So if our scientists can learn how to switch off the gene that causes irritability in cattle then we can produce more tender meat which has a higher value to industry.''
Other factors to boost beef profits include annual calving and cows calving earlier in the season, which could lead to heavier offspring, he said.
Research leader, scientist Brian Burns, said the project focused on a new field of epigenetics, the study of modifications to genes other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.
From An intrusion of matriarchal consciousness
Right now a revolutionary paradigm shift is undergoing in the science of genetics. It is called epigenetics. The term "epigenetic" refers to heritable traits that do not involve changes to the DNA sequence. The DNA sequence is only part of the genome. The rest, which was earlier viewed as redundant rubbish, is now termed epigenome. Some epigenetic features are inherited from one generation to the next. Multigenerational epigenetics is today regarded as another aspect to evolution and adaptation. An example of this is the paramutation observed in maize. In humans, epigenetic changes have been observed to occur in response to environmental exposure, that is, a sort of Lamarckian inheritance (vid. Pembrey et al. 2006).
This is a most remarkable turnover in favour of depth-psychology,
The young science of epigenetics would be able to corroborate such notions. Not only climatological, epidemic, and nutritive experiences can be transferred to coming generations. Culture is the most fundamental force that has shaped man's life through the aeons. Its effect is, in all likelihood, established in the genome in a few generations.
|...The even greater surprise is the recent discovery that epigenetic signals from the environment can be passed on from one generation to the next, sometimes for several generations, without changing a single gene sequence. It's well established, of course, that environmental effects like radiation, which alter the genetic sequences in a sex cell's DNA, can leave a mark on subsequent generations. Likewise, it's known that the environment in a mother's womb can alter the development of a fetus. What's eye-opening is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the epigenetic changes wrought by one's diet, behavior, or surroundings can work their way into the germ line and echo far into the future. Put simply, and as bizarre as it may sound, what you eat or smoke today could affect the health and behavior of your great-grandchildren (Discover magazine, here).|
According to the above article in Discover magazine (here) "...the epigenome can change in response to the environment throughout an individual's lifetime." Hence, I propose that culture is very likely to play a role. The notion that factors of epigenetics could determine a person toward the animation of certain archetypes is consonant with this. I hypothesize that the individual could become more warlike in cultures which have historically been involved in conflict.
The article continues:
|...Remarkably, the mother's licking activity had the effect of removing dimmer switches on a gene that shapes stress receptors in the pup's growing brain. The well-licked rats had better-developed hippocampi and released less of the stress hormone cortisol, making them calmer when startled. In contrast, the neglected pups released much more cortisol, had less-developed hippocampi, and reacted nervously when startled or in new surroundings. Through a simple maternal behavior, these mother rats were literally shaping the brains of their offspring (ibid).|
At first glance, Einstein, Salvador Dali, Tony Hancock, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson would seem to have little in common. Their areas of physics, modern art, comedy, and rock music, are light years apart. So what, if anything, could possibly link minds that gave the world the theory of relativity, great surreal art, iconic comedy, and songs about surfing?
According to new research, psychosis could be the answer. Creative minds in all kinds of areas, from science to poetry, and mathematics to humour, may have traits associated with psychosis. Such traits may allow the unusual and sometimes bizarre thought processes associated with mental illness to fuel creativity. The theory is based on the idea that there is no clear dividing line between the healthy and the mentally ill. Rather, there is a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits without having the debilitating symptoms.
[ ... ]
It's now increasingly being argued that there are survival advantages to others forms of illness, too, because of the links between the traits associated with them and creativity. "It can be difficult for people to reconcile mental illness with the idea that traits may not be disabling. While people accept that there are health benefits to anxiety, they are more wary of schizophrenia and manic depression," says Professor Gordon Claridge, emeritus professor of abnormal psychology at Oxford University, who has edited a special edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, looking at the links between mental illness and creativity. "There is now a feeling that these traits have survived because they have some adaptive value. To be mildly manic depressive or mildly schizophrenic brings a flexibility of thought, an openness, and risk-taking behaviour, which does have some adaptive value in creativity. The price paid for having those traits is that some will have mental illness."
Research is providing support for the idea that creative people are more likely to have traits associated with mental illness. One study found that the incidence of mood disorders, suicide and institutionalisation to be 20 times higher among major British and Irish poets in the 200 years up to 1800. Other studies have shown that psychiatric patients perform better in tests of abstract thinking. Another study, based on 291 eminent and creative men in different fields, found that 69 per cent had a mental disorder of some kind. Scientists were the least affected, while artists and writers had increased diagnoses of psychosis.
"Most theorists agree that it is not the full-blown illness itself, but the milder forms of psychosis that are at the root of the association between creativity and madness," says Emilie Glazer, experimental psychologist and author of one of the Oxford journal papers. "The underlying traits linked with mild psychopathology enhance creative ability. In severe form, they are debilitating."
Research is also showing that traits associated with different mental illnesses have different effects on creativity. The creativity needed to develop the theory of relativity, is, for example, very different from that required for producing surreal paintings, or poetry.
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...My point is this: The study of literature gives a lawyer, particularly a trial lawyer, many of the skills he or she needs to assess evidence and persuade a trier of fact. What follows is only a partial list:
• Affinity for "close reading"
The predominant school of literary criticism that emerged after World War II was "the New Criticism." Among its principal tenets were that works of literature must be examined as autonomous wholes and that their meaning did not derive either from their historical context or from the author's biography, but from the structure and language of the work itself. New Critics promoted "close reading" -- they scrutinized texts for evidence of irony, ambiguity and complexity. Whatever the limits of their doctrine, they encouraged their students to read every sentence carefully and critically.
Lawyers need to be close readers. That is true whether one is reading a contract, a prospectus or a trial transcript. A sensitivity to ambiguity helps, particularly in contract interpretation.
Close reading is also an essential skill in evaluating a trial record; whether the evidence is sufficient to prove the claim asserted can turn on a sentence or a phrase, and very often what is left unproven is as important as what a poet leaves unsaid. Appellate lawyers earn their living by reading trial transcripts as closely as any critic reads a play: careful scrutiny usually reveals that witnesses often say far less, or far more, than they intend.
• Sense of narrative structure
A literary critic must be sensitive to form. Any lawyer who deals with facts undertakes the same exercise. Mere chronological narratives are lifeless and, even worse, unpersuasive. Any narrative must be shaped, whether it is for the benefit of a jury or an appellate court.
When I was a federal prosecutor, I knew that I had to extract themes from the facts presented to make my narrative intelligible. Without the structure a theme imposes, it is more difficult for a trier of fact to put facts in context or for a reader to discern meaning...
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Manto's riveting socio-political relevance continues to exist even today, as he wrote about religious bigotry and fundamentalism as a conspiracy of dividing people in the name of religion.
He touched stark truths about life and people at a time when others were writing about fairytale romances, Professor Ahmad Javed expressed this exclusively to 'The News' during the 'Manto National Literary Seminar' organised by Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) here on Monday.
Talking to 'The News', he said that Manto wrote about the emotional reaction of religious extremism at a time when no one would touch such issues. He quoted a few lines from one of Manto's columns written back in the 50s in Lahore, which reflect the same horror faced by women at the hands of militant fundamentalists in Swat and other areas. Manto writes in his column, “A man stood at the main square with a scissor in his hand, threatening to cut off the hair of all the bareheaded women he comes across.” Such was the power of Manto's vision and his commitment to truth in such a passionate and complete way that it has to go unchallenged and even his worst enemies couldn't accuse Manto of sectarianism.
Professor Javed said that Manto becomes all the more relevant today, as through his literary wisdom, he highlighted in his writings the situations unfolding today in Swat and other areas in the name of religion.
The literary seminar was organised to mark the birth anniversary of the epoch-making short story writer, whose works remain a true watershed in Urdu literature. Prof Ahmed Javed presided over the seminar, while Prof Khawaja Masood, Prof Sajjad Shaikh, Dr Salahuddin Darveish, and Manzar Naqvi expressed their views on the life and works of Manto.
Prof Khawaja Masood was of the view that Manto was one of the greatest writers of the world, whose stories were consciously revolutionary, openly ridiculing religious intolerance and suggesting the oppressiveness of traditional and social institutions, especially those relating to women. Talking about the small gathering at the seminar, Prof Masood said it speaks of the fears and the typical hypocrisy in minds that exist even today, and we need to take a principled stand against it and talk about it the way Manto did.
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By Alia Ibrahim - Special to The Washington Post
13 May, 2009
BEIRUT -- When Lebanese poet Joumana Haddad decided to launch a literary magazine devoted to the human body, she expected criticism. And she got it.
The first issue of Jasad -- Arabic for body -- included fiction, essays and other literary works about foot fetishism, homosexuality and cannibalism. Complaints began coming in even before it debuted in December. "Stop promoting this blatant vulgarity and obscenity," a commentator wrote on al-Arabiya television's Web site when it featured an article about Jasad.
But the magazine has found an audience, a sign of the hidden hunger here for candid discussions of normally off-limits topics. The 3,000 copies of the first issue sold out in 11 days, and a second printing quickly sold out, too. The 5,000 copies of the second issue are selling briskly, Haddad said, and the next issue is expected next month.
Most subscribers are Lebanese, but many are from other countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia.
"Every person has the right to want to know about realities of life, many of which have become taboos in our societies," said Habib Younes, a writer who contributed to the first issue.
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A lawsuit filed against author Nedim Gürsel on charges of insulting religious values in his novel “Allah'ın Kızları” (Daughters of God) and anger among religious circles over the “blasphemous” book have sparked a fresh debate on freedom of speech in EU-aspirant Turkey.
Gürsel faces between one and three years in prison under Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for denigrating the religious values of a part of the population with his book, which has sold over 30,000 copies in Turkey.
The controversial name of the book, published in March 2008 by Doğan Publishing, refers to three pagan deities, Lat, Uzza and Manat, which were worshipped in the pre-Islamic period on the Arabian Peninsula as the daughters of God. The book recounts the advent of Islam in the sixth century.
The launch of a case over Gürsel's book on charges of insulting religious values is worrisome, said Haluk Şahin, a journalist and a professor at İstanbul Bilgi University. He argued that novelists should be able to write their books freely benefiting from the means provided to them by the arts and that literary works should not be taken to court unless they incite hatred and violence.
He also criticized the Religious Affairs Directorate for preparing a report about the book claiming that it included obvious insults against Islamic values. He stressed that literary criticism was not the job of this institution.
Earlier this year Gürsel sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggesting that he read the book and complaining that the case launched against him for insulting religious values was unfair. “Our country, which is working for full EU membership, will lose its reputation in the civilized and democratic world because of this lawsuit,” he said. The novelist also complained about the report by the Religious Affairs Directorate, arguing that the report's authors distorted the words of his book and did not even actually read it while preparing their report. Yavuz Baydar, a journalist with Sunday's Zaman and the Sabah daily, complained that Turkey has been wasting time, energy and money on such cases.
In the past similar cases have been filed against novelists such as Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's only Nobel Prize-winning author, and Elif Şafak under another disputed article of the TCK, Article 301, which criminalizes “insulting the Turkish nation.”
Criticizing the formulation of Article 216, Baydar said this article was being misused and misinterpreted in Turkey and that people who should be prosecuted for engaging in racism, committing hate crimes and engaging in hate speech were evading punishment under this article. He suggested that the law be re-formulated in order to stop such misinterpretations and cases like the one against Gürsel.
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Submitted by NOT BORED on Tue, 2009-05-12
At 2 pm on Tuesday [28 April 2009], a very active member of a support committee was arrested on the streets of Paris. The police fixed her to the steering wheel of her car and expelled the person who accompanied her, before taking flight with our comrade. She was brought to the offices of the SDAT under an anti-terrorist regime (in custody for 96 hours and [access to] a lawyer after 72 hours).
This crude attempt at intimidating those who organize against anti-terrorist measures and for the support of people imprisoned in Paris and elsewhere. The police justified this arrest on the grounds that Tessa was "close to the hard core" of the group from Tarnac and "gravitated" around the farm at Goutaillioux. Not only has the justice system not abandoned its stupid set-up and the police categories that go along with it ("cell," "circle of influence," "hard core," "circle" and "member"), but even claims to henceforth apply them to those who remain close to their friends who have been placed under examination. Legal surveillance prevents these friends from seeing each other, indeed, from returning to them. The SDAT's new operations also tells them: "Your shared friends will henceforth be considered as facilitating communications between you and, thus, [other] members of the same association of evil-doers; if you see them, we can arrest them."
~ Source: Anarchist news dot org ~
Venezuelan police discover large arms cache
by Tamara Pearson (Venezuelanalysis.com)
11 May, 2009
Venezuelan police arrested four men and confiscated a large quantity of sophisticated weaponry that government officials speculate could have been part of an assassination plan against President Chávez. This discovery occurred in the context of a wave of apparently politically motivated violence that Chávez supporters suspect is part of a wider new campaign against the government.
On Friday the Venezuelan investigative police raided an apartment in north Caracas which was allegedly the property of a French citizen, Frederik Bocquet, who according to Tarek El Aissami, minister for internal affairs, is “a person ready and trained in the military and furthermore, is a sniper.”
Following the weapon confiscation El Aissami said, “There's an irrational sector of the opposition in this country who still hold hopes of destroying this revolutionary process and they have planned as their objective, getting rid of President Chávez.”
He explained, “We can demonstrate that this type of weapon used by these military terrorist organisations are for destabilisation actions. With this discovery we don't hesitate to tell the country that we have landed a strong blow against terrorism and to those groups who want to drag Venezuela down to scenes of blood and confrontation.”
In the apartment police found a range of weaponry, including 13 long range rifles, 3 shot guns, knives, two machine guns, silencers, telescopic citers, bullet-proof vests, 20,000 bullets, grenades, military uniforms, radio equipment, electronic detonator systems, and half a kilogram of C4 explosives.
In connection to the discovery the police have detained three men of Dominican nationality along with Bocquet.
Suspicions About A Wave of Politically Motivated Violence
In addition to the discovery of the weapons arsenal, a series of other incidents, such as the murder of a socialist party youth activist, attack on state oil workers, and murders of union organizers, have raised alarm bells about a possible link to the opposition.
While it is not certain that any of the recent incidents were politically based, they follow the murder of Toyota union leader Argenis Vasquez last Tuesday in Sucre state who was shot by a person from a car and the murders of three National Workers Union leaders in November last year in Aragua state.
The opposition is in the “decisive stage” of a destabilisation plan, said former vice president Jose Vicente Rangel during his TV show on Sunday.
He described political military organisations with facades of social organisations and gave examples of the security corporation of opposition Caracas mayor, Antonio Ledezma or the social networks of Leopoldo Lopez, opposition leader and ex mayor of Chacao. Rangel said that opposition sectors are injecting their presence in rural and urban networks, “to promote social demands and a large number of social, labour, and education conflicts.”
Rangel argued that opposition leaders are trying to generate various rumours and promote discontent within organisations like the National Armed Forces, “to promote panic and distrust towards the government's security policies.”
In Greece the most glaring recent example has been the case of Konstantina Kuneva which has been one of the top issues cited by protesters for their actions since the December Uprising began.
Konstantina Kuneva: Some background information
...On December 23, sulphuric acid was thrown at the face of Konstantina Kuneva [ed.'s note: she was also forced to drink it, resulting in severe damage to her esophagus and loss of her vocal chords] as she was returning home from work. Konstantina is in the intensive care ward of Evangelismos hospital suffering serious sight and respiratory system problems.
Who was Konstantina? Why was she attacked?
Konstantina is one among the hundreds of female immigrant workers who have been working for years as cleaners. She is general secretary of the Panattic Union of Cleaners and Domestic Personnel. She is a militant union organizer, well known for her stance against various bosses. Just last week she had a clash with the employer company “OIKOMET” when she demanded for herself and the rest of her colleagues to get paid the whole amount of money of her Christmas bonus. She also denounced illegal procedures in payments. Just a short while ago the same company fired her mother in an act of revenge against her and she got herself an unfavourable transfer to Marousi station. There is also a case of a three-part meeting in the Labour Inspection Office still pending on the 5-1-2009 concerning a denouncement of hers. Situations like these are not at all rare in the field of cleaning and employee lending companies. It’s exactly the opposite.
This is the rule when it comes to cleaning company contractors: delayed contracts, stolen wages, stolen overtime payments, differences between contract assets and what the employee actually gets paid, selection of almost exclusively immigrant male and female workers with green card status (legal residency in Greece ranging from 1 to 5 years – in most cases only 1 year) so they can be held in a state of hostageship, social security benefits that are never attributed. All these under the support of the public sector and enterprises which are aware, incite and support working conditions reminiscent of the middle ages.
OIKOMET in particular, a cleaning company with enterprises all over Greece and owned by Nikitas Oikonomakis who is a member of PASOK (Greek Socialist Party), “officially” employs 800 workers – on the other hand, workers say that their number is at least twice as much and during the last 3 years the turnover amounts to 3000). Illegal procedures on the part of the employer company are on the everyday list. To be more specific, employees sign “blank page contracts” and they are never given a copy of them. They work 6 hours a day but get paid for 4,5 (including stamp) because in this way they appear to be working less than 30 hours per week on paper and the boss is not forced to include them in the “higher stamp category”. Employees get terrorized, they get unfavourable transfers, they get fired and blackmailed into resigning voluntarily (a female employee was threatened by her employer into signing her resignation after being held for 4 hours in a space owned by the company). The boss organised a “yellow” (company) union in order to manipulate employees while he fires and hires people as he wishes, ruling out any prospect of communication inside the workplace or collective action.
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More recent violence against trade union activists:
ITUC condemns murders in April and May of Colombian trade union activists
The International Trade Union Confederation has condemned the murders in April and May of five Colombian trade union activists. The National Union reminds Canadians to email Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to oppose the proposed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Brussels (12 May 2009) - The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has strongly condemned and denounced the murders in April and May of five trade union activists dedicated to improving the lot of workers in Colombia.
The National Union sees the news as reinforcing their opposition to the proposed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It is reminding Canadians to send an email to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and urge him to join the other opposition parties in voting against the deal.
The national, regional and international trade union movements have joined with the three Colombian union confederations, CUT, CGT and CTC, in their unwavering condemnation of the relentless attacks on the Colombian trade union movement, committed in blatant violation of the core ILO Conventions ratified by Colombia. These attacks take the form of intimidation, persecution and threats along with continuous murder of trade union members and leaders for simply trying to defend workers' rights.
These five deadly crimes against the trade union movement take the number of trade unionists assassinated in 2009 to seventeen.
Murders contradict Colombian government claims that situation is improving
Over the last decade, Colombia has seen the murder of 2711 trade union leaders and activists in total. These assassinations seriously call into question the numerous claims by members of the Colombian administration that the violence, murders and stigmatisation suffered by the trade union movement are declining.
In a letter to the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, the ITUC called on the Colombian authorities to carry out urgent and conclusive investigations to bring those responsible to justice, and thus break the chain of impunity characterising the murders of trade unionists.
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Another Trade Union Leader Assassinated in Venezuela
Recently a pro-Chavez student leader was killed during a demonstration, eight police officers have been arrested in that incident. In the past year there has been a spat of trade union assassinations in Venezuela carried out by right-wing guns for hires. The same sort of thing has been happening in Colombia and across the Americas for decades. It’s important to take note that the deaths of socialist activists gets no mention in the mainstream press, but any incident in Venezuela that reflects poorly on progressive forces are made to undermine the Chavez regime. Class polarization and struggle is reaching its apex in Venezuela. The following months will be defining ones for the Bolivarian Revolution. ~ ED
Mérida, May 6th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -
Argenis Vasquez, a union leader in a Toyota plant in Cumana, Sucre state, was assassinated yesterday morning, triggering an occupation of that factory and quick investigations by government bodies.
"Two people, without saying a word, shot at the compatriot, Argenis Vasquez Marcano, killing him," said Tarek El Aissami, Venezuela’s minister for justice and internal affairs. "We reject this horrific crime and express our solidarity and sympathy to his family and co-workers," he said.
Vasquez, 33, was general secretary of the workers union at that Toyota assembly plant. According to one writer for Aporrrea.org he was also a student at the Venezuelan Bolivarian University and a spokesperson for his local community council.
The murder took place in the car park of the residential buildings where he lived. Two of the shots hit him in the head, causing his death. He was apparently going out to talk to a union lawyer and had just gotten off the phone to him. He had also received death threats recently.
El Aissami said that a commission from the national Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigation Unit (CICPC) would be investigating straight away. The commission will be working with the public prosecutor, which has also begun investigating.
The United, Classist, Revolutionary Current (CCURA) of the National Workers Union (Unete) asserts that Vasquez was murdered by hired killers and Jose Bodas, a petroleum union leader, along with CCURA, have called for mobilisations and car industry strikes against the "murderers who are decimating the revolutionary ranks" as Bodas said.
On November 29th last year, three trade union leaders of Unete were shot dead by armed assassins on motorbikes in Aragua state after participating in a labour dispute with a Colombian owned company. Journalists speculated that the attack was carried out by paramilitaries hired by the company and noted that the method of assassination resembled those used against unionists and activists in Colombia.
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Spy chief accused of murder
In a never seen before action in Colombian history, a former director of DAS, the Colombian intelligence service, has been accused of murder. According to the prosecutor general, Mario Iguaràn, Jorge Noguera is responsible for the murder of four persons, and of contracting out DAS services to the illegal paramilitary groups.
The Prosecutor’s office alleges that the DAS gave the paramilitary the names of union trade workers and university teachers that were later murdered. One of the most documented cases is the one of Alfredo Correa D’Andreis, a sociologist and teacher whom DAS performed an extensive intelligence work on, as the files of the institution show.
Correa D’Andreis was detained without proof and later, after he was freed in September 2004, he was murdered by paramilitaries in Barranquilla, northern Atlántico province. The crime caused a huge impact on the region, where Correa D’Andreis was widely acknowledged as a human right’s defender.
In April 2006, when the former DAS systems director Rafael García revealed to SEMANA the details on how Jorge Noguera sponsored the paramilitary to perform crimes such as the one of Correa D’Andreis, people thought García was crazy. But after some investigation, the Prosecutor’s office found that García was telling the truth. His version matches up with a dozen of testimonies, documents, and analyzed facts.
One of those testimonies is the one given by Jorge Enrique Palacio, who declared that William Samper, alias ‘Pupi’, a hired killer of the paramilitary and processed by the professor’s crime, told him that the murder had been ordered by Rodrigo Tovar, alias ‘Jorge 40’, who said Correa D’Andreis had to be killed because he was helping the guerrilla.
The 166 pages accusation file, that documents other similar cases, shows that Noguera must also be held responsible for the murder of Zully Esther Cordina, Fernando Pisciotti, and Adán Pacheco. The Prosecutor’s office says there are enough proofs “to assure the participation of Jorge Noguera in such serious actions (murder) throughout the delivery of information recovered by the DAS that was handed over to the service of subversive groups that publicly had announced their decision to do away with these people”
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Older cases in Romania and Iraq:
5 years since union activist's death
September 7th  marks the 5 year anniversary of the assassination of Virgil Sahleanu, a trade union activist from Iasi, Romania. In the city of Iasi fliers will be distributed with information about the fraudulent privatization of the TEPRO industry in Iasi and Sahleanu's role in the battle against the Czech owners of TEPRO ... which eventually lead to his death.
The TEPRO industry in Iasi is situated in the industrial part of the city, covering a surface of approximately 40 acres and having 1400 employees. The company, one of the top producers of carbon steel longitudinal welded tubes and cold molded structures in Romania, was founded in 1963 and has produced a variety of tubular products both for the internal and external markets. In 1998 TEPRO SA was bought by the Czech company Zelezarny Veseli and less than half a year later the conflict between the trade union and the employers began because the Czechs didn’t respect their agreements and their intention was not to increase the profitability of the company which at the time could sustain itself.
Testimonies of the employees claim, “The Czechs took our products and stuck the Zelezarny label on them selling them as if they had produced them. Moreover, they refused orders for certain products, recommending that potential partners sign contracts with Zelezarny Vesely. They actually wanted to occupy the international markets where TEPRO was selling its products and lead our factory into bankruptcy. Sahleanu’s death saved TEPRO but it has been 4 years since his assassination and no justice has been done for him,” stated Ioan Hariton, secretary of the ‘Virgil Sahleanu’ trade union from TEPRO Iasi, last year.
Let’s not forget that the robbing of TEPRO reached alarming dimensions especially in terms of foreign currency being taken out of the country continuously, for which the Czech owners were eventually fined by the Public Finances Board in Iasi, not to mention the fact that they placed into circulation fake treasury notes which couldn’t be approved by any bank.
VIRGIL SAHLEANU'S ROLE
Virgil Sahleanu was born on January 9th, 1946 in the village of Cacica, in Iasi County. He was a mechanical engineer by profession, a member of the Executive Bureau of the Territorial Trade Union “Cartel Alfa” in Iasi, married, and the father of 3 children. On February 12,1999, Sahleanu was chosen president of The Free Trade Union TEPRO Iasi by the Extraordinary General Assembly of the trade union. On February 15, 1999, the Free Trade Union TEPRO Iasi started a conflict, accusing the Czech company Zelezarny Veseli of the unfair dismissal of 1200 employees and of the fraudulent privatization of SC TEPRO SA. On February 19, 1999, Virgil Sahleanu was fired by the management of SC TEPRO. After a conflict lasting almost two years (from February 1999 until September 2000), under less than favorable conditions (he had to continue his trade union activity outside the industrial unit), and with the support of the METAROM trade union, he managed to cancel the dismissal of the 1200 employees in court, and he intervened decisively to cancel the disastrous contract that transformed a profitable firm into a bankrupt one.
Things were improving, even if Sahleanu had received death threats and was at the same time being sued in three separate trials; none of this scared him because he had already approached the European Court in Strasbourg to judge these lawsuits. On the morning of September 7th 2000, Sahleanu was supposed to show up in court for the trials against him, but while exiting his home two persons stabbed him three times, killing him. After the examination, doctors stated that professionals were involved since any of the three stab wounds could have caused Sahleanu's death.
The assassination of the trade union leader roused a chain of reactions, leading to demonstrations and protests on streets of Iasi. His assassination rang a signal of alarm, both because of the horrible crime perpetrated in mob style, and because of the state's failure of responsibility in assuring the protection of free citizens, workers’ rights, and, most importantly, the correctness of the privatization process - since it is these abusive privatization practices that give rise to conflicts … either open conflicts between the trade union and the employers … or hidden conflicts between different decision-makers who hold their financial interests above everything else.
This assassination had many repercussions, especially concerning the workers’ rights and interests. Even if we’re dealing with a democratic political regime, the trade unions and especially their leaders are subjected to new pressures exerted by the employers…not the same employers as a few years ago but employers born from a wild capitalism that doesn’t care about anything except financial and strategical interests. As expressed in a broadcast on Radio Free Europe: “the murder of the trade union leader at TEPRO Iasi is represented as the obvious expression of the wild Romanian postcommunist capitalism”.
The judges of the Supreme Court of Justice:
- sentenced Victor Balan – former manager of TEPRO – to 15 years in prison
- sentenced Catalin Ciubotaru – manager of the protection agency Protect Vaslui – to 17 years of detention
- sentenced Ioan Tofan and Claudiu Bahna - the assassins of the trade union leader - to 23 years in prison each
- sentenced Valentin Blanita and Gelu Alexandru Spuma – employees of the protection agency Protect - to 5 years in prison each
- sentenced the Czech investor Franmtisek Priplata to 8 years in prison; the judges acquitted him of fraud, which led to the reduction of the initial conviction of 14 years.
It has to be mentioned that according to the bill of indictment, the Czech citizen Franmtisek Priplata, as well as Victor Balan and Catalin Ciubotaru were accused of association with the aim of committing offences and incitement to the offence of first degree murder. Valentin Blanita, Nelu Viorel Varolomei and Gelu Spuma – branch chiefs of the security firm Protect - were charged with association with the aim of committing offences and complicity to the offence of first degree murder. Ioan Tofan and Claudiu Irinel Bahna were charged with first degree murder.
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Assassination Attempt on Trade Union Leader
Prime Minister Nori al Maliki
Office of the Prime Minister
By Fax: Iraqi Embassy
Re: Assassination Attempt on Leader of Trade Union
Dear Prime Minister:
I write on behalf of the leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress and the more than three million working women and men we represent, to protest the assassination attempt on Brother Khalil Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, Vice-President of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW). On January 31, 2007, he was injured in a bomb attack.
We believe this is a deliberate and targeted attack on a trade union activist. We have received numerous reports that many trade unionists have been murdered or abducted in Iraq due to their union activities. We have also been concerned about reports of government interference in union affairs, namely the GFIW and affiliated engineers' and lawyers' unions.
We add our voice to the statement made by the GFIW's Executive Bureau:
"The terrorist acts, the annihilation of trade unionists, the destruction and occupation of trade union offices, the freezing of the trade union movement's assets and the putting of obstacles in our way will only increase our resolve to build an independent, democratic trade union movement that is free of government and party hegemony."
Prime Minister, as a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Iraq has an obligation to respect the fundamental labour standards established by Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, regardless of ratification. It is unacceptable that trade unionists should exercise their activities in a climate of violence, and it is your government's responsibility to ensure security for trade unionists.
I therefore, strongly urge you to initiate a full and immediate investigation into the assassination attempt on Brother Khalil Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, and to ensure that adequate steps are taken to provide security for trade unionists, so they can do their legitimate trade union work without fear for their security or their lives.
I urge you once again Mr. Prime Minister, to ratify the ILO Convention 87 on the right to the Freedom of Association.
I look forward to your urgent action and to your response.
Kenneth V. Georgetti
cc: CLC Officers and Executive Assistants
CLC Executive Committee
The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Government of Canada
The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Labour, Government of Canada
CLC National Directors
Guy Ryder, General Secretary, ITUC
Embassy of Iraq, Ottawa
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