Monthly Archives: February 2010


Barefoot   These eight long years HARSH MANDER

The accused have not been granted bail even under the ordinary criminal law of the land…

On February 27 this year, ageing Bibi Khatoon’s three grown sons, Shamsher, Sultan and Sadiq, complete eight long years in jail. They face a protracted meandering trial for the grisly crime of helping set aflame a train compartment on the Godhra railway platform, killing 58 people, many of them women and children. The crime has not been proved, and both the High Court and Supreme Court have concluded that there is no evidence of any terrorist plot to attack the train, despite the Gujarat government’s strenuous claims that there was such a conspiracy. Yet they continue to be denied bail and freedom.

The same evening after the train compartment was tragically gutted on February 27, 2002 — and many districts in Gujarat were already stirring with gruesome retributive violence against Muslim men, women and children — a large contingent of policemen in plain clothes arrived in Rehmat Nagar in Godhra. In this slum, a few kilometres from the railway station, mainly live working class Muslim people: car mechanics, drivers, casual labourers. Bibi Khatoon’s sons had just returned home from work, and were drinking tea. Policemen with faces covered with scarves arrested her three sons, among 14 young men picked up from the colony. The women raised an alarm, and ran after the vehicles in which their men were bundled. One policeman reassured Bibi that her sons would return home after they met their bade sahib (senior officer). Bibi says today sadly, “It seems that their bade sahibhas still not arrived after all these years.”

When none of the men, some still teenagers, returned that night, their families panicked further. They spotted them in the railway police station, but were not allowed to meet them, or give them food and clothes. The men soon disappeared from the police station, and no policeman in Godhra or Ahmedabad was willing to inform the distraught families where their loved ones were. Three months later, Bibi’s husband received a letter from their sons, that they were in Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad. They were among the 131 people charged with a terrorist conspiracy to burn the train compartment in Godhra. The law under which they were charged was the dreaded POTA or the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which provided for detention without bail for people accused of terror crimes. Incidentally, the state government has not charged a single person under this severe law for the massacre of Muslims which followed the train burning.

Prison ordeal

Bibi was heartbroken when she met her sons inside the formidable prison. They were thin, their eyes haunted. They whispered about torture and beatings, in low voices so that the jail staff who stood by would not hear. They said they were forced to drink water from the same bucket in which they urinated. Bibi’s husband assured their sons that he would do everything that was possible to get them out of jail. He urged the boys to not lose hope.

Back home, the challenge was to find the money to keep the fires of their hearth burning, since there were now no sons to bring home money. Bibi’s eldest son had two boys in school. Their second son had married just months before his arrest. His wife delivered a baby girl while her husband was in prison. She refuses to call him her father when she sees him in jail. To her he is a stranger. Their youngest was still in his teens. The old father looked for casual employment, and Bibi and her two daughters-in-law tried to find work cleaning dishes and sweeping floors in people’s homes in Godhra. Work was harder to find because they were tainted ‘POTA families’, or the families of terrorists.

In September 2004, the newly elected UPA government in Delhi repealed the anti-terror law POTA, because its provisions deprived the accused of their elementary democratic rights of fair trial. But paradoxically, it did not repeal the law retrospectively, therefore those who were already detained under its provisions, like Bibi’s sons, continued to be held and tried under this discredited law. Some organisations helped the families of the accused fight their cases in court. Nitya Ramakrishnan, criminal lawyer from Delhi, and Hassan were among those who represented the accused. The charge of the state government was that the mob launched a murderous pre-planned attack on the train, and threw petrol into the compartment from outside. But forensic reports established that it was humanly impossible for petrol to be thrown from outside. It also found no evidence of hydro-carbons inside the compartment. The lawyers also pointed to many other holes in the case made out by the state police.

No end in sight

In the tortuous eight-year journey of this case, there were many rulings in favour of the accused. Each time Bibi and other families hoped for the release of their loved ones. But these hopes were always betrayed. In 2005, the Review Committee appointed under POTA held that there was no evidence of a terrorist conspiracy, and even less one which threatened the unity of India, therefore no case was made out under POTA. But the state government was unwilling to accept this finding. It appealed instead to High Court, which in February 2009 upheld the conclusions of the Review Committee. This was further endorsed by the Supreme Court. Even so, the state government did not release the accused. Instead, in recent months, it finally charged them not under the terror law, but the Indian Penal Code. However, the accused have not been granted bail even under the ordinary criminal law of the land, although many have spent longer years in jail than if they were convicted of the crimes for which they are accused.

Meanwhile, four years ago, Bibi’s husband contracted throat cancer. His sons were granted one day’s parole each to meet their father one last time before he died. After his death, the burden of supporting the large family has fallen on Bibi’s shoulders. Crippled by a rickshaw accident and old age, she is unable to work. Instead she has been reduced to begging. She hobbles from house to house in Godhra town, begging all day for a few rupees or some food. Her older grandson was in Class 10. He needed money for books, uniform and examination fees, which she raised by begging. But he failed his examination and she pulled him out of school. Her younger grandson she withdrew from school even sooner, after Class 8. Both today earn Rs. 50 a day at a repair garage.

The visits of the family to see them in jail have tapered to once every six months. The bus fares cost what they earn in a full month. And all for a meeting of barely five minutes, through two screens. The boys are emaciated, and have contracted diseases like TB. Safiq, Bibi’s youngest, has lost his mind in jail. He spends his days in jail compulsively collecting and eating paper and scraps, and sometimes assaults other prisoners and even the jail staff. He does not recognise his family any more. Bibi mourns, “His milk teeth had barely fallen when they took him away. What have they done to my little boy?” Their lawyers’ applications for his parole so he can be treated have been rejected.

Simple questions

Bibi is mortified that she is forced to beg to keep her family alive. She is shamed also that her sons are charged with such a heinous crime. “I am an unlettered woman, my son. I do not understand the law. But explain to me why my sons continue in jail all these years, when they are innocent.’

She pleads with anyone who will listen, “Can you get help my sons out of jail?” She adds, “I wonder if I will live to see them free, one day?”

UNAMA, Indo-US nexus not on same page?

By: Sikander Shaheen | Published: February 27,

ISLAMABAD – Although intensified and off-the-curtain deliberations for reconciliation between US and Taliban have been continuing for the last couple of months in Afghanistan, yet the United Nations holds certain disagreements with NATO command over its ‘overstepping’ on some fronts.
United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been instrumental, throughout, in arranging covert talks between Taliban and NATO command, and some senior Taliban leaders frequently met Kai Eide in the second half of December last and couple of months that followed. However, the inclusion of some wanted miscreants of different terrorist organisations in the ‘dialogue process’ followed by their stealthy visits in Afghanistan, and uncalled for Indian involvement are some of the factors that do not go well with UNAMA.
After UN Afghanistan Chief Kai Eide had faced wide criticism on his failure to play an active role in stopping Afghanistan’s fraudulent presidential elections last year under growing demands for his resignations coming from credible international agencies, the outgoing Envoy wants to quit his responsibilities with some worthy achievements to his credit and his active involvement in initiating dialogue with Taliban is inter-linked to it.
Deeply cautious of his somehow passive role on the occasion of presidential elections and carrying the resolve not to repeat his mistakes, Kai Eide has been critical of Afghan government’s inefficiency and has differences with Karzai’s regime in the wake of massive corruption and drugs trafficking. During his tenure, UN had made public several reports highlighting Afghanistan’s inability to counter indigenous vices, other than terrorism, like lack of transparency, misappropriation of funds, and drugs smuggling. It was under his command that international community, for the first time, started pointing fingers at Afghanistan for its self-created multiple crises instead of using Pakistan as a scapegoat.
While Kai Eide has an individual role in facilitating secretive meet-ups with Taliban leaders, he is equally repulsive of NATO’s overstepping to use ‘fugitive’ Taliban in pursuit of its vested agenda. The outgoing Envoy, who is stepping down the next month, cites some personal reasons and family commitments for his decision to wind up, but informed circles in UNAMA believe that their Chief would have given a serious thought to get his contract renewed “had he not been completely out of line on some issues with US military command in Afghanistan.”

Bribery case against Khosa referred to Pakistan Bar Council

(The lawyer’s of Pakistan have shown themselves to be willing to take political action in the form of protests when pushed too far so good to keep an eye on the PBC for interesting news. V.)

From The Nation on The Web February 28, 2010

February 27, 2010 ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court has forwarded bribery case against former attorney general of Pakistan Sardar Latif Khan Khosa to the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC).
A three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Justice Mian Shakir Ullah Jan announced its judgement here on Friday. The bench also directed the PBC to decide the case within 30 days.
Dr Mazhar Jamal, in an affidavit on September 2009, appealed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that Mr Khosa took Rs 30 million from her husband for securing a court decision in his favour but that did not happen. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Peshawar convicted her husband, Hamid Maghfoor, in a corruption case a few years back. After that Maghfoor moved the apex court for relief.
Syed Ali Zafar, Counsel for Khosa, argued that only PBC was entitled to take action against any lawyer under legal practitioners. The PBC Act 1973 is the only rule for conducting proceedings against the lawyers, who are allegedly involved in bribery, crime, malpractice, misbehaving and others by their clients or someone else, the learned counsel further argued.
However, the court remarked that there was something serious in shape of allegations being levelled against the judges of superior judiciary. “The court is entitled to take action against any lawyer under the apex court rules 1980,” the court observed.
The Attorney General of Pakistan argued that the court should not hear the case even if it was entitled to do so and leave the issue to PBC. As the Attorney General concluded his arguments, Justice Shakir reserved the judgement on 22nd February.

The Drone Wars – New American Foundation study findings

The Drone Wars.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation have completed their latest study into the use of drones in Pakistan (with a handy map of the strikes no less). A few of the relevant facts and figures:

Between 830 and 1,210 people have been killed. A third of those have been civilians, two-thirds have been militants.

There were 51 reported strikes in 2009, more than during the entire Bush administration, in which there were 45.

Pakistanis hate the drone attacks. Only 9% of Pakistanis approve of their use.

In the three weeks following the suicide bombings that killed several CIA Agents in Khost, there were 13 drone strikes, which were likely retaliation for the attack.

The bottom line however, seems to be that drones’ usefulness is limited:

But the U.S. drone strikes don’t seem to have had any great effect on the Taliban’s ability to mount operations in Pakistan or Afghanistan or deter potential recruits, and they no longer have the element of surprise.

Still, heavy use of drones is likely to continue, despite strategic concerns about blowback and the possibility that the strikes themselves are illegal — both because they’ve been successful at hitting certain high value targets and because it’s the only way for the U.S. to target its enemies inside Pakistan.

— A. Serwer

Posted by Adam Serwer on February 25, 2010 1:56 PM

Greece and Goldman Sachs

February 26, 2010

In Greece’s Crisis, Fed Studies Wall St.’s Activities

Greece’s problems deepened on both sides of the Atlantic as the Federal Reserve disclosed it was investigating Goldman Sachs and other banks that helped the country mask its debts, and investors grew increasingly leery of lending any more money to a nation flirting with default.

Wall Street’s role in the run-up to the debt crisis has generated criticism and calls for an inquiry from European leaders. The Fed examination is the first time American regulators will examine the highly profitable if little-known business of supplying custom-made financial instruments to strapped countries on the Continent.

While Greece’s economic troubles have transfixed world markets for weeks, its problems have snowballed in recent days as workers went to the picket lines to protest budget cuts and the government struggled to raise cash to cover what is Europe’s largest budget deficit. Last year, Greece’s deficit equaled 12.7 percent of gross domestic product.

On Thursday, the Moody’s ratings agency joined Standard & Poor’s in warning that it might downgrade Greek government bonds, a move that would increase the premium Athens must pay to borrow. The move comes at a precarious time for Greece, which must raise 25 billion euros ($34 billion) over the next few months to avoid a sovereign default that officials fear could cause the finances of other weak European economies to collapse.

Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press

Greece’s economic troubles have transfixed markets for weeks, and recently, workers there went on strike to protest budget cuts.

In a sign of the challenges their nation faces, Greek officials also called off a planned trip to the United States and Asia aimed at interesting new investors in its bonds because of a lack of demand, according to an investment banker who was briefed on the government’s fund-raising strategy.

The European Union has said it would come to Greece’s aid only if it develops a plan to reduce its deficit by March 16, further ratcheting up the pressure.

“Even if they bring the deficit to zero, with interest rates at 6.5 percent and a growth rate of zero at best, Greece’s debt ratio remains on an explosive path,” said Miranda Xafa, a former executive board member at the International Monetary Fund. “I just don’t think they can raise funds from the market now.”

Greece has suffered from large deficits for years, and until now it seemed as if big banks would always be there to bail it out. As far back as 2000 and 2001, Goldman helped Athens quietly borrow billions to mask its poor finances by creating derivatives that essentially transformed loans into currency trades that Greece did not have to disclose under European rules.

Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told Congress Thursday that the Fed was “looking into a number of questions relating to Goldman Sachs and other companies and their derivatives arrangements with Greece.”

Mr. Bernanke said the Securities and Exchange Commission was also concerned about how derivatives — financial instruments that are largely unregulated and do not trade on public exchanges — have contributed to Greece’s problems. “Obviously, using these instruments in a way that intentionally destabilizes a company or a country is counterproductive,” he said.

The S.E.C., in a statement, said that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” but added that it was cooperating with United States and international regulators in examining “potential abuses and destabilizing effects related to the use of credit-default swaps and other opaque financial products and practices.”

Goldman declined to comment, citing its policy of not addressing legal or regulatory matters. But in a Feb. 21 presentation, Goldman said, “The Greek government has stated (and we agree) that these transactions were consistent with the Eurostat principles governing their use and application at the time.” Eurostat is the European Union’s statistics agency.

Goldman is not the only bank that supplied derivatives designed to lower deficits. In the late 1990s, JPMorgan Chase helped Italy reduce its budget gap by swapping currency at a favorable exchange rate. In return, Italy committed to future payments that were not booked as liabilities.

A spokeswoman for JPMorgan said that Italy disclosed all of the deals to Eurostat.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, also took aim at credit-default swaps, which allow banks and hedge funds to wager on whether a company or country might default.

Critics say the swaps have contributed to Greece’s problems and increased the odds of a financial collapse.

“We have a situation in which major financial institutions are amplifying a public crisis for private gain,” he said.

The Fed inquiry was begun about three weeks ago, according to an official involved in the investigation who was not authorized to comment publicly. Fed examiners are focusing on whether Goldman and other banks complied with guidance the Fed issued in 2007 outlining how to manage the risk of complex financial vehicles. The investigation is still in its early stages, he added, as officials sift through records detailing how the derivatives were created, what compliance procedures were followed and what internal analysis was performed. The Fed is also looking at whether Wall Street made additional financial arrangements for Greece that have not been disclosed.

Growing concern over these transactions have made investors more doubtful than ever about the government’s ability to quickly secure tens of billions of euros in new financing it needs to avert default. Greece faces a critical test next week, when it will try to raise about 3 billion euros ($4 billion), through an issue of 10-year bonds.

But with threats of a downgrade to its sovereign debt looming, investors say Greece would need to pay a whopping 7 percent interest rate just to get people to buy. That is almost a percentage point more than the rate investors received in the previous Greek bond sale, in January, and a full 3 percentage points more than Greece’s borrowing cost before the current crisis.

A spokeswoman for the Greek Finance Ministry did not respond to a request for a comment.

The rise in investor skepticism has led Greece to adopt a new financing strategy. Instead of selling debt through public auctions, where the danger of a failed offering could further unnerve markets, it has gone directly to institutional investors, sounding them out in one-on-one meetings, mostly in London.

Bankers and analysts in Athens say there is a debate within the Finance Ministry as to whether the government should go to the market now, or wait until a new menu of changes — like more taxes and further public sector wage cuts — is announced, in the hope that such measures will result in lower financing costs.

But a more dire view is already taking hold, according to some bankers, as investors fret that Greece may simply not be able to cover 20 billion euros of debt coming due in April and May, and 53 billion euros for all of the year. It seems unlikely that such a quantity can be raised from investors — many of them conservative pension funds and insurance companies that are already nursing losses from the 8-billion-euro Greek bond issue in January that was hit by the recent market downturn.

Landon Thomas Jr. contributed reporting.


US Military to refuse unlawful orders? US refuses Iran 1 gram of isotopes worth $75K; prefers war

February 24, 6:20 PMLA County Nonpartisan ExaminerCarl Herman

The yearly need of Iran for life-saving medical isotopes is less than one gram and costs Iran $75,000 to refine the fuel. Iran has stated they would prefer to buy the isotopes rather than produce them. The US could resolve the threat of war with Iran if President Obama made a speech today saying the US will allow Iran to produce it themselves under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a legal right guaranteed by treaty among nations including the US and Iran, or by the US selling Iran the isotopes.

The US refusal to do so and the US corporate media to not report this simple solution is revealing of a sinful and deadly war agenda that follows the propaganda path that led to unlawful war with Afghanistan and Iraq. The propaganda is tragic-comic: all we have for peace is one “anonymous” report with a misleading headline to psychopathically appear as if the US is taking peaceful action.
It’s time: exercise your 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and press, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Please provide this article to all Americans if you find it helpful to stop current and future unlawful wars; including the grave threat of World War III.
Over 4,000 US soldiers have been killed so far as pawns of the civilian and military brass tyrants. Multiples more have been crippled physically and emotionally. There is no end in sight to current wars; indeed, the US is expanding them into Pakistan and Yemen and threatening more war with Iran. The dead are comforted by God; their families are devastated by the loss of their loved-ones. The crippled and their families face a range of challenges; many so severe that a total of 6,000 US veterans commit suicide every year. One-third of all US homeless men are veterans.
More war with Iran is preventable with managing just one gram of a medical supply.
Let that sink in.
Let the propaganda of lies of omission and commission of US political “leadership” and corporate media fuel your passion for real security from lawful cooperation, justice, dignity, and true freedom.
Our military was duped into these wars; our trusting young men and women took an Oath to support and defend the US Constitution that supersedes the Nazi insert of “placing the mission first.” The Claus von Stauffenberg faction of US military and government must act to end this soulless mass-murdering; this loveless series of unlawful wars and unlawful orders, if we want a future we’re proud to build.
This choice is up to our men and women in uniform. I can provide:
And, our men and women in uniform must take action as they see best; as will our men and women in government and citizenry.
Choose well; our collective future, and your future, depend upon it.
At the end of this article is an artistic way of communicating this information: PuppetGov’s 8-minute video, “How you ended the war.”
It’s time: please share this article with all who can benefit. If you appreciate my work, please subscribe by clicking under the article title (it’s free). Please use my archive of work to help build a brighter future.
I appreciate your attention to these facts and encourage your further study and action consistent with your own self-expression. My recommendations:
Policy response: Gandhi and Martin Luther King advocated public understanding of the facts and non-cooperation with evil. I’m among hundreds who advocate:
  1. Understand the laws of war (and here). These were legislated after WW2 and are crystal-clear that only self-defense, in a narrow legal meaning, can justify war. The current US wars are not even close to being lawful and are legal treason against the US. Those involved with US military, government, and law enforcement have an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution. To fulfill their oath they must immediately refuse all orders associated with unlawful wars and military-related constant violation of treaties, and arrest those who issue unlawful orders. The Oath of Enlistment to the US Constitution supersedes the fascist insertion of Nazi propaganda to “always place the mission first” of blindly following unlawful orders.
  2. Employ the obvious and simple solutions to end our economic controlled demolition and evolve to a civil economy. End poverty through global cooperation to achieve the UN Millennium Goals by developed countries investing 0.7% of their income (not that the UN is serious for their accomplishment, but the goals are what we should invest to produce). Support global security through cooperation, dignity, justice, and freedom. Create a US Department of Peace to help.
  3. Communicate. Trust your unique, beautiful, and powerful self-expression to share as you feel appropriate. Understand that while many people are ready to embrace difficult facts, many are not. Anticipate that you will be attacked and prepare your virtuous response in the spirit of competition, just as you do in other fields.
  4. Prosecute the war leaders for obvious violation of the letter and spirit of US war laws and constant lies to engage in further wars. Because the crimes are so broad and deep, I recommend Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) to exchange full truth and return of stolen US assets for non-prosecution. This is the most expeditious way to understand and end all unlawful and harmful acts. Those who reject T&R are subject to prosecution.
Local perspective: Part of my professional duties as a teacher of economics and government is to produce competent adult citizenry. This includes realization that our nation’s policies and money are managed at a broad community level, and these issues have tremendous local impact. Of course, we all want human beings to be individually successful and enjoy their unique, beautiful and powerful self-expressions. Concurrently, we recognize our commitment to local success is strongly dependent upon the success of the community, and that government policy and economics are drivers.
Our status in early 21st Century human history is that we suffer from a long history in government and money of human interrelationship well-described as vicious antagonism. Governments frequently use war as a foreign policy, despite its illegality and dependent upon public ignorance, with horrific consequences. Economic policy is still created within a “Robber Baron” paradigm to concentrate money to an elite few families. Two examples:
1.      National taxes effect you dearly, especially the tax to pay interest on the national debt. This costs the American public over $400 billion every year. This is $4,000 per year for every $50,000 of income. Do the math to understand your household’s tax burden for a monetary policy invented by banks for banks to create our money supply as debt. Your competence in this area contributes to our collective voice to simply shift monetary policy to easily pay the national debt, enjoy full employment, collectively save us over a trillion dollars every year, and finally realize what our brightest American minds have been advocating for centuries beginning with Benjamin Franklin. This would have unprecedented local benefits, and requires collective power to accomplish.
2.      Ending poverty everywhere on our planet would cost just 0.7% of our income and save a million children’s lives every month. This human accomplishment will cause unimaginable joy at our local level.
To consider:
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in the world. Now the judgment of God is upon us and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”
–Inscription on Dr. Martin Luther King’s statue, Moorehouse College, Atlanta
“The day that hunger is eradicated from the earth, there will be the greatest spiritual explosion the world has ever known. Humanity cannot imagine the joy that will burst into the world on the day of that great revolution.” — poet Federico García Lorca
Comments policy: I welcome questions and comments that are civil and pertain to the article topic. Impolite and impertinent comments will be deleted.
Please consider that I’m among hundreds of writers who have documented our own government’s disclosure of propaganda programs to support their wars. I suspect my articles are under such propagandistic attack from comments that use typical rhetorical fallacies to distract readers from the facts. I invite readers to sharpen their ability to discern such propaganda. They are characterized by a combination of: never addressing the facts, diverting attention through unsubstantiated belief in an alleged expert, irrelevant data, straw-man attack that distorts the facts, ad hominem attack of insults to the messenger, vile comments to repulse readers, and lies of omission and commission.
I will use such comments to point-out the propaganda or delete them at my discretion. Again, all relevant and polite questions, and factually accurate comments are welcome. As a professional educator I’m in agreement with my experience and research: we learn best from multiple perspectives in mutual commitment to understand the facts, see those facts from diverse points-of-view, and consider various policy proposals of what we should do.
For those involved in support of US government-sponsored disinformation, I invite you to consider the quality of human relationships you wish to work toward. National security and a brighter future is not a function of fear, manipulation, and control. Our best security follows cooperation, justice under the law, dignity, and freedom. Working for your best imagined self-expression of virtue may include a unique contribution from the inside of your agency. Public attraction to the stories of Star Wars and the Harry Potter books/movies recognize that our society’s jump to civilized relations for all of us might require support from people within the “dark side” acting as covert agents for building a brighter future. Another option is becoming a whistle-blower; Project Camelot is a popular venue for people in sensitive positions. Ultimately, I recommend a Truth and Reconciliation process to exchange full truth for no prosecution, explained in detail at the link. Please consider the wisdom of your own “Scrooge conversion” to act for the benefit of all humanity rather than your self-proclaimed controlling, manipulating, and loveless “masters.”
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

News Alert Global Soils Threatened

News Alert Global Soils threatened:

EU, USA and China join forces in research Brussels, 15 February 2010

Scientists from Europe, USA and China have established a network of field research stations to study the valuable services that soils provide to humanity. The Soiltrec project will find out how to protect soil against the threats posed by climate change, and increasing food and energy demand from a growing human population. The project is coordinated by the University of Sheffield and brings together 15 partners including universities, research organisations and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. The European Commission will invest €7 million over the next 5 years to support scientific research in the EU and China with additional support provided by existing research projects. The new funds also include support for EU and Chinese teams to link with researchers who are funded from the USA National Science Foundation’s Critical Zone Observatory Program. The European research consortium is led by the University of Sheffield. Soil threats include erosion that washes soil from the land surface into rivers, loss of organic matter as a store of nutrients and as essential glue to keep soil in place, and loss of biodiversity and key soil organisms. Loss of soil fertility is also a major threat due to pollution, compaction during intense farming, sealing over by expanding cities and deposition of salt from evaporating irrigation water in dry regions. The network creates 4 major field research stations in the EU and 6 in the USA, with additional field research projects in EU member states, the USA and China. The aim is to understand and predict how soil provides ecosystem services such as filtering contamination from water, storing carbon, providing food and fibre, providing habitat for a myriad of microbes and larger organisms, and helping maintain the biodiversity and gene pool of our planet. This research takes a major new approach which designatess field sites as Critical Zone Observatories. These act as international focal points to concentrate scientific effort. The aim is to gain scientific evidence on land use practice that will protect the central role of soil in the Earth’s Critical Zone. This is the thin layer of land at the Earth’s surface that extends from the top of the tree canopy to the lower reaches of drinking water aquifers. This zone is often only tens of metres deep, but within it, bedrock is slowly converted by the action of water and organisms into soil. This valuable resource nourishes land plants and humanity, and supports a major part of our economy. The international teams harness top soil and water specialists, geologists and ecologists, engineers, management scientists and computer teams. These scientists will work with land management experts to improve land use policy and practice.

The four European fields cited for Critical Zone Observatories are at

* Damma Glacier Forefield, Switzerland  * Koiliaris Watershed, Crete

* Lysina Catchment, Czech Republic * Fuchsenbigl Agricultural Station, Austria

US power plant blast kills several

A massive gas explosion has ripped through a power plant in the United States, killing at least five people, according to the local mayor.

Rescue workers are still searching among the debris for other possible victims. So far 12 people are known to have been injured.

The explosion happened at 11.30 on Sunday morning, as workers were purging natural gas lines at the 620 megawatt gas-fired power station in Middletown, Connecticut.

The plant is still under construction and was due to come on line in the summer.

It is thought some 100 people were working on site at the time, but the blast was felt up to 50 kilometres away.

Local media talk about as many as up to 250 people being injured and an eyewitness described seeing “bodies everywhere”.

It is thought a natural gas leak caused the explosion.

Yanukovych ahead in Ukranian vote

It looks likely that pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has won Ukraine’s presidential election – but only by a slender margin.

Even still, it would be a remarkable comeback.

Yanukovych was forced out of the presidency after a rigged election in 2004 sparked the country’s Orange Revolution.

Claiming victory, he told supporters: “People wanted change and I think this election was the first step towards the unification of the nation.”

As the electoral commission continued counting, he called on his rival Yulia Tymoshenko to resign from her post of Prime Minister. But there is no sign she is ready to do that.

In fact, she has refused to concede defeat and her team is conducting a parallel count – a sign this election could be far from over.

However, she has not repeated calls for the masses to return to the streets if she suspects electoral fraud.

In an apparent allusion to the 2004 poll she said: “I think Ukraine still remembers times when presidents were not only declared but officially pronounced and also congratulated, but then their fate changed dramatically.”

Her team is contesting results in around 1,000 polling stations in the pro-Yanukovych industrial east. And it is claiming a narrow margin in her favour, raising the spectre of a possibly messy legal challenge.

But that, and/or street protests, would be bad news for a country mired in political instability.

Politics is the Art of Possible – IPPNW

From ~ International Physicians for the Prevention Nuclear War (IPPNW)
News and opinion from the international medical movement to abolish nuclear weapons and to prevent war.
Politics is the Art of Possible
February 1, 2010 Blog Post by Gunnar Westberg

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama intends to increase the funding for the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories by approximately 5 billion dollars over the next five years. The laboratories shall work on means to prolong the active life span of the nuclear charges.

This project is technically and militarily meaningless. In the article in WSJ there are quotes from the JASON report to the government, written by prominent physicists and weapon experts. The report confirms that nuclear weapons have shown no sign of deteriorating reliability.  They will function as intended. And they are and remain secure: They will not explode unintentionally.

Of course, it is of little importance if the reliability decreases from 99% to 90% or less. That would not decrease their effects as deterrent. Do we know the reliability of the Russian strategic nuclear weapons? Certainly not, but that does not decrease their capacity to threaten. The reliability of the missiles and of the systems for intelligence, control and command is much more important.

William Perry who was Secretary for Defense to President Clinton took part in a commission which recently advocated a great increase in the support for the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories. The same opinion was expressed in a paper in WSJ by “The four apostles” Shultz, Kissinger, Nunn and Perry a couple of weeks ago. They argued that as long as the USA has nuclear weapons these must be reliable. It seems these four statesmen now place the vision for a world without weapons into a distant hazy future.

In an interview with Mr. Kissinger in the French newspaper Le Figaro last November he says that, of course, a nuclear weapons free world is generations away. Yes, it is, if we want it so. Then maybe the nukes will abolish us, while we discuss how fast we shall abolish them.

I do not know what means the supporters of the weapons laboratories have used to further their continued prosperity. One argument is recurring: The labs are needed to attract new researchers to their work, thus maintaining the competence. This is difficult nowadays when the lure of an atomic test explosion as the final examination test for the weapons designer has been denied. We do not know when we need to develop new nuclear weapons…

The President’s dedication to the work for a nuclear weapons free world seems to be waning. Politics is the art of the possible, say some, and he might have found it necessary to throw this piece of pork to the senators who love the bomb and the bomb makers. Obama wants to get the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, an important part of the work to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons, through the Senate where it has been blocked since the time of Clinton. Obama knows too that there will be demands for new nuclear weapons, which he pledged during his election campaign not to accept. Mr. Gates, no one less, spoke for a new type of nuclear warheads recently, but was quickly censored. The President also wants the successor to the START agreement on a decrease of the strategic nuclear weapons to be agreed with Russia.

The resistance against President Obama is strong on all these three points. A few billion dollars to the weapons laboratories, out of the trillion used for the military, may help certain senators to look with less disfavor at the President’s proposals. He needs every vote.

Gunnar Westberg

Past Co-President of IPPNW

Here is the weblink at which to find many more blog posts of interest from the IPPNW.