Saturday, March 1, 2008

China shifts to GMO as food prices rise

Rising food prices and concerns over grains security have caused a shift in Chinese regulators' attitude towards genetically modified crops, a prominent Chinese researcher and GMO advocate said on Wednesday.

More than two-thirds of Chinese cotton fields are planted with biotech cotton, but the government has stalled on approving biotech rice to be grown commercially despite expectations it would get the go-ahead a few years ago.

However, soaring grains and food prices in 2007, and a relentless decline in arable farm land, may change the approach of bureaucrats who prize the nation's ability to stay self-sufficient in grains.

~ more... ~

Ghostbusting properties of British cellphones

Cellphones are killing off ghosts, an expert who has spent years researching the occult has said.

Tony Cornell, of the Society for Psychical Research, told the Sunday Express newspaper that reports of ghost sightings had started to decline when cellphones were introduced 15 years ago.

"Ghost sightings have remained consistent for centuries. Until three years ago we'd receive reports of two new ghosts every week," said Cornell, of Cambridge in Eastern England.

"But with the introduction of cellphones 15 years ago, ghost sightings began to decline to the point where now we are receiving none."

According to the paper, haunted tourist attractions in Britain could be under threat if the number of cellphones continues to grow from the present figure of 39 million.

Apparently paranormal events, which some scientists put down to unusual electrical activity, could be drowned out by the electronic noise produced by phone calls and text messages.

~ link ~

'Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world'

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

~ read on... ~

Garbage and Art

The two seem to often go together, like an odd couple. Rhetorically and physically. Here's proof.

In the footsteps of "The Longest Walk"

In 1978, members of the American Indian Movement walked from Alcatraz to Washington D.C. to protest the United States government's ongoing disregard for native peoples and treaty rights. This “Longest Walk,” as it was known, brought attention to centuries-long native struggles for sovereignty and cultural continuance.

Now, thirty years later, hundreds more are making the same cross-country journey to the nation's capital. On February 11th, activists from around the world left Alcatraz (where native people were once imprisoned for not allowing their children to be taken away to boarding schools) on a five-month quest to raise awareness about native concerns. The Longest Walk Website describes the event as “an extraordinary grassroots effort on a national level to bring attention to the environmental disharmony of Mother Earth, sacred site issues, and to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original longest walk.”

Participants will pick up garbage along the way and carry a message of healing for the earth and her people. Walkers are gathering pledges to support efforts to revitalize native cultures and protect sacred land, and are chronicling their voyage with pictures and blogs. Visit their website to learn more about their modern-day pilgrimage.

~ link ~

Military research projects 'the stuff of Philip K. Dick’s most paranoid visions'

" ... A huge trove of documents, articles and public testimonies assembled by Begich's team can be found at the website of The Lay Institute.

Confronted with this information, I was shocked at first, and wondered why it is almost never discussed in the media or public sphere. My next reaction was to want to run away from thinking about it ever again. Unfortunately, as Begich makes clear, the only protection we have against misuse of these discoveries is an increase in public knowledge and debate about them. The legislative system we inherited from the 18th Century was not set up to deal with the current scenario, where rapid-fire developments in technology and science have immediate political meaning and potentially great social consequences. It is up to civil society — and us as individuals — to step into this breach. The consequences of not doing so may be severe.

Dr. Begich began his work studying the HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) Project, an array of radio frequency transmitters in Alaska designed to affect the ionosphere, an atmospheric sheath that protects the Earth from solar rays. Beyond potentially influencing missile guidance systems and changing weather patterns, HAARP can also be used, potentially, to affect the brainwaves of civilians over a large geographical area, causing inexplicable agitation or aggression by beaming ELF (extremely low frequency) waves or high-frequency pulses beyond the threshold of our auditory capacity. Dr. Begich objects to HAARP because of this capacity, and because it changes the delicate ionosphere. Although we don't know much about the ionosphere, we are treating it as an arena in which to “plug and play” our experimental technologies.

In the last decades, a huge amount has been learned about the electromagnetic environment of the human brain and body. This knowledge, as Dr. Begich discusses in his latest book, Controlling the Human Mind: The Technologies of Political Control or Tools for Peak Performance (Earthpulse Press, 2006), could lead to tremendous advances in healing and in methods of self-development, or to weapons that “pierce the very integrity of the human being.” Potentially, memory, emotion and cognitive function can be transformed by these technologies.

Dr. Begich isolates a spooky trend in military thought that sees the human being reduced to the status of a “data-processing system” that can be affected or incapacitated depending on the energy inputs it receives. As one article, “The Mind Has No Firewall,” from Parameters, the U.S. Army War College Journal, put it, “The body is capable not only of being deceived, manipulated, or misinformed but also shut down or destroyed — just as any other data-processing system.” Electromagnetic or acoustic energy waves can alter the individual's “hardware system” and manipulate the “data” stored in their psyche. According to Dr. Begich, technologies already exist that can “shift a person's emotions using remote electromagnetic tools,” and “transfer sound in a way where only the targeted person” hears a voice in their head. ... "

~ From Military Minefields ~

Ohio attorney arrest 'political pay back' for uncovering serious corruption leading all the way White House

" ... An Ohio attorney facing 66 years and six months in jail for speaking out a city council meeting was jailed last Thursday after making a routine court appearance in preparation for her upcoming trial.

Information still remains sketchy as to the exact reason why attorney Elsebeth Baumgartner was hauled away to the Erie County jail, but sources close to the case say it's nothing but 'political pay back' for uncovering serious corruption in Cuyahoga County leading all the way to the doorstep of the White House.

As outrageous as it sounds, Baumgartner faces a total of more than 109 years in jail on other felony charges stemming from city council incident, including emailing a high ranking Ohio judge and running a controversial web site accusing high ranking Ohio officials with serious crimes.

[ ... ]

After Baumgartner was jailed Thursday, she was unavailable for comment, as all phone and email contacts have gone unanswered.

However, close friend and associate, Angela Caputo, provided the following update on her case, saying as of Sunday evening Baumgartner was still being held in the Erie Country essentially as a modern day 'political prisoner.'

'Elsebeth is in the Erie County jail. Thursday was supposed to be the start of her trial on felony fleeing and eluding in front of Visiting Judge David Knepper,: said Caputo. 'I do not have any details yet - just a message from her husband Joe Baumgartner.

'I believe that her knowledge and exposure of the case fixing via visiting judges is the main international scandal that is being contained. Here is a direct quote from Elsebeth's document that was sent to Agent John P. Pearson, USDOJ, and Ted Wasky, FBI Cleveland, with copies to Cuyahoga Judge Nancy McDonaldand Erie County Judge Roger Binette on May 17, 2006 which sums it all up:

'My allegations included widespread case fixing via manipulation of special prosecutor and or visiting judge appointments to protect far ranging corrupt activity in Ohio including pay to play and the facilitation of federal grant fraud, insurance fraud and or thefts of public resources including sensitive biotechnologies by Ohio law firms such as Benesch Friedlander, Coplan and Aronoff; (Cleveland) Baumgartner& O  Toole (Sheffield Lake); Roetzel and Andress (Akron and Toledo); Murray and Murray (Sandusky) and Spengler Nathanson, and Eastman and Smith (Toledo). Later reports to the USDOJ included allegations of protection of extortion, drug trafficking, weapons running, and various sex crimes including child pornography and other crimes against women and children by compromised prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers including federal officers, prosecutors and Judges David Katz, Patricia Gaughan and others.'

Caputo went on to say:

'I agree and have stated the same conclusion to Elsebeth that you have - her exposure of this truth is the biggest story in America and I believe that it is being suppressed at the highest levels of our fascist government. ... "

~ read on... ~

10% of Americans behind bars

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with alternative sentencing programs.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world.

~ more from The Globe and Mail ~

The Prison-Industrial Complex

Today the United States has approximately 1.8 million people behind bars: about 100,000 in federal custody, 1.1 million in state custody, and 600,000 in local jails. Prisons hold inmates convicted of federal or state crimes; jails hold people awaiting trial or serving short sentences. The United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world—perhaps half a million more than Communist China. The American inmate population has grown so large that it is difficult to comprehend: imagine the combined populations of Atlanta, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, and Miami behind bars. "We have embarked on a great social experiment," says Marc Mauer, the author of the upcoming book The Race to Incarcerate. "No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own citizens for the purpose of crime control." The prison boom in the United States is a recent phenomenon. Throughout the first three quarters of this century the nation's incarceration rate remained relatively stable, at about 110 prison inmates for every 100,000 people. In the mid-1970s the rate began to climb, doubling in the 1980s and then again in the 1990s. The rate is now 445 per 100,000; among adult men it is about 1,100 per 100,000. During the past two decades roughly a thousand new prisons and jails have been built in the United States. Nevertheless, America's prisons are more overcrowded now than when the building spree began, and the inmate population continues to increase by 50,000 to 80,000 people a year.

Using Web spiders to track down terrorists online

Terrorists don't use the Internet solely to recruit members, spread their ideology, and raise funds for their activities. They also use it to conduct their own internal debates, creating a rich pool of information for analysis by counterterrorist groups. Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at the University of Haifa, Israel, and author of the book Terror on the Internet monitored just 12 Web sites operated by terrorist groups in 1998. Today he monitors 5,800.

Intelligence agencies are having trouble keeping up with the volume. That's why researchers from the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Arizona have developed a set of automated tools to collect and analyze terrorist content on the Internet in a systematic way. The project, named the Dark Web, uses Web -spidering to find and catalog millions of Web pages, postings to terrorist forums, videos, and other multimedia content. The Dark Web has identified seven jihadist Web sites that host 90 percent of the information related to improvised explosive devices, such as instruction manuals and videos, says project director Hsin-chun Chen. The findings are passed on to military intelligence agencies.

~ more... ~

How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America

Terrorized by 'War on Terror'

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants...

~ read on... ~

'Iranian interior ministry has launched a huge campaign to encourage the country's frustrated youth to seek sexual fulfilment in muta marriages'

" ... A temporary marriage, known generally as muta, is a specifically Shia tradition. It involves a contract between a man, who may or may not be married, and an unmarried woman - a contract in which the duration of marriage and the dowry are specified in advance. Both sides agree by mutual consent to the length of the marriage, which can range from an hour to 99 years.

There is no divorce; the muta contract simply expires with the lapse of its duration. Although witnesses are not required, the marriage has to be registered in court. Unlike in an ordinary, permanent marriage (how many really are permanent?), a temporary wife cannot claim maintenance. But a temporary husband cannot disown the children born from a muta marriage. Children of temporary marriages are considered legitimate, and are entitled to equal status in inheritance and other rights with their half- siblings born of permanent marriages.

This type of marriage existed in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, but it was banned by Umar, the second caliph, and later abandoned by most schools of Islamic law. However, "Twel ver" Shias, who predominate in Iran and Iraq, disagree with the rest of the Muslim world. They argue that it is not only a legitimate institution sanctioned by Islamic law, but essential for a society's sexual health. Since the "Islamic Revolution" of 1979, the Iranian regime has promoted muta vigorously, extolling its virtues in mosques and schools, at religious gatherings, in news papers and on radio and television.

[ ... ]

This year, the Iranian interior ministry has launched a huge campaign to encourage the country's frustrated youth to seek sexual fulfilment in muta marriages. Roughly half of Iran's 70 million folk are under the age of 30. An increasing number are delaying marriage because of financial pressures and house prices, thereby missing out on sex. Soon, these young people will become serially monogamous, hopping from temporary partner to temporary partner. Iran will have caught up with the west; and we will all be happy. ... "

~ full article ~

Cannabis extract to combat brain cancer?

The current debate over medical marijuana hinges on its use as pain medication. But an extract of the plant could one day form the basis of cancer treatments. New findings indicate that Cannabis extracts can shrink brain tumors by blocking the growth of blood vessels that nourish them.

Manuel Guzman of Complutense University in Spain and his colleagues tested extracts of marijuana known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinols in 30 mice that had brain tumors. The researchers analyzed the animals' DNA and identified 267 genes associated with blood vessel growth, or angiogenesis. The cannabinoids inhibited the expression of several genes critical to angiogenesis known as the VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) pathway. �Blockade of the VEGF pathway constitutes one of the most promising antitumoral approaches currently available,� Guzman says. The cannabinoids work by increasing the potency of a fat molecule known as ceramide, the team posits. Increased ceramide activity, in turn, inhibits cells that would normally produce VEGF and encourage blood vessel growth.

~ link ~

SERBIA: Russians in Belgrade for Kosovo, NIS Talks

...Leading the delegation will be deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is expected to meet with President Boris Tadić and Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica.

Accompanying Medvedev - the likely winner in next weekend's presidential ballot - the will be Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian embassy officials in Belgrade confirmed.

Kosovo is expected to top the agenda, along with the sale of Serbia's oil monopoly NIS, which is a part of the energy agreement signed between Moscow and Belgrade on Jan. 25. Russian ambassador to Serbia, Aleksandr Alekseyev, will also be present at the meeting, set to discuss the "next moves over Kosovo".

Russia supports Serbia in its rejection of the ethnic Albanians' unilateral declaration of independence.

According to the Energyobserver website, Medvedev will be signing an agreement today with officials of Srbijagas for forming a company for the construction of a part of the South Stream gas pipeline in the territory of Serbia...

~ source ~

Opium - The 2008 boom

Afghan opium output 'hit highs'

Opium production in Afghanistan hit "historic highs" last year, with a harvest valued at more than $4bn, more than a third of that country's gross domestic product, according to a US report on the international drugs trade.
The report says Afghanistan increased its position as the world's largest heroin producing country, with 93 per cent of world cultivation.

Russia, Afghanistan and the drug trade
Alarmed by the rise of opium cultivation in Afghanistan, Russia's Federal Drug Enforcement Service has opened a permanent office in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Federal Drug Enforcement Service Director Alexei Milovanov said of the move, “Russia advances cooperation and interaction with Afghanistan in the war on drug production and proliferation…As for the office in Kabul, our representative there will be in charge of efficient interaction between Russian and Afghani structures dealing with trafficking. With an emphasis, needless to say, on what channels lead to Russia. All of that will be carried out in close cooperation with our Central Asian colleagues.”

Milovanov also suggested that Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan establish border checkpoints and customs offices and make a joint effort to draw up an international agreement to track and confiscate drug trafficking profits (, February 20).

Russia's interest in eradicating Afghanistan's thriving drug trade is hardly academic. Not only did the Soviet Union suffer more than 20,000 fatalities and thousands more wounded while occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s, returning soldiers brought home a new problem from the war zone – drug addiction. The Afghan occupation and the ensuing years have left Russia with an estimated 4-6 million drug addicts. According to official figures, some 10,000 Russians die every year from drug overdoses and another 70,000 from drug-related health conditions (RFE/RL, January 9).

Concurrently with the Soviet occupation, Afghan opium production rose from 250 tons in 1982 to 2,000 tons in 1991. Production has now more than quadrupled, with no end in sight.

Extortion, opium fund Maoists
Poppy is cultivated on unclaimed land in Orissa, making arrests difficult
BHUBANESWAR: How do Maoists manage to fund the largescale recruitment and training of their cadres? A question which has for long perplexed Orissa police, whose morale was badly affected after Maoists recently launched a successful attack on police stations and armouries in Nayagarh.

All-out efforts are being made to learn the sources of income of Maoists, who have managed to spread their network in almost 14 districts of the state.

Intelligence sources said that Maoists have started collecting 'chandas' from mine owners in the state. This was confirmed after Jajpur police arrested dreaded Maoists Anna Reddy and his beloved from a city hospital. During the interrogation, they admitted they used to regularly collect chandas from mine owners in Kalinga Nagar areas, where Tata's steel plant is coming up. This extortion has spread to other areas too.

Iran's addicts fall victim to geography
Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, which produces 90 per cent of the world's opium, and as much as half of that is smuggled through Iran. The country's proximity to the world's biggest opium producer has led an estimated 5m into narcotics.

Explosion in opium production since US-led invasion

Officially there are 1m drug addicts in Iran but international health workers estimate that the figure is much closer to 5m, in a country of 70m people. While much is known about the problem in neighbouring Afghanistan, and particularly about the explosion in opium production since the US-led invasion seven years ago, Iran's significant drug challenge is below the radar.

But Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, which produces 90 per cent of the world's opium, and as much as half of that is smuggled through Iran, partly for export and partly for consumption by people such as Mr Fatehi.

Iran's addicts spend $3bn - the equivalent of 15 per cent of Iran's annual oil income - on drugs each year and their problem has led to a multitude of social ills, including an increase in HIV infections. There are about 70,000 HIV/Aids sufferers in Iran, about 60 per cent of whom were infected by sharing needles.

Police destroy opium worth millions in West Bengal
Police and narcotics officials destroyed large tracts of poppy cultivation worth millions of dollars in West Bengal on Thursday.
The operation was carried out in Amjara, Chinpai, Kendraberi, Rajnagar in the states Birbhum District.
“This year about 90-100 acres of land has been brought under opium cultivation. The officials of the excise department are carrying out the razing process,” said Pabitra Sarkar, a narcotics officer.
Farmers in the area turned to opium cultivation as it seemed to promise better returns.
Opium is mainly cultivated in the higher reaches of Himalayas but is now largely state-regulated.
India is seen as a major conduit of opium smuggling within the South Asia and Southeast Asian region.

2008 State Department Report Targets Afghan Opium, Mobile Payments Issues
The 2008 edition of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report was released by the U.S. State Department today. As in the 2007 edition, this year's report targets the explosive growth in opium production in Afghanistan and warns of the corrosive impact on counterterrorism operations there:

"Narcotics production in Afghanistan hit historic highs in 2007 for the second straight year. Afghanistan grew 93 percent of the world's opium poppy, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Opium poppy cultivation expanded from 165,000 ha in 2006 to 193,000 ha in 2007, an increase of 17 percent in land under cultivation... The export value of this year's illicit opium harvest, $4 billion, made up more than a third of Afghanistan's combined total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $11.5 billion. Afghanistan's drug trade is undercutting efforts to establish a stable democracy with a licit economic free market in the country. The narcotics trade has strong links with the anti-government insurgency, most commonly associated with the Taliban. Narcotics traffickers provide revenue and arms to the Taliban, while the Taliban provides protection to growers and traffickers and keeps the government from interfering with their activities. During recent years, poppy production has soared in provinces where the Taliban is most active."

This year's edition includes a new section titled, "Mobile Payments--A Growing Threat":

"Unfortunately, while fighting the twin threats of money laundering and terrorist financing, we are also witnessing a plethora of new, high-tech value transfer systems that can be abused. Some of the most innovative are electronic payment products. FATF calls them “new payment methods” or NPMs. They are also sometimes called “e-money” or “digital cash.” Examples include Internet payment services, prepaid calling and credit cards, digital precious metals, electronic purses, and mobile payments or “m-payments.” Driven by a remarkable convergence of the financial and telecommunications sectors, the rapid global growth of m-payments demands particular attention. M-payments can take many forms but are commonly point of sale payments made through a mobile device such as a cellular phone, a smart phone, or a personal digital assistant (PDA)."

The section describes a typical method of moving money through m-payments:

Increasingly, in many areas, m-payments provide a new option to expatriates and “guest workers” that wish to send part of their wages home to support their families. M-payment transfers are replacing the use of traditional banks and money service businesses that historically have charged high fees for small transfers. M-payments also provide fast, safe, efficient value transfer service, which will encourage some users to bypass the use of underground remittance systems such as hawala.

Opium harvest for the NHS
Opium poppies - the raw ingredient of heroin - are being grown in the Westcountry as part of a Government-funded programme.

Dozens of fields across the country have been planted with the crop, which was a crucial source of income for the Taliban before it was toppled by British forces.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has refused to confirm the exact locations of the opium fields, but admitted up to six sites in Dorset are among those planted.

The poppies, from which the illegal class-A drug heroin is derived, are being used to produce legal morphine, used by the NHS to relieve pain.

Home Office figures show 206.06 hectares at sites in Dorset were used to grow opium poppies last year. It is also been grown in Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.

Anyone can grow opium poppies because the process is not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs legislation, but processing the plant to extract narcotic material can only be carried out under licence.

Every farmer growing poppies in the UK is contracted by Edinburgh-based pharmaceutical company Macfarlan Smith, the UK's only manufacturer of narcotic substances. The company, which took the decision to cultivate the crop in 2001 to maintain a stock of raw material, had previously been entirely dependent upon imports of raw material, which made it vulnerable to market fluctuations and varying harvests. Since then, the amount grown in the UK has increased significantly, from just 21 hectares in 2001 to 774 in 2006.

Opium producer to puff out rivals
TPI Enterprises, a small Tasmania-based biotech company, aims to restore Australia as the world's leading producer of opium-based drugs.

Operation of its opium poppy processing plant at Cressy, near Launceston, was officially launched yesterday by the Tasmanian Primary Industries and Water Minister, David Llewellyn, and the first shipment of an estimated annual production of 60 tonnes of morphine is due to be made before midyear.

TPI's chairman, Ross Dobinson of Melbourne investment group TSL, said the company had developed a safer, more efficient and cheaper extraction process that could deal with the often heavy-handed competition from its larger multinational rivals.

TPI was paying Tasmanian poppy farmers 25% more for their crop than established drug companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Glaxo Wellcome, and would add another 13% to that premium this year.

Mr Ritchie said Australian poppy production, which once accounted for about half the world's legal production, had declined from about 25,000 hectares under cultivation eight years ago to about 8000 hectares last year, the market being taken by growers in Britain, France and Spain.

He said TPI had booked $100 million worth of orders that would allow considerable expansion of poppy production in Tasmania, the only Australian state where the crop is allowed to be grown.

Uganda: Nakivubo Primary School Environment Dangerous
OPIUM and pipe smoking among other cruel activities surrounding Nakivubo Primary School are threatening the lives and academic performance of the pupils, the headteacher has said.

"Though the school is fenced, opium and pipe smoke from the surrounding places directly enters the classrooms when the pupils are studying. Efforts to combat the habit are fruitless," said Kizza Lwanga.

He said the school that was formed in 1954 for Indian pupils now attracts any nationality but the reading environment requires immediate government intervention.

The Story of Opium
In the history of mankind, no forbidden substance has so profoundly affected the fortunes of Asia quite in the way opium has. This 'milk of paradise', has becalmed Roman emperors, accompanied Pharoahs into their tombs, built colonial fortunes and brought a dynasty to its knees. Wars were fought over it, financed by it and ended by its eradication. And over the centuries distinguished writers have consumed opium in copious quantities, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote Kubla Khan [quoted below] in a dream-like trance while under its influence.

Referred to as 'a drug that had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories' in Homer's Odyssey, and famously called 'God's own medicine' by Sir William Owsley, opium has been both a medicine and menace to the world for more than 2000 years. Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with opium artefacts by their side and the substance could also readily be bought on the street-markets of Rome during the empire's zenith. Even a 7th Century BC bas-relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in modern day Syria, shows poppy capsules. And in the Ancient Indian medical treatises, The Shodal Gadanigrah and Sharangdhar Samahita, opium is mentioned as a cure for diarrhoea and sexual debility. In fact, it was popularly used for its anaesthetic value well into the nineteenth century and even today is legally cultivated to produce morphine.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, opium disappeared in Europe for two hundred years during the Holy Inquisition when anything from the East was linked to the devil. However, it began reappearing in medical journals during the Reformation. Then in the sixteenth century opium's use and popularity took a huge leap forward. The pompously named Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim discovered a process he termed 'Laudanum' (literally meaning: something to be praised), which nowadays is known as 'freebasing'. This allowed the opiate to be more efficiently extracted into the substance morphine, which acted more as anaesthetic and pain-killer and less as a hallucinogenic agent. It would also later be used to reduce opium into the far more potent substance heroin, increasing its street value, per weight, ten-fold. With the Age of Exploration in full swing, returning Portuguese sailors popularised its recreational use in Europe.

Opium certainly was the drug of its time, appearing in many famous literary works from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's aforementioned Kubla Khan, to the writings of Thomas de Quincey (Confessions of an English Opium Eater – 1821) and even helped, it is claimed, influence Lewis Carroll into dreaming up Alice Through the Looking Glass. Keats was another who used but never wrote about it. It also corresponded with the arrival in Asia of Dutch, Portuguese and other traders in the 17th century. Until then opium had mainly come overland through the Middle East, but with colonisation the supply increased dramatically. At the time, most of the cultivation took place in Northern India, and it was the Dutch East India Company that first saw the profitability in exporting and trading in opium. The English, who would play the largest role in its geo-political development, did not enter the trade for another century. When they did however, it was to shake Asia to its very core and bring down the largest dynasty the continent had seen since the rise of Ghengis Khan.

It all started with their invasion of Bengal from their enclaves of Calcutta and Bombay. Local barons had a monopoly on opium production and the British wanted to get their hands on it. As the 18th century drew to a close their control was almost complete and opium became fashionable among the royal courts and wealthy households of Europe. This occurred along with another important new Asian commodity that was to become inextricably linked to the rise of opium use – tea. At the time, 240 tons of this fashionable new drink was arriving in England each year and was so important to England's trade that it was symbolically dumped into Boston Harbour by disgusted American colonists in 1773. This lucrative new commodity had, however, created a massive trade debt with the principle production country – China. Opium was already heavily used in China as a recreational drug and in 1799 it was banned by the Imperial Chinese court. But the English, with ambitions in the region, ignored the moral implications and forced the trade. When Qing Emperor Tao Kwang failed in his petition to Queen Victoria, he ordered the confiscation of some 20,000 barrels of opium and detainment of foreign traders. The British reaction was swift and the port-city of Canton promptly attacked. This signaled the beginning of the First Opium war, which ended in 1842 when the Treaty of Nanking required China to cede Hong

Kong to the British. They gained a hugely influential foothold in the South China Sea – and opened five new ports to foreign trade. However, China refused to legalise opium, resulting in a second war which effectively saw the downfall of the Quin Dynasty and demise of China as a wealthy world power for the next 150 years. It also had a significant effect on the population, creating a large number of useless addicts as imports soared to 4,810 tons by 1858. British emissary, Lord Elgin, succeeded in forcing the Chinese to legalise opium imports and although opium now accounted for as much as 15 per cent of the colonial income, the monopoly would soon be broken by American trading clippers. In due course moral attitude shifted and opium trade declined. By this time Britain's own opium imports had risen from a brisk 91 tonnes in 1830 to an astonishing 280 tonnes in 1860.

The British eventually left Hong Kong in 1997, 67 years after China had successfully convinced them to dismantle the India-Opium trade. By then opium was a scourge of the streets where the much more devastating heroin derivative had become a problem worldwide. Heroin originally appeared in 1898 as a substitute remedy for morphine which was first isolated from opium in 1805 by a German pharmacist Wilhelm Sertürner. He named it morphium _ after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, and it went on to become an important painkiller, still widely used today. Almost a century later the German pharmaceutical company Bayer mixed it with acetic acid to produce diacetylmorphine (with the complex compound structure C17H17NO (C2H3O2)2), which eliminated the side effects of morphine, and they named it heroin. In the 25 years until its banning by the then U.S. Treasury Department's Narcotics Division in 1923, it gained the notorious distinction of being the company's biggest seller ever. It left behind a bunch of addicts that guaranteed an insatiable demand.

With supply channels from India and Afghanistan cut off during World War II, the French began encouraging Hmong hill farmers in Indochina to produce opium for fear of losing their monopoly. At the time a powerful Corsican mafia had succeeded in creating a cartel with immigrants in New York City using Turkish opium, giving rise to the first major international smuggling ring where previously it was openly traded. In fact, many distinguished early Americans grew Papaver somniferum. Thomas Jefferson cultivated opium poppies at his garden in Monticello. As a nice touch, the poppies and seeds were sold at the gift-shop of Thomas Jefferson Centre for Historic Plants right up until 1991, until a drug-bust at the nearby University of Virginia prompted the board of directors to destroy the plants!

Thailand entered the opium trade after the War as production was stepped up by hill tribes – historically skilled at poppy cultivation – in the Golden Triangle area of the country's north. By the time of the Vietnam War the CIA were clandestinely encouraging the trade and even set up a quasi airline, Air America, to ship the opium out and use the proceeds to fund covert operations in Laos. A middle ranking DEA agent at the time dubbed the area 'The Golden Triangle' and the name stuck. Opium was the principal cash crop among the poor ethnic minorities, with poppy cultivation well suited to the hilly landscape and climate. But a concerted eradication effort began in 1969 under the supervision of His Majesty's Royal Project. Sustainable and profitable crop substitution and a push by the military to drive drug barons across the border into Burma gradually killed production. In its place is a world class museum at the Golden Triangle which tells the story of opium, while the majority of opium now comes from Afghanistan. Strictly illegal, highly addictive, grossly destructive yet undeniably seductive, opium and its derivatives continue to burn their way into history.

As to why this is so, we might take insight from Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater when he revealed;

“the opium eater...feels that the diviner part of his nature is paramount; that is, the moral affections are in a state of cloudless serenity; and over all is the great light of majestic intellect...."

... and, on a lighter note...

Prince Harry seconded to opium harvesting duties
Hell-Mandelson Province - (Tory Bora Mess): The Paul-Burrell-spawned tribute act known as Prince Harry has been on opium poppy harvesting duties since the end of December the Ministry of Sitting on the Fence has revealed.
Harry, 23, had demanded a slice of the action in working for a Halliburton regiment in Baghdad as part of his work experience in the Global Piss Process.

He was famously turned down for the posting when a General Belgrano-style two mile exclusion zone was placed around him.

The move followed protests by disgusted bona fide squaddies who said they'd had enough of the fetid Puppet Monarchy charade to add this extra liability to their already stretched resources...

Vignette: 'Spare your ears, save your self!'

...Call it the hustle and bustle of urban life, if you like, but I think it's part of a larger (and commercially driven) ideology that says all silence must be filled, no life is complete without a soundtrack.

There is money in noise – nobody ever went broke playing music too loud – but it takes a toll on the psyche. It's not just that, as study after study attests, noise is a major cause of stress, health problems, learning deficiencies and anger. It also gets in the way of our self-definition...

~ link ~

Off-grid solar power station for Coober Pedy, South Australia

COOBER Pedy will have Australia's largest off-grid solar power station by the end of 2009 under a joint state and federal government plan.

The announcement of the project was made Tuesday by Federal Environment minister Peter Garrett and state Premier Mike Rann prior to Mr Garrett's keynote address to the Third International Solar Cities Congress.

Under the plan 13 per cent of Coober Pedy's electricity would be provided by the $7.1 million project.

~ story ~

info Coober Pedy

Ricin in Vegas motel a mystery

A man who had a vial of powdered ricin in his motel room is in critical condition today at a Las Vegas hospital, the Associated Press reports.

Police tell the wire service that this man has been comatose since they found him yesterday in the Extended Stay America motel room.

Six other people are being treated in connection with the discovery in his room, which was littered with castor beans, a key ingredient of the deadly toxin, AP says.

KVVU-TV says formal test results on the substance, which preliminary tests identified as ricin, are expected at some time today.

"Ricin is very serious," police spokesman Joseph Lombardo tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Something the size of the head of a pin can be deadly."

The FBI has said that the case is not thought to involve terrorism.

The CDC has a factsheet on ricin.

~ full article... ~

Moro group to take 'massacre' complaint to UN

A militant Moro group said it will bring to the attention of the United Nations the case of eight civilians killed by soldiers last Feb. 4 in a remote island village in Maimbung, Sulu.

Two children and a pregnant woman were among those killed in what the military said was an encounter with Abu Sayyaf rebels. Town officials, however, branded it a "massacre."

Amira Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People), a militant party-list group representing Filipino Muslims, described as "one-sided" the military's investigation into the alleged massacre that quickly cleared soldiers involved in the raid.

The military report was upheld by the military's Judge Advocate General's Office (JAGO), which said that the soldiers were tracking down members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group that had engaged them in a fire fight earlier.

~ more... ~

Scientists find bacteria in snowflakes

You may not want to eat the snow.

Scientists have discovered something that will make many people think twice about lapping up those beautiful white snowflakes - they're often held together by bacteria.

"Bacteria are by far the most active ice nuclei in nature," said Brent Christner, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University.

The bacteria roaming around in the atmosphere are largely the kind that form on the surface of plants and poses scant danger to humans.

Still, Christner's findings, which were reported in yesterday's edition of the journal Science, are the first evidence that live bacteria plays a big role in the creation of snowflakes as well as raindrops.

~ more... ~

Northern Epirus (Albania) independence to follow that of Kosovo?

The three liberations of Northern Epirus

After the liberation of Ioannina from the Turks (21.02.1913), the Greek Army continued liberating the cities of Northern Epirus one after the other, until it arrived outside Avlona. Some cities had regained their freedom earlier (e.g. Chimarra by Sp. Spyromilios – 5.10.1912, Korytsa by Pan. Daglis (7.12.1912).

On 17 December 1913, Italy and Austo-Hungary, unfortunately serving their own interests, signed the Protocol of Florence, according to which the Albanian state was created for the first time, comprising the region of Northern Epirus, as reinforcement to the newly created Albania. Since then, the north part of Epirus is known as “Northern Epirus”. Moreover, they extorted the Greek government to choose between the eastern Aegean Sea islands and Northern Epirus.

This made the Greeks of Northern Epirus rise and proceed in armed rebellion, with the INDEPENDENCE of Northern Epirus on 17 February 1914 as a highlight. A new Government was formed with Georgios Christakis Zografos as the Prime Minister, and the heroic Metropolitans Vassileios of Dryinoupolis, Spyridon of Vella and Konitsa, and Germanos of Korytsa, as members. The flag of the Independent Epirus was hoisted and the Hellenism of Northern Epirus, who joined the voluntary independence forces and “sacred battalions”, liberated Northern Epirus, forcing the Albanians to sign on 17 May 1914 (i.e in 3 months time) the Corcyra Protocol. According to that, the independence and the right for self-government was recognized to Northern Epirus, along with the freedom of education, language, religion, and the right for Northern Epirus to maintain its own Armed Forces and Police. The territory was named “Epirus”, and it comprised Chimarra, Argyrokastro, Ag. Saranda, Kolonia, Leskovikio, Premeti, Korytsa etc, and its citizens were to be called “Epirots” and not “Albanians”.

The outbreak of the World War I, and the floating situation in Albania, forced Europeans to allow the entrance of the Greek Army in Northern Epirus, so as to restore the order. On 14 October 1914, the Greek Army liberated Northern Epirus for the second time. The independency government willingly surrendered its authority to the liberating army. The unification of Northern Epirus and Greece was followed by the participation of 16 representatives of Epirus in the Greek Parliament and in the elections that took place one year later.

However, the discord and the lack of unanimity in Greece (El. Venizelos – King Constantine), which resulted to the loss of Asia Minor (1922), gave to the European patrons of Albania the opportunity to detach Northern Epirus once more from the Greek state.

Northern Epirus

Northern Epirus (Greek: Βόρειος Ήπειρος, Vorios Ipiros; Albanian: Epiri i Veriut) is the part of the Balkan region of the Epirus that lies in southern Albania. It is notable for being home to a large Greek minority[1]. The fustanella, a significant component of traditional Greek and Albanian dress, originated in this region and the ancestors of the Arvanites – an Orthodox Christian Albanian-speaking Greek-identifying community in Greece – migrated from this region to present-day Greece in the Middle Ages. The term Northern Epirus is traditionally used in Greece, and its usage may be found offensive by Albanians.[citation needed]In 2007 the The mayor of Himarë, Vasil Bollano said that "Northern Epirus" "deserves the same solution as Kosova".

Greek minorities

In Albania, Greeks are considered a "national minority", and Aromanians (referred to as Vlachs) a "linguistic minority".[3] Many Aromanians (sometimes referred to by Greeks as Arvanitovlachs) identify themselves as Greeks, and after the collapse of the communist regime in Albania, links were established between the Vlachs of Albania and the Vlachs of Greece, especially those among the former who claim a Greek identity, they are invited by Vlachs of Greece to their festivals, and receive help from them to rebuild churches or in the form of other necessary assistance to Vlach villages in Albania.[4]

There are no reliable[5] statistics on the size of any ethnic minorities in Albania, although conducting a satisfactory census of ethnic minorities is one of Albania's commitments to the European Union. According to data presented to the 1919 Paris Conference, the Greek minority numbered 120,000,[6] and last census to include data on ethnic minorities conducted in 1989 under the communist regime cites only 58,785 Greeks[3] although the total population of Albania had tripled in the meantime.[6]However, the area studied was confined to the southern border, and this estimate was very low.Under this definition, minority status was limited to those who lived in 99 villages in the southern border areas, thereby excluding important concentrations of Greek settlement and making the minority seem smaller than it is[7].The last census to include data on linguistic minorities held in 1955, recorded 4,249 Vlachs/Aromanians.[3] Sources from the Greek minority have claimed that there are up to 500,000 Greeks in Albania, or 12% of the total population at the time (from the "Epirot lobby" of Greeks with family roots in Albania).[8]

In a 1995 ethnological study, the number of ethnic Greeks in the Northern Epirus alone, are estimated at 40,000 with a 15,000 strong Aromanian population, while in the rest of the country there are further 20,000 Greeks and 35,000 Aromanians.[9] The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization estimates the Greek minority at approximately 70,000 people.[10] Other independent sources estimate that the number of Greeks in the Northern Epirus is 117,000 (about 3.5% of the total population),[11] a figure close to the estimate provided by The World Factbook (2006) (about 3%). But this number was 8% by the same agency a year before.[12][13] To these figures should be added the approximately 200,000 Greeks from Northern Epirus residing in Greece.

The Government of Epirus in Exile

Since 1913, the Government of Albania has illegally occupied Epirus, now is the time to DEMAND that Epirus be given the opportunity to exercise the self-determination that is hers by right!  Those rights were established in the Corfu Protocol of 1914 and signed by the governments of England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia and Italy, this Protocol was unconditionally accepted by the government of Albania.  To date, Albania has refused to implement the Corfu Protocol.

The Government of Epirus was established in 1999 by the Epirotean Patriotic Organization, which has become the political arm of the Government.  It is the current goal of the government to ensure the rights of the Epirotean people are not further infringed by the occupying forces of Albania. To this end, The Epirotean Patriotic Organization is calling for the freedom of North Epirus.

Greek minority in Northern Epirus (Albania)

Presentation of Epirus

Petit Larousse Illustré says:

    Epirus. Area on the borders of Greece and Albania. The Kingdom of Epirus was established at the end of the Vth century BC, and became powerful under Pyrrhos II (295-272 BC). It was subjected to the Romans in 168 BP. Under the Byzantine Empire, a despotate of Epirus was set up for the Comnene family (1204-1318).

The mythic founder of the Kingdom of Epirus is Pyrrhos (a.k.a. Neoptolemos), Achille's son, who married Andromaque, Hector's daughter, after the fall of Troja. Pyrrhos is one of the main character of the classical tragedy Andromaque, by Jean Racine (1667), in which he is called "Pyrrhus". The tragedy takes place in Pyrrhos' capital city, Buthrote, whose ruins can still be visited in Southern Albania (Butrinti). The historical Pyrrhos (Pyrrhos II, mentioned above), invaded the south of Italy and defeated the Romans in Heraclea (280) and Ausculum (279). These victories, helped by elephants, caused great human losses in the Epirus army, recalled in the expression "Pyrrhic victory" (According to Plutarch's Lives, Pyrrhos said: "Such another victory and we are undone!") In 275, Pyrrhos was defeated by the Romans in Benevento and came back to Epirus, where he died a few years later during a campaign against Sparta. Still according to Plutarch, Pyrrhos was wounded by a javelin through his breast-plate. The wound was not grave, but he turned against the thrower, an Argive man (from Argos) of no note, the son of a poor woman. This woman looked upon the scene from a rooftop and got furious when she saw what was happening, took a large tile with both hands, and threw it on Pyrrhos' head, crushing the vertebrae of his neck.

In Les Illyriens, the French historian P. Cabanes explains how it is difficult to define objectively the status of the kingdoms that existed before the Roman conquest in what is now modern Epirus. According to the ancient authors, Epirotes were not an Illyrian tribe. Epirus was inhabited by the Molosse tribe, famous for his watchdogs (a huge dog is still called in French a molosse). The Eacide dynasty, which claimed to be descended from Achilles, incorporated several neighbouring tribes to form the Kingdom of Epirus. In 232, the royalty was suppressed and the state was renamed Koinon [Community] of the Epirotes. The word koinon highlights the ethnical composite status of Epirus at that time. The ancient authors were not able to make it clear if Epirus was Illyrian or Greek. Epirus was already on the borders of two civilizations.

Ivan Sache & Jarig Bakker, 9 March 2002
Recent history of Northern Epirus

Northern Epirus was disputed between Albania and Greece until 1922.

In 1922, when the border between Albania and Greece was set up, Greeks living north of the border were incorporated into Albania, in what is called Northern Epirus by Athens, whereas Albanians living south of the border were incorporated into Greece. Most of these Albanians left Greece in 1944.

In 1993, the deportation of the Greek Archimandrit of Gjirokaster (the main city in the South of Albania) by the Albanian authorities caused an Albanian-Greek crisis. The Greek government deported 300,000 Albanian immigrants. After a few violent episodes on both sides of the border, the crisis calmed down. However, the Epirus question is still controversial both in Albania and Greece.

The Greek minority in Albania represents less than 2% of the total population of the country but is concentrated in a small area and very revendicative. The political party Omonia has been developing since 1992 a Vorio-Epirotic doctrine, claiming the incorporation of the territories located south of the river Shkumbini to Greece (that is more than 1/3 of the current territory of Albania.)

Source: Encyclopaedia Universalis (1998) [eunXX]

Ivan Sache, 9 March 2002

CIA "Cleanses" Hellenic Minority in Northern Epirus

If one thought that ethnic cleansing was accomplished with barbaric violent means (as was the case in 1923, 1955, 1974 etc.), then one should spend the time to focus and learn about the current situation Hellenes of Northern Epirus are living through.

After years of pressure from the European Union and the United States, the past two Hellenic administrations followed a policy of "approachment" towards the Albanian side. Of course, such an approachment would find a great stumbling block - the human rights violations against the Hellenes in Northern Epirus.

Northern Epirus (although still in foreign hands), was liberated twice this century alone by Hellenic forces. The existence of this huge Hellenic community (ranging in excess of well over 200,000), is now being disputed by the Albanian government, the CIA, and even the Hellenic government!

As far as the Albanian government is concerned, their actions surprise no-one. Their dreams of a "Greater Albania", which would include areas of Vardaria ("FYROM") and Kossovo, would be greatly faltered if they faced insurrections or ethnic tensions in the south.

The Hellenic government instead of protecting the ethnic Hellenes currently in Albania, it has turned a blind eye to their hardships and suffering. Instead of aiding their fight for more rights and even autonomy, it has aided the Albanian government in arresting and detaining dissidents of that oppressive system.

State Dept Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 8, 2007

MR. MCCORMACK: ...Lambros.

QUESTION: On Northern Epirus issue in Albania. Mr. McCormack, regarding my pending questions I raised March 7th for the Greeks of Northern Epirus and Albania when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented to us the Annual Report on Human Rights, I got yesterday the formal answers from your press officer Kurtis Cooper: "There are no reliable statistics on the exact population of the Greeks minority in Albania. The last census was taken in 2001. However, Greeks are the largest national minority. Estimates range from 3 to 10 percent, depending on the source. In general, the Albanian Government is allowing the Greek language schools to be open. The Albanian Government granted an operating license to two schools outside the "Greek zone," one in Korca and one in Himare. During a September visit by the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha to Greece, the Albanian Government agreed to cooperate in the building of a Greek-language university in Gjirokaster to be refunded -- to be funded by the Greek Government."

MR. MCCORMACK: Are you going to wrap this up here?

QUESTION: And in conclusion, "In addition several members of the Greek minority serve on both that 140-seat people's assembly and the executive branch in ministerial and subministerial positions." Do you agree with this response?

MR. MCCORMACK: Kurtis -- (laughter) -- Kurtis is -- as opposed to the unreliability of the statistics that you're asking about, Kurtis Cooper is very reliable and that's a good answer and that is the State Department's answer for you, Lambros.

QUESTION: But the response, however, about the size of the Greek minority in Albania, Mr. McCormack, stated there's "no reliable statistics" about its size, that the last census was taken in 2001, according to the statement.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: I must note that the absence of reliable statistics in the results of the Albanians Government decision to exclude ethnic identity from the census questionnaire, is there any thought given by the Department of State to request that such a choice be allowed in the next Albanian census?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any move in that regard, but we'll have Kurtis get back to you with an answer to that question. (Laughter.) It's proven reliable in the past.

QUESTION: One more on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, come on. You took up your time for today as well as next week reading out the answer to that. (Laughter.)

Yeah, go ahead, Samir.

US push on FYROM solution bid

Scheduled talks in New York tomorrow between United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz and diplomats from Athens and Skopje constitute a “window of opportunity” for solving the Macedonia name dispute that should be exploited by both sides, US sources told Kathimerini said yesterday.

The same sources said negotiations about a new name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) should continue at a higher level, at least that of the two countries' foreign ministers.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would visit Athens on Monday to discuss the dispute.

It is thought that he will try to dissuade Athens from vetoing FYROM's bid to join NATO in the event that a mutually acceptable solution to the name row is not found.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos reiterated yesterday that a name solution is the basis for FYROM's membership, stressing that Greece would not relinquish its right to veto if necessary.

Koumoutsakos said the name issue was “a vehicle for potentially expansionist activities in the region.”

FYROM's President Branko Crvenkovski, in Brussels yesterday, said the name issue “cannot be classified as a security issue” and “is not connected to our European Union and NATO prospects but is a bilateral matter.”

Crvenkovski met with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the NATO chief. Solana said: “I don't like vetoes... this is a moment in which solutions can be found.”

~ link ~

US send ships to eastern Med

SEA POWER: The U.S. Navy is sending three ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The deployment should not be viewed as threatening or in response to events in any single country in the region, said Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

TIMING: The deployment comes as international frustration mounts over a political deadlock in Lebanon. The U.S. blames Syria for the impasse. Lebanon's presidential election has been delayed 15 times.

SOME RESPONSE: A major opposition leader to the U.S.-backed government in Beirut said the ship movements looked like a calculated show of force by the U.S.

~ link ~

'US government has quietly conceded a vaccine-autism case in the Court of Federal Claims'

The unprecedented concession was filed on November 9, and sealed to protect the plaintiff's identify. It was obtained through individuals unrelated to the case.

The claim, one of 4,900 autism cases currently pending in Federal "Vaccine Court," was conceded by US Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and other Justice Department officials, on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services, the "defendant" in all Vaccine Court cases.

The child's claim against the government -- that mercury-containing vaccines were the cause of her autism -- was supposed to be one of three "test cases" for the thimerosal-autism theory currently under consideration by a three-member panel of Special Masters, the presiding justices in Federal Claims Court.

Keisler wrote that medical personnel at the HHS Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation (DVIC) had reviewed the case and "concluded that compensation is appropriate."

[ ... ]

But mitochondrial disorders are rare in the general population, affecting some 2-per-10,000 people (or just 0.2%). So with 4,900 cases filed in Vaccine Court, this case should be the one and only, extremely rare instance of Mt disease in all the autism proceedings.

But it is not.

Mitochondrial disorders are now thought to be the most common disease associated with ASD. Some journal articles and other analyses have estimated that 10% to 20% of all autism cases may involve mitochondrial disorders, which would make them one thousand times more common among people with ASD than the general population.

Another article, published in the Journal of Child Neurology and co-authored by Dr. Zimmerman, showed that 38% of Kennedy Krieger Institute autism patients studied had one marker for impaired oxidative phosphorylation, and 47% had a second marker.

The authors -- who reported on a case-study of the same autism claim conceded in Vaccine Court -- noted that "children who have (mitochondrial-related) dysfunctional cellular energy metabolism might be more prone to undergo autistic regression between 18 and 30 months of age if they also have infections or immunizations at the same time."

[ ... ]

While some Mt disorders are clearly inherited, the "sporadic" form is thought to account for 75% of all cases, according to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. So what causes sporadic Mt disease? "Medicines or other toxins," says the Cleveland Clinic, a leading authority on the subject.

Use of the AIDS drug AZT, for example, can cause Mt disorders by deleting large segments of mitochondrial DNA. If that is the case, might other exposures to drugs or toxins (i.e., thimerosal, mercury in fish, air pollution, pesticides, live viruses) also cause sporadic Mt disease in certain subsets of children, through similar genotoxic mechanisms?

Among the prime cellular targets of mercury are mitochondria, and thimerosal-induced cell death has been associated with the depolarization of mitochondrial membrane, according to the International Journal of Molecular Medicine among several others. (Coincidently, the first case of Mt disease was diagnosed in 1959, just 15 years after the first autism case was named, and two decades after thimerosal's introduction as a vaccine preservative.)

~ more... ~

'Chemical Ali' execution approved

The execution of Saddam Hussein's cousin and henchman "Chemical Ali" has been approved by Iraq's presidency.

He was condemned to death on genocide charges for killing 100,000 people during the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Chemical Ali - whose real name is Hassan al-Majid - was initially sentenced to death in June last year but legal wrangling held up the case.

The execution was approved two days ago, to be carried out within 30 days.

He was convicted along with two other top officials - Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, a senior military chief, and the former defence minister, Sultan Hashim al-Tai.

'Matter of days'

Asked when Majid would be hanged, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency: "It will be a matter of days."...

~ full article ~

U.S. president's brother visits Paraguay president as guest of Moon-founded group

Neil Bush, younger brother of U.S. President George W. Bush, called on Paraguay's president as the guest of a business federation founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

A presidential press office source, who spoke on condition of not being named, confirmed the younger Bush met President Nicanor Duarte on Thursday along with a delegation from the Universal Peace Federation, a group associated with Moon.

Duarte himself had no statement on the meeting.

Antonio Betancourt, a spokesman for the federation, said that Bush visited Duarte and later met with an opposition congressional leader, Sen. Miguel Abdon Saguier, and that both expressed interest in the Bush family and discussed local matters.

Betancourt said Bush later attended a leadership seminar sponsored by the federation.

The federation's Web site says it is trying to promote peace in the Middle East, South Asia and other regions, as well as proposing an 50-mile, $200 billion tunnel linking Siberia and Alaska...

~ full article ~

Congress: America's Criminal Class (Capitol Hill Blue, 1999)

Congress: America's Criminal Class: Part I

America, Mark Twain once said, is a nation without a distinct criminal class "with the possible exception of Congress."

If anything, the Congress of today is even worse than it was in Twain's time more than a century ago.

The 535 men and women who make up the House and Senate of the United States include, at best, a collection of rogues, con artists, scofflaws and bad check artists. At worst, they comprise, as Twain once observed, a distinct criminal class.

Over the past several months, researchers for Capitol Hill Blue have checked public records, past newspaper articles, civil court cases and criminal records of both current and recent members of the United States Congress (since 1992). We have talked with former associates and business partners who have been left out in the cold by people they thought were friends.

Using a scoring system developed by American Express, we ran credit checks on members and applied the financial and criminal record scoring procedures used by the Department of Defense to determine eligibility for a Top Secret security clearance.

All checks were made through public records. Our researchers were not allowed to break any laws or misrepresent themselves to obtain this information.

What emerges from this examination is a disturbing portrait of a group of elected officials who routinely avoid payment of debts, write bad checks, abuse their spouses, assault people and openly violate the law.

They include current Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla), whose trail of bad debts, lies to Congress and misstatements to the Internal Revenue Service have spawned a number of investigations. Then there is Rep. James Moran (D-Va) whose wife has charged him with abuse, who has assaulted other members of Congress on the floor of the House and is a former stockbroker whose judgment in trades is so bad he is broke from poor investments. The list also includes Joe Waldholtz, a con man and husband of former Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-UT) who kited more than a million dollars in bad checks and ended up in prison.

Others, like former Ohio Senator John Glenn, have driven creditors into bankruptcy because of unpaid debts left over from aborted Presidential campaigns. Even millionaire Senator Ted Kennedy has left a trail of unpaid debts from past campaigns.

In recent years, members of Congress have gone to jail for child molestation, fraud and other charges.

Our research found 117 current and recent members of the House and Senate who have run at least two businesses each that went bankrupt, often leaving business partners and creditors holding the bag. Seventy-one of them have credit reports so bad they can't get an American Express card on their own (but as members of Congress, they get a government-issued Amex card without a credit check).

Fifty-three have personal and financial problems so serious they would be denied security clearances by the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy if they had to apply through normal channels (but, again, as members of Congress they get such clearances simply because they fooled enough people to get elected).

Twenty-nine members of current and recent Congresses have been accused of spousal abuse in either criminal or civil proceedings. Twenty-seven have driving while intoxicated arrests on their driving records. Twenty-one are current defendants in various lawsuits, ranging from bad debts, disputes with business partners or other civil matters.
Nineteen members of current and recent Congresses have been accused of writing bad checks, even after the scandal several years ago, which resulted in closure of the informal House bank that routinely allowed members to overdraw their accounts without penalty. Fourteen have drug-related arrests in their background, eight were arrested for shoplifting, seven for fraud, four for theft, three for assault and one for criminal trespass.

A long tradition of corruption and ambivalence

Does the heady atmosphere of Congress turn honest men and women into a criminal class? Or is elected office simply a magnet for those who lie, cheat and steal for a living?

It could be a little bit of both, say political scientists and Constitutional scholars.

Congress has always had its share of rogues and scoundrels:

· Adam Clayton Powell, the fast-talking Harlem Congressman who was re-elected even after Congress expelled him in 1967. Powell had survived charges of income-tax evasion (with a hung jury) even before his first election to Congress.
· Wes Cooley, the Oregon Congressman who lied about serving in the Korean War, quit Congress under a cloud in 1996, and was later convicted of falsifying VA loan applications.
· California Congressman Walter Tucker, who quit Congress in 1996 just before his conviction for accepting $30,000 in bribes and sentenced to 27 months in the federal pen.

Congressmen have gone to jail for child molestation, bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds and various crimes and misdemeanors. Some have resigned in disgrace: Wayne Hayes because he put his mistress on his payroll as a secretary (she couldn't type) or Wilbur Mills because he messed around with a stripper.

As Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government imaginable - except for all other forms."


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