Saturday, March 22, 2008

Campaigning with humor

Bob Sullentrup is running for reelection as Secretary of the Libertarian National Committee. While he has a webpage with the normal sorts of things one might expect from a candidate for internal party office, he's also added some additional reasons to vote for him—and some are quite funny. Here's the list:

> As a kid he almost counted to infinity once
> He square dances counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere
> He has never seen the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'
> He has already completed his preparation for Y3K
> He always obeys the Law of Gravity
> He gets really pissed off at anger management classes
> He likes to speak simultaneously with other Bobs, thus creating oral Roberts
> He videotapes baseball games without the expressed, written consent of the Commissioner
> He once tried to buy camouflage trousers but couldn't find any
> He has always considered himself a male lesbian
> He can perfectly spell all English words shorter than two letters
> Once a week he will always make time for Wednesday
> He has been falsely accused of having killed the Dead Sea
> He can perform long division using Roman numerals
> He can change a dollar in 292 ways
> He has never had knee surgery on any other part of his body
> He believes a fish with no eyes should be spelled 'fsh'
> He likes astronomy and can readily identify the moon
> Reading this sentence is prohibited by law
> He likes to collect numbers from places that tell customers to please take a number
> He travels 300 million miles around the Sun every year
> He has a hard time telling when his invisible ink pen is empty
> He has never claimed to have invented the Internet
> He is capable of explaining to Bill Clinton what 'is' means
> He has no current plans to surf lava flows
> He appreciates his mother having diapered the proper end, usually
> He harbors no fear of irrational numbers
> He avoids girl scout Cookies made with real girl scouts
> He can watch 60 Minutes in well under two hours
> He tried as a kid to build a scale model of the sun using two D-cell batteries
> He can prove this statement is false
> He has been the incumbent LNC amanuensis (secretarial slave) for about 4/97ths of a century
> He has calculated it is VIII years until Super Bowl L
> He knows a few females he believes put the woe into the word woman
> He wonders why they aren't called the Oklahoma Cheaters, since that's that the Sooners did by jumping the gun
> He wants to meet a nattering naybob of negativism (ask Steve Dasbach if you're too young for that one)
> He lost his collection of donut holes
> He disagrees with Al Gore in that it's the extra sunlight from daylight savings time that causes global warming
> He never leaves the generation of random numbers to chance
> He observes a lot just by watching
> He continues to protect the Missouri River against theft and relocation
> He wonders why it's a clown that appears after the music calls for a weasel to pop out
> He believes that half of baseball is 90% mental
> He still wants to invent a portable hole
> He does not think of the hole of the donut but of the donut as a whole
> He has not been able to locate Mona Lisa's lost eyebrows
> He believes there are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't
> He has never seen a woman apply mascara with her mouth closed
> He does not think a 10-gallon hat really holds that much
> He believes Pi r round while cornbread r squared
> He really does believe the Italian dessert tiramisu is named for his Mizzou Tigers
> He thinks skydivers are good to the last drop
> He deplores the discrimination against fractions sports teams perpetrate but stops short of calling for Congressional hearings
> He lived in Chicago for years but never once saw the town toddle as the song suggests
> He wants to solve global warming by organizing a Hands-Across-America-like event to get everyone running in the same direction to increase the rotational speed of the earth making the wind blow stronger to cool things off
> He takes his oxygen with two parts hydrogen
> He has never heard anyone say “I'm going to retire and move north”
> He agrees with Bill Clinton that 'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure'
> He always wanted to be a major league ballplayer so he could wear the number square-root-2
> He actually did play against the Harlem Globetrotters as a member of the Washington Generals on January 8, 1988 in St. Louis

~ from Third Party Watch ~

Should Moscow Root for Obama?

Some Russian pundits, including Duma members Sergei Markov and Konstantin Kosachev, have rushed to say that Obama might be the best candidate for Russia since he is of the same generation as President-elect Medvedev, and is not burdened by the Cold War mentality. Perhaps this is true, but Obama himself has not had much to say about Russia. He criticized Russia's presidential election by stating that the vote was not fully free and fair, due to the absence of free media and a crackdown on political parties and the opposition. He seems to be less ideological than McCain and promises to work with Moscow on strategic issues. He is not averse to direct talks with Iran and Syria and does not appear to share the enthusiasm for the lavish use of U.S. military power. He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and even introduced a bill to have all American troops withdraw from Iraq by March 31, 2008. This is pretty much the extent of his known foreign policy views.

Obama's choice of foreign policy advisors is also troubling. He gets coaching from Zbigniew Brzezinski, a man not known for any kind feelings toward Russia. His principal Russia guy is Michael McFaul, one of the most vocal Putin critics in Washington. And he gets his lectures on democracy promotion from George Soros. None of this is a good sign for Obama's ability to “turn a page” in U.S.-Russia relations.

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War Tax Resistance Update

From Martin Sheen undeserving of award

Mr. Sheen's many pronouncements on public issues merit discussion, including his views on homosexual rights, his "doubts" about the 9/11 Commission Report, and his personal but guarded opposition to abortion. Regrettably, his commendable opposition to the intentional killing of the innocent has never led him to appear at an abortuary to offer the sidewalk counseling which can immediately save innocent lives; such would be politically incorrect.

This column, however, is concerned with Sheen's attitude toward military service. In a 2003 interview with David Kupfer, Sheen denied the accusation "of not supporting the military."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Sheen said. "The leaders… make the decisions…. I support the soldiers as human beings."

One manifesto, however, that Sheen signed on January 5, 2005, described "military training" as "schooling body and spirit in the art of killing… It is the perpetuation of war spirit. It hinders the development of the desire for peace." The manifesto called for "non-violent resistance to the military system," including not only conscientious objection "by conscripts and professional soldiers, in war and peace time," but also "Civil Disobedience, War Tax Resistance, Non-Cooperation with military research, military production and arms trade." The Laetare award to Sheen could generate confusion as to whether military service is consistent with "the ideals of the Church."

From War Resisters Block IRS HQ, 31 Arrested
Thirty-one people were arrested this morning as they staged a nonviolent blockade at the national headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, DC. The protestors had placed yellow police tape saying "WAR CRIME SCENE" across the entrance to the building.

The demonstration was part of a national day of protest marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 100 others joined the demonstration carrying signs, banners and props that illustrated the disparity between war spending and the needs of an economy crippled by five years of war.

"Just as military recruiters supply bodies for the war, the IRS supplies the funding," stated New York City War Resisters League organizer Ed Hedemann before he was arrested. "I'm doing my part to disrupt that relentless flow of money by standing in front of the IRS entrance and by refusing to send my taxes to the IRS."

More than 20 organizations are sponsored the event, including: the War Resisters League, United for Peace & Justice, National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), Movement for a Democratic Society, Ground Zero for Peace, Granny Peace Brigade, Code Pink, and the Socialist Party USA. Members of the participating organizations feel the need to engage in civil disobedience in order to dramatize their vigorous opposition to United States government's wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and President George W. Bush's "global war on terror."

From War tax resistance forum is Monday
A forum on war tax resistance will begin at 7:15 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church at 9 Ross Valley Road in San Rafael.

The event, which starts with a potluck at 6 p.m., is sponsored by the church and the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition.

The forum will be presented by Northern California War Tax Resistance and Sonoma County Taxes for Peace.


Antisemitism down in Russia but up in Ukraine

From Bigotry Monitor: Volume 8, Number 12

Antisemitism is decreasing in Russia but still needs to be fought, Rabbi Berl Lazar told Interfax on March 18. "If we speak about the post-Soviet republics, unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of antisemitism in Ukraine, while in Russia antisemitism is decreasing," said Lazar, one of Russia's two chief rabbis. However, that does not mean that "antisemitism is over and done with in Russia." "Unfortunately, such manifestations persist and a risk of new attacks persists," Lazar said. For this reason, the Jewish community "firmly intends to locate all incidents in which Jews are hurt" and continue to combat antisemitism, he said.

"However, it is simply wrong to say that Russia looks bad in this respect compared with other democratic countries," Lazar said. More people are found guilty of antisemitism than previously and the sentences for crimes inspired by antisemitic ideas are now much more severe, he added.


Indians' Bloodlines Traced To 6

Nearly all of today's American Indians in North, Central and South America can trace part of their ancestry to six women whose descendants immigrated about 20,000 years ago, a DNA study suggests.

Those women left a particular DNA legacy that persists to today in about 95 percent of Indians, researchers said.

The finding does not mean that only these six women gave rise to the migrants who crossed into North America from Asia in the initial populating of the continent, said study co-author Ugo Perego.

The women lived between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago, though not necessarily at exactly the same time, he said.

The work was published this week by the journal PLoS One. Perego is from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Salt Lake City and the University of Pavia in Italy.

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Pakistan received record migrant remittances in 2007: WB

Pakistan received $6.1 billion in remittances in 2007, recording an increase of almost one billion dollars from the preceding year, according to the World Bank's new Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008, released Wednesday.

Inward remittances flows for Pakistan have been on the consistent rise since 2000, when it received $1,075 million. The volume of workers remittances had jumped to $5.12 billion in the year 2005.

In South Asia, the Factbook says top five remittance recipients in 2007 were: India ($27.0 bln), Bangladesh ($6.4 bln), Pakistan ($6.1 bln), Sri Lanka, ($2.7 bln) and Nepal ($1.6 bln).

[ ... ]

Rich countries are the main source of remittances. The United States is by far the largest with $42 billion in recorded outward flows in 2006. Saudi Arabia ranks as the second largest followed by Switzerland and Germany.

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Mass anti-war and anti-cuts demonstration in Brussels

On 19 March a massive demonstration took place in the streets of Brussels. Three demonstations joined together and formed one big demonstration, with probably 80,000 present from all over Europe. These were the Belgian Youth March for Jobs, a protest called by the European trade Union Confederation (ETUC), and an anti-Iraq war protest called by the European Social Forum. The demonstration showed the strength and possibilities of a European-wide mobilisation and the growing radicalisation and a readiness for action amongst rank and file workers. The lack of a workers' political alternative also made it possible for the establishment parties to have a presence on the protests.

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Plastic disaster breaks through to mainstream

Our country is at a pivotal point in public health policy as it relates to our petroleum lifestyle. The implications cover consumerism's dead(ly) end and the demise of cheap energy from fossil fuels.

Bisphenol-A is the basic component of hard plastics that include baby bottles, linings of food cans, sealants for jars and bottles, and other well-known products that modern people have become dependent on. After several years of news stories about scientific studies and a few legislative attempts to ban or regulate bisphenol-A and other poisonous plastics, a scandal has just emerged involving U.S. government favoritism for corporate perpetrators.

Plastics such as bisphenol-A cause breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, obesity, and birth defects -- although the evidence is often argued to apply so far only to laboratory animals. Other common plastics posing great danger include phthalates (softeners) and PVC (for piping, flooring, containers, etc.).

Despite the obviously questionable use of synthetic materials pervasive in a society ruled by profit maximizers, and several warnings in the news, little has changed until perhaps now. Blind faith in scientific progress for daily convenience also delays full realization of the error of plastics-dependence. Overcoming this may be harder than punishing corporate wrongdoers and banning chemicals.

John Dingell, Democratic Congressman of Michigan, has successfully defended Detroit's automakers for decades. This has assured the optimum pollution and energy waste associated with millions of cars made each year. But when a powerful politician has seen fit to maintain a friendly relationship with a major industry, he or she can be free to compensate or seek redemption by pursuing justice and environmental protection in other areas. Now he finds himself in a major role as a Congressional committee chairman (Commerce and Energy) spearheading the investigation of the Food and Drug Administration's hiding the clear danger of bisphenol-A.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on March 21:

Ignoring hundreds of government and academic studies showing a chemical commonly found in plastic can be harmful to lab animals at low doses, the Food and Drug Administration determined the chemical was safe based on just two industry-funded studies that didn't find harm.
In response to a congressional inquiry, Stephen Mason, the FDA's acting assistant commissioner for legislation, wrote in a letter that his agency's claim relied on two pivotal studies sponsored by the Society of the Plastics Industry, a subsidiary of the American Chemistry Council.

~ read on... ~


Israel's ethnic cleansing policies blasted

From When "a Custodian of Freedom" is the Perpetrator of Ethnic Cleansing

Only few weeks after the apology of Kevin Rudd, the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, to the Aborigines, the indigenous inhabitants of Australia, he was party to a motion in Parliament describing Israel as a "robust democracy" and a "custodian of freedom" in a region abounding in autocracies and theocracies!

Opposition Liberal party leader Brendan Nelson said that in a region "characterized more by theocracies and autocracies, Israel is the custodian of the most powerful of human emotions – that is hopeful belief in the freedom of man, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly ".

All this was expressed in the aftermath of Israeli Killing of over 130 Palestinians in Gaza, 39 of them were children, and 12 women and the rest were young men in their twenties aspiring to live in peace and dignity on their own land. The question that came to mind upon reading the disappointing news of the motion in the Australian Parliament was whether Kevin Rudd and his colleagues want to wait for 200 years to apologize from the Palestinians as they apologized from the aborigines, but only when it becomes too late and almost of no value to a people and culture who have been almost completely destroyed. If the world expressed its absolute shame of the way the “stolen generations” were treated in Australia, it should be more ashamed of the “slaughtered generation” in Palestine that is being collectively punished and ethnically cleansed in the most abhorrent racist policies adopted by any state in the world, including the past apartheid regime in South African.

From Historian speaks about ethnic cleansing
A unique opportunity to hear renowned Israeli historian Dr Ilan Pappe speak about his recent book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is offered on March 29.

Pappe, whose parents fled Nazi Germany, received his doctorate at Oxford University and was senior lecturer of political science at Haifa University in Israel, academic director of the Research Institute for Peace at Givat Haviva, and chair of the Emil Tourma Institute.

He is currently chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies.

 The controversial historian believes the only way to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestine, is to boycott his country. So last summer, his family packed their belongings and moved to Britain.

He has said he feels like public enemy number one and receives death threats by phone almost every day.

Busting an Embargo Buster

Swedish truck maker AB Volvo is the latest company snared in the seemingly interminable investigation of improper payments made to Iraq under the United Nations Oil for Food Program.

The company agreed to pay $12.6 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges, and another $7 million as part an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

Volvo, which sold its carmaking division to Ford in 1999, was accused of allowing — or ignoring — a decision by two of its subsidiaries to pay millions of dollars in kickbacks to get business in Iraq while the country was under international trade sanctions.

According to the complaint filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, no services were rendered for the fees, which went to bank accounts in Jordan. Volvo did not admit or deny the allegations.

~ read on... ~


Latest from the friendly nuclear industry

From NASA Running Out of Plutonium

PRB_Ohio takes us to Space.com for a story about NASA's plutonium shortage, and how it may affect future missions to the far reaches of the solar system. The U.S. hasn't produced plutonium since 1988, instead preferring to purchase it from Russia. We discussed the U.S. government's plans to resume production in 2005, but those plans ended up being shelved.

From Recycling uranium and plutonium: where's it heading?
Currently 12 of the countries with nuclear energy programmes are committed to a closed nuclear fuel cycle but there are signs that the number will soon increase. In particular, the USA is reassessing its previous policy, set strongly against reprocessing with subsequent recycling of recovered materials. The decision to introduce MOX fuel from ex-weapons plutonium in civil reactors was an important factor in that country's change of policy and the first assemblies are now in use in reactors operated by Duke Power. In November 2005 the American Nuclear Society released a position statement saying that it “believes that the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors based on fast neutron fission technology is important to the sustainability, reliability and security of the world's long-term energy supply.” This will enable “extending by a hundred-fold the amount of energy extracted from the same amount of mined uranium.” The statement envisages onsite reprocessing of used fuel from fast reactors and says that “virtually all long-lived heavy elements are eliminated during fast reactor operation, leaving a small amount of fission product waste which requires assured isolation from the environment for less than 500 years.”

From Nuke waste dump operator pays fines for self-reported violations

A Dallas company operating a radioactive waste storage and disposal site in West Texas said Friday that it has agreed to pay the state $151,000 in penalties for violations in 2005 and 2006.

The penalties stem from incidents in Andrews County, near the New Mexico border, where Waste Control Specialists operates a transfer, treatment, storage and disposal facility for Cold War-era radioactive waste.

Neither of the chemical contamination incidents endangered the public, the company said.

According to an enforcement agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in 2005 the company allowed radioactive materials, including Plutonium-239 and Americium-241, to get into an administration and laboratory septic system. That system was within a quarter-mile of a well used for drinking water.

From Group calls for more plutonium removal from Livermore lab
A government watchdog group on Monday criticized security standards at Northern California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and called on the Energy Department to speed up removal of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium from the site.

The Project on Government Oversight released a report saying that Lawrence Livermore poses graver security threats than any other nuclear facility or weapons lab because of its unique location in the heavily populated San Francisco Bay area, near residential neighborhoods and schools.

The group said the government can and should remove nuclear material from the site next year rather than by 2012 as currently planned by the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department.

The Project on Government Oversight also reported that Lawrence Livermore has been granted a "waiver" exempting it from having to meet the latest security standards for national labs. There's about 1 ton of nuclear material at Lawrence Livermore, the group said.

Tesla Gives Us A Magical Mystery Tour Of Lithium Battery Recycling

From groovy green :

...Showing us exactly what is possible, Kurt Kelty — an engineer that works for Tesla Motors — recently posted an interesting “Mythbusters” segment on battery recycling — what they're made of and how they're disposed of.

Some fascinating tid-bits: First, the Tesla Roadster's battery pack or Energy Storage System (ESS) contains no heavy metals or toxic materials. By law, this means they could technically be disposed of in a landfill with no problems. However, their usefulness extends beyond pushing a car 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. Apparently, there are major differences in the demands on a battery for use in a high-performance sports car unlike, say, providing backup for a solar array. In fact, once the lithium packs are no longer performing well for the roadster, they may be recommissioned to be used as a power source for off-grid backup or load leveling...

Dar Al Hayat commentary: 'The Great Satan's Gift'

...Ahmedinejad laughs. If Iran had planted a president in the White House, he would not have been able to serve it the way George Bush did. George Bush rendered the Islamic Revolution priceless services, unmatched even by the services of the Revolutionary Guard generals. Ironically, this happened while George Bush raised the slogan of enmity to the Iranian regime, which he had positioned in the Axis of Evil.

Ahmedinejad drowns in his memories. In 1980, Saddam Hussein's army penetrated the Iranian hinterland. His planes bombed Iran, while his rockets showered its cities. He cannot forget a press conference held by the grand leading president who entered wearing his military suit and smile, with arrogance flowing out with his responses. A reporter asked him about the future of Iran as the Iraqi troops were stationed on its territories. Smiling, he responded, "This is a matter that depends on the decision of the Iranian peoples." It was evident that Saddam was flirting with the dream of dismembering Iran and settling historic scores with it.

Ahmedinejad reminisces. He joined the Revolutionary Guards; his dream was to punish Saddam Hussein's army with victory and revenge. However, he never even dared to dream of toppling that regime. He certainly never dreamt of becoming the president of Iran. He did not dream of landing in Baghdad shortly before the fifth anniversary celebrations, to address the Iraqis, the Arabs and the world from Al-Rasheed's capital, while Saddam Hussein's corpse lay in his hometown of Tikrit...


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Does violence have place in Christianity?

For Kenyans who marvel at the fact that professed Christians killed their neighbours and destroyed their livelihoods, Easter is an appropriate time to meditate on the place of violence in Christianity and the tendency of many believers to project an understanding of salvation separated from ethics.

Christianity has failed to make a definite stand on violence mainly because classic formulations of central doctrines accommodate and support it by claiming that God saved the world through the violence of the cross. Hence, since it can do good, it is not to be tabooed as intrinsically evil.

Christians believe many things over why Jesus died and who was ultimately responsible for his murder, that God handed Jesus over to Satan as a ransom to secure the release of the souls of humankind the devil held captive, that the conflict between Satan and God was a cosmic battle in which God's son was killed, but in raising him from the dead God won a decisive victory, that the God-man's death was necessary to restore the honour of God which human sin had offended, that Jesus' death satisfied a divine law's requirement that sin must be punished, so Jesus was punished in our place to satisfy the demands of justice and allow God to justly forgive us or that his death was a loving act of God aimed at us sinners and designed to reveal his love for sinners.

Such doctrines that justify violence, under a variety of divinely anchored claims and images that portray an image of God as the chief exacter of retribution, as a divine avenger or punisher, and/or as a child abuser who arranges the death of one child (Jesus) for the benefit of the others (us sinners), as a God who saves by violence and of an innocent son who passively submits to that God-orchestrated and directed violence, are responsible for the centuries of violence on the part of Christians.

~ read on... ~


Arthur C. Clarke and Childhood's End: 'the devil is in the details'

When we last spoke with “Stop-Loss” director Kimberly Peirce, we said of her next film, “Childhood's End,” a classic work of science fiction from the recently passed Arthur C. Clarke, that “the devil is in the details” (SPOILER WARNING) because mankind's salvation ultimately comes on the wings of its worst fears – winged, red aliens that look exactly like Satan.

“It has this notion that there was some creature here before and it was intelligent,” Peirce said of the book's first act revelation when we caught up with her again this week. “It imprinted itself in our mind and if we look into the future we find out that, in fact, it [gave birth to our notion of] Satan.”

Of course, like Clarke's other masterpiece, “2001,” the book is about so much more than appearances – it's about life, and death, and rebirth on a grand, cosmic scale. But given the potential for religious fallout (and, make no mistake, Clarke is essentially saying that all religion is false) how do you portray the image for a mass audience without softening the message?

~ read on... ~

'No mercy' from Mugabe for Britain asylum seekers

All fugitives from the law who found refuge in the United Kingdom will face the full wrath of the law once they return to Zimbabwe as their crimes will not die out, President Mugabe has said.

The President, who was addressing thousands of Zanu-PF supporters who gathered at Hama High School in Chirumhanzu yesterday, castigated those who tried to tarnish his name alleging political persecution when they were mere criminals fleeing the law, saying they should come back to atone for their ruinous actions.

[ ... ]

Some Zimbabwean businesspeople, particularly those in the financial services sector, fled Zimbabwe to the United Kingdom in the wake of the clean-up launched by the Reserve Bank to stamp out unethical practices in the financial services sector that saw millions of Zimbabweans being fleeced of their funds that were diverted to speculative activities by the bankers and asset management companies.

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'Will Kosovo open Pandora's box?'

Several moments concerning Kosovo's independence deserve to be reviewed at this point.

Is there a chance that Russia will clash with the West over Kosovo as some suggest?

That is very unlikely. And that was surely the major assumption in the United States' decision to recognize the province—that Russia would not engage beyond political means.

But Russia will definitely (try to) fortify its presence in the region, as long as Serbia, humiliated as it is, turns its back to the West. Russia and Serbia just signed a pipeline deal of potential long-term importance for regional (and wider) energy security—an area the European Union is very sensitive to. Russia has a very strong economic presence in Montenegro.

Recently Russian military experts rejected as tactical nonsense the rumor of Russia possibly deploying missiles in Serbia. If Russia did decide to make a move in that direction, tension would definitely explode.

The cards on the table are the de facto partition of Kosovo, and what happens with the Republic of Srpska, the Serbian entity in the Bosnian Federation. The tables could well turn in that the West may have to engage in preventing a secession of the Republic of Srpska in the near future. Secession does not seem viable at this particular moment, but time is a critical dimension. If political tension subsists over a 6 to 12 months period, what seems unlikely today might seem perfectly possible then. Macedonia, with a sizeable Albanian community, cohesive for the time being, might also come under increasing pressure by radical structures.



~ From Kosovo and the Balkans: Afterthoughts on Independence ~


Cyprus to hold reunification talks

From Al-Jazeera :

Rival leaders of divided Cyprus have agreed to begin fully-fledged talks on the future of the island in three months, according to a joint statement released after a meeting in Nicosia.
The meeting, held in a neutral UN territory on Friday, was intended to break the deadlock that threatened to derail Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

It was the first meeting with Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, since Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, assumed the presidency last month.

"This is a new era. We're starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem," Talat said afterwards.

Christofias said: "We shall try our utmost in order to come to an agreed solution for the interest of the Cypriot people, both communities, as soon as possible."...

Violent strikes hit Greece

From Aftenposten :

Riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and firebombs in central Athens during a nationwide general strike Wednesday by millions of Greeks protesting government pension reforms. The walkout, like two other general strikes since December, shut down public services and forced the cancellation of dozens of flights. Tens of thousands of people marched in Athens, and about 8,000 demonstrated in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where protesters set fire to two banks and three automatic teller machines.

Experts Urge All-Out Toilet Efforts

New technology, religion, and the market must be harnessed to secure basic toilet facilities for Asia's rural and urban poor, sanitation experts from the region said here Thursday.

Currently, over 2.6 billion people across the world have no access to an organized system of toilets, of which some 1.5 billion people live in the Asia-Pacific region, states the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a regional UN body based in Bangkok, which hosted a conference on sanitation.

And every year, over 200 million tons of human waste go uncollected and untreated globally, adds ESCAP. This not only fouls the environment and spreads diseases, but forces the people with no access to toilets to ''live in deeper poverty and indignity.''

~ read on... ~


Tribal peoples' water being destroyed by industry and governments

Survival International today releases a summary report which shows how tribal peoples are having their basic right to water denied.

The document is released to coincide with World Water Day (March 22). Taking examples from nine different tribes, it explains how industry and governments are destroying tribal peoples' water sources.

The traditional water sources of tribal peoples are being polluted, diverted, or sometimes simply removed, by industry and governments in pursuit of their own interests. Water, which once brought communities to life, has been hijacked by self-interested organisations whilst tribal peoples are left to sicken, and die, on the sidelines.

All tribal peoples rely upon the water in their land to sustain them. It is crucial to their health, to their independence, to their very existence. And it is disappearing.

To read the complete summary report, click here

~ link ~



Online Polls Open for the Corporate Hall of Shame

Annual Voting Crowns the Worst Corporations of the Year

Candidates include ADM, Blackwater, Countrywide, Mattel, Nestlé,
Toyota, Wal-Mart and Wendy's

March 20, 2008

BOSTON — This year's election is all about the issues — global warming, war-profiteering, predatory lending — or at least that is the case in the annual Corporate Hall of Shame. Today online polls open at www.stopcorprateabuse.org for people to vote for the most abusive corporations of the year.

This year's nominees made headlines for breaking the law, influencing elected officials, undermining democratic decision-making and outright endangering the environment and public health. They include Blackwater Worldwide, ADM, Countrywide, Wal-Mart, Mattel, Nestlé, Toyota, and Wendy's.

The Hall is a creation of Corporate Accountability International, a membership organization that has worked to protect people from irresponsible and dangerous corporations for the last 30 years.

“Make no mistake, we believe all of the nominees deserve this infamous dishonor, but we look forward to seeing which corporations the voting public selects as the worst of the worst,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. “The ballot box is a way to call politicians to task. The Hall is now a way of calling corporations to account for major abuses of the public interest.”

Last year, more than 20,000 votes were cast to induct ExxonMobil, Haliburton and Wal-Mart. Other past inductees include Philip Morris/Altria, Columbia/HCA and waste disposal giant Waste Management.

The Corporate Hall of Shame has kept continuous pressure on inducted corporations to curb their abuses. In 2006, Waste Management worked its way out of the Corporate Hall of Shame by drastically reducing its national lobbying and political expenditures.

Corporate Accountability International expects record turn-out this election season before polls close on July 4th. The new inductees will be announced later that month.

This year's nominees include:

Ø ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), for helping make Indonesia the world's third worst contributor to global warming through its clearing of endangered forests and wildlife habitat for palm oil plantations.


Ø Blackwater Worldwide, for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians, hiring paramilitaries trained under military dictatorships, and using its close political and financial ties with the Bush Administration to secure lucrative contracts.

Ø Countrywide, for predatory mortgage lending to elderly and non-English-speaking borrowers, and for gouging minority borrowers with discriminatory rates and fees.

Ø Mattel, for producing tens of millions of lead-contaminated children's toys, and aggressively lobbying against bans on other highly toxic chemicals

Ø Nestlé, for numerous labor violations — including child exploitation — contributing to the obesity epidemic, and threatening community water supplies with its bottled water brands.

Ø Toyota, for aggressively lobbying against increased fuel economy standards and state measures to reduce global warming gas emissions while hypocritically spending millions to advertise its environmental “leadership” and popular Prius hybrids.

Ø Wal-Mart, for displacing local businesses, failing to cover employees under the corporation's health plan, and opposing legislation that would increase homeland security.

Ø Wendy's, for its contribution to the growing childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics, and for refusing to meet nutritional labeling regulations.

Voters are also encouraged to write-in candidates and submit commentary.

###

The Corporate Hall of Shame is a project of Corporate Accountability International and its allies that allows people to vote online for the most abusive corporations of the year.

The Hall will continue to expose the abuses of inducted corporations until these abuses are addressed.

~ link ~


FCC Airwaves Auction Sets Record

After 261 rounds of bidding, a government auction of airwaves ended yesterday, raising almost $20 billion from companies hoping to build new broadband wireless networks for next-generation phones and other devices.

It was a record haul but not a complete success for the Federal Communications Commission, which drew some criticism about conditions attached to some blocks of airwaves that might have resulted in lower revenue. One block to be shared with public-safety groups didn't sell and will have to be re-auctioned. Another block, which requires the winner to open its new network to devices or software supplied by any manufacturer, sold for little more than the minimum price.

A look at the winning bids suggests that the agency might have raised more money without those conditions. One block of airwaves, sold in small licenses, brought in a combined $9.1 billion, far more than the minimum $1.4 billion reserve price. The block of airwaves with open-access conditions sold for $4.75 billion, just slightly more than its $4.6 billion reserve.

The total raised was $19.6 billion.

~ read on... ~


A Company Promises the Deepest Data Mining Yet

The company, called Phorm, has created a tool that can track every single online action of a given consumer, based on data from that person's Internet service provider. The trick for Phorm is to gain access to that data, and it is trying to negotiate deals with telephone and cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that provide broadband service to millions.

Phorm's pitch to these companies is that its software can give them a new stream of revenue from advertising. Using Phorm's comprehensive views of individuals, the companies can help advertisers show different ads to people based on their interests.

“As you browse, we're able to categorize all of your Internet actions,” said Virasb Vahidi, the chief operating officer of Phorm. “We actually can see the entire Internet.”

~ more... ~


David Kay: 'The biggest intelligence fiasco of my lifetime'

From German Intelligence Was 'Dishonest, Unprofessional and Irresponsible'

SPIEGEL: The argument made by the Germans for not providing access to 'Curveball' was not totally illogical. He claimed to hate Americans. It would have been a breach of trust if they had turned him over to the CIA.

Kay: We know today, of course, that it was all nonsense. First of all, we have people who speak 100 percent fluent German or Arabic. After the war, armed with the name from the British, we sought out his family. His mother and brother were very cooperative. They told us that he spoke English -- the language of instruction at his university was English. They also said he had plans to emigrate to the United States. My men saw his room and there were posters on the wall of American pop stars.

SPIEGEL: It sounds as though you were the first one who really had the chance to cross-check what 'Curveball' said…

Kay: … which is simply unbelievable. He was a defector for God's sake and the BND was convinced that his information was so valuable that they distributed over 100 reports on 'Curveball' to their allies. I stand by my criticism of the BND to this day: To not have checked up on the exile Iraqis in Germany who knew him, not to have made all the appropriate efforts to validate the source, is a level of irresponsibility that is awfully hard to imagine in a service like the BND. And then, the fact that they failed to provide direct access to him remains one of the most striking things. It was a blockade that made it impossible for any other service to validate his information. The German service did not live up to their responsibilities or to the level of integrity you would expect from such a service.

[ ... ]

Kay: I sent two of my best people over to Germany -- they were gone for a total of two weeks. But they were not allowed to interrogate him. They were allowed to provide some initial questions and then watch it all on video from another room. But they were not allowed to submit follow up questions that could be immediately asked, which is the very essence of an interrogation. They were mad and I was mad. Yet what they watched on video was enough to convince them that 'Curveball' was a fabricator.

SPIEGEL: Would it really have made a difference if 'Curveball' had been exposed as a fraud before the war? The Bush administration wanted to go to war no matter what.

Kay: Sure, the administration had that position. But don't underestimate the importance that the link to al-Qaida, the weapons of mass destruction and, specifically, the biological weapons labs played in Congress. You can be pretty certain it would have changed the congressional vote, the authorization. Let me just say, I do not believe it would have been easy to take this nation to war if you had not had the intelligence.

SPIEGEL: What can we all learn from the 'Curveball' disaster?

Kay: I feel disillusioned. I think that 'Curveball' was the biggest and most consequential intelligence fiasco of my lifetime. It shows how important effective civilian control of the intelligence services is, because non-transparency is extraordinarily dangerous for democracy. In an intelligence service, people who don't make waves are rewarded. I am worried that the same mistakes could be repeated all over again.

Great Wall of Silence About Tibetan Protests

"China has begun to fight back against criticism of its handling of the Tibetan protests," during which protesters have been killed, with a "sustained publicity offensive as well as blocking foreign broadcasters and websites and denying journalists access to areas of unrest," reports The Guardian. "After days of ignoring and then playing down protests," Chinese television stations "aired hours of Friday's anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa." China's English-language TV service was told "to keep broadcasting footage of burned-out shops and Chinese wounded in attacks. No peaceful demonstrators were shown." An international reporter remarked that while the images of injured Chinese are "genuine," they're "not put in context." The Chinese government has also blacked out international TV broadcasts, blocked online videos and censored Internet searches about the protests, reports BBC News. In response, the U.S. government is increasing its international radio broadcasts into Tibet. "Our audience clearly will benefit from these trustworthy sources of news and information, which differ sharply from Chinese government sanctioned broadcasts," said U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors chair James Glassman.

~ source: Center for Media and Democracy ~


On the importance of philosophical knowledge

From Transcendental Philosophy and Its Specific Demands

" ... To make himself more directly intelligible Fichte used to begin his lessons with an invitation to fulfil an action. It should be a mental action, and an action of great simplicity: "Think the wall." Though this is (what could not adequately be seen at that very moment) ultimately a free action, it is almost completely tended to an object and seems to depend entirely on that very "thing", the wall. Sentences of that kind are imperatives of normal pedagogy, and they are still common sense. The philosophical education commences with the following order: "Now, think that one, who has thought the wall." At first glance this seems to be another teacher-induced empirical action, belonging to inner observation instead of outer. But Fichte wants to show something totally different from that, in fact: no-thing  at all, no more "representation", but a special quality of action: the acting  of action itself, real spontaneity, concrete freedom. His verbal sign for it is since 1793/94: "Thathandlung".

For Fichte the reflexivity of the I means nothing else than acting in its spontaneous return in itself. The action that seizes immediately its own self lits, in doing so, the non-sensible "light" that proves the certainty of that principle: intellectual intuition. In the same moment it is qualified as founding every kind of knowledge, as it determines the very structure of knowing as such. Insofar as these theorems conceptually contain "action" and "spontaneity" they can only be understood through spontaneously grasping them. Such an act even transcends the cognitive value of any concept of the I. For its legitimation any conceptualization (and in the narrow sense: any "theory") of the self depends on fulfilling that supreme act. For Fichte, this is what makes philosophical education so important and so difficult all the same. In ordinary life we are not familiar with acting but only with its results (products and institutions) to which belongs also the external, empirical side of acting.

[ ... ]

The modest or tender beginnings of Fichte's paideia, as we have briefly described them above, are bound to lead to the insight that acting (as practical reflexitiy) does not only explain pure self-consciousness in its narrow sense. By means of that very acting Fichte accounts for the status of objectivity of the possible judgements, and he deduces the relation of a singular "you" to another sigular "I". If we call Fichte's highest theorem of acting Fichte's "self" ("Pono me existentem, ergo existo. Nicht cogito, ergo sum."), we can say that subject-objectivity and interpersonality are analytical developments of the "I". Paideia  therefore has to be busy with the original insight in acting itself (the student has to enter the very grounding of the whole architecture) as well as the two immediately following tasks, i. e. to make particular objective knowledge and personal relations (as constitutive for such knowledge acts!) intelligible. From that it has to be shown that empirical self-consciousness is merely an object of (rather insecure) knowledge and has relatively little to do with the certain reflexivity of acting itself. Fichte's I therefore does not belong to the private. It is not responsible for individuality, but for the universality of the universal. The essence of interpersonality is therefore primarily the entire structure of action or, to put it in another word, reason. The acting condition of reflexivity immediately proves the underlying unity of all those who are, each for himself, able to identify themselves as an "I".  Nevertheless, as the transcendental I opens itself positively to the empirical (and so to the accidental), paideia must also try to rationally integrate the individual in the interpersonal relation as such.

[ ... ]

V. The more concrete aspects of Fichte's paideia (and among them its idea of perfection) depend no less on that I- or reflexitiy-conception of interpersonality. In a time of political crisis (in October 1806 Napoleon had defeated Germany's most powerful state, Prussia), Fichte developed a plan of reorganizing and fully initiating public education. Concerning the empirical side, his main purpose was to strengthen political common sense and commonwealth. The means for it was "knowledge". The people and politicians should become acquainted with Reason's own unbroken and undistorted "image" to be able to judge and decide rightly in the particular situation of life. As the university is no school for "Wissenschaftslehre" only, Fichte does not propound a direct path to the transcendental kowledge itself (which is to be seen as containing the principles for all specific sciences, as for instance politics and jurisprudence), but a general formation of the understanding. This formation is no mechanical training, either. It means free exercising. Fichte's word for it is "Kunst" — the "art" of learning how to judge consciously (in other words: how to grasp the modes of reflexivity of judging). The forming of the art of understanding is an intersubjective preparation for the step into pure kowledge itself. From both "activities" the rather immediate benefits on political life and public opinion are evident. ... "

From A Global Theory of Knowledge for the Future
" ... Spiritual: Intuitive knowledge. The antithesis of sensual.

Rational: Logical knowledge. The synthesis of the spiritual and sensual.

Sensual: Sensory knowledge. The antithesis of the spiritual.

Progressive Ranges: Hierarchical social levels, like person, group, nation, civilization.

There is too much factual knowledge to grasp even a speck of the whole. This makes for an excessive diversity that lacks in coherent unity. With no coherency in the parts, there will be no coherent truth in the whole. Without coherent truth there is only a relative truth. Relative truth makes for contradiction from different viewpoints, perceptions, and perspectives. Contradictions deny a common definition and meaning of truth, morality, justice, and beauty. They also deny common standards, values, principles, and virtues. Uncommon values lead to personal and social conflict and confusion; to the blocking of learning in education, to the disintegration of social unity.

[ ... ]

Dynamic trinities of value coherently extend between the microcosmos-macrocosmos-cosmos, from quark to man to the Ultimate Beginning. These balancing trinities, as changing diversities in an unchanging unity, are a means to resolving conflicts, contradictions, paradoxes, dilemmas, and inconsistencies of truth on any range of perspective or society. In terms of principles, trinities deny these mentally blocking problems by enabling almost instant general answers to most questions of "Why?". By so doing they give answers to resolve many of today's "unsolvable" problems. Because of its dynamic, systematic flexibility, Trinityism could resolves inconsistencies and conflicts in knowledge by its unchanging principles that are in harmony with changing facts; that are parts of a dynamic, systematic, unified whole of knowledge. ... "

This Time Next Year, You Could Be Posthuman

Pundits from Bill McKibben to Susan Greenfield have written scare manifestos about the horrors of a posthuman future where everybody has souped-up DNA and can change their sexes like changing clothes. ... If you want to be posthuman too, or transhuman or cyborgian, you'll be waiting a long time. But we've got five things you can put on your to-do list today to make all of us more posthuman by this time next year.

[ ... ]

4. This month:
Get a high-tech implant. Want to feel electro-magnetic waves? Get a magnet implanted in your finger. Want to be machine-readable? Get an RFID implanted under your skin. You can save all kinds of useful data on that RFID, but just be sure you keep it encrypted!...

~ full post ~


'A press release only Philip K. Dick could love'

From The Video Surveillance Market Is About to Explode!

Video surveillance is the hot new thing. Tech market think tank ABI Research has just come out with a new study predicting that the global video surveillance market will "expand from revenue of about $13.5 billion in 2006 to a remarkable $46 billion in 2013." In a press release only Philip K. Dick could love, ABI gushes excitedly about all the fun new uses of the vidcams and databases you could be manufacturing, buying, and selling to the surveillance-craving masses.

Carlyle Group May Buy Major CIA Contractor: Booz Allen Hamilton

The Carlyle Group, one of the world's largest private equity funds, may soon acquire the $2 billion government contracting business of consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the biggest suppliers of technology and personnel to the U.S. government's spy agencies. Carlyle manages more than $75 billion in assets and has bought and sold a long string of military contractors since the early 1990s. But in recent years it has significantly reduced its investments in that industry. If it goes ahead with the widely reported plan to buy Booz Allen, it will re-emerge as the owner of one of America's largest private intelligence armies.

Reports of a potential Carlyle acquisition of Booz Allen's government unit began circulating among U.S. military contractors in December 2007, after Booz Allen's senior partners and board members -- a group of 300 vice presidents who own the privately-held firm -- gathered at company headquarters in McLean, Virginia, for an extraordinary two-day meeting.

~ more... ~


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