Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Greek security guard shoots U.S. Embassy guard in Athens

Member of Greece's special police whose primary responsibility is guarding diplomatic buildings has shot and critically wounded a security member of the U.S. Embassy in Athens.

The policeman had fired two bullets at the U.S. Embassy guard who had been hired by the embassy as additional security.

Athens police and U.S. diplomats throw out any possibility this was a terrorist act, however, both sides believe the shooting had not been accidental.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens is the most heavily guarded and fortified object in the Greek capital. The embassy had been targeted numerous times by Greek leftist groups, most recently in 2007 when a rocket propelled grenade hit the front of the embassy building.

~ FYROM source: Macedonian International News Agency ~

Lonely Planet commits faux pas - depicts Greek island in Turkey feature

From Lonely Planet lives in alternate universe

We're kind of flabbergasted by this image from the December edition of Lonely Planet Magazine. With the a headline blaring "How about Turkey for Christmas?," the image shows the island of Kastelorizo, a small island  located about 1,300 m  off the southern coast of Turkey,

So what's the big deal? Well, the island is Greek! Kastelorizo was assigned to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947. In May 1945 it was still under British administration, but on September 15 1947 effectively came under Greek administration. The island formally joined the Greek State on 7 March 1948 together with the other Dodecanese islands.



From Lonely Planet's Wall on Facebook

Lonely Planet wrote at 9:29am on January 14th, 2009
I'm sorry that our magazine feature titled “How about Turkey for Christmas?” created the impression that Kastellorizo might be a Turkish island. While the other destinations covered in the article are Turkish, I was aware and ensured we stated that Kastellorizo is Greek. With hindsight we could have made the nationality of the island even clearer. I apologise to anyone who felt offended by this. Our intent was entirely to help travellers discover some beautiful places to visit, including the Greek island of Kastelorizo, and this oversight came about during the hectic period of creating our first-ever issue. In our March issue (as our February issue has just gone to print) we will publish representative examples of the letters we've received with a clarification.

Peter Grunert
Editor, Lonely Planet Magazine
   
Pheidias wrote at 11:40am on January 13th, 2009
I don't see anything like this. I see a double photo of the Greek island of Kastellorizo and a huge title upon: "HOW ABOUT TURKEY FOR CHRISTMAS"? Misleading, at least, bad taste, at least, if not offending, at least. (Even the small letters right at the down left corner say something like "The island of Kastelorizo, two miles from the Turkish coast. Certainly [b]eats a Christmas [??t] in front of the Queen's Speech"). An apology from the editor is the least the Greek citizens of the island demand.
   
Sophia wrote at 7:20am on January 13th, 2009
FOr heaven's sake people, half of you are already mistaken about what the article about Turkey said. Here's what it said:
“...the picturesque island of Kastellorizo, which despite being two miles from the Turkish town of Kas, and 68 from the nearest Greek island of Rhodes, is still part of Greece.”
which translates in greek:
"το γραφικό νησάκι Καστελόριζο, παρόλο που απέχει μόλις δύο μίλια από την τουρκική πόλη Κας και 68 από το κοντυνότερο ελληνικό έδαφος, τη Ρόδο, εντούτοις είναι ελληνικό"
The "evtoutois" is excess in Greek, but I left it so you will see how it corresponds to "still". Look up "still" in a dictionary, it is used as an emphasis on "despite".
If I were turkish, I'd be offended- you publish a travel article about Turkey and the best places you found are in Greece? What does that say about Turkey?

Rescuing Blackwater from justice - and the Amway connection

From Pentagon letter undercuts DOJ in Blackwater case

The Pentagon wrote in 2007 that Blackwater Worldwide contractors in Iraq are not subject to U.S. civilian criminal laws. That position undercuts the Justice Department's effort to prosecute five Blackwater security guards for manslaughter.

The letter highlights the uncertainty prosecutors face in bringing charges against contractors involved in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead in a Baghdad intersection. Iraqis are closely watching how the U.S. responds to the shooting, which inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.

Defense contractors can be prosecuted in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas, but because of a legal loophole, contractors for other agencies can only face charges if their work assignments supported the Defense Department.

Blackwater works for the State Department. The largest security contractor in Iraq, the company guards U.S. diplomats. Five of its guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for a shooting that prosecutors say was an unprovoked attack on civilians.

Federal prosecutors in Washington are trying to persuade a judge to hear the case. They say the Defense Department mission and the State Department mission are essentially the same: creating a stable, self-governing Iraq.

When Blackwater guards protected State Department diplomats, prosecutors told a federal judge last week, they were supporting the Defense Department's mission. By protecting diplomats, prosecutors said, Blackwater freed up Pentagon resources.

But in December 2007, the Defense Department disagreed. In a letter to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England explained how the military handles allegations against contractors.

"I am informed that the Blackwater USA private security contractors working under a Department of State contract were not engaged in employment in support of the DOD mission," England wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided by Price's office.

Thus, England wrote, federal prosecutors don't have jurisdiction to charge the Blackwater guards. He was writing in response to a letter from Price, who has long maintained that the loophole in the law should be closed.

Defense Department spokesman Chris Isleib said Monday that the views in the letter remain the view of the Defense Department.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd disagreed.

"The position taken by the Justice Department in the Blackwater prosecution is the position of the U.S. government," Boyd said.

Whether Blackwater is covered by what's known as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act remains a matter of some debate. Blackwater founder and chief executive Erik Prince said in an interview with The Associated Press that he believed his security guards were covered and could be prosecuted in criminal courts.

Prince is a former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater USA, is a Holland, Mich., native whose family fortune was made in the auto parts industry. His sister, Betsy DeVos, a former chairwoman of the Michigan GOP, is married to Dick DeVos, a Republican and Amway Corp. heir who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006.


From Official: Blackwater's Iraq deal not to be renewed

The State Department will not renew Blackwater Worldwide's contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq when it expires in May, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

The official told The Associated Press that the contract will lapse because of the Iraqi government's decision to deny Blackwater a license to operate. The Iraqis informed the State Department last week of the denial, which was made amid lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

The official said that renewing Blackwater's contract was "basically a moot point because they were not going to be allowed to operate in Iraq anyway." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has yet to be announced.

The State Department says it is still considering how to protect U.S. diplomats in the wake of the Iraqi denial of Blackwater's operating license.


From Blackwater USA's Erik Prince & Dick Devos: Brother-in-laws in Arms

The first stop I want to make is to address all those stories in the media about the connection between Dick Devos & Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA (one of the world's largest private army).

What? Only ONE result? And it's just a letter to the editor. Wow, I guess if the major news media doesn't see a connection, then there's no worries!

Still, our mud-wrestling lady Governor might not be content with sticking a big Amway tag on my chest and drag this issue into the election too. Take a memo, Jenny: when we Republicans say “Character matters”, we're talking about other people's character!

Erik Prince is the brother of my wife, Betsy Prince Devos. He is a former Navy Seal who worked in the first Bush White House. At the age of 29, he founded a private military company called Blackwater USA. Blackwater and Eric Prince are featured in the Movie Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (watch a clip about Erik below!) and also in this post from some liberal guy on the Huffington lady's blog. Speaking of outrageously liberal, here's an article from The Nation called Blood is Thicker than Blackwater.

Weak-kneed Willie over at Michigan Liberal noted that the Virginia Pilot had an in-depth series on Blackwater USA:

Blackwater has rocketed from obscurity to the big time in less than a decade. Peter Singer, author of “Corporate Warriors” and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says that although Blackwater might not be the biggest player in the private military industry, “they've certainly gained the biggest profile.”

They've done it with deep-pocket backing, high-powered political connections and an uncanny knack for capitalizing on the violent milestones of a turbulent time

This comprehensive Blackwater USA feature (with lots of pictures and video) talks about how Blackwater soldiers are trained, has fun facts on what makes Blackwater different, how darn profitable the company is in these dangerous times, the company's plans for the future and exciting stuff about how Blackwater operates right here on US soil! I bet that's a side benefit you never thought of from Dick Devos as President of the USA Michigan's Governor.



From Blackwater Down: Fresh From Iraq, Private Security Forces Roam the Streets of an American City With Impunity

The head of Blackwater, the founder, is a man named Eric Prince. He is a mega-billionaire from Michigan. His father was a close friend of Gary Bauer. His father helped to found the Family Research Council. His sister, Betsy, is married to Dick DeVos, who is going to be the gubernatorial candidate of the Republican Party in the state of Michigan. He, Dick DeVos, is the son of Richard DeVos, the founder of Amway, the greatest benefactor in the history of the Republican Party, the man who largely funded the Republican revolution in 1994, this Christian fundamentalist corporation, Amway. So he comes from a powerful Michigan family. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. He started this firm Blackwater Security. He himself is a former navy S.E.A.L. He staffs it with people he describes as patriots, although, it's interesting, they have been doing recruiting in Chile, hiring men who were trained under Augusto Pinochet's regime. So these forces are now—there are about two hundred of them—in New Orleans right now. One hundred and sixty-four of them are on a no-bid federal contract with FEMA to provide protection for these sites. This is part of a bigger push by these paramilitary firms to gain contracts here in the United States. For instance, Blackwater seized on the fact that four of their employees were killed in Fallujah in March of 2004. Eric Prince viewed this as a profit moment. So, what he did is hired—

AMY GOODMAN: This is that horrible moment—

JEREMY SCAHILL: Where we saw the charred bodies. They were hanged, and it resulted in the massive U.S. onslaught against Fallujah that resulted in tens of thousands of people having to flee the city, scores of people being killed, innocent civilians. Of course, now Fallujah has become an international symbol of resistance against the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Well after these four Blackwater mercenaries were killed in Fallujah and then their bodies mutilated and hung from a bridge, Eric Prince hired the Alexander Group which is a powerful Republican lobby firm tied to House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, and then hired a former C.I.A. Department of—C.I.A., State department official, named Coffer Black, to help promote their cause in Washington.

New evidence from excavations in Arcadia, Greece, supports theory of 'birth Of Zeus'

In the third century BCE, the Greek poet Callimachus wrote a 'Hymn to Zeus' asking the ancient, and most powerful, Greek god whether he was born in Arcadia on Mt. Lykaion or in Crete on Mt. Ida.

A Greek and American team of archaeologists working on the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project believe they have at least a partial answer to the poet's query. New excavation evidence indicates that Zeus' worship was established on Mt. Lykaion as early as the Late Helladic period, if not before, more than 3,200 years ago. According to Dr. David Gilman Romano, Senior Research Scientist, Mediterranean Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum, and one of the project's co-directors, it is likely that a memory of the cult's great antiquity survived there, leading to the claim that Zeus was born in Arcadia.

New evidence to support the ancient myth that Zeus was born on Mt. Lykaion in Arcadia has come from a small trench from the southern peak of the mountain, known from the historical period as the ash altar of Zeus Lykaios. Over fifty Mycenaean drinking vessels, or kylikes, were found on the bedrock at the bottom of the trench along with fragments of human and animal figurines and a miniature double headed axe. Also found were burned animal bones, mostly of goats and sheep, another indication consistent with Mycenaean cult activity.

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Iceland's PM marks gay milestone

Johanna Sigurdardottir, named as Iceland's prime minister on Sunday, is the first openly lesbian head of government in Europe, if not the world - at least in modern times.

The 66-year-old's appointment as an interim leader, until elections in May, is seen by many as a milestone for the gay and lesbian movement.

Up until now, if a gay man or woman has been prime minister, they have done their best to conceal the fact.

In Iceland itself, however, the new prime minister's sexual orientation appears to be causing less excitement than it is abroad.

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If named prime minister, Sigurdardóttir would not only be the county's first female prime minister -- she would be the first gay prime minister in the world ... sort of.

Norway finance minister Per-Kristian Foss, who is gay, was that country's acting prime minister for a brief period in 2002 while both the prime minister and foreign minister were traveling abroad.

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2009 - Year of the pandemic?

From SDF planes to fly home Japanese stranded in event of flu pandemic

The Defense Ministry has drafted an action plan that will allow government aircraft to bring home stranded Japanese following the overseas outbreak of a new type of pandemic influenza, it has been learned.

The plan calls for the dispatch of Self-Defense Force's aircraft, including chartered government jets, if an outbreak of influenza leads to the suspension of commercial airline and passenger-ship services, preventing Japanese from returning home. It also refers to treating these people at SDF hospitals after they return.

The plan is expected to be announced as early as March, according to sources.



From Bird flu confirmed in W Canada

An apparently low pathogenic strain of the bird flu has been detected on a turkey farm in western Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said Saturday.

The agency confirmed "the presence of H5 avian influenza (AI) virus" in the farm located in Fraser Valley of British Columbia province, where avian flu has been discovered in recent years.

Further testing is underway to assess the precise strain of the virus, but preliminary tests indicated that it was low pathogenic, the agency said.

"Tests to date indicate that the strain of AI in this case is low pathogenic," said the CFIA.


From US, Japanese Researchers Mix Samples of 1918 Flu Pandemic to Recreate Deadly Code

Three genes can turn normal flu into a killer, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers find 30 Dec 2008 Three key genes can turn a regular flu virus into a super killer like the strain that devastated the world 90 years ago and one that could come again, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found in a study involving ferrets. The discovery by a team led by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka could help scientists better recognize new flu strains capable of causing a global epidemic, or pandemic, and develop drugs to ward off any kind of flu, the researchers said. Kawaoka said the goal was to find out why recreate the 1918 flu virus, known as the Spanish flu, was so deadly, killing up to 50 million people.

Researchers recreate 1918 flu pandemic virus --Why? And, why is no one *asking* why? 29 Dec 2008 Researchers have found out what made the 1918 flu pandemic so deadly -- a group of three genes that lets the virus invade the lungs and cause pneumonia. They mixed samples of the 1918 influenza strain with modern seasonal flu viruses to find the three genes and said their study might help in the development of new flu drugs. The discovery, published in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could also point to mutations that might turn ordinary flu into a dangerous pandemic strain. Most flu experts agree that a pandemic of influenza will almost certainly strike again. No one knows when [the US unleashes it] or what strain it will be but one big suspect now is the H5N1 avian influenza virus.



From Chances are the next deadly pandemic will have originated among animals

The businessman was one of the 800 or so people who died from this new disease – severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars for short – during the 2002-03 global outbreak.

The disease is thought to have originated in China's southern Guangdong province in November 2002. When a Chinese professor of respiratory medicine treating people with the syndrome fell ill he travelled to Hong Kong, carrying the virus with him.

By February 2003 it had spread around the world, thanks to the ease and efficiency of air travel. Between March and July 2003, 8,400 probable cases of Sars had been reported in 32 countries.

Like the majority of new and emerging diseases, Sars originated in animals: it is a previously unknown type of coronavirus, which was found in Himalayan palm civets, a raccoon dog and a Chinese ferret badger.

It was also detected among people working in a live animal market in the southern Guangdong area where the outbreak first began. High levels of antibodies to the virus were also found in people trading masked palm civets, which are considered a delicacy in parts of China.

Dr Roland Salmon, director of the National Public Health Service for Wales' (NPHS) Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, said: “It is thought that 60% to 70% of disease are zoonoses – animal diseases – although some people believe that is an underestimate.”

History is littered with deadly examples of animal diseases crossing the species barrier, from plague, which originated in the Himalayan foothills and began to spread when it got into marmots; measles, which is closely linked to the dog distemper virus; HIV, which originated in great apes; to the current concerns about highly pathogenic avian flu H5N1, which has already killed a number of people working in close contact with infected birds.

“Often these diseases don't have any effect, or a minimal effect on the animals themselves,” said Dr Rob Smith an NPHS clinical scientist. “But if it gets into a new host it can present differently. Humans pick up these infections through direct contact by touching the infected animals, by eating food which is contaminated with the animal pathogen – like E.coli O157 – or through another vector, like water.”


From Non-medical sectors told to be prepared for bird flu pandemic

Preparations for a possible bird flu pandemic must involve sectors outside the health field, for sound cooperation to help mitigate the pandemic's impacts, a top official warned Tuesday.

"All sectors have to possess plans on pandemic preparedness, including the private sector and community groups," said Bayu Krisnamurthi, executive director of the National Commission on Bird Flu Preparedness.

"There is no single country in the world fully ready to face the global pandemic, including Indonesia."


From House-passed stimulus bill includes pandemic funding

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic stimulus bill that included funding for pandemic influenza and bioterrorism countermeasures, and now the Senate will debate its version of the measure, which also includes spending on some of the same items.

President Barack Obama and several Democratic legislators have hailed the public health spending provisions as a way to create jobs and boost the productivity of the American workforce. However, some lawmakers oppose spending provisions, particularly those aimed at government departments.

The House bill includes $900 million for biomedical advanced research and development, pandemic flu, and cyber security to help the nation better prevent or respond to a natural or man-made biological threat, according to a Jan 15 statement from Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington, DC.

The House plan also includes $3 billion for disease prevention, including funding for state and local health departments and immunization programs, and $20 billion for health information technology.

Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in the statement, "This is an unprecedented one-time investment in public health." In 2008, a TFAH expert panel reported that the country faces annual $20 billion shortfalls in critical public health program funding across state, local, and federal levels.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) said in a Jan 15 statement that federal support for effective public health programs has eroded steadily over several years. "This (House) bill would reverse that course and set the stage for an emphasis on wellness in forthcoming discussions of reform of the nation's health system," the group said.

On Jan 27 TFAH released a statement applauding the Senate Appropriations Committee for including $16 billion for public health in its version of the stimulus bill. "This funding is desperately needed to revitalize and modernize the country's ailing public health system, and we'll be putting more Americans to work in programs that will directly improve the health of communities where they live," Levi said.

The Senate bill includes $870 million to complete funding for the nation's pandemic influenza plan. It also includes $5.8 billion for prevention and wellness efforts, including $600 million to boost the healthcare, and $5 billion toward the modernization of health information technology.

TFAH said the Senate's stimulus bill includes funding to modernize the nation's capacity to respond to a pandemic outbreak, along with equipment and medications to detect, contain, and treat pandemic influenza.

Yesterday the House passed its stimulus measure by a 244-to-188 margin, with Republicans unanimously opposing the bill. It's unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority.

Senate debate on the bill could begin as early as Feb 2, the Associated Press reported today.


From Pandemic Alert! Could a Cough Detector Be the Future of Airport Security?

In the near future, every American will have a digital avatar made with real life census data, to help predict the spread of infectious diseases. But what about when we're traveling? Jared Diamond holds that air travel can hastened the spread of pandemics all over the world. Enter a Belgian company called Biorics , which has developed a device that can reportedly enable airport security to tell whether someone is carrying a pandemic virus by the sound of their cough.

The company's plan is to place multiple microphones in the waiting areas of airports, and then process the sound to get rid of background noise. By singling out cough sounds from regular cell phone conversations and airport chatter, the device can supposedly tell if a person is just clearing their throat, or if they have a cough that indicates they are infected with a virus. The loudness of the cough would help authorities locate the sick person.



From MN Department of Health issues pandemic flu plan

The numbers sound frightening. If a flu pandemic like the one of 1918 strikes, up to a third of Minnesota's population could become sick. Over 32,000 Minnesotans might die. Normal health care and emergency services and the distribution of essential goods could be crippled.

So say officials at the Minnesota Department of Health, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics.

And because of that potential threat, officials on Friday took another step in the state's preparations for a severe global flu pandemic. They released for public scrutiny and comment two reports with draft ethical frameworks for allocating critical health care resources during a pandemic.


From Is China Covering up a New Bird Flu Epidemic?

Is China covering up a new outbreak of bird flu? Certainly there seems to be very strong evidence it is. There have already been eight reported cases of humans contracting the potential deadly H5N1 virus, from which five people have died this year. And despite the fact that Hong Kong officials have been finding dead birds infected with the virus washing up onto its shores in recent days from the mainland, China has not made any official statement concerning an outbreak among birds. At least one Hong Kong health adviser to the government, Lo Wing-lok, says the government “just isn't admitting” to the problem.

If this is true, both Chinese health officials and the state media must share the blame. Surely after so many human infections people must be asking questions of how the caught the virus, as human to human transmission is highly unlikely. But China has a horrible track record of squelching bad news at the cost of public safety, usually with the complicity of the local media. Back in 2003 Guangdong provincials covered up the SARS epidemic for 22 weeks before informing neighboring Hong Kong. By that time it was too late, and nearly 300 people died of SARS in Hong Kong, as did hundreds more worldwide. You would have thought that China had learned its lesson back then.

Latin America proves neoliberalism is bust

 On Oct. 9, 1967, Che Guevara faced a shaking sergeant Mario Teran, who was ordered to murder him by the Bolivian president and the CIA, and declared: “Shoot coward, you're only going to kill a man.”

The climax of Stephen Soderbergh's new two-part epic, Che, in real life this final act of heroic defiance marked the defeat of attempts to spread the Cuban revolution to the rest of Latin America.

But 40 years later, the long-retired executioner, now a reviled old man, had his sight restored for free by Cuban doctors, paid for by revolutionary Venezuela in the radicalized Bolivia of President Evo Morales. Teran was treated as part of a program that has seen 1.4 million free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors in 33 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is an emblem both of the humanity of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and Guevara's legacy, but also of the transformation of Latin America, which has made such extraordinary cooperation possible.

The 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this month has already been the occasion for a regurgitation of Western media tropes about pickled totalitarian misery, while next week's 10th anniversary of Venezuelen President Hugo Chavez's time in power will undoubtedly trigger a parallel outburst of hostility, ridicule and unfounded accusations.

The fact that Chavez, still commanding close to 60 percent popular support, is again trying to convince the Venezuelan people to overturn the US-style two-term limit on his job will only intensify such charges, even though the change would merely bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain.

But it is a response that utterly fails to grasp the significance of the wave of progressive change that has swept away the old elites and brought a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments to power across the continent, from Ecuador to Brazil, Paraguay to Argentina, which is challenging US domination and neoliberal orthodoxy, breaking down social and racial inequality, building regional integration and taking back resources from corporate control.

That is the process which last week saw Bolivians vote, in the land where Guevara was hunted down, to adopt a sweeping new Constitution empowering the country's long-suppressed indigenous majority and entrenching land reform and public control of natural resources — after months of violent resistance sponsored by the traditional white ruling class. It's also seen Cuba finally brought into the heart of regional structures from which Washington has strained every nerve to exclude it.


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Students in pursuit of 'Happiness' now

The woman, a neat and poised gray-haired senior, is answering a simple question: Are you happy?

Posed by a trio of teenage girls from far north suburban Grayslake, the woman explains that her husband's death has pushed happiness to the back burner -- for now. "Prior to that, yes,'' she says of happiness. "And I will be again.''

The teens' project is a redo of sorts of a documentary made 41 years ago in Chicago by Kartemquin Films, best known for the 1998 basketball study "Hoop Dreams." In 1968, Kartemquin's Gerald Temaner and Gordon Quinn took to the streets with a pair of young religious sisters to make "Inquiring Nuns,'' an exploration of happiness in those tumultuous times.

Back then, no one mentioned "gratitude journals.'' People spoke of Vietnam and racial unrest and cultural revolution. Said one hippie-ish girl back then, "Maybe people aren't ready for it but they better get ready for it. The world is changing and, man, you can't lag behind."

After reading in the Sun-Times last March about a 40th anniversary screening of "Inquiring Nuns" at the Chicago History Museum, Scott Swisher, a Grayslake Central High School social studies teacher, proposed to his students a re-creation of the documentary. They would return to some of those same Chicago places -- in the Loop, outside a Hyde Park grocery, at a black parish in Chatham and at area museums -- and take the temperature of happiness in the 21st century.

For many people in 2008, contentment was as close to happiness as they could get.

In 1968, happiness seemed to be a state that was interrupted by moments of unhappiness. In 2008, when the high school students posed their question, happiness seemed to be a fleeting feeling that provided relief from the humdrum, the Grayslake students said.

"I think a lot of people say they're happy when they're just feeling OK,'' says a young woman filmed last year outside a Hyde Park market in "Happiness -- Forty Years Later." "You can't be happy all the time.''

"I'm certainly content,'' said another young man, sitting on the steps of the Art Institute. "You want to see happiness? This is happiness right here: A chocolate chip cookie -- you break in half and share it."

His friend offers, "I think we live in a society where we strive for an illusion of happiness which doesn't actually exist.''

Gordon Quinn, one of the original makers of "Inquiring Nuns," recently viewed the new version at Grayslake Central and was struck by how so few people in 2008 mentioned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (compared to the Vietnam preoccupation 40 years ago) and how many of those interviewed last year had difficulty expressing themselves.

Of the war, Quinn suspects that the all-volunteer military has distanced many Americans from the realities of military service compared to 1968's draft which, potentially, could put all young men in harm's way. "People were more connected to Vietnam,'' he said in an interview.

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Is revolution brewing in America?

The deep depression that started in America has already triggered violence in many places around the world and is being played out in Europe and elsewhere with increasing violence and other forms of social unrest are spreading around the globe. In Iceland for example the government has already fallen.

Hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens have marched in Zaragoza in protest to the failing economy and reacting to the great lose of jobs as Spanish unemployment heads towards 20 per cent. There have been riots and bloodshed in Greece, protests in Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Mexico and Bulgaria. The police have suppressed public discontent in all these countries including Russia.

The question many are asking is this discontent going to spread around the world as things get even worse?
As things deteriorate around the globe economically Americans are starting to realize what a bad place they are finding themselves in and that Americans for the first time since the great depression are losing jobs at an alarming rate, losing their homes, savings and the way of life they have grown accustom to.

Americans, the very people who the big banks, Wall Street and corporations made their massive fortunes from are now being forced by the United States Government to bail out those same companies. The price tag, that many believe will be in the trillions of dollars and are being given to those same companies in the form of American tax dollars. Those very same companies are being rewarded for failing, yet the American citizen is expected to weather the storm and do all the suffering without any help.

Many predict that there will be rioting in the streets of America too and that may be the reason the U.S. government is building detention camps all over the states and more are expected.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., has introduced to the House of Representatives a new bill, H.R. 645, calling for the secretary of homeland security to establish no fewer than six national emergency centers for corralling civilians on military installations.

Jerome R. Corsi a reporter for the WorldNetDaily reports that the proposed bill, which has received little mainstream media attention, appears designed to create the type of detention center that those concerned about use of the military in domestic affairs fear could be used as concentration camps for political dissidents, such as occurred in Nazi Germany.

The bill also appears to expand the President's emergency power, much as the executive order signed by President Bush on May 9, 2007, that gave the President the authority to declare an emergency and take over the direction of all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments without even consulting Congress.

Corsi further reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has awarded a $385 million contract to Houston-based KBR, Halliburton's former engineering and construction subsidiary, ( based in Dubai) to build temporary detention centers on an "as-needed" basis in national emergency situations.

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The whole world is rioting as the economic crisis worsens -- why aren't we?

At least in Western Europe, cries of "burn the shit down!" are being heard in countries with some of the highest standards of living in the world -- states with adequate social safety nets; countries where all citizens have access to decent health care and heavily subsidized educations. Places where minimum wages are also living wages, and a dignified retirement is in large part guaranteed.  

The far ends of the ideological spectrum appear to be gaining currency as the crisis develops, and people grow increasingly hostile toward the politics of the status quo.

The Financial Times quotes Olivier Besancenot, a young leader of "France's extreme left," promising "to reinvent and re-establish the anti-capitalist project." "We want the established powers to be blown apart," Besancenot said. Europe's far right is gaining momentum, too, using the economy and populist outrage over immigration to gain a legitimacy it hasn't enjoyed in some time. 

Notably absent from the list of countries where the economic crunch is rending the social fabric is the good ole US of A, a state with the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy world.

Outside of a few scattered and quickly contained protests, the citizens of the U.S. -- a country born of revolution, but with an elite that's been terrified of that legacy since immediately after its founding -- have been calm, despite opinion polls showing that Americans are more dissatisfied with the direction in which the country has been headed since they began measuring such things.  

It's a baffling disconnect, considering that real wages for all but the top 10 percent of the economic pile haven't increased in 35 years.

It's more bizarre still when you consider that while European governments have handled their own bailouts relatively transparently, the U.S. government has doled out close to $10 trillion in bailouts, loan guarantees and fiscal stimulus -- if there were a million-dollar bill, that would be a stack of 10 million of them -- with a stunning lack of oversight or accountability.

Even the congressional commission charged with overseeing key parts of the banking bailout can't get answers to basic questions like "who's getting what?"

Americans are rightfully angry about that state of affairs, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask. 

In a 2006 interview with Harper's, Barack Obama shared a subtle, but rather fundamental observation about America's political culture: "Since the founding," he said, "the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary."  If there is to be positive change, Obama has argued, it must be gradual; "brick by brick," as he put it in one of his final campaign speeches.

Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, argues that Americans have been beaten down to a degree that they're now a pacified population, largely willing to accept any economic outrage its elites impose on them.

~ more... ~

Nuclear weapon mistakes force major overhaul of Air Force operations

The first reports weren't wrong. While Air Force policy is to neither confirm nor deny reports involving nuclear weapons, then-Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne made what he called a "one-time exception" to that policy weeks later when he confirmed reports that airmen unwittingly had transported six nuclear missiles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Aug. 30, during what was to have been a routine transfer of unarmed cruise missiles for eventual elimination under international treaties. "We would not be this upset with ourselves nor be striving to restore confidence if this did not involve nuclear weapons," Wynne said at the time.

A Way Forward

The incident sparked a series of internal and external investigations that revealed widespread erosion of nuclear expertise, discipline and capability across the service. Six months after the Minot-Barksdale incident was reported, the Pentagon discovered that military officials mistakenly shipped intercontinental ballistic missile nose-cone fuse assemblies to Taiwan in 2006 (Taiwan hadn't asked for the sensitive nuclear components; it had instead ordered helicopter batteries). Defense Secretary Robert Gates immediately appointed Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald to investigate the erroneous shipment. Donald, director of naval propulsion, holds the senior military position dedicated to nuclear safety. While his report remains classified, it prompted Gates to take the unprecedented step of firing Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Michael "Buzz" Moseley in June.

Gates attributed the chain of failures in both events to an erosion of performance standards, poor leadership and oversight, the lack of a critical self-assessment culture within the Air Force nuclear program and a weak inspection program.

"The focus of the Air Force leadership has drifted with respect to perhaps its most sensitive mission," Gates said. For men and women like Sutter, who came of age during the Cold War and devoted their professional lives to the highly valued and uniquely potent world of nuclear deterrence, that erosion has been deeply disturbing. "It certainly didn't meet the zero-defects standards that those of us who grew up in this business knew," Sutter says of the Minot-Barksdale incident. It was the first time in 40 years nuclear warheads are known to have been transported on a bomber, following a 1968 prohibition of the practice.

"There's no way to minimize this," says Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston, who is assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, a newly created position. "This was extraordinary in every way."

Alston has the unenviable task of righting the listing ship of nuclear stewardship in the Air Force. The day the B-52 air crew flew the nuclear warheads across the country, Alston was closing on a new house in the Washington suburbs where he was about to become director of space and nuclear operations at Air Force headquarters. He learned about the incident his first day on the job.

The service's initial investigation, which remains classified, found an erosion of weapons-handling standards at both Minot and Barksdale, said Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, during a briefing for reporters weeks after the incident. Newton outlined five steps airmen in various organizations failed to follow for handling nuclear weapons, but he said the breaches represented an "isolated incident."

But an unclassified report by the Defense Science Board in February 2008 concluded that problems ran much deeper. Among other things, the review found significant confusion among Air Force personnel about the delegation of responsibility and authority for movement of nuclear weapons.

After the Defense Science Board reported its findings, Air Force leaders removed Alston's space duties so he could devote himself entirely to improving nuclear capability within the service. In June, after Moseley and Wynne were ousted, he was tapped by then-acting secretary Michael Donley (since confirmed) to lead a task force in developing a roadmap to restoring accountability and credibility to the nuclear mission.

~ more... ~

Don't expect U.S. to create democracy in Iraq (lessons from Greece)

By Mickey Z.

7 December, 2006
Countercurrents.org

It would be nice to believe that the U.S./British invasion of Iraq may have been horribly mishandled but the motivation behind it was sincere. After all, it's a timeless classic: toss out a depot and introduce democracy. However, even the most perfunctory glance at previous U.S./British ventures would promptly expose the lies. An excellent example is post-WWII Greece.

Before the (so-called) Good War, Greece was a right-wing monarchy and dictatorship, but German occupation gave birth to a civil war. The National Liberation Front (EAM), an extremely popular left-wing group, and the People's Liberation Army, the guerilla resistance wing of EAM, gained the support of the masses and were largely responsible for Greece being relatively Nazi-free by the time the British army arrived in late 1944. Viewing EAM's early support by the Greek Communist Party and its tendency towards unrealistic slogans like education for the illiterate and welcoming women as soldiers as a precursor of what post-war Greece may be like, a British army of intervention promptly stepped in to restore the right-wing dictatorship.

In response to the inevitable jailing and repression of regime opponents and trade union leaders, a left-wing guerilla movement sprang forth. By the fall of 1946, this friction led to civil war. Great Britain, no longer able to extend itself globally, was unable to handle the rebellion and called on the U.S. for help. "Thus it was," explains author William Blum, "that the historic task of preserving all that is decent and good in Western Civilization passed into the hands of the United States."

The U.S enthusiastically took on the task of ferreting out communist traitors (despite the fact that the Greek rebels were not receiving any aid from the Soviet Union) by setting the standard for its Cold War interventions: it sent military advisors and weapons to Greece. "In the last five months of 1947," writes Howard Zinn, "74,000 tons of military equipment were sent by the United States to the right-wing government in Athens, including artillery, dive bombers, and stocks of napalm. Two hundred and fifty army officers, headed by General James Van Fleet, advised the Greek army in the field." Foreshadowing the tenor of future U.S. entanglements, Van Fleet advised the Greek authorities to forcibly remove Greek citizens from their homes in an effort to isolate the guerillas and drain their popular support.

By 1949, the civil war was over. With the leftist rebels defeated and "outside influences" removed, Greece was free to not only maintain its high levels of poverty and illiteracy in peace, but it could now do so with the help of investment capital from Esso, Dow Chemical, and Chrysler.

Two decades later, within the context of a slightly warmer Cold War, the U.S. had to intervene yet again in the domestic affairs of Greece. When liberal Prime Minister George Papandreou was elected in 1964, it did not sit well in Washington. Things went from bad to worse when Greece further annoyed its superpower benefactor by squabbling with Turkey over Cyprus, and then objecting to U.S. plans to partition the island. Democrat Lyndon Johnson summoned the Greek ambassador for a brief-and very instructive-lesson on how America handles its affairs. "Fuck your parliament and your constitution," said LBJ. "America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me a talk about democracy, parliament, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long."

Within a year, the Greek Royal Court was able to unseat Papandreou. It was later revealed that CIA Chief-in-Station in Athens, John Maury, had helped King Constantine in 1965 in the toppling of the Papandreou government. As new elections became inevitable, however, the CIA threw its considerable weight behind Colonel George Papadopoulos who had been on the Agency payroll for 15 years. Before that, he served as a captain in Nazi Security Battalions during the German occupation of Greece. The elephant most certainly did whack the flea in early 1967 when Papadopoulos seized control in a coup. Parliamentary democracy was abolished, while torture, oppression, and political murder became standard policy.

One year after the coup, the Papadopoulos military junta dutifully contributed $549,000 to the Nixon-Agnew election campaign. When the U.S. Senate called for an investigation to discern whether or not the CIA originally funneled this money to the junta, the investigation was swiftly cancelled...at the direct request of certain Mr. Kissinger.


The moral of this story: Iraqis hoping for democracy shouldn't hold their breath.

Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.


~ source ~


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