Hariri calls for religious co-existence

[Saad Hariri sounds like he could potentially be the kind of realistic leader that Lebanon dearly needs.  His breaking with the Saudi/American-led ploy, otherwise known as the “Welch Club,” his public acknowledgment that Israel was the greatest threat to Lebanon and the region, and now his call for religious co-existence, gives me hope that he is the man of hope that we have all been watching for.]

Hariri calls for religious co-existence

By The Daily Star

Hariri calls for religious co-existence

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed on Friday the need to preserve the presence of Christian communities within Lebanon in order to set a worldwide example of coexistence among religions.

Hariri made his statements to News Rai Italian television ahead of his arrival in Italy on Friday where he is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi Saturday.

Separately, President Michel Sleiman is scheduled to arrive in Russia on Wednesday on a two-day official state viAsit during which he is scheduled to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Dimitri Medvedev at the Kremlin and meet several other Russian top officials.

For his part, Hariri urged Italy to pressure Israel to take part in peace negotiations, adding that Arab states wanted peace with Israel but stressed that the Israelis were divided and were seeking war against Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

“Israel cannot pretend to show interest in the peace process without taking any practical steps,” Hariri said while underscoring the Lebanese government’s commitment to the implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hariri also highlighted daily Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty which he described as unacceptable.

Asked about accusations of arms flows from the Syrian border to Lebanon, Hariri said: “Israel knows well what to offer to Syria, [which is] the return of the occupied Golan Heights annexed during the July 1967 war.”

“Israelis know what to do, so why not do it? Israel always pretends that the problem lies with the Palestinians’ internal divisions, but the truth is that there are divisions among the Israelis,” Hariri added.

Another step in the process of national reconciliation is scheduled to take place in Lebanon this weekend, when Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun heads to Mukhtara, to meet with the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt

The meeting between the leaders is considered as part of reconciliation efforts among residents of Mount Lebanon to promote unity in the Chouf, the FPM announced Thursday.

Thousands of Christian families fled their villages and have not yet returned after clashes between the Druze and Christian communities in the Chouf during Lebanon’s Civil War.

Jumblatt has also recently held a series of meetings with Hizbullah officials, including the party’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as part of the Druze leader’s rapprochement with groups in the parliamentary minority after his withdrawal from the March 14 alliance following the June 2009 general elections. – The Daily Star

Even Christians Become Violent Mobs Over Goofy Pictures

[Forgive me for the following blasphemous picture.  What would have been the reaction if this had been a picture of Mohammed (PBUH)?  What kind of despicable human being would put this in a first grade children's book?]

Objectionable Jesus poster sparks violence in Punjab town

Batala (Punjab): An indefinite curfew was imposed in this Punjab town Saturday after tension prevailed following the publication of a poster depicting Jesus Christ in an objectionable manner. Clashes also broke out as some members of the Christian community forced shopkeepers to down shutters.

The curfew was imposed after members of the Christian community came to know about the poster, depicting Jesus Christ holding a beer can in one hand and what appeared to be either a cigarette or a chicken leg in the other.

They started gathering in the town and forced the shopkeepers to close their shops, leading to clashes. The police intervened when they tried to burn a few buildings.

Batala, 40 km from Amritsar, has a sizeable Christian population and several leading schools and other institutions have been run by the community for the past several decades.

The curfew will continue till further orders, officials said here.

Punjab police chief P S Gill said a case had been registered against the printer of the objectionable poster.

“The printing press in which the controversial poster was printed had been sealed and a case has been registered against the accused at the police station in Jalandhar’s Division No. 4.

“Additional forces have been sent to sensitive areas to restore the confidence of the people,’”Gill said in Chandigarh, 250 km from here.

2008 recorded maximum number of communal incidents in last five years: Govt

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state home minister, condemned the act and said no one would be allowed to disturb the peace of the state.

Pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in the other in a book for primary classes triggered a row in Meghalaya on Friday. The objectionable pictures were found in the cursive writing exercise books at a school in Shillong.

The Catholic Church in India has banned in all its member schools New Delhi-based Skyline Publications for printing the pictures in class 1 cursive writing books.

Cigarette-holding Jesus in textbook triggers row

2010-02-19 11:12:00
Last Updated: 2010-02-19 11:24:15
Shillong: Pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in another in a book for primary classes has triggered a row in Meghalaya and the state government is now contemplating legal action against the New Delhi-based publisher.

The objectionable pictures of Jesus Christ found in the cursive writing exercise copies at a private school in capital Shillong was brought to the notice of the influential church by some guardians.

“We are shocked and hurt by this act where Jesus Christ has been portrayed in a highly objectionable manner…we condemn the total lack of respect for religions by the publisher,” Dominc Jala, the Archbishop of Shillong, said.

New Delhi-based Skyline Publication produced the copies meant for students of Class 1.

“Just imagine students at such an impressionable age being dished out objectionable images which are nothing but blasphemous,” said T. Jrwa, another church leader.

The Meghalaya government acted swiftly by confiscating all the copies from the school and also from book shops.

“Although private schools are not bound by the prescribed textbooks of the Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education, still we took immediate action by seizing all the copies and if deemed fit we might even take legal steps,” said Meghalaya Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh.

Also read: Sea of secrets: Over 5,000 new marine species found

An estimated 72 percent of the 2.32 million people in Meghalaya are Christians.

Does “CIA Post In Karachi” Mean Blackwater?

CIA post in Karachi helped catch top guns of Taliban

By Our Correspondent
“The ISI and the CIA are working together, with the Americans providing actionable intelligence and the Pakistanis acting together with them” to hunt the insurgency’s leaders, a Pakistani official told the paper. – Photo by AP.

WASHINGTON: Pakistan allowed the US Central Intelligence Agency to set up a post in Karachi and the data collected by this post led to the arrest of a key Taliban commander and two ‘governors’, officials said.

Describing this as “a high-level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan,” The Washington Post reported on Friday that it signalled a major change in Islamabad’s attitude towards the Taliban movement.

This enhanced cooperation between the CIA and the ISI led to the arrests of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, and two Taliban shadow governors for northern Afghanistan, the report said.

“The ISI and the CIA are working together, with the Americans providing actionable intelligence and the Pakistanis acting together with them” to hunt the insurgency’s leaders, a Pakistani official told the paper.

The Post noted that Pakistan’s decision to aggressively search for Afghan Taliban leadership reflected a shift that had been in the works since autumn last year when US President Barack Obama wrote to President Asif Ali Zardari.

The letter offered additional military and economic assistance and help in easing tensions with India.

The Post noted that with US facilitation, India and Pakistan had agreed to restart their stalled talks. President Obama’s letter also contained a warning that Pakistan’s use of insurgent groups to achieve policy goals would no longer be tolerated.

The arrests of Mullah Baradar and other leaders represented “major progress,” a US intelligence official told the Post. “No one has forgotten Pakistan’s complex history with the Taliban. But they understand how important this is to the United States, the region and to their own security.”

The CIA post in Karachi intercepted communications which were later handed over to ISI officials. The two agencies then planned a joint operation to catch Mullah Baradar and ‘governors’.

Final agreement on the operation came in the last week of January.

The detentions, which have taken place since early last week, were initially kept secret to allow intelligence operatives to use information gleaned from the captured men to reach other militants.

The Post claimed that the arrests offered evidence of something that has long been suspected: Top Afghan Taliban leaders have found refuge across Pakistan, particularly in its cities, something the government long denied.

Give peace a chance

[The wisest and most effective measures that either Pakistan or India could take at this time to defeat the plans of its enemies, as well as its friends who act like enemies, would be to make peace.  The military plans of both nations revolve around their relationship with the United States, especially their plans to acquire new arms, even though America is going down like a sinking ship.  Do not let us drag you down with us.  Put an end to the American machinations that seek to guarantee our survival at the pinnacle of power by bringing about your demise.]

Give peace a chance

With the army now adding, arguably justifiably, the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine to the list of concerns, the whole process may have become unwieldy and could become a case of talking for talks sake. – File photo

“IF you restrict the dialogue to the area of your interest, then you’re defeating the purpose — there are our interests as well.” Well said, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The minister’s remarks were made in the context of India’s ‘terrorism first’ demand when it comes to talks with Pakistan. The push for talks, though, has got some impetus in recent weeks. While the meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan on Feb 25 is expected to be no more than an ice-breaker, a sensible approach by both sides could at least expedite the possibility of meaningful talks. Presently, the onus is firmly on India to show some flexibility. While the trauma of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai may not have been grasped fully in Pakistan, relations between states cannot be determined purely by emotions. And even if the Indian reaction was a hard-nosed one, the calculations it was based on have not worked out: the world community has rebuffed India’s attempts to isolate Pakistan internationally. So with the approach having run its course, now is the time for India to return to the table and resume talks.

Here on the Pakistani side, the approach taken must also be reassessed. First, terrorism. Yes, the state has its hands full in dealing with various internal threats to the country but it must also demonstrate its bona fides to India. During the first few rounds of the composite dialogue, issues that irked India the most — cross-LoC infiltration and public statements by militant leaders against India — were curbed to an extent. The comments by Hafiz Saeed some days ago, in which he reiterated that Kashmir was a ‘core issue’ but refrained from issuing threats or beating the war drum, could fit into that desired pattern. Second, Pakistan must reassess the utility of the composite dialogue at this stage. Perhaps it is a mechanism that has run its course and can offer no further ‘major’ breakthroughs. With the army now adding, arguably justifiably, the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine to the list of concerns, the whole process may have become unwieldy and could become a case of talking for talks sake. Perhaps what is needed then is a simplification: address the big issues directly and head-on, and then take on the smaller concerns. Nothing will change for the better unless both sides rise to the occasion. Our advice: focus on the opportunities, not just the threats.

If We All Came Clean Would the War of Lies Suddenly End?

Secrets, spies and lies

By Irfan Husain
The truth about drone attacks, training of FC by the Americans, the arrest Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Quetta Shura, the Kerry-Lugar bill and many other issues have been hidden from the public which in turn whips up anti-American sentiments. – File photo
OBTAINING the truth from governments is not unlike yanking out healthy teeth firmly attached to the jaw: both cause acute pain and resistance.

Take the recent judgment in Britain that forced the government to reveal details of the torture that Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, went through following his arrest in Pakistan after 9/11. Held in American custody in a number of countries for seven years, he ended up in Guantanamo from where he was finally released last year without being charged.

The British government argued that revealing such sensitive information might endanger the intelligence-sharing arrangement it has with the United States. However, for once their lordships were not having any of this routine foot-dragging, and ordered the release of the information.

In Pakistan, the state routinely classifies the most mundane documents as ‘secret’, and insists on keeping the public in the dark. Loftily, government functionaries inform us that while we must foot the bill, we are not grown up enough to know the truth. More often than not, these clandestine policies blow up in our face, and ordinary Pakistanis are left paying the cost in money and in lives.

For years, the Pakistani establishment has played a double game in Afghanistan, and when the Taliban genie escaped from the bottle and began slaughtering innocent Pakistanis, we blamed everybody but our own army and intelligence services. Every country has secrets, but we have raised the art of denial to new levels of dissimulation.

Take the American policy of taking out their Taliban and Al Qaeda foes in Pakistan by using highly advanced drone technology. This has been going on for the last several years with the clandestine knowledge and approval of both the Musharraf and Zardari governments. And yet, every time a drone launches a missile that kills militants (and civilians, unfortunately), there is a hue and cry in Pakistan. The government lodges a complaint with the US, and the media goes into a frenzy of American-bashing.

Nobody is willing to face the fact that more often than not, these drones are launched from a base located within Pakistan. This was publicly declared by an American senator who is a member of the Senate intelligence committee. No Pakistani official contradicted her, and yet everybody from Zardari downwards keeps protesting every time a drone attack takes place.

Similarly, we have American Special Forces training units of the Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency tactics, but the public remains largely unaware of this programme. It was only when three American soldiers were killed in Fata that the media reported their presence.

Recently, when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, was captured in Karachi, the interior minister referred to the report as ‘propaganda’. The question of how long our government was aware of Baradar’s presence has gone unanswered as we denied that the Quetta shura even existed on our soil.

These lies and contradictions have served to confuse the Pakistani public, and to whip up anti-American sentiment. After 9/11, Musharraf did a public U-turn and denounced the Taliban, offering the Americans help in toppling them. Much of the framework for covert joint operations was laid down in those early days, but fearing a backlash from his clerical allies in the coalition that supported him, Musharraf chose to keep most of this military and intelligence cooperation secret.

Under the army’s pressure, Zardari has chosen to continue with Musharraf’s policy of secrecy and prevarication. By insisting that Pakistan plays no part in the drone campaign, for instance, the government seeks to deflect criticism for any civilian casualties to the Americans. This is both shameless and irresponsible. The reality is that the death-by-drones of so many militants in the tribal areas is something that is to our advantage.

By not owning up to a policy in which we are both partners and beneficiaries, we have made it clear that we are unable or unwilling to exercise control over our soil. Indeed, by playing victim instead of a state defending its own people against terrorists, we send out a signal of weakness.

How would we be any worse off by adopting a more open posture? The received wisdom in both Washington and Islamabad is that somehow, public knowledge of Pakistan’s complicity in the drone campaign would destabilise the civilian government. While this may be true today, it surely was not so under Musharraf when the army was very much onside, as it is today.

The reality is that both Musharraf and Zardari have been heavily criticised by the Islamic parties and politicians for their pro-American policies. How would anything change if Zardari were to take the public into confidence? Such a policy of openness would enable the government to proceed without having to go into contortions each time a drone attack is launched.

Currently, the public perception is that the Americans are acting unilaterally, and ignoring Pakistan’s sovereignty. Understandably, this whips up anger each time a Predator or Reaper missile kills militants, as well as the women and children they were hiding behind.

We have seen this anti-Americanism flourish in our media over the years. At the time of the debate (or what passed for one) over the Kerry-Lugar bill, many TV anchors and guests on Urdu channels joined the army-led chorus against this legislation. In a barely literate society where the electronic media plays a key role in forming perceptions, our Urdu TV channels have much to answer for.

By refusing to acknowledge the degree of cooperation between the US and Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, we end up only confusing our people as well as looking incompetent and hypocritical in the eyes of the world. The drone campaign is a solid success by any yardstick. In fact, apart from our army operations in Swat and South Waziristan, it is the only military riposte to have kept the militants on the run. Surely, we should take part of the credit for locating many of the targets.

We need to know who our friends and foes are. And anybody condoning the actions of the terrorists who have killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis is not our friend.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Terrorists Striking Other Terrorists–Ramping-Up Pakistan’s Sectarian Warfare

[SEE: Waging War Upon Ourselves]

LI blames AI for attack, vows revenge


Suicide bombing victims buried

By Said Nazir Afridi

BARA: The banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) on Friday held the rival militant group, Ansarul Islam (AI), responsible for the suicide bombing on its deputy chief and vowed to avenge the attack.

Talking to journalists from an unidentified location by phone, LI spokesman Haji Zar Khan Zar confirmed the death of Azam Khan Afridi and some other militants in the attack and said the deaths would be avenged soon. He said that they had solid proof of Ansarul Islam’s involvement in the attack. He said some political leaders were also behind the attack and their faces would soon be exposed to the public.

However, Haji Naeem Afridi, who claimed to be the AI spokesman in Peshawar, told this scribe by phone that his organisation had no suicide bombers. He said his group always fought the LI face-to-face in battlefield. He said the suicide bomber was prepared by the LI to use him against the AI but the bomber attacked his own mentors. He alleged that the LI was involved in all suicide and bomb attacks carried out against the AI in Peshawar and the Tirah Valley over the past one year.

Haji Naeem challenged Zar Khan, saying if he had any proof of the AI’s involvement in Thursday’s suicide attack, he should show it to the media. Naeem is the brother of Haji Mobeen, the former AI spokesman, killed in a car bombing in Hayatabad, Peshawar, last year. Maulana Mastameen, the elder brother of Haji Naeem, belonging to Qambarkhel tribe, was kidnapped by the LI men from Peshawar about two years ago and was later publicly shot dead in Gugrina, the headquarters of the LI in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area of Khyber Agency.

Meanwhile, 23 victims of the suicide attack were laid to rest in different parts of the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on Friday, sources said, adding that collective funeral prayer was offered for 18 out of the 23 slain men in the Dars Jumaat area.

The remaining five people were buried in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area. Tribal sources revealed that collective funeral prayer was offered for militant commander Azam Khan Afridi and his nephew and they were buried in the Tandi area adjacent to Dars Jumaat in the evening as their bodies had been badly mutilated and could not be identified. A large number of militants and local people participated in the funeral prayers.

Holbrooke Focuses on Central Asia

[Doesn't the rest of the world think it very strange that "al Qaida" has the same mission today as did former CIA Director Wm. Casey, the original author of America's "mujahideen" program, intended to create an Islamic "caliphate" to directly challenge the Soviet Union?  "Militant Islam" and all of its bloody, lofty goals has always been an American psyop.  Every elder statesman of the world and every leader in charge of a state security apparatus knows that this is a fact.]

U.S. warns of al Qaeda threat in Central Asia

By Roman Kozhevnikov

DUSHANBE (Reuters) – Al Qaeda aims to infiltrate Central Asia to train militants and turn the ex-Soviet region into a zone of unrest, a U.S. envoy said on Saturday.

U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke meets Tajikistan’s President Imomali Rakhmon (L) in Dushanbe February 20, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

The West is worried about risks to stability in the vast Muslim region, dominated by authoritarian but secular governments. Analysts believe Islamist militancy could spread into the heart of Central Asia from nearby Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is on a blitz tour of the five “stans” of Central Asia.

“I think the real threat in this region is less from the Taliban but from al Qaeda, which trains international terrorists,” he said on a visit to Tajikistan.

“This is an issue of common concern to the United States and to all the countries of this region. And by all the countries I definitely include Pakistan and China and India.”

Stability in the vast resource-rich region sprawling between China, Russia and Afghanistan is crucial to the West as it lies on a new supply route for NATO-led operations in Afghanistan.

The region’s main home-grown extremist group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), wants to topple Central Asia’s secular post-Soviet leaders and establish strict Islamic rule.

Its fighters were forced out of the region after the end of a 1990s civil war in Tajikistan into Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where its leadership is believed to have established close contacts with al Qaeda, security analysts say.

IMU fighters are now believed to be returning to Central Asia to seed unrest in a region weakened by a protracted economic crisis and people’s frustration with growing poverty.

Holbrooke is also visiting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan during his first trip to Central Asia in his current capacity.

In Uzbekistan, the region’s most populous and ethnically diverse nation, President Islam Karimov told Holbrooke he was eager to work closer with the United States over Afghanistan.

“The leader of our nation … expressed Uzbekistan’s firm determination to further develop U.S.-Uzbek relations in a constructive way in light of efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” the official UzA news agency said.

Relations between Uzbekistan, long under fire over human rights violations, and the United States have improved in recent years as Washington has shifted focus more to security issues in its contacts with Tashkent, diplomats say.

Uzbekistan is now part of the new NATO supply route and Western nations rarely criticise its rights record. Last year the European Union angered international human rights groups by lifting sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan after a violent crackdown by Uzbek troops on protesters in 2005.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Andrew Roche)

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

The Zen of the Mind–We Learn By Forgetting

The mind ‘actively erases memories to create space for new information’

The mind actively erases memories to create space for new information, a new study suggests.

By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent

Scientists believe the breakthrough in understanding how short-term memories are lost solve the mystery of how they are created in the first place.

Scientists have previously speculated that they “drop out” to make room for new ones, but the theory has been difficult to prove.

New research suggests that chemicals in the brain actively remove short-term memories.

And they speed up their work when faced with large amounts of information.

“Learning activates the biochemical formation of memory,” said Yi Zhong of Tsinghua University, in Beijing, who led the study.

“But you need to remove memories for new information to come in.

“We’ve found that forgetting is an active process to remove memory.”

The findings could help scientists to understand how our minds store memories in the first place.

“We still don’t really understand … memory in terms of what is formed and what is erased,” Mr Zhong said.

“The study of forgetting may be a better way to identify the material basis of memory.”

The memories are erased by a protein in the body known as Rac.

When that protein is blocked, the brain retains information for far longer than it would normally.

But Rac is released faster when the brain is attempting to juggle large amounts of information, clearing more space as it is needed.

The study was conducted in fruit flies trained to avoid certain smells.

The flies forgot which odours to evade when confused by new information, the research published in the journal Cell, shows.

But when the scientists turned off the Rac protein the flies remembered the smells for much longer than they had previously, more than a day instead of just a few hours.

The researchers believe that memories could work in the same way for all organisms, and say there has been recent evidence of a similar pattern in mice.

Rac proteins have also recently been linked to intelligence in humans, they add.

Voices From the Haitian Camps

[The distance from Miami and Haiti is 681 miles.  Is it unreasonable to expect from  all of these thousands of soldiers and the hundreds of planes and ships servicing their mess halls that they move enough tents from the mainland to the island in time to shelter the people there from the hurricane season?]

Three in a Million – Voices From the Haitian Camps

Bill Quigley

t r u t h o u t 19 February 2010

The United Nations reported there are 1.2 million people living in “spontaneous settlements” or homeless camps around Port-au-Prince. Three people living in the camps spoke with this author this week, before the hard rains hit.

Jean Dora, 71

My name is Jean Dora. I was born in 1939. I live in a plaza in front of St. Pierre’s church in Petionville [outside of Port-au-Prince]. I am here with twelve members of my family. We all lost our home.

We have a sheet of green plastic to shade us from the sun. We put up some bed sheets around our space. I have many small grandchildren living here with me. My son and daughters live with here too.

My daughter will soon have a child. She will go to the Red Cross tent when it is time for the baby to come.

I worked for the Chinese Embassy for 36 years. I cleaned their offices. I retired in 2007. Until the earthquake I lived in an apartment with my family. The building was destroyed. At night we put a piece of carpet down on the ground. Then we lay covers down and try to sleep. When it rains, the water comes in. We bring bottles to fill up with water. But we have very little food. There is no toilet in the park. We must go behind the church.

My son used to work to support us. He is a good chef. He worked at a restaurant by the Hotel Montana. The restaurant was destroyed. He lost his job. There is no work.

During all my days, I have never seen anything like this. I am not in a good position to say what will happen next. I think things are not going to change. I hope things will get better. But I don’t think so.

My son has no job and he cannot help our family. If my son is working, we can all stand up. If he is not working, we are down.

The future is not clear. It looks dark for us.

Nadege Dora, 28

My name is Nadege Dora. I am 28. I have three boys and one girl. I am supposed to deliver my baby this month.

I now live in the plaza in Petionville with the rest of my family. Our house was destroyed. I used to sell bread on the street to make a little money. The father of the children does not help us. It is as if we are not alive to him.

We are just trying to survive. No one in our family is working. There is no work.

If you get a ticket you can go get a bag of rice. But I am a pregnant woman. I cannot fight the crowds for a ticket. I tried. But people were squashing me and I was afraid I would get knocked down and crushed. My niece helped a woman bring rice back from Delmas [another neighborhood outside of Port-au-Prince]. She shared her rice with us. Right now we still have some rice. But we have no oil. No meat, no milk, nothing but rice. We have no money to buy other ingredients.

Since the earthquake I have never eaten a full meal.

When my baby comes, I will go to the Red Cross tent to have the baby. I went there to see a Doctor. They gave me some pills. Those pills made me sick.

The mayor came here and asked people if we had relatives in the countryside. They would help us go there. But we do not want to go to the countryside. We don’t know anybody in the countryside. We need to have a better life than this.

Garry Philippe, 47

My name is Garry Philippe. I am 47. I live by the airport entrance. I built my own tent. I tied a sheet to a tree and I put up poles to hold up other sheets. I live here with my five children. My wife was killed in our house in the incident. We lived in Village Solidarity. I owned our house. I built our house over 4 years, step by step, as I got the money. I was outside when it happened. My girls were by the front door and ran out. My wife ran back to help the boys and she died.

We had no funeral for my wife because we have no money for a funeral. I buried her myself in a cemetery by Cite Soleil. The children cannot imagine that their mother is gone just like that. They are always thinking about their mother. We do not have beds. When it is time to sleep we put bags on the ground. Then we put our covers on the bags and sleep. We wash ourselves by putting water in a bottle. Then we stand in a pot and pour the water on our selves. When it rained we went to a place where they had a plastic tent. We stayed there till the rain stopped. More than 20 people were inside that tent.

Before, I was a mechanic in a garage. Where I worked was destroyed. There is no work since the quake. We heard other camps got bags of rice. In our camp, nothing. I ask friends for food. Sometimes someone will give us something to eat.

We have no toilet in this camp. When we have to make a toilet, we do it in a bag. Then we bring the bag to the edge of the camp. It is about a one minute walk away.

We see the trucks going in and out of the airport. Many trucks. But the trucks never stop for us.

It is not safe here. But what can I do? I accept it, it is God’s work. We pray in the camp together.

No one has come to talk to us to tell us what is going on. We know nothing about tents or tarps. There is no school for the children.

I cannot tell you exactly what is going to happen next. I am not the Lord. I think it is going to get worse for us in the camps. We need tents and food. We need water and school and jobs. We need help to find a place to stay. The rain is coming soon. Water is going to come and our babies will lose their lives.

:: Article nr. 63472 sent on 20-feb-2010 10:10 ECT
www.uruknet.info?p=63472

Moving Forward With 1960s Nuclear Technology Without Solving the Old Issues

[In keeping with the Reagan/Bush/Obama theme of returning the world to the era before regulations injected sanity and oversight into rampant capitalistic profit-lust, Obama is pushing forward with 1960s era nuclear technology, even though it has not progressed at all.  Even though there is no carbon pollution from a nuke plant, these plants are still dangerous to the local communities in which they are located.   Nuclear power plants transfer enormous amounts of heat into the atmosphere.  If you know the location of a nearby nuke plant then watch the local radar over the site the next time a large snowstorm hits the area--you will see an area on the radar image where the snow falls as rain, due to the high heat being pumped-out.

Nothing has done to solve the waste storage issue.  For the proposed reactors that run for thirty years or more without refueling, normal concrete will not withstand the high heat and radiation for that length of time.

Obama plods forward with his eyes fixed firmly on the past.]

dry-cask-for-nuclear-waste NUCLEAR WASTE: Will fast breeder reactors solve the issue of nuclear waste?
COURTESY OF IAEA

Are New Types of Reactors Needed for the U.S. Nuclear

Renaissance?

Ongoing problems with nuclear waste might resurrect plans for reactors that would leave less of it

By David Biello

On February 16, President Barack Obama announced loan guarantees totaling more than $8 billion for two new light-water reactors in Georgia, part of an initiative to restart the nuclear power industry in the U.S. Just three weeks earlier, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu had announced theformation of a Blue-Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to resolve what to do with the waste produced by those future reactors—as well as the 2,000 metric tons a year produced by the 104 reactors currently in operation in the U.S. After all, the Obama administration has halted plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada—a geologic repository that never opened.

Such struggles to find a permanent resting place for nuclear waste has prompted some to resurrect an idea that stretches back to the Manhattan Project: so-called fast-neutron reactors that can consume nuclear waste through fission. Whether it is billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates touting a new design for a traveling-wave reactor or the South Korean government promoting spent fuel reprocessing and fast breeder reactors, observers and governments seem to think it is time to reconsider fast reactors—despite the fact that the designs have a mixed track record. Since the 1950s, roughly $100 billion has been spent on the research and development of such reactors around the world, yet there is currently only one producing electricity—the BN-600 reactor in Russia, operational since 1980.

The U.S. “is at an impasse over disposing of nuclear waste,” noted physicist Frank von Hippel of Princeton University and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), during a February 17 conference call with reporters that included several physicists, his co-authors on a new report on such fast-neutron reactors. “The interest in these reactors is that fast-neutron reactors are more efficient at fissioning long-lived isotopes…[and]…fissioning long-lived isotopes will minimize the waste problem.”

Going fast with sodium

The most prevalent type of fast-neutron reactor, so-called because the neutrons used to initiate the fission chain reaction are traveling faster than neutrons moderated by water in conventional nuclear reactors, operate at temperatures as high as 550 degrees Celsius and use liquid sodium instead of water as a coolant. Sodium burns explosively when exposed to either air or water, necessitating elaborate safety controls. Nevertheless, as far back as 1951 at Idaho National Laboratory, such a sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor produced electricity.

But attempts to make that technology commercial have largely failed, mostly because of difficulties with controlling sodium fires and the steam generators that transfer heat from the sodium to water. Japan’s Monju sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor caught fire in 1995—and has just received permission to resume operation this month after years of technical difficulties in repairing it, along with legal challenges to its restart. The French Superphenix sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor operated successfully for more than a decade—but only produced electricity 7 percent of the time, “one of the lowest load factors in nuclear history,” said nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider, an IPFM member during the call. An accident at the plant cost one engineer his life and injured four other people when a leftover tank with roughly 100 kilograms of sodium residue exploded, according to Schneider.

Further, such reactors require that the spent nuclear fuel be reprocessed, a technical program that involves extracting plutonium and other fissile materials from the depleted uranium fuel rods. Such elements can then be used in the fast-neutron reactor or mixed with uranium to form so-called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and deployed in a more traditional nuclear reactor. The U.S. had such a program until the 1970s that was briefly resuscitated by the second Bush administration; it was again shelved by the Obama administration in 2009.

Of course, such plutonium and highly enriched uranium are also exactly the isotopes used to fashion nuclear weapons, making the materials security threats. Already, the world has roughly 250 metric tons of such spare plutonium stockpiled, largely concentrated in the U.K. and France, that has been reprocessed but never used as nuclear reactor fuel. That’s enough to make 30,000 “Nagasaki-size” nuclear bombs, according to von Hippel.

Bomb-proof reprocessing
The U.S. Department of Energy is spending $145 million to research a “proliferation-resistant” alternative to current reprocessing methods, and a House of Representatives hearing last June explored future needs for nuclear fuel recycling. Such reactors might also help address a potential deficit in uranium supplies caused by the generally low price of nuclear fuel over the past several decades. U.S. reactors consume some 25 million kilograms of uranium annually but only roughly 1.8 million kilograms of the nuclear fuel are produced in the country, says Amir Adnani, CEO of Uranium Energy Corp., a Texas-based uranium mining company; the remainder comes from mines abroad and other sources. In fact, one in 10 U.S. homes is powered by uranium derived from old Soviet nuclear warheads via the Megatons to Megawatts program, according to Paul Genoa, director of policy development at the Nuclear Energy Institute, but that agreement with Russia expires in 2013.

Fears of such a uranium shortage led India, which has limited natural supplies of the nuclear fuel, to explore another fissile element, thorium, as an alternative. Wrapping highly fissile plutonium in a thorium blanket could produce enough nuclear fuel indefinitely, according to the vision laid out by the architect of India’s nuclear program, physicist Homi J. Bhabha, in 1954. The Indian government is currently building such a prototype fast breeder reactor, despite limited success with a precursor, said Princeton physicist M. V. Ramana during the IPFM call. “The cost of electricity is 80 percent higher than from heavy-water reactors,” he added. Uranium prices would need to increase 15-fold from current levels of roughly $80 per kilogram to make it economically attractive.

Pricey power
Indeed, the cost problem plagues not just efforts to find a way to use nuclear waste, but also the nuclear industry in general—new conventional reactors such as the ones in Georgia that received the White House’s initial loan guarantees could cost at least $7 billion per reactor. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission may have just raised the price after it rejected the initial AP-1000 design for security and safety reasons, insisting that the power plant buildings need more structural strength. Yet the promise of a generator that continuously supplies electricity with low greenhouse gas emissions is driving a government-backed renaissance. Nuclear reactors “produce about 20 percent of our electricity but fully 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity,” Chu noted during a conference call with reporters after the loan guarantee announcements.

Fast-neutron reactors would not improve the economics of nuclear power based on past experience, the IPFM members argued. Nevertheless, China has signed an agreement with Russia to design two 880-megawatt fast-neutron reactors based on the BN-600.

As far back as 1956, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who oversaw both the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion efforts as well as the dawn of the civilian nuclear power industry, cited such sodium-cooledfast-neutron reactors as “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That judgment remains despite six decades and $100 billion of global effort, according to physicist Michael Dittmar of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who wrote, “ideas about near-future commercial fission breeder reactors are nothing but wishful thinking” in a November 2009 analysis.

“For that $100 billion we did learn some things,” remarked physicist Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, during the IPFM call. “We learned that fast reactors were going to cost substantially more than light-water reactors…[and]…that, relative to thermal reactors, they’re not very reliable.”

Traveling-wave reactor

New designs might help with that, such as the traveling-wave reactor from TerraPower touted by Bill Gates recently as part of an effort to get to zero carbon emissions from the energy sector. The proposed technology would employ cores that, starting with enriched uranium, fission over at least 30 years. The cores could theoretically also employ the depleted uranium from existing reactors, as well, thus consuming some of the nuclear waste problem, explains nuclear engineer John Gilleland, president of TerraPower, in a video demonstration

“The idea does have the advantage of being waste-eating. It wouldn’t require reprocessing,” von Hippel said.

But significant materials advances would be required to create a cladding, or cover, for the core that could contain a fission reaction for decades. “It will confront horrendous materials issues in achieving the long lifetime cores that are envisioned,” Cochran argued. And, ultimately, some nuclear waste will remain. “The only thing breeders can do is change the volume of waste,” Ramana insisted. “The issue of nuclear waste disposal is more of a social and political problem than a technical problem.”

The disposal solution of the moment for nuclear waste will likely continue to be fuel rods cooling in water pools before being moved to dry casks sitting on the site of existing reactors—roughly 64,000 metric tons of spent fuel is stored precisely that way today. “There is no problem with that in the short-term. Dry cask storage is very safe,” von Hippel said. “Over the longer term, you don’t want spent fuel at 66 reactor sites indefinitely.”

And even if a fleet of fast-neutron reactors were built, Cochran noted, “you’re not going to eliminate the need for a geologic repository.”

America’s Jilted Lover In New Delhi

America’s Jilted Lover In New Delhi

By AHMED QURAISHI

Saturday, 20 February 2010.

WWW.PAKNATIONALISTS.COM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan army chief has offered to train the Afghan army. This is part of a list of demands – not all of them made public – that seek to correct a basic American mistake: While courting Pakistan as an ally, Washington secretly empowered India.

Until last month, Washington was hoping that India’s relatively cheaper soldiers will come handy where the Europeans won’t, and that a bungled Afghan project could be continued on, well, a leaner budget.

Washington is now in the process of correcting this mistake. And not because of any real change in heart. It’s just that Islamabad is reasserting itself.

This has sent alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. And within the pro-Indian media in Washington.

Exhibit A: an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Let India Train the Afghan Army, written by Indian analyst Sumit Ganguly on Feb. 14. The op-ed could have been written in the national security adviser’s office in New Delhi. The talking points might as well have originated there.

Mr. Ganguly basically begs Washington to consider the Indian army for a role in Afghanistan. Not doing that, he warned, would amount to ‘a grave strategic error’. The op-ed actually ends with these three words.

The Indian analyst sounded almost desperate with his pushy sales pitch [Example: India’s army enjoys ‘an optimal "teeth to tail" ratio, specifically trained in counterinsurgency operations’].

But there are genuine reasons why Mr. Ganguly’s idea is a bad one.

India is one of the reasons for the US debacle in Afghanistan. Back in 2002, self-styled Indian experts on Pakistan and Afghanistan convinced Washington that India can provide better intelligence on extremist groups than the double-dealing Pakistanis. Washington listened. The Bush White House and Pentagon were more than happy to buy Indian theories on who to deal with inside Afghanistan and how to keep Pakistan at bay.

Partly due to this (ill) advice, discredited Afghan warlords were brought on board. Indian intelligence agents were given a lot of space in Afghanistan. New Delhi used this space against Pakistan. Not all of the terrorism inside Pakistan over the past five years is the result of Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Indians misled the Americans not just on the ground in Afghanistan but also in the corridors of Washington’s think tanks. Indian experts offered provocative ideas on how Pakistan is ripe for a redrawing of borders along alleged linguistic and ethnic fault lines, a la Iraq. Bush-era Washington listened eagerly as Indian experts promoted the idea of using these fault lines as a negotiating card with Pakistan to secure its cooperation. This is how a separatist insurgency in Pakistan’s Balochistan province was born in 2005.

Needless to say, Indian involvement backfired. Spices are not good in every dish.

As the Indian fingerprints became clearer, a feeling grew among Pakistanis that Washington took Pakistan for a ride since 2002. Never before in the half-century of US-Pakistani relations has anti-Americanism been this high in Pakistan. It’s totally unheard of.

Now Washington is realizing its mistake and adjusting its Afghan policy accordingly. The United States must not be distracted again.

No one in Washington is really enthusiastic about the Pakistani offer to train the Afghan army. You will not see Wall Street Journal publishing an op-ed advocating Pakistan’s viewpoint anytime soon. But this festering anti-Pakistanism in the US media should give way to a new way of looking at Pakistan, America’s demonized ally.

© 2007-2009. All rights reserved. AhmedQuraishi.com & PakNationalists

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

A Dutch soldier in Afghanistan

Dutch forces have been in Uruzgan since 2006

The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

Mr Balkenende has been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed.

Their deployment has already been extended once.

Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together
Jan Peter Balkenende

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements.

The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote.

Mr Balkenende’s centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato’s request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.

But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende.

When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Nato priority

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet’s resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

ANALYSIS
Gerlaldine Coughlan
By Geraldine Coughlan
BBC News, The Hague

The Defence Ministry says the future of the Dutch mission in Afghanistan depends on the new government.

But a new government may prove difficult to establish.

Opinion polls suggest that a handful of parties may be needed to form a coalition.

They also suggest the right-wing opposition Freedom Party, which has called for an end to the Afghan mission, could be the big winner in the general election.

It was announced after a 16-hour cabinet meeting which ran into the early hours of Saturday morning.

The prime minister said there was no common ground between the parties.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no good path to allow this cabinet to go further,” he said.

The launch in 2001 of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said six months ago when he began his job that his priority was the war in Afghanistan.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Mr Balkenende had been considering the Nato request

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.

Us Geezers and the `Commission’ Plot

[We have always known that the real intentions of the "Reagan Revolution" (and Obama has proven to be more like Reagan than he is like Bush), has been to escalate the perceived military "threat" to this country (and the accompanying burden of defending against that threat) so high that military budget cuts would seem like national suicide.  The military lunatics behind this plan understood that the costs of this plan would bankrupt the country--that was what they wanted.  By waging war upon the American economy, the crazed ideologues of the Reaganites would justify massive budget slashing, but only upon social programs, because of the military threat.  It was reckless suicide for our Nation, but it was deemed a price worth paying by the Reagan gang.  The economic, legislative and military policies of the Reagan Administration have wrecked America, destroying the former American economic powerhouse that could have turned it all around for the good of all mankind, if only there had been the will to do so.]

Us Geezers & the `Commission’ Plot

By Carl Bloice, BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

They’re at it again. Who are they? They are called many
things: “the Establishment,” the “power elite,” the “central
committee of the ruling class,” the “people who really run
this country,” the “political leadership,” and so on. What
are they up to? Having, through willful greed or gross
mismanagement, brought the nation’s economy to a precipice
they have decided, under the rubric of “reform,” to make
somebody pay to put things right again. It’s not just in
this country; it’s behind this business in Greece. In each
and every country in the European Union there is talk of
“austerity” (we tend to avoid the word in our country). And
in every one of them it means attacks on easy access to
healthcare and social security for those in their golden
years. They call such programs, secured after decades of
struggle, “entitlements.” These reform policies are known of
as “neo-liberal,” although there is nothing liberal about
them. They are efforts to renew the project that Lady
Thatcher and Ronald Reagan launched but couldn’t quite
finish. In the U.S. that means eviscerating, and eventually
doing away with, Medicare and Social Security.

Often when these people are divided amongst themselves as to
how far to go, and not wanting to take personal
responsibility for advocating a specific course of action,
they propose a “commission.” You see, cutting back on, or
eliminating, Medicare and Social Security is fraught with
political peril, if for no other reason than old folks vote.
The idea behind the commission is that a “blue ribbon” body
is formed – so many Republican, so many Democrats, a couple
inserted by the White House – and they deliberate. Whatever
proposals they come up with are then debated in congress and
then voted up or down – with no amendments.

You get the picture; nobody gets hurt.

When the proposal to set up the commission–opposed by many
liberal groups, including the AARP, NAACP and the AFL-CIO–
came before Congress in January it was defeated. I’m ashamed
to say it but both California senators, Democrats Barbara
Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, support this scheme.

Opponents of Medicare and Social Security don’t need an
excuse to go after the two programs. They’ve been at it
since the programs were enacted. Right now the backdrop is
the hysteria over the federal deficit. Somebody should pay
to bring it down. Why not those expecting to take advantage
of Medicare and receive the Social Security they have been
paying into all these years? Of course, nobody has the
temerity to suggest looking at the military budget; most of
it is unnecessary (whatever happened to the “peace
dividend”?) and the rest is often inefficient and pork
laden.

So far Congress has failed to come up with the requisite
commission, but don’t hold your breath. What we’re
witnessing is mostly political posturing and positioning.
Some politicians are proposing that the commission consider
tax increases in addition to cuts in social services; some
want taxes off the table, especially any targeted at those
who are profiting most in today’s economic climate. Dollars
to donuts says they will find common ground before you know
it.

The White House has chosen to break the apparent deadlock
but through establishing a commission by executive order
without congressional action. It is said that the Obama
commission would be less of a threat because Congress would
not be obliged to vote its recommendations up or down
without amendments. But there is a caveat: The Democrats
could decide to institute that provision themselves and,
given the spineless crew in charge of the Senate, it’s not
unthinkable that they would do so.

“So an executive commission is better than the alternative,
but also means the fight against the austerity posse is far
from over, ” Bill Scher of the Campaign for America’s Future
wrote after the vote in Congress. “We still need to make
sure any commission does not fire at the wrong targets of
Social Security and Medicare, which are not causing any
long-term fiscal threat. The broader issue of skyrocketing
healthcare costs is the main concern.”

Meanwhile the neo-liberal media drumbeaters and spear
carriers for “reform” are hard at work placing the blame for
delaying the sought for action on seniors.

On February 1, the seniors as selfish freeloaders line got a
full exhibition by New York Times columnist David Brooks.
“Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from
them,” he wrote. They are taking their “money,”  “freedom”
and “opportunity.” He had to have been holding his tongue in
his cheek as he wrote the column, full as it was with praise
for the abilities of the elderly, and issued a call for
“generativity revolution – millions of people demanding
changes in health care spending and the retirement age to
make life better for their grandchildren.” Notice he didn’t
suggest an effort to bring down healthcare costs, but
spending (hint: Medicare) and though he didn’t specify how
many more years he wants seniors to work before retiring he
clearly means beyond 65.5 years old. Maybe in a future
column the 48 year old independently wealthy Brooks will
explain how with unemployment at 10 percent and rising, and
which forces people to work longer, makes any sense. You got
to admit the man’s got nerve.

Actually, there is something quite illogical about Brooks’
argument. There are not two groups involved, the young and
the old. It’s a continuum starting from entrance into the
workforce until retirement. While he says he speaks in the
interest of the young, if there is a severe curtailment of
Medicare and Social Security those hurt most will be the
youngsters when they reach the age where they need them
both.

Brooks is not the only pundit out there spreading the idea
that spending for the elderly is bankrupting the nation.
There been an epidemic of such muttering across the
political spectrum. Columnist George Will has upped the ante
considerably, arguing that Medicare spending could cripple
the nation’s defense and handicap its ability to compete
economically with – you guessed it – China. Writing in the
Washington Post February 4, Will cited an article by
economist Robert Fogel, published by the rightwing American
Enterprise Institute, warning that healthcare expenditures
in the U.S. can be expected to surge because, “By living
longer, Americans will become susceptible to more health
problems. By becoming richer they will be able to purchase
more biotechnologies that make health interventions more
effective…This demographic destiny might entail starving
every other sector of society — including national defense,
at great cost to America’s international standing,” Will
wrote. Then, echoing Vogel’s comment about the increase in
Beijing’s spending on education Will concludes, “While China
increasingly invests in its future, America increasingly
invests in its past: the elderly.”

Meanwhile, on the way-far-out-there right, Star Parker, is
arguing on her web list that African Americans would be
better without Medicare and Social Security (my grandma
Strickland just rolled over in her grave) and the each
program “reflects the inevitable failure of social
engineering.” It time, she write to “Restore an American
retirement system based ownership rather than socialism.”

“Brooks doesn’t specify the exact reforms necessary to
correct this cancer on society, but we all know what they
are,” James Ridgway wrote recently in Mother Jones magazine,
” We need only reduce the entitlements .. That can be
accomplished by setting up an Entitlement Commission,
impartially hand down ‘fast-track’ cuts to old-age
entitlement programs, tell Congress what it has to do, and
get the economy back on course.”

“In other words, when Obama sees the happy-times oldster
lolling about on his houseboat in the Florida Keys, he ought
to react the way Reagan did when he observed the ‘welfare
queen’ who was supposedly ripping off  taxpayers: Cut off
the supply of federal funds, and stop letting the Greedy
Geezers feed at the public trough,” wrote Ridgway.

“In the long run, the Myth of the Greedy Geezer also serves
one of the most cherished items on the conservative agenda:
permanent cuts to core social safety net programs that date
back to the New Deal and the War on Poverty,” wrote Ridgway.
“This is not a good time to be old in America,” Ridgway
wrote in his blog, UnSilent Generation February 10. “In
addition to dealing with the usual burdens of aging-our
aches and pains, and our worries about senility and death-we
now have to contend with a backlash against the supposedly
greedy geezers who insist upon clinging to life in defiance
of the public good.’

“Why should we expect a government handout just because
we’ve worked and paid taxes all our lives? (Never mind that
Wall Street has already decimated our retirement savings
and home values.),” continued Ridgway, “On the other side
we have the champions of age-based care rationing led by
`ethicists’ like Daniel Callaghan, trying to convince us to
go gently into that good night, while our corrupt system of
medicine for profit goes on unrestrained. How would you
like would to be denied a kidney transplant or even a new
hip, on the grounds of enlightened `cost- benefit
analysis,’ while the drug and insurance companies continue
to rake in their profits?”

Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research wrote: “It should be evident that the granny
bashers don’t care at all about generational equity. They
care about dismantling Social Security and Medicare, the
country’s most important social programs. It is important
that the public recognize the granny bashers’ real agenda so
that they can give them the respect they deserve.”

“My guess is that there will be a lot of yelling and they’ll
end up coming up with nothing,” Baker said in a recent
interview. “The whole point is to find some back door way to
cut Social Security and Medicare, because they know such
cuts are hugely unpopular. This is one area where the
Internet has been tremendously helpful in getting the word
out, in preventing this kind of backdoor manipulation that
can fool even well-informed, educated people.”

Commenting on the rightwing “granny bashers,” Ridgeway says:
“This quest just got a potentially big boost from David
Brooks and his `Geezer’s Crusade.’ I just hope we geezers
don’t fall for it.”

[BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is
a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence
for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union.]

A Grain In My Empty Bowl–Shahid Azmi, 1977-2010

[SEE: Hidden Hand Of The Law]

A Grain In My Empty Bowl

A crusader for justice is silenced. Actually not, says AJIT SAHI

SHAHID AZMI
1977 – 2010
image
Incredible life Azmi went from insurgent to rights lawyer, studying law to serve the poor
Photo: DEEPAK SALVI

HAD SHAHID Azmi been gunned down in Russia, China or Iran, his news would have been all over The New York Times the next morning. Working on the principle that the enemy’s enemy is a friend, the western media offer spectacular support to internal dissent against regimes that appear in eternal conflict with western governments and businesses. But Azmi lived and was assassinated in India, fighting the brutal police State that the Indian democracy has become in its dubious war against terrorism. Because the Indian State is hand-in-glove with the western powers, and because India’s dominant middle classes solidly back that relationship, the western or Indian media are unlikely to hail Azmi, who was killed in Mumbai on February 11, as a martyr to the cause of bringing justice to hundreds of the poor, mostly Muslims, falsely accused of terrorism.

But martyr Azmi is, no less than Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist and human rights activist who had already become a western icon for her courageous campaign against Vladimir Putin himself when she was shot dead at her Moscow apartment three years ago. Indeed, Russian, Chinese and Iranian dissidents take much heart from the western might backing them. Azmi’s campaign was, therefore, more courageous, for his work was doubly tainted as he defended “terrorists” allegedly once removed from anti-US terror groups, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

We need to directly ask just who benefits from Azmi’s killing. The answer is a Who’s Who of Indian security: the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau, whose grand constructs on terrorism Azmi demolished each time he won a case. Maharashtra Police despised Azmi, for he represented, mostly successfully, many accused in a string of blast cases. Azmi had been preparing for the defence of dozens arrested since 2008 as members of Indian Mujahideen, which has been linked with last Saturday’s blast in Pune that killed 10 people. Azmi was also actively involved in organising legal defence for many arrested in Gujarat on charges of masterminding and carrying out terror attacks.

Last July, Azmi made enemies at Mumbai’s Central Prison winning a historic ruling from the Bombay High Court against jail warders who had assaulted several terror accused. “I grew up seeing the police barge in night and day in our slum, terrorising and kidnapping people,” Azmi told me on December 11 as we sat chatting after office hours, he on his chair, where he was shot dead exactly two months later. “It bred in me a hatred — nafrat — for the police.”

I first met Azmi in July 2008 while researching a story on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the shadowy outfit blamed for many terror acts. After stonewalling for days, Azmi allowed me an hour’s cab ride with him to the courts downtown. Eventually, he would provide me with facts that comprehensively nailed the fraudulence of the police in framing innocent Muslim men. The state has never challenged my SIMI report that TEHELKA published a month later.

It was Azmi who pressed me to probe the abuse of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), an exposé that my colleague, Rana Ayyub, and I published in TEHELKA last month. I was to return to Azmi this month to work on three cases of 2006, including the train blasts in Mumbai that killed 187 people and the blasts in Malegaon in which 37 people died. Nearly all the accused whom he represented are held on false or forced confessions and zero evidence. Azmi had launched a challenge in the Supreme Court to MCOCA, under which these cases are being tried, claiming that the law is illegal as only Parliament can write anti-terror laws. That judgement is now awaited.

The Home Ministry, Intelligence Bureau, RAW and police all stand to gain from Azmi’s killing

By any account, Azmi led an incredible life: he was only 32 when he was killed. The third of five brothers, Azmi’s life turned the day sword-wielding Hindu fanatics rushed at him as he walked home from school just days after mobs razed the disputed Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh in 1992. A Hindu neighbour saved him. “Shahid was never the same again,” his oldest brother, Arif, said as I sat with him last week at Azmi’s house a block away from his office. One day, at age 16, Azmi upped and left, ending up first in the Kashmir valley, and then across the border, with a gun on his shoulder. But he soon came back, disillusioned with the insurgency.

NONETHELESS, POLICE arrested him from home in 1994 for conspiring to kill India’s top politicians. The only evidence was a confession he never made. Yet, he was given five years. While at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Azmi enrolled for graduation and began writing legal documents for other inmates. Freed in 2001, he came home and joined journalism and law schools. Three years later, he quit a paying sub-editor’s job to join defence lawyer Majeed Memon as a junior at Rs 2,000 a month. “I want to work for the poor,” Azmi told his brother, Arif. It was widely known that Azmi wouldn’t charge any fees from a majority of his clients.

But his past never left him. Some years ago, in a heated moment, Azmi argued in court that even Lord Ram had waged violence to secure justice. The media screamed blue murder. A police case was launched. The judge called in Azmi for a chat. “But it’s true,” Azmi said when the judge cautioned that there were rumours he had been convicted for terrorism. “I wear that conviction as a badge of honour.” The judge told the police he never heard Azmi speak of Lord Ram. The case collapsed. On Monday this week, another judge wept in court. People stood around in silence. Outside that court, Azmi’s long-time lawyer-partner, Saba Qureshi, hung out listless, trying to talk to clients, some beyond grief. “I see him everywhere,” she said, looking out from the balcony. “What will I do?”

But I know what I will do and what Saba should, too. I had just arrived in Chennai on February 11 when I heard that Shahidbhai,as I had come to call him, was dead. Alone in my hotel room, I broke down and wept. My mind went back to the killing in 1991 of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the trade union legend who had organised the tribals in Chhattisgarh and who I had met days before he was shot dead. In the last 18 months, Shahid had come to signify for me a revival of purpose in my life I had rendered barren with years of aimless journalism. That I was hanging out with Shahid meant I was finally moving on my mandate to align with the struggles for justice and empowerment.

My tears ran dry as I roamed the windswept streets of Chennai that night thinking of Shahid. Then Ataur Rahman, the ageing father of two of the accused in the 2006 train blast case, called me from Mumbai. “Ajitsaheb,” Rahman whispered, his voice rock bottom with resignation. “What will happen to us now?” I told him, and I have been telling everyone: Shahid isn’t dead and will never be. I, for one, am far more determined to pursue the path he has shown. Just what bullet can take away the invaluable lesson in courage he has taught me?

WRITER’S EMAIL
ajit@tehelka.com

Hidden Hand Of The Law

[SEE: Mumbai Suspect’s Lawyer Murder Ordered by Crime Boss Chhota Rajan?]

Hidden Hand Of The Law

Mumbai’s ‘patriotic don’ could be behind the recent killings, with official backing, reports RANA AYYUB

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Shootout The Bhendi Bazar area of Mumbai after the failed attack on Asif Dadhi on February 13
Photo: DEEPAK SALVI
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Business as usual A file photograph of Chhota Rajan

HE SAYS he has murdered at least seven of the accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts while they were out on bail. It’s an open secret that in 1998 — allegedly at the behest of Indian intelligence agencies — he also had Nepalese MP Mirza Dilshad Baig killed. His name is Chhota Rajan. Baig, with reported links to the underworld, was becoming an eyesore for the IB. To eliminate its target, the IB is said to have used its favourite trump card, the Chhota Rajan gang. Rajan’s association with the IB grew after he escaped death at the hands of assassins hired by former mentor Dawood Ibrahim in Bangkok in 2000. Subsequently, he started wiping out members of the ‘D Company’, establishing his image as a ‘patriotic don’.

Fast forward to the present. On February 7 this year, Jamin Shah, Mirza Dilshad Baig’s successor and owner of a Nepalese television network, was shot dead. On February 11, Shahid Azmi, prominent human rights and criminal lawyer, was gunned down. On February 13, Asif Khan alias Asif Dadhi was shot but escaped narrowly. A known associate of Chhota Rajan, Bharat Nepali has taken responsibility for both murders, while the attackers of Asif Dadhi have not yet been identified, sources in the Mumbai Police say that it bore the handiwork of a ‘Dawood rival’. They also claim that criminal gangs are attempting to “prove their patriotism” by targeting people who could be dubbed anti-national, thus acting in the interests of intelligence agencies. In some cases, the relationship between the gangs and the agencies is said to be closer: Members of Chhota Rajan’s gang claim that earlier attempts on Jamin Shah’s life were made at the behest of Military Intelligence.

IN A chilling phone call to Jamin Shah’s news channel the night he was murdered, Bharat Nepali warned, “anyone who goes against India will meet the same fate”. Four days later, Shahid Azmi, the lawyer of Faheem Ansari, co-accused in the 26/11 and the 7/11 Mumbai terror attack cases, was murdered. Azmi had managed to disprove several police allegations against Ansari. Bharat Nepali claimed responsibility for this attack as well. Chhota Rajan’s closest aides admitted in a conversation with TEHELKA that Nepali had been staying in Tilak Nagar, Mumbai, a few metres from Rajan’s residence, in the run-up to Azmi’s murder.

While Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria declined to comment, a senior police officer stated, on condition of anonymity, that, “It’s no coincidence that those claiming responsibility for Shahid Azmi’s killing — Ravi Pujari, Bharat Nepali or Santosh Shetty — are either ex-Rajan men or are working at his behest.” For their part, on February 16, the police detained three associates of Nepali, two of whom have worked with Rajan.

Bharat Nepali, common link in the attacks on Shah and Azmi, was inducted into the mafia by Rajan after they met in Bangkok in 2000. He was present at Rajan’s hospital bed after an attempt on the don’s life. For some time now, Rajan is supposedly being coaxed by the agencies to make a return. He is hesitant as the MCOCA case against his wife Sujata Nikalje is still alive. Perhaps for this reason, though he is said to have arranged the murders, he is loath to claim credit.

WRITER’S EMAIL
rana@tehelka.com