Archive for February, 2006

Toll in Iraq’s Deadly Surge: 1,300

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

BAGHDAD, Feb. 27 — Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week’s bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad’s main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday — blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound — and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

New Orleans Puts On Mask for Mardi Gras

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 27 — Mardi Gras revelers along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street Monday night and over the weekend whooped for the marching bands, hollered for celebrities such as Dan Aykroyd, applauded the lavish floats and cried out for the trappings and trinkets tossed by costumed riders as they had for decades, but behind all the merriment and the masks something was missing.

New Orleanians are tired. They are distracted. On the face of it, they seem normal and as lighthearted as ever. But they are not. And so it is with Mardi Gras — the two-week pre-Lenten celebration that ends Tuesday, “Fat Tuesday.” It is exuberant on the outside, strange and different and diminished by loss on the inside.

“What is there to celebrate?” asked Elphamous Malbrue, a 29-year veteran of the New Orleans police as he watched the Krewe of Hermes parade. “The spirit is just not here.”

Total Information Awareness Lives On Inside the National Security Agency

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

And in early 2002, the Pentagon created at DARPA something called the Information Awareness Office and put Poindexter in charge of it, and this office really was meant to build TIA and to look into things like data mining, pattern recognition, software that can translate something from Arabic into English text automatically and kind of tie all these together in a sort of big prototype, which was called at the time “TIA,” and that office was in charge of it.

When news broke that this had been going on for several months, the controversy was sort of fanned, not only by the privacy concerns that are raised by something like this, but also by Poindexter, at least being the titular head and the brainchild of all this, and the program was then shut down, essentially, in name only. In the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, this being the bill that authorizes the government to spend money on defense programs, TIA and most of its components were specifically eliminated under DARPA, and there was sort of a loophole that was left open that funding could continue for certain projects out of the National Foreign Intelligence Program, which is the black budget of the intelligence community.

At that point the project sort of went behind that black curtain, and no one was really sure where they had gone, but what my reporting now has confirmed is that really quickly after Congress shut down TIA at DARPA, a new sponsor came forward, this new sponsor being this Research and Development Office that’s actually housed at NSA headquarters, not far from outside of Washington here, and picked up the projects, changed their names to conceal their identities, kept the same contractors that were working under TIA in place, kept the same language, the same specifications, and really just continued the work, and presumably has expanded significantly from where it was three years ago.

Send in the Clowns (2003) by Rootsie

This newest permutation of ancient conspiracy
with imperial fantasy
of world ascendancy
looks like a clown convention to me.
my, these boys love to play.
The catchy logo of the new
Information Awareness Office IAO
is the good old Masonic pyramid, its hairy eyeball
shooting lurid yellow beam
over an unsuspecting little earth:
“Scientia est Potentia” written underneath
knowledge is power. Well of course.
IAO-“I am the Alpha and the Omega.”
Now there’s some balls.
Apparently they think their big bad
New World Order is in the bag.
They manipulate images
Put finishing touches on oily messages,
But the bag is leaking all over
Its greasy contents smearing everything.
Of the true juju behind those symbols they flaunt
They know not. Not a clue.
If they did, like me and you
they would breathe into peace,
see enough everything for everybody
and be mad lovers.
They don’t look like lovers, not much,
so gray, so overstuffed.
Look the best they can do
is to hold off the new earth coming
this way, impervious to their cartoon ray.
Their silly suits, their sad eyes,
their wizard hats and magic wands-
I think it’s time
we laughed ‘em out of town. Don’t you?

Arundhati Roy: Bush in India: Just Not Welcome

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

On his triumphalist tour of India and Pakistan, where he hopes to wave imperiously at people he considers potential subjects, President Bush has an itinerary that’s getting curiouser and curiouser.

For Bush’s March 2 pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian government tried very hard to have him address our parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was to have Bush address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, where the Indian prime minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we’re into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the only safe public space for a man who has recently been so enthusiastic about India’s modernity should be a crumbling medieval fort?

Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush’s audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of “eminent persons.” They’re mostly rich folk who live in our poor country like captive animals, incarcerated by their own wealth, locked and barred in their gilded cages, protecting themselves from the threat of the vulgar and unruly multitudes whom they have systematically dispossessed over the centuries.

Border Plan Seen as U.S. Conceit

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

MEXICO CITY — “The wall” does not yet exist, and it may never be built, but already the proposed 700 miles of fencing and electric sensors loom like a new Berlin Wall in the Latin American imagination.

The plan for a barrier along the border with Mexico was approved by the U.S. House in December and is scheduled to be debated by the Senate next month.

El muro, as it is called in Spanish, has been in the news for weeks not only in countries such as Mexico and El Salvador that are increasingly dependent on the money migrants send back home, but also those farther away, such as Argentina and Chile. Across the region, el muro is seen as an ominous new symbol of the United States’ unchecked power.

“The U.S. government has fostered an atmosphere of collective paranoia, given a green light to its spies … and institutionalized torture,” Salvadoran novelist Horacio Castellanos Moya said. “The only thing missing was a wall.”

Private Rivers: Will Transnational Water Companies Swallow El Salvador’s Water Supply?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

The office of SETA, El Salvador’s water workers union, sits like a mouse at the elephant’s feet. The union’s plain, two room office sits next door to the huge, block-long two story building which is the headquarters for El Salvador’s national water company, ANDA (National Water and Sewage Administration). Inside the SETA office, union reps equipped with an old computer and chairs with broken rollers are bracing for a fight against government attempts to privatize their industry. Representatives for SETA say losing the fight could mean the “extinction” of their union and limits on Salvadoran’s access to clean water.

boligiTropical El Salvador receives in rainfall three times what its 6 million inhabitants consume annually, but water is a delicate topic where less than 6 in 10 households have it piped in. Even in urban San Salvador, where potable water is more pervasive, service is unpredictable.

“We wake up at four o’clock in the morning to fill our containers,” says Azucena, who lives in San Martín, a San Salvador suburb. “If not, you have to wait three days until it comes again.” To demonstrate, she turns the knob to the only faucet in her two room home. Nothing comes out.

Sometimes water stops running for days, sending residents scrambling to bathe or relieve themselves at friends’ houses. Those who can afford $15-20 a month can buy drinking water from private companies that sell five gallon containers door-to-door out of large blue trucks. The cost is about 6 times the monthly ANDA bill and out of reach for most Salvadorans. About 70 percent of people with a job earn the minimum wage of $158 per month.

Crisis in Niger Delta Poses Intractable Problem

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

The Nigerian press is reporting that attacks by militant Ijaw tribe youth on Shell oil facilities is threatening the long-term prospects for stability and commerce in the Niger Delta, sharply curtailing oil production and pushing up crude oil prices on the world market.

In This Day of Lagos newspaper, Mike Oduniyi reports that Comrade Joseph Evah, national coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, said that strikes by the government military task force in the Delta would not be effective in resolving the crisis. Evah said that the government needed to act promptly to implement recommendations by Ijaw leaders to develop the region and provide jobs for its impoverished populace.

After the military bombed a village Feb. 15 to take out a militant post and center for hijacking crude oil, the Vanguard (Lagos) reported that Evah said over 100 persons were missing and that 25 including women and children were killed.

Evah accused the government of genocide and threatened to drag the government before the United Nations for crimes against humanity.

Sunni mosque bombed as Iraqi tanks deploy in Baghdad

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) – Iraqi tanks deployed in Baghdad to pacify the city after an eruption of sectarian violence, but the bombing of a Sunni mosque and a mortar attack shattered the relative calm.

Four people were killed and 15 wounded in the bomb attack outside a Sunni mosque in eastern Baghdad as the faithful were leaving evening prayers, security officials said.

Pentagon: Iraqi Troops Downgraded
WASHINGTON — The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday.

The battalion, made up of 700 to 800 Iraqi Army soldiers, has repeatedly been offered by the U.S. as an example of the growing independence of the Iraqi military.

Grand Theft Baghdad
After an investment of billions, Bowen reports that slightly more than a third of all water projects planned will ever actually be completed. Currently, two of three Iraqis are left with no potable water; only one in five has sewerage. Furthermore, recent figures suggest that at 4,000 megawatts, nation-wide electrical generating capacity is below pre-war levels and far below the goal of 6,000 MW. Instead of rebuilding several steam-turbine power stations— as Iraqi engineers and managers recommended—the CPA’s crony contractors chose to build new natural gas and diesel-powered combustion-turbine stations, despite the fact that Iraq doesn’t have adequate supplies of either. As a result of this arrogance and neglect, billions were wasted while the electricity in Baghdad is on for just a few hours each day.

Death Squads, Shrine Bombers, Civil War: Iraq’s Going According to the Plan?
Mysterious bombers blow up an important Shia shrine in Samarra. Government death squads murder members of the armed opposition. A wave of fury is unleashed against Sunni mosques, killing dozens. Moqtada al-Sadr orders his Mehdi Army to protect the Sunni mosques in a show of Iraqi solidarity. The occupier insists that everything is going according to plan. But if this is so, then what is the plan?

Acid Seas Kill Off Coral Reefs

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

THE world’s coral reefs could disappear within a few decades along with hundreds of species of plankton and shellfish, according to new studies into man’s impact on the oceans.

Researchers have found that carbon dioxide, the gas already blamed for causing global warming, is also raising the acid levels in the sea. The shells of coral and other marine life dissolve in acid. The process is happening so fast that many such species, including coral, crabs, oysters and mussels, may become unable to build and repair their shells and will die out, say the researchers.

“Increased carbon dioxide emissions are making the world’s oceans more acidic and could cause a mass extinction of marine life similar to the one that occurred on land when the dinosaurs disappeared,” said Professor Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution’s global ecology department.

When CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels dissolves in the ocean, it forms carbonic acid. A little of this can benefit marine life by providing carbonate ions — a vital constituent in the biochemical process by which sea creatures such as corals and molluscs build their shells.

Caldeira found, however, that the huge volumes of carbon dioxide being released by humans are dissolving into the oceans so fast that sea creatures can no longer absorb it. Consequently, the levels of carbonic acid are rising and the oceans are “turning sour.”

Radiocarbon review rewrites European pre-history

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

LONDON (Reuters) – The ancestors of modern man moved into and across Europe, ousting the Neanderthals, faster than previously thought, a new analysis of radiocarbon data shows.

Rather than taking some 7,000 years to colonize Europe from Africa, the reinterpreted data shows the process may only have taken 5,000 years, scientist Paul Mellars from Cambridge University said in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.

“The same chronological pattern points to a substantially shorter period of chronological and demographic overlap between the earliest … modern humans and the last survivors of the preceding Neanderthal populations,” he wrote.

The reassessment is based on advances in eliminating modern carbon contamination from ancient bone fragments and recalibration of fluctuations in the pattern of the earth’s original carbon 14 content.

Populations of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans first appeared in the near eastern region some 45,000 years ago and slowly expanded into southeastern Europe.

Previously it was thought that this spread took place between 43,000 and 36,000 years ago, but the re-evaluated data suggests that it actually happened between 46,000 and 41,000 years ago — starting earlier and moving faster.

“Evidently the native Neanderthal populations of Europe succumbed much more rapidly to competition from the expanding biologically and behaviorally modern populations than previous estimates have generally assumed,” Mellars wrote.