31 October 2006

Climate change fight 'can't wait'

Climate change fight 'can't wait'

The world cannot afford to wait before tackling climate change, the UK prime minister has warned. A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says. Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".

International response
The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

And Chancellor Gordon Brown promised the UK would lead the international response to tackle climate change.

The BBC's Nick Robinson said that, while the Stern Review did not recommend specific tax rises, upping the cost of flying - both people and goods - and driving was on the agenda of all three main political parties.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said the Queen's Speech would now feature a climate bill to establish an independent Carbon Committee to "work with government to reduce emissions over time and across the economy".

The report says that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood. "Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said.

"That's why I'm optimistic - having done this review - that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently."

Mr Blair said the consequences for the planet of inaction were "literally disastrous". "This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime," he said. "Investment now will pay us back many times in the future, not just environmentally but economically as well." "For every £1 invested now we can save £5, or possibly more, by acting now.

"We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto - we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto)."

....CLICK the link int he title above for the full article and for PDF download of the report...

A New Way to get back on the Moon?

NASA has just introduced an proposal to create a new lauch vehicle:

"DIRECT is an alternative approach to launching missions planned under NASA's new mandate: The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). DIRECT would replace the separate Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) with one single "Universal Launcher", capable of performing both roles.

This architecture completely removes the costs & risks associated with developing and operating a second launcher system, saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.

DIRECT's single launcher would use existing Space Shuttle's facilities / hardware to lift over 70mT (basic configuration) up to over 98mT (with an Upper Stage).

This approach would introduce many key benefits (optimum use of existing NASA and contractor workers know-how, equipment, development costs, upgrade paths, early return to the Moon) over the current Ares Launch Vehicles. To know more about this concept please browse the menu for DIRECT's Proposal (pdf), images, video and related link"

...click the link above...

Robots Test "Embodied Intelligence"

Vision-body link tested in robot experiments
13:34 27 October 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Tom Simonite
Experiments involving real and simulated robots suggest that the relationship between physical movement and sensory input could be crucial to developing more intelligent machines.

Tests involving two real and one simulated robot show that feedback between sensory input and body movement is crucial to navigating the surrounding world. Understanding this relationship better could help scientists build more life-like machines, say the researchers involved.

Scientists studying artificial intelligence have traditionally separated physical behaviour and sensory input. "But the brain's inputs are not independent," says Olaf Sporns, a neuroscientist at Indiana University, US. "For example, motor behaviour has a role to play in what the body senses from the environment."

An increasing number of researchers are taking this approach, known as "embodied cognition", says Sporns. He worked with roboticist Max Lungarella from Tokyo University in Japan, to create experiments that would test the idea.

Red objects
They used a four-legged walking robot, a humanoid torso and a simulated wheeled robot. All three robots had a computer vision system trained to focus on red objects. The walking and wheeled robots automatically move towards red blocks in their proximity, while the humanoid bot grasps red objects, moving them closer to its eyes and tilting its head for a better view.

To measure the relationship between movement and vision the researchers recorded information from the robots' joints and field of vision. They then used a mathematical technique to see how much of a causal relationship existed between sensory input and motor activity.

"We saw causation of both kinds," Sporns says. "Information flows from sensory events to motor events and also from motor events to sensory events." It is an important experimental demonstration of this aspect of embodied cognition, he claims: "This work and that of others is now making it more practical and less of a metaphor."

Similar experiments ought to show the same relationship in animals, he adds, as evolution has produced bodies and brains that work together to understand the world. Such tests would be much harder to carry out, but Sporns says researchers are starting to investigate how it might be done.

Better bots
The experiments could suggest a better way to design and build robots, Sporns adds. Maximising information flow between sensory and motor systems could produce more flexible, capable systems, he says. Experiments involving more simulated robots, "evolved" using genetic algorithms, suggest this to be a promising approach, he says.

Daniel Polani, who researches artificial intelligence at Hertfordshire University in the UK, also sees promise. "Using similar approaches, it should be possible to produce more efficient cognitive systems, like those in nature, without specialising on a particular task" such as movement or vision, he told New Scientist.

Aaron Sloman, another artificial intelligence researcher, at Birmingham University in the UK, says interaction with the environment is vital to intelligence. But he also points out that the human brain is capable of working with concepts not grounded in the physical world.

"That is why you can think about a person in Birmingham whom you have never met," he says, "How does an architect design a new skyscraper, long before there is anything to see, feel, touch, or manipulate?"

Journal reference PLoS Computational Biology (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020144)

US Military Propaganda Unit created for US media

Pentagon boosts 'media war' unit
US officials believe bad news from Iraq gets undue coverage
"The US defence department has set up a new unit to better promote its message across 24-hour rolling news outlets, and particularly on the internet.
The Pentagon said the move would boost its ability to counter "inaccurate" news stories and exploit new media.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this year the US was losing the propaganda war to its enemies.

On Monday, Vice-President Dick Cheney said insurgents had increased attacks in Iraq to sway the US mid-term polls.

The Bush administration does not believe the true picture of events in Iraq has been made public, the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says.

The administration is particularly concerned that insurgents in areas such as Iraq have been able to use the web to disseminate their message and give the impression they are more powerful than the US, our correspondent says...."

...more at the link above...

Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
by repost Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006 at 2:39 AM

In a stealth maneuver, President Bush has signed into law a provision which, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law (1). It does so by revising the Insurrection Act, a set of laws that limits the President's ability to deploy troops within the United States. The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331 -335) has historically, along with the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C.1385), helped to enforce strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. With one cloaked swipe of his pen, Bush is seeking to undo those prohibitions.
Public Law 109-364, or the "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007" (H.R.5122) (2), which was signed by the commander in chief on October 17th, 2006, in a private Oval Office ceremony, allows the President to declare a "public emergency" and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to "suppress public disorder."

President Bush seized this unprecedented power on the very same day that he signed the equally odious Military Commissions Act of 2006. In a sense, the two laws complement one another. One allows for torture and detention abroad, while the other seeks to enforce acquiescence at home, preparing to order the military onto the streets of America. Remember, the term for putting an area under military law enforcement control is precise; the term is "martial law."

Section 1076 of the massive Authorization Act, which grants the Pentagon another $500-plus-billion for its ill-advised adventures, is entitled, "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies." Section 333, "Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law" states that "the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of ("refuse" or "fail" in) maintaining public order, "in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."

For the current President, "enforcement of the laws to restore public order" means to commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against "disorderly" citizenry - protesters, possibly, or those who object to forced vaccinations and quarantines in the event of a bio-terror event.

The law also facilitates militarized police round-ups and detention of protesters, so called "illegal aliens," "potential terrorists" and other "undesirables" for detention in facilities already contracted for and under construction by Halliburton. That's right. Under the cover of a trumped-up "immigration emergency" and the frenzied militarization of the southern border, detention camps are being constructed right under our noses, camps designed for anyone who resists the foreign and domestic agenda of the Bush administration.

An article on "recent contract awards" in a recent issue of the slick, insider "Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International" reported that "global engineering and technical services powerhouse KBR [Kellog, Brown & Root] announced in January 2006 that its Government and Infrastructure division was awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the event of an emergency." "With a maximum total value of $385 million over a five year term," the report notes, "the contract is to be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," "for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) - in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs." The report points out that "KBR is the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton." (3) So, in addition to authorizing another $532.8 billion for the Pentagon, including a $70-billion "supplemental provision" which covers the cost of the ongoing, mad military maneuvers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, the new law, signed by the president in a private White House ceremony, further collapses the historic divide between the police and the military: a tell-tale sign of a rapidly consolidating police state in America, all accomplished amidst ongoing U.S. imperial pretensions of global domination, sold to an "emergency managed" and seemingly willfully gullible public as a "global war on terrorism."

Make no mistake about it: the de-facto repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) is an ominous assault on American democratic tradition and jurisprudence. The 1878 Act, which reads, "Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both," is the only U.S. criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people under the cover of 'law enforcement.' As such, it has been the best protection we've had against the power-hungry intentions of an unscrupulous and reckless executive, an executive intent on using force to enforce its will.

Unfortunately, this past week, the president dealt posse comitatus, along with American democracy, a near fatal blow. Consequently, it will take an aroused citizenry to undo the damage wrought by this horrendous act, part and parcel, as we have seen, of a long train of abuses and outrages perpetrated by this authoritarian administration.

Despite the unprecedented and shocking nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19th, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007's Defense Authorization Act contained a "widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order WITHOUT the consent of the nation's governors."

Senator Leahy went on to stress that, "we certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders."

A few weeks later, on the 29th of September, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."

In a telling bit of understatement, the Senator from Vermont noted that "the implications of changing the (Posse Comitatus) Act are enormous". "There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."

Senator Leahy's final ruminations: "Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point. It seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived the Conference because the Pentagon and the White House want it."

The historic and ominous re-writing of the Insurrection Act, accomplished in the dead of night, which gives Bush the legal authority to declare martial law, is now an accomplished fact.

The Pentagon, as one might expect, plays an even more direct role in martial law operations. Title XIV of the new law, entitled, "Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Legislative Provisions," authorizes "the Secretary of Defense to create a Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Consortium to improve the effectiveness of the Department of Defense (DOD) processes for identifying and deploying relevant DOD technology to federal, State, and local first responders."

In other words, the law facilitates the "transfer" of the newest in so-called "crowd control" technology and other weaponry designed to suppress dissent from the Pentagon to local militarized police units. The new law builds on and further codifies earlier "technology transfer" agreements, specifically the 1995 DOD-Justice Department memorandum of agreement achieved back during the Clinton-Reno regime.(4)

It has become clear in recent months that a critical mass of the American people have seen through the lies of the Bush administration; with the president's polls at an historic low, growing resistance to the war Iraq, and the Democrats likely to take back the Congress in mid-term elections, the Bush administration is on the ropes. And so it is particularly worrying that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator.

(1) http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200609/091906a.html and http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200609/092906b.html See also, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, "The Use of Federal Troops for Disaster Assistance: Legal Issues," by Jennifer K. Elsea, Legislative Attorney, August 14, 2006

(2) http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill+h109-5122

(3) Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, "Recent Contract Awards", Summer 2006, Vol.12, No.2, pg.8; See also, Peter Dale Scott, "Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps," New American Media, January 31, 2006.

(4) "Technology Transfer from defense: Concealed Weapons Detection", National Institute of Justice Journal, No 229, August, 1995, pp.42-43.


29 October 2006

Why Bush Thinks We're Winning

Why Bush Thinks We're Winning
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 26, 2006; 12:50 PM

One of the more reality-defying aspects of President Bush's position on the war in Iraq is his insistence that we're winning.

That was a central theme at yesterday's press conference. Here's the transcript .

"Absolutely, we're winning," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done."

With the body counts soaring, the country descending deeper into civil war and the central government consistently unable to assert itself, how can he call this winning? The answer: It's becoming increasingly clear that Bush sees the war in Iraq in very simple terms. As he himself said, he believes that the only way to lose is to leave. Therefore anything else is winning -- anything else at all.

Even if no progress is being made -- even if things are getting worse, rather than better -- simply staying is winning.

So we're winning.

Bush expanded on this principle in a fascinating, one-hour Oval Office interview yesterday afternoon with a half-dozen conservative journalists.

One of the attendees was Michael Barone of U.S. News, and usnews.com last night Web-published the transcript as well as the audio . The National Review, whose Byron York attended, published the transcript this morning.

Even though the session was mostly on the record, Bush seemed looser than he usually does in interviews. The result was a slew of disjointed, sometimes not particularly intelligible, but sometimes deeply telling insights into his thinking about the war. It's a heckuva read."

...Read the rest and listen to the audio at the above link...

Mandatory Anthrax Shots to Return

Mandatory Anthrax Shots to Return
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; Page A03

The Defense Department will resume mandatory anthrax vaccinations for more than 200,000 troops and defense contractors within 60 days, a Pentagon official said yesterday, rejecting the concerns of some veterans and service members who say that the vaccine has not been proved safe or effective.

The vaccinations will be required for most military units and civilian contractors assigned to homeland bioterrorism defense or deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea, said William Winkenwerder Jr., a physician and the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. As troops rotate in and out of those regions, the number receiving vaccinations will grow considerably, he said.

..read the rest of the article at the link above...

To veil or not to veil is no longer the question in Egypt

Behind which veil?
Alain Navarro | Cairo, Egypt
26 October 2006 09:08
"To veil or not to veil is no longer the question in Egypt. From abject neighbourhoods to chic suburban enclaves Muslim women are instead mulling whether to opt for a strict coverall, or a hipper headscarf. After three decades of Islamic revival, bare-headed women have become a slender minority -- and many of them are Coptic Christians, who account for only a small slice of the country's 77-million-strong population.

Whether out of ideological or religious reasons, social or family pressure, about 80% of Egyptians now wear the veil -- the "most successful and the most troubling sign of Islamisation", according to sociologist Mona Abaza. Officially, the veil is neither outlawed as in Turkey, nor a required accessory as in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, does not wear one. And out of the country's two female ministers, one wears a less conspicuous bonnet. The president of the country's leading television station, Nadia Halim, recently began veiling. But so far no female television news anchor has followed suit.

But on the streets, veiling is no longer a subject of debate.

Rather it is the palette of headscarf options mirroring traditionalist or modernist Islamic currents. Only young girls escape the veil -- and not always. Gone are the days when women brazenly removed their head coverings -- as prominent feminist Hoda Charaoui did, stirring a furore on her return from a visit to Europe in 1923.

Today, battle lines are instead forming around whether to adopt the sombre-hued, face-covering niqab, ostensibly in the name of Islam and personal choice. "I can't accept that people claim the niqab is an obligation, and I don't like it," said Islamic law professor Soad Saleh, the former head of female religious studies at Cairo's al-Azhar university. Her face framed by a blue headband under a white veil, the Muslim reformist claims that "hiding women's faces is not in the Qu'ran, it's an old Bedouin tradition."

Among the conservative vanguards are former immigrants from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, many of them village women, who have brought back a puritanical, segregationist lifestyle. But female Islamist militants are also championing the veil as a religious obligation in universities -- even as they advocate the role of women in a larger political battle against the Egyptian regime and the West.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the face-framing hijab, or more relaxed hair-covering headscarf, as a colourful fashion statement. Twinned with jeans and short-sleeved shirts its message mixes Islamisation and globalisation. It's a message embodied by a new generation of stars like Hanan Turk, who dazzles movie and television viewers in her silk designer veils -- and replaces an older generation of "repented" celebrities who have found religion.

It's a message also sent by popular televangelists, like Amr Khaled, who preach a new image of women. These new religious leaders have also spawned mushrooming "halaqat" religious study circles, gathering bourgeois Cairo residents.

Also popular is the veiled doll, Fulla -- the Islamic world's answer to Barbie, banned by Saudi police as a "Jewish doll" ostensibly sporting the scandalous clothing of a perverted West. - Sapa-AFP"

Although there is some debate of what the Koran states and what is "tradition" It seems that the following quote is noteworthy:

"Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Allah is high and supreme."
-Koran Surah 4:34

Holy See concerned about lack of religious freedom worldwide

28 October, 2006
Holy See concerned about lack of religious freedom worldwide
Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See underlined the importance of interreligious dialogue at every level and denounced the widespread abuse of religious freedom as a pretext to trample on human rights.

New York (AsiaNews) – The Holy See is “concerned about those situations where freedom of religion is used as a pretext for violating other human rights” and about places in many parts of the world where “freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities”. Thus, “the time has come for us to confront religious freedom, ever more vital for today’s global society”.

This was the thrust of an address made yesterday by Mgr Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, before the third Commission of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly.

At the beginning of his address, the prelate highlighted three themes “that merit particular attention: the coexistence of different religions and religious communities, the propagation of religion, including the sensitive issue of proselytism and the relationship between freedom of expression and religion.” To resolve these issues, “interreligious dialogue at all levels is of crucial importance not only for resolving disputes, but also for fostering peaceful coexistence that enables all religions to live side by side and in mutual respect.”

However, the Vatican delegation “is seriously concerned that freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities, in many parts of the world.” The delegation is also “concerned that the high level of religious intolerance in some countries is leading to an alarming degree of polarization and discrimination.”

Mgr Migliore continued: “While religious tolerance is sometimes characterized as accepting or permitting those religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own, the time has come to move beyond this type of religious tolerance, and to apply instead the principles of authentic religious freedom.”

The Vatican observer said: “Religious freedom is the right to believe, worship, propose and witness to one’s faith. It grants the opportunity and creates the occasions for people to profess freely the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, it includes the right to change one’s religion and to associate freely with others in order to express one’s religious convictions. Religious tolerance is simply a starting point, a basis for universal religious freedom and there cannot be full religious tolerance without an effective recognition of religious freedom.”

Historically, he added, “tolerance has been a contentious issue among believers of different faiths. However, we have come to a turning point in history which demands more of us, including a commitment to interreligious dialogue. At the same time, my delegation is increasingly convinced of the indispensable importance of reciprocity, which, by its very nature, is apt to ensure the free exercise of religion in all societies.”

The Holy See “continues to be concerned by a number of situations where the existence of enacted or proposed legislative and administrative measures for placing limits on the practice, observance or propagation of religion is a reality. Likewise, the Holy See is concerned with those situations where religion or freedom of religion is used as a pretext or a justification for violating other human rights.”

Moreover, there are cases “of intolerance when group interests or power struggles seek to prevent religious communities from enlightening consciences and thus enabling them to act freely and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice. Likewise, it would be intolerant to denigrate religious communities and exclude them from public debate and cooperation just because they do not agree with options nor conform to practices that are contrary to human dignity.”

In conclusion, the prelate recalled that “in our diverse and ever-changing world, religion is more than an internal matter of thought and conscience. It has the potential to bind us together as equal and valuable members of the human family. We cannot overlook the role that religion plays in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting the imprisoned. Nor should we underestimate its power, especially in the midst of conflict and division, to turn our minds to thoughts of peace, to enable enemies to speak to one another.”

He added: “Religion is a vital force for good, for harmony and for peace among all peoples, especially in troubled times.”

25 October 2006

OBESSION: the movie

I recently watched the documentary movie OBSESSION.

The Movie brings together alot of the information that is out there about radical islam in a nice little box with a bow on top. The movie has been circulating among the corridors of the Pentagon and several other office buildings inside the beltway of late.

The movie traces the radical islam movement back to an alignment between Hitler and Muslim radial leadership at that time. It''s interesting to see the parallels of propaganda, including almost the exact same artwork, used by Hitler then and radical muslim now.

It is worth picking up and seeing.

You might also find the following video informative:

24 October 2006

Global ecosystems 'face collapse'

This just in from the BBC:

Global ecosystems 'face collapse'

Greater demand for land is threatening species' long-term survival (WWF-Canon/Michel Gunther)
Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned.
The group's biannual Living Planet Report said the natural world was being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history".

Terrestrial species had declined by 31% between 1970-2003, the findings showed.

It warned that if demand continued at the current rate, two planets would be needed to meet the demand by 2050.

The biodiversity loss was a result of resources being consumed faster than the planet could replace them, the authors said.

They added that if the world's population shared the UK's lifestyle, three planets would be needed to support their needs.

The nations that were shown to have the largest "ecological footprints" were the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Finland.

Paul King, WWF director of campaigns, said the world was running up a "serious ecological debt".

"It is time to make some vital choices to enable people to enjoy a one planet lifestyle," he said.

"The cities, power plants and homes we build today will either lock society into damaging over-consumption beyond our lifetimes, or begin to propel this and future generations towards sustainable one planet living."

The report, compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network, is based on data from two indicators:

Living Planet Index - assesses the health of the planet's ecosystems
Ecological Footprint - measures human demand on the natural world
The Living Planet Index tracked the population of 1,313 vertebrate species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from around the world.

Earth enters 'ecological debt'

It found that these species had declined by about 30% since 1970, suggesting that natural ecosystems were being degraded at an unprecedented rate.

The Ecological Footprint measured the amount of biologically productive land and water to meet the demand for food, timber, shelter, and absorb the pollution from human activity.

The report concluded that the global footprint exceeded the earth's biocapacity by 25% in 2003, which meant that the Earth could no longer keep up with the demands being placed upon it.

'Large-scale collapse'

One of the report's editors, Jonathan Loh from the Zoological Society of London, said: "[It] is a stark indication of the rapid and ongoing loss of biodiversity worldwide.

"Populations of species in terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems have declined by more than 30% since 1970," he added.

"In the tropics the declines are even more dramatic, as natural resources are being intensively exploited for human use."

The report outlined five scenarios based on the data from the two indicators, ranging from "business as usual" to "transition to a sustainable society".

Under the "business as usual" scenario, the authors projected that to meet the demand for resources in 2050 would be twice as much as what the Earth could provide.

They warned: "At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological assets and large-scale ecosystem collapse become increasingly likely."

To deliver a shift towards a "sustainable society" scenario would require "significant action now" on issues such as energy generation, transport and housing.

The latest Living Planet Report is the sixth in a series of publications which began in 1998.

22 October 2006

U.S. delays buying emergency oil

"U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve
The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency crude oil in the world. Established in the aftermath of the 1973-74 oil embargo, the SPR provides the President with a powerful response option should a disruption in commercial oil supplies threaten the U.S. economy. It also allows the United States to meet part of its International Energy Agency obligation to maintain emergency oil stocks, and it provides a national defense fuel reserve.

The recently enacted Energy Policy Act of 2005 directs the Secretary of Energy to fill the SPR to its authorized one billion barrel capacity. This will require the Department of Energy to complete proceedings to select sites necessary to expand the SPR to one billion barrels."
U.S. delays buying emergency oil
Move keeps more oil on the market through winter heating season.
October 2 2006: 5:50 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Energy Department said Monday it will hold off buying replacement oil for the nation's emergency petroleum stockpile through the winter heating season in order to keep more supplies on the market.

To help make more oil available for producing gasoline over the summer and help lower then-soaring pump prices, President Bush in April ordered the Energy Department to delay deliveries and purchases of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until this autumn, which began Sept. 22. The department needs to replace some 11 million barrels of crude oil that it sold last year from the stockpile for $600 million to oil companies that needed help after Hurricane Katrina disrupted petroleum supplies.

However, the department expects to delay buying that replacement oil during the winter, when demand for heating oil is strong, according to department spokesman Craig Stevens. "Right now, I think we're comfortable with that amount that's in the reserve. We certainly don't want to effect the market too greatly by doing anything [to reduce available winter supplies]," Stevens told Reuters.

"Even if we started purchasing [the 11 million barrels] today, it would take us several months to take that kind of deposit. But there is no plan as of right now to begin that purchase," he said. The department has said it wants to wait until oil prices are much lower before it buys the replacement crude.

The department also loaned oil refineries about 10 million barrels of reserve crude after Katrina. Most of that has been returned to the stockpile, except for about 1.7 million barrels that the department deferred for delivery until the April-June period next year. Supplies already appear plentiful heading into the winter.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories, not including what is held in the reserve, total about 325 million barrels, well above the upper end of the average range for this time of year, according to the latest data from the Energy Department.

The reserve now holds about 688 million barrels of oil at four underground storage sites in Texas and Louisiana. That is equal to about 56 days of U.S. petroleum imports.

The emergency stockpile was created by the Congress in the mid 1970s after the Arab oil embargo.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve -
Quick Facts and Frequently Asked Questions

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a U.S. Government complex of four sites created in deep underground salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast that hold emergency supplies of crude oil.

Current inventory: Click to open inventory update window
Highest inventory - The SPR reached its highest level of 700.7 million barrels in late August 2005. The Hurricane Katrina loans and sales reduced it during Fall 2005.
Current storage capacity - 727 million barrels
Current days of import protection in SPR - 59 days
(Maximum days of import protection in SPR - 118 days in 1985)
International Energy Agency requirement - 90 days of import protection (both public and private stocks)
(SPR and private company import protection - approx. 118 days)
Average price paid for oil in the Reserve - $27.73 per barrel

Drawdown Capability
Maximum drawdown capability - 4.4 million barrels per day
Time for oil to enter U.S. market - 13 days from Presidential decision

Past Sales
2005 Hurricane Katrina Sale - 11 million barrels
1996-97 total non-emergency sales - 28 million barrels
1990/91 Desert Shield/Storm Sale - 21 million barrels
(4 million in August 1990 test sale; 17 million in January 1991 Presidentially-ordered drawdown)
1985 - Test Sale - 1.1 million barrels

Past Exchanges
**June 2006 - exchanged 750 thousand barrels of sour crude with ConocoPhillips and Citgo due to the closure for several days of the Calcasieu Ship Channel to maritime traffic. The closure resulted from the release of a mixture of storm water and oil. Action was taken to avert temporary shutdown of both refineries.
**January 2006 - exchanged 767 thousand barrels of sour crude with Total Petrochemicals USA due to closure of the Sabine Neches ship channel to deep-draft vessels after a barge accident in the channel. Action was taken to avert temporary shutdown of the refinery.
**Sep/Oct 2005- exchanged 9.8 million barrels of sweet and sour crude due to disruptions in Gulf of Mexico production and damage to terminals, pipelines and refineries caused by Hurricane Katrina.

21 October 2006

Bad History: What the Right Says About the Constitution

Bad History: What the Right Says About the Constitution
Facts to Help You Set the Record Straight
Rob Boston
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Silver Spring, Maryland

Far Right groups often make false claims about constitutional history in an effort to "prove" that separation of church and state was not intended by the nation's founders or that the United States was founded to be a "Christian nation." This article refutes these claims and others made by the Far Right.

Far Right groups frequently argue that separation of church and state is a myth or that the concept was not intended by the nation's founders. Several different Far Right groups spread this view, including Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, The Rutherford Institute and TV preacher D. James Kennedy.

Much misinformation about the history behind separation of church and state may be traced to David Barton, a Texas-based propagandist who attacks separation of church and state in books and videos. Barton's materials contain numerous errors, distortions and half truths. His book The Myth of Separation, although heavily footnoted, is riddled with factual errors. Nevertheless, Barton's revisionist history is appearing with increasing frequency in Far Right circles and is leaching into the
secular media by right-wing activists who write letters to the editor and op-ed columns regurgitating Barton's bad history.

It is important, therefore, that pro-separation activists learn to respond to some of the Far Right's common distortions about separation of church and state. The following list of myths and facts was prepared by Americans United for Separation of Church and State with help from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. It is by no means exhaustive but touches on some of the Far Right's most common claims. For help in responding to specific Far Right assertions not covered here, please feel free to contact the author.

MYTH: Separation of church and state is not in the U.S. Constitution. It is true that the literal phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, but that does not mean the concept isn't there. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

What does that mean? A little history is helpful: In an 1802 letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association, the-president Thomas Jefferson declared that the American people through the First Amendment had erected a "wall of separation between church and state," echoing religious freedom advocate Roger Williams who a century earlier alluded to the "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."

James Madison, considered to be the Father of the Constitution and author of the First Amendment, said in an 1819 letter, "[T]he number, the industry and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church and state." In an earlier, undated essay (probably early 1800s), Madison wrote, "Strongly guarded...is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States."

As eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer notes in his book, Church, State and Freedom, "It is true, of course, that the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear in the Constitution. But it was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so clearly and widely held by the American people....[T]he right to a fair trial is generally accepted to be a constitutional principle; yet the term 'fair trial' is not found in the Constitution. To bring the point even closer home, who would deny that 'religious liberty' is a constitutional principle? Yet that phrase too is
not in the Constitution. The universal acceptance which all these terms, including 'separation of church and state,' have received in America would seem to confirm rather than disparage their reality as basic American democratic principles."

MYTH: Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists was a mere courtesy and should not be regarded as important. Far Right activists have tried for decades to make light of Jefferson's "wall of separation" response to the Danbury Baptists, attempting to dismiss it as a hastily written note designed to win the favor of a political constituency. But a glance at the history surrounding the letter shows they are simply wrong.

Jefferson clearly saw the letter as an opportunity to make a major pronouncement on church and state. Before sending the missive, Jefferson had it reviewed by Levi Lincoln, his attorney general. Jefferson told Lincoln he viewed the response as a way of "sowing useful truths and principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets."

MYTH: The Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they were worried that a national religion was about to be established. Not true. The Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they were tired of being treated like second-class citizens in Connecticut and being forced to pay church taxes. The Baptists knew of Jefferson's views in favor of religious freedom for all and wrote to tell him that they hoped his views would be adopted throughout the country.

MYTH: Thomas Jefferson later said his "wall of separation" was meant to be one-directional and designed to keep "Christian principles" in government. This statement is a complete fabrication and appears nowhere in Jefferson's writings; he never said it. Jefferson's writings indicate beyond a doubt that he believed separation would protect both church and state. If anything, most scholars believe Jefferson was more concerned about the church harming the state than the other way around.

MYTH: The United States was founded as a Christian nation. Most of the first Europeans to arrive on our shores were religious dissenters who sought religous freedom, and many believed they were establishing some type of Christian utopia. But many supported religious liberty only for themselves, and some of the early colonies were theocracies where only those who worshipped according to state orthodoxy were welcome. All but four colonies had some form of an established church.

Following the American Revolution, political leaders began to construct the new U.S. government. Although a minority clung to European notions of church- state union, a general consensus emerged that the new country should steer clear of officially established religion. States with government-supported religions also began moving toward separation. Massachusetts, the last state to maintain an official religion, disestablished its state church in 1833.

During the Constitutional Convention, a minority faction favored some recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, but their views were overruled. Many framers had seen the dangers of church-state union in Europe and in the colonies; they wanted no part of such a system for the federal government. Thus, the Constitution does not mention God, Jesus Christ or Christianity. In fact, the only reference to religion is in Article VI, where the founders provided that there could be no religious test for public office.

MYTH: The Supreme Court has declared that the United States is a Christian nation. In the Supreme Court's 1892 Holy Trinity Church v. United States decision Justice David Brewer wrote that "this is a Christian nation." Brewer's statement occurred in dicta, a legal term meaning writing that reflects a judge's personal opinion, not an official court pronouncement that sets legally binding precedent. From the context of the quote, it is clear that Brewer only intended to acknowledge that Christianity has always been a dominant force in American life.

Brewer clarified his views in a book he published on the "Christian nation" concept in 1905. In the volume, Brewer argues that the United States is "Christian" only in the sense that many of its traditions are rooted in Christianity and rejects the notion that the nation's laws should be based on Christianity.

MYTH: The First Amendment's religion clauses were intended only to prevent the establishment of a national church. If all the framers wanted to do was ban a national church, they had plenty of opportunities to state exactly that in the First Amendment. In fact, an early draft of the First Amendment read in part, "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief, nor shall any national religion be established...." This draft was rejected as too weak. The historical record shows clearly that the framers wanted to ban "multiple establishments," that is, a system by which the government funds or supports many religions on an equal basis.

Far Right groups are aggressively spreading myths like this and deceiving many well-meaning people with their anti-church and state separation propaganda. Activists who support the separation principle must respond promptly to these myths every time they appear.

NOTE: This article is a condensed version of a piece that originally appeared in Church & State, March 1992, Vol. 45, No. 3.
How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community
Copyright 1994 by Radical Right Task Force
Permission is granted to reproduce this publication in whole or in part. All other rights reserved.
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National Jewish Democratic Council
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America's Africa Corps

America's Africa Corps
By Jason Motlagh

The United States is moving closer to setting up an Africa Command to secure the rear flank of its global "war on terrorism", with eyes trained on vital oil reserves and lawless areas where terrorists have sought safe haven to regroup and strike against its interests.

At a Monday briefing on plans to restructure US defense policy, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelmen disclosed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military brass were close to a decision over a proposal to anchor US forces on the African continent, creating a new command to encompass all security operations.

Analysts said the move would herald a fundamental shift in US policy that champions an active approach toward fledgling states prone to breed extremism, though more tangible needs are also at stake.

A Pentagon spokesman tempered the announcement with the caveat that such a move required an official process that would take time and had yet to begin. But one official noted that talks were "intense" and another stressed that internal debate was stronger than it was six months ago and appeared to be on the verge of a positive verdict.

The United States at present oversees five separate military commands worldwide, and Africa remains divided among three of them: European Command covers operations spanning 43 countries across North and sub-Saharan Africa; Central Command oversees the restive Horn of Africa; and Pacific Command looks after Madagascar. All three maintain a low-key presence, largely employing elite special operations forces to train, equip and work alongside national militaries. A perceived vulnerability to al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations, however, has fueled calls for a more aggressive security posture in Africa.

"We do have a strategic interest in Africa, and we have been attacked," a leading US government Africa specialist told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "Whether you have 1,000 people or 10,000, what we're doing requires our active presence both from training special forces, coordination and tracking down some of the extremist elements ... That requires really having a physical presence and the ability to deploy."

CentCom commander General John Abizaid last March spelled out to the Senate Armed Services Committee the burgeoning security threats facing Horn of Africa and the dire need for robust action. Emblematic of most of the continent at large, they include extreme poverty, corruption, internal conflicts, uncontrolled borders and territorial waters, weak internal security, broken infrastructure and natural disasters, among others. "The combination of these serious challenges," he said, "creates an environment that is ripe for exploitation by extremists and criminal organizations."

Just months later, the decision was made to raise the military profile in Africa in what may prove a precursor to an all-encompassing command. Washington has committed to spend US$500 million on the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI ), an expanded program headed by EuCom that provides military and development aid to nine Saharan countries deemed to be fertile ground for groups - such as the deadly Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) - looking to establish Afghanistan-style training grounds and carry out other illicit activities. The TSCTI represents a colossal upgrade from the Pan-Sahel Initiative, its $7 million forerunner.

But critics counter that military-centric policies could backfire and breed radicalism where it hardly exists by sustaining despotic regimes that usurp funding and military hardware to tighten their grip on power. A report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said the Saharan region is "not a terrorist hotbed" and warned that certain Saharan governments try to elicit US aid while using the "war on terror" to justify human-rights abuses.

CentCom, for its part, operates the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a discreet hub formed in the aftermath of the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed at least 301 people and put Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network on the map.

A number of al-Qaeda operatives are said to be hiding in the Horn, Somalia specifically, and they continue to pose a grave threat to US interests in the region, which demands the presence of some 1,800 troops tasked with detecting and disrupting terrorist schemes. US intelligence has also used the base to coordinate activities around the Horn; the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly bankrolled an alliance of warlords that were driven out of the capital, Mogadishu, by Islamist militia this summer.

Somalia, a special case, has been without a functioning government for the past 14 years and is known beyond a doubt to have harbored members of al-Qaeda. Still, the unnamed government analyst, who just returned from an extensive fact-finding mission to the failed state, insists that the vast majority of Somalis are not hostile toward the United States despite the infamous Black Hawk Down disaster of 1993 and the recent Islamist takeover. "Somalis are not anti-American by nature, they are pro-West," he said. "Engagement is vital as it helps gather better intelligence, understand people, and it's cheaper."

Other observers say that thirst for another kind of security is the driving force behind a probable Africa Command: energy.

Nigeria already stands as the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, and energy officials say the Gulf of Guinea will provide a quarter of US crude by 2010, placing the region ahead of Saudi Arabia (other major producers include Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Gabon and the Congo Republic). A surging demand for fossil fuels in Asia and an unpredictable political climate in the Middle East prompted the administration of US President George W Bush four years ago to call West African oil a "strategic national interest" - a designation that reserves the use of force to secure and defend such interests if necessary.

The question then arises as to where exactly the new command would be best headquartered. The answer may be Sao Tome and Principe, one of Africa's smallest countries, consisting mainly of two islands at the western bend of the continent. Concerns over fanning anti-Americanism, proximity to oil reserves - some of which are said to be untapped beneath its own waters - and overall security make this the obvious choice, John Pike, director of military studies group GlobalSecurity.org, told Asia Times Online. "This island seems destined to be America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Guinea, much like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in the Pacific."

Military planners like the idea of an offshore presence since its reduces the impression of a neo-colonial maneuver, Pike said, adding that so far there has been a clear preference within EuCom and CentCom to lie low and work through African institutions to train troops and strengthen security. According to Pike, the coup-wary Sao Tome government likes the idea of a US presence, and the two sides have been "playing footsie for a number of years now". The Defense Department declined comment.

While odds are against the price of oil ever going back down significantly, today it remains a freely traded commodity on the international market with no strings attached as to who owns concessions. But some experts are convinced this arrangement will come to an end in the not so distant future, making military power and leverage paramount.

"We can see how the US would want to move and make preparations for that day when it matters whom states will turn to for protection," Pike said. "When that day comes, the US wants to ensure key states are looking its way."

Jason Motlagh is deputy foreign editor at United Press International in Washington, DC. He has reported freelance from Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean for various US and European news media.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .

Africa key to Pentagon Counterterrorism Strategy

Africa key to Pentagon counterterrorism strategy
Thu Sep 14, 2006 8:27am ET
By David Morgan

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly five years after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Africa has emerged as a leading front in a U.S. military campaign to deny al Qaeda a new safe haven in the continent's vast, hard-to-govern regions.

Small groups of special forces, known as A-teams and often numbering less than a dozen soldiers, have begun traversing the hinterlands of more than a dozen countries in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Sahara regions.

Pentagon officials say the main aim is to help African governments from Sudan to Senegal and Nigeria train and equip local troops to combat Islamist militants in swathes of open country, already known as havens for smugglers and bandits.

Meanwhile, even smaller units of U.S. civil affairs troops have traveled to remote villages to dispense medical care, dig wells and build schools, hoping to make militancy less attractive.

"They're also identifying all the watering holes and any natural features, like caves, that could be used as the basis for training camps. And they're trying to establish links with local people to find out who's in the passing caravans seen by satellites," said a former intelligence official.

The strategy, known to Pentagon officials as "low-intensity warfare," has been used by the U.S. military in developing countries since World War Two.

Similar campaigns are underway from the Philippines to the Caucasus and Latin America, and ultimately could grow to include 60 countries, according to independent analysts.

The objective, officials say, is to use a combination of humanitarian aid and small-scale military force to undermine insurgencies long before they can threaten local governments allied with the U.S. war on terrorism...."



There is a RUMOR that CENTCOM is going to be split and the Horn of Afrika moved into a new command called AfricaCOM.

Pentagon Closing Transformation Shop

Pentagon Closing Transformation Shop

In the 1990s, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski began pushing the unorthodox idea that the Pentagon had to change itself, from a relatively-small collection of heavy, plodding forces to a larger array of lighter, quicker, cheaper, better-networked units. By 2001, the notion -- known alternatively as "revolution in military affairs" or "force transformation" -- had become official doctrine. The Army began a massive modernization effort, based, in part, around Cebrowski's ideas. Presidential candidate George W. Bush embraced the concept during the 2000 election. Donald Rumsfeld adopted it as the cornerstone of his return to the Pentagon, and installed Cebrowski as the director of a new department: the Office of Force Transformation, or OFT.

The office initiated a series of novel, seemingly off-the-wall projects: armored vehicles equipped with pain rays, sneaky ships silently bringing commandos to shore, orbiting mirrors to send lasers across the globe.

But early last year, Cebrowski was forced to retire, as he fought a losing battle with cancer. Observers wondered whether OFT and its projects would survive his passing.

The office, at least, probably will not, according to Defense News. Pending approval by deputy defense secretary Gordon England, "the office [will] be dissolved by Sept. 30."

Defense analyst Bob Work thinks it "may be an indication of just how hard it is to balance the competing demands for transformation in the midst of this protracted campaign" in the Global War on Terror. The Armchair Generalist fears this could be the final "nail in the coffin" for transformation. But military theorist Tom Barnett, long allied with Cebrowski, sees the shift as the final move in bringing Cebrowski's ideas into the heart of the U.S. military.

"Art's success in mainstreaming his thinking meant that OFT always had a limited shelf life. [His ideas are] everywhere now," Barnett writes. "Art himself saw this coming and had no problem with it. He simply would have moved on to the next great definition."

Besides, the office is "not really shutting down," an OFT source tells Defense Tech.

It is being split apart and embedded in two other areas of OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense]. The analysis and study portion of OFT is to be rolled into a new office as part of a larger reorg of OSD Policy. [More about that here -- ed.] All of the other initiatives here, like... Redirected Energy and Operationally Responsive Space are to go into a new office under [Director, Defense Research and Engineering] John Young...

So, in a sense, this is a good move. Since OSD had no interest in appointing anyone to replace Cebrowski, the office was hobbled.... If this is approved, OSD is saying we like this OFT approach [so much] that we are willing to apply it more broadly across the entire department.

Could be. But with costs piling higher and higher for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and with the budgets for many "transformational" projects swelling, fast -- I worry that this could jeopardize Cebrowski's work, not institutionalize it.

Somali Islamists in war warning

The Islamist group that has seized much of southern Somalia has said Ethiopia has declared war by sending its troops to help the interim government.

Ethiopia supports the government but denies sending troops to help them against the Union of Islamic Courts. On Sunday, the UIC took control of the key port of Kismayo after the defence minister's forces fled the town. The prime minister has appealed for international help against "al-Qaeda" and "terrorist" expansion.

The UIC have repeatedly denied having any links to al-Qaeda and say they are restoring security and stability to Somalia, which has not had an effective national government for 15 years.

High alert
"The incursion of Ethiopian troops into Somali territories is a declaration of war on Somalia," said UIC national security chairman Sheik Yusuf Indahaadde.

"We call on the international community to urge Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from Somalia. If that doesn't happen the consequences of insecurity created by Ethiopia will spread to neighbouring countries and to East Africa as a whole."
But Somali government spokesman Abduraman Dinari denied that any Ethiopia had crossed the border and said the reports were being fabricated by the Islamists to distract attention from their advance into Kismayo.

Eyewitnesses have reported that hundreds of troops wearing Ethiopian military uniforms have crossed the border and are in a military camp just outside Baidoa - the only town controlled by the internationally recognised government. A security official in Baidoa told the BBC that his forces were on high alert and were ready to defend the town against any Islamist attack. The UIC say they took Kismayo to prevent it being used to bring foreign peacekeepers into the country, as requested by the interim government.

On Monday, they fired at demonstrators, reportedly killing three people. The Islamists have now imposed a curfew in the town, after a further demonstration. Hundreds of people are fleeing from Somalia into Kenya every day, the World Food Programme says.

It says that 24,000 have crossed the border this year. Speaking after the takeover of Kismayo, Somalia's interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi appealed for aid soon for his beleaguered government. "I would appeal to the governments of the region to join our efforts and protect the region from the expansion of this al-Qaeda network, these terrorists."

Running away
Mr Ghedi also said the takeover of Kismayo had been a "violation" of a ceasefire agreed between the UIC and the interim government. Earlier this month, the African Union agreed to a request by Somalia's transitional government to send in a regional peacekeeping force.

Thousands of people are reported to have fled the city in recent days. The UIC has steadily increased its hold on Somalia since its fighters took control of the capital, Mogadishu, in June.

Mr Ghedi's government was set up in 2004 after more than two years of talks designed to give Somalia its first effective national government since 1991.

Horn of Africa May Be Next Terror Front

Horn of Africa May Be Next Terror Front
By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer

October 21,2006 | NAIROBI, Kenya -- From the Red Sea to Lake Victoria, the Horn of Africa is one of the few places in the world where, if careful, a traveler can move 1,400 miles across four countries without producing a passport or encountering a single government official.

These footpaths, back roads and rivers have been used for centuries by merchants and slave traders, explorers, smugglers and bandits. Rebels easily sneak around the central governments in the big cities.

So could any traveler. Even a terrorist.

Corrupt governments, porous borders, widespread poverty and discontented Muslim populations have created a region ripe for Islamic fundamentalism. The Horn of Africa, home to about 165 million people, is roughly half the area of the United States.

The six countries that make up the Horn -- Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Djibouti -- could become the next major front in the war on terrorism. Kenyan police earlier this year caught a smuggler trying to bring in an anti-aircraft missile.

Kenya, and Tanzania just to its south, have already been victims of al-Qaida terrorism, with the bombings at the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and attacks on a hotel and an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002. The attacks emanated from neighboring Somalia, which has had no effective central government since 1992 and has a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement.

Western and regional diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said they believe another terrorist attack could be imminent.

Robert Rotberg, director of Harvard University's Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution, said every country in the region is at risk because radicals see an opportunity to take advantage of weak, unpopular governments.

"Governance and the standard of living are so low in that part of Africa," Rotberg said. "There is certainly a possibility of meddling in troubled waters."

Despite a disastrous and short-lived invasion of Ethiopia in 1977 and political anarchy since 1992, Somali nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists still advocate this Greater Somalia. An ethnic-Somali insurgency continues in eastern Ethiopia, led by the Ogaden Liberation Front, a small group that mostly uses pipe bombs or small-scale attacks to advance their cause.

Governments in the Horn of Africa have watched with concern as the Somali Transitional Federal Government they helped create in 2004 after two years of peace talks has been eclipsed by the Islamic Courts Union, led by an elderly cleric, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is committed to a nationalist, Islamic regime and allegedly has ties to Ethiopian rebel groups.

"The comfort zone is to look at Somalia as being far away and hope that the problem will resolve itself somehow," Kenya's Minister for Foreign Affairs Raphael Tuju recently told the U.N. General Assembly. But a Somalia with no government in place "is a danger not just to neighboring countries but to the whole world."

Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, has sent troops to the Somali town of Baidoa to prop up the official government, which is also backed by the United Nations. Despite the support, though, Baidoa is the only part of the country the government controls.

The African Union, a continentwide diplomatic bloc, has also authorized the deployment of 8,000 Ugandan and Sudanese peacekeepers to protect the government and stabilize Somalia. But with Aweys and other Islamic leaders vehemently opposed, and no rich country ready to pay the bills, the mission has not moved beyond the planning stage.

The Islamic militants' sudden ascendancy and popularity have shaken the region, and the ripples have reached the United States and Europe. The United States urgently formed the International Contact Group for Somalia in July to deal with the sudden rise of Islamic militancy and to politically support the government.

Mario Raffaelli, Italy's special envoy to the former Italian colony, said he believes the struggle between the transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union for control of Somalia could ignite a regional war, drawing in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and possibly even Sudan.

"The change in Mogadishu has changed the whole regional picture," he said. "And made it much more dangerous."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer has accused Aweys of sheltering al-Qaida suspects believed to be responsible for the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. U.S. diplomats also fear al-Qaida operatives will persuade Aweys to turn Somalia into a haven for international terrorists.

"Somalia has been a collapsed state since 1991," said Rotberg, an expert on the Horn. "It obviously opens up some territory for al-Qaida to meddle."

Residents of Mogadishu, though, have felt the Courts Union's hard-line Islamic law which is reminiscent of Afghanistan. It has started public flogging of convicted felons and publicly executed a convicted murderer by firing squad on Sept. 22.

Fatima Mohamud, a 34-year-old housewife, said she welcomed the peace the Islamic militias have brought to the capital, but as a follower of Somalia's moderate Sufi form of Islam, she is not comfortable with the Courts Union's fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.

"They closed the video halls where the children would watch soccer matches," she said. "Now three of my boys can hardly go out because they have nowhere to go for entertainment, and they can't dress the way they want; they're told to cut their hair and shorten their trousers."

"I don't know where Islam restricts all these innocent activities," she added.

Leaders of neighboring countries fear that if an Islamic regime is successful in Somalia, fundamentalist clerics in other parts of the Horn will emulate them. The United States has decided to take a soft-sell approach to convincing the millions of Muslims in the region not to join the radicals and instead embrace democracy.

At the strategic point where the Red Sea opens into the Indian Ocean, a territory once known as French Somalia became the independent and stable country of Djibouti in 1977. The nation of 486,000 people has close ties to the West and hosts a brigade from the French Foreign Legion and a U.S. counterterrorism force known as the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.

The task force, set up in June 2002, is responsible for fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa as well as Yemen, Tanzania and Uganda. The 1,600 troops assigned to Djibouti use military training, humanitarian aid and intelligence operations to keep nations in the region from becoming terrorist havens.

Officials say they have military liaisons in all the countries except Somalia and Eritrea and carry out humanitarian missions on a regular basis. U.S. troops have also helped train border forces in Djibouti and Ethiopia as well as maritime forces in Kenya to build up those countries' ability to protect their borders with Somalia.

"We feel the best way to counter terrorism is to go after conditions that foster terrorism," U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Richard W. Hunt, the task force commander, said during an operation to refurbish a clinic in Tanzania. "So we focus on medical care, education. We attack these causes right at the very root."

He added that the task force wants to build conditions that never let a terrorist ideology take hold. "The terrorists will go after any area they think they can exploit," Hunt said.

The Horn of Africa needs more than military solutions, agreed Caty Clement, a regional director for the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention center.

"It does matter to be able to control your borders, to be able to police the population," Clement said. "But it's only one aspect of the problem."

Whether a nation becomes a failed state has a lot to do with poverty, official corruption, international aid and middle-class support for the government, she said. Creating strong legislatures, independent courts and healthy economies goes beyond the capabilities of the military, Clement added.

Those tasks may also be beyond the capabilities of the Islamic fundamentalists. Just three months after taking power, Somalia's Islamic Courts Union has not produced the prosperity and political freedom the people of Mogadishu expected.

"Residents here want to see something different and better than the present stability," said Mohamed Hussein, an economist who has contacts among the Islamic leaders. "People want new political thinking and political pluralism."

The regional leaders, Western diplomats and U.S. troops in the Horn of Africa can only hope that he's right -- and that all of the people of the Horn of Africa also want the same.


Associated Press correspondents Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Elizabeth Kennedy in Msata, Tanzania, contributed to this report.

19 October 2006

U.S. Says 'Keep Out of My Space'

U.S. Says 'Keep Out of My Space'
New National Space Policy Favors Weapons in Orbit
Oct. 18, 2006 — The White House has quietly put out a new National Space Policy — a document that, among other things, makes it clear that the Bush administration will not sign any treaty that limits America's ability to put weapons in orbit. The document, much of which is classified, also promotes the growth of private enterprise in space, and calls on NASA to continue its exploration missions, but those come after a call "to ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security and foreign policy objectives." "Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power," the policy states.

Beyond 'Star Wars'
"Consistent with this policy, the United States will preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space … and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests." In other words, analysts say, don't expect the United States to sign any new treaties that try to keep weapons from being launched. "Star Wars"-type programs, while hotly debated by policy wonks, have mostly been far-off notions. Most Americans have heard about Defense Department experiments with exotic weapons, but it's hardly been a front-burner issue.

Craig Eisendrath, a former State Department official who worked on the first treaty to keep space free of military activity in 1967, says things are changing. "We're going to be testing weapons toward the end of this year," he says. "Deployment will follow. It's not that far away." Eisendrath, co-author of a forthcoming book, "War in Heaven: Stopping an Arms Race in Outer Space Before It Is Too Late," says the United States is wasting its time.

"Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says we need to protect against a 'space Pearl Harbor,'" he says. "But we're still the dominant power there." John Pike, another longtime space analyst who now runs globalsecurity.org, was more charitable.

"Nearly six years into his presidency, the Bush space policy has been long overdue," he says in an e-mail to ABC News. "Despite fears that it would mark a bold new initiative to weaponize space, it largely codifies previously announced changes from Clinton space policies of a decade ago."

Eisendrath says there is really no advantage to putting bombs in orbit. "The effects of most of these weapons can be gotten through ground-based weaponry at a fraction of the cost," he says

RAND Report: The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force

This appears to be an interesting "read":

I Want You!
The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force
By: Bernard D. Rostker

As U.S. military forces appear overcommitted and some ponder a possible return to the draft, the timing is ideal for a review of how the American military transformed itself over the past five decades, from a poorly disciplined force of conscripts and draft-motivated “volunteers” to a force of professionals revered throughout the world. Starting in the early 1960s, this account runs through the current war in Iraq, with alternating chapters on the history of the all-volunteer force and the analytic background that supported decisionmaking. The author participated as an analyst and government policymaker in many of the events covered in this book. His insider status and access offer a behind-the-scenes look at decisionmaking within the Pentagon and White House. The book includes a foreword by former Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird. The accompanying DVD contains more than 1,700 primary-source documents — government memoranda, Presidential memos and letters, staff papers, and reports — linked directly from citations in the electronic version of the book. This unique technology presents a treasure trove of materials for specialists, researchers, and students of military history, public administration, and government affairs to draw upon.

click the link in the title for more information.

17 October 2006

What the hell is Coltan and who put it in my phone?

"As you crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch, there's not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the cassiterite, the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint. Which means you have nothing to buy food with. So we're always hungry."

That's how Muhanga Kawaya, a miner in the remote northeastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), described his job to reporter Jonathan Miller of Britain's Channel 4 last year. Cassiterite, or tin oxide, is the most important source of the metallic element tin, and the DRC is home to fully one-third of the world's reserves. Some cassiterite miners work on sites operated directly by the country's military or other armed groups. Working in the same area are "artisanal" miners who are theoretically independent, like prospectors in America's Old West. But the cassiterite they extract is heavily taxed by the soldiers -- when it's not just stolen outright.

With a land area as vast as that of Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado combined, the DRC has only 300 miles of paved roads. To reach one of the many cassiterite mines in the virtually roadless northeast, 1,000 miles from the national capital Kinshasa, Miller's team followed a 40-mile footpath that, he reported, was as "busy as a motorway. Four thousand porters ply this route carrying sacks of rock heavier than they are. Each of their 50 kilogram packs of cassiterite is worth $400 on the world market. Government soldiers often force porters at gunpoint to carry the rocks free of charge; if they're lucky, though, they can make up to $5 a day." (Watch Channel 4's gripping, award-winning report http://www.channel4.com/news/special-reports/special-reports-storypage.jsp?id=301)

But the newest coverage appears on "Foreign exchange" hosted by Fareed Zakaria who you probably recognize from his newsweek column and his appearances on "This Week" the Sunday morning talk show.

Click the link above or this one right here to see the video:

then click on the "watch the show online" real media seems to work best.

Coltan is the colloquial African name for (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore comprising niobium and tantalum. Mineral concentrates containing tantalum are usually referred to as 'tantalite' [1]. In appearance, coltan is a dull black mineral. It has been noted that the exportation of coltan has helped fuel the war in the Congo, a conflict that has resulted in approximately 4 million deaths. Rwanda and Uganda are currently exporting stolen coltan from the Congo to the West (mainly US), where it is then used in high-technology, such as cell-phones, DVD players, Playstations, etc

09 October 2006

Taliban official warns of Ramazan attack on US

Taliban official warns of Ramazan attack on US
Monday, October 09, 2006, Ramzan 15, 1427 A.H
By our correspondent

PESHAWAR: The head of the Islamabad-based Al-Quds Media Centre has received an audio message from a senior Taliban leader in which he asked Muslims living in the US to leave the country as soon as possible “because God’s punishment would fall on America in the month of Ramazan.”

Jamal Ismail, a senior journalist who once worked for Al-Jazeera television channel and is now head of the Al-Quds Media Centre, told The News that he received a phone call Thursday from Taliban leader Mulla Masoom Afghani. “Afghani said he was speaking from somewhere in Kandahar province. He read out the message in Arabic, which I recorded. In it he advised Muslim residents of America to get out to escape harm because the US could face big attacks in the month of Ramazan,” said Jamal Ismail.

According to Jamal Ismail, it was the first time that Afghani, who is head of the pro-Taliban clerics’ consultative council and the former ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, had conveyed such a message. “Afghani didn’t say that it was a dream. It appeared that he strongly believed that America was going to face punishment at the hands of Allah,” he explained.