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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1090669 times)
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« Reply #6285 on: May 10, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Meteorite crater reveals future of a globally warmed world

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Friday, May 10, 2013 1:24 EDT

Lake sediments recorded the climate of the Arctic during the last period when CO2 levels were as high as today

The future of a globally warmed world has been revealed in a remote meteorite crater in Siberia, where lake sediments recorded the strikingly balmy climate of the Arctic during the last period when greenhouse gas levels were as high as today.

Unchecked burning of fossil fuels has driven carbon dioxide to levels not seen for 3m years when, the sediments show, temperatures were 8C higher than today, lush forests covered the tundra and sea levels were up to 40m higher than today.

“It’s like deja vu,” said Prof Julie Brigham-Grette, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the new research analysing a core of sediment to see what temperatures in the region were between 3.6 and 2.2m years ago. “We have seen these warm periods before. Many people now agree this is where we are heading.”

“It shows a huge warming – unprecedented in human history,” said Prof Scott Elias, at Royal Holloway University of London, and not involved in the work. “It is a frightening experiment we are conducting with our climate.”

The sediments have been slowly settling in Lake El’gygytgyn since it was formed 3.6m years ago, when a kilometre-wide meteorite blasted a crater 100km north of the Arctic circle. Unlike most places so far north, the region was never eroded by glaciers so a continuous record of the climate has lain undisturbed ever since. “It’s a phenomenal record,” said Prof Peter Sammonds, at University College London. “It is also an incredible achievement [the study's work], given the remoteness of the lake.” Sixteen shipping containers of equipment had to be hauled 90km over snow by bulldozers from the nearest ice road, used by gold miners.

Previous research on land had revealed glimpses of the Arctic climate and ocean sediments had recorded the marine climate, but the disparate data are not consistent with one another. “Lake El’gygytgyn may be the only place in the world that has this incredible unbroken record of sediments going back millions of years,” said Elias. “When you have a very long record it is very different to argue with.”

The new research, published in the journal Science, also sheds light on a crucial question for climate scientists: how sensitive is the Earth’s climate to increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? The relative slowing of global temperature rises over the past 15 years has led some researchers to suggest the climate is less sensitive to CO2 rises than current climate models suggest. But the record from Lake El’gygytgyn of a very warm Arctic when atmospheric CO2 levels were last at about 400 parts per million (ppm) indicates the opposite, according to Brigham-Grette. “My feeling is we have underestimated the sensitivity, unless there are some feedbacks we don’t yet understand or we don’t get right in the models.”

Prof Robert Spicer, at the Open University and not part of the new study, agreed: “This is another piece of evidence showing that climate models have a systematic problem with polar amplification,” ie the fact that global warming has its greatest effects at the poles. “This has enormous implications and suggests model are likely to underestimate the degree of future change.”

Brigham-Grette said it would take time for today’s CO2 levels to translate into the warming seen in the lake records: “The Earth’s climate system is a sluggish beast.” Most scientists predict it will take centuries to melt the great ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica to the shrunken levels seen 3m years ago, and so push up sea level far above the world’s coastal cities. But CO2 is increasing with unprecedented speed and the Arctic plays a key role in the global climate.

“I think we will feel the effects of climate change quickly – in years or decades – because changes in the Arctic sea ice bring changes in the circulation of the atmosphere and the oceans,” says Elias. ” Arctic sea ice keeps that entire region cool and when it melts, the dark ocean revealed absorbs even more heat.”

Recent wet and cold summer weather in Europe, for example, has been linked to changes in the high level jet stream winds, which in turn have been linked to melting Arctic ice, which shrank to its lowest recorded level in September. Climate change has also already increased the likelihood of extreme heatwaves and flooding .

“Clearly the Arctic is warming very, very rapidly at the moment,” said Sammonds. “And if all the sea ice goes, there is no good reason why it might come back again.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #6286 on: May 10, 2013, 07:25 AM »

In the USA...

Elizabeth Warren: Give Students Same Loan Rate as Big Banks

By Diane Sweet
May 10, 2013

Senator Warren Introduces the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, her first piece of stand-alone legislation, on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. The bill would enable students who are eligible for federally subsidized Stafford loans to borrow at the same rate the big banks get through the Federal Reserve discount window.

From her floor speech:

    “Some people say that we can’t afford to help our kids through school by keeping student loan interest rates low,” said Senator Warren. “But right now, as I speak, the federal government offers far lower interest rates on loans, every single day–they just don’t do it for everyone. Right now, a big bank can get a loan through the Federal Reserve discount window at a rate of about 0.75%. But this summer a student who is trying to get a loan to go to college will pay almost 7%. In other words, the federal government is going to charge students interest rates that are nine times higher than the rates for the biggest banks–the same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke this economy. That isn’t right. And that is why I’m introducing legislation today to give students the same deal that we give to the big banks.”

    “Big banks get a great deal when they borrow money from the Fed,” Senator Warren continued. “In effect, the American taxpayer is investing in those banks. We should make the same kind of investment in our young people who are trying to get an education. Lend them the money and make them to pay it back, but give our kids a break on the interest they pay. Let’s Bank on Students… Unlike the big banks, students don’t have armies of lobbyists and lawyers. They have only their voices. And they call on us to do what is right.”


May 09, 2013 02:00 PM

Will Someone Slap Some Sense Into These Republican Fools?

By Susie Madrak

Seriously, ALL THEY DO IS OBSTRUCT. It's gotten to the point where even your uninformed voters get the message: The Republicans are just plain batshit insane, and they just proved it again. They're destructive in the way only a spoiled two-year-old is:

    The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was scheduled to vote today at 9:15 on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be the next EPA Administrator. Despite the fact that she has answered more than a thousand of the committee’s questions, Senate Republicans announced just before the hearing that they would be boycotting the vote, denying the committee quorum and postponing the confirmation hearing.

    The committee rules require that at least two members of the minority party be present during a vote. Not a single Republican bothered to show up.

    Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the committee, still held a meeting, allowing the Democrats in attendance to try to explain to the American people why they still have no EPA Administrator. The ostensible reason that the Republicans boycotted today’s vote was because they said she did not satisfactorily answer their questions.

    Senator Boxer reminded those present that Gina McCarthy has already answered more than a thousand questions from the committee and moreover is eminently qualified with an excellent track record of working with the business community and and both parties to do her job.

    Boxer later floated the idea of changing the rules of the committee so that a boycott such as this would not gum up the works. She urged her GOP colleagues to listen to the many “mainstream” Republicans who support Gina McCarthy’s nomination and “get out of the fringe lane.” If senators oppose a nominee, they should show up and vote against the nominee, not hold the process hostage for ideological reasons.

    In 2009, the Senate easily confirmed the highly qualified McCarthy by a voice vote to head the Clean Air division of the EPA. With nearly three decades of experience working at the local, state and federal levels, McCarthy has been a champion for clean air and has even won plaudits from Republican leaders. She has received extensive support from business, health officials, environmental organizations and scientists, who have repeatedly suggested she is willing to work with all sides to find the best outcome.

    At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. McCarthy answered the committee’s questions and the Republican members failed to pin anything on her. Instead they focused on climate denier talking points and questions about instant messenger (something that McCarthy jovially admitted she was too old to know how to use.)

    At today’s meeting, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) argued that she deserved a vote because she answered all the questions that had been asked of her. He said that former EPA Administrators were used to questions (400 for Mike Leavitt, 100 for Lisa Jackson), but Ms. McCarthy’s 1,000 was unprecedented. “It’s bad for our country,” he said, when Senators fail to do their jobs to ensure that the executive branch does not turn into a “swiss cheese” of vacant seats, acting administrators, and delayed appointments.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Posted: 05/10/2013 9:04 am

How Big Oil Uses the Republican Party to Subvert American Democracy

In a surprise move, the eight Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday blocked a floor vote on President Obama's nominee, Gina McCarthy, as EPA Administrator. In doing so the Republican senators broke their earlier promisadditione to move McCarthy's nomination if she answered an unprecedented 1079 written questions, a quest she completed. Political observers assume the Republican roadblock is meant to derail or delay the implementation of a new EPA rule, promised by President Obama to finally regulate carbon pollution. The Republican ranking member, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, orchestrated the double cross. Vitter is an unabashed mouthpiece for the petroleum industry and record breaking receptacle for petrodollars having received $1.2 million in oil company largesse during his public service career. With cash gushers of oily money cascading down their open gullets, the Republican leadership's mercenary devotion to Big Oil shouldn't shock us. However, the boldness of the party's most recent assault on the public interest might cause us to ponder how GOP's honchos' knee jerk slavishness to petroleum interest has infected its rank and file.

The perversity of the modern conservative mind is displayed in two studies published last week. Those studies illustrate the extent to which the right wing has become the ideological sock puppet of Big Oil and the GOP's army of right wing Christian fundamentalists oil industry foot soldiers. A peer reviewed National Academy of Sciences report shows that the label "energy efficient" on a product actually makes it less likely that self-identified conservatives will purchase that product. Why? Because morally twisted right wing orthodoxy has taken the "conserve" out of conservatism. Craven hatred of all things environmental has made the labels "clean," "green" or "efficient" pariah among GOP acolytes. Conversely, dirty energy is patriotic and even "blessed."

Big Oil's Orwellian skill at employing the rhetoric of patriotism and emblazoning its enterprises with stars and stripes, has stitched the notion that conservation is synonymous with "anti-American" into the fabric of GOP talking points. In 2006, President George W. Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer answered a press query about whether President Bush believed in fuel efficiency standards for automobiles saying, "That's a big 'No.'" The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. And we have a bounty of resources in this country... Conservation alone is not the answer."

After a decade of this brand of oily claptrap from the industry's political toadies and its talking heads on Fox News and hate radio, many conservative Americans now embrace the farcical presumption that buying and burning gas is a patriotic act. In 2008, as the oil industry raked in record profits by raking Americans with record prices at the pump, the party of the petro plutocrats proudly adopted Big Oil's rallying cry as its mantra "Drill, Baby, Drill."

By the way, Fleischer's use of the term "blessed" to describe unconscionable profligacy and immoral waste reflect another GOP orthodoxy -- the notion that God wants us to burn oil. A second study published this week by University of Pittsburgh Professor David Barker and Professor David Bearce of the University of Colorado found that a fundamentalist Christian belief in biblical End Times is a significant motivating factor behind Republican voter resistance to curbing climate change. According to Bearce and Barker, 76 percent of self-identified Republicans say they believe in the End Times. "Since the world is going to end at a predestined time anyhow," their logic goes, "it would be heretical to curb our destructive appetites under the delusion that we can do anything about pushing back God's ordained date."

Anointing rapacious behavior with religious gloss is an old strategy for both right wing conservatives and the extraction industry. When a House Oversight Committee summoned Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of Interior, James Watt, to explain his caper to sell off American's public lands, waters and mineral rights to oil, mining and timber companies at what the General Accounting Office called "fire sale prices," Watt, a former mining and oil company lawyer, retorted, "I don't know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." Embracing his party line, along with its hook and sinker, Watt explained that environmentalism was a plot to "weaken America" and dismissed environmentalists as a "left wing cult which seeks to bring down the kind of government I believe in."

Watt was an early proponent of Dominion Theology, the authoritarian Christian heresy that cites cherry-picked phrases from the book of Genesis to advocate man's duty to subdue nature. His carbon industry alliances and Apocalyptical Christianity inspired Secretary Watt to set about dismantling his department and distributing its assets to his pals. His disciple and former employee, Gale Norton, another energy industry lawyer and lobbyists, would continue the chicanery when she succeeded Watt as Interior Secretary during George W. Bush's administration. As Shakespeare observed, "The devil can quote Scripture to serve his own purposes."

In reality, there is nothing patriotic, moral or religious about Big Oil. A storied history of perfidy and greed has distinguished these companies among the most treasonous and piratical of all American business enterprises. Halliburton's decision to relocate to the Cayman Islands after fattening itself on $9 billion worth of inherently crooked no-bid, cost-plus contracts during the Iraq War is only one of many examples of their shaky loyalty to our country. Before it vaulted onto the bandwagon of patriotism, Texaco flew not "Old Glory" but the "Jolly Roger" over its Houston headquarters, proudly adopting the pirate flag as the emblem of a pirate industry.

The threats from global climate change and ocean acidification are only the tip of a melting iceberg. Not satiated with simply destroying the planet, the oil industry's relentless greed has eroded American's economic independence, imperiled our national security, and ruined our global economic leadership and moral authority.

America's national security is rooted in a strong economy at home. As Republican oilman T. Boone Pickens has acknowledged, our deadly addiction to oil is the principal drag on American capitalism. Our nation is borrowing a billion dollars a day to purchase a billion dollars of foreign oil, much of it from nations that don't share our values or that are outright hostile to our interests.

Our oil jones has us funding both sides of the war against terror! Big Oil has embroiled us in foreign wars supporting petty dictators who despise democracy and who are hated by their own people. The export of $700 billion dollars annually of American wealth has beggared our nation, which, a few short decades ago, owned half the wealth on Earth.

Add to these cataclysmic numbers, the $100 billion annual military cost of protecting oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, trillions spent on various oil wars over the past decade, billions more in economic injury from oil spills in Valdez, the Gulf of Mexico and in American rivers from the Hudson to the Kalamazoo to the Yellowstone, the massive damage done to the coast of Louisiana from local drilling companies which aggravated New Orleans' destruction by Katrina, not to mention the hundreds of billions annually in externalized health care costs from illnesses caused by the oil industry.

If the oil industry had to pay the true costs of bringing its product to market, gas prices would be upwards of $12 per gallon at the pump, according to economist Amory Lovins, and most Americans would be running to buy electric cars.

With low cost disruptive technologies like cheap, fast and efficient electric vehicles, and solar and wind technologies poised to displace Big Oil, the industry is using its hold on the Republican Party to permanently embed itself in our economy while subverting science, American democracy, free market capitalism and our sacred belief in an ethical God.


Crooks and Liars
Wednesday May 8, 2013 09:15 pm

Stewart Tears Into the 'Denizens of Bullsh*t Mountain' for Benghazi Fearmongering

By Heather

Jon Stewart ripped into Fox "News" and their continued hyping of the trumped up Benghazi "scandal" which they've been promising over and over is about to "have the lid blown off a giant coverup" at any moment now since the attacks first happened.

Stewart took his viewers back through some of Fox's coverage for the last few months now, whether it was the Greta hyping the Petraeus testimony, or Hannity ranting about the Clinton testimony, to Lindsey Graham promising that the hearing this week was "going to make you mad" and if not, well, they'll just keep having more of them until you are.

Stewart reminded his viewers that this Congress has had nine full hearings on Benghazi, but during the Bush administration there were fifty four attacks on diplomatic targets that killed thirteen Americans, but Congress only held three hearings total on embassy security back then with zero of the outrage we're seeing from Republicans now.

After asking what made things different this time around, Stewart went through the recent list of items that the wingnuts on the right believe are "worse than Watergate" and crazy GOP Rep. Steve King's remarks that Benghazi is "Watergate and Iran Contra together" and "multiplied by ten." Stewart put into perspective just what King was comparing the so-called Benghazi "coverup" to and asked, just what did President Obama do that Republicans believe is worse than some of Nixon and Reagan's worst scandals combined.

Cue Ralph Peters on Fox accusing President Obama of "sacrificing American lives for politics" to which Stewart responded, "outrage justified"... unless of course, that's not what actually happened. Stewart wrapped things up by explaining just why most of the country doesn't take the "denizens of bullsh*t mountain" and their history of hysteria when it comes the Obama administration too seriously and reminded Republicans about the fact that the outrage could be turned right back on them when it comes to how seriously they actually take the security at our embassies after they voted to cut the funding for just that.


Thursday May 9, 2013 06:00 pm

St. Louis Fast Food Strike Spreads To Other Locations

By Susie Madrak

If the only jobs left are service jobs, then they have to pay enough for people to live on. In the aftermath of our economic reconstruction, where all the money goes to the people at the top, I find it heartening that so many people are organizing and demanding a living wage:

    ST. LOUIS • Rasheen Aldridge and a couple of his coworkers did not report Wednesday for their 11 a.m. shift at the Jimmy John's in Soulard.

    Instead, they stood outside carrying protest signs with a group of supporters while four community activists entered the shop and notified the manager that those workers were on strike.

    Later in the day, a handful of McDonald's workers did the same at a location in Ferguson.

    Rasheen Aldridge and a couple of his coworkers did not report Wednesday for their 11 a.m. shift at the Jimmy John's in Soulard.

    As in those efforts in others cities, the St. Louis workers are asking for $15 an hour instead of wages that hover closer to the minimum wage, which is $7.35 an hour in Missouri.

    “I realize I'm not the CEO of a fast-food company,” said Aldridge, 19, a student at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.

    But he said the $8 an hour he makes at Jimmy John's is not proper compensation for his work. It's not enough, for example, to pay for repairs to his car, which he sometimes uses to deliver sandwiches.

    While Aldridge granted that $15 an hour may be a lofty goal, he said it was a good starting point for negotiations.

    Instead, they stood outside carrying protest signs with a group of supporters while four community activists entered the shop and notified the manager that those workers were on strike.

    Later in the day, a handful of McDonald's workers did the same at a location in Ferguson.

    These employees are being joined by dozens of more fast food workers Thursday across the St. Louis region in a push for higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to form a union without retaliation. A rally in Delmar Loop is planned for Thursday afternoon.


Advocate: GOP-backed ‘workplace flexibility’ bill is designed to kill overtime pay

By Kay Steiger
Thursday, May 9, 2013 12:05 EDT

The House of Representatives passed a Republican-sponsored bill on Wednesday evening purporting to offer greater flexibility to working families, but the bill has been vehemently opposed by women’s groups and labor unions who say the only “flexibility” offered by the bill is given to the employers and not the employees. The bill passed by a vote of 223-204 along party lines.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), wrote in an email to supporters, “Despite efforts by union bosses and liberal activists to distort the facts, the House of Representatives just passed my bill to give working moms and dads more time flexibility in the workplace.” When Roby defended her bill on the House floor on Wednesday, her speech earned boos from her colleagues.

Liz Watson, senior advisor to the Education and Employment Team at the National Women’s Law Center, disagreed with Roby’s assessment of what the bill would do. “It takes cash out of the pocket of cash-strapped families under the guise of flexibility,” she said “It’s a bill that comes up right in time for Mother’s day — we say it’s the Mother’s Day equivalent of coal in your stocking.”

The Working Families Flexibility Act proposes to modify the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires hourly employees to receive time and a half for hours worked in excess of 40 a week, to allow employers to substitute “comp time” for overtime pay.

“And certainly to … earn time off [under this bill], you have to work beyond the hours in a work week. We think folks should be able to get time off without having to treat it as something extra. Let alone that there are many workers in low-wage jobs who never get to 40 hours a week because there’s a huge problem with involuntary part-time work today,” Watson continued.

The reason so many labor unions and women’s groups oppose the bill has to do with some of the original protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act, Watson explained. “It was really designed to protect those workers who were most likely to be exploited. It was designed to ensure that those workers with the least bargaining power were made to work a certain number of hours in a week and to create a disincentive to make people work beyond a 40-hour work week.”

“And of course that overtime pay has put many kids through college,” Watson added.

It’s unclear if the Republican-sponsored bill will gain any traction in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement to the Huffington Post that he has “concerns” about the bill.

“I think this is the wrong approach to the very critical problem of helping workers balance job responsibilities with family and caregiving,” he said.

The Obama administration has also promised to veto the bill.

“This legislation undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplace flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules,” the White House said in a statement.

Watch Rep. Roby defend her bill on the House floor on Wednesday.


Judge questions efforts of NYPD’s stop-and-frisk ‘all-star’ Kha Dang who was ‘wrong 95 percent of the time’

By Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian
Friday, May 10, 2013 4:11 EDT

Kha Dang, who made just six arrests out of 127 stops in summer 2009, insists officers were not stopping people without cause

In late summer 2009, few New York City police officers could match Kha Dang in street stops. Working with an aggressive plainclothes unit in Brooklyn’s 88th precinct, the eight-year veteran of the force was among the NYPD’s top four stoppers.

Dang racked up a total of 127 stops in the third quarter of that year. He performed 75 frisks and, on 37 separate occasions, searched inside suspects’ clothing or belongings. He was, in the words of one civil rights attorney, an NYPD “all-star”.

Despite his efforts, Dang’s hit rate – the number of times in which his stops led to an arrest or summons, or removed a gun from the streets – was called into serious question in federal court this week.

Dang made a total of six arrests out of his 127 stops. He wrote one summons. He found contraband once. He never recovered any weapons and he only stopped people of color, primarily African Americans, 115 times to be exact. He never stopped a white person.

In two days of testimony that wrapped up Thursday morning, Dang explained his work to judge Shira Scheindlin, who is presiding over a landmark trial challenging the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices. Plaintiffs in the case seek to prove the NYPD has engaged in a pattern of widespread constitutional rights violations and racial profiling through its stop and frisk practices.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, over 4.4 million people have been stopped, roughly 88% have walked away without an arrest or summons and nearly nine out of 10 have been African American or Latino.

Dang described how in 2009 he was working in a high crime area, plagued by gangs and violence. He assured the court that when he and his fellow officers went on patrol in their unmarked vehicles, they were informed by quality intelligence reports and a familiarity with the individuals in their neighborhood.

“We pool a lot of resources,” Dang told the court Tuesday. “These are not nice people, so we definitely keep our tabs on them.”

He and his fellow officers were not simply stopping people without cause, Dang said. In July 2009, for example, he explained how a series of violent muggings near Fort Greene Park were linked to a group of young people. As a result, he would stop young people in the area surrounding the park, particularly those who spent their summer nights out after 1am. Dang’s records for the time reflect that he stopped groups of three or more people on average.

In other instances, Dang said he would rely on repeated observation of individuals to justify his stops.

“We have a general idea of their behavior,” Dang told the court Thursday, explaining that he would monitor the same individuals going about their lives on a daily basis. If he noticed anything out of the ordinary, what he called “weird behavior,” he might make a stop. When asked what might count as “weird behavior”, Dang said: “Furtive movement would be one of them.”

The phrase has come up repeatedly in the course of the trial. Along with high crime area, furtive movement is the justification officers most frequently check off on departmental stop forms known as UF250s. Critics say it a dangerously vague term that allows officers overly broad discretion in conducting stops. In the third quarter of 2009, Dang checked off furtive movement as a justification for a stop on 45 occasions. He cited high crime area 105 times and used “time of day, day of week, season” to justify 98 stops.

Dang provided the court with examples of furtive movement which included: “hanging out in front of a building, sitting on benches or something like that,” “standing near benches or trash cans,” and “movements to certain areas of the body, usually the waistband or pants pocket.”

Bruce Corey, an attorney for the plaintiffs, questioned Dang in cross-examination on his interactions with supervisors over his stop patterns.

“Has anyone asked you why only stopped people of color?” Corey asked. Nobody had, Dang replied. Corey asked Dang if his supervisors had raised concerns about the fact that he did not recover any weapons during the period in question, again he said no.

“I think the city thought he was their all-star,” Corey said outside court Thursday.

“Nobody seemed to care that he made 127 stops and recovered zero weapons,” he added. “He’s basically wrong 95% of the time and nobody seemed to care about that.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013


Meanwhile, none of any of the Wall Street Bankers go free.........

83-year-old nun facing 20 year sentence for ‘symbolic’ nuclear facility break-in

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, May 9, 2013 15:06 EDT

An 83-year-old nun who broke into a Tennessee depleted uranium storage facility in 2012 and splashed human blood on several surfaces, exposing a massive security hole at the nation’s only facility used to store radioactive conventional munitions, was convicted Wednesday and faces a term of up to 20 years in prison.

The only regret Sister Megan Rice shared with members of her jury on Wednesday was that she wished 70 years hadn’t passed before she took direct action, according to the BBC. She and two other peace activists, 64-year-old Michael Walli and 56-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed, were convicted of “invasion of a nuclear facility” in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, even though investigators admitted they did not get close to any actual nuclear material.

The three activists are part of a group called “Transform Now Plowshares,” a reference to the book of Isaiah, which says, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. They shall learn war no more.” All three face individual sentences of up to 20 years, along with a litany of fines.

As they invaded the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, a perimeter fence was cut, several surfaces were spray-painted, banners were hung and activists read from the Bible. They also spread human blood on several surfaces, saying its use was symbolic, meant to remind people “of the horrific spilling of blood by nuclear weapons.”

“The shortcomings in security at one of the most dangerous places on the planet have embarrassed a lot of people,” the activists’ attorney, Francis Lloyd, told members of the jury according to the BBC. “You’re looking at three scapegoats behind me.”

Sister Rice has been arrested between 40 or 50 times committing acts of civil disobedience, according to The New York Times, including once in Nevada after she physically blocked a truck at a nuclear test site.

Depleted uranium munitions like the kind stored at the facility Sister Rice targeted are blamed for some of the worst birth defects and soaring cancer rates seen in post-war Iraq, particularly in the city of Fallujah following the siege of 2004, in which U.S. soldiers killed thousands of civilians.

The city has never recovered, particularly from the use of depleted uranium munitions, and to this day residents suffer from health effects “worse” than those seen following the nuclear detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

“I believe we are all equally responsible to stop a known crime,” Sister Rice said from the witness stand, according to quotes published by her group. She called herself a “citizen of the world” and reportedly smiled as the verdict was read.


‘Purity’ culture: bad for women, worse for survivors of sexual assault

By Jill Filipovic, The Guardian
Thursday, May 9, 2013 13:23 EDT

Virginity has no bearing on a person’s worth, yet ‘purity balls’ and shaming victims make our culture more medieval than modern

Where does a woman’s value lie? In her brain? Her heart? Her spirit?

According to right-wing culture warriors, “between her legs”. That’s what underlies the emphasis on virginity as “purity”, and the push for abstinence-only education. And it has very real consequences, most recently articulated by Elizabeth Smart.

Smart, who was kidnapped and held for months while her captor repeatedly raped her, recently discussed how her religious background made her feel worthless after the first rape – how she understands why others wouldn’t even try to escape, if, like her, they were taught that a sexually “impure” woman had nothing to offer.

Smart’s speech is largely being interpreted as a critique of abstinence-only education, but she’s pointing to an entire culture that fetishizes purity. The more extreme versions of our collective obsession are seen in conservative Christian churches, which offer purity rings, purity balls and sermons that insist wives give their virginity as a “gift” to husbands. But purity culture is mainstream, even in a country where sexualized images of women are on every magazine rack and “Girls Gone Wild” series thrive.

Abstinence-only education is just one example of our bizarre relationship with sex, which can be seen most clearly in the way we treat women. Women and girls being sexy for someone else is more or less OK, as long as no actual sex occurs, and as long as the version of “sexy” has appropriate markers of being middle- or upper-class. Women who exhibit a degree of sexual agency by acting – rather than only appearing attractive – or women perceived as inappropriately powerful or aggressive inevitably face being branded sluts and whores.

The idea that sexual activity damages women and makes them lose their value was articulated by Smart:

“I think it goes even beyond fear, for so many children, especially in sex trafficking. It’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like, ‘Who would ever want me now? I’m worthless.’

That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other. And that’s how I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow: that when I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex.

After that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone.”

Smart’s case is an extreme example. But right-wing purity culture damages all women, not just survivors of sexual assault. Feminists have been making this point for decades, perhaps most comprehensively in Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth. Valenti notes that the cultural emphasis on virginity teaches young women that their moral center is in their crotch, not in their minds or hearts.

This culture tells women that their bodies aren’t really theirs; bodies are only bargaining chips, which can be devalued like a new car driven off the lot. Women aren’t inherently valuable, the thinking goes, except so long as we have untouched vaginas to give our husbands (because our partners are always husbands). Virginity trumps intelligence, humor and compassion. The notion that both partners might benefit from having dated around, experimented, and figured out what they enjoy and want from a healthy relationship? It doesn’t even register.

It’s a view so out of touch that calling it “retro” seems quaint. It’s more medieval, harkening back to when women were sold into marriage by their fathers and virgins were the most valued goods. Yet it’s on display in schools across contemporary America, at father-daughter “purity balls“, on right-wing radio, and in church youth groups.

The dehumanization that purity culture inflicts was described by Smart in her speech when she talked about the sex education:

“I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that?”

Smart says those words rang in her memory. She felt ruined.

Of course, Smart wasn’t ruined. There are a lot of words that come to mind when listening to her – resilient, intelligent, thoughtful, wonderful – and neither “ruined” nor “devalued” are among them. Her message is crucial: value isn’t maintained, lost or compromised with sexual penetration. We are inherently valuable.

Smart emphasizes a crucial point: sexual assault is a crime, plain and simple, and survivors should be supported, not judged. A cultural emphasis on sexual purity leads to the kind of judgement that Smart internalized. Surely, purity advocates would say that they don’t intend to hurt victims – that rape isn’t a woman’s fault, that she can still be pure of heart after the assault. But that, too, speaks to the fundamental misogyny of purity culture: a woman who has sex forced upon her may still be “good”, even if her stock has decreased. Women who act on perfectly natural sexual desire, on the other hand, are tainted physically and morally.

It goes without saying, but it’s too important not to repeat: men are not judged as women are for consensual sexual activity. Men who have sex aren’t chewed up pieces of gum or moral failures – they’re studs.

Men who are raped or sexually assaulted, however, find themselves similarly marginalized. While the feminist movement has done excellent work in creating space for survivors to report crimes and open up, American-style masculinity doesn’t leave a lot of room for understanding male victimization. Abstinence education routinely teaches young women that they need to control the brakes of sexual responsibility, putting a halt to the men who only know how to accelerate. There’s little recognition of male agency, much less encouragement of men and boys as anything but tough, aggressive and brutish. That has devastating consequences for men and boys who are sexually violated; there’s not much language that doesn’t feel emasculating.

The same churches that peddle purity don’t tend to think very highly of homosexuality; that homophobia, coupled with sexual shame, silences many boys and men who are assaulted by other men. For those who are assaulted by women, the broader cultural assumption that men always want sex puts up even more barriers to reporting and dealing with that abuse.

Purity culture hurts all of us, and it adds an extra level of shame to sexual assault. Smart is just one example. Imagine if the young woman from the Steubenville case lived in a world where consensual sex and sexual assault were understood as two very different things, with no grey area. Imagine if there weren’t anything shameful about consensual sex or being sexually assaulted, and that the latter were considered an awful violation – taking a good, healthy, mutually pleasurable activity and turning it into an act of violence. If Jane Doe from Steubenville lived in that world, the media would have told her story quite differently, if there even were a media narrative. No photos, no crude, jokey captions. Her own friends wouldn’t have testified against her at trial; they would have stepped in to stop the assault as it was happening.

Imagine, too, if the young women who tragically committed suicide after similar photos circulated around their school, had lived in a world where “sexual purity” didn’t exist as a concept, and where women’s bodies were considered fundamentally their own. In that world, the shame would fall on the young men who allegedly assaulted them. There would be no bully’s satisfaction for circulating photos of either any sexual activity, consensual or not, because neither scenario would be considered humiliating.

As Frank Bruni says in an excellent column about the sexual double-standard:

“Men get passes, women get reputations, and real, lasting humiliation travels only one way.”

We all have have qualities and make choices that speak to our kindness, empathy, ethics and intelligence. Whether or not we’re sexually “pure” simply has no bearing. But a culture that fetishizes virginity is a culture that’s awfully bad for women and men, and that’s particularly painful for the survivors of sexual violence.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #6287 on: May 11, 2013, 06:26 AM »

May 10, 2013

Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears


The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.

Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.

Virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies.

China is now the largest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels extensively for far longer, and experts say the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.

The new measurement came from analyzers atop Mauna Loa, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii that has long been ground zero for monitoring the worldwide trend on carbon dioxide, or CO2. Devices there sample clean, crisp air that has blown thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, producing a record of rising carbon dioxide levels that has been closely tracked for half a century.

Carbon dioxide above 400 parts per million was first seen in the Arctic last year, and had also spiked above that level in hourly readings at Mauna Loa.

But the average reading for an entire day surpassed that level at Mauna Loa for the first time in the 24 hours that ended at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday. The two monitoring programs use slightly different protocols; NOAA reported an average for the period of 400.03 parts per million, while Scripps reported 400.08.

Carbon dioxide rises and falls on a seasonal cycle, and the level will dip below 400 this summer as leaf growth in the Northern Hemisphere pulls about 10 billion tons of carbon out of the air. But experts say that will be a brief reprieve — the moment is approaching when no measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will produce a reading below 400.

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a unit of Columbia University.

From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.

Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an epoch called the Pliocene. Geological research shows that the climate then was far warmer than today, the world’s ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher.

Experts fear that humanity may be precipitating a return to such conditions — except this time, billions of people are in harm’s way.

“It takes a long time to melt ice, but we’re doing it,” Dr. Keeling said. “It’s scary.”

Dr. Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, began carbon dioxide measurements on Mauna Loa and at other locations in the late 1950s. The elder Dr. Keeling found a level in the air then of about 315 parts per million — meaning that if a person had filled a million quart jars with air, about 315 quart jars of carbon dioxide would have been mixed in.

His analysis revealed a relentless, long-term increase superimposed on the seasonal cycle, a trend that was dubbed the Keeling Curve.

Countries have adopted an official target to limit the damage from global warming, with 450 parts per million seen as the maximum level compatible with that goal. “Unless things slow down, we’ll probably get there in well under 25 years,” Ralph Keeling said.

Yet many countries, including China and the United States, have refused to adopt binding national targets. Scientists say that unless far greater efforts are made soon, the goal of limiting the warming will become impossible without severe economic disruption.

“If you start turning the Titanic long before you hit the iceberg, you can go clear without even spilling a drink of a passenger on deck,” said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “If you wait until you’re really close, spilling a lot of drinks is the best you can hope for.”

Climate-change contrarians, who have little scientific credibility but are politically influential in Washington, point out that carbon dioxide represents only a tiny fraction of the air — as of Thursday’s reading, exactly 0.04 percent. “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic,” a Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher, said in a Congressional hearing several years ago.

But climate scientists reject that argument, saying it is like claiming that a tiny bit of arsenic or cobra venom cannot have much effect. Research shows that even at such low levels, carbon dioxide is potent at trapping heat near the surface of the earth.

“If you’re looking to stave off climate perturbations that I don’t believe our culture is ready to adapt to, then significant reductions in CO2 emissions have to occur right away,” said Mark Pagani, a Yale geochemist who studies climates of the past. “I feel like the time to do something was yesterday.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 10, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of carbon dioxide in the air as of Thursday’s reading from monitors. It is .04 percent, not .0004 percent.

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« Reply #6288 on: May 11, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Bangladesh survivor Reshma Begum: I never dreamed I'd see daylight again

Rescue workers had given up hope of finding anyone else alive in the rubble of the Rana Plaza. Then they heard a faint tapping

Syed Zain Al-Mahmood and Saad Hammadi in Dhaka and Jason Burke   
The Guardian, Friday 10 May 2013 16.18 BST   

First came the collapse. At 9am, as the day's work started, a ripping, tearing sound, clouds of choking dust, the screams of colleagues and finally silence. Then came fire, rain, and 16 long days in the darkness under the rubble, surrounded by the decaying corpses of her friends and colleagues. On Friday came hope.

Through the morning, Reshma Begum, a seamstress who worked on the second floor of the Rana Plaza in a suburb of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, heard rescuers close by. But none heard her.

"I heard voices of the rescue workers. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods to attract their attention," she told reporters from a hospital bed.

At about 3pm, Abdur Razzaq, an army sergeant deployed to help search the 7,000 tonnes of rubble that was all that remained of the Rana Plaza, picked up the faint sound of metallic tapping. "I heard the sound and rushed towards the spot. I knelt down and heard a faint voice. 'Sir, please help me,' she cried," Razzaq told the Guardian.

The woman had been breathing through a pipe from inside the wreckage, Razzaq said, and had sustained no serious injury.
Link to video: Bangladesh: Dhaka woman found alive 17 days after collapse of Rana Plaza

The collapse of the factory, in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka, prompted widespread criticism of local authorities, employers and international retailers such as Britain's Primark, which were supplied with clothes by businesses run from its upper floors.

About two-thirds of the more than 3,000 workers in the building managed to flee. But as many as 1,500 may have been buried by rubble. With an official death toll standing at 1,050, relatives and rescue workers had given up hope of finding anyone else alive.

"We were removing slabs," said Lt Col S M Imran-Uz-Zaman, an army spokesman at the site. "We immediately halted work in all other areas and focused on the rescue."

Razzaq said he heard Reshma's tapping after bulldozers lifted rubble covering the spot. Rescuers saw her standing in the gap between a beam of concrete and the slab.

"When I flashed the torchlight I saw a lot of space and she was walking," said Monwar, a worker at the site.

Daily life in much of the capital ground to a halt as Dhaka's inhabitants watched the rescue unfold live on local television.

Tensions were high. An earlier attempt to rescue a woman found in the debris more than 100 hours after the building collapsed went disastrously wrong when sparks from a grinder ignited a fire, killing her and fatally burning a rescue worker.

For an hour, workers used light hammers, drills and saws to remove rods and concrete blocks. Others prayed. Eventually a military engineer was able to climb into the space where Reshma had spent two weeks.

Then, to cheers of "God is great!", the young woman, with the pink scarf she had worn to work more than two weeks ago around her shoulders, was eased out and on to a stretcher. Rescue workers were seen wiping tears as an ambulance drew away, taking the young woman to a military hospital nearby.

Begum told rescuers she had survived by scavenging for biscuits in the rucksacks of dead colleagues and drinking rainwater. "No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again," she told the private Somoy TV from her hospital bed.

She told the channel she had lived on dried food for 15 days. "There was some dried food around me. The last two days I had nothing but water. I used to drink only a limited quantity of water to save it. I had some bottles of water around me."

Reshma's mother and sister, Asma, were reported to have rushed to the hospital to meet her.

Army officers co-ordinating the rescue said they were astonished by the woman's strength. "It is incredible that someone could have survived in the wreckage 408 hours after the building came down," said army officer Shah Jamal. "Her will to live is amazing."

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the disaster, including the owner of the Rana Plaza and owners of the factories it housed.

Several major western retailers were being supplied by factories based in the building. Primark and its Canadian counterpart, Loblaw, have announced they will compensate the victims of the disaster, the world's worst industrial accident since the Bhopal gas leak in India in 1984.

Primark said last night: "A further comprehensive programme covering the immediate and long-term needs of the survivors and the dependants of the deceased is also being finalised. This programme will include medical and occupational rehabilitation. Food packages provided by Primark are continuing to be distributed to some 750 households on a weekly basis, rising to 1,000 households or more if necessary as soon as possible. This programme will continue for as long as needed."

The government has blamed the owners and builders of the eight-storey complex for using shoddy construction materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement, and not obtaining the necessary clearances.

It has emerged that the building was constructed on swampy land. Four storeys were built between 2007 and 2008, with a further four added later. A ninth floor was under construction at the time of the collapse.

The building had developed cracks the day before but worried workers were forced to remain inside by managers who threatened to dock their pay of around £30 a month. When massive generators were switched on when power went off – a frequent occurrence in electricity-starved Dhaka – the building collapsed.

There have been a series of deadly accidents in Bangladesh's garment industry, which accounts for 80% of the country's exports and employs about 4 million people, including a fire in November in which 114 people died. A fire killed eight people at another garment factory in Dhaka this week.

More than 100 more bodies were found in the rubble of the Rana Plaza on Friday. Most are so decomposed that physical recognition is impossible.

Deep anger at both authorities and employers remains. Garment workers demonstrated for better conditions in the aftermath of the disaster and clashed with police. But all welcomed yesterday's news.

"God is amazing," said Julekha, a 31-year-old garment worker in Savar. "Our supervisor told us that a woman was rescued from the rubble. I later watched her on television. Everyone in our workplace was surprised. It's a little happiness amid all the sorrows that we have been filled with in the last so many days."


Bangladesh factory fire puts renewed pressure on clothing firms

Blaze follows collapse of Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka last month which left hundreds dead

Syed Zain Al-Mahmood in Dhaka and Jason Burke in Delhi, Thursday 9 May 2013 15.57 BST   

Link to video: Bangladesh: factory fire kills eight

Bangladesh's crisis-stricken garment industry suffered its second serious accident in a fortnight when eight people were killed in a fire at a factory in Dhaka that was producing clothes for western retailers, including Primark.

Among the dead were the factory's managing director and principal owner and a senior police officer. Police said the fire started on the ground floor of the Tung Hai Sweater factory in the Mirpur suburb of Dhaka at around midnight on Wednesday.

The incident follows the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex near Dhaka on 24 April. The death toll from that disaster rose to more than 950 yesterday. The illegally constructed, eight-storey building collapsed while thousands of people were working inside. An engineer had declared it unsafe a day before.

The news that the Tung Hai factory supplied western firms will again focus attention on their role in the booming garments industry in Bangladesh. A website for Tung Hai boasted of supplying retailers in Germany, Ireland, Spain, Canada and the UK with products including cardigans, jumpers and pyjamas.

The factory's manager, Jabedur Rahman, said the owner and the other victims – including a member of the youth wing of the ruling Awami League political party and bodyguards – were having a meeting on the ninth floor when the fire broke out. Workers had left after their shift finished at around 8pm.

"The owner and his friends were found on the stairs but pronounced dead after they were taken to hospital," said Rahman. "They may have died of smoke inhalation while trying to find their way down."

On Thursday The facade of the 11-storey Tung Hai building, which towers over the blue-collar neighbourhood of Mirpur, was blackened by smoke. Workers crowded around the entrance, kept at a distance by police officers.

Piles of yarn as well as finished garments lay strewn on the ground floor. Among them were items appearing to be for well-known western labels. These included Cedarwood State and Atmosphere, both owned by Primark.

The head of compliance at Primark's Dhaka office, Arafat Kabir, confirmed that Tung Hai was a long-term supplier. "This was an active factory," he said. "It wasn't a ramshackle building. It was structurally sound and had adequate firefighting equipment. We offer condolences to the families of the deceased." He said that Primark executives had done a series of compliance audits at the factory and the last audit had been around six months ago.

This week the Bangladesh government said it had closed 16 garment factories in Dhaka and two in the south-eastern port city of Chittagong for safety reasons after the collapse of Rana Plaza.

"These factories will only be allowed to reopen after they have made structural and safety improvements," a senior official of the labour ministry said. "Every factory in the country will be inspected as part of a government initiative to ensure safety."

There are concerns that corruption and political influence may allow owners to evade regulations.

Bangladesh is the second biggest garment maker in the world, with 4 million workers, mostly women, employed in the industry. Many of them face chronically unsafe working conditions – with blocked or non-existent fire exits and shaky foundations – and receive barely subsistence wages.

More than 700 workers have died in fires in garment factories since 2005, according to labour groups who complain that neither retailers nor factory owners give enough importance to safety.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, said western brands must do more to improve safety in Bangladesh. "Fires are happening in modern factories as well as old ones," she said. "We must build a culture of safety in Bangladesh and international retailers must be part of this."

Mannan Kochi, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the fire in Dhaka was another blow to the image of the country's garment industry.

"This is a terrible accident and the owner himself lost his life," he said. "This was a modern factory. We will co-operate fully with the government to make sure we get to the bottom of what happened."

At the Rana Plaza site, army bulldozers uncovered 100 bodies on Thursday. Families continued to crowd around the site, clutching photos of those still missing. Army officials co-ordinating the rescue said the decomposition of the bodies meant relatives would have to wait for DNA tests, which they said could take up to six months.

Roughly 2,500 people were rescued from the building, including many injured, but there is no official estimate of the numbers still missing.

The government has blamed the collapse on the owners and builders for using shoddy building materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement, and not obtaining the necessary official clearances.

Primark and its Canadian counterpart Loblaw have announced they will compensate the victims of the disaster, the world's worst industrial accident since the Bhopal gas leak in India in 1984.

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« Reply #6289 on: May 11, 2013, 06:36 AM »

India’s ‘Red Brigade’ fights to change the country’s rape culture

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 14:47 EDT

India’s “Red Brigade” is a group of angry young women with a simple message for the country’s sexual predators: change your ways or be ready to face the consequences.

Dressed in bright red shirts and loose black pants, the brigade’s members are fed up with deeply ingrained patriarchal mindsets and promote a brand of vigilante justice that is testing the law in their home state of Uttar Pradesh.

Their leader is 25-year-old Usha Vishwakarma, who has become an unlikely heroine to poor young girls growing up in the squalid bylanes of Madiyon, a suburb of state capital Lucknow.

Vishwakarma founded the group two years ago when she saw many of her friends being forced to give up their studies or stop going out for fear of stalking, groping or assault.

“We were told to stay at home to avoid sex-starved men. If we went to the police, we were asked to ignore the ‘teasing’ and carry on. We were fed up with this moral conditioning,” Vishwakarma said.

Initially comprising 15 members, the group has swelled to more than 100 since the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December, which sparked a raging debate over the way women are treated in India.

“The attack in Delhi made us so angry. Many young women have approached us saying they wanted to bring about a change so that no one else has to suffer like she did,” said Vishwakarma, her fiery eyes gleaming.

Reported crimes against Indian women stood at 228,650 in 2011, the latest figures available from the National Crime Records Bureau, but these are thought to represent only a fraction of actual offences.

Social stigma attached to sexual abuse often prevents victims from filing complaints to the police, who are largely perceived as corrupt and insensitive.

The experience of Afreen Khan, a 16-year-old high school student and a Red Brigade member, reflects the almost daily harassment that women in the country face and which largely goes unaddressed.

A group of boys would regularly make cat-calls and vulgar comments about her breasts, until the day one of them stopped her and pulled on her bra strap.

“I turned around, snatched the bat that he was carrying and bashed him up. The next day I ran into him again but he fled away before I could say anything,” said Khan, giggling.

Much of the confidence of the Red Brigade stems from the self-defence classes they have been taking since the Delhi gang-rape.

During a lesson at a spartan martial arts academy tucked in a narrow bylane of Lucknow, 17-year-old Preeti Verma told AFP how she was learning to “kick an attacker in the sensitive places”.

She was recently part of an attack on a group of boys in the neighbourhood who had been stalking a teenaged girl and sending lewd messages to her mobile phone.

“We just hoisted the boy up in the air and beat him up with our sandals. He ran away promising never to trouble the girl again,” Verma said.

While the Red Brigade has so far not faced any legal comeback over their actions, authorities take a dim view.

“We do not encourage such vigilante groups. You can’t take revenge in this fashion,” R.K. Vishwakarma, Inspector General (law and order) of Uttar Pradesh state told AFP.

“If somebody is harassing you, you have the right to retaliate in self-defence at that time. But you cannot go and even slap a man the next day because that would amount to crime.

“As far as the spirit and confidence of the women is concerned, we appreciate that. But their ways may land them in trouble some day.”

Surprisingly, the rough justice the Red Brigade metes out has been winning quiet approval from community elders, such as father-of-four Ram Avatar Singh, who said the group was “showing the way” to other girls.

“When we first started out, everyone ridiculed us. Now they look at us with respect and fear,” said Vishwakarma at her cramped two-room house that she shares with her parents, four younger siblings and a white mongrel.

The house serves as a meeting point for the Red Brigade where the “target” is identified, the tactics discussed and the final action plan sealed.

The latest attack to anger the group was the rape of a 13-year-old girl belonging to a low-caste community, who now sits among them with the hope that her voice can be heard.

“I had gone out to fetch water when a boy from the neighbourhood pounced on me. He lifted me up and took me to the nearby fields and raped me,” she recounted tearfully.

The police did not believe her account and registered the case as harassment, despite new laws that stipulate authorities must investigate rape allegations.

It was only after her family and others from her village protested that the police acted and detained the 19-year-old offender. A medical investigation later confirmed the rape.

The Red Brigade has drawn inspiration from the “Pink Gang”, another vigilante group that is credited with sowing the seeds of women’s grassroots activism across Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Activist Kavita Krishnan of the Delhi-based All India Progressive Women’s Alliance calls such groups a “positive and collective assertion” of women’s rights, but not everyone is a fan.

“If everyone starts taking law into their hands there will be total anarchy. We should not condone mob justice mentality,” warned Mriganka Dadwal, founder of SLAP, another women’s rights group.


India accounts for a quarter of cervical cancer deaths thanks to stigma

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 10, 2013 14:03 EDT

Social stigma is harming attempts to combat cervical cancer in India where more women die annually of the disease than anywhere else in the world, a new report said Friday.

More than a quarter of cervical cancer deaths worldwide occur in India, representing 72,825 a year according to the report by the US-based Cervical Cancer Free Coalition, although African nations have higher mortality rates.

Cervical cancer is the second largest killer of women in low- and middle-income countries and is a taboo subject in many conservative societies as it is linked to sexual transmission, said the report.

“It is critical to educate the public on the importance of screening and to break down cultural barriers about discussing sexual issues,” said Usha Rani Poli, a doctor at the MNJ Institute of Oncology in the Indian city of Hyderabad.

She urged dismantling of the cultural barriers that impede frank discussions over sex in the largely patriarchal and male-dominated Indian society.

India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh and Nigeria account for over 50 percent of the annual 275,000 cervical cancer deaths, said the report, which compiled data from multiple sources including the World Health Organization.

Zambia has the highest mortality rate globally at 38.6 deaths per 100,000 women with India registering less than half that rate at 15.2 deaths.

By contrast, Australia, which has a strong cervical cancer vaccine immunisation programme, has the lowest death rate at 1.4, said the report to be formally launched Sunday to coincide with International Mothers’ Day.

“Lack of awareness and deep-seated stigma associated with the disease pose significant barriers” to treatment access in many countries with high death rates, the report said.

Cervical cancer is “preventable”, said coalition executive director Jennifer Smith, adding “we can dramatically reduce this disease through vaccination, screening and education”.

The US group, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and funded by drug firms and other donors, chose 50 countries to provide a global snapshot reflecting geographic, economic and population variations.

“Unless women’s groups and civil society join together to lead movements that break through stigma, patriarchy and other societal barriers, we will continue to see large numbers of deaths,” the report said.

Doctors believe the disease can be prevented through better awareness.

“There are encouraging opportunities for prevention with breakthroughs in cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings,” said gynaecologic oncologist Poli.

Zambia’s Christine Kaseba, wife of President Michael Sata, called the nation’s high cervical cancer mortality rate “shocking”.

“We can change this by making life-saving vaccines available that almost entirely prevent the disease,” Kaseba said.

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« Reply #6290 on: May 11, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Pakistani elections: more than a dozen killed by bomb blast in Karachi

Bombs at ANP party offices and at Peshawar polling station also leaves scores wounded following Taliban attacks in runup to vote

Staff and agencies, Saturday 11 May 2013 10.01 BST   

Link to video: Pakistan: fatal bomb attack as election polls open

At least 18 people have been killed in bomb attacks and gun battles in Pakistan as millions of voters turned out despite the threats of violence in landmark national and provincial elections.

A bomb attack in the port city of Karachi on Saturday morning targeted the office of the Awami National party (ANP), killing 11 people and wounding more than 40, according to Reuters. Local media also reported gunfire in the city, underlining the range of risks faced by the country's 86 million voters.

A bomb exploded outside a polling station in the north-western city of Peshawar, killing at least one person and wounding 10 others, according to local police officer, Mukhtiar Khan. An explosion also destroyed an ANP office in the north-west, though no casualties have so far been reported.

In the south-western Balochistan province where separatists oppose the election, gunmen killed two people outside a polling station in the town of Sorab and a shoot out between supporters of rival candidates in the town of Chaman ended with four people dead, according to police and government officials.

The violence follows a string of bombings and shootings by the Taliban, which have marred the runup to the elections and claimed the lives of more than 130 people.

The historic vote, which pits a former cricket star against a two-time prime minister and an unpopular incumbent, marks the first transition from one civilian government to another in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its history.

Pakistan's Taliban, who regards the elections as un-Islamic, have focused their violent campaign on secular-leaning parties, such as the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People's party (PPP) and the ANP.

In response to the threat, the government has deployed an estimated 600,000 security personnel across the country to protect polling stations and voters.

"Yes, there are fears. But what should we do? Either we sit in our house and let the terrorism go on, or we come out of our homes, cast our vote, and bring in a government that can solve this problem of terrorism," Ali Khan, a voter in Peshawar, told the Associated Press.

Disillusionment with the two main parties appears to have brought a late surge of support for the former cricket star Imran Khan, who analysts predict could end up holding the balance of power. Khan, 60, who is in hospital after injuring himself in a fall at a party rally, is facing off against the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by the two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the PPP, led by the president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Khan has won support by tapping into the frustrations of millions of Pakistanis eager for a change from the political establishment who have long dominated the country's political scene.

"The team that we elect today will determine whether the rot will be stemmed or whether we will slide further into the abyss," prominent lawyer Babar Sattar wrote in The News daily.

"I never voted for anyone in the past, but today my sons asked me to go to polling station, and I am here to vote," said Mohammed Akbar, speaking from the north-western city of Khar. "Imran Khan is promising to bring a good change, and we will support him."

On the campaign trail, Sharif has painted himself as having the experience needed to tackle the country's problems.

"It's better to try a lesser evil instead of trying a novice," said Haji Mohammad Younus, a voter in Lahore. "The lesser evils at least have the experience of governing. They might be corrupt but they have lately realised that they have to deliver if they want to survive."

"The problems facing the new government will be immense, and this may be the last chance that the country's existing elites have to solve them," said Anatol Lieven, a professor at King's College London and author of a book on Pakistan.

"If the lives of ordinary Pakistanis are not significantly improved over the next five years, a return to authoritarian solutions remains a possibility," Lieven wrote in a column in the Financial Times.

Results from nearly 70,000 polling stations nationwide are expected to start tricking in from around 10pm local time (5pm GMT).

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« Reply #6291 on: May 11, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Indonesia's tropical forests set to benefit from further clearing ban

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expected to sign extended deal to help restore habitat of tigers and orangutans

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, Friday 10 May 2013 21.11 BST   

A ban on the clearing of tropical forests in Indonesia is on the verge of being extended in a historic deal that could protect some of the world's most threatened habitats.

Indonesia is home to about a third of the world's remaining tropical forests, which provide a habitat for endangered species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger.

For the past two years the government has imposed a moratorium on felling forests in an effort to halt the deforestation that has laid waste to much of the country's virgin habitat and cleared the way for plantations of palm oil and pulp, paper and timber businesses.

But that moratorium is about to expire, and the termination would leave loggers and plantations free to expand into fresh areas.

Reports from agencies and local press on Friday night suggested the country's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was about to sign up to an extension of the deal.

Reuters quoted an unnamed government official who said the fresh agreement would be signed within a few days.

The extension would be a big victory for green campaigners.

Greenpeace last year helped broker a key deal with Sinar Mas, owner of vast pulp and paper and palm oil interests in the region. That deal will help prevent further deforestation, and restore swathes of forest now degraded by the encroachment of loggers and plantations.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Extending the moratorium for another two years in Indonesia is good news for the climate and for increasingly endangered species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger.

"Indonesia's rainforests need protection from relentless exploitation by palm oil, and pulp and paper companies."

He said the decision would hopefully be welcomed by all the corporations in Indonesia and around the world that claimed to want zero deforestation.

But many palm oil planters have opposed the moratorium. The Jakarta Globe quoted a spokesman for the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers who said the ban caused Indonesia to be overtaken by Malaysia as the world's biggest producer of palm oil.

"We firmly reject any proposal to extend this moratorium because we stand to lose more than we gain from it," the spokesman said.

Deforestation is one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which this week were found to have reached the highest atmospheric concentration in recorded human history. Scientist predict that if emissions continue to rise the world will experience devastating degrees of warming within several decades.


How the G8 summit could help in limiting deforestation

The business case for avoiding deforestation remains unmade. Legislators need to help drive it out of supply chains

Simon Milledge, Thursday 14 March 2013 11.30 GMT   

As the UK prepares to host a G8 summit at which prime minister David Cameron wants transparency and accountability to take centre stage, there is an opportunity for world leaders to make progress against unsustainable deforestation.

The problem is that deforestation pays. That's the reality that defines a challenge that affects everything from our climate and the cost of our food, to the fate of wildlife and global efforts to eradicate poverty.

Most deforestation occurs because people around the world want wood, food, biofuels and other products that companies can provide from forest-converted land. As a result, any measures to limit deforestation that do not address this demand will struggle to make an impact. And while there have been some efforts to influence demand in ways that limit deforestation – these efforts have been unco-ordinated or have targeted different drivers of deforestation in a patchy way.

Demand-side measures that aim to limit deforestation range from legislation and public sector initiatives to industry-led standards, voluntary certification schemes and consumer-focused campaigns – such as when Greenpeace targeted toymaker Mattel over its use of cardboard made by a company known to destroy Indonesian rainforests.

These measures cover not only timber but also other products from formerly forested land, such as soy and palm oil, beef and biofuels. But a ban – such as the new EU regulations that ban sales of illegally harvested timber products – or a certification scheme that only covers one commodity could lead to what we call "leakage". This means progress in some areas could be more than offset by slippage elsewhere. While forest may be saved in one area, it may be lost in another. And even certified "deforestation-free" products occupy only a small share of the market, because consumers tend to be unwilling to pay a premium.

The International Institute for Environment and Development, forest footprint disclosure project, and the Prince's Rainforests Project wanted to assess whether it is possible to enhance demand-side interventions to reduce deforestation – and, if so, how. We wanted to identify what works best and whether measures associated with one commodity can be applied to others. And we wanted to understand, too, how the aspirations of people in consumer and producer countries factor into the design of such measures.

Last month we convened a meeting of forestry and trade specialists at the Royal Society to identify answers to these questions. Participants included policymakers, product certifiers, NGO staff, financiers and business people, representing a range of commodities and roles in the supply chain.

Speakers noted how the business case for avoiding deforestation remains unmade. Indeed, it is hard to find two people who agree on what sustainability even means. Part of the problem is that it depends on who is "selling" the idea of sustainability – and to whom. Nor is it clear that certification has any impact on deforestation overall, especially when eco-labels proliferate and governments are happy to support the schemes that exist rather than pushing them to improve.

What's clear is that we need a variety of measures that work in concert – legislation that enforces what campaigns call for, certification that has a genuine impact on deforestation rates, and input from the finance sector to address gaps that prevent producers from meeting demand-driven standards or traceability.

We also need ways to bring in the free-riders and non-conformers, whether companies or countries. And we need public sector interventions to focus less exclusively on the timber sector and address other major drivers of deforestation – such as agriculture.

Companies, governments, consumers and campaigners can all influence the supply chains that reach around the world to threaten forest landscapes. The good news is that there is growing awareness of the need for demand-side measures to deliver wider sustainability goals of environmental and social responsibility while securing economic incentives such as competitiveness and resilience. The bad news is that, as the horsemeat scandal affecting meat productions in the UK right now shows, it is all too easy for big brands to know little about their supply chains.

The G8 leaders who meet in the UK in June have a role to play. They can enact steps that can bring standards for consumer markets into convergence. They can act to ensure government subsidies reduce deforestation instead of stimulating it. Given the importance of cost savings to stimulating increased demand for deforestation-free commodities, they can initiate a review of available options under the different demand-side initiatives at all stages of the supply chain, while not compromising social and environmental integrity. And they can agree ways to make natural capital accounting a basic element of the businesses of the future.


Scientists use drones to monitor the orangutan in Asia's rainforests

Unmanned aircraft are the most efficient way for biologists to keep an eye on endangered species

Albelle Di Napoli   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 18 September 2012 14.05 BST   

For the past few months, drones have been flying over the tropical forests of south-east Asia to map endangered species. A dozen of these unmanned aircraft, fitted with a video camera and an autopilot, have been deployed and will be joined by several more.

The planes are designed by Lian Pin Koh, a specialist in applied ecology and conservation at the Science and Technology University in Zurich, and Serge Wich, a biologist from Liverpool University. The project started in 2011 during a study of deforestation in Indonesia, on which Wich headed a programme to protect Sumatran orangutans. In this area, oil-palm plantations are spreading at an alarming rate, and the primates' survival is jeopardised by slash-and-burn operations that destroy their natural habitat. The United Nations environment programme estimates that 98% of these forests will have vanished within 10 years.

"Monitoring is difficult in a tropical environment because cloud cover makes it impossible to use satellite imagery. Remote-controlled model planes are affordable and seem to be a good way of speeding up our research," the two scientists explain. Conventional observation missions are expensive: "$250,000 for a two-year study," Koh adds.

A fully configured drone costs $2,000: $320 for a scale model manufactured in China using expanded polyolefin foam, which is sufficiently elastic to withstand shocks; slightly less for the flight control software developed in the United States; and the rest for stabilisers and batteries, imported from Europe, and, of course, the camera.

The drones have a range of 20-25km (about 20 minutes' flight) and are GPS-guided, following a route established on computer. Newer prototypes "will travel twice as far and photograph about 100 hectares on each mission," Wich and Koh explain. Partly funded by the National Geographic Foundation and the Orangutan Conservancy research centre, the project has received almost $19,000 in subsidies.

In February a drone made a successful test flight at Aras Napal in Sumatra. Since then other devices have been deployed to combat poaching in Nepal. A trial was carried out in June in Chitwan national park, where rhinos, tigers and elephants are threatened. A reconnaissance mission is due this month.

In western Tanzania, the German Primate Centre and Ugalla Primate Project have recently received a drone. In a country where chimpanzees are among the most acutely endangered species, high hopes are pinned on the little planes.

"Until now, we used hidden cameras for our observations, spending hours perched in trees, squinting through binoculars," says Alex Piel, a biological anthropologist. The naturalists hope they will soon be able to get some low-altitude pictures, coupled with live observations.

Koh and Wich are now analysing the data they have collected and a Swiss company is keen to take over the marketing of their drones.

This article origanally appeared in Le Monde


Fires threaten to 'extinguish' critical Indonesian orangutan population

Conservationists claim a massive new wave of fires has been set in Tripa peat swamp to make way for palm oil plantations

Oliver Milman, Friday 29 June 2012 16.36 BST   

Numerous illegally lit fires continue to rage the peat swamp forest of Tripa, Sumatra
Fires continue to rage across the peat swamp forest of Tripa, Sumatra. Photograph: SOCP/YEL

The world's densest population of orangutans is set to be "extinguished" by a massive new wave of fires that is clearing large tracts of a peat swamp forest in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, conservationists have warned.

Environmentalists claim that satellite images show a huge surge in forest blazes across the Tripa peat swamp in order to create palm oil plantations, including areas that have not been permitted for clearing.

Tripa is home to a tight-knit enclave of around 200 critically endangered orangutans. However, this number has plummeted from an estimated population of 3,000.

Just 7,000 orangutans remain in Sumatra, with rampant forest clearing for palm oil cultivation blamed for their decline.

Ian Singleton, head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), said that the Tripa orangutans are being "extinguished."

"The situation is indeed extremely dire," he said. "Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge."

"When you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests, there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources."

Felling trees from Tripa's carbon-rich peat also triggers the release of large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Indonesia has been named as the third highest emitter of CO2 emissions in the world when deforestation is a factor, although the country disputes this.

Environmentalists have lodged a lawsuit against PT Kallista Alam, one of the five palm oil firms operating in Tripa, and Irwandi Yusuf, the former governor of Aceh, over the approval of a permit for the 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) palm oil plantation.

Irawardi, previously styled as a "green" governor, says he granted the permit due to delays in the UN's Redd+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme, which has seen Norway pledge $US1bn to Indonesia to reduce deforestation.

"The international community think our forest is a free toilet for their carbon," Irawardi said in April. "Every day they are saying they want clean air and to protect forests … but they want to inhale our clean air without paying anything."

SOCP and lawyers representing Tripa's local communities have called upon the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to bypass an ongoing government investigation into the forest clearing and immediately halt the razing of the area.

"This whole thing makes absolutely no sense at all, not environmentally, nor even economically," said Singleton.
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« Reply #6292 on: May 11, 2013, 06:56 AM »

05/10/2013 04:57 PM

Lost in Paradise: The Chained-Up Mentally Ill of Bali

By Katrin Kuntz

Not far from the glistening beaches of Bali, mentally ill people are kept in chains or locked up in small shacks. Locals simply don't know what else to do with them. But psychiatrist Luh Ketut Suryani has made it her job to set them free.

Before Luh Ketut Suryani leaves paradise, she applies lipstick in the rearview mirror of her SUV. Suryani wants to look good when she encounters the horrors of the day. On this particular morning, she selects a deep red color.

Then she takes her iPad from the passenger seat and spends a few minutes in preparation. Calmly moving her fingers across the screen, she reviews the medical histories of her patients, including their names, how long they have been kept locked up, and their diagnoses. Some of the case histories are 30 pages long, an attempt at order in the face of madness.

Komang, in chains for the last eight years: "A mother, in a shack next to the cowshed. After her divorce, she wandered naked through the village for nights on end."

Ketut, in chains for 19 years: "A construction worker, a bamboo cot in the jungle. One day he tried to kill his brother. No one knows why."

Kadek, locked up for the last 24 years.
Her hand stiffens.
"A farmer, a windowless shack. When her mother died, she took a knife and went into the street. There are worms eating their way through her stomach. Diagnosis: schizophrenia. She is dying."

Suryani, 68, with six sons and 17 grandchildren, is a pleasant woman with a face as round as the moon. She is a psychiatrist on the island of Bali, a vacation paradise for some, hell on earth for others.

Her patients cower next to trees, lie in shacks, and are abused and sometimes forgotten. Because their relatives are overwhelmed by the care they require, because the healthcare system doesn't work and because insanity is seen as a punishment by the gods, people with mental illness live like chained dogs in Bali. There are 350 such cases in Bali and up to 40,000 in all of Indonesia. The Balinese refer to them as "pasung," or "in chains."

Suryani has already freed 52 people. Komang is not one of them.

A Shack Next to the Cowshed

On this morning, Suryani drives to the northern part of the island. The roads circle around like the patterns on a snail shell, with rice terraces in various shades of green to the left and right. The palm trees are shrouded in fog, and it smells of rotten fruit and soil. The sun is high in the sky when she arrives at her destination near the mountain village of Lovina Beach.

Six families live there, together with their pigs and chickens. And then there is Komang, whose right wrist has been attached to a one-and-a-half-meter (five-foot) chain for the last eight years. The other end is attached to a post, in a shack next to the cowshed.

Komang, 26, is naked, cowering inside the hut. She is singing a song in a high-pitched voice. She pounds her fists against the wall. Perhaps she is trying to drive out the voices in her head. She also tries to drive out Suryani, who is standing in front of her door, next to a box of drugs. Suryani, perspiring, remains motionless. Eventually she says: "Psst, my child, it's okay."

The windowless hut, all two square meters (about 22 square feet) of it, is made of concrete. There are several items on the floor: a pink mat, a pair of underwear, a wooden plow, a toothbrush, a comb, a tape measure, an oil can and a nail brush. A bee's nest hangs from the ceiling. There is a trail of ants next to the mat.

Komang hasn't bathed in two months. She is unable to express what she thinks or what she needs. But when Suryani looks at her face, Komang returns her gaze.

"Komang is always naked," says the brother, whose body is muscular from hard work. He and his sister used to play together by the river and hide in the fields, and when Komang was afraid at night, he would hold her hand. He was the one who chained his sister when she ran away naked.

'An Evil Spirit'

The brother grows rice and soybeans, supporting his elderly mother, his disabled sister, his mentally ill brother and Komang. The family owns two bamboo huts. A meal of rice and greens is cooking on the fire. They subsist on the equivalent of €1.30 a day.

"Komang was a normal girl," says the mother. "But when she turned 12, she was possessed by an evil spirit."
The sister-in-law says: "She was married at 18. Her husband brought her back. He kept her child. She has been screaming ever since."
"Komang is with the cows," says the disabled sister.

"Bring me a chair," says Suryani. She often spends hours talking with the families before beginning treatment. She asks about the patients' symptoms, their childhood and whether they have nightmares. But many don't know what is wrong with their mentally ill family member, or why he or she began to change. One day the family member simply becomes unhinged. When that happens, the families lack the time to cope with the problems, and they are often helpless. They try to protect themselves from the sick individual and protect him or her from the anger of the community, which explains the chains.

Asia isn't the only place where pasung exists. The practice is also known in Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan, countries plagued by civil war or terror and possessed of poor infrastructure --societies in which people believe in spirits. Where money and knowledge are in short supply, the mentally ill are often treated like the festering discharge of the system that produced them. Some literally rot away while still alive.

But there are few places where tourists and pasung are in such close proximity to one another as in Bali. Every year, three million tourists visit the island, where they go surfing and diving, get massages during the day and party in the clubs at night. Tourists come to Bali to unwind, oblivious to those locked up in chains because they are mentally ill, only a few hours' drive from the island's resorts.

Losing Hope in Recovery

Suryani's mission on behalf of the chained began when several bombs exploded in the village of Kuta in 2002 and 2005. She was director of the department of psychiatry at Udayana University in the capital Denpasar at the time. She had heard that suicides had been on the rise in villages after the bombing so she decided to travel into the hinterlands to investigate the causes. Although her effort was unsuccessful, she found a confused man attached to a chain next to a chicken coop.

She had never seen anything like it. "Why do you do this?" she asked. The relatives told her what it was like to lose a person, and then to lose hope in his recovery. They said that the chain was the only solution they could think of.

Suryani, witnessing the mentally ill in chains, in her island paradise, was so horrified that she founded the Suryani Institute, a private practice in Denpasar. Using the money she had earned treating affluent patients, including tourists, she hired seven employees. She sends them to two of the nine Balinese districts, one in the north and one in the east, which are most afflicted by poverty. Their mission is to track down the chained mentally ill. When they find one they call Suryani and she gets in her SUV. They found Komang in 2008.

On this particular day, Suryani is standing in front of Komang's hut for the 38th time. "What have you eaten?" she asks. Komang continues to sing. Suryani believes that Komang suffered a trauma, but she doesn't know what caused it. She has to assemble her diagnosis like a puzzle. Perhaps it was sexual violence, or a genetic defect. The family claims she ate poisoned food. "Komang didn't love her husband," says the mother. The gods, she explains, gave her this affliction as a punishment.

Suryani often diagnoses schizophrenia, both manic and bipolar. The word feels like a catchall for everything that can't be explained. But perhaps the diagnosis isn't really that important for the patients, especially given that therapy is hardly an option under these circumstances.

Suryani prescribes several drugs for Komang: 1.5 mg of fluphenazine, 2 mg of trihexyphenidyl, Sakaneuron, a neuroleptic agent against hallucinations, a drug to treat motor disorders and vitamin B.

Government Attempts to Treat the Ill
An injection with a neuroleptic agent, which has anti-psychotic properties, costs €7.50 in Bali, more than most families can afford. To offset the cost, Suryani buys the syringes, and sometimes she receives donated pills. The government provided Suryani with a $500,000 grant in 2009.

She also offers courses on prevention and teaches the Balinese how to meditate. Hundreds of people attend her Saturday sessions in Denpasar, where they lie on the floor, laugh for four minutes at a time and sing a song to combat loneliness. "Go outside your huts and breathe the air," Suryani tells them.

The government cancelled Suryani's grant after a year because the results of her work were not immediately apparent. Instead, it paid for the construction of sheds with bars on the windows, where families can lock up their sick relatives when they have attacks. Komang is always in one of these sheds.

Five people hold down Komang so that Suryani can administer the injections. She defends herself, pounding her chest and her private parts. When the drugs take effect, her speech becomes more intelligible. She utters short phrases, like "I'm sorry," "an evil spirit," "my brother," "why am I like this?" "please forgive," "Komang, Komang, no," "take off the chain." Sometimes her voice becomes high-pitched. Once she says: "chicken nuggets."

As she is leaving, Suryani says: "Wash her. Sweep out the fecal matter." The family members stare at the ground. Later, Suryani writes in her computer file: "Recommendation for Komang: love and attention."

Every four to eight weeks, she administers drugs to her patients, the first step on the path to liberation. She wants the relatives to become confident enough to remove the chains, as soon as the patients are stable. Komang was once free for a few months. She was in better shape, and her family sent her to work on a farm. But her boss brought her back, saying that all she did was stare at the wall, instead of pulling the seeds out of chili peppers. The brother chained her up again.

The issue, says the psychiatrist, is that society only takes notice of the mentally ill when they become a problem. As soon as they improve, the families forget to administer the drugs. Suryani could call the police whenever she finds people in chains. Pasung is illegal in Indonesia. The government has adopted a program that aims to eliminate pasung by 2014, but Suryani finds the plan laughable. And she doesn't notify the police, either. "Where exactly are the police supposed to take the patients?" she asks.

Filthy Mattresses and the Stench of Urine

The Indonesian government does little for the mentally ill. There are 48 psychiatric hospitals with a total of 7,700 beds in the entire country, which makes one bed for every 32,000 inhabitants. According to the World Health Organization, about 85 percent of all patients with mental disorders go untreated in developing countries.

Bali has only one government-run psychiatric hospital, in Bangli in the middle of the island. Treatment is free, and most of Suryani's patients have been there before. Two psychiatrists, and 10 doctors and nurses attend to the needs of 400 patients.

The hospital is currently a construction site. Additional wings for drug addicts were just built, says one of the doctors. He is wearing turf shoes and looks like a bad-tempered Scrooge McDuck.

The Bangli psychiatric hospital resembles a prison, and yet it is one of the better facilities in Indonesia, especially as there are no chains. Some 30 patients are kept locked up together in a room with bars. Men and women are housed separately, and each patient has a bed. Some are lying listlessly on their sides, while others walk around in circles or stare at the wall. There are filthy mattresses in the hallways, and everything reeks of urine.

When the doctor is asked what his patients lack, he says: "schizophrenia." And when asked about therapy, he says: "Sometimes we talk to them."

Friendly nurses stand in front of the cells, meticulously writing the name, age, diagnosis and medications for each patient onto a board with magic markers. The patients stay at the clinic for one to two months, say the nurses, but then they have to leave. "We have a drop-off service," says the doctor. If a patient isn't picked up, the employees from Bangli drop off the patient at home. Many are then immediately chained up again.

Ketut, one of Suryani's patients, is one of them. He has been living in chains for 19 years, an old man lying on a bamboo cot in the forest. He tried to kill his brother. He has been to Bangli many times, and he is handcuffed whenever the doctors pick him up. When he is returned, his brother-in-law chains him up again. The family is afraid of Ketut. They throw him food, drinks and cigarettes from a distance, as if he were a dangerous dog. At least he is in good physical condition. "He was lucky," says Suryani.


It's afternoon when she walks into the courtyard in front of the house where Kadek and her family live, which is near Singaraya in northern Bali. It's Suryani's first visit. Her employees, who found Kadek, have been there already. Kadek's father is a rice famer, and her brother takes tourists to see dolphins. Kadek, 42, is going to die.

Her father has placed her on a sofa. There is a spirit's mask on the wall behind her. He has placed his hand on her leg, which is as thin as a broomstick. Kadek doesn't speak or make any noise at all. The father says that her stomach is full of worms. Suryani switches on a recording device to document the woman's history. The father tells Kadek's story.

When Kadek was a young woman, she loved arithmetic. She spoke very little and wrote numbers into a notebook every day. When her mother died, Kadek tore up the notebook. She stopped speaking. She took a portrait of her mother from the bedroom and stared at it for days on end. Later she took her uncle's motorcycle and drove away. She took a knife and went out into the street with it. She undressed and jumped into a dirty river. She smeared her feces onto the walls. She tore up her clothes, and one day she kept hitting a mirror until her fists were covered with blood.

"Black magic," says the father. The family had managed to accumulate a small amount of money. "We were doing too well," he says. "This is our punishment."

Like most people in Bali, Kadek and her family are Hindus. They believe that mental illness is caused by evil spirits, and possibly by a curse imposed by their ancestors. Kadek's father says that he has taken his daughter to 57 healers, known as balian, in the last 24 years. The healers decide whether a case of insanity is something supernatural or a physical problem. Depending on their verdict, they say, the treatment should consist of either Western medicine or traditional rituals.

A Dark Hut

In most cases, the balian chooses a ritual. Kadek has experienced many of these rituals, in which the family sits in the village temple and prays, with the sick family member in the middle. The healer mixes together flowers, essences and water. When he sprays the mixture, the patients begin to shake, rolling their eyes or rolling on the floor. It looks like an exorcism. According to tradition, a person possessed by a spirit is innocent and can be cleansed and made normal again. Kadek, says the father, cannot be cleansed.

He has hung masks all around the courtyard, creating a protective temple for Kadek. "It doesn't do any good," he says. Then the father shows the psychiatrist his daughter's room, a bleak space with a window and a card game on the table. Suryani notes the words "schizophrenia" and "anemia." Kadek weighs no more than 30 kilograms (66 lbs.).

Suryani gets back into her car and slams the door shut. She drives to the village health clinic and says: "A person is dying 500 meters from here."

The director of the clinic says that nothing can be done. As long as there is tuberculosis, malaria and infant mortality, schizophrenia is a problem for the gods, he says.

Later Suryani returns, unannounced, to the courtyard in front of Kadek's family's house. It turns out that the father had lied. The room he had shown Suryani isn't Kadek's room at all. Instead, she is lying behind the house, on a wooden stretcher in a dark hut. The tiles in the room are stained brown from her feces. The plaster is peeling from the walls, and there is a bowl containing a handful of rotting rice. Kadek is naked and her eyes are half-closed. Her legs are crossed and her right foot is constantly twitching. Perhaps it's her last sign of life.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #6293 on: May 11, 2013, 06:58 AM »

05/10/2013 06:13 PM

Intervention Debate: Experts Warn Against Syrian Adventure

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

What contours might a military intervention in Syria take on? Strategists are discussing the creation of a humanitarian buffer and no-fly zone. But experts warn that 40,000 to 75,000 ground troops would be required in Syria for that to happen.

If you believe US President Barack Obama's antagonists, putting an end to the civil war in Syria is simple. All it would take is the establishment of a buffer zone for civilians, the provision of adequate protections for that zone and the distribution of arms to the right people in Syria and the problem will be gone -- at least so goes the tale as spun by Republican John McCain on Fox News. The best thing about his plan? That it could work without sending any American troops into the country. He argues an American invasion wouldn't be necessary to stop the civil war.

McCain's appearance was yet another attempt to drive Obama into a war that the United States has been trying to avoid. And it illustrates yet again that some participants in the discussion over a military incursion in Syria are operating almost completely free of the facts. Indeed, it would be hard to find an expert who wouldn't warn that an incursion into Syria would be enormously challenging and require many, many soldiers.

"Humanitarian buffer zones have to be set up by ground troops and secured against potential attacks from forces loyal to the regime," said Markus Kain, an expert in security policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. Together with military officials, Kaim calculated that to establish a humanitarian corridor that is 80 kilometers wide and 50 kilometers deep (31 by 50 miles), a contingent of 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers would be necessary.

There would also have to be guarantees that a humanitarian corridor could not be attacked from the air, which would require the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria. But the regime of President Bashar Assad would almost certainly not permit the creation of a no-fly zone. At the point international powers moved to establish the no-fly zone, it would essentially be a declaration of war. "The line will have been crossed turning this into an international conflict," Kaim said.

Other experts also share the belief that engagement in Syria only makes sense if it takes place on a large scale and over a longer period of time. At the end of last year, the US Defense Department looked into the commitment required to secure Syrian chemical weapons depots. The scenario concluded that for this task alone, a force of more than 75,000 soldiers would have to march in to Syria.

Another possibility would be to create a buffer zone that would be secured by Arab troops, an operation the Wall Street Journal recently reported the Pentagon is reviewing. The plans envision establishing a buffer zone along the Syrian-Jordanian border that would be secured by the Jordanian army, according to the paper.

A Welcome Excuse

Still, even if the Jordanians and other Arab troops did the lion's share of the work, the United States would still be involved in the largely Arab undertaking. Hundreds of US trainers and military advisors are already on the ground in Jordan to provide support to the military there. So far, the effort has been focused on providing the Jordanians and a small, hand-picked group of Syrian rebels with training on securing chemical weapons. The Wall Street Journal also reported on Wednesday that a further US team has been placed in Jordan since last month. It is helping the Jordanian military plan for the possibility of establishing a buffer zone.

The West is still very reserved about the prospects of intervention in Syria. Critics accuse Western governments of hiding behind formalities. The fact that Russia and China would block any decision on a mission in Syria in the United Nations Security Council comes as a welcome excuse in the West to do nothing, they say.

But a shift in thinking appears to be emerging, although it is limited to efforts to arm the rebels. Last week, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the US is now strongly considering providing weapons to the rebels. Britain and France in particular have announced several times in recent months their desire to provide weapons to the rebel Free Syrian Army. The date when that decision could come into focus is June 1; the European Union's weapons embargo against Syria will expire at the end of May if the 27 EU member-states don't unanimously vote to extend it at the end of May.

In light of developments in recent days -- the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria, two Israeli air strikes against the country and most recently the renewed kidnapping of four UN peacekeeping soldiers along the Syrian-Israeli border -- calls for Western intervention in the Syrian conflict down the road could grow louder. But engagement would by no means be easy.

On Tuesday, President Obama hinted at the difficulties, saying. "Understandably, there's a desire for easy answers," he said. "That's not the situation here."

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« Reply #6294 on: May 11, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Robert Mugabe: from liberation hero to villain to redeemed father of a nation?

Reappraisal of Zimbabwean president coincides with plausible plotline of win in 'credible' elections leading to lifting of sanctions

David Smith in Harare, Friday 10 May 2013 14.08 BST   

He has been a schoolteacher, freedom fighter and political prisoner. He has gone from admired independence leader to despised autocrat. Now a life that spans nine decades could be about to add its least expected final chapter: the rehabilitation of Robert Mugabe.

The following scenario, once unthinkable, is now just conceivable. The Zimbabwean president will retain power in this year's elections through fair means or foul; the poll will be relatively peaceful and deemed "credible" by the west; then sanctions will be lifted against Mugabe and his inner circle, ushering him back in from the cold.

This coincides with a subtle shift in the mood music around Africa's oldest leader. Domestic political foes have praised him. He recently enjoyed cordial meetings with Andrew Young, special envoy of the US state department, and civil rights stalwart the Rev Jesse Jackson. A documentary film, Mugabe: Villain or Hero?, has won sympathetic audiences in London. Most contentiously of all, researchers have begun to challenge the orthodoxy that Zimbabwe's land reform programme was an unmitigated disaster.

Even non-supporters believe this reassessment is a necessary corrective after years of demonisation. "He was overtoxified in the first place," said Petina Gappah, a Harare-based writer, lawyer and fellow of the Open Society foundation. "This idea of Mugabe as Hitler? He's extremely charming and intelligent.

"This idea of a mindless thug underestimates his intelligence. This cartoonish, caricatured Idi Amin figure fails to recognise his insidious effect on the country. If he didn't exist, they would have had to invent him."

Two currents are moving in 89-year-old Mugabe's favour for elections likely to take place in August or September. His Zanu-PF party has allegedly helped itself to profits from the country's diamond fields and revitalised its support base with populist policies such as the indigenisation of foreign-owned companies.

No less importantly, the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is seen by many as having lost momentum and the moral high ground after entering a power-sharing agreement with Zanu-PF after the last disputed election in 2008.

The MDC insists that it has made real achievements in government and retains groundswell support, but it is losing a crucial battle of perceptions. Recent opinion polls by Afrobarometer and Freedom House found the party trailing behind Zanu-PF – a more attention-grabbing headline than questions about the data's reliability.

The MDC stands accused of the sins of incumbency, its leadership seduced by ministerial houses and luxury cars; the party has been forced to discipline some councillors for corruption. It has failed to heal a factional rift that could divide its support. Leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who serves as prime minister in the unity government, has been criticised for becoming too close to Mugabe and for an unseemly run of sex scandals.

"I think he's been a total disaster," said one senior MDC figure, who did not wish to be named. "He's let us all down. But the important thing to remember is the MDC is bigger than Morgan Tsvangirai."

Among the disenchanted who feel taken for granted is the country's second biggest teaching union, cause for alarm because the MDC grew out of the union movement and relies on it for support. Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the 14,000-strong Progressive Teachers' Union, said: "I'm feeling seriously let down by the MDC. The MDC has done nothing for teachers.

"The power-sharing agreement could be the undoing of the MDC leadership. They exposed their own naivety and appetite for opulence and extravagance. In four years the level of wealth these MDC guys have accumulated is shocking. If the MDC wins the election, fine, they can go ahead and loot the country like their predecessors."

But Zanu-PF is unlikely to take any chances. It still dominates the broadcast media and its persecution of activists, journalists, lawyers and opposition figures continues. Serious questions remain over the legitimacy of the electoral roll and the potential for cheating, particularly after apparent anomalies in the recent constitutional referendum. Civil society watchdogs predict that the party will resort to its old tricks of intimidating voters, but this time using a form of "smart terror" whereby the mere threat of violence is enough. "Shaking the matchbox," is how one opponent describes it.

A schoolteacher from Buhera district, who says he was abducted from his home and beaten after voting for the MDC in 2008, said: "There is a register of Zanu-PF supporters and it is used to intimidate people. It is silent violence. People are being told what to do. Rehearsals are being held day and night over how this election is going to be rigged."

But after the bloodshed of 2008, in which the MDC says 253 people died and thousands were tortured, a low body count is likely to be hailed as progress by an outside world that may then turn a blind eye to other irregularities.

Gappah said: "There will be no violence this year; they don't need it. But I don't think it's possible to talk about the possibility of a free and fair election. A 'credible' election is the buzzword the diplomats use. The UK and US will accept a 'credible' one. It's very likely Mugabe will come away smelling of roses."

She compared the situation to Kenya, which this year "held a flawed election to fix another flawed election". The outcome was victory for Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges at the international criminal court of crimes against humanity. But the west was quick to laud Kenya for a peaceful process and seems determined not to allow the new president's past to get in the way of economic interests.

Britain's high commissioner to Kenya visited Harare recently and it seems likely that parallels of realpolitik are being drawn. Zanu-PF was represented at a recent Friends of Zimbabwe meeting in London, while Mugabe has welcomed the re-engagement efforts initiated by the UK and the EU.

All this comes as one of the central pillars of the western critique of Mugabe's 33-year rule is under attack.

In 2010, Prof Ian Scoones of Sussex University published a study that claimed the seizure of white-owned farms, which smashed food production a decade ago, had also bequeathed a positive spinoff in the form of thousands of small-scale black farmers.

It has been followed this year by a book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, which concludes: "In the biggest land reform in Africa, 6,000 white farmers have been replaced by 245,000 Zimbabwean farmers. These are primarily ordinary poor people who have become more productive farmers." Agricultural production is now returning to its 1990s level, they argue.

The reappraisal is hotly disputed. The MDC says that Zanu-PF cronies and supporters are the main beneficiaries, and the new farmers are still easily outnumbered by agricultural workers who lost their jobs – but the mere fact that land reform's consequences have moved from conventional wisdom to a debate worthy of airtime is another step towards making Mugabe's legacy less unpalatable.

Saviour Kasukuwere is the youth development, indigenisation and empowerment minister and a rising star in Zanu-PF. He said: "We knew one day the chickens would come home to roost and now they have. The whole world realises that President Mugabe was right and the policy that Zanu-PF embarked on was right."

Bristling with confidence, Kasukuwere claims the west now regrets supporting the MDC, which he dubs the "Movement for Dangerous Children". He continued: "They made a mistake in the first place, they backed a terrible horse. I think the first reaction was anger. The things that you do when you're angry, you always live to regret them.

"They had this view, 'Why is Mugabe taking the land? So let's look for something.' I think they should have sat down and had their faculties working and we should not be where we are. The best brains in this country did not join the MDC. That's why President Mugabe will confidently walk home with the trophy."

It is an arresting narrative that Zanu-PF is naturally eager to promote, but whether Mugabe can complete the unlikely circle from liberation hero to authoritarian villain to redeemed father of the nation remains far from certain. A civil society group, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, notes that polling suggests a tight race that will go to a second round, in which Tsvangirai stands a better chance of building alliances.

McDonald Lewanika, director of the coalition, said: "When it comes to the crunch, the choice that faces people is clearly between two evils, but one much less than the other. It's unfortunate the choice will be that bad."

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« Reply #6295 on: May 11, 2013, 07:05 AM »

May 10, 2013

Standoff at Western Wall Over Praying by Women


JERUSALEM — Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews tried to block a liberal women’s group from praying at the Western Wall on Friday morning, creating a tense standoff in the latest flash point of a broader battle over religion and identity that has engulfed Israel.

Heeding calls from their rabbis, religious teenage girls turned up in large numbers to protest the group’s insistence on praying at the wall in religious garb traditionally worn by men. The girls crammed the women’s section directly in front of the wall by 6:30 a.m., forcing the liberal women to conduct their prayer service farther back on the plaza. There, hundreds of police officers locked arms in cordons to hold back throngs of black-hatted Orthodox men who whistled, catcalled, and threw water, candy and a few plastic chairs.

The fight over how women pray at one of Judaism’s holiest sites is a singular fault line among many. Friday’s mass demonstration at the wall was widely seen as part of the intensifying culture war that poses a threat, if internal, to Israel’s social cohesion.

“We are looking at a process in which the public disdain with the way religion and state matters have occurred in Israel has reached a peak,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, the founder of Hiddush, a group that advocates for religious freedom and equality.

But Rabbi Israel Eichler, an ultra-Orthodox member of Parliament, warned that “if the state of Israel fights” the ultra-Orthodox, in Hebrew called Haredim, “it may win, but it will be erased from the face of the Earth.”

“There were thousands of seminary girls there today,” he said. “Each one of them will have 10 children. That is our victory.”

The showdown on Friday came two days after Israel’s attorney general ordered government ministries to end gender segregation in buses, cemeteries, health clinics and radio airwaves, and as Parliament is drafting sweeping legislation to integrate the swelling ultra-Orthodox minority into the army and work force, while cutting back the subsidies their large families rely on. Following decades in which ultra-Orthodox politicians provided critical swing votes in exchange for control over religious institutions, they were shut out of the governing coalition that formed this spring and have become an increasingly shrill part of the opposition.

Most Israelis care far less about the rules at the kotel, or Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall that surrounded the ancient Temple, than the ultra-Orthodox control of marriage, conversion and other matters that affect daily life. But a spate of arrests last fall of women wearing prayer shawls at the wall sparked an outcry from Jews abroad. That prompted Israel’s government to develop a long-term plan that would provide a new space where men and women can pray together and as they wish.

Buoyed by the recent court ruling allowing them to use prayer garments traditionally reserved for men, the women’s group, called Women of the Wall, has vowed to continue the monthly services it has held for a quarter century.

Friday was the first time ultra-Orthodox girls and women showed up in force to block them.

“I’m here so they won’t be,” said one of the teenagers, who like a dozen others interviewed spoke on the condition that her name not be published. “It’s forbidden for them to be here. It’s allowed by the court, but it’s forbidden by God. If I’m here, there won’t be room for them.”

The girls, who woke before dawn and poured onto buses from schools across Jerusalem as well as the ultrareligious suburbs of Beit Shemesh and Beitar Illit, said they had come because their leaders ordered them to.

Among the liberal women, a smaller-than-usual group of perhaps 100 made it to the Women of the Wall prayer circle, where much of the spirited chanting was drowned out by the boisterous men. Three of the men were arrested and two others detained for questioning.” Every time, there’s another stumbling block,” said Haviva Ner David, a rabbi and mother of seven who has been praying with Women of the Wall for two decades. “There are more non-Orthodox Jews than there are Haredi Jews in Israel, but they’re able to gather more troops.”

As the crowds dispersed, Yossi Parienti, commander of Jerusalem’s police force, said it was “painful and a pity to see the Western Wall become a field of battle instead of a holy place of prayer.”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation — which controls the site — said, “We must find a solution that is acceptable to all, or to the majority, so that the Western Wall does not look as it did today.”

The heightened attention to the wall comes after more than two years of friction with the ultra-Orthodox over gender in the public sphere. Women have been barred from speaking at conferences, and an 8-year-old girl was spit on for dress that her ultra-Orthodox neighbors considered immodest. Vandals routinely black out women’s faces on advertising billboards.

Menachem Friedman, a sociology professor at Bar Ilan University who has studied the Haredi society, said that while a universal military draft and cut in subsidies are more substantive issues, “gender is the most vulnerable.”

“The most threatening thing for the Haredi society is the mixture,” Professor Friedman said. “Sex is always something we can’t control — we have to defend against it, we have to separate, to make it very clear separation between men and women. Why? Because sex is really penetrating inside everyone, even the most sacred man is not protected. That is the main idea of ultra-Orthodoxy.”

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a law professor and director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar Ilan University, said: “What’s at stake here is the very characteristic of the state of Israel. Are we part of the Western world or are we part of the fundamentalist world?”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 10, 2013

An earlier version of this article said incorrectly that Devorah Leff was lifted on a chair to celebrate her recent bat mitzvah. She was lifted on a woman’s shoulders.

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« Reply #6296 on: May 11, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Former Guatemalan dictator convicted of genocide and jailed for 80 years

Efraín Ríos Montt held to account for abuses in campaign that killed an estimated 200,000 and led to 45,000 disappearances

Sibylla Brodzinsky and Jonathan Watts   
The Guardian, Saturday 11 May 2013   

Link to video: Guatemala genocide trial: witnesses of atrocities tell their stories

The former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide on Friday after a court found him guilty of crimes against humanity for his role in the slaughter of 1,771 Mayan Ixils in the 1980s. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

It is the first time a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in their own country.

"We are convinced that the acts the Ixil suffered constitute the crime of genocide," said Judge Yazmin Barrios, adding that Ríos Montt "had knowledge of what was happening and did nothing to stop it".

The trial was the first time a former head of government has been held to account in Guatemala for the abuses carried out during a 36-year conflict that killed an estimated 200,000 people and led to 45,000 other "disappearances".

The vast majority of the victims were members of indigenous groups that make up about half of the population.

The verdict was hailed by victims' groups and human rights organisations as a step towards healing the psychological wounds from one of Latin America's bloodiest civil wars.

His co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, was cleared by the court.

"This is healthy for Guatemala because it helps us free our demons," said Helen Mack, a businesswoman and prominent human rights activist whose sister, an anthropologist, was killed by the Guatemalan army in 1990.

Pascal Paradis, director of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, which has advised the victims' lawyers throughout the case, said the fact the trial happened at all was a big achievement.

"It was quite a feat to get past the amnesty law that was passed when Guatemala signed a peace deal in 1996 to end its 36-year war. Impunity is no longer the rule," he said.

Others said the jailing of the 86-year-old was not enough, given the suffering of the victims.

"What I want is for Ríos to feel the pain we felt," said Elena de Paz Santiago, who was 12 when she and her mother fled a massacre in their village in 1982.

They hid in the mountains and survived by eating roots and wild plants for months, before being caught and taken to an army outpost to cook and clean for the soldiers. Her mother died while they were both being gang-raped and was later buried in a mass grave.

"He [Rios Montt] will go to jail but he will have food. We nearly starved hiding out in the mountains," she said in an interview outside the courtroom.

The legal battle is also far from over and Ríos Montt is expected to appeal.

"We still have a long way to go," said Edwin Canil, a legal adviser to the victims who helped build the case against Rios Montt and is himself a survivor of a massacre in 1982.

The defence team challenged the validity of the trial throughout the three weeks of hearings.

Zury Rios, the former dictator's daughter, complained of the "legal mismanagement" of the trial by the three-judge panel and what she called the "arbitrary form" in which it was conducted.

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« Reply #6297 on: May 11, 2013, 07:11 AM »

May 10, 2013

Despite Convictions, Brazil Corruption Case Drags On


SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Just six months ago, Brazil’s highest court handed down stiff prison sentences to powerful political figures found guilty in a vast vote-buying scheme, a move widely praised here as a watershed moment in a country where citizens long expected little more than impunity from politicians caught in corruption scandals.

But the celebrating may have been premature.

No official sentenced in what was arguably Brazil’s largest corruption scandal has gone to jail, despite Prosecutor General Roberto Gurgel’s contention that they should have begun serving their sentences immediately after the high court announced them in November.

The court did not formally publish its decision until April and lawyers for the convicted officials filed a barrage of appeals this month. According to legal scholars, some of the appeals may significantly alter the sentences, allowing top defendants like José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, a former presidential chief of staff, to wriggle out of hard jail time.

“The case is less open-and-shut than people thought,” said Matthew M. Taylor, a scholar at American University in Washington who specializes in Brazil’s legal system. “If we start to see lower sentences, then the public reaction could be a bitter letdown.”

Defense lawyers have been maneuvering to secure less stringent prison conditions, like the so-called semi-open arrangement in which convicts sleep in prison cells but are allowed to leave each day to work, and prominent officials in the governing Workers’ Party, which was shaken by the scandal, have been openly challenging the high court’s authority.

The president of the party, Rui Falcão, went so far as to say this month that it was too early to contemplate whether those convicted in the case would go to prison at all. Pointing to rising tension between the high court and Congress, Nazareno Fontes, a Workers’ Party congressman, said that justices who “disrespect” the legislative branch should be jailed.

Moreover, two legislators sentenced in the trial last year — including José Genoino Guimarães Neto, the president of the Workers’ Party at the time the scandal emerged in 2005 — have not only held onto their seats in Congress but have also supported a measure introduced by Mr. Fontes last month to amend the Constitution to let Congress revise the high court’s rulings on some matters.

Though the amendment is not expected to pass, it points to a new phase of uncertainty in the trial over the scandal, commonly called the mensalão, or big monthly allowance, for the regular payments made to legislators in exchange for their votes.

The trial, with its proceedings broadcast on national television over the course of four months last year, raised hopes in this country for a breakthrough of political accountability in a legal system that offers exceptional protections to political figures, who almost always avoid hard jail time in corruption cases.

But the appeals, which justices are expected to spend about two more months reviewing, offer a new turn in the case. Some of the appeals request fresh votes on rulings made by a narrow margin, like the guilty verdict for Mr. Oliveira e Silva, the former presidential chief of staff, for unlawful conspiracy, or essentially orchestrating the vote-buying scheme. His original sentence was 10 years and 10 months after he was found guilty of other crimes, including bribery.

Underscoring the complexity of the case and of Brazil’s judicial system, legal scholars here point out that the new twists in the trial do not suggest that the high court, which is handling the appeals itself, is acting improperly or lacking in judicial independence. Indeed, Joaquim Barbosa, the court’s chief justice, has signaled that he wants the original rulings and sentencing to stand.

Still, wild cards have emerged, especially in connection with the appeals over close votes — a rare legal procedure that Brazil may have inherited from Portugal, the former colonial ruler, which abolished such appeals in the 1930s — and because of the court’s changing composition.

Two justices have already retired since the 11-member court delivered its oral ruling in the trial last year, and some legal experts contend that one of the new justices, Teori Zavascki, has a long record of ruling in ways that would benefit the convicted officials. Furthermore, since there are currently only 10 justices on the court, a tied vote of 5 to 5 could reverse guilty rulings on some charges.

Another prominent justice, Ricardo Lewandowski, has already signaled that the defendants could be absolved of certain crimes, allowing them semi-open arrangements in prison and parole earlier than expected.

“I don’t see defendants being completely acquitted, but there could be decreases in penalties and more comfortable terms of incarceration,” said Oscar Vilhena, director of law at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a top Brazilian university. “For some in society this would be disappointing, but Brazilian legislation is a lot softer than the U.S. system; it’s a much a more liberal system.”

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« Reply #6298 on: May 11, 2013, 07:12 AM »

May 10, 2013

Troubled Life in Malcolm X’s Shadow Comes to a Violent End


Last week, Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, was talking to his friend Daniel Stevens when he learned that Mr. Stevens was worried that his fledgling rap career was going nowhere. Mr. Shabazz vowed to help, saying that he could get Mr. Stevens’s music into the right hands.

“I know a lot of people,” Mr. Shabazz said, Mr. Stevens recalled.

Mr. Shabazz, who earned notoriety as a 12-year-old when he set a fire that killed his grandmother, Malcolm X’s widow, pulled out his phone and made some calls. Twenty minutes later, Mr. Stevens said, Mr. Shabazz told him he had a plane ticket to Los Angeles for the next day, and an appointment to see a Hollywood producer in Beverly Hills on Mr. Stevens’s behalf.

Mr. Stevens, 34, drove Mr. Shabazz to the airport.

But Mr. Shabazz soon ended up in Mexico City, where he died early Thursday morning in a popular tourist area after being assaulted outside a bar, the authorities said. It was a violent end to a young and tumultuous life.

Mr. Shabazz had apparently decided to detour to Mexico to meet with a labor activist and a friend who had been deported in April. They were hoping to use Mr. Shabazz’s name to attract attention from the local press, apparently about the deportation, the friend said in a Facebook post.

Mr. Shabazz, 28, spent much of his life seeking to make peace with his past. After pleading guilty to the juvenile equivalent of manslaughter and arson in his grandmother’s death in 1997, he was sentenced to institutions for many of his teenage years, followed by later stints in prison for other crimes.

He lived in the shadow of his grandfather, whom he never knew, and whose legacy he tried to understand. He embraced his famous heritage and, at times, recoiled from the expectations that came with it.

On his personal Web site, he called himself “the first male heir to Malcolm X,” who had overcome “obstacle after obstacle in his life,” and since his release from prison had “been traveling throughout the U.S. and around the world speaking to different audiences about the struggles that confront this generation.”

In a prison interview with The New York Times in 2003, when he was serving time for attempted robbery, he acknowledged the power of his name.

“People know Malcolm Shabazz, whether you like me or not,” he said.

Kinte Burrell, 34, one of Mr. Shabazz’s friends from Middletown, N.Y., north of New York City in the Hudson Valley, where he had a home, said in an interview on Friday that he first met Mr. Shabazz when he was about 18.

“People would ask for his autograph and take pictures with him,” he said. “Other times, they would be like, you should have gotten more time, just because who you are, you shouldn’t get away with this.”

Such tension, Mr. Burrell said, sometimes led to fistfights. “I can see him just wanting to get away,” he said.

Friends said that in recent years, he had often ventured abroad, mostly to the Middle East. The trips, for conferences or Muslim pilgrimages, allowed him to escape his tabloid youth and to step into a role that Malcolm X also played later in life — that of an activist, shedding light on injustice and rallying for black causes worldwide.

“He wanted to be himself, but in connection with what his grandfather had been,” said Randy Short, an activist in Washington who works with groups like the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities.

Mr. Short said he had been helping Mr. Shabazz complete an autobiography.

Because he had no relationship with his father, “he saw his grandfather as his dad, and in many conversations he would say, ‘People need to understand I have a lot of him in me,’ ” Mr. Short said.

He never seemed short of patrons who were eager to help.

David N. Dinkins, the former mayor of New York, and Percy E. Sutton, a former Manhattan borough president who had been Malcolm X’s lawyer, stepped in to represent him after the fire. Most recently, Cynthia McKinney, the former Democratic congresswoman from Georgia, said she “had taken him under my wings,” in an attempt “to help and look out for him.”

In 2011, he joined Ms. McKinney on a trip to Libya, shortly before the country erupted in civil war. In one photo, he can be seen smiling in dark sunglasses in front of a large portrait of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, who was later deposed and killed. In a blog post on March 9, he wrote that he had met Mr. Qaddafi.

He also wrote on Facebook that he had studied in Damascus for more than a year, and that he had been making plans to go to Iran for a film festival and to give a lecture on violence in cinema.

The trip never happened.

Mr. Shabazz wrote on his blog that soon after he began appearing on Press TV, a news outlet based in Iran, the police in and around Middletown began to harass him.

He claimed that he was being investigated by a counterterrorism team with the F.B.I.

“I was picked up by authorities after I filed for a visa to Iran, and two days before my departure,” he wrote.

In Middletown, he was known to come and go, his friends said.

Mr. Stevens met him about two years ago when Mr. Shabazz came into the barbershop where he worked. Mr. Shabazz saw the tattoo of Malcolm X on Mr. Stevens’s forearm.

“He told me who he was, and we started talking, and we had a lot of things in common,” Mr. Stevens said.

Last week, he recalled, Mr. Shabazz had pressured him about why he was not “doing anything with your music.”

“It’s the kind of business where you got to know somebody,” Mr. Stevens told him.

After going to Los Angeles, Mr. Shabazz texted Mr. Stevens, joking that the people he was with in California did not like New Yorkers.

Within days, he was in Mexico City.

He was taken to a hospital early Thursday morning after a night out near Plaza Garibaldi, a tourist area in the historical center of Mexico City, filled with bars and restaurants, where foreign tourists are known to often be taken advantage of.

Officials said they were investigating the case.

On Friday, his family released a statement. “He now rests in peace in the arms of his grandparents and the safety of God,” the family said.

Kia Gregory reported from New York, and Damien Cave from Mexico City. Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting from Mexico City. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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« Reply #6299 on: May 11, 2013, 07:14 AM »

May 10, 2013

With Many Despairing, Bulgaria Heads to Polls


VARNA, Bulgaria — Early one morning this past winter, Plamen Goranov, a 36-year-old photographer, stood on the steps of City Hall in this once grand and now crumbling port city on the Black Sea and held up a sign demanding that the mayor and City Council resign. He then took a bottle of gasoline from his backpack, poured it over himself and set himself on fire. He died 11 days later in a hospital.

Since then, five other Bulgarians have died from self-immolation, one as recently as last week. All the others were apparently driven by economic despair. But Mr. Goranov’s death was perhaps the highest-profile political protest in countrywide demonstrations that forced the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov in February. As Bulgarians prepare to elect his replacement on Sunday, it has become a symbol of a despair of another kind — that nothing will change here.

“It’s changed how Bulgarians perceive their society as being in a social and moral crisis,” said Nadege Ragaru, a political scientist at the Center for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po in Paris. “Bulgaria is perceived as lost, desperate, unhappy and having no future. Before, people said, ‘Look, there is no future, everyone is emigrating.’ Now they say, ‘Look, they are so desperate, they self-immolate.' ”

Few in this city of 300,000 — where the protests in February were particularly furious — say they harbor any expectation that a new government will hear their complaints about corruption, rising prices, declining pensions and joblessness any more than the last. The only mystery seems to be whether the election will usher in a coalition that is merely unstable, or very unstable.

Polls show that despite the protests that led Mr. Borisov to resign, his party still holds a slight lead heading into the balloting.

Bulgarians describe a sense of hopelessness and injustice that permeates the nominally free-market, multiparty system that has come into being since the end of Communism in 1989 and with the country’s entry into the European Union. Friends and acquaintances of Mr. Goranov say that he wanted to shake his fellow citizens out of their inertia.

Mr. Goranov never mentioned a plan to kill himself to anyone, they said, and no one sensed that he wanted to end his life. Nobody seems to know what happened the morning of his death, whether his self-immolation was intentional or accidental, premeditated or impulsive.

Speculation has continued because the authorities refuse to release video footage of the immolation, saying it is evidence in a criminal investigation.

His friends and acquaintances say that Mr. Goranov was clearly disturbed by what he saw as the corruption of the local government. In February, he took mops and brooms to the protests here, as a symbol of the need to “clean up” Varna.

His death has evoked comparisons with Jan Palach — the Czechoslovak student who self-immolated in 1969 in protest of the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring — and with Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable vendor whose self-immolation helped set off the Arab Spring.

Three days after Mr. Goranov died, Varna’s four-term mayor, Kiril Yordanov, resigned. “What else could I do from a European, human point of view other than give my resignation?” Mr. Yordanov said in a recent interview.

Mr. Yordanov was a focus of anger from protesters who accused him of doing the bidding of a powerful group known as TIM, which a WikiLeaks document from 2005 from the United States Embassy in Sofia, the capital, described as “the up-and-coming star of Bulgarian organized crime.” It was, the diplomatic cable said, engaged in “extortion and racketeering, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, narcotics trafficking, car theft and trafficking in stolen automobiles.”

Mr. Yordanov denies any association with TIM, and the group itself, which acts as an alliance of holding companies, denies involvement in illegal activities. “There is not one fact which shows any indication of any criminal activity,” says Zlatimir Zhechev, a lawyer and board member of Varna Holding, one of the group’s holding companies.

But even if its activities are disputed, there is no doubt that TIM is now one of the biggest economic powers in the country. Mr. Zhechev says that its political clout simply reflects the scope of its capital and work force, “like Detroit and General Motors.”

“TIM is like Voldemort in ‘Harry Potter,' ” said Stella Kostova, an acquaintance of Mr. Goranov from the Varna art scene, referring to the evil wizard in the children’s books who is so powerful that people are afraid to say his name.

Her husband, Pavel Popov, added: “What Plamen changed with his self-immolation was that people stopped being afraid to express the problem: TIM. Even some of the parties are now talking about how TIM should be restricted.”

For his part, Plamen Goranov — his first name means “flame” in Bulgarian — shunned political parties. Still, the government announced a national day of mourning for him, a step that his friends say he would have found disturbing.

“Plamen was a person with a crystal-clear sense of justice,” said Ivan Stefanov, a friend.

After his death, it was revealed that Mr. Goranov, a rock climber, had pulled off a public stunt last year in support of the three female members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were imprisoned in their country. He scaled three 35-foot-tall female statues on the monument of Soviet-Bulgarian friendship overlooking this city and placed colored hoods over their heads.

“Whatever it is that people do,” Mr. Stefanov recalled him saying, “they need to do it with passion and to do it well.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Bulgarians who have died from self-immolation since the photographer Plamen Goranov set himself on fire in a protest. Besides Mr. Goranov, five others have died, not six. The article also misstated the surname of the husband of Stella Kostova, who was quoted in the article. He is Pavel Popov, not Kostova.

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