One Thing We Needn't Worry About
It can't happen here:
Cambodia's parliament passed a law Friday which could send adulterers to jail for up to a year.
Political blog from the radical left, because the Invisible Hand is giving you the finger. rorschach782003 at yahoo dot com
"rorschach, have I told you how good your blog is? You find stories nobody else does." --Echidne of the snakes
One Thing We Needn't Worry About
Cambodia's parliament passed a law Friday which could send adulterers to jail for up to a year.
Doug Wankel, director of the U.S. anti-narcotics task force in Afghanistan, warned that the illicit trade in opium and heroin threatened the country's fledgling democracy, instituted after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime nearly five years ago by U.S.-led forces.
"This country could be taken down by this whole drugs problem," he told reporters in Kabul — echoing strong rhetoric voiced by Afghanistan's beleaguered President Hamid Karzai last month. "We have seen what can come from Afghanistan, if you go back to 9/11. Obviously the U.S. does not want to see that again."
"If this thing gets out of hand, you could move from a narco-economy to a narco-state. Then you have a very difficult chance for this country being able to achieve what it needs to as a democracy and a nation representing its people," he said.
Wankel described the drug trade — already estimated to account for at least 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product — as a "national security threat to Afghanistan, the region and the world."
Put Off the Pilgrimage
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric Saturday to discuss the country's deteriorating security situation, while attacks killed 13 Pakistani and Indian pilgrims south of the capital and three bombings left six people dead.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reached out to Democrats late Friday, opening up the door for them to retract their stinging indictment of him as Pentagon chief.
In a letter to Congress's top Democrats, Rumsfeld said recent remarks he made during a speech in Salt Lake City were misrepresented by the media, including by the Associated Press. Rumsfeld said he was ``concerned'' by the reaction of Democrats, many of whom called for his resignation and said he was treading on dangerous territory.
Outflanking the Lumbering US
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered his country's oil expertise to Angola, sub-Saharan Africa's No. 2 crude producer, in a strategy to boost ties with what he calls "Mother Africa" and counter U.S. influence there.
In his first visit to Angola on Thursday, the Venezuelan leader witnessed the signing of a bilateral oil cooperation accord between his country, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, and one of Africa's fastest growing producers.
We Must Not Be Clapping Hard Enough
Sectarian violence is spreading in Iraq and the security problems have become more complex than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Pentagon said Friday.
In a notably gloomy report to Congress, the Pentagon said illegal militias have become more entrenched, especially in Baghdad neighborhoods where they are seen as providers of security as well as basic social services.
The report described a rising tide of sectarian violence, fed in part by interference from neighboring Iran and Syria and driven by a "vocal minority" of religious extremists who oppose the idea of a democratic Iraq.
Death squads targeting mainly Iraqi civilians are a growing problem, heightening the risk of civil war, it said.
"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife," the report said, adding that the Sunni-led insurgency "remains potent and viable" even as it is overshadowed by the sect-on-sect killing.
The Greening of the Lower Nine
Actor Brad Pitt unveiled a "green" housing design for New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward and said he was appalled by the slow pace of rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina hit last year.
Two New York City architects won a contest, underwritten by Pitt, for an affordable, environmentally sound housing design.
Their complex of single family homes and apartments would be built from modular pieces into long houses on a site that connects to the neighbouring Mississippi River levee with a wide pedestrian ramp.
But Pitt said the recovery would not work if the city did not assure critical services such as schools, and that he did not see much progress in the area that needed it most.
"I am appalled and embarrassed that residents still do not have the opportunity ... to decide if they want to get back into their neighbourhoods and recreate their communities," Pitt told a news conference.
While historic and tourist-friendly areas such as the French Quarter look barely touched by the storm that hit a year ago, killing about 1500 across four states, many parts of New Orleans remain sparsely populated and full of ruined houses.
There is a housing shortage, which Pitt and partners said they hoped to help address.
Environmental group Global Green USA, which sponsored the effort with Pitt, is raising money to build the project for roughly $US3.5 million ($4.6 million) to $US5 million ($6.56 million), a spokesman said.
Ninth Ward resident Pam Dashiell, a community association leader who was part of the jury for the contest, said that it was the first quasi-commercial development in the area since Katrina roared through, flooding 80 per cent of the city.
Architects Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD dubbed their design Greenola, which plays on the nickname for New Orleans, Louisiana -- NOLA.
The plan, modified after discussions with the community, calls for six houses, two multifamily units and services such as child care and a community garden.
Using resource-saving appliances and fixtures, solar electricity and hot water heaters, and recycled building materials, the team hopes to cut pollution and decrease operating energy use by 50 per cent to 60 per cent compared with traditional homes.
Wacky Vatican, Cont'd
THE Vatican has never been a fan of Harry Potter, but its chief exorcist has gone one step further and condemned J. K. Rowling's fictional boy wizard as downright evil.
"Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil," says Father Gabriele Amorth, the Pope's "caster-out of demons".The books contained numerous positive references to the satanic art, falsely drawing a distinction between black and white magic, he told the Daily Mail in London.
MEMBERS of the Maine National Guard in Afghanistan and Iraq have never been far from the thoughts of their loved ones - but now they're even closer, thanks to the "flat daddy" and the "flat mummy".
Life-size cutouts of deployed US service members are given by the Maine National Guard to spouses, children, and relatives at home to ride in cars, sit at the dinner table and even go to church. "I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket," said Kay Judkins, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan.
A year after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans forcing the cancellation of the biggest gay party in the South, Southern Decadence is back and organizers say it is living proof the city is well on its way to recovery.
Hotels and guest houses are reporting near capacity bookings for the weeklong event that gets underway Friday and culminates with the traditional flamboyant parade.
For a city still coping with the aftermath of the worst storm to hit the country in modern history the millions of dollars spent by revelers over the week will be a major boon.
The Importance of Research
Italian politician has used the "work makes you free" slogan that topped the gates at Auschwitz in a brochure to promote local job centers, saying he could not remember the source but was impressed by the quote.
News agency Ansa reported the vice-president of the Jewish community in Rome had sharply criticised Tommaso Coletti, president of Italy's southern Chieti province and member of the center-left "Daisy" party, for using the quote.
Countless photographs have focused on the "Arbeit macht Frei" sign at Auschwitz to encapsulate the horror of the Nazi death camps."Work makes you free. I don't remember where I read this phrase but it was one of those quotes that have an instant impact on you because they tell an immense truth," Coletti wrote in the pamphlet, Ansa reported.
More than 20 years after the US illegally intervened to brutally oust a democratically elected government, the US is again being accused of interfering in the Central American nation's domestic politics to ensure the victory of its preferred candidate. And again the US is controversially acting against the left-wing Sandinista party and its candidate, Daniel Ortega.
US intervention circa 2006 does not involve spending $300m (£157m) to support anti-government "Contra" forces, an intervention that led to a vicious war and the death of perhaps 30,000 people. This time, the US involvement entails making clear its preferences by having its ambassador denounce Mr Ortega as "anti-democratic", a "candidate from the past" and a "tiger who hasn't changed his stripes". There is also the veiled threat that the US may not wish to cooperate with a government headed by the Sandinistas, with one senior US official writing in a Nicaraguan newspaper last year that should Mr Ortega be elected, " Nicaragua would sink like a stone".
Some experts say the behaviour of the US in Nicaragua is just the latest episode in a region where the US has, for decades, sought to undermine governments it opposes through peaceful means or otherwise to secure one it believes it can do business with. They say a pattern can be ascertained linking Guatemala to Cuba through to Grenada, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and more recently to Haiti and Venezuela, where the US has used whatever means necessary to try to place right-wing, Washington-friendly governments in power. If anything, under the Bush administration the policy has gathered pace.
The Scream Is Saved
Edvard Munch's stolen masterpieces The Scream and Madonna have been safely recovered, Norwegian police believe.
The priceless paintings were stolen by two masked gunmen from the Munch museum in Oslo in a daylight raid in front of stunned staff and visitors on August 22 2004. A third man drove a getaway car.
In Oslo today, officers told a news conference that the Norwegian artist's famous works had been recovered in a police operation and were in better condition than expected.
Save the Hedgehogs!
Hedgehogs have finally humbled burger giant McDonald's after years of campaigning, forcing the company to redesign its killer McFlurry ice-cream containers.
Up to now the opening in the container has been large enough for hedgehogs to get their heads into for a lick of the left-over dessert -- a trap they have then been unable to withdraw from, so dying of starvation in untold numbers.
But from September 1, the wide-mouthed opening in the lid of the McFlurry containers will be reduced in size, making them too small for the sugar-loving animals to get their heads into.
"This is excellent, it is long overdue news," said Fay Vass, chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. "We have been in touch with McDonald's about this problem for over five years and are delighted that they have at last solved the problem."
A barrage of coordinated bomb and rocket attacks on eastern Baghdad neighborhoods killed at least 47 people and wounded more than 200 within half an hour on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.
The latest spasm of violence — which included explosives planted in apartments, car bombs and several rocket and mortar attacks on mainly Shiite neighborhoods in the capital — came even as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces should have control over most of the country by year's end.
$20 Million Truthiness
U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.
The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.
Disaster Capitalism Complex
The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the US government's calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: businesses do disaster better.
"It's all going to be private enterprise before it's over," Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys, currently under hurricane watch for tropical storm Ernesto, said in April. "They've got the expertise. They've got the resources." But before this new consensus goes any further, perhaps it's time to take a look at where the privatisation of disaster began, and where it will inevitably lead.
The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter).
We saw the results in New Orleans one year ago: Washington was frighteningly weak and inept, in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. At least by comparison, the private sector looked modern and competent.
I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, watertanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.
But here's the catch: the US government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8 trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260bn. That means that sooner rather than later the contracts are going to dry up. Insiders call it the "homeland security bubble".
Why Don't I Buy This?
The top US general in Iraq yesterday predicted that Iraqi forces would be able to take over security in the country with "very little coalition support" within a year to 18 months. General George Casey did not say anything specific about parallel withdrawals of US troops. Instead, he said American-led coalition forces would pull back into large bases and provide support before leaving.
Gen Casey's predictions earlier in the summer that the US military presence could be reduced from about 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year were proved overly optimistic by a surge in sectarian killing. Instead a combat brigade based in Mosul had its tour extended and was sent to Baghdad to help Iraqi troops keep a lid on the bloodshed there, and the overall American forces level rose to 138,000.
Australian brothels are offering clients discounts based on their gas bills.
"If you come in and spend time with one of our lovely ladies, we'll give you a discount of 20 cents a liter," Kerry, manager of Sydney brothel The Site, told Reuters Wednesday.
There is no link between brothels, petrol providers or supermarkets but brothels like The Site and Madame Kerry's say the system is simple.
Once you've filled up your car, bring your receipt to the brothel and they'll discount the price of your visit.
The bill for a full 50-liter tank at 126.9 cents per liter comes to A$63.45 ($48.22). With the offered 20c a liter discount, the petrol bill would have instead come to A$53.45.
That A$10 difference is taken off the A$150 cost of a 30-minute session with one of the brothel's "service providers."
Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that he and Syria will "build a new world" free of U.S. domination, vowing eventually to "dig the grave of U.S. imperialism."
The visit is Chavez's first to the Middle East since a truce ended the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah on August 14. The leftist icon and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad share a deep-seated opposition to U.S. policies. Syria is under U.S. pressure to police its border and stop the flow of arms to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
"No matter how strong the American empire becomes and no matter how much force it uses, it will be defeated," Chavez said. "We and Syria as well as other countries will be an army of tigers, struggling and strong."
In a city with few real refuges from sectarian violence -- not government offices, not military bases, not even mosques -- one place always emerged as a safe haven: hospitals.
So Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.
Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shiite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.
Authorities say it was not an isolated incident. In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shiite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors and government officials.
As a result, more and more Iraqis are avoiding hospitals, making it even harder to preserve life in a city where death is seemingly everywhere. Gunshot victims are now being treated by nurses in makeshift emergency rooms set up in homes. Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces.
South America, High and Dry
ANDEAN glaciers are melting so fast that some are expected to disappear within 15 to 25 years, denying cities water supplies and putting populations and food supplies at risk in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.
The Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia, the source of fresh water for the cities of La Paz and El Alto, is expected to melt completely within 15 years if trends continue. Mount Huascaran, Peru's most famous mountain, has lost 1280 hectares of ice, about 40 per cent of the area it covered only 30 years ago. The O'Higgins glacier in Chile has shrunk by 15 kilometres in 100 years and Argentina's Upsala glacier is losing 14 metres a year.
"The speeding up of the … process is a catastrophic danger," said Carmen Felipe, president of Peru's water management institute. In the short term, it could cause overflows of reservoirs and trigger mudslides, and in the longer term cut water supplies.
The Colombian Institute of Hydrology says that in 1983 the five main glaciers in El Cocuy national park were expected to last at least 300 years, but measurements taken last year suggest that they may all disappear within 25 years. Meanwhile, the ice sheet on the Ecuadorean volcano Cotopaxi and its glacier has shrunk by 30 per cent since 1976.
"The [drastic melt] forces people to farm at higher altitudes to grow their crops, adding to deforestation, which in turn undermines water sources and leads to soil erosion and putting the survival of Andean cultures at risk," says the report by the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, which includes the International Institute for Environment and Development, Christian Aid, Cafod, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Progressio.
He may be Zanzibar's most famous son but religious leaders on the mostly Islamic island are demanding the government block an international party to mark what would have been Freddie Mercury's 60th birthday.
The mullahs say that the openly gay Queen frontman who died of complications from AIDS in 1991 brought shame on the island because of "his lifestyle".
So Stupid, He's Honest
From AFP's report on the president's visit today to Betsy's Pancake House in New Orleans:
"As Bush tried to squeeze his way through narrow spaces between tables, waitress Joyce Labruzzo asked him: 'Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?' 'No, ma'am,' Bush said, with a laugh and a pause. 'Not again.'"
That About Sums It Up
A woman watches a march commemorating the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, near a sign protesting U.S. President George Bush's policies, in New Orleans, Louisiana August 29, 2006.
One Year Later
Safe from Disturbing T-Shirts
An Iraqi architect says he was not allowed to board a Jet Blue flight at JFK because of the Arabic inscription on his t-shirt.
REPORTER: Raed Jarrar was wearing a T-shirt that read We Will Not Be Silent in Arabic and English, when he was approached by security officers. The officers said the Arabic script was upsetting other passengers, and told Jarrar to either turn the shirt inside out or wear something else. Jarrar protested but finally wore a T-shirt provided by a Jet Blue employee.
Dangerous Septuagenarian Freed
The oldest detainee at Guantanamo Bay — an Afghan man who is at least 71 and hobbled around the U.S. prison in Cuba using a walker — has been sent home, his lawyer said Monday.
Haji Nasrat Khan was among five men from Afghanistan transferred over the weekend, said attorney Peter Ryan, who received the news in an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ryan was not told why Khan was transferred, and was trying to determine whether he would be held in custody in Afghanistan or allowed to return home.
The U.S. military did not disclose the names of the five men sent back to Afghanistan and declined to comment.
Khan was not charged with a crime and Ryan said the government never said why he was detained.
"We couldn't figure out why he was there," Ryan said. "He could barely walk and he could barely hear."
In a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, a new survey reveals that the traumatized survivors of Hurricane Katrina forged a surprisingly powerful inner strength that steeled them against suicidal despair.
The study is the most elaborate post-storm survey yet. It shows that while the survivors suffered twice as much mental illness as the pre-storm population, they contemplated suicide far less often than mentally ill people surveyed before Katrina.
In its key findings:
_It detected a 30 percent rate of suspected mental illness — double the usual — after the storm. People were predictably troubled by what they lived through and lost in the disaster.
_Yet only 1 percent of these troubled survivors either thought about or planned for suicide. Before Katrina, 8 percent of mentally ill people from the same region had such thoughts and 4 percent made plans to carry out suicide.
Anti-Gay Bigot for Senator
U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Laffey said he regrets that he wrote columns denigrating gays when he was a college student.
The Republican candidate wrote them in 1983 and 1984 while studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. The articles appeared in a paper published by campus Republicans.
In one column, Laffey said he has never seen a happy homosexual.
"This is not to say there aren't any; I simply haven't seen one in my lifetime. Maybe they are all in the closet," he wrote. "All the homosexuals I've seen are sickly and decrepit, their eyes devoid of life."
In another column he wrote that pop music was turning the children of America into sissies, and criticized the singer Boy George, referring to him as "it."
"It wears girl's clothes and puts on makeup," he wrote. "When I hear it sing, 'Do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry,' I say to myself, YES, I want to punch your lights out, pal, and break your ribs."
What's Right with Kansas
If followers of anti-gay pastor Fred Phelps thought they were going to find support in tiny Meade, Kansas they were mistaken. The militant group demonstrated across the street Sunday from a small hotel that stirred up a local hornets nest when it displayed a rainbow flag.
About 30 of Phelp's followers, mostly relatives, held signs saying "God Hates Fags", and "AIDS is God's curse."
Not far away a crowd nearly double in size help up their own signs. "God Loves Fags" read one sign. "Go home" read another.
The flag flap began earlier this summer when the son of J.R. and Robin Knight presented them with the colorful flag he'd picked up in California. The Knights put the flag over the entrance to their tiny Lakeway Hotel.
For some in the community the rainbow was like putting a red flag in front of a charging bull.
As controversy over the flag grew it mysteriously disappeared. The Knights were not about to be cowed, telling the local newspaper they were not giving in to intolerance and would replace the flag - and keep doing so for as long flags disappeared.
As the two sides demonstrated the Knights pumped up the music. The couple put stereo speakers in the front window of the hotel and played the Village People hits like "Macho Man".
Judicial Corruption? Evil Lesbians!
(Knoxville, Tennessee) A Roane County judge facing a lengthy prison term for corruption is pleading for mercy and blaming his plight on stress after learning his wife had been having a lesbian affair.
Thomas Alva Austin will be sentenced next month. The appeal for clemency came in a filing by his lawyer last week to the court.
Austin pleaded guilty to using his position to force kickbacks from driving school instructors and a probation office chief. It is estimated Austin pocketed tens of thousands of dollars. The case came to light after one man being shaken down by Austin went to the FBI.
But Austin's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, in seeking a reduced sentence argues the judge had a breakdown.
"In early 2005, while Mr. Austin and his second wife were in marital counseling, she admitted her year-long involvement in an extramarital lesbian relationship," Isaacs wrote in his court filing.
Saddam Hussein has been forced to watch South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, according to the film's co-creator Matt Stone.
The former Iraqi leader is portrayed in the movie as a homosexual who is in a relationship with the devil, and Stone claims the prisoner is being forced to watch it "repeatedly" as he is held by US Marines.
The South Park movie was banned on release in Iraq seven years ago.
Stone reveals: "I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy."
More Vatican Wackiness!
Adolf Hitler and Russian leader Stalin were possessed by the Devil, the Vatican's chief exorcist has claimed.
Father Gabriele Amorth who is Pope Benedict XVI's 'caster out of demons' made his comments during an interview with Vatican Radio.
Father Amorth said: "Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations.
"I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler - and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil.
"You can tell by their behaviour and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That's why we need to defend society from demons."
Catholicism Goes More Fundie
Philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals close to Pope Benedict will gather at his summer palace outside Rome this week for intensive discussions that could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican's view of evolution.
There have been growing signs the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of "intelligent design" taught in some US states. Advocates of the theory argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Critics say it is a disguise for creationism.A prominent anti-evolutionist and Roman Catholic scientist, Dominique Tassot, told the US National Catholic Reporter that this week's meeting was "to give a broader extension to the debate. Even if [the Pope] knows where he wants to go, and I believe he does, it will take time. Most Catholic intellectuals today are convinced that evolution is obviously true because most scientists say so." In 1996, in what was seen as a capitulation to scientific orthodoxy, John Paul II said Darwin's theories were "more than a hypothesis".
Followers of Bush
They are the US troops in Iraq to whom the American administration prefers not to draw attention. They are the deserters – those who have gone Awol from their units and not returned, risking imprisonment and opprobrium.
When First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of the US Army, who faced a court martial in August, refused to go to Iraq on moral grounds, the newspapers in his home state of Hawaii were full of letters accusing him of “treason”. He said he had concluded that the war is both morally wrong and a horrible breach of American law. His participation, he stated, would make him party to “war crimes”. Watada is just one conscientious objector to a war that has polarised America, arguably more so than even the Vietnam war. It is impossible to put a precise figure on the number of American troops who have left the army as a result of the US involvement in Iraq. The Pentagon says that a total of 40,000 troops have deserted their posts (not simply those serving in Iraq) since the year 2000.