Friday, February 29, 2008

North Korea Again Aided Iranian Missile Program

China Confidential has learned that Iran's recent launch of a space rocket was made possible by North Korea--which is why the Islamist regime lied about its origins on Tuesday. The Hitler admiring, Holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--who dreams openly of a world without Israel and the United States--said the research rocket was built in just nine months without using any foreign models.

The early February launch provoked unease in an international community already suspicious over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, since the technology involved can also be used to deliver warheads

Iran's intentions are clear to everyone except fools and pro-Islamist Fifth Columnists. The clerical fascist regime is working overtime to develop atomic arms--i.e. warheads--and the means of delivering them accurately across great distances--i.e. intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea has also aided Iran in the development of a seagoing ballistic missile threat to the United States--against which there is no known defense. The Stalinist/Kimist regime has transferred to Tehran the (low-tech) technology and know-how for the launch of nuclear-tipped missiles from containerized launchers concealed aboard (seemingly civilian, foreign flagged) cargo ships. Thousands of such ships approach and enter US waters every day.

On US-Russia Relations and Pandora's Box

Foreign Confidential....

Led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the US State Department seems to be doing its level best to worsen relations between the United States and Russia.

The policy is irrational and unrealistic--the US needs Russian support and cooperation with respect to Iran and the war on radical Islam (the so-called war on Terror). But political realism does not fit the State Department's "Freedom Agenda," which, in the name of democracy promotion, actually appears aimed at antagonizing Russia and promoting the creation of Islamist-leaning and Islamist-friendly regimes from the Middle East (Iraq and Gaza) to the heart of Europe, as in the case of Kosovo.

Americans, focusing on an ailing economy and weak dollar, and the costly and unpopular war in Iraq, seem to have little interest in the issue of US-Russian relations.

The mainstream media, for whom the creation of Kosovo and Palestine are sacrosanct causes, either ignores or supports the irrational policies. Jim Maceda's article, excerpted below, is an interesting example. Currently assigned to Moscow, Maceda is an NBC News Correspondent based in London who covered the wars in Yugoslavia extensively during the 1990s. While blaming Russian belligerence, he correctly assesses the importance of the Kosovo issue in an MSNBC World Blog essay, excerpted below:

Analysts here in Moscow also warn that the ripping of Kosovo from the Serbian province will open a Pandora's Box of potentially destabilizing ruptures all around the world: Chechens in Russia, ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, Russians in Moldova, Abkhazians in Georgia, Basques in Spain, just to name a few.

Would the United States defend these groups if they were to declare independence in violation of territorial integrity and international law, experts in Russia ask? If not, then why in Kosovo?

To define it in more familiar terms, Kosovo, for Serbs, is like a combination of Jerusalem and the Alamo: both the birthplace of its identity, forged in a bloody defeat at the hands of the Turks in 1389, and the crucible of its religious faith. Over the centuries, Russia has been Serbia's natural ally, sharing the Orthodox religion and the Cyrillic alphabet. But the United States also has been a trusted ally to Serbia through two world wars and other difficult times.

But strangely, friends of a friend can act like enemies. Just when it seemed like Russia and the United States were on the brink of what some consider a new Cold War, tiny Kosovo reared its head, caught the West's fancy for freedom and declared its independence – just as it promised it would. In the process, it triggered the kind of belligerent rhetoric we haven't heard from the Russian military in years.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

China Inks $16 Billion Iranian Gas Deal

China is maintaining its position that it does not support actions against Iran that "undermine normal trade and economic cooperation." Even as the United Nations maneuvers toward a vote on expanded sanctions against Iran, which Beijing has reportedly approved, China's main offshore oil and gas company is reported to have signed a $16 billion deal to develop an Iranian gas field. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was asked Thursday about the reported deal, in which state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC, would supposedly help develop Iran's North Pars gas field.

Without going into specifics, Liu confirmed the deal, but said it is strictly a commercial activity between two companies.

Liu says China is very concerned about nuclear proliferation, but believes Iran has the right to the peaceful development of nuclear energy.

Two Rounds of Sanctions

The UN has already passed two rounds of sanctions against Tehran because of the Iranians' refusal to halt their program of enriching uranium. Iran says it is building only civilian nuclear energy, but there is international suspicion that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

At a regular briefing in Beijing Thursday, Liu urged Tehran to "actively respond" to international concerns over its nuclear program.

But the spokesman seemed to draw a distinction between the UN sanctions already in place or now being contemplated, and everyday business deals between companies. He said actions to address the Iranian nuclear issue should not "undermine normal trade and economic cooperation with Iran."

The UN Security Council voted in 2006 to ban the sale or transfer to Iran of items linked to its nuclear research. A second vote, in 2007, banned dealings with one of Iran's state-owned banks, and a number of its officials.

Draft Text

The five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Britain, France and Russia, along with China, have agreed to a draft text outlining a third round of sanctions; and a vote is seen likely this week or next. The latest resolution would call for more travel and financial restrictions on named Iranian individuals and companies.

Beijing apparently feels that arrangements like the reported CNOOC-North Pars deal do not fall under the restrictions in those resolutions.

In early December, Chinese oil refiner Sinopec signed an agreement to develop Iran's oil field in Yadavaran.

The US State Department says Washington is looking into whether the CNOOC deal breaches US law. Because its shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, CNOOC is subject to US law.

The Road to Moscow and Middle East Peace

Foreign Confidential....

The road to Middle East peace--assuming there is such a thing--may actually lead through Moscow, not Washington.

So say some Israeli analysts, asserting that Israel and Russia are strengthening their relationship in the face of Iran's apparent determination to develop nuclear ballistic missiles--weapons that could threaten the Jewish state and Russia.

The Islamist nation has vowed to destroy Israel, hinting a final conflict could be imminent. Previously a defender of Iran against US criticism, oil-rich, resurgent Russia has publicly stated its concerns about Iran's intentions. Vitaly Churkin, Moscow's ambassador to the United Nations, has said that Russia will support a new round of sanctions against Iran unless it stops the activities of its heavy water project in the next few days and cooperates unconditionally with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose report last Friday listed several still unanswered questions.

Welcome News in Israel

Churkin's comments were welcome news in Israel, which has broken ranks with its main allies--the United States, Britain, France and Germany--over recognition of Kosovo out of concern for relations with Russia, which firmly opposes its independence, and the implications that this recognition might have on negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel will not be recognising Kosovo’s independence in the near future, even though Israeli Foreign Ministry officials and politicians have privately expressed sympathy towards the Kosovar cause.

Israel does not want to encourage a precedent whereby the populations of disputed regions act unilaterally to declare their independence.

On Wednesday, Yasser Abed Rabbo, senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters that if the current negotiations “wouldn’t proceed towards ending settlement-building and a serious and continuing negotiation, we will have to take the step and declare independence unilaterally”.

Rabbo cited Kosovo’s example and said, “Kosovo is not better than us. We are worthy of independence before them and we ask for backing from the United States and European Union.”

Dangerous Precedent

The idea of a unilateral declaration has been raised before within the Palestinian leadership and turned down on the grounds that it would be meaningless and only harm negotiations.

But Israel is nevertheless wary of the precedent--like other countries dealing with minorities in disputed regions, such as Spain with the Basques.

Back to Iran. It is the primary threat in Israel's eyes. WIthout Iran's backing, Israelis argue, Hezbollah would collapse, Hamas would long ago have abandoned its missile attacks against Israel, and Syria would probably have come to the bargaining table instead of collaborating covertly with nuclear-armed North Korea--which has actively assisted Iran's ballistic missile program while successfully stalling the US on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

Outplayed and Outfoxed

In Israeli eyes, the US has been outplayed and outfoxed by North Korea and Iran, which is no more than two years away from possessing nuclear arms and the means of delivering them--i.e. long-range ballistic missiles--across great distances. Hence, the importance of Russian support.

Says one Israeli analyst: "During World War II, the US allied itself with Stalinist Russia to defeat Nazi Germany. But somehow the US cannot bring itself to ally itself with Putin's post-Communist, post-Soviet Russia, which does not threaten the US, to defeat Iran and radical Islam."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proven himself to be a friend of his country's Jewish community, vigorously defending it against anti-Semitic nationalist groups.

Anti-Semitic Rumors

In that context, the Russian Jewish community is clearly concerned by a rumor campaign by nationalist parties claiming that Dmitri Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's successor, is Jewish.

Russian Jewish leaders have declined to comment on the rumors officially, fearing to lend them credibility.

Medvedev, who recently told a Russian weekly that he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church at age 23, has not commented on these rumors. But Russian Internet sites are full of reports about his alleged Jewish roots.

Accusing an electoral rival of being Jewish is a tactic that nationalist parties have employed in the past, both in Russia and in other former Communist countries.

Nikolai Bondarik, who heads the St. Petersburg branch of the openly anti-Semitic nationalist Russian Party, told the Moscow Times on Wednesday "we are categorically against him [Medvedev] because he is an ethnic Jew and does not conceal his sympathies toward Judaism." He also charged that with Medvedev in power, foreigners and Jews would plunder Russia's natural resources; "tens of thousands" of Israelis would be given key positions in bodies such as "the police, army, and secret services;" and Russia's relations with the Arab world would be destroyed.

POST SCRIPT: Iran has recently designed, built, and started to install a new, more efficient, type of centrifuge, the IR-2, used for the enrichment of uranium for use in nuclear power stations, or at a higher level of enrichment, in nuclear weapons. About 1,200 of these could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in one year. Iran also has a heavy water reactor for producing plutonium, an alternative to uranium in creating a nuclear device.

New Fiber-Optic Link Planned for Pacific

A group of six international companies has announced plans to build an ultra-high speed, undersea, fiber-optic cable under the Pacific Ocean, between Japan and the United States. The project is meant to improve Internet and other telecommunication traffic between the US and Asia, and comes as several other companies have begun similar ventures. Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong.

Singapore Telecommunications, Internet search company Google, and four other companies plan to spend $300 million on the underwater communications link. They say it will be ready for use by 2010.

The new cable network, called Unity, will link Chikura, Japan, with Los Angeles, California, a distance of about 10,000 kilometers. The system will also connect to other Asian telecommunications cable systems.

Fiber-optic cables are the lifelines for connecting Internet users on different continents. This latest project is part of a surge in new transpacific cable construction projects, driven primarily by increasing demand in Asia.

Martin Gutberlet, Vice President for Technology and Research at Gartner's Singapore office, says within two to three years, Internet traffic between the US and Asia could double.

"And lots of traffic will be actually generated in Asia, so therefore there is simply more capacity needed between the US and Asia," he says.

Boom in Internet Traffic

Gutberlet says that, based on current forecasts, now is the best time for companies to supply additional capacity between North America and Asia.

eMarketer, an Internet and e-business research company, predicts that by 2012, almost 50 percent of the world's Internet users will live in the Asia Pacific region.

But investments in undersea cable links are not without risk. In December 2006, a strong earthquake near Taiwan damaged four large offshore cables, disrupting Internet service for millions of people across Asia. Service was not fully restored for weeks. Earlier this year, communications in large parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia were affected after two undersea cables were damaged in the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2000, during the dot-com bust, several telecommunications companies went bankrupt when too many competitors entered the market.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rumor: Clinton Almost Ready to Quit

Dateline USA....

A wild rumor is circulating in Washington--that Hillary Clinton is seriously considering ending her Presidential quest this Friday, before next Tuesday's key Democratic Party primary contests in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Supposedly, her campaign's confidential, internal polling shows her losing everywhere except Rhode Island. The US Senator from New York would like to avoid the humiliation of utter defeat; sources say the first draft of a campaign resignation speech has already been written.

Russia Warns Iran on Nuclear Enrichment

Foreign Confidential....

Increasingly convinced that Iran is developing atomic arms and the means of delivering them--long-range ballistic missiles--Russia is toughening its stance toward the Shiite Islamist nation.

Moscow has no intention of living within striking distance of the mullahocracy's nuclear-tipped missiles.

With that in mind, Russia has warned Iran it will support a new set of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear program unless Tehran stops its uranium enrichment activities in the next few days.

Russia's UN envoy, Vitali Churkin, says his country is committed to supporting a sanctions resolution drafted by the Western powers, who want it discussed in the Security Council this week.

Russia says the nuclear fuel it has delivered to Iran's first nuclear power station does not need to be enriched.

Analysts say Russia is taking Israeli intelligence estimates of Iran's nuclear and missile programs quite seriously. Israeli officials believe Iran is no more than two years away from possessing nuclear weapons and that development of long-range ballistic
missiles will allow Iran to move its strategic weapons deeper inside the country.

WHO Confirms Urban Yellow Fever Outbreak

Foreign Confidential....

Amid UN forecasts of an urban planet, as reported earlier today, the world body's health agency said Wednesday it is closely monitoring vaccine supplies for yellow fever as it confirmed the first cases of the deadly disease in a Latin American urban area in six decades.

According to AP, Dr. William Perea, the World Health Organization's yellow fever chief, said the mosquito-born disease can spread particularly fast in suburbs and cities and warned that vaccinations are needed to stem the outbreak.

In crowded urban areas, yellow, which kills about 30,000 people annually, can "spread like a fire in the forest," Perea told AP, adding that mosquitoes thrive in built-up areas with poor hygiene and sanitation.

The news agency reported:

WHO said there have been nine confirmed cases in the suburbs of Paraguay's capital, Asuncion. The agency said three people had died, though Paraguayan authorities put the death toll at eight.

Perea said in a telephone news conference that many people in Latin America's cities have not been exposed to the virus, so have no immunity. In the jungle, where most yellow fever outbreaks occur, people have better defenses against the virus.

WHO experts said a mass vaccination campaign was under way in Paraguay. Dr. Marlo Libel, of WHO's regional office for the Americas, said the situation was "under control."

The yellow fever outbreak is Paraguay's first since 1974. The last yellow fever cases in any Latin American city were in the 1940s in Brazil, Libel said....

Symptoms can include fevers, vomiting, jaundice and bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes and stomach.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

UN Forecasts Urban Population Explosion

An urban planet?

That seems to be the future, according to the United Nations. A UN forecast said Tuesday that half the world's population will live in urban areas by the end of this year and about 70 percent will be city dwellers by 2050, with cities and towns in Asia and Africa registering the biggest growth.

The report predicted there will be 27 "megacities" with at least 10 million residents by mid-century compared to 19 giant metropolitan areas today. But it said at least half the urban growth in coming decades will be in smaller cities that now have less than 500,000 people.

According to last year's UN estimate, the world's population is expected to rise from 6.7 billion in 2007 to 9.2 billion in 2050. Over the same span, the new report said, the total population of urban areas is projected to rise from 3.3 billion to 6.4 billion.

Most in Developed Nations

More than 70 percent of the populations in Europe, North America and richer developed nations in other regions already live in urban areas, while only 39 percent of Africans and 41 percent of Asians were in urban areas last year.

"During 2008, for the first time in history, the proportion of the population living in urban areas will reach 50 percent," the report said, adding that "the level of urbanization is expected to rise from 50 percent in 2008 to 70 percent in 2050."

By mid-century, Asia is projected to see its urban population increase by 1.8 billion, Africa by 900 million and Latin America and the Caribbean by 200 million, it said.

Number of Children

The report said that the projections will take place only if the number of children in families in the developing world continues to decline, especially in Africa and Asia.

The UN expects Africa to reach 50 percent urbanization between 2045 and 2050. Asia, if it continues to urbanize as rapidly as it's doing now, especially because of the rapid urbanization in China, is expected to become 50 percent urbanized around 2020-2025.

China, the world's most populous nation, is already 40 percent urban. The UN expects China's urban population to reach more than 70 percent by 2050.

By contrast, the world's second most populous nation, India, has just over 300 million urban residents, or 29 percent of its population. By 2050, it is expected to have 55 percent of the population, about 900 million, in cities.

The UN says disparities in urbanization will remain. Burundi and Papua New Guinea, for example, have only 10 percent of their people living in urban areas, while the small city state of Singapore is 100 percent urban.

POST SCRIPT: The planetary trend is not new. Fourteen percent of the world's population lived in urban centers in 1920. By 1960, it was 25%. In the United States, about 5% of the population lived in cities in 1800; but about 50% of the population lived in cities by 1920. Throughout the 19th century, the US was urbanizing. The same was true for most European societies during the 19th century.

Clinton's MSNBC Meltdown

Dateline USA....

Forty-something minutes into Tuesday night's Democratic Presidential candidates debate on US cable network MSNBC, it was painfully--embarrassingly--clear why Hillary Clinton has been losing her bid for her party's nomination. The US Senator from New York appeared to be an increasingly desperate, thoroughly unlikeable, petty, mean-spirited political creature.

How sad.

Carbon News: World Credit Trade to Top $90 Billion

Carbon World News....

Point Carbon said Tuesday that global trade in credits representing reductions of planet-warming gas emissions should rise 56 percent this year from about $59 billion, or 40 billion euros, to approximately $92 billion, or 63 billion euros.

All the figures are based on current carbon prices, or roughly $30 per ton of carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse gas trade should grow to 4.2 billion tonnes from 2.7 billion tonnes last year as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme's second phase that launched this year tightens allowed emissions levels and adds new members, according to the 2008 annual carbon market outlook from Point Carbon, a global carbon analysis and advisory group.

Growing Market

The global greenhouse gas market is growing despite complaints about the quality of some of the credits representing emissions reductions, especially in voluntary markets, as governments try to tackle emissions blamed for global warming which could lead to deadly storms, droughts and floods.

The market for carbon credits could reach $100 billion by 2020, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. said in a Sept. 20 report.

In related developments, Dubai Mercantile Exchange, a venture between the Dubai government, Oman Investment Fund and the New York Mercantile Exchange, or Nymex, is considering trading in carbon credits. And Nymex said yesterday that it will start carbon credit trading next month on The Green Exchange.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the UN started managing the Clean Development Mechanism, which encourages developing nations to cut production of so-called greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by earning carbon credits that can be bought and traded by companies in industrialized nations.

Unique Plan Lets US and Canadian Troops Patrol Each Other's Lands During National Emergencies

Dateline North America....

US and Canadian troops will be allowed to patrol each other's countries in the event of a national emergency.

"US Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command (Northcom), and Canadian Air Force Lt.-Gen. Marc Dumais, commander of Canada Command, have signed a Civil Assistance Plan that allows the military from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency," Northcom announced in a February 14 press release.

Bilateral Military Plan

“This document is a unique, bilateral military plan to align our respective national military plans to respond quickly to the other nation's requests for military support of civil authorities,” Renuart said. “Unity of effort during bilateral support for civil support operations such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and effects of a terrorist attack, in order to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate damage to property, is of the highest importance, and we need to be able to have forces that are flexible and adaptive to support rapid decision-making in a collaborative environment.”

“The signing of this plan is an important symbol of the already strong working relationship between Canada Command and US Northern Command,” Dumais said. “Our commands were created by our respective governments to respond to the defense and security challenges of the 21st century, and we both realize that these and other challenges are best met through cooperation between friends.”

Emergency Preparedness

The plan recognizes the role of each nation's lead federal agency for emergency preparedness, which in the US is the Department of Homeland Security and in Canada is Public Safety Canada. The plan facilitates the military-to-military support of civil authorities once government authorities have agreed on an appropriate response.

Northcom was established on Oct. 1, 2002, to anticipate and conduct homeland defense and civil support operations within the assigned area of responsibility to defend, protect, and secure the US and its interests.

Similarly, Canada Command was established on Feb. 1, 2006, to focus on domestic operations and to offer a single point of contact for all domestic and continental defense and security partners.

The two domestic commands established strong bilateral ties well before the signing of the Civil Assistance Plan. The two commanders and their staffs meet regularly, collaborate on contingency planning and participate in related annual exercises.

Pakistan Arrests Al Qaeda Terrorist

A Pakistani official says an Al Qaeda terrorist has been arrested in connection with a suicide bomb attack that targeted former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last October.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz says Qari Saifullah Akhtar was involved in the October 18 bombings at a Karachi procession led by Bhutto to mark her return from exile.

The attack killed about 140 people. Bhutto survived, but was later assassinated in a gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi in December. In a book she wrote just before her death, Bhutto asserted Akhtar helped plan the Karachi bombings.

Trained in Afghanistan

Pakistani authorities say Akhtar attended Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban in 2001. He was arrested in Dubai in 2004 and extradited to Pakistan.

Akhtar was detained after his extradition, but later released for unspecified reasons.

In another development, Pakistani police say they arrested four terrorists Monday suspected of planning suicide bombings in the eastern city of Lahore.

Several Attacks

Officials say the terrorists belong to the Al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, which is blamed for several attacks in Pakistan. They say police recovered explosives and other bomb-making material from the four men.

The interior ministry also says that security forces have arrested 442 suspected terrorists in Pakistan during the past three months. It says authorities seized explosives, weapons, suicide vests and hand grenades from the suspects.

Pakistan has seen an increase in suicide attacks in recent months, most of them blamed on Islamic militants.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Peruvians Protest Against Tourism in Cuzco

Foreign Confidential....

There is trouble in Lamaland.

Protests against a tourism development plan in the ancient Peruvian city of Cuzco have led to the suspension of public transportation and airport operations.

Local authorities and media say protesters marched through the city and used rocks and sticks to block major roads last Thursday.

The trouble forced authorities to temporarily ground flights at Cuzco's airport and affected train service to the famed ruins of Machu Picchu.

Police say they provided escorts to tourists visiting Cuzco's historic sites. Demonstrators are protesting a new law that promotes the development of tourism services near archaeological sites.

Cuzco is the site of the ancient Incan civilization and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thursday's protest was the second to hit Peru in a week. Two days earlier, three people were killed in a demonstration by farmers in Ayacucho state protesting a free trade deal with the United States.

POST SCRIPT: Reuters reported Tuesday that a ceremonial plaza built 5,500 years ago has been discovered in Peru. Archeologists involved in the dig said on Monday carbon dating shows it is one of the oldest structures ever found in the Americas, the news agency said, The report continued:

A team of Peruvian and German archeologists uncovered the circular plaza, which was hidden beneath another piece of architecture at the ruins known as Sechin Bajo, in Casma, 229 miles north of Lima, the capital. Friezes depicting a warrior with a knife and trophies were found near the plaza.

"It's an impressive find; the scientific and archeology communities are very happy," said Cesar Perez, the scientist at Peru's National Institute of Culture who supervised the project. "This could redesign the history of the country."

Prior to the discovery at Sechin Bajo, archeologists considered the ancient Peruvian citadel of Caral to be one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, at about 5,000 years.

Scientists say Caral, located a few hours drive from Sechin Bajo, was one of six places in the world -- along with Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India and Mesoamerica -- where humans started living in cities about 5,000 years ago.

Indian Muslims Denounce Terrorism

Leading Muslim groups attending an anti-terrorism conference in northern India have denounced terrorism as "un-Islamic."

The declaration was made by thousands of scholars and clerics Monday at the country's top Islamic seminary--the 150-year-old Darul-Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh.

Their statement said any terrorist activity targeting innocent people contradicts Islam's concept of peace. It described Islam as a religion of mercy, and it condemned all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism.

Against Linkage

However, the statement also called on the Indian government to ensure that members of the Muslim community are not harassed. The statement said that whenever there is a terrorist attack, attempts are made to link the attack to Muslims who have studied in madrassas or religious schools.

The declaration also said many innocent Muslims are spending their lives behind bars, having been falsely accused of involvement in acts of terror.

Islam in India is the second-most practiced religion after Hinduism. There are approximately 150 million Muslims in India.

Dedicated to "simple living and high thinking," Darul Uloom Deoband was established in 1866, nine years after the first war of Independence in 1857 against British colonialism.

Liberal Views

The seminary is known for its comparatively liberal perspective. In January, for example, the seminary issued a fatwa, asserting there was nothing wrong in using contraceptives for maintaining a gap between children.

The statement came even as the Islamic scholars say permanent family planning methods like vasectomy and tubectomy are prohibited since they involve making changes in human physiology. But permanent contraceptive methods, or even abortion, is permissible only when the mother's life is in danger.

Conservative Muslim societies still prohibit contraception, although it's practiced widely.

Wikipedia offers the following background:

In 1857, the British East India Company put down a rebellion by disparate north Indian forces, conducted in the name of the otherwise powerless Bahadur Shah Zafar. Emperor Zafar became the last Mughal Emperor, as he was deposed the following year and exiled to Burma, with many of his sons -- princes of the decayed dynasty -- put to death. This marked a seminal moment for Indo-Islamic consciousness, specifically for the established Muslim elites of north India, who tended to view 1857 as the end of their political predominance and the beginning of what could be a dark period of Muslim history.

In this situation, 'Hujjatul Islam Al-Imam Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi established the Darul Uloom Seminary in the town of Deoband, north of Delhi, from which many Muslim elites had fled. The pedagogical philosophy of Deoband was focused on teaching revealed Islamic sciences, known as manqulat, to the Indian Muslim population. Following in the Hanafi tradition, Nanautavi established a seminary which instituted modern methods of learning--classrooms, fixed schools, exam periods, prizes, a publishing press -- but which consciously divorced itself from political participation and shunned English-language education. Instead, Deoband instructed its students primarily in Urdu, and then in Arabic and Persian, helping to cement the growing association of the Urdu language with the (north) Indian Muslim community.

Deoband's curriculum is based on the 17th-century Indo-Islamic syllabus known as Dars-e-Nizami. Its over 15,000 graduates have gone on to found many other maddrassas across modern India, Pakistan, and farther afield. The school of the Islamic religion promulgated here is often described as Deobandi.

NY Philharmonic in N. Korea; Rice in S. Korea

The art of diplomacy....

New York Philharmonic Orchestra has arrived in North Korea on a historic trip as the most prominent American cultural institution to visit the isolated country.

Speaking to reporters Monday, after arriving at Pyongyang airport, the Philharmonic's musical director Lorin Maazel expressed his hope that the trip would improve ties between the United States and North Korea.

Maazel said he is a musician, and not a politician, but if the music moves its audience, the Philharmonic will have done what it can to bring the people of the two countries closer.

The Philharmonic's concert on Tuesday will be broadcast internationally and live on North Korea's state-run TV and radio, where events are usually carefully produced to enhance the image of leader Kim Jong Il.

Dvorak and Gershwin

The concert will include performances of Antonin Dvorak's symphony No. 9 and George Gershwin's "An American in Paris."

It is unclear whether North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong Il will attend the concert, which comes as the US and other countries in the six-party talks are struggling to end the North's nuclear weapons program.

Last year, North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid, but implementation of the agreement is behind schedule.

Pyongyang was supposed to to declare all of its nuclear programs by December 31 of last year, but has yet to do so. The North complains of delays in the delivery of promised fuel oil.

South Korean Pledge

In South Korea, meanwhile, the country's new President, Lee Myung-bak, got straight to diplomacy on his first afternoon in office. He promised visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he would improve on the outgoing administration's ties with the US.

His comments came within hours of Monday's inauguration ceremony, during a meeting with Rice. Lee's spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan, told VOA the president sought a new start in relations with Washington.

He said Lee told Rice the US-South Korea relationship had been lacking something over the past five years, and had even become "awkward." The President then said things would improve under his administration, and that closer ties between the two countries would also help ties between the two Koreas.

Strained Alliance

The US has been a close ally of South Korea's since the end of the Second World War. About 28,000 troops are stationed in South Korea to deter a repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion. The two nations are close partners in multinational efforts to end North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs.

But the alliance was strained during the administration of Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, mainly over differences in perception of North Korea's intentions. Lee has vowed to revamp what most South Koreans regard as Roh's overly generous and uncritical policy of economic aid to Pyongyang.

Rice praised Lee's inaugural-speech pledge to fortify the US-South Korea alliance, and said the relationship between the two countries will remain strong.

"It is a relationship that has only deepened over the years because we share something very important. As much as we share strategic interests, we also share common values," Rice said.

US Ready for Binding Greenhouse Gas Accord

Carbon World News....

The United States is ready to accept "binding international obligations" to reduce greenhouse gases, which could be announced as soon as July, according to Daniel Price, assistant to President George W. Bush for International Economic Affairs.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Price said the undertaking would have to be made as part of a "global agreement" in which all major economies would make the same commitment.

The agreement could be announced "in conjunction" with the G8 summit of the world's most industrialised nations in Japan in July, Price said, without committing to a date.

"We would like to reach an agreement on a long term global reduction goal--this is a collective goal," Price said.

Price, accompanied by James Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, was in Paris to lay the groundwork for a meeting here of "major economies" that account for 80 percent of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change, expected for mid-April.

Iran Instigating Hamas Offensive

Foreign Confidential....

As of this writing, Hamas is mobilizing a mass demonstration at the border between the Gaza Strip, which the Islamist Palestinian movement controls, and Israel, which Hamas has vowed to destroy. The demonstration is aimed at embarrassing Israel by provoking a major border crossing incident in full view of the international media.

Analysts say Shiite, non-Arab Iran instigated the demonstration, which is a departure for Hamas, a Sunni Arab terrorist group responsible for numerous suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The Iranians want to ratchet up tensions in the Middle East (a) to take attention off their covert nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs, and (b) to drive soaring oil prices even higher.

An attack against Israel by Iran's Islamist Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, is increasingly likely in the coming days or weeks.

Nazis at Yale?

Dateline USA

Some surprisingly sick individuals seem to be crawling around Yale, one of America's most prestigious and elite universities.

Students at the Ivy League university's Old Campus were shocked to find a swastika and SS symbol written in packed snow on a tree last Friday night.

The public has access to this portion of the storied New Haven, Connecticut campus, where freshman students reside, although electronic ID cards are necessary for access to the buildings.

Yale has been plagued by street crime, students say.

But bigotry and racism among students has also been a problem.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

S. Korea Establishing Emissions Market

Carbon World News....

South Korea has passed an “Act on Climate Change” that will establish an emissions trading market, raise the bar for renewable energy, assist in reducing industrial, residential, and vehicle emissions, and increase carbon capture.

By 2009, the country plans to have set up a voluntary emissions trading agency and a carbon trading market.

Participation will not be mandatory; instead, companies will be rewarded for reducing their energy demands. But the government says it will supply extra incentive for businesses to moderate their greenhouse gases with a carbon tax.

A national target for emissions reductions should be announced sometime later in the year, before the carbon trading scheme comes into effect. A tentative goal for reduction of industrial CO2 pollution is 3.2% of 2005 levels by 2012 (1.8 million tonnes).

Considering Nuclear Power

Currently, just 2.3% of South Korea’s energy is generated renewably. The new legislation will increase that figure to 5% by 2012 and 9% by 2030. As part of this initiative Korea is also considering expanding its nuclear power program.

To moderate vehicle emissions, new vehicle regulations will be put in place and less polluting vehicles promoted. In this way, as much as 600,000 additional tonnes of CO2 emissions will be prevented.

7,920 hybrid cars, 1,750 fuel cell vehicles, and 13,080 natural gas buses and cleaning vehicles will have hit the roadways by 2012.

Through forestation efforts, South Korea hopes to absorb as much as 12 million tonnes of CO2. Trees will be planted on open land, in cities, and around schools.

There are also plans to establish a foundation for more environmentally friendly agriculture and to recover methane generated from landfills.

Taliban Offer Talks with Pakistan Opposition Parties

Foreign Confidential

Pakistan's Taliban militants say they are willing to talk with the parties expected to form the country's new government, but only if military operations against militants and terrorists end in the tribal regions. If the operations are not stopped, the Al Qaeda-associated Islamists say, they will step up attacks against government targets.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar made the statement during telephone calls with several news agencies Sunday.

Omar said the new government should avoid repeating the mistakes of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who has been an ally of the United States in the war on terrorism.

Musharraf angered many Islamists by sending the army into tribal areas, near the border with Afghanistan, as part of a military offensive to flush out fighters connected to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Hundreds of people have died in attacks linked to the militants over the past year.

The Taliban statements came as leaders from the country's two main opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party, once headed by the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, continue talks on forming a coalition government.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comment: The Spiritual Case for Obama

Dateline USA....

There is a spiritual case for an Obama presidency. Like nothing else since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, election of an African-American President of the United States would address America's original sin: slavery (followed by years of segregaton and institutionalized racism, including horrific terrorism and persecution by armed whites backed by powerful politicians and cynical economic interests).

An Obama administration would in and of itself be a healing act. (One suspect that the idea has yet to hit home with many African-Americans: regardless of what has happened in the past, a person of color can make it all the way to the Oval Office.)

An Obama Presidency would also send a strong message to the rest of the world: the American dream is alive and well; for all its faults and weaknesses, America, in sharp contrast with rigid and reactionary societies, remains a place of inspiring dynamic change, a nation of hope and optimism.

Accent on optimism. It tends to lead to more optimism, which could serve as a powerful spiritual stimulus, for lack of a better term, for an ailing economy.

Next to Obama, Hillary Clinton appears tired and old; John McCain, irrelevant and old.

It is time for change--big change--as many independents and even Republicans, along with so many Democrats, have come to realize during this long, strange election process.

POST SCRIPT: The most reactionary and repressive force on Earth--Radical Islam, or Islamism--could influence the outcome of the election. Should Shiite Iran and/or its Shiite and Sunni proxies, allies and friends seriously escalate their struggle against the West in the coming months--by launching terrorist attacks against Americans and Europeans or a new war with Israel--the US electorate could be inclined to view McCain as a safer bet in terms of national security.

Clinton Campaign Staffers See Looming Defeat

Dateline USA....

Bill Clinton got it right: Hillary's campaign is "toast" if she does not win the March 4 Democratic primary contests in Ohio and Texas.

Lots of luck.

Clinton campaign sources say there is a growing internal expectation of looming defeat.

The effort will end on March 4, they fear, with primary victories for Senator barack Obama in Ohio, Texas, and Vermont (where polls show Obama with a 60% to 40% lead over his rival US Senator from Vermont's neighboring state, New York).

The pessimistic staffers see only Rhode Island, where Clinton seems to have a 52% to 40% edge, in their candidate's victory column.

Ohio and Texas together have 334 of the 370 delegates at stake.

The Clinton meltdown is one of the great political stories of our time. Sources familiar with the Clintons say Hillary is in a state of anger mixed with denial, blaming everyone but herself for her failure, while her husband is already moving on mentally and emotionally.

Maybe so. Maybe not. AP reported Saturday that the former President urged South Texas voters on Friday to attend the March 4 caucuses in support of his wife.

He called the Texas primary one of the strangest in the country.

"Some people believe you will make Hillary win the daytime and they will take the delegates back at night," Clinton told about 200 people at his wife's local campaign headquarters.

About 200 other supporters stood outside the headquarters for the Democratic presidential candidate, according to a report for Saturday editions of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Texas has a hybrid system—part primary, part caucus—that awards 228 delegates in all.

A total of 126 delegates will be decided through primary voting in 31 state senate districts. About half the districts have four delegates each, and others range from a low of two to a high of eight delegates.

Delegates are also awarded based on a candidate's percentage of the vote, so some districts may split their prize between Obama and Clinton.

"On March 4, Texas will be the only state in America where you can vote twice and not go to jail," the former president said.

POST SCRIPT: The Metro Section of Saturday's New York Times features a timely and telling article about "Clinton's Money Troubles." A New York City caterer filed a suit against the Clinton Campaign last Thursday in small claims court for an unpaid bill of $2,300 for food and beverages he provided for a campaign event in mid-December.

Quote of the Day

The precedent set by Kosovo is terrible. It has shattered the whole system of international relations, a system that has existed not for decades, but for hundreds of years.

Without any doubt, this could trigger a whole series of unpredictable consequences. Those who do this, subjugating their allies to their will and by force of arms, are not thinking about the consequences of what they are doing. This is a double-edged sword, one whose second edge will snap back into their gobs sooner or later.

-Russian President Vladimir Putin

Bankers Behind Bars

Foreign Confidential....

Bankers behind bars? Bankers trading pinstripes for prison stripes?

it could be the Next Big Thing.

Some very smart securities lawyers are predicting a wave of international criminal investigations and indictments of investment bankers in the wake of the multibillion-dollar "mistakes" at Societe Generale and Credit Suisse.

Just as the major corporate and accounting scandals of the so-called Enron era led to criminal convictions of rogue chief executives and the passage in the United States of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the scandalous disappearance of incomprehensibly large sums of cash could lead to some very high-profile trials of rogue bankers and traders--and their bosses. Jailing bankers could also be a way to head off a possible populist push for new regulatory measures.

Says one Washington lawyer: "When CEOs mismanage money or misrepresent the facts, shareholders and employees suffer. When global bankers mess up, the world suffers. The threat to the global financial system is very real. Millions of lives could be ruined."

Scary stuff. Even more frightening, of course, is the possibility that the world's largest financial institutions have created a system of such complexity that it is actually beyond anyone's control or understanding.

The times are indeed interesting--and incredibly perilous.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Three British bankers received prison sentences of just over three years for the fraudulent scheme they hatched with ex-Enron CFO Andrew Fastow. They were also ordered to repay $7.3 million in ill-gotten gains. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, also known as the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002 and commonly called SOx or Sarbox, was passed in response not only to the Enron scandal but to corporate and accounting scandals affecting Tyco International, Adelphia, Peregrine Systems and WorldCom. These scandals, which cost investors billions of dollars when the share prices of the affected companies collapsed, shook public confidence in US securities markets.]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rice Demands NK Disclose All Suspect Activities

The United States is toughening its stance on North Korea's nuclear program.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the eve of an Asia tour, pressed Friday for North Korea to disclose not only its nuclear weapons programs but also its alleged proliferation activities.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: China Confidential and other Websites and blogs have long editorialized for US pressure on the secretive Stalinist regime regarding proliferation.]

Rice said she would meet officials from South Korea, China and Japan to boost North Korea's disarmament but appeared to rule out any breakthrough when she said it would not be "useful" for her to talk to North Korean officials.

Incentives and Disincentives

The countries involved in the issue "have the right set of incentives and disincentives to address not just denuclearization, which obviously is extremely important, but also proliferation," Rice said.

North Korea is a leading global proliferator of ballistic missiles. In July 2006, it test-fired seven missiles, including the long-range Taepodong-2, which in theory could reach the West Coast of the US.

North Korea has also assisted Iran in developing cargo ship-launched ballistic missile systems. The US has no defense against a possible attack of this kind, which could involve nuclear-tipped missiles concealed in containerized launch pads.

Transfer to Syria

Washington also demands North Korea clear up suspicions of possible nuclear technology transfer to Syria.

An Israeli air strike in Syria last September targeted a joint Syrian-Korean nuclear project.

North Korea staged its first nuclear test in October 2006 (which China Confidential predicted to the day). The regime is apparently disabling its nuclear plants under an agreement arising from negotiations with South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

A landmark agreement reached on February 13, 2007 offers the North a million tonnes of fuel oil, normalized ties with the United States and Japan and a formal peace treaty, if it scraps all nuclear programs and material.

Missed Deadline

In the current phase, the North agreed to disable its atomic plants and fully declare all nuclear programs by the end of last year. But Pyongyang blew off the deadline amid a dispute with the US over the declaration.

"We need a complete declaration from the North Koreans about both their proliferation activities, their current plutonium program, which they are in the process of disabling, but also the HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) program that they need to make clear what has happened there," Rice said.

North Korea's purchase of thousands of aluminum tubes indicates a possible secret enrichment program.

China's Food Inflation Could Cause Social Unrest

With China's consumer inflation rate rising to an 11-year high in January, analysts are warning that further increases in food prices could cause social unrest. They also say that if China decides to cut back on its food exports, inflation and unrest could spill over into other parts of the Asia Pacific region. Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Most economists are predicting that China's inflation rate, which was 7.1 percent in January, will continue to increase in the near term.

The issue is especially sensitive for policymakers in Beijing, because a major component of the overall inflation rate is a jump of more than 18 percent in food prices over the past year. The cost of pork, a staple food for Chinese people, is up more than 58 percent compared to a year ago.

Severe weather in southern China during the Chinese New Year period, which crippled the country's transport system and destroyed crops in some regions, contributed to the rise in food prices.

Not Out of Control

Economists say China's inflation rate is not out of control. But they are concerned about the potential for social unrest should prices continue to increase.

Mark Thirlwell, director of the International Economy Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, says food prices are a sensitive issue in developing countries because food is such a large part of expenditures by poorer people. He says in China, food is about a third of the consumption basket for the general population, and for those Chinese in the lower income bracket, about half.

Says Thirlwell: "Analysts or observers from outside look back at previous cases when you've had very high food price inflation, and I guess the classic case that people look back to is 1988, and we also see some in the mid 1990's. And then, there were social consequences, there were protests, there were disturbances."

Inflation Could Spread

Chinese inflation rates in 1988 were about 19 percent, and in 1994, 24 percent.

There are concerns that this kind of inflation could spill over into neighboring countries. Continued rises might prompt Chinese food exporters to raise their prices, which could lead to inflation in other countries in the region.

Thirlwell says food inflation could also lead to social instability in other countries.

China has become a major factor in global food exports. In 2006, for example, the country accounted for around 12 percent of world trade in fruits and vegetables.

US Sharing Space War Data with Rising China

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the United States will be sharing relevant information about its satellite shootdown with China. Gordon G. Chang questions the move in the following essay, republished from Commentary Magazine's online edition.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States will release data on the Navy’s successful shootdown of a stricken American reconnaissance satellite. “We are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can,” he noted in remarks to reporters. Gates’s offer came in response to comments from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “China is closely following the possible damage to the security of outer space and relevant countries by the US move,” he stated. Liu, calling on the United States to “fulfill its international obligations in earnest,” stated that the Pentagon should “provide necessary information and relevant data to the international community promptly.”

Liu’s request—more like a demand—came in conjunction with sharp comments carried by People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship paper, and unwarranted attacks from Beijing’s surrogates in the Chinese academic community. The harsh reaction orchestrated by China’s leaders raises a simple question: Why is Gates agreeing to release any information at all?

Chinese Tantrum

The defense secretary, of course, will not provide much, if anything, of technical value, but this is not an issue of supplying classified material to a potential adversary. The issue is the way we are interacting with China. The Chinese, for no good reason, threw a tantrum about this week’s shootdown. So how did we react? We tried to placate them with technical data.

For years we have given Chinese generals and admirals military information in the hopes they would respond in kind. They have almost always failed to do so. For instance, despite repeated requests, they still have not said anything to us about their destruction, with a ground-launched missile, of an old weather satellite in January of last year.

This week, both before and after we shot down our satellite, the Chinese hurled belligerent comments in our direction. Yet we reacted as if they were our long-time partners. They will not even agree to install a phone link connecting our military with theirs, despite our attempts spanning years to put one in place. What kind of “friends” are they?

By rewarding unfriendly conduct, we are encouraging the very behavior we wish to forestall. What Gates should have done yesterday is told the Chinese that we will cooperate with them only if they cooperate with us. It’s time we require reciprocity in our dealings with China. You don’t need a degree in International Relations to come to this conclusion. All you need is common sense.

US Pressing Pakistan Opposition to Keep President

Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel report that "the Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and US officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid." Excerpts from the reporters' up-to-the-minute analysis for McClatchy Newspapers follows.

The US is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and US officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Bush's policy of hanging on to Musharraf has caused friction between the White House and the State Department, with some career diplomats and other specialists arguing that the administration is trying to buck the political tides in Pakistan, US officials said.

Officials in the White House and the intelligence community fear that the longer Pakistan remains without a new government, the deeper the gridlock, threatening the progress made in the elections toward greater stability and helping the country's Islamic extremists.

One Western diplomat said, however, that the strategy could backfire if Pakistanis feel betrayed after voting to kick Musharraf from office....

The effort to persuade Pakistan's newly elected parliament not to reinstate the judges could be perceived in Pakistan as a US attempt to keep Musharraf in power after voters overwhelmingly rejected his Pakistan Muslim League-Q political party....

A close aide to Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N party won the second highest number of seats in the 342-seat National Assembly, said the former prime minister is under growing Western pressure to drop his demands for Musharraf's immediate resignation and the reinstatement of Chaudhry....

There may also be personal reasons for Sharif's demands: He was ousted as prime minister when Musharraf led a 1999 coup against him.

The Bush administration has long praised Musharraf as an "indispensable" ally against al Qaida and Islamic radicals waging a guerrilla war and suicide bombing campaign from the tribal region bordering Afghanistan....

But many Pakistanis consider Musharraf a US puppet for stepping up counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas that have claimed the lives of women and children.

Experts cite that cooperation as a key reason for the devastating losses suffered by Musharraf's political allies, who retained only 38 of 132 National Assembly seats.

The party backed Musharraf's ouster of Chief Justice Chaudhry, the arrests of thousands of critics, the muzzling of the independent press and a state of emergency last year.

Sharif's calls for Musharraf's ouster and the reinstatement of the judges are shaping up as the main hurdles to the formation of a coalition government between his party and the Pakistan Peoples Party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. That party won the largest share--but not a majority --of National Assembly seats.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who assumed the party leadership after his wife's death in a Dec. 27 suicide bombing, is noncommittal on Musharraf's resignation, and said the reinstatement of the judges should be left to the new assembly to decide.

Zardari and Sharif were scheduled to hold talks on forging a coalition in Islamabad on Thursday, a day after Zardari met US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson and a US diplomat in Lahore held talks with Sharif's brother, Shabaz.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obama Camp Suspects Hillary Cheated

Dateline America.... The Obama camp suspects that Hillary Clinton was tipped off in advance about the last question of Thursday night's televised Presidential debate in Austin, Texas.

CNN anchor Campbell Brown asked the US Senator from New York: "We have time for just one final question and we thought we'd sort of end on a more philosophical question.

"You've both spent a lot of time talking about leadership, about who's ready and who has the right judgment to lead if elected president.

"And a leader's judgment is--is most tested at times of crisis. And I'm wondering if both of you will describe what was a moment--what was the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis?"

Clinton's response was her finest moment of the night. After alluding to her husband's White House sex scandal and impeachment, Clinton said: "The hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country." She went on to talk about the suffering of horribly wounded veterans of the Iraq war.

When she finished, the audience responded with a standing ovation.

And Senator Obama looked to this reporter and to other observers like someone who realized that he had been had.

McCain's Age Could Hurt Him with Baby Boomers

Looking ahead to the general election, some US Republican Party strategists are concerned that John McCain's age could work against him with aging baby boomer generation voters. The US Senator from Arizona will turn 72 this August, making him the oldest Presidential candidate in the nation's history.

The counterintuitive view is (a) that baby boomers who are coping or have coped with the problems of elderly parents will be less inclined to gamble on McCain, and (b) that baby boomers are also more likely to recall President Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's affliction, which may have rendered him useless for at least the last two years of his second and final term.

Moreover, strategists say, baby boomers are more likely to be nostalgic for the Kennedy era, and thus more susceptible to the Kennedyesque appeal of Democratic hopeful (and probable candidate) Barack Obama.

Soaring Food Prices Threaten India's Poor

Food prices in India have climbed sharply in the past year in keeping with a worldwide trend. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the soaring cost of food is hurting tens of millions of people who earn meager wages despite the country's growing economy.

Kavita works as a housemaid in an affluent suburb of Delhi. She and her husband, who is a daily wage carpenter, earn approximately $150 a month.

Two years ago their wages would buy enough rice, lentils, vegetables and milk for the young couple and their one-year-old baby. But, like millions of poor families, Kavita is struggling to cope with a 30 to 50 percent rise in the prices of these basic foods. Kavita says spending on food eats into nearly two-thirds of the family's income. She says prices are too high for her meager budget.

Experts say food price increases in India are part of a global trend. A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food prices surged last year by nearly 40 percent.

The higher prices are bad news for a country where nearly one-third of its 1.1 billion population lives on less than a dollar a day.

Less Food on the Table

Poor people, like Kavita, have only one answer: less food on the table, especially for adults.

Kavita says she tries to ensure that there is enough nutritious food for her three-year-old daughter, but that often means she and her husband make do with less.

Agriculture experts say there are many reasons for the steadily rising food prices, including increasing amounts of land allocated to growing crops to produce biofuels.

But the main factor is that India no longer grows enough food to feed its population, as it did for decades.

Stagnating Agriculture

It faces stagnating agricultural production on the one hand, and growing demand on the other. The affluent sections of its population want more meat, which is boosting demand for grain to feed livestock.

The result: India started importing wheat two years ago. India is also the world's second largest importer of edible oils.

A farm policy analyst in New Delhi, Devinder Sharma, says growing demand from countries like India is pushing prices up.

"When countries like India start importing food, then the world prices zoom," says Sharma. "If India and China are both turning into bigger importers, shifting from food self-sufficiency as recently we have seen in India, then the global prices are definitely going to rise still further, which will mean the era of cheaper food has now definitely gone away."

End of an Era

As the era of cheaper food passes, many are questioning how the poor will cope. For decades, the Indian government has distributed subsidized food, buying farm surpluses of wheat and rice, and selling them to poor people at prices well below those in the market.

Although the program has been criticized for inefficiency and corruption, it does help many families in dire need.

Eonomist D.H. Pai Paninidiker, who heads New Delhi's RPG Goenka Foundation, says food subsidies are unlikely to be increased to help more people. For one thing, he says, the government is under pressure to cut its fiscal deficit by reducing subsidies.

Moreover, Panindiker says, the excess grain in government warehouses that is distributed to the poor has dwindled.

"At one time, we used to have very large buffer stocks, and those stocks have come down drastically," says Panindiker. "Now the possibility of expanding that scheme to reach more people is almost out of question, because there are just no stocks available."

Many Answers

Experts say the answer for countries like India is simple: more investment in agriculture to increase crop productivity.

Farm analyst Sharma says the government must restore the emphasis on food self-sufficiency that was seen in the 1970s.

He says the small farmers who dominate the countryside must be given improved access to seeds, fertilizer, and other materials.

"The answer actually lies in going for natural farming systems, organic farming systems which reduces the cost of production for farmers, makes agriculture land highly sustainable, and then also makes it economically viable for farmers to cultivate. We have enough wisdom to reverse the wheel to see that we can make agriculture profitable for small farmers also," says Sharma.

But experts warn it could be many years before farm productivity improves. Until then, the plight of poor people could worsen in India, where malnutrition already afflicts nearly half the children under five.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conspiracy Cornucopia: British Spy Denies Killing Di and Dodi, Lost Documents Link Oswald and Ruby

Foreign Confidential....

A most extraordinary thing has happened. Cancel that, as Frank Sinatra used to say. Two extraordinary things have happened.

First, the former head of MI6 denied Wednesday that the British intelligence agency was responsible for the car accident that killed Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi al Fayed, in 1997.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who was director of special operations for the agency at the time of Diana’s Paris accident, testified at the inquest into the pair’s death that he also believes an operation by rogue agents would have been impossible.

Engineering Death

Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, has accused MI6 of engineering the death of his son and the princess at the behest of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband.

As director of special operations, Dearlove said it was his responsibility to sign off on any operation that would otherwise be illegal, such as breaking into an office or receiving a stolen document.

The operation would then have to be approved by the foreign secretary, a senior member of the government.

Ian Burnett, a lawyer for the coroner’s inquest, asked Dearlove whether he could confirm that “no authorization was sought in respect of any activities concerning Princess Diana.”

“I can absolutely confirm that,” Dearlove said.

Rogue Elements

Burnett asked: “And it would plainly have been outside the functions of (the agency) to do so?”

“Had it been done, it would have been outside the function of the service,” Dearlove said.

Burnett asked if it was possible for rogue elements to mount an operation outside the chain of command.

“I would have regarded that as an impossibility,” Dearlove said.

Trained Assassins

Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999-2004, said he did not authorize any slayings, and denied a claim by former agent Richard Tomlinson about a proposed plan for assassinating Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Michael Mansfield, Al Fayed’s attorney, pressed Dearlove on training given to agents on the issue of assassination.

Dearlove acknowledged that the agency’s “no assassination” policy was not put down in writing in training manuals but would have been communicated orally.

MI6 and 'C'

He also said the claim that Prince Philip directed MI6 was “utterly ridiculous.” He said there was no formal relationship between the agency and the prince, although Philip had visited the agency’s offices in the queen’s company.

He also dismissed Fayed’s claim that Philip and the intelligence agencies effectively ran the country.

“I am tempted to say I am flattered, but once again it is such an absurd allegation. ... It is completely off the map,” he said.

Dearlove’s appearance before the inquest was an extraordinary exception to agency policy of neither publicly confirming nor denying any allegations about its activities.

Dearlove is the first MI6 director whose name has been publicly confirmed. Previous directors were known only as “C.”

In other conspiracy news, lost documents have been found that suggest that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby plotted together to kill President John Kennedy.

The Warren commission, the official inquiry into the assassination, said Oswald acted alone when he shot Kennedy as the president's motorcade swept past the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Two days later, Ruby shot Oswald dead as police were escorting him for questioning.

The boxes of evidence, found in an old safe in a Dallas courthouse, include a transcript of a conversation said to be between the pair discussing how they would carry out the assassination on behalf of the Mafia.

The Real Target

The transcript claims that the real target of the Mob was the president's brother, Robert, the attorney-general. Robert Kennedy, himself later assassinated, had launched a campaign against the criminal underworld.

In the alleged conversation, Ruby, a nightclub owner, and Oswald decide that it would be easier to kill the president than his brother and that JFK's death would end the inquiry just as effectively.

Craig Watkins, the Dallas County district attorney, and investigators discovered the treasure-trove on the 10th floor of their office after rumours circulated that the gun Ruby used to kill Oswald was hidden there.

A Dozen Boxes

They never found the weapon but discovered the dozen boxes, which are believed to refer to Ruby's trial, in a safe. He was convicted of killing Oswald but the verdict was overturned. He died of cancer before a planned retrial.

The haul includes letters to and from the late Henry Wade, the then district attorney, a gun holster and clothes that probably belonged to Ruby and Oswald.

But most attention has been focused on the transcript of a conversation said to be between Ruby and Oswald at the former's nightclub on October 4, 1963, less than two months before the assassination on November 22.

In it, they talked of killing the president because the Mafia wanted to "get rid of" his brother.

Oswald is recorded as saying: "I can still do it, all I need is my rifle and a tall building; but it will take time, maybe six months, to find the right place; but I'll have to have some money to live on while I do the planning."

While Watkins believes the documents will reopen the debate, the evidence has been challenged by experts. They believe the documents are more likely to be drafts of a documentary-style film that Wade was said to be researching but never made.

Amazing New Marine Species Found off Antarctica

Carbon World News....

Scientists say they have taken an array of new marine species from the seabed off eastern Antarctica. They are warning, though, that climate change could soon make extinct many of the strange creatures they have just discovered. Phil Mercer reports from Sydney.

Two kilometers beneath the ocean east of Antarctica, in water barely above the freezing point, scientists from Australia, Japan and France have found creatures they have never seen before. They include giant worms, big-eyed fish and sea spiders "the size of dinner plates."

Researchers have been trawling the waters off Antarctica as part of a census of marine life before the area is degraded by climate change. Seventy-five different species have been collected, including three or four that are new to science.

Martin Riddle of the Australian Antarctic Division, who is heading the research voyage, was there when the discoveries were made.

"We had some of the world's experts on Antarctic fish and they were completely, completely flabbergasted as to some of the fish that came on board--unable to name them," Riddle says. "They had fins in various places, they had funny, dangly bits around their mouths. Many of them had very large eyes, although what they are going to use them for there, where there is no light, I couldn't tell you. But they are very strange looking fish."

Giant Jellyfish

The scientists say they have also discovered new species of plankton, and jellyfish with tentacles at up to six meters long.

The seven-week expedition used three ships to search for life in a 50,000-square-kilometer area in the Southern Ocean.

Hundreds of different specimens will be taken to a museum in Paris to be identified. Having discovered this amazing array, scientists are worried how much longer they will be there in light of the earth's changing climate.

The world's oceans are natural carbon sinks, and are absorbing the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The more carbon dioxide there is in the water, scientists say, the harder it becomes for marine organisms to grow skeletons, especially in colder waters.

The absorption of carbon dioxide can also result in sea water becoming more acidic, making it more difficult for marine life to survive.

On the Menace of Mandated Biofuels

Distinguished author, academician and Business Standard columnist Deepak Lal makes the case against biofuels. Lal is the James S. Coleman Professor of International Development Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, professor emeritus of political economy at University College London, and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He was a member of the Indian Foreign Service (1963-66) and has served as a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, various UN agencies, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. From 1984 to 1987 he was research administrator at the World Bank. Lal is the author of a number of books, including The Poverty of Development Economics; The Hindu Equilibrium; Against Dirigisme; The Political Economy of Poverty, Equity and Growth; Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factor Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance; and Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the 21st Century.

Western citizens want to use the limited land to produce ethanol rather than food for the poor.

Food riots in Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, the Philippines and Vietnam. Price controls and food rationing in Pakistan and China. Are we back to the Malthusian trap as prices of agricultural and food commodities from wheat and corn to dairy products and meat have risen in the last few years to historically unprecedented levels? Or is this another malign byproduct of the current Western obsession with carbon emissions, purported to lead to planet-destroying global warming (as discussed in my columns of June and July 2007)? This is the subject of this column.

Prima facie, there is a Malthusian case. Demand for cereals has risen by 8% between 2000 and 2006, fuelled by rising population and incomes in the Third World, with the normal short-run inelasticity of agricultural supply (supply rises by 1-2% when prices rise by 10%) being worsened by the decade-long drought in Australia. This in turn is blamed on global warming caused by carbon emissions, seemingly strengthening the “carbon warriors” cause. These demand and supply factors have led to a doubling of cereal prices between 2000 and 2008. As food staples form a major part of the consumption bundle of the world’s poor, net buyers of food in the Third World have been hit hard. The Malthusian scepter laid to rest with the Green Revolution has reappeared.

But has it? Examining the components of the growth in consumption of cereals in recent years, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) finds: “While cereal use for food and feed increased by 4 and 7 per cent since 2000, respectively, the use of cereals for industrial purposes--such as biofuel production--increased by more than 25 per cent. In the US alone, the use of corn for ethanol production increased by 2.5 times between 2000 and 2006” (J von Braun: The World Food Situation, IFPRI, Dec. 2007). So, it is not the Third World’s burgeoning and increasingly prosperous population that has caused this recent spike in food prices, but it is a byproduct of the West’s obsession to reduce carbon emissions from using fossil fuels.

The EU has mandated biofuels to be 10% of transport fuel by 2020, and the US seeks a doubling of corn-based ethanol use in 2008 and a five-fold increase by 2022 (Free Trade Bulletin No. 31, Cato Institute). This has now set in motion a worldwide scramble for land use between food and fuel. This is doubly ironic for the world’s poor. For, as this column has repeatedly emphasised, the West’s ascent from poverty was based on the Promethean intensive growth that the Industrial Revolution generated, by allowing an unbounded source of energy in the form of fossil fuels to replace the previous sources of energy-based on the products of land--an indubitably limited resource. So having raised the stock of the world’s carbon emissions during their own industrialisation, the West is on the one hand calling ‘time out’ for the Third World to do the same in the name of saving the planet, whilst at the same time, to keep their SUVs on the road, Western citizens want to use a larger proportion of the world’s limited amount of land to produce ethanol rather than food for the world’s hungry masses.

In the early 1980s a Brazilian student of mine did a detailed social cost-benefit study of the pioneering ethanol program in Brazil, and found it was socially unprofitable, even at the relatively high oil price prevailing in the early 1980s. Not surprisingly the current moves to shift transport fuel towards ethanol in the US and the EU entail huge public subsidies. It is estimated that US subsidies to biofuel will be 42-55% of ethanol’s cost of production.

These massive subsidies are being justified on environmental and geo-political grounds. As ethanol production itself requires more fossil fuels, there is an ongoing and inconclusive debate about the net effect of biofuel use on greenhouse emissions (J Taylor and P van Doren: “The Ethanol Boondoggle”, Milken Institute Review, 2007). But they are a costly means to reduce carbon. The International Energy Agency estimates it would cost at least $250 to remove a ton of carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, if the alternative solar-based theory of climate change comes to disprove the currently fashionable carbon-based theory, committing Western economies to these costs would be moot. Certainly India and China should have nothing to do with this ethanol bandwagon.

The geo-political argument--that ethanol is needed by the US and EU for energy independence from the politically odious regimes, which currently are their major suppliers of energy--is also questionable. First, the only way these regimes could affect the West’s energy security is by raising the price of oil by restricting its supply. For, as pointed out in a previous column, oil is now a globally traded commodity like wheat, and a threat by Hugo Chavez to stop the supply of Venezuelan oil to the US is meaningless. For, like wheat, it is buyers, not sellers, of oil on the NYMEX who determine its ultimate destination. Secondly, as the US department of energy has estimated, the maximum amount of ethanol the US could produce by 2030 would meet only 6% of its transport fuel demand, with at best a marginal effect on world demand and thence the price of oil. Third, the fear that oil provides money for Islamist terrorism is questionable. As Taylor and Doren rightly emphasise, “terrorism is a relatively low-cost endeavor and oil revenues appear to be unnecessary to pay for it.” If anything, it is the ill-conceived global “war on drugs”, not oil, which has provided the means to fund the Taliban, and the narco-terrorists in the Andes.

The IFPRI has estimated that, ceteris paribus, the planned biofuel expansion in the West will lead to a large increase in world prices of foodgrains and a general decrease in calorie consumption in the Third World. Sub-Saharan Africa will be hit the worst, with a projected fall of 8% in calorie availability by 2020. Given this assault on the world’s poor, India has chosen the right path: First, by lowering tariffs on imports of foodgrains and thereby the price to net buyers of food; second, by expanding the area sown under GM crops, which will raise domestic production. But, for the Western “good and the great”, their academic acolytes and the pop stars grandstanding to save Africa and to end poverty, this latest Western assault on the world’s poor by their promotion of biofuels to replace food on the limited land in the world, can only evince contempt.