Monday, April 13, 2009

So is the glass half full or half empty?

What The International Media Aren't Telling You About Somalia Pirates

Johann Hari from The Independent:

In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a "tax" on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence".

No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas." William Scott would understand.

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won't act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world's oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.

You can read the United Nations report here.

I wonder which principled member of our corporate media will point out that, in the big picture, the Somali pirates are acting in self-defense?

A Skeptic's Guide to Passover

Scientific explanations for the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, and the burning bush.

For thousands of years, skeptics and believers alike have debated whether the events described in the Passover story—the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, and the burning bush—actually took place. Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius speculated that the parting of the Red Sea "might be of God's will or of natural origin. Let everyone believe at his own discretion." The skeptic's skeptic, Sigmund Freud, called the Passover story "a pious myth," contending that Moses was a rebellious Egyptian prince who worshiped the sun god Aton and made up the Jewish religion as a political ploy.* In more recent times, scientific explanations of the Passover story range from formula-laden academic papers like "Modeling the Hydrodynamic Situation of the Exodus" to more popular inquiries such as Cambridge materials scientist Colin Humphreys' The Miracles of Exodus. Whether or not you subscribe to these theories, they beat listening to your little cousin sing the "Four Questions."

As anyone who has seen The Ten Commandments can attest, the parting of the Red Sea is one of, if not the most, climactic moments in the Passover story. As Exodus describes it:

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Accepting the biblical account as a "possible 'qualitative' description of an event," Florida State oceanographer Doron Nof set out to investigate whether the parting of the Red Sea is "plausible from a physical point of view." Using a common phenomenon called wind set-down effect, he found that "a northwesterly wind of 20 m/s blowing for 10-14 h is sufficient to cause a sea level drop of about 2.5m." Such a drop in sea level, Nof speculates, might have exposed an underwater ridge, which the Israelites crossed as if it were dry land. Although the event is plausible, Nof estimated that the likelihood of such a storm occurring in that particular place and time of year is less than once every 2,400 years.

While scientists agree that wind set-down effect could have caused the Red Sea to part as described in the Bible, most biblical scholars and archeologists insist that the Israelites' crossing did not take place at the Red Sea at all. The original Hebrew (yam suph), they contend, should be translated as Sea of Reeds, not Red Sea. So where's the Sea of Reeds? It depends whom you ask. In the somewhat specious History Channel documentary Exodus Decoded, Simcha Jacobovici (aka the Naked Archaeologist) places the Israelites' crossing in the Bitter Lakes, a reedy marshland north of the Gulf of Suez that was subsumed during the construction of the Suez Canal. For his part, Walking the Bible author Bruce Feiler concludes that the Sea of Reeds is Lake Timsah, located halfway between Port Said and Suez. But The Miracles of Exodus author Humphreys argues that while the translation of "the Red Sea" may be incorrect, the Sea of Reeds nevertheless refers to the Red Sea, concluding that "there can be little doubt that the Red Sea crossing was made possible by wind setdown at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba."

Tell the Pesticide Peddlers: We support Michelle Obama's organic garden.

The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has a bone to pick with Michelle Obama.

MACA represents chemical companies that produce pesticides, and they are angry that - wait for it - Michelle Obama isn't using chemicals in her organic garden at the White House.

We are not making this up.

In an email they forwarded to their supporters, a MACA spokesman wrote, "While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder." MACA went on to publish a letter it had sent to the First Lady asking her to consider using chemicals -- or what they call "crop protection products" -- in her garden.

Michelle Obama and has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids (she's growing the garden in partnership with a local elementary school class) as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source.

MACA's letter is part of a larger propaganda effort to convince people that chemicals are a necessary part of produce growth - when we know that's not true.

Sign this petition today to tell the board members of MACA (virtually all of them big chemical executives) that we don't appreciate their telling Michelle Obama (or any of us) to use pesticides in our gardens. We support Michelle Obama's organic garden, and we'll thank them to keep their propaganda out of it.

U.S. shipped 989 munitions containers to Israel week before Gaza invasion

A week before Israel launched an aerial bombing campaign on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the U.S. military shipped 989 20-foot containers of munitions, each weighing 14,000 tonnes, to Israel.
In the dying days of the Bush administration, and a week before Israel launched an aerial bombing campaign, followed by a land invasion of the Gaza Strip, the U.S. military shipped 989 containers of munitions to Israel.

Each container was 20-feet long with a total estimated net weight of 14,000 tonnes. The shipment reportedly reached Israel last month at Ashod, 40 kiometres north of Gaza. The huge arsenal of munitions will replenish those expended in the Gaza War.

According to Amnesty International in the UK, the shipment included white phosphorous.

The international organization says 300 of the containers had been unloaded at Ashod in March by a German cargo ship, Wehr Elb.

"We are sure that the consignment contained arms and munitions." We have a strong suspicion that it contained white phosphorous which has been used against civilians in Gaza," Brian Wood, head of Arms Control Campaign at Amnesty International in London said late this week.

"The cargo ship had been chartered and controlled by US Military Sealift Command. It left the USA for Israel on December 20, one week before the start of Israeli attacks on Gaza. The vessel was carrying 989 containers of munitions, each of them 20-feet long with a total estimated net weight of 14,000 tonnes," he said.

"The world community including the Palestinians should be able to know where the remaining 680 containers on board the Wehr Elbe have gone and why the US is not transparent about the final destination of the dangerous cargo.

"A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to Amnesty International that "the unloading of the entire US munitions shipment was successfully completed at Ashdod on March 22," Wood pointed out.

The spokesperson had said the shipment was destined for a US pre-positioned munitions stockpile in Israel, he said. Under a US-Israel agreement, munitions from this stockpile may be transferred for Israeli use if necessary.

"There is a great risk that the new munitions may be used by the Israeli military to commit further violations of international law, like the ones committed during the war in Gaza," Wood said.

CODEPINK STOPS Larry Summers "WE WANT OUR $$$ BACK,"You're Part of the Problem YOU SHOULD RESIGN!"

Expert Consensus: Obama Mimics Bush On State Secrets

Is the Obama administration mimicking its predecessor on issues of secrecy and the war on terror?

During the presidential campaign, Obama criticized Bush for being too quick to invoke the state secrets claim. But last Friday, his Justice Department filed a motion in a warrantless wiretapping lawsuit, brought by the digital-rights group EFF. And the Obama-ites took a page out of the Bush DOJ's playbook by demanding that the suit, Jewel v. NSA, be dismissed entirely under the state secrets privilege, arguing that allowing it go forward would jeopardize national security.

Coming on the heels of the two other recent cases in which the new administration has asserted the state secrets privilege, the motion sparked outrage among civil libertarians and many progressive commentators. Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote that the move "demonstrates that the Obama DOJ plans to invoke the exact radical doctrines of executive secrecy which Bush used." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called it "deja vu all over again". An online petition -- "Tell Obama: Stop blocking court review of illegal wiretapping" -- soon appeared.

Not having Greenwald's training in constitutional law (and perhaps lacking Olbermann's all-conquering self-confidence), we wanted to get a sense from a few independent experts as to how to assess the administration's position on the case. Does it represent a continuation of the Bushies' obsession with putting secrecy and executive power above basic constitutional rights? Is it a sweeping power grab by the executive branch, that sets set a broad and dangerous precedent for future cases by asserting that the government has the right to get lawsuits dismissed merely by claiming that state secrets are at stake, without giving judges any discretion whatsoever?

In a word, yes.

Ken Gude, an expert in national security law at the Center for American Progress, supported the administration's invocation of the state secrets claim when it was made earlier this year in an extraordinary rendition case. But its position in Jewel is "disappointing," Gude told TPMmuckraker, calling himself "frustrated."

Gude confirmed that the Obama-ites were taking the same position as the Bushies on state secrets questions. "They've taken the maximalist view that the judge has hardly any role in determining whether national security" would be compromised by the release of classified information," he said. "There's going to be people who are very unhappy, and justifiably so."

He added: "I'm very uncomfortable with the notion that the people who get to decide [whether national security would be jeopardized] is the government."

The Copyright Blues

Sita Sings the Blues is an animated film filled with the strange and unlikely: American jazz age music provides the soundtrack to an ancient Sanskrit epic; the deeds of heroes are brought down to Earth by the nattering of shadow puppets; and a love story that's inspired generations is the backdrop to a modern tale of heartbreak.

Film critic Roger Ebert calls it enchanting.

Dancing moons, monkey musicians, a half-dozen animation styles, all the result of three years of work by Brooklyn-based cartoonist Nina Paley, who wrote, directed and produced the film.

And perhaps the strangest and most unlikely aspect of Sita Sings the Blues is that Paley is giving it away.

For free.

You can download it here.

For the Full Story: Sita Sings the Copyright Blues


by Randall Enos

This was prompted by an interview I heard on NPR with a Texas gun dealer who patiently explained to the reporter that gun sales were way up since Obama's election and still soaring because the average citizen fears the Socialist government that is being put in place and they believe that Obama is going to take their hard earned money and give it to people who don't work.

The guns, I guess, are to protect themselves and their money when we Socialists come knocking at their door for it.

Rick Warren’s peeps start up the damage control machine - massive FAIL

Oh the joy of getting busted lying on international TV and having to do serious damage control. My post on Tuesday, "Rick Warren lies about his homobigotry on Larry King Live," was picked up by Huff Post and created a buzz for pointing out that on the man who delivered the invocation at the President's inaugural, Rick Warren, the spiritual leader of Saddleback church, flat-out lied about his support for Prop 8. A recap from the CNN transcript...

WARREN: During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never—never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.

But of course he seemed to have forgotten his message to his flock prior to the election where he very clearly endorsed Prop 8:

WARREN: Here's an interesting thing: there are about 2% of Americans are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let 2% of the population determine—to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not even just a Christian issue, it is a humanitarian and human issue, that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation. I urge you to support Proposition 8 and to pass that on.

OK, so after this blew up on the LGBT blogs, it also hit the evangelical, anti-gay sites because Warren's performance angered them because it looked like he was backing away from his staunch anti-marriage equality position.

Apparently the damage control is under way. On Friday I received an email from a Jim Anderson, who is a Christian music artist and self-described "worship leader"—and a "media representative" for the Saddleback pastor. Folks, this is what massive PR fail looks like - it won't stop the laughter on the left, and it won't pacify the Religious Right:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Correction for your post on Rick Warren's CNN Appearance
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2009 09:47:37 -0700
From: Jim Anderson
To: pam
I'm providing this to you in an effort to clarify statements made by Pastor Rick Warren during his April 6th appearance on CNN "Larry King Live." Several comments he made during that interview have caused confusion which I would like to clarify on his behalf as media representative for Saddleback Church.

Throughout his pastoral ministry spanning nearly 30 years, Dr. Warren has remained committed to the biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, for life—a position held by most fellow Evangelical pastors.  He has further stressed that for 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion has maintained this worldview.

When Dr. Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California's Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues. Because he's a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an email and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue.

During the King interview, Dr. Warren also referenced a letter of apology that he sent to gay leaders whom he knew personally.  However, that mea culpa was not with respect to his statements or position on Proposition 8 nor the biblical worldview on marriage.  Rather, he apologized for his comments in an earlier Beliefnet interview expressing his concern about expanding or redefining the definition of marriage beyond a husband-wife relationship, during which he unintentionally and regrettably gave the impression that consensual adult same sex relationships were equivalent to incest or pedophilia.

Jim Anderson

Direct questions to:
Kristin U. Cole

a. larry ross communications
(p) 615.289.6701
(f) 615.825.9152

How can anyone take this pitiful defense seriously?

Why Do We Even Need A Vatican Ambassador?


EasterBunny.jpgThere is likely no better imaginable day than Easter to tell the Vatican that they can go pack sand. Caroline Kennedy, the long time Obama supporter and very nearly Senator from New York, was apparently suggested as our next ambassador to the Vatican, but the Holy See finds the choice unacceptable because of Kennedy's stated position on abortion.

Vatican sources told Il Giornale that their support for abortion disqualified Ms Kennedy and other Roman Catholics President Barack Obama had been seeking to appoint.

The Italian paper said that the Vatican strongly disapproved of Mr Obama's support for abortion and stem cell research. The impasse over the ambassadorial appointment threatens to cloud his meeting with the Pope during a G8 summit in Itay in July.

Pardon me if take a moment to tell the Pope, "Boo Freaking Hoo." First of all, I have no idea why Kennedy would have been interested in the post in the first place, since it's really one of the more "nothing" positions in our government. While the State of the Vatican City is technically distinct from the Holy See, it's not as if we're going to be seeking their permission before we bomb Iran.

The broader point there, though, is the truly bizarre concept that foreign entities should be rejecting ambassadors because of policy differences between them and the person selected. Perhaps our ambassador to Venezuela should only be someone who supports Castro, hates America and wants Russian missile installations throughout Central and South America? Here's an idea… let's have an ambassador to England who wants the United States to forfeit its independence and go back to being a territory of the U.K.

A quick note to our Obama bashing pundits who are cackling with glee over this: ambassadors, by definition, are representatives of our nation and, in particular, of the positions and views of the current administration. The current administration happens to be pro-choice, and to the extent that should ever come up in discussions, they need to represent those views. All they really need is the ability to communicate well and be, well… diplomatic. They deliver messages, gather information and facilitate relations behind the scenes.

With that in mind, I would suggest to President Obama that he simply not send any additional names to the Vatican for the next year or two. Leave that office empty for a while and see if the Vatican begins to feel a bit differently about the situation. What? The world is going to end because we don't have an ambassador to a church? Somehow I think the world will soldier on.

Or, failing that, let's send over the Easter Bunny as our ambassador.

Greatest Jewish Superheroes Of All Time!

By Charlie Jane Anders

It's Passover, and that means it's time to celebrate the greatest Jewish superheroes ever to save the planet. From The Thing to Colossal Boy, they've helped stop some of the worst supervillains in the universe.

The website Comic Book Religion has a great list of Jewish superheroes, from which I'm shamelessly culling this list.

The Thing is surely the greatest Jewish superhero of them all - there's not even really any doubt about it. Benjamin J. Grimm, hero of Yancy Street, got bombarded with cosmic rays and became super strong, super-tough, and rocky. But he never forgot his Jewish roots, and in Dan Slott's short-lived series, he actually goes and gets bar-mitzvahed. And then has a raucous poker game.

Colossal Boy is one of the coolest members of the Legion of Super Heroes. Writer Paul Levitz was reviewing notes on the Legion, when he realized Colossal Boy's real name, Gim Allon, was similar to Israeli leader Yigal Allon. So in 1983, when Gim married an alien shape-shifter, Yera, he wondered aloud if he could convince the aliens to let him raise their kids Jewish.

Moon Knight. Okay, sure, Marc Spector ended up becoming an adherent of the Egyptian god Khonshu, who gave him his superpowers, but he was raised Jewish. His dad was a rabbi. Editor Joe Quesada identified Moon Knight as an important Jewish superhero in his column.

Kitty Pryde, one of the coolest X-Men, is also Jewish, according to Quesada. She shows this with her "everpresent Star of David."

Atom Smasher, aka Nuklon, is also Jewish. In one issue of Infinity Inc., the Justice League member reminisces back to his Bar Mitzvah as part of remembering how he became a superhero. And then in one recent comic, Albert Rothstein gets a Christmas kiss from Supergirl:


'Israel killed 437 kids in blockaded Gaza'

Israel's three-week war on the Gaza Strip left 437 children dead and 1872 more wounded, the Ministry of Social Affairs in Gaza has said.

Ahmad Al Kurd, Minister of Social Affairs, said on Friday that the Israeli army targeted women and children, and that its shelling targeted homes, hospitals, educational facilities and even mosques, International Middle East Media Center reported.

The killing and wounding of large numbers of children proves that the Israeli forces targeted the civilian areas, he added.

According to the report, Israel's offensive to the blockaded strip also left 1500 children orphans, as they lost a parent or both parents in the attacks, and thousands of them suffered psychological problems due to witnessing scenes of death and destructions.

Israel has been accused of committing war crimes during the war in Gaza, including the use of deadly white phosphorus shells in densely populated civilian areas and the use of civilians as human shields.

Israel initially denied using the controversial weapon. However, mounting evidence later forced Israeli officials to admit having employed the shells.

Iraqi babies for sale: people trafficking crisis grows as gangs exploit poor families and corrupt system

• At least 150 children a year sold for £200 to £4,000
• Some bartered youngsters become sex abuse victims

Criminal gangs are profiting from the cheap cost of buying infants and the bureaucratic muddle that makes it relatively easy to move them overseas. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because there is no centralised counting procedure, but aid agencies and police say they believe numbers have increased by a third since 2005 to at least 150 children a year.

One senior police officer said at least 15 Iraqi children were sold every month, some overseas, some internally, some for adoption, some for sexual abuse. Officials believe at least 12 gangs are operating in Iraq, offering between £200 and £4,000 per child, depending on its background and health. The main countries in which they are sold are Jordan, Turkey, Syria and some European countries including Switzerland, Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Sweden.

According to Colonel Firaz Abdallah, part of the investigation department of the Iraqi police, gangs use intermediaries who pretend to be working for non-governmental organisations. During negotiations with the families, members of the trafficking gangs prepare the paperwork: birth certificates, change of names and the addition of the child to the passport of the intermediary or any other person who is paid to take the child outside, usually to Syria and Jordan and from there, to Europe or other Middle East countries.

"The corruption in many departments of the government makes our job complicated [because] when those children come to the airport or the border, everything looks correct and it is hard for us to keep them inside the country without significant evidence that the child is being trafficked," Abdallah said.

"A couple of weeks ago we caught a couple with a six-month-old baby leaving by car from the Iraqi border to Jordan. One of our police officers found the age difference between the couple strange and asked our office to check. After arresting them we found out that the girl was sold by her parents and was going to be taken to Amman, then after that, to Ireland where a family had already paid for the baby."

One dealer, who asked to be called Abu Hamizi, said child trafficking from Iraq was cheaper and easier than elsewhere, given the readiness of underpaid government employees to help with the falsification of documents.

Boys wanted to sell crap