Tuesday, May 5, 2009


'Witness for Jesus' in Afghanistan


Bagram has a thriving evangelical
Christian community
US soldiers have been encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan's predominantly Muslim population, video footage obtained by Al Jazeera appears to show.

Military chaplains stationed in the US air base at Bagram were also filmed with bibles printed in the country's main Pashto and Dari languages.

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him".

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

Local language Bibles

The footage, shot about a year ago by Brian Hughes, a documentary maker and former member of the US military who spent several days in Bagram, was obtained by Al Jazeera's James Bays, who has covered Afghanistan extensively.

Bays also obtained from Hughes a Pashto-language copy of one of the books he picked up during a Bible study lesson he recorded at Bagram.

A Pashto speaker confirmed to Bays that it was a Bible.

In other footage captured at Bagram, Sergeant Jon Watt, a soldier who is set to become a military chaplain, is seen giving thanks for the work that his church in the US did in getting Bibles printed and sent to Afghanistan.

"I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out," he is heard saying during a Bible study class.

It is not clear that the Bibles were distributed to Afghans, but Hughes said that none of the people he recorded in a series of sermons and Bible study classes appeared to able to speak Pashto or Dari.


Rip! A remix manifesto

festival laurels

an open source document

US general says Pakistan could be just two weeks from collapse

There may be just two weeks left to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing Pakistan's government, Gen David Petraeus, the commander of American forces in the region, has told officials.
David Petraeus: US general says Pakistan could be just two weeks from collapse American officials have watched with growing anxiety as Taliban fighters have strengthened their grip on north-western Pakistan.

Militants advanced to within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital, last month and were pushed back only when the US put pressure on Pakistan to launch a counter-offensive.

Gen Petraeus, the head of Central Command, which covers all US forces in the Middle East and south Asia, is reported to have said that "the Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and now accept that tough action has to be taken to guarantee the government's survival.

Gen Petraeus, who oversaw the American troop surge credited with quelling the insurgency in Iraq, is reported to have wearied of Pakistan's excuses for failing to take on the Taliban.

According to Fox News, he told colleagues "we have heard it all before".

He is reported to have urged concrete action to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action.

Gen Petraeus made the assessment in private talks with congressmen and members of the senate, according to Fox.


Brits Sound Final Retreat From Iraq -- But the U.S. Beat Goes On

Written by Chris Floyd  
This week we saw a huge milestone reached in the greatest conflict of our day: yet it passed with scarcely more than a murmur in the American press -- and with deathly silence on the part of the primary architects of the occasion.

We speak of course of the final bug-out of British forces from Iraq, where this week, after six years of slavish service to America's war of aggression, Her Majesty's military gave up their last remaining  base in the conquered land. But as the Guardian astutely points out, the Brits did not turn the base over to the completey liberated totally sovereign Iraqi goverment, but to the tender care of Pentagon, which is pouring thousands of American troops into Basra to guard the occupation's supply lines out of Kuwait -- and keep a watchful eye over the oil-rich region.

Of course, British troops had pulled in their horns in Iraq long ago, having essentially retreated to a few key bases while letting sectarian militias and criminal gangs battle it out on the streets. And indeed, in some cases, the Brits were literally driven out of their bases by Iraqi resistance, as we reported here way back in 2006:

....The Queen's Royal Hussars, 1,2000 strong, abruptly decamped from the three-year-old base [at Abu Naji] last Thursday after taking constant mortar and missile fire for months from those same friendly Shiites. The move was touted as part of a long-planned, eventual turnover of security in the region to the Coalition-backed Iraqi central government, but there was just one problem: the Brits forgot to tell the Iraqis they were checking out early – and in a hurry.

"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor, told Reuters on Thursday, as looters began moving into the camp in the wake of the British withdrawal. A unit of Iraqi government troops mutinied when told to keep order at the base – and instead attacked a military post of their own army. By Friday, the locals had torn the place to pieces, carting away more than $500,000 worth of equipment and fixtures that the British had left behind. After that initial, ineffectual show of force, the Iraqi "authorities" stepped aside and watched helplessly as the looters taunted them and cheered the "great victory" over the Western invaders...

Just a few months ago, the UK's Ministry of Defence was churning out "good news" PR stories about life at Abu Naji – such as the whimsical tale of the troop's pet goat, Ben, a loveable rogue always getting into scrapes with the regiment's crusty sergeant major, even though the soldiers "knew he had a soft spot for Ben." The goat, we were told, had enjoyed visits from such distinguished guests as the Iraqi prime minister and the Duke of Kent. Now this supposed oasis of British power has been destroyed, with the Coalition-trained Iraqi troops meant to secure it either fading into the shadows or actively joining in with the rampaging crowds and extremist militias. Meanwhile, the Hussars are reducing to roaming the countryside on vague, pointless, impossible missions, killing time, killing people – and being killed – until the inevitable collapse of the whole shebang.

The shebang's final toppling was a low-key affair. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a no-show, despite being in the general vicinity this week out on the other Terror War frontier, Afghanistan (where he is upping the Anglo troop level to bolster Barack Obama's "surge"). His predecessor, Tony Blair, was likewise absent, and silent, at the end of an action that will forever stain his legacy with its monstrous, murderous folly.

He was in the news, however, after the UK government was forced to release memos from 2004, detailing Blair's frantic, mendacious attempts to suppress word of the rising death count among civilians in the war that he and George W. Bush engineered on the basis of knowingly false and deliberately manipulated information. In October 2004, the world's leading medical journal, The Lancet, released a careful study showing that an estimated 98,000 people had died from war-related causes in the first 18 months of the aggression and occupation. Blair first tried to stop publication of the figures, and then later told Parliament, "We do not accept these figures at all," the BBC reports. The memos show various ministries trying to pass off responsibility for dealing with study; no one wanted the impossible task of squaring Blair's blatant lies to Parliament with the scientific fact of the study.

This same farce was repeated -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- two years later, when The Lancet reported a further study, using the same methodology, showing that a minimum of 650,000 people had died as a result of the conflict.

How much sugar in Shakes and Smoothies


A food court favorite.

 Orange Julius, Original   20 oz drink  Sugars, total:		38g  Calories, total:		160   Calories from sugar:	152 

The berry flavor comes with a lot more sugar.

 Orange Julius, Raspberry Flavor   20 oz drink  Sugars, total:		54g  Calories, total:		220   Calories from sugar:	216 

Sweet and caloric, but only about half as bad as a milkshake.

 Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino  16 oz (Grande) drink, with whipped cream  Sugars, total:		47g  Calories, total:		380   Calories from sugar:	188 

"Healthy" smoothie? Full of sugar.

 Jamba Juice Sunrise Banana Berry  16 oz drink  Sugars, total:		59g  Calories, total:		280  Calories from sugar:	236 

This is from Jamba Juice's line of "light" smoothies, and it does have about half the sugar.
 Jamba Juice Mango Mantra  16 oz drink  Sugars, total:		30g  Calories, total:		160  Calories from sugar:	120 

Is that brain freeze or a sugar rush?

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies

by Glenn Greenwald

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were "decriminalized," not "legalized." Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

While other states in the European Union have developed various forms of de facto decriminalization — whereby substances perceived to be less serious (such as cannabis) rarely lead to criminal prosecution — Portugal remains the only EU member state with a law explicitly declaring drugs to be "decriminalized." Because more than seven years have now elapsed since enactment of Portugal's decriminalization system, there are ample data enabling its effects to be assessed.

Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists" — has occurred.

The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.

Download the Full White Paper (PDF) (4 MB)


Fordham Law Class Collects Personal Info About Scalia; Supreme Ct. Justice Is Steamed

By Martha Neil

Last year, when law professor Joel Reidenberg wanted to show his Fordham University class how readily private information is available on the Internet, he assigned a group project. It was collecting personal information from the Web about himself.

This year, after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made public comments that seemingly may have questioned the need for more protection of private information, Reidenberg assigned the same project. Except this time Scalia was the subject, the prof explains to the ABA Journal in a telephone interview.

His class turned in a 15-page dossier that included not only Scalia's home address, home phone number and home value, but his food and movie preferences, his wife's personal e-mail address and photos of his grandchildren, reports Above the Law.

And, as Scalia himself made clear in a statement to Above the Law, he isn't happy about the invasion of his privacy:

"Professor Reidenberg's exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any," the justice says, among other comments.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman confirmed to the ABA Journal in an e-mail that the Scalia blast to ATL "is accurately attributed to Justice Scalia."

In response, Reidenberg tells the ABA Journal that the information gathered by his class about Scalia was all "publicly available, for free," and wasn't posted on the Internet by the class or otherwise further publicized. He views the dossier-gathering about a public figure as a legitimate classroom exercise intended to spark discussion about privacy law, and says he and the class didn't intend to offend Scalia.


The consequences of torture

Guns bought this year could outfit 2 armies

Report cites surge that coincided with last year's election

By Bob Unruh

Guns purchased legally in the United States this year could outfit two armies – and not just any armies, the armies of China and India, according to new government reports cited by a website for sport-shooting enthusiasts.

The federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System database statistics show there were more than 3.7 million background checks during the first three months of this year, compared to about 8 million annually not even a decade ago, according to the documentation assembled by Ammoland.com.

That's not individual guns, that's background checks, the organization pointed out. If a purchaser obtains two, three or even four guns at a time, often there is only one background check.

"You also bought 1,529,635,000 rounds of ammunition in just the month of December. Yeah, that is right, that is billion with a 'b.' This number takes no account of reloading or reloaded ammunition," the report said.

According to the Global Security website, the Indian army is estimated to have about 1 million soldiers. A news report from several years ago estimated the Chinese army at 1.7 million, although recent estimates put that at 2.25 million.

Here is a table documenting the federal gun background checks by month:

Federal statistics on gun background checks

The report cites the quote from Admiral Isoruko Yamamota, a World War II leader for Japan, who said, "You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass."

The report said the evaluation on firearms and ammunition purchases are "based on low end numbers."

"The numbers presented are only PART of the overall numbers of arms and ammunition that have been sold. The actual numbers are much higher."


Fibre stories: Hemp's future in Chinese fabrics

The key is "cottonization" to produce fine, soft textile fibres suitable for blending with cotton, wool and synthetics
China's President, Hu Jintao, visits the country's first commercial hemp fibre processing mill
Hemp Research Centre

Zhang Jianchun, Director General of China's Hemp Research Centre in Beijing has a dream: to see lush green plantations of Cannabis sativa growing across 1.3 million hectares of the country's farmland. That would be sufficient, Zhang calculates, to produce up to 10 million tonnes of hemp plants a year and, with it, around two million tonnes of hemp fibre.

Expanded production of hemp, he says, offers enormous benefits for China. First, it would provide a major new source of fibre for the textile industry, reduce dependency on cotton and, in the process, free large areas of cotton-growing land for food production. In addition, hemp cultivation would generate extra income for millions of small-scale farmers in some of the country's poorest rural areas.

China currently cultivates industrial hemp over an area of around 20 000 ha. That is just a fraction of the 5.6 million ha dedicated to cotton (China is the world's biggest cotton grower, with a harvest of some 6.6 million tonnes in 2006). Among natural fibres processed for use in Chinese textiles, hemp output ranks far behind that of wool and silk and of other bast sources such as flax, jute, kenaf and ramie.

"Performance properties". The Hemp Research Centre is working to change that - and restore hemp to its once important place in Chinese agriculture and textiles. Zhang points out that China is the birthplace of industrial hemp: archaeological evidence shows that the plant was grown for fibre some 4 000 years ago, and it was not overtaken by cotton in clothing until early last century.

Today, a small quantity of pure hemp fashion fabric is produced in China for high-value niche markets. But, Zhang says, the fibre's future lies in its integration into the production of cotton, wool, cashmere and silk textiles, and blending with synthetic fibres. "The inherent and special performance properties of hemp are very important in the market because they are attractive to consumers," he says. "Compared with cotton, hemp fibre has greater heat resistance and better moisture absorption and dispersion, while its high rate of absorption of toxic gases makes it excellent for use in household textiles."

The key to hemp's future in fabrics is "cottonization": removing the lignin that binds the hemp fibres (and gives stalks their rigidity), but prevents them from being spun and finished on slightly modified cotton or wool processing equipment.

Using specially developed machines and an array of de-gumming technologies, Chinese scientists say they have successfully reduced the lignin content in hemp fibres from 8-10% to as little as 0.2%. Result: "We can now cottonize hemp fibre into quite fine, soft and workable textile fibres for cotton and wool systems and for blending with man-made fibres," says Zhang. "One kilogram of textile fibres can be produced from 2 kgs of hemp bark."

Not only fibres...

China's Hemp Research Centre says most parts of the hemp plant can be used in a variety of applications. The seed is an excellent source of edible oil also suitable for cosmetics and lotions, while the leaves and flowers are used in medicine. The Centre has also made viscose from hemp hurd (above), the fibrous core of the hemp stalk which, because of its short length and low density, is usually treated as waste. Hemp hurd was used in the wood/plastic composite outdoor flooring of the Beijing Olympic Park.

Technologies developed by the centre are now being used in China's first commercial-scale hemp processing mill, in Xishuangbana,Yunnan Province, which has the capacity to process 50 000 tonnes of hemp fibres a year, mainly for use in cotton-hemp blends.

Food security. Zhang says hemp agriculture could play an important role in guaranteeing China's food security, protecting the environment and contributing to farmers' incomes. "Hemp production is best suited to hilly areas and uplands, as well as semi-arid regions and areas with poor soils," he says.

"It can also be grown with little need for pesticides, unlike cotton. If 1.3 million ha of hemp were grown, China could reduce its cotton area by the same amount and use it for growing food crops."


911 police officer refuses to help girl who calls about her dying father because she said the F word before the call was answered

In Lincoln Park, Calif. Michigan, a 17-year-old called 911 when her father (recovering at home from brain surgery) had a seizure. Her first call didn't go through, so the panicked girl hung up and tried again. While the phone was still ringing, the girl said "what the fuck." Apparently 911 calls are recorded even while the phone is ringing, so the police officer heard her say it. When the officer answered the call, he was only interested in the fact that the girl said "fuck" and wouldn't help the girl. Instead, he swears at her and hangs up.

After the girl places several more calls to 911 trying to explain that her father was about to die, the officer finally called the fire department with a fabricated version of what happened.

Eventually, the girl gets arrested and jailed by the police for a crime that isn't on the books. (via The Agitator)


Mattel pacts with 'Mindflex' creator

By Staff -- Playthings

Mattel's Mindflex toy developed from NeuroSky technologySAN JOSE, Calif—Mattel has inked an exclusive multi-year partnership with NeuroSky, the "consumer brain-computer interface technologies" company that birthed Mattel's much publicized Mindflex game, to develop a new category of games and toys that operate using the power of concentration.

The partnership includes exclusivity within numerous toys and games categories, all using headsets featuring NeuroSky's ThinkGear technology. ThinkGear technology is based on a headset that recognizes a user's brainwave activity during varying levels of concentration, processes the information into digital signals and then transmits the signals to the base unit as commands.

The first fruit of the partnership, Mattel's Mindflex game, debuted at Toy Fair this past February. The game ($79.99; pictured) challenges players to levitate and guide a small foam ball around a customizable obstacle course using a mix of concentration to change the ball's height and a hand dial to move the ball horizontally. It will be available at retail this fall.


Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Human Rights in the Dust

Recently, in a Washington Post op-ed, Mark Danner wrote: "However much we would like the [torture] scandal to be confined to the story of what was done in those isolated rooms on the other side of the world where interrogators plied their arts, and in the air-conditioned government offices where officials devised 'legal' rationales, the story includes a second narrative that tells of a society that knew about these things and chose to do nothing." Danner, who did as much as anyone to help uncover what the Bush administration was up to in its secret prisons abroad, should know.

According to the latest Gallup Poll, a bare majority (51%) of Americans now favor some kind of major investigation "into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration." On the other hand, 55% "still believe in retrospect that the use of the interrogation techniques was justified." Of course, who knows what those percentages might have been if Gallup's pollsters, in their questions, had used the word "torture," rather than -- like most of the mainstream -- skittering away from it in favor of a variation on the chosen phrase of the Bush administration, "enhanced interrogation techniques."

While Americans remain deeply divided on the use of, investigation of, and prosecution of Bush-era torture practices, at least the subject has now burst into the center of political discussion and debate. In the wake of the Obama administration's release of yet more documents from a seemingly bottomless archive of Justice Department "torture memos," writing on the subject has been fiery, argumentative, provocative, despairing, or some combination of the above. More important, though, it's been pouring out in all its variety to remind us that what was done in our name can still be repudiated in a variety of ways.

Just a few suggestions, if you want to plunge in. You might start with international human rights lawyer Scott Horton's No Comment blog at Harper's Magazine on-line. The guy's been all over the subject for a long, long time and his material is unimpeachably on target (and smart). Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory column at Salon.com is also always worth a careful look, as is Nieman Watchdog, a site I value that has often focused on both torture and press coverage of it. (The site is run by Dan Froomkin, whose Washington Post column, White House Watch, is a daily must-read.)

At his AfterDowningStreet website, David Swanson has been writing passionately and brilliantly about why a special prosecutor should be appointed and Bush officials, right up to the former president, should be charged with crimes, while over at Truthout, Elizabeth de la Vega, has offered a provocative discussion of why a special prosecutor should not (yet) be appointed. (Both, by the way, have been TomDispatch regulars.) And don't forget Mark Karlin, who edits Buzzflash.com, and has been penning powerful pieces lately on why Bush and Cheney (et al.) should someday be brought up on actual murder charges. And that's just to scratch the surface of this explosive subject.

And then there's Karen Greenberg, TomDispatch regular, Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, and author most recently of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days. In a piece that is part analytic, part confessional, and totally original, she frames the torture debate in a larger way, in terms of the death of the human rights movement. (To catch an audio interview in which she discusses those "torture memos," click here.) Tom

Kiss the Era of Human Rights Goodbye

What Bush Willed to Obama and the World
By Karen J. Greenberg

These days, it's virtually impossible to escape the world of torture the Bush administration constructed. Whether we like it or not, almost every day we learn ever more about the full range of its shameful policies, about who the culprits were, and just which crimes they might be prosecuted for. But in the morass of memos, testimony, op-eds, punditry, whistle-blowing, documents, and who knows what else, with all the blaming, evasion, and denial going on, somehow we've overlooked the most significant victim of all. One casualty of the Bush torture policies -- certainly, at least equal in damage to those who were tortured and the country whose laws were twisted and perverted in the process -- has been human rights itself. And no one even seems to notice.

So let's be utterly clear: The policies of the Bush administration were not just horrific in themselves or to others, they may also have brought to an end the human rights movement as we know it.