By Jason Ditz, January 30, 2010
NATO troops in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province had a brief overnight gunbattle with Afghan Army forces, with both sides apparently assuming the other was Taliban. The troops called in an air strike against a newly established Afghan Army base, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
The Afghan Defense Ministry condemned the attack, and demanded that NATO turn over those responsible. NATO spokesmen called the incident “regrettable,” but insisted that “we work extremely hard to coordinate and synchronize our operations” with the Afghan military.
An angry village elder near the outpost was quoted as saying “as you can see, they dropped bombs on the outpost. It was the Americans, of course.” NATO has yet to confirm the nationality of those involved in the incident.
It is the most high profile “friendly fire” incident since early November, when NATO inexplicably launched an air strike against a warehouse on a jointly owned military base, killing eight Afghan soldiers and 12 civilian laborers.
By Richard Gray | The Telegraph | 30 Jan 2010
The United Nations’ expert panel on climate change based claims about ice disappearing from the world’s mountain tops on a student’s dissertation and an article in a mountaineering magazine.
The revelation will cause fresh embarrassment for the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which had to issue a humiliating apology earlier this month over inaccurate statements about global warming.
The IPCC’s remit is to provide an authoritative assessment of scientific evidence on climate change.
In its most recent report, it stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information.
However, it can be revealed that one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them.
The other was a dissertation written by a geography student, studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree, at the University of Berne in Switzerland that quoted interviews with mountain guides in the Alps.
The revelations, uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph, have raised fresh questions about the quality of the information contained in the report, which was published in 2007.
It comes after officials for the panel were forced earlier this month to retract inaccurate claims in the IPCC’s report about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.
Sceptics have seized upon the mistakes to cast doubt over the validity of the IPCC and have called for the panel to be disbanded.
This week scientists from around the world leapt to the defence of the IPCC, insisting that despite the errors, which they describe as minor, the majority of the science presented in the IPCC report is sound and its conclusions are unaffected.
But some researchers have expressed exasperation at the IPCC’s use of unsubstantiated claims and sources outside of the scientific literature.
Professor Richard Tol, one of the report’s authors who is based at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, Ireland, said: “These are essentially a collection of anecdotes.
“Why did they do this? It is quite astounding. Although there have probably been no policy decisions made on the basis of this, it is illustrative of how sloppy Working Group Two (the panel of experts within the IPCC responsible for drawing up this section of the report) has been.
“There is no way current climbers and mountain guides can give anecdotal evidence back to the 1900s, so what they claim is complete nonsense.”
The IPCC report, which is published every six years, is used by government’s worldwide to inform policy decisions that affect billions of people.
The claims about disappearing mountain ice were contained within a table entitled “Selected observed effects due to changes in the cryosphere produced by warming”.
It states that reductions in mountain ice have been observed from the loss of ice climbs in the Andes, Alps and in Africa between 1900 and 2000.
The report also states that the section is intended to “assess studies that have been published since the TAR (Third Assessment Report) of observed changes and their effects”.
But neither the dissertation or the magazine article cited as sources for this information were ever subject to the rigorous scientific review process that research published in scientific journals must undergo.
The magazine article, which was written by Mark Bowen, a climber and author of two books on climate change, appeared in Climbing magazine in 2002. It quoted anecdotal evidence from climbers of retreating glaciers and the loss of ice from climbs since the 1970s.
Mr Bowen said: “I am surprised that they have cited an article from a climbing magazine, but there is no reason why anecdotal evidence from climbers should be disregarded as they are spending a great deal of time in places that other people rarely go and so notice the changes.”
The dissertation paper, written by professional mountain guide and climate change campaigner Dario-Andri Schworer while he was studying for a geography degree, quotes observations from interviews with around 80 mountain guides in the Bernina region of the Swiss Alps.
Experts claim that loss of ice climbs are a poor indicator of a reduction in mountain ice as climbers can knock ice down and damage ice falls with their axes and crampons.
The IPCC has faced growing criticism over the sources it used in its last report after it emerged the panel had used unsubstantiated figures on glacial melting in the Himalayas that were contained within a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report.
It can be revealed that the IPCC report made use of 16 non-peer reviewed WWF reports.
One claim, which stated that coral reefs near mangrove forests contained up to 25 times more fish numbers than those without mangroves nearby, quoted a feature article on the WWF website.
In fact the data contained within the WWF article originated from a paper published in 2004 in the respected journal Nature.
In another example a WWF paper on forest fires was used to illustrate the impact of reduced rainfall in the Amazon rainforest, but the data was from another Nature paper published in 1999.
When The Sunday Telegraph contacted the lead scientists behind the two papers in Nature, they expressed surprise that their research was not cited directly but said the IPCC had accurately represented their work.
The chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri has faced mounting pressure and calls for his resignation amid the growing controversy over the error on glacier melting and use of unreliable sources of information.
A survey of 400 authors and contributors to the IPCC report showed, however, that the majority still support Mr Pachauri and the panel’s vice chairs. They also insisted the overall findings of the report are robust despite the minor errors.
But many expressed concern at the use of non-peer reviewed information in the reports and called for a tightening of the guidelines on how information can be used.
The Met Office, which has seven researchers who contributed to the report including Professor Martin Parry who was co-chair of the working group responsible for the part of the report that contained the glacier errors, said: “The IPCC should continue to ensure that its review process is as robust and transparent as possible, that it draws only from the peer-reviewed literature, and that uncertainties in the science and projections are clearly expressed.”
Roger Sedjo, a senior research fellow at the US research organisation Resources for the Future who also contributed to the IPCC’s latest report, added: “The IPCC is, unfortunately, a highly political organisation with most of the secretariat bordering on climate advocacy.
“It needs to develop a more balanced and indeed scientifically sceptical behaviour pattern. The organisation tends to select the most negative studies ignoring more positive alternatives.”
The IPCC failed to respond to questions about the inclusion of unreliable sources in its report but it has insisted over the past week that despite minor errors, the findings of the report are still robust and consistent with the underlying science.
Islamophobes in Congress like Joe Lieberman are trying to set the U.S. on a path to establish a different set of legal standards for Muslims.
By Liliana Segura | January 28, 2010
Roughly one month after the massacre at Fort Hood and a little over a week after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the “underwear bomber”) tried to blow himself up over the city of Detroit, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Congress, South Carolina Representative Gresham Barrett, re-introduced a sweeping piece of legislation that he first rolled out in 2003 as a freshman on Capitol Hill.
The Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act was originally introduced on September 11 (naturally), 2003 “to bar the admission of aliens from countries determined to be state sponsors of terrorism, and for other purposes.” At the time, these countries included Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Cuba. The bill not only sought to bar presumed enemies of the state from entering the U.S., it also would have forced “nonimmigrant aliens” — visitors with a temporary visa — to leave the country, within 60 days of its passage.
In other words, they would be deported.
The STEP Act never got very far. But a few days into the new year, Rep. Barrett decided to try again. “Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation and the administration has failed to adapt its national security and immigration policies to counter the renewed resolve of those who seek to harm our citizens,” he announced. “In light of these unfortunate facts, the Step Act of 2010 bars the admission of aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism and Yemen.”
Iranian advocacy groups were especially vocal in their alarm over the re-introduced bill. In an open letter to Barrett on January 9, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), described his bill as an attempt to “make discrimination against Iranians into United States law.”
“You have said you are reintroducing the STEP Act in response to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit,” Parsi wrote. “We hope you recognize that no Iranian has been involved in any of these attacks, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks for that matter. The individuals who carried out the Fort Hood attack and the Christmas day attempt — an American Army major and a Nigerian national — would not have been affected in the slightest by the sweeping provisions offered in your bill.”
This point was reiterated by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, who crowned Barrett one of his “Worst Persons” on his January 12 segment. Pointing out that Major Nidal Hasan was born in Arlington, VA and went to high school in Roanoke, Olbermann said, “I guess, congressman, you need to expand your STEP program to stop aliens from infiltrating our homeland from such nests of terror as Interstate 81 in Virginia.”
The day before Barrett officially re-introduced the STEP Act, NIAC delivered thousands of letters to his office, urging him to reconsider. “Your bill punishes innocent Iranians and implies that ‘stopping terrorists’ means barring them from entering the U.S. to visit family or go to school,” the letters read.
Surprisingly, hours after the letters were delivered, Rep. Barrett’s office said he would get rid of the language that would lead to the deportation of immigrants from Iran and other countries. “Unfortunately, many have been misinformed on the true nature of this legislation,” Barrett claimed in a statement released alongside the bill. “Contrary to some reports, the STEP Act does not contain any language that calls for deportation of citizens from countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism who have already obtained a United States visa and currently reside in the United States … Citizens from these countries who have already obtained a United States visa and currently reside in the United States will not be affected by this legislation.”
NIAC declared this “a major victory,” but warned that the fight is not over. The revised version of the bill still basically criminalizes Iranians and others, banning them from obtaining U.S. visas.
The STEP Act may be a uniquely bad — not to mention far-fetched — example of legislative efforts to install blatantly discriminatory policy into American law books in the name of national security. But the danger it represents, even in its softened version, is hard to overstate. “That people even consider dropping those pieces of legislation is pretty troubling,” Corey Saylor, legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told AlterNet. At a time when blatant and far-reaching anti-Muslim measures are being enacted in other parts of the world — such as the Swiss ban on minarets or the campaign to ban the hijab in France — new attempts to target Muslims in this country are cause for concern. “I think we’re headed in a very disturbing direction, in which anti-Muslim hysteria is growing, and I think it’s something that we all need to address,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told AlterNet.
The issue should be addressed sooner rather than later. Within days of Abdulmutallab’s foiled bomb attempt, the White House announced that citizens of 14 predominantly Muslim countries — Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Cuba — would now be subject to additional screenings at airport security, a policy that will remain in place “indefinitely.” As with the STEP Act, this effectively criminalizes whole global populations, feeding into the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has fueled so many destructive post-9/11 misadventures. Nawar Shora, the legal director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the 14-country directive “extreme and very dangerous.”
January 30, 2010
From rich sounding promises, Obama’s Israel-Palestine policy appears reduced to simply managing, not resolving, the conflict, writes Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
The conspicuous failure of the latest visit to the region by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell raises questions as to the Obama administration’s ability — or even willingness — to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Prior to his arrival, Mitchell was widely thought to be carrying “serious ideas” that would help resume stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
However, after meetings with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, it became clear that the American envoy was near completely empty handed, and that he was succumbing to Israeli intransigence. Seeking to obscure his surrender to Israeli whims, Mitchell tried to cajole the increasingly vulnerable Palestinian leadership to resume the moribund peace process without receiving any guarantees that renewed talks would go anywhere.
Mitchell pressed the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel to start “low level talks” which he suggested might help leaders tackle the hard issues. However, in making such suggestions, Mitchell seemed to have forgotten that his proposal had been tried numerous times before but to no avail, mainly due to Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war.
Mitchell also offered the PA leadership what one Palestinian official termed “secondary inducements” to return to the negotiating table with Israel, including enhancing Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and allowing PA police to operate in additional localities. But Mitchell refused to commit himself to pressure Israel to freeze settlement expansion and reportedly tried to circumvent the issue, saying that the sides would discuss the issue in bilateral negotiations.
Mitchell also suggested that the sides initiate “indirect talks”. The Israelis described the proposal as “interesting” while the PA called it “totally pointless”.
As Mitchell arrived in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a plethora of provocative and uncompromising — even pugnacious — statements, suggesting that Israel will never agree to the establishment of a truly viable Palestinian state. Marking a Jewish holiday at the settlement of Gush Etzion north of Hebron, Netanyahu declared that, “we are here to stay” and “this [settlement] is Jerusalem’s southern gate while Maali Adumim is Jerusalem’s eastern gate.”
Earlier, he stated that, “in the context of any peace arrangement, Israel would completely surround any Palestinian entity from all sides,” adding that Israel would have to maintain a “presence” in “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names of the West Bank).
Maintaining a broad smile throughout his visit, Mitchell didn’t try to challenge Netanyahu and instead kept repeating old platitudes about the continued commitment of the Obama administration to Palestinian-Israeli peace. However, it was obvious that at least some of Mitchell’s Arab interlocutors were exasperated, having seen the Obama administration waste precious time while Israel steals more Arab land.
One Palestinian official in Ramallah remarked: “Every new visit by Mitchell makes the prospect of resolving the conflict more elusive.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained bitterly that all that Mitchell wanted was to force the PA to absorb Israeli provocations.
The growing defiance displayed by Netanyahu finds encouragement in what is widely seen here as Netanyahu’s “victory” over Obama in the apparent tug-of-war between them over a settlement expansion freeze. Obama had been demanding that Israel freeze all settlement expansion in the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem. However, Netanyahu refused to budge. Eventually, it was Obama who really budged, allowing Netanyahu to emerge victorious.
To be sure, Netanyahu made a half-hearted decision to freeze some settlement building for 10 months. However, that freeze was disingenuous to a large extent, given continued building in numerous locations, as revealed by Israeli peace groups such as the Peace Now movement. On Tuesday, 26 January, the veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar argued that, “only an idiot would say Israel has frozen settlements.”
Recently, Netanyahu has also been encouraged by Obama’s lost Democratic majority in Congress, which the Israeli premier hopes will make it impossible for the US administration to take decisions Israel doesn’t like. Moreover, Obama’s own admission that he had underestimated the hardship of making peace in the Middle East seems to militate in Netanyahu’s favour, as he is interpreting this as a vindication of his policy of “playing it tough”, not only with the Palestinians but also with the Americans.
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama admitted that his attempts to break the deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by pressuring the Israeli government to end the construction of Jewish colonies have failed. The US president said he raised expectations of a breakthrough too high because he underestimated the obstacles involved.
“This is just really hard. This is as intractable a problem as you get. If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”
Upset by the belated realisation that Mitchell’s main goal is to “keep the process going”, the Palestinian leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is finding itself at a loss as to what to do in light of Obama’s failure. Reacting to Netanyahu’s remarks about Israel’s intention to annex large chunks of the West Bank, Palestinian officials countered: “This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell in order to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.”
Nabil Abu Rudeina, an aide to Abbas, added that the PA was still insistent that the resumption of the peace process would have to be preceded by a comprehensive settlement freeze. However, in order to avoid being accused of stonewalling and impeding peace, the PA is demanding that the US steps in and declare the endgame of the process, in which case the suspension of settlement expansion would no longer be a Palestinian pre-condition.
Regardless, only political novices think that a US declaration of the “endgame” would overcome the huge conceptual gap between the two sides, and Israel’s dominant influence over US politics and policies. Hence, most observers believe the Obama administration will merely continue to “manage” the conflict, not resolve it. The Obama administration might also seek a more “malleable” Palestinian leadership — one not answerable to the Palestinian masses, or even Fatah.
Such a scenario would undoubtedly generate a lot of frustration, anger and tension in occupied Palestine and throughout much of the Middle East, and might trigger a new wave of violence against US interests here and beyond. Moreover, the collapse of the peace process, even if kept alive by artificial means, would seriously undermine the credibility and survival of pro-US regimes in the region while bolstering the appeal of resistance groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah.
Buenos Aires, Jan 29 (IANS/EFE) Argentina has disclosed the secrets of the ‘dirty war’ waged against the left by the country’s military regime 1976-83.
The secret files of Battalion 601, described as the ‘brain’ that coordinated killings, kidnappings and other abuses, contains the identities of both military and civilian personnel who played a role in the repression.
The declassification of the documents began with an order from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Jan 1.
The documents presented before the federal Judge Ariel Lijo for review contain data on 3,952 civilians and 345 army personnel who worked for Battalion 601, said Ramon Torres Molina, director of the National Archive of Memory.
The battalion’s civilian operatives included everyone from college professors to people who worked as porters, concierges and maintenance men at apartment buildings.
They were used to collect information and to infiltrate guerrilla groups and human rights organisations, with those assigned to infiltration duties given aliases with initials matching those of their real names.
The civilian agents were classified by grades corresponding to military ranks and the most proficient could aspire to the equivalent of colonel.
Torres, who refused to divulge any names until Judge Lijo finishes reviewing the documents, said the intelligence structure was created in the early 1970s and that it survived until 2000, when Battalion 601 was disbanded and its remaining 500 or so civilian operatives dismissed.
Some former commanders of the unit have died and others have been criminally charged, but many military and civilian veterans of the unit are at large, the archive director said.
The archive continues to thumb through more than 4 million digitised pages and thousands of dossiers in search of information about the crimes of a regime that left more than 30,000 ‘disappeared’.
Sending a Flotilla in the Spring to Break the Siege of Gaza
By Free Gaza Team | 28 January 2010
[Istanbul, Turkey] Today the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), announce a joint venture, sending 10 boats in the spring of 2010 to the besieged Gaza strip. Organizations from Greece, Ireland and Sweden have also promised to send boats to join the flotilla with the Free Gaza movement and Turkey.
Mr. Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH said, “We sail in the spring to Gaza, and our last port is freedom; freedom for the 1.5 million Palestinians denied the right to rebuild their society. We will never stop sailing until Israel’s siege is lifted.”
Two cargo ships will be part of the flotilla, one donated by the Malaysia-based Perdana Foundation and one from IHH. Both will be laden with building supplies, generators and educational materials that Israel prohibits from entering Gaza since their brutal attack on the civilian population a year ago.
The many passenger boats accompanying the cargo ships will carry members of Parliament from countries around the world as well as high-profile journalists and human rights workers.
According to the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, Huwaida Arraf, “The illegal blockade on Gaza and Israel’s continued intransigence make a mockery of international law. If our governments will not take a stance to stop Israel’s abuse of the Palestinian people, global civil society is showing that we will.”
Since 1992, the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH) has provided humanitarian assistance to civilians who have been victims of war or natural disasters all over the world. One of IHH’s main objectives is to take necessary steps to prevent any violations against civilian basic rights and liberties. IHH aims at providing relief help so communities can resume their daily life and stand on their own feet, as well as strengthening leadership and institutions of communities that have been made dependent on aid. http://www.ihh.org.tr
Press release available also in Arabic, Spanish, French and Italian, other translations available soon.
* IHH, Ahmet Emin +90 530 341 19 34
* Free Gaza Movement, Eliza Ernshire +44 754 011 22 94
January 29, 2010
MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Russian oil producer Rosneft uncovered a giant oil field in East Siberia with more than 1 billion barrels of oil, the Russian natural resources minister said. Russian Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev said Rosneft made an “important” oil discovery in the Irkutsk Oblast near Mongolia, Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports.
“We can report today that we have opened the Sevastyanovo oil field, with reserves of over 1.1 billion barrels,” he said. “This is a strategic deposit.” Trutnev said the amount of natural resources recovered from Russia in 2009 exceeded national expectations.
Russia extracted roughly 3.6 billion barrels of oil in 2009. Discoveries for 2009 eclipsed 4.5 billion barrels.The Sevastyanovo oil field is located in Irkutsk Oblast near the route for the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline that links to Asian markets.
Trutnev made the announcement during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
(EUNewsNet.com and OfficialWire) – Source
By Jason Ditz, January 29, 2010
US drones, conspicuously absent from the North Waziristan region for several days after militants shot one down on Sunday, returned to the region today, killing five people in the town in Muhammad Khel.
The drone strikes, and more importantly America’s default “no comment” position on them except on those rare occasions when they successfully kill a high profile target, have long been a sore spot for the Pakistani public, but the broad base of this opposition has only increased.
According to a Gallup poll, only 9 percent of Pakistanis support the idea of US drone strikes on Pakistani soil. There is increasing pressure for the US to be more transparent with their attacks, in hopes that it might calm the opposition to them.
President Barack Obama has dramatically increased the number of drone strikes since taking office. In 2009 the US launched 44 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing over 700 people. The vast, vast majority of those were civilians, with only a handful of meaningful militant leaders slain. Today’s attack was the 12th attack of 2010. Though the attacks killed just under 100 people, only one named militant, al-Qaeda bodyguard Mahmoud Mahdi Zeidan, has been confirmed killed.
By Simon Kennedy and Erik Schatzker
Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who anticipated the financial crisis, called the fourth quarter surge in U.S. economic growth “very dismal and poor” because it relied on temporary factors.
Roubini said more than half of the 5.7 percent expansion reported yesterday by the government was related to a replenishing of inventories and that consumption depended on monetary and fiscal stimulus. As these forces ebb, growth will slow to just 1.5 percent in the second half of 2010, he said.
“The headline number will look large and big, but actually when you dissect it, it’s very dismal and poor,” Roubini told Bloomberg Television in an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “I think we are in trouble.”
Roubini said while the world’s largest economy won’t relapse into recession, unemployment will rise from the current 10 percent, posing social and political challenges.
“It’s going to feel like a recession even if technically we’re not going to be in a recession,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Simon Kennedy in Davos at firstname.lastname@example.org