The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, February 11, 2011, plus a bonus story on geocentrism, are:
US commits unprecedented spying on NATO secretary general
The Associated Press
WikiLeaks: US spied on NATO’s top official
Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables appear to show that the United States has been snooping on NATO’s top official using secret sources on his own staff.
Confidential cables from the U.S. mission to NATO released Friday by WikiLeaks, the site that has published many secret government memos, said American diplomats received information on the private conversations of Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from “a member of the NATO international staff.”
Instead of the staffer’s name, the phrase “strictly protect” was inserted in a cable dated Sept. 10, 2009. The cable dealt with Fogh Rasmussen’s proposal to improve ties with Russia by establishing contacts with the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-dominated security alliance.
The cable was signed off by U.S. ambassador Ivo Daalder.
NATO’s 28 member nations, and a number of partner countries including Russia, maintain diplomatic offices inside the alliance’s sprawling compound on the outskirts of Brussels. While their envoys regularly monitor developments within the alliance, there has been no known case in the past of a nation spying on the secretary-general.
Why are Indians the second largest group caught illegally entering US?
Times of India
Huge spike in illegal Indian traffic to US via Mexico
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Indians are sneaking into the United States across the Mexico border in what American authorities are saying is a sudden and unexpected spike in illegal immigration — from a country half way across the world which is said to be in the throes of an economic boom.
More than 1,600 Indians have been caught since the influx began in early 2010, while an undetermined number, perhaps thousands, are believed to have slipped through undetected, according to US border authorities cited in an account by the Center for Investigative Reporting and published by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
The report said Indians are now the largest group of immigrants other than Latin Americans being caught at the Southwest border. The influx reportedly is showing signs of accelerating: About 650 Indians were arrested in southern Texas in the last three months of 2010 alone. The “mysterious and rapidly growing human-smuggling pipelineis backing up court dockets, filling detention centers and triggering investigations,” the report added.
The Indians are said to be flying into Latin American and Central American countries such as Equador, Venezuela and Guatemala via Dubai before arriving on the Mexico-US border, where they cross the Rio Grande River and hole up in US border towns, where they are usually helped by fellow Indians. Mexican organized crime groups are also suspected of being involved either in running the operations or in charging groups tolls to pass through their territory.
According to the report, most of the immigrants, surprisingly, claim to be from the Punjab or Gujarat, two of Indias (relatively) more prosperous states, but also ones associated with enterprise.
Many of them are “Sikhs who say they face religious persecution, or members of the Bharatiya Janata Party who say they are targeted for beatings by members of the National Congress Party,” the report said, while citing experts who maintained that political conditions in India offered no evidence of the kind of persecution that would prompt a mass exodus. The immigration, they said, is clearly driven by economic opportunities.
The spurt in Indian human traffic into the United States, borne out by the Tri-Valley University scam, would also belie the assumption in some quarters about an unprecedented Indian economic boom accompanied by a purported American decline.
The CIR/LA Times account said the trend has caught the attention of anti-terrorism officials “because of the pipeline’s efficiency in delivering to America’s doorstep large numbers of people from a troubled region.” Authorities interview the immigrants, most of whom arrive with no documents, to ensure that people from neighboring Pakistan or Middle Eastern countries are not slipping through.
But there is no evidence that terrorists are using the smuggling pipeline, it cited FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials as saying. Typically, the immigrants are released on their own recognizance or after posting bond.
Is US farm and federal reserve policy behind Mubarak’s fall?
Why U.S. farm policy caused Egypt crisis
The riots in Cairo are the result of United States policy gone bad. In fact, we — you, me, U.S. taxpayers — are to blame.
Strategic policy, I am not speaking of. Political policy, I am not speaking of. Nor am I talking about defense policy or other such foreign relations. The uprising in Cairo is about U.S. tax dollars supporting farm programs that wreak havoc on food prices worldwide.
Egypt is among the world’s largest importers of wheat. When such commodity prices rise due to U.S. subsidy and tariff intervention, as well as speculation in the capital markets, the price of bread skyrockets. Bread is made from wheat.
In 2008, food riots broke out in Egypt, Mexico, Bangladesh and many developing countries when farmers, attracted to ethanol subsidies, abandoned food production in favor of fuel. This, along with rising oil prices, droughts, and other factors, decreased food supplies. Prices spiked.
Adding to the crisis was U.S. trade policy: Because we subsidize wheat, corn and a handful of other crops so much, we can offer them cheaper on the world market and “dump” supplies on other countries. This puts farmers in those countries out of business, as they are forced to compete with artificially low prices at the market.
Go back a little further in time in Egypt and the roots of the political crisis can be found with its 1992 land reform. Guided by what many say was U.S. and International Monetary Fund influence, the country’s small farmers who were “registered tenants” became subject to rent increases, in many cases triple what they had been paying.
As expected, these small farmers couldn’t afford the steep rent increases and were forced off their land. More than half of all Egyptians live in the countryside, and millions were forced into poverty. Moreover, Egypt itself became more reliant on imports.
We are the bad guy, not Mubarak
Cut to today when the perfect storm of U.S. farm policy, U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s quantitative easing has fueled global commodity and food prices.
Is it any wonder that a disenfranchised population subject to increasing economic oppression would revolt?
Unfortunately for him, President Hosni Mubarak is being cast as both the messenger and master of the plan of attack against the masses. But lurking in the shadows of Tahrir Square is U.S. policy.
Will continuing honey bee decline devastate global food output?
Einstein was right – honey bee collapse threatens global food security
Almost a third of global farm output depends on animal pollination, largely by honey bees.
These foods provide 35pc of our calories, most of our minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants, and the foundations of gastronomy. Yet the bees are dying – or being killed – at a disturbing pace …
The bee crisis has been treated as a niche concern until now, but as the UN’s index of food prices hits an all time-high in real terms (not just nominal) and grain shortages trigger revolutions in the Middle East, it is becoming urgent to know whether the plight of the honey bee risks further exhausting our already thin margin of food global security.
The agri-business lender Rabobank said the numbers of US bee colonies failing to survive each winter has risen to 30pc to 35pc from an historical norm of 10pc. The rate is 20pc or higher in much of Europe, and the same pattern is emerging in Latin America and Asia.
Albert Einstein, who liked to make bold claims (often wrong), famously said that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”.
Such “apocalyptic scenarios” are overblown, said Rabobank. The staples of corn, wheat, and rice are all pollinated by wind.
However, animal pollination is essential for nuts, melons and berries, and plays varying roles in citrus fruits, apples, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, avocados, cucumbers, coconuts, tomatoes and broad beans, as well as coffee and cocoa.
This is the fastest growing and most valuable part of the global farm economy. Between 80pc and 90pc of pollination comes from domesticated honey bees. Moths and butterflies lack the range to penetrate large fields.
The reservoir of bees is dwindling to the point where ratios are dangerously out of kilter, with the US reaching the “most extreme” imbalance. Pollinated crop output has quadrupled since 1961, yet bee colonies have halved. The bee-per-hectare count has fallen nearly 90pc.
“Farmers have managed to produce with relatively fewer bee colonies up to this point, and there is no evidence of agricultural yields being affected. The question is how much further this situation can be stretched,” said the report …
The British Beekeepers’ Association has called for an “urgent review” of these chemicals, fearing we may lose all our bees within a decade if we are not careful. US beekeepers have made similar pleas. The US agriculture department’s Bee Research Laboratory has found evidence that even low levels of these pesticides reduce the resistance of bees to fungal pathogens.
Leaked documents from the Environmental Protection Agency confirm that clothianidin used on corn seed is “highly toxic”, may pose a “long-term risk” to bees, and that previous tests were flawed.
Critics alleged a cover-up: Rabobank said we should be careful not to vilify agro-industry. The world needs food and fertilizer companies to keep finding ways to raise crop yields, if we are to feed over 70m extra mouths each year, and meet the demands of Asia’s diet revolution, offset water scarcity in China and India, and divert a great chunk of the US, Argentine, and EU grain harvest into bio-fuels for cars.
Turkey’s Gaza flotilla report says Israel blatantly violated international law
The Associated Press
Turkey flotilla report: IDF shot activists at close range
A Turkish government inquiry into Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American said Israeli soldiers shot five victims from close range.
The report released Friday says two of the victims were killed even before soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara in May. The report states that Israel blatantly violated international laws.
Southern Sudanese army doesn’t understand rebel leader’s deadly attack
The Associated Press
105 Die In Fighting Between Southern Sudan Army, Rebels
Fighting in Southern Sudan between the region’s army and a rebel faction has killed 105 people, including civilians, according to a southern army spokesman.
Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesman for the southern army, says a former high-ranking southern army member who had rebelled against the southern government broke a cease-fire by attacking the towns of Fangak and Dor on Wednesday. Aguer says renegade commander George Athor’s troops captured Fangak, and the fighting continued through Thursday until the southern military retook it. No new fighting was reported on Friday.
Aguer says 105 people were killed: 39 civilians, 24 southern police and soldiers and 42 of Athor’s men.
In September, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir offered Athor and several other men who had launched armed uprisings against his government amnesty offers.
On Jan. 5, four days before the south held an independence referendum, Athor signed a cease-fire with the army in what then appeared to end one of the largest security threats to the south in the run-up to its self-determination vote.
The independence referendum passed overwhelmingly, according to final results released Monday, and Southern Sudan is set to become the world’s newest nation in July. The vote was the culmination of a 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of war between north and south Sudan.
“We were preparing for peace and we don’t know why he is waging war at the time when war has ended in Sudan,” Aguer said. “Meanwhile we still maintain the spirit of reconciliation because the amnesty is still holding. So if Athor stops fighting we will welcome him for reconciliation” …
Ongoing insecurity, the widespread presence of small arms, and severe underdevelopment due to decades of civil war are just some of the problems facing Southern Sudan in the run-up to its independence declaration.
Thai protesters continue to demand PM’s resignation
Thai protesters demand prime minister’s ouster
Thai yellow shirt protesters on Friday demanded the prime minister’s resignation over what they say is his failure to protect the interests of the nation.
Hundreds chanted “get out, get out Abhisit” as they marched toward the statue of the late King Rama V in Bangkok. The king is a legendary figure in the history of the nation’s monarchy.
About 1,000 protesters took part, said Prawut Thavornsiri, a police spokesman.
“It was generally peaceful and the march ended quickly,” he said.
The nationalist yellow shirts have been demonstrating at major streets in the capital for more than two weeks. They have criticized the handling of the long-running border dispute with Cambodia that has led to deadly clashes recently. Protesters have vowed to retake Thai’s land, which they say is lost to Cambodia.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva once enjoyed support from the yellow shirts, but the relations turned sour after the demands of the nationalist group were not met.
The yellow shirts are part of color-coded political divisions that also includes the red shirts. The latter are made up of the country’s rural and urban poor, while the yellow shirts are largely middle- and upper-class urbanites.
Alcohol more deadly than AIDS, TB, or violence
Alcohol kills more than AIDS, TB or violence: WHO
Alcohol causes nearly 4 percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence, the World Health Organization warned on Friday.
Rising incomes have triggered more drinking in heavily populated countries in Africa and Asia, including India and South Africa, and binge drinking is a problem in many developed countries, the United Nations agency said.
Yet alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking’s heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism, it said.
Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol related causes, the WHO said in its “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health” …
“Six or seven years ago we didn’t have strong evidence of a causal relationship between drinking and breast cancer. Now we do,” Vladimir Poznyak, head of WHO’s substance abuse unit who coordinated the report, told Reuters.
Alcohol consumption rates vary greatly, from high levels in developed countries, to the lowest in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and southern Asia, whose large Muslim populations often abstain from drinking.
Homemade or illegally produced alcohol — falling outside governmental controls and tax nets — accounts for nearly 30 percent of total worldwide adult consumption. Some is toxic.
One-in-three Russians believe Sun revolves around Earth
32 Percent of Russians Think the Sun Revolves Around Earth
A survey published this week by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center targeted scientific superstitions among Russian citizens and was released as Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, announced that Russia should develop its own space exploration agenda.
Yet, with their country about to take bolder moves for a future in space, 32 percent of Russians dismiss the idea that the sun is the center of our solar system — a belief known as geocentrism.
“It may just be that this is a widespread common popular view, because that’s the way it looks. In terms of what you need to know to make it through life, it may well be irrelevant,” said James Oberg, an NBC News space consultant.
A former 22-year career rocket scientist and one of the world’s leading experts on American and Russian space exploration, Oberg feels that the survey answers depend on how they were asked, in addition to how people normally process information.
In one survey question, 55 percent of Russians noted that they believe radioactivity is a human invention …
“People don’t deal in their lives with natural background radiation, and so the only radiation that they have ever read about all their lives are radiation from artificial sources: weapons, medicine and power plants,” he said.
As for the question about humans living during the age of the dinosaurs, 29 percent of Russian citizens thought this “Flintstones” scenario was quite logical.
“Most people pick things up obliquely,” Oberg theorizes. “They hear about something in the background while they’re going from the kitchen to the bedroom. It’s not like they sit down and study a topic — they’re just loaded with stories, and whatever stories are the most common or common in the mass media, they just pick them up …
Oberg doesn’t think the results of this survey — 1,600 people polled in January — represent the actual Russian education process of its population.
“No, clearly these numbers aren’t all that different from figures in the U.S. and even Europe, because these are subjects which are divorced from their everyday realities, and they may get these impressions from watching TV programs.
“The biggest issue I see, if this survey turns out to be true, is that these kinds of surveys in the West are used to insult the intelligence of religious people, and in the Soviet Union, people got the relatively same impressions while being raised rigorously in an anti-religious atmosphere,” Oberg said.
- In case you’re wondering, this 1999 poll shows that one-in-five Americans think the universe is geocentric.