Monday, April 25 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Monday, April 25, 2011, including two bonus stories on Wikileaks Guantanamo files, an extra link on the Mideast’s growing number of Obama haters, an additional article on China and one on high food prices, are:

Wikileaks reveals the mess at Guantanamo

Notable Libyan rebel figure is former Guantanamo detainee

Obama’s comments on historic slaughter upset both Turks, Armenians

Syria continues violence against protesters after weekend of killings

Will ICC reconsider forced male circumcision as sexual violence?

Japan, Chernobyl spark nuke protests from India to France

Yet another deadly building fire in China

Energy, commodity rates fuel pork, beef costs and food prices

Was the ‘God particle’ just discovered, or is this all a hoax?

Wikileaks reveals the mess at Guantanamo
McClatchy Newspapers

WikiLeaks: Secret Guantanamo files show U.S. disarray

Faced with the worst-ever single attack by foreigners on American soil, the U.S. military set up a human intelligence laboratory at Guantanamo that used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along.

The world may have thought the U.S. was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11.

But a collection of secret Bush-era intelligence documents not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged.

Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo “quite simply a mess.”

The documents, more than 750 individual assessments of former and current Guantanamo detainees, show an intelligence operation that was tremendously dependant on informants — both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al Qaida insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.

Intelligence analysts are at odds with each other over which informants to trust, at times drawing inferences from prisoners’ exercise habits. They order DNA tests, tether Taliban suspects to polygraphs, string together tidbits in ways that seemed to defy common sense.

Guantanamo analysts at times questioned the reliability of some information gleaned from other detainees’ interrogations.

Allegations and information from one Yemeni, no longer at Guantanamo, appears in at least 135 detainees’ files, prompting Navy Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, the prison camps commander in August 2008, to include this warning:

“Any information provided should be adequately verified through other sources before being utilized.”

The same report goes on to praise the captive as an “invaluable intelligence source” for information about al Qaida and Taliban training, operations, personnel and facilities,” and warns that he’d be at risk of retaliation if he were released into Yemeni society. He was resettled in Europe by the Obama administration.

In fact, information from just eight men showed up in forms for at least 235 Guantanamo detainees — some 30 percent of those known to have been held there …

The documents also show that in the earliest years of the prison camps operation, the Pentagon permitted Chinese and Russian interrogators into the camps — information from those sessions are included in some captives’ assessments — something American defense lawyers working free-of-charge for the foreign prisoners have alleged and protested for years.

There’s not a whiff in the documents that any of the work is leading the U.S. closer to capturing Bin Laden. In fact, the documents suggest a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of hunting down the al Qaida inner circle and sleeper cells.

The file of one captive, now living in Ireland, shows he was sent to Guantanamo so that U.S. military intelligence could gather information on the secret service of Uzbekistan. A man from Bahrain is shipped to Guantanamo in June 2002, in part, for interrogation on “personalities in the Bahraini court.”

That same month, U.S. troops in Bagram airlifted to Guantanamo a 30-something sharecropper whom Pakistani security forces scooped up along the Afghan border as he returned home from his uncle’s funeral.

The idea was that, once at Guantanamo, 8,000 miles from his home, he might be able to tell interrogators about covert travel routes through the Afghan-Pakistan mountain region. Seven months later, the Guantanamo intelligence analysts concluded that he wasn’t a risk to anyone — and had no worthwhile information. Pentagon records show they shipped him home in March 2003, after more than two years in either American or Pakistani custody.

McClatchy Newspapers obtained the documents last month from WikiLeaks on an embargoed basis to give reporters from seven news organizations — including McClatchy, The Washington Post, the Spanish newspaper El Pais, and the German magazine Der Spiegel — time to catalogue, evaluate and report on them. WikiLeaks abruptly lifted the embargo Sunday night, after the organization became aware that the documents had been leaked to other news organizations, which were about to publish stories about them.

  • The New York Times reports on a Guantanamo “frozen in time” where, after years of detention, prisoners are still asked about the current whereabouts of terror leaders in, “Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees”:
    The dossiers also show the seat-of-the-pants intelligence gathering in war zones that led to the incarcerations of innocent men for years in cases of mistaken identity or simple misfortune. In May 2003, for example, Afghan forces captured Prisoner 1051, an Afghan named Sharbat, near the scene of a roadside bomb explosion, the documents show. He denied any involvement, saying he was a shepherd. Guantánamo debriefers and analysts agreed, citing his consistent story, his knowledge of herding animals and his ignorance of “simple military and political concepts,” according to his assessment. Yet a military tribunal declared him an “enemy combatant” anyway, and he was not sent home until 2006 …
    The files for dozens of the remaining prisoners portray them as low-level foot-soldiers who traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks to receive basic military training and fight in the civil war there, not as global terrorists. Otherwise identical detainees from other countries were sent home many years ago, the files show, but the Yemenis remain at Guantánamo because of concerns over the stability of their country and its ability to monitor them …
    Some assessments revealed the risk of relying on information supplied by people whose motives were murky. Hajji Jalil, then a 33-year-old Afghan, was captured in July 2003, after the Afghan chief of intelligence in Helmand Province said Mr. Jalil had taken an “active part” in an ambush that killed two American soldiers. But American officials, citing “fraudulent circumstances,” said later that the intelligence chief and others had participated in the ambush, and they had “targeted” Mr. Jalil “to provide cover for their own involvement.” He was sent home in March 2005 …
    Yet for all the limitations of the files, they still offer an extraordinary look inside a prison that has long been known for its secrecy and for a struggle between the military that runs it — using constant surveillance, forced removal from cells and other tools to exert control — and detainees who often fought back with the limited tools available to them: hunger strikes, threats of retribution and hoarded contraband ranging from a metal screw to leftover food …
    As a result, Guantánamo seems increasingly frozen in time, with detainees locked into their roles at the receding moment of their capture.
    For example, an assessment of a former top Taliban official said he “appears to be resentful of being apprehended while he claimed he was working for the US and Coalition forces to find Mullah Omar,” a reference to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban chief who is in hiding.
    But whatever the truth about the detainee’s role before his capture in 2002, it is receding into the past. So, presumably, is the value of whatever information he possesses. Still, his jailers have continued to press him for answers. His assessment of January 2008 — six years after he arrived in Cuba — contended that it was worthwhile to continue to interrogate him, in part because he might know about Mullah Omar’s “possible whereabouts.”
  • The ABC News story, “WikiLeaks Guantanamo Files Reveal Faces, Lives of ‘Enemy Combatants’,” details some of the mistakenly detained:
    The document dump sheds light on cases of accidental detentions of innocent or seemingly harmless men, including an Afghan shepherd who spent three years at Gitmo after being arrested near the scene of a roadside explosion, according to the Times.
    The files show that some of the earliest prisoners included an 89-year-old man, whom U.S. military doctors described as suffering from “major depressive disorder, senile dementia and osteoarthritis,” and a 70-year-old man who arrived in Gitmo to have authorities later conclude “there is no reason on the record for detainee being transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention facility.” Both were released after several months, the Guardian found.
    Some of the captives have also included children as young as 14, the files show. Naqib Ullah, 14, spent one year at Gitmo before military investigators concluded he was telling the truth about being kidnapped by the Taliban and returned to Afghanistan to “afford him an opportunity to ‘grow out’ of the radical extremism he has been subject to,” the Guardian reported from his file.

Notable Libyan rebel figure is former Guantanamo detainee
The New York Times

Libyan, Once a Detainee, Is Now a U.S. Ally of Sorts

For more than five years, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu was a prisoner at the Guantánamo Bay prison, judged “a probable member of Al Qaeda” by the analysts there. They concluded in a newly disclosed 2005 assessment that his release would represent a “medium to high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies.”

Today, Mr. Qumu, 51, is a notable figure in the Libyan rebels’ fight to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, reportedly a leader of a ragtag band of fighters known as the Darnah Brigade for his birthplace, this shabby port town of 100,000 people in northeast Libya. The former enemy and prisoner of the United States is now an ally of sorts, a remarkable turnabout resulting from shifting American policies rather than any obvious change in Mr. Qumu.

He was a tank driver in the Libyan Army in the 1980s, when the Central Intelligence Agency was spending billions to support religious militants trying to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. Mr. Qumu moved to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, just as Osama bin Laden and other former mujahedeen were violently turning against their former benefactor, the United States.

He was captured in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, accused of being a member of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and sent to Guantánamo — in part because of information provided by Colonel Qaddafi’s government.

“The Libyan Government considers detainee a ‘dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts,’ ” says the classified 2005 assessment, evidently quoting Libyan intelligence findings, which was obtained by The New York Times. “ ‘He was known as one of the extremist commanders of the Afghan Arabs,’ ” the Libyan information continues, referring to Arab fighters who remained in Afghanistan after the anti-Soviet jihad.

When that Guantánamo assessment was written, the United States was working closely with Colonel Qaddafi’s intelligence service against terrorism. Now, the United States is a leader of the international coalition trying to oust Colonel Qaddafi — and is backing with air power the rebels, including Mr. Qumu.

The classified Guantánamo assessment of Mr. Qumu claims that he suffered from “a non-specific personality disorder” and recounted — again citing the Libyan government as its source — a history of drug addiction and drug dealing and accusations of murder and armed assault.

In 1993, the document asserts, Mr. Qumu escaped from a Libyan prison, fled to Egypt and went on to Afghanistan, training at a camp run by Mr. bin Laden. At Guantánamo, Mr. Qumu denied knowledge of terrorist activities. He said he feared being returned to Libya, where he faced criminal charges, and asked to go to some other country where “You (the United States) can watch me,” according to a hearing summary.

Nonetheless, in 2007, he was sent from Guantánamo to Libya and released the next year in an amnesty for militants.

Colonel Qaddafi has cited claims about Mr. Qumu’s past in statements blaming Al Qaeda for the entire Libyan uprising. American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks.

Obama’s comments on historic slaughter upset both Turks, Armenians

Obama treads carefully between Armenia and Turkey

Once again, President Obama stepped carefully into the historic dispute between Turkey and Armenia, but he still got criticized.

Obama issued the annual statement on Armenian Remembrance Day on Saturday, honoring the “horrific events” that took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 — but declining to label it as “genocide.”

Turkey, a key Islamic ally of the U.S. that angrily denies accusations of genocide, attacked Obama’s statement as “one-sided.”

“The statement distorts the historical facts.” said the Turkish foreign ministry. “Therefore, we find it very problematic and deeply regret it … One-sided statements that interpret controversial historical events by a selective sense of justice prevent understanding of the truth.”

In his statement — issued late Saturday — Obama said: “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all our interests.”

In the meantime, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken Hachikian, criticized Obama for a “disgraceful capitulation to Turkey’s threats” and failing to acknowledge what many historians describe as genocide.

“His complicity in Turkey’s denials, and his administration’s active opposition to congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide represent the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to bring to our country’s response to this crime,” Hachikian said.

  • According to the Newsweek story, “Abbas: Obama led me on,” you can add Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the list of people in the region pissed at Obama:
    We’re somewhere over the Mediterranean, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is trying to get inside the head of Barack Obama. “We knew him before he became president,” he’s saying, struggling to understand what happened to the man who had seemed more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than any of his predecessors. “We knew him and he was very receptive.” Around us, Abbas’s closest aides are shuffling papers or typing on laptops, while his bodyguards lounge on long corduroy couches. Saeb Erekat, the ubiquitous adviser, is writing talking points for Abbas’s meeting the next day with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. A man with a sidearm is shoveling pumpkin seeds into his mouth. In a space the size of two living rooms, most of the 20-odd passengers are puffing on cigarettes, and so is Abbas. At 76, he smokes more than two packs a day.
    Abbas is about as affable as politicians come—even hawkish Israelis like Ariel Sharon have said so. But occasionally, he can deliver a shot of scathing criticism, usually followed by a grandfatherly smile. A week earlier, he told me bluntly that Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.” Abbas also criticized the mediation efforts of Obama’s special envoy, George Mitchell, who has shuttled between Israelis and Palestinians for more than two years. “Every visit by Mitchell, we talked to him and gave him some ideas. At the end we discovered that he didn’t convey any of these ideas to the Israelis. What does it mean?”

Syria continues violence against protesters after weekend of killings

Syria launches bloody new crackdown as U.S. threatens sanctions

The Syrian government launched a major military operation Monday, sending thousands of troops into the town where the country’s uprising began, to carry out what witnesses described as a brutal, wider-scale crackdown.

The United States threatened sanctions against the country, calling for a halt to Syria’s “deplorable” actions. At the United Nations, a draft statement condemning the violence was being circulated among security council members, a U.N. diplomat said.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 members of the Army and security forces raided the southern city of Daraa just after 4 a.m. equipped with seven tanks, and began shooting indiscriminately, in some cases shooting into homes as people slept, according to an activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Seven people were confirmed killed in the city, the activist said.

Other witnesses described a trail of dead bodies in the streets.

“Ambulances could not help the injured because of the snipers and army officers who are deployed all over the city,” one witness in Daraa said. “They shoot on anything that moves.”

A military official — the second commander in a brigade that entered Daraa — defected over the violence, the activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and another opposition source said. The commander was then arrested, the activist said.

But the Syrian government gave a very different story. “In response to the calls for help from the citizens of Daraa and their appeal to the Armed Forces as to intervene and put an end to the operations of killings, vandalism, and horrifying by extremist terrorist groups, some army units entered… Daraa to restore tranquility, security and normal life,” state-run news agency SANA reported, citing “an official army source.”

Several members of such “groups” were arrested and “huge quantities of weapons and ammunitions” were confiscated, the government said, adding that confrontations “caused the martyrdom” of some members of the army and security forces as well as deaths an injuries among “some members of the extremist terrorist groups.”

In the city of Douma, security forces took to the streets and arrested numerous people, a witness said, comparing the city to a prison …

Fear and panic coursed through Daraa on Monday.

Anti-government protests that have taken hold in many parts of Syria began in Daraa last month following a violent crackdown by security forces on peaceful demonstrators protesting the arrests of youths who scribbled anti-government graffiti. Protesters have asked for freedom and regime reform. Public discontent with al-Assad’s government has mounted.

Activists also want the easing of the ruling Baath Party’s power and a law that would permit the establishment of independent political parties.

In recent days, witnesses in Syria had told CNN they want the security apparatus, which includes Syria’s secret intelligence operatives, dissolved, and would rather see the army take to the streets. They believed the army would be friendlier to protesters — as was the case in the Egyptian uprising. But on Monday, video from Syria showed what appeared to be members of the army carrying out al-Assad’s crackdown.

As another witness spoke to CNN by phone, the sound of gunfire could be heard in the background, along with people screaming, “Allahu Akbar” — meaning “God is great.”

“There are around 3,000 soldiers in Daraa now. They are breaking into people’s houses, firing randomly at houses,” the resident said. “We were sleeping and not protesting.”

The activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces occupied two mosques and a graveyard, and snipers were located on houses’ and high rise buildings’ rooftops.

Another witness also described the onslaught of tanks invading Daraa.

“Before dawn prayers, around 4:30 a.m., the Syrian security forces broke into Daraa,” the witness said. “There were so many tanks that entered the city from its four corners. People were heading to mosques when the attack started. People in mosques started warning the people through loud speakers, but the gunfire had already started.”

The witnesses added that ambulances were not allowed into the city and that electricity and phone lines were down. None of the witnesses wanted their names used for fear of reprisals.

CNN has not been granted access into Syria and is unable to independently verify witness accounts.

The city of Douma, north of Daraa also in southwestern Syria, was surrounded by security forces Monday, not by the military, a witness told CNN. They seemed to be in every alley in the city, preventing people’s movements and carrying out arrests, the witness said, adding that 15 of his friends were arrested.

Following morning prayers, intense gunfire was heard in the city, the witness said, adding that he did not see casualties in his vicinity but did not know about other areas in Douma.

Will ICC reconsider forced male circumcision as sexual violence?

Plea to ICC over forced male circumcision

A global advocacy group for gender-based violence survivors has called on the International Criminal Court to reconsider its refusal to recognize forced male circumcision as a form of sexual violence in a case against alleged organizers of Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election crisis.

Brigid Inder, executive director of The Hague-based Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, said the judges’ decision to classify forced male circumcision under “other inhumane acts” was “a misstep” that failed to take into account the element of force and purpose of the crime.

“We don’t agree with the judicial decision; we think it’s a wrong classification,” Inder told IRIN.

Her comments followed allegedly inflammatory statements by leading politicians that have raised concerns among civil society groups in Kenya that the crime could repeated in the 2012 elections.

In his December 2010 request for summonses for three crimes-against-humanity suspects aligned with President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU), ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo provided evidence of at least nine instances of forced male circumcision in the Rift Valley towns of Nakuru and Naivasha, as well as in Nairobi’s Kibera slum. The violence claimed at least 1,000 lives nationwide and displaced hundreds of thousands between December 2007 and February 2008.

Japan, Chernobyl spark nuke protests from India to France
BBC News

Anti-nuclear protests in Germany and France

Thousands of people in France and Germany have staged protests calling for an end to nuclear power.

Marches were held on several river bridges between France and Germany over the Rhine while there were further protests at German nuclear plants.

The protests come on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine.

Japan is currently struggling to contain radiation at the quake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima power plant.

One of the main protests in Europe took place over the Pont de l’Europe, linking France and Germany over the Rhine between Strasbourg and Kehl.

People waved banners with anti-nuclear slogans and chanted: “Chernobyl, Fukushima, never again!”

As a siren wailed, the protesters threw flowers on to the Rhine and lay down on the pavement of the bridge in what they termed a symbolic “die in”.

Protesters were also calling for the closure of France’s oldest nuclear power station, at Fessenheim.

Several thousand people also protested at a number of nuclear power stations in Germany, including Biblis, Grohnde and Grafenrheinfeld.

“After Fukushima it’s now clear enough that the danger of nuclear power is real,” said Erhard Renz, one of the organisers of the Biblis demonstration.

“We can not allow the business needs of the very few to destroy our world – like what happened 25 years ago,” he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The anti-nuclear movement had already been particularly strong in Germany, even before Japan’s nuclear accident, says the BBC’s Europe correspondent Matthew Price, in Brussels.

In recent weeks tens of thousands of people have staged demonstrations.

It has become a political issue, says our correspondent, helping the German Green party to victory in regional elections, and further damaging the standing of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Meanwhile in India, security has been tightened around Jaitapur, where protesters are planning to march on the site of a planned six-reactor nuclear power plant.

Campaigners against the power station, on the west coast of India, have been given a boost by the radiation leaks at Fukushima.

Yet another deadly building fire in China
The New York Times

Deadly Blaze Tears Through Beijing Clothing Factory

A fire at a clothing factory in southern Beijing killed at least 17 persons and injured 24 more before more than 200 firefighters extinguished the blaze early Monday, a state news service reported …

Major fires are not uncommon in China, where building construction shortcuts are common and safety rules are frequently sidestepped. Fifty-eight people died in an apartment fire in Shanghai last November, days after a shopping-mall fire killed 19 people in Jilin, in northeast China.

In February, a fireworks display celebrating the Lunar New Year triggered a fire that destroyed a 720-foot-tall five-star hotel in Shenyang, a northeast China metropolis. No one was injured in that blaze.

  • In case you missed this story last week, Agence France Presse reported, “Two die in Tibetan monastery crackdown: rights group”:
    Two Tibetans have died in a security crackdown on a Buddhist monastery in southwest China, an activist group said Saturday, after the restive area was closed to foreigners.
    Authorities have sealed off Kirti Monastery in Sichuan province and ordered a re-education programme there following unrest triggered last month when a young monk set himself on fire and died in an apparent anti-government protest.
    The International Campaign for Tibet, a US-based rights group with exile sources who have contacts in the region, said paramilitary police raided the monastery Thursday night and took away more than 300 monks.
    Police then beat a group of laypeople who had been standing vigil outside Kirti, leading to the deaths of two Tibetans aged in their sixties, ICT said.
    “People had their arms and legs broken, one old woman had her leg broken in three places, and cloth was stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams,” an exiled Kirti monk was quoted as saying by the rights group.
    The Tibetan government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” by the “grim situation at the Kirti Monastery”.
    It appealed to governments around the world to persuade China “not to use force to resolve the crisis that is facing the monks”.
    “In the absence of outside monitoring teams and lack of adequate legal protection and free media, we are concerned that the situation might grow into one of genocide,” the statement added.

Energy, commodity rates fuel pork, beef costs and food prices

U.S. Food Costs May Rise 4% Behind Beef, Pork, USDA Says

Surging pork and beef costs will keep pressure on U.S. food inflation, which the Department of Agriculture says will rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year, the most since 2008.

While the overall estimate for food inflation was left unchanged in today’s report, the USDA said prices for meat poultry and fish will jump 5 percent to 6 percent, led by beef, which may climb 8 percent, and pork, which could gain 7.5 percent. The beef estimate was increased by 2.5 percentage points from March and pork was raised 1 percentage point.

“I suspect when December arrives we will see increases of 4 to 6 percent” for the year in overall prices, said Bill Lapp, the president of Advanced Economic Solutions, an agricultural- research company based in Omaha, Nebraska. “The pressure on food prices is clearly on the upside,” said Lapp, a former chief economist for ConAgra Foods Inc.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said food costs rose 0.7 percent in March, capping a 2 percent gain for the first quarter. Cattle futures traded in Chicago were up 6.3 percent for the year through April 21, and hogs had increased 25 percent, on rising export demand. Crude oil surged 33 percent.

“Cost pressures on wholesale and retail-food prices due to higher energy and food-commodity prices, along with strengthening global food demand, have pushed inflation projections for 2011 upward,” Ephraim Leibtag, the USDA’s food- inflation economist, said in a note that accompanied today’s report …

The USDA also raised its estimate for inflation for fats and oils by a full percentage point, to 6 percent to 7 percent. Costs for fruits and vegetables will increase by 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, the department said, a half-percentage-point gain.

In the first quarter, meat and fish prices rose 3.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A fresh whole chicken cost $1.269 a pound at the end of March, slightly lower than $1.28 at the beginning of the year, while consumers paid about $2.715 for a pound of ground beef, a 14 percent increase.

The price of a pound of field-grown tomatoes last month reached $2.086 a pound, the highest since 2007 and almost a third more expensive than at the beginning of the year, the bureau said. Fresh fruit and vegetables, which have more volatile prices because of their vulnerability to weather disruptions, have already risen 6.5 percent this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That trend may level off with better weather, Lapp said …

The USDA also raised its estimate for inflation for fats and oils by a full percentage point, to 6 percent to 7 percent. Costs for fruits and vegetables will increase by 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, the department said, a half-percentage-point gain.

  • According to the TIME story, “Coffee-Addict Alert: Sorry Folks, You’ll be Paying More for Your Coffee,” there’s no end in sight for the increasing price of coffee:
    Coffee prices have hit $3 a pound for the first time in over 34 years. With the middle classes in countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia and Asia adopting the coffee culture and developing a taste for cappuccinos, arabica beans are highly in demand.
    Jeffrey Young, managing director of Allegra Strategies, a leading consulting firm, told Newsfeed that in countries like India, “growth is going to be staggering in the next 15 years.”
    Poor harvests of high-grade Arabica beans have also contributed to the surge in coffee prices. Colombia, the second-largest producer, expected to have a supply of 10m bags in 2011, but because of heavy rain, traders have scaled down their forecast to about 8.5m.
    Crops in places like Mexico have been affected by low temperatures, and market analysts are especially concerned about Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee producer, for producing less than expected medium quality beans.
    But the wholesale price increase, which has been passed onto customers, probably won’t affect our coffee-drinking habits. “Coffee is now ingrained into our lifestyles. It’s such a routine daily treat,” Jeffrey Young told Newsfeed.

Was the ‘God particle’ just discovered, or is this all a hoax?

Scientists Abuzz Over Controversial Rumor that God Particle Has Been Detected

A rumor is floating around the physics community that the world’s largest atom smasher may have detected a long-sought subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle.”

The controversial rumor is based on what appears to be a leaked internal note from physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. It’s not entirely clear at this point if the memo is authentic, or what the data it refers to might mean — but the note already has researchers talking.

The buzz started when an anonymous commenter recently posted an abstract of the note on Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit’s blog, Not Even Wrong.

Some physicists say the note may be a hoax, while others believe the “detection” is likely a statistical anomaly that will disappear upon further study. But the find would be a huge particle-physics breakthrough, if it holds up.

“If it were to be real, it would be really exciting,” said physicist Sheldon Stone of Syracuse University.

The Higgs boson is predicted to exist by prevailing particle-physics theory, which is known as the Standard Model. Physicists think the Higgs bestows mass on all the other particles — but they have yet to confirm its existence …

The leaked note suggests that the LHC’s ATLAS particle-detection experiment may have picked up a signature of the elusive Higgs. The signal is consistent, in mass and other characteristics, with what the Higgs is expected to produce, according to the note.

However, some other aspects of the signal don’t match predictions.

“Its production rate is much higher than that expected for the Higgs boson in the Standard Model,” Stone told in an email interview. So the signal may be evidence of some other particle, Stone added, “which in some sense would be even more interesting, or it could be the result of new physics beyond the Standard Model.”

Stone was quick to point out that the note is not an official result of the ATLAS research team. Therefore, speculating about its validity or implications is decidedly preliminary.

“It is actually quite illegitimate and unscientific to talk publicly about internal collaboration material before it is approved,” Stone said. “So this ‘result’ is not a result until the collaboration officially releases it.”

Other researchers joined Stone in urging patience and caution before getting too excited about the possible discovery.

“Don’t worry, Higgs boson! I would never spread scurrilous rumors about you. Unlike some people,” Caltech physicist Sean Carroll tweeted today (April 22).