The Nine Circles of Hell! for Monday: Death, Destruction, Dollars, Drugs and Drones
22 Iraqi militia have been killed by a suicide bomber.
Reuters reports, “A suicide bomber attacked a government-backed militia in Iraq on Monday, killing at least 22 people in an apparent attempt by Sunni insurgents to provoke unrest against Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“Dressed in civilian clothes, the bomber infiltrated a meeting of Sahwa tribal fighters and detonated his explosives as they picked up salaries in Taji, a town 20 km (12 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, police said.
“It was the seventh suicide bombing in a month in Iraq, indicating insurgents are intent on stepping up violence a year after U.S. troops pulled out of the country, where Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish factions still struggle over how to share power.
Local police commissioner Furat Faleh is quoted saying, “We got a call there had been a huge blast on the Sahwa headquarters in Taji. The Sahwa were there to collect their pay. When we rushed to the hall … people were lying bleeding all around and cash was scattered in pools of blood.”
“The Sahwa or ‘Sons of Iraq’ are former Sunni insurgents who rebelled against al Qaeda in the Sunni heartland province of Anbar at the height of the Iraq war and helped American troops to turn the tide of the conflict.”
Makes me wonder how many Iraqis would call ‘the surge’ a success.
Iranian official says Israel “will regret this recent aggression” against Syria.
Reuters reveals, “Iran told Israel on Monday it would regret its air strike against Syria last week, without spelling out whether Iran or its ally planned any military response.”
Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told a news conference in Damascus, “They will regret this recent aggression,” a day after holding talks there with President Bashar al-Assad.”
Reuters explains, “Jalili likened Israel’s attack on a military compound north-west of Damascus on Wednesday to previous conflicts including its 34-day war with Lebanon’s Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah in 2006, all battles that he said Israel had lived to regret.”
Jalill said, “Today, too, both the people and the government of Syria are serious regarding the issue. And also the Islamic community is supporting Syria.”
At least the Israelis stopped that convoy from getting to Syria.
I’m sure it was worth the price of spreading Syria’s war.
Opposition leader says dragging of civilian by security forces means Morsy “is over.”
According to the Egypt Independent, “Ahmed Shafiq, who lost in presidential runoffs against Mohamed Morsy last year, has said that the dragging of Hamada Saber outside the presidential palace on Friday was planned by the Interior Ministry to terrorize people, which would lead to more violence and hatred towards the regime.”
Shafiq is quoted saying, “Beware, young men and women, for what happens to the dragged citizen might happen to you.”
The Egypt Independent explains, “Video footage showed that security forces dragged Saber, 48, through the streets, stripped him naked and beat him with batons before forcing him into an armored vehicle.”
Shafiq added, “The regime is over. It will not get away with rigging the presidential elections because they have messed with the wrong person.”
Alright then. Let’s give Shafiq a shot at running Egypt and see if he, or anyone, can rein in the Egyptian security forces.
If I were a betting man, and I am, I wool put my money on the security forces to keep being brutal dicks for a very long time.
There are even more claims of torture, leading to death, by Egyptian police.
Middle East Online reports yet another case of brutality by Egyptian police: “An Egyptian activist who slipped into a coma following days in police custody died on Monday, the health ministry and his party said, setting off a storm over police brutality in the new Egypt.
“Mohammed al-Guindi, 28, went missing last month after joining protests demanding change on the second anniversary of Egypt’s uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.
“According to the health ministry he was brought to Cairo’s Al-Helal hospital by ambulance on January 28 — three days after he went missing — unconscious and suffering from internal bleeding.
“Activists detained with Guindi and later released said he had been taken to a police camp and subjected to torture, his mother Samia told the private Al-Nahar satellite channel.
“The Popular Current, to which Guindi belonged, said in a statement the activist died ‘as a result of torture.’
“A preliminary medical report showed that he suffered beating with hard objects, broken ribs and electric shocks, activists said.
“Photos of Guindi, his face bruised and battered, lying on a hospital bed have been circulating on social media networks.
“Tributes have poured in for Guindi on Twitter and Facebook, with activists dubbing him the ‘new’ Khaled Said, an Egyptian man who was beaten to death by police in 2010 and who became a symbol of the fight against police brutality.
“Hundreds of people turned out for Guindi’s funeral prayer, which was held in in Tahrir Square.”
Just to repeat, Egypt’s cops are brutal dicks.
If you have a suggestion for an even worse police force than the Egyptian security forces, please note them below.
Residents of Lithuania’s capital now burning wood due to high Russian gas prices.
The Associated Press finds, “To save money during the harsh Baltic winter, Romanas Ziabkinas did something unremarkable: He turned off his central heating and installed a cheaper electric heater. Now he finds himself neck-deep in legal woes.
“His utility company refused to recognize the switch and is suing him for some 25,000 litas ($10,000) in unpaid utility bills for his apartment in Lithuania’s capital.”
Ziabkinas is quoted saying, “Splitting from the Soviet Union was easier than leaving this heating system.”
The AP continues, “Ziabkinas plight is extreme, but his frustrations over heating costs are shared by a majority of Lithuanians, who have seen prices soar over the past several years, especially since the shuttering of its only nuclear power plant in 2009, forcing the country to import more Russian gas to keep warm. Lithuania’s decision to scrap atomic power over safety concerns has put it under a new kind of threat: intimidation from Russia, which critics say shows no hesitation to use its energy dominance to bully former vassal states.
“While gas prices have tended to fall globally in recent years thanks to deposits of shale gas in places like the U.S., Lithuanian households have looked on in horror in the past seven years as the retail cost of natural gas pumped from Siberia spiked 450 percent — or from $169 to $769 per 1,000 cubic meters.
“Lithuania, a country of 3 million people, currently pays Russia a wholesale price of about $540 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas piped from Siberia, roughly 15 percent more than Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia and 25 percent more than Germany.
“Many Lithuanians feel they are being punished by Russia for unsolved political issues, just as the Kremlin has used gas supplies to goad Ukraine and Belarus over political and economic disputes.
“Lithuania has demanded compensation from Moscow for alleged damages incurred during the Soviet occupation from 1945 to 1991, and last year enacted a European Union directive to separate gas supply and distribution, a direct blow to Russia’s commercial interests in the country. Estonia and Latvia, which also receive all their gas from Russia, have done neither — and, not surprisingly, enjoy cheaper prices.
“Gazprom rarely comments on gas price deals with individual countries, using the secrecy to haggle with each individual nation separately — playing one off the other — in what is seen as an extension of Kremlin foreign policy.
“Lithuania has a long-term supply agreement with Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, which expires in 2015. Russia has justified the price rises by saying the deal allows it to index gas rates to oil prices. The catch is that Russia has given discounts to friendly nations, while sticking to the full price for those with which it has disputes.”
Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius is quoted saying, “We believe Lithuania should pay a fifth less than it does now.”
More from the AP:
“Lithuania’s previous center-right government sued Gazprom in international arbitration court for 5 billion litas ($1.9 billion) over gas price hikes and has called on the EU to investigate the company’s alleged unfair pricing policies. Butkevicius, however, is willing to scrap the litigation in exchange for cheaper gas.”
The AP also quotes Vytautas Stasiunas, head of the Lithuanian District Heating Association, saying, “To the Soviets, it was easier to build new towns and concrete multi-story houses with thin walls and then heat them without counting energy costs. Gas and oil was free those days, but now it’s simply outrageous.
“There are dozens of awful mistakes made in the energy sector by each and every cabinet since independence. These mistakes are affecting everybody in this country.”
Vytas Ratkevicius, who lives in downtown Vilnius, recently switched off his central heating. is also quoted saying, “We decided to install wood-burning equipment after the sharp increase in gas prices. It’s obvious that gas prices will continue to go up, and we’re simply not ready to pay for this.”
“It used to be remaining farms and villages where people used my production. Now most of the wood goes to the national capital, where even rich people burn it.”
Ivan Soloduchin, owner of small heating solutions company in Vilnius that, according to the AP, can’t keep up with order to “help people shut down gas boilers and replace them with firewood boilers or heat pumps.”
Soloduchin says, “I’m getting up to 10 orders per week, and clients keep on coming even in the middle of winter. Ten years ago owners of new houses wouldn’t even look my way since firewood was considered dirty and old fashioned — everyone wanted gas boilers. Now things have changed.”
Again, the market says ‘climate change!’
Why was Iran’s ex-central bank chief flying with a Bank of Venezuela check for 300 million bolivars, that’s over $70 million?
The Associated Press informs us, “A man caught trying to enter Germany with a cheque worth about £44.5m was Iran’s former central bank chief, it was reported yesterday.
“The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said customs officers at Dusseldorf airport found the cheque in Tahmasb Mazaheri’s luggage on 21 January upon his arrival from Turkey.
“German customs issued a statement saying a cheque for 300m bolivars issued by the Bank of Venezuela was found on an unnamed 59-year-old man.
“Neither customs nor Iran’s embassy could be reached for comment last night. Mr Mazaheri was the governor of the Central Bank of Iran until 2008.”
AP cites Bild reporting, “German police were investigating possible money laundering.”
Let’s hope this is not the last time we hear of this story.
Britain’s finance minister says the Bank of England will be a “super cop,” and may even break up banks that break their new rules.
The Telegraph warns, “Britain’s banks will be broken up if they fail to ring-fence retail operations from their investment divisions to avoid any future state bailouts of lenders, finance minister George Osborne has warned.
“As the government formally published legislation aimed at radically altering the landscape of Britain’s financial sector, Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne used a speech to say that ’2013 is the year when we re-set our banking system.’
Osborne is quoted saying, “My message to the banks is clear: if a bank flouts the rules, the regulator and the Treasury will have the power to break it up altogether – full separation, not just a ring fence.
“In the jargon, we will ‘electrify the ring fence’,” adding the Bank of England would be “the super cop” of Britain’s financial system from now on.
Osborne described, “a brand new watchdog with new powers to keep our banks safe so they don’t bring down the economy”; “a new law to separate the branch on the high street from the dealing floor … to protect taxpayers when mistakes are made”, “changing the whole culture and ethics” of banking and giving “customers the most powerful weapon of all: choice.”
Osborne also is cited saying, “A law for the first time ever, to separate the retail and investment arms of banks, and erect a ring fence around the retail bank so its essential operations continue even if the whole bank fails.”
The Telegraph explains, “The announcement puts the finance minister on a collision course with Britain’s banks, which claim the legislation would make London less attractive as a global financial centre.”
Then they back this up with a quote from Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, saying, “This will create uncertainty for investors, making it more difficult for banks to raise capital, which will ultimately mean that banks will have less money to lend to businesses.
“Above all, what banks and business need is regulatory certainty so that banks can get on with what they want to do, which is help the economy grow.”
So get on with it already, Break up the banks so they know how to invest properly.
There’s been a loss in the war on TB.
BBC News tells us, “A major trial of a new booster vaccine has ended in failure, marking a major setback in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).
“It was the first big study in infants since the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was introduced in 1921.
“BCG is only partially effective against the bacterium that causes TB, which is why several international teams are working on new vaccines.
“The latest, known as MVA85A, failed to protect babies who had already had BCG.
The trial, in South Africa, involved 2,794 healthy children aged four to six months, half of whom received MVA85A and the rest a placebo.
“They were followed up for an average of two years.
“The researchers, reporting in the Lancet medical journal, found 32 cases of TB in those who had received the vaccine compared with 39 in the placebo group.
“This gave an effectiveness of 17%, which is so low as to be statistically non-significant.”
Professor Helen McShane, from the University of Oxford, who developed the vaccine, is quoted saying, “[It] induced modest immune responses against TB in the infants, but these were much lower than those previously seen in adults, and were insufficient to protect against the disease.
“This is the first efficacy trial of a new TB vaccine since Bacille Calmette-Guérin, a significant step in itself, and there is much that we and others can learn from the study and the data it has produced.”
Dr. Tom Evans, interim CEO of AERAS is quoted saying, “Because of the urgency to control the global TB epidemic, and despite these trial results, we remain steadfast in our belief that an improved TB vaccine will be developed and represents the best hope for eliminating the disease.”
There’s nothing funny about TB.
On the other hand, if you have a good TB joke, please levee it in the Comments below.
Environmentalists say Arctic unprepared for oil spill.
Reuters tells us, “Plans by Arctic nations to start cooperating over oil spills are vague and fail to define corporate liability for any accidents in an icy region opening up to oil and gas exploration due to global warming, environmentalists said on Monday.
“A 21-page document by the eight-nation Arctic Council, seen by Reuters and due to be approved in May, says countries in the region ‘shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents.’
“It does not say what that means in terms of staff, ships, clean-up equipment or corporate liability in a remote region that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas.
“The countries have drafted the document as companies including Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, Lukoil and Statoil are looking north for oil despite high costs and risks. Shell’s Kulluk oil rig ran aground in Alaska on December 31 in near hurricane conditions.”
Ruth Davis of Greenpeace, which passed the document to Reuters, is quoted saying, “The document doesn’t get to grips with the risks of a spill in a meaningful way.” Greenpeace, which wants the Arctic to be off-limits to drilling, said it was “so vaguely written as to have very little practical value in increasing the level of preparedness.”
Rick Steiner, an environmental consultant and former professor at the University of Alaska, said, “We should be far beyond this rudimentary document.”
Reuters adds, “The Arctic Council – comprising the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark including Greenland – sees cooperation as big progress for the region, where sea ice shrank to a record low in the summer of 2012, opening the area to further exploration.”
Per Olav Moslet, DNV’s top Arctic technology expert, is quoted saying, “Present oil spill response technology right now can’t effectively collect oil in ice-covered waters and it remains difficult even to detect a spill on water in permanent darkness and bad weather.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be oil drilling. It only means there will be dangerous oil drilling.
And you thought tar sands were fucked.
Welcome to the new world of hand-held military drones.
The Associated Press discovers, “British soldiers in Afghanistan have been issued with surveillance drones so small they can fit in the palm of a man’s hand.
“The Scandinavian-designed Black Hornet Nano weighs as little as 16 grams (roughly half an ounce) — the same as a finch. The 4-inch (10-centimeter) -long helicopter is fitted with a tiny camera which relays still images and video to a remote terminal.”
Sgt. Christopher Petherbridge, with Britain’s Brigade Reconnaissance Force, is quoted saying, “We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset,” adding the Hornet has “amazing capability to the guys on the ground.”
“The military said Sunday that the toy-like Hornet is capable of flying even in windy conditions.
“It said the Hornet was developed by Norway’s Prox Dynamics AS as part of a 20 million-pound ($31 million) contract for 160 units with southern England’s Marlborough Communications Ltd.
“Drones of all shapes and sizes have rapidly become a mainstay of U.S., British and other nations’ military operations around the world. Late last year the U.K. said it was doubling the size of its armed drone fleet in Afghanistan to 10 with the purchase of a new batch of Reapers.”
That does not make me happy.
Neither does that palm-sized bug that keeps floating outside my window.