Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6331 on: Mar 10th, 2012, 08:25am »
New York Times
March 9, 2012 Pakistan Picks New Director for Spy Agency By DECLAN WALSH and SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The prime minister of Pakistan appointed a new general to run the country’s most powerful intelligence agency on Friday, signaling an important change in the military leadership at a pivotal moment in relations with the United States.
Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam will take over as the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, on March 18, replacing Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who has held the post since 2008, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said.
The ISI chief is the second most powerful figure in the military — some would argue in the country — and General Islam is likely to play a significant role in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, a movement the ISI has long been accused of supporting.
Although the ISI officially reports to the prime minister, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, with whom General Pasha had a close relationship during the agency’s turbulent relationship with the United States in recent years.
A succession of spy scandals sent the ISI’s relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency — and, more broadly, with the United States — to a historic low in 2011. Tensions rose in January 2011 after a C.I.A. contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, and then worsened in May after the surprise American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, 35 miles north of the ISI’s headquarters in Islamabad. In September, Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Congressional hearing that the pro-Taliban militant group known as the Haqqani network was a “virtual arm” of the ISI, prompting fresh tumult.
However, the ISI and the C.I.A. have quietly worked to rebuild ties in the past month, and officials from both countries say the relationship is slowly mending.
General Islam commands the army corps in Karachi, considered a plum posting and a sign of his good standing with General Kayani. From 2008 to 2010 he served as director of the ISI section responsible for internal security.
“He’s a safe choice,” said Wajahat S. Khan, a journalist who has written about internal military politics. “He’s served in the ISI, he’s from an infantry wing, and he’s pretty media savvy — which is what they need right now.”
General Islam’s first job is likely to involve refashioning relations with Washington, which have been virtually frozen since an erroneous American attack near the border with Afghanistan in November killed 24 Pakistani troops. At a special joint session of Parliament set for this month, Pakistan’s politicians will debate the broad contours of a new policy toward the United States.
Few doubt, however, that core elements of the relationship will be determined by General Kayani and General Islam, in consultation with President Asif Ali Zardari.
One likely obstacle will be the continuing C.I.A. drone strikes in the northwestern tribal belt, which are wildly unpopular. In the latest strike, 12 people were killed in South Waziristan on Friday morning, Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
The ISI has a fearsome reputation after decades of political manipulation and meddling in militancy. But in recent years, it has faced stark challenges. Pakistani Taliban militants have killed dozens of ISI employees since 2007, undermining the army’s authority.
The ISI is also facing challenges on the judicial front. This week the Supreme Court resumed hearings into an election-rigging scheme in which the ISI distributed $15.5 million to favored politicians in an ultimately successful bid to influence the 1990 election.
On Friday, the court heard testimony from a former ISI chief, Asad Durrani, who admitted to running the scheme but denied that it was part of ISI policy.
The hearing also included an extraordinary moment involving Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former army chief who is said to have blessed the illegal scheme.
Infuriated by what was deemed to be an insubordinate affidavit that the general filed to the court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry demanded that the general apologize. “Is he here to play golf?” the justice asked.
Another judge said, “We will not allow anyone to play with our dignity.”
General Beg wrote an apology on a piece of paper, and the case was adjourned until March 15.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6332 on: Mar 10th, 2012, 08:32am »
SPIEGEL Interview with Wolfgang Beltracchi Confessions of a Genius Art Forger
In one of Germany's greatest art scandals, former hippie and talented artist Wolfgang Beltracchi forged dozens of paintings over a period of 35 years, earning millions and fooling top collectors and museums. Now he's about to go to jail. In a SPIEGEL interview, he reveals how he did it and why he eventually got caught.
At some point during the two-day interview, Wolfgang Beltracchi talked about a friend in Freiburg, a pathology professor. The two men know each other well. Beltracchi, sounding almost proud of himself, said: "He would like to examine my brain. He believes that he would find something completely different there."
There are many people who would like to take a look inside Beltracchi's head. First there are the collectors, the gallery owners, appraisers and museum officials who fell for his forgeries. Then there are the investigators with the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation, who hunted him down but with whom Beltracchi refused to speak. Finally, there are the enlightened art lovers who admired this hippie-like desperado, because he pulled the wool over the eyes of the art world and, in doing so, exposed a system in which millions are paid for paintings whose authenticity is very difficult to determine -- a system that makes erratic decisions about which art is worth a lot and which is worth nothing at all, and that doesn't even seem to know exactly what art is.
The meeting with Beltracchi and his wife Helene took place in a suburb in the south of Cologne, in the house of attorney Reinhard Birkenstock, which looks out over the meadows along the Rhine River. In late October, a Cologne court sentenced the couple to prison terms of six and four years. The investigators, specialists in art forgeries, had zeroed in on 55 dubious paintings that had appeared in the art market since the early 1990s.
In the end, the court case involved 14 paintings, which allegedly brought the couple a total of about €16 million ($21 million) in earnings. The total loss, calculated on the basis of all subsequent sales of the works, amounts to €34 million. If the judge had not agreed to a deal with the attorneys, the court would have had to determine whether Beltracchi painted each individual work, a difficult task given the lack of direct evidence. The agreement also required the Beltracchis to make a detailed confession before the court.
The Beltracchi case is the biggest art forgery scandal of the postwar era, in terms of both the scope and perfection of the works, as well as how the paintings were marketed. The forgeries were sold as works by Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Heinrich Campendonk, André Derain, Max Pechstein, classic modernist paintings, most of them by French and German Expressionists. During the two days of interviews, Beltracchi said several times that he had forged paintings by more than 50 artists, although he was unwilling to cite the exact number. Under German criminal law, serious cases of fraud fall under the statute of limitations after 10 years, but injured parties can file civil suits relating to cases much further in the past.
Beltracchi's principle was not to copy the paintings of the Expressionists, but, as he says, to fill the gaps in their bodies of work. Either he invented new paintings and motifs, tying in to specific creative phases in the artists' lives, or he created paintings whose titles appear in lists of the respective painters' works but which were believed to have been lost -- and of which no images existed.
Beltracchi has all of the things that a master forger requires: knowledge of art history and science, the command of painting techniques and, most of all, considerable artistic talent. But he also acted with the callousness of a gambler, taking advantage of the greed of an overheated art market. He has the self-confidence and hubris of a man who believes he is a genius -- and he could be one. He believes that he has a better understanding of the works of the artists he forged than most experts.
In the 1980s Beltracchi and his friend Otto S.-K. from Krefeld, north of Cologne, who was sentenced to five years in prison in the same trial, devised a perfect back story to explain where the paintings came from. The tale went like this: Otto had a grandfather named Knops, a master tailor from Krefeld, who had left his grandson a large art collection when he died. Knops had bought the works in the 1920s from art dealers like Alfred Flechtheim in Düsseldorf, and then hid the paintings during the Nazi era.
Beltracchi invented the Jägers collection in the 1990s. Werner Jägers was a real person, a businessman in Cologne. More importantly, Jägers was also the grandfather of Beltracchi's wife Helene, who Beltracchi married in 1993 and whose name he took (he was born Wolfgang Fischer). Jägers, according to Beltracchi's story, had also bought the paintings of well-known Expressionists from Flechtheim and other galleries in the 1920s. The two allegedly knew each other well.
The Beltracchis have never spoken publicly about their actions, neither before the beginning of the trial nor after making their confessions. Beltracchi is currently writing a book about his life and is also working on a documentary film. The couple will begin their sentences this month, Helene Beltracchi in the Ossendorf district of Cologne and her husband in the town of Euskirchen, west of Cologne. They will be incarcerated in open prisons.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Beltracchi, just how large are your debts today?
Beltracchi: They are €6.5 million, I think. Or maybe even 8 million? But we don't know who else is going to sue for damages.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6333 on: Mar 10th, 2012, 08:38am »
Darn it, just who is this secret knitter?
A small town in North Yorkshire is mystified as yet another woolly creation appears overnight.
By Sarah Rainey 7:30AM GMT 10 Mar 2012
As night falls in the sleepy seaside town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea in North Yorkshire, a lone figure gets to work down by the pier. She moves nimbly along the rickety slats, pausing occasionally to retrieve something from a bulging shoulder bag. Dressed head-to-toe in black, she works in silence, marking the metal railings in her signature way as she moves along the beach. She reaches the end, stops to admire her handiwork – and then, as suddenly as she appeared, the mysterious figure is gone.
They call her the Saltburn Yarnbomber. That is, if “she” even is a she, as most locals assume. But far from vandalising the pier in the dead of night, this shady individual isn’t out to cause damage – she (or he) just loves to knit.
Since October last year, the mystery knitter – one of an army of secretive “guerrilla knitters” who have recently sprung up across Britain – has left woolly creations all over the tiny Teesside town. First it was a set of darned books (The Secret Cardigan and A Ripping Yarn) tied to a railing outside the library. Next, a tray of woollen buns appeared by the cake shop, while a family of teddy bears was spotted eating tiny knitted sandwiches on a picnic table near the promenade.
This week, the Banksy of the knitting world “yarnbombed” her most spectacular creation yet: a huge Olympics-themed scarf, adorned with models of athletes from synchronised swimmers to rowers, weightlifters and footballers. The colourful display, wound around the railings on the pier, stretches for 50 yards and has been lovingly stitched to the finest detail, including shoelaces, ski poles and miniature gold medals. Knitting experts estimate the scarf would have taken up to a year to complete – and most of the night to attach to the pier. But instead of stepping forward to receive his or her plaudits, the Saltburn Yarnbomber has kept everybody guessing.
“It’s a classic whodunit,” says Mike Morgan of the local Evening Gazette, who has launched an appeal to unmask the knitter. “Everyone in the town is talking about the scarf, but we’re stumped about the culprit. Personally, I think it’s a group of people, because one person couldn’t do all that knitting on their own.”
On the streets of Saltburn, theories about the Yarnbomber are rife. A retired craft teacher, perhaps? An underground knitting club? A fisherman with a penchant for wool? To date, there is only one clue: a previous creation bore a handwritten note, signed “The Yarn Junki” – but far from getting answers, locals were left even more confused about the knitter’s identity.
“It’s one of the best mysteries we’ve ever had in Saltburn,” says Tony Lynn, a local historian who has lived in the town for 56 years. “It’s such a fantastic creation – whoever did it should be very proud of themselves.” Surely he must have an inkling about who it is? “We all have our suspicions, but it would spoil the fun if it’s just revealed to be Mrs Jones from round the corner. Long may the mystery last.”
Saltburn’s woolly displays are part of the wider trend of guerrilla knitting, a type of benign vandalism in which enthusiasts leave knitted creations on lampposts, railings and road signs. Started over a decade ago by American shop owner Magda Sayeg, the craze has now reached epic proportions, with groups across Britain knitting tea-cosies, jumpers and scarves for display on the street. The knitters all work under aliases (“Shorn-a of the Dead” and “Deadly Knitshade”, to name two), and put their creations out at night to keep their identities secret.
“Yarnbombers love the element of surprise,” says Magda, 35, whose crochet creations have appeared everywhere from post boxes to door handles, on trees and even covering a bus. “It’s about doing something nice for your neighbourhood, but not detracting from that by drawing attention to yourself. Knitting conjures up lovely images of grandmothers making fuzzy wool jumpers – it creates a real feel-good factor that can cheer people up no end.”
Well, it has certainly worked in Saltburn, where bemused locals have seen tourists flock to the pier in their hundreds this week. The town, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday, is proud of its beloved Yarnbomber – and residents can’t wait to see what will appear next.
And will the Yarnbomber’s knitted Olympics stay on the pier? Mr Lynn certainly hopes so. “It’ll have to blow down before it’s moved,” he says. “It’s brightened our week. Whoever they are, I hope they keep pulling the wool over our eyes for years to come.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6334 on: Mar 10th, 2012, 08:56am »
Ohio earthquakes linked to natural gas drilling
The injection of wastewater into a disposal well probably caused a dozen temblors in the state, officials say. The findings are likely to intensify debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
By Michael Muskal and Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times 5:41 PM PST, March 9, 2012
The injection of wastewater from natural gas drilling into a disposal well probably caused a dozen earthquakes in Ohio, officials said Friday as they announced new regulations to deal with the issue.
The findings about the probable cause of the earthquakes, which occurred in the Youngstown area between March and late December 2011, are likely to intensify an increasingly bitter debate about the safety of hydraulic fracturing in states that sit atop natural gas deposits.
Hydraulic fracturing injects sand and water laced with chemicals into the earth at high pressure to break apart shale rock formations and free natural gas trapped inside. The process, also known as fracking, creates wastewater that must be disposed of, often by injecting it into a disposal well, as companies did in northeast Ohio.
"After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced," state officials reported. "Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault."
Ohio's Department of Natural Resources has issued new regulations for transporting and disposing of brine wastewater, a fracking byproduct, making for the nation's toughest disposal regulations, officials said.
Though the quake damage was minor — the largest was a 4.0 — environmental groups questioned whether the state's safety rules were strong enough to protect the area from disasters they attribute to hydraulic fracturing. The issue has also become more political in many areas as the United States has stepped up its drilling as part of a drive for more energy.
Ohio regulators praised their new requirements.
"Ohio has developed a new set of regulatory standards that positions the state as a national leader in safe and environmentally responsible brine disposal," Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer said in a statement.
Critics of fracking said the new rules were a move in the right direction. The regulations are an indication that the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich "is starting to get the message from a public outcry over public health and safety concerns," said Julian Boggs, state policy advocate for Environment Ohio. "This stuff is hazardous, toxic waste, and it should be regulated as hazardous waste under federal law."
In addition to tougher disposal rules, the changes include prohibiting new wells from being drilled in some types of rock formations and requiring operators to prepare and submit extensive geological data before drilling. New pressure and volume monitoring devices that include automatic shut-off switches and data recorders will also be required. Those that haul brine will have to install electronic devices to monitor the fluid.
Industry advocates focused on the report's finding that the earthquakes occurred because an injection well intersected with an unmapped seismic fault.
"We plan to thoroughly review the new regulations proposed by [the Ohio Department of Natural Resources] and strongly urge the public and state officials to not allow a rare and isolated event to diminish the excellent service record of Class II injection wells in Ohio," said Thomas E. Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Assn.
In its report, Ohio regulators said that injection wells do not have to cause earthquakes and that inducing an earthquake is an extremely rare occurrence. But it is possible when some circumstances come together as they did in the Youngstown-area events, officials said.
Muskal reported from Los Angeles and Banerjee from Washington.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6336 on: Mar 11th, 2012, 09:19am »
Skeptics doubt U.S. can be certain about Iran's nuclear progress
Iran's record of deceit fuels worry over President Obama's assurances that he'll know if Tehran starts trying to build a nuclear weapon.
By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times March 11, 2012 Reporting from Washington
Despite President Obama's assurances that the United States will know if Tehran begins to secretly build a nuclear bomb, some senior officials familiar with U.S. intelligence and spying capabilities in Iran are doubtful.
The issue is a crucial one because the White House has suggested that U.S. satellites, sensors and spies, as well as United Nations inspections, provide a reliable tripwire to decide whether diplomacy has failed and military action is needed to stop Iran from assembling a nuclear device.
The officials' doubts stem, in part, from Iran's record of deceit.
Over the last decade, Western intelligence agencies have twice discovered large-scale clandestine Iranian facilities built to enrich uranium. The question now is whether Iran is hiding other nuclear enrichment sites or weapons research centers.
"You have to assume that, if they went clandestine once, they could well go clandestine in other places," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"As someone who deals with this stuff every day, I'm not sure how [the president] is that confident," said Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "I am confident that at some point … we would know, probably. The problem is, you wouldn't know if that meant they'd have a weapon in three days or in three months."
Iran must produce weapons-grade uranium if it wants to build a bomb. For now, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors make regular monitoring visits to the two uranium enrichment complexes, at Natanz and Fordow, and they measure and track every bit of nuclear material.
The U.N. inspectors would quickly detect diversion of uranium or any sudden push to boost enrichment from 20% to 90% to supply fuel for a weapon. If the teams are denied access or expelled from Iran, however, that safety mechanism disappears and Washington and its allies will be left to assume the worst.
"As long as the IAEA is inspecting the enrichment program, you're going to get a heads up" if Iran tries to build a bomb, said Robert Kelley, a former senior IAEA inspector and nuclear expert at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Iran's relations with the IAEA are testy. Tehran has refused to fully answer questions about what the U.N. agency calls "possible military dimensions" to its program. It retreated on another issue last week, however, saying it would permit inspectors to visit a military base that it had previously put off-limits.
Iran announced in February 2010 that it would construct 10 new enrichment facilities. Iran's nuclear chief said last August that the plan had been scrapped, but the IAEA's most recent report points out that Iran has provided few details and cites its "lack of cooperation."
Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said he was reasonably confident Iran would get caught if it launched a covert enrichment effort. "But reasonably confident is not the same thing as certain," he added.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran probably would move the clandestine project to multiple sites to lower the risk of discovery. "I think it would be very difficult" to learn if Iran began building a bomb, he said. "Not impossible, but difficult."
Obama, in a recent interview with the Atlantic magazine, said the U.S. assessment is that Iran "does not have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt."
Administration officials cite two reasons for his confidence.
"First, IAEA inspectors are on the ground safeguarding Iran's enriched material and would detect any effort to divert it," said a senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity while discussing intelligence. "Secondly, we have detected covert facilities in the past … and are confident we would do so again before Iran is in a position to use such facilities to produce enriched uranium."
Mark Fitzpatrick, a nonproliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, has a similar view. If the Iranians "tempt fate by a decision to produce weapons," they would probably use covert facilities, he said. "But would they be able to do it out of eyesight of prying intelligence agencies? Probably not."
Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the IAEA, said Iran may lack the precision engineering capabilities needed to build a working bomb. In theory, however, Iran could secretly construct a bomb or warhead, a process likely to take several years, and then produce weapons-grade fuel in a month or so.
"You can build everything else, but you just leave the nuclear material out and do that at the end," said Heinonen, now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
Others warn that spy satellites, surveillance drones and other sources may not be sufficient to spot a secret bomb program given Iran's sprawling geography — one fifth the size of the continental U.S. — and large industrial base.
"Iran is a big country, and the idea that you can have blanket coverage — you can't," said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior CIA and State Department intelligence analyst.
Still, U.S. spy services and their allies have a substantial espionage effort aimed at Iran.
Analysts study business and procurement orders by Iranian companies, eavesdrop on government communications and monitor large construction and mining projects. Airborne sensors help analyze electromagnetic, chemical and other emissions that can offer telltale clues of what's happening inside factories.
On the other hand, U.S. intelligence agencies were unaware that Syria was secretly constructing a nuclear reactor until shortly before Israeli warplanes destroyed the partially built facility in 2007, Rep. Rogers said.
The Iranians "are learning from their mistakes, and they are getting better about how to keep things more quiet," he said. "This is a cat-and-mouse game for them."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6338 on: Mar 11th, 2012, 09:38am »
Three towns near Fukushima No. 1 asked to store radioactive soil, waste
The government on Saturday asked three towns in Fukushima Prefecture to create temporary storage facilities for contaminated soil and waste, but none of the municipalities agreed to the proposal.
At a meeting in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, the central government asked the towns of Okuma, Futaba and Naraha to set up temporary sites to store soil and waste contaminated with radioactive fallout from the crippled No. 1 nuclear plant, according to participants.
The power station straddles Okuma and Futaba, while Naraha hosts the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant.
In addition, the government asked the town of Tomioka to use its existing disposal facility to get rid of ash and debris whose levels of radioactive cesium do not exceed 100,000 becquerels, the participants said.
Also at the meeting, attended by the prefectural government and eight towns and villages around the No. 1 power plant, the central government said it would buy the land on which the temporary storage facilities in the three municipalities would be built, they said.
The government also said it would set up a legal framework for the final disposal of the waste at locations outside Fukushima within 30 years, they added.
"The process places more importance on speed than quality," Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe told reporters after the meeting.
In December, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono formally asked the three towns to build an interim storage facility close to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6339 on: Mar 11th, 2012, 09:41am »
Insight: In India, a dynasty's tryst with decline
By John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan Sun Mar 11, 2012 1:20am EST
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Rahul Gandhi slept under the stars in rural India, he shared simple meals of lentil curry and bread with poor villagers, and he was even arrested for joining farmers in a land protest.
The scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty tried over the past year to project himself as a man of the people. He dressed down and grew a beard to look more rugged as he campaigned tirelessly for the ruling Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, a vast state straddling the River Ganges that with 200 million people is more populous than Brazil.
"I want the mosquitoes to bite me like they bite you so that I can understand your pain," the 41-year-old Gandhi told villagers at one of more than 200 election rallies in the state.
The strategy flopped.
Vote tallies last week gave Congress just 28 of the 403 seats at stake for the state's legislative assembly, a miserable fourth place.
Gandhi's performance was seen as a test of his fitness to take the reins of the party from his ailing Italian-born mother Sonia and eventually to become prime minister if Congress and its allies retain power in national elections due in 2014.
That made the result a stinging slap for India's first family in the very state from which it rose as the beacon of freedom before independence from Britain in 1947.
It was also another jolt to a party that has come to define itself by the Gandhi family rather than ideology or political conviction.
The winner was the Samajwadi (Socialist) Party, a grouping founded by a former wrestler whose appeal does not extend much beyond Uttar Pradesh.
Congress has been humbled before by regional parties that are often more in touch with local issues, but Gandhi's handling of the Uttar Pradesh campaign and his inability to even make a fight of it spells deep trouble for the party.
"The Congress party is in decline," said Rashid Kidwai, who wrote a biography of Sonia Gandhi. "The problem with Congress is that they haven't looked for leaders beyond the Gandhis. There is no think tank in the party, there are no big ideas anymore."
For all the talk of the need for change, the party's Pavlovian response has been to close ranks behind the Gandhis and insist there is nothing wrong with its strategy.
"Politically, he (Rahul) has taken responsibility for the poor performance of the party because he led from the front. That's what leaders do," said Sachin Pilot, junior federal minister for communications and a member of the Gandhi family's inner circle.
"He is obviously disappointed but I don't think he is dejected," he added. "We are all looking to working with Rahul Gandhi in the future so there's no change on that front. It doesn't change the agenda of the party or what we stand for. It's a setback, but it's not a defeat."
TRYST WITH DESTINY
For decades after Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul's great-grandfather, delivered his stirring "tryst with destiny" speech on the eve of independence from Britain 65 years ago, the Gandhi family has dominated politics in the world's biggest democracy.
The succession of prime ministers and Congress party leaders from the family echoed the right to rule of an English monarchy. And the assassinations of Nehru's daughter Indira when she was prime minister in 1984 and grandson Rajiv as he campaigned for elections in 1991 brought an air of tragic glamour akin to that of America's Kennedy clan.
Now, reverence for the secretive Gandhis and their party is ebbing away in a country where, after a decade of stellar economic growth, aspirations have shifted.
"Family, in these egalitarian times, is an inadequate rationale for office," wrote M.J. Akbar, a former Congress parliamentarian and once a trusted Gandhi family insider, in the India Today weekly. "It (the Congress) can either be a national trust or family property, not both."
Promises made by increasingly powerful regional parties now carry more weight for many voters than those of Congress, which is seen as out of touch, aloof and stuck in a past where candidates did little more than show up at election rallies, bandy about the Gandhi name and offer handouts for the poor.
The humiliating defeat in Uttar Pradesh - and in two of four other states that went to the polls - will further weaken the struggling coalition government led by Congress as the country heads toward general elections due in two years.
The trouncing has triggered speculation in New Delhi that Congress will be forced into early elections but, with peculiar logic, opposition parties may prefer to bide their time.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, architect of reforms launched in 1991 that delivered India's economic boom, was already a lame duck before this latest blow. His government has been buffeted by corruption scandals and - saddled with mercurial allies whose support it desperately needs - takes few policy risks, shying away from reforms that could give the economy a shot in the arm.
"The government may not fall immediately, but all allies are turning the knife harder and harder into Congress," said a leader of the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who declined to be named. "A weak Congress suits not just the opposition but all its allies and supporting parties."
Meanwhile, Congress is likely to revert back to its decades-old vision of democratic socialism to appeal to the rural masses.
Reforms in land acquisition and foreign investment rules and of costly fuel subsidies are crucial to lift an economy headed for its slowest growth in three years. However, Congress is more likely to tilt towards populism in the run-up to the 2014 poll, which will mean more spending on social programmes such as a pledge to provide universal food security.
The state election debacle may also raise fresh questions about the assumption that Rahul will take over as leader of the party from his 65-year-old mother, who underwent surgery last year for an undisclosed condition widely suspected to be cancer.
If Rahul could not deliver for the party in Uttar Pradesh, many will ask, what hope will there be with six times as many voters in 2014?
"This is a huge, huge setback, particularly for Rahul Gandhi," said a political insider who has worked closely with Prime Minister Singh. "There were already murmurs in the party about his style of leadership and his ability to deliver votes."
When TV news anchorman Rajdeep Sardesai jeered at one Congress official as the election results came in "Your only face is the family", he was highlighting the party's biggest flaw: apart from Rahul, there are few potential leaders among the younger ranks of the party.
Indeed, the most radical change some party insiders talk of is Rahul being replaced or joined by his sister, Priyanka, 40.
Married with two children, Rahul's younger sibling has shown no inclination to enter politics full time, though many believe that with her outgoing personality and striking resemblance to her grandmother, Indira Gandhi, she holds more promise for the party than her brother.
"Congress will rally around Rahul," said Saeed Naqvi, an Observer Research Foundation fellow and veteran journalist. "This is a party that doesn't easily abandon its leader."
But Naqvi mocked Rahul's political track record, noting that in nearly eight years as a lawmaker his most notable contribution in the lower house of parliament was a two-page statement on corruption that he read out. "It's a complete and deliberate fraud on the nation," Naqvi said.
Rahul did mature as a public speaker on the campaign trail, building the confidence to deliver lengthy and forceful off-the-cuff speeches. He looked increasingly comfortable in the dusty plains of Uttar Pradesh, addressing tens of thousands in the colloquial Hindi of the region, and clambering down from rickety stages to mix with the people.
However, it was another young man who stole the limelight.
Akhilesh Yadav, the 38-year-old son of the one-time wrestler whose party won the Uttar Pradesh election, out-maneuvered Gandhi as a grassroots campaigner, projecting a rustic, homespun image that resonated with voters as he rode around the state on a bicycle.
The lesson for Congress is that it needs to reinvent and rebuild itself with credible regional leaders in a country where power is shifting to the states.
It will also need to rethink its strategy of courting Hindu caste groups and Muslims as votebanks, which worked for decades but cuts less ice these days among citizens who care more about empowerment and development than communal interests.
The more optimistic within Congress say Rahul's campaigning will bear fruit in the national election.
"Issues are different in state elections," said Pilot, the minister. "This is a cyclical thing. The Congress party is not a one-election party or a one-state party, we have to keep looking ahead."
Rahul made just one public appearance after the Uttar Pradesh results were announced, on the lawn of his New Delhi bungalow, where he took responsibility for the washout.
"I expect to have victories along the way and I expect to have defeats," he said. "I take it in my stride. I think it is a very good lesson for me."
Then he walked back indoors, one hand on the shoulder of his sister Priyanka, who put an arm around his waist.
(Additional reporting by Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Dean Yates)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6340 on: Mar 12th, 2012, 07:20am »
Drug users' union in San Francisco part of growing movement
Some members are clean, but most are not. They have joined together to work for decriminalization and battle disease, injury and death among users.
By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times 6:45 PM PDT, March 11, 2012 Reporting from San Francisco
Heroin shooters, speed users, pot smokers and even some men and women who now are drug-free convene regularly in this city's gritty Tenderloin district — not for treatment, but to discuss public health policy and share their experiences free from shame or blame.
On this particular evening, the dozen or so in attendance had some pressing questions, including how those heading to a users' conference in Oregon this fall would obtain their methadone or safely procure other drugs to use in a supervised injection room.
"We have to figure that out," said Isaac Jackson, the group's senior organizer. The 56-year-old, who holds a doctorate in media arts and sciences from MIT, turned to speed in his mid-30s. "Nobody should [skip] this conference because they're afraid they're not going to get their dose."
This is the San Francisco Drug Users Union, one of a few such groups in the U.S. and part of a growing worldwide movement of thousands who, according to the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, are demanding a voice "in decision-making processes that affect our lives."
In the coming months, members of the San Francisco group plan to testify before a city panel on housing discrimination; co-host the first conference in the U.S. by and for drug users; and hold a design contest for a safe-injection site similar to one in Vancouver, Canada, where public health workers provide sterile needles and intervene in cases of overdose. They also have crafted a manual for medical personnel, to be released later this month, in hopes that drug users will get better emergency care.
The group's ultimate goal is decriminalization, an unlikely prospect but one increasingly debated by policy analysts who contend that the four-decade "war on drugs" has exacerbated social ills.
Linked to the harm-reduction movement — a philosophy that aims to reduce disease, injury and death among drug users without passing judgment or demanding abstinence — the union mostly hopes to put a face on those whom, Jackson said, "most people despise."
"People say, 'You're a drug user, you brought this on yourself,' " Jackson said. "Do people say that when you're 300 pounds with heart problems from eating McDonald's every day?"
Barbara Garcia, director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health, opposes the injection site for now but said she welcomes the union's organized advocacy. "We may not be able to always give them what they want," Garcia said, "but we're here to listen."
The union — with about five dozen members who attend meetings — eschews words like "addict" and "abuser." It neither encourages nor discourages use. At the recent meeting, one man who took a long bathroom break emerged to alternate between dozing on the couch and scratching himself, signs of an opiate high.
Jackson said that injecting is not condoned at either the biweekly meetings or in individual workshops, but "we know who our members are." A biohazard box is available in the bathroom for dirty syringes. The door latch is flimsy by design so it can be opened if someone hits the floor.
The rules are simple: No dealing at meetings. You can be high, but don't be disruptive.
San Francisco police haven't interfered with the union's activities, focusing drug enforcement on dealing and related street crimes. Reflecting that ethos, San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon recently said that he believes drug use "is a health problem, not a crime problem, and should be dealt with accordingly."
The leaseholder on the cozy office space members call their "community living room" is the Harm Reduction Therapy Center, which also provides the union with financial support. The rug is faded, the couch comfortable and the walls covered with straight-talking pamphlets about drugs, disease and overdose. Anyone who seeks treatment can easily find it.
The harm reduction philosophy has deep roots in this city, whose public health department in 2000 was the first in the nation to adopt the approach. The city funds an overdose prevention education group that prescribes antidotes and provides training on administering them to opiate users. San Francisco General Hospital has established a wound-care clinic for injection drug users.
Half an hour before a recent meeting, the center's security gate creaked open and Gary West, who became a paid organizer after proving himself a reliable and enthusiastic union member, welcomed others as the blues wafted from a small boom box. There is an easy vibe of shared affinity.
Skyler Foster, 53, has been a regular since he heard about the union two years ago while at a clinic that treats and educates drug users with Hepatitis C.
A gaunt man with graying hair, Foster weighed in on the group's medical manual and asked about the upcoming design contest for the injection site.
"It's important that this type of advocacy is around," Foster said. "You go in, you get shot down, and you feel like crap when you come out of these hospitals."
Lydia Blumberg, 34, no longer uses methamphetamine but said she felt a weight lifted the minute she walked into her first union meeting. An arrest record for "being high in my own house" has prompted landlords to turn her away, she said. Yet the deepest wounds come from what she described as society's demonization of drug users.
"I felt I didn't deserve to be loved or respected by people who didn't use illegal drugs," Blumberg said.
Drug users unions first took shape in the Netherlands in the 1970s with the Junkiebonden, which sought to stem the spread of Hepatitis C through distribution of clean needles, said Merrill Singer, a University of Connecticut anthropologist.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic added urgency to such efforts, and in time groups led by public health advocates took root in Europe, Australia and Canada. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, now funded by public health officials, was formed in 1998 and played a key role in creating the Western hemisphere's first — and so far only — safe-injection site in 2003. Europe has nearly 100 such facilities.
The movement is relatively new to the U.S., Singer said, because of "racism and class discrimination, which are intimately bound together in our conception" of drug users.
America's first official drug users union formed in New York in 2005, followed by one in Seattle that more recently morphed into the Urban Survivors Union.
The seed was planted in San Francisco — which decades ago pioneered a needle-exchange program — after Jackson attended a city-sponsored conference in 2007 to explore the possibility of a safe-injection site. He and two others got a grant from the national Drug Policy Alliance, which continues to fund the union and seeks to roll back what it considers "excesses of the drug war" that have led to high incarceration rates, particularly among minorities.
The union held its first meeting in 2010.
Jackson, who breaks easily into a mischievous grin and favors offbeat T-shirts, jokes that his regularly offered safety tips have led others to view him as "the Boy Scout of drug users." He still uses but said his approach is more responsible than in his younger days. "I'm being myself," he said. "I'm being an example to other users."
Whether the union's agenda will advance is an open question.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee balked last year at a task force recommendation supporting a safe-injection site, and Garcia believes no neighborhood will accept one. Yet Lee plans to visit Seattle to learn about its "wet house," where homeless alcohol abusers are able to drink freely while receiving counseling and support to help them cut back.
To Dr. Eric Woodard, San Francisco General Hospital's medical director of psychiatric emergency services, "treating underserved, vulnerable populations is part of our mission." Woodard's staff and union members have begun working together, sharing information about batches of bad street drugs. "I think it's good that they've banded together to make their needs known," Woodard said of union members.
To many users, that respect is key.
West moved here from Detroit after hearing about the union.
Although he was homeless, he spent his days volunteering — walking for miles distributing fliers for the group. He said he went to Haight-Ashbury for "historical value" and Fisherman's Wharf because the notices tickled tourists. Two years later, West has a place to live and a paycheck.
"It gave me something to belong to," said West, 48. "It let me say what I know without the stigma and the frowns. This … turned around my whole life."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6341 on: Mar 12th, 2012, 07:23am »
New York Times
March 12, 2012 Exxon, Iraq Agree on West Qurna Oilfield Payments By REUTERS
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil and Baghdad have reached agreement for the U.S.-based company to be paid in oil for work on the huge West Qurna-1 oilfield, after months of negotiations over contract terms, an Iraqi oil official said.
The foreign oil companies involved in Iraq's oil expansion generally prefer to be compensated for capital expenditure and service fees in oil, because cash payments are more complicated to arrange.
BP , which leads the Rumaila project, and Italy's Eni, leader of the Zubair project, had signed up to Iraq's oil sales agreement from the outset, the first step towards being paid in crude.
Exxon and minority partner Royal Dutch Shell held out as they sought to tighten up some contractual loose ends, said an industry source.
After lengthy negotiations, the parties have reached an agreement, in which the world's largest publicly traded oil company also will get paid in crude, the Iraqi official said. Exxon and Shell spent $910 million on West Qurna-1 last year and were repaid $470 million in cash.
"In principle there is agreement, although there is nothing in writing yet," he said by telephone from Baghdad. "Exxon asked us to rephrase some of the wording, which in general will not affect the provisions of (State Oil Marketing Organization) SOMO's oil export agreement."
Iraq has signed service contracts with international oil companies targeting a total production capacity of 12 million barrels per day by 2017. But industry observers say infrastructure problems and logistical bottlenecks are likely to limit their output to about half that level.
Under the terms of Iraq's service contracts, it is crucial for companies to be paid on a timely basis for their projects to be profitable.
The U.S. oil and gas major has angered Baghdad by signing an exploration deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which the central government considers illegal.
The KRG announced in November the signing of a deal for six exploration blocs with Exxon, the first major oil company to deal directly with the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said last week the company was committed to working in both areas of the country.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6342 on: Mar 12th, 2012, 07:27am »
Uploaded by 2006ZAHIR on Mar 8, 2012
An object ( possibly two ) rising from a crater on the moon and moving across the Moons surface hugging the curve of the Moon. I think the crater is called Mare FertiIitatis ,correct me if I am wrong. I don't know how to zoom into the area with the moving object but did my best to highlight it with a few simple filters for definition. At first it looks oblong shape but then in the shot where it is nearest to my view it looks spherical. When it first starts to move it does look like there is possibly two objects but the second one stays near the crater. My faithful old camera is a fujifinepix with an 18x lens not brilliant but it took the footage shown here. I hope you find it interesting
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6343 on: Mar 12th, 2012, 07:30am »
Futures slip after China trade data
By Chuck Mikolajczak Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:16am EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures edged lower on Monday as economic data in China gave investors reason to pause after a three-day rally.
China's trade balance plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade and fuel doubts about the extent to which frail foreign demand or seasonal distortion drove the drop.
The data cast some doubt on global economic growth prospects after Friday's payrolls report pointed to an improving domestic economy and pushed equities to their fourth straight weekly gain.
Investors will also eye Tuesday's statement from the Federal Open Market Committee for any indications in the direction on monetary policy.
"With little fresh news to tip the scales either way, the market is looking for the next theme to take hold - the market is sitting right at a key resistance area looking for a push through what has been a significant hurdle," said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at Lek Securities in New York.
"The market has had a clear upside bias, and once this hurdle is surpassed there is the potential for a surge higher, perhaps to 1,440" for the S&P 500 index, Bakhos said.
China's central bank also said the country has ample room to tweak policy to support credit growth in the face of volatile foreign capital flows that will inevitably see market forces play a greater role in determining the value of the yuan currency.
S&P 500 futures fell 2 points and were slightly above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures shed 1 point, and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 4.75 points.
Japan's Asahi Kasei Corp will buy U.S. medical equipment maker Zoll Medical Corp for $2.21 billion as Asahi Kasei looks to build a globally competitive healthcare business and reduce its reliance on its chemicals and fiber operations.
Molycorp Inc is set to buy Neo Material Technologies Inc in a C$1.3 billion ($1.31 billion) cash-and-share deal that will give Molycorp access to Neo's rare earth processing capabilities and patents.
Youku Inc dropped 10 percent to $22.50 in premarket after China's largest online video company said it will buy second-ranked Tudou Holdings Ltd in an all-stock deal valued at more than $1 billion. Tudou shares surged 117.8 percent to $33.52 in light premarket trade.
U.S. airline JetBlue Airways Corp has spoken to the management of Aer Lingus about the possible purchase of a stake in the Irish airline, the Irish Times newspaper reported on Monday, citing informed sources.
Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group SA said Tiffany & Co had served it with a 541.9 million franc ($590 million) counter-claim in a legal dispute with the U.S. jeweler over a severed cooperation agreement.
Federal prosecutors have nixed a tentative $1 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson, holding out for a bigger settlement with the drugmaker for alleged improper marketing of its Risperdal schizophrenia drug, the Wall Street Journal said.
European stocks reversed early losses and turned slightly positive on Monday, reviving a three-session rally as investors shrugged off grim Italian economic growth data and the triggering of Greek credit default swaps to chase euro-zone banking stocks higher.
Asian shares fell as investors paused to assess the effect of strong U.S. jobs data, which scaled back expectations of more easing ahead of this week's Federal Reserve meeting, while uncertainty over Chinese growth also weighed on sentiment.