Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31:

1999 : Panama Canal turned over to Panama

On this day in 1999, the United States, in accordance with the
Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially hands over control of the
Panama Canal, putting the strategic waterway into Panamanian
hands for the first time. Crowds of Panamanians celebrated the
transfer of the 50-mile canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific
oceans and officially opened when the SS Arcon sailed through
on August 15, 1914. Since then, over 922,000 ships have used
the canal.

Interest in finding a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific
originated with explorers in Central America in the early 1500s.
In 1523, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commissioned a survey
of the Isthmus of Panama and several plans for a canal were
produced, but none ever implemented. U.S. interest in building a
canal was sparked with the expansion of the American West and
the California gold rush in 1848. (Today, a ship heading from
New York to San Francisco can save about 7,800 miles by taking
the Panama Canal rather than sailing around South America.)

In 1880 a French company run by the builder of the Suez Canal
started digging a canal across the Isthmus of Panama
(then a part of Colombia). More than 22,000 workers died from
tropical diseases such as yellow fever during this early phase of
construction and the company eventually went bankrupt, selling
its project rights to the United States in 1902 for $40 million.
President Theodore Roosevelt championed the canal, viewing
it as important to America's economic and military interests.
In 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia in
a U.S.-backed revolution and the U.S. and Panama signed the
Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, in which the U.S. agreed to pay
Panama $10 million for a perpetual lease on land for the canal,
plus $250,000 annually in rent.

Over 56,000 people worked on the canal between 1904 and
1913 and over 5,600 lost their lives. When finished, the canal,
which cost the U.S. $375 million to build, was considered a
great engineering marvel and represented America's
emergence as a world power.

In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian protest,
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panama's General Omar Torrijos
signed two new treaties that replaced the original 1903 agreement
and called for a transfer of canal control in 1999. The treaty,
narrowly ratified by the U.S. Senate, gave America the ongoing
right to defend the canal against any threats to its neutrality.
In October 2006, Panamanian voters approved a $5.25 billion plan
to double the canal's size by 2015 to better accommodate modern

Ships pay tolls to use the canal, based on each vessel's size and
cargo volume. In May 2006, the Maersk Dellys paid a record toll of
$249,165. The smallest-ever toll--36 cents--was paid by Richard
Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928.


General Interest
1999 : Panama Canal turned over to Panama
1600 : Charter granted to the East India Company
1775 : Patriots defeated at Quebec
1879 : Edison demonstrates incandescent light
1968 : Soviets test supersonic airliner

Financial Crisis Sends Tuition Costs Sky-High as Colleges Face Crunch

By Pedro de la Torre III, Campus Progress. Posted December 31, 2008.

Not everyone is suffering equally: low and middle income students are particularly vulnerable in the current economic environment.

Students are often the last ones given a seat at the budget table when times are good, and the first to be put on the table when bearish economies (or the desire to give tax breaks to millionaires) necessitate painful budget cuts. Certainly, this was the case in the so-called "raid on student aid" in 2006, and is part of the reason that a recent report awarded every state in the country, except for California, an "F" when it comes to college affordability.

Economic turmoil is taking a serious toll on college and state government budgets, and most students are already feeling the pinch of austerity. Not everyone is suffering equally, however: low and middle income students are particularly vulnerable in the current economic environment.

States across the country are getting hit hard by shrinking tax revenue, and are finding themselves in the red for the upcoming year. That means that they will, or already are, under pressure to slash college budgets, and possibly even trim state student aid programs. The cuts to higher education will, in turn harm public colleges which will need to turn to other sources of revenue.

These alternate sources of revenue will be much more limited than in the past, however, and this spells trouble for students at both public and private colleges. Endowments are taking at beating as the stock market, real estate market, and other markets plummet. The near-frozen credit markets are causing cash-flow problems at some schools.

That leaves one major source of funding for colleges and universities: get students to make up the difference. While a few colleges have temporarily frozen tuition, most colleges will be looking for ways to pass the buck onto students or their families. Colleges are trying a combination of tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, and diminished student aid and services.

There are always a large number of students that find a gap between the amount of federal aid they are awarded and the full cost of attendance. If a school does not step in and fill the gap with its own funds, that student may just have to find a different, cheaper school, or forgo higher education altogether.

This gap can be the intended consequence of a calculated strategy. Many schools use student aid and tuition discounts to maximize the number of (wealthy or dangerously indebted) students paying higher portions of the tuition bill. It is called "financial aid leveraging." The Atlantic once explained how it works very well:

Take a $20,000 scholarship -- the full tuition for a needy student at some schools. Break it into four scholarships of $5,000 each for wealthier students who would probably go elsewhere without the discounts but will pay the outstanding tuition if they can be lured to your school. Over four years the school will reap an extra $240,000, which can be used to buy more rich students -- or gifted students who will improve the school’s profile and thus its desirability and revenue.

In other words, wealthy students tend to receive larger student aid packages on average from their schools than low income students do. Additionally, many colleges will be under more pressure to drop "need-blind" policies, where schools do not consider financial need as part of the admission process,, and "full-need" policies, where schools guarantee that all students will have their financial needs met. Both tend to benefit low-income students. Tufts University, for example, told the New York Times that they may no longer be able to afford to be need-blind policies.


See more stories tagged with: college, financial crisis, tuition, affordability, low income students

Pedro de la Torre III is an Advocacy Senior Associate at Campus Progress. He graduated from University of Texas–Austin.

My Dangerous Encounter With a Supermarket Security Guard & His Gun

By Linda Milazzo, AlterNet. Posted December 31, 2008.

'For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear.' Was it a Brink's guard or a Blackwater mercenary pointing his gun at her?

For years, since the United States invaded Iraq, I've witnessed countless photo and video images of innocent civilians -- men, women, teens and children -- being rudely and aggressively threatened by hired uniformed militants (mostly men), wielding guns. I've seen these images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Palestine and more. Whether they be armed American military threatening Iraqis, armed Israeli soldiers threatening Palestinians, or armed Ethiopian troops threatening Somalis, the images have always disturbed me. There's an inherent injustice to such blatant imbalance of power. An injustice I suffered recently myself.

The oddity here is that unlike those less-fortunate innocents in war zones who faced the guns of hired aggressors, I was not in a war zone when I faced mine. I wasn't even in a high-crime zone. I was in a gentle middle-class suburb, where my aggressor, an armed Brink's, Inc. security guard, was in full combat mode performing his non-war-zone duty. My aggressor more typified the machismo of a Blackwater guard than the demeanor of community-minded Brink's, when he flailed his loaded gun at me, as though he'd done it often before. My armed Brink's aggressor was not merely disrespectful. He was downright hostile and dangerous. He treated me as his enemy and freely showed me his force.

Here's how it happened:

On Nov. 6, at approximately 12:45 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, I walked through a parking lot en route to my neighborhood Albertsons market to pick up a prescription. I paid no mind to the Brink's armored truck to my right, as it waited alongside the store. The second I reached the store entrance, the uniformed Brink's guard emerged from the market with his gun outstretched, pointing in my direction. His face was turned away from his gun, leaving him unaware of my presence. Before I knew it, I'd walked right up to his gun, stopping inches before colliding. The suddenness of my stop thrust me slightly forward. I was so close to his gun that I saw its every groove -- from its "sexy" color and shape -- to its perfect fit in his hand. Its glimmer still glares in my mind.

Just then the guard turned and saw me and completely lost his cool. He flinched at my proximity just as I flinched at his. He became more aggressive despite my obvious fear. Instead of assessing that I was no threat and pulling back to allay my fear, he took the opposite tact. He became more aggressive and waved me off with his loaded gun, shaking it threateningly to move me away. I responded without hesitation, believing that if I hadn't, I might end up dead. In that one brief encounter, my entire 59 years of believing I was fearless evaporated in air. For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear and a vulnerability I'd never known.

I entered the market and went immediately to customer service to tell the store director what happened. I was clearly upset as I entered, as the store video would later show. Without going into further detail on what transpired in the store, let me just say that the store director at Albertsons couldn't care less. That part of my investigation is continuing, and has direct impact on why this article is being published today rather than closer to the date of the incident. Suffice it to say, Albertsons-Supervalu has steadily dropped the ball and is only fully coming on board now. Brink's, after all, is contracted by Albertsons. I'm Albertsons' customer -- not Brink's.

To be fair to this Brink's guard, and to those who work in armed-security services, I've learned quite a bit about the mind-set and dangers of being an armed guard. In fact, it's a highly dangerous profession, and in many ways, as underscored by a veteran LAPD officer with whom I spoke, more perilous than traditional law enforcement. In the realm of private security, where guards are transporting items of value, attackers hit directly at them. This differs from traditional law enforcers, who are commonly the pursuers and rarely the pursued. Thus Brink's guards and all private security who protect high-value targets must be hypervigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times. In fact, numerous Brink's and other security guards have been killed and wounded on the job.

Nonetheless, as I've also learned, Brink's guards have the option to unholster their weapons or to keep them in place as each situation demands. The guard who flailed his loaded firearm at me, unholstered it (as shown in the store video) and brandished it threateningly even though there was no imminent threat to his safety. His combat-style overzealous use of his weapon, his extreme edginess and his failure to accurately gauge his surroundings, resulted in a near collision between me and his gun that could have easily ended my life.

It's legal in California for a licensed private security guard to unholster his or her firearm if he or she perceives danger. Should the gun be unholstered, it must be pointed down. In my case, this gun was pointed toward me. At the time and date of my incident, no report of anything unusual in or around Albertsons was called by this guard, or by his team, in to the San Fernando headquarters where they're housed. Nor was anything out of the ordinary reported to the staff at the Albertsons before the guard left. The guard's clear view of the parking lot through the exit-way window, which would have shown me approaching, along with the full view of the parking lot for the driver of the armored vehicle, indicated no impending danger. Yet this guard unnecessarily and dangerously withdrew his weapon and launched into full combat-mode. He entered the parking lot with a brandished loaded firearm, and thus he endangered innocent civilians.


See more stories tagged with: security guards, armed guards, brinks, linda milazzo

Linda Milazzo is a Los Angeles writer, educator and activist. Since 1974, she has divided her time between the entertainment industry, government organizations & community development projects and educational programs.

Sleeping Around Craigslist

By Anna Reed and Lily Penza, East Bay Express. Posted July 9, 2008.

Two middle-aged women discover that casual sex can be anything but casual.

AlterNet is resurfacing some of the best and most popular articles published in 2008. In this piece, published this July, Anna Reed and Lily Penza go undercover to explore what sex life is like on Craigslist.

It takes a woman about a thousand words and a condom to get laid on Craigslist. But for a woman to be laid properly -- by a passionate lover who knows what he's doing -- well, that's a whole different ball game.

We are both middle-aged women who have spent the past 11 months sleeping around Craigslist. At an age when most women were sending their firstborns off to college, we found ourselves -- through chance and circumstance -- single, tumescent and ripe for adventures. Those adventures have spanned 10 counties and four states and involved roughly 45,000 e-mailed words, 27 phone calls, 36 face-to-face initial dates and 13 actual lovers -- and re-aggravated our carpal tunnel syndrome from all the typing.

Years before embarking on Craigslist, both of us had experienced sexual abandonment. We were both hungry for intimacy and physical touch after years of wandering in the desert. Our lives were on similar trajectories.

Lily Penza, 46, had been overweight since her teens and suffered from dangerously low self-esteem. At age 28, she moved in with the first man who looked her way. It was a virtually sexless union for 10 years before a therapist helped her come to her senses and move on. Lily never married and spent most of her life caring for an ill parent who died recently. So she lost 40 pounds and decided she would make up for lost time.

Anna Reed is a 50-year-old who, as a young woman, had been raped and pressured into sex during the so-called sexual revolution. She had read books on women's sexuality -- Barbach, Tisdale, Jong, Hite and Nin -- but each held only a small piece of the puzzle. Not one of these authors could tell her as much about sexuality as her own inner life did. Emerging from a stale and sexless marriage, she would do things her way this time around.

Lily turned to the free Craigslist personals because didn't want to spend any money getting laid. She started answering ads last July. She was open to every person and every experience -- even Republicans, as long as they could kiss. Lily told her close friends about how thoroughly she would be sleeping around, joking, "I want my vagina to have call-waiting." Now she is enjoying the adolescence she never had, dating like an oversexed high school student but armed with the wisdom and savvy of a woman in her 40s.

Anna decided to try Craigslist because she found other online dating sites too silly. Now, despite her wrinkles and middle-age spread, she "dates" a multitude of guys. But they aren't really dates. "We don't go places together; they sometimes buy lunch but just as often they don't. I'm sleeping with them. Actually, that's a euphemism; we have sex." With a lover whose bad back has him on the injured reserve list, Anna knows what to do: click on "Casual Encounters" and start the e-mail banter that almost always leads to a meeting. "I don't have a boyfriend," she says, "I have a team roster."

Lily and Anna are not our real names, but then you probably knew that was coming. Virtually everyone on Craigslist lies about something: their name, their age, their weight, their marital status, maybe even their penis or bra size. For the purposes of this story, we have changed everyone's names to protect their privacy.

The two of us met when Anna answered an ad that Lily's then-boyfriend, Scott, posted on Craigslist. Lily and Scott were seeking a third partner to join a menage a trois. Before anybody actually met face to face, Lily dumped Scott and canceled the threesome, but she became e-mail pals with her would-have-been sex partner, Anna.

Once we met, we realized we had a lot in common, and began sharing our respective experiences. Our adventures have included the hot, the not-so-hot, and some potential hook-ups that never even got off the ground. There were memorable ones, like Lily's first date, which ended at 3:30 a.m. at the Power Exchange sex club. Or the ex-con who went down on Anna for an hour straight.

There were forgettable ones too, like the alcoholic art dealer, or the guy who excused himself in the middle of sex to smoke a cigarette. And there have been multiple-partner dates, which involved average-looking East Bay residents who swing, tie up, dominate, submit, and spank.

What kind of sex did we find? Some of the lovemaking was wonderful, a lot of it was initially awkward but got better as time went on, and some of it was downright disastrous. Upending the notion of "Casual Encounters" -- as Craigslist dubs its "Just Looking to Get Laid Tonight" category -- we both discovered that casual sex is anything but.

Perhaps because we are highly verbal, our initial Craigslist encounters involved a ream of e-mail. Sometimes we just coordinated the logistics of the hookup, but equally often, we wrote and received profoundly intimate and revealing letters -- an epistolary of erotic stories.

Then there is the issue of sexual chemistry, which is arbitrary, inexplicable and largely unpredictable. Terrific e-mail connections don't guarantee a sizzling face-to-face meeting. And not everyone keeps their word. More than once, last-minute cancellations left us calling one another for support, or just drunk, horny and alone with a DSL connection.


See more stories tagged with: women, dating, craigslist, middle age

The Bizarre Life and Angry Times of Bill O'Reilly

The Bizarre Life and Angry Times of Bill O'Reilly

The Bizarre Life and Angry Times of Bill O'Reilly
By John Dolan, AlterNet

O'Reilly's book tells the tale of how he blustered

and threatened his way through life to reach

TV stardom. Read more »

Lorelei Kelly: Israel, Stop! Just. Stop.



Lorelei Kelly: Israel, Stop! Just. Stop.

Lorelei Kelly: Killing lots of people on the other side is not only ineffective, it is counterproductive. It hurts your cause. It gets more of your own people killed in the long run. Like Israel -- whose overwhelmingly violent response to Hamas rocket attacks seems to lack the most basic strategic or political meaning -- and where language such as "self-defense" -- words from the disconnected and bygone era of nation states -- seems quaint and almost entirely inaccurate. "Defense" doesn't mean the same thing when one antagonist is a state and the other a networked organization. It's like the US Army fighting the Salvation Army. It's like Bin Laden versus the USA. The same sets of policies and tools don't work anymore. They make things worse. So political leaders (including our own) need to stop framing this deadly mayhem as some sort of justified or normal behavior. If we don't start with our best friend, when will we ever understand how the nature of danger has changed for good? Click here to read more.

A Change We Can Believe In - Dumping Industrial Agriculture

A Change We Can Believe In - Dumping Industrial Agriculture

by Jim Goodman

As 2009 approaches, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes nearly a billion people a day go hungry worldwide. While India supplies Switzerland with 80% of its wheat, 350 million Indians are food-insecure. Rice prices have nearly tripled since early 2007 because, according to The International Rice Research Institute, rice-growing land is being lost to industrialization, urbanization and shifts to grain crops for animal feed.

Yet, according to FAO statistics, world food supplies have kept pace with population growth. There is enough food to adequately feed everyone. Clearly, root causes of the food crisis lie in politics, problems with food distribution, poverty and a failure of the industrial food system to deliver its promises.

Dr. Bob Watson, chief scientist for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, places the blame for the food price spikes on several factors; grain being shifted to animal feed, drought, increased use of grains for biofuels and speculation in food crops. While proponents assert that industrial agriculture is the only hope to end the food crisis, it appears that industrial agriculture is *causing* the food crisis.

A study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) found, that as industrial farming practices are adopted in countries like India, small farmers and landless peasants are forced off the land. Hundreds of vegetables and weeds that were part of the traditional diet are wiped out by mono-cultures and herbicides used on the Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Thus, as Margaret Visser tells us, more rice and wheat produced in India really meant less food and less nutrition.

In 1995 Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro addressed the Society of Environmental Journalists stating "The commercial industrial technologies (the Green Revolution) that are used in agriculture today to feed the world... are not inherently sustainable." Even Shapiro, was admitting the Green Revolution would fail. As George Kent notes in /The Political Economy of Hunger/, "the benefits of Green Revolution yields went into the mouths of rich world denizens, in the form of meat and processed foods"

IAASTD concluded that small-scale farmers in diverse ecosystems should be the focus of efforts to get better quality food in the right places. Farmers need better access to knowledge, technology and credit, but was biotechnology *the *technology ? Watson told the UK Daily Mail "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."

Study after study indicates small scale, integrated organic/low input sustainable production can produce more food, of higher nutritional value locally, where it is needed.

A 15 year study at the Rodale Institute showed similar yields for conventionally raised vs. organic corn and soy, with soil fertility being consistently higher in the organic systems.

The Broadbalk study in the UK, ongoing for over 150 years, shows higher yields in integrated organic systems over conventional systems with soil fertility remarkably in the organic system.

In /This Organic Life/, Joan Dye Gussow notes that prior to World War II, even with its harsh climate, Montana produced 70% of its own food, including fruit. Sustainably, organically on small farms.

The advantage of integrated organic and sustainable systems is even more apparent in the Global South where most farms are an acre or less. While "yield" per acre can be higher on large conventional farms, "total output" per acre, the sum of everything the farmer produces, is according to Peter Rosset in /The Ecologist/, far higher on small farms. More food, more nutrition, more animal feed.

Gardeners are familiar with the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash, three food crops that thrive together. This system of intercropping, has long been practiced by small scale indigenous farmers. Integrating livestock, manure and crop rotation makes the system even more productive in terms of food per acre.

According to Rosset, economists at the World Bank realize that redistribution of land to small farmers would promote greater food production, yet due to corporate and political pressure, the industrial farming model is promoted as the standard that will "feed the world." Helena Norberg-Hodge notes that the industrial food system became dominated by the "need for corporate profits, not the need to feed the global population".

Industrial farming has been an abysmal failure at feeding the world. The best hope, according to the IAASTD report, long term research and countless generations of indigenous farmers, lies with "small scale farmers in diverse eco-systems".

As for the US, we need sensible food policy; less grain for animals, more home and community gardens, farmer owned grain reserves, energy policy that does not use food for fuel and an end to food price speculation. That is a "Change we can believe in".

Jim Goodman, his wife Rebecca and brother Francis run a 45-cow organic dairy and direct market beef farm in SW Wisconsin. His farming roots trace back to his great-grandfathers immigration from Ireland during the famine and the farms original purchase in 1848. A farm activist, Jim credits over 150 years of failed farm and social policy with his motivation to advocate for a farmer controlled consumer oriented food system. Jim currently serves on the policy advisory boards for the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association, and is board president of the Midwest Organic Services Association.

Obama Can End Homeless Veterans’ Disgrace

Obama Can End Homeless Veterans’ Disgrace

by Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO - Roy Lee Brantley shivers in the cold December morning as he waits in line for food outside the Ark of Refuge mission, which sits amid warehouses and artists lofts a stone's throw from the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.

Brantley's beard is long, white and unkempt. The African-American man's skin wrinkled beyond his 62 years. He lives in squalor in a dingy residential hotel room with the bathroom down the hall. In some ways, his current situation marks an improvement. "I've slept in parks," he says, "and on the sidewalk. Now at least I have a room."

Like the hundreds of others in line for food, Brantley has worn the military uniform. Most, like Brantley, carry their service IDs and red, white and blue cards from the Department of Veterans Affairs in their wallets or around their necks. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. By the time he left the military five years later, Brantley had attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated for his valor and for the wounds he sustained in combat.

"I risked my life for this democracy and got a Bronze Star," he says. "I shed blood for this country and got the Purple Heart after a mortar blast sent shrapnel into my face and leg. But when I came back home from Vietnam I was having problems. I tried to hurt my wife because she was Filipino. Every time I looked at her I thought I was in Vietnam again. So we broke up."

In 1973, Brantley filed a disability claim with the federal government for mental wounds sustained in combat overseas. Over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his claim five separate times. "You go over there and risk your life for America and your mind's all messed up, America should take care of you, right," he says, knowing that for him and the other veterans in line for free food that promise has not been kept.

On any given night 200,000 U.S. veterans sleep homeless on the streets of America. One out of every four people -and one out of every three men -sleeping in a car, in front of a shop door, or under a freeway overpass has worn a military uniform. Some like Brantley have been on the streets for years. Others are young and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly slipping through the cracks.

For each of these homeless veterans, America's promise to "Support the Troops" ended the moment he or she took off the uniform and tried to make the difficult transition to civilian life. There, they encountered a hostile and cumbersome bureaucracy set up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a best-case scenario, a wounded veteran must wait six months to hear back from the VA. Those who appeal a denial have to wait an average of four and a half years for their answer. In the six months leading up to March 31st of this year, nearly 1,500 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claims would be approved by the government.

There are patriotic Americans trying to solve this problem. Last month, two veterans' organizations, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed suit in federal court demanding the government decide disability claims brought by wounded soldiers within three months. Predictably, however, the VA is trying to block the effort. On December 17, their lawyers convinced Reggie Walton, a judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a task for Congress and the president-not the courts.

President-elect Barack Obama has the power to end this national disgrace. He has the power to ensure to streamline the VA bureaucracy so it helps rather than fights those who have been wounded in the line of duty. He can ensure that this latest generation of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan does not receive the bum rap the Vietnam generation got. Let 2008 be the last year thousands of homeless veterans stand in line for free food during the holiday season. Let it be the last year hundreds of thousands sleep homeless on the street.

Aaron Glantz, is the author of "The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans" (University of California Press). Reach him at

War Will Not Bring Peace in Afghanistan

War Will Not Bring Peace in Afghanistan

by Deborah Storie

'What is Kevin Rudd like?" "What type of man is he?" "Will he win the election?" Afghan friends and colleagues assailed me with these questions when I returned to Afghanistan in October last year. Their obsession with our federal election bemused me. Ten years ago they didn't know when Australian elections were or that Australia had a prime minister.

My friends explained: "Your next prime minister is very important to us. We need to know whether he will be someone else who believes that guns are the answer to everything. You see if he is different, and if the next American president is different, if they are people of peace, then maybe there is hope for us."

Fifteen months later, Kevin Rudd, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President-elect Barack Obama insist that scaling up the military intervention will make Afghanistan and the world safer. But war can resolve neither Afghanistan's conflicts nor the spectre of global terrorism. More troops and more guns will only plunge Afghanistan further into violence.

At the 2020 Summit, public psychologist Kate Barrelle explained how military interventions and economic sanctions can enforce compliance by "putting a lid on" resistance. The longer that lid remains in place, the more resentment wells up beneath it. When military or economic force increases, the pressure erupts in spurts of violence, such as increasing numbers of suicide bombers. Eventually, the lid gives and widespread violence explodes.

The military intervention might have worked had it moved immediately from deposing the Taliban to disarmament and then rapidly scaled down. It didn't. NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan now numbers 47,600 troops, including 1090 Australians. With special forces and private security companies there are 70,000 troops in a country of about 32 million - one foreign soldier for every 460 Afghans.

The Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief reports that non-government organisations cannot work in many regions where military units are active. Many rural communities consider international troops a major threat to their safety. And then there are the guns. Interceptions of "illegal munitions" receive international media coverage

as "bad guns". We only hear about "legal" weapons when "terrorists" destroy military consignments en route to Afghanistan.

According to the Kabul Times, private security firms imported more than 800,000 guns last year - one for every 40 Afghans. The Afghan Government's attempts to stem this influx were overruled. These are "good guns". Instead of disarming Afghanistan, we've super-armed it.

Some aid and development workers refuse to travel in military planes, patronise coffee shops that have armed guards or travel under "armed protection". This is partially self-interest - keeping such company is dangerous - and partially a principled refusal to support a security industry that generates and depends on fear. War economies thrive when fear erodes the foundations of peace.

Pedestrians lower their heads when they pass armed men in uniform: police, soldiers, guards. "Lambs by day," they say. "Wolves by night." Experience has taught them what empirical studies show: the availability of firearms and their presence in public directly correlates with the prevalence of violence.

In 2007, about 70 Afghan nationals were reported kidnapped in Kabul each month. Each morning, a family sends its four children in four directions to attend four schools. Why? "We don't want to lose them all at once."

I walked to the Kabul office one morning when two boys passed slowly on a bike. They asked each other, "Dakheli ya khareji?" ("A local or a foreigner?") I responded, "Khareji ya dakheli, chi farq mekuna?" ("Foreigner or local, what difference does it make?") They laughed. "If you had been a foreigner, we'd have thrown you into danger." I played along with the joke, "And may peace be upon you, too!"

The overwhelming majority of Australian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are brave men and women willing to die for the sake of others. Our desire to honour our soldiers does not oblige us to continue a counter-productive military campaign.

As an Afghan acquaintance confided, "Your governments think they are 'stamping out terrorism' ... They keep a score card and think they are winning because they count more dead Talibs than dead Americans. That's not how it works. But, if arithmetic is all your governments understand, tell them to look beyond their tally cards and see the trouble multiplying on the ground. For every Talib you kill, you make 10 more. For every mother you hurt, a thousand Talibs are born. You are breeding terror, not stamping it out."

Our motives and what the war costs us are not the main issues. The human consequences are much more important. Local capacities for peace and non-military alternatives need to be taken seriously.

This will necessarily involve conversation, respectful dialogue - and drinking tea.

What type of man is Kevin Rudd? Does he believe that guns are the answer to everything? A year ago, I told my Afghan friends: "I will vote for Kevin Rudd. I hope that he and his government will be different."

Rudd understands that he can best promote human rights in China within the context of respectful relationships. The same applies in Afghanistan. Rudd is rightly committed to promoting nuclear disarmament. The human suffering caused by small arms should prompt Rudd to extend his commitment to promote demilitarisation more generally. I would like to tell my Afghan friends that our still-quite-new Prime Minister is a man of peace. But I still don't know.

Deborah Storie, the deputy chair of TEAR Australia, lived and worked in Afghanistan from 1992 to 1998 and still visits and works in the country regularly.

Spill May Have Permanently Altered Tenn. Community

Spill May Have Permanently Altered Tenn. Community

by Kristin M. Hall

KINGSTON, Tenn. - A week after more than a billion gallons of coal ash broke through a retention pond dike and roared into a small river cove, the landscape has turned into a muddy pit that's little like the scenic spot that attracted people to live here.

[Workers and equipment work to clear Swamp Pond Road and the Rail Road tracks near the entrance to the TVA Kingston Steam Plant, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008, near Kingston, Tenn. The spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash from a power plant in East Tennessee may change the way the nation's largest government-owned utility stores coal waste. Roane County officials are pushing the Tennessee Valley Authority to quit using large retention ponds filled with water and fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)]Workers and equipment work to clear Swamp Pond Road and the Rail Road tracks near the entrance to the TVA Kingston Steam Plant, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008, near Kingston, Tenn. The spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash from a power plant in East Tennessee may change the way the nation's largest government-owned utility stores coal waste. Roane County officials are pushing the Tennessee Valley Authority to quit using large retention ponds filled with water and fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, J. Miles Cary)
The Emory River is clogged with giant chunks of gray ash sticking out of the water and trees ripped out by their roots and washed downstream during the Dec. 22 disaster. Ducks float in a film of sand-like residue on the surface. Dozens of pieces of heavy equipment are digging along the river to try to clean it of coal ash.

The Kingston Steam Plant, a coal-fired power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, sits on the confluence of two rivers, about 35 miles west of Knoxville.

The deluge destroyed three houses, displaced a dozen families and damaged 42 parcels of land, but there were no serious injuries.

There are 62 pieces of heavy machinery slowly gathering up the spilled ash from residential roads, railroad tracks and the river, plant manager Ron Hall said Monday.

But no one at TVA can say how long the cleanup will take and how thorough the restoration can be.

"It's almost like someone dying, because it's so permanent," said Crystell Flinn, whose home was swept away.

Hall said workers will pull the sludge out of the river using barges and skimmers, and dump trucks will carry it to a different site at the plant. But the material won't return to the large riverside retention ponds still there.

"We will not likely put in wet ash ponds again, even though they have shown to be structurally integral," TVA environmental executive Anda Ray said Monday. "We are looking at options for what to do long term for that ash disposal, but there are dry ash pond technologies."

In the days after the spill, officials are finding more reasons to be concerned about the possible harmful long-term effects. Federal officials on Monday cautioned residents who use private wells or springs to stop drinking the water.

But the area isn't densely populated, and TVA said that no more than four wells are in the spill area.

Samples taken near the spill slightly exceed drinking water standards for toxic substances, and arsenic in one sample was higher than the maximum level allowed for drinking water, according to a press release from TVA, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

Federal officials should have tests on the affected wells sometime this week.

"I think they (the wells) were beyond the actual slide point of the material," EPA spokeswoman Laura Niles said. "There shouldn't be direct impact, but that's why they are sampling."

Authorities have said the municipal water supply is safe to drink.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, but elevated levels can cause ailments ranging from nausea to partial paralysis, and long-term exposure has been linked to several types of cancer, according to the EPA.

Ray said arsenic levels were high because of the type of measurement that the EPA used, which included soil mixed in with water.

"Those samples were not dissolved arsenic," Ray said. "The dissolved arsenic, which is what you look at for drinking water samples, are undetectable in all the cases. The elevated arsenic that the EPA is referring to is the data that we collected when it was stirred up. It is routinely filtered out through all water treatment plants."

Environmental concerns could shift when the sludge containing the fly ash, a fine powdery material, dries out. The EPA and TVA have begun air monitoring and on Monday advised people to avoid activities that could stir up dust, such as children or pets playing outside.

The dust can contain metals, including arsenic, that irritate the skin and can aggravate pre-existing conditions like asthma, Niles said.

The EPA recommends that anyone exposed to the dust should wash thoroughly with soap and water and wash the affected clothes separately from other garments.

Ray said TVA will start installing sprinkler systems in areas where the ash has dried out to keep it moist.

Knoxville-based TVA supplies electricity to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

7 on Gaza

Peace Activists in Hawaii Urge Obama To Speak Out on Palestinian Crisis

After Four Days of Assault, No End in Sight for Gazans

Relief Boat, with Cynthia McKinney among Activists, 'Rammed' by Israeli Ship

World Powers Call for End to Gaza Fighting

Tariq Ali | From The Ashes of Gaza

Deena Guzder | Lights Out in Gaza, News Blackout in US

Chris Hedges | Party to Murder

A Very Bad Year

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist

George W. Bush.
George W. Bush presided over a very bad year. (Photo: Getty Images)

There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.
- Eugene O'Neill

The year 2008 began on a Tuesday. Matters went downhill swiftly from there.

On that first day of 2008, the Taliban threatened to further escalate attacks in Afghanistan, eight people died in Gaza amid the violence of the Fatah-Hamas conflict and US diplomat John Granville was murdered along with his driver in Sudan. After that first day of 2008, the price of crude oil jumped to $100 a barrel, five armed Iranian boats confronted US warships near the Strait of Hormuz and a Taliban attack upon the Serena Hotel in Kabul killed six people. The Pentagon announced they were sending an additional 3,200 marines to Afghanistan, the year's first significant stock market convulsion brought the Dow down 482 points, Barack Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, Clinton won New Hampshire and Florida and George W. Bush delivered the last State of the Union address of his presidency. Edmund Hillary died, Bobby Fischer died and Heath Ledger died. Forty American soldiers died in Iraq, seven American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in January of 2008.

At least 43 people were killed in Baghdad when bombs exploded in two marketplaces, the US military admitted accidentally killing nine civilians south of Baghdad and George W. Bush introduced a $3.1 trillion budget on top of a near-record deficit of $410 billion. Tornados killed 57 people in the Southern US, a $158 billion economic stimulus package failed to pass a procedural vote, but a subsequent $168 billion stimulus package was successfully passed. Hamas launched 20 rockets into Israel, a suicide bomber killed 20 people at a political rally in Pakistan and a car bomb killed 25 people in Iraq. The US Congress voted in favor of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies involved in the NSA surveillance scandal, voted against letting the CIA use "waterboarding" while interrogating prisoners and voted to hold Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt regarding the fired US attorneys scandal. Obama won a bunch of states, Clinton won a bunch of other states and Ralph Nader got into the race. Roy Scheider and William F. Buckley died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in February of 2008.

A US submarine flipped at least one missile into Somalia, two bombs killed 54 people in Baghdad, a bomb was set off outside a US military recruiting center in Times Square and the US began talks with Iraqi officials about establishing the long-term presence of US forces in that country. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was implicated in the investigation of a prostitution ring and resigned his office, the US Congress failed to override Bush's veto of the anti-waterboarding legislation and Adm. William Fallon resigned as commander of the US Central Command over disagreements with the Bush administration regarding their posture towards Iran. The value of the US dollar dropped to its lowest point in 13 years, Bear Stearns received emergency funding from JPMorgan Chase and was later bought out by Chase for pennies on the dollar. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and McCain won enough states to become the presumed GOP nominee for president. Arthur C. Clark died, Richard Widmark died and Dith Pran died. Thirty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, eight American soldiers died in Afghanistan and the total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000. That's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in March of 2008.

A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint in Mosul and killed seven people, the US State Department renewed their security contract with Blackwater despite several investigations into that company's involvement in the massacre of Iraqi civilians, gunmen kidnapped 42 university students in Mosul, all of whom were later released unharmed. Twenty people were killed in Sadr City clashes, rockets fell into the US Green Zone in Baghdad, two bombings in Baquba and Ramadi killed 60 people and the massive $736 million US embassy in Iraq opened for business. The Bush administration brought back the one-year Treasury note to combat the onrushing recession, real estate prices plummeted 12.7 percent and consumer confidence dropped again. Clinton won Pennsylvania but lost Mark Penn, the GOP lost Alan Keyes and John McCain kept on rolling. Charlton Heston died and Albert Hoffman died. Fifty-two American soldiers died in Iraq, five American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in April of 2008.

The Fed auctioned off $24.12 billion in Treasury securities to try and blunt the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis, crude oil futures reached $130 for the first time in history, US home prices dropped 14.1 percent and the US Congress approved a $300 billion loan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 30,000 people in Burma, dozens were killed and wounded in Iraq during fighting between Iraqi militias and US forces, suicide bombers killed dozens more in and around Baghdad and an independent investigation into Pentagon spending on Iraq contracts found that 95 percent of the billions of dollars spent could not be accounted for. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and the Democratic primary season inched closer to a final conclusion. Willis Lamb and Sydney Pollack died. Nineteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 17 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in May of 2008.

A suicide bomber killed eight people outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan, US forces accidentally killed ten Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike, two bombs killed 12 people at a train station in Algeria and a car bomb killed 51 people at a bus station in Baghdad. Wachovia fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, AIG fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, General Motors announced the closing of several factories and the elimination of 10,000 jobs, two Bear Stearns executives were arrested on criminal charges and the price of a barrel of crude oil spiked $11 in one day. A bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions died in Congress after being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans, and flooding in Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa killed ten people. Clinton officially conceded defeat, making Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Bo Diddley died, Tim Russert died and George Carlin died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, 28 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in June of 2008.

Starbucks closed 600 coffee shops in the US, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke assured Congress that neither Fannie May nor Freddie Mac were in danger of failing and GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted. The Pentagon extended the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force's tour of duty in Afghanistan, an explosion near the Red Mosque in Pakistan killed ten people, a car bomb killed 41 people outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, another suicide bomber killed 18 people near a Pakistani police station, a suicide bomber killed 35 people in Baquba and Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles. A global study of coral reefs determined that one-third of the world's coral-building species faced extinction, wildfires in California forced 10,000 people to evacuate and George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling. Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died and Estelle Getty died. Thirteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 20 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in July of 2008.

US unemployment rose to 5.7 percent, the highest level in four years, 12 people were killed when a minibus exploded in Baghdad and 21 street cleaners were killed by an explosion in Somalia. The Georgia-Ossetia conflict erupted, thousands of civilians were killed and GOP presidential candidate John McCain declared all Americans to be Georgians. Taliban fighters forced the retreat of Pakistani soldiers from the Afghan border and later attacked a US base in the Khost province. The US inked a missile shield deal with Poland, causing Russia to declare Poland a "legitimate military target" that had "opened itself to a nuclear strike." Conservative columnist Robert Novak retired, former Democratic Senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, the Democratic National Convention nominated Barack Obama for president and GOP presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died. Twenty-three American soldiers died in Iraq, 22 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in August of 2008.

The Republican National Convention nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president and Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the US lobbying scandal. The US economy lost 84,000 jobs, the US government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, Washington Mutual fired its CEO over the subprime mortgage crisis and HP announced they were eliminating nearly 25,000 jobs. In the space of 48 hours, AIG asked the US government for a $40 billion loan to save it from collapse, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, Citibank acquired Wachovia, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 and the Dow dropped more than 500 points. The US government loaned AIG more than $80 billion, a car bomb in northern Pakistan killed more than 30 people, video surfaced implicating the US military in the bombing deaths of more than 90 civilians in Afghanistan, a car bomb killed 32 people in Iraq, five explosions in India killed 30 people, the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was bombed and Hurricane Ike made its deadly landfall in Texas. David Foster Wallace and Paul Newman died. Twenty-five American soldiers died in Iraq, 27 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in September of 2008.

The Senate approved a massive $700 billion bailout plan aimed at salvaging the American economy, Bush signed it, the Dow dropped 800 points in its single largest loss on record and retail sales plummeted for the third straight month. A senior British military commander was quoted as saying that victory in Afghanistan would be impossible to achieve, a suicide bomber killed 27 people in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 people in Sri Lanka, the Taliban executed 30 people they had kidnapped in Afghanistan, a series of bomb blasts killed 66 people and wounded nearly 500 in India, North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into "debris" and US forces attacked a civilian building in Syria. The NSA was accused of listening in on thousands of telephone conversations between Americans at home and Americans abroad, including conversations between US soldiers serving overseas and their families and two white supremacists were arrested for plotting to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Tony Hillerman and Studs Terkel died. Fourteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 16 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in October of 2008.

The Alaskan legislature concluded that Gov. Sarah Palin acted improperly in the "Troopergate" scandal, which mattered little after the McCain/Palin GOP presidential ticket was soundly thrashed at the polls by the Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The passage of Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriages in California and inspired protests by millions of people in 300 cities. An anonymous hold by a GOP senator disrupted the mandated oversight of the $700 billion bailout deal, an explosion on a Minibus killed 11 people in Russia, five Guantanamo detainees were ordered released by a US judge and terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India's financial heartland, killed hundreds of people. Unemployment levels in the US reached their highest level in 14 years, a second bailout of AIG cost taxpayers an additional $150 billion, retail chain Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 and the euro zone entered the first official recession in its history. Citigroup announced the elimination of 75,000 jobs and got $32 billion from the US government, Pepsi announced 3,000 layoffs and representatives from the "Big Three" automakers began pushing for a bailout of their crippled industry. Two people were shot to death in a Toys 'R Us in California and a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in New York on the first official day of the Christmas shopping season. Michael Crichton and Mitch Mitchell died. Seventeen American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in November of 2008.

GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election, O.J. Simpson was sentenced to prison and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for his role in a vast pay-for-play bribery scheme involving, among other things, the open Senate seat recently vacated by president-elect Obama. The Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11, Sony announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs and the closure of 10 percent of its manufacturing facilities, the "Big Three" automotive industry bailout staggered to and fro in Washington, hundreds of thousands in New England lost electrical power for more than a week after a massive ice storm struck the region and the US consumer price index fell to its lowest point since the Great Depression. A suicide bomber killed ten people in Afghanistan, a bomb in Pakistan killed 17 people and rioters turned Athens into a war zone. A suicide bomber killed 48 people in Iraq, four Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan deployed thousands of troops along the Indian border amid rising tensions after the Mumbai attacks, Israel launched a massive attack against Hamas and an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush. Odetta died, Bettie Page died, Deep Throat died, Harold Pinter died, Eartha Kitt died and Freddie Hubbard died. Twelve American soldiers died in Iraq, three American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that's not nearly all that happened, but that's some of what happened in December of 2008.

Happy New Year. Who else needs a drink?


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.