Friday, February 29, 2008

February 26:

1993 : World Trade Center bombed

At 12:18 p.m., a terrorist bomb explodes in a parking garage of the
World Trade Center in New York City, leaving a crater 60 feet wide and
causing the collapse of several steel-reinforced concrete floors in
the vicinity of the blast. Although the terrorist bomb failed to
critically damage the main structure of the skyscrapers, six people
were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. The World Trade Center
itself suffered more than $500 million in damage. After the attack,
authorities evacuated 50,000 people from the buildings, hundreds of
whom were suffering from smoke inhalation. The evacuation lasted the
whole afternoon.

City authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
undertook a massive manhunt for suspects, and within days several
radical Islamic fundamentalists were arrested. In March 1994, Mohammed
Salameh, Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad, and Mahmoud Abouhalima were
convicted by a federal jury for their role in the bombing, and each
was sentenced to life in prison. Salameh, a Palestinian, was arrested
when he went to retrieve the $400 deposit he had left for the Ryder
rental van used in the attack. Ajaj and Ayyad, who both played a role
in the construction of the bomb, were arrested soon after. Abouhalima,
who helped buy and mix the explosives, fled to Saudi Arabia but was
caught in Egypt two weeks later.

The mastermind of the attack--Ramzi Ahmed Yousef--remained at large
until February 1995, when he was arrested in Pakistan. He had
previously been in the Philippines, and in a computer he left there
were found terrorist plans that included a plot to kill Pope John Paul
II and a plan to bomb 15 American airliners in 48 hours. On the flight
back to the United States, Yousef reportedly admitted to a Secret
Service agent that he had directed the Trade Center attack from the
beginning and even claimed to have set the fuse that exploded the
1,200-pound bomb. His only regret, the agent quoted Yousef saying, was
that the 110-story tower did not collapse into its twin as planned--a
catastrophe that would have caused thousands of deaths.

Eyad Ismoil, who drove the Ryder van into the parking garage below the
World Trade Center, was captured in Jordan that year and taken back to
New York. All the men implicated had ties to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman,
a radical Egyptian religious leader who operated out of Jersey City,
New Jersey, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In
1995, Rahman and 10 followers were convicted of conspiring to blow up
the United Nations headquarters and other New York landmarks.
Prosecutors argued that the World Trade Center attack was part of that
conspiracy, though little clear evidence of this charge was presented.

In November 1997, Yousef and Ismoil were convicted in a courtroom only
a few blocks away from the twin towers and subsequently sentenced to
life in prison without the possibility of parole. Only one other man
believed to be directly involved in the attack, Iraqi Abdul Rahman
Yasin, remains at large.

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S.
investigators began to suspect that Yousef had ties to Saudi exile
Osama bin Laden, the head of the anti-U.S. al Qaeda terrorist network.
Whether bin Laden was in fact involved in the 1993 twin tower attacks
has not been determined, but on September 11, 2001, two groups of al
Qaeda terrorists finished the job begun by Yousef, crashing two
hijacked airliners into the north and south tower of the World Trade
Center. The structural steel of the skyscrapers could not withstand
the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel, and both
collapsed within two hours of being struck. Close to 3,000 people died
in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343
firefighters and 23 policemen who were struggling to complete the
evacuation and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only
six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their
collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for
injuries, many severe.

General Interest
1993 : World Trade Center bombed

1935 : Hitler organizes Luftwaffe

1949 : Lucky Lady II begins nonstop global flight

1984 : Last U.S. Marines leave Beirut




DAILY HERALD, IL - A DuPage County school district could be the first in
Illinois - and perhaps the nation - to refuse to administer mandatory
state exams to students who haven't yet mastered English.

The boycott by Carol Stream Elementary District 93 would be an act of
civil disobedience against the state's decision to force English
learners to take the same tests as their fluent peers.

Nearly 10 percent of the district's 4,300 students were categorized as
having limited English skills in 2007.

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that all public schools
annually test all students in select grades.

District 93 officials say they're willing to break the law this spring
to shield students from the frustration and humiliation of taking an
exam not designed for them. . .

Illinois dropped the test that was designed for English learners this
fall, after the U.S. Department of Education made a final ruling that
the test wasn't an adequate measure of state learning standards. The old
test was written in simpler English.

As a stopgap measure, English learners will take standard assessments
with some special accommodations, such as extended time and audio
recordings, while Illinois develops a test that will meet federal

Politicians and educators throughout Illinois have aggressively opposed
the move, predicting it will cause districts to fail and face serious
sanctions under the federal accountability law.

A group of Chicago parents plans to keep their children home during the
March testing, while local school officials have petitioned state
lawmakers for a one-year reprieve for English learners. And, some other
superintendents say they also would consider a boycott. . .

A Wisconsin teacher made national news last year when he protested the
emphasis the law places on standardized testing by refusing to
administer the exams - for a single day. Threatened with termination, he
proctored the exams the second day. . .


Firesign update: Papoon Campoon!

More Papoon propaganda has been added to the
CafePress shop,with more planned for the future.
For now, you can get T-shirts, lawn signs, and buttons:

"The Mayor is THE PROBLEM!
The flagpole is THE ANSWER!"
-- Firesign Theatre

The Mad, Mad Middle Class

By Isaiah J. Poole
Campaign for America's Future

Thursday 21 February 2008

You may not agree, as Sara Robinson provocatively suggests, that the country is primed for revolution. But there is no doubt that large numbers of middle-class people are mad, really mad, about the damage Bush-league conservatism has done to the country and to their futures.

In fact, comments in a new Democracy Corps report, based on focus groups of Republicans and Democrats in Orlando, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio, reveal deep anger and frustration over policies that favor the wealthy and pull the ability to meet their basic aspirations further from their grasp.

Note comments like these:

  • Columbus man: "They talk about the economy as working for the very wealthy and I read in the New York Times that $200,000 per year is the new $100,000 per year in salary…That's the standard of living to feel like you've really made it in America, $200,000 a year. For most people, that's unattainable. They'll never see that in two lifetimes. So I think it's unfortunate that there is one-tenth of one percent of Americans own forty percent of the wealth in this country. That's an obscene number. It's a disgusting number."

  • Orlando woman: "I don't like people having like no-bid contracts over there [in Iraq]. I think that has really escalated the cost of the war too. I mean this war is just unbelievable and the cost and the money could be going to help New Orleans, use it on domestic programs and helping other nations."

  • Columbus woman: "The war in Iraq, the amount of money being spent over there, and the cost of oil. It's kind of all tied in. And then all of that filters down eventually to everyday people. And all of those costs eventually fall on our shoulders. On shoulders that are already pretty well packed."

From the rising costs of fuel to the effects of the mortgage crisis, the Democracy Corps sessions reflect a middle class that feels under siege. And the traditional conservative palliatives, as far as these people are concerned, no longer cut it.

When the focus groups were presented with two economic messages - one based on Republican stump speeches that focuses on making the 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy permanent and an alternative that emphasized such items as investment projects, extending unemployment insurance and child tax credits, these prospective voters were, in the Democracy Corps words, "overwhelmingly drawn" to the more progressive message.

Here's how a Columbus participant saw it:

It sounds like to me that the Republicans want to make the wealthy wealthier. Cut their stock dividend tax, they should have to pay taxes on that. I have to pay taxes if I pull my money out of my 401K. I have to pay a fee. So I think that they should be taxed just like we are, us working class people. The higher end market of people should be taxed just like I am. What taxes I pay, the percentage of the same taxes I pay should be the same taxes they pay for the money that they make.

And in Orlando...

You know if we start eliminating all those wonderful tax loopholes for corporations and requiring the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share we are going to have more money. It just makes sense.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, who will be a featured speaker at Take Back America 2008, wrote about this middle-class anger almost two years ago in a way that now rings more true than ever. Her point was that "middle class does not equal middle ground":

Advocating for the middle class isn't inherently some kind of political compromise or centrist bargain, a la the Democratic Leadership Council. Raising the minimum wage is a middle class issue. Progressive immigration policy is a middle class issue. Reining in the power of industries to dictate our economic, energy, and health care policies is a middle class issue. Sound trade policy is a middle class issue. Just because you're talking about the middle class doesn't mean that your policy initiatives must consist only of tax credits and deductions that apply to a narrow income range. Advocating for the strengthening and expansion of our middle class shouldn't just be political code for "I'm inoffensive." It should mean that you're willing to do whatever it takes to create the economic policy that will directly benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans.

The seduction of Reagan-era sophistry - such as the line brandished by self-proclaimed conservatives campaigning for office that they trust the American people instead of the government, as if they had nothing to do with separating government from its role as an instrument of the people - has some residual strength. So does the conservative tactic of pitting groups against each other - hence the way illegal immigration, rather than bad trade and tax policies, surfaced as a reason why middle-class wage-earners were falling behind.

Still, the focus group analysis concludes, "voters are starving for a new economic vision that will strengthen the middle class and get our country back on the right track."

Progressives have the basics for that vision, but the challenges are to color in the details, inject it into the political debate in ways that touch both the anxieties and aspirations of middle-class families, and make sure that middle class voters know that there is an independent political force that will be fighting for their interests - working with the new White House leadership when it can, and confronting it when it must.

At Take Back America 2008 in March, progressive activists will have a prime opportunity to make that happen.


Tomgram: Jen Marlowe, Gaza Struggling under Siege‏

a project of the Nation Institute

To send this to a friend, or to read more dispatches, go to

Tomgram: Jen Marlowe, Gaza Struggling under Siege

From Chiapas, Mexico and Vietnam's Mekong Delta to West Africa (where a war against women is now underway), Tomdispatch has lately been traveling to some of the more scarred places on the planet. Today, Jen Marlowe, a documentary filmmaker and human rights activist (as well as the author of Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival) offers an account of her journey into the desperate human tragedy of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Marlowe has been visiting the Gaza Strip periodically since 2002, when she was living in Jerusalem while working on an Israeli/Palestinian peace-building program. She has participated in nonviolent demonstrations with Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists resisting the Israeli separation barrier being built, in part, through Palestinian lands and the growing system of Israeli-only roads on the West Bank. The deepening degradation of Gazans living under a merciless siege, visibly a living hell, is something she vividly captures at a personal level. Tom

The Tightening Noose

Gaza under Hamas, Gaza under Siege
By Jen Marlowe

Images from Rafah flicker on my computer screen. Gazans blowing up chunks of the wall that stood between them and Egypt, punching holes in the largest open-air prison in the world and streaming across the border. An incredible refusal to submit.

I learn via email that my friend Khaled Nasrallah rented a truck in order to drive food and medicine from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. He was acting for no humanitarian organization. He's just a resident of Rafah, a Palestinian town which borders Egypt, with a deep need to help and an opportunity to seize.

Rarely does our media offer images so laden with the palpable despair that has become daily life in the Gaza Strip. The situation has bordered on desperate since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000, when Gazans could no longer work inside Israel and the attacks and incursions of Israel's military, the IDF, became a regular occurrence. Closures on the Strip progressively intensified.

On January 25, 2006, Hamas, an acronym for "the Islamic Resistance Movement," won the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, defeating the reigning secular, nationalist Fatah Party. Israel, the United States, and the European Union all refused to recognize the new Hamas government and many elements within Fatah also went to great lengths to ensure that it failed.

Tension and violence mounted between the Palestinian factions, culminating in June 2007 in Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by sealing the Strip. On September 19, following the repeated firing of crude Qassam rockets from the Beit Hanoun neighborhood in the northern Gaza Strip into the Israeli town of Sderot, the Israeli government unanimously labeled all of Gaza a "hostile entity." Since then, restrictions by the IDF on who and what is permitted to enter Gaza have grown harsher still. There are not many witnesses to testify to the plight of Gazans these days. I was lucky: In early January, in order to visit the participants of a peace-building program I once worked for, I got in.

It was a brief visit, so I didn't stroll down largely empty supermarket aisles or visit hospitals to check on which supplies were unavailable. Instead, I used the time to talk to Gazans involved in responding to the international siege and the internal crisis that had led to it.

There were even rare moments when the dual crises faded into the background, such as the afternoon when I drank coffee in Rafah with Khaled Nasrallah, his brother Dr. Samir Nasrallah, and their wives and children. Rachel Corrie, a 23 year-old peace-and-justice activist from Olympia, Washington, had been killed on March 16, 2003 while standing in front of their home trying to prevent its demolition by an Israeli military bulldozer. Between October 2000 and October 2004, the IDF destroyed 2,500 homes in the Gaza Strip. Nearly two-thirds of them, like the Nasrallah's, had been the homes of refugees in Rafah.

Now double refugees, like so many residents of Rafah, they ushered me into the living room of the apartment they have occupied since their home was destroyed in 2004. It was sparsely furnished, but the family's spirit more than compensated. When, for instance, thin, quiet Dr. Samir saw an opportunity to make his young daughters or nieces smile, his own face lit up. He clowned around as pictures were taken, encouraging the girls to find ever sillier poses.

Only as I was leaving did the siege make its presence felt. I pulled a few chocolate bars and a carton of Lucky Strikes from my backpack, saying, "I understand these are hard to find these days."

Dr. Samir accepted the gifts with an odd solemnity. He then unwrapped a single bar of chocolate, carefully broke it into small pieces and distributed a section to each of the little girls. With an equal sense of gravity, they sat on the thin, foam mats that lined the room, slowly biting off tiny pieces, letting the chocolate melt in their mouths. They were still sucking on the final bits as I said goodbye.

Entering Gaza

When I first found out that I had permission to enter Gaza, I wondered what I should bring with me. How much could I carry? What did a people under siege need most? I imagined filling my backpack with bags of rice, coffee, sugar, beans – until I called my friend Ra'ed in Beit Hanoun.

"Hey, Ra'ed. I'm coming to Gaza on Wednesday. What can I bring you?"

There was a short pause. "Can you bring cigarettes? Lucky Strikes?"

Requests from other friends started coming in. Could I bring a carton of Marlboros? Viceroy Lights? Rania requested chocolate. Ahmad asked for shampoo.

There was something tragic and yet comic in these requests. Were they a sign that the situation wasn't as desperate as I feared? Or maybe, given the sustained stress Gazans have been enduring, the need for psychological relief took priority even over the staples of survival?

Ra'ed called back with an additional request. "Can you bring one of those rechargeable florescent lights? The power's being cut off now for eight hours at a time and my kids have exams. They can't study without light."

Erez border is the only crossing point for internationals entering the Gaza Strip. The border between Rafah and Egypt had been sealed since the Hamas takeover. I arrived at Erez, struggling with my three brimming bags and two rechargeable lights. The terminal had been completely rebuilt since my last visit a year ago. The modest building housing a few soldiers and computers was gone and in its place was a slick, spotlessly clean, all-glass complex. It felt as if I were entering the headquarters atrium of a multi-million dollar corporation.

My passport was stamped and I continued along a maze of one-way revolving gates. Crossing through the final gate, I found myself in Gaza, the sleek glass building and its sanitized version of the Israeli occupation suddenly no more than a surreal memory. I was on a cracked cement pathway, covered by dilapidated plastic roofing, in the middle of an abandoned field filled with nothing but stones and rubble. Realities, even small ones, change so quickly, so grimly here.

The Siege

Soon, I was in Ra'ed's car heading south to Rafah with Rania Kharma, a coordinator for the Palestinian-International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza. I handed her the chocolate bars she had requested. "Thanks, habibti [my dear]" she said. "You know how important chocolate can be for a woman." Normally remarkably passionate, Rania now spoke and moved with the air of someone smothered by wet blankets.

We passed carts piled with bananas and oranges. "So there's fruit here. What exactly is getting in?" I asked.

Before the siege, she explained, there used to be 9,000 different items allowed into Gaza. Now, the Israelis had reduced what could enter the Strip to 20 items or, in some cases, types of items. Twenty items to meet the needs of nearly 1.5 million people. It felt like some kind of TV fantasy exercise in survival: You're going to a deserted island and you can only bring 20 things with you. What would you bring?

Medicine was on the list, Rania told me, but only pre-approved drugs registered with the Israeli Ministry of Health. Frozen meat was permitted, but fresh meat wasn't (and there was a shortage of livestock in Gaza). Fruit and vegetables were allowed in, but -- Ra'ed quickly inserted -- less than what the population needed and of an inferior quality. It was, he felt, as if Israel were dumping produce not fit for their citizens or for international export into Gaza.

"I cut open an avocado last week and found the inside completely rotten," he added.

Diapers and toilet paper were allowed entry, as were sugar, salt, flour, milk, and eggs. Soap yes, but not laundry detergent, shampoo, or other cleaning products.

"I'm not sure about baby formula," Rania said. "Sometimes you can find it, sometimes you can't."

Tunnels under the Egyptian border, once used mainly to smuggle weapons into the Strip, were now responsible for a brisk black market trade. Hamas, which controlled the tunnels, reportedly earning a hefty profit from the $10 it now cost Gazans to buy a single pack of cigarettes. Chocolate couldn't be found, not even on the black market. A bag of cement that once cost about $10 reached $75, and, by the time of my visit, couldn't be found at all. All construction and most repair jobs had ground to a halt.

The Ramadan fast is traditionally broken with a dried date. A special request for dates was made to the Israelis and granted -- but only as a substitute for salt. To get their Ramadan dates, Gazans had to sacrifice something else.

"Israel says they're not going to starve us," Rania remarked with a wry grin as we neared Rafah. "They're just putting us on a really tight diet."

I was traveling to Rafah in order to purchase handmade embroidery from the Women's Union Association, a women's fair-trade collective. I was planning to bring the embroidery back to the U.S. for the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project, initiated after the death of Rachel Corrie and working to realize her vision of connecting the two communities.

Rafah's economy used to be based on agriculture and on the resale of goods from Egypt, according to Samira, the energetic program director of the association. Over the last seven years, however, most of the orchards and greenhouses in the town had been uprooted by Israeli military bulldozers. Then, once the siege began for real, Rafah's merchants could no longer obtain goods from Egypt. By the time I arrived, only about 15% of the population was working, most employed in government ministries.

Samira brought out a large plastic bag brimming with embroidered work. I fingered beautiful shawls and wall hangings as she eagerly described an exhibition of the women's hand embroidery held in Cairo last May. Every piece had sold out. The women had then stitched new pillowcases, bags, and vests at a frenetic pace for an exhibition in Vienna scheduled for September 2007. The Gaza Strip, however, was sealed in June. Neither the women, nor their embroidery could leave. That plastic bag contained what should have gone to Vienna. The project had already come to a standstill as the necessary raw materials, chiefly colored thread, were now unavailable. Once these pieces were sold, nothing would be left.

Samira encouraged Rania to try on a stunning, exquisitely stitched jacket, its joyous blaze of color strangely out of place in that bare office. It had taken a year to complete, she said proudly. I hesitated to buy it. It felt wrong, somehow, to remove that splash of color from decimated Rafah. But who else would be arriving in Rafah soon to buy from the collective? I asked Samira to prioritize which items she wanted me to purchase. She packed up the jacket, and as many other pieces as I could afford in that same plastic bag, and handed them over to me.

While Ra'ed and Rania argued energetically in Arabic on the drive back to Gaza City, I stared out the window, noting the green Hamas flags and banners that decorated nearly every street corner and intersection. As we neared our destination, I asked Rania if she wanted to join me that evening.

"I'd love to, habibti, but I have to get back to my apartment before 6:30. The electricity will be cut after that and then -- no elevator. I live on the ninth floor and, since my knee injury a few years ago, it's really painful to walk up all those stairs."

Gaza in Darkness

Mahmoud Abo Rahma, a young man with intense green eyes, spent much of his time with me discussing Gaza's acute electricity crisis in his office at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Israel's fuel restrictions were his primary concern. It wasn't just transportation that suffered when fuel was sanctioned, he explained. Without fuel for Gaza's sole power plant, the ensuing electricity shortage constrains health and education services, leading to an acute humanitarian crisis.

Mahmoud broke the situation down, jotting figures and connective arrows on a small sticky pad. Gaza needs 237 megawatts of electricity a day, 120 megawatts of which are supplied directly by Israel. The Gaza power plant used to supply 90 megawatts, which meant the Strip remained 27 megawatts a day short, even in what passed for "good times." Then, in June 2006 after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israelis bombed the power plant, truncating its capacity. With the siege and its acute fuel shortage, the plant could generate even less. Mahmoud feared that it might have to stop operating altogether. On top of this, he added, Israel was threatening to curtail the electricity it provides.

Sixty-eight people, he said, had already died as a result of the sanctions. Others had certainly suffered siege-related deaths in which multiple factors were involved. For those 68, however, a clear red line could be drawn directly to the siege -- to disruptions in critical services or to the simple fact that someone couldn't reach Israel or Egypt for needed medical care unavailable in Gaza.

As Mahmoud scribbled down numbers and drew his arrows, my mind wandered from the 68 extreme cases to the thousands of day-to-day small sufferings that have become part of the fabric of life for Gazans. I imagined the Nasrallah family huddled under blankets trying to keep warm without a functioning electric heater, or Ra'ed's children studying for exams by candle or flashlight, or Rania climbing those nine flights of stairs on an injured knee.

The Hamas Takeover

Suhail is the director of the Rachel Corrie Cultural Center for Children and Youth in Rafah and its sister center in Jabalya Refugee Camp. Both centers are under the umbrella of the Union of Health Workers. "We are sometimes asked," Suhail told me, "how a children's center fits under the umbrella of a health organization, but the connection is very clear. According to the World Health Organization, health is not measured only by lack of illness. A healthy child is also healthy socially, emotionally, and mentally -- and this is the role we play."

The obstacles to their work were large, he assured me. "Our activities are designed to help support children mentally, emotionally, but they don't want to leave the house. The kids are depressed. Everyone is depressed."

In 2005, the teens who made up the center's dabke troupe -- dabke is a traditional Palestinian folk-dance -- traveled to Britain, touring and performing in 15 cities. Now, they can't leave the Gaza Strip. "We want Al Jazeera to broadcast them performing in a local celebration," Suhail said. "The youth are also making their own movies, showing their daily realities. There are different ways to break a siege."

Their problems, Suhail made clear, didn't all stem from international isolation. "Yes, the siege makes everything much, much more difficult, but the internal crisis even more so. Religious conservatism is taking a stronger hold."

Nujud, a freckled young female student-volunteer, offered an example. "We used to have a mixed-gender community. There were even more girls participating than boys. Now, it's the opposite. Boys and girls are hesitant even to be in the same room with each other for fear of attack by Hamas." She pointed to a young male volunteer. "We have to be very cautious in our interactions with each other."

Suhail ended our meeting with the comment, "Making cultural change takes a lot of time. And it has a lot of enemies."

Samira, too, had indirectly brought up the impact of the Hamas takeover in Gaza. "After you leave here today," she said, "it's very likely that someone will come and ask about you. Who are you? What were you doing here?"

I sat a moment sipping sweet tea from a plastic cup and taking in her comment. "Did we put you in danger by coming today?"

"Nothing will happen to us," she answered. "They will just ask."

Samira sounded nonchalant. I felt less so. Comings and goings, it seemed, were being carefully, if unobtrusively, monitored.

New Levels of Violence

At the pristine offices of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP), Husam al Nounou and Dr. Ahmad Abu Tawahina brought into focus the degree to which the Hamas takeover had affected life in Gaza. Husam, the program's director of public relations, was soft-spoken and Dr. Abu Tawahina, its director general, was animated; both men radiated self-assurance and dignity.

By then, the large-scale, bloody political violence between Hamas and Fatah militants had ended. There were no longer shoot-outs on street corners. Military actions against Fatah-connected individuals were on-going, however. Dr. Abu Tawahina described cases of people leaving their houses only to find the body of a relative dumped on the street, or frantic Gazans calling police stations after a family member "disappeared," only to be told that there was "no information."

The margins of free speech, never large in Gaza, had decreased significantly, Husam told me. Direct or indirect messages of fear and intimidation are now regularly passed on to journalists and human rights workers. Fatah affiliates are beaten up, detained, their cars burned; Fatah-related organizations have been totally destroyed. I was reminded of Mahmoud's reply when I asked him if Al Mezan's ability to work, exposing human rights abuses to the people of Gaza, has been affected since the takeover.

"We are not changing our work at all," he said, choosing his words slowly. "We are not allowing ourselves to be intimidated."

Ideological and political differences between the movements have certainly played a major role in the internal fighting -- Dr. Abu Tawahina carefully explained -- as has the regional factor: Washington supports Fatah, while Hamas is backed by Syria and Iran. But, as Husam pointed out, other factors should not be ignored. "There is no tradition of democracy or transfer of power in Palestinian society," he said. "Fatah was not prepared to lose the January 2006 elections or give authority over to Hamas."

Add to this mix the adamant refusal of both the Bush administration and Ehud Olmert's government in Israel to recognize the democratically elected Hamas government, as well as their support for Fatah's attempts to sabotage it.

"What would have happened," I asked, "if Hamas had been given a chance to actually govern in the first place?"

After a long pause, Husam responded, "There's no way to know for sure. But I think there's a good chance that Hamas would have changed. There are lots of indications that they were initially willing to."

Dr. Abu Tawahina then widened the context of the discussion. Many Fatah officials had spent years in Israeli prisons, he commented, enduring torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators and soldiers. After signing the Oslo peace agreements in 1993, members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (in which Fatah is the most powerful faction) were permitted to establish a self-governing apparatus called the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel put pressure on the PA to arrest those who opposed the Oslo process, particularly when opposition groups carried out attacks in Israel.

As a result, thousands of Hamas members, most of whom had not been involved in the violence, spent time in PA jails. Fatah interrogators then applied the same techniques to the prisoners in their hands as the Israelis had once used against them, even ramping the methods up a notch or two.

"In psychology, we refer to it as 'identification with the aggressor,'" Dr. Abu Tawahina told me.

Now, the very people Fatah abused in prison are in charge in the Gaza Strip and they are seeking revenge for a decade of mistreatment under Fatah. The phenomenon can be found in Gazan civil society as well. One hundred thousand Palestinian laborers used to work inside Israel, suffering daily humiliations at the hands of Israeli soldiers at the Erez crossing. If they directed their anger and frustration at their abusers, they would lose the permits that allowed them to work inside Israel. Instead, many erupted in rage at home at their wives or children, creating new victims.

The present level of internal violence in Gaza, however, has no precedent. Hamas took the detentions and torture that were part and parcel of Palestinian life under Israeli rule and later under the PA and added the previously unimaginable -- Algerian-style executions and disappearances. These were something new as acts among Palestinians.

No one knows how many people have gone missing in these last months or the details of their torture. Hamas won't allow Gaza Community Mental Health Program staff to visit the prisons as they once did regularly. Human rights organizations are trying to compile lists of the missing, but there are no comprehensive statistics.

Meanwhile, frustration and anger inside the pressure cooker that is Gaza only mounts. Violence in the society as a whole, including domestic violence, is on the rise. New victims continue to be created.

"We attempted to work with the Fatah government when they were in charge," Husam said. "We tried to warn them of the long-term consequences their torture could bring. They didn't want to hear it."

Dr. Abu Tawahina tried to describe his fervent hope of one day building a community that would enjoy genuine democracy and the rule of law, no matter who was in charge. But in that office, his dream felt, at best, remote.

"Let's say," he added, "that Israel and the U.S. manage to overthrow Hamas and reinstall Fatah. Do you think that Fatah would now institute a program of reconciliation?"

Dr. Abu Tawahina let the question fill the room, unanswered. But from a barely perceptible shake of his head, I knew what his response was.

Society Unraveling

Because of an ever more traumatized population, the mental health program's services are desperately needed. The staff work feverishly, trying to develop new techniques to meet the catastrophe that is Gaza, but nothing, not telephone counseling, nor bringing in other NGOs, nor holding community meetings to give larger numbers of people coping tools can meet the escalating needs of the community.

"Peace is crucial for mental health services," Dr. Abu Tawahina said pointedly. "Our staff feel inadequate in helping our clients. When the source of someone's mental symptoms comes from physical needs not being met, then there is very little that therapeutic techniques can do."

At the moment, the community's most crucial resource -- itself -- is fraying. In Palestinian society, the extended family has always served as the center of a web of support and protection. Previously, the mental health project used this incredibly powerful social network as part of its outreach, making special efforts to educate family members in how to take care of each other.

With the split between Fatah and Hamas growing ever deeper, Dr. Abu Tawahina suggested that loyalty to political parties might be growing stronger than loyalty to family. In many families, the cracks are showing. Husam told me of families where one brother, loyal to Hamas, gave information to the Hamas leadership about another brother, active in Fatah, leading to his detention. I had even heard rumors of brother killing brother. The implications of this go far beyond the work of one mental health group. The very foundations of Palestinian endurance and survival are now threatened as the social fabric, their strength as a people, begins to unravel.

As our meeting was drawing to a close, Husam suddenly broached a new subject. "The level of hate towards those behind the siege -- Israelis and Americans -- is increasing. We need to show the human face of people from the U.S."

His comment reminded me that Samira and Suhail had also spoken about their desire to launch an Internet program between young people in Rafah and teenagers in Olympia, Washington, Rachel Corrie's hometown. In itself, there was nothing shocking about the fact that anger towards Americans, whose government strongly supported the siege and had also backed Fatah in the internecine struggle in Gaza, was on the rise. If anything, what was surprising, touching, and human was the urge of a few Palestinians to challenge that hatred and put a human face on Americans.

Dr. Abu Tawahina concluded with a sober warning. "Empirical studies show that collective punishment isn't limited to those who are directly subjected to the punishment. It affects the international community as well. What is happening now in Gaza may someday very well affect what happens later in Europe and the United States."

Small Hope

Now, back in the U.S., I stare at those images from just a few weeks ago of Gazans flooding into Egypt. I feel myself on some threshold between paralysis and hope -- anguished by the unending desperation that led to the destruction of that wall and yet inspired by the way the Gazans briefly broke their own siege.

Dr. Abu Tawahina, I believe, is right. What we are allowing to occur in Gaza -- and we are allowing, even facilitating, it -- will come back to haunt us. Still, despite all the indicators of a society locked into an open-air prison giving in to violence and possibly fragmenting internally past the point of reconciliation, I hold onto a small hope. Perhaps those of us outside that prison will be affected by more than the explosive rage that inevitably comes from an effort to collectively crush 1.5 million people into submission. Perhaps we will also be affected by the Gazans who refuse to submit to their oppressors, be they from outside or within. Ultimately, I hope we'll choose to stand in solidarity with them.

Jen Marlowe, a documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, is the author of Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival (Nation Books). She is now directing and editing her next film, Rebuilding Hope, about South Sudan, and writing a book about Palestine and Israel. Her most recent film was Darfur Diaries: Message from Home. She serves on the board of directors of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre and is a founding member of the Rachel's Words initiative. Her email address is:

Copyright 2008 Jen Marlowe

The Forgotten Promises of George Bush

The Forgotten Promises of George Bush

by Christopher Brauchli

If you can’t give me your word of honor, will you give me your promise?
–Samuel Goldwyn, The Great Goldwyn

The man can’t keep his word even though the words are always the same. Having mouthed them so often you’d think he could remember them. What’s surprising now is that the forgotten beneficiaries of his words are the people he sent to Iraq to get killed or wounded who now wish to be remembered by the man who sent them there to gratify his own ego. They shouldn’t be surprised. They should have learned from Katrina.

Mr. Bush visited New Orleans shortly after Katrina had paid its respects. Standing in the Rose Garden on September 3 of that sad year, Mr. Bush said: “I know that those of you who have been hit hard by Katrina are suffering. . . The tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America. In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part . . . . We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done.” Mr. Bush is well rested. Anyone reading about New Orleans knows he didn’t get it right and the job isn’t done. Those living in New Orleans suffered because of nature’s tragedy and were forgotten by the man who promised them help. Now it’s the veterans’ turn.

In his recent State of the Union message, Mr. Bush received great applause when he said: “Our military families also sacrifice for America. . . . We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to child care. . . and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them.” One week later he submitted his 2009 budget and dissed the veterans. No funds were included for transferring education benefits.

In submitting his $1.3 trillion budget he forgot to include the benefit that would cost between $1 and $2 billion dollars. That was not the end of ignoring the needs of veterans. According to a release from the Brain Injury Association of America in a press release commenting on the budget, for the third year in a row, Mr. Bush has proposed the complete elimination of the Federal traumatic Brain Injury Program. The program “provides grants to state agencies and [other organizations] to improve access to health and other services for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their families.” Susan Connors, president and CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America described the omission as “deeply disappointing” and went on to say that “President Bush just doesn’t get it.” Those two examples are not the only ones in which veterans who have withstood the onslaught from the enemy in Iraq have to defend themselves from the onslaught of the wolf in the White House parading in sheep’s clothing.

According to a report on National Public Radio, during a visit by representatives of the Army Surgeon General’s staff at Fort Drum Army base, officials from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were told they should stop helping injured soldiers complete paperwork related to their injuries. The forms completed forms determine what level of care and disability benefits the soldiers receive.

Rep. John McHugh who represents the area that includes Ft. Drum, the military base at which the instructions were given, responded that: “The Surgeon General of the Army told me very flatly that it was not the Army that told the VA to stop this help.” That would have been the end of the matter but for one thing. A summary of the meeting prepared by one of the attendees surfaced and it contradicted the Surgeon General who had contradicted NPR.

Kevin Esslinger, a legal administration specialist at Ft. Drum , prepared the memorandum. It says that Col. Becky Baker of the office of the Surgeon General said the “Veterans Benefits Administration should discontinue counseling Medical Evaluation Board (MED) soldiers on the appropriateness of the Department of Defense MEB/OEB (Physical evaluation board) ratings and findings. There exists a conflict of interest.” Responding to that comment Mr. Esslinger wrote in his summary that “a recent Department of the Army Inspector General inspection had noted the practice and had found it to be a useful service to the soldier.” He went on to say the practice would be discontinued.

NPR’s requests for interviews with Col. Baker and Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker were turned down. That’s too bad. You would think the Surgeon General would think that the only thing more important than reassuring the country that veterans are receiving the best assistance and care available is making sure they get the best assistance and care available. His silence suggests they are not.

Christopher Brauchli, For political commentary see

Cheney Impeachment: Courageous, but Not Surprising

Cheney Impeachment: Courageous, but Not Surprising

by Elizabeth Holtzman

For the first time since the Bush administration took office, three members of the House Judiciary Committee, Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), are calling for hearings on the impeachment of Vice President Richard Cheney.

Their position, while courageous, is not surprising. What is surprising is that it took this long for members of Congress to invoke impeachment, and that even now, they do so against enormous political resistance and cyncial indifference from the media.

No serious student of the Constitution would question that sufficient grounds exist to impeach both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The Constitution provides that an Executive who puts himself above the law and abuses the powers of his office may be impeached, a point confirmed in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon, for abuses such as illegal wiretapping.

There is little serious debate about whether Bush administration actions — wiretapping without court approval (violating the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act), authorizing and facilitating mistreatment of detainees (violating US treaties and criminal laws), starting the Iraq war on a basis of lies, exaggerations and misstatements (an abuse of power) — meet the constitutional standard.

So why hasn’t a majority of Congress supported it? Twenty members co-sponsored Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s resolution calling for the impeachment of Cheney, but bucked their leadership to do so. Democratic leaders took impeachment “off the table,” apparently fearing it could hurt their chances in 2008.

Does the leadership defend the administration, contend that its actions are unimpeachable, or argue they don’t rise to the level of abuse for which Nixon was impeached? Remarkably, no. They publicly say there is no time, and that impeachment proceedings would distract the Congress from other work and divide the country.

These arguments are laughable compared to the imperative to uphold the constitution. And even on their own terms, they are specious. Let’s take them one at a time:

Insufficient Time

In the case of Nixon, the House officially instructed the Judiciary Committee to act in early February, 1974; the Committee finished voting on Articles of Impeachment on July 29, less than six months later. No presidential impeachment proceeding had taken place for almost 100 years, so the Committee had to start from scratch, analyzing the constitution and developing procedures for the impeachment inquiry. Now the relevant legal spade work is done and a road map for proper impeachment proceedings exists, Congress could probably conduct them even faster than in 1974.

Distracting Congress

During Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee conducted the impeachment inquiry. It didn’t deter the rest of the House and the entire Senate from getting their work done, even with a war on. Even the Judiciary Committee also worked on other matters during impeachment, just as the Senate did during its trial of President Clinton.

Dividing the Country

Nixon’s impeachment united the American people. The process was bi-partisan, demonstrating this wasn’t just a Democratic ploy to undo an election. The fairness of the process, the seriousness of purpose, the substantial evidence all gave the public a strong sense that justice had been done. This reinvigorated the shared value that the rule of law and preservation of democracy are more important than any president or party.

Currently, this value is expressing itself in grass roots impeachment movements across America. The Vermont Senate, several state Democratic parties and many municipal governments have adopted resolutions supporting impeachment — more state legislatures would have acted except for pressure not to from Democrats in Washington. Multiple polls show a majority of Americans supporting the impeachment of Cheney (a November 13 American Research Group poll says 70% of Americans believe Vice President Cheney abused his office), and slightly less then a majority supporting the impeachment of Bush.

The Democratic leadership tactic of stonewalling this widespread public sentiment is itself divisive, leading at least half the country to frustration, disaffection and shaken faith in our democracy. Only a sober, serious airing of evidence in hearings would heal the split.

When Nixon’s impeachment process began, he had recently been re-elected with one of the largest landslides in history. No one made the calculation about whether impeachment was a political winner for Congress. Public opinion simply forced Congress’s hand after Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. After the House Judiciary conducted impartial hearings and voted on impeachment, Congress’s approval soared. Republicans were swamped in the November 1974 elections.

Whether or not they bring electoral rewards in 2008, impeachment proceedings are the right thing to do. Regardless of outcome, they will help to curb the serious abuses of this administration, and send a strong message to future administration: the Constitution means what it says — no president or vice president is above the law.

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman served on the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon’s impeachment. She co-authored the 1973 special prosecutor statute, and co-wrote (with Cynthia L. Cooper) the 2006 book, The Impeachment of George W. Bush.

Copyright © 2008, Inc.

Election Madness

Election Madness

by Howard Zinn

There’s a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I’ve never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held-security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.

Just today, a letter came. To my relief it was not handwritten because he is now using e-mail: “Well, I’m writing to you today because there is a wretched situation in this country that I cannot abide and must say something about. I am so enraged about this mortgage crisis. That the majority of Americans must live their lives in perpetual debt, and so many are sinking beneath the load, has me so steamed. Damn, that makes me so mad, I can’t tell you. . . . I did a security guard job today that involved watching over a house that had been foreclosed on and was up for auction. They held an open house, and I was there to watch over the place during this event. There were three of the guards doing the same thing in three other homes in this same community. I was sitting there during the quiet moments and wondering about who those people were who had been evicted and where they were now.”

On the same day I received this letter, there was a front-page story in the Boston Globe, with the headline “Thousands in Mass. Foreclosed on in ‘07.”

The subhead was “7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the ‘06 rate.”

A few nights before, CBS television reported that 750,000 people with disabilities have been waiting for years for their Social Security benefits because the system is underfunded and there are not enough personnel to handle all the requests, even desperate ones.

Stories like these may be reported in the media, but they are gone in a flash. What’s not gone, what occupies the press day after day, impossible to ignore, is the election frenzy.

This seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. We are all vulnerable.

Is it possible to get together with friends these days and avoid the subject of the Presidential elections?

The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.

Even in the so-called left periodicals, we must admit there is an exorbitant amount of attention given to minutely examining the major candidates. An occasional bone is thrown to the minor candidates, though everyone knows our marvelous democratic political system won’t allow them in.

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.

The unprecedented policies of the New Deal-Social Security, unemployment insurance, job creation, minimum wage, subsidized housing-were not simply the result of FDR’s progressivism. The Roosevelt Administration, coming into office, faced a nation in turmoil. The last year of the Hoover Administration had experienced the rebellion of the Bonus Army-thousands of veterans of the First World War descending on Washington to demand help from Congress as their families were going hungry. There were disturbances of the unemployed in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Seattle.

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

Without a national crisis-economic destitution and rebellion-it is not likely the Roosevelt Administration would have instituted the bold reforms that it did.

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For instance, the mortgage foreclosures that are driving millions from their homes-they should remind us of a similar situation after the Revolutionary War, when small farmers, many of them war veterans (like so many of our homeless today), could not afford to pay their taxes and were threatened with the loss of the land, their homes. They gathered by the thousands around courthouses and refused to allow the auctions to take place.

The evictions today of people who cannot pay their rents should remind us of what people did in the Thirties when they organized and put the belongings of the evicted families back in their apartments, in defiance of the authorities.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.
Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

Howard Zinn is the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” “Voices of a People’s History” (with Anthony Arnove), and most recently, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

©2008 The Progressive Magazine

The Most Expensive Air Crash in History

The Most Expensive Air Crash in History

by Raymond Whitaker

Nobody was seriously hurt and no damage was done on the ground. But the crash of a B-2 stealth bomber on the Pacific island of Guam yesterday - the first involving this type of aircraft - was the world’s worst air disaster by one measure: money.

0224 02Only 22 B-2s have ever been made. The cost of building each one is between $1.2bn (£610m) and $1.3bn, but once development costs are factored in, the figure approaches $2bn per aircraft. By comparison, the British Airways Boeing 777 written off in the Heathrow crash last month (again without serious injury) would have cost around $160m.

The cause of yesterday’s crash is unknown. The bat-like B-2 plunged to the ground shortly after take-off from Guam. Both pilots managed to eject safely; one remained in hospital in a stable condition last night. A thick plume of smoke rose from the crash site, but the US Air Force reported no injuries on the ground or damage to buildings.

The crash happened as the B-2 took off with three others on their last flight out of Guam after a four-month deployment, part of a continuous US bomber presence in the western Pacific. The other three aircraft are being kept on Guam pending investigations.

Sixteen B-2 bombers have been used in combat, over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iran. One mission over Afghanistan in 2001 took 44 hours, with a pair of aircraft taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, where all B-2s are housed, and landing on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean after the attack. The aircraft were refueled in flight, and the pilots took it in turn to sleep. It is believed to have been the longest air combat mission ever.

© 2008

Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ Filled With World’s Seeds Comes to Life

Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ Filled With World’s Seeds Comes to Life

by Pierre-Henry Deshayes in Longyearbyen, Norway

AN Arctic “doomsday vault” filled with samples of the world’s most important seeds will be inaugurated in Norway today.

0224 03The vault aims to provide humankind with a Noah’s Ark of food in the event of a global catastrophe.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Nobel Peace Prize winning environmentalist Wangari Matai will be among the personalities present at the inauguration of the vault, which has been carved into the permafrost of a remote Arctic mountain, just 1000km from the North Pole.

The vault, made up of three spacious cold chambers each measuring 27m by 10m, creates a long trident-shaped tunnel bored into the sandstone and limestone.

It has the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet’s main food crops, making it possible to re-establish plants if they disappear from their natural environment or are obliterated by major disasters.

“The facility is built to hold twice as many varieties of agricultural crops as we think exist,” explained Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and project mastermind.

“It will not be filled up in my lifetime, nor in my grandchildren’s lifetime,” he predicted.

Norway has assumed the €6 million ($9.6m) charge for building the vault in its Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where ironically no crops grow.

Secured behind an airlock door, the three airtight chambers have the capacity to house duplicates of samples from all the world’s more than 1400 existing seed banks.

Many of the more vulnerable seed banks have begun contributing to the “doomsday vault” collection, but some of the world’s biodiversity has already disappeared, with gene vaults in both Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed by war and a seed bank in the Philippines annihilated by a typhoon.

By the time of the inauguration, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault should hold some 250,000 samples, which will remain the property of their countries of origin.

Pakistan and Kenya, both undergoing periods of serious unrest, have sent seed collections, while samples sent from Colombia have been closely scrutinised by police to avoid the project becoming a vehicle for drug trafficking.

“I’ve been working in this field for 30 years and I thought I knew at least all the crops,” Mr Fowler said.

After receiving a list of all the different seeds in the vault, however, “I must admit there are a number of crops I’ve never heard of before”, he said.

That’s a spectacular amount of diversity for Svalbard, where no trees can grow due to the permafrost and where the mercury plummets to an average 14C below zero in winter.

The Norwegian archipelago, which is home to some 2300 people, was selected not despite but because of its inhospitable climate, as well as its remote location far from civil strife.

The seeds of wheat, maize, oats and other crops will be stored at a constant temperature of minus 18C Celsius, and even if the freezer system fails the permafrost will ensure that temperatures never rise above 3.5C below freezing.

“Svalbard really met all the criteria,” Mr Fowler said.

Protected by high walls of fortified concrete, an armoured door, a sensor alarm and the native polar bears that roam the region, the “doomsday vault” has been built 130m above current sea level - high enough that it would not flood if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt entirely due to global warming.

The concrete cocoon has also been built to withstand nuclear missile attacks or a plunging plane, something that could come in handy in light of the 6.4-scale tremor - the biggest earthquake in Norway’s history - registered near the archipelago on Thursday.

© 2008 Agence France-Presse

February 25:

1964 : Clay knocks out Liston

On February 25, 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay shocks the odds-makers
by dethroning world heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston in a
seventh-round technical knockout. The dreaded Liston, who had twice
demolished former champ Floyd Patterson in one round, was an 8-to-1
favorite. However, Clay predicted victory, boasting that he would
"float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and knock out Liston in the
eighth round. The fleet-footed and loquacious youngster needed less
time to make good on his claim--Liston, complaining of an injured
shoulder, failed to answer the seventh-round bell. A few moments
later, a new heavyweight champion was proclaimed.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942.
He started boxing when he was 12 and by age 18 had amassed a record of
over 100 wins in amateur competition. In 1959, he won the
International Golden Gloves heavyweight title and in 1960 a gold medal
in the light heavyweight category at the Summer Olympic Games in Rome.
Clay turned professional after the Olympics and went undefeated in his
first 19 bouts, earning him the right to challenge Sonny Liston, who
had defeated Floyd Patterson in 1962 to win the heavyweight title.

On February 25, 1964, a crowd of 8,300 spectators gathered at the
Convention Hall arena in Miami Beach to see if Cassius Clay, who was
nicknamed the "Louisville Lip," could put his money where his mouth
was. The underdog proved no bragging fraud, and he danced and
backpedaled away from Liston's powerful swings while delivering quick
and punishing jabs to Liston's head. Liston hurt his shoulder in the
first round, injuring some muscles as he swung for and missed his
elusive target. By the time he decided to discontinue the bout between
the sixth and seventh rounds, he and Clay were about equal in points.
A few conjectured that Liston faked the injury and threw the fight,
but there was no real evidence, such as a significant change in
bidding odds just before the bout, to support this claim.

To celebrate winning the world heavyweight title, Clay went to a
private party at a Miami hotel that was attended by his friend Malcolm
X, an outspoken leader of the African American Muslim group known as
the Nation of Islam. Two days later, a markedly more restrained Clay
announced he was joining the Nation of Islam and defended the
organization's concept of racial segregation while speaking of the
importance of the Muslim religion in his life. Later that year, Clay,
who was the descendant of a runaway Kentucky slave, rejected the name
originally given to his family by a slave owner and took the Muslim
name of Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali would go on to become one of the 20th century's greatest
sporting figures, as much for his social and political influence as
his prowess in his chosen sport. After successfully defending his
title nine times, it was stripped from him in 1967 after he refused
induction into the U.S. Army on the grounds that he was a Muslim
minister and therefore a conscientious objector. That year, he was
sentenced to five years in prison for violating the Selective Service
Act but was allowed to remain free as he appealed the decision. His
popularity plummeted, but many across the world applauded his bold
stand against the Vietnam War.

In 1970, he was allowed to return to the boxing ring, and the next
year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali's draft evasion conviction.
In 1974, he regained the heavyweight title in a match against George
Foreman in Zaire and successfully defended it in a brutal 15-round
contest against Joe Frazier in the Philippines in the following year.
In 1978, he lost the title to Leon Spinks but later that year defeated
Spinks in a rematch, making him the first boxer to win the heavyweight
title three times. He retired in 1979 but returned to the ring twice
in the early 1980s. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with pugilistic
Parkinson's syndrome and has suffered a slow decline of his motor
functions ever since. He was inducted into the International Boxing
Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame at the opening
ceremonies of the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Ali's daughter,
Laila, made her boxing debut in 1999.

At a White House ceremony in November 2005, Ali was awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.

General Interest
1964 : Clay knocks out Liston

1870 : African American congressman sworn in

1986 : Marcos flees the Philippines


Solve Global Warming with Slave Trade Economics?

By George Monbiot, Posted February 21, 2008.

A major environmental UK report explains how human life can be priced and exchanged for goods and services.

This is a column about how good intentions can run amok. It tells the story of how an honorable, intelligent man set out to avert environmental disaster and ended up accidentally promoting the economics of the slave trade. It shows how human lives can be priced and exchanged for goods and services.

The story begins in a village a few miles to the west of London. The British government proposes to flatten Sipson in order to build a third runway for Heathrow airport. The public consultation is about to end, but no one doubts that the government has made up its mind.

Its central case is that the economic benefits of building a third runway outweigh the economic costs. The extra capacity, the government says, will deliver a net benefit to the UK economy of £5 billion [Ed. note: one British Pound is worth nearly $2]. The climate change the runway will cause costs £4.8 billion, but this is dwarfed by the profits to be made.

There is plenty of evidence suggesting that the government's numbers are wrong. A new analysis by the environmental consultancy CE Delft shows that the official figures overestimate both the number of jobs the runway will generate and the value brought to the United Kingdom by extra business passengers. In an excoriating article in the Guardian last week, Professor Paul Ekins demonstrated that the government has rigged the cost of carbon. (Delightfully, the web address for the consultation document ends completecondoc.pdf.) But while the runway's opponents don't like the results, most people seem to agree that weighing up economic costs and benefits is a sensible method of making this decision. The problem, they argue, is that the wrong figures have been used.

When Sir Nicholas Stern published his study of the economics of climate change, environmentalists (myself included) lined up to applaud him: he had given us the answer we wanted. He showed that stopping runaway climate change would cost less than failing to prevent it. But because his report was so long, few people bothered to find out how he had achieved this result. It took me a while, but by the time I reached the end I was horrified.

On one side of Stern's equation are the costs of investing in new technologies (or not investing in old ones) to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from rising above a certain level. These can reasonably be priced in pounds or dollars. On the other side are the costs of climate change. Some of them -- such as higher food prices and the expense of building sea walls -- are financial, but most take the form of costs which are generally seen as incalculable: the destruction of ecosystems and human communities; the displacement of people from their homes; disease and death. All these costs are thrown together by Sir Nicholas with a formula he calls "equivalent to a reduction in consumption," to which he then attaches a price.

Stern explains that this "consumption" involves not just the consumption of goods we might buy from the supermarket, but also of "education, health and the environment." He admits that this formula "raises profound difficulties", especially the "challenge of expressing health (including mortality) and environmental quality in terms of income." But he uses it anyway, and discovers that the global disaster which would be unleashed by a 5-6° rise in temperature, and which is likely to involve widespread famine, is "equivalent to a reduction in consumption" of 5-20%.

It is true that as people begin to starve they will consume less. When they die they cease to consume altogether. But Stern's unit (a reduction in consumption) incorporates everything from the price of baked beans to the pain of bereavement. He then translates it into a "social cost of carbon", measured in dollars. He has, in other words, put a price on human life. Worse still, he has ensured that this price is buried among the other prices: when you read that the "social cost of carbon" is $30 a ton, you don't know -- unless you unpick the whole report and its methodology and sources -- how much of this is made of human lives.


See more stories tagged with: stern report, climate change, global warming

George Monbiot is the author Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at This article originally appeared in the Guardian.