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Archive for October 21st, 2011

India to lift contentious security law in Kashmir

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Yes, there are parts of Kashmir that look just like my neck of the prairie
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A much-despised law that suspends basic rights and shields security forces from prosecution in the disputed province of Kashmir will be lifted in some areas in the next few days.

Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, said in a speech to police officers that the situation in many areas of Kashmir had become peaceful enough to warrant removing the law, which is known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Human rights activists have long argued that the act, which gives government security forces wide latitude in areas where insurgents operate, has led to widespread abuses. The discovery of thousands of unidentified bodies in mass graves in the region this summer seemed to underscore the impunity the law allowed.

Security officers cannot be prosecuted for acts committed while on duty in areas covered by the act without permission from the Home Ministry, and such permission has almost never been granted, even in cases where rape and murder were alleged.

The law was put in place in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir in 1990, when the state was in the grip of insurgents — partly fueled by Pakistan — who sought to wrest it free of India…The insurgency petered out in the late 1990s, and the past few years have been largely free from armed struggle. But the act has remained in force and was a crucial catalyst for unarmed protests that have swelled in Kashmir almost every summer in recent years. Last year more than 100 people died in protests, most of them killed by security officers who fired into rock-throwing crowds.

But this summer was largely tranquil, and the state government has been slowly reducing the visibility of its security presence in the region, removing heavily armored bunkers and taking machine-gun-toting security officers off the streets.

Like many activists around the world who support the range of struggle from national liberation movements in earlier days, pro-democracy movements, nowadays – I sincerely hope the Indian government can make it past sectarian insurgencies to support full-blown democracy in a region long in the search for its own voice in governing.

This could be a start.

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Written by Ed Campbell

October 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Skeptical physicist completes review of climate change data — ends up confirming climate change

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Back in 2010, Richard Muller, a Berkeley physicist and self-proclaimed climate skeptic, decided to launch the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project to review the temperature data that underpinned global-warming claims…

Muller’s stated aims were simple. He and his team would scour and re-analyze the climate data, putting all their calculations and methods online. Skeptics cheered the effort. “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong,” wrote Anthony Watts, a blogger who has criticized the quality of the weather stations in the United States that provide temperature data. The Charles G. Koch Foundation even gave Muller’s project $150,000 — and the Koch brothers, recall, are hardly fans of mainstream climate science.

So what are the end results? Muller’s team appears to have confirmed the basic tenets of climate science. Back in March, Muller told the House Science and Technology Committee that, contrary to what he expected, the existing temperature data was “excellent.” He went on: “We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.” And, today, the BEST team has released a flurry of new papers that confirm that the planet is getting hotter. As the team’s two-page summary flatly concludes, “Global warming is real.”Here’s a chart comparing their findings with existing data…

BEST_temp_chart_2011

Peer review must have, will have, its day. That’s a right and proper part of scientific research.

Still, I have to chuckle over the know-nothings who supported the BEST research project. I’ll bet they’ll be spending the peer review time working like busy little ants to construct new rationales to avoid anything like responsible decision-making to combat the obvious causes of climate change.

NYC threatens to close bus service that makes women sit in back

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New York City authorities said they will shut down a city bus service run by Orthodox Jews if the group doesn’t stop making women sit at the back of the bus.

The Private Transportation Corp, which operates the city’s public B110 bus under a franchise arrangement, has come under criticism following publicity about its practice of making women give up their seats in the front to promote Hasidic customs of gender separation.

New York City’s Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said the agency’s executive director Anne Koenig has asked the company to respond to the allegations and was waiting to hear back…If such a violation is found, the franchise could be revoked, the DOT said in a statement…

The B110 bus runs through the sections of the borough of Brooklyn that are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.

A student reporter at Columbia University in New York published a story about a woman told by other riders to give up her seat in the front. Other news organizations then sent reporters who encountered similar situations…

Cripes. This franchise is 38 years old. No one noticed? No one complained before now?

Sorry; but, I find that hard to believe. Can there really be an overwhelming number of women in Brooklyn who rode that bus line and never noticed anything this backward going on?

Written by Ed Campbell

October 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Watch Out! — another dead satellite falling to Earth this weekend

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If you see a large glowing object plummeting from the sky late Saturday or early Sunday, duck.

A defunct European satellite called ROSAT is headed straight for Earth this weekend—and chances are even higher that a piece of space debris could hit someone than the odds placed on a NASA satellite that fell from orbit last month.

The German Aerospace Center, which led the development and construction of ROSAT, estimates that the chance of anyone being harmed by debris from the satellite is 1 in 2,000. For NASA’s UARS, the injury risk was roughly a third lower, at 1 in 3,200.

ROSAT is currently estimated to make an uncontrolled reentry during the early morning hours on Sunday, Greenwich Mean Time, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office. But Klinkrad cautions that the satellite could enter Earth’s atmosphere up to 24 hours earlier or later than the estimated time…

Unfortunately, neither Klinkrad nor anyone else can say exactly where on Earth ROSAT is headed.

Debris could come down anywhere between 53 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees south latitude, an area that includes most of Earth’s land mass…That could be a worry, because the satellite’s 1.5-ton mirror is likely to survive the superheated trip through the atmosphere all the way to the ground, where it could make a major dent in whatever it strikes…

If bits of the satellite do land in a populated area, “they will be extremely hot,” added the German Aerospace Center’s Roland Gräve. “This is why we recommend not touching any satellite parts” that do make it to the ground.

And any ROSAT debris, no matter where it’s found, belongs to the German government, he said.

There are people like Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics who are planning reentry parties. It’s tough keeping it on a schedule. He has a blanket email ready to go when he has concrete location numbers – just fill in the blanks and send it off into the Web.

We all can go “whoopee” while it crashes and burns.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Super Committee hauls in super donations from special interests

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Members of the congressional Super Committee have received more than $300,000 from 93 special interests in just six weeks since they were appointed, according to an analysis of FEC data by iWatch News. More than a third of the money came from health-related interests as the committee of 12 debates serious cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The donations from political action committees slightly favored the Republicans on the panel…Republicans got 84 donations for $181,000; Democrats received 63 donations totaling $121,000.

The analysis covered Aug. 11, the day the committee was formally announced, through Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter reporting period. And those dollar amounts will likely increase when the Senate contributions, which are not filed electronically, are submitted to the FEC…

The select panel has until the day before Thanksgiving to finish its work…

Of the 93 special interest groups who donated via their PACs…seven gave at least $10,000. They were:

FedEx, the shipping giant — $10,500
Pfizer, the pharmaceutical manufacturer — $10,000
The National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade association for beer companies — $10,000
The American Dental Association, the trade association for dentists around the nation — $10,000
Walt Disney Productions, the entertainment conglomerate — $10,000
Chevron, the oil giant — $10,000
The Associated General Contractors of America, the trade association of the construction industry — $10,000
Fresenius Medical, a major dialysis provider— $10,000

A mix of health and pharmaceutical companies made up at least $111,500 of the donations, by far the biggest business sector. One focus of the Super Committee is to find ways to save money on health care, which many have speculated means potential cuts into Medicare and Medicaid.

RTFA for examples of the cut-and-paste hogwash used to justify the existence of the gladhanders.

Not all members of the committee are raising big bucks around their committee membership. Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, promised last month that he would raise no money until the committee’s work is completed in late November. Sen. Jon Kyl is not running for re-election.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

A blunt warning to Pakistan

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We sit down to talk, the smile goes away!
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Islamabad — An unusually powerful American delegation arrived here on Thursday to deliver the starkest warning yet to Pakistan, according to a senior American official: that the United States would act unilaterally if necessary to attack extremist groups that use the country as a haven to kill Americans…

“This is a time for clarity,” Mrs. Clinton declared in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she met President Hamid Karzai before leaving for Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. “No one should be in any way mistaken about allowing this to continue without paying a very big price.”

“There’s no place to go any longer,” Mrs. Clinton added, referring to Pakistan’s leaders, whom the administration has accused of equivocating by supporting the Afghan insurgency…

Before the meeting, which took place at the residence of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a senior administration official said that the delegation would make it clear that if the Pakistanis did not act against insurgents like the Haqqani network, then the United States would have to.

The Haqqani network uses Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base and has become the most potent part of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Before stepping down last month, Adm. Mike Mullen, General Dempsey’s predecessor, called the Haqqanis “a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence service…

Pakistan’s response remains to be seen

RTFA. I understand they are between a rock and a hard place. It is – to a certain extent – a problem of their own making. The habit of funneling virtually all foreign aid through Pakistan’s military who dole it out to their bandit buddies as freely as they do to political hacks – ain’t any way to build and maintain democratic and progressive leadership of a nation still climbing out of the Stone Age they agreed to with the departure of the Brits at the end of colonial days.

If they don’t try, if they fail to take a stand for the advancement of the whole of Pakistan’s population while rejecting the sectarian bandits from fear of confrontation – US largesse and tribute must be cut off. Simple enough. Easy enough. Lose the Cold War mentality.

Written by Ed Campbell

October 21, 2011 at 2:00 am

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