US war in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan

The war in Afghanistan spilled over into Pakistani territory for the first time when heavily armed commandoes, believed to be US special forces, landed by helicopter and attacked three houses in a village close to a known Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.

The early morning attack on Jala Khel killed between seven and 20 people, according to a range of reports from the remote Angoor Adda region of South Waziristan. The village is situated less than a mile from the Afghanistan border.

Local residents were quoted as saying most of the dead were civilians and included women and children. It was not known whether any Taliban or al-Qaida militants or western forces were among the dead.

A Nato spokesman denied involvement. There were unconfirmed reports that the incursion was carried out by US special forces, which are not under Isaf command and can operate independently. A US military spokesman at the Bagram base near Kabul did not deny an attack had occurred but declined to comment.

The Afghan War was neither fought to completion in the first instance – nor were responsible levels of aid and assistance forthcoming after the initial occupation.

The West demonstrated as little concern for Afghani noncombatants as they did for the rule of international and military law in their treatment of the Taliban brigades.

Now, they find themselves with a situation worse than that which engendered the Taliban successes in the first place. Exactly what I would expect from military and political incompetents.

U.S. government sues Boeing over fraud

The federal government has sued Boeing for allegedly inflating the prices of B-1 bomber equipment sold to the Air Force. The lawsuit alleges the military paid $7.5 million more than it should have because Boeing did not tell the Air Force during contract negotiations that it found a source for cheaper parts to build decoy systems that protect bombers from missiles…

It’s a significant amount and, of course, it’s all taxpayer money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Palombo told The Associated Press.

“We make it a priority to collect all taxpayer funds that are obtained through fraud. We don’t make exceptions for anyone, individuals or large companies…”

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, alleges Boeing told the Air Force during negotiations in 1990 that it would manufacture parts for decoy systems at its own facility in Palmdale. Boeing allegedly did not inform the Air Force that it planned to close the facility and buy parts from subcontractors at a lower price.

We paid Boeing $36 million for 57 of these decoy kits. Under the False Claims Act, the government can recover up to three times the amount it overpaid, plus penalties.

I hope they get every penny.

Safety shortcuts exposed in U.S. nuclear fuel facility

US regulators have ignored expert safety advice in an attempt to cut corners and fast track the completion of a $4 billion nuclear fuel facility currently under construction near Aiken, South Carolina.

Nuclear disarmament treaties have resulted in a large surplus of weapons-grade plutonium. The US government has initiated moves to build and operate a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility (MOFFF) that will convert recovered plutonium into fuel rods for use in civil nuclear power generation. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has hushed up a highly critical assessment of the plant’s engineering by its top independent reviewer.

The claims are made by Dan Tedder, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Tedder, who was hired by the NRC as an independent technical reviewer in April 2007, told The Chemical Engineer that basic chemical process design information was incomplete and presented serious safety implications.

When they go operational there will be safety problems”, says Tedder. “The documentation provided in the license application is very superficial and lacks the type of technical depth I would expect. It isn’t consistent with reasonable and generally-accepted good engineering practice – I’ve never seen such a crazy system.”

Whilst the NRC has refuted the accusations as “baseless”, it has refused access to the disputed documents on the grounds that they are designated ‘Proprietary or Official Use Only-Security Reacted Information’, a move that does little to allay concerns over the safety of the plant.

It’s been beaucoup years since I was involved with nuclear power generation. I’m still a firm supporter of the method – as long as safety standards are met – as long as the pork is pared from the payback to builders and operators.

Sounds like not much has changed.

Kicked Off Team for Being A Girl

The more things change…

McDonough, Ga. — The McDonough NCC Crusaders have never seen a kicker like this: 14 years old and making 50 yard field goals….

The star kicker is a girl: freshman Kacy Stuart: “I was playing kickball in 8th grade and my P.E. teacher saw me kick. He thought I had potential, so I played on his football team.”

This year, Kacy moved. She is now playing football at the New Creation Center (NCC). It’s a private Christian school.

“She’s a good kicker. She has a lot of skill, and we’re just glad she’s on the team,” school administrator Judy Foster said.

NCC belongs to the Georgia Football League. The group oversees athletic programs for private Christian schools and home school programs. Earlier this month, the executive board called the NCC coach and said Kacy was not allowed to play because she’s a girl.

“I thought this would never happen,” Kacy said, “because there’s nothing in the rulebook that says I can’t play.”

What? You thought rules and fairness had anything to do with this?  You thought that if you were the best qualified, you would be allowed to play?  Bad girl, bad girl.

The great chess master Emanuel Lasker once said, “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.”

The hypocrisies of scholastic sports have a long history. My advice: Take up chess, and you will be free to play whomever you wish.

Vaccinations face resistance based on ignorance and gossip

Angela O’Connell will not allow her 15-month-old son to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella because she is certain the vaccination caused autism in her older boy, Aidan.

Over and over, careful scientific research has found no link between vaccinations and autism. Experts note that autism tends to emerge at the same age children receive their shots, leading to a false sense of cause and effect.

Federal officials report that measles cases in the U.S. have reached their highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of the cases involving children of parents who opted against vaccination.

In Illinois the number of schoolchildren not getting shots for religious reasons is small but rising. During the 2007-08 academic year, almost 7,000 students got religious exemptions to avoid the measles shot, compared with about 3,000 in 1998-99. Those figures do not include home-schooled children, who sometimes go unvaccinated.

Doctors say worried parents tend to find scientific data less persuasive than the horror stories they hear about vaccine side effects online or from friends. One expert said attitudes are likely to change eventually, but only after children start dying again of diseases parents have come to think of as obsolete.

I grew up before the broad swath of childhood vaccinations existed. Every year – in my neighborhood – we counted the deaths from measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, diphtheria, polio.

I lost a playmate or two, every winter.

As science brought answers to questions, brought alternatives to death and lifelong handicaps, working people fought to gain support from a government that often preferred marketplace solutions – rather than public health. Now, a new wave of ignorance and gossip drives the foolishness that affects whole communities and, worst of all, endangers our children.

Christian Lawyers sue gallery over ‘blasphemous’ erection

Representatives for a gallery in Gateshead appeared in court yesterday charged with outraging public decency, after featuring a statue of Jesus with an erection.

The artwork was part of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art’s September 2007-January 2008 exhibition Gone, Yet Still, by the controversial Chinese artist Terence Koh, which featured dozens of plaster figures including Mickey Mouse and ET – all in some state of arousal.

Lawyers for Emily Mapfuwa, a 40-year-old Christian who was offended by the artwork, launched a private prosecution against the gallery for outraging public decency and causing harassment, alarm and distress to the public.

Christian Legal Centre – an organisation that aims to “promote and protect the biblical freedoms of Christian believers in the United Kingdom” – agreed to pay her legal costs…A CLC spokesman said Mapfuwa believed in freedom of expression, but “this statue served no other purpose than to offend Christians and to denigrate Christ”.

Let’s face it, folks. If your quasi-mythical Jesus was a man, he had erections. If he didn’t, he was in need of medical care.

Philadelphia funeral home stole and sold parts from 244 corpses

Two brothers who ran a funeral home and crematorium have admitted that they sold corpses to a company that trafficked stolen body parts, a macabre scheme that left families aghast and unclear about the fate of their loved ones.

Louis and Gerald Garzone pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy, theft, abuse of corpse and welfare fraud.

The gruesome allegations read in court drew gasps, murmurs and tears from about two dozen people who had entrusted the bodies of their loved ones to the Garzones’ facilities in Philadelphia.

The brothers allowed at least 244 corpses to be carved up without families’ permission and without medical tests, prosecutors said. Skin, bones, tendons and other parts — some of them diseased — were then sold around the country for dental implants, knee and hip replacements, and other procedures.

Some bodies were only torsos by the time the hacking was done.

There really is no limit to the disgusting, contemptible and criminal acts greedy people will commit. And I’m not even talking about politicians.

Alert for Hurricane Gustav online fraud

Reuters Pictures/Daylife

To date, more than 280 Internet domain names have been registered relating to Hurricane Gustav, some of them using words like “charity,” “relief,” and “support.” The U of Alabama – Birmingham [UAB] computer forensic team is watching these domains to detect any signs of fraudulent use. UAB’s Spam Data Mine collects millions of email messages used to provide investigators with spam intelligence and determine new attack methods.

“In past disasters, domain names have been used to lure the charitable into donating funds to fraudulent sites,” said Gary Warner, UAB’s Director of Computer Forensics. “As of this morning, no fraudulent usage has been detected, but consumers need to be on their guard.”

“While many new charities may pop up specifically related to the disaster only donate to well-established charities like Red,” Warner said. “Avoid making donations through click buttons on newly established Web sites.”

I can’t agree more. Kudos to these folks at the U of Alabama!

Spanish Judge seeks to unearth fate of Franco’s victims

For the first time since the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, died in 1975, Spanish authorities are taking action regarding the victims of the regime who still linger in thousands of unmarked graves throughout the country.

The high court judge Baltasar Garzón…has sent an official request to various government archives, the Catholic church, the keepers of Franco’s tomb and the Madrid, Granada, Cordoba and Seville city halls for documentation on mass graves from the 1936-1939 Spanish civil war and the subsequent 36-year dictatorship. Garzón is asking for victims’ names, and the dates and circumstances of their deaths.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Emilio Silva, founder and head of the non-profit Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH), whose volunteer forensics, archaeologists and anthropologists have excavated 120 mass graves containing around 1,200 people over the past eight years. “This is the first time Spanish authorities have done something like this and it could be the first step towards a truth commission,” he said…

Historians estimate that from the beginning of the civil war between Franco’s Nationalists and supporters of the Republic to the dictator’s death, Franco’s forces killed around 150,000 people and Republicans killed around 60,000, mostly during the war. The regime recovered almost all of the Nationalist dead, but Franco’s victims have never received the same treatment. Silva said the people in mass graves could number at least 100,000.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to know several veterans of the Spanish Civil War. It’s worth reflecting that every one of them stayed true to their ideals of fighting fascism, fighting for freedom.