Road to recovery has turned into a highway of terror!

Asadullah and his fellow 55 passengers are taking a ride along the 483-km highway that many believe is the most dangerous stretch of road on the planet. Linking Kandahar and Kabul – Afghanistan’s two largest and most economically vital cities – and completed almost five years ago, the road was meant to open a gateway to economic development and improve the quality of life for Afghans.

The US state department touted the $190 million project as “the most visible sign of America’s post-war reconstruction” in Afghanistan. But today the road is a symbol of instability across the country, the failure of government and international security forces to maintain law and order, and the increasing presence of the Taliban.

Government and military officials say insurgents and bandits regularly pull travellers from their vehicles, murdering or kidnapping them for ransoms. Corrupt government security forces seek bribes and collaborate with insurgents and robbers. Roadside bombs frequently target Afghan police and military patrols, along with Nato convoys. No one in an official capacity can even quantify the violence…

Afghans unable to afford the $100 one-way airfare between Kabul and Kandahar pay an average of $6 for the bus ride. They hope the bus will be safer than travelling in private vehicles, which are favoured targets of the Taliban and highwaymen.

The police beg for another 320 able bodies. The Afghan Army begs for modern weapons. The United States – you may remember that we devised and led the invasion of this nation – spends billions on a temple to American greed in Baghdad’s Green Zone and the soldiers needed to protect it. We send the Afghan people little lectures on morality.

American conservatives and professional patriots see no contradictions whatsoever.

Question of law, responsibility for torture awaits next president

Cartoon by Peter Nicholson

The torture issue’s cancerous consequences go deep, and will cause headaches for the next president. New evidence has emerged in Congressional inquiries that throw more light on the extent to which early knowledge and approval of the abuse went to the highest levels. What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?

For three years I have followed a trail which leads unambiguously to the conclusion that the real bad eggs were not Lyndie England or others on the ground in Abu Ghraib, but the most senior officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the department of justice. Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy

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Sectarian row at Holy Sepulchre may let the rain in…

An unholy row is threatening one of the most sacred places in Christianity – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The centuries-old site, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, is visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year.

A recent survey says that part of the complex, a rooftop monastery, is in urgent need of repair, but work is being held up by a long-running dispute between two Christian sects who claim ownership of the site.

Various Christian denominations – Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Catholics, among others – have always jealously defended and protected their own particular parts of the site.

Disputes are not uncommon, particularly over who has the authority to carry out repairs.

For example, a wooden ladder has remained on a ledge just above the main entrance since the 19th Century – because no-one can agree who has the right to take it down.

As someone who generally chuckles at the superstitious premises used to validate all religions, I find this an especially droll example of ideologies professing to lead in “brotherly love” – and unable to sort out something as simple as fixing the roof.

Religion wastes more energy conjuring up silliness than accepted market leaders like politics or war.

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has announced that he will be voting for Sen. Barack Obama, citing the Democrat’s “ability to inspire” and the “inclusive nature of his campaign.”

“He has both style and substance. I think he is a transformational figure,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press…”

“I have voted for members of both parties in the course of my adult life. And as I said earlier, I will vote for the candidate I think can do the best job for America, whether that candidate is a Republican, a Democrat or an independent,” he added…

“I will ultimately vote for the person I believe brings to the American people the kind of vision the American people want to see for the next four years,” he said. “A vision that reaches out to the rest of the world, that starts to restore confidence in America, that starts to restore favorable ratings to America. Frankly, we’ve lost a lot in recent years.”

Not a surprise. Especially from a more traditional Republican than the sectarian crew in charge for the past 8 years.

I really like Powell’s quote about considering John McCain before he made the decision for Obama: He’s known the Republican nominee for more than three decades “and likes him and is looking for a reason to vote for him. Hasn’t found it yet.”

2009 EPA fuel economy: the Ten Best

The list begins and ends with Toyota

The EPA website for the environmentally cleanest and best fuel efficient car and truck models is at Green Vehicle Guide.

The best of the best, according to the EPA, is (miles per gallon highway/mpg city)

1. Toyota Prius Hybrid 48/45

2. Honda Civic Hybrid 40/45

3. Nissan Altima Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid FWD 35/33

4. Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD and Mercury Mariner Hybrid FWD 34/31

5. Smart Fortwo Convertible and Smart Fortwo Coupe 33/41

6. Toyota Camry Hybrid 33/34

7. Volkswagon Jetta (manual, diesel) 30/41

8. Volkswagon Jetta (automatic, diesel) and Volkswagon Jetta Sportwagon (automatic, diesel) 29/40

9. Toyota Yaris (manual) 29/36

10. Toyota Yaris (automatic) 29/35

As much as I like either the Toyota Prius or the Civic Hybrid, for the MSRP of either you could buy a Yaris for each foot.

Convert or we will kill you, Hindu lynch mobs tell fleeing Christians

Hundreds of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been forced to renounce their religion and become Hindus after lynch mobs issued them with a stark ultimatum: convert or die.

The wave of forced conversions marks a dramatic escalation in a two-month orgy of sectarian violence which has left at least 59 people dead, 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches burnt to the ground. As neighbour has turned on neighbour, thousands more Christians have sought sanctuary in refugee camps, unable to return to the wreckage of their homes unless they, too, agree to abandon their faith.

Last week, in the worst-affected Kandhamal district, The Observer encountered compelling evidence of the scale of the violence employed in a conversion programme apparently sanctioned by members of one of the most powerful Hindu groups in India, the 6.8-million member Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – the World Hindu Council…

The roads between the villages are rough and potholed, adding to the difficulties in accessing what is already a remote region, a six-hour drive from the state capital, Bhubaneshwar. The remoteness has undoubtedly played a part in the continuation of the violence, making it harder for police to move about quickly, even if they were minded to do so. Christian leaders, though, have accused the authorities of dragging their feet, claiming they are reluctant to antagonise the majority Hindu community in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year.

Yet the VHP is unrepentant and appears to be involved, at least at grassroots level, with the campaign of forced conversions. One priest who converted 18 Christians in the village of Sankarakhole last week told The Observer that he had been approached by local VHP representatives to carry out the ceremony.

Long, detailed and very sad article. So many people around the world wish the people of the Indian sub-continent well. So many of us want to see these ancient cultures united and thriving, viable in the 21st Century.

Theocrats, sectarian bigots fear the future as much as any truth.

Barack Obama addresses huge rallies in Missouri

Over 100,000 supporters at the St. Louis rally

Democrat Barack Obama said today the winds of change were blowing across America as he roused monster crowds totalling more than 175,000 in the Republican “red” state of Missouri.

Missouri voted for Republican President George W Bush in the last two elections, but Obama said “the winds are blowing for change across America” as he campaigned in the state metropolises of St Louis and Kansas City.

Police said the crowd in St Louis numbered at least 100,000 – Obama’s biggest yet in the United States, second overall only to the 200,000 who saw him speak in Berlin in July. The Kansas City crowd was more than 75,000.

The gigantic attendance numbers were testimony to Obama’s oratorical pulling power and boded well for his flipping a state, Missouri, from red to Democratic “blue”.

Obama was ahead of McCain by 50 per cent to 42 per cent in today’s Gallup national tracking poll. In the Rasmussen tracking poll, the Democrat was up 50 per cent to 45.

But Obama, 47, reiterated his message of recent days that supporters should not get “cocky”.

“Democrats have a way of snatching defeat from the jaws from victory. You can’t let up. You can’t pay too much attention to the polls. We’ve got to keep running through that finish line,” he said.

My wife and I tried for early voting twice, this weekend. Both times, the estimated wait stretched from an hour-and-a-half to three hours. Just to get to a voting machine. Normally, this would be a ten-minute procedure.

She’s going to try to get into one of the early voting locations on her way home from work some night in the coming week. I’ll try for mid-morning, mid-week. Both of us hoping for a quiet patch.

The turnout is simply amazing.