Pakistan troops retake Buner Valley – kill over 50 Taliban in battle


Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Pakistani troops took the main town in strategically important Buner Valley on Wednesday after dropping by helicopter behind Taliban lines, killing more than 50 militants in two days, the military said.

A U.S. drone meanwhile fired a missile into another region, the major al Qaeda sanctuary of South Waziristan, killing six militants in the latest such attack by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s advance earlier this month into Buner, just 100 km northwest of the capital had sent shivers through Pakistan and heightened fears in the United States that the nuclear-armed Muslim state was becoming more unstable.

We assure the nation that armed forces have the capability to ward off any kind of threat,” military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told a news conference in Rawalpindi, the garrison town close to the capital, Islamabad.

We got the same assurances – via military-to-military contacts – from President Obama, tonight, in his prime time press conference.

Pakistan had used jet fighters at the start of the operation on Tuesday then deployed helicopter gunships which inflicted more than 50 casualties, Abbas said. One soldier was killed.

The Islamabad government’s demonstration of military resolve will probably reassure U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai when they meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Washington on May 6-7 to discuss strategy.

RTFA. Lots of detail – even though the article serves as a catch-all while everyone tries to figure out [1] what is actually going on in Pakistan, especially the Tribal areas – and [2] has the Pakistan government gotten to where it has a coherent strategy to continue the process of building a strong and democratic state?

Climate phonies even ignored their own scientists

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995…

Documents drawn up by the coalition’s advisers were provided to lawyers…during the discovery process in a lawsuit… The documents included drafts of a primer written for the coalition by its technical advisory committee, as well as minutes of the advisers’ meetings…

According to the minutes of an advisory committee meeting that are among the disclosed documents, the primer was approved by the coalition’s operating committee early in 1996. But the approval came only after the operating committee had asked the advisers to omit the section that rebutted the contrarian arguments.

The primer itself was never publicly distributed.

So much for peer review and anything resembling verifiable methods – when corporate flunkies play at junk science.

Michigan GOP cancels event with Utah’s Republican governor


Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. and a “pure” Republican
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A Michigan Republican says she canceled an event set to be attended by Utah’s moderate GOP governor because it would have betrayed the party’s values.

Kent County, Mich., Republican Chairwoman Joanne Voorhees canceled the party fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, which was to be attended by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr…

The voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots,” Voorhees was quoted by the Grand Rapids Press as saying in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite.”

Voorhees didn’t specify in the e-mail why the fundraiser was canceled, and she didn’t return calls to the Tribune. However, the group Campaign for Michigan Families praised the cancellation, saying it was because of Huntsman’s support of civil unions for same-sex couples.

“Presumably he is testing the waters (for a U.S. presidential run) and we hope he realizes now the waters in Michigan will be hazardous to someone who endorses the homosexual activist political agenda,” said campaign director Gary Glenn.

Phew! As Lenny Bruce used to say, “When do they start passing out the armbands?”

Canada aims to end traditional coal power – they say!

The Canadian government plans new regulations that will effectively phase out traditional coal-fired power stations, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said in an interview just published.

He told the Globe and Mail newspaper that new coal plants would have to include technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions and inject them underground for permanent storage.

Ottawa also plans to impose absolute emission caps on utilities’ existing coal-fired power plants and establish a market-based system to allow them to buy credits to meet those targets, he said.

“The approach that we’ve been working toward involves a cap-and-trade system relating to thermal coal, and the requirement of phasing out those facilities as they reach the end of their useful, fully amortized life,” Prentice said.

“The concept is that, as these facilities are fully amortized and their useful life fully expended, they would not be replaced with coal,” he added, saying the regulations would be unveiled later this year.

The Globe said coal-fired electricity represents roughly 18 per cent of Canada’s current emissions, and eight of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters in the country are coal-fired power plants.

I can’t help reacting to the cap-and-trade babble as something approaching transmogrification – and not much closer to the real world. Add to that some agitprop telling me a Conservative government is taking the side of science over wealthy shareholders and you’ll forgive me while I search for my Wellies.

Of course, they could just be scheduling all these “positive” changes to be stepped into place just after succeeding elections.

Breaking down the walls in the way of biomass fuels

biofuel_graphic

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.

In separate papers published in Biophysical Journal and recently in an issue of Biomacromolecules, Los Alamos researchers identify potential weaknesses among sheets of cellulose molecules comprising lignocellulosic biomass, the inedible fibrous material derived from plant cell walls. The material is a potentially abundant source of sugar that can be used to brew batches of methanol or butanol, which show potential as biofuels…

Working with other researchers, Los Alamos researcher Paul Langan used neutrons to probe the crystalline structure of highly crystalline cellulose, much like an X-ray is used to probe the hidden structures of the body. Langan and his colleagues found that although cellulose generally has a well-ordered network of hydrogen bonds holding it together, the material also displays significant amounts of disorder, creating a different type of hydrogen bond network at certain surfaces. These differences make the molecule potentially vulnerable to an attack by cellulase enzymes.

Moreover, in this month’s Biophysical Journal, Los Alamos researchers Tongye Shen and Gnana Gnanakaran describe a new lattice-based model of crystalline cellulose. The model predicts how hydrogen bonds in cellulose can shift to remain stable under a wide range of temperatures. This plasticity allows the material to swap different types of hydrogen bonds but also constrains the molecules so that they must form bonds in the weaker configuration described by Langan and his colleagues. Most important, Shen and Gnanakaran’s model identifies hydrogen bonds that can be manipulated via temperature differences to potentially make the material more susceptible to attack by enzymes that can crack the fibers into sugars for biofuel production.

We have been able to identify a chink in the armor of a very tough and worthy adversary—the cellulose fiber,” said Gnanakaran, who leads the theoretical portion of a large, multidisciplinary biofuels project at Los Alamos. “These results are some of the first to come from this team, and eventually could point us toward an economical and viable process for making biofuels from cellulosic biomass,” adds Langan, director of the biofuels project.

Folks down here in Santa Fe County have a friendly, though occasionally adversarial, relationship with the Los Alamos scientists “up on the hill”. We often refer to them somewhat fondly as “coneheads”.

Truth is – when they’re allowed to crank some of that high-priced brain power to useful ends – the Labs are capable of producing serious breakthroughs that mean a lot more to the citizens of this planet than the latest and greatest plutonium bomb.

Maybe – just maybe – over the course of Obama’s administration, research that points in the green direction rather than straight to hell will be the rule rather than the exception?

Fired for bothering smokers in non-smoking area

Zak Gunter took on a smoker at Health Canada for lighting up where she wasn’t supposed to, and the smoker won.

Gunter, 24, was stunned when he lost his job with a fire-alarm testing company as a result of a confrontation with a public servant who had been smoking near the main entrance of Health Canada’s Jeanne Mance Building at Tunney’s Pasture.

Gunter’s troubles began near the end of his second day at Jeanne Mance, on April 7, when he noticed yet another smoker, a couple of metres outside the lobby’s main doors, puffing away beside a No Smoking sign. He says that, as he was working in the lobby area and the main doors were in constant use, he had to put up with continuous bursts of cigarette smoke and odour from groups of smokers who were huddled near the entrance. The weather was pretty crummy both days that he worked there, with snow, rain, wind and cool temperatures…

As he had done on eight or nine other occasions with other smokers over the two days at Jeanne Mance, Gunter rapped on the window, got the attention of the woman, and pointed to the No Smoking sign near where she was standing.

But unlike the other smokers, who he says sheepishly took the hint and finished their cigarettes away from the main entrance, the middle-aged woman gestured at Gunter to leave her alone. When she came inside, she confronted Gunter and gave him a piece of her mind.

She told him that his rapping on the window frightened her and that he had no business telling her what to do.

When he arrived for work the next morning, Gunter was told by Siemens to leave the premises because the company was investigating his “altercation” with the woman. The next day, Gunter was told that he had been relieved of his job. When Gunter defended his rights as a non-smoker, he says a Siemens supervisor told him, “I don’t care about your rights.”

Bureaucrats’ only loyalty is to the breed. Forget reason, forget law, forget common sense.

The 5-year-old first to fall ill in Mexico – and the Pig Baron

Édgar Hernández can rattle off the fierce flu symptoms he suffered a few weeks back, like a boy far beyond his five years: His head was hot. He coughed until his belly and his throat were sore. He did not want to eat, which was strange for him, someone who gobbles up everything he can.

“I was very bad,” he said Tuesday, with his worried parents looking on. “I feel good now,” he said later, flashing a smile.

The government has identified Édgar as the first person in Mexico to have become infected with a virulent strain of swine flu, a notoriety that could raise questions about how Mexican officials reacted — or failed to react — to the early stages of what might become a global epidemic.

Édgar was one of hundreds of people in La Gloria who came down with flulike symptoms in an outbreak that federal officials say began March 9. Local residents accuse public health officials of discounting the outbreak at the time, reassuring them that it was nothing grave…

In La Gloria, a town that has a major pig farming industry, two children died of the flu in March and early April, though the authorities said they had yet to determine whether it was the same strain that infected Édgar and spread widely to other locales. That and other questions have left residents here unnerved and confused.

Here is a special report on pig farming in La Gloria. It ain’t some local truck farmer cranking out a couple hundred porkers every year. It’s a factory farm owned by Joseph Luter III, the Pig Baron of the world, the man who owns Smithfield – a corporation that has been busted in the United States and Europe for corrupting environments where he builds his pig warehouses.

Each knock on the door brings a surprise to the Hernándezes: fumigators who sprayed her home but did not tell her for what; scientists who asked to take a swab of Édgar’s throat; even the governor of Veracruz, who arrived by helicopter on Monday with an entourage in tow and left Édgar with a soccer ball and a baseball cap.

On Monday, the local physician who treated Mrs. Hernández told her that her son had influenza, but that it was not the swine flu virus, she said. But a few hours before, Gov. Fidel Herrera Beltrán walked right into her home to check on Édgar. He had said publicly over the weekend that Édgar had tested positive for swine flu, and Health Secretary José Ángel Córdova had confirmed on Monday that a boy from La Gloria, whom he refused to identify, had tested positive and then recovered.

“Shouldn’t they tell the mother first?” Mrs. Hernández asked as her younger son, Jonathan, 3, let out a cough of his own…

Smithfield’s PR pimps are cranking out all the predictable excuses. The fact remains that his pork factories degrade the environment, produce conditions where diseases like swine flu start – and spread.

Salazar seeks to roll-back rules on mine-waste dumping


Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has asked that a federal court vacate a rule allowing mining companies to dump waste near rivers and streams.

Salazar instructed the Justice Department to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to vacate the rule adopted in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, The Washington Post reported.

A 1983 law barring mine operators from dumping debris — collected from shearing mountaintops to reach coal seams — within 100 feet of an intermittent or permanent stream if the waste would harm water quality or reduce water flow.

Salazar said the Bush administration pushed through a rule allowing operators to dump the waste into stream beds “if it’s found to be the cheapest and most convenient disposal option.”

“We must responsibly develop our coal supplies to help us achieve energy independence, but we cannot do so without appropriately assessing the impact such development might have on local communities and natural habitat,” he said in a statement.

Ain’t a bad first step – but, that’s all it is. The 1983 law at the base of this little empire of rubble has rarely been enforced by governments led by either of the TweedleDeeDum Parties.

University forces firms to supply cheap medicines


Phil Norton/Photosensitive used by permission

Edinburgh is to become the first British university to help make cheap medicines available to the developing world by licensing research to pharmaceutical companies only on condition that poorer communities get life-saving drugs at cost price.

One in three people around the world has no access to basic medicines and 10 million children a year die for want of affordable and effective drugs. Now, under pressure from students, Edinburgh aims to force companies to supply cheap drugs in return for using patents held by the university. The idea has built on a World Health Organisation campaign supported by Bill Gates’s Gates Foundation, Bill Clinton’s Clinton HIV/Aids Initiative and the Department for International Development…

“Of the challenges facing the world at present, global health and access to medicines is among the most crucial. We are hopeful that by making our medicines as accessible as possible to those in greatest need, we will make a real difference to the millions of people who die from often-preventable diseases every year…”

Of the 35 million deaths from chronic disease that occurred in 2005, 80% occurred in low- and middle-income countries. However, scientists working within a number of universities have realised the influence they can have to intervene in the situation. Between 1991 and 2005, the number of patents held by universities more than doubled, giving them leverage over how the big pharmaceutical companies use their research…

Mori Mansouri, UK National Coordinator for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, described Edinburgh’s adoption of the policy as a major step forward. “We want to ensure every health-related innovation developed in campus laboratories is made available in the developing world at the lowest possible cost, and increase the amount and impact of university research on neglected diseases,” he said.

There are no easy battles for positive, progressive goals. Not when profits are involved.