Operation Panther’s Claw captures not opium, but – mung beans!

It was just the sort of good news the British military in Helmand needed. Soldiers engaged in Operation Panther’s Claw, the huge assault against insurgent strongholds last week, had discovered a record-breaking haul of more than 1.3 tonnes of poppy seeds, destined to become part of the opium crop that generates $400 million a year for the Taliban.

Ministry of Defence officials more used to dealing with negative stories about the British operation in southern Afghanistan swung into action to extract the maximum benefit from this unexpected PR coup.

A press release hailed the success of the offensive, and armoured vehicles were hastily laid on to allow the media, including the Guardian, to visit the site where the seizure was made, an abandoned market and petrol station that was still coming under sustained enemy fire when the reporters arrived.

Major Rupert Whitelegge, the commander of the company in charge of the area, tugged at one of the enormously heavy white sacks.

“They are definitely poppy seeds,” he said emphatically.

Except they weren’t. Analysis of a sample carried out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in Kabul for the Guardian has revealed that the soldiers had captured nothing more than a giant pile of mung beans, a staple pulse eaten in curries across Afghanistan.

Embarrassed British officials have now admitted that their triumph has turned sour and have promised to return the legal crop to its rightful owner.

Don’t the Brits allow farmers into their army anymore? Or vegetarians?

Venezuela and the U.S. restoring diplomatic ties

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

In a potentially significant step toward repairing their tattered relationship, the United States and Venezuela have formally agreed to resume full diplomatic relations, the State Department.

Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the two nations exchanged notes that in effect formalized pledges that President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made at the Summit of the Americas in April to reinstall ambassadors who were expelled in September.

U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy and his Venezuelan counterpart, Bernardo Alvarez, soon will resume their former posts in Caracas and Washington, respectively, Kelly said. Each country’s embassy had remained open and formal relations were never fully cut.

Kelly said the move would “help advance U.S. interests” by improving communication with the Venezuelan government and citizens…

Analysts said the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Venezuela reflects the important commercial ties between the nations, the Obama administration’s desire for better Latin American relations and Chavez’s need to improve his image…

During the Bush administration, relations between the two nations were abysmal, with leaders on both sides routinely exchanging insults. But relations seemed to improve at the April summit, where Obama and Chavez exchanged friendly greetings and Chavez presented Obama with a book.

Since taking office, Obama has said he wants “a new beginning” with Latin countries and has pledged to alleviate suspicions and work cooperatively with nations in the region.

A significant chunk of my years of political [and other] activism supporting movements of national liberation took place in Latin America. I’ve long held that commerce is a better way to solve conflicts than trotting out the imperial army. Looks like a few folks in DC think so, too. Now.

Minnesota Supreme Court says Franken won

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

It is U.S. Senator Al Franken.

The Minnesota Supreme Court today decided that Franken, a Democrat, won the highest number of votes in last year’s U.S. Senate race and deserves a signed election certificate.

The court said that Republican Norm Coleman didn’t prove that a lower court made mistakes requiring a rehearing of the case. Coleman had asked the court to order thousands of rejected absentee ballots counted. He had hoped the counting would allow him to overcome Franken’s 312-vote lead.

The court’s decision brings to an end the seven-month state fight over the Minnesota Senate race. Franken has had a lead since January and a trial court decided in April that he won the highest number of legally cast votes.

But Coleman has fought that determination, first in front of a three-judge panel and then in front of the state Surpeme Court. He had left open the possibility that he would wage a federal court fight for the lead either by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court or by encouraging supporters to file a suit in federal court.

Neither of those would necessarily keep Franken from being seated.


Child found alive after airliner crashes into Indian Ocean

Comorans line up outside hospital where the rescued child was brought
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A massive rescue effort was under way Tuesday after a young child was found among the wreckage of a downed Yemeni jet off the coast of Comoros in the Indian Ocean.

“One child is alive and we hope to find more,” Yemenia Airways chairman Capt. Abdulkhalek al-Kadi told CNN. The child has been taken to a hospital.

The French Navy is sending ships and a plan to help Yemeni authorities try to find any more survivors, he said.

The Yemenia Airways flight went down early Tuesday, carrying 153 people en route to the island nation of Comoros from Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.

A reconnaissance plane spotted traces of the Airbus A310-300 in waters off the town of Mitsamiouli early Tuesday, said Comoros Vice President Idi Nadhoim. Comoros is located off the coast of east Africa, between Tanzania and Madagascar…

At first, Comoros officials said there were no signs of survivors among the dead bodies floating in the choppy waters. But then rescuers found the young child.

One of those moments of good luck – coupled no doubt to a parent who kept their child buckled up.

Where’s the beef? Recall expands…

A Colorado company’s recall last week of beef products possibly contaminated with E. coli has been expanded, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. The recall came as a result of “an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states,” the USDA said.

The initial recall of 41,280 pounds announced last Wednesday was voluntarily expanded Sunday to include an additional 380,000 pounds of products made by the JBS Swift Beef Company, of Greeley, Colorado.

The recall came as a result of “an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states, of which at least 18 appear to be associated,” the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a written statement.

On its Web site, the company said the suspect beef was produced at its Greeley plant on April 21 and distributed nationally and internationally. “Each of our customers will be personally informed of this recall by phone,” the wholesaler said. A spokesman would not identify those customers to CNN.

“That’s ridiculous!” said Sarah Klein, a staff attorney for the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. “JBS should be able to say who they sold meat to, and those companies should be able to say, ‘These are the products we created from them.’ ”

The recall underscores the need for “a comprehensive animal identification system” that would allow meat suppliers to trace their products to an individual ranch, she said…

Symptoms of infection with E. coli bacteria can include severe or bloody diarrhea, vomiting and severe abdominal cramping…

Checking in with TV Talking Heads, this morning, there were a few diligent types who’d taken the time to call JBS, some of the JBS recutters they’d been able to track down – with no cooperation from JBS – and called local supermarkets from national chains to see if anyone knew if any of the contaminated beef was in their local food supply.

Frequent answer? “We haven’t a clue!” Isn’t that special? I called a couple of local chainstore markets and got the same answer.

UPDATE: Got this as part of a longer detailed response from Whole Foods corporate: “We’ve implemented an audit of the chain of custody of every shipment of meat before it is sent to our distribution centers. And our Team Members must be able to determine upon arrival to our distribution centers if a product is from an approved processing plant, or they will not accept the shipment.”

BTW – the JBS cartel now controls 35% of the U.S. beef supply and over 35% of the domestic livestock slaughter. The parent company has been investigated and fined for its cornering of the meat processing market in Brazil, and there is fear that these tactics will soon be seen in the U.S.

In Argentina, you can go to a restaurant and they can tell you which ranch grew the cattle that ended up on your plate; but, the modern industrial colossus that is the GOUSA can’t figure out how to do it.

Or at least the ranchers of America, slaughterhouses like JBS – and their lobbyists haven’t given the FDA and our federal government permission to do so.

Scientists take field trip to the Dark Ages

Paleontologists watching nutball video – trying to keep a straight face

Tamaki Sato was confused by the dinosaur exhibit. The placards described the various dinosaurs as originating from different geological periods — the stegosaurus from the Upper Jurassic, the heterodontosaurus from the Lower Jurassic, the velociraptor from the Upper Cretaceous — yet in each case, the date of demise was the same: around 2348 B.C.

“I was just curious why,” said Dr. Sato, a professor of geology from Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan…

But here in the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, Earth and the universe are just over 6,000 years old, created in six days by God. The museum preaches, “Same facts, different conclusions” and is unequivocal in viewing paleontological and geological data in light of a literal reading of the Bible…

The worlds of academic paleontology and creationism rarely collide, but the former paid a visit to the latter last Wednesday. The University of Cincinnati was hosting the North American Paleontological Convention, where scientists presented their latest research at the frontiers of the ancient past. In a break from the lectures, about 70 of the attendees boarded school buses for a field trip to the Creation Museum, on the other side of the Ohio River.

“I’m very curious and fascinated,” Stefan Bengtson, a professor of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said before the visit, “because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden…”

“I’m speechless,” said Derek E.G. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, who walked around with crossed arms and a grimace. “It’s rather scary…”

I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

Dr. Bengtson noted that to explain how the few species aboard the ark could have diversified to the multitude of animals alive today in only a few thousand years, the museum said simply, “God provided organisms with special tools to change rapidly.”

“Thus in one sentence they admit that evolution is real,” Dr. Bengtson said, “and that they have to invoke magic to explain how it works.”

Makes an interesting read for a short while. I’m not certain I’d want to waste part of a free day – wandering through the bowels of ignorance.

Avalanche of paperwork buries hopes of halting foreclosures

Somewhere on earth, there must be a more difficult task than this: persuading American mortgage companies to lower payments for homeowners who can no longer afford their loans. But as Karina Montenegro struggles to accomplish this feat for a troubled borrower, she strains to imagine a more futile pursuit.

Ms. Montenegro, an intern at a local company that seeks loan modifications, dials Washington Mutual to check on the status of an application for a homeowner whose income has plummeted. She endures a Muzak-scored purgatory while on hold. Syrupy-voiced customer service representatives chide her for landing in the wrong department. She learns that the documents her company sent in have simply vanished — for the third time since November.

“I don’t know what happened,” says a customer service officer who identifies himself as Chris. “I don’t know if there was a glitch in the system, whether it was transferred from one call center to the other.”

No mention if the paperwork was sent by certified mail – or any system requiring proof of receipt.

Hanging in the balance is more than the fate of individual homeowners. The administration portrays its mortgage program as a crucial piece of its broader effort to restore vigor to the economy. If the effort fails, foreclosures will continue to surge and home prices will probably keep falling, sowing fresh losses in the financial system and threatening to crimp credit anew for businesses and households.

Continue reading

Doctor Giggles got “floaty” while treating kids in hospital

A doctor inhaled laughing gas for ‘fun’ whilst he was treating children on a hospital A&E ward, a medical tribunal heard today.

Paediatrician Dr Jonathan Chahal, 33, was caught out when he was heard giggling in a resuscitation room by two on-duty nurses, it was claimed.

He then allegedly persuaded several nurses to breathe in the anaesthetic gas Entonox after telling them: ‘It makes me feel floaty.’

The drug has a warning from manufacturers saying people should not use machinery for up to 12 hours after taking it, the General Medical Council was told.

Are children tougher than tractors?

The incidents were said to have occurred in 2007 when Chahal, a senior house, officer was working as a locum at the Royal Liverpool Hospital in the children’s accidental and emergency ward. Counsel for the GMC…told the Manchester hearing how nurses Christine Timmons and Siobhan Fitzgerald were on duty at 2pm on June 27 when they went into the resuscitation room and spotted Chahal taking Entonox…

‘They were invited by Dr Chahal to sample the Entonox…

On July 5 nurses Briony Routledge and Amanda Howe were on duty at the Children’s A&E department when they spotted Chahal using Entonox consistently throughout the night.

Mr Sephton added: ‘He offered it to them and also offered it to a student nurse Helen Aspinall – two of them accepted Doctor Chahal’s offer…’

The doctor denies his fitness to practise was impaired.

Stick to your guns, doc. That is – if you can find them, figure out which end makes the big noise?

Public support in Pakistan for the Swat offensive remains strong

Two months into a military offensive against Taliban militants, public opinion is firmly behind the civilian government and the military and it shows no sign of wavering.

Investors in Pakistani stocks have been unnerved by the violence, which has included a string of suicide bombs in cities and attacks on the military across the north. But investors and the Pakistani people in general wanted to see the offensive prosecuted to the end, and only then would their confidence be restored, said a stock broker.

‘It is absolutely necessary for the government to control and counter these terrorist elements and regain its writ to end the state of despondency among the people who had started to feel there was no one to protect them,’ said Asif Qureshi, director of Invisor Securities.

‘Let alone foreign investors, the success of this operation is essential for the restoration of confidence among local investors as well,’ he said…

Rashid Rehman said…‘It may be partly American pressure but it is certainly also an internal assessment that ‘yes, we’ve lost control of these guys and they’ve gone haywire, something has to be done’…

Everybody wants this filth wiped out,’ said retired school principal Nighat Anis. ‘The operation must be carried on so that no one like Osama (bin Laden) could dare come here.’

Some of the religious parties continue their political battle on the streets – trying to dissuade a continued excision of the Taliban. They have become closer to laughable than effective. I think they are not only tailing behind changes in public opinions, they may just be painting themselves into a corner.