Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is the picture that the writer below was talking about in Afghanistan; the picture that Julie Jacobsen was talking about. I carried Julie's diary in this blog; it was one of the last posts before this chronicle went on temporary hiatus. This is Joshua Bernard of the United States of America's Army in Afghanistan; his legs were blown off while Julie watched it all happen. These were Josh's final moments.

Happy New Year, Iraq.

Justice Urbina ruled this week that Blackwater was not liable for the Iraq deaths which the world has been waiting to hear about all year..
Corporate food giant Monsanto uses patents to bully small farmers and strangle competition
December 14

It has been a very impressive year for the Associated Press. A few months ago, Julie Jacobson of the AP published tragic photos of a US Marine after both of his legs were blown off in Afghanistan. Not only did she receive a verbal whip lashing from the Obama Administration, but for a brief moment, a respected and mainstream media outlet exposed Americans to the graphic and utter horror of war.

While scanning over the New York Times today, I was pleased to see that the AP is now currently investigating the corporate food giant Monsanto, accusing them of
using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Monsanto has had a long history of bullying their way around the country and the AP should be commended for adding to their laundry list of sins. But despite the article's claims, Monsanto's excesses are the products of state intervention, not capitalism.

Monsanto owns patents on the genes of nearly 90% of America's soy and corn products, and when these seeds eventually blow onto neighboring smaller farmers, Monsanto sues them for a violation of their intellectual property "rights." They have even sued farmers for saving Monsanto's patented soybean seeds.

Monsanto uses its government-granted monopoly to intimidate and violate the true property rights of its neighbors, which exposes intellectual property (IP) for the misguided policy that it is.

Human beings have inherent rights in their bodies and in their homesteaded property (the manipulation of matter) that can never be violated. These rights come not from God or governments, but from our reason, and as social beings who depend on each other for survival, enforcement of these rights is essential for cooperation. As the great Ayn Rand put it:

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

IP law, however, creates artificial scarcity out of a non-scare entity (ideas) by giving individuals a government-backed monopoly on its use and distribution for an arbitrary amount of time. This protection violates the rights of other individuals by putting restrictions on how individuals, like the farmers against Monsanto, use their property.

There is also virtually no evidence suggesting that intellectual property law encourages inventions, creation, and boosts the arts. In fact, when examining the record of anarchic or near-anarchic market societies and institutions (like medieval Iceland and common/merchant law), property rights were better respected, peaceful commerce expanded, and technological innovation flourished; and all of this without the government club.

Monsanto is an all too common feature of the US economy: a statist creature that benefits from patents, licensing, and farm subsidies to strangle its less politically-favored competitors. It also doesn't hurt having one of their former attorneys, Justice Clarence Thomas, upholding plant patents in the highest government court in the land.

Luckily, supporters of organic and local farming are starting to wake up and realize that their industry would be far better off in freer markets, liberated from the government's controls (whether indirectly through IP or directly through subsidies) that allow the strong to legally prey on the weak.


This article originally appeared in SF's (d)N0t blog.
Can you imagine learning to board in a war zone? :)

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's first skateboarding park and school opened in Kabul on Tuesday with a boarding showdown between dozens of youngsters -- ranging from ministers' children to streetkids -- that it aims to bring together.

"Skateistan" started two years ago in a dried-up fountain in the heart of the Afghan capital, when two Australians with three skateboards started teaching a small group of fascinated kids.

Now dozens of boys and girls from across all social classes can mix in a giant indoor park that looks like a cross between a military hangar and an urban hangout, festooned with the names of fashionable skating brands that have sponsored the park.

Classes are free, and at the back of the skating section are neat changing areas and classrooms where children can study everything from basic literacy to advanced computing when they put down their boards and take off their helmets.

"A year ago this was empty land, there were just dogs here," said Fraidoon Ilham, who helps write speeches for President Hamid Karzai as his day job but also helps Skateistan sort through the legal and government pitfalls of operating in Afghanistan.

One of the world's poorest and most conservative countries seems a strange place to set up a skateboarding school, but the founders say it has proved a remarkably successful way to reach out to marginalized children, particularly girls.

Sports such as football are seen as men's activities, but skateboarding is novel enough to be open to women.

"I want to be a professional skateboarder in future like my teacher, and help other children learn how to skate," said 10-year-old Mahro, a star student who seems undaunted by either traditional ideas about women or the steepest ramps in the park.

She has been skating for a year and would like to come every day, she says, shrugging off grazes on her hands from tumbles.


So far Skateistan have won donations of $650,000, around two thirds of which went toward the 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) indoor arena.

The head of the Afghan Olympic Committee, which has donated the land for the park and is providing water, power and security, officially opened the indoor park and launched an enrolment drive. An outdoor area will follow.

"We managed to bring together about 200 street children, this sport is not only entertainment for them, it is also giving them hope for their future," said AOC head Mohammad Zahir Aghbar.

"I am working hard to expand this process, not only in the capital but further out, in the provinces also."

The children he hopes to help are those like 11-year-old Fazila, who used to sell chewing gum on the street, but was allowed to go to school and skate classes after Skateistan arranged to pay her parents the $1 a day she used to earn.

"I want to be able to jump like teacher Ollie. I can do a little already," she said with a shy grin, before wheeling off to tackle the two quarter ramps that make up the "Afghan gap" in her traditional headscarf and shalwar kameez, beside the children of Afghanistan's elite.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)
President Karzai’s security chiefs have demanded that America should hand over the gunmen behind a night raid in eastern Afghanistan that government investigators and the United Nations say killed at least eight schoolchildren.

It was the Afghan Government’s most aggressive response yet to an alleged attack on civilians. But the US insisted that its men had come under fire and that all the victims were part of an Afghan cell manufacturing bombs.

The call heightens a war of words between the Afghan Government and its powerful military backers. It is the first time that Mr Karzai has tried to hold foreign forces directly accountable for killing civilians, although he has issued impassioned responses to civilian casualties that threaten to undermine Nato’s mission in Afghanistan.

It also reflects the growing assertiveness of a Government that precariously held its position after fraudriddled elections in August and open criticism from Nato countries over corruption.

Kai Eide, the head of the UN in Afghanistan, issued a statement reinforcing Afghan claims that most of the dead were schoolboys. “Based on our initial investigation, eight of those killed were students enrolled in local schools,” he said.

He accepted that there was evidence to suggest that insurgents were in the area, but reiterated concerns that night raids by US special forces risked undermining consent for foreign forces in Afghanistan.

“The United Nations remains concerned about night-time raids given that they often result in lethal outcomes for civilians,” he said.

The National Security Council, chaired by Mr Karzai, accepted the findings of an Afghan investigation that contradicted Nato’s claims. It demanded: “Those responsible for the deaths of those innocent youths must be handed over to the Afghan Government”.

Conventional US units told investigators that they had no knowledge of the operation, in Narang district in eastern Kunar province. Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said that US troops flew to Kunar from Kabul late on Saturday. Nato sources said that the foreigners involved were non-military, suggesting that they were part of a secret paramilitary unit based in the capital.

Mr Wafa said that they landed helicopters outside the village and walked in at the dead of night before shooting the children at close range. “They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent,” he said. “I condemn this attack.”

The Security Council endorsed his findings. “International forces entered the area and killed ten youths, eight of them school students inside two rooms in a house, without encountering any armed resistance,” a statement from Mr Karzai’s office said.

A Western official was also scathing. “There’s no doubt that there were insurgents there, and there may well have been an insurgent leader in the house, but that doesn’t justify executing eight children who were all enrolled in local schools,” he said. Rahman Jan Ehsas, the local headmaster, told The Times that seven of the students were handcuffed before they were shot. A local farm labourer and a shepherd boy were also killed, he said.

The deaths sparked protests across Afghanistan, with students in Jalalabad burning an effigy of Barack Obama and children in Kabul as young as 10 demanding that foreign forces should quit Afghanistan.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” the Government’s claims that unarmed civilians were harmed in the “joint coalition and Afghan security force” operation. The National Security Council made no reference to any Afghan forces involved in the operation. In the past, Special Forces have been criticised for using private Afghan militias in operations.
Mentally ill soldiers are quite probably mentally ill because of their experiences in the army, I would gather. But then that's a subject for a whole other column.

Published December 31 2009
The Army can be bad for your health

Find new soldiers,

Where you can;

Get them ready,

For Iran.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he’s going to beef up the Army again. Another 20,000 recruits. And why not? Afghanistan and Iraq are busily chewing through our troops, Iran is waiting, and the Great Recession is still churning out fodder for recruitment. Might as well grab them now, while war sounds patriotic and they don’t have much else to do.

To get such youngsters into the right frame of mind, some towns invite the military to publicly show off their wares. They’d have you think that shooting people is the most natural thing in the world. Of course these days maybe it is, so why not start with kindergarteners? That’s now one target audience, at least (according to reports) in Juneau, Alaska, and the state of Hawaii. In Tarpon Springs, Fla., they do wait until high school, but then allow commercial gun dealers to tag along with the soldiers. In between we have the Junior ROTC.

In Philadelphia, the Army has struck off on its own with a new prototype. It rented an empty mall store and set up idealized electronic combat scenes where young people can shoot up the “enemy” (brown-skinned) in simulators and video games. Luckily the enemy doesn’t shoot back. Most of us had gotten that stuff out of our systems by the time we were 10, but this is for youth who still cling to childhood war fantasies. The place also draws protesters.

Of course, even in a jobless recovery, recruitment is no picnic. The Army reports that 75 percent of age-eligible youth aren’t qualified. There have always been plenty who flunked the entry exam, flunked out of school, or flunked the police-record search. Now the big hurdle is flunking the weight/height ratio. Obesity is suddenly all the rage. Luckily, waivers of all these flaws are common.

Then once in uniform, other problems crop up. About a third of women recruits end up getting raped. Official response to such trauma generally replicates that of the Taliban. And gays are always vulnerable under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Undocumented immigrants are likewise vulnerable if they want to hang on to collect that magic citizenship paper upon discharge.

Safest of all recruits are the mentally ill. No one wants to oust them for a little thing like that. There’s too much need for their warm bodies. Yes, they may be more likely to kill themselves, or others, or to go around the bend at an inconvenient moment, but they do keep the troop count up.

And blessedly, all those excited young bucks and does entering the service can’t foresee what life will be like when they return as civilians. Mental and physical injuries can disable them for life. PTSD victims often find that marriages erode, landlords get cranky, jobs annoy, families lack understanding, and police grow irritable. Plus the VA doesn’t see what Agent Orange, depleted uranium or toxic fumes have to do with your later health problems. Let alone those of your kids.

Maybe the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan isn’t the Vietnam War, but a nation that lures its young into the military, sucks out their life, and deposits their living carcasses on the scrap heaps of society is morally bankrupt. Its victories of greed and power destroy its fiber and soul.

Not to say that we’re describing the United States here, but who else? Well, maybe Britain too. And maybe it’s just that we vets have a little clearer view of some things. If so, it’s time for a national program of contact lenses to help everyone share the vision.

Minuteman Media columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn., and is also a national board member of Veterans for Peace.
What a lovely story.

The daughter of New Zealand's top representative in Afghanistan has taken to busking in an effort to raise money for the country's children.

Day to day life in Afghanistan is a challenge at the best of times, but for the children it can be life or death.

The war torn nation has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, and while our defence force is doing what it can, the daughter of our top man in Bamiyan is taking to the streets this Christmas to do her part.

Leah Dransfield is half a world away from her father, but singing the same tune. Colonel Martin Dransfield is doing what he can to help those in Bamiyan

His 17 year old daughter, who kissed him goodbye in October, is using her own special skills to raise money for the country's impoverished kids.

"We're so lucky in New Zealand and we've all got so much stuff over Christmas and we just want to raise as much money as we can. And it's going towards medical supplies and all sorts of stuff for the babies," says Leah Dransfield.

Instrumental in this campaign on the homefront is Leah's mum, Cathey Dransfield.

She's been running bake sales and organising volunteers to knit baby clothes.

"About one in four babies die at birth and that's just through poor pre and post natal care so just little bits of money can make a huge difference," says Cathey Dransfield.

The money raised here will go to two Afghan woman the Kiwis have taken a special interest in and that's because they're having to raise their babies in a cold prison.

"They were in arranged marriages probably to older men and they wanted to be with the men of their choice so when they decided to take that step they were obviously caught or found out," says Cathey Dransfield.

Leah will be spreading some Christmas cheer for a good cause on Cuba Mall over the festive period.
I found this piece, carried in the Irish Times, to be quite interesting. It will be most interesting to see what the Germans choose to do next. Indeed, an Earthtimes press release today also carries a survey by the Leipzig Institute of Market Research which says that fifty one percent- more than half- of all Germans oppose the war in Afghanistan.

The Irish Times - Monday, December 21, 2009

SCALLY in Berlin

GERMAN DEFENCE minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has proposed talks with “moderate” Taliban groups.

The beleaguered defence minister has also suggested greater differentiation between insurgents in Afghanistan as part of a new Nato strategy in the region.

Mr zu Guttenberg, under fire over a controversial German-ordered air-strike in Afghanistan in September, said next month’s Afghanistan conference in London will need to do more than agree to boost troop numbers.

“One will have to think about what sharpening up politically, what Henry Kissinger called ‘communications channels’. Not every insurgent is of equal danger to western society,” Mr zu Guttenberg told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “There are differences between the groups in Afghanistan which radically oppose anything western and whose goal it is to fight our culture, and those which are simply immersed in their own, local culture.”

Talks with moderate Taliban could be constructive, “so long as one doesn’t set oneself a trap”.

The defence minister said he was cautious about Berlin blindly following President Obama’s request for a reported 2,500 German troops in Afghanistan.

Germany is the third-largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan, with about 4,400 on the ground. Any further deployments would be highly controversial.

The legitimacy of the already unpopular mission has suffered in recent weeks following leaks about a September-ordered airstrike in the region of Kunduz which killed dozens of civilians.

Next year’s call for extra troops is likely to come during a parliamentary inquiry into whether Germany has moved beyond civilian reconstruction to a strategy of targeted killing of insurgents.

Adding to the complications is a crucial state election next May in North-Rhine Westphalia, home to one in five Germans, before which chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will be anxious to avoid unpopular decisions.

Before January’s Afghanistan conference in London, Mr zu Guttenberg said Germany had an urgent need to address the “deficits in our dealing with the Afghanistan issue in the last years”.

“Whether we need more troops is still open,” said Mr zu Guttenberg yesterday. “The first logical step of a new strategy is not to say, ‘We’ll get more soldiers and then follow the strategy’. Now we formulate the strategy, from which will follow how many troops and civil forces one needs.”

Opposition politicians dismissed Mr zu Guttenberg’s suggestion yesterday as an attempt to distract from the Kunduz bombing.

Two years ago, Mr zu Guttenberg had dismissed opening channels to the Taliban as “misguided”.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This is very interesting because I have heard that many of the larger mammal species do live in the upper end of a cline- which are the ecoregions in any given place. The further North one goes, and Affy is quite far North, the more megafauna there is, and the more vulnerable the species are to disruptions in the ecoweb. I found this article really fascinating! :)

Obama's Afghanistan Escalation a Bad Sign for the Country's Environment

Monday 28 December 2009

by: Joshua Frank, t r u t h o u t | Report

(Image: Dag Hammarskjold Library / The United Nations)

Shipping off 30,000 more troops to the land of the Taliban may be infuriating to devoted antiwar activists, but the toll the Afghanistan war is having on the environment should also force nature lovers into the streets in protest.

Natural habitat in Afghanistan has endured decades of struggle, and the War on Terror has only escalated the destruction. The lands most afflicted by warfare are home to critters that most Westerners only have a chance to observe behind cages in our city zoos: gazelles, cheetahs, hyenas, Turanian tigers and snow leopards among others.

Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), which was formed in 2005 to address environmental issues, has listed a total of 33 species on its Endangered list. By the end of this year, NEPA's list may grow to over 80 species of plants and animals.

In 2003, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released its evaluation of Afghanistan's environmental issues. Titled "Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment," the UNEP report claimed that war and long-standing drought "have caused serious and widespread land and resource degradation, including lowered water tables, desiccation of wetlands, deforestation and widespread loss of vegetative cover, erosion, and loss of wildlife populations."

Ammunition dumps, cluster bombs, B-52 bombers and land mines, which President Obama refuses to ban, serve as the greatest threat to the country's rugged natural landscape and the biodiversity it cradles.

The increasing number of Afghanis that are being displaced because of military conflict, UNEP's report warned, has compounded all of these problems. It was a sobering estimation. However, it was an analysis that should not come as much of a surprise: warfare kills not only humans, but life in general.

As bombs fall, civilians are not the only ones put at risk, and the lasting environmental impacts of the war may not be known for years, perhaps decades, to come.

For example, birds are killed and sent off their migratory course. Literally tens of thousands of birds leave Siberia and Central Asia to find their winter homes to the south. Many of these winged creatures have traditionally flown through Afghanistan to the southeastern wetlands of Kazakhstan, but their numbers have drastically declined in recent years.

Endangered Siberian cranes and two protected species of pelicans are the most at risk, say Pakistani ornithologists who study the area. The war's true impact on these species is not yet known, but President Obama's escalating of the combat effort in the country is not a hopeful sign.

Back in 2001, Dr. Oumed Haneed, who monitors bird migration in Pakistan, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that the country had typically witnessed thousands of ducks and other wildfowl migrating through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Yet, once the US began its bombing campaigns, few birds were to be found.

"One impact may be directly the killing of birds through bombing, poisoning of the wetlands or the sites which these birds are using," said Haneed, who works for Pakistan's National Council for Conservation of Wildlife. "Another impact may be these birds are derouted, because their migration is very precise. They migrate in a corridor and if they are disturbed through bombing, they might change their route."

Intense fighting throughout Afghanistan, especially in the White Mountains, where the US has hunted bin Laden, have been hit the hardest. While the difficult-to-access ranges may serve as safe havens for alleged al-Qaeda operatives, the Tora Bora caves and steep topography also provide refuge for bears, Marco Polo sheep, gazelles and mountain leopards.

Every missile that is fired into these vulnerable mountains could potentially kill any of these treasured animals, all of which are on the verge of becoming extinct.

"The same terrain that allows fighters to strike and disappear back into the hills has also, historically, enabled wildlife to survive," Peter Zahler of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) told New Scientist at the onset of the Afghanistan invasion.

But Zahler, who helped to open a field office for WCS in Kabul in 2006, also warned that not only are these animals at risk from bombing, they are also at risk of being killed by refugees. For instance, a snow leopard, whose endangered population in the country is said to be fewer than 100, can score $2,000 on the black market for snow leopard fur. That money in turn can help these displaced Afghanis pay for safe passage into Pakistan.

Bombings, however, while having an initial direct impact, are really only the beginning of the dilemma.

As Zahler recently told Truthout, "The story in Afghanistan is not the actual fighting - it's the side effects - habitat destruction, uncontrolled poaching, that sort of thing."

Afghanistan has faced nearly 30 years of unfettered resource exploitation, even prior to the most recent war. This has led to a collapse of government systems and has displaced millions of people, all of which has led to the degradation of the country's habitat on a vast scale.

Forests have been ravaged to provide short-term energy and building supplies for refugees. Many of the country's arid grasslands have also been overgrazed and wildlife killed.

"Eventually the land will be unfit for even the most basic form of agriculture," explained Hammad Naqi of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Pakistan. "Refugees - around four million at the last count [in 2001] - are also cutting into forests for firewood."

In early 2001, during the initial attacks, the BBC reported that the United States had been carpet bombing Afghanistan in numerous locations.

John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the time that B-52 aircraft were carpet bombing targets "all over the country, including Taliban forces in the north.

"We do use [carpet bombing strategies]," said Stufflebeem. "We have used it and will use it when we need to."

If Obama opts to carpet bomb, which the White House denies it will implement, this could lead to even further environmental problems and increase the already high refugee numbers.

Additionally, Pakistani military experts and others have made allegations that the United States has used depleted uranium (DU) shells to target specific targets inside Afghanistan, most notably against the Taliban frontlines in the northern region of the country.

Using DU explosives is not far-fetched for the United States. The US-led NATO air force used DU shells when it struck Yugoslavia in 1999. Once these deadly bombs strike, they rip through their target and then erupt into a toxic cloud of fire. Many medical studies have shown that DU's radioactive vapors are linked to leukemia, blood cancer, lung cancer and birth defects.

"As US and NATO forces continue pounding Afghanistan with cruise missiles and smart bombs, people acquainted with the aftermaths of two recent previous wars fought by the US fear, following the Gulf and Balkan war syndromes, the Afghan War Syndrome," wrote Dr. Ali Ahmed Rind in the Baltimore Chronicle in 2001. "This condition is marked by a state of vague aliments and carcinomas, and is linked with the usage of Depleted Uranium (DU) as part of missiles, projectiles and bombs in the battlefield."

France, Italy and Portugal have asked NATO to halt DU use, yet the Pentagon still does not admit that DU is harmful or that it has used such bombs during its assaults in the country.

Afghanistan's massive refugee crisis, lack of governmental stability, and extreme poverty, coupled with polluted water supplies, drought, land mines and excessive bombings, all contribute to the country's intense environmental predicament.

Experts seem to unanimously agree, there simply is no such thing as environmentally friendly warfare.

Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (AK Press, 2008). Frank is also the co-author with St. Clair of the forthcoming Green Scare: The New War on Environmentalism (Haymarket Books, 2010)