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Friday, April 25, 2008

Baithak World Apr 24: Global Food Crisis, Land Grab, Obliterate Iran, Pope, Gaza, Israel, Syria, Fortune 500, Hitchens, RealNews

Biofuels and global warming have been blamed for shortages driving up the price of food, and both trends have played their role. The planet's grain reserves are almost empty for a number of reasons, including global population growth and greater prosperity in some countries like India. Feed corn is in short supply because industrialized nations have used it for ethanol. Droughts -- in Australia, for example -- have devastated rice and wheat harvests. Wheat reserves worldwide are only sufficient right now to cover about 60 days of demand. This helps to explain why commodity prices have rallied since early 2006, with the price of rice ballooning 217 percent, wheat 136 percent, corn 125 percent and soybeans 107 percent. But classic supply and demand theory offers only a partial explanation. Sudden price hikes since last January have been alarming. The UN estimates that at least $500 million (€312 million) in immediate aid will be needed by May 1 to avoid serious famines. Agricultural scientists at the world body's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have presented a report on the world food crisis. And criticism is growing that hedge funds, index funds, pension funds and investment banks bear part of the blame.

Greg Warner has worked in the grain wholesaling business for more than two decades. His office sits a block away from the Chicago Futures Exchange. He's an analyst with the firm AgResource, and he says what is happening now in the wheat market is unprecedented. "What we normally have is a predictable group of sellers and buyers -- mainly farmers and silo operators," he says. But the landscape has changed since the influx of large index funds. Fund managers seek to maximize their profits using futures contracts, and prices, says Warner, "keep climbing up and up." He's calculated that financial investors now hold the rights to two complete annual harvests of a type of grain traded in Chicago called "soft red winter wheat." Wagner is stunned by such developments. He sees them as evidence that capitalism is literally consuming itself. The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis

There isn't much space in his hut, all 20 square meters (215 square feet) of it. He has raised four children in the hut, and two of his sons, now 18 and 21, still live there with him. It is dark in the hut, where guests are invited to sit on a sofa that is so old and worn that its original color is no longer discernible. Buckets hang from the ceiling to catch the water that leaks through the corrugated metal roof during heavy rains. A two-kilo bag of wheat flour that cost 40 Kenyan shillings (about €0.40, or 64¢) only a year ago now goes for three times as much. The price of sugar has jumped from 40 to 85 shillings, and four tomatoes cost 10 shillings instead of 2. Wages, though, haven't moved. Food has become increasingly scarce. Because more and more agricultural land worldwide is being devoted to "energy crops" for biofuel, and because speculators control the big picture, making a financial killing on the worsening relationship between supply and demand, a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is all that Ali Omar and his family have to eat until evening. On days when there is lunch, the family must make do with nothing but water in the evening. Different Continent: Same Story

It will take some time before genetically modified crops can help the world's starving people. One reason is that agricultural corporations are developing the wrong types of plants. In emerging economies like Argentina and India, most GM crops are cultivated for use in export products. Sometimes the solutions to humanity's problems are only a mouse click away. "How do you feed half a billion people in the desert?" a graphic on the Web site of the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project asks. The answer it proposes is: "Super Sorghum!" "Grow it!" the Web site, sponsored by a consortium of the agricultural industry and the scientific community, suggests succinctly. A happy, smiling child underscores the site's intense message: The world is being saved right here, and we're doing it with the help of genetic engineering. The project's scientists are trying to develop new sorghum varieties that would be more nutritious and easier to digest than conventional varieties. The developers promise that their new grain will provide more iron, zinc, essential amino acids and vitamins. Can Genetic Crops Stop the Food Crisis? By Philip Bethge

Saad Gaya, one of the ever-diminishing Toronto 18 terror suspects, was up for a bail hearing yesterday and so most of his relatives – plus many people who have previously never laid eyes on him – trooped out to Brampton to wish him well. It's a tense time for the family of the 20-year-old McMaster University student. Gaya has been in jail since June 2006, when police swooped in and arrested 17 young, Toronto-area Muslim men and boys (the 18th was picked up a few weeks later) on terror charges. Like the other adults arrested, Gaya spent more than a year in solitary confinement. His father, Hussain, says he worries what that experience has done to Saad. But the Crown has made no excuses for coming down heavily on the 18, alleging initially that all were engaged in terrorist acts and that some – including Gaya – were planning to use explosives against an unspecified target. Ranks close for young jailed Muslim - Thomas Walkom

Israel’s largesse in granting settlement licenses is boundless. Since the Annapolis conference in November, Israel has announced several new building projects in areas of Jerusalem the Palestinians will need for their future state. However, the latest announcement has an additional asterisk, for it marks the first time the Israeli government has approved construction deep in the West Bank. Which is why the optimism shown by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month seemed unwarranted. The new settlement expansion drive, which has been described as phenomenal, includes more than 600 settler units to be built on confiscated Arab land in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government also approved the building of 800 additional settler units in the Beitar Illit colony, an ultraorthodox settlement in the West Bank while agreeing to the construction of an undisclosed number of prefabs in small settlements in the southern Hebron region to be allocated to new immigrants. Editorial: Continuing Land Grab

She shows me a copy of the first edition of her first book, the House of the Spirits, now turning yellow and brittle, yet the writing seems as fresh as ever. "Nothing has the same impact as the first book, no matter how ugly it is now. You feel like your life has changed, and it does. That book gave me voice and allowed me to do something with my life". She has written 17 books since then, beginning each one on January 8, a ritual motivated partly by superstition, but mainly by discipline. Her calendar and life are so hectic, she explains, that she needs to set aside a few months where she does not do anything but write. "I get up every morning early, when the sky is red, and write for 10 hours". The thorny issues that writing an intimate memoir of family life can often throw up are well known to Allende, who showed a draft to family members. "Everyone came back with a different story of the events I've written about, but it's my perspective, my version. Unfortunately for my family, they have a writer in the family", she laughs. The book has accuracy, immediacy and freshness, however. "Sooner or later everything gets forgotten. But the letters have helped me remember." Allende touches on the blurred line between memory and imagination, the question of how a writer can distinguish between how much they remember and how much they imagine. "Memory is tinted by imagination. Both are so linked that it's hard to separate them." There is something about handwriting that aids memory, muses Allende, since it retains "the beauty of the language, and of dreams, stories, feelings". Handwriting goes with the pace of the mind and heart, she says. Isabel Allende's new memoir begins with her daughter's death. But as she explains to Anita Sethi, writing is about life, and the attempt to change it

How proud the Clintonistas must be. They have learned how to rival what Hillary once termed the "vast right-wing conspiracy" in the effort to destroy a viable Democratic leader who dares to stand in the way of their ambitions. The tactics used to kneecap Barack Obama are the same as had been turned on Bill Clinton in earlier times, from radical-baiting associates to challenging his resolve in protecting the nation from foreign enemies. Sen. Clinton's eminently sensible and centrist--to a fault--opponent is now viewed as weak and even vaguely unpatriotic because he is thoughtful. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Morris could have done a better job. On primary election day in Pennsylvania, even with polls showing her well ahead in that state, Hillary went lower in her grab for votes. Seizing upon a question as to how she would respond to a nuclear attack by Iran, which doesn't have nuclear weapons, on Israel, which does, Hillary mocked reasoned discourse by promising to "totally obliterate them," in an apparent reference to the population of Iran. That is not a word gaffe; it is an assertion of the right of our nation to commit genocide on an unprecedented scale. Shouldn't the potential leader of a nation that used nuclear bombs to obliterate hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese employ extreme caution before making such a threat? Neither the Japanese then nor the Iranian people now were in a position to hold their leaders accountable, and to approve such collective punishment of innocents is to endorse terrorism. This from a candidate who attacked her opponent for suggesting targeted strikes against militants in Pakistan and derided his openness to negotiations with other national leaders as an irresponsible commitment on the part of a contender for the presidency. Clinton Threatens to 'Obliterate' Iran

[This obliterate remark might well come back to haunt Hilary. This is not the stuff Presidents are made off - despite her assertions to the contrary]

Torture: Fresh reporting by ABC from inside sources depicted George W. Bush's most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice and Tenet) meeting dozens of times in the White House during 2002/03 to sort out the most efficient mix of torture techniques for captured "terrorists." When initially ABC attempted to insulate the president from this sordid activity, Bush abruptly bragged that he knew all about it and approved. That comment and the
action memorandum Bush signed on Feb. 7, 2002, dispelled any lingering doubt regarding his personal responsibility for authorizing torture. Execution: Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, with a majority of judges calling themselves Catholic, was openly deliberating on whether one gram, or two, or perhaps three of this or that chemical would be the preferred way to execute people. Always colorful prominent Catholic layman Antonin Scalia complained impatiently, "Where does it say in the Constitution that executions have to be painless?" Scalia did not seem at all concerned that the Pope might remind him and his Catholic colleagues about the Church's teaching on capital punishment, i.e., the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." (Evangelium Vitae 56). It was enough to bring this student of German history (and five-year resident there) vivid memories of frequenting those places where precisely these kinds of torture and execution policy reviews were conducted at similarly high levels by Hitler's inner circle -- yes, including judges. War: Can the Pope possibly be so suffused with his peculiar brand of theology that he is oblivious to what happened when he was a young man during the Third Reich? Is it possible that papal advisers forgot to tell him that the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal described an unprovoked war of aggression, of the kind that the Third Reich and George W. Bush launched, as the "supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole?" Could they have failed to tell the Pope he would be hobnobbing with war criminals, torturers and the enabling cowards in Congress who refuse to remove them from office? For this Catholic, it was a profoundly sad spectacle -- profoundly sad. Pope Ignores the War, Gets Free Pass on Sex Abuse By Ray McGovern,

It was a stunning picture. Friction between Israelis and Palestinians generates countless images, but the photograph of a prostrate teenager in agony next to an inert, almost restful figure on a road by an abandoned bicycle somehow stood out.
This desperate scene, captured moments after an Israeli attack last week, moved Tim Butcher to investigate the fate of the young casualties

So vivid was the light and so dramatic the shell-damaged Jeep backdrop that you could almost hear the boy's scream. Look closely at the second figure's white shirt and its bloom of crimson red might even be growing in front of your eyes.

But while pictures might be worth a thousand words, this one - taken by an agency photographer who arrived at the scene minutes after the blast - told you nothing of who the boys were, how they came to be there and what subsequently happened to them.

To piece that together took days trawling ill-equipped hospital wards, false leads, interviews with traumatised mortuary assistants, and luck. A portrait of life and death in Gaza [thanks A]

Israel will maintain its official policy of silence regarding the Israel Air Force strike on a Syrian nuclear facility as the American administration is slated to provide Thursday, for the first time, extensive details about the nature of the compound destroyed by the IAF on September 6. The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Congress will hear from the Central Intelligence Agency that the facility destroyed in the Israel Air Force attack was a nuclear reactor for producing plutonium. Israel, however, does not intend to break the official silence it has maintained on the matter for the past seven months. Security sources told Haaretz on Wednesday night that the government will not go public with new information in the case. Israel fears U.S. hearings on Syrian reactor will unveil classified data

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The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has confirmed that the Syrian structure Israel attacked in September last year was built to hold a nuclear reactor for plutonium production supplied by North Korea, according to a report Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times. CIA confirms Syrian site Israel hit in Sept. was nuclear

A Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany, Murat Kurnaz was only 19 when he was arrested without explanation in Pakistan in October 2001. Handed over to the US, he spent the next 1,600 days enduring the brutal life of a prisoner at Guantanamo and various forms of torture, before being released without explanation or apology in August 2006. Here he describes the early days in his cage in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay. Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz (part 1)

Argentine poet Juan Gelman has received the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honour. Gelman, who receives 90,000 euros with the award, is considered Argentina's poet laureate. His prolific work addresses among other issues the pain of loss under military juntas that ruled his country in the 1970s and 80s. Gelman's son and daughter-in-law were killed during the dictatorship. Gelman spent years tracking down a granddaughter born of that marriage and raised in adoption. The dictatorship also forced him into exile in Europe. Argentine poet wins Spain's highest literary honour

A study conducted by and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, found that 28 percent of the employers surveyed who offshored expect more of their high-skill positions to be shipped overseas. Among the jobs respondents identified as positions they plan to offshore are computer programmers, sales managers, general managers, human resources personnel, software developers, system analysts, customer service representatives, marketing personnel and graphic designers. Think Your Job Won't Go Overseas? Think Again

"Writing online isn't publishing; it's posting," one said. Other students said you couldn't really publish fiction online because everyone would assume it was real. At the same time, they felt like nothing online was "real." It wasn't solid, like a book with your name on the spine. I know what they mean. Although most of my publishing is done online, I still write for print publications. But I do so because I see no distinction between online and print: I like publications that exist in both forms; therefore I write for both. To me, there is one great distinction between print and Internet publishing, and that is storage. Where should I publish if I want people to be able to read what I've said after I die? Books are excellent because they have an interface that holds up easily over time: you open the book and read it. You don't need a particular software program or operating system to make the file open. Online Writing By Annalee Newitz

For most of his 40-year career, Christopher Hitchens's notoriety has been confined to highbrow journalistic, literary and political circles. In the last 15 years, he has been familiar to readers of Vanity Fair and the Atlantic, and to viewers of the American current affairs shows that invite him on to say outrageous things in stylish phrases. His aptitude for the iconoclastic flourish—describing Princess Diana and Mother Teresa at their deaths, for example, as, respectively, "a simpering Bambi narcissist and a thieving fanatical Albanian dwarf"—sustained his currency as an intellectual shock troop of the left. Then, with his support for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and for George W Bush's re-election in 2004, the left itself became a target of his polemics. But whichever side he took, he continued to file what were essentially minority reports to a specialist audience. Only God was able to promote him beyond such factional interests by providing the subject of a bestseller. While Hitchens has authored 16 books, including works on Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, the Elgin marbles, George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, his assault on religion in God is not Great was the first occasion for which a publisher had arranged a serious US book tour.
Click here to discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect's blog
Click here to read out-takes from the Hitchens interviews
Christopher Hitchens by Adam Linklater

Paul Jay presents RealNews

Who won in Pennsylvania?
Pepe Escobar: Democrats are fighting amongst themselves instead of fighting the Republicans view

The tide turns against biofuels
As biofuel production booms, concerns grow about food supply and environmental damage view

Morales calls for 'reparations to the earth'
At UN forum on indigenous issues, Bolivian president calls for global economic overhaul view

Change for the bitter
Is Obama elitist? Does Hillary lie? Do voters even care? Matt Palevksy hits Philly’s streets to find out view


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