Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mediterranean resorts menaced as stinging jellyfish arrive early

By John Lichfield in Paris
Monday, 23 June 2008


Mauve stingers have been appearing in ever-greater numbers for the past eight years

    Nature laid waste: The destruction of Africa

    Wednesday, 11 June 2008
    The massive scale of environmental devastation across the continent has been fully revealed for the first time in an atlas compiled by UN geographers. Michael McCarthy reports

    It was long shrouded in mystery, called "the Dark Continent" by Europeans in awe of its massive size and impenetrable depths. Then its wondrous natural riches were revealed to the world. Now a third image of Africa and its environment is being laid before us – one of destruction on a vast and disturbing scale.

    Using "before and after" satellite photos, taken in all 53 countries, UN geographers have constructed an African atlas of environmental change over the past four decades – the vast majority of it for the worse.

    In nearly 400 pages of dramatic pictures, disappearing forests, shrinking lakes, vanishing glaciers and degraded landscapes are brought together for the first time, providing a deeply disturbing portfolio of devastation.

    The atlas, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the request of African environment ministers, and launched yesterday simultaneously in Johannesburg and London, underlines how extensively development choices, population growth, regional conflicts and climate change are impacting on the natural world and the nature-based assets of the continent.

    The satellite photos, some of them spanning a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of environmental transformation in every country.

    The purpose of the atlas is to inspire African governments to improve their records as environmental custodians, and as such, its language and tone are studiously neutral, generally referring to environmental "change" rather than destruction. But although there are some examples given of change for the better, the vast majority of the case studies are of large-scale environmental degradation, and the atlas compilers freely accept that this represents the true picture.

    They write of "the swell of grey-coloured cities over a once-green countryside; protected areas shrinking as farms encroach upon their boundaries; the tracks of road networks through forests; pollutants that drift over borders of neighbouring countries; the erosion of deltas; refugee settlements scattered across the continent causing further pressure on the environment; and shrinking mountain glaciers."

    For its visual impact, the atlas takes advantage of the latest space technology and Earth observation science, including the 36-year-old legacy of the US Landsat satellite programme, demonstrating the potential of satellite data in monitoring ecosystems and changes to them.

    The "before and after" shots show vividly just how vast the changes have been, not only since the first Landsat satellite in 1972, but on much shorter timescales. Deforestation is shown not only as mass forest disappearance in countries such as Rwanda, but also as the insidious spread of logging roads through once entirely untouched rainforests in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the replacement of natural forest by bright green rubber and palm plantations in Cameroon.

    Urban spread is illustrated not only by the dramatic expansion of the Senegalese capital Dakar over the past half century, from a small urban centre at the tip of the Cape Verde peninsula, to a metropolitan area with 2.5 million people spread over the entire peninsula, but by the rapid development of a small town like Bangassou in the Central Africa republic, now beginning to affect the nearby forest.

    Shrinkage of mountain glaciers is shown only in the well-known case of Mount Kilimanjaro, but also in the disappearing glaciers in Uganda's Rwenzori mountains, which decreased by 50 per cent between 1987 and 2003. And to the well-known cases of the drying up of Lake Chad, and falling water levels in Lake Victoria, the atlas adds new cases of disappearing water bodies like the drying up of Lake Faguibine in Mali, as well as many examples of desertification, unsustainable large-scale irrigation and degraded coastal areas.

    Put it all together and you have a picture that is hard to credit, so enormous is the destruction. Statistically, the atlas finds that deforestation is a major concern in no fewer than 35 African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria and Malawi, among others. Africa is losing more than four million hectares of forest every year – twice the world's average deforestation rate.

    That problem is closely followed in significance by major loss of biodiversity [wildlife] which is occurring in 34 countries, such as Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon and Mali. Land degradation is similarly a major worry for 32 countries, including Cameroon, Eritrea and Ghana, with some areas across the continent said to be losing more than 50 metric tonnes of soil per hectare per year.

    The atlas shows that erosion, as well as chemical and physical damage, have degraded about 65 per cent of the continent's farmlands. In addition, slash-and-burn agriculture is adding to the number of wildfires which are naturally caused by Africa's high prevalence of lightning.

    Rapidly rising populations account for one of the principal pressures on the natural resource base. Between 2000 and 2005, the atlas says, Africa's population grew by 2.32 per cent annually – nearly double the global rate of 1.24 per cent per year. Twenty of the 30 fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa, including Liberia, which has the highest annual growth rate – 4.8 per cent – of any country in the world. In the next half century Africa will have twice the population growth rate of any other region. This means that more and more land must be devoted to agriculture, but as the amount of available land is limited, the amount available per person is swiftly shrinking. The atlas points out that in 1950 there were 13.5 hectares of land per person in Africa, but by 1990 this had shrunk to 4.7 hectares per person and by 2005 to 3.2 hectares per person – while on present population growth estimates, by 2050 the amount will be 1.5 hectares per person.

    And now, it says, climate change is emerging as a driving force behind many of these problems and is likely to intensify the "already dramatic transformations" taking place. Although Africa's 965 million people produce only 4 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, they are likely to suffer disproportionately from the consequences of global warming, not least because African nations' ability to adapt to climate change is relatively low.

    One of the key points the atlas makes is that environmental degradation is likely to have a higher human cost in Africa than in other regions, as people on the continent live in closer relation to the natural world than elsewhere: they are often directly dependent on the environment.

    It was for African governments themselves to address the problem, said Marion Cheatle, chief of UNEP's Early Warning Branch, who introduced the atlas in London. "In many places you have a problem of policies being enforced. Not that policies and legislative instruments [to protect the African environment] are not in place, but very often they're only on paper, and they don't have the management to follow that really should be in place."

    Arctic thaw threatens Siberian permafrost

    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    Saturday, 14 June 2008

    The permafrost belt stretching across Siberia to Alaska and Canada could start melting three times faster than expected because of the speed at which Arctic Sea ice is disappearing.

    A study found that the effects of sea-ice loss – which reached an all-time record last summer – extend almost 1,000 miles inland to areas where the ground is usually frozen all year round.

    The smaller the area of sea ice, the less sunlight is reflected and the more heat is absorbed. That means scientists expect a tripling in the rate of warming over the continental land mass surrounding the Arctic. "Our study suggests that, if sea ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate," said David Lawrence of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

    Last September, the sea ice of the Arctic shrank to more than 30 per cent of its average extent for that time of the year. Meanwhile, air temperatures over the Arctic region rose by about 2C above the long-term average for the period 1978 to 2006.

    Melting permafrost threatens to undermine the roads, oil pipelines and buildings that are built on the permanently frozen ground. It will also endanger the region's wildlife as well as triggering the possible release of the greenhouse gases locked in the soil, which would exacerbate global warming.

    Dr Lawrence and researchers at National Snow and Ice Data Centre used computer models to analyse how the loss of sea ice could influence rising air temperatures and the melting of permafrost. They looked in particular at the creation of "taliks", which are patches of unfrozen ground sandwiched between layers of permanently frozen soil lower down and a seasonally frozen patch of soil above.

    "Taliks form when the downwelling summer heating wave extends deeper than the corresponding winter cooling wave, thereby preventing the talik from refreezing in winter and permitting heat to accumulate at depth as soil ice melts," the scientists said in their study to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

    Taliks allow heat to build up more quickly in the soil which increases the rate at which permafrost is subjected to a long-term thaw. "Taken together, these results imply a link between rapid sea ice loss and permafrost health," the scientists warned.

    Dr Lawrence said that about a quarter of the northern hemisphere's land contains perma-frost and the Arctic region's soils are believed to hold about 30 per cent of all the carbon stored in the world's soil. "An important, unresolved question is how the delicate balance of life in the Arctic will respond to such a rapid warming," he said. "Will we see, for example, accelerated coastal erosion, or increased methane emissions, or faster shrub encroachment into tundra regions if sea ice continues to retreat rapidly?"

    Andrew Slater, a co-author of the study, said: "The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region."

    Claire Parkinson of Nasa said the consequences of the loss of the permafrost were unknown. "They could be significant, both on the climate through release of greenhouse gases and on the local communities through damage to roads and buildings as the frozen ground underneath thaws and destabilises".

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    North Pole May Be Ice Free for First Time This Summer

    Aalok Mehta aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen
    National Geographic News
    June 20, 2008

    Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer, report scientists studying the effects of climate change in the field.

    "We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research

    Firsthand observations and satellite images show that the immediate area around the geographic North Pole is now mostly annual, or first-year, ice—thin new ice that forms each year during the winter freeze.

    Such ice is much more prone to melting during the summer months than perennial, or multiyear, ice, which is thick and dense ice that has lasted through multiple cycles of thawing and refreezing.

    "I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility," Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, said by email.

    The melt would be mostly symbolic—thicker ice, pushed against the Canadian continental shelf by weather and Earth's rotation, would still survive the summer.

    Recent models suggest that the Arctic won't see its first completely ice-free summer until somewhere between 2013 and 2030.

    But this summer's forecast—and unusual early melting events all around the Arctic—serve as a dire warning of how quickly the polar regions are being affected by climate change

    Massive Melt

    Scientists are particularly interested in the North and South Poles because they are expected to show the most dramatic effects of global warming.

    Models predict that the regions will see temperature increases roughly three times as quickly as the rest of the globe because of an effect known as ice albedo feedback, which occurs when highly reflective ice gives way to dark water.

    The water absorbs much more of the sun's energy, increasing temperatures and causing further ice melting.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Iran Urges OPEC To Dump Dollar

    Source: Press Tv
    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday urged world oil exporting countries to find ways to switch their oil revenues from the U.S. dollar to alternative currencies, the official IRNA news agency reported.

    Ahmadinejad made the remarks in his speech at the 29th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of OPEC Fund for International Development which is underway in Isfahan, central Iran.

    This was one of suggestions made by the Iranian president to overcome the existing challenges facing the developing countries, IRNA reported.

    "Today, the experts in international economy and the analysts of the oil market all agree that the economic crisis in the U.S. together with the fall in the value of dollar have especially affected the development of the poor and developing countries," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

    The Iranian president added that the current situation had adverse effect on the oil exporting countries economy.

    "The lower dollar has given rise to severe fluctuations in capital markets and fueled an inordinate level of speculative activity," Ahmadinejad said. "Huge sums of money have been diverted into oil exchange resulting in a bubble in the oil market."

    "Here, in addition to the poor and developing countries, economy of the oil-exporting nations has been adversely affected by these circumstances," he said.

    High-ranking officials from 12 OPEC member countries were participating in the conference in Isfahan, which aimed to remove problems facing the energy sector and survey economic issues of the OPEC members.

    Nuclear weapons parts missing

    The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards
    The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards.
    Robert Gates, US defence secretary, recently fired both the US Air Force chief of staff and air force secretary after an investigation blamed the air force for the inadvertent shipment of nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan.

    According to previously undisclosed details obtained by the FT, the investigation also concluded that the air force could not account for many sensitive components previously included in its nuclear inventory.

    One official said the number of missing components was more than 1,000.

    The disclosure is the latest embarrassing episode for the air force, which last year had to explain how a bomber mistakenly carried six nuclear missiles across the US. The incidents have raised concerns about US nuclear safeguards as Washington presses other countries to bolster counter-proliferation measures.

    In announcing the departure of the top air force officials earlier this month, Mr Gates said Admiral Kirkland Donald, the officer who led the investigation, concluded that both incidents had a “common origin” which was “the gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by air force leadership”.

    Mr Gates added that the Pentagon was evaluating the results of a “comprehensive inventory of all nuclear and nuclear-related materials [conducted] to re-establish positive control of these sensitive, classified components”.

    Adm Donald briefed Congress on the results of his investigation on Wednesday. Bryan Whitman, Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the classified report.

    A senior defence official said the report had “identified issues about record keeping” for sensitive nuclear missile components. But he stressed that there was no suggestion that components had ended up in the hands of countries that should not have received them.

    But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the revelation was “very significant and extremely troubling” because it meant the US could not establish the positive control referred to by Mr Gates.

    “It raises a serious question about where else these unaccounted for warhead related parts may have gone,” said Mr Kimball. “I would not be surprised if the recent Taiwan incident is not the only one.”

    A senior military officer said the military leadership, including Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was “deeply troubled” by the findings of the Donald report. He added that they would be paying close attention to recommendations for improving nuclear safeguards that Mr Gates has asked James Schlesinger, a former defence secretary, to make.

    Gordon Johndroe, National Security Council spokesman, declined to comment on the disclosure about the unaccounted for components. But he said the “the White House has confidence that secretary Gates through his actions with the air force is addressing all of these issues”.

    Email the reporter at

    Volcano Activity in the News

    New Activity/Unrest

    CHAITEN Southern Chile 42.833°S, 72.646°W; summit elev. 1122 m

    SERNAGEOMIN reported that visual observations of Chaitén were inhibited due to inclement weather during 10-12 June. Customs officers in the town of Chaitén reported noises on 11 June. They also reported the presence of two new craters to the S that emitted ash-and-gas plumes on 12 June. The plumes drifted S. Later that day in Chaitén town, an abrupt swelling of the river Chaitén was observed. Seismic events increased in number and intensity.

    An overflight on 14 June revealed spines rising above the top of the new lava dome, which had grown in height to exceed the old dome. Gas, ash, and steam plumes were primarily emitted from a vent, about 100 m in diameter, at the SE contact between the old and the new lava dome. Previously, emissions came from the NW contact between the old and new domes. Continuous explosions produced ash plumes that rose to an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft) a.s.l.caldera floor. The Alert Level remained at Red. and drifted E. Several other points of gas-and-steam emissions were seen along the contact. Small block-and-ash flows from the new dome had descended the S flank of the old dome and occasionally reached the

    Based on observations of satellite imagery, SIGMET reports, and pilot observations, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that during 11-16 June ash plumes rose to altitudes of 2.1-3.7 km (7,000-12,000 ft) a.s.l. and drifted N, NE, and E.

    Geologic Summary. Chaitén is a small, glacier-free caldera with a Holocene lava dome located 10 km NE of the town of Chaitén on the Gulf of Corcovado. A pyroclastic-surge and pumiceobsidian lava dome occupies much of the caldera floor. Obsidian cobbles from this dome found in the Blanco River are the source of prehistorical artifacts from archaeological sites along the Pacific coast as far as 400 km away from the volcano to the north and south. The caldera is breached on the SW side by a river that drains to the bay of Chaitén, and the high point on its southern rim reaches 1122 m. deposit considered to originate from the eruption that formed the elliptical 2.5 x 4 km wide summit caldera was dated at about 9400 years ago. A rhyolitic, 962-m-high


    Sources: Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (SERNAGEOMIN), Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC)

    GORELY Southern Kamchatka 52.558°N, 158.03°E; summit elev. 1829 m

    KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

    Geologic Summary. Gorely volcano, one of the most active in southern Kamchatka, consists of five small overlapping stratovolcanoes constructed along a WNW-ESE line within a large 9 x 13.5 km late-Pleistocene caldera. The massive Gorely complex contains 11 summit and 30 flank craters. During the early Holocene, activity was characterized by frequent mild eruptions with occasional larger explosions and lava flows that filled in the caldera. Quiescent periods became longer between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago, after which the activity was mainly explosive. About 600-650 years ago intermittent strong explosions and lava flow effusion accompanied frequent mild eruptions. Historical eruptions have consisted of vulcanian and phreatic explosions of moderate volume.


    Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

    MUTNOVSKY Southern Kamchatka 52.453°N, 158.195°E; summit elev. 2322 m

    KVERT reported that seismic activity in the area of Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanoes increased on 13 June. There is only one seismic station in the area of the two volcanoes, so the source of the seismicity could not be determined. Activity was not visually noted and satellite imagery was not available at the time of the seismicity increase. The level of Concern Color Code was raised to Yellow on 14 June.

    Geologic Summary. Massive Mutnovsky, one of the most active volcanoes of southern Kamchatka, is formed of four coalescing stratovolcanoes of predominately basalticHolocene activity was characterized by mild-to-moderate phreatic and phreatomagmatic eruptions from the summit crater. Historical eruptions have been explosive, with lava flows produced only during the 1904 eruption. Geothermal development is planned at Mutnovsky, which has the highest heat capacity of any volcano in the Kuril-Kamchatka arc. composition. Multiple summit craters cap the volcanic complex. Growth of Mutnovsky IV, the youngest cone, began during the early Holocene. An intracrater cone was constructed along the northern wall of the 1.3-km-wide summit crater. Abundant flank cinder cones were concentrated on the SW side.


    Source: Kamchatkan Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT)

    Epidemics emerge as major threat in China's quake zone: report

    by Staff Writers
    Beijing (AFP) June 18, 2008
    Infectious diseases are emerging as a major threat in China's quake zone, with injured and traumatised victims most at risk, the health minister was quoted as saying Wednesday.

    As summer approaches, the warmer weather creates optimal conditions for epidemics, with survivors of the massive May 12 quake particularly vulnerable to disease, the China Daily reported, citing Health Minister Chen Zhu.

    "Simply experiencing such a huge trauma weakens people's immune systems. For those in more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, the risk of infection is even greater," Chen said, according to the paper.

    Although no major disease outbreak has occurred, the paper warned that health workers were facing an "uphill battle," with medical services in the quake zone taking a serious hit.

    "We are trying our best to meet the health service demands and restore proper facilities as soon as possible," Chen said, according to the paper.

    Earlier this month, Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said there would be no epidemics in an online discussion on

    "We have the ability and the confidence to guarantee that after the disaster, there will be no epidemics," the spokesman said.

    Given the large loss of manpower, medical workers from other parts of the country will be deployed to help those in the quake area, he said.

    In the first 10 days of June, more than half a million children under the age of 12 in quake-affected areas were vaccinated against infections, such as hepatitis A and encephalitis B, the paper said.

    The death toll from the Sichuan earthquake, the worst natural disaster to hit China in three decades, had reached 69,172 on Tuesday, the government said. Another 17,420 people were still missing.

    Flood waters threaten millions in China, quake refugees evacuated

    by Staff Writers
    Beijing (AFP) June 18, 2008
    Surging waters in southern China's swollen Pearl river delta threatened millions of people on Wednesday as authorities raced to finish the evacuation of 110,000 people in the quake-hit southwest.

    Although a huge flood crest flowed past the Makou monitoring station close to the city of Guangzhou on Tuesday, water levels remained 0.45 metres (1.5 feet) above warning levels a day later, the state flood headquarters said on its website.

    The headquarters said the deluge of water that roared by the station was the biggest in 50 years and had prompted emergency measures to protect millions of people in the delta, home to China's huge export industry.

    Up to 176 people have died and 52 have gone missing in flood-related incidents in China this year, with 51 dead or missing since June 6 in the provinces and regions of Guangxi, Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan, it said.

    But state media did not agree on the toll, with some reports saying more than 200 people were dead or missing from the June weather in what appeared to be tabulations made from late breaking local news reports.

    One such report by Xinhua news agency in the Guangxi region said four students were killed and 12 injured when a school collapsed Monday evening in Liubao township.

    Another report on Wednesday said five children in Guangxi's Bobai county were swept into a river as they walked home from school, with only three bodies found so far.

    Up to 3,000 schools in Guangxi have been damaged due to the flooding, Xinhua added.

    Since the rainy season began in late May, rains have deluged large swathes of southern China, while the northeast of the country is experiencing the complete opposite in the form of an unusual heatwave, according to Xinhua.

    Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province usually known as the "Ice City", reported an abnormally high temperature of 37.1 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) Tuesday -- the second highest in the city's history, Xinhua said.

    But quake-hit Sichuan province, where millions of refugees are living in tents and makeshift shelters, was not so lucky.

    According to the Beijing News, the evacuation of up to 110,000 quake refugees from dangerous mountainous areas threatened by rain-induced landslides in Aba prefecture was slated to finish Wednesday.

    The operation began days ago on the orders of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and included up to 70,000 quake refugees in Aba's Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the May 12, 8.0-magnitude earthquake, reports said.

    Up to 87,000 people were reported killed or missing after the massive quake, with as many as five million left homeless.

    More than 1.66 million people have been evacuated in the areas hardest hit by the rains, with large tracts of farmland under water and losses totalling 14.5 billion yuan (2.1 billion dollars), the civil affairs ministry said Tuesday.

    Officials also warned that the north could fall victim to the weather, and the government has urged the strengthening of dykes and reservoirs along the Yellow River, known as the "cradle of Chinese civilisation" and home to millions of urban dwellers and farmers.

    In the south in Guangdong and the neighbouring Guangxi region, the rains have either swamped hundreds of roads or left them cut off by landslides.

    Thousands of transport trucks have been stranded in both provinces, cutting off food supplies to urban centres and fuelling price rises, reports said.

    The National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic planner, issued orders Wednesday to curb price gouging in the flood-hit areas.

    Vegetable prices in parts of Guangdong have reportedly seen daily price rises of as much as 70 percent.

    Mississippi levee buckles under rising waters

    by Staff Writers
    Chicago (AFP) June 17, 2008
    Rising waters burst through an overtaxed levee on the Mississippi River Tuesday, sending gushing torrents into an Illinois town as the sodden US midwest reeled from days of epic flooding.

    The levee break left Highway 34 at Gulfport, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, under water, prompting officials to close a bridge to the neighboring town of Burlington and creating havoc for commuters.

    More than 1,000 Illinois National Guard troops were working alongside hundreds of inmates from the state's prisons to shore up levees throughout the state, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency told CNN.

    The New York Times said people in dozens of Mississippi towns facing flooding were working Tuesday to shore up about 30 levees.

    "We were very, very disappointed that this levee broke today," said emergency official Patti Thompson, adding the imposing Mississippi "is a very powerful river and it can be hard to harness" even in drier times, let alone during record flooding.

    Officials had anticipated that the levees could be a weak point and had sought to shore them up with sand bags, she said.

    President George W. Bush vowed Tuesday to help flood-ravaged states get back on their feet.

    "I fully understand people are upset when they lose their home. A person's home is their most valued possession," Bush said.

    "We want to work with state and local folks to have a clear strategy to help people find -- get back into a place that -- where they can live," he said, adding that housing and fresh water were the top priorities.

    Bush, who was sharply criticized for the administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, was to visit Iowa Thursday with a federal disaster response team.

    "Unfortunately I've been to too many disasters as president," he said.

    More than 11 million people in nine midwestern states have been affected by the flooding and extreme weather of recent weeks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said.

    Iowa was by the far the hardest hit: 83 of the state's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas, and more than 4.8 million sandbags have been laid down to try to stem the tide.

    Many Iowans who had scrambled to try to contain damage as flooding ravaged dozens of Midwest towns over the weekend were left with little option but to evacuate Tuesday with the Mississippi yet to hit its high point.

    The massive river, which passes through 10 states in its 3,734-kilometer (2,320-mile) journey from its source in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, is engorged by water from the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.

    "It will take us a week before we can even assess what the cleanup is going to be," said Columbus Junction Mayor Dan Wilson.

    "It will be days before we can get to the point that we can start pumping the water out. Right now, we just have to live with it."

    No one yet knows how many small communities have been swamped, but there are dozens on the back roads of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

    Authorities fear the potential health impact of unclean water supplies, and that widespread crop damage will help worsen already high food prices.

    In Oakville, Iowa, 36-year-old farmer Ron Lanz was forced to abandon his farm and 800 hogs after the Iowa River levee broke on Saturday.

    "It's devastating to leave those hogs behind," Lanz said. "I don't like to think about it."

    Meanwhile the American Red Cross said a series of weather-related calamities had left it low on cash and struggling to provide aid to disaster victims.

    "Our disaster relief fund is empty, but there's a lot of need out there and the Red Cross is responding," spokeswoman Suzy De Francis told AFP.

    Arctic sea ice melt 'even faster'

    By Richard Black
    Environment correspondent, BBC News website
    Arctic sea ice is melting even faster than last year, despite a cold winter.

    Data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that the year began with ice covering a larger area than at the beginning of 2007.

    But now it is down to levels seen last June, at the beginning of a summer that broke records for sea ice loss.

    Scientists on the project say that much of the ice is so thin that it melts easily, and the Arctic may be ice-free in summer within five to 10 years. We had a bit more ice in the winter, although we were still way below the long-term average," said Julienne Stroeve from NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado.

    "So we had a partial recovery. But the real issue is that most of the pack ice has become really thin, and if we have a regular summer now, it can just melt away," she told BBC News.

    In March, Nasa reported that the area covered by sea ice was slightly larger than in 2007, but much of it consisted of thin floes that had formed during the previous winter. These are much less robust than thicker, less saline floes that have already survived for several years.
    GraphA few years ago, scientists were predicting ice-free Arctic summers by about 2080.

    Then computer models started projecting earlier dates, around 2030 to 2050.

    Then came the 2007 summer that saw Arctic sea ice shrink to the smallest extent ever recorded, down to 4.2 million sq km from 7.8 million sq km in 1980.

    By the end of last year, one research group was forecasting ice-free summers by 2013.

    "I think we're going to beat last year's record melt, though I'd love to be wrong," said Dr Stroeve.

    "If we do, then I don't think 2013 is far off any more. If what we think is going to happen does happen, then it'll be within a decade anyway."

    Rising tide

    Countries surrounding the Arctic are eyeing the economic opportunities that melting ice might bring.

    Canada and Russia are exploring sovereignty claims over tracts of Arctic seafloor, while just this week US President George Bush has urged more oil exploration in US waters - which could point the way to exploitation of reserves off the Alaskan coast.

    Summer ice cover in the Arctic has declined sharply

    But from a climate point of view, the melt could bring global impacts accelerating the rate of warming and of sea level rise.

    "This is a positive feedback process," commented Dr Ian Willis, from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

    "Sea ice has a higher albedo (reflectivity) than ocean water; so as the ice melts, the water absorbs more of the Sun's energy and warms up more, and that in turn warms the atmosphere more - including the atmosphere over the Greenland ice sheet."

    Greenland is already losing ice to the oceans, contributing to the gradual rise in sea levels. The ice cap holds enough water to lift sea levels globally by about seven metres (22ft) if it all melted.

    Natural climatic cycles such as the Arctic Oscillation play a role in year-to-year variations in ice cover. But Julienne Stroeve believes the sea ice is now so thin that there is little chance of the melting trend turning round.

    "If the ice were as thin as it was in the 1970s, last year's conditions would have brought a dip in cover, but nothing exceptional.

    "But now it's so thin that you would have to have an exceptional sequence of cold winters and cold summers in order for it to rebuild."

    Monday, June 9, 2008


    Why might the president and his family need a 98,840-acre ranch in Paraguay protected by a semi-secret U.S. military base manned by American troops who have been exempted from war-crimes prosecution by the Paraguayan government? - Wonkette

    PRENSA LATINA - The land grab project of US President George W. Bush in Chaco, Paraguay, has generated considerable discomfort both politically and environmentally. The news circulating the continent about plans to buy 98,840 acres of land in Chaco, Paraguay, near the Triple Frontier (Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay) is the talk of the town in these countries.

    Although official sources have not confirmed the information that is already public, the land is reportedly located in Paso de Patria, near Bolivian gas reserves and the Guarani indigenous water region, within the Triple Border. . .

    Concern increased last week with the arrival of Bush" daughter, Jenna, and a source from the Physical Planning Department saying that most of the Chaco region belongs to private companies.

    Luis D'Elia, Argentina´s undersecretary for Land for Social Habitat, says the matter raises regional concern because it threatens local natural resources.

    June-July 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:

    Potentially Hazardous Asteroids are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known rocks is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time. [comment]
    On June 10, 2008 there were 956 potentially hazardous asteroids.
    June-July 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
    Miss Distance
    2008 KO
    June 1
    4.4 ld
    60 m
    2008 KT
    June 3
    3.3 ld
    9 m
    2008 LB
    June 9
    3.3 ld
    26 m
    2008 LG2
    June 13
    9.2 ld
    36 m
    2008 LC
    June 17
    9.8 ld
    55 m
    2008 KN11
    June 22
    9.0 ld
    110 m
    2000 AD205
    June 26
    54 ld
    800 m
    June 29
    65 ld
    1.6 km
    2008 BT18
    July 14
    5.9 ld
    1.0 km
    Notes:ld means "Lunar Distance." 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.

    The truth is out there

    When Cynthia McKinney speaks the words of Martin Luther King Jr, they resound through the church with some of King�s cadence. �A time comes,� declares the former US congresswoman from Georgia, �when silence is betrayal.� The congregation answers with whoops and calls of �That�s right!� King was talking about America�s war in Vietnam. More than 40 years later, before the packed pews of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, McKinney is speaking of the American government�s war on its own people. The shock and awe phase of this conflict, we had been told earlier, began on September 11 2001, when the Bush administration launched attacks on New York and Washington, or at least waved them through.

    According to a show of hands that February afternoon, several hundred people in the immaculate church believe this to be true. Some came in T-shirts bearing the words �9/11 was an inside job�. One wore a badge demanding that you �Examine your assumptions�. Quite a few bought the DVDs on sale in the foyer, most of which bore photographs of the Twin Towers spewing smoke. They had all come to hear the message of Architects, Engineers & Scientists for 9/11 Truth, one of the dozens of groups across the US which campaign to persuade us that everything we think we know about 9/11 is wrong.

    Marion Cotillard, actress

    �There was a tower in Spain which burnt for 24 hours. It never collapsed�

    Last winter, �Investigate 9/11� banners seemed to be popping up all over the place. Bill Clinton was heckled by �truthers� in Denver while campaigning for his wife. Truthers picketed the Academy Awards in LA � despite this year�s winner of the best actress Oscar, Marion Cotillard, reportedly being one of them. But then, she�s French. Literature lovers in that country pushed Thierry Meyssan�s L�Effroyable imposture (The Appalling Fraud) � which asserts that 9/11 was a government plot to justify invading Iraq and Afghanistan and increase military spending � to the top of the bestseller list in 2002.

    Country music star Willie Nelson is assuredly not French, but a week or so before the Oscars he described as naive the notion that the �implosion� of the Twin Towers was caused by crashing jets. Meanwhile the European Parliament screened the Italian documentary Zero, in which Gore Vidal, Italian playwright Dario Fo, and Italian MEP Giulietto Chiesa blame the US government, not al-Qaeda, for 9/11. The following month, Japanese MP Yukihisa Fujita raised his own doubts about the official story at a seminar in Sydney. A busy season for the �9/11 Truth� movement.

    The events of 9/11 were recorded in many thousands of images, from crisp agency photographs to amateur camcorder footage. Every recorded trail of smoke, every spray of sparks is pored over by an army of sceptics, collectively described as the 9/11 Truth movement. They believe that the key to the mystery is hidden somewhere within the pictures, just as some people think that clues are contained in the Zapruder film which captured the moment of John F. Kennedy�s assassination. Allied against them is a smaller group of rival bloggers who have taken it upon themselves to debunk what they claim are dangerous conspiracy theories.

    Gore Vidal, writer

    �If there ever was great cause for impeachment, it would be over 9/11�

    There is some evidence that the truthers are swaying the rest of us. A New York Times/CBS News poll in 2006 revealed that only 16 per cent of Americans polled believed the Bush administration was telling the truth about 9/11. More than half thought it was �hiding something�. This is not the same as believing the government actually launched the attacks, but a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll the same year found that more than a third of those questioned suspected that federal officials assisted in the attacks or took no action to stop them so that the US could go to war.

    The truthers certainly believe that they are on a roll. The crowd in the Immanuel Presbyterian Church seemed electrified. As the donated sound system pumped out angry rap, a giant video screen showed images of protesters demanding a new investigation into 9/11. The symbols and the language were borrowed from the civil rights struggle, but the truthers are an eclectic group, including anti-Bush, anti-war liberals and anti-government libertarians. A young man in a �Vote Ron Paul� T-shirt scuttled through the hall, filming us as we took our seats on wooden pews.

    First up was Richard Gage, a San Francisco architect who founded Architects, Engineers & Scientists for 9/11 Truth, which now claims to have 379 professional members. Gage told us that the collapse of the Twin Towers could not have been due merely to gravity, the impact of the airliners and the resulting jet fuel fires � which would not have been hot enough to weaken the steel sufficiently. Behind him on the video screen was the south tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke poured from its upper floors. A respectful silence fell over the audience, followed by gasps as the building appeared to dissolve before our eyes.

    What happened to building 7?

    To the truthers, the third building in the World Trade Center complex to collapse on September 11 is evidence that the mainstream media is in on the plot

    While I have seen this footage countless times, it seems that I had clearly never understood what I was seeing. The destruction of the Twin Towers, along with the collapse of the nearby 47-storey World Trade Center 7 building, had all the hallmarks of controlled demolition, according to Gage. They all came straight down, almost at the speed of a free-falling object, right into their own footprints. Steel-framed buildings had never collapsed because of fires before. On this day three did, one of which, �Building 7�, was not even hit by an aircraft.

    Gage, who had worked himself into a fever, exhorted the audience to stand up and be counted: �A country is at stake.� Then he welcomed on to the stage the star of the evening, Steven Jones. A softly spoken physicist, Jones is the movement�s designated martyr and seems to promise what the truthers so desperately need: scientific credibility.

    Jones entered into truther lore in 2006 when he was put into early retirement by Brigham Young University in Utah after giving public lectures on his paper �Why indeed did the WTC buildings collapse?�, which he published on the website of the university�s physics department. Jones contended that the towers were demolished by cutter charges which had been placed throughout the buildings, probably involving an incendiary called thermite. BYU�s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and the structural engineering faculty, followed by the university administration, disowned him.

    Still, Jones is no fool. He has published more than 50 scholarly papers, including pieces on cold nuclear fusion in journals such as Scientific American and Nature. He invented a cooker which uses solar power and has donated models to poor families in the developing world. Jones tells us he believes laboratory testing of dust from Ground Zero will reveal residue from a thermite reaction.

    As soon as the seminar is over, Jones is mobbed by people asking him to pose for photos and offering their own views on the 9/11 plot, as well as others such as the presence above our heads of chemtrails (deadly toxins sprayed by unidentified aircraft, which some believe are part of a secret global depopulation programme). This is the world Jones now inhabits � it seems a long way from a Utah physics department. I ask him later by phone if he has any regrets about publishing that fateful paper: �No regrets. I�ve thought of Galileo a few times. He got a little worse than I did, I suppose.�

    Jones is typical of many 9/11 researchers in that the subject has taken over his professional life. Down the coast in Santa Barbara is another of the movement�s luminaries. On the beach at Isla Vista, one of the most expensive real-estate spots in the US, lives David Ray Griffin, a former theology professor. As his dogs scratch excitedly on the sliding door, Griffin explains that America�s primary faith is not Christianity, but nationalism. �Other countries do really terrible things. Our leaders never would. And that [belief] has been the biggest impediment to getting people to look at the evidence, because they just know a priori that that is ridiculous.�

    Michael Meacher, UK politician

    �It is clear the US authorities did little or nothing to pre-empt the events of 9/11�

    Griffin now thinks the evidence to the contrary is incontrovertible. Until 2002, he had busied himself far from the rancour of public controversy writing rather obscure philosophical books and teaching philosophy of religion at the Claremont School of Theology. But the course of his research changed abruptly when he heard a visiting British theologian question the official account of 9/11. Two years later, Griffin�s The New Pearl Harbor, with a foreword by British MP Michael Meacher, became a touchstone in the 9/11 Truth movement. He has since written others, including one detailing the �omissions and distortions� of the 9/11 Commission, the report of which fits the definition of �conspiracy theory� neatly, he says. �They started with the conclusion that al-Qaeda did it and didn�t even consider the alternative that it was an inside job.�

    Griffin was a script consultant on Loose Change Final Cut, part of the internet phenomenon that set off the current explosion of low-budget 9/11 DVDs. The previous version was viewed more than 10 million times on Google Video, according to Vanity Fair. In 2002, armed only with a laptop and off-the-shelf video production software, Dylan Avery, an 18-year-old resident of Oneonta, New York, set about making a fictional film about discovering, with his friends, that 9/11 was orchestrated by the US government. At some point in his research, Avery had a �Dude, this shit is real!� moment and Loose Change entered the realm of agit-prop documentary. Final Cut makes a bold new allegation: the Twin Towers were packed with deadly asbestos, which would have cost billions to clean up. �If you bring down the buildings,� says Griffin, �not only do you not have to pay ... to clean them up, somebody is going to make billions of dollars on the insurance.�

    September 11 as insurance job? This seems to expand the circle of conspirators somewhat. Griffin ventures another possible explanation: the psychological impact. �You had these massive explosions, which rather looked like a nuclear blast,� he says. �That�s always been the deep fear of America. In the run-up to the Iraq war, that�s what they were talking about � we cannot wait until we have a nuclear cloud.�

    Griffin offers one further speculation, this time on a question which is controversial even among 9/11 sceptics: what hit the Pentagon? Thierry Meyssan was the first to claim that it was not Flight 77 � an American Airlines 757 carrying 64 passengers � but a cruise missile that hit the west wall of the Pentagon at 9.37am on September 11. Websites have followed suit, pointing to the apparent lack of plane debris on the Pentagon lawn and the fact that the hole left in the outer ring of the building looks too small to accommodate the wingspan of a 757. Retired US Air Force captain Russ Wittenberg from Pilots for 9/11 Truth asserted that no inexperienced pilot could have performed the manoeuvre the 9/11 Commission concluded that al-Qaeda conspirator Hani Hanjour pulled off that morning: a 330� turn, 2,200ft descent, a full-throttle dive and then a 530 miles per hour plunge at ground level into the Pentagon. Call it �the magic plane theory�: doubters believe that, just as the bullet that killed Kennedy appeared to defy the laws of physics, so the plane that struck the Pentagon was like no other in existence.

    And just as Nasa was forced to counter claims the moon landings were faked, these and other claims have forced the US State Department into the debunking business. Its Identifying Misinformation website states that debris from Flight 77 was indeed recovered, as were the remains of passengers and crew. Many witnesses saw the plane come in, and a number of passengers made phone calls to their loved ones telling them their flight had been hijacked.

    There is also another obvious problem: if a missile hit the Pentagon, what happened to Flight 77? �There was a rumour that an airliner had gone down on the Ohio/Kentucky border and that was taken very seriously early on by the Federal Aviation Authority,� says Griffin. It later rejected the story. But Griffin claims the only evidence that Flight 77 was aloft after that was an alleged phone call from Barbara Olsen to Ted Olsen, the solicitor-general of the United States.

    So how does he explain that phone call? Ted Olsen is a Bush administration insider, he says. Another possible answer, though, is �voice-morphing technology�. This would also explain the flurry of phone calls from United Airlines Flight 93, which, as the official story has it, crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers revolted against their hijackers.

    Glossary of doubt

    People who claim that it wasn�t an aircraft, but a missile, that hit the Pentagon on September 11 2001. Some have taken it a step further and argued that no aircraft hit the twin towers, either. What the world saw that day, these sceptics argue, was either video trickery or cruise missiles disguised through image technology as aircraft.

    Truthers who believe the US government �Made it happen on purpose�, �it� being the destruction of September 11.

    A more moderate strain of truther who believe the government �Let it happen on purpose�.

    Scholars for 9/11 Truth
    Started by James Fetzer, the group advocates looking at all possible explanations of what happened on September 11, no matter how improbable.

    Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice
    The more moderate splinter group of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, led by Steven Jones. Endorses an �evidence-based approach� to questioning the 9/11 story.

    It�s not just supporters of the official story who roll their eyes at these claims. They put Griffin in the camp of the �no-planers�, at least as far as the attack on the Pentagon is concerned. The no-planers enrage the rest of the truthers, who accuse them of sabotaging the credibility of the movement. The claim that no plane hit the Pentagon is a Trojan horse, they say � disinformation that serves the conspirators. Some � such as former MI5 whistleblower David Shayler � have even asserted that no planes, but missiles disguised by �cloaking technology�, hit the Twin Towers. Shayler, incidentally, proclaimed himself the Messiah last year.

    If the 9/11 truth movement is fighting a kind of asymmetric war against official sources of knowledge, it is also battling itself. As the movement morphs into an international activist group, it recognises that if it is to convince middle Americans, it must distance itself from its exotic fringe. Once, it was the Mihops versus the Lihops. These factions, who sound like warring species from an H.G. Wells story, are those who believe the government Made It Happen On Purpose and those who think it Let It Happen On Purpose. The Mihops are in the ascendancy.

    The genesis of all this can be traced back to a schism that followed the first real attempt to bring scholarly credibility to the 9/11 sceptics. In 2005, Steven Jones was invited to form a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth by James Fetzer, a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Minnesota and the author of some 20 books on the philosophy of science and artificial intelligence. Fetzer teaches critical thinking, and is nothing if not critical. He has been campaigning for more than a decade to prove that the Zapruder film is a hoax perpetuated by the same government intelligence agencies that orchestrated JFK�s assassination.

    But within a year, Jones had written to all members of Scholars announcing that he and others no longer wanted to be associated with Fetzer, who was, in the rebels� opinion, holding them up to ridicule. Fetzer had backed a theory by Judy Wood, a former assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Clemson University, proposing that the Twin Towers were brought down by a �directed energy� weapon developed as part of the US government�s Star Wars programme. It prompted a stampede to a new group, Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice, headed by Jones. Confusing the two groups would be like mistaking Monty Python�s Judean People�s Front for the People�s Front of Judea: this was a major doctrinal split.

    Fetzer�s view is that any serious inquiry into what happened on 9/11 should look at all possibilities. Supporters of the directed energy hypothesis keep popping up at 9/11 Truth lectures to heckle what Python fans might call the �splittist� thermite theorists. Among the advocates of the Star Wars theory is Morgan Reynolds, perhaps the first prominent US government official to claim that 9/11 was an inside job. At the time of the attacks, Reynolds was chief economist at the US Department of Labor.

    Some Star Wars supporters, in turn, accuse proponents of the thermite hypothesis of being government shills. One, on, alleges that Jones�s public denunciation of Star Wars theories is actually a Trojan horse; he notes that Jones once worked at Los Alamos, where directed energy weapons are researched. This line of conjecture also entangles Norman Mineta, US transportation secretary on September 11 2001. Mineta was the man who grounded all civilian aircraft on that morning. But he was also once vice-president of Lockheed Martin, a founding member of the Directed Energy Professional Society ... In this outer reach of the blogosphere, no one is ever more than six degrees of separation from the heart of the conspiracy.

    Jones did, in fact, do post-doctoral research at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility for the University of Wyoming, but he says it was peaceful and non-weapons-related. He says the more out-there theories, including those of the no-planers, are harming the movement. �First, they discourage others who are trying to do serious work, and they tend to be quite vocal about their heckling,� he says. �More serious is that when we�re really trying to look at an evidence-based approach, we get lumped in with these people and then dismissed as a whole.�

    Two days before Jones�s lecture in LA, his erstwhile colleague was taking his own campaign on the road on the other side of the country. After addressing Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth in New Hampshire, Fetzer was off to that seat of academic respectability, Yale University. To prepare for our meeting, I watched a DVD of a 9/11 symposium he held in his new hometown of Madison, Wisconsin last year. The star of this show was Alfred Lambremont Webre, a judge on former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad�s alternative international War Crimes Tribunal in Kuala Lumpur and co-author of the Space Preservation Treaty. He delivers what might be the most momentous opening line in the history of town hall seminars. �Fellow Citizens... 9/11 was a false flag operation by an international war crimes racketeering organisation to provide a pretext to engage in a genocidal and ecocidal depleted uranium bombing of central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq in order to secure vast oil and uranium reserves; to roll out a terror-based national security state system worldwide and ... to implement the final stages of a world depopulation policy.� There are two more �false flag� operations in the pipeline, he says. The first is the war against asteroids, the second the �war against the evil aliens�.

    Hearing this, you either experience the thrill of revelation or the sinking feeling that the person you are listening to is having some kind of breakdown. Within 30 minutes, Webre has folded into the 9/11 plot the Skull & Bones society at Yale University � or the �Brotherhood of Death�, as he calls it � neocon think-thank the Council on Foreign Relations, the Rothschilds, the Queen and the City of London. I wondered how all these conspiracies could be maintained without the whole conceit unravelling.

    The answer, of course, is that there is only one conspiracy. Pearl Harbour, the moon landing, JFK, 9/11, the Illuminati, the Black Helicopters, Skull & Bones, chemtrails: all faces of the same demon. The plot goes all the way to the top, and all the way back in time. You could come to believe that it involves everyone except yourself � at which point it�s all over for you. And as I listened, I just waited for him to say the Word. And, inevitably, Webre brought it all back to the �international neo-Zionist organisation�.

    I asked Fetzer about this as we sat in a cafe across from Yale, home of the Brotherhood of Death: how did he keep his scholars on message? �It�s obvious to me that you have to consider all the possible alternatives,� he says. �You can�t exclude any, lest, as you proceed in your investigation and eliminate hypotheses, you eliminate the true hypothesis because you�ve never allowed it to be considered.�

    Fetzer�s talk later that night does not go well. A Yale student had promoted the lecture on Facebook Events, but fellow students had apparently been unwilling to add their names, which anyone can see, perhaps for fear of ridicule. Only six show up. When it becomes clear that Fetzer is implicating some kind of Star Wars weapon, the two next to me begin scrolling distractedly through their mobile phone messages. Within 10 minutes, they have left.

    Lewis Lapham, journalist

    �Americans are very good at dreaming up these scenarios�

    The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission � the official story � is that the 2001 attacks got through because those charged with protecting America had not truly conceived of the threat: in its author�s evocative phrase, they had suffered a �failure of imagination�. After trawling the internet in search of 9/11 Truth, it seems to me the American imagination is strong. �Americans are very good at dreaming up these scenarios,� says Lewis Lapham, the former Harper�s magazine editor and a prominent critic of the Bush administration post-September 11. �We are open to all kinds of magical theories,� he says, citing the continuing fascination with the assassination of JFK. �We are also good at creating religions.� Lapham thinks the theory that 9/11 was an inside job follows in this long tradition, but also reflects cynicism among Americans towards their government. He does not accept that the Bush administration planned 9/11 or even allowed it to happen. Nonetheless, he thinks a new investigation is warranted. In 2004, Harper�s ran a trenchant piece describing the 9/11 Commission as a �whitewash� and a �cheat and a fraud� for downplaying evidence that warnings of the al-Qaeda threat were ignored. Such flaws allowed space for alternative theories to develop, Lapham says.

    In this, there are shades of the Warren Commission into the assassination of President Kennedy, which served merely to deepen popular distrust. But if we have seen the likes of the 9/11 Truth movement before, it also represents something new. �With the Kennedy assassination, pretty soon after the events themselves there were fairly significant questions being raised by people of all types and stripes about what actually happened,� says Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. �But whereas then it was a generalised, amorphous kind of response, the amount of organisation � politically and through alternative media � is far more striking now than it was back then.�

    Fenster thinks that the 9/11 Truth movement is in some ways a typical American response to a surprising and traumatic event. But it also represents a step change in its use of telecommunications technology. �One of the interesting things, particularly in the beginning of this movement, was the extent to which there were a lot of local groups in different cities organising protests ... and they could co-ordinate and create a national and international movement,� he says. �Whether that translates into more people actually believing in the conspiracy theory is a completely different question.�

    Fenster believes the few published polls on the subject, rather than showing any real depth of suspicion about 9/11, demonstrate declining trust in the Bush administration generally. The author of one of the most rigorous of the websites that aim to debunk the conspiracy theories,, he notes that the most recent Zogby poll on attitudes towards 9/11 found only 4.6 per cent of Americans believe the Bush administration blew up the Twin Towers. �If you follow the website hits, you�ll find that since Debunking911 came into existence, conspiracy sites have been losing readership,� he says via e-mail. �I think all they needed was someone to fill in the parts conspiracy theorists left out of the conspiracy story and their numbers begin to shrink.�

    Perhaps the 9/11 Truth movement is what one would expect in the dying days of an unpopular administration, and with no end in sight to a costly war. Whether it can maintain momentum when that government leaves office next year is anyone�s guess. In the meantime, some on the left accuse it of letting the leaders they so vehemently distrust off the hook. �They make a mockery of [civil rights] causes by associating their nonsense with genuinely important issues, and by diverting a large number of people who should know better into a unicorn hunt,� says British writer and activist George Monbiot. Monbiot is regularly heckled by 9/11 truthers at public events after accusing them in The Guardian of undermining genuine political opposition. His first column on the truthers prompted a near-record number of postings on the paper�s Comment Is Free website � 777 � many accusing him of being part of the conspiracy.

    �It�s very interesting to see,� he says, �particularly in the United States, how the anti-war movement has been largely co-opted in many places by the 9/11 Truth movement. And we desperately need an active anti-war movement, because there is a lot of reckoning to be done.�

    Peter Barber is the FT�s deputy comment editor

    IMF Economist Calls For World Currency

    Source: Asia Times - Hossein Askari and Noureddine Krichene
    The Following piece by Hossein Askari, professor of international business and international affairs at George Washington University, and Noureddine Krichene, economist at the International Monetary Fund, appeared in the Asia Times.

    The world economy is suffering from high inflation, stemming from overly expansionary monetary policy in the United States, as indicated by negative real interest rates and the rapidly depreciating dollar. Low interest rates discourage savings, reduce bond yields and cause investors to seek higher yields in speculative commodities and foreign currency markets. Consequently, energy and food prices have exploded to levels threatening social and economic upheavals.

    Oil prices, by climbing from US$20 a barrel in 2001 to $135 barrel in May this year, illustrate the extent of the dollar's depreciation and interest rates distortions. Whereas a $100 bill would have bought five barrels of oil in 2001, now it buys only 0.74 barrel, losing approximately 85% of its real value.

    Inflation imposes a heavy tax burden on dollar holders, cuts disproportionately the real incomes of workers and pensioners, redistributes wealth in favor of debtors at the expense of creditors, and stifles economic growth.

    Given that the US dollar accounted for 41% of total international reserves at the end of 2007, (against 17% for euros), its fast depreciation makes it a risky asset for holders and could lead to a run from the dollar toward more stable currencies or more stable assets, such as gold, commodities, real estate and safer financial assets. A flight from the dollar could create a liquidity crisis, in turn disrupting international trade and world economic growth. Oil and food exporters, wary of the rapidly depreciating value of their foreign exchange reserves, would be induced to curtail exports, with attendant consequences for the real world economy.

    The current inflationary episode is neither novel nor surprising, but its severity could prove to be exceptional and it could last for some time. Indeed, following the collapse of the gold standard in 1914, the world economy became vulnerable to recurrent monetary disruptions stemming from expansionary monetary policies in reserve currency centers, suffering deep contractions in trade and economic growth, most notably the Great Depression.

    The present monetary conditions are similar in many respects to the ones that prevailed in the 1930s. Major reserve currency countries, now and then, fearing domestic recession and unemployment, were reluctant to contract monetary policy and incurred large balance of payments deficits, followed by competitive devaluations, speculative attacks and inflationary spirals.

    In spite of the Bretton-Woods Agreement and successive reforms of the international financial system, a main deficiency of the post-1914 system remained the absence of monetary discipline and ultimately a reserve anchor (formerly gold) for monetary policy in reserve centers.

    Top Pentagon Scientists Fear Brain-Modified Foes

    Source: Wired

    Rodent_brain_chip There's concern in some corners of the U.S. military about "enemy activities in sleep research," neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement, and "brain-computer interfaces." And it's not coming from the Pentagon's scientific fringe, or from some tin-hat kook with a Defense Department badge. The celebrated scientists on the Pentagon's most prestigious scientific advisory panel, JASON, are the ones worried about adversaries' ability "to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security."

    In a recent report, unearthed by Secrecy News, the JASONs are recommending that the American military push ahead with its own performance-enhancement research -- and monitor foreign studies -- to make sure that the U.S.' enemies don't suddenly become smarter, faster, or better able to endure the harsh realities of war than American troops.

    The JASONs are particularly concerned about (and excited by) new drugs that promote "brain plasticity" -- rewiring the mind, essentially, by helping to "permanently establishing new neural pathways, and thus new cognitive capabilities." The military has already tested these neuro-modulators as a way to keep troops alert after sleepless nights.

    But these new drugs will certainly have extensive off-label use for improvement of memory and cognitive performance. [They] may have the additional effect of weakening or overwriting existing memories. Depending on the ultimate performance of these drugs, adversaries might use them in training programs or field operations... to increase troop effectiveness or modify troop behavior and/or emotional responses.

    The scientific group also wants the military to keep close watch on the hardware and software which connects the human brain to machines. American researchers have used these brain-computer interfaces to develop new prosthetics -- and to train monkeys to control robotic limbs. Northrop Grumman just won a Pentagon contract to develop binoculars that will tap the subconscious mind. The JASONs believe "the primary threat potential for adversarial use of a Brain-Computer interface...

    ...may arise in a feedback mode, in which a the interface provides a soldier with a simple signal or a pain/pleasure pulse in response to externally provided situational information. Longer term adversarial developments may include prosthetic applications providing specialized sensory input or mechanical output.

    None of this is likely to happen soon, of course. Even the most basic of these advances -- a drug to effectively, consistently fight sleep deprivation -- still isn't read for wartime. "If an opposing force had a significant sleep advantage, this would pose a serious threat. However, the technical likelihood of such a development is small at present," the JASONs note.

    But since "existing neuro-pharmaceuticals" are "used rather commonly... as study aids." And since "the US military will certainly test whether, and to what extent, the new lessons of neuroscience can be used in military training... it is reasonable to expect that adversaries will do so as well. We do not expect the development of super-soldiers as a result of improved training, although enhanced military capability can certainly be expected."

    While it is possible to improve athletic performance using supplements, or banned substances (e.g the former East German sports teams), such improvements often are either small in effect, highly variable from individual to individual, or dependent on coordination with highly disciplined training regimes. As a result, the tactical advantage that might be gained by any adversary employing supplements is not likely to be overwhelming in general operations. Special circumstances, as in the use of khat in Somalia, can however contribute to unexpected enemy behavior. Therefore it is important for the US to establish and maintain awareness of adversaries’ uses of performance modifying substances (either as part of local culture, or officially established military policy).